Reading List

Most of my reading these days is required and so dry it could make the Sahara weep. Unless, that is, you’re really revved up by “Infection Control in the Hearing Aid Clinic” or “Compression for Clinicians”, and if you are, you have my sympathies. But infrequently over the last 18 months I’ve had occasion to read something interesting, and I thought I’d share those gems here.

Tuesdays With Morrie, Mitch Albom
This is one of those bandwagons I never hopped on the first time around, and probably wouldn’t have now either except that it was required for my Psychology of Aging class. It’s just exactly the sort of sentimental, pseudo-spiritual clap-trap that I steer clear of on pain of death (by eye-rolling, probably). But it’s surprisingly well written – concise, unflinching, and yes sentimental but not in a manipulative way. It was sweet, and though I understand that Morrie himself garnered quite a following shortly before his death thanks to Ted Koppel’s Nightline interviews, I think ultimately the book is about the practical application of his lessons about life through dying on the author, his former student and longtime friend.

Uprooted, Naomi Novik
This is a fantasy novel, written in an old school style that McCaffrey, Bradley, Salvatore and Paxton would appreciate. Something that felt like I could have picked it off the shelf at Walden Books in the mall back in 1987 and devoured in a night. Really rich in world building, with main characters that feel as real as your best friend. Some of the action sequences are intense and gory, but that only lends to the excitement for me. If it bothers you, be forewarned. A very fun read.

The Adventures of Joy Sun Bear: The Blue Amber of Sumatra, Blanca Carranza, John Lee
This is a shameless plug because I personally know one of the co-authors. But here’s my Amazon review, which I stand by: The Blue Amber of Sumatra begins on a desperately sad – and horrifyingly relevant – scene. Then it drops you into a lush world that captures both the exoticism of far off lands and the familiarity of cherished friendships and bonds. This is what the best stories always do – make you care, and make you excited to learn more. Joy’s adventure begins as running away, but turns into a discovery of innovation, bravery, anger and friendship. He wants to learn, and the reader can’t help but be drawn into those discoveries with him.
Little Joy Sun Bear is impish and recognizable to anyone who’s ever experienced childhood, but he’s also an empathetic proxy to the trauma that some children are forced to undergo in an adult world that cares little for their homes. It’s a warning for our environment and for the humanity that will be required to help others through the destruction of it. Its messages of loyalty, justice, friendship and courage are deeply important in today’s world, but told with the hopefulness and safety of small furry creatures and a happily ever after. The Blue Amber of Sumatra is a wonderful introduction to the characters that will open up the world to anyone lucky enough to join this adventure! Recommended for every child’s library of keepsake stories.

Surviving a Borderline Parent, Kimberlee Roth
This is a difficult book (and subject) and I’ll be honest in that I haven’t finished it yet. Nor was it my first choice. I wanted to read “Understanding the Borderline Mother” by Christine Ann Lawson, which is widely considered to be the definitive text for the layperson on the subject, but it wasn’t available at a price point I could justify and it’s on a lengthy wait-list at my local library. However, Roth references Lawson heavily, and I feel like it’s a valuable tool for my situation. Most of this opinion comes from the fact that I can’t read sections for very long without having strong emotional reactions and if you think I mean something dignified by this, then it’s clear we’ve never met. It’s incredibly startling to pick up a book and have it read like your autobiography. But the text has been a comforting and valuable continuation of my therapy, and I’m happy to recommend it. If you think it might apply to you, there are several online resources that give a broad overview that are still scarily accurate. If you survived it, you’ll recognize it right away, it’s that eerie.

As usual, my to-be-read stack is toppling over, but in it are a steampunk Jim Butcher novel, a Star Trek philosophy book, Dr. Parker’s treatise on the moral argument for choice, and the collected works of George Sand. I foresee completion sometime around the back end of never.

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Break

There’s an empty parking lot not far from my house that runs the width of a city block. It’s a common dog-walking route for me because I can let the dogs out on a long leash and just sort of meander without worrying about traffic or distractions. Today, I took Heidi out by herself (that is, without Scout, whom I walked earlier) and gave her the “break” command.

It’s an old school word from our Germany days when off-leash walks were common and she had to know the difference between “heel” and “freedom”. Today, I first held up the leash and said her name to get her attention. Then I dropped the leash and said, “Break!” I swear she grinned from ear to ear before taking off at a run. Well, a trot. Her stiff hips and arthritic knees hobbled her and her body resembled a see-saw as she made the best of what mobility she has.

But her ears and her eyes were joyous. She never gets off leash freedom with me anymore, and while I’ll never know if her mind remembers the vast fallow German fields, with their poppy edges in summer and mounds of sugar beets in the fall and deep snow in winter, I can’t help but feel her muscle memory is sound. Her body remembers, and her exuberance is real.

She had all the happiness this afternoon. That’s the benefit to being a dog, I guess. I was overcome with the grief of knowing how brief her life is, how unfair it is that she’s fettered by both living arrangements and biology. I grieved for the life we both had five years ago, the happiness that I’ll never know again but that her body remembers. There’s a popular sentiment that we should strive to live moment to moment like our dogs do – finding joy in the present and exploiting it fully. I’ve never been able to do that, nor believed that we should. Heidi and I have always shared the full range of emotions – she gets the joy and I take the burden of sadness. It’s just the deal I made with her: I will make you happy, and you will breathe with me when I’m sad. And between the two of us, we live fully.

What sound does a Scarlet Virago make? Snarky ones.

 

My daughter graduated high school in 2015, college earlier this year. Her peers that attend 4 year colleges are entering their junior year and are now, on average, $30,000 in debt. That number will continue to increase at the same rate or faster over the next two years. My daughter has zero debt and supports herself with her first entry level position.
Do I sound a little snarky? Yes, yes I do. I received a LOT of criticism for encouraging her to obtain a professional certificate over a bachelor’s degree. A LOT. And it takes nothing away from those kids getting their bachelor’s to point out that she is already living and working in the adult world, accumulating skills for her next goal and beholden to NO loan holders. She can start building her credit from 0, rather than -30,000.
Are there kids out there trying to accomplish their dreams? Absolutely, and I wish them the best fortune possible. Are they, along with their less ambitious but no less educated peers, going to be in fierce competition for a level of employment that can’t accommodate them all? Also yes. Are a ridiculous number of them going to be working two or three entry-level jobs (that require no degree) at the same time just so they can make payments on their student loans? Also yes.
I am so sick of this pervasive and pernicious idea that dreams are ALL that matter. That one’s personal happiness rests entirely on the idea that they ONLY do what they love. I love to eat, and sleep under a roof. And not spend my days stressing about my credit score and how I’m going to pay for an emergency medical expense. There is more than one way to accomplish one’s dreams, and the idea that mortgaging your soul to a bank, or risking a basic standard of living to achieve them is… well, it’s just foolish and naive and downright harmful in some instances.
Not to mention the fact that my life fell apart in such a way that I would not have been able to help my kid in any way if she’d needed it during or after her last two years at college. And given the number of college graduates living at home, she definitely would have needed it. At this point, she’s the one helping me, who doesn’t have a choice but to incur student debt to achieve the same basic level of education that she was able to get for free, because we utilized the resources available to us at the right time.
So yeah, I’m feeling a bit snarky. And ridiculously proud.

Time Capsules

My 20s were a crash course in adulting. Motherhood, failed relationships, financial bungling – the works. I came out of them with a new sense of humility.

My 30s were all about tough lessons in partnership, individuality, and knowing myself better. I came out of them heartbroken, but stronger than ever.

My 40s appear to be about laying down burdens that I didn’t realize I was carrying, and applying the lessons of my 20s and 30s to a new beginning. I have no idea how I’ll come out of them, but I’m not intimidated by the possibilities.

Updates for Real Life

It occurs to me that my friends and family don’t really understand where my life is at right now. Even though I’m fairly regular about posting to facebook, I understand not everyone is as glued to that medium and might miss out on some pertinent details. This post is meant to rectify that, so if you don’t know me in real life, it won’t mean that much to you.

Ro and I (and all three dogs) have been moved in to a 900 sq. ft. duplex since mid-May. It’s tiny as hell, but allows all three of my dogs and is in a conveniently-situated part of town. It’s also affordable. These three items generally outweigh the numerous inconveniences, which I don’t want to complain about because my landlady is a good friend and went out of her way to make this place as accommodating as she could. I’m immensely grateful, and will learn to live with the things that are difficult.

I’m in college full time now. 10 credit hours over the summer, and 14 in the fall. It is utterly exhausting. My brain just hurts all the time now and every second I’m not studying or walking my dogs, I’m sleeping. This will get worse when I get accepted into the Physical Therapy Assistant program which starts in January. There wasn’t any other way to work out my school schedule – the “luck” of my ex-husband’s choices put me in a precarious position and I had to just do the best I could. That means working hard, which I’m no stranger to, but it’s a lot different at 41 than it was at 21.

Speaking of exes, I expect my divorce to be finalized within the next week or so. It was a drawn out, expensive process with a few arguments, but ultimately I got what I asked for, which was a temporary, modest living stipend until I finish school. I also kept my car and my IRA, and the dogs.

Which brings me to my next point: modest living. I’m back in a financial position I haven’t seen in over 14 years, which is scary-poor. Not nearly-homeless poor, thank goodness, but that is only because my daughter is gainfully employed and can pay the rent and utilities. But because I had to pay for some of my school out of pocket, which ate up the last of my savings, I’m now in “Oh Zeus please don’t let anything bad happen to me, my dogs, or my car or I am up shit creek” poor. I am uninsured, medically, and I don’t qualify for state aid by virtue of living in the state of Missouri (yay red state conservatism that doesn’t give a fuck if you die!). Every cent I have goes toward living expenses, which even shared are not negligible, and I’m literally holding my breath that nothing unexpected happens. Which is usually a strong indicator that it will.

I have no time, no money, and generally no patience. I am stressed out most of the time, living on a razor’s edge of catastrophe, but at least I’m too tired to freak out about it very often.

Somebody recently said how proud they were that I was “living my dream”. They meant pursuing my education, and I’m grateful for the sentiment in that respect, but this was most definitely not my dream. My dream went up in flames with my marriage and I haven’t had the energy or optimism to form a new one. I’m living my survival right now, and that’s all.

If you know me in real life, please don’t tease me about any of the above. My sense of humor has taken a scarily long hike and anything that resembles “blue skying” from you is going to be interpreted as willful ignorance about the reality of my situation. If you literally have no idea (and if you haven’t seen me face to face in the last 4 months, you don’t), kindly keep your “advice”, “cheering up”, or any other form of platitudes to yourself.

I’m in survival mode, and that leaves nothing left over at the end of the day for nonsense.

Things That I’m Over

An abbreviated list:

The idea that selfies are narcissistic, especially for women. Firstly, so what if they are? Like the mental masturbation that you do to feel superior isn’t? Secondly, no they aren’t. Women putting themselves front and center with their own agenda is simply weird because they’ve never been allowed to do it before. Welcome to the future. It has filters.

Purity progressives. Fuck those guys. Guess what? We’re nowhere near a revolution, guys. And policy making equals compromise since the founding fathers. Who were no saints, by the way, but it WAS their lives on line at the time. It’s so great that you can pontificate from metropolitan cities where your wi-fi is fast, your food is slow, and your activism is a giant circle jerk with other pasty white people who try on “bi-curious” for size. How’s the air up there? Some people do real work. You might want to try it some time.

Getting older. I pulled a muscle in my sleep the other night. How the fuck does that happen??

“Devil’s Advocates”. Shut up. Just shut up. The devil is his own best advocate, okay? He gets around making his argument JUST FINE all on his own. It’s called life. You’re not an advocate, you’re a stinky troll. Go back under your rock.

People who don’t understand privilege. Really? C’mon, it’s part of the vernacular now and if you still don’t get it, it’s because you don’t want to get it. Privilege does NOT equal wealth or fame. Privilege DOES equal certain unearned “free passes” from daily struggles not shared by everyone. Privilege does NOT mean you’ve never had it rough. Privilege DOES mean that you could’ve had it rougher. Privilege does not mean you can’t vent, privilege does mean you might not want to vent about Starbucks being out of your favorite flavor to a single working mom drinking yesterday’s Folgers. Use some sense. Then use your privilege to speak up for those who don’t share it.

Women’s clothing industry sizing. SERIOUSLY GET IT TOGETHER GUYS!! MY WAIST HAS A MEASUREMENT AND SO DOES MY INSEAM. YOUR “12” IS BULLSHIT AND SO IS YOUR METHOD FOR SEWING ON BUTTONS.

Commercials. I’ve lived so long without network television that I forget how offensive they can be. And then Pepsi invades my internet news feed.

Divorce. FML, I really, really want to be over this. Hurry up already.

Selling things on Facebook. Nope. People are entitled, pushy assholes. Over it.

Living in “rural America”. Where the church folk are terrorists and anti-intellectualism reigns supreme. Look, hillbillies and rednecks, I’m sorry you are constantly picked on and made fun of by “liberal elites”. MAYBE STOP GIVING THEM SO MUCH MATERIAL TO WORK WITH, MMMMKAY?

Listicles. These things suck, don’t they??

Bitches Get Stuff Done.

But marches don’t. This article explains why in terms that are easy to understand, and it uses examples to support its view. (That’s a step in something called “logic” kids!) I marched anyway, along with an estimated 4.7 million people from every continent (yup, even Antarctica) because while marches don’t make lasting change they are a great starting point.

womens march square.jpg
Park Central Square in Springfield, MO, facing the stage. I walked through a crowd just to get to this point, the edge of the square.

I marched in Springfield, MO with approximately 2,000 people – a huge number for a city of only 160,000 firmly settled on the bible belt. Almost dead last in a march that stretched at least a quarter mile, the positive energy was palpable all the way back there. I had goosebumps. That’s a physiological effect of being part of a mob, by the way, even a friendly mob. It wasn’t spiritual, but it was deeply affecting. I felt proud to be there, and proud to be marching with women and men. Unable to stay and listen to all the speakers, I drove home considering what it all meant.

There were no news cameras, though the local station says they had a photographer there and would present a segment in the evening. I never saw anyone doing any kind of coverage, and I was disappointed that the media wasn’t more visible. It felt silencing, and like a deliberate tactic to make us seem unimportant. I don’t like conspiracy theories so I won’t say that’s the absolute truth, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some truth to it. Pardon my cynicism, it comes with 41 years of being a woman on this planet.

Since I didn’t stay and see them personally, I can’t form an opinion on the speakers, but I did listen to our MO house representative, Crystal Quade, talk about the diversity of the speakers coming after her, and how important it was to remember that women of color and the LGBTQ community of women need to have a prominent place at the table. That we wouldn’t be successful without them. I was proud of that.

white-women-listen
“TERF” is an acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, in case you didn’t know. We don’t like those. All women are welcome in feminism. It’s called intersectional feminism and we recognize that different backgrounds have different experiences and we must not only value and protect all of them, but hand them the bullhorn equally.

I wondered what to do next, and one of my (numerous, wonderful) friends posted a link to this:

100-days
www.womensmarch.com/100

which is a plan for 10 actions for Trump’s first 100 days in office. It’s simple, linear, and includes step-by-step instructions for the first action. It’s not overwhelming, even for the busiest among us, and I encourage everyone to participate. Especially if you couldn’t march – these are steps you can take with us. We can’t lose momentum, either out of ignorance or from hopelessness. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

That being said, I’ve also been thinking about causes I want to drill down to and focus on. So much is at risk, if I apply the same level of energy to everything, I will burn out in a matter of days. I don’t want to admit to caring more about some causes than others, but I simply have to prioritize because I’m human and have limits and I don’t want to give up. To that end, I think I’m going to focus on state-level legislation, and women’s issues. Women’s issues covers a lot, but I will probably be tackling health care and poverty mostly. I’m passionate about education, LGBTQ equality and dismantling racism, but honestly there are more qualified people out there to harp on those subjects. I’m not giving up on those ideas, I just won’t be devoting my precious free time to being a watchdog over those issues. I’m making a promise right now that when I post about an issue, it will be because I’ve done my homework on it, and you can trust me as a source. (With the obvious caveat that nothing replaces personal research, but I’ll not be posting anything without reading it completely and verifying with at least one source that is not the first return on a Google search.)

My year is off to an incredible start, and I mean that almost literally. It’s almost impossible to believe that I am a full time student, will make a drive halfway across the country and back, will move, will watch my daughter graduate college and start her career, and will become an activist for real. And that’s just the first six months.

It might be a roller coaster, but at least I volunteered to get on this one.