Robinson Crusoe

The fourth book on mine and Stephanie’s Book List O’ Doom (yes, I’m writing about them all out of order, apologies to the reader) was Robinson Crusoe. This was one of those books about which I felt I knew a fair amount going in (though, in retrospect I was conflating it a bit with The Swiss Family Robinson), and I was mostly right!

The basic plot, as I understood it, was as follows:

  1. Man (presumably named Robinson), gets shipwrecked
  2. Man lives on an island for a while (treehouse? y/n?)
  3. Man is eventually rescued and/or is not rescued, but his journals/letters are discovered by some other intrepid explorer.

I was (spoilers!) pretty much correct in all of this, though there’s a bit more to the story than that, but the thing that surprised me the most when I did actually read it was the sheer amount of time covered in the novel. I had thought we meet our main character, he’s shipwrecked for five, maybe ten years, and then rescued. The end. How very wrong I was!

We meet our good friend Robinson when he’s roughly 18, and defying his father to go and seek his fortune, like you do. He’s shipwrecked almost immediately in the process of going from one bit of England to another bit of it, and laments the fact that he ever got on a boat again. Obviously he does get on a boat again, several times in fact. The second time he rejects his foreboding instincts and goes to sea his ship is captured by pirates, and he’s made a slave in what must be somewhere roughly like Morocco. He lives there for a couple years, then escapes with a slave boy and makes his way eventually to Brazil, where he becomes a pretty well-off planter.

At this point we’re probably at least a quarter of the way into the book, and probably ten years have passed, and he still hasn’t had his (most important) shipwreck! This made me think of a conversation I’d had recently with another friend about the length of Bollywood movies. Bollywood movies, said she, don’t do exposition. What would be done in American cinema with a flashback or voice-over narration in a couple of minutes is fully shown in Bollywood. You don’t begin in the middle, as it were; instead you start really at the beginning, and proceed forward from there. I’m starting to think that our literature has done a similar thing, and where modern stories start in the thick of, or even after the plot, older ones begin at the beginning, and tell you everything from there onward.

Anyway, back to our friend Robinson. Finally he and the other planters decide that he should go to Africa, since he’s been there before, and bring back some slaves for the plantations, at which point he does, and thus becomes the only survivor of a shipwreck on an uninhabited island, where he then survives for nearly thirty years.

I did actually rather enjoy Robinson Crusoe. It’s a bit long-winded, but the story itself is quite interesting. The casual racism which keeps coming up in the books we’ve been reading from this time period is pretty horrifying (in spite of having been a slave himself, Crusoe thinks nothing of going to Africa to fetch back some “savage natives” as slaves for his plantation), both toward Africans and toward the indigenous tribes of the Americas. Interestingly, though, Crusoe makes a rather offhand comment about how appalling everyone in Europe finds the way the Spanish have handled colonization, which really surprised me. As an American, though we are now beginning to be taught the dark sides of Columbus’ arrival and the subsequent influx of Europeans to the New World, the idea that anyone at the time thought that there was anything bad about it is not one we’re exposed to. Apparently, though, plenty of Europe thought it was disgraceful the way Spain carried on, because this is also mentioned in Frankenstein (next review!), which I find fascinating.

There is the rather boring and seemingly-obligatory-in-writings-of-the-time middle bit where Crusoe finds religion, and waxes rapturous about God’s saving him from the shipwreck, and preserving him on an island, but it’s not too bad. The accounts of how he salvages much of the ship, and how he then proceeds to survive for nearly thirty years are completely riveting, and also reveal many differences between modern and historical ways of being. For example: with regard to food, Crusoe’s first order of business is to hunt and kill goats and tortoises native to the island. He only accidentally plants corn, and does eventually intentionally plant some grapes so he can have raisins, but these things take him several years. If I were on a deserted island, I would immediately begin looking for plants I could raise, not animals I could kill (though I would no doubt eat some of those, I wouldn’t necessarily consider them a sustainable food source). I’m sure this reflects both my midwestern upbringing, but also changes in diet between then (he seems to mostly live on meat and porridge) and now (I’m mostly vegetarian).

In any case, I’d recommend Robinson Crusoe for reading- it’s a little long, and there is definitely both the occasional pang to modern sensibilities and also the occasional long and boring bit, but overall it’s really quite interesting.

Wuthering Heights

So, Wuthering Heights has been the most recent book on mine and Stephanie’s Book List O’ Doom, and it’s only the second one I had been actually excited to read, as opposed to indifferent (Robinson Crusoe, Frankenstein, Paradise Lost) or dreading (Pilgrim’s Progress). I read Jane Eyre a million years ago and really loved it, and since Wuthering Heights is written by a Bronte sister about similar-ish material in the same era, I figured I’d probably enjoy it.

Sadly, not so much.

I certainly didn’t hate it; I gave it three stars on Goodreads (though I’d’ve rounded down to 2.5 if they’d’ve let me). The setting is in fact my favorite part; the moors, the crags, the windy hills and blooming gardens. The writing is that sort of period lovely prose that is beautiful if you’re into that sort of thing (I usually am), and tedious if you’re not. The plot itself is mostly interesting, though slow, as it follows two (kind of three) generations, and it definitely trends toward the melodramatic.

Spoilers ahead!

One thing that definitely made me struggle in the beginning was simply keeping the characters straight: Wikipedia has a helpful chart to sort them out for you. The story is told by one Ellen (Nelly) Dean, a housekeeper to both households alike in dignity, in fair Gimmerton, where we lay our scene (whoops, wrong book). We find out that she’s grown up as basically the foster sibling of Hindley Earnshaw, who has a notably younger sister Catherine Earnshaw, and ends up with a foster brother known only as Heathcliff.

The Earnshaws have some neighbors, the Lintons, who are much nicer than the rather awful Earnshaws, but whom are also pretty much totally hapless. But Catherine Earnshaw becomes Catherine Linton, and then has a daughter Catherine Linton, who marries her cousin Linton Heathcliff, and after his death, marries her other cousin Hareton Earnshaw to reverse her mother’s trip and move from being Catherine Linton to being Catherine Earnshaw, and… you get the picture.

This is the third book in a row to use some sort of “told later/by another person” device, and I find that interesting; we almost never do that these days, rather, we tell the action almost as it happens, sometimes even in present tense or first person. Wuthering Heights, though, is told by Nelly Dean to a visitor who happens to encounter the Earnshaws and Lintons in a series of incredibly long gossip sessions. Having a servant tell the story of course gives the narrator more omniscient abilities than would otherwise be the case, and works fine as a narrative device, but I’ll admit that Nelly Dean’s extreme lack of subtlety in her preferences to the characters took some getting used to.

I also feel that this book must have had a lot more punch when it was written. I really kept feeling that there was a lot going on with regard to English class politics and expected behaviors that was just wasted on me as a largely lower-class American. I’ve run into this before, and not just with British literature; there’s a certain type of fascination with the upper classes (or if you’re an American, celebrities) that I’ve just never quite grasped, and I think it means that there are some stories where I’m supposed to care more about people, or think better of them, because they’re either rich and/or famous (see also: Gatsby), and I really don’t, which pulls the emotional punch of the work a bit.

In any case, the real kicker for this book was that all of the characters are spineless at best, and actively horrible people at worst. It was hard for me to ever muster up enough sympathy to care what happened to them, even if I did stay interested in the plot, and that made it a less entertaining read than it might otherwise have been.

Up next: Vanity Fair!

Pilgrim’s Progress

Since I know there are those of you out there waiting with bated breath for the latest news on Stephanie’s and my ongoing Book Project of Doom, I figured I’d better give an update:

Pilgrim’s Progress puts me to sleep.

I know, isn’t this just riveting? This project is absolutely spellbinding in its fast-paced action and non-stop plot twists! You can all be forgiven for wishing you were us, and living vicariously through our narrative exploits.

Really, though- Pilgrim’s Progress, written in the late 1600’s by John Bunyan, who really needed to make it very, very clear to all and sundry how to be a Good Protestant, wrote a rather long story about this guy (named Christian, because Bunyan’s subtle like that) who goes on a journey to the Celestial City. He meets various characters along the way who try to dissuade/distract/deceive him, but eventually he makes his way successfully (I assume, I keep falling asleep, so I haven’t made it yet) to Heaven.

You know that one great uncle you have who tells what he thinks are interesting stories, but watching his dentures flap and placing mental bets on how long it will take for the upper set to finally drop loose is actually more interesting than his narrative? Imagine him reading a Sunday School curriculum book to you. Now, stay awake. Yeah…

I mean, it’s not bad, per se, or I don’t think so. It’s not particularly good, either, but it’s your basic morality story; no more, no less. Stephanie actually quite dislikes it, which surprised me a bit- she says the theology makes her angry, which is certainly understandable for liberal folk such as ourselves. It’s close enough to what I grew up with that that I don’t even notice- for me it’s just yada yada lake of burning fire, Beelzebub, meh. I’m immune to the bad theology when it’s not delivered by a person to me directly, I guess.

Anyway, we persevere. Meanwhile, if you’re having trouble nodding off at night, I have a suggestion for you…

Shame and the Creative Arts

I’ve never been good about talking about what I do creatively.

I have a radio show, but do I publicize it? No, not really. Why would anyone want to know about it? It’s just a little thing I do online, it’s not a big deal. I do photography, sometimes. Do I talk about it? Well, the projects that I do with other people, those do generally make it on to Facebook, at least. The rest of it? Not so much. I don’t want to clutter up people’s feeds. I like to write. I write kind of a lot. Do I ever share it? Well, not really. I’m trying to learn how to, but I’m not very good at it.

Why?

Well, it’s a good question. Part of it is just privacy- creating a thing is a very personal act, and I’ve never developed thick enough skin to deal with sharing it very widely, I guess. It feels like putting my heart on my sleeve, to share something I’ve made with someone else- it’s intimate in a way I’m not very comfortable with. I also don’t have a particularly strong ego in relation to my creative endeavors, so it’s very easy for me to just assume that everyone will hate what I’ve done, because, well, it’s obviously not very good, is it?

This leads into the shame bit, though- for some reason, (and I’m not sure if this is cultural, or familial, or because I’m socialized as a woman, or some delightfully toxic combination of all of the above) I have a really deep-seated embarrassment about showing anyone anything I’m passionate about creating, even about admitting that I create anything, really. It feels like something Unseemly, like  Something We Don’t Do. Is it as simple as trying to have a stiff upper lip? Did I just really internalize that it is Impolite to be passionate about making things? Would I feel less this way if I didn’t have a solid case of Impostor Syndrome? Or if I had majored in music, would I still be literally shaking with nerves every time I sang alone in front of people? I don’t know. I can’t pull it all apart to tell you.

A very wise friend of mine told me recently, “This is not high school, where the most aloof wins.” She’s right, of course, but it sure bears repeating.

The reason this comes up is that, over the weekend, I finally made a Patreon account, because I really do want to get to the point where I’m able to make a living by being A Creative Person. I have no idea if this is even feasible, because heaven knows frustrated artists/writers/musicians are a dime a dozen, and the odds dictate that I will fail along with at least 90% of them. But… I’m tired of saying I want something, and then not trying, so now I’m trying.

I initially wasn’t going to post it on any social media, because sheesh, I sure wouldn’t want my friends or family to know. How embarrassing! Ugh! But then I said that to my husband, who very reasonably pointed out that, if I don’t mention it anywhere, no one will know, and then even strangers can’t give me money. So, I compromised- ok, I said, I’ll put it on tumblr. There are only maybe three or four people I know in real life who follow me there, so it’s fine, they can just reblog it, and then people I don’t know will see it, and that’s all I really want. I’m fine with taking strangers’ money; it’s not my concern if they want to throw it away! (I’m pretty sure he rolled his eyes, but he’s nice, and didn’t point out that marketing yourself is a pretty big part of being a Successful Creative Person.)

Then, today, I got a notification that I had my first patron, and that it was a co-worker.

Oh. God. This was NOT what I was going for! Strangers, I want to take money from strangers, not from people I know! They might feel obligated to support me even if I suck! What if I let them down! What if I’m just a charity case! What if they start to resent me because I’m depriving them of the cost of two lattes, and only posted one short story in six weeks?!

It was all too many feelings. In a move I’m not proud of, I sat down on my couch, pulled my shirt over my face like a two-year-old, and cried .

The culprit, as it turns out, was social media- a very dear friend, one of those who does follow me on tumblr, had posted my link to Facebook, because he is a wonderful and generous person, and is totally rooting for me to succeed. Several co-workers had seen it, several more had re-posted it, and the response was universally kind and supportive, because I am actually friends with really terrific people.

How is it that such an truly lovely thing could get me so discomfited? Well, the simplest answer is, “because I don’t think I deserve it”. But one of the things we’re supposed to learn as adults is to graciously take what people want to give us. It doesn’t matter that I don’t really believe that my work is worth the price of two lattes; it matters that my two friends do, and that they have decided for themselves, for whatever reason, to encourage me. It’s my job to gracefully accept, without apologizing or cringing, and then do that thing which they are supporting me to do.

So, fine. My bluff has been called on account of social media, and I must rise to the occasion and be the Successful Creative Person I’m publicly claiming I want to be.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m supposed to be writing a thing.

Don Quixote, Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha

So, as you may (or likely may not) remember, back at the beginning of September, my dear friend and partner in over-ambition, Stephanie Whiteside, and I started a new project, specifically one where we were going to read All The Books.

Well, it’s been a month, and I am here to report that I am behind. Woefully, horribly, not-at-all-surprisingly behind.

I knew, admittedly, that this would happen- there are a lot of places in my life where I’m very good about deadlines and time tables and so forth (ok, mainly work, but that’s a big piece of my life), but they are definitely much more of a struggle for me on personal projects. This is part of why I’m so inclined to work on things with other people; if I’m left to my own devices, I will start everything and finish nothing. Working with someone else at least gives me the threat of their disappointment if I drop the ball, which helps. In this case, though, I think it’s more than just simple deadline-aversion, and I’m going to have to figure out how to deal with it if I’m going to stand any chance of getting through this project.

A big piece of the problem is definitely that I’m out of the habit of reading books. Now, if you know me, this sounds ludicrous- I started reading right about my third birthday and haven’t stopped since. And that’s still true- I read all the time: in the morning when I commute, on breaks at work, at lunch, as I go home, when I lie in bed at night. I consume probably hundreds of thousands of words a day, not counting all the words I get paid to read at my job.

But the key here is that I’m out of practice reading books. Most of what I read is in short form; stories, articles, blogs, posts, blurbs- you name it. Some of that is just out of sheer convenience- when you’re squeezed into BART for 20 mins, it’s much easier to read an article someone tweeted on your phone than it is to open up a 600 page book and try not to elbow your neighbors. Another part of it is after-effects of grad school (you’d think I’d have gotten over this by now, but apparently not), wherein I got so tired of reading vast, dense tomes that I slipped into reading nothing more complex than tabloids and cereal boxes.

What this means, though, is that I no longer really have the attention span for longer-building works, novels in particular, which is an interesting thing to realize about myself, given how I used to tear through trilogies in a weekend. Functionally, this means that I’m going to have to re-learn how to get invested a story and characters and a narrative arc if I want to even have a chance of completing this project.

Fortunately for me, Don Quixote is actually a pretty good book to re-train myself on. It’s engaging without being heavily moralistic or overtly philosophical; it’s quite funny, with a lovable protagonist; and best of all, it has short chapters, hah! I did read the intros, or most of them: the translator’s note was fascinating, and as someone who dabbles in languages myself, I found it really compelling, which made me more excited to read the book. The second forward was a self-congratulatory academic wank-fest, so I nope’d out of it after about three pages. (My tolerance for people patting themselves on the back for how many obscure references they can throw out like in-jokes is so, so low, you guys.)

In any case, we persevere. If you’re playing along at home, this is the version of Don Quixote we’re using. How are you liking it?

DIY Lit Camp

So, because I needed another project, my usual partner-in-harebrainedness Stephanie Whiteside and I decided that we are going to read our way through the classics.

Well. Some of them, anyway. 102 of them, to be exact.

It happened something like this:

“Man, I wish the crappy public school I went to had even attempted to teach literature. I end up in these situations where everyone’s talking about some Classic Work of English Literary Canon, and I have to just nod along like I know what the hell they’re referencing.”

“Me too! I know they tried to make us read some, but I didn’t bother because I was a teenager, and could bullshit it well enough to get an A w/out reading the book.”

In unison: “OMG WE SHOULD READ ALL THE THINGS!”*

And then, there was a five year plan and a spreadsheet that lists page counts, because that’s how we roll.

Our list is an overview, pulled from several of those “100 books everyone should have read” lists; we did edit it to include more women and minorities, because wow, is all our “classic” literature written by dead white guys, and we also limited it to one book per author, with maybe one or two exceptions. We also carried it up through the year 2000, so probably some of these are not yet being taught in schools, but they probably are in college classrooms, so that seemed ok. We also eliminated books both of us had already read (Gatsby, for example), and we each have a personal list of a couple titles that we can substitute if needed. (Stephanie feels like she needs to read Catcher in the Rye because it is heavily referenced in our culture, but if I have to read it again I will probably light it on fire, so I will be subbing in something she’s read, but I have not.)

You can view our entire list on her little write-up here; we’ll each be blogging sporadically about the books we’re reading, so you’re welcome to play along at home.

Happy reading!

*I’m not sure who started the convo this time; it’s one we’ve had before. But it’s a pretty accurate paraphrase.

Oh God, Our Help In Ages Past

Where the fuck have you been lately? Because I am seeing some shit, and I would sure as hell appreciate Your hand coming down, and administering some swift and well-aimed justice.

Here’s the thing- I’m white. I’m also a woman, so I’m always going to come in at least second in the world, and I grew up working class, so even though I pass for a well-educated middle-classer now, I’m always going to have a chip on my shoulder whenever someone bashes unions, or assumes access to health care and education. But.

But, because I am white, I could read the news about Mike Brown and Darren Wilson on twitter while I commuted home from my white-collar tech-job. Because I am white, I can be angry and heartsick and furious and rail against the corrupt police forces throughout the country, and in my own Bay Area, and never once fear whether I’m likely to be shot on sight. I’m fucking blonde, I’m about as safe as you can get. Because I am white, any child I have, even if I were to have one with the darkest man I could find, would already be born more privileged than the vast majority of its peers. If my also-white husband and I have a son, the world will be his oyster, and I will worry not at all about him being shot, unarmed, in the streets where I grew up.

This is bullshit.

Our country has never been fair, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool or a liar, but we have reached a point of sickness unto the proverbial death. Sure, things have been worse in this country, absolutely they have. The difference, though, is that we weren’t lying to ourselves about it. We weren’t selling our souls in Black Friday lines to buy goods from stores that cost our government millions of dollars a year in food stamps and welfare checks because they refuse to pay their employees a living wage. We weren’t shouting to each other that available basic healthcare was a scheme cooked up by a liberal government to bleed the hard-working white man dry. We weren’t telling ourselves that our consumption and production and waste wasn’t killing the very planet we live on. We weren’t discussing whether the mental health medications a mass shooter was on might justify his sexist murder spree.

We weren’t pretending, when an unarmed black child was shot and left to lie in the street for hours, that it was somehow just a tragic accident.

What on earth does it say about our country that have come to the point that we look back and declare “well, at least old-school racists weren’t hypocrites about it”?

I keep seeing calls for peace, for calm, for understanding. And I agree, indiscriminate violence is no solution. And yet, I remember what my priest said just last week; non-violent protests only work when the powers you’re protesting are not willing to just kill everyone.

What does it profit us to stay quiet, to stay in our homes, to light candles and post tweets? Will it make the authorities, the patriarchy, the privileged elite any more likely to hear us, to listen?

Violence begets violence, and hurt leads to hurt, no doubt. But what do you say to someone who is already hurting, who hurts every day of their lives? Don’t hurt the ones causing you pain, in case they make the pain worse? What does that do, other than reward the pain-causers in power?

Because I am white, I can be angry without fear of repercussion, and so I will be. While I condemn violence against the innocent (and it is too often they who end up in the crossfire), I also believe in the power and necessity of righteous anger to bring about change. If you are living in our world right now, and you are not angry, you are asleep or deluded. It is time to wake the fuck up. Be the change you want to see. Lead by doing. Walk the walk. Insert the inspirational metaphor of your choice here, but for the love of all that is holy, throw off the blindfolds, and see the truth of what our nation, our world, has become.

Those of us with the majority of the privilege have the responsibility to do the majority of the work in creating change. It’s better to start late than never.

Things I Wish I’d Been Told About Being An Adult Before I Became One

Lots of people dread growing up. Becoming an “adult”, however you may want to define that term. Even if it doesn’t go so far as to be a true Peter Pan complex, it’s something that many people view with a sort of dread, an impending inevitability that will erase their “true” selves and remake them into boring fat zombies, who shuffle listlessly from soul-crushing job to impoverishing mortgage to exhausted parent to silent grave.

I was never that way. Being an adult meant being in power, and I wanted that more than anything. Children don’t get listened to, don’t get taken seriously, and don’t get a say in their own lives, for the most part. Even if you have good parents, who do actually respect you as an individual, with feelings and opinions separate from their own (most of mine were, and did), you’re still systematically corralled and subjected to an endless array of “should” and “must” and “for kids”. Which I’m not necessarily saying is all bad- we should not put a 9 year old in the Oval Office, I agree- but what I am saying is that to me, growing up always represented the freedom of getting a say in my own life, and I waited for it eagerly. If I had to deal with bills and insurance in exchange for that freedom? Oh, well. Still worth it.

And, as a 30 year old, I stand by that. I wouldn’t trade being an adult for being a kid again even on my worst day. I call the shots, and that’s worth more to me than any coddling or lack of responsibility. However,  there are definitely a few things that I wish had been made more clear to me when I was younger. I feel like we see lists of these sometimes; things like “I wish I’d known I’d have to set my own bedtime!” or “I wish I’d known how to budget!” or whatever. Those are not what I’m talking about- I knew those things. (Whether or not I did them is a different question, but I certainly knew about them.)

So, I’ve made my own list.

Things I Wish I’d Been Told About Being An Adult Before I Became One

1) War is a thing you just have to adjust to

9/11 happened just over a week after I turned 18, and we’ve been at war ever since, ie: my whole adult life. I have not been personally affected by it in the ways that some folks have- my father-in-law has been deployed a couple of times, but he’s always come back. I have not had to send a sibling or spouse or close friend off, only to lose them. But there is an exhaustion that comes with hearing, endlessly, about the latest bombing raids, or terrorist attacks, or incursions, or fatalities. After nearly 13 years of distant but endless violence, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be an adult in peacetime.

And this is not just my generation- I guess Gen X mostly got away with not much war until they were older, but the Boomers had Vietnam and the horror which that mess engendered. The Greatest Generation of course had WWII, and the generation before them had WWI. It seems like, for Americans, war is an accepted part of adulthood, but it’s not talked about or acknowledged as a thing that will affect you. I suppose ours have dragged on longer than previous generations, but I feel that’s balanced by the lack of immediate impact (for most). But still- a little warning that you will always be part of a nation at war, and it’s likely to stress you out, would have been nice.

2) Deciding when to put a pet to sleep is a really hard and painful decision

As a kid, I’d had pets die, and it was no picnic. It’s sad, and you miss them, but with most of them, you know that you gave them a good life, and they’ve lived a decently long time, and it’s time for them to go. If they have to be put to sleep, usually it’s a parent’s decision, and you are spared the agonizing over whether it’s time or not.

But when you’re in charge, this falls to you. Deciding when our little handicapped kitty was no longer living a quality of life that was worth living was heartbreaking and difficult. He’d been handicapped all of his little life, so he didn’t really seem to notice it in the way that older animals who are declining can be aware that they’re no longer able to do things they used to. He didn’t seem to be in much (if any pain). He was a sweet, loving, happy, enthusiastic cat, who just slowly got less and less able to walk and see.

How do you know when it’s not enough that he can be held and petted and purr? He could still eat and drink. He could still use the litter box, with assistance. How do you not blame yourself, when, if you didn’t have to be away from the house 11 hours a day, you could have cared for him longer, let him live another few months? What gives you the right to decide to inject his little body with poison that will stop his heart and breath? It’s been a year, and I still don’t know. I don’t know that I could have made the decision any differently, but it still haunts me that I might have done it wrong.

(I’m sure this is about a million times worse when it becomes your parents, which, thank heaven I’m not there yet. But I’m aware it exists, waiting for me.)

3) Bad things will happen to you

When you’re a kid, if you’re lucky, there aren’t a lot of the large sort of Life Events. Your grandparents might die, and maybe you have to move, or maybe your parents separate. None of those are fun, to be sure. But they also happen more around you- you’re not the decision maker, you’re not the funeral planner, you’re not the one trying to figure out whether accepting the new job two states over is worth uprooting your whole family. And for some of us, childhood is truly uneventful- the worst happenings are school drama, or teenaged fights with your family.

When you’re an adult, the law of averages catches up with you. You’ll be in a car accident, or your partner will. Your parents will die. Maybe your siblings. You’ll get fired, or laid off. When your house is robbed, you’ll be the one calling the police and the insurance company, and trying to get your landlord to fix the broken door. When your car is backed into by some asshole who can’t parallel park, you’re the one coughing up the $500 deductible to get the door replaced.

I think we are often good about talking about the daily grind of adulthood, the bills you’ll have to pay, and the job you’ll have to go to. But we don’t talk about “how to take your friend to the hospital when she’s having a miscarriage”, or “keep an inventory of your possessions so you can have them valued when they’re stolen”. There are too many things that could go wrong, too many things that are big and unknowable, and we just don’t even want to think about it.

4) People close to you will make bad decisions

Say you’re doing pretty well at this whole adulthood thing. You got a job, you pay your rent, you stay in touch with your family. You make sure you’re insured, and you might even get promoted. That’s great! Good for you! …but you know who’s not doing that? Your best friend. Yeah, him. He’s couch surfing and can’t keep a job longer than a couple months. He’s also completely in denial, or maybe doesn’t care, because he’s not ready to grow up, he’s too young for that adult bullshit! And remember your roommate you were so close to all through college? Yeah, she’s a single mother now on WIC, and she smokes a pack a day, and pregnant again with a kid whose father is unknown.

Watching people you care about make terrible decisions is not really something that comes up as a kid, unless you  have parents or significantly older siblings who are fucking things up. And even then, it’s not your age-mates. But when you’re an adult, it’s inevitable. Someone you love, whose well-being is a concern for you, is going to do a bad job of handling their shit.

What can you do? Well, not much. You can try to be supportive. You can try to help them see where they’re running into problems. You can maybe use your own connections and resources to help them get a leg up. But the unfortunate truth is that most people don’t actually want help, and if they do, and they accept it, they’re still not very likely to change. Mostly, you’ll end up either watching them spiral down or continue in their unhappy life, or you’ll distance yourself and lose the friendship to preserve your own heart and head.
5) The people in charge who are doing shitty things are your peers

The thing about being a kid is that you’re not really in charge of much, so there’s not a lot you can fuck up. Some kids manage it, obviously, but it’s not common. But at some point, your generation grows up, and gets put in charge of things. Remember that asshole in junior high who used to bully you? Yeah, he’s now the coach of your kid’s little league team. And the weird little brother of your math class friend? He’s the one who took a gun to a public place and shot a bunch of people. That conservative cheerleader? She’s making the rounds of the talk shows as a serious anti-vaxxer.

I’m not old enough yet, but someday the PotUS will be the same age I am, or younger. Do I trust anyone I know who’s my age to hold that office? Well, out of the literally hundreds of people I know at least semi-well who are within a couple years of me, I can think of one. Maybe two, if we assume a good support team. So, that’s good odds, right?

People my age are now the cops mace-ing non-violent civilian protestors. They’re the paranoid home-owners shooting unarmed kids in the street. They’re rapists and murderers and extortionists and politicians. And of course these are the minority- the vast majority of my peers are perfectly nice people living perfectly fine lives. But it’s an adjustment to go from being at a point where pretty much the worst thing one of your classmates is going to do is maybe beat someone up after school to a point where one of your classmates is involved in a murder-suicide of themselves, their partner, and their children.

What would you add?

(This post brought to you by the situations in Ferguson, Iraq, Syria, and that Facebook crawl I went on late Saturday night. *sigh*)

So Long, 2013…

…don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

It seems like I am not alone in bidding au revoir, good riddance, and GTFO to 2013- I know lots of the folks in my social circles, as well as plenty of folks I know only tangentially, have had a rough time of it. I won’t bother to speculate why, but man. Welcome the new year, yeah?

For me, 2013 (and the last three months of 2012, really) was… tumultuous. Difficult. Painful. I mean, yes, I still have my spouse, and we still have somewhere to live. It could have been worse, I am aware. But 2013 was full of nasty surprises, from our church burning down, to the loss of several relatives to old age and suicide, to our house being robbed, to having to put our little kitty to sleep, to unending invasions of ants, and everything in between. I got so stressed out in March and April that I basically had what amounted to a physical breakdown, which is not something I’ve ever even come close to experiencing before. I had tremors, panic attacks. I couldn’t sleep, my blood pressure went through the roof. I managed to work my way back to something close to normal, and then it all came back again in August, after we put our little handicapped cat to sleep and then got robbed less than a week later. I could get up, go to work, and come home, and that was absolutely it. And honestly, if we lived in any other civilized country where they have things like medical leave for mental distress, I wouldn’t have been doing the going to work part.

Since so many of these things affected not just me, but my immediate world, my husband has had a rough year of it too. And in every social group I know, it seems to be widespread. Divorces, moves, illness, sudden accidents, sudden deaths, everything- you name it, it seems to have happened in 2013.

It wasn’t all bad- I had an amazing trip to Canada to visit a dear friend (and then I couldn’t leave because hundred year floods in Alberta literally washed out the roads to the airport, you see what I mean about 2013?). I joined a band, which is now playing gigs. I wrote more than I had in at least a year. I edited a LOT of photos, and Stephanie and I finished the minor cards for our Black Widow Honey project. I celebrated turned 30 in August, celebrated 9 years of marriage in October, and 2 years at my job in November. Our remaining two cats are happy and healthy, and the ants now only come in the bathtub (knock wood) where they can easily be washed away every morning.

But. I’m ready for a new leaf.

I do this thing, have done it for a few years, where instead of making New Year’s Resolutions, I pick a theme for the year. I try to make it reflect the overall attitude or result I want across all spheres of my life for the next twelve months. I tend to be somewhat obsessive in personality, and so resolutions too easily become all-consuming, and ultimately a source of failure and disappointment. But a theme lets me be mindful of the overall goal, without getting bogged down in specifics that will overwhelm me.

I had a hard time figuring out what mine would be this year- there’s a lot I wanted to cover. I both need to take it a little easier, dial back the remaining anxiety and mania that I’m still living with, while simultaneously do better at things like getting enough exercise, eating well, managing all my personal and work obligations, etc. I couldn’t figure it out, and couldn’t figure it out, and couldn’t figure it out. But as I was putting the finishing touches on today’s Dreamlights Radio show last night, I finally got it- this is the year of Feeling Good.

Feeling Good- it’s both what I need, in terms of my health, and in terms of my personal success. And if I’m feeling good, everything else will fall into place- I’ll do better at my job, I’ll perform better in my band, I’ll be inspired to write more, and on and on. It’s both the state I need to attain, and the source from which further good things will flow.

Thus, on this second day of 2014, I leave you with the immortal Nina Simone, and the hope that you, too, will have a year of Feeling Good.

The Big 3-0

Today is my 30th birthday. Yep. 30. Thir-teee.

People keep telling me I should feel something about this, but frankly? I don’t.

Part of it is just the arbitrariness of it all- every single day of my life I’m one day older than I was before- why fuss with marking any one of those days any more than the others? Why weight any one of those arbitrarily marked days with any more importance than any other arbitrarily marked day? If we had used an octal-base system, I’d’ve been thirty years ago. If I’d been born two hundred or more years ago, it’s likely I wouldn’t even have known my birthday, let alone cared about “entering a new decade”.

Part of it also is that I’ve got a not-small contrary streak to my nature. Society tells me turning thirty is a big deal, so I want them to tell me why, and as far as I can tell, there’s no answer. “Because it is!” is the best I can get. If you push further, you get into a lot of poisonous stuff about women and beauty in particular- “You’ll get grey hair!” (already have some, don’t really care) “and wrinkles!” (also don’t care, unless it’s an indicator that I need to up my sun protection) “and you won’t be young anymore!” (first of all, define “young”, second of all, if by “young” you mean “under 30”, then I didn’t really enjoy it all that much anyway, and I’m happy to keep moving forward). It’s like when people try to tell me that high school was supposed to be the best four years of my life. Or even college. Bullshit- it wasn’t, and it shouldn’t be. If it is, you’re doing something wrong, because you’ve got nothing left to look forward to, and what the hell kind of life is that?

I’ve had several friends turn 30 ahead of me, and several more will shortly, and one of the things that has come up in talking about this is that a lot of it is based on parental attitudes to adulthood. This applies more broadly to people’s attitudes about being adults in general, but it seems to tie in to the “big” birthdays, just because they are cultural markers of aging.

My parents, at least as far as I knew as a kid, didn’t attach any real importance to age. They still don’t. They didn’t follow societal proscriptions about how old you should be to have a kid, or go back to school, or travel, or learn new things, or change jobs, or any of that. They continued to have lives after I (and my siblings) were born, and don’t show any signs of quitting any time soon. There was little “settling” in my childhood, and while I could have used a bit more of that as a kid, as an adult I really appreciate that there was never any sense of “you hit a certain age, and then you’re done”.

For my friends who’ve struggled with aging, especially around “big” birthdays, it seems that there was a real sense for them of adulthood as a stagnant place. You get there, and then it’s all over, and you just wait to die. You’ll never have fun again, you’ll just work your job and have your kids, and be sad that you’re not young anymore. Some of them got messages about “you’re too old for that now”, or “be a big girl, not a baby”, things that taught them that things they enjoyed or wanted to do were bad because of age-related reasons, and they still retain the sense of both wanting to do “age-inappropriate” things, and feeling guilt and shame over “not acting their age”.

Conversely, I was always too young. Finishing high school at sixteen, graduating college before I could legally drink, I was always playing catch-up. I could drink at my own wedding, but only just- I was 21 and a month. Getting older has always been a goal for me, not something to dread. Getting older meant I wouldn’t be the youngest person in the room anymore, and people would take me more seriously. It meant I would get to decide things for myself, and not be dependent on anyone else. It was freedom and expression and an adventure, and everyone kept telling me I couldn’t start yet because I wasn’t old enough.

So, 30. Fuck yes. I am ready. I live in my own house, with my own things, and my own space, and my own husband and pets. I make my own decisions about what I want to do with my person, my space, and my life. I have my own money, because I work my own job.  I am not beholden to anyone for anything (ok, the government for my student loans, but that’s it). I don’t need anyone’s permission to live my life on my own terms.

30s, I’m ready. Best decade yet. Let’s go.