Saturday, April 15, 2017

Read Harder Challenge #17

For this part of the challenge, I chose James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room. Having recently seen the remarkable documentary film I Am Not Your Negro, and always meaning to read James Baldwin (unfortunately and sadly unsurprisingly, my literature degree never once required me to read this essential author) and the challenge to "Read a classic by an author of color" was the perfect time to go head first. 

Giovanni's Room, published in 1956, tells the story of  David, a young American man living in Paris, awaiting his girlfriend's return from Spain. While she is away, he meets Giovanni, an Italian expatriate and is undeniably drawn to him. Giovanni is a lost soul, wanted by nearly everyone he encounters and through him, David begins to understand his own sexuality. Their relationship unspools over the course of the novel as the story is told in David's voice as he looks back on meeting, living with and, ultimately, losing Giovanni. David grapples with his own identity, his love for Giovanni as well as his love for his missing girlfriend, Hella and it all takes place against the backdrop of a gorgeously described Paris. 

I loved this book. I knew, from learning about and hearing Baldwin speak over the years that I would love his writing. He is poetic and insightful about human interaction and internal struggle and the complexities of romantic relationships and how it all fits into the struggle of discovering one's identity. To wit, when describing a scene in which David and Giovanni are fighting: 

I was vividly aware that he held a brick in his hand, I held a brick in mine. It really seemed for an instant that if I did not go to him, we would use these bricks to beat each other to death.

Yet, I could not move at once. We stared at each other across a narrow space that was full of danger, that almost seemed to roar like flame. 

"Come," he said.

I dropped my brick and went to him. In a moment I heard his fall. And at moments like this I felt that we were merely enduring and committing the longer and lesser and more perpetual murder. 

"..the longer and lesser and more perpetual murder." It is a quote that runs around in my brain. 
 
And this quote:

Much has been written of love turning to hatred, of the heart growing cold with the death of love. It is a remarkable process. It is far more terrible than anything I have ever read about it, more terrible than anything I will ever be able to say.

Baldwin is able to capture a great deal in a little amount of space and I would recommend this book to everyone. I imagine that they don't assign it in high school due to the ass backward viewpoint that sexual identity is a taboo subject but that remains a shame, since I think it is not only a beautiful example of the character study novel but it also touches on themes that are complicated and relevant to any human who has ever struggled in love and with identity. So, that is pretty much everyone. 




Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge 2017
  1. Read a book about sports.
  2. Read a debut novel.
  3. Read a book about books.
  4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.
  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
  6. Read an all-ages comic.
  7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
  8. Read a travel memoir.
  9. Read a book you’ve read before.
  10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
  11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
  12. Read a fantasy novel.
  13. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
  14. Read a book about war.
  15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
  16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
  17. Read a classic by an author of color.
  18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
  19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey (From Daniel José Older, author of Salsa Nocturna, the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, and YA novel Shadowshaper)
  20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel (From Sarah MacLean, author of ten bestselling historical romance novels)
  21. Read a book published by a micropress. (From Roxane Gay, bestselling author of AyitiAn Untamed StateBad Feminist, Marvel’s World of Wakanda, and the forthcoming Hunger and Difficult Women)
  22. Read a collection of stories by a woman. (From Celeste Ng, author Everything I Never Told You and the forthcoming Little Fires Everywhere)
  23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. (From Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of the Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery series, including The Unquiet DeadThe Language of Secrets, and the forthcoming Among the Ruins)
  24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color. (From Jacqueline Koyanagi, author of sci-fi novel Ascension)


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Broken Gyroscope?

Opening the window for a new entry on the cracked earth of this blog puts me on edge. But just now as I was debating which one of my jobs I should be working on, which recent memory I should be specifically avoiding, how best to circle the drain of my writing aspirations...I find myself returning to this space, like a splintered boomerang. No, I mean like a bruised homing pigeon. An off-kilter gyroscope?

Life has been unspooling at regular length and speed, it is only that my perception is hyper focused on the task at hand. And by task at hand, I mean whatever is going on at the very moment directly in front of me. I have terrible eyesight and without glasses or contacts, I am forced to press my face directly in front of whatever I wish to see clearly. That's how I'm approaching everything in life right now: bringing it all close to my face and observing everything I need to before things become illegible, blurred out, or disappear completely.

Because things have been disappearing. My dear friend and cat Greta Girl Marie died on Friday after a long battle with liver lymphoma. Over the last eight months or so, I kept repeating in my head that I was borrowing too much time. That when it came time to give it all back, it was going to slice me clean through. After Thelma died suddenly, and after the sorrow that felt like it would break me completely last fall, I was hanging on to every second with that cat, willing my brain to take over and understand that it could happen any moment. I thought maybe I could feel better equipped to let go. I was wrong. It wasn't any easier.

I've been trying to apply that focus to remembering all the unfettered joy, the unironic purity that can only come from bonding with an animal that was mine for too short awhile. Like when Greta girl found the tiniest corner on top of the fridge in my Patchogue apartment when I first brought her home and sat there silently as I combed everywhere to look for her. Or how it never mattered what the object was, but if it was lying flat on the floor, she'd sit atop it. Purses, half folded boxes, bills, freshly laundered shirts. It was her world; I just lived in it.

There are few places sadder than the emergency room of an animal hospital. I could live the rest of my life happy if I knew I'd never have to sit in one of those windowless rooms, a beloved friend cradled in my arms right before she disappears to the other side of whatever this shitpile of a world is.

It hasn't been a full week yet but I have lived lifetimes every day since. Sometimes, my empty house is an afterthought, sometimes the main event. I had insured them both and I just now got the final emails for claims (euthanasia is covered by insurance...we are much nicer to our pets than we are to ourselves it would seem) and because my heart shakes and pounds and skips and is now literally, physically dysfunctional, it palpated when I read the emails. I actually heard it jolt out of rhythm as though it were afraid I had fallen asleep to missing her and I needed reminding. Well, disembodied heart, I don't need reminding.

Greta Marie 2008- 4/7/2017


In the next life, my friend...

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Art of Hand Hovering

I sometimes wish we still used quills and dippable ink because then at the very least, during long dark weeks of the soul, when I have an army of thoughts performing training maneuvers through the muddy trenches in the folds of my brain, preventing any real work from getting done, I could work out my arm muscles during my fits and starts. Instead I have a blinking cursor and the flashing light to contend with and I've perfected the art of hand hovering over my keyboard. I can hand hover like a mutha.

It's been so easy for me to jump headfirst into the news and, by extension, further away from the light. I do this even though I'm positive what awaits at the start of each foray into the endless amount of information coming out of the government these days is just an empty pool, like in that anti-drug PSA from the 80s.


I'm basically her every morning. All Andie MacDowell-sh and disoriented. Except I'm sober. And I've never looked that good in a swimsuit. Still, I persist in being informed. I do wonder most days, however, where the line between being informed and being obsessive lies. I'll either eventually find it, or I'll dive headfirst into a neck break. Only time will tell. (Btw, I just got distracted by news for about 20 minutes while writing this post....Magic 8-ball says: Outlook not good.)

I'm positive I've been doing other things with my life. I mean none of them are writing. I'm in the middle of reading Catch-22 for the first time and while I was writing my own satire, I inadvertently channeled this book. The sections of this novel that talk about paperwork and the endless, useless absurdity of it all are very there in what I've been working on for a few years now. Considering libraries and armies are both bureaucracies, I'm not surprised by it. I'm actually a little bummed that there is no way I could ever be as funny as Heller about it. But I am heartened by the fact that the absurdity of bureaucracy remains, even after all this time. I'm also reminded that whenever I read about or think about bureaucracy, my mind conjures up the same image: a large, grey, concrete building with tiny windows and no front facing entrance. It's always winter in that image. Is that weird?

Anyway, I've been blessed with a forthcoming three day weekend. I'm trying to plan my time so that not one moment is wasted, not one moment lacks potential for the large boot of inspiration to kick me out of this news/current affair blender cycle. I feel pulpy and raw and I miss poetry and lyrics and music.

Maybe by the end of the weekend I'll have something to blog about. But I just got a notification on my phone from the NYT. So, maybe not.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Read Harder Challenge #6

I've just finished #6 on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge which was: Read an all-ages comic.

For this one, I chose "Adventure Time: Vol. 2" by Ryan North. I didn't actively choose volume 2 of a series, since I am pretty obsessive about reading things in order. However, it was destiny that I read volume 2 because I requested it twice from my library and twice they sent me volume 2. Why fight it, I thought?

I went into reading this comic cold; I know less than nothing about comic books. Aside from reading one Spiderman comic (and no, I don't know what series or volume or version or publisher) back in the 90s, I have no experience with the comic book universe. It makes me the least qualified to judge the myriad superhero movies that populate the theater every other week and, by extension, allows me to enjoy those movies.

I was intrigued by the "all-ages" aspect of the challenge and was surprised to find out just how many comics are published that fit that description. If I knew any children, I'd make a habit of reading one of these with them. It would crack me up.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I found myself laughing out loud in reality and not just typing it on a keyboard, so...that helped qualify it as an enjoyable read. The world of Adventure Time is based on the cartoon series of the same name, one that is apparently extremely well known and popular. Apparently, I'm now of that age that misses what is popular and well known. So, yay me? It was a lot of fun following Finn and his bff Jake around the land of Ooo as they invented a time travel machine and got super, almost uncomfortably buff as adults.

 I'll definitely check out other volumes of this and, of course, the tv series because if I need one thing in my life, it is more animation and laughter.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Read Harder Challenge #s 2 and 12

I have decided to participate in Book Riot's "Read Harder" challenge this year, information about which can be found at this link. But in case you don't want to click on that link, lazy person, here's a copy of the list of reading tasks for the year.

  1. Read a book about sports.
  2. Read a debut novel.
  3. Read a book about books.
  4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.
  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
  6. Read an all-ages comic.
  7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
  8. Read a travel memoir.
  9. Read a book you’ve read before.
  10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
  11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
  12. Read a fantasy novel.
  13. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
  14. Read a book about war.
  15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
  16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
  17. Read a classic by an author of color.
  18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
  19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey (From Daniel José Older, author of Salsa Nocturna, the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, and YA novel Shadowshaper)
  20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel (From Sarah MacLean, author of ten bestselling historical romance novels)
  21. Read a book published by a micropress. (From Roxane Gay, bestselling author of Ayiti, An Untamed State, Bad Feminist, Marvel’s World of Wakanda, and the forthcoming Hunger and Difficult Women)
  22. Read a collection of stories by a woman. (From Celeste Ng, author Everything I Never Told You and the forthcoming Little Fires Everywhere)
  23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. (From Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of the Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery series, including The Unquiet Dead, The Language of Secrets, and the forthcoming Among the Ruins)
  24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color. (From Jacqueline Koyanagi, author of sci-fi novel Ascension)

I have already finished numbers 2 and 12 and am going to write a little blurb about each of those books here. I also usually review the books I read on Goodreads and have a little list to the right of the entries on my blog with the titles that I'm "currently" reading. I'm usually in the middle of about five books at a time because I'm almost going to die in like 45 years and I don't have time for luxury over a book for extended periods of time. Aaaaanyway, here's my take on #s 2 and 12.

Read a debut novel.

This challenge doesn't specify when the debut was released so I chose, in as timely a manner as you can get, Carrie Fisher's debut novel Postcards From the Edge, which was published in 1987, when Fisher was 31. I borrowed the hardcover, first edition from my library and it was covered in stains. I mean, I have no idea when the library bought this copy but if it is a first edition, I'll assume it was in 1987 and at some point in the ensuing 30 years, someone took it a beef stew party and spilled a bit of stuff on it. I digress. Grossly.

Carrie Fisher died two weeks ago and the press that followed rightfully discussed her career as an actress and a memoirist. I knew her best not from her iconic Star Wars role but from her witty quips in the film When Harry Met Sally, which I saw when I was about 15 years old. About 20 years ago I picked up a book by her called Surrender the Pink but can't remember a damn thing about it so I consider my reading of Postcards my debut into Fisher as a novelist.

What I remember most clearly about her character in When Harry Met Sally is her sardonic wit and she was also my first exposure to actually liking a woman who lived her life as someone's mistress. I didn't realize how vulnerable a "mistress" could be and I never really thought beyond the black and white of what I understood as adult relationships, but Fisher as Marie in the film made me actually like her, despite of her supremely stupid life choices. I wasn't yet complex enough to understand that moral absolutism is not a thing (or that men and women could actually be friends and never have sex with each other...thanks again, Nora Ephron.) And so, as often happens when you first learn about something or someone during your formative years, I've always ascribed a certain personality to Carrie Fisher.

Postcards from the Edge is described as a semi-autobiographical novel and, knowing from the press and her own memoirs, the heroine (no pun intended) of the story, Suzanne, is Fisher's alter ego. I liked her immediately. Suzanne is self deprecating and really smart about it. She's described by other characters as a funny and intelligent and it becomes evident pretty quickly that she grapples with deeply rooted self esteem issues. These are all things I identify with on a deep level.

She's a Hollywood actress approaching what Hollywood considers "old" ...her 30s and she is pretty addicted to drugs of all kinds and to men who are all severely damaged and bad for her. Normally, characters who suffer this kind of self destruction annoy me. I've never really been a fan of the damaged persona. But the way Fisher writes Suzanne, with her self aware observations and introspective insights, makes me feel a kinship with her. The best writers can do that. I have zero in common with someone like Suzanne: I don't have an addictive personality, am a fairly good judge of character, have less than zero desire for people to look at or pay attention to me and don't really understand the world of Hollywood in the 1980s or now or at any point. But she became someone I wanted to understand and even befriend. There is a whole section in the beginning of the novel that is dedicated to a man named Alex, a man Suzanne encounters in rehab, that is especially striking for its voice. Alex is a tried and true drug addict and reading the scenes of him during his drug binges and highs left me feeling manic. Fisher really had an ear for her characters, probably because she was an actress.

Debut novels can often read very much like debuts...uncertain of their voice, scattered and insecure. Fisher wrote a confident, beautiful and engaging novel and she is funny as hell while doing it.



Read a fantasy novel.

For my fantasy novel, I chose a book from a series called Warriors by Erin Hunter which is a series about clans of warrior cats. The notion of cats as warriors makes me feel warm inside so I decided to read the series. I read book one years ago and so when I picked up book two, titled Fire and Ice I had pretty much forgotten all the main events in the first book. However, and I remembered this about book one, the author (in this case authorS...Erin Hunter is a group of different authors, apparently) has built a pretty vivid world. The clans of cats that live outside the realm of "Twolegs" (humans) and proudly consider themselves as distinct as possible from "kittypets", have their own systems of codes and honor, territory and battle. I'm amazed at the world building of these books because it is cleverly constructed and so easily imaginable when you consider the nature of cats as we know them. I think back to when I was the age group for which these books are written and I would have likely burned right through them all. Instead I was busy with Piers Anthony's Xanth series which I remember being weird and not really something I found gripping. I think I read about ten of those and not really enjoying them all that much, which may have in turn put me off fantasy books altogether. But back to Fire and Ice, it was definitely full of adventure and utterly devoid of humor. That would be my one criticism of the book...I feel in my hear that cats, even clans of warior cats, would have senses of humor.


Now that I'm thinking about them, if I was decrepit and ancient, and didn't have three or four jobs at a time, I'd consider rereading one of those Xanth books to jog my memory. But I am and I do so I won't. 

Anyway, I'm not doing this list in any order whatsoever and I'm also reading books outside of this challenge so i don't really know what my next one will be or when. HOW EXCITING!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

My Brain is a Studio Apartment

I've let a lot of my creative pursuits fall by the wayside and am only now wanting to wake back up to them. It was a hard year. So hard that I still feel it sitting there in my brain and stomach, like a fading hangover. But, like an actual hangover, the only true cure is a deep, uninterrupted sleep and the only way to do THAT is to allow for time to pass and room to rest and breathe.

And I've had that. I've had weeks and weeks of that. I've excused and exempted and isolated myself from as much as possible for an extended period of time. (I'm not counting social media because, in news that will shock too many people, social media is not life or connection). I passed the point of finding myself way too comfortable here. And it has to stop.

As someone who usually spends more time inside my head than I do firmly in reality (I'm not exaggerating... I usually have one foot in a daydream at any given time), I have found that it serves creativity well. But it only works if you retreat inside to gather strength or idea or energy from it. If you are only escaping the outside, it won't work. You'll (and by that, I mean ME) only find that it feels good to escape everything and then you'll (I'll) start to question why on earth I would go back out again. Why would I leave the straightforward routine of leaving my house to go to work and come home again, travelling the in between hours in anxious anticipation of returning back to my pajama wearing, distraction seeking state as soon as humanly possible? Why would anyone? That's dangerous thinking right there but it feels comforting to even type it. And that's why I have to put a stop to it.

I can confidently say that my recent, involuntary foray into total reality during those last few months of the year left me...changed. Changed is the most diplomatic way to say "cracked in half down the middle". And so I can't say I recommend a complete return to reality at any given time. Immersion in the fiction of your choice is recommended, in doses. By me. And luckily (for me) the world is spilling over with fictions in which to lose oneself. And I'd encourage everyone to do the same. Don't be totally consumed by alternate forms of reality; this isn't a very special episode about the dangers of Virtual Reality or Dropping Acid. Just make lots and lots of room for escape. Build an extension on your house for escape because, as we learned in 2016, life turns on a dime and you might need the extra energy to cope and you'd best store up for a rainy day. Just don't live there. That's your afternoon nap place. That's your reading room. That's not the kitchen. Eventually you are going to have to find food.

So, where do I start? I'm still thinking about goals to set but I find myself stuck when I think of putting a number on anything. For the first time in forever, losing weight is not on a list of my goals. As I age, I need my psychic energy for pursuits other than counting calories. I don't have room for that anymore. I don't want to measure my life in numbers (or coffee spoons) and, here's a scientific fact(oid): your brain shrinks as you age. Mine is now a studio apartment. A lifelong apartment dweller, I have the skill set for this type of living. I mean, I can cram the hell out of a space. Still, I am usually looking around my space thinking "I should get rid of some stuff." So that's what I just now decided to do this year. I'm getting rid of unnecessary things. Literally, psychically, emotionally, and in all other ways-ly. Maybe I just answered my own question. How very zen of me.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Good, the Good, and the Good

I admit that I've spent a fair amount of the  31,536,000 seconds I was gifted this year, deeply submerged in the muck. In fairness to me (and anyone else who made it through this year with the luxury of feeling bad and then being able to dwell on that feeling) this year has been a cesspool of nonstop horrible shit happening. But, and I find I have to un-suction my rubber boot heels from the mud drenched floor of my state of mind to admit this, it wasn't 100% bad. I mean it WAS all bad if you empathize with the world at large. But I'd be remiss to not acknowledge the pinpricks of starlight in the black sky. In the spirit of not losing the memories I have from 2016 that DON'T make me wish I was in a coma achieved by eating too much ice cream, I've decided to share a list of some here. This post and the list within it will be my vial of antidote serum when life (and Facebook) sprinkles dirt in my fries. Mind altering, laced with cyanide dirt. So here are some moments worth remembering, in no particular order, from 2016:

Getting two of my poems published in June

I don't ever expect anyone to like my writing, ever. It is always a pleasant surprise when someone does and I was thrilled that two of my pieces were published. I truly appreciated that.

Seeing Hamilton in November
There was a moment, during the song "One Last Time" when Chris Jackson as George Washington was ripping his heart out through his lungs and handing it to us all in the audience, when I felt like own heart would burst and I must have reacted physically because Javier Munoz, playing Hamilton, caught my eye and smiled. It was a remarkable, subtle and quick moment that I will always remember. Also, seeing Brandon Victor Dixon stretching in the wings just before the start of the show... it just made me feel with the show. Like we were all snugly protected inside a snowglobe with a beautiful, musical tableau.

Seeing Ireland in September

A hundred and twelve things stand out about this trip: the memories with friends, the flavors, the sounds, the images. The beer, and orange spiced marmalade. The Dublin writer's artifacts preserved in glass cases, the hundred bookstores. But two things stand out above them all.

Since childhood, I have had one recurring dream: that I am inside a house that has neverending rooms, hallways, doors within rooms that lead to other rooms. Invariably in the house, I am charmed and longing to belong there forever. Yet the house, though it is always different, always belongs to someone else, either a friend or someone I just met in the dream. (I had this dream a few weeks ago and the house belonged to my uncle.) Anyway, in Kilkenny there is a restaurant called Langton's. We stopped in there for dinner and quickly realized that one front room/bar was the entrance to a series of long hallways with rooms branching off them, each one either elegantly small and intimate or ornate and ballroom-like. There seemed to be no end to the rooms within and walking through it was walking through my dream. That's a cool thing that will likely never happen to me again. But I was lucky it did, even once.

The second memory is this: Standing on the lunar landscape of the Irish coast in between destinations on a chilly September afternoon, belly full of the most delicious seafood soup I have ever eaten in a lifetime of eating soup, is a visual, aural, and sensory fingerprint on my brain. I envision the future me, maybe having lost my mind to age or sorrow or some other thing that happens to us all and closing my eyes and feeling all of it all over again. That happened this year.

Radiohead Concert at MSG in July

From the moment I first heard Radiohead in the wee hours of a lonely dorm room night in the winter of 1995, I was hooked. For life. And though I've seen Radiohead many, many times I don't think I needed to until this year. I needed that switch turned on. And the opening bars of "Let Down", the first time I've heard that song played live, did it. I was high fiving strangers and crying and it was beautiful.

Harry Potter World in June

Nancy and I sat in the shade on a bench in between rides and drank frozen Butterbeer and laughed. Is there a more fun sentence?

Maine in November

I took a girls' weekend to Camden, Maine this November and the road trip was so fun that I was able to think about everything but my sad, broken heart. There is nothing better than friends (and booze) to help you and don't let anyone tell you differently.

All year long

I am surrounded by love and support, by friendship and comfort and I would never have made it without you, you know who you all are. I get the same feeling around you as I do when I'm tucked underneath my electric blanket.

So there is always that.