Monday, December 31, 2012

year in review

2012 was rather cluttered with major life events and adjustments. I didn't even realize how much until I was looking back.

In May Claudio and I finally got divorced. The vast majority of the delay was on me; I didn't want to be available. I didn't want to be expected or able to date again, because it was safer to treat my house as a little convent and resign myself to solitude. I was quite sure that, at thirty-five, your choices are either settle or be alone, and I wasn't going to settle. It was easier when I could respond to my friends' queries about when I was going to start dating by saying, "Well, technically I'm still married." But eventually I realized this had to be dealt with, and I managed to trust my friends enough to respond to the question with, "Possibly never, because the prospect terrifies me." (And, of course, there was the part of me which didn't want to give Claudio what he wanted. I can be self-sabotagingly petty.)

All year my little VW was a money pit, and in August it finally died. I retrieved the absurd muscle car from Claudio, and then got broadsided by a twenty-year-old in November, and spent the next five weeks driving a rental. The Mustang is home now, but it was not a good year for vehicles.

Appliances did not fare so well either. The year began with the furnace giving out (easily fixed by the repairman removing the tonnage of dog hair clogging it) and ended with the washing machine going kaput. In between the dryer also gave out, after waging a long and hard war against the aforementioned dog hair. I have new adorable little versions of washer and dryer, so all is well.

On the cancer front: in March the MRI showed unmitigated good news; in September the mammogram provided mitigated good news. I am very nervous about this coming March, when I will have both a mammogram and an MRI to investigate the worrisome spots. The irony, of course, is that the more worried I am the less well I take care of myself (more TV-watching-paralysis and nervous eating; less exercise, meditation, and general optimism). So I am working on that.

And, of course, I fell in love, which has been blissful and frightening and ridiculously easy. We live seventy miles apart and there are going to be challenges in changing that, but it's all been so natural and simple. Two hours after I arrived home from our first date, I found myself fretting slightly about how long I should wait to call him, and instantly the phone rang; he wanted to tell me what a wonderful time he'd had. Since then I have had my little moments of fretting, of not feeling good enough, but those moments are mostly swallowed up in the comfort of knowing that he feels the way I do.

The year was, in many ways, how I predicted it would be. There were days when the vet's bill was massive, when the car didn't start, when I hated my body. I completely gave up on the idea of living without cheese: my skin does look better when I'm not eating dairy, but it's not worth it. I occasionally had caffeine and was an entertainingly crazy person for it. There were days when my envy returned and took away all the grace I possess. There were, thankfully, no days when a drink seemed like a good idea, and I celebrated seven years sober in October.

There were court dates and arguments about money; and there was the fact that Claudio and I were in hysterical giggles when we filed for divorce due to the misspelled and grammatically incorrect signs at the courthouse. Couldn't have predicted that.  

I didn't predict at all that there would be a handsome bearded man with a delicious baritone. I didn't predict there would be dancing.

I said last year that I knew 2012 wouldn't be a fairy tale. But it was: it just wasn't the ending. It was the part with the trials and the thorns, because that is what life is, and there is magic in those parts as well. And 2013 will be like that too.

There will be days when a bill is larger than expected, and days when it's less. There will be stressful medical appointments, but with fantastic people. There will be Handel and Bach and Mozart; bluegrass and loud girl-pop shouted in the car; tea and chocolate and oranges. There will be laughing until I cry with friends old and new, and stompy boots, and the two most wonderful dogs in all the world. There will be the days I love my bones. There will be the mornings when being thirty-six means one of my knees wakes up saying, "Nope, not today." There will be books and books and books. I hope there will be more writing than there has been lately. By my door a few sea roses are still hanging on, stubbornly, among the thorns.

There are trials ahead, but I'm not afraid of the forest. I'll pull up my hood, gather my wolf*, my woodsman, and my brindle familiar, and see where the path leads.

A very happy New Year to all.

*Darcy is not really a wolf, but you wouldn't know that from looking at him.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


It was an exquisite Christmas.

The family was scattered hither and yon - not in a bad way, as everyone was in their own house and no one had to travel. And there was much texting, with pictures of Christmas trees and meals and presents, and Skyping with parents, and none of this involved having to put on shoes, so I was pretty happy.

Berowne drove up the night of the 21st, so I could subject him to the reading of A Christmas Carol. He turned out to be a willing participant and we enjoyed it immensely. For five days we read, and ate, and watched movies, and slept late. He's a magnificent cook and handled Christmas Eve dinner (I did the dishes) and Christmas Day breakfast. We built a chair barricade to keep Darcy out of the kitchen when meat was cooking. On Christmas each of the dogs got a little piece of bacon to celebrate.

Reading-wise, I continue to slog through The Count of Monte Cristo, which is so odd and unsatisfying and yet I can't quite discard it; and finished All That is Bitter and Sweet, a memoir by Ashley Judd about her work with AIDS prevention organizations in Asia and Africa. It's not bad, albeit overlong.

But I confess I didn't throw myself into reading over the holiday, though there was plenty of lazy time on the couch. I received an obscene amount of books as presents and will have to pick up my pace in 2013, but I don't regret taking it easy. There were blueberry pancakes and dog walks and general snuggling, and those are very important things. The dogs haven't yet destroyed their new tug-toy, which is some kind of record. Berowne gave me a cookbook based on the life of a cannibal, because he gets me.

On Boxing Day I told anyone who would listen about how five years ago Claudio and I went to the animal shelter and found only two puppies left after the Christmas spree, and one was the cutest thing imaginable, and the other was gangly and manic and bit me on the chin and had the most amazing brindle coat I'd ever seen. Five years later, Bingley's filled out but is as manic as ever, and in my unbiased opinion is the cutest thing imaginable.

This morning I was gearing up to return to work, a tiny bit cranky about it, and took a few moments to hug Darcy and rub his chest, telling him over and over how much I love him, and his huge fluffy tail went wooshwooshwoosh through the air with delight. A sweeter sound than any carol, that.

I hope all of you felt as peaceful and as grateful as I did this holiday season. Best to all.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Once again I disappear for ages and re-emerge with nothing much to say. Pathetic!

There is a massive project at work, which means I am working longer hours than usual (and working through my lunch break instead of reading), and coming home exhausted and sitting tuber-like in front of "Castle" episodes. There is the fact of my decision to re-read The Count of Monte Cristo, for which Dumas was paid by the word and the result is not quite as delightful as when Dickens was paid the same way. There are feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, with which I will not bore you, taking up a lot of my emotional energy. There are horrors happening in the world which I cannot get my head around. It's all a rich tapestry.

In breaks from slogging through Monte Cristo, I have also read a couple other books:

City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago, by Gary Krist. I've already forgotten most of what I learned from this book. It was ostensibly about twelve days in 1919 which tested the government of Chicago by featuring a blimp crash, the kidnapping and murder of a small girl, and race riots. However, it was actually about the mayor at the time, his rise to power, and the workings of his inner circle. The opening chapter, about the blimp crash, was pretty neat, but the narrative lost momentum immediately after that. The child-murder and the race riots were sandwiched in between long chapters about political machinations, which didn't interest me very much.

Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, by Christina Thompson. This is a memoir about Thompson's falling in love with and marrying a Maori man when she was a grad student in New Zealand, and the challenges of building their life together; it's also a very informative study of the Maori culture and the history of its interaction with Western peoples. I really liked it, and Thompson's willingness to look honestly at her own prejudices were fascinating to me: she discovered that she had no prejudices about race but had plenty about class (she comes from wealthy, educated New England stock, and her husband has a high school education and is a laborer), and then has to look both at those biases and at how race and socio-economic status are entwined.

Thompson's attempt to equate the history of the Maoris to the history of the Native people of America doesn't quite work, for some reason; I think the analogy is valid but she hesitates to commit to it and to the conclusion that her ancestors were complicit in eradicating a native population. Other than that I found it a very good book. (The title comes from what a young Charles Darwin was told the Maoris were shouting at an English ship which approached their shore.)

I'm going to try to make some time in the next couple weeks to take stock of the year, which was an overwhelming one in ways both good and bad, and post about that. Hopefully my schedule will permit. Hard to believe it's already been a year since this.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

love and demons

So I read Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century, by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger. It was recommended by various funny bloggers who were taking down the awful Lifetime movie, and the library had it, so... no, I don't really have an excuse.

I find Richard Burton mildly interesting. I don't find Elizabeth Taylor very interesting. And the book came off as if the authors felt the same way, although I think the actual issue was that it was written while Taylor was still alive, and so they were walking on eggshells about her and didn't go into her as a person at all. Which had the accidental result of this being mostly a biography of Burton with Taylor appearing as a bland cypher, and the reason for his obsession with her is never made clear. The authors also don't want to say anything bad about her: for example, they keep mentioning that it was impossible for Burton to stay sober as long as he was with Taylor, but then they try to gloss over her enabling / encouraging behavior (apparently she would tell him how boring he was when he was sober, which is pretty much the worst thing you can say to an alcoholic).

I found this book depressing because of Burton's self-loathing, and also because I don't like the idea that the louder and more destructive a love is, the more passionate (and hence truer) it is. I don't like identifying two people who cheated on their spouses and threw things at each other as the Lovers of the Century. It's very juvenile: both their behavior and society's exaltation of it. I have never understood the phrase "can't live with you, can't live without you," except in the period when I was trying to figure out how Claudio and I could continue to pay the mortgage if he moved out, and that wasn't, technically, living without him so much as it was living without his income. At that point we were both damn certain that we didn't want to live with each other anymore, and our fights (though, thankfully, no one ever threw anything) did not end in exciting bed times. (Do people really use fights as foreplay, as this book constantly said Taylor and Burton did? Really? Having someone shout at you makes you want to take that person's pants off? When a man shouts at me I just want him to go very, very far away.)

I like being in love to be quiet. Quiet and calm and fierce: fierce in the sense of I am holding onto this. A joy that almost pierces and yet leaves you more peaceful than you would be without it.

Things I am in love with in that way:

How Bingley runs to the back door and lifts his nose to the doorknob when he wants to go back in. Another blogger recently mentioned the first time her new dog did this, and how that means he knows it's his home. Bingley's done it for years but it never stops wringing my heart.

How Darcy looks at me with his huge golden eyes full of trust and love and (because I anthropomorphize) humor, when I am being tragic. Bingley is all too empathetic, and shakes and frets if I am crying or storming, but Darcy looks at me with a spark of "...really? you could be rubbing my belly, you know," in his noble face, and I usually end up laughing at myself.

Getting a complicated, difficult program or report to do what I want it to do. (I know, you often forget I'm in IT, given the grade-school-primitive look of this blog, don't you?) I feel so ferociously competent when I manage that. It's especially satisfying because I have no computer background and not much training, so I've mostly just figured out this stuff by plugging away at it and trusting my own intelligence. As someone who often doubts her intelligence (oh, I could write a whooooole long post about that alone), it's good to be reminded of what I can accomplish when I trust it.

Books, naturally. My to-read list. Knowing there will always be more to read.

And, of course, Berowne. I'm very wary of raving about him in this space, both in terms of tempting fate and in terms of coming off as adolescently, embarrassingly gushy. I'm smitten to the bone and there's no point in pretending otherwise, but I can presumably refrain from going on and on about his eyelashes and his kindness and his manly beard. All I have to say is that there aren't any dramatic or tortured stories about us meeting; there isn't the tale of how we couldn't stand each other at first or we were with other people but the chemistry was overpowering or he was allergic to big dogs or whatever. There's just the fact that we met, and very soon realized how right for each other we are. No one's going to write a book about us. Thankfully.

Something happened the other day which made me feel bad about my lack of accomplishments thus far, about this blog, about not being good enough. I am not in love with that feeling. It brought up a lot of pretty rancid stuff which is inevitable in the psyche of a perfectionist who was expected to excel at everything. I've squashed most of that stuff flat under the weight of 180 dog-pounds and a couple pairs of stompy boots, but it proves surprisingly elastic sometimes. (SPROING! YOU'VE FAILED!)

When it pops up, I get crazy-hard on myself for not being one of those women who has the energy to work full-time and go back to school in the evenings and stay up until midnight when she gets home working on her crisply intellectual novel. (Often she has small children as well, because she's just that awesome.) I have accepted that that's not who I am, that's not who I can be, and that sometimes it takes all I have to just be okay for an evening - I've accepted it, but I haven't forgiven myself for it. I haven't stopped believing that it denotes some awful weakness / failure in my personality. That if I were a better person, I could find that energy somewhere. Hell, if I were a better person I would want to go back to school, instead of knowing that that isn't for me.

There is a mildly rational part of my brain which knows it isn't a competition, and I hung onto that part for dear life that day. I went home, and did yoga, and laughed with the dogs, and bounced around to silly music, and made a healthy dinner, and took a bath. I even sat my butt down in front of my laptop and wrote. My demons haven't been evicted, but we've established some house rules. You can make me feel embarrassed about reading a trashy celebrity bio. You can't make me do anything else. 

Note to self: keep stomping.

Monday, December 3, 2012

a little history, and a little winter

It is the most wonderful time of the year! Yesterday I had to visit a store which shares a parking lot with a Christmas Tree Shop. I would rather tackle the Donner Pass in a stagecoach than do that again; presumably the Donners had fewer offensive bumper stickers.

But I do love the Christmas season. We even got a little snow on December 1st, and I set up my hilarious little fake tree and listened to carols and stockpiled some crack tea and pondered whether I want to make my annual egg nog purchase, of which I always take one sip, make a noise of delighted disgust that goes like, "Bllleeeayyyeah," and then leave the container in the fridge until March.

What have I read lately?

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss, which popped up on a library search and I didn't even realize it was by the same guy who wrote The Orientalist, which I really like. This was also very, very good. It's a biography of General Alex Dumas, the half-black father of the novelist Alexandre Dumas, and it's also a portrait of a rapidly changing racial society. I had no idea that the ideals of the French Revolution incorporated radical racial equality, or that even before the Revolution eighteenth-century France was an almost race-blind world. Dumas rose to military success at a time when in any other country he would probably not even have been allowed in the army, and in fact when his regiment arrives in a little French village and he falls in love with the innkeeper's daughter, her father's only condition for their marrying is that Dumas obtain a higher rank than his current one. That blew my mind. It's 1789, and everyone is fine with an interracial marriage. Apparently that's just how France was, although at the time the country also owned more colonies dependent on slave labor than any other nation. Reiss mentions this repeatedly; apparently the idea of "French soil", on which any man could be free, and the economic reality of colonization, were able to exist simultaneously.

Anyway, Dumas became a general and trounced France's enemies and was eventually captured in Naples and imprisoned under horrible conditions for two years (his son would use this as fodder for The Count of Monte Cristo). While he was imprisoned Napoleon rose to power and racial equality in France went down the tubes fast. Upon his return, Dumas could not get his pension, and he died young and left his family in poverty. It's a sad story but a fascinating one; I learned a great deal and Reiss' style is exuberant and intelligent. Highly recommended.

Of course I started re-reading The Count of Monte Cristo after this. I'd forgotten how slowly it starts, so I'm puttering through a chapter at a time while I read other stuff, but I'm looking forward to it getting fun.

Then I fluffed through another Ruth Rendell, Not in the Flesh. It was fine; not particularly challenging and I figured out the solution before the characters did, which is always a little bit irritating. But it's got a thoughtful subplot about race and immigration in England and I enjoyed reading it for the most part.

Nearly done with a semi-trashy biography of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (no, I don't really understand this choice of mine either, but there it is). The snow has all melted. Things aren't bad.