Saturday, December 31, 2011

resolution, of a sort

I do not for a moment believe that 2012 is going to be perfect. 2012 will be a year, made up of months and weeks and days, and all of those days will be real and flawed. I don't expect to wake up tomorrow morning and step into the ending of a fairy tale. Life goes on, with all the good and all the bad that that entails. 

My house is a hundred years old, my car nine, and the dogs eat the furniture. There will almost always be something that needs repairing, and there will always be something that needs cleaning. 

There will be days when an article of clothing that made me feel like a goddess falls apart in the wash, when a cherished piece of jewelry is lost, when a mug given to me by someone now gone is dropped. 

There will be days when I miss lunch, when I stagger home already a wreck to find that the furnace has gone out and the dogs have thrown up everywhere.

There will be days when the vet's bill is $400, when the car doesn't start, when my body image issues overwhelm me (I may be on a very even keel as far as that goes, but I'm a woman in 21st-century America and I'm not superhuman). Days when I fall off the cheese or caffeine wagons and pay for it with a grubby complexion and feelings of weakness. Days when my envy, for all the work I'm doing on it, comes back, toxic as hell. Days when a drink sounds terrifyingly good. 

There will be days when work is mind-numbingly repetitive, or soul-crushingly petty. Days when everywhere I go there's an obnoxious jerk taking out his or her pain on innocent bystanders. 

There will be the actual practicalities of the divorce, which is my priority for the new year. There will be filing, and court dates, and all the emotional components of these things. There may be some very nasty arguments about money. At least there will not be doubts. 

There will be days when all I think about is cancer. And there is always the very real chance that the cancer will return in 2012, and that it will turn into a year associated with words like "mastectomy" and "chemo". 

But there will be Mozart, and Bach, and Vivaldi. There will be tea, and warm socks, and dog kisses. There will be Shakespeare, and poetry. There will be books, always, books I can't put down, books I've read a dozen times that soothe like a hot bath, books that make me snort with derision and appreciate the next good one all the more. 

There will be the most wonderful medical team anyone could ask for, even if (please if) I am only seeing them for my screenings. 

There will be bad movies, and in-jokes, and constant laughter with excellent friends. 

And there is the knowledge - which, finally, brings us to the resolution bit - that I am allowed to be happy. That my happiness is not selfish. That I am allowed to go looking for it, whether or not I find it. 

I am allowed to do the things that make me happy. Read the books I want, listen to the music I want, get into my pajamas as early as I want. Go for long walks, take road trips, spend hours at a museum. Try new things, new places. Find out that there's even more in the world that makes me happy. 

I am allowed to dress up, and go out, and flirt (whether or not that's in my skill set is another issue entirely). I am allowed to think myself worthy of someone's attention, and at the same time confident enough in my own skin to attend events alone, because I want to be there. I don't have to have any other reason.

I have no doubt whatsoever that 2012 will have its own set of new and exciting rejections. But I know now that the end of love is not the end of the world. That someone you want very much telling you that you are not worthy of love or respect doesn't make it true. That even a relationship of ten years, which was supposed to last sixty, didn't define who I am. I'm not willing to love like I've never been hurt before. I'm willing to love because I have been hurt, and I know that it's worth it. 

Happiness isn't selfish - well, if it involves breaking hearts or outdoing friends or polluting groundwater, then it is, but mine doesn't require those things. No more of this idea that suffering is noble. I will cope with suffering as nobly as I can, because suffering is inevitable, but I know that happiness makes me a better person, and so that is where I will be devoting my energies. 

Of course there is the Puritan part of me arguing that a devotion to happiness will come at the expense of my responsibilities. Which are? I have a responsibility to myself, to my dogs, and to those people who love me and want me to be happy.

I have no responsibility to those people who want me to be miserable, whether due to their own unhappiness or because they think it makes a better story. I have twenty-one years of daily journals and those people are welcome to sit down with about eighteen years' worth of them if that is the story they want. I'm bored with it. 

A few years ago around this time, I wrote a poem about living by the ocean as a metaphor for new beginnings. It's deeply flawed and I never managed to revise it, but the ending was all right:

There is no blessing like a chance, like a new day truly new:
Here each morning decks the beaches like a new-created bride;
Here you could not re-trace yesterday even if you wanted to:
Your heaviest, most dogged steps are victims of the tide.

Here the mundane is redemption, whether sea or I redeem;
Daily, with the ocean's washing-in, wash out what came before;
The background to each choice, however permanent it seems:
Angels, or their possibility, breaking on the shore.

A very, very happy New Year to all. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Good Hanging, by Ian Rankin

I know, I know, I just read a Rankin. But this was a Christmas gift, and perfect plane reading.

It consists of twelve short stories featuring Rankin's Inspector Rebus. I was intrigued to see how the short story format worked for Rebus, as his novels are very convoluted and intricate. Alas, I am forced to conclude that that remains his strength, and consequently these stories, while fun, were a bit fluffy.

Rankin does have quite a sense of humor, and that was on show here, particularly in the final story. But I felt unsatisfied at the end of each tale, because I had mentally settled myself in for grit and grief and a prolonged journey.

Conclusion: enjoyable, light, and made me glad that I have several of his novels still on my to-read shelf.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo

Whoof. Quite a haul, this one.

I enjoyed it a lot, although the digressions took some getting used to. When Jean Valjean takes shelter in a convent, we get 150 pages about the order and the nuns. When two characters meet briefly on the field of Waterloo, it is prefaced by 200 pages of blow-by-blow descriptions of said battle, complete with perhaps a hundred names of French historical figures about whom I hadn't a clue. I found the convent digression interesting; the Waterloo one, not so much.

But the plot carries strongly through all the sidebars, and the only thing that really slowed me down was the Marius-Cosette romance, which is just asinine. At first I thought Hugo was being sarcastic in the endless passages about how pure their love is, to the extent that Marius is furious with Cosette when the wind lifts her dress past her ankle, because he doesn't want to desire her, but after page after page about the beauty of fifteen-year-old virgins so innocent that they blush while getting dressed, and Cosette's tiny little feet, and all the men in her life approvingly referring to her conversation as "babbling", I realized this was not sarcasm. Seriously, Hugo, if your romantic heroine makes your reader long for one written by Dickens, you've really gone too far. And the last, oh, 300 pages (it's hard to tell, because I read this on my Kindle) was just the Fantastically Pure Love of Marius and Cosette, so that was rough on me. (Hugo even says, more than once, that the wonder of a wedding night lies in how terrified the virgin bride is. Yikes.)

So, the love story: blah. Éponine is much more interesting (and though I have never seen the musical, I do know that she gets all the good songs [my shower rendition of "On My Own" is, shall we say, remarkable], so clearly the writers of the musical at least agreed with me). The barricade and the flight through the sewers (complete with a 150-page introduction to the history of Paris' sewers) were exciting, but personally my favorite parts were the pastoral ones. The long descriptions of life in small French towns. The loving, occasionally laugh-out-loud-funny character studies. These parts reminded me a lot of Trollope, and I enjoyed them thoroughly.

In all (and sorry about the rambling review, but I have a head cold), I liked it a lot, with the major exception of the love story. And reading it on the Kindle was really fun. Maybe I will give The Hunchback of Notre-Dame a try! Or maybe not.

Next up: I'm almost done with Ian Rankin's A Good Hanging, which was perfect plane reading. After that, I think A Natural History of Love, by Diane Ackerman.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Shot in the Heart, by Mikal Gilmore

Ah, true crime. So voyeuristic. 

I expected this book to be far more about Gary Gilmore's murders, that being all I knew about the family. Instead it was about the incredible family dysfunction that created a murderer, although Gilmore also admits he doesn't know if Gary was born differently from the other children or shaped by the environment. After all, there were four brothers, and only one became a murderer.

Gilmore writes very well, and you don't get utterly overwhelmed by the litany of terrible events in his childhood. The descriptions of their "haunted" house in Salt Lake City (Gilmore repeats several times that he doesn't believe in ghosts, but that everyone in the family felt presences and heard voices) are chilling. Whatever was going on in that house, many people were very unhappy and creating a terrible atmosphere, and it seems like all four boys were trying to run away from that house as best they could. 

There isn't much plot to describe. The Gilmores grew up in shifting, hostile circumstances, and three of them did some jail time, and two of them died young, and if one of those two hadn't famously died by firing squad, it might have just been a memoir in the whose-childhood-was-worse competition, albeit written twenty years before that competition really took off. But Mikal Gilmore writes  very, very well, and manages to tell his story without self-pity, and it's many steps above your standard memoir. 

Next up: well, I'm 70% of the way through Les Misérables, and have a pile of Christmas books, so we'll see what captures my interest for my travels tomorrow. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

From the Mouth of the Whale, by Sjón

I was two-thirds of the way through this when I accidentally left it on a plane this morning. And though I did not do so intentionally (today's travel lesson: generic Dramamine does not work, which may render you incapable of remembering things not directly related to not-vomiting), when I realized I had there was not all that much regret. 

The plot: in 17th-century Iceland, Jonas Palmason has been convicted of heresy and exiled to a rocky island. There he recalls his life, in a stream-of-consciousness manner often lacking in paragraphs or any punctuation but ellipses, and basically what that life taught me was that 17-century Iceland was disgusting.

Seriously, the descriptions of food, hygiene, illness, wounds: they all had me reeling back from the pages sure I would never eat again. And they weren't really necessary, but then, I don't really know what the point of the book was. There were some ruminations on God and nature, but those would be followed by several pages about what happens if you never pick out the food left in your teeth. (Hint: it's not something you want to read about during breakfast.) 

Maybe in the last third it picked up. I don't know. And I'm okay with that. Not so much my cup of tea. And I'm on vacation now, so you can't make me read about Icelandic dental tragedies if I don't want to!

Next up: about a fifth of the way through Les Misérables and halfway through Shot in the Heart. Because Mormon murderers make good holiday reading. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kindle update

I went out yesterday, and brought the Kindle with me.  I was waiting around at brunch first (because there was ANOTHER Santa run, resulting in impossible parking; I think they're following me), and then riding public transportation. Apparently I read 7% of Les Misérables (roughly 100 pages, I think).

I am a little bit in love. The tactile difference definitely takes some getting used to every time I pick it up, but within a few pages I'm okay with it. I have no idea if I will ever sit down on the couch with it, but since I'm traveling this week I think I will be able to finish LM.   

However, I have not yet started From the Mouth of the Whale; I'm dinking around with half-hearted re-readings of The Wreck of the Medusa* and A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters. Tonight I promise I will pick up the Icelandic craziness.

*Of note: the sailors on the raft of the Medusa resorted to cannibalism on the third day. I used to think this was beyond insane and an opportunity for many jokes about the eating habits of the French, and then I had to prep for a colonoscopy and couldn't eat for 24 hours. I understand it a little better now.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


My in-laws just gave me my Christmas present. A Kindle.

We have had this discussion - "Do you want a Kindle?" "No, I don't want a Kindle," - many times. My mother-in-law travels a great deal, and loves her Kindle. I am a very tactile reader, and in fact developed a habit of flipping the edges of pages back and forth when a very small child - it was actually an attempt to make myself read more slowly, so that I would finish the assigned chapter only fifteen minutes before everyone else in the class, instead of twenty. (What? This blog is predicated on the fact that I read like a house on fire, so I'm not going to be modest about that.) The need to slow down is long gone, but the habit of flicking the pages remains, as anyone who has ever watched me read can attest.

So I thought, I could never use an e-reader. I need to be holding a book.

Then the package arrived, and the card stated what it was, so I opened it up; and had the most stereotypical female reaction in the history of the world. I honest-to-God squealed, "It's so CUTE!"

I'm not proud of that, but it's what I did. And let's face it, the thing is wicked cute. Which is actually, I think, going to be a problem given the aforementioned speed at which I read: the screen only holds about half a standard page of text at once, so I'm going to be switching screens really fast, and that may tire the eyes out.

So naturally the first thing I download onto it (well, after the complete works of Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, but those are givens) is Les Misérables. Because the only way to test this thing is to read 1000 pages on it, right? Actually, with this screen it's probably 2500 pages.

This will be some good times. I will keep you posted.

Oh! I forgot to mention that I can get library books on it. That is exciting. 

Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston, and the 1975 World Series: The Triumph of America's Pastime, by Mark Frost

This book was definitely written for people who already know all the figures involved. There was a lot of: "And that little boy's name was... George Anderson!" to which I have no reaction other than, "Good for him." But I soldiered on despite my ignorance, and did learn some things, not leastly what the man Frost blandly refers to as "Bucky 'Fucking' Dent" actually did.

The setup: Boston and Cincinnati are in Game Six of the World Series, with Boston down three games to two. After a two-day rain delay, Game Six is on in Fenway Park.

Frost has a habit of alternating paragraphs describing the action on the field with paragraphs about one of the players, or the history of the teams, or the situation in America and Boston in 1975. This works when his background information is substantial enough to take a few pages. It doesn't work when all he has is an anecdote about a player and he splits it into two disjointed paragraphs rather then a single cohesive one. But I got used to the rhythm - it is sort of like the commentary sportscasters provide in the moments between action, and that may be completely intentional on Frost's part.

If the game hadn't been played at Fenway, I would probably have been completely unable to follow the action. Frost does his best to describe it, but describing sporting events is a very difficult thing to do - why good radio sportscasters are so very, very good - and sometimes I couldn't quite picture what was going on. The alternating paragraphs mentioned above didn't always help, either.

But then Frost can write this:

Rico Petrocelli, headed cautiously toward second, wasn't sure until he nearly got to the base, and by then, every other living soul in Fenway had leapt to their feet in astonishment and joy, because Bernie Carbo had just deposited Eastwick's fat fastball over the wall ten rows into the seats of deepest right center for a three-run pinch-hit homer with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning and tied the god damned game.

People claimed you could hear it a mile away: The loudest explosion of sound even Tom Yawkey had ever heard in his ballpark erupted from Fenway.

I can feel that. The mad rhythm that starts with "Bernie Carbo had just..." and doesn't grant a single comma for the rest of the sentence... I'm watching that game.

Frost believes - and, after reading the book, I agree - that this was the play of the game, and so doesn't write Carlton Fisk's game-winning home run nearly as passionately. Frost seems irritated that Fisk was dubbed the hero of the game, and Carbo completely overlooked, but his narrative choice still made the ending of the game a letdown. And then, of course, the Red Sox self-destructed in Game Seven, because that's what they do. Game Seven needed to be either written more interestingly or addressed much more briefly - a sort of highlights reel instead of a play-by-play. I found that the most boring chapter.

I also didn't understand what the "triumph" of the title was. Yes, Game Six was watched by more television viewers than ever before and ushered in the era of night games, and made a lot of money for the television networks, but the final (long) chapter is all about how both teams collapsed in the following years, salaries started getting astronomical, fans didn't care about the players anymore, and then steroids took over. It didn't seem at all triumphal to me.

I'm not sorry I read this book, but I don't feel that it was written for me. It was written for hard-core Boston or Cincinnati fans old enough to have been watching games in 1975. Occasionally a bit of a slog for someone else. And the playing down of Tom Yawkey's (and Boston's) racism to the extent that Frost did really made me uncomfortable. 

No, wait, it's not downplaying, and I have to get this off my chest. It's pure ass-kissing of Tom Yawkey the entire book, and it's awful. There's one throw-away line about how Yawkey "unaccountably held the color line for ten years after Robinson". What? It's not "unaccountable"! It's directly accountable to racism! I don't remember a time after arriving in New England that I didn't know Tom Yawkey was a horrible racist, and for much of his career a pretty shabby owner as well, and yet Frost wants to show him as a near-saint and claim that the biggest tragedy of the entire Red Sox legacy is that Yawkey never saw them win a World Series. Well, maybe if he'd integrated the team before 1959 (and he fought that tooth and nail but was finally overruled), he'd have had a chance, Frost! Sheesh.

Frost tries to address the busing going on in Boston at the time, and the struggles of the players of color, but he is obviously deeply uncomfortable with those topics and edges away from them as fast as he can. And you can't write about the history of Boston baseball if you're not willing to write about racism. You really can't. 

Okay, I feel better now.

Next up: From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjon. My Early Reviewers book, and clearly 270 pages of pure madness. I liked Iceland's Bell but I don't know if I'm ready for this. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

why I am reading a book about baseball

Game Six was given to Claudio by one set of parents - I don't remember which - a couple Christmases or birthdays ago. He never read it, because once he met her he stopped reading.

He was the smartest person I'd ever met. And without any of the posturing and defensiveness so common among those with whom I'd gone to college (and of which I was thoroughly guilty as well). He never pretended he knew everything, and learning new things was an utter delight for him. My favorite activities with him were going to museums and watching documentaries, because the expression on his face when he had just learned something new and fascinating was why I fell in love with him. He read non-fiction books at twice the speed I do, and retained the information far longer than I as well. 

And then he met her. And every minute not spent talking to or texting her was a minute wasted. And there was no information in the world more interesting than how she spent her day, and how she was the coolest person everywhere she went.

You may say this is normal, that this is how infatuation affects people. But when I walked into the coffeehouse to meet him for our first official date, when we were already completely smitten with each other, I was able to stand near the door for a good five minutes watching him read the book he had brought with him. (Yes, this was in an era before smartphones, because we are old, but nonetheless.)

It would be one thing if loving her made him a better person (no, actually it wouldn't; I try to be a good person but come on). But I will never understand his claims that being with her made him feel alive and happy and full of potential, because I do not understand a world in which you can only feel alive and happy by losing all curiosity about said world. Falling in love with her made him lose his curiosity, his wonder, his desire to learn. It made him stop reading. 

He is a child of New England, for all that he spent most of his adolescence in Europe, and so he was always the Red Sox fan. I come from a place where there are no professional sports teams of any genre, so the passion of the New Englander for his / her teams was all new to me when I moved out here. I found it endearing, and gradually I fell for the operatic drama of the Red Sox as well. It helped that when I first arrived here, they were hopeless underdogs. But oh, 2004. No one slept. I hugged complete strangers in elevators. DAVE ROBERTS. It was glorious.

Naturally my interest waned slightly once they were no longer losers, although I kept watching (baseball is good in that you can read and watch at the same time). We went to Fenway Park for our first wedding anniversary; there was a four-hour rain delay and we didn't care; we just talked and laughed and eventually watched a good game, and on the walk back to where we'd parked we stopped in a bookstore. 

I don't know if he will remain a Red Sox fan, or a Patriots fan. I can't imagine his new mulleted, PBR-drinking crowd would look kindly on such an uncool predilection. On something that might induce someone to display unironic enthusiasm.

I will probably keep turning on the television during the baseball season, and having it on in the background while I read. And I will keep learning things, and reading books that are slightly out of my comfort zone, even if they're ones he left here (except for the ones that are in French or by Lenin). Because I have nothing to prove. I am all about unironic enthusiasm.

What breaks my heart is not losing the person he is now. That person is someone I don't know, and if we met now he would not glance twice at me, unless he overheard my muttered, "Seriously?" about the girl he's ogling, with pants up to her armpits, glasses frames down to her jawline, and "don't speak to me unless you have toured with three bands no one's ever heard of" stinkface. That person is not for me, nor I for him.

I mourn deeply the fact that the person he was simply doesn't exist any more. Because that person, regardless of his love or lack thereof for me, was pretty awesome. He was smart, and funny, and enthusiastic. He always cared a little too much what strangers thought of him, but he could have outgrown that if he'd tried. If he'd kept learning. If he'd kept reading.

It's a waste, really. That's all I can say about it. It's a waste.

Monday, December 12, 2011

re-read: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick

I re-read this book all the time. It is probably the most-read book on my shelves, with the exception of Tony Hillerman, which is my ultimate comfort reading. I try to go back to Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend at least once a year, but don't always manage it. In the Heart of the Sea, though, I'm picking up about once every six months. I knew I'd be heading right for that bookcase in the upstairs hallway as soon as I got back from the Whaling Museum.

In 1820, the whaleship Essex, out of Nantucket, was rammed and sunk by a giant sperm whale in the Pacific Ocean. The survivors piled into three whaleboats and tried to make it to the coast of South America or any nearby islands. One whaleboat was lost and, in the other two, those who survived only did so by eating their companions. Herman Melville read the account of one of the survivors and based the final scene in Moby-Dick on the story.

I am obsessed with true stories involving cannibalism. I suppose I could blame my friend whose father gave her Alive! to read at a very young age, but however this weird fascination of mine started, it means I have read everything to do with Sir John Franklin, and the Donner party, that I can find. (If it's cannibalism in a freezing climate, it's even better.) So naturally the story of the Essex is one I'm drawn to, but I return to the book as often as I do because Philbrick is amazing. He writes so clearly, so immediately, so beautifully. It's a quick, absorbing read, and every time I return to it I feel that something new jumps out at me. I can't recommend it highly enough, even for people who don't normally read history.

Sins of the House of Borgia, by Sarah Bower

Well... it wasn't as bad as I expected.

I was fully anticipating a Philippa Gregory wanna-be (and I HATE Philippa Gregory), and it turns out Bower is a better writer than Gregory (not hard), but I couldn't figure out for the life of me what story Bower was telling or why she wanted to tell it.

The plot, such as it is: an impossibly beautiful blond blue-eyed Spanish Jewess (I just report this stuff, people) is sort of sold by her father to be a lady-in-waiting to Lucrezia Borgia (no, I didn't understand the transaction aspect of it at all, or what her father got out of it), and must convert to Christianity. She does, because she doesn't really care about being Jewish, and there are later clumsy attempts to make her care, but she just comes off as not thinking seriously about religion at all, which is fairly anachronistic.

Our heroine, who we are repeatedly told is brilliant and irresistible (told, not shown), falls in love with Cesare Borgia, Lucrezia's brother, and bears him a child. Most of the book is her mooning after him while other characters tell her to grow up.

The "holy cow, incest!" revelation about Lucrezia and Cesare is not a revelation to anyone who knows anything about the Borgias, so when it's finally trotted out on page 512, I was not impressed. It only drove home the fact that our heroine is not very bright, given that she's failed to figure this out earlier.

None of the characters are more than two-dimensional, and I had a very hard time telling the minor characters apart. Bower's one stroke of originality is that Cesare infects our heroine with syphilis and she dies from it, instead of marrying the ugly-but-sweet man who is willing to take her, illegitimate child and heart given to another man and all. Seriously, has there ever been someone in real life who would say, "I don't care that you're in love with someone else; I am happy just to be close to you and have sex with you knowing you're thinking about him and hold you when you cry for him..." Seriously? And would that actually be appealing? Lord, no. So why does that character show up ALL THE TIME in these sorts of books? Oh, right, to prove how gloriously irresistible our heroine is. Gag.

Next up: Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston, and the 1975 World Series: The Triumph of America's Pastime, by Mark Frost. Bit of a change of pace, there!  

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Yesterday I wanted a little escape and some museum time, so I made the jaunt to New Bedford and the Whaling Museum. The streets downtown were all blocked off, so finding parking was irksome, and once I finally had found some and was walking back toward the museum, a thousand people dressed as Santa ran by. Because, oh, why not.

Claudio and I went to the Whaling Museum about two years ago, and decided we had to eat chowder in town because of the wonderful "Try-Pots" chapter in Moby-Dick. We forgot that in the book the chowder is consumed on Nantucket, not in New Bedford, and perhaps that is why we were both struck down by terrible diarrhea. His hit on the way home, so we were desperately trying to find a place to stop when a song by Tilly and the Wall, the chorus of which is "sometimes you just can't hold back the river", came on, and I laughed so hard I almost ruptured something, while he said through gritted teeth, "That's not funny."

It was hysterically funny. Because I am, as previously established, twelve. 

I seem to have digressed. In any event, it is a wonderful museum, and they have a new exhibit called "Visualizing Melville", in which quotes (mostly from Moby-Dick, but some from other works) are printed on the wall next to objects or paintings which illustrate the topic or the theme of the quote. I cannot think of a room which would not be improved by having "Quakers with a vengeance" printed on the wall in giant letters. 

There was hardly anyone else in the museum (probably all out watching the Santa run), so I had most of it to myself. Some rooms were dark until I walked in and the motion sensors turned the lights on. It was rather lovely. 

I have never minded going to museums by myself. There is always the moment when you see something and wish that you could look around for a companion and hiss, "Come here; you have to see this," but there is also something to be said for going at your own pace, with your own thoughts. 

The Whaling Museum hosts, every January, a marathon reading of Moby-Dick. It lasts 25 hours and goes through the night (obviously). Every year I think about going and do not. This year I am determined to do so, because I have a book blog now, and am clearly obligated to blog about such an experience. It is probably too late to sign up for a reading slot, unless I am willing to do four a.m., but I will call anyway to find out. I established last month, when I decided to go to a show the night before getting on a six a.m. flight, that I can get through a 38-hour period with five non-consecutive hours of sleep, if I have enough coffee and motivation. (The good thing about having given up caffeine on a daily basis is that when you need it, a little goes a long way.) 

So I will do this. I will arrange dog care and I will do this. I would love to have company - get in touch if you think you might want to spend January 7-8 sitting in a museum listening to people read Moby-Dick for 25 hours (it's permissible to come and go, though if you go out for food I would avoid the chowder). 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hell is Empty, by Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series is set in Wyoming; the hero is a sheriff eternally anticipating retirement. The scenery and the quirkiness of the people who choose to live in such isolation are the most interesting parts of the books – there was one in which Walt went to Philadelphia, which prior to this I found the weakest installment – and Johnson is also good in depicting the horrific poverty of the local Native Americans. He frequently makes the Native characters a little too mystical, but they remain human and self-conscious about their mysticism.

Unfortunately, Hell is Empty is just Walt, pitted against a mountain, a snowstorm, and a sociopathic serial killer about whom we never learn enough. None of the entertaining supporting cast, and really no plot other than Walt climbing a mountain and having mystical visions. The whole thing felt very insubstantial, as if it should have been about a third of a whole book.

Dante is used as a springboard and metaphor – Walt is carrying a copy of the Inferno with him – but that didn't feel fleshed out either, or fully utilized, although it plays its part in insuring that the reader figures out Walt's guide isn't real long before Johnson wants us to. And once we've figured that out, who's to say any of it is real? Who's to say that Walt isn't going to wake up at the end having dreamed the whole thing? The narrative is in first person, and once it's been established that Walt is an unreliable narrator because he's seeing things, it's impossible to get caught up in his battle with the elements. I was pretty sure that it was going to turn out he got shot in chapter five and was lying in a snowbank hallucinating everything after that. (It doesn't go that far, but I wouldn't have been surprised.)

I was really pretty disappointed in this. I will check out the next one, of course, when it comes out, but I hope that it has more in the way of plot and less hypothermia madness.

Next up: Sins of the House of Borgia, by Sarah Bower, which looks insanely trashy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Charles Dickens: A Life, by Claire Tomalin

It is telling that a third of the way through this, I wanted to buy everything Tomalin has ever written. Although, if this book is indicative of her other works, it probably wouldn't be worthwhile to read a biography of hers unless you knew all about the subject's works. She does not give plot summaries of Dickens' books in this, and assumes you know the characters, especially the minor ones. This makes sense given her argument that Dickens' minor characters are the most interesting, and I agree with that argument (though she dismisses Uriah Heep, to my surprise), so I was cool with the couple of times I had to go back to a book and find a forgotten character ("the Marchioness"? the what now?).

Tomalin, however, states that Great Expectations is his greatest novel, because apparently anyone discussing Dickens is contractually obligated to say so, but my lack of interest in GE is precisely because it is so deficient in the fantastic supporting casts and the sprawling multiples of improbably interlocking plots which his other books feature. Why would you push GE as his best if you agree that his gift lay not in heroes, heroines, or even main villains? And yes, GE is the most tightly-plotted and compact of his books, but some of us read Dickens for the sprawl and the spectacle. Why say that the best of his books is the one that is nothing like the others, and yet still claim that he is an amazing writer? I have never understood this, and was disappointed that Tomalin bought into it.

(If you want my opinion, which of course you do, it's Bleak House, with Our Mutual Friend a very close  second. And everyone in the world should read Jack Maggs, Peter Carey's astonishing spin-off of Great Expectations.)

A good deal of this book is devoted to Dickens' affair with Ellen Ternan and his appalling treatment of his wife (Tomalin previously wrote a entire book just about the affair). I was surprised but pleased to learn that even contemporary critics tore into Dickens for his inability to write female characters. As they should have - I remember once trying to think of a single verb attributed to Lucie Manette in A Tale of Two Cities which isn't some variation of "faint" or "weep", and couldn't do it.

What Tomalin brings up but cannot explain is the fact that Dickens married a woman who was as close to his heroines as could probably have been found in real life, almost immediately regretted the marriage, and yet kept this type of woman firmly in mind as the ideal object of desire. After he killed off Dora and gave David Copperfield someone more mature and competent (albeit still unrealistically saintly), one might have expected him to change his stock heroine. But he kept writing self-sacrificing girls with wide eyes, tiny hands, and fluttering hearts. He kept writing Doras, though he usually made them slightly less "near-imbecile", as Tomalin puts it (not by a lot; Bella Wilfer in Our Mutual Friend is a fairly dim bulb). And yet his marriage to a docile, self-sacrificing woman who let him have all the spotlight he could have wished made him miserable and vicious. Tomalin cannot reconcile this, and perhaps no one could. (Dickens also, puzzlingly, was upfront about only wanting three children and yet had ten, though methods of birth control were not unknown at the time and he had many friends who practiced them.)

He treated his wife abominably when he fell in love with another woman, and to an extent before that. No one can deny that; even his most sycophantic friends tried to talk him out of the viciousness he exhibited toward Catherine. He made her pay a social call on his mistress' family in an attempt to quell rumors; once they had finally separated he took out advertisements in the papers explaining how wretched she had made him until he had no choice but to leave; he spoke nastily of her the rest of his life and told everyone he knew that their children had never loved her, nor she them.

These are the actions of an entitled man, who has let his bitterness over his childhood and the later adoration of strangers convince him that he deserves everything he wants and that anything which stands in his way does so out of spite. Thus, his wife's existence as such is a situation she has created out of pure spite to keep him from his true love, even though she became his wife three years before said true love was even born. And she must be punished for it. (Close to home right now? Just a little bit.)

These are also the actions of a man who doesn't like women. Dickens exerted a mysterious control over many women with whom there are no indications of any inappropriate behavior: the things going on with Catherine's sisters, one of whom stayed with him after the separation as his housekeeper / hostess and did not speak to her sister again until after Dickens' death, are weird. No one ever believed that there was a sexual relationship with anyone but Ellen Ternan, but he clearly enjoyed having women in his thrall. And yet, as Catherine found to her grief, there was a delicate line to be walked in terms of compliance and obedience, though we will never know exactly what he wanted or why she couldn't provide it.

In one line, Tomalin gave me more of Catherine than I have ever encountered before, by saying that her contributions to the family merriment were deliberately terrible puns, delivered completely deadpan. This made her suddenly a real person to me, and the treatment of her that followed was therefore all the more wrenching.

Tomalin leaves us with a deeply troubled, egotistical, and often cruel man who preferred to do good works for strangers rather than show love to family members, whose writing was flawed and sentimental and amazing, and who may not be lovable to us but who created characters we cannot help but love. It's an impressively researched, infuriating, and excellent biography.

Next up: Hell is Empty, by Craig Johnson.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

modern rituals

So I have posited elsewhere that the modern breakup includes three rituals: the Changing of the Facebook Status; the Editing of the Amazon Wishlist; and the Purging of the Netflix Queue.

I would now include a fourth, assuming that you are still talking to your ex at all (which I have to do, because there are many practicalities to manage): the Selection of the Ex's Ringtone.

For a while Claudio's ringtone was "You Give Love a Bad Name" by Bon Jovi. This made me giggle, but it did mean that the odds he would call me at work were immediately increased by a factor of 10. I would often be sitting at my desk talking to a co-worker when, suddenly, from the cabinet where I lock my purse:


The co-worker would usually pause for an instant ("AND YOU'RE TO BLAME!"), gather from my facial expression that I was not going to address this and, in fact, might deny hearing anything at all if pressed, and carry on. So it was starting to get too awkward.

This morning I dinked around on my phone, searching for a ringtone which would be innocuous enough (i.e., classical) but have meaning for me. The obvious choice would be, "Madamina, il catalogo è questo," from Don Giovanni, but a) in his dreams; and b) I love that aria and don't want it to become associated with stressful conversations.

Fortunately, there is a piece which conjures up negative imagery for me (and for a lot of people my age, I imagine) and mocks the thing about which he is most self-conscious, all at once. And, because I am secretly twelve, I feel no compunction about adding the childish emphasis. So Claudio's ringtone is now "A Night on Bald Mountain". Hee!

It's the little things. The little, stupid things. They bring me delight.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

on laughter, and reading to impress

This is going to sound very odd, but I realized lately I've laughed more this year than in the previous two combined.

Defense mechanism? Greater appreciation for the little lovely things? Relief at having some clarity around the end of the marriage? I may not have known about the affair, but I knew all too well that I wasn't making him happy and he didn't enjoy being around me, and I was constantly wondering if I could walk away from an investment of this scope simply because I was unhappy. I was also full of resentment that he clearly wanted to walk away but was going to force me to make the choice and take the responsibility.

The last reason is pretty huge. It's the difference between a constant, grinding sense of being trapped, and a blaze of righteous fury that alternates with an awareness of new possibilities.

It's also possible that being topless as much as I have been in the last year makes it harder to take myself seriously. And cancer played its part in making me realize there is absolutely no point in being ashamed of what I enjoy. Normally if I go anywhere in public I have a book, and I am somewhat concerned about what those around me might think of said book. Halfway through radiation I decided I wanted to re-read the entire works of Tony Hillerman, so that's what I brought to the hospital with me. The "must impress bystanders with my book choice" was the last holdout of my adolescence, and it felt good to jettison it. Now when I take a long trip, instead of trying to concentrate on Hilary Mantel or Julian Barnes on a plane, I pack eight C.J. Box mysteries and do not give a shit what my fellow travelers make of this.

And yes, I'm aware that the judging bystander is almost entirely a creation of my own mind (I say "almost" because I totally am that judging bystander for other people, so I know it exists). It being in my own mind does not make saying, "Fuck you," to it any less satisfying.

My sister-in-law pointed out, right after the diagnosis, that I would now be justified in responding to anyone being annoying with, "Fuck you; I have cancer." Not in an accusing, or one-upping, way; in a dismissive, I'm-not-going-to-spend-my-time-on-that way. "You think I should be reading Proust? Fuck you; I have cancer." It's extremely freeing.

A lot of people find that an illness is the only thing which allows them to feel they can say, "No." That it has to come down to a tumor before we are okay with disappointing anyone. This is disturbing and sad and I wish I knew how to fix it. I hope that it didn't take cancer to make me realize that I should read what I want to read, but who knows.

The real trick will be seeing if I can leave a terrible book unfinished. There are, I think, roughly four books I have left unfinished in the last ten years. One of them - and some of you are going to freak out here - was the first Harry Potter. No, it wasn't terrible, but I only liked the first chapter because it reminded me of Roald Dahl, and the instant Harry got to Hogwarts I was bored senseless. Around page ninety I just put it down and walked away, and I've never felt the urge to try it again. Sorry, Potter fans; I've had cancer. And I won't necessarily say that I have better things to read (see: C.J. Box), but I have books I like to read. And they take precedence.  

I'm not going to trot out the "life is too short" statement. Claudio used that to justify an awful lot of rotten behavior. But I am going to say that a life without comfort re-reading or laughing at the absurd things my dogs do is not one I want.

Monday, December 5, 2011


"Time was, with most of us, when Christmas Day encircling all our limited world like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home enjoyments, affections, and hopes; grouped everything and every one around the Christmas fire; and made the little picture shining in our bright young eyes, complete.

Time came, perhaps, all so soon, when our thoughts over-leaped that narrow boundary; when there was some one (very dear, we thought then, very beautiful, and absolutely perfect) wanting to the fulness of our happiness; when we were wanting too (or we thought so, which did just as well) at the Christmas hearth by which that some one sat; and when we intertwined with every wreath and garland of our life that some one's name."

 - from "What Christmas Is As We Grow Older", Charles Dickens.

I am lucky in that my happy Christmas associations (which are many) are not linked to my marriage. Yes, for five or six years we spent Christmas together, alternating years here in New England with his family and in the Southwest with mine. And his family is lovely, and it is very sweet to wake on Christmas morning in your own bed, in your own little house which you have decked with Christmas cheer as eagerly and naively as it is possible for someone with no housewifely instincts at all to do. But the Christmases at my parents' house were always better.

We have many traditions, as most families do around the holidays, but the best one is the reading of A Christmas Carol (spread out over four nights, with the last two staves [chapters] on Christmas Eve). I don't remember a year when we didn't all crowd around my mother on December 21st and hear, "Marley was dead, to begin with." I anticipated those words all year: they meant that Christmas was really here, at last. The tree may have been obtained, the stockings rescued from the storage shed, the presents piling up... but it wasn't Christmas until Marley was dead.

As the years went by, the reading was handed off so my mother doesn't have to do it all; we have informal assignments, but it's based on who likes to read what - I am very possessive of the first half of the Ghost of Christmas Present chapter, with the Cratchits' dinner and the fantastic descriptions of London on Christmas Day. Some years not all the siblings are there. Some years spouses and partners are there, and they join in. It gets read, every year. It's wonderful, every year.

"And is our life here, at the best, so constituted that, pausing as we advance at such a noticeable mile-stone in the track as this great birthday, we look back on the things that never were, as naturally and full as gravely as on the things that have been and are gone, or have been and still are? If it be so, and so it seems to be, must we come to the conclusion that life is little better than a dream, and little worth the loves and strivings that we crowd into it?

No! Far be such miscalled philosophy from us, dear Reader, on Christmas Day! Nearer and closer to our hearts be the Christmas spirit, which is the spirit of active usefulness, perseverance, cheerful discharge of duty, kindness and forbearance!

Therefore, as we grow older, let us be more thankful that the circle of our Christmas associations and of the lessons that they bring, expands! Let us welcome every one of them, and summon them to take their places by the Christmas hearth.

Welcome, old aspirations, glittering creatures of an ardent fancy, to your shelter underneath the holly! We know you, and have not outlived you yet. Welcome, old projects and old loves, however fleeting, to your nooks among the steadier lights that burn around us. Welcome, all that was ever real to our hearts; and for the earnestness that made you real, thanks to Heaven!

Welcome, everything! Welcome, alike what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be, to your shelter underneath the holly, to your places round the Christmas fire, where what is sits open- hearted!

The winter sun goes down over town and village; on the sea it makes a rosy path... A few more moments, and it sinks, and night comes on, and lights begin to sparkle in the prospect. In town and village, there are doors and windows closed against the weather, there are flaming logs heaped high, there are joyful faces, there is healthy music of voices..."

It doesn't get healthier than the music of a family reading out loud to each other.

And to cut through all that treacle: Marley & Marley!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Burial at Sea, by Charles Finch

First off, if I were Charles Finch's editor:

To: Mr. Finch
Re: Terrible use of exposition

Do not have one character say to another, "Since Napoleon left power three years ago - for that matter, he died three months ago - we don't know where we stand with the French. This third republic is unpredictable."

This is not okay. It is especially not okay given that both characters are members of Parliament and so do not need to be informing each other of these events.

Try, instead: Edward said, "We don't know where we stand with the French. This third republic is unpredictable."

Charles nodded. Since Napoleon III was overthrown three years ago, relations between France and England had remained uncertain. [My brief research on Wikipedia indicates that Napoleon's death in exile did not affect said relations, so is irrelevant.] 

See? Now your reader can say, "Hmm, okay, third republic, no more Napoleons, I'll look this up if I want to know more," instead of, "Oh MAN, that hurt to read."

Equally painful is our MOP hero's claim to know nothing about Sir Joseph Banks, so that other characters can provide exposition. Reminiscent of, though not nearly as bad as, the sexist exposition crap in The Eyre Affair.*

Okay, that out of the way, the plot. Charles Lenox, a retired detective and now member of Parliament, is sent by the government on a mission to Egypt to meet with a French spy. While en route, an officer of the ship on which he travels is murdered, and the captain asks Lenox to solve the murder.

The problem with this book is that everything felt truncated. The murder plot, the spy plot... all of it felt like it needed several more chapters at the very least. And the layout of the ship never came fully clear in my mind, which would have helped a lot. I did catch the slip-up statement which the murderer makes - very Agatha Christie - but there wasn't the "aha!" moment which can make a well-written mystery so satisfying.

Alas, I have to conclude that Finch's writing hasn't improved enough in five books for me to give this a good review. This had all the problems I found in A Beautiful Blue Death: it was all too light, too close to the surface for me to get emotionally, or even very mentally, involved. Rather a disappointment.

Next up: Charles Dickens: A Life, by Claire Tomalin. Reading about Dickens is always good Christmas preparation.

*Male character: "The time is out of joint!"

Our heroine, repeatedly referred to as England's foremost Shakespeare expert: "Is that from 'Hamlet'?"

Male character: "Why, yes, little lady."

Female reader: ....WHAT


Male character: "Say, have you heard of the Earl of Oxford hypothesis?"

Our heroine, repeatedly referred to as England's foremost Shakespeare expert: "No, I have not! Since Jasper Fforde subscribes to it, please put the plot on hold for four pages and tell me!"

Male character: *blah blah stupid elitist thoroughly-debunked conspiracy theory*

Our heroine: "Fascinating! I am no longer sure Shakespeare wrote anything!"

Male character: "That's right, little lady."


I must add here that Charles Finch has never written anything so awful as that, and he did write an excellent take-down of the stupid "Anonymous" film, so I have to like him for that.

Friday, December 2, 2011

One Good Turn, by Kate Atkinson

Things you should know about reading Kate Atkinson:

1. She uses commas where one would expect semi-colons, probably because if she didn't there would be a semi-colon in every other sentence. It's a very weird effect at first, but I got used to it.

2. She writes sentences about people wondering things which make you think the character is just thinking that, and then the other character responds to it and you realize Character A was actually speaking out loud. I found this irritating.

3. If a dog is mentioned, you know it is not going to end well. I think someone once told me that there are always dogs in Kate Atkinson books and they always die. Indeed, this book featured a (vicious) dog dying, mention of a dog being horribly killed in one character's past, and a very sad cat death. And the included excerpt of the next book in the series came flying out of the gate with a dog being killed while trying to defend its family. This sort of thing is Not Easy on me. I have a distinct memory of cheering as my mother choked her way through Beth March's death* (even as a child I had no patience with characters being aggressively perfect at me), but to this day if you want to make me burst into tears in public you just have to whisper "Where the Red Fern Grows," in my ear. I am actually crying a little bit just from typing it.

And yet I ordered the three other Jackson Brodie books the second I put this one down. Atkinson's writing is that good. Brisk, clean, and so funny. Maybe lovingly mocking Scotland isn't as funny to someone not of Scottish origin, but when she described the Scottish religion as "alcohol, football, [and] feeling badly done by," I knew this woman had me locked in.

This book, and the others in the series, are classified as mysteries. I would not have called this one that: it is very reminiscent of Ruth Rendell's books, in which Bad Things happen and there is usually one character involved with the law and investigating, but the point of the book is the character development and the way that the banalities of life intersect to create small individual tragedies. In Rendell the characters are all deeply disturbed and the tragedies are horrifying; Atkinson handled the same sort of layout very differently. I felt that she truly cared for each of her characters, and there was always the sense in this book that good is possible, that where there's life there's hope. This is made explicit at the end, in a lovely "yes, my life has just fallen apart, but that creates possibilities, and I'm still alive, and I'm driving north listening to country music," passage that was utterly what I needed to read right now.

I don't want to describe the plot, really, because it's very complicated and full of surprises and I don't think I could do it justice without spoilers. (It's not a spoiler that the cat dies: the minute you meet that cat you know it's not going to see the final page.) I just want to say that I kind of loved this book, and look forward to reading the others.

Next up: A Burial At Sea, by Charles Finch. I am a participant in the Early Reviewers program on LibraryThing, in which publishers send you books if you will post a review of them. These books will always be jumped to the front of my to-read queue, because if I don't review them I might stop receiving a free book in the mail every month and that would be tragic. I did read the first book in Finch's Victorian mystery series a while back, and was underwhelmed, but I cut authors lots of slack on their first book. We'll see how this one goes.

*Because I was first drafting this post late at night with probably too many cups of tea in my system, it spawned a rambling side post about how Little Women would have been a great book if only there had been a 50% mortality rate among the sisters (ladies, you know who I'm talking about), and if Alcott had skipped the lesson that it's better for women to bite pieces out of their furniture than to exhibit anger; and then I started thinking, you know, that's not IKEA we're talking about, Marmee must have had some serious choppers; I mean, it's true that Darcy sometimes takes bites out of my old solid furniture, but he has giant wolfy teeth; and then I realized I had stumbled on the inevitable next step following the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies franchise: Louisa May Alcott's Little Werewolves. And then I knew it was time to go to bed.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

on envy; or, how you survive being rejected for another woman

So last night I went out with a friend whom I shall call Olivia, because she is beautiful and loved and talented, and this used to cause some inner grumblings in me along the lines of "excellently done, if God did all". Fourteen years later, it has endured wind and weather, and I am thankfully no longer anywhere as bad about envy as I once was.

Envy has always been my pet sin. And for a shamefully long chunk of my life, I envied my friends to such a toxic degree that it genuinely affected my ability to be happy for them. Envied one her beauty, another her brains, a third her musical ability. And I envied them all - and others who were not my friends - for their seeming ability to be happy and sexy while imperfect. For not hating themselves enough.

True story: my freshman year of college, I was involved in a relationship that I would call sordid except that that makes it sound much more interesting than it was. One night, at a cast party, the guy in question and I were talking when another girl walked by us. She was wearing a tight-fitting dress, and she did not have a perfectly flat stomach.

Before I had even recovered from the mental spiral into which the idea of choosing to wear a tight-fitting dress when you do not have a perfectly flat stomach sent me, the guy I was with poked her in said stomach and said, "Belly!" And she laughed.

My jaw hit the floor. I could not believe he had just been so unbelievably rude, and stuttered out something to that effect. They both laughed, and he said, "It's an in-joke."

The fact that it took me, with my naturally jealous nature, a couple weeks to realize that they might as well have been holding up a sign reading HEY BEATRICE, WE ARE SLEEPING TOGETHER! is testament to how astonished and utterly bewildered I was at the idea that a physical imperfection (as judged by a photoshopping media) could be the source of an in-joke. Could be something about a woman which a man might find endearing.

I regarded that girl not just with envy, but with actual fear. Her confidence seemed the equivalent of having a superpower, and drastically unfair. Why could she be okay with her body? And why couldn't I be okay with mine?

Over the years, this kept happening. My friends walked into rooms believing themselves worthy of attention and affection, and received it. I walked in having spent the previous three hours staring balefully into the mirror and judging myself as undeserving of anything but pity or repulsion, and then was surprised that I went home alone. Only perfection would ever have been enough, and my standards for perfection were unattainable. Even if my skin had suddenly become completely clear, even when my stomach was flat for that brief period senior year of college (it's called the coffee and tequila diet, and is not recommended), I would find things to hate about my hair and my bone structure and my hands.

There was no such thing as "the best I can look". There was only "the best anyone on earth, including supermodels, can look," and because I could not look like that I was ugly. Full stop. And girls who did not seem to hate themselves as passionately as I hated myself caused me to emotionally implode with envy.

My point? This is a VERY long and drawn-out way of saying that it would have been safe to assume that the discovery of my husband's affair would send me into a complete death spiral of self-loathing, especially considering that the Mistress presents as infinitely self-confident and believing herself to be the epitome of awesome. (I say "presents as" rather than "is" because the girl has stayed in a relationship with a married man for two years and counting now. Someone with a real sense of self-worth, rather than an exhibistionistic simulacrum of it, wouldn't do that.) Also she has no hips. I would have thought this would cause a major regression in me.

Surprisingly, it didn't. In the (eek) sixteen years between the "Belly!" incident and now, I have managed to learn a few things. Many of the girls I thought believed themselves to be the hottest thing in the room actually had eating disorders and / or massively low self-esteem, and simply had ways of manifesting those things which did not follow my modus operandi of "sulk in a corner and then call the boys 'shallow' for ignoring you". At some point I figured out that this body and face are all I get and I should make some peace with them (I succeed as long as no one pulls out a camera: see this for how cameras treat me). And, most importantly, I realized that it's not a competition.

I mean that quite literally. If a man, say, my husband, is trying to decide between his wife and a woman unlike his wife in every possible way, then we are not competing for him. He has already concluded that his wife is no longer what he wants. The only way it could ever be an actual competition is if he had met someone who was exactly like me in every possible way but also happened to look like Gisele Bündchen, and then I would "lose" because I did not look like that. (And even this does not work as a scenario, because if she did look like Gisele Bündchen, she would not be exactly like me because she would have had a completely different adolescence and early adulthood.) Or if this abstract other woman could play the cello or speak seven languages or give a definition of postmodernism on the fly. Then I would feel Not Good Enough. Then there would be baleful staring into mirrors and telling myself, "Well, what did you expect?"

But that is not what happened, at all. He decided he wanted someone completely different, not that he wanted a better version of me. At the risk of deeming myself a special snowflake, there is no better version of me but me, now, compared to my previous self. And I feel like I can actually apply this to the horrifying prospect of dating again, that I hopefully will never again slink out of a social situation looking back at the extroverted women with glorious hair and telling myself, "I can't compete with that." Because while glorious hair does play a role in getting the initial attention, either a man wants me or he wants someone else. If extroversion is what makes his heart flutter, then trying to be extroverted in the name of competing with someone for whom it comes naturally, for the sake of a man whose preferences do not include the kind of person I am, would be the most time-wasting thing I could do. And I have no intention of wasting one more moment of my life on a man who doesn't want me as I am.

(Yes, this is where the wise confident women among you say, "Goodness, Beatrice, I could have told you this years ago." To which I say, "Some of us have very gradual learning curves; let's just be thankful I am actually learning something from this beyond how many chocolates can fit in my mouth at one time." [Answer: a lot.])

So, last night Olivia and I went out to dinner, and then back to her house, with her adorable dog and adorable kittens and lovely husband - whom I shall not call Sebastian, but rather Feste, because he is funny and musical and I saw a production of Twelfth Night this summer in which Feste was in love with Olivia and I quite liked that. And I did not think that their love is drawn from a finite amount in the universe, meaning there is less left for me; and I did not walk out of their cozy house thinking that I will never have a place like that and it isn't fair. I drove home smiling, because I had spent an evening with wonderful friends who make me happy, and I cuddled my dogs and went to bed.

There will, of course, be days I am not nearly as philosophical about it as this. There will be days I am capable of typing nothing but STUPID HIPSTER THINKS SHE'S SO AWESOME; FLAMES.... ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE... But I believe that in the end the philosophy will come out on top.