Sunday, July 5, 2015

more from the guilt files

I suppose everyone's parental life has its measures of guilt and inadequacy. Probably even the parents who only feed their children on hand-milled rice flour grown from their own backyard paddy and vegetables guided to their fullest potential by gentle men from New Hampshire feel guilt sometimes, not just those of us who are fully complicit in Trader Joe's employees filling our child with alphabet cookie samples at her lunchtime. I tend to imagine I have more guilt than anyone else, which is probably half true and half a desire to condemn everyone else as hedonistic. Competitive Calvinism! Good times!

I am only lately coming to terms with the fact that I do have an inner Cotton Mather, and he's not a pleasant fellow. He tends to manifest mainly when I want to think things like, "Well, she may be setting the academic / literary / business world on fire while also growing everything her family eats and only putting her child in daycare ten hours a week, but at least I'm not having any fun." And if that doesn't make sense to you, congratulations, your family has no Scottish Presbyterian roots.

I exaggerate (I don't), but it makes sense, in a twisted sort of way. If I weighed on one side of the scales the high-powered career / totally organic lifestyle / my-life-is-my-children options, and put in the other side a "meh, I'm cool with sort of moodling around the edges of all of those things," and was okay with the moodling being heavier, I'd be a Bad Person. I can be a Good Person as long as I feel bad enough about being the person I am.

(I love writing this shit out. Honestly. It may reinforce with all of you that I am bonkers, but it's so good for me.)

I want to let the moodling be okay, because it is who I am. In most cases I didn't make a considered choice to abstain from high-powered anything; I just don't have the energy. (I'm a radiation-therapy-recipient who doesn't drink caffeine and has the introvert's drained-by-other-people problem tested daily by a shared space at work, so anyone who thinks I should have the energy [Cotton Mather] can just shut his face.) But I do keep using that as an excuse instead of owning where I am in life and not constantly, automatically, apologizing for it. Being okay with where I am today doesn't mean that I've given up and will never try to be anywhere else. And it doesn't make me a lazy, self-indulgent person.

The thing about an inner Cotton Mather is that all he wants you to keep saying to yourself is, "More weight." I need to remember that.

Read lately:

The Ghost in the Mirror, by John Bellairs. Apparently someone finished a bunch of Bellairs' manuscripts after his death, which explains why several I'd never heard of showed up on the library website recently, and also explains why this felt so unsatisfying. I plan to go back and re-read some of the originals, which scared me to death in delightful ways as a child.

The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons From Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Erin Blackmore. Blackmore talks about the "lessons" we can take from each heroine of a classical novel, naming each chapter with a virtue ("Faith", "Steadfastness", etc), which - while Blackmore's love of literature and belief in the importance of reading are never in question - ends up rather taking the fun out of it. I wanted to like this more than I did. (It didn't help that the second chapter - on Their Eyes Were Watching God - was incredibly awkward and forced and felt like an editor had said, "No, you can't have only one chapter on an African-American author, let's get another one in there and make it about God for good measure." I totally agree that this book needed more diversity, but Blackmore obviously didn't feel that chapter the way she felt the other ones, and making it [and its assumption that her readers are all practicing Christians] the very second chapter almost put me off the whole book.)

The Stockholm Octavo, by Karen Engelmann. I was bored to tears by this piece of generic semi-mystical historical fiction, and yet when its library loan expired I got it back out and made myself finish it. When I'm feeling that duty-bound it's rarely a good sign of how I'm managing my life. Generic semi-mystical historical fiction AND trigger warning! Still a waste of my reading time.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. Odd to be reading this at the same time as the Blackmore above. It's incredible, what can I say. 

Tigers in Red Weather, by Liza Klaussmann. Oh GOD. An entry in the bestselling fiction realm of "people are horrible, love is a myth, beautiful women destroy all the lives around them and can't help themselves and are always forgiven" genre. After, like, the sixteenth time our female protagonist sleeps with a stranger / her husband's boss / her daughter's fiancĂ© and it's presented as something that is, scorpion-like, in her nature to the extent that it's literally beyond her control, I had to just start laughing. Klaussman can write, no question, but the effort to make all of her characters either destroying or destroyed seemed, I don't know, not worth the candle.

Iron Lake, by William Kent Krueger. Serviceable mystery about tough men in a cold climate. I did hate how the girlfriend was set up as Fatality Fodder from the very beginning, so that she can be our hero's motivation / reason for his tough exterior in subsequent books; and the sudden shift to another point of view in the last several chapters didn't really work; but I will probably read more in the series.

American Ghost: A Family's Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest, by Hannah Nordhaus. Nordhaus investigates the legend that her ancestor haunts the La Posada Inn in Santa Fe, and tries to discover what she can about the family. It runs parallel tracks, between the family members who came to America and ended up in Santa Fe, and those who stayed in Germany and suffered the fate of German Jews in the twentieth century. Although Nordhaus' tolerance of psychics becomes a bit much after a while, I quite liked this book.

Lion in the Valley, by Elizabeth Peters. Cute period mystery, though the series gets less cute as the supposedly-cute child becomes a more active character. Stop trying so hard, Peters.

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown, by Julia Scheeres. Oh God. OH GOD. This is a really well-written and fiercely detailed book, telling the story mostly from the points of view of four individuals who followed Jones to Guyana and who left either substantial written documentation or survived to be interviewed afterwards. But that in itself does not warrant the raw horror I felt while reading. I think I knew, on some level, that there were children in Jonestown. I must have known that. Surely I didn't think that of 900 people who joined Jim Jones' group, none of them had families? But I did not register it. And when, early on in the book, I was forced to register it, I spent the entire rest of the book hoping desperately that the end wouldn't be what it was. That the one fact I just never heard about Jonestown was that someone got all the children out before the end. Which of course is nothing like the case. I read the last few chapters in a horrified late-night gulp, and cried like crazy, and wanted to spend the rest of the night in Perdita's room watching her breathe. AAAAAA.  

What a cheerful note on which to conclude! Unfortunately, the alphabet is a harsh mistress. Unless she is arriving in cinnamon cookie form, I suppose.