You Can’t Blame Walmart For Everything That Goes Wrong In Your Life

If you are a regular reader of my blog you know that I love to write. You also know that I love Duchess Goldblatt. I promised Her Grace I would give her a short story for Valentine’s Day. This is it. And, I am excited to say, while I wish I had another week to work on it, still, it is the FIRST thing I have FINISHED in far too long a time. I am hoping these 6500 words are the beginning of the renewal of my writing mojo. One more thing for which I have Duchess Goldblatt to thank.

 

YOU CAN’T BLAME WAL-MART FOR EVERYTHING THAT GOES WRONG IN YOUR LIFE

Bad enough Paul’s life was a Balzac-ian complication of recklessness, rue, and repentance, but it was one of those days when his mother’s purportedly failing eighty-six year old senses were miraculously restored, as was so often the case, just in time to criticize him.

“Let me see,” his mother said, annoyed, from across the room.

“You can’t see, remember?” Paul mumbled.

“I heard that.”

Another miracle, Paul thought, but didn’t dare say out loud since it seemed his mother’s morning prayers had been divided between Saint Francis de Sales, patron saint of the hard of hearing, and Saint Lucia, virgin martyr of the blind, whose eyes had been gouged out by her Roman captors only to regenerate the next day. The self-serving, conveniently timed healings Paul’s mother experienced were less dramatic. She attributed them to the hand-painted, leather icons of Saints Lucy and Frank she wore round her neck, talismans bought for her off Etsy by Judith, the Shalimar-soaked lay-Catholic-minister who brought communion on Sunday mornings to the Sylvan Commons religionists devout enough to desire it but not-quite-so devout as to suffer the ordeal of the elaborate ablutions and preparations required to hie self and preferred method of ambulatory assistance — walker, cane, wheelchair – to the lobby, out of doors to be hoist mechanically up and into the step-van with its logo of faux-bucolic design Paul despised for its seeming to announce, “This vehicle carries a cargo of the nearly dead; KEEP BACK!,” which van then shuttled the hell-fearing inhabitants cross town on a twenty minute ride to the church where they would be lowered again to ground, deposited at the foot of the handicap ramp, corralled into the too hot or too cold (depending on the season) nave, where one had to find a pew from which to tolerate the usually inaudible service after which one was rushed out, re-hoisted into the van, spend another twenty minutes trapped with a bunch of mostly unlikeable codgers and be dumped back at Sylvan Commons, hasten to one’s room, liberate one’s self into comfortable clothes, all of which burdensome trial seemed unlikely to curry enough favor with God to be worth the fatigue and inconvenience of all the effort, especially when gift-giving Judith was available, offering individual attention and Etsy-trinkets. Besides which, Paul’s mother didn’t care much for traveling in groups. She preferred being the center of attention with a dedicated attendant – preferably one to whom she had given birth – focused solely on obeying her commands on the way to and from destinations where the goal was less lofty and more useful than speaking with God; she could talk to Him on her own time and Judith made salvation portable, but new clothes required a trip to Wal-Mart or J.C.Penney or, best of all, Boscov’s, where his mother wished to bring up going today if only Paul could manage to peel the peaches correctly without getting furious at her.

“Just let me see. I can hear from the heavy plopping in the sink you’re doing it wrong. You’re cutting too deep into the meat of the fruit. I can hear it.”

Paul thought, unkindly, “I’d like to cut too deeply into the meat of this fruit, right around my wrists, and call it a life.” But he didn’t say it, and descended into a spasm of liberal guilt for the internalized, culturally embedded homophobia of the languaging of his death wish, and so, Continue reading

Reading: Cara Hoffman’s RUNNING

runningRunning, a novel, by Cara Hoffman, hardcover, 288 pp, Simon & Schuster, February, 2017

Every so often we dedicated, obsessive, addicted readers are gobsmacked out of literary complacency by a writer’s voice so new, so different, so arrestingly outlier we rediscover the joy of being book-crazy.

The first for me occurred in my early teens when I read Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays. Three times in a row. For decades I tried to infuse everything I wrote with Didion’s sardonic meticulousness, a spare, surgical precision of language and illuminating detail, all of which were built on a foundation of unrelenting despairing over the diminution of hope and possibility of basic, human goodness in the world . Of course, I failed.

It took the encouragement and insight of a writer and writing teacher, Bart Yates, during a summer I spent at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, to finally allow me to embrace my own voice; a style that is Balzacian in its digressions and parenthetical ramblings, circuitous and discursive, because I think and see reality in that way: tessellation layered on tessellation, variously opaque and transparent depending on the angle of approach, fluid, kaleidoscopic, without edges or boundaries, morphing into something new between the first and final word of each sentence. I work by piling on stratum, like coats of paint but in slightly different shades in slightly different shapes, a pentimento which, I believe, is the result of having spent a life talking to people I thought spoke my language but who, it turned out, received from me messages I never meant to send or say. It is, I know, difficult to believe when reading my words the amount of time I spend re-writing and editing; but I do. I cut everything I write by at least a third after the first draft.

Now, while I’ve found encouragement from the occasional reader, literature professor, and some book-world professionals, much as I never found the man with whom I could form a lasting relationship, I also never found the agent who said, “Yes, this is a voice I think I can sell.” There is no doubt that my writing, like my personality, has a limited, short-term trick sort of appeal. But it is, without question, writing that could come only from me.

All of which is to say, when one reads a hundred books a year and comes across a voice and work so unique one is forced to read and think in a new way, it is cause for celebration.

From the opening pages of Cara Hoffman’s Running, there was just such an explosion of Saturnalia in my grateful reader’s brain and heart. This isn’t a novel which, having finished, you feel you’ve read so much as an experience you feel you’ve lived. Cara Hoffman’s gut-level writing has a visceral effect: you feel it. Listen to the opening paragraph:

Jasper died a week before I returned to Athens, so I never saw him again. They carried him out and down and he died in England, or maybe on the plane. There were witnesses in the lobby. There was a story in the newspaper. There was, the drunk boy said without raising his eyes to meet mine, proof.

That is a slap in the face of a first sentence. It shocks, this near keening pronouncement of sorrow, grief, and loss. It has the same effect as hearing a too-personal confession from a stranger on a bus, and depending on what kind of person (and reader) you are it will repel or fascinate — or both. Note too the rhythm of those five sentences: The first, with its dichotomy of long, beautiful lilt composed of horrifying words; the second, another lilt but broken up into a triad of tragedy and confusion: They carried him out and down/ and he died in England / or maybe on the plane; and then the third and fourth sentences, a continuation of what had begun in the triad, the staccato, cold, factual punch of loss; and finally, the fifth sentence, which, with its commas, slows us down, finishes us off, seems to promise an explanation for the surfeit of mysterious information in this disclosure.

Spare. Precise. Didion-like. And, extraordinarily illuminating while still leaving us much in the dark.

The first person voice belongs to Bridey Sullivan, seventeen-year-old American who has drifted to Athens where she meets queer couple, Jasper Lethe and Milo Rollack, and the three form a dangerously explosive — literally and figuratively — family who survive by being runners, which are “expats who trawl trains in search of unsuspecting tourists to bring to low-end hotels in exchange for drink money and a free place to stay.”

Bridey’s narration alternates with third person sections, focused mostly on Milo’s experiences and point of view, and while these are more distant than Bridey’s telling of the story, they are more revealing, divulging more history; we know more facts about Milo than we do about Bridey and Jasper.

Jasper. He is the most unknown and yet the most vivid, the one with whom you are most likely to fall in love, the most naked of emotion and unguarded in action, naif and monster. He has echoes of Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited — both in his habitual drunkenness and what appears to be a purposeful slide from well-bred, upper crust British-ness into spent, sordid, wandering wastrel. And, too as in Brideshead, there is the triangular love affair, and the disastrous and heartbreaking mistake of loving people for what is inchoate, for that which we imagine them to be rather than accepting them for who they are.

By the same token, we (and these characters — to one degree or another) want to be loved for who we have pretended to be, for the delusions in which we wrap ourselves. The novel jumps in time — frequently — like memory, which brings me to what I find to be the real genius of this literary treasure.

Cara Hoffman writes in a way close to magical in its likeness to real life. Reality isn’t linear; knowing people isn’t a matter of she was born, she went to school here, then this then that. No, life and knowing people is a process of dribs and drabs of gathering information, impressions made and assumptions affirmed or corrected, a concatenation of disparate events and experiences, emotions and the evolution of cognizance of spirit. In Running, as in life, we are not so much handed information about the characters or told what to think, instead, we are shown who and what and how they are, here and there, allowed — well, required to interpret and fill-in and come to our own conclusions.

And what a gift. There is a transcendent beauty in the sculpted, plangent prose, much of which is describing an oppressive heat and ominous atmosphere of danger and threat. Ennui is somehow made romantic, anomie a goal. Listen to this sentence about two experienced runners, Stephan and Candy:

They were ten years older than the rest of us, and vastly more accomplished at being gone.

Isn’t that beautiful? And, later (although, earlier too — god, I love how Cara Hoffman plays with time and memory) there is this when Bridey asks Milo — with “Jasper’s pale body lying sated between them,” — this question; “Why are you here?”

The question startled him. There were many reasons and he was sure she knew them all. Jasper’s voice, her strange face. The heat of day. The warm sustained painlessness of drink. The music on the platform. The feeling that everything had already ended and this was the place you go after it’s over. He was there for the sound of Jasper’s breathing, his mouth, his cock. Her eyes upon them. Everything’s a symbol, a shape replacing the thought that created it. All the words they’d swallowed, the words they couldn’t say. He knew it was the drug of their bodies had him thinking like that night after night. The nearly invisible down on the back of Jasper’s neck had poisoned him. Why was he here? Who would look after Jasper, he thought, if he wasn’t?

Pardon my lack of erudition and breeding, but, holy shit that’s some gorgeous prose and syntax coupled with trenchant, remarkably unexpected and stunningly revealing insight, a cacophony of sensual impression, emotional reaction, personal philosophy, building to a climax of wanting to be needed, and all told in the voice of a poet, which Milo becomes, many of his pieces of the narrative taking place long years after the center of his life, this Athens, this running, with Jasper, with Bridey.

I know, I am going on too long, as I always do, and quoting too much, which I feel I must when the words are so hypnotically gripping. So, before I go, let me say that the final page, its three paragraphs, those six sentences, are breathtaking in their perfection. Without giving anything away, I quote this part of one: “…people gaze in awe at a reconstructed ruin.”

Yes, that, because we, the readers blessed with this unique, arresting, daring, blazingly moving novel, are here, looking back at human ruinations, remade into something beautiful in an entirely different way.

Cara Hoffman deserves a wide readership and Running places her — for me — in that pantheon of modern-day writers and innovators of literary fiction whose next gift to us I eagerly await, knowing of the hundred books I read a year, it will be one that not only does not disappoint, but expands and enlightens me. I know myself well enough to know that now, for a few weeks at least, I am going to have to FIGHT the urge to try to write with a voice like Cara Hoffman’s, which is a voice you MUST READ.

Reading: Sunday Three-way Quickies

Lately, I find the world to be overwhelming, and so, I decided to take yesterday, Sunday, February 5, off. I never picked up my smart phone, never turned on my lap top, avoided as much TV as I could (it was on in another room, so I heard/saw it a bit), and other than showering, and making and cleaning up after dinner, I did nothing but read. I finished three books. Here they are, in order.

all-the-birdsAll The Birds In The Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders, hardcover, 320pp, January 2016, Tor Books

Though published over a year ago, this novel comes uncomfortably close to current events; so much so, as its darker elements unfolded my body began manifesting stress reactions; tight chest, flipping stomach, nervous need to move a lot: which either means I’m crazy or the book was really well written. I suspect it was a little of the former and a lot of the latter.

The story is built of the foundation of the relationship between Patricia Delfine, who is adept at magic — in particular, controlling the elements of nature, and Laurence Armstead, who is a brilliant scientist/inventor. They first meet as children, lose touch through what seems like betrayal and plotting against them, and reunite accidentally (or not) in young adulthood by which time Magic versus Science has become a conflict which threatens the continuation of the world as we know it.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I found particularly fulgent the construction of the Magic and Science divisions. As with the world today — say, Democrats and Republicans — there were schisms within each side, good and bad, with plenty of gray area folks, including the two main characters. Both Patricia and Laurence behave in ways that are less than ideal, and, too, both perform acts of dangerous selflessness. It is not a spoiler to say that when the two at last find union, there comes at the world a devastating event of unknown origin; almost as if the fates of our main characters were tied to the survival of humanity. Hmmm.

But, it’s not all heavy and dystopian-lecture-y like so many novels of this genre can be. Charlie Jane Anders is often hilarious. Here, one example:

Trust hipsters to make even the collapse of civilization unbearably twee.

Damn, I wish I had written that line. Look, I’m not doing justice to this novel. What is great about this book is the way in which Charlie Jane Anders builds worlds and describes events that would qualify this as science fiction/fantasy in such a natural, organic way it defies categorization, its elements eliding also into romance, satire, and literary fiction. Here’s a thought: How about we do with novels what we ought to be doing with people? Stop categorizing.

All The Birds In The Sky is a fast, compelling, provocative, steamy, witty, thought-provoking read by a literate and gifted author who tackles big ideas in a way that is sneakily entertaining. And, while just a few months ago, a novel built around a possible world war might have seemed inconceivable, sadly, now, it feels nearly documentary.

And terrifying.

history-is-all-you-left-meHistory Is All You Left Me, by Adam Silvera, hardcover, 294pp, January 2017, Soho Teen

For my second read of the day, I chose Adam Silvera’s debut, More Happy Than Not, enjoyed it, admired it, and was waiting impatiently for his next novel. I wasn’t disappointed.

Griffin and one of his best friends, Theo, fall in love and confess/come out to one another cute on a subway ride. Theo leaves for college on the West Coast. Starts seeing Jackson. Theo dies. Griffin and Jackson hate each other, resent each other, and have only each other to understand what the loss of Theo feels like. Griffin is suffering from compulsive behaviors and is keeping secrets and holding onto guilt that exacerbates his self-destructive choices.

Okay, I’m a sucker for Young Adult gay romances. I read them and revel, overjoyed that young queers today have this literature to affirm them. I did not. Adam Silvera writes with a smooth, engaging style and it is clear from this novel he understands compulsions and the emotional roller coaster they cause, the dangers they present.

I am also a sucker for clever structuring of novels. This story would have been too much to take (in my opinion) done in a straightforward, linear timeline way; Silvera cleverly moves back and forth in time, beginning with Theo’s funeral so we know what we’re in for from the very beginning and can steel ourselves for its eventuality. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t weep more than once while reading.

I am also a sucker for weeping. And, finally, a sucker for hope and love and light, and Mr. Silvera leaves us with a healthy dose of all three.

classClass, by Lucinda Rosenfeld, hardcover, 352pp, January 2017, Little, Brown and Company

And the third book I finished for my nothing but reading Sunday was Class. I suppose this is a terrible thing to say — especially since I said just paragraphs above we ought to quit labeling people — but I have very little patience reading about the angst and problems and emotional journeys of privileged, heterosexual white people.

I know. I feel bad about it, but there it is.

That said, Lucinda Rosenfeld writes about those problems with damn fine technique and packs in plenty of plot and emotional heft, and there are endless hilarious lines skewering the class-conscious characters about whom she writes. She is quite ruthless in delivering incisive and trenchant commentary on the vapidity and callous self-involvement of those very privileged, heterosexual white people about whom I don’t much want to read.

The main character, Karen Kipple, wants to be ethical, do the right thing, reject the casual cultural racism and classism by which she finds herself infected, and makes her torturous way through the landmine-filled challenge of modern life. Lucinda Rosenfeld does not try to make Karen likeable, or forgivable; she gives her plenty of flaws, lets her be petty and selfish and self-justifying as she struggles with her liberal hypocrisy.

This book is smart, brutally honest, and made me sad. I know Karens. There are — no doubt — pieces of Karen in me, and what made me uncomfortable and unhappy while reading, is that we are now living in a world where there are people defending and embracing and encouraging the kind of prejudices and fears those Karens are fighting.

Which is why I had to take a day away from social media and news and the real world.

So, there you have it. What I did with my away-from-the-world Sunday: read three books that didn’t quite take me as far away as I’d hoped because world war might be right around the next Twitter-fit, and prejudice and class-warfare and blatant hypocrisy just won an election, and all the advances we LGBTQ have made since I was a teen, seen in Mr. Silvera’s novelistic world, are being threatened by those elected.

Seems I’m not too great at escaping. Which is why I started medication. Now, if only it would do something other than make me feel a bit off and short of breath. But, patience. Love and light, dears.

Here I am, going.

 

 

Reading: Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk

lillian-boxfish

Click on pic to be taken to the page for Lillian Boxfish at St. Martin’s Press

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney, Hardcover, 287pp, January 2017, St. Martin’s Press

Let me begin by saying this is my first 5-star read of the year and I know there is no way I can possibly do it justice. You must read it. My library copy, here beside me, is thick with sticky-arrows where I wanted to write in the margins or underline one of the many beautiful sentences and passages, thus, I am saving my pennies to buy my own copy so I can return to and revel in it again and again, as I do with the works of Helene Hanff, Dorothy Parker, and the correspondence of William Maxwell with both Eudora Welty and Sylvia Townsend Warner. I loved it — no, LOVE it, present tense.

Of course, I would. These are some of the other things in life I most love: books and great writing, New York City — especially historical New York City, people who are erudite, witty, literate, well-bred, empathetic, kind but not cloying, strong of spine and conscientious of character, who recognize and own their strengths and flaws in equal measure, going about their lives without indulging in whiny, navel-gazing excuse-making.

Lillian would have none of that. Here is the synopsis of the novel found on Kathleen Rooney’s website [click here to go there]:

It’s the last day of 1984, and 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish is about to take a walk.

As she traverses a grittier Manhattan, a city anxious after an attack by a still-at-large subway vigilante, she encounters bartenders, bodega clerks, chauffeurs, security guards, bohemians, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be—in surprising moments of generosity and grace. While she strolls, Lillian recalls a long and eventful life that included a brief reign as the highest-paid advertising woman in America—a career cut short by marriage, motherhood, divorce, and a breakdown.

A love letter to city life—however shiny or sleazy—Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop.

In this post 11/9 tragic election world gone mad and cruel and hateful, what a joy to find relief and solace in a well-written, spellbinding novel.

While Lillian’s walk is a journey through the city she loves, it is even more an exploration of the time she has spent on earth as she approaches her life’s end. The tarriances during her odyssey — walk and life — range from touching to tragic, and are always fascinating, insightful, and revealing, and often quite funny. Her descriptions of landmarks in the city are viscerally evocative, transporting the reader through time and space in a way nearly magical. Her language resonates with the patois of a smarter, more sophisticated reality where wit, savvy, good breeding, and  literacy were valued, a world in which one was not only allowed to aim higher than the lowest common denominator, but expected to want to do so, to aspire to learnedness and enlightenment. Lillian’s outlook and world are blessed antidote to the deplorable and disastrous embrace in this country of ignorance and pig-headed refusal to evolve being paraded as traditional values and patriotism; Lillian would not tolerate such fatuous asininity, and neither shall I.

There are so many gorgeous passages in Kathleen Rooney’s novel, I am loath to quote one because it will require I make a Sophie’s Choice among so many glorious sentences; too, it will deny you the pleasure of first discovery. Still, I feel I must give you an inkling of the treasures that await you, so, here, near book’s end when Lillian has been asked to appear on a panel about the history and future of advertising.

“I’m afraid I’ve arrived unprepared to defend my approach to writing ads,” I said, “never mind the very concept of professional responsibility, or the practice of simply treating people with respect. Therefore I’m compelled to defer to the au courant experience of my two successors. Please, ladies, resume the accounts of your efforts to unwind the supposed advances of civilization and return us consumers to a state of pliable savagery. Who knows, perhaps some young lady who watches this program will take up where you leave off and find a way to ease us all back into the trees with the orangutans, who I gather are deft hands at the fruit market. With luck and hard work, perhaps we’ll even recover our old gills and quit terrestrial life entirely. Back to the sea! That Florida swampland Mother bought may prove to be a good investment after all. In any event, I wish you both luck in your quest. I will not be keeping track of your progress, however. My interests, such as they are, lie elsewhere. To be clear, it’s not that I no longer want to work in the world that you’re describing. It’s that I no longer want to live in the world you’re describing.”

That paragraph alone pretty much sums up my feelings about the world today. And it is not the only time in Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk when Lillian speaks for me; or, speaks as I wish I could have or had spoken. I have, I think, not aged as well as I might, but, too, not as badly as some people of my acquaintance seem to think. So, if you will indulge me, one more Lillian quote (as translated by the extraordinarily gifted Ms. Rooney):

I think I look all right. But who’s to say? The insouciance of youth doesn’t stay, but shades into “eccentricity,” as people say when they are trying to be kind, until finally you become just another lonely crackpot. But I’ve always been this way.The strangeness just used to seem more fashionable, probably.”

Exactly. The thing I found so very special and marvelous about this book is that Lillian’s mordant and perceptive observations about life, time, culture, relationships, and herself describe better than anything I’ve ever read that space in the soul and mind and consciousness in which each of us lives, that private haven, the solitude of self where we must balance what and who we think we are with the perceptions of others about what and who they think we are, and, too, find a way to fit the largeness of all the possibilities and dreams of our secret, private, unseen souls into the world in which we’ve been thrust, the circumstances we’ve been given, the limitations we face. I don’t know about you, but for me, that has been life’s journey; questioning if what I am seeing and thinking and feeling is “true” when, so often, the rest of the world doesn’t quite see it that way, doesn’t quite get it, doesn’t quite get me.

I got Lillian Boxfish. And, I like to think, she’d get me. And, trust me, you want to know her. Buy this book. Don’t borrow it or library it: BUY IT. You will want to mark pages and make notes and return to it again and again when you are feeling in need of a wise and dear friend.

For more on this novel and author, click HERE to check out Bethanne Patrick’s conversation with Kathleen Rooney at Literary Hub.

 

 

At long last, medication

TRIGGER WARNING: There may be a little more of too much information in the following post than you want. I don’t have a lot of boundaries when I write. Some might say (Hell, some have said) I over-share. Maybe. But, you’ve been warned.

drugs-january-2017What decades of bad genetics, lousy life choices, heart breaks, betrayals and abuse by friends and family, execrable taste in romantic partners, and loss after fail after loss after fail after loss after fail after loss could not manage to do has been done by the asshat installed one torturously long week ago in the position where he has control of the nuclear codes:

I’ve agreed to take medication for my depression.

Well, technically, says my latest Physician’s Assistant (more on that later), I am suffering from an adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct. I had to write it down as she said it. Three times. This diagnosis is based on a twenty minute discussion which began with me explaining my inability to go a day without sobbing since November 9, 2016, with a marked increase in tears following the inauguration and actions taken by the gop cabal of homophobic, misogynist, xenophobic, christer, ignorant, bigots since then, which daily weep-fest had now been joined by sore throat, headaches, and — for the first time in my life — hives.

The P.A. proceeded to ask me a series of questions about my sleeping, eating, energy, outlook, focus, forgetfulness, loss of vocabulary, and ability to make cogent sentences, along with an inquiry about whether or not I had increased my indulgence in risky behaviors, discussion of which made me even weepier, coda to which lamentation was my howl of, “And now, Mary Tyler Moore died.”

Thus did I snot-sob my way into a prescription for off-brand Wellbutrin.

Here’s the thing: I’ve resisted psychotropic medication for much of my adult life. I had my reasons. In general, I try not to take drugs. Discounting my youthful forays into illegal substances, I have long been an advocate of trying to heal my body and mind without screwing too much with the chemical make-up. I usually refuse antibiotics, and the prevalence of what I thought of as cosmetic pharmaceuticals — prescriptions being used to cover a problem rather than a person addressing the issues they had — seemed increasingly trendy to me. When something like 15% of U.S. adults (a near 400% increase in the last decade) are taking antidepressants, my belief was there was a bigger problem to do with over-prescribing pills to mask a problem with the make-up of a person’s life and belief system, when we ought — as a nation — be addressing the question of why so many people were depressed.

I wanted to fix my own. I wanted to think I could do it without any more help. Too, I had seen a lot of people taking psychotropics to little effect; they still hated their lives.

But, that was me being judge-y. Not, mind you, about those taking the drugs. I am all for people taking antidepressants and whatever else they need. But I had huge energy invested in believing I could fix myself by myself, without any outside interference. I had to be able to, didn’t I? I mean, I was the one who gave good advice to everyone. Who comforted everyone. Who took care of others. I was strong. And, you see, I failed at everything else. I wasn’t a successful actor or director or producer. I didn’t publish great novels. I hadn’t managed to live a life that afforded me the ability to re-purchase the family home in Libertytown and restore it. Many of my closest relationships, with people in whom I placed great trust and faith, had turned out to be shams. I was — I am — trying to make sense of my life in a world where who and what I am, my way of operating and being, is outlier.

I was making progress. I was seeing — I thought — a world expanding. Equality was becoming the norm. Fear and ignorance were giving way to love and acceptance. People were beginning to explore ways of being that didn’t have to do with acquisition of wealth and exploitation of resources human and cultural and planetary.

And then the election happened. And then the inauguration. And then the things those horrors started signing into reality and threatening. And I kept getting weaker and weaker, lower and lower, increasingly terrified and without hope.

Yes, I wanted to be able to fix myself by myself, but I couldn’t stop crying. My immune system was collapsing. I could feel it. I needed help. Admitting that was extremely difficult for me.

Typing it was difficult. Pushing publish is going to be a challenge. But, there it is. And here I am, still going, my second day on Bupropion HCL SR. I know it takes a few weeks to kick in (please, hurry) but, honestly, I feel better just taking it. There is a nasty dryness in my mouth and throat which is causing me to choke, but I am hoping that will pass, and it is probably being exacerbated by the Benadryl I keep having to take to keep the hives down when they periodically appear — which is usually if I watch the news or read my Twitter feed.

I’m grateful to my P.A. who took a great deal of time with me, reassured me, talked me into at least trying the medication, and explained that they had seen a lot of patients with new and increased anxiety issues since the election, that she, herself, was not sure she could take this administration for four years. So, she promised we’d see how things were going and make a more long-term plan on my follow-up in thirty days. Now, listen, I have a version of ACA (or, you can call it Obamacare, if you like) which is a version of Medicaid, so, there were very few practices that would accept me as a patient. This practice has an incredibly high turnover of P.A.s and Nurse Practitioners, meaning I have never seen the same person twice, even when my follow-up visits were in a matter of weeks, so, please, let’s all send a good thought to the universe asking that my competent and attentive P.A. actually is there when I go back.

And, further, let’s hope these asshats running the country don’t make it so that I can’t afford to get care when I need it, because without the ACA, I would never have had this visit, certainly couldn’t have afforded these drugs, and would — I’m sorry to admit — probably have resorted to self-harm, albeit in the shape of worrying myself to death or landing in the clutches of Mr. Goodbar.

Now, that’s enough for tonight. I need to lose myself in a good book. I need to self-care, still, because the drugs can’t do it alone. They won’t change the world, I know, but maybe they will help me be a little more at ease and hopeful in it.

Love and Light, dear ones.

 

 

 

Reading: My (Part-Time) Paris Life by Lisa Anselmo

my-part-time-paris-lifeMy (Part-Time) Paris Life: How Running Away Brought Me Home, by Lisa Anselmo, hardcover, 256pp, Thomas Dunne Books, October 2016

I saw this book on display at the library while I was perusing the new releases. Now, here’s the thing; I was there to pick up three books I had on hold, three books which have worked their way up on my have to read and to be read lists, the contents of which I get to in between tackling the piles of books I already own and need to read. All of which is to say, the last thing I need is to check-out or buy a book on a whim. I’ve really been trying to exercise self-control, limit myself to five checked-out library books at a time, no more than five on my library hold/wait list, and purchase only those books by authors with whom I interact on Twitter or whose work I know I have to own — members of which club I will never reveal to anyone but Duchess Goldblatt and my local booksellers at The Curious Iguana.

But, Lisa Anselmo’s memoir called out to me. First, I’ve a lot of experience at running away. Second, I have always wanted to do the ex-pat thing and will likely never be able to — I’ve a near dead passport I probably shouldn’t spend the money to renew as I have never once used it and likely never will; so reading about those who have followed their travel, change-my-life dreams assuages my inner-aching a bit. And third, it’s about a complicated relationship between a mother and child, and losing that mother, which is a life-event I dread and for which I am (foolishly, I know) trying to prepare myself.

So, I checked it out. I’m awfully glad I did. Here’s the synopsis from the publisher’s site:

Lisa Anselmo wrapped her entire life around her mother, a strong woman who was a defining force in Lisa’s life—maybe too defining. When her mother dies from breast cancer, Lisa realizes she hadn’t built a life of her own and struggles to find her purpose. Who is she without her mother—and her mother’s expectations?

Desperate for answers, she turns to her favorite city—Paris—and impulsively buys a small apartment, refusing to play it safe for the first time. What starts out as an act of survival sets Lisa on a course that reshapes her life in ways she never could have imagined. Suddenly, she’s living like a local in a city she thought she knew, but her high school French, while fine for buying bread at the corner boulangerie, goes only so far when Paris gives her a strong dose of real life. From dating to homeownership in a foreign country, Lisa quickly learns it’s not all picnics on the Seine, and starts to doubt herself—and her love of the city. But she came to Paris to be happy, and she can’t give up now. Isn’t happiness worth fighting for?

In the vein of Eat, Pray, Love and Wild, My (Part-time) Paris Life a story is for anyone who’s ever felt lost or hopeless, but still dreams of something more. This candid memoir explores one woman’s search for peace and meaning, and how the ups and downs of expat life in Paris taught her to let go of fear, find self-worth, and create real, lasting happiness in the City of Light.

This was a quick read, written as if a friend was sharing her life history over a few bottles of wine and a long, leisurely dinner. And there are plenty of bottles and dinners in this memoir. I loved the descriptions of Paris and her time there. That’s one part of the journey, but, too, there is a great deal of introspection and self-examination about her emotional journey. It might be difficult for some people to relate to someone who can afford to have residences in both New York City and Paris, neither of which are cheap, neither of which would ever be affordable for most people, let alone both, but reading about privileged lives doesn’t bother me. I enjoy it.

What everyone can relate to is having a parent and finding one’s own way and own voice. Growing into yourself and embracing your strengths, believing you can do and be what you’ve dreamed is a struggle for most people, and when you’ve had a less than affirming and encouraging parenting — even if approval was withheld out of the best intentions  — the journey becomes even harder, and much longer than the distance between New York and Paris, and so noisy with the voices in the head whispering (or shouting) “You’re not enough!”

I argue with those voices all the time. We all do, I am betting. So, Lisa Anselmo’s memoir is a comfort with the many moments of, “Yes, I feel that way, too!” And to have that identification and recognition of a shared experience come in the shape of a witty, warm, well-written travel and dream journal is very much a good thing.

A fast read with a happy ending, and, better, knowing we can still get out of this country and go somewhere else — right now, just what I needed. I guess I better had renew that passport, if they’ll let me, since the administration of that election-stealing, russian conspiring asshat just erased the government’s apology for past discrimination against the LGBTQ community. No doubt those gop-bigots-misogynist-homophobes are already planning on sewing the pink triangles on me and mine and gassing us.

 

 

Reading: A Perilous Undertaking: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery

perilous-undertakingA Perilous Undertaking: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery by Deanna Raybourn, 352pp, hardcover, Berkley Books/Penguin Random House, January, 2017

First of all, I really enjoyed this book, the second in a series, and I liked this one even more than the first,  A Curious Beginning, which I liked a lot.

Deanna Raybourn is a gifted stylist, an accomplished writer whose erudite prose flows  with seemingly effortless glisten, glitters with sly and subtle wit, all the while propelling clever and fast-paced plots which are full of surprises and period detail both fascinating and informative.

Veronica Speedwell, Butterfly Hunter, is an irresistible character, independent of spirit, steely of spine, with an intense appetite for life, and she does not suffer fools. Her cohort, Stoker, tattooed, eye-patched, long-haired, hot-bodied historian, is equally intriguing. Both have mysterious (though, eventually, revealed, at least to each other) heritage and stubbornly intense opinions and ethical-behavioral codes which sometimes conflict and clash, but just as often coalesce, all of which serve to confound each other and the reader — or, at least, this reader, who wants nothing more than for the two of them to finally strip naked and make Victorian whoopee.

Here is the publisher’s synopsis:

London, 1887. Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task—saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman’s noose in a week’s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems, and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer—a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia’s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime. From a Bohemian artists’ colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed….

Like I said, I enjoyed this book immensely, but not just because of all those reasons I’ve cited. It also struck a very personal note with me. Let me try to explain as succinctly as I can.

Other than reading, one of the things I do to maintain my sanity — and I will not, here, be drawn into a debate about the success of those efforts — is to collect on Pinterest and Tumblr photos and documentation documenting and celebrating the presence of LGBTQ people throughout history.

We have always been here, we’ve just been rendered mostly invisible or, when seen, portrayed as other, perverted, criminal, outside the norm by a culture ruled in large part by a white-male-hetero-normative christian partriarchy, near fascist in its insistence on what constituted normal, what was allowed and approved.

In my youth, the prevalence and repetition from media, my church, and my community and family of the message that being not quite male enough — which later transferred into being gay — made me other and was, somehow, wrong and rare and outside the norm, distorted the way in which I saw myself, the way in which I approached life. I have always thought of myself as less than, an outlier, in danger because of who I am and how I behaved and loved; and even now (hell, especially now since November 8) I must be on guard every day, every moment, and work to remind myself I am enough.

I wish that in my youth I had had examples in media, in life, in the thousands of books I read, of queer people who were not criminal or mentally ill or villains. I wish I’d had access to a literature in which queer people were just queer people, living their lives, a part of the world not hidden or other.

We existed. Throughout history. Throughout time. And, too, so did strong, independent women with healthy appetites for life and sex and adventure. Women who made their way being strong, being themselves, and were not burnt as witches or tarred and feathered.

Deanna Raybourn has written just such a woman. And, not only that, she’s given her (and Stoker) live and let live, enlightened attitudes about queer love. In a Victorian setting. And reading it today gave me hope. Reading it today reminded me the world has always had people in it of expansive mind and attitude. Reading it today made me appreciate even more Deanna Raybourn’s gifts as writer (and human being) because she sees and writes Light. She sees and writes and makes visible the hearts and characters who have not been seen and written nearly as much as they ought to have been throughout history.

Deanna Raybourn manages to write power in a way not polemical or preachy, but simply truthful and robustly human and real. I wish I had had this to read when I was younger, and I am ecstatic that it exists now.

(I was not sent a pre-publication copy of this book; I got it for myself. While I follow Deanna Raybourn on Twitter, and she follows me, we have never met and rarely interact, in fact, often when I comment she does not reply — nor should she, that’s not a criticism, merely me letting you, the reader, know I am not a shill, just a fan of a gifted writer. Thanks for reading.)

READING: Who Killed Piet Barol? by Richard Mason

mason-richard-who-killed-piet-barolWho Killed Piet Barol, Richard Mason, 384pp, hardcover, Knopf, January 2017

Short version: In Who Killed Piet Barol?, Richard Mason effectively uses sumptuous prose for a piquant and sub rosa dissection of identity and differences, suspicions, and disrespect within and between cultures.

Now, for the longer version. Who Killed Piet Barol? resonates on many levels, one being a tale about the exploitation of a culture by a privileged interloper, a plot which feels incredibly relevant but not in a cheap, sensationalized, pulled-from-the-headlines way. Rather, this is a presentation of the history of the despoliation of hallowed ground — literally and figuratively — with the plundering of a sacred site and the accompanying dissolution of the morality of multiple characters.

Here is a synopsis from the author’s website: RICHARDMASON.ORG:

Pretender Piet Barol and singer Stacey Meadows are making a splash in colonial Cape Town but are running out of cash. With creditors at their heels, their furniture business is imploding and only a major win will save them. So Piet enlists two Xhosa men to lead him into the magical forest of Gwadana in search of precious wood.

Meanwhile the Natives Land Act has just abolished property rights for the majority of black South Africans, and whole families have been ripped apart. Piet’s charm and appetite for risk lead him far beyond the privileged white world to a land and community that sees him with new eyes.

A novel about the truth in magic and the enduring consequences of lies, Who Killed Piet Barol? is published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson in the UK (September 2016) and by Alfred A. Knopf in the US (January 2016).

It speaks to Mr. Mason’s authorial gifts that despite the repellent acts Piet Barol commits and his situational amorality, because of his ultimately inadequate attempts to “do right”, the reader can still feel sympathy for him as victim (cooperative, or not) of the prejudices and distortions of his culture. That he is neither hero nor villain is further contextualized by comparison to other characters who share his cultural milieu; his wife, Stacey Barol; their friends and clients, Percy and Dorothy Shabrill; and, finally, Frank Albemarle, corralled into the circle by Stacey to save a situation she may have cursed.

In counter-voice, there are the Xhosa natives; Ntsina Zini and LuvoYako, the two of whom are in Piet’s employ (and collude with him) as he ravages the magic forest, and Nosakhe Zini, village witch doctor; Sujude Zini, Ntsina’s father; the Jaxa clan, in particular the daughters Bela and Zandile. They, like the Piet-collection, are fully-drawn with all the charms and flaws, goodness and sinfulness, full range of shortcomings and virtues most human beings have.

While it is illuminating the way members of each culture view the other as other, the Xhosa even calling the Dutch (and others) The Strange Ones, almost any writer might have accomplished a portrait of that tension (though certainly not with the fluidity and grace of syntax and language Mr. Mason has managed.); what strikes to almost breathtaking degree about Mr. Mason’s take are the ways in which each culture is conflicted within itself — there is disunity and misunderstanding and deceit and disinformation inside each group, sowing the seeds which lead ultimately to devastating loss to and in both communities.

Too, while the human voices are by turns fascinating, witty, elegant, carnal, passionate, and intense, there is also an anthropomorphization of the sacred trees, the insects, the animals, the forest, the elements, the weather, so we hear their cerebration in equal weight with the biped thoughts. I hesitate to mention this because some might call such voicing (and some other elements of the tale) magic realism, but this reader finds that term off-putting, too often code used to describe a twee or navel-gazing tone, narcotizing and infuriatingly self-indulgent. Not the case at all here where the multiple perspectives mesh in a compelling harmony.

The novel is a literary symphony of many themes, introduced, echoed, enhanced, and amplified as they are interwoven, these individually fascinating and enchanting motifs which, finally, in ways surprising and seamless, crescendo into an arrangement of captivating discord a reader will find both beautiful and terrifying in its truth.

Who Killed Piet Barol is a unique read, wrought by a skilled charismatic of literature who is deftly able to conjure complex worlds and guide the reader on a journey which, like all the best travel, not only informs and expands one’s own reality, but leaves one with additional questions and new ways of seeing.

 

Fried Eggs and Turning 89

This is the second post of 2017, and continues the theme of how I got here, how I got to be me, and how do I go on in a world that makes no sense to me. In the first entry I talked about how I am like my dear aunt, Sissie. In this, I contemplate how I am like my dear Mom, who, unlike Sissie, is still here with me physically.

It’s Momma Day every Thursday.

momma-and-charlie-croppedI pick her up from Record Street at 10:15 and we head to Thurmont where Pam does her hair, like she has for two decades. Then, we go to lunch, which is followed by whatever adventure Momma would like to have, or, I can invent. Yesterday, over lunch at Bob Evans, my mother, who in nineteen days will have her 89th birthday, said to me, “Charlie, it looks like I might make it to ninety.”

mommy2She’s a survivor. Both of her parents had died by the time she was fourteen. She was shuffled among relatives, forced to find work to support herself, and soon married a man tortured by self-doubt and existential pain who drank his way to death, leaving her with five children and a sixth on the way, and a house in the middle of nowhere with no bathroom. It was 1962, and my pioneer feminist of a Momma insisted a woman could live alone with six children, standing up to family pressure to move in with in-laws, and re-did the house with insurance money, maintained her independence and, in order to support her family, spent years standing inside a cold, curtained booth in a factory watching eggs roll by on a lighted conveyor belt, pulling out and discarding the ones with bloody yolks. Eventually, tired of being mostly alone with six incredibly different and demanding children, she left behind the few ill-advised flings she’d managed to squeeze in on the downlow along the way and married a man who spent decades disapproving of her and her children, making her mostly miserable before he died. Along the way she saw all of her brothers and a sister buried. She suffered three miscarriages. She adjusted to living in a senior care development, came to love it and the people and activities there, and then, just a few years ago, she endured the death of a grown child, my sister, a circumstance which resulted in her having to move one more time to a different facility, this Record Street, where she is now, where she will be until she dies. Which will NOT BE ANY TIME SOON.

I said, “You’d better damn well make it past ninety. I’ve had a hellish few years and you are not allowed to die until asshat is out of office and we’ve got a Democrat back in there. Come on, Mommy, you know it’s all about me!”

She laughed. We laugh a lot. I try to make her laugh. I want to make her laugh. I want to be as resilient as she has been. As she is. She said to me, “You’re strong for everyone but you.” And I got the look on my face, prompting her to say, “Oh no, don’t cry.”

bob-evans-jan-12-2017-1I didn’t. (Okay, I did. A little.) I tucked into my lunch; a comfort grilled ham and cheese. And watched her eating her single fried egg. And I looked around at the other Bob Evans patrons, two of whom were older men, alone. Which is what I am going to be if I make it to 89. Which — it being all about me — is one of the thoughts I have every time I am with my Mom.

I am so blessed, after all she did for and put up with from her six children, that I have this opportunity — that we all have had this opportunity — to reciprocate in some small way, to be there for her on the days and times and for the events when she expects us, needs us, wants us. If Mommy didn’t have us she would likely have died by now, had nowhere to go, no one to advocate for her.

And, because as I told Momma, it’s all about me, I worry: Who will advocate for me? Who will be there for me?

Because, I am already losing words. I can feel my brain not firing synapses like it once did. My hands hurt all the time from years of writing and typing; although I love cooking, its chopping and stirring and wet hands now always result in pain. My thumbs are going. My heels hurt in the morning when first I walk. I have an increasing amount of trouble reading without falling asleep. Noise bothers me more and more; television drone, being assaulted in public by music I haven’t chosen to hear, people chatting on cell phones/headsets loudly enough so I am part of their conversation, people slamming their spoons or forks into plates or bowls to scrape food — it’s just bad breeding to make noise with your utensils people, bowl scraping is disgusting and vulgar, and please save me from repetitive sounds — foot tapping, finger twitchings, that sort of thing make me want to scream. My stomach is off and on in spasms. I’ve started getting Charlie Horses (of course I have) all over my body, including in my hands, feet, upper arms, and neck, in addition to the ones I’ve long had in my calves, but the ones that strike my diaphragm are cripplingly painful and terrifying. And, since the election, I feel like there is a two-hundred-and-fifty pound asshat sitting on my chest, crushing me, causing shortness of breath and anxiety of near-paralyzing proportion.

All of which I thought about, there, at Bob Evans, where I started crying, noticing the men alone, watching my Mom eat her fried egg. A single fried egg. Which took me to Bette Midler and her monologue before she sings Hello In There, about our fried eggs:

Oh God, don’t make me wake up tomorrow and want to put a fried egg on my forehead. And then right after that I say real fast, Oh Lord, Oh Lord, if by chance I should wake up tomorrow and want to put a fried egg on my forehead, Don’t let anybody notice. And then right after that I say real fast, I say real fast; Oh God, Oh God, if by chance I should wake up tomorrow and want to put a little fried egg on my forehead, and people notice that I’m carrying around something that doesn’t look quite right, and they want to talk about; well, let them talk about it. But don’t let them talk about it so I can hear it, you know? I mean, I just don’t want to hear about it, because, you know, as far as fried eggs are concerned,well  you can call them fried eggs, you can call them anything you like, but everybody gets one. And some people they wear them on the outside. And some people, they wear them on the inside.

bob-evans-jan-12-2017-2My Mom, what we have in common in addition to our downlow flings with unavailable and semi-seedy men in order to assuage our loneliness, is that we both wear our fried egg on the inside.

So far.