Wednesday, December 31, 2014

end-of-year review

(This is a majorly rambling and disjointed post, for which I and my head cold apologize. I also apologize for the stupid things Blogger is doing re: comments; either making sure you're logged into your Google account before commenting, or commenting anonymously, seems to work, but upgrading the comments section is on my 2015 to-do list for sure.) 

To say 2014 was intense would be putting it very mildly.

The first three months were a blur of worry, spending, and heartbreak around Darcy's paw, and then saying good-bye far too soon. The next month passed like a year; I was numb with grief, physically miserable, monstrously overworked, and not sleeping (I averaged three or four hours a night, and every two a.m. found me downstairs crying hysterically), while the baby took her sweet time until I had to be induced. The birth was kind of dreadful and the ensuing breast-feeding debacle totally dreadful, but from her arrival this really has been one of the most cheerful and easy-going babies you could imagine.

The rest of the year was about Perdita, naturally. Not about being a "mommy" - I've decided, in my own personal lexicon, that "motherhood" means a woman who is just as much herself as before, with ambitions and intelligence and bodily autonomy, who also has a child, while "mommyhood" is the infantilized and minimized version of that woman who is no longer allowed to have any interests or focus beyond her baby - but about living as myself with this new amazing person in my life.

Parenting an eight-month-old, by the way, is incredibly fun. The learning happens practically faster than real time - you can watch her master using a toy, or pulling herself up to standing, or pointing to a body part when it is named, in the space of an afternoon. It blows my mind.

We had a lovely Christmas vacation with my family, including all three of 2014's babies and a five-year-old whose energy could power a small city, and the red-eye flight back was absolutely great for the baby but the sleep deficit I have been running on since then is not my favorite thing ever, especially when combined with a nasty cold. Nothing to make you feel all kinds of dim like a head full of snot and exhaustion.

The last books of the year:

Goddess of Light, by P.C. Cast. She writes trashy romance novels about modern women falling in love with Greek gods, and this one was very trashy and pretty stupid. Neither our heroine nor Apollo is interesting or sympathetic, there's a whole section which is solely an advertisement for a Cirque de Soleil production, and the casual homophobia is a nightmare. I finished it just because I wanted to see how Cast was going to get these two together, and it turned out she does so by killing off our heroine and then reincarnating her (and having Apollo have a mortal incarnation for one lifetime). Because for a grown independent woman with a career (and a lot of time is given to that career and how good at it she is) to know true love, she has to DIE and then in her next life meet her soul mate at THIRTEEN, presumably so she won't waste any time with a career or possibly even an education before having his babies. Good thing she got a second chance at correcting her priorities, huh, ladies? OH MY GOD.

Navajo Autumn, by R. Allen Chappell. A slight mystery and very much a first novel, with all the attendant flaws, but I found it comforting.

Blue Lightning, by Ann Cleeves. The next in her Shetland mysteries. Pretty dark, and you can guess the murderer almost immediately, even if you don't know the motive. But I do like reading her stuff. 

Re-read The Dark is Rising series, by Susan Cooper, as seemed appropriate for the season. I've always known Greenwitch is the best, but now I think it's the best by a larger margin than I wish was the case. In all the others, female characters only exist to be helpless and rescued, or evil (or stupid enough to be easily possessed by evil), and it gets really old really fast. Also I had TOTALLY forgotten the horrible dog fatality in The Grey King! WHAT. And I barely made it through Silver on the Tree - the middle section with Will and Bran wandering around the Lost City of Celtic Symbolism is dull beyond words, and only knowing that we eventually get back to Jane kept me reading. Disappointing. 

(Since having a daughter, I have become hyper-aware of how many children's / young adult books are All About the Boys. Talk about disappointing.)

Ragtime in Simla, by Barbara Cleverly. Mystery set in post-WWI India. I quite liked it, even if it was heavy on the exclamation points and the femmes fatales. Very enjoyable on a long plane trip.

The Coffin Trail, by Martin Edwards. I read this? Obviously not as useful for wiling away travel time.

Your Voice in My Head, by Emma Forrest. So, I would never suggest that grief and mental illness are somehow easier to bear if everything you write gets optioned by Hollywood and you only date celebrities, but I am saying that you clearly get plenty of attention without needing mine.

Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters. Oh, the utter delight of discovering a shamelessly old-fashioned and charming series of which I had never before heard. Especially at the beginning of winter, so that you may devour all the others the library has over the coming cold months! Delicious.

True Grit, by Charles Portis. I'd seen the recent movie remake, which is awesome, and have no intention of bothering with the John Wayne version. I had no idea what I expected from the book, but it was great fun.

What I have been thinking about / hoping for regarding 2015:

2014 lacked music. When I lived alone, I had music on in the background any time I was home, but since Berowne moved in I've been self-conscious about that. Much of my music is, well, in lieu of an adjective let's just say that I sometimes still listen to mix tapes I made in high school, and I like to sing along even though I cannot sing at all, and living with a musician makes it hard to not become a little shy about these things. So the house stays quiet, and in the car we listen to NPR, and there was a whole tech snafu around my Christmas music come December, and so when I started thinking about what I want more of in 2015 music was the first thing that came to mind.

I also want more ritual, and more time in and for my body. Things like exercising and meditating every day fell by the wayside once I went back to work and the limits of twenty-four hours and my own strength became very apparent. (Do I know mothers whose answer to chronological limits is to just not sleep? Of course I do. They have high-powered careers and spotless houses and sixteen crafty hobbies, and they are frequently also lovely people [which is the most annoying part], but I cannot be one of them. Beatrice not function sleep well without.) I know that I have to remain willing to adapt, but I do want to make time for myself, even if it's a different time each day. The real trick will be in finding that time but then not using it to do the dishes.

I want less envy, less interior competition, less judgement; more walks, more writing. Less guilt. More trust. More stars. 

Fewer colds would be ideal, but given the realities of daycare crud, that's probably beyond my control. Getting back into some kind of shape will help with my overall health, though. 

It's not just the new baby schedule that has thrown me, this past year. I feel lost in myself in many ways since Darcy's death, reduced to my own strength and it very faint indeed. Embarking on your first year of parenting when you have just had your loved ones' mortality, and your inability to make them immortal by sheer force of will, thrown in your face, is a thorn-tangled road indeed. And who can imagine the fairy-tale forest without the wolf? Where in the story are we now? 

We'll never stop missing him, but our lives certainly don't lack for love, and that's what matters. And the aforementioned rituals will help get my feet back under me, I think: just for starters, if Bingley and I bundle up and stubbornly take the frigid walks that Darcy would have loved, we will both feel better for it. (There has not been a good long walk in ages, just quick jaunts up to the nearest hill and back.) 

We may be in the forest without a wolf, but we have a little bear and an always-determined brindle hound, and a love that, unlike that of most fairy tales, has been accumulating far longer than summers seventeen. With enough sunrises, enough laughter, and enough patience, I think we will be all right. At any rate I'll toast to that, in a mug of honeyed tea, and toast to all of you as well. Much love and hope for the coming year.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

a little post

So this week the family all had an astonishing stomach bug (Berowne suggested I title this post "Love in the Time of Cholera"). Berowne and I took our turns staying home from work rapidly becoming dehydrated, while Perdita's diapers overflowed like a slightly smaller but far more pungent Vesuvius. One morning she also projectile vomited. While sitting on Berowne's lap, facing him. He did have his mouth shut at the time but the poor man has a beard, which took the brunt of the explosion. Good times.

Read lately:

Bury Me Deep, by Megan Abbott. A Nick Hornby recommendation (well, the author; the book of hers he actually recommends in his column is, according to him, all about how universally lust-worthy teenage girls are, and having been a teenage girl once upon a time I have no patience with that middle-aged male fantasy). Anyway, this book is pretty amazing, with its dialogue that no one would ever really speak but that somehow works and its creepy depiction of people descending to scary places. 

A Death in Summer, by Benjamin Black. It would seem John Banville writes mysteries set in 1950's Dublin. It would also seem that I don't like them any more than I like his novels under his own name.

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt, by Kara Cooney. My Early Reviewers book, and pretty good. I feel like I learned a good deal, and Cooney is quite interesting on the topic of Hatshepsut's iconography becoming male, as opposed to portraying herself as a female king, which is what she was doing at first. 

Re-read Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. Reading it as an adult was fascinating. As a preteen I remember thinking that while I myself would not have been perfectly happy with Max de Winter, this was probably due to some failing on my part. As an adult of course I can see that the man is an abusive douchebag, and thoroughly intended to be so (though du Maurier might not have used quite that word), and that we have only his account of Rebecca's "depravities" and death to go on. (The scene he relates in which she tells him how utterly perverse she really is and laughs about how she fooled him, after which she presumably flies back on her broom to her den of iniquity in London where Black Masses and women discussing politics take place, is so, so unlikely that only someone as inexperienced and desperate for love as our narrator could ever believe it.) It's a very different book now, and deeply disturbing, and still incredibly good. 

Without a Summer, by Mary Robinette Kowal. I was told to avoid the second book in this series, and did, but perversely thought the third might be okay. It wasn't. 

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Fascinating and comprehensive and, for me, as terrifying as any late-night Google-symptom foray. I need to just not read about cancer. 

The Five Red Herrings, by Dorothy L. Sayers. I thought that I would indulge in some winter comfort reading with old British mysteries. Unfortunately, this book was not only completely dull and confusing but contained a casual use of the n-word that had me reeling. And at first I thought, "Oh jeez, completely unnecessary, if I were an editor of the modern version of this book I would take that RIGHT the hell out," and then I started thinking that it's important that modern readers see just how acceptable the word's usage was. I mean, throughout the rest of the book, "bloody" and "bastard" are written as "b_____"; at the time you couldn't print those words, but you could print the n-word in its entirety and with no apology. And that's important, because from my perspective of white privilege it's too easy for me to think that racism is always violent and overtly hateful, that the only use of that word would be from shouting ignorant mobs, even back then. To be reminded that it was a matter-of-fact thing for an educated upper-class hero to say, "We've been working like n*gg*rs," is something I needed. Especially now, when I was recently asking Berowne, "Where are they FINDING the people for these grand juries??" What a privilege it is to not know where they found those people. 

I don't write about current events here, because that's not the purpose of this blog and because often (as now) I am too sputtering and helpless to articulate anything well. I will make editorial comments about abortion rights and such, sure, but generally I leave the news alone. And I am very self-conscious about how badly I'm expressing myself here. Also a bit defensive: it's not like I just wasn't thinking about the news until Dorothy Sayers reminded me, heaven knows. And it is perhaps the whitest most privileged thing ever to have one's white privilege checked by a passage in a British 1930's mystery novel. I guess I'm just saying that this book did check my privilege, and these are the thoughts I had about that. 

So today we end on a sad and frustrated note, because we live in a sad and frustrating world. But it's also an exquisitely beautiful world, which I will try to keep in mind.