Thursday, August 6, 2015

Self-imposed Between-Semester Reading List


I realize that for some people, this is not a lot of reading. Seven books in three months? But for me, it is more “pleasure reading” than I have done in twelve months. 

I’ll be posting my thoughts on these books each Wednesday (oh my goodness, that sounds like an actual commitment) as part of my goal to read more and write more. I think that writing about what I have read will help me to remember what I have read.


If you see something in the pile you have read and want to talk about it, hit me up.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

After Austerlitz

Last term, I took my first creative writing class. I needed something new because I was burnt out on literature classes and the endless dissection and search for meaning. A creative nonfiction class was available with an excellent professor and it turned out to be a life-changing experience for me. As part of our final assignment, I had to assess what I learned and what I needed to work on.

One of the things that I realized during the class was that I don’t read nearly enough. For someone who is pursuing their masters’ degree in English literature, I am woefully under-read. In the portfolio review that I submitted at the end of term, I explained in a roundabout way why that is:

"I need to read more books. I generally do not read unless it is for class. It’s becoming clear to me that good writing requires good reading. I need to know what’s out there so I can try to emulate a style, or avoid writing something that’s already been written, or just see how people are playing with form. 
I tend to avoid reading for two reasons: I am afraid I will accidentally pick up an idea or style from another writer. It’s clear now that’s unavoidable. If I see a style I like, I can try to write that way, or try to figure out what the writer did to make me like the work so much. And there are only so many ideas in the universe: writers are bound to overlap, so I shouldn’t let that stop me. 
A few years ago I bought a copy of Creative Nonfiction. All the writing just seemed so self-conscious, as though it were being written to be published. I feel that way about a lot of writing. It sometimes feels like writers are manipulating words in a self-indulgent way, and I know that’s something I want to avoid. Even when I try to read The Best Short Stories of 2009 type collections, things seem so forced. But maybe I need to read what I consider bad writing in order to understand what’s going on there as well. 
So right now my goal is to read creative nonfiction or even some short stories to just really see what’s out there. First up: Dictee and The Emigrants. I have a feeling that Sebald is definitely in the same vein as what I am trying to accomplish: create more of a feel than a story per se. (Update: yes, we now know I love Sebald.)"
________

After handing in my portfolio, I proceeded to devour books. I came to WG Sebald first, because my professor said there was something about one of my pieces that reminded her of The Emigrants. She described the book as “A meandering story with lots of descriptive passages about 4 people who all commit suicide” or something along those lines. Well….that sounded…..intriguing? I’ll discuss The Emigrants in a later piece, but after that book I moved on to Vertigo followed by Austerlitz followed by……well anything I read can now be described as Before Austerlitz or After Austerlitz.
After Austerlitz, other books and authors became a challenge to read. Austerlitz, if it turns out to be your cup of tea, is a haunting and life-changing work.

Recommending books to others is a crapshoot. Like music, movies, or television, we all have our own specific tastes. I can’t read a “beach book” or “chick lit” and it’s not because my air quotes indicate a lack of respect for the genres. Any book that makes it to publication has something going for it and an audience for it. I can barely tolerate a “serious novel” but that’s because I have realized over the years that I am a contrarian. Tell me something is good, and I will immediately dislike it. I can’t help myself. But that's another story....


So I send you in search of Austerlitz with a caveat: It’s a good book….to me. That doesn’t mean it’s a good book to you. So peruse a few pages and if it seems like your cup of tea, give it a go. It’s not an easy read, and it’s not a traditional read, but if you find yourself After Austerlitz, welcome.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Lindsey, Livers, and Living



I've been thinking a lot about Lindsey lately. May 21st will mark one year since she left us, but her presence still looms large in my mind. Her blog showcased her clear and unique voice. I miss her posting about life as a liver

I still can’t read Lindsey’s blog without crying. I didn’t know her, had never met her, and only knew that like me, she had an incurable cancer. And she was so young! Much younger than me. Twenty-six and just finishing grad school. She was vibrant and full of life. Looking at the picture on her blog, you could almost see the possibilities stretched out before her. She was newly diagnosed and knew that the journey before her was challenging, but she didn’t act like cancer was her salvation or her mission or her ruin. She viewed cancer as one aspect of her daily life, and she called herself a liver.

Lindsey had metastatic pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer. Metastatic. It’s such an ominous word, and it’s as bad as it sounds, maybe worse. Metastatic means the cancer has spread beyond its site of origin. Metastatic means you are in no way curable. You won’t be a cancer survivor. You will never be cancer free. You won’t beat this thing. You just have to learn to live with it.

Lindsey had metastases in her liver. With neuroendocrine cancer it’s never just one tumor in the liver. And invariably, one of the tumors is located near an important blood vessel, making surgical removal tricky at best, dangerous at worst. Once you have tumors in your liver, that’s it.

So how do you live with a ticking time bomb in your liver? How do you go about your daily life? That question is probably unanswerable. Ask fifty people, get fifty different answers. If you were like Lindsey, you lived your life with the sense that you still had plenty of it left. And not in a “positive attitude will get you everywhere” sort of way. A practical, no-nonsense, go about your daily life with all its ups and downs sort of way. She wrote about her frustration when things were challenging. She wrote about her future and saw herself in it. She celebrated her messes and her successes.

I first came across Lindsey’s blog when I was crowdfunding to pay for experimental treatment in Europe. She was doing the same, and her blog was different and real and allowed me to feel by proxy. Feeling by proxy. I couldn’t feel emotion about my own condition, but I could look at Lindsey and be moved by hers. We both had all the same treatments. We both had major surgery that palliated our cancer...for a while. We both travelled to Europe for experimental radiation treatment that shrunk our tumors...for a while. We both used a cocktail of off-label oral chemotherapy that worked...until it didn’t. We both tried not to let the disease define us.

The first picture I remember of Lindsey she looks so sunny and young. She’s smiling and she looks intelligent and poised and happy. Happy. The last picture I saw of her was taken a few days before she died. She still looked happy. She was in a wheelchair in her wedding dress, with swollen ankles and sunken eyes but still had her sunny smile. She’s surrounded by friends and family on her wedding day. Something in me broke when I saw that picture. Did I see myself in Lindsey like I always had? Was I getting a glimpse of one more thing we would have in common? That picture doesn’t allow me to hide in denial. And it makes me cry every time. I cry for Lindsey, and for everything we’ll never get to be. 





Thursday, December 11, 2014

Yes, I did day 3 of 30 days of Yoga

On Wednesday I did the 60 minute stability program that I did on Sunday. It went well, and it's nice to see progress so quickly. I initially started off with a Flow sequence, but I was having trouble keeping up with it just five minutes in, so I decided to set myself up for success by repeating the same video I already knew. I'm smart like that. I took today off (today should have been day 4) because I seemed to tweak my shoulder a bit yesterday maybe doing too many planks improperly, or maybe doing the yoga in a pretty cold room. Either way, it seemed prudent to slow down a bit so that I could actually do 30 days of yoga and not injure myself in the first 5 days. Again, I'm smart like that. Tomorrow my plan is to repeat the 30 minute short flow series that I did on day 2. I had to go buy some yoga blocks today because I don't have any and we used them at the studio and they definitely make some poses easier. Okay, that's the update, mostly for myself and not for you because damn it must be boring to read about my yoga.

Songs that Got Me Through 2014...

If you know me, you know that I have pretty bad taste in music. Or more accurately, no taste in music. I don't really listen to anything new, like ever. My standard fare is Steely Dan, America, or pretty much any 70s soft rock. 

This year, I somehow branched out a little tiny bit. I guess the other thing you need to know about me is when I discover a new song that I like, I play that song and nothing else, repeatedly. For weeks. And weeks. It's a strange phenomenon. Also to note is that I don't listen to music all that much anyhow. I can't listen to it while I read or write because my brain can't do two things at once. And when I'm in the car I am listening to Howard Stern on Sirius.

All that being said, here are the two songs that I love love LOVED this year. I'm not even saying they're from this year. I just discovered that they existed this year.








The Last Ride is a bonus song from this year. Try not to love it.

Enjoy the ear worms.