Monday, May 25, 2015

battling shoulds

Yes, I breathe yet (and read yet, albeit in snatched moments right before falling asleep, most of the time). Work has eaten me alive these past four weeks - the week before last I was at work thirteen or fourteen hours a day, and came in on Saturdays for the whole month, and of course everything that needed to get done with the project still didn't get done. At a certain point I made peace with that, but it didn't mean I got to stop working my butt off. 

During all of this, not coincidentally, I developed GI symptoms so unpleasant that it was very easy to convince myself it was cancer. (Although we should remember I also convince myself that ingrown toenails are cancer.) I got everything checked out and it was deemed, alas, lactose-related: the moment I stopped eating dairy, 90% of the issues went away. 

I already relied on almond milk, just because too much cows' milk has always made my complexion react badly, but... no more cheese. No more ice cream. No more cheese. I am not happy about this. Also, it turned out that almost all of my fat intake came from cheese, so combining a cheese-free diet with intense stress and the aforementioned fourteen-hour days during which I barely had time to grab a snack caused me to get unfortunately skinny pretty fast. There is a lot of recuperation needed around here.

This weekend has been about that recuperation: lots of eating and napping and reminding myself that the shoulds will keep for another weekend. That if I spent all three days scrubbing floors, they wouldn't magically stay clean forever - they'd need to be scrubbed again in a couple weeks. Of course the should-loving part of me thinks the floors should get scrubbed every day, because said part of me has no investment whatsoever in the actual cleanliness of my floors (or the organization of my closets, or the progress of my manuscript, or the size of my waist); its only investment is in setting standards which are impossible for me to meet. My weight loss is the perfect example of this: the should-troll tells me every hour of every day that I should be thinner, until I am, and then it switches without a second's hesitation to telling me every hour of every day how crappy I look with skinny legs and a flat butt. So I try to keep in mind that, in the incredibly-unlikely event of my kitchen floor ever being spotless, the troll would just switch to telling me that I'm a shallow obsessive who could have used that scrubbing time to write an entire novel, and who should at this point in her life make enough money to pay someone to clean her house anyway. The troll can't be stopped by trying to please it - you have to eventually just burn its bridge. Or something. I'm still very tired. 

Anyway! I have managed to read a bit. The latest books:

The Native Star, by M.K. Hobson. Nineteenth-century California with magic. I liked the world-building well enough, and appreciated that the magic followed rules, but our heroine was dull and the love story was duller (the instant we're introduced to the character who annoys our heroine most, no prizes for guessing whether he's her True Love or not, and then we have to sit through two hundred pages of bickering because if you've ever exchanged civil words before your first kiss, it's not True Love). The end sets up for a sequel, but I didn't like the heroine nearly enough to care. 

The Handsome Man's Deluxe Cafe, by Alexander McCall Smith. Very slight and forgettable. Made me want to re-read the earlier books in the series.

Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War, by Helen Thorpe. Three women from the Indiana National Guard who signed up before 9/11 find themselves serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's tough to read at times, and very well done. 

The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, by J. Maarten Troost. This could have been so much better if only it was written by someone who wasn't a slightly racist jerk. Troost's handling of the topic of other cultures - which is the topic of the entire book - is really uncomfortable-making.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, by Jeanette Winterson. Winterson's memoir, and pretty intense, and occasionally amazing with language as she can be, and occasionally unbearably pretentious, as she can be. Overall I liked it, but I am so tired of writers in their memoirs talking about the book inside them that Had To Be Written, and how they only slept three hours a night for two years to write it, because it Had To Be Written, and that is how you know you're a real writer, when you have a book inside you that Has To Be Written and you do whatever it takes to write it. And maybe thinking it doesn't work that way is precisely why I haven't written the three or four novels I was supposed to have written by this point in my life. Are there books inside me waiting to be written? Of course. And of course they spring plot points and lines and characters on me all the time, and I write down what I can, but staying up until two every night in order to write a novel isn't happening right now. Because of work, I got less than six hours of sleep a night for four weeks and it was horrible - I had to go back on caffeine, which makes me feel like shit, but without it I wasn't safe behind the wheel of a car, and when my toddler is in the backseat of that car, that takes precedence over being able to call myself a real writer. I wouldn't be able to care for my child (or myself) or do my day job properly if I was only sleeping three hours a night, and the troll can say whatever it wants about how a real writer would find a way; I believe that the book which Has To Be Written can just keep its damn pants on until real life and I work something out around writing it. 

Hmm, got a little carried away there. I blame the lack of cheese. Eat some for me, friends, and try to ignore your trolls.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

quick book report

Snatching a quick blog opportunity while the baby naps - I really should be napping myself, given that I'm so tired it hurts most of the time, but I am not going to have a chance to touch this blog during the coming work week. (I probably won't have a chance to read, either, but hey.)

Read lately:

The Pure in Heart, by Susan Hill. Huh. Everyone raves about Hill, but my reaction to finishing this book was to actually be a bit bummed out that I own another one in the series. The mystery isn't solved, and our hero is a self-righteous asshole in love with his sister. Eeesh.

Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters, by Mallory Ortberg. Utterly freakin' hilarious. Absolutely the perfect mix of high- and low-brow humor for me. It gets repetitive - you definitely want to read it in small chunks rather than at one sitting - but I would unhesitatingly recommend it.

Death on Blackheath, by Anne Perry. The thirty-somethingth in her Thomas Pitt series. Brief, predictable, comforting.

Take the Cannoli: Stories From the New World, by Sarah Vowell. Autobiographical essays by a writer I like very much. I enjoyed these, though I think I prefer Vowell talking about history to talking about herself. (And I learned why she sucked up so much to Ira Glass in a previous book: he was her boss at the time she wrote it.) 

I also tried to re-read Outlander, the TV show having engendered such warm feelings, but lord, having seen a good adaptation of it made it even worse. I got as far as the scene where a nine-months-pregnant woman is asked what being nine months pregnant is like, and her response, to a group which includes her brother (I cannot emphasize that fact strongly enough), is to feel herself up and say that being nine months pregnant is exactly like having sex all the time, except she says it much more graphically. To her brother. Now, of course, everyone's experience of pregnancy is different (as is everyone's idea of appropriate sibling boundaries, I suppose), so I will restrict myself to saying that if my experience of sex was one-tenth as physically miserable as my experience of being nine months pregnant, then I would never have ended up nine months pregnant in the first place. À chacun son goût! And if your goût is kinda creepy, then I am not going to finish your book. Not the third time around, anyway. 

And now, must scrub the kitchen floor before the baby wakes. Ha! not likely. I had to work yesterday, the living room got cleaned this morning, there are two loads of laundry out on the clothesline in the beautiful spring sun, and we had an educational visit to a museum and the Salem waterfront before lunch ("say 'privateer', Perdita"). The kitchen floor can stay filthy for another day. I've got a mug of tea to drink and some birds to listen to.