Monday, March 30, 2020

Quarantine Diaries #3

Starting this very day, there will be structure and order in our lives.

Well, that's my intention, but let's be honest: we'll probably end the day in a big pile of steaming failure.

But, wait!

Optimism, hope, and incremental progress!

Here's the plan: the children's online learning begins. For this first week, their learning is all asynchronous, but I've decided everyone will work from nine until noon. OR, they can work from ten until one. It's their choice. Either way, a snack break can occur at the 90-minute mark of the work period. If there is no work to be done, they can read or do Khan Academy or study for the ACTs, or, let's face it, they could just pretend to work, and I'd never know.

Dan said while making his latte, "I can't wait to see how today goes."

I said, "I notice you let me be the one to tell them about the routines."

Dan laughed in a guilty little way he does when he has, in fact, shifted responsibility in my direction. "Well, you're a teacher."

I raised an eyebrow. "You have to help enforce."

"I will!" Dan seemed sure about this, but I felt suspicious.

"You can't say, 'Your mother says.'"

He promises he won't. I'll report back. Optimism, hope, and incremental progress. Eye roll.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Quarantine Diaries #2: Status Report

My stomach: It's slightly on the upset side, I think because I've been eating too much dairy. Dairy doesn't, in general, agree with me; and many times in my life, I've cut it out altogether.

But quarantine doesn't seem like the time for restriction, and in fact, I've met social isolation with cheddar and mozzarella and marble jack. I don't regret it one bit except for the stomachache.

Media: I've been reading some, but I'd like to read more.

Meanwhile, I've been watching some excellent television. Dan and I are three episodes from the finale of The Americans. We're highly invested. Please don't tell us any spoilers for that show. The writers are brilliant and they hit almost every required note from a storytelling standpoint. I can't wait to see how they draw it to a close. Further, my friend Nicole introduced me to American Vandal on Netflix. She and I watched the first episode using Netflix Party where you watch the show and have a sidebar chat (Quarantine Fun!), and I laughed so hard that I made Shef come down and I rewatched it with him. He also laughed.

Apparently, I only want to watch shows with America in the title. Because, patriotism?

Book Work: I'm in revisions. I'm getting there. Someday, people will get to read my second book, and that someday will be next spring.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Quarantine Diaries #1

I haven't written here in a while. Did you know I've been blogging once a week over at The Debutante Ball?

That's all fine and good, but it's not the same as writing here as I have for the last sixteen years. Maybe now's the time, since I can't leave my house really. And none of us can.

The times are strange and scary. Here's what I haven't been doing:

  • Brushing my hair.
  • Wearing tops other than sweatshirts.
  • Curling my eyelashes or applying mascara.
  • Cleaning the basement.
  • Cutting back on carbs.
  • Culling the Beanie Baby collection.
Here's what I have been doing:
  • Working on my second book. The revisions are due April 13th, and I'll be done before that. As part of this process, I've been thinking about mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, junior high, graffiti, adoption, SnapChat, therapy, and interior design. I've been thinking about these topics among other things, like repeating images and clever connections between storylines.
  • Cooking and supervising food preparation. Constantly. All day, basically, someone wants to eat.
  • Running.
  • Playing cards.
  • Counting coins.
  • Petting the dog. 
  • Walking the dog.
  • Speaking to the dog as if he's my best friend.
  • Preparing for the new dog. Yes, we're getting a new dog, a helper sibling for Teddy. It was supposed to be in May, but since we're all here on lockdown, we're getting her on Monday, which is my birthday. The cuteness is going to be on overload, and I'll probably write about it right here. Of course, there's always the possibility that I'll regret the puppy, but probably not. I hope there's not the possibility that I won't write about it, but I haven't exactly been consistent, and I don't feel like promising I'll try harder.
But I might. There's always hope.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Gratitude #2: The New Car

You might know I've driven a minivan for going on 10 years now. Because I like to copy everything Lee does, I started calling it the miniature van. This gave the vehicle an aura of importance, if you will, despite its many dings and scratches.

You almost could just overlook the dents on all four corners, which I incurred when I ran into various things. It's hard, as it turns out, to drive without hitting stuff.

But, I'll tell you what: I won't be hitting anything in my new-to-me car.

It's sporty. It's sleek. It's life-changing, zippy, and mind-blowing. I love it so much I've been dancing around in celebration of this marvelous piece of machinery.

I mean, the seats warm up, and the interior is black leather. I'm a new woman with a new, non-minivan identity. Next phase, baby!

When I picked up Mac in the carpool line the other day, he didn't look as thrilled as I felt to be in the new car.

"How was your day?" I asked.

"I almost got into five different white Audis," he said, shaking his head.

Apparently, a lot of the middle school moms are also in their next phase and also feeling as cool as I do.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Gratitude #1: A Memoir by an American Champion

Some of my friends are writing about gratitude this month. I'm also grateful, and I'd like to write about it.

Right this moment, I'm grateful for a book I recently read entitled, Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking Your Way to Victory by Deena Kastor. Kastor is the American Record holder in the marathon, so that's pretty cool right off the bat.

But, the thing I'm grateful for right this moment is this little approach she describes in the book about optimism and positive thinking. Here's a summary:

Everyone has negative thoughts sometimes. It doesn't do much good to fight against these. They're going to occur to you. The important thing is to hurry them along. Deena says, "Find a thought that serves you better."

Here's what she means: When you have a negative thought about something that you dread or that isn't going super well, acknowledge that thought, but then replace it with something that's going to help you move forward.

Here's an example negative thought that might occur to me when I'm running: "This pace is too fast. I don't know if I can hold it."
Here's the thought that might serve me better: "Take it one step at a time."

And here's a negative thought that might occur to me while I'm writing: "Wow, this chapter really sucks and makes zero sense."
And here's the thought that might serve me better: "Just write the bad stuff. It'll be so much easier to fix it later."

The bottom line here is, try to transform your thinking with gratitude and optimism. I in. Why not?

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Favorite Fiction 2019

Here it is! My final list of 2019! Most of my reading has been in the fiction category. I read 35 adult novels and 11 written for kids and teens. A reminder: I only finish books I like and admire, so all of those 46 were good! You can see all the books I read this year on Goodreads (and while you're there, you can mark MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES, out 2/4/20, as "Want to Read." That helps me.) 

And, here are my favorite five novels in alphabetical order by author.

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
Annabelle is a high school senior dealing with trauma. We don't know what exactly happened to her, but it has to be bad because one minute, she's out to dinner with her family, and the next, she just starts running. She's a long-distance runner, so she knows how to do it; but this is different. She decides to run across the country from Seattle to D.C. It's crazy and foolhardy and unbelievably difficult, but she just. has. to. do. it.
And as she logs the miles and faces her guilt and fear and heartache, slowly things start to change for her. I listened to the end of this one while running, and while it was challenging to put one foot in front of the other while simultaneously sobbing, my heart was so, so full. This went straight to my all-time favorites list along with other 2019 reads Good Talk by Mira Jacob, and All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung from the nonfiction list

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
The narrator is a tennis pro in a fancy gated community. His wife is a real estate broker. They've got two kids and bills and regular married-people problems, like what to do to keep the spark alive. What sets them apart is their solution to the spark problem: they kill people. They're a murdering duo. The bodies--and the secrets between them--keep piling up. I recommend starting this in the broad daylight for the creepiness factor. Then, don't imagine you'll do much of anything else until you're finished. And, I can't resist adding that the ending to this one is just so perfect. I'm still shivering thinking about it.

Circe by Madeline Miller
I loved this remarkable novel of Circe, the witch whose story famously intersects with Odysseus' on his ten-year journey home from Troy. I find Miller's prose to be beautiful and hypnotic, the phrasing echoing both Circe's eternity and her expanding desire for the finite. I probably found special pleasure in this novel because I read the Odyssey with sophomores for five years straight, but I do think this beautiful and satisfying literary novel has broad appeal.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata 
I included this one in my audiobook list, too, so I'll keep this short: I just really love it when a book is both completely readable and enjoyable, and at the same time packs a big emotional, ethical, or existential punch. This book is exactly like that. Read it and tell me what you think!

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
a 70s rock band (a la Fleetwood Mac) abruptly breaks up and quits their tour at the very pinnacle of their success. No one knows why...until now.
I had this novel on my shelf for a couple of months before I got to it. Once I started, I fell for it hard, finishing in a day or two. (This is a hazard with Reid's works, I've found. The plots are so immersive and the characters so compelling that I sometimes find myself reading more and more quickly just to make sure everything turns out okay.) In Daisy, Reid blows up traditional novel form. The whole story is told in transcript, as if it's a VH1 Behind-the-Music style documentary. Somehow, she gives us a full, throbbing story in monologue only--no descriptions of setting or inner thinking beyond how seven band members and their significant others, producers, photographers, and managers describe seminal (sometimes catastrophic) events. I loved it. It's light, and it's brilliant, and I couldn't put it down.
And that's it! What a great year of reading. 2020 is going to be an exciting one for reading! Do you have my debut, MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES on your list?! I'm so excited to share it with readers, and at the same time, I promise to keep talking about the many other books I read and love! There are so many.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Favorite Nonfiction 2019

I've already recapped my favorite audiobooks of the year, and today I'm telling you about my favorite nonfiction. It was a great year for memoir reading, and all five of my picks fall in that genre. I'm also including two repeats from the audiobook list because I can't help it. I thought about just listing three here because I only read eleven works of nonfiction this year; but all five of these are utterly stellar, so I feel justified.

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
I loved this so much that when I finished it, I actually went to the author's website and typed out a fan letter. Usually, I just write a tweet and call it a day, but my admiration for this book overwhelmed me. Chung writes such beautiful sentences and layers such depth of emotion, the effect is sort of translucent. You see straight through to the hard truths and the big themes, and still, each line is lovely in itself. This is a memoir about adoption, reunion, race, identity, and sisters. 

Good Talk by Mira Jacob
This work is frankly magical. Jacob writes and draws and collages the conversations that force her to question and clarify her identities. She begins and returns to exchanges with her six-year-old, based on his hilarious and also heart-wrenching queries: "Was Michael Jackson brown or white?" "Are white people afraid of brown people?" "Is Daddy afraid of us?" As a reader, you also question and clarify your identities. AND I thought about culture, race, complicity, family, honesty, and love. I also cried a little while I remembered the nights when Obama and Trump were elected. 

Heavy by Kiese Laymon
I picked this as a favorite audiobook this year. I'll just add today that this book is like a long poem, which Laymon addresses to his mother. Threads and refrains run through the whole painful and redemptive work. I'll also repeat that I think you should read this book, especially if you're white and you care about dismantling white supremacy and systemic racism.

Becoming by Michelle Obama
I wrote about Obama's book in the audiobooks post. I'll just add here that I especially loved the segments about this book about being a working mother. And then, I loved the stories Obama told to augment the book during her live interview in St. Paul, which I attended last spring. Among my favorites: Barack asking Malia, then 8 years old, whether it was okay with her that he run for president and subsequently using her permission as justification for their crazy life, and the story about Joe Biden being an aggressive youth basketball fan when his granddaughter and Sasha played on the same team that Barack coached.

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott
This is an utterly delightful essay collection about everyday mid-life -- the horrendous drop-off/pick-up circuit, the awkward interactions with the neighbors, the accidental overinvestment in the PTA, and also the feelings of loneliness, purposelessness, and guilt. Philpott perfectly describes the all-too-familiar panic attached to the pace at which I do or do not acquire gold stars. Gold star to HER, though, for this charming and honest memoir.