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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I finally read "Room" and it doesn't kill me.

Room, by Emma Donoghue, is a moving account of a little boy who has spent his entire five years as an unwitting captor who benefits from his mother's herculean efforts to create a safe and good world for him.

The story reminded me very much of the movie Life is Beautiful, in which an Italian Jewish father creates an alternate reality for his son while in a concentration camp, as well as the true story of Jaycee Dugard's kidnapping, imprisonment, and release in A Stolen Life.

For years I avoided reading this book, as I feared it would break my super-soft mom heart. But it was OK; I never experienced the out-of-body sobbing I generally try to avoid. (I'm looking at you, Orchardist.) Instead, I was fascinated with the story from start to finish, and inspired by "Ma," who has figured out the most wonderful ways to raise a child within the 11' x 11' confines of their existence.

And Donoghue is very successful in her attempt to write from the perspective of a five-year-old. It feels as genuine and believable as the stream of consciousness writing I first experienced reading The Sound and The Fury

I look forward to reading more of Donoghue's writing -- I have so much respect for writers who create plausibility within implausible situations. She's got a deft touch I rarely see. I'm so glad I looked past my hesitations to give this story a "go."

["Room," the movie, is now in theaters. I would recommend reading this book first if you can, although the screenplay was written by Donoghue as well, and it's garnering multiple Academy Award nominations.]

Monday, February 08, 2016

Update from Awkward Lady Returning to Hometown After 27 Years

Buh buh buh
Following up on my original post on this subject, "Being New is Awkward," I would to say that being new continues to be awkward.

If I were completely together, and new to town, that would be one thing. But I'm not.

I believe my California friends were used to my scattered ways of communicating. For example, I might offer an intimate dinner of brussels sprouts, but then it's going to be lamb instead, and 20 people were suddenly coming and you had to bring a salad and a beach towel. There was an understood randomness.

Here, I did something so awkward yesterday. I made and cancelled plans with the mother of a friend of Gigi's about 12 times. I was just so confused. It seemed like we should go to the trampoline park with them but I didn't understand the time of the Superbowl (3:30 seemed like a normal time for a football game to me). So I cancelled, and rescheduled, and cancelled on this poor woman as I remembered arbitrary conflicts throughout the week, one after the other.

By the time evening rolled around, I was wrapped in a cloak of self-loathing. "Ugh," I thought, not even organized enough to pour myself a glass of wine, "That woman probably hates me."

I am meeting and connecting with some terrific people here in town. It's just that I'm mentally scattered from the process of moving, of buying a "new" house that is 116 years old, of juggling three electricians and three "spirited" daughters, of Giant Eagle's baffling gas stations and a desire to eat pierogies, but no clue as to how to prepare them.

I know it will get better. It has been getting better every day. But that doesn't mean that I don't sit on the floor sometimes and have a "buh buh buh" moment.

As I marinate this moment, it's probably time for me to start a "Dudley Pippin No Friends Club."

Sunday, February 07, 2016

"How Should a Person Be?" is an honest inspection of the artistic process

"How Should a Person Be?" is a fascinating novel. It's based very much on the real life of playwright Sheila Neti and her painter friend, Margaux Williamson. At the heart of the book, Neti begins using a recording device to capture their conversations, and the result is this book, but not without ramifications.

There is an element of artistic navel-gazing throughout "How Should a Person Be?" but I found this very tolerable because the nuggets of philosophy throughout the book-- the tenor of which ranges from "Before Sunrise" territory to "50 Shades of Grey" -- are eye-opening, even for an artistically jaded woman like me.

Neti's journey also felt similar to Cheryl Strayed's "Wild" -- in which the difficult of walking the Pacific Crest Trail is replaced by the impossibility of finishing a difficult play. The 100% open honesty of her writing it what drives the story forward, and makes it so interesting to read.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Anatomy of a 4am Wake-Up

Last night I tried to sleep without any help from Trazodone or my beloved Unisom QuickMelts.

Why did I forsake you?
"It's been so long since I've had a 4am wake-up," I thought. "I'm so tired, this shan't be a problem."

So, I happily drifted off to sleep with a smile on my face... Until the magical fairies that visit perimenopausal women discovered I hadn't taken any sleeping aids, and they pointed their magical hormone wands into my window.


And so, for the uninitiated, I present:

Anatomy of a 4am Wake-Up

4AM Sudden Rousing. "Huh? What time is it? Does someone need help? Why am I awake? Well, ha ha, at least I'm not having one of those middle-of-the-night panic attacks. I'll just calmly go back to sleep."

4:05AM Bathroom Trip. "Well, I'm up, so I might as well go to the bathroom. That way I can sleep longer in the morning."

4:10AM Husband Criticism. "I'm pretty sure he has a disproportionate amount of the covers. Maybe if I wiggle around he will wake up and talk with me." (Wiggle wiggle) (Nothing) "So unsupportive.."

4:15AM Delusion of calm. "How nice that I'm still not doing that panic thing. Time to merrily drift off to sleep."

4:25AM Thinking of dreams. "I bet if I think of a really awesome dream, I could just have that dream right now.... Gigi's long eyelashes. Tropical forests dripping with early morning dew. The infinite nature of space. Flying over a rushing river."

4:27AM Reality encroaches. "What is today, Wednesday?"

4:28AM The spiral begins. "Doesn't Birdy have a doctor's appointment today? Oh NO, What was I thinking, scheduling it at 3:50? That is the stupidest time for a doctor's appointment."

4:30AM No return. "If I need to get her there at 3:50, I will need to drive to the bus stop to pick her up. But then what about Chebbles and Gigi? They always turn into such jerks at Birdy's doctor's appointments. Is it too late to set up playdates? Wait, I don't have any friends here yet to pawn them off on. Why did we move?" (Tear rolls down cheek) "Oh NO, what time is it? I haven't gotten any sleep and I'm going to need my wits about me if I'm going to manage this stupid 3:50 doctor's appointment."

4:35AM Husband criticism, round 2. "Sniff! Sniff!" (Blows nose unnecessarily loudly) "Look at him. Maybe he's just pretending to sleep so he doesn't have to problem-solve this 3:50pm doctor's appointment with me."

4:40AM Delusion of calm, round 2. "Haha, listen to me, I'm panicking! What a funny thing, I always do this. Oh, life, so funny. Ha, ha. (Moment of quiet) But seriously, I should have taken the Trazodone. And why doesn't our local Rite-Aid stock Unisom QuickMelts? What kind of one-horse town do we live in now? What were we thinking? What kind of Amish life is this? Will they always blame me for making them live here?"

The world's stupidest time to schedule a doctor's appointment.
4:45AM Off the rails entirely. "If I pick her up early at school I could make the appointment at 3:50 with no problem, but where do I park at the school? And what if the other parents see me and think, 'What a bitch, she's cutting the carpool lane,' and I'd be like, 'No, wait, it's just for a doctor's appointment,' and they would be like, 'What idiot schedules a doctor's appointment for 3:50?' and they would roll up their windows and I will never have any friends here.

4:50AM Defeat. "Well, I'm not going to sleep. I'm just going to sit here hating myself for scheduling this doctor's appointment. And it's less than 24 hours until the appointment so I can't cancel it without a $25 fee. And when will our new debit cards get here? And what is the balance in our account? And why do I keep forgetting to call the guy at State Farm? And how is Birdy going to dress like an 'old woman' for the 100th day of school????"

At some point, I must panic so hard that my mind short-circuits and I fall back into a fitful sleep, waking just after 7AM.

Once the sun rises, everything feels much more possible.

(I did pick up Birdy early from school, and we made it to the appointment in plenty of time, while Hub-D watched the big ones back at the house. From the carpool lane, people waved in a nice way to me. Unless they were flipping me off and I just couldn't see it through their windshields.)

Monday, January 25, 2016

"The Orchardist" is a white "The Color Purple" with apples and spectacular writing

When I read (and watched) "The Color Purple" years ago, I felt like I had been turned inside out. Every hard crackly edge of my persona had been replaced by soft, vulnerable guts. "The Orchardist" is one of the only other books I've read that had the same effect on me. 

In a blithe nutshell, Amanda Coplin's "The Orchardist" is a white "The Color Purple," although it starts about 35 years before the events in Alice Walker's stunning book, and in the orchards and small towns of rural Oregon and Washington.

As with "The Color Purple," "The Orchardist," has pregnant teenagers, evil ogres, and lots of hunting for missing people. And it also includes the touchstone of nature, of the seasons and the personalities of apricot and apple trees, which drive the story forward with their unchanging nature.

And just as Alice Walker's book evoked strong food moments, "The Orchardist" left me feeling hungry at the end of every chapter. (This is also because I wouldn't stop reading to eat, the book was that overpowering.) Also, the character's clothing was important: what they would, or would not wear, and the condition of their clothes felt so visceral, I felt I might have been wearing those clothes.

While there are some differences between the books, such as the essentially blameless male figure around whose redemption the book centers, I can't help feeling today like a crab who has just molted, so soft and sensitive around the edges, so pummeled, everted, and glad for having taken the journey.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Where is Pittsburgh? A Guide for Californians

This incoming snowstorm has created an excellent time to give a quick geography lesson to the many otherwise awesome Californians who (a) think I live in Philadelphia, and/or (b) think that Pittsburgh is on the East Coast.

If you will consult the map to the left, you may be surprised to see that Pittsburgh, the Steel City, is waaaaaay in the West, very close to Ohio.

As a result, we are expecting about three inches of snow.

See, we're on the same basic longitude as Toronto, far away from the coast.

This is how long it takes to
get to the Outer Banks
OK, it is totally confusing, because unless you are one of the Californians who attended our wedding, you haven't been here. Pennsylvania IS officially a Northeast state. So it seems to follow that we are in the East Coast. But actually getting to the beach from here is a really long and horrible process that involves sitting in a car for seven hours, unless you drive to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Pittsburgh's summer mecca, nine hours away.

Therefore, when a big "Nor'easter" menaces the East Coast, we are generally shielded from it, protected by stuff like the Allegheny Mountains and all of New Jersey.

This current snowstorm is centered in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is further East than us, because everything is further East than Pittsburgh in the Northeast United States.

As a result, our weather is milder than everyone else's, which is why we spend a lot of time reminiscing about this one awesome storm in 1977 that closed the schools for a week.

As for now, it mostly looks like this (below). Just a picturesque smattering of snow and some ice floating on the river. Awesome. I'm glad you all know where to find me now.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The persistence of memory

Hair by Philip Pelusi
Since I left Pittsburgh, I've lived in Michigan for three years, Bavaria for a year, Colorado for six months, Massachusetts for five years, Oregon for six months, and California for the last 17 years.

During those times, and those many miles, those many packed and unpacked boxes, the pets I adopted and outlived, the jobs I interviewed for and eventually quit, the friends I made, kept, or lost -- somehow a league of childhood memories has stayed intact, waiting for my return to come barreling back to mind.

These aren't traumatic memories, but remembered moments that transport me to a different time. A more embarrassing time, a more industrious time, and a time I'd apparently forgotten.

Seeing the chipped paint on a railing at my high school made me suddenly remember the thrilling afternoon when I was asked to prom. I had been standing here, holding onto this chipped railing, when it happened. I could suddenly smell the way it smelled in that moment.*

Snippets of conversations from my teen years are coming back to me whole cloth, triggered by woodsy hillsides, cardinals, and piles of familiar slush.

I now remember the ridiculous methods by which I styled my hair, my incredibly complicated series of crushes, and how hard I worked in high school. I worked Hermione Granger hard in high school. I lugged a french horn to and from school, I stood for hours in a baking hot parking lot to learn marching band formations, and I ate fantastical amounts of McDonald's food, all at one go.

When I go into King's Family Restaurant now, I find I still order the six-piece fried shrimp meal because it's still the best thing on the menu, and at Eat N Park, I still put nothing but ranch on my salad bar concoctions. I bemoan the loss of Chi-Chi's and the local Red Lobster. Did even live in California?

(OK, reality check: yes, I did live in California. I'm into yoga, kombucha and CSA's.)

But a whole treasure trove of silliness has been waiting rediscovery for me here, and the memories range from my very earliest years (eating melted chocolate ice cream with the sons of my father's boss) to the weeks before I left Pittsburgh. (Were there no police at the reservoir? Ever?)

Did I dream I would return to my hometown? I did. Particularly when I fell in love with another Pittsburgher, I would see the twisting roads of our hometown in my mind's eye.

Now that I'm driving these roads, with a carload of California babies who marvel at snow like people whose sight has suddenly been restored, I find that a lot of me has never left. It's been waiting, distilled and well aged, by the side of the road. Right past the Kennywood sign.

* For those of you who REMEMBER Prom 1988, I remain apologetic about my behavior. And why do you even remember that prom? Can't you remember times I was better behaved instead? Like... nevermind. Let's have a beer.