Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Writerly Wednesday: Picking Up Steam

Writerly Wednesday, Anna Quindlen, Liane Moriarty, Ann Patchett, women's fiction

It seems like I've read quite a few books lately that are good in the beginning, but absolutely wonderful in the last third. I'm reading one like that - Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen - right now. Quindlen has been on my list of favorite authors since my early twenties, but she moved up a few notches when I heard her speak in September. 

Here are some tidbits from her talk that made me feel awesome:
  • Quindlen doesn't care for the descriptor, "women's fiction." Of course, just yesterday I researched the genre for my own fiction writing project, and it's probably "women's fiction." This is a term you use to sell your book to an agent or editor, but it all - literary fiction, genre fiction, upmarket fiction, book club fiction - gets shelved together in the same section of the bookstore. Do you know why Quindlen hates the "women's" distinction? I bet you can guess. It's because it relegates writing by women, with a primary audience of women to a lesser status. As she puts it, it reveals a "lack of respect for women's lives." And, all of it is really "women's fiction" because women purchase about 80% of hardcover fiction sold.
  • After Quindlen finishes a manuscript, she reads the entire thing aloud to herself. Connection! I also do this, but with every blog post and every important email. She says it takes a week. And when, she's finished reading it, she proclaims out loud, "This is good work." She does that because the concept of "audience" is slippery. It's her own voice that matters.
  • Reading, according to Quindlen, is a democratic act. We practice empathy, we gain knowledge and perception of nuance. There's no "I'm too busy to read." Reading is always worth the time. It's how we stay in the light as a people and as a society.
Don't you want to read something by Anna Quindlen right now? I think you should. I like One True Thing quite a whole lot, and this latest one is fantastic, too. Or you could check out this column she wrote in 1992 ('92!) suggesting that Hillary Clinton would be a fantastic president.

Every feminist has a "slacks" story.

Whispering feminism to high school boys.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Arts Round Up

Theater: I saw Sense and Sensibility at the Guthrie Theater last weekend. It was utterly delightful, with all the heart I remembered from the novel (Austen, obvi) and the movie (Thompson, natch). I can't be alone in favoring stories wherein people who are wholesome and good and filled with integrity win out in the end. This is one of those. Also, the staging was cool with a large turntable in the middle of the set, meant to symbolize movement between spaces and also the whirling and unpredictable alliances and dissolutions of well-to-do society. I like plays, as it turns out. I'm going to another one, called The Oldest Boy, soon. The same gal who directed Sense is taking on this one. It'll probably be just as good.

Audiobooks: I'm in the middle of The Boys in the Boat, narrated by the warm-voiced, and I choose to believe warm-hearted, Edward Herrmann. The story of a scrappy eight-man crew headed for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin is riveting all on its own, but I think it's made even more so by Herrmann's perfect narration. If you like underdog stories, true stories, sports stories, or just any old good story, you might want to consider this recording. I can already tell it's going to make my list of Favorite Listens of 2016.

Music: Although I've reviewed music at least once, I'm not good at it, and I don't have any music to review today.

Podcasts: I like all of the usuals, but the one I won't miss these days is The West Wing Weekly. Of course, I also watch the corresponding television episode each week - the one they're going to discuss. Last week's was the one where people are mean to Ainsley Hayes, and to make up for it, Sam, Toby, Josh, and CJ decorate her office with Gilbert and Sullivan posters. As the podcasters pointed out, there were a few problems with the episode, but I don't care. I love that moment when they sing the HMS Pinafore song. The lesson to me is this: sometimes things that aren't perfect still work.

Media Report: February 2016

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Please Stop Flipping Your Water Bottle

example of a water bottle, water bottle flipping

There's a fad right now that's driving me insane. Kids (and I guess some adults), enjoy filling water bottles to a certain level with liquid, flipping the bottles in the air, and hoping they land either on their bases or, extra excitingly, on their caps. 

Kids are doing it in the hallways, in the classrooms, on the sports fields and aboard their busses. They're doing it all, excuse me, the flipping time. They're doing it right here on my kitchen counter way more often that I would like. Which is ever. 

The fact that I hate the flipping does, I admit, make me feel old. Yes, I feel crotchety when I tell kids that I hate the sound they're making with their hobby. And that they're driving me generally crazy. And please, for the love of all that is good in the world, to stop flipping that stupid thing.

I might be experiencing a new nervous condition related to the water bottle flipping fad. I don't know what it's called. Maybe, Generational Misunderstanding Due to Plastic Bottle Flippage? Whatever it is, I need relief.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Annals of Elimination Dieting

quitting sugar, quitting caffeine, elimination diet, anxiety,

Can we just talk for one hot second about how I quit coffee last week? 

Yes. I did it. 

When I went to see my new doctor last Tuesday, she asked me how much coffee I drink. 

"I mean, all of it," I said.

The doctor laughed pretty heartily then, and I felt gratified that she thought I was funny.

I think she also thought it was just generally funny that I chose to drink a pot or two of coffee per day, while also complaining of anxiety and psoriasis.

When the doctor stopped laughing, she said, "You can't do that. You can't drink all the coffee." She wrote as much on my homework and said to wean off of it by cutting a quarter per day.

I did that last week, and now I haven't had any coffee since Saturday.  I do have a low grade-type headache, but otherwise, the symptoms aren't that bad. My energy is high, my mood is good, and I can drink green tea now. That has caffeine, but it doesn't cause the same digestive problem. There's something that happens to the coffee bean when its roasted, you see, which alters its chemistry or something and makes it tough to digest. Green tea, though, has caffeine to stem my headache and also a compound in it that actually acts like Xanax, but isn't habit forming.

My doctor told me all of that herself. I'm paraphrasing.

I also want to talk for a couple more seconds about how I quit sugar last week, but I hate to brag.

When Shef and Dan told me to "try harder" at tying skates.

The November 2015 Bragging Challenge.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Annals of Fall: Hanging in There

teaching, school, writing

Can you even believe it's the end of the first quarter? It's true. Grades are just about due, and conferences are on the horizon. Here's a list of random things that are on my mind:

At school this week, one poor little sixer called me "Mom." The children are mortified when this happens, but I think it's cute.

I've made a list of all of the things I have to grade this weekend. The list is long.

The piles of laundry that have to be folded are obvious to all, as is the stinkiness of the dog.

I'm going to submit 3000 edited words to my writing teacher by tomorrow. My writing group is getting another 1500-2000.

My new integrative medicine specialist told me that while 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise works for depression, if your problem is anxiety, you need 40 minutes of moderate exercise 4-5 times per week.

This morning I took the dog for a run around the lake. In addition to being stinky, he has a bit of a weight problem.

I plan to write an audiobook review of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead sometime today, before I go see Sense and Sensibility at the Guthrie Theater.

And, right now I'm getting into the Dead Sea salt bath with a side of stress-relieving meditation app. Before I start all of that other stuff.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Annals of Medicine: The Elimination

annals of medicine, psoriasis

The last time I had an Annals of Medicine, I talked about three people looking up my butt. Today, I'm going to tell you something different. 

It's great news! And mostly not at all like a bulbous, purple hemorrhoid that I showed to a room full of people. 

Here it is: I went to see a specialist in integrative medicine who will take a giant swing at my psoriasis with nutritional coaching and an investigation of my gut biome! Yaaay!

Here's what happened: First I had to give the doctor a comprehensive run-down of my odd and sundry medical history, including the Epic Face Infection of 2014.  

Remember that time my face blew up?! That was so weird and ugly.

Interestingly enough, my doctor thinks that exact infection may have had a lasting impact, in that it could have altered the balance of bacteria in my intestines. We won't know if the doctor's hypothesis is viable until she gets the results of my poop test back. For the poop test, I have to defecate into a tray. The tray is like the kind you get cheese curds in at the Fair. Then, I have to carefully divide the feces into a couple of vials with the included tongue depressor and mini spoons. There's a big reminder card in the box that says, "MORE IS NOT BETTER." Apparently, they lab only wants a certain amount of my poop. After I've followed all of the directions, I Fed Ex my feces to the lab in the biohazard bag. 

Obviously, I spent a lot of time laughing at the doctor's careful and extensive directions about poop sampling. 

The other data point the doctor needs is the results of a complete elimination diet. She thinks my problem might be something called leaky gut. One cause of that is food sensitivity. To check that next hypothesis, I can't eat any of my favorite foods for the next four weeks. While I wrote this, though, I had gluten-free oats with banana, apples, and some pumpkin pie spice on top. 

That's not a bad way to start an elimination diet, I don't think, except you'll notice there was no coffee.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Movie Review: The Girl on the Train

My friend Adriana got more than she bargained for when she accompanied me to The Girl on the Train on Friday night. We both liked the novel (it's on my list of top-five audiobooks of 2015), and although I was worried about it being too creepy/scary, I looked forward to seeing it.

Well, Adriana and I have hugged before, certainly, but on the occasion of our movie date, I spent the better part of 112 minutes hanging on her arm and/or burying my face in her shoulder. We were very, very close during this film. I'm not even sorry because I didn't have a choice.

It's not like I didn't know what was going to happen in this suspenseful flick. It's faithful to the blockbuster novel, with most scenes just as I recall them and in the order I expected. I kept hanging on her because the violent scenes I knew were coming are really brutal and disgusting. I guess violence in real life is also that way, so maybe the artistic choice makes sense. But, as a viewer, it felt gratuitous. At one point, in anticipation of a scene where I knew there'd be a gruesome death, I excused myself to the bathroom, only re-entering when I knew it'd be over.

The sex is nasty, too. I leaned over to Adriana and said, "There's a lot of f&*ed up sex in this movie." There totally is - explicit copulations enacted for all the wrong reasons. That happens in the book, but it pained me to watch.

All of the discomfort might have been worth it if the movie had something interesting to say.  
If it does, I didn't get it. The ending - meant to reassure me that things turned out okay for the main character - seemed heavy-handed and cheap. There is a series of shots that I think are the Three Muses, meant to represent the interconnectedness of the three main characters. I hate to say this, but that seemed kind of dumb.

Also not super great were the tight, tight close-ups of the three main characters' faces. In the book, they're all hopelessly unreliable as narrators. In the movie, it the uber close shots are saying, "Hey, Viewer! Word to the wise! You're not getting a larger picture!" It seemed too literal and distracting.

Of course, I'm glad to have seen The Girl on the Train. I'm not saying you shouldn't see it. But, I do like most movies and I was only "meh" on this one. Probably you shouldn't see it if haven't read the book, or if you read it and didn't like it. If that's your situation, I think you might hate this movie.