Reading: The Beast Is An Animal

The Beast Is An Animal, Peternelle van Arsdale, Hardcover, 352pp, February 2017, Margaret K. McElderry Books

Full Disclosure: I follow Peternelle van Arsdale on Twitter, we have mutual friends, I have met and hugged her, and I am an admirer of her personal ethos, style, and real world comportment. That said, I was not asked to read or publicize this book. I bought my copy from my amazing local bookseller, The Curious Iguana [click here].

Peternelle van Arsdale’s The Beast Is An Animal is an artfully wrought, beautifully written novel of Gothic intensity in which a fantastic world is brought to life in such observant detail it becomes reality, and, like life, its many layers make finding one’s truth not a matter of reduction to polarities of right/wrong and good/evil, but, rather, a complicated journey traveled without a map. So rich and leveled is the novel, it deserves reflection and meditation worthy of its masterly, glorious depth and heft; as in, The New York Times or New Yorker ought put someone on the case, assigning a long think-piece ruminating on Peternelle van Arsdale’s near magical creation of an imaginary world that speaks so eloquently to the moral questions and conundrums of these troubled and complicated times.

Which is my way of warning you, I will need to ruminate at length to make certain I’ve done justice to this novel. Or, you can stop right here, trusting me when I say this novel will capture you from its haunting prelude and never let you go until you’ve read the final, marvelous sentence, and run to get your copy now and read it for yourself.

There are people in the world for whom things are never simple because these rare and extraordinary folk have the empathy, wisdom, understanding, and patience to recognize that the world, its inhabitants, and its events are far more complicated than surface appearances would indicate; their way of seeing precludes easy labeling and their depth of soul requires of them an exhaustive exploration of the why and the how and what of every situation, every person, especially themselves. These people recognize that there is a full spectrum of light and dark within every human being, and the beasts we most fear are within us.

There are far too few of these aware people nowadays, the values of reason and compassion having largely fallen prey to the culture of self-interest and me first. Why?

Bruno Bettelheim, in The Uses of Enchantment, argued persuasively that fairy tales teach us to access the deeper meaning in literature (and life), developing the intellect and imagination and in doing so, we learn through fantasy to cope with existential anxiety and unconscious fears so that when real life presents us with difficult and scary situations, we’ve some internal compass by which to operate.

In other words, fairy tales (and the stories we tell) teach us to look at a complicated world with a generosity of spirit. Especially in these troubled times of byzantine global disruptions and amoral power-grabbing, riches-grubbing legerdemain, we need literature that offers both escape and reminders to tame the beast (fear) within us and see things from all perspectives, to eschew name calling and turning into villains those not like us, who don’t look like we do, don’t think like we do, don’t live like we do, and don’t believe like we do.

Which makes Peternelle van Arsdale’s The Beast Is An Animal not only a compelling read, but a necessary one.

Our heroine, Alys, is seven years old when first she meets twin sisters who are soul eaters, and she tucks away that secret knowledge, lives in fear of it. She is fascinated by and terrified of these spectral wraiths, and as she suffers and braves the far-reaching result of their creation and appearance, she comes to blame herself for these events. Worse, and far more frightening, she identifies with the forest phantoms, recognizes within herself a connection to them, and struggles with her own inchoate incorporeality and beastly urges.

Alys must hide this secret and her doubts from a world suspicious and afraid of what is other, and after the soul eaters have emptied all the adults of life force, Alys and the other children from her home village of Gwenith are transported to Defaid where they are taken in by village families but treated as less than, and there is much suspicion and whispered gossip about Alys and her culpability in the soul eaters massacre of her home village.

Alys recognizes the danger of the narrowness of mind in these folk who attribute all that is other, all that is confusing or frightening to the influence of The Beast, with whom Alys has spoken and who Alys knows is not the source of pure evil the people of Defaid believe it to be. Listen;

One of the things villagers from Defaid didn’t trust about travelers is that they came in so many colors. The people of Defaid only came in shades of milk, but travelers from the Lakes were those colors and more. Folks were drawn there from all the far corners of Byd.

There are myriad levels, so many rich, thought-provoking layers of meaning in this novel, yet never does it strike a polemical note; the allegories arise from the truth of a compelling narrative, not heavy-handed metaphor. Peternelle van Arsdale manages to deftly create a lovely, evolved and fascinatingly unique human character in Alys, while managing to make her an every-person as well. It is easy to see in Alys and the world’s reaction to her the same struggles and challenges and bigotry that women (and girls and young women) and people of color and LGBTQ people and all we other face; the pressure to hide our particular gifts and qualities, to conform and bow down to the dictates and standards of a culture and power structure in which we are denied our power of self, a world which expects us to quietly acquiesce to its insistence that who we are is somehow less than.

Alys manages — not without gargantuan struggle and being charged with changing reality — to resist and survive the pervasively deadening and soul-eating pressure to hide her truth, her gifts, the embrace and ownership of which will give her the capacity to change and save her world.

It is so essential in these times where broad-stroke hatred and judgment are being paraded as patriotism and mistaken as path to greatness that we encourage and facilitate the acceptance and affirmation of individuality, self-esteem, and autonomy of thought; to remember that there are good and bad feelings, urges, and parts in all of us, and the integration of those into a whole and thoughtful human whose self-respect allows them to honor the dignity and inherent grace in all others and to recognize the heroine in the beast, and the beast in the heroine is the only way we survive these times.

Is such a possibility a fairy tale? Maybe. But in Peternelle van Arsdale’s The Beast Is An Animal the complexity of worlds and being human is explored in a straightforward, ingenious manner which does not succumb to wretched dystopian melancholy, but, instead, is imbued with hope and faith in the ultimate goodness of humanity; the heroine triumphs over the beast not by blindly striking out to destroy and disappear it, but, rather, in visionary cooperation and acceptance, acting with integrity and conscious, considered allegiance to her own truth and moral code.

There, I’m afraid I can’t do any better than this and still I’ve not fully expressed how much I loved this beautiful book and how deeply I was moved by its world and characters. But, I know, 1300 words is too long, so I’ll stop. Well, one more thing: this novel is categorized as Young Adult, but, as with most labels, I think that is reductionist and doesn’t begin to encompass the all that is-ness of this powerful and — as I said — necessary novel.

Five stars. Read it.

For more Peternelle van Arsdale — and insight into what makes her one of those superhumans who sees both beauty and beast within herself, does not surrender to easy judgments, and radiates a rare and expansive humanity, read her essay from LitHub; How I Learned To Stop Worrying About The Market And Just Write. [click here]

Reading: 4 Books, 2 Days. Ahhh, petsitting.

Max on my lap, where he pretty much lives.

Drake, in a RARE moment of calm and contemplation.

The shape of my life right now doesn’t allow for sharing it with an animal companion. So, much in the way I never had children of my own but was (am?) Uncle Charlie (or, Uncle Pottymouth) to the offspring of many others along the way, so too, now, in this phase of my surprising life, I am temporary guardian to many, many dear animals in many homes. I love pet-sitting and house-sitting for lots of reasons, not least of which is the silence. During my stays in the homes of others, loving and nurturing their animal family members, I rarely turn on a television or radio or go on-line (to which, in truth, I am giving less and less energy in general), and I spend the majority of my time petting animals and reading books and enjoying the uninterrupted quiet. In the few days I have been at this new gig, my first time with Max and Drake, I have read four books. I’m catching up with that library hold list. Here they are.

Right Behind You (Quincy & Rainie #7), Lisa Gardner, Hardcover, 400pp, January 2017, Dutton

This is my first Lisa Gardner. If you’ve read my book-blogging before, you know I am always on the lookout for another reliable mystery-thriller or mystery-cozy writer with a backlist to which I can turn when I need the predictability of a genre read. Another of my go-to authors mentioned enjoying Lisa Gardner’s work and so I thought I’d give her a whirl.

Right Behind You is the seventh in a series. Obviously I’ve not read the first six. But, this book was fine as a standalone. I felt I understood Quincy and Rainie well enough without being fed a huge amount of expositional backstory; rather, there were details about their pasts woven into the narrative in an unobtrusive way.

In this, Quincy and Rainie are about to adopt their 13-year-old foster child, Sharlah, who at age 5 witnessed her 9-year-old brother, Telly, beat to death with a baseball bat their drunken father who had just stabbed their mother with a butcher knife and meant to kill his children as well. Now, eight years later, it seems Telly — who Sharlah has not had contact with since the night he saved her life by bludgeoning their father — has murdered his foster parents and started on a killing spree in which he means to make Sharlah his final victim.

The story is told in a combination of omniscient close third narration and the voices of both Sharlah and Telly, the switching back and forth between which might have been jarring in less able hands, but Lisa Gardner is quite the master here, building suspense, inserting twists and turns and surprises — sort of; if you read a lot of mystery-thrillers you’ll see one or two of the curves and wrenches coming, but, so what? Isn’t that why we love genre? So we can predict the outcome and work out the puzzles on our own along with the detectives?

This is a well constructed piece of fiction without the over-the-top child-in-peril graphic fear mongering of some recent reads. I appreciate that. I want to be lost in a compelling story without being disgusted by the vile amorality of the villains. Real life has enough of that, I appreciate it being a bit subdued in my novels.

Shadowbahn, Steve Erickson, Hardcover, 320pp, February 2017, Blue Rider Press

This was different. Like Lincoln In The Bardo in that its structure is itself provocative, nudgingly so, like the hipster coffee shop performer whose songs are interesting enough but made annoying by the constant need to draw attention to how relevant and layered with knowingness they are. Just sing. Just write.

That said, there is much relevance in this novel about a road trip along the yellow brick road of slouching toward dystopian American culture and history. Lost and confused identities abound, recovered memories, the possibility of mass psychosis, playlists of portentous heft, all sorts of loss of signal and senses — from cellphone to sight, people standing right next to each other but inhabiting entirely different realities: in short, America now.

I got it and I get why it’s loved by Lethem and the serious literary in-crowd, and it was intriguing and inventive and insightful in its pilgrimage toward the apocalypse, but, for me, reading it was a trifle more effortful than its rewards warranted. I love writing which makes some demands of me, inspires me to think and observe in new ways, but when it becomes so arduously demanding in a way that seems deliberately obtuse — as if it has something to prove about just how rigorous is the mind creating it — it loses me.

Twelve Angry Librarians (Cat in the Stacks #8), Miranda James, Hardcover, 288pp, February 2017, Berkley Books

I could have sworn I’d read earlier books in this series when I reserved it at library, but I haven’t. It’s about small town Mississippian librarian, Charlie Harris (great name) and his perceptive cat, Diesel. There is a gathering of librarians being held at the university where Charlie works and in attendance an old enemy of his — and many of the other attendees — who gets murdered. Charlie gets involved in the case and, well, if you’ve read any book lover cozies or cat cozies, you pretty much know what follows: local police force less than happy with Charlie, lots of suspects who Charlie knows must be innocent, a second murder, and all of it tied up in the last few pages. It makes for a nice afternoon’s read.

All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg, Hardcover, 197pp, March 2017, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I LOVED Jami Attenberg’s Saint Mazie. Five starred it, here in July of 2015 [click here for link to my write-up] and pressed it into the hands of many a friend. It was a book full of a-ha moments and insights, beautiful, thoughtful prose, and a rip roaring story. All Grown Up is an entirely different sort of experience. It is also beautifully written, sculpted almost, and there are a-ha moments and insights aplenty, and it is especially eloquent in speaking to those of us who have chosen to live our lives by rules all our own. Jami Attenberg creates a real person in Andrea Bern who enjoys sex, indulges in drugs, suffers bad men and pushy, judgey relatives, doesn’t much like her job, mourns the her she might have been, and makes some bad choices along the way, while being both fantastic and maddening to be around — like all of us. I read this in an afternoon, and maybe should have savored it longer, but there it is.

There you go. Now, despite my promise to myself I would not read ANYTHING but library holds until my list was cleared, I have dived into a non-library book because I just couldn’t wait one minute longer to get to it — I’ve been waiting for months, since first I read an excerpt on-line — and I want to enjoy it in my current silent, solitary atmosphere. Already I am losing myself in the haze of beautiful prose and compelling storyline. So, back to the comfy reading room here, with Max on my lap, and the two of us luxuriating in the silence and Peternelle van Arsdale’s The Beast Is An Animal.

Update on Panic-Attack

In case you missed it, this morning I was having a panic attack — CLICK HERE — my first in quite a long time, and it was to do with the Motor Vehicle Administration having informed me that I would be unable to renew my registration or license because the State of Maryland had informed the MVA I owed back taxes — CLICK HERE FOR THAT POST.

Well, I finally heard from the MVA/State of Maryland with the information about what I owed and from when. It was from 2010. Seven years ago. And a very bad year 2010 was. I remember very little. I was not high functioning. I had left a very bad situation, in a hurry, gave up a lot, lost a lot, all necessary to save myself. It is very likely true I owe taxes from then, even though I distinctly remember paying off in installments some amount. But, I was very low on funds (which hasn’t changed, but that’s okay) and things were not making sense. Too, in the interim years, I have moved a few times, always in a hurry, and shortly after one of those moves my room was flooded and all my personal files (along with quite a few journals and my Joan Didion and Renata Adler signed first editions) were lost. So, I can’t prove anything even if there is anything to prove, which, I’m pretty sure there isn’t.

Fairly certain — like 99% — I owe this. From seven years ago. Luckily, they have not tacked on interest and penalties. Good news is, it’s less than it might have been. Bad news is, it’s more than I have. Good news is, they’ve set up a payment plan. Bad news (or funny news) is, the first payment is due ON MY BIRTHDAY.

Oh. Life.

But, I have a house/pet sitting job starting Thursday through Sunday. And another starting next week that is two weeks long. And some summer bookings. And things work out sooner or later, one way or another. And while my chest is still tight tonight (and my rash is still not gone) I am better than I was this morning and I managed to get through the day and finish a book blogging post — CLICK HERE — and keep my stress hidden from my Mom.

And, the Zakar Twins posted a new photo of themselves. In knitted jockstraps. Life is good.

So, win win win and happy approaching birthday and here I am, going.

But going in a positive, affirming way. And not gone in the sad, final way I had so long been contemplating and planning.  And that is, indeed, a miracle, Charlie.



Reading: So many holds, so little time

I’ve read eight books since last I book-blogged and I am close to catching up with my hold list from the library. Which I have STOPPED adding to so that I might get to a stack of books I own which have been patiently awaiting my attention. I’ll try to keep this short. Here goes.

The Moviegoer, Walker Percy, paperback, 242pp, originally published 1961

This won the 1962 National Book Award for reasons that escape me. I found the title character, Binx Bolling, to be unbearably idiotic and misogynist. I thought the writing was dull and clunky, the symbolism heavy-handed. Not for me.

A Most Novel Revenge (Amory Ames #3), Ashley Weaver, Hardcover, 320pp, October 2016, Minotaur Books

I read the first Amory Ames mystery in March of last year, somehow missed the second, and picked up this, the third, on a whim from the library when I was there to get some holds. WHY DID I PICK UP ANOTHER BOOK WHEN I HAVE SO MANY HOLDS? Well, I love cozy 1930’s English mysteries about wealthy folk and add to that milieu a novelist and libertines, compare the sleuthing main character, Amory, and her husband to Nora and Nick Charles, and, well, I’m hooked. I confess, however, that when I picked this up I had no idea I’d read the first in the series, and, even as I read, I did not recall the first. It was only when adding it to my Goodreads list I realized I’d read the beginning of the series, and even on reading the synopsis, I only vaguely recalled it. BUT, that’s okay. This one was fun, a light, witty, amusing, distracting bob-bon, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it beats the hell out of The Moviegoer.

Faithful, Alice Hoffman, Hardcover, 258pp, November 2016, Simon & Schuster

I don’t know how the only other book I’ve read by Alice Hoffman is The Story Sisters, but there it is. I saw her speak at Frederick’s Speaker Series, and I am devoted to the film of her novel, Practical Magic. I quite liked this. Alice Hoffman walks the line between thaumaturgy and daily reality, conjuring happy endings from tragic circumstances. She writes with a great faith in the resiliency of the human spirit, and her heroine, Shelby Richmond, lives a journey riveting, heartbreaking, and hope-giving in this book. We need happy endings right now, so I just might pick up some more of Alice Hoffman’s work — once I get through my holds and my own patiently waiting books.

Superficial: More Adventures from the Andy Cohen Diaries, Andy Cohen, Hardcover, 357pp, December 2016, St. Martin’s Press

Okay, sue me, I am addicted to a number of Bravo’s Real Housewives of … series, which are produced by Andy Cohen. He makes me laugh. And I figure that if Anderson Cooper is best buddies with him, he must be a good time. So, I got this — also on a whim while picking up holds — and for the first half or so, I was amused. Then, what felt to me like a real lack of appreciation for the privilege in which he lives started to wear me out. Which, I suspect, has an equal amount to do with my envy of someone who can buy and remodel apartments in New York City while I can’t pay off a tax bill for which I am being dunned or afford rent on the near hovel in which I live. That said, this book is what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and that’s a good thing.

Lincoln In The Bardo, George Saunders, Hardcover, 343pp, February 2017, Random House

This book has been buzzed about for months, received rave reviews, and was much loved by people whose opinions I respect. It is indeed imaginative and very different from most things I read or have ever read. Does that make it the masterpiece people are calling it? I don’t know. I liked it. The writing is — no question — quite beautiful and brilliant and ingenious and poetic and dramatic and often riveting. The plot is to do with Lincoln’s son Willie, who stays in limbo with other souls refusing to face the realities of their deaths, and President Lincoln returns to the crypt to hold and mourn his dead son. But that is misleading, as it is really a framework for a much larger exploration of the lives and deaths and disappointments and delusions of an entire culture which manages in its fanciful, ferocious execution to be startlingly relevant to the current state of the world, this country, human consciousness. Definitely a should read for everyone. (But I STILL say the books of the year are LILLIAN BOXFISH TAKES A WALK by Kathleen Rooney [CLICK IT HERE]  & RUNNING by Cara Hoffman [CLICK IT HERE].)

Swimming Lessons, Claire Fuller, Hardcover, 350pp, February 2017, Tin House Books

I have long followed Claire Fuller on Twitter — when I was on all the time, before this hiatus I am taking, we Tweeted in the same circles. I hesitate sometimes to read books by people who I “know” — but, deep breath and sigh of relief, reading Claire Fuller was a rewarding decision. And, apparently I am not the only one to think so, as the HOLD LIST at the library for this book was longer than the one for Lincoln In The Bardo.

The premise: Twelve years after Ingrid Coleman disappeared from her marriage and family, her husband thinks he has seen her. She has left letters to her husband, Gil, a philandering author, in the thousands of books he owns — one of which has ended up in a second-hand bookshop; he is holding said book in that bookshop, having discovered the letter inside, when he thinks he has seen Ingrid through the window and chases after her, taking a serious fall. His daughter, Flora, who has never believed her mother dead, comes home to take care of her father and discovers (along with us) the truths and deceptions and secrets of her family.

Jumping back and forth between present day and Ingrid’s letters from the past, Claire Fuller illuminates a tessellation of detail and particulars in a fast moving but slow reveal which makes for compelling and engrossing reading. This book also happened to have a few things I love dearly: crazy authors, obsessive collectors of books, and erudite writers of letters. I resented every moment I was forced to spend away from this book once I’d started it, so, make sure you have ample time for reading.

I am rather thrilled that I’ve Claire Fuller’s first novel to look forward to, Our Endless Numbered Days.

The Night Ocean, Paul La Farge, Hardcover, 400pp, March 2017, Penguin Press

Too long. An amalgamation of fact, fiction, history, rumor, research, imagination, reporting, and fabrication, The Night Ocean purports to be the story of (fictional) Charlie Willet, author of a book exploring the relationship between (real) H.P.Lovecraft and (real) Robert Barlow, but it turns out Willet has been duped and becomes obsessively determined to untangle the web of deceptions and impostures surrounding the lives and legacies of Lovecraft and Barlow, one of whom might or might not be dead, or have talked to Willet, who, himself, like Barlow (maybe?) committed suicide. Or did he? What might have been fascinating non-fiction reportage or intriguing fiction, becomes a confusing admixture of neither and both and it ultimately feels repetitive, confusing, and TOO LONG.

The Stranger In The Woods: The Extraordinary Story Of The Last True Hermit, Michael Finkel, Hardcover, 224pp, March 2017, Knopf Publishing Group

Having spent the last seven years downsizing my life, recently reducing even more my contacts with the world, and seriously contemplating deeper retreat into solitude, finding less and less purpose or reason in the acquisitive, grasping culture in which we live or the measurements by which that culture judges success and achievement, I was fascinated by the premise of this book.

In 1986 a 20-year-old hikes into the woods of Maine, where he lives in near-complete solitude for almost 30 years until he is arrested during the final of the thousands of burglaries he had committed over the decades in order to feed, clothe, and warm himself.

Once he is captured people are divided in their feelings about him and the years of thievery, the fear he caused among the population from whom he repeatedly stole. There is fury and anger, and there is sympathy and admiration. There is speculation he is autistic, mentally ill, a genius, a fraud, a savant.

What there is not is any clear — or even vague — answer as to why he did what he did. Michael Finkel is near relentless in his effort to connect with Chris Knight, but the not-quite-hermit is uninterested in being explained, or explaining himself. He did what he did and it was what it was and the need of modern culture to psychoanalyze and parse every emotion and action, to determine a why and bestow a label, is part of what Knight was determined to leave behind — or, so it seems to me. He is not — was not — interested in the sort of mass-market introspection and categorizing which defines modern society, he wanted just to be.

Once he was forcibly returned to the “real world” he understandably had a difficult time merging back into a structure where he is ruled by statutes and etiquette and niceties he had eschewed for most of his adult life.

Michael Finkel tells the story and quotes Thoreau and psychologists and experts aplenty — too many, in fact — and so this ends up feeling bereft of emotional heft and more of a stretched-thin research project or magazine article, padded with expert opinion that does little to illuminate what we really want to know; Why did he do it? What effect did it have on his family? Who is this man? Exploration of which might have made this book better resonate with that part of all of us that wishes to disappear, be left alone, enjoy some silence.


So, that’s it and there it is, the eight books I have read so far in March. I tried to keep it short, and I suppose, for me, 1700 words is pretty short. Now, back to my stacks. Love and Light, dear ones. Here I am, going.

Oh dear . . . panicking

That feeling where your chest is super tight and breathing is an effort, as in, you can’t seem to really get a deep breath, or you’re forgetting to breathe, and you’re sort of shaking like you’ve had too much caffeine? I haven’t had this in a while, a long while, but I’m having it now and I really, really hate it.

After four requests in three weeks I have at last gotten a response from the division of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration who sent me a letter telling me they’d been informed by the state of Maryland (aren’t they the state of Maryland?) I owed taxes and so my license and registration would NOT be renewed unless I took care of this.

So, I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. And wrote. Asking the amount and from when? Finally, today, I received a response from a Revenue Collection Specialist asking me for the last four digits of my social security number that they might help me.

And so I am now in panic mode. Which I need to hide, as I have my Mom today.

I am such a fail with money. I just finished reading a book about a guy who lived alone in the woods for 27 years. I definitely couldn’t do that, but I am more and more thinking that the less and less I interact with the world and its conventions, the better off I (and the world) will be.

I hate being this upset and terrified and feeling helpless — which is my m.o. in money matters. Oh Charlie, as my mother would say.

Send light and good vibes and hopes the amount is low. Really, really low.

This Week In Charlie-Land: March 12-19

A week of six (6! WHAT?) posts can mean only one thing: I am still rationing my Twitter-time. Too, it was a week when the temperature reached 70 degrees and there was also the only so-called snow storm of the season. I continued my personal chef-ing roll, creating meals and cakes of my own recipes for dear ones, and my healing soul-realignment continued even as the mysterious rash that started all of this has yet to be diagnosed or disappear. What follows is a brief re-visit of each post and a look into the conversation my selves are having about here, where I am, going.

Tuesday, March 14, The Affray of Seasons and Reason

Nature seems to be flim-flamming us (and itself) with one week so warm the flowers bloom and the trees bud, only to be shock-blasted in the next week by hard freezes and the first measurable snow of the season; all of which seemed metaphor for the current political situation. Although we’ve far to go, we’ve come such a long way in the march toward equality for people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community, and the flowering of those freedoms now feels threatened by the ignorance, fear, and vitriolic vindictiveness in power. But freedom, equality, and Love, are as tough and resilient as nature; we will flower again. And again. And yet again.

Tuesday, March 14, Four Years and 931 Posts Later

My second post of the day was prompted by a notice from WordPress telling me it was this blog’s fourth anniversary. I looked back and found I’d had progressively fewer hits with each year; I was losing readers. This discovery brought to the surface an event I’d been ignoring; someone I was “seeing” in a casual way had discarded me. That musing opened the long tightly shut vault of feelings about being left, losing people, broken connections. I didn’t walk too far inside that vault, it was awfully full of things at which I need to look, but right now, this healing of the soul I’m having and the reactions of some people to it, has already energized my disconnect and hermit buttons. So, happy Charlie needs to be careful about how far and how fast he delves into the things he’s kept locked away.

Wednesday, March 15, Between the Lines . . .

Tuesday’s contemplation about where I’d been four years ago when I started this blog, where I’ve gotten, where I’m going, and being left or leaving sent me into a mini-spin based in fear. So, I did what I have often done in my life: turned to music and icons and po cultural imagery to express myself. From the youthful comfort I took from Miss Judy Garland and my Dark Shadows obsession, through my love of Little Edie and the ways in which she resembled my Sissie, to my fear of aging, my fatigue, and my love of Christopher Isherwood as well as my identification with the pitfalls of falling for a much younger someone, to my Blanche DuBois/Tennessee Williams-esque shaping of the story of my life into a three act play, and the shadow of a Tarantula Arms lusting to which I’ve sometimes succumbed, through my horror story dark side prone to lashing out in violent, irrational hatred when he feels unloved, unseen, victimized, and my Neely O’Hara “don’t you know who I am”-ing, which took me to another O’Hara, Kelli, and her beautiful, yearning delivery of a different kind of see me — which seems in retrospect as I give you all the “between the lines” to have been the theme of the post which concluded with Sarah Vaughn’s delicious rendition of Embraceable You — with its quieter, simpler “See me,” and, at last, the witch-nose-wiggle, that I might magically clear up all the between the lines things plaguing me that day.

Wednesday, March 15, Count Your Pennies

As had Tuesday, Wednesday also brought two posts. This second was in response to the first in which I’d been feeling a trifle sad, less loved than I wanted to be, and after a tiny wallow in some envy, and missing some Twitter folk, and yearning for a life I’m never going to have, and blah, blah, blah, I was inspired by the shiny pennies in my pocket to turn into my Mom and say, “I’ll give you something to cry about! Now get it together.” And so, I did, and devoted my energy to appreciating the gifts in my life.

Saturday, March 18, Living So Much I Forgot to Take Pics

And like Tuesday and Wednesday, Saturday brought two posts, too. Seems it was a week of doublespeak-ish.

This first post was long and all about a din-uncheon I’d hosted for one of my dearest friends, and, also, I got very honest about my near-lifelong depression, the story about how I’ve finally agreed to medication and how it’s changed my life (and made me able to look back at my life with some forgiveness and grace) and, too, my decision to absent myself from Twitter — which is actually a much bigger deal, to do with much larger issues than those I think and tell myself prompted my absence, and which I don’t know that I can quite deal with yet — because it feels like I’m losing someone way more important than the buddy from the Four Years and 931 Posts Later entry. Who, by the way, has reappeared, explaining his absence, wanting back in.

Saturday, March 18, I Want It All

The final post of the week was the natural progression of the things about which I’d been thinking all week: my depression, how I am recovering from it and learning to live in a more forward-looking, positive thought-pattern sort of life, the relief of not thinking every single day, “I wish I was dead,” and not having to hide that sorrow from people, the relief of not having to pretend to be happy; and the new but manageable issue in my life: having to consider that I might deserve happiness, love, and might be able after all to achieve dreams denied, to say, out loud, “I want,” without fear of reprisal and scoffing and “people like you don’t get to do/be things like that.”

And so it went (and here I am, going)

That was my week — or, the parts of it I felt comfortable sharing. I don’t know if this blog will make it to a fifth year. Having some relief from a life of depression and having the energy available to me I once had to use every day to fight my sorrow, is like having to learn to live again. As I go through my days, as I deal with people and things, as I write, as I work out, as I do anything and everything — I recognize patterns and habits and coping mechanisms formed because I was always dealing with the huge weight and blockage of my depression; now that it’s somewhat assuaged, I can approach life differently — but it is an effort, NOT a bad effort, but, it’s as if after years of riding a bike, one day your body forgot how to do it, and you have to learn again.

I’m learning how to be happy. Which I guess sounds ridiculous. But, there it is. And part of the process is being a better advocate for myself; not expecting to be hurt or left or sub-Tweeted or bashed; and, too, accepting and being grateful for the gifts in my life without believing I am going to have to pay for any joy or goodness with twice the amount of sorrow and bad shit.

Ah Charlie, Young Happy Charlie, help me out here, where we are, going.

Love and Light, dear ones.

I Want It All

Yes. This. The upside (and danger) of becoming happy after so long being not is this terrifying feeling when the wishes and dreams I denied myself because I thought I didn’t deserve and couldn’t have them are allowed to peek out, to whisper out loud, “I want…”

Living So Much I Forgot To Take Pics

Before Andrea’s birthday din-uncheon.

Yesterday I hosted a birthday luncheon (well, din-uncheon, because we didn’t really start eating until 3pm) for my dear one, Andrea, with my dear ones, Alison and Sister Debbie. Before it began, as I was prepping and cooking, I took a picture of the table and the tulips.

Once everyone had arrived, I had such a marvelous time and was so busy being there, here, where I am going, talking to and enjoying and loving people, I never thought to record every few moments (or any moments at all) with my smartphone, posting my life, documenting it rather than living it.

This forced-absence from Twitter really was a good decision.

It has been three weeks since I decided to treat my Twitter addiction, a decision triggered by a sort of sub-Tweeted provocation of a personal nature related to my delight with my recent, late in life taking of an antidepressant, which I started two months ago and which taking of was initiated by a wonderful medical professional to whom I went to treat the rash-reaction-hives-whatever covering my right forearm and spreading to my left (at the time).

I’ve been on Twitter a few times since my hiatus began — I have not looked at my TL, but I do periodically check for (and write) DMs, and I check my notifications. My mood and outlook continue to be near-miraculously improved from the antidepressant, although the commencing euphoria has evened out, which was to be expected as my initial diagnosis years ago was Dysthymic Disorder with Cyclothymic periodic hypomanic euphoric episodes (or something like that): I.E. I was chronically depressed and anhedonic with occasional energetic bursts of hopefulness, or, UPS, from which I would come crashing down and as the years went by, my LOWS getting lower after each UP, and the UPS became decreasingly so; I was cycling down for decades into what eventually became an outlook consistently bleak with daily suicidal ideation, a nagging voice in my head narrating with the mantra, “And then he died,” which I hid (mostly) but which the fight against exhausted me spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

It is difficult living every day when you are hoping to die. I believed my life was without meaning and its meaninglessness was my failure and sin; and worse than the pain of that, was how incredibly alone and isolated I felt in it. I couldn’t explain it to people who loved me because it made them (often) angry, as if I was dismissing what they felt for me, as if my depression was actually me being selfish and ungrateful — a reaction which only affirmed my fear that my sorrow was my deficiency of character and backbone, a weakness I ought to be able to fix.

I did not blame people for not wanting to be around me. I saw the ability of others to spend time with friends, to have lover-relationships, to be happy, as further proof that I was and had always been a broken down nobody, somebody not worthy of love.

I’m not going to say those feelings have been entirely erased by the medication. But my capacity to confront them has increased ten-fold. Whereas before I would think those thoughts and believe them to be true, or, block them out and negate myself, fighting against thinking or feeling at all, working toward numbness, NOW, I am able to say, “I think that is not true.”

Undoing decades of feeling inadequate is a mighty long trek, but what the antidepressant has really eased is my focus on the past. I am blessedly relieved (mostly) of the relentless replaying of “oh you’ve wasted your life” and “if only” and “should have, could have, why didn’t you?” and all the other nags and self-hating vitriol that made it impossible to be in the now because every moment was so full of regret and recrimination.

And envy. I still have some envy, which was another reason I took a Twitter break. There is an echo of “I might have lived a life like that” in my genuine joy of seeing and sharing in the lives of my Twitter pals, many of whom live in New York, or have long-term relationships, or have experienced and lived in ways I have not. I love them and I do celebrate their successes and joys, but there is sometimes a tinge of the old voice, “How did I fuck up so badly that I’m where I am and not there where they are?”

On which I am working. Healing takes time. New patterns of thinking and adjustments of attitude require practice. The pathways in my brain and heart have so long been geared toward self-flagellation and sorrow, it requires practice and concentrated effort to interrupt the sorrow.

But, yesterday, I hosted a birthday din-uncheon and was having such a marvelous time with my people, it never occurred to me to take a picture except before it started and after the people had gone. The clean-up. Look:

And after I took those pics and was doing the clean-up — which I have down to a system that works in my tiny kitchen, just like the system I have for creating meals there, which systems fill me with admiration for myself that I’ve accommodated to my environment — which is metaphor for what I’m doing (and have always done) in my life in general; making the most of the space I am in, I felt such a peace and a patience within myself, for myself.

Left arm after din-uncheon/clean-up

Right arm after din-uncheon/clean-up

Funny, this. I went to the doctor in January for the mysterious non-itching, odd rash on my right arm, spreading then to my left, which I thought was hives brought on by the inauguration of the fascist buffoon, and because of that visit, my near-lifelong depression has been relieved, my addiction to social media has been eased, my ability to live, here where I am, being, and my capacity for experiencing joy without fear has been greatly increased, but the rash-reaction-hives-whatever has spread to my chest, my back, my legs, my palms, my feet, and after I’d finished cleaning up last night sort of exploded on my forearms. This was a new event, this exacerbation, and now, this morning, as of 4:30a.m. when I got up, both arms have faded back to the normal shadow of the spots and red which is slowly, slowly going away, sort of, although I still look pox-ridden.

That, despite three more trips to the doctor, steroids, creams, and antihistamines, is yet to be diagnosed or cured. Life is funny, yes?

Okay, off to live mine — of which I might take pics to share here with you later. Love and Light dear ones.

P.S. The din-uncheon was kind of marvelous. Menu: a starter of lobster & crab bisque, heavy on the cream and sherry; main course of deconstructed thanksgiving turkey — which was a breast, beaten and then rolled jelly-roll style with a filling made of stuffing material — spinach, celery, mushrooms, Italian bread crumbs; and twice-baked mashed potatoes — made from baby potatoes first boiled, then baked, then mashed with heavy cream, butter, and loads of asiago and parmesan, piped into a ceramic dish, topped with more cheese, and baked in the oven until brown-topped and puffed up into a delicious mound of mmm-goodness; fresh asparagus steamed; and for dessert a triple-chocolate layer cake with fudge between the layers and cream cheese frosting. I created all the recipes myself, of which I am super proud, and the meal was a HUGE hit with everyone — including me. Yes, even I thought it was delicious. Okay, really going now.

Count Your Pennies

Today I went to the grocery store to pick up some things I needed for tonight’s niece/nephew meal and an upcoming birthday dinner, and when I got home and was emptying the change from my pockets into the containers where I keep it, I noticed that I’d been given three beautiful, shiny 2017 pennies.

I felt compelled to take a picture and mail it to myself, knowing I would want to blog it, though not quite sure why.

Maybe a button was pushed because Abraham Lincoln is on the penny and yesterday I finished Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders and it is still taking up a large space in my mind. I’m not certain how I feel about it.

Or, maybe it’s because pennies are said to be lucky? Although I think one is supposed to find them on the ground, not be given them as change. But, you know what? Lately I’ve come to realize more and more how dependent luck and happiness are on one’s outlook. If you constantly see yourself as victim, live in “oh poor, put upon me” energy, and see even those who love and support you as somehow not loving and supporting you enough, well, what you need is not more happiness, but for you, yourself, to make more of an effort to appreciate the happiness you’ve got.

It is a lesson I am really, really, REALLY trying to heed. Every day. And that’s my two (well, three) cents.

They are sort of beautiful, aren’t they? The color. The shine. The hardly been touched-ness of them. Not that I mind coins that have been around the block a few times, a little worn and faded from being well used and spent.

Love and light, dear ones. And may your day be filled with lucky, shiny pennies. And even more, may you have the time and heart and presence of spirit to appreciate them.

Between the lines…

Some days I put my words aside, and I roam through music and images, without a map, without an agenda, just letting subconscious, my heart, my soul, chat with my sometimes overly-contemplative brain. It’s refreshing. Renewing. Revealing. Relaxing to let things just be rather than trying to emotionally parse every breath. Here goes.