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March 5, 2016

Politics and the “Aloha Spirit”

Filed under: Books, Personal, Politics — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 12:24 am

UNFAMILIAR FISHES 1 MB

About a year ago, I read the book Unfamiliar Fishes, a history of the colonization/Americanization of Hawaii, by a favorite of mine, Sarah Vowell. Hawaii is fascinating, yo! Such a fusion of peoples and cultures! Such a history tied to the island’s incredible natural beauty! I was especially interested to learn about their impressive educational achievements, literally becoming one of the most literate nations on earth in a span of just over 40 years by in the mid 1860s.

But what stood out to me most was a statement Vowell came across in an internet forum debating the meaning of a particular Hawaiian word. A Hawaiian named Hoopii had prefaced his comments with this:

“As I read the comments posted by each individual about this specific forum, I do so in respect to each and every single person’s beliefs. I sense the passion in each of your concerns and I hope that I do not offend in any way.”

Vowell contrasts this “Aloha Spirit” with the statement of French philosopher Denis Diderot when he was working to compile the Enlightenment era Encyclopedie:

“All things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone’s feelings.”

While I embrace examination and debate, what a different world it would be if all prefaced their debate with Hoopii’s level of respect and concern for others’ beliefs and passions! But it’s tricky too, isn’t it? Over the past couple of weeks, I have posted several negative videos about Donald Trump on my Facebook page. I have felt truly compelled to do so if for no other reason than to let others know where I stand. I find many things about that man reprehensible, but the one that perhaps weighs on me the most is how I believe he is fanning the flames of racism (well, that and the fact that he has the strongest record of flat-out lies I’ve ever seen in the years I’ve been following the fact-checking website PolitiFact). My Facebook feed is a testament to the pluralistic society we live in with friends on absolute extremes of the political spectrum and everywhere in between. Sadly, my feed has sometimes revealed the success that Trump is having inciting racial animus, and it deeply saddens me.

And yet, still, I seek to have respect for others’ views, to look for their legitimate motives and beliefs, to still concern myself with their feelings. I challenge my students almost weekly to find common ground. I remind them that we are all human, and as such, have more in common than what differentiates us. But I’m finding Trump support to be one of the wider chasms I’ve encountered. I’m still trying to understand (this article was excellently thought-provoking on that point, though I’m not sure Trump fans themselves would agree) and I believe that I am capable of not allowing a stark political or philosophical difference to undercut a friendship, but I can’t say that I’ve always been concerned about whether I’ve “offended in any way.”

I still have work to do to internalize a Hoopii attitude. But is it always desirable? Are there limits to his civil and forbearing attitude? Thank goodness I’m losing sleep over this whole Trump phenomenon so I have more time to ponder that! Any thoughts for me?

 

February 22, 2016

The Sweet Spot

Filed under: Books, Personal — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 10:48 pm

sweet spot

“Another self-help book?” That’s what Neal said when he saw me reading this one Victoria recently recommended.

Always, is my response. I love nonfiction, in general, whether it’s about history or baseball or the recent financial crisis. But self-help books based on research into happiness and habits? Yes, please! I have to admit that after reading so many, portions begin to get repetitive. Like Gretchen Rubin, Christine Carter cites research from Daniel Gilbert and Sonja Lyubomirsky, for example, both of whom have their own excellent books I’ve read. But still, I enjoy seeing the different emphases each bring to the table. And as my life changes, I find that different pieces of advice apply that didn’t before — like setting boundaries around smartphone usage that I never had to worry about before last March.

In some ways, I struggled with The Sweet Spot because it is just SO packed with tips and suggestions. Gretchen’s Happiness Project and Happier at Home felt easier to digest because she was not so much attempting a formula or comprehensive how-to for success as sharing her story of efforts and attempts. I felt pressure to absorb what I could before I had to return The Sweet Spot to the library — as it was, I was two days overdue — and it just felt impossible. But I suppose that’s also an endorsement because I wanted to own it and mark it up.

While this is in no way a summary of suggestions from her book, I wanted to record some of the specific action items and insights I am taking away (some of these are efforts that I started before reading the book, but that I’ve tweaked based on some of her ideas):

  • Set “priority” calls. I’m very sensitive to noise (have I mentioned that a time or two or thirty?), especially when I’m trying to focus. Whenever we are all home together, you can bet my phone is probably muted simply because a ringing phone is extremely jarring for me. But ever since Addison started school, I’ve been paranoid about always having my phone on during the day. So when Carter said that during her work and writing time, she only takes calls from her kids’ school, I knew I had to get right on that. I guess they don’t call them “smart” phones for nothing! I’m still a little paranoid that my priority setting won’t work correctly and I’ll miss something essential, but if it works, this will be UH-MAZING for my life.
  • Stop multitasking. While we all multitask in some things, the biggest thing I’m working on is to keep my email closed whenever I’m not actively working on it. For much of the time, I’ve been teaching online, I’ve been in the habit of keeping my email open while grading or working in other areas of my course. I’m rededicating to keeping email separate from other tasks.
  • Have more fun. I keep coming back to this periodically . . . and I keep sucking at it. Ever since Neal’s sister Robin-Elise blessed us with Netflix, we’ve been pretty good about watching a comedy show together a couple times a week. But beyond that, I’ve created no specific escapist activities. Sometimes I’ll get sucked into watching comedy clips on YouTube or a funny animal video, but the sort of consistent “recess” Carter describes continues to elude me. (In looking back at some of my previous posts, I realized that I have even cut out some of the things I used to do for fun.) I’m trying something new this month: comedic audiobooks. I just finished both of Mindy Kaling’s books (the faux eulogy at the end of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is HILARIOUS, by the way) and now I’m on NPR’s Laughter Therapy for the Chronically Serious because the title was just too perfect not to. I’m finding dishes and food prep much more enjoyable with this addition, though at the rate I’m going, I’m going to run out of the library’s humor offerings too soon.
  • Tie activities together temporally. Actually, I can’t remember what she called this strategy, but the point is this: if I want to write for 30 minutes per day, I have to tie it to another activity that always or almost always happens. Carter’s biggest example is her workout routine, which she does right after getting up because no matter where she is, she always has to get out of bed. Last fall I tried to carve out some writing time and even though I put it on my schedule, it never happened. So this month, I’m trying out tying it to two different parts of my day: (1) right when Neal leaves to pick Addison up from school — perfect because it’s in the middle of the day when I’m usually more energetic and they’re gone for about 30 minutes exactly; not so perfect because 3 days a week this event doesn’t occur (one day we volunteer at school and the weekend). (2) Right when Addison goes to bed — good because that happens every single night (hallelujah!); not so good because I usually feel exhausted by then and it’s prime time for my evening meetings. I wish I could find one set time every day, but for now, I think I will have to live with this fluidity. (The next activity I need to tie to something else is exercise. I’ve been walking periodically since October, motivating myself by listening to my favorite Marketplace podcast only while I’m walking, but it’s still hit or miss in part because I haven’t settled on a specific time and tied it to another activity that always happens. Any suggestions on that one?)

I think the most fascinating chunk of the book for me was the part on “cultivating relationships,” even though I didn’t necessarily come away with any action items. Her first sentence of that chapter is not news: “If we look back at the past two centuries of research in sociology and psychology, the single strongest finding about our well-being is that our health, happiness, and longevity are best predicted by the breadth and depth of our positive social connections . . . .” But she shared some interesting findings about the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, the social thinking part of our brain (also called the “default system” because it’s literally our brain’s default) that I was not familiar with. We moved to the mountains for many reasons — the natural beauty, cost of living, and reduced consumer culture, chief among them — but in doing so, we also moved away from some of our closest social connections. While we’ve made new ones up here, it’s hard to replace family, and reading study after study about social ties has got me reexamining some of our biggest decisions through that lens.

So, another self-help book? Heck yeah.

September 16, 2015

Numbness

Filed under: Books, Personal, Social Services — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 7:29 pm

International Bank of Bob

I’m enthralled with a new book lately, The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time. It’s funny and engaging (there’s an ongoing bit about “poop coffee” — a real thing, by the way — that alone might get some people (Neal, ahem) interested) while remaining so terribly meaningful and sometimes heart-wrenching.

Right now Bob and I are in Bosnia in this trip around the world, and although I’m a bit familiar with the war and conflict that country saw, it’s newly eye-opening. Reading about Srebrenica, a town where Serb forces killed more than 8,000 Muslim Bosnians, has a lot more meaning to me now as a small town resident. That type of massacre would be the equivalent of murdering every single resident of all the neighboring towns in our Mountain Communities . . . in the course of 9 days. It’s still unfathomable, but it gives me a clearer perspective of what that would look like. And that’s just one of many genocidal massacres from the war.

One young woman Bob meets, Ajla, who was just 9 when the war started, described the moment that she and her brother thought their parents had been killed by a shell explosion (thankfully, they had not been): “My brother and I just looked at each other. The strange thing is, there was no emotion. We just started talking about who would do what: I can cook, you can go out and find work, we can ask my uncle for help . . . ” Bob mentions several times that Ajla seems to come back to the lack of emotions, numbness, overload, being puzzled at it even years later.

Although my experiences in my little town are in no way comparable, I think Ajla was getting at something of the same thing I was trying to express back in April about all the moments that I couldn’t feel. Since that time several traumatic events happened in our town, some of which were to children I was working with. I did cry the day I heard that particular piece of news, A LOT, but in the intervening months I’ve felt increasingly emotionally distant. I was still going through the motions of helping clients in all the same ways, but I’ve been unable (unwilling?) to access the same level of emotion for the challenges they’re facing. In a tearful discussion on my friend Kristine’s couch in June, I finally articulated it this way: It’s like I can either feel deep empathy and emotion while being confronted with people at a distance — like children starving in Africa — or I can feel little emotion while talking with a suffering child right in front of me. It’s felt like after many months of working in social services, I’m less humane and compassionate than I was before. And yet, I’ve certainly done more good for other humans.

What does that say about my strengths, weaknesses, ultimate capacity? What does it mean for my prospects as a foster mother? Just a few little things I’m ruminating on over here . . .

February 1, 2015

December: Read

Filed under: Books, Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 2:51 pm

Even though most of the year went quite awry compared to my plans (I only managed to Organize, Cook, and Travel on schedule), I was determined to stick with the program in December. Mostly because curling up with a book is just the best.

Of course, if there’s no spreadsheet involved, it’s like it didn’t happen so:

2014 Books

The last four or five were in December, so I’m calling that a success (although I read most of The Secret History in November and In the Dark Streets Shineth is really brief, so don’t be too impressed).

While we’re on the subject, I want to show you my favorite thing about my Books spreadsheet:

Books 1998

 

Since I’ve been using the same one since 1998, when I open it, that image is what greets me. It may not seem all that interesting, but for me, it serves as a very important reminder. I can read books again! I’m so lucky! 1998 was one of the sickest years of my life and even though I had a lot of free time that year, in general, I had neither the mental focus to read nor the arm strength to hold a book. Instead, there was a lot of Jim Rome radio show and televised baseball games. No offense, but I’ll take reading any day. I think me and December and reading have a long-standing engagement.

So, have you read any of the books I read in 2014? Which did you like best? What’s on your 2015 reading list this year?

(Also, can you sense the sickness/insomnia here? Two posts in one middle of the night.)

October 30, 2014

A study of grief

I feel a little bashful writing about Kaila again. When I wrote about our last day in the sunshine, I thought it was just my own small remembrance in my little corner of the internet. I think of this space as a place where I’m talking to myself, current and future, and about 30 or 40 others who know me well. What I didn’t realize is that by putting in a link to one of her memorials, my post was being shared on that post. (The workings of the interwebz are still a mystery to me).

Within a couple of days, I had a few hundred hits coming from the memorial post. I felt a little embarrassed, exposed. I didn’t want it to seem, especially to her family, that somehow I thought her death was about me and my pain. But as a few people reached out to me because of that post, I realized that other people were aching to read about her, talk about her, hear anything related to her in the same way I was. My post meant something to them; feeling exposed is okay in pursuit of the greater good of connection and catharsis. Also, the fact that the most action my blog has seen in several years was because of her made me proud to have had a friend that was so beloved.

***

When you have a history of serious depression and are faced with a tragic event, your husband is pretty much willing to do anything you want and your mother is biting her fingernails waiting to see if this will push you over the edge. Your irrepressibly joyful 4-year-old, on the other hand, will wake you up each morning with, “Are you still sad about Kaila? Can you play with me today?” I’m not immune to that tugging at the heartstrings, but the answer for a couple weeks was, No, not today.

It may be strange, or even pretentious, to say that I am deeply affected by death, but it’s hard to articulate it any other way. (I am highly sensitive, after all.) I remember feeling the same way around the death of each important person in my life: life must stop completely. Anything less would be a betrayal of all they meant to me. So I kind of closed up shop for a couple of weeks. I worked some, but took days off, came late, left early. I let some things slide in my online classroom, thinking I would just have to settle for sub-par reviews this semester (though as it turns out my students and supervisor have been amazingly supportive). One night I even hid in a vacant classroom at church during an activity I was supposed to be responsible for; I just couldn’t face real life responsibilities.

Four things filled those suddenly cleared-out days: thinking, crying, reading Daring Greatly, and watching Psych. During those first couple of days, I was convinced that I should stop fostering such deep relationships. I have put a lot of effort into cultivating close family and friend relationships and sometime in the middle of the night on September 25th, I decided that that was a terrible way to live. I should stop that immediately! Because the pain. Oh dear God, I could never live through this pain again! Of course, I instinctively reached out to several friends, probably strengthening those relationships — very counterproductive when you’ve decided that the safest thing is to cut all ties with other humans.

I don’t believe it was coincidental that I was reading Daring Greatly for my online book club at precisely this time. Though not a perfect book, it was the perfect read to remind me to lean into the vulnerability inherent to human relationships. Even if I successfully cut ties with ALL THE PEOPLE, I would still think about them, probably frequently and beyond all reason. (I know this because for years Neal has been telling me I need to just forget about an old friend. He’s very subtle: “She doesn’t want anything to do with you! She’s cut off all contact with you!” Still, every November I think anew about sending her a birthday card.) The book also helped me recognize and face head on some shame I was experiencing related to “survivor guilt.”

We had only barely started watching episodes of Psych (I never caught it in its original run), but it will always have a special place in my heart now (although it might have earned that just from Dule Hill’s tap dancing alone). I would wake up, open up a browser to log into work, and promptly start crying, at which time Neal would call it a Psych day and turn on episode after episode. It was strangely effective in increasing my productivity. I’m still trying to understand how my brain works — Neal has some theories — but I think it is almost always in at least two places at once. If one of those places was Kaila’s death, I was darn near paralyzed. But if one of those places was Shawn and Gus, I could manage to accomplish some of my work tasks.

***

Life went on like this, doing the bare minimum for survival and job maintenance, until two things happened: a beautiful dream and Kaila’s funeral. It wasn’t what you might call traditionally “beautiful;” there was all the strange randomness inherent to dreams: several layers of leotards that Kaila wanted me to try on (she gave me many clothes over the years, so that’s not as weird as it sounds), a microscope and spare set of glasses that she begged me to store for her in my sock drawer until she got back. As in real life, there was SO MUCH laughing as I tried to determine why exactly I needed to store her microscope in my dresser. I woke up from this dream, slowly, very slowly. It was cold and dark and 5:00 am, but I felt warm. Like I’d just been for a visit to North Carolina. Like I was soaking in the sun at Duke Gardens. I could hear her unrestrained laugh all over again.

I knew that I had to attend the funeral but when the day came, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I have a great respect for the power of that public farewells, but this was the hardest one I’ve ever attended, at least in part because it was preceded by a 3-hour drive to get there. I know plenty came even farther, but man, it’s just awful to drive that far for an event you wish in the worst way was not even happening. As I walked in the door of the church building where her service was held, we were greeted by a poster-sized picture of her, a truly stunning picture I had never seen before. In what felt like a very violent reaction, I turned around and buried my head in Neal’s shoulder. It took me a few minutes to reemerge and greet her family. The funeral was more or less a series of these sudden sobs and leaning on Neal, but it was incredibly important. I think I left at least some of the pain there. The next day I graded 45 papers with no Psych-crutch to get me through.

***

I’ve often thought what would happen to all my online accounts, social media, chat programs if I died. Should I make a list of all these applications along with my passwords so that in the event of my untimely death Neal can delete each one? (Please tell me I’m not the only one that ponders this at least quarterly . . . ) That’s been one of the distinct things about losing Kaila in comparison to all the elderly people I’ve said goodbye to: she’s always there. In my phonebook and “most recent texts” list. On gchat, Google+, and Facebook. When I log into Skype, and on this mysterious “People” page that my laptop created on its own apparently based on who I seem to have the most contact with. Her pictures and contact info still show up everywhere. My first instinct was to delete her from all my various contact points. I took her out of my phone, but felt a pang of guilt as if I was trying to erase her. I decided to leave things as they were, but have questioned that decision after a couple of times seeing her in my contacts list while at work and experiencing sudden waves of nausea. That instinct to cut all ties with people was wrong, and I think it’s just as wrong to bury all the things that remind me of Kaila even though that feels entirely logical at times. But how selective should I be in what things I keep around? How much control should I try to exert over how often I’m reminded of her? I hung the program from her service on our hallway tackboard, which in a 964-square foot house is one of the most frequented spots, and so far it is doing a beautiful job of reminding me of all the love, light, and happiness that was part of my relationship with Kaila.

***

I can’t only give Brene Brown credit for helping me through the turtle-hiding-in-its-shell phase. In my music-as-therapy efforts, I put on R.E.M.’s Reveal on the drive home from a client visit. I got to “I’ll Take the Rain” just as I pulled into our driveway and predictably broke down in tears. I seem to come back to this song periodically for its reminder: rain and shine, a package deal.

I used to think
As birds take wing
They sing through life so why can’t we?
You cling to this
You claim the best
If this is what you’re offering
I’ll take the rain
I’ll take the rain
I’ll take the rain.

***

I never did finish anything I wrote about my Grandpa or his death in 2011. I regret that now, both because he was a remarkable person that is so dear to me, and because I feel compelled to study my own grief to know how to get through what lies ahead (I think of this post as the real beginning of that study). The morning of Kaila’s funeral I found out my Grandma was quite ill; she was diagnosed with terminal cancer 6 days later. This cycle of grief is just beginning.

April 20, 2014

Easter wrestlings

Filed under: Books, Personal — Tags: , , , , , , — llcall @ 10:21 pm

Can you believe I finally had the wherewithal to post about Halloween and it is apparently another holiday that I’m supposed to have candy and baskets for? Who can keep up?

Although we didn’t manage anything resembling egg dying or Easter baskets — unless you count the fact that Neal put a couple of pieces of candy in some of her bath toys and buried them in the backyard for her to dig up — I have been thinking about the meaning of Easter. Perhaps it’s largely a reflection of my state of mind right now (which has been a bit depressed as of late), but I’ve been a little troubled about it.

Rather than go into detail on all that, I want your opinion on something, mostly context-free of my own thoughts. It is this:

Derek Flood model

(A table from this book chapter by evangelical theologian Derek Flood) 

If you have any exposure to Christianity or the New Testament, regardless of your religious status now, I’d love to hear what you think about this. Does one of these more closely represent your concept of justice and mercy? What do you think your own religion or the New Testament teaches on this subject? (As you may be able to gather, Flood, in his book Healing the Gospel, contends that most people see Christianity through the lens of the Criminal Model when in fact he believes the New Testament presents it another way.)

Feel free to hit me up with a private email if you’re not comfortable posting a public comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts or relevant experiences!

November 15, 2013

Update 2.0

Filed under: Books, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 5:54 pm

I almost forgot that in my mommy update I wanted to include a link to a guest post I did on my friend Jen’s wonderful blog, Pale Cetacean.

pale cetacean

Jen and I share an interest in many of the same topics (minimalism, tiny houses, education, women’s issues, personal finance — just kidding, I’m still trying to convert her to that one ;)), but especially reading, so I love the way she documents how her reading intersects with her daily life. But I still want her to explain how she reads so dang many books, among all her other activities!

I particularly wanted to point you to that guest post because (1) it has more pictures of us in one post than I have probably put on this blog in the last year

Addison loves reading

Like this one, in which (I’m not kidding) Addison is thumbing through Your Money or Your Life, a book on mindful spending and financial independence — doesn’t she look like a personal finance lover in the making?! Be still my beating heart.

and (2) I talk a little more about Carol Dweck’s Mindset, something I’ve mentioned I would like to do a whole series of posts on. That day is still far off, so in the meantime, I’m glad I recorded at least a paragraph or two on how Dweck’s work impacts my parenting.

What reminded me about all this was Jen’s most recent post in which she shares that reading Mindset is giving her a new lens to see the world and herself. Yep. That was my experience too, despite the fact that I had been reading her academic studies for years. I’ll say it again, this book is a game-changer. Read it!

P.S. I’d love to see some of you profiled in Jen’s “reading parent” series — let me know if you’re interested and I’ll connect you!

November 4, 2013

Mommy update: 34 years

Once upon a time, I tried to write “mommy updates” about every six months. I was interested in chronicling my evolving identity as a mother. Now I barely manage a blog post a month, so any regularity is out the window (though actually, if you count this adoption-related post from May as a “mommy update,” which it basically is, then I guess I am still hitting the six-month mark). But it’s my birthday, and what better celebration than to write about ME!

I don’t think I’ve had a lot of epiphanies about my own parenthood lately. The extroversion/introversion thing still kind of sums up my biggest struggle with parenting. Addison wants to talk 24 hours a day; I want at least 6-7 hours of silence every day. You do the math. On Wednesday, I left her in the car for about 30 seconds while I ran in for something. When I came back out she said earnestly, “You know, Mom, being alone is no fun at all.” I’m trying to sympathize, but it’s hard to understand when, clearly, being alone is like in the Top 5 best things EVER! My delightfully extroverted friend Victoria is my go-to source for a window into Addison’s psyche.

Speaking of Victoria, I could not adequately update you on the last several months of my life without her figuring into it prominently. See, she did this really crazy, wonderful thing, which was to fly me and Addison out to visit her house for a few weeks in June. And while I was there she got up with Addison (and her girls) every single morning so that I could sleep in and not get too worn out.  And THEN, if that wasn’t crazy enough, in October she flew me up to our other grad school friend Emily’s house for a week, this time without Addison. Emily was about the most gracious hostess imaginable, letting us scatter our stuff all over, eat her food, and keep her up entirely too late talking. But oh, it was grand! I love these women and their generous hearts, which translate into truly generous actions!

I don’t think I realized how much I missed adult-only conversation with girlfriends until these two trips. I have made some good friends in the years since  Addison was born, but in most instances, our interactions have been limited to times that there were also kids swirling around. Part of further understanding my own brand of introversion is recognizing that conversations with kids around, though enjoyable, usually don’t rise to the level of soul-feeding for me — partly because it’s hard to go in depth into some of the things I enjoy exploring (faith and doubt, women’s issues, identity, relationship dynamics) when you could get interrupted at any moment and partly because I am sensitive to environmental noise (which never stops when Addison’s around). (Sidenote: if you’re interested in introversion, read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Intriguing doesn’t even begin to express it!)

The topic of friendship has been on my mind a lot, actually. I felt I was a little slow to make new friends in our last location; I even started to wonder if somehow my ability to make friends had eroded over the years. I have known I was an introvert for a long time (reading Quiet actually made me realize how interconnected some of my most cherished personal traits are with my introversion), but at the same time, I have always had a number of deep friendships. And I still do, but most of those are long distance these days, and I was starting to worry that for some reason I had lost my edge in really connecting with people. Which is why the “girls’ week” I spent was such a godsend; I remembered  that I can connect with people — some previous ability had not suddenly been lost. I just need to contemplate how best to meet my social needs in light of my physical limitations, work and parenting responsibilities, and new location. I need to determine my “personal social balance” and then act to make it happen. (I’ve taken your comment to heart, Alysa.)

Speaking of the new location, for all my excitement about creating our new life in the mountains and the spiritual promptings I received that this was the right place for us to be, it hasn’t been the smoothest transition for me. About the time Addison stopped telling us that she just couldn’t take it here and settled into life in the mountains (which corresponded with her making friends in the area — shocking, right?), I started moping around the house (or rather, in bed) saying I couldn’t take it here.  The weather got chilly and with no heat in the house we were routinely going to sleep and waking up in 50 degree or lower temperatures. This triggered some Fibromyalgia flare-ups including one night of some of the most intense pain I’ve had in a couple of years. Not to mention the persistent don’t-leave-the-house-for-a-week, even-thinking-about-leaving-the-house-makes-me-want-to-cry fatigue. I am holding out hope that this is still fallout from the moving process, but I have begun to worry that the altitude and weather here are going to take a major toll on my health. Needless to say, this health situation has put a bit of a damper on achieving that personal social balance — it’s surprisingly hard to make new friends from bed. (I just need one of my preexisting friends to come live next door — come on, guys, who’s it gonna be?) On the flip side, it’s been great for my reading as I joined a Facebook-based book group and tackled Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (UH-MAZING! Read it. Like yesterday.), Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person (thought-provoking in teasing out different psychological traits), and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane (definitely sucked me in, which is saying something for a nonfiction reader like me).

The other thing that’s put a damper on my first couple months “on the mountain” has been financial stress. After taking a leap of faith to rent this house in July (which was a bit more expensive than what I initially wanted — $875/month vs. some other places we considered in the $600 range), weeks went by and I still only had one teaching contract for Fall semester. I was sweating it until late August when I received not only a second teaching contract but a “promotion” (I put it in quotes just for you, Neal) to a supervisor over other online instructors. Yet even with that small income boost, our monthly expenses still exceed our income, not to mention all the additional one-time costs of setting up a new house (did you know you needs pots? Like to cook anything at all. Annoying, right?). I’ve felt the stress of being the sole financial provider in a huge way, and it’s manifested itself in ways that I have not typically experienced — forgetfulness, confusion, lack of focus, spontaneous crying outbursts (I know, I know, I cry all the time, but that is almost always sympathetic crying — it’s like the difference between tearing up at a Hallmark commercial and tearfully hyperventilating over a meeting being rescheduled). This level of stress and the physical manifestations of it really caught me off guard.

Luckily, things are looking up! (Thank goodness, or this would be a real downer of a birthday post.) Our heater was fixed on Thursday and I’ve been mentally weighing the relative costs of heating the house vs. moving again — needless to say, I’m typing this in a balmy 65 degrees! I’m at the tail end of a cold and hoping that with no major trips planned in November (I also went to Idaho in the last couple of months for work), my fatigue will start to let up as well. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I have to sing Neal’s praises just a little bit because despite the fact that we worked out a pretty detailed schedule of when we would each care for Addison (8-3 Neal; 3-6 me; 6-7:30 together), I have complied with the schedule exactly 0 times in the last two and a half months . . . and he hasn’t even freaked out about the lack of routine. He’s been more sympathetic to and flexible with my inability (unwillingness, sometimes) to get out of bed than I ever would have expected, based on his total preoccupation with schedules. The mountains must agree with him. Hopefully, I’ll start to agree with them, too.

July 4, 2012

Maybe reading fiction was a bad idea . . .

Filed under: Books, Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 2:19 am

Before I left Utah last summer, we had dinner with our friends the Dyers. We talked quite a bit about reading fiction because that’s a passion for Aislin, and of course, Neal. Interestingly, though, Aislin talked about how at this stage of her life (three young children and now number 4 on the way), she rarely reads fiction because she gets too quickly engrossed and bothered by interruptions. I think I sort of nodded and had a vague sense of what she was trying to say. But after my foray into North and South (recommended by Carissa and Ishkhanoohie on this post), um, I get it.

It kind of snuck up on me because initially I was forcing myself to read it rather than the 4 nonfiction books I also checked out from the library (even though I vowed to read fiction, I guess I couldn’t resist their siren call). But about 100 pages in, I was super impressed with Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing skill. And about 300 pages in, well, I was pretty much obsessed with finishing the book, ignoring pleas for food and diaper changes from my baby girl. I even tried to persuade Neal that it would be fun to stay up half the night finishing our books. I was reckless, I tell ya! But I totally escaped for a few hours (and Addison survived the deprivation), so it was worth it.

Although Gaskell’s writing didn’t have the wit and vivacity of a Jane Austen novel, I was oh-so-impressed by the breadth of issues she addressed. Loss of faith. Challenges to authority. The process of industrialization. Capitalism and market forces. Interaction between different classes. That last one was especially impressive because although Austen addresses that in a high class vs. shopkeepers sort of way, there is never much notice paid to servants. Gaskell isn’t necessarily railing against that system, but she is examining it in a way that felt distinct from other period work I’ve read. And dang it, can she write a heart-fluttering love story! I’m not ashamed to say I reread the last two pages a couple of times. I think I might have felt a little bit transported. That’s real progress!

Now I just gotta get my hands on this BBC version . . .

May 29, 2012

So, fiction . . .

After I finished Adopting the Hurt Child, I told myself that I would take a nonfiction break. I decided to read at least one book recommendation from each of the people that replied to my last books post. I checked out:

  • Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
  • Middlemarch, George Eliot
  • North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Hidden, Helen Frost
  • Knuffle Bunny, Mo Willems (mostly for Addison, but I kind of adore it)

I was going to start with Les Mis, but then thought about how it’s kind of about child abuse and neglect, so maybe I should wait. So I started Middlemarch instead. I brought the book down to read while eating lunch, only to be drawn to a nonfiction book about pain management my mom had left on the table. Despite my pledge to read fiction, I was into Relief at Last before I even realized what I was doing. At the moment, I’ve abandoned Les Mis, Middlemarch, and North and South, in favor of pain management reading. There’s no doubt I’m drawn to nonfiction when that pulls me in, but at the same time, I am having a major escalation of pain at the moment so it probably makes sense to see what the book has to say about the latest research.

But I am happy to report that I did read Hidden and Knuffle Bunny. (And only one of them was about abused children.) My friend Alysa, who reviews books at Everead, is slowly initiating me into the world of juvenile literature. And so far, Alysa’s suggestions have been spot-on.

Addison absolutely adores Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (Alysa’s review here), perhaps because she has her own beloved Dubby. We’ve read it at least 30 times since we brought it home from the library last week. I seldom think about buying things (as in, I literally have never bought Addison a book or toy in her short life), but I am seriously considering this little gem. It was that delightful for all involved.

As for Hidden, it is a book about a girl, Darra, who has an abusive father, and another girl, Wren, who is accidentally kidnapped by Darra’s father (in a sort of botched car theft). Although I was kind of trying to steer myself into lighter, more escapist territory, I have to say that the book draws you in immediately and I was done with it almost before I resolved that I should keep reading (there really is something satisfying about reading short books, as Alysa has mentioned to me before). I heartily agree with Alysa’s assessment of the craft of the book — it’s comprised of three different types of poetry and each adds an interesting layer to the story. For me, it didn’t feel like a heavy book even though it was dealing with some difficult issues, like how kids can still love a parent that hurts them and how kids grapple with feelings of responsibility for bad things that have happened to them. I was quite moved by one of the concluding moments when Wren writes to Darra, “None of it was our fault.” You always wish that would be obvious to kids, but it never is.

Beyond just enjoying the book, I also had a minor epiphany while reading it. Frost’s writing about adolescents feels really appropriate, both as channeling them and as speaking to them. Although I’m far from an expert in youth or literature geared toward them, I repeatedly thought that she was getting at some very significant things but in a non-frightening, accessible way. Perhaps this is what all children’s authors do; I have read so little literature for kids or teens, even though I was one once. I suppose the epiphany was just that if I want to understand how to talk about some of the issues I am passionate about with young people, I should read more from writers who specialize in communicating with those age groups. I have this vague memory of someone overhearing me telling a story to the four-year-old girl I used to live with and just laughing because I used the term “lower socioeconomic status.” Kidlit may have a thing or two to teach me, after all.

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