Category: Reading


I suppose it’s only proper that I don’t know how to begin this post – I’m about to start a new part of my life and I don’t really know how to begin that, either. I just know that at 8am Monday morning, I will need to be awake(!), showered(!!), caffeinated (necessary, really) and functional(!!!) in a location roughly 30 minutes from where I’m sitting right now. Then I will shadow someone I’ve never met during her morning rounds before heading off to a wine seminar in the afternoon.

Thus begins my new job, 33 or so hours after I leave my old one. I’m seriously overwhelmed.

At least I won’t miss a paycheck.

The new job is everything I could really hope for right now – it’s in a field I like, sounds like a ton of fun, has totally normal adult hours, normal adult really amazing benefits, weekends off, business cards, responsibilities, a 401(k), all that sort of stuff that seems semi-standard for middle class Americana.* I know plenty of people who, at my age, already have all of these things, have had them for so long that these things are totally normal life.

For me, however, this kind of life has always seemed far away from my own. When I was in my early twenties, active avoidance of business cards and the associated lifestyle (and income, apparently) made up a larger portion of my decision to go to grad school than I’d care to admit to then or now. By my later twenties, weighted down with years of grad school and nothing to show for it besides an MA, panic disorder and an inability to sleep, things like business cards and an 8-5 job with actual responsibilities felt out of reach, like I’d somehow screwed everything up and would never get to that level. When the only job I could get after quitting my Ph.D. was at a liquor store, those fears felt like they’d been confirmed.

The liquor store job, however, turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me after grad school. It was low-stress, mostly fun, and filled with happy, well-adjusted, relaxed people. Work involved very little of me sitting on my butt at a computer, meaning that I’d get home eager to sit and write. Most of the time I spent there was in full workout mode, lifting 30 packs of awful beer or cases of wine or spirits or whatever else and carting them all over the place; the rest of the time was spent dealing with customers, an experience that was alternately good and harrowing. I have stories, but I’ll probably never share them. The good people are wonderful but boring; the nutcases I’d rather never think about again.

The best thing some days was that we got to drink on the job. It was almost mandated sometimes, when sales reps would trot in, bags of wine bottles slung on their shoulders, and we’d adjourn to the tasting area to rip through 3-10 wines, discuss, and move on with the day. I decided I wanted that job almost immediately.

That’s the job I start Monday. Even better: I get to work with beer as well as wine.

I’m still not sure how it happened. I mean, I know how it happened: I applied, they looked at my resume, read my beer/wine blog, interviewed me, hired me. But still, knowing how rootless and terrified I felt this time a year ago, I’m not sure how it happened. I know that that person – the rootless, terrified one – and I are the same. We share the same memories, we know the same people, we like the same drinks. But where the rootless, terrified person looked at herself and saw a string of failure, I feel pretty good right now.

I cannot believe that this is my life.

I should be asleep right now. I am so, so screwed when Monday morning comes around and I’m supposed to be functional earlier than I’ve tried to wake up in months. My sleep schedule has been set to “adolescent on summer break” for so long that I have no idea how to break it. I tried earlier this week. It, um, didn’t last. It’s 1:43am and I’m typing instead of sleeping.

In other “I am not yet a motherfucking adult” woes, I’m 31 and I have zero professional wardrobe, because I haven’t yet needed one. In grad school and teaching, I wore jeans with whatever shirt and a pair of Chucks or clunky heels. At the liquor store, I wore older jeans with whatever shirt and Chucks. I haven’t needed “work clothes” since my tellering days in college. Now I find myself in dire need of something professional and no clue how to do this.** My attempts to begin to put one together today involved Ann Taylor’s sales rack and three and a half hours in other stores. Net acquisition: one pair of capris to wear on my first day. I’ll wear them with cognac heels and _______ shirt. Probably the shirt I wore to the interview, because I haven’t the foggiest what else I have that I could wear. At the same time, I’m laughing at myself that clothing is my biggest worry right now. It feels amazing.

Clothing woes aside, I’m waiting for the moment when I can look at my job and my life and not feel stunned. Maybe someday I’ll even settle down enough to write some more.

Life is strange and oddly beautiful sometimes.

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*Or at least used to be standard. After the economic crash, it’s hard to say anything’s standard anymore. Especially for people in their 20s and early 30s.
**I *would* have to end up at the distributor whose reps never wear jeans. The other guys almost always do. We don’t. I’m actually good with this – the reps at my new company always look fabulous – but this is not helpful in a ‘what to wear’ sense. That said, it is truly neat to be in a field where looking fashionable is seen as desirable. That wasn’t always the case in academics – good fashion sense was sometimes taken as a sign that the fashionable person was not living a proper ‘life of the mind.’

Note: I’m categorizing this under “reading” because I feel like I’m reading my life right now rather than living it. I’m not sure how to live it yet.

Fun with comic strips

Because you should see this too:

3eanuts is Peanuts – like Linus and Snoopy and Charlie Brown and the gang – with the last panel removed. That’s it.

It’s the same sort of idea as Garfield Without Garfield – remove the single thing that makes the strip ostensibly funny, and you’re left with a bleak picture of despair.

The essential difference: Garfield Without Garfield shows that Jon Arbuckle is at least halfway crazy. Like, Crazy Cat Lady crazy with a gender switch, perhaps a bit younger (I gather Jon is maybe in his 20s? Maybe?). 3eanuts is all characters pointing out the essential horrible basis of life itself – with the last panel gone (where there’s apparently a joke made to make the preceding panels somehow lighthearted?), it’s all bad. Like, sad in the type of way that it’s mindblowing that the Peanuts ever made it onto the comics pages, much less became a cast of well-beloved characters known by pretty much everyone in the Northwestern quadrant of the planet.

There was an earthquake in New Zealand earlier today, as I’m sure you all have heard about by now.

I heard about the earthquake on Twitter before I heard about it anywhere else. This is my fault for checking Twitter before I checked any “real” news sources, but it’s still a weird feeling.

My reaction is largely the same as everyone else’s – I want to say something that will express concern or sorrow about what happened. You know, something meaningful. Anything meaningful. As a facebook status update or a tweet or blog post or something.

But I can’t seem to get there, no matter how many times I rewrite this post or retype my would-be tweets or anything else. My thought pattern is as follows: there’s no point in calling it a tragedy, because this is obvious, and labeling it as such accomplishes nothing. There’s no point in saying “I hope everyone is okay,” because they aren’t okay. People are dead, or they’ve lost family members or their homes or just the sense that the earth will not actually move out from under their feet. And saying some variation on a theme of “I’m sending thoughts/prayers/hopes for recovery” seems repetitive, as it’s already been said in 50,000 other posts/updates/tweets before mine.

So I find myself sitting here with multiple social platforms on which to say anything at all about the New Zealand earthquake, and all I can come up with is that I think it’s odd, yet indicative of life (either my life specifically, or “life in these times” if you prefer the global version), that I heard about it from Neil Gaiman’s Twitter feed before I learned anything else about it.

I’m leaving it with that, and hoping that people don’t think I’m callous for not posting some sort of platitude about hoping things get better quickly. I do hope that. But I can’t see the point in clogging peoples’ newsfeeds with it.

YA Book List

In which I post a list of books seen on a forum that I have not yet read but need to, in hopes that I don’t forget which books they are whilst in the bookstore:

– The Perks of Being a Wallflower
– Feed (MT Anderson) (I KNOW)
– If I Stay (Gayle Forman)
– Uglies, etc (Scott Westerfeld) (SRSLY I SUCK FOR NOT HAVING READ THESE YET I KNOW)
– Goose Girl
– The Only Alien on the Planet
– The Maze Runner
– The Forest of Hands and Teeth (I KNOW I KNOW)
– The Tapestry Series (Henry Neff)
– Liar (Justine Larbalestier)

Will update as I see things.
Also open for suggestions. Please!

Read This Book. Do It.

Like most of the rest of the blogosphere, I contemplated doing some sort of “Best of 2010 in My Unhumble Opinion”-style series. I opted not to.*

But. There’s this book. It’s called The Sky is Everywhere. The author is Jandy Nelson. You should read it.

I will attempt to summarize the plot by saying that it’s about a 17-year-old girl, Lennie, whose sister has very recently died. The book chronicles Lennie’s attempts to deal, which admittedly sounds like the most depressing thing ever. It’s not.

This book flattened me against a wall, had me crying in approximately three paragraphs, had me laughing through my tears in another three, crying again in seven, and falling in love in ten. Reading this book was this intense, crazy, wild suckerpunch of an experience. Like, it physically hurt.

I couldn’t put it down.

By the time I finished, it was uncomfortably close to 4am and I felt like I’d lived an entire lifetime’s worth of emotion. I remember staring blankly at the wall for a few minutes after I put it down. I felt drained, but happy. Really, really happy. And like life is worth trying to enjoy even when it sucks.

Honestly, there were a ton of books I loved this year, especially in the YA realm.** But The Sky is Everywhere blew me away . I’ve made it a mission to make sure everyone I know who reads any YA whatsoever reads it and will be loaning my copy out the moment I get it back from its current borrower.

You should read it. Like, tomorrow. Seriously. Read it.

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*Honestly, I got stuck on the music category. STUCK. Plus there’s the issue that most movies this year flat sucked. However, Best New TV Show would go to “Archer.” No question.

**Kiersten White’s Paranormalcy, Kristen Cashore’s Fire (and Graceling, which isn’t from 2010 but which I didn’t discover until May), and Stephanie Perkin’s Anna and the French Kiss all come to mind immediately.

Resolutions

I have this thing about New Year’s Resolutions which comes from a few years of working the front desk in a gym. Every January, I’d watch as a new crop of random people would come, pat themselves on the back for coming*, show up for a few weeks, dwindle, show up again armed this time with excuses for why they missed the week before, and then be completely defeated by the time Valentine’s Day and its omnipresent boxes of chocolate showed up.

This parade happened with depressing regularity each year. The worst part was the inevitable week in early February when a bunch of people who had been around for the first couple of weeks in January would show up and give me their guilt-laden excuses for missing their workouts, as though their presence or absence meant anything to me beyond a few more towels to throw in the laundry. The Giving Of The Excuse To The Desk Clerk was usually the death knell of the Resolution. By Valentine’s Day, the gym would be back to its usual crop of regulars.

I always got the feeling the ones who delivered excuses to me wanted me to care. Perhaps they were hoping something I said in my role as Desk Clerk and Towel Bitch could help alleviate what sometimes looked to be a crushing mound of guilt. Truth is, however, that I never know what to say to someone who, having never previously worked out a day in her/his life, comes up with a goal like “go to the gym five times a week” and then fails to live up to it. I mean, “that obviously wasn’t going to work out” doesn’t seem helpful. And “how about shooting for a realistic goal next time, Sparky,” probably isn’t the best thing to say to someone who is already beating themselves up underperforming.**

I think that starting something big, like changing a routine, is probably best not done at the beginning of the year. For one thing, the people I was watching at the gym constantly came up with much higher, more unrealistic goals for themselves for New Year’s Resolutions than they would bother with any other time of year, thus setting themselves up for all kinds of failure and guilt. I recognize of course that there’s an obvious poetry to the idea of starting fresh every year, but there’s an equally depressing counterpart in realizing, four weeks later, that you’re still roughly the same person you were when number on the calendar was one less than it is now.

I’ve found for me that with new routines, it’s kind of nice *not* to start at the beginning of the year: it takes longer mentally to calculate how long it’s been that I’ve been doing something new, meaning that I’m less likely to bother calculating how long the change has been in effect.**** The upshot of not knowing how long I’ve been at something is that I never expect anything to change, until one day I wake up and some unknown quantity of weeks sweating through Jillian Michaels videos has produced noticeable shoulder muscles. At that moment, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. (Like shoulder muscles. Seriously. SO COOL.) Meanwhile, if I have a routine for a week or two and then quit it, I don’t have the weight of a New Year’s Resolution to make me feel like I’ve somehow failed myself.

The point here is that I don’t generally like the whole New Year’s Resolution thing (when taken seriously, that is) because of the guilt people seem to feel when they (inevitably, perhaps) shatter it. I think most of us live with way too much guilt in our lives to need any more added through something like breaking a Resolution. Consequently, I make Resolutions that won’t bug me when I end up breaking them.

With much ado, then, allow me to present this year’s New Year’s Resolution: I hereby resolve to spend less time listening to Radiohead’s song “Like Spinning Plates [Live]” – having listened to it over 100 times since I bought it last May, I think I should give it a rest and find something else to obsess over.

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*I’m not snarking here at all. I think showing up at the gym and working out deserves a pat on the back, because it’s a damnably difficult routine to get oneself into if one isn’t already working out with some degree of regularity.

**Something I’ve noticed in life: people who have failed to reach a goal tend not to want to hear that they should try shooting for a less ambitious goal in the future. Being told to try for less seems to reinforce the feeling of having failed or something like that, I think.

***Especially in the food/eating/weight/body image category, but that is another post. Or another blog, potentially. But not one that I’ll be writing – that shit is HARD.

****For those of you who didn’t know, sloth is probably my most commonly committed of the deadly sins.

Lulzing at the ads

NOT A NANO POST FOR ONCE.

I have successfully confused whatever program it is that programs what ads I get on facebook that I was presented with the following mishmash today:
– “FREE Baby Samples” – because I am female and over 30 and therefore must have a babby. Groan.
– “Fantastic Sams of Gardner, KS is giving away $7 haircuts!” – because I haven’t listed my job and don’t talk about it much, so they must (correctly, admittedly) assume that my ass is broke – although why they’re trying to send me to tiny Gardner for *anything* when I’m probably closer to Lawrence and Kansas City is beyond me. Seriously.
– “Do it all the Write Way” – some sort of set of tools to take me “from initial concept to finished novel.” Complete with a picture of a woman with rolled-up sleeves and arms up like she’s showing off her biceps standing behind a MacBook Pro, as though novel writing involved lots of pumping of fists (rather than gnashing of teeth and wearing away of stomach lining from caffeine and alcohol and angst). Also, if it’s not Scrivener, I don’t want it. I do kinda want Scrivener, but I don’t know about flipping to a brand new program 6 days into NaNo.
– “Become a Personal Trainer” – well, I’ve listed working out as an activity I enjoy, so maybe that’s it?

Actually, what I find funny about these ads in combination is that the facebook ad sensor seems to have picked up on my general “what the fuck do I do with my life” malaise that I’ve had for months (years?) now, without having picked up on my new part-time beer job. Also, like I said, I’m over 30 and female and therefore must be in want of a babby.

Best thing: there aren’t any diet ads! Apparently me marking every diet ad that’s shown up for over a year as “offensive” (do-able by clicking on the x in the corner of the ad and then telling them why you don’t like it) is working. No more “Oprah’s Miracle Acai Berry Diet!” for me!

And of course, the
Obligatory NaNo update, day 6 (morning):

Cups of coffee consumed: 3 mochas, 5 cups of regular coffee, 1 chai
Number of meals forgotten about/eaten late: 3
Glasses of booze consumed: 4
Words written: 11601 (before I’ve even gotten started today!)
Weirdest Google Search since the last update: Wistman’s Wood (images) (<— totes search that. SO COOL LOOKING)

UPDATE: Midnight, day 6: 13312 words.
Midnight, day 7: 14853 words.
Midnight, day 8 (HOW HAS IT BEEN 8 DAYS ALREADY): 16825 words.
Midnight, day 9: 18190 words.
Midnight, day 10: 18831 words, having not written at all since 2am. I NEED TO WRITE NOW.
Midnight, day 11: 21227 words.
Midnight, day 12: 22412 words.
Midnight, day 13: 23327 words and no time to write.

Woah (said like Keanu)

Theoretical physics makes my brain hurt.

Read this.

What I just linked you to is an article about a group of physicists who have decided, per a bunch of math I have no hope of ever beginning to comprehend, that there’s a possibility the universe might be holographic. Like, 2-D. Like, the entire third dimension (you know, the dimension that makes us different than flat planes of nothingness?) is a lie fabricated by our brains as they attempt to make sense of vibrations in the space-time continuum (which, apparently, is FLAT)(or something).

To test said hypothesis, or rather to give themselves some data to work with so that they’re not just playing with entirely abstract mathematics, they’ve built themselves something called a holometer. I read what it does and I don’t think I understand it well enough to paraphrase it here – I’ll just let you work with whatever understanding you came up with in your reading. What I *can* say about it is that this whole thing reminds me of the machine Mary plays with in His Dark Materials (I forget which book exactly, but I think maybe the Subtle Knife). You know, the one where the Dust starts talking to her through whatever computer program she’s come up with.

Because honestly, after reading that the third dimension might be a misconception of our poor, unable-to-function-at-light-speed brains, I don’t think I’d be at all surprised if dark matter started talking to us.

ETA: About five minutes after I posted this, I almost squeed out loud because I realized that I really don’t remember which book Mary talks to the Dust in, which means that I have an excuse to re-read the whole trilogy, which makes me 5,000 kinds of excited.

About thirty seconds later, I realized that His Dark Materials, alone with 99.7% of the rest of my book collection, is packed in a box in my parents’ basement and I have no idea when I’ll be able to see it again. But you can bet your bippie that when I find those books, they’re shooting straight to the top of my reading pile.

“Naive” Reading

A friend of mine posted this article, “In Defense of Naive Reading,” on her facebook. For the rest of this to make any sense, you need to read the article first. It isn’t long and isn’t particularly jargon heavy. So go read it.

*waits*

Okay. What happened in this article is that Pippin was able to crystallize exactly why it is that I’m having such a hard time convincing myself that finishing my dissertation is actually worthwhile, or that there’s all that much worthwhile in the upper-level studies of literature as currently conducted in the halls of academia (note: I am absolutely not picking on any academics as individuals or trying to criticize their work in any way – this is about the field in general).

Pippin sums up my personal issue in his reading of “Washington Square” at the end of the article. To understand the novella (to understand anything of Henry James, really) is to understand the feelings and thoughts and unconscious motivations of the characters and how they interact. To branch this out into some sort of post-Marxist reading on the way that socio-economic status creates those feelings or interactions (to give one example out of a million) in many ways misses the point of what James created in the story. Yes, there is a valid reading in depersonalizing the story, looking at the characters as types rather than individuals, reading it as a condemnation of a certain economic system at a certain point in time, broadening that into a discussion of how that economic system continues to interpellate (not interpolate) us even now, &tc. It’s a perfectly valid reading, and one that I’m sure has been performed before. But in performing this type of reading, we lose the pinpoint understanding of individuals that the story provides if only we’re willing to let it.

In reading the story through the lens of a theory, any theory, the story becomes lost. I’ve seen plenty of arguments saying that it’s just bad scholarship that lets this happen: good scholarship is using theory to help elucidate the text, whereas bad scholarship lets theory override the text. To me, this is the same thing. And it’s because the moment theory is introduced, we’re not talking about STORIES anymore – we’re talking about TEXTS.

I’m pretty sure Henry James didn’t think of himself as writing texts; I’m pretty sure he thought of himself as writing stories. The difference is crucial: a text is base that allows for the creation of meaning through some sort of active method, and a text can be *anything*. A story has an embedded meaning that, when accessed, lets the reader learn something about people, about ideas, whatever. A story engages the reader, brings the reader along for the ride, leaves the reader at a new point and with a new understanding that they didn’t have in the beginning. A story can’t be just *anything*. Not every text can do the work of a story – I’m going to assume that you, reading this, know that this text is not a story in the same way that you intuitively know that something like “the Cat in the Hat” is.

And so the thing is this: using theory to create meaning out of texts is good and fine and will contribute to a body of scholarship and will give scholars plenty to debate and argue and snark at each other about. But it’s not any better or any worse than reading a story to read a story and let the story tell you what it wants to tell you. If Pippin wants (semi-ironically) to refer to the latter as “naive” reading, then fine – that’s certainly what the academy thinks of it (if it thought better of allowing such a thing, one presumes that it would happen more often at least once in every 1,000 published articles).

But as someone who spent 7 years of grad school (and at least 3 more during my undergrad) using theory to understand texts, I’m returned to simply reading stories. And in doing so, I feel like the stories I’m reading have regained something they’d lost, something that drove me into literary study in the first place: their meaning. Maybe their souls, if that’s not too cheesypoo. I feel like I’ve learned more about life and people and how to deal with it all in six months of reading foofy YA novels than I did in the solid decade of performing literary “research.” I’m happier. I enjoy reading again. And oddly, stories seem now more worthy of study than they did when I was actually studying them.

And this is why I’d rather write stories than scholarship. I learn more in writing a story than I do in writing a well-researched piece of scholarship. And I have more fun. So I’m writing stories now, and I don’t miss grad school at all.

Read this article. It’s a brilliant piece of satire that appeared in the UK’s Guardian recently. It sums up exactly how pretty much every article on some scientific finding is written up. It’s absolute genius.

And it explains part of why I’m happy to have stopped watching the news so much.

When we lived in PA, Tony and I were 24/7 news junkies – we had a standing evening date to watch Keith Olbermann (and sometimes Rachel Maddow, if we didn’t decide to jump ship to Comedy Central and watch Futurama instead). If we wanted the tv on for background noise, it was typically on the news. If we weren’t sure what to watch because nothing was on (typical, given we had 100 or so channels), then we’d turn on the news.  It turned into a lot of news.

There were some good things that came out of it: we could both name all 9 justices (how many people can still do that after 12th grade?), and between the two of us we could name at least 60 US Senators.

But the news, which was already dumbed down, got dumber. In part, I blame whichever studio exec it was who decided Twitter was fun and that the solution to falling ratings was to have the news announcers read the tweets of the unwashed, uneducated, opinionated masses. *insert several headdesks here* The thing is this: if you’re tuning into the news, chances are you want to see some actual NEWS, and maybe some commentary from an honest-to-Ceiling Cat EXPERT. What you don’t really want (or at least what I really, really didn’t want) was an ongoing relay of every tweet anyone (especially celebrities) had tweeted about whatever the hot news topic of the day happened to be. I have yet to figure out why I’m supposed to care what some random English teacher (being picked on because I’ve been one) has to say about the Obama Administration’s policy towards Georgia (the country, not the state)(though I don’t care what said teacher would care about policy toward the state, for that matter).

When they’re not reading tweets, the news channels are engaging in artificial shit-stirring of the type so brilliantly satirized by the article I linked to at the beginning of the post. Most of the time it’s in the political arena. (I mean honestly, was it *really* a big deal that Michelle Obama took a daughter to Paris over the summer? No. She went on vacation to visit friends. She took her daughter. They can afford it. They had fun. The end.) If it’s not politics, then it’s celebrities, and if it’s not celebrities, it’s the ONOES! (choose one) sugar/caffeine/exercise/red wine/excess fat/cats/lack of sleep/stress/chocolate/pencil skirts/work/unemployment/high heels/marijuana/carbs/vaccines WILL KILL YOU DED TOMORROW IF YOU DON’T WATCH THIS NEXT SEGMENT.

Frankly, people, it got old. And we moved out to Kansas, and suddenly we’re watching very little tv. I get my news from the Daily Show, which is as it should be, and from a quick flip through the New York Times website. If something looks important, I’ll read more. But my life is happier and much less stressful when I’m not paying attention to every ounce of maneuvering going on between John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi because, honestly, none of it matters. (It would matter if they ever accomplished anything, but anymore that seems too much to ask.)

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