Anger Management

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I have trouble controlling my anger, but like all good contrarians, I can’t be bothered to have anger issues like everyone else. Instead of expressing my anger too much, I don’t express it enough.

I do okay with its cousins. I can express resentment and frustration and disappointment, and I fashion myself as a true connoisseur of irritability. My relationship with irritation is nearly transcendent. It is a wonder to behold, unless it is directed at you, in which case I advise you to retreat, quickly, because the chances of you calming me down are approximately nonexistent.

In the right circumstances, I can muster up some anger in the abstract. What is the point, I ask you, what is the point of having an insufferably rigid moral compass if you don’t rail against social injustice now and again? I like to do that occasionally, so as to pretend to myself that my degree in Women’s Studies has practical application in real life.

But pure anger– undiluted, unambiguous, directed at someone specific who deserves it– is not part of my emotional arsenal. This is not without its benefits: I get to look civilized and refined in comparison to people who can’t control their tempers, which usually only makes them angrier, which in turn makes me feel smug. I like feeling smug. Very satisfying in a petty sort of way.

But not expressing anger gets to be a problem with, oh let’s pick an example at random here, let’s say for instance my absolutely horrible relationship history, the typical pattern of which consists of the other person doing atrocious things to me while I respond with the all the fortitude and charisma of a potted fern.

This reluctance to express anger in appropriate situations is a function of both nature and nurture. I am a biological female, which means that I have less testosterone advising me to get into fist fights or to start wars with hostile nations. And I am a societal female, which means that cultural traditions for literally thousands and thousands of years have conspired to make me peaceful. We women are expected to be the diplomats and the peacemakers and the teachers, not the warriors.

(I learned this in my Women’s Studies classes. SEE? TOTALLY PRACTICAL DEGREE. Albeit useless for getting a job.)

Biology, culture, take your pick: whatever the reason, women rarely engage in physical violence. Exceptions abound: this is not a universal rule that applies to all women all of the time. Some women become career soldiers, and some of the most courageous warriors in history were women: think Joan of Arc and Boudica and Jennie Irene Hodges, who dressed in drag so she could fight in the Civil War. Plus you’ve got plenty of violent women in civilian situations: Anne Bonney and Mary Read were professional pirates (the Blackbeard type, not the modern Somali type). Lizzie Borden knew the business end of an axe. And modern teenage girls in catfights are fearsome to behold.

But even that language is loaded. Girls engage in catfights, which are bad enough but not, you know, real fights. A lot of scratching and hair-pulling and screaming, not a lot of crippling punches to the sternum.

Unusual circumstances and unusual women aside, females don’t fight. We aren’t supposed to, and usually we don’t want to. We will defend ourselves, usually inadequately, but we rarely attack.

So guess what. I’ve started taking karate lessons.

Here’s the thing: I’m not doing it for self-defense. If I cared about defending myself against aggressive strangers, I’d buy a can of mace. Cheaper and quicker than years and years of studying martial arts.

As it happens, I’m not worried about defending myself against aggressive strangers. Statistically speaking, any intentional violence done to me will come at the hands of a loved one. Get this: the leading cause of death among pregnant women is murder. The murderer is almost always the father of the child.

Not that I’m pregnant. Just trying to point out here that being attacked on the street or raped by a stranger behind a bush is much less common than domestic violence. And it’s much harder to fight against someone you love. Most women will resist an attack. Most women will try to defend themselves. But very few women will return (or initiate) an attack upon a husband or boyfriend or uncle or stepfather or whoever. (Notable exception: women will go to unprecedented lengths to protect their children, but that’s a moot point for me.)

My own history bears this out. I have been on the receiving end of some absurdly violent situations. (Oddly, considering everything else I’ve gone through, I have never been physically beaten up. It’s on my to-do list.) I have suffered emotional, spiritual, psychological, and sexual violence, and it’s always been from someone I loved. There’s never been a knife or a gun. (There was a bomb, that one time, but the explosion wasn’t aimed at me specifically so it doesn’t count. Probably. Probably doesn’t count.) We’re talking about weapons-free abuse from people who were supposed to be honoring and respecting me as much as I honored and respected them.

In hindsight, maybe a bit of carefully directed anger– you know, freaking standing up for myself– might have been useful.

This is difficult for me to reconcile. I am non-violent to my core. Politically and personally, I recoil at the thought of causing physical harm to someone else. I would like to think that, if I were ever in a life-threatening situation, I would be killed rather than kill. I hope I would pull a Gandhi and die with integrity.

That’s right: I care more about honor than life itself. Now you see why I like Russian novels.

This is where karate will help. The classes themselves are a controlled situation, where I am not just permitted but encouraged to move violently. I am appalled at the thought of actually hurting someone, but if you do it right, you don’t hurt the person. You just leave them, er, temporarily indisposed.

Hulk-Yoga

I’ve studied yoga for years. It’s actually proving useful in karate: the other students complain afterward of aches and bruises, and I’m all confused (“Oh, being thrown to the floor again and again and again and again was supposed to hurt? Huh.”). But the problem with yoga is that there is very little body-slamming involved. None, really. With yoga you’re not supposed to be angry. That in fact is the whole entire point of yoga.

But I’m trying to cultivate anger, and if it works out the way I hope, karate will teach me to express that anger in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone. Maybe the way to tap into the my ridiculously repressed emotional anger is to move about with some nice healthy violence. No one gets hurt, but I still get to move with more kinetic energy than, you know, lotus pose.

Triggers

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When I was earning a degree in Women’s Studies in the early 2000s, “trigger warning” was not in the feminist vocabulary.  Some years later the phrase started to gain traction in feminist circles, though by dint of my profession I only ever saw it in conjunction with books. “Trigger warning: this novel contains a rape scene” would precede a review, for instance.

Trigger warnings are a caveat emptor: proceed at your own risk, because something violent awaits. Often the violence is sexual, but it might be purely physical, or emotional, or psychological. Trigger warnings are most commonly applied to books and movies, but they can show up in lots of places. A haunted house at Halloween might come with a trigger warning.

The aim of trigger warnings is to protect people.  They serve to alert people in general that violence is on the horizon, but in particular they exist to warn people who are particularly sensitive to violent imagery. Survivors of war, combat, rape, assault, and other traumas are the ones who most need to be on guard.

I don’t much care for trigger warnings.

A few disclaimers: I’m a feminist. I’ve been raped. I am speaking for myself, not for all feminists, certainly not for all survivors of sexual violence. And I have deliberately not read a lot on the topic. I very much want to have an informed opinion, but for right now, I want my opinion to be informed by my own perspective, not by other people’s. This is one of those times where I want to reach my own conclusion before integrating any dogma. I read this New Yorker piece and then stopped.

I will happily modify my opinions as I learn more. This is just my starting point.

We’ll start with the trigger warnings I do applaud. If you as a creator want to apply a trigger warning to your own work, fantastic. It’s your intellectual property. You can do what you want. If you want to risk losing potential sales out of respect for other people’s demons, you are demonstrating courage and selflessness. Bravo.

I’m less enthusiastic about trigger warnings in reviews, but I suppose I still basically support them. I’m not wild about having a third party interpret, and potentially condemn, a creative work. One book reviewer’s trigger is another person’s salvation. But it’s the only workable solution I can see for people who are trying to research a book before reading it. Let’s say a reader is eager to try a new series but is wary of mention of suicide. Her choice is not to read the book at all – which is a really lousy option—or to consult sources that will give her reliable information about what to expect.

I do not like the idea of labeling all books, de rigeur, in a classroom setting, or in a bookstore, or in a library. For one thing, it’s impossible to accurately identify every conceivable trigger. A rape scene, sure, that’s pretty clear. But what about something less obvious? If you’re a parent who has lost a child, you might fall to pieces if you read about another parent’s loss. But you might also fall to pieces if you read about a parent who hasn’t lost a child.

Know what’s dicey for me? Reading about happy, healthy relationships. They’re not full-onslaught triggers for me, don’t get me wrong, but I get extremely uncomfortable when I read about normal happy people. Feels like an indictment of my own shortcomings. No way can anyone warn me about all of my triggers.

Here’s the thing: maybe you’ve been raped. Maybe you’re a combat vet. Maybe you’ve suffered from something less overtly violent, like a divorce or the death of a loved one. Know what sucks? The world doesn’t owe you.

Just because something awful has happened to you doesn’t mean the world will change to accommodate your psychological damage. You don’t get a free pass. Artists will continue to create content that will disturb you, and the fact that you have suffered does not give you the right to condemn them for it. The fact that you have suffered does not afford you further protection.

It sucks.

I know that.

You have endured something awful. I am so sorry for that. I’ve lived through way more violence than anyone deserves (and a lot less than some people get), so I mean that from the bottom of my heart. But that still doesn’t mean that censorship is right—and that’s what labelling usually becomes. At the very least, if you slap a giant yellow “Trigger warning: rape” sticker on a book, you’re going to stigmatize it.

magician_kingLev Grossman wrote a book called The Magicians, which I liked quite a lot, and then he wrote a book called The Magician King, which blew me away. The main character is my spiritual twin. Julia has endured worse violence than I have, and she is smarter than I am, which is not especially easy for me to admit, even about a fictional person. She is me, only moreso. The only explanation is that Grossman spied on me to create Julia’s character. I mean the man peered into my head.

The scene where she is raped is described in very graphic detail, and the whole book haunted me for months. I am profoundly glad to have read it. I hate to think of it getting labeled as inappropriate. It is inappropriate, for some people. For me it is indispensable.

For people who are sensitive to triggers, help is out there. You can ask a trusted friend to read through a book or preview a movie. You can go to a public library and ask about a specific title, or you can ask the librarian to pull together a list of materials that are safe for your needs. (Not all librarians are created equal, so if the first one seems stumped, try another librarian. Or just send me a message.)

And there are positive ways of creating change. Have you suffered violence? You can leave it at that. No one owes you anything… but you don’t owe them, either. You don’t have to become an advocate. You can choose to talk. You can choose to stay silent. Ain’t nobody’s business but your own.

But if you have the strength and the energy, you can speak up. Did a scene in a book upset you?  Again, I emphasize that it is the author’s prerogative to write things that bother you, just as it is your prerogative to read it, or not read it. But you might consider communicating with the author, through twitter or the author’s website or, failing those, the author’s publisher. Being petulant will probably get you sweet nowhere. Being open and honest might get you some meaningful dialogue. (“Hey, I read your book, and it caught me by surprise on p. 123. It stirred up some really painful memories. Just thought you should know.”)

control_pointAnd you can do things like this. Myke Cole is the author of some fantasy novels with a really fun concept: American military plus magic. (Start with Control Point). He also has triggers of his own, which come into play at fan conventions, where people wave around toy guns. He’s doing something good with his experience, offering free lessons in basic weapon safety.

By the way, an author friend of mine has made noise about going to a firing range. Well – he mentioned it once, and that’s good enough for me. I’m going to keep pestering until he does something about it. I don’t particularly see myself joining the NRA anytime soon, but I’ll try anything once. Plus I’m fairly sure I’d look hot with a gun. Which is my main motivation for doing things. Vanity, you know.

So what did I get wrong about trigger warnings? Like I said, this is a starting point. Let’s hear it. I’m prepared to issue mea culpas.

This is what 33 looks like

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No filter, no Photoshopping. Bathroom light and an iPhone camera.  I turn 33 tomorrow.

Bit-by-bit analysis:

33

  • Wrinkles: I noticed one the other day between my eyebrows. Sometimes it seems very apparent. Other times it vanishes.
  • Stretch marks: they’re everywhere.
  • Acne: most people leave this behind once they move beyond puberty. I am not one of those people.
  • Hair: I might have gray. I don’t know. I’ve been dyin’ so long it looks like black to me.
  • Muscles: not terribly noticeable in this photo, but I promise they’re there. Upper body, lower body, core: I’m no body builder, but I do strength-training six days out of seven.
  • Breasts: not terribly noticeable in this photo, but I promise they’re there. Despite their stretch marks and their cozy relationship with gravity, my breasts are my most aesthetically pleasing feature.
  • Tattoos: completely obscured in this photo. Still only two of them. Maybe more someday.
  • Pudge: amazingly resistant to diet and exercise.
  • Wonder Woman undies: if there’s an upper age limit to superhero underwear, I don’t want to grow old.

 

 

 

After

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A few years ago I was raped. It was someone I’d known a long time. No knife or gun or anything like that.

Took me a few days to recognize what had happened. Take one degree in Women’s Studies, add it to a heightened feminist awareness, and you get the same confusion and self-doubt as every other victim experiences. Funny.

The day after it happened I apologized to him.

Took me a year to stop dwelling on it all the time. Now I only dwell on it a lot.

Understand: this did not happen in a vacuum. Bad things happened before. Bad things happened after. Some good things, too, but lots of bad. More than my fair share. So it goes.

Took me several years to decide to write about it. Here we are.

Silence is comforting. I’m beginning to understand, finally, why Alice Walker withdrew after she was seriously injured as a child. Never made sense to me before. Because I have to maintain a job and function in the world at large, I do not have the luxury of withdrawing into total silence — but I do have the option of retreating partway. 

So let me be clear. I don’t want to chat about this. I do not want your pity. I do not want the comments section below to turn into a sympathy card. Here is what you will be tempted to say:

“Oh my God, how terrible.” Yep. Sure is.

“I had no idea!” That’s because I didn’t tell you.

“You’re so brave.” No. Bravery has nothing to do with this. 

I’m talking about this because silence is not a good way to deal with violence at a societal level. Thank you, Women’s Studies degree and feminist awareness. I managed to learn something from you after all.

I’m talking about this because there is so much rage and sadness in me. Again: there are lots of causes. Probably genetics deserves a lot of the blame. A variety of unfortunate life circumstances have contributed. Being raped was just one of them.

Golly. I shouldn’t have dressed like that.

That is what we call gallows humor, for those of you playing along at home. That was a joke.

After I finish typing this I am going to sneak straight back to my cocoon of silence. Thank you for respecting that. If you have read this piece and feel compelled to contact me, okay. There are legitimate reasons, just like there’s legitimate rape.

That was another joke. Ha.

But mainly I just want to be left alone. This is particularly true if you are a friend of family member. If I had wanted to discuss it with you, I would have done so years ago.

“Raped” anagrams into drape, pared, and padre. “Rape” anagrams into reap, pare, pear, and aper. Now you know.

Others have it much worse. Children get raped. Some people get raped repeatedly. Some people get raped by family members. Some people get raped as part of war. Some people get raped to death. 

Human suffering does not measure on a comparative scale. You can only compare your pain to your own past experiences, and even then it’s difficult to judge, because memory does funny things. But I feel safe in supposing that my own pain is relatively mild.

I am not dismissing my own pain. It is horrible. I’m just observing that other people’s pain is more horrible.

That kind of pain changes you. I picked up the psychic equivalent of a chronically bad back. I can still function, basically, but it’s a lot harder, and some days it’s almost impossible to move. The trick is to go about your business without anyone noticing.

I haven’t healed fully and I doubt I ever will. I was depressed and anxious before I entered adulthood. 

There are good bits. Not as many as I’d like. But some. 

No message to leave you with. Sometimes life arranges itself into a tidy narrative. In this case I have no moral, no advice, no inspiration, no warning. In this case all I have is an ugly story with no lesson that offered no catharsis in the telling. Perhaps the next time I write here I will offer a picture of a kitten as a palate cleanser.

Book Rundown, 2013

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Welcome to the annual Book Rundown here at BookOuroboros, in which I would rather hang my head in shame than admit that to reading only eighty books this past year. Put it like this: I read fewer books in 2013 than I did in 2008, the year I actually wrote a book of my own, for crying out loud.

The main culprit was unemployment. During the twenty-three month lull between professional jobs, my book consumption plummeted. Being unemployed doesn’t mean you suddenly have lots of free time to read. It means you fill all your time with job hunting and with scrabbling together whatever odd work you can. Even when you do read, you feel guilty, because you know you ought to be looking for work.

Next year will be better. I said exactly the same thing exactly one year ago, and while I improved on last year’s pathetic showing, I think 2014 will see triple digits again, as I have a job now. Dear lord, it better get better. I am insufferable when I don’t read enough.

For comparison, here are the links to the previous years, so that you can see my shame writ large:

Total books read, cover-to-cover: 80

Age levels:

  • Adult: 64
  • YA: 13
  • Children’s: 3

Books read that were published in 2013: 17

Books read that won’t be published till May 2014: 1. That would be Skin Game, by Jim Butcher. It’s the next Harry Dresden book and it’s wonderful.

Nonfiction: 40. Holy cow. Nonfiction has never taken up this much of my reading pie. No wonder I’m cranky all the time. Nonfiction will never be as important to me as fiction.

Fiction: 40

Genres: (as some books have more than one genre, total exceeds 80)

Nonfiction:

  • Animal welfare: 1
  • Cookbook: 1
  • Economics: 1
  • Exercise: 1
  • History: 5
  • How-to: 1
  • Humor: 3
  • Medicine: 1
  • Memoir: 17
  • Parapsychology: 1
  • Psychology: 3
  • Science: 5
  • Social science: 7
  • Travel: 2
  • True crime: 2

Fiction:

  • Classics/Literary canon: 3
  • Crime: 1
  • Fantasy: 16
  • Historical: 3
  • Horror: 10
  • Literary fiction: 4
  • Mainstream: 3
  • Mystery: 3
  • Science fiction: 3
  • Suspense/Thriller: 2

Formats:

  • Audiobooks: I’ll always prefer print, but audio comes in handy when you’re chopping vegetables or toiling on the elliptical machine. I refuse to listen to fiction in audio — some things are too sacred — but certain types of nonfiction are palatable. In the first part of 2013 I lived in a pedestrian-friendly city, so I listened to more audiobooks than ever before, 29. Which goes a long way toward explaining why I read so many nonfiction books this year, now doesn’t it.
  • Graphic novels: Only 4, of which 1 was nonfiction. But you know what? In my new job, every single graphic novel the library acquires will pass through my greedy little paws. Expect this number to skyrocket next year.

Miscellaneous: 

  • Annual fat Russian novel: Dead Souls, by Nikolai Gogol.
  • Annual language book: How Not to Write Bad, by Ben Yagoda.
  • Re-reads: 8. Because some years you just have to re-read Harry Potter. And because you have to re-read The Shining in anticipation of its lovely sequel.

Authors: 76

New (to me) authors: 52

Best book of the year: The October List, by Jeffrey Deaver. Not the most affecting, not the funniest, not the most thought-provoking, but the most impressive. At this point I no longer read books by Jeffrey Deaver. “Reading” is an inadequate way to describe the experience. I strap myself in and enjoy the ride. This man is the Houdini of plotting.

Honorable mentions: 

  • My Friend Dahmer, by Derf Beckderf, a guy who was buddies with the serial killer in high school. Regrettably, no one seems to want to read it. I know it sounds gross but it’s very respectfully and thoughtfully done.
  • Born Round, by Frank Bruni. Unexpectedly funny memoir about a food critic who has always struggled with his weight.
  • Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi. The Manson crimes were old news before I was born, but it still reads like it’s fresh.
  • Skin Game, by Jim Butcher. Can’t talk about it yet, because it’s not published. I can smirk, though. That’s what I’m doing. I am smirking. Right now I am smirking.
  • Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala. Maybe the best grief memoir you’ll ever read.
  • Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. WHY HAD I NOT READ THIS BEFORE? (Thank you for my copy, Citizen Reader!)
  • Bossypants, by Tina Fey. Laugh-out-loud funny memoir. And since she’s a professional entertainer, it’s worth listening to the audio version.
  • The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan. I have a fricking degree in Women’s Studies, so WHY HAD I NOT READ THIS BEFORE?
  • Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen. Should have been a sad memoir. She managed to make it delightful instead.
  • Doctor Sleep and Joyland, by Stephen King: for my money, the best living storyteller in America.
  • Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Women’s issues on a global scale.
  • The Road to Wigan Pier, by George Orwell. I knew I loved his fiction, but his nonfiction was a lovely surprise. Best explanation of class in England I’ve ever read.
  • Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, by David Sedaris. Not his best collection, but David Sedaris on a bad day is still funnier than practically everybody on the planet. As with Tina Fey, it is permissible to listen to the book instead of reading it on the page.
  • Travels with Charley, by John Steinbeck. Same as with Orwell: I knew I loved his fiction, but the nonfiction blew me away.

Worst:

  • Nonfiction: Walk Away the Pounds, by Leslie Sansone. Turns out the book isn’t about walking. It’s about aerobics in your living room. It’s about aerobics in your living room with lots of bubbly life-affirming self-help bullshit. And lady, if I wanted a book about leading a religious life, I would go to the 200s. Get your church out of my exercise manual.
  • Fiction: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. Okay. Look. I loved Sandman. I loved The Graveyard Book. But Neil Gaiman is hit-or-miss for me, and while the whole rest of the reading world heralded this book as the best thing since mint chocolate chip ice cream, I thought it was boring. Very moody, nice sense of atmosphere, but the tension never really built for me and I think it would have been a swell short story. As a novel? It wasn’t bad (I am being disingenuous by lumping it here in the “Worst” category) but it wasn’t great. So I suppose now I have to surrender by Fantasy Fan credentials.

And finally, all eighty titles, arranged by author:

Aaronovitch, Ben Midnight Riot
Anderson, M. T. Thirsty
Anson, Jay The Amityville Horror
Atkinson, Kate Life After Life
Backderf, Derf My Friend Dahmer
Banerjee, Abhijit and Esther Duflo Poor Economics
Baxter, Stephen and Terry Pratchett The Long Earth
Bering, Jesse Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?
Bittman, Mark How to Cook Everything: The Basics
Bourdain, Anthony Medium Raw
Bruni, Frank Born Round
Bryson, Bill Neither Here nor There
Buehlman, Christopher Those Across the River
Bugliosi, Vincent Helter Skelter
Butcher, Jim Skin Game
Cahalan, Susannah Brain on Fire
Coben, Harlan Shelter
Deaver, Jeffery The October List
Dederer, Claire Poser
Deraniyagala, Sonali Wave
Diamond, Jared Guns, Germs, and Steel
du Maurier, Daphne Rebecca
Egan, Timothy The Worst Hard Time
Ephron, Nora I Remember Nothing
Fey, Tina Bossypants
Flaim, Denise Rescue Ink
Friedan, Betty The Feminine Mystique
Gaiman, Neil The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Galloway, Gregory As Simple As Snow
Gogol, Nikolai Dead Souls
Hanagarne, Josh The World’s Strongest Librarian
Heinrich, Bernd Winter World
Hill, Joe Clockworks
Hill, Joe Nos4A2
Hill, Joe, Stephen King, and Richard Matheson Road Rage
Hodge, Chris and Joe Sacco Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt
Hornbacher, Marya Madness
Jamison, Kay Redfield An Unquiet Mind
Janzen, Rhoda Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
Jessop, Carolyn Escape
King, Stephen Doctor Sleep
King, Stephen Joyland
King, Stephen The Shining
Koch, Herman The Dinner
Konigsburg, E.L. The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World
Kristof, Nicholas D. and Sheryl WuDunn Half the Sky
Le Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea
Lee, Christopher This Sceptred Isle
Lukyanenko, Sergei Night Watch
Marra, Anthony A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Moss, Michael Salt, Sugar, Fat
Northup, Solomon Twelve Years a Slave
O’Nan, Stewart A Prayer for the Dying
Orwell, George The Road to Wigan Pier
Pratchett, Terry Nation
Roach, Mary Gulp
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Sansone, Leslie Walk Away the Pounds
Sedaris, David Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls
Sijie, Dai Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Spinelli, Jerry Love, Stargirl
Steinbeck, John Travels with Charley
Stevens, Chevy Always Watching
Terrill, Cristin All Our Yesterdays
Trout, Nick Tell Me Where It Hurts
Vanderbilt, Tom Traffic
Vaughan, Brian K. Saga
Walton, Jo Among Others
Wasik, Bill and Monica Murphy Rabid
Weisman, Alan The World Without Us
Wilde, Oscar The Picture of Dorian Gray
Yagoda, Ben How to Not Write Bad
Yousafzai, Malala I Am Malala
Zusak, Markus The Book Thief

Blogtied

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Wow. I just looked up “hogtied” to make sure my pun was working, and my goodness did I just get an education. Hint: in modern contexts, it has nothing to do with animal husbandry. Or at least I really hope it doesn’t.

chrisPI feel threatened by year-end lists. They make me feel inadequate, as with the Best Books lists, of which invariably I’ll have read almost nothing, or the Top Moments Of lists, which serve to underscore exactly how culturally obtuse I really am, i.e., I have only the vaguest notion of what twerking is. Though honestly I’d really rather keep it that way. I think possibly it has something to do with animal husbandry.

And there’s an artificial feel to reflections brought on by the end of the year. I get that the changing of the calendar is a powerful symbol, but it’s important to be reflective year-round, and to make resolutions year-round.

So in the spirit of full hypocrisy, here are some reflections and resolutions as we enter the final week of 2013:

I started volunteering at Asheville’s day shelter for the homeless in late 2012, but the bulk of my experience came in 2013. It was easily one of the best things I’ve ever done. I became a better person for it. You don’t get a chance to say that too often, you know? Once you reach adulthood, it usually takes a significant change (becoming a parent, moving overseas, going to college, joining the military) to force you to grow in a meaningful, lasting way. Volunteering face-to-face with people in desperate circumstances is a convenient shortcut.

In May I started exercising. I’ve been exercising faithfully since then, doing cardio and strength-training in addition to a bit of yoga. I’ve also been exercising with intensity: on several pieces of equipment at the gym, for instance, I am using the heaviest weight setting. And just last week I surpassed 300 pounds on the reclining squat thingy machine. At the same time I started paying closer attention to my diet. It had already been healthy, but that was when I began tracking nutrients and calories and weighing my food in grams. 

So the good news: in 2013 I got way fitter. I have more muscles and a stronger heart than ever before. Don’t have any bloodwork to back me up, but I am certain I have never been this healthy.

The bad news is that I’ve gotten fatter. Despite the blood, sweat, and tears (figuratively, literally, and literally) of my diet and exercise, I am pudgier. Some of the weight is muscle, but my pants fit tighter and my face looks puffier. This is not fair and I completely resent it.

For the first eight and a half months of 2013, I was unemployed, or nearly so. My only income was from some contract writing in library-land. I did not have health insurance or job prospects or a livable income. When I was not volunteering or throwing around weights, I was hunting for jobs. There was too little time for reading or writing or vegetating.

The plus side is that I was living in Asheville. Western North Carolina will always be home to me. I might deign to eventually acknowledge other locations as home, but they will be supplements, not replacements.

In mid-September I was offered a job as a Collection Development Librarian with the Mid-Continent Public Library. I had to leave my beautiful mountains and my nearby parents. In compensation I got to start a job in which I spend 40 hours each week buying books, movies, and music, in exchange for which the taxpayers give me a comfortable wage and health insurance and vacation.

I am still not really sold on the whole Missouri concept, but in addition to the whole financial stability thing, there is one other noticeable perk, only I’m not going to talk about it here so nevermind.

Also this year: I gave up my intellectual crushes on The Oatmeal and Neil Gaiman. I’m over you guys. Both of you. I mean I’ll still read your stuff but we’re pretty much through.

So that’s 2013 in review. As for resolutions:

  1. I will find a witch doctor to make me skinny. Traditional medical advice isn’t cutting it. Needs must.
  2. I will read more. (This year’s appallingly low book count will be addressed on January 1. Stay tuned.)
  3. I will write more. As in, I will write more for pleasure. For years I have been satisfying my itch for creative writing with this blog, but I need something new. I swear I have no idea how to write fiction, but that’s what I  want to do and that’s what I will do. Or I’ll stare at a blank screen. I don’t care. One or the other will happen.
  4. I will blog less. I want to to carve out time for more reading and more writing, but more importantly, I’m no longer sure why I write here. I guess it’s because sometimes I want to express myself in essay form, and the New Yorker hasn’t come calling for me. Jerks.

I have no intention of taking this site down. I like having the archive of my old writing. When the mood to essay an essay strikes me, I will post here — just maybe not too often.

I’ll definitely be back in a week, though, to publicly disgrace myself with the paltry number of books I read in 2013.

Meanwhile, Happy Christmas

Winter is coming

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When I make purchasing decisions for the library, I care about whether the product is of good quality, whether it serves a need for the patrons, whether it will be in demand. I care about vendor websites that work smoothly. I care about good customer service. I care about breadth and depth of selection.
I do not care about being wined and dined. If you are a sales rep and you buy me lunch, I will enjoy my meal and express sincere thanks, and then I will go right back to thinking about products and service and selection. Your tiramisu will not sway me.
But it seems to be the norm for sales reps to foist food on library purchasers — and hey, I’m not complaining. I like eating.
When some sales reps bid us adieu the other day, my department had an entire leftover pizza. For reasons I cannot reconstruct, that pizza wound up going home with me.
Now as I have just explained, I am a big fan of food. But as I do not want to become a big fan of food, I reluctantly decided to forfeit the whole pizza. I’m not so good with the moderation concept, food-wise. I’m fairly certain I would have inhaled the leftovers in one sitting.
So even though I have huge misgivings about wasting food, I decided to throw out the pizza. Only I didn’t want to toss it into my own trash can, because my trash pickup service is run by baboons — it’s the only explanation that makes sense. They keep forgetting to collect my trash and recycling. The whole time I’ve lived here, they’ve only once managed to get both bins two weeks in a row.

Now I am deliriously happy about the cold weather we’ve been having, but I still didn’t want pizza sitting in my trash can indefinitely. Even if it didn’t get all ookey, it would serve as my tell-tale heart for the sin of wasting food. But no problem, because I was going to the gym, right? I would just find a public outdoor trash can and dump the illicit pizza there.

Drove on over to the gym, and finally saw the homeless guy. I’d seen his sleeping bag on the sidewalk before, but this was the first time I saw the man himself. Well: it was a nice resolution for the pizza dilemma. I walked over and offered him the leftovers. He was in bad shape — speech difficulties, unbathed, some kind of skin disease, and it was nineteen goddam degrees outside. He doesn’t even have a tent.

I offered him the pizza. Then I went inside the gym and cried for the whole workout. Tried to vent some of the horribleness into the weights. I lifted heavier than I ever have before, stretched deeper than I ever have before, and drove my heartrate up into frankly dangerous territory on the bike.

And even typing this I’m kind of disgusted with myself. Look how I’m casting it: oh no, I saw a homeless man and it made me sad, I had to go and work out EXTRA HARD because I was so SAD, it’s so difficult being me, I actually CRIED while I worked out, please notice how SENSITIVE I am.

Because it’s all about me, not about the man who might freeze to death.

It was this time last year that I started volunteering at the homeless shelter in Asheville. I miss working there. That experience made me a better person.

ImageTo be clear: before I started volunteering, I already had compassion and sympathy and perspective. You probably do, too. Some people are either 1.) shits or 2.) very sheltered, but the rest of us care about our fellow human beings and can practice basic empathy. Volunteering at the homeless shelter did not teach me the true meaning of Christmas. I was already pretty good on that count.

Volunteering forced me to grow. It forced me to do uncomfortable things. It forced me to act responsibly in dangerous situations and to rein in my own unflattering tendencies — shyness, anxiety, irritability, timidity. My morals were already in fine shape; my ability to apply abstract morality to real life was not.

Somehow it is December already. I do not understand how this happened. I’ll try to post again this year, but even if I get too busy with holidays and work and other personal endeavors, I promise I’ll have my annual Book Rundown posted on 1 January. Won’t be as impressive as I’d like (it’s amazing how holidays and work and personal endeavors can interfere with reading time), but though I don’t write here as often as I’d like, I can at least deliver the goods on the new year.

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