Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

This Will Be The Year

I make no resolutions this year. Instead, I make a statement: This will be the year in which I make my life resemble what it is I want.

This will be the year in which I become a work-at-home mom.

This will be the year in which I focus on my writing.

This will be the year in which I stop looking to others to provide for me my hopes and dreams, and instead provide them to and for myself.

This will be the year.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Books I Read In 2005, Part II

How All This Started by Pete Fromm: An odd, very unsettling book about a boy and his dysfunctional relationship with his bipolar sister. It made me uncomfortable. There were big, unaddressed issues. And I was way more concerned about the mental health of the boy than that of his sister. But the fact that I was concerned, that it stayed with me, tells me it was a good book. Not the best of the year, not anywhere near, but something different on a theme (bipolar disorder) on which I felt as if I'd read it all.

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts On Faith by Anne Lamott: Only Anne Lamott could make religion seem hip and intriguing and inviting to someone like me. She's so good.

Skywriting: A Life Out Of The Blue by Jane Pauley: By far, the worst book I read all year. BY FAR. I literally can not understand how anyone published this, much less gave it a favorable review. Disjointed, nonsensical, unintelligible. What a waste of my time.

One For The Money by Janet Evanovich: My mother loves this series, so when I found myself heading onto airplane without a book to read, I bought the first one. I guess I understand why some people say they find this sort of thing entertaining; certainly, it was a fast read. But I'm just not entertained by gory violence, misogyny, and descriptive rape scenes in the midst of what is supposed to be an entertaining book. I'm just funny that way, I guess. I won't be reading the others.

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn: My friend's daughter was reading this over the summer for her high-school class and the friend and her husband recommended it to me. It was...interesting. Certainly a lot of food for thought--not only from a philosophical standpoint, which was clearly the point of the book, but from a literary criticism standpoint. So much of it didn't make sense, or was contradictory...and once I'm seeing contradictions, there's no dragging me back into the story as a story. Still, it made for a nice long discussion between all of us when I saw that family again a month or two back, and any book that stimulates discussion can't be all bad. This wasn't all bad. Actually, it wasn't bad at all. It just wasn't a coherent novel, is all.

Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner: I've been wondering what the deal was with the whole chick-lit thing, and I knew this was about motherhood, so I gave it a shot. Eh.

The Child With Special Needs by Stanley Greenspan: A nonfiction book; basically, a manual on how to do floortime therapy with special-needs kids. There are still many questions in my mind as to whether or not N would have made the strides he's made this year without any input from me, but if my input did help, all of my direction for that input came from this invaluable resource.

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy: After listening to Anne Patchett's Truth and Beauty, I had to read this purportedly brilliant book. It was a real disappointment. It had so little depth, so little reach. It didn't really say much of anything, except that it sucked to lose her jaw. But how that turned her into the person she ultimately became, how that changed her, why it changed her..none of that came through for me.

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann: I gave this whole 'branching-out' thing a try, really I did. Historical fiction--never been my cup of tea. But it had a twist, this one did. It was about a homosexual love affair in Cornwellian England. I was intrigued. And I read the whole darned thing. And realized, long before it was over, that it still wasn't my cup of tea.

I Don't Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson: Why did I do it? I knew I was going to hate this book, that I was going to find it insulting and ridiculous. I knew that I'd probably find plot holes large enough to drive a lorry through. And I did. And I did. And I did.

The Bitch In the House edited by Cathi Hanauer: These were fun essays to read, at least the majority of them. Some of them annoyed me, but that's to be expected. Some of them made me roll my eyes, but that's to be expected, too. But some of them really charmed me, and that I wasn't really expecting.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith: This woman is awesome. This was her first book, but you just wouldn't know it. It's so...ambitious. Funny. Wide-ranging. But not in a newbie sort of sense. Smith seems so comfortable as a writer, so nuanced and mature. She has a lot to say. Which is not to say that this is a perfect book, or even a superlative one. The last third doesn't come close to living up to the first two-thirds, and the ending is an all-around disappointment. (I really am having a problem with endings these days; I haven't found one that really, truly feels right in a very long time, with the possible exception of Bel Canto, if it had a different epilogue.) All I can say is that I hope all the attention she's been getting of late doesn't constrain her writing any. I'm really looking forward to what's to come from the breathtaking Zadie Smith.

Hey! This was fun! Let's do it again next year, OK?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Books I Read In 2005, Part I

Mr. Lincoln's Wars by Adam Braver: As a child, I had the biggest 'historical crush' on Lincoln (and FDR), so when I heard Braver speak at the LA Times Book Fair in 2004, I decided to pick up his book. It's a series of short stories that tell the story of the Civil War from a variety of viewpoints, and also give a very personal view of life from Lincoln's own eyes. I can't say I was enchanted--it's painful stuff--and I can't say I was transported, but I found it a fascinating concept, and I thought it very well done.

Nursery Crimes by Ayelet Waldman: I got onto a Waldman kick, spurred on by being loaned three or four of her books by my friend Tamar (who is no longer blogging, so I can't link to her, and that makes me awfully sad...). I have a lot in common with Waldman; we're the same age, both Jewish, both mothers, both writers, both dealing with bipolar disorder in some form or another. Plus, we have friends of friends in common. I even emailed her once or twice when she was still blogging, and she was kind enough to write back and was actually very helpful. None of which has anything to do with her books; I'm just rambling. The long and the short: Despite the fact that I simply don't read "detective stories" as a rule, I enjoyed all of these books. A lot. They're not supposed to be fodder for deep thoughts, but that doesn't mean they weren't fun.

Playdate with Death
by Ayelet Waldman: Did I mention that I enjoyed all of these books, a lot?

The Big Nap
by Ayelet Waldman: I did? Oh, well then you know how I felt about this one, too.

by Lizzie Simon: This was, for me, a detour from Waldman. I had included Lizzie Simon's book on her sort of bipolar disorder road trip in my book's 'further reading' appendix, but hadn't had time to read it myself. So I did. It was, um, well, highly disordered, not that I shouldn't have expected that from the title. And interesting in parts. But, well, I sort of felt like she wrote it too young. She still doesn't have a clue what's going on in her life, and what all of this has meant, and the book comes off as rambling, sad, and more than a little bit delusional. But, like I said, interesting. Not a waste of time, at all.

Death Gets a Time-Out
by Ayelet Waldman: Did I mention...? Fun.

There's no title here, but the next thing I read, at my LA-based brother-in-law's request, was his latest novel, which sadly has yet to sell, despite his having published several novels which have all been at least moderately successful. It's a tough business, I'll tell ya. And it's a shame, because this was another sweet story.

The Challenging Child
by Stanley Greenspan: A nonfiction book by the father of what is known as 'floortime' therapy. This was at the beginning of our realization that we needed to help N, but didn't quite know how to go about it. If you have a challenging or quirky child, this one's worth a look.

Death Plays House
by Ayelet Waldman: Yay. Back to the fun.

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time
by Mark Haddon: Eh. I wasn't as impressed as I thought I'd be. I don't have Asperger's syndrome, so it's kind of disingenuous of me to claim that Haddon doesn't quite get it right, but it just didn't feel genuine to me. And there were too many inconsistencies to get me to really buy into this character, and this story. Plus, I couldn't quite figure out what kind of story it was supposed to be. Overall, a disappointment.

Interpreter of Maladies
by Jhumpa Lahiri: Lahiri is brilliant. God, she's brilliant. I'm having a lot of trouble these days with the concept of the short story, because I think it highlights the trouble I'm having with literary fiction in general--the endings are almost always a disappointment to me--and there were a few of her stories where I moaned because the ending felt wrong, or too abrupt, or made me feel stupid, like I'd missed the whole point of the story, which I very well may have. But as a rule, these were just brilliantly done, with incredible, fully realized characters. They were painful, many of them, but in that exquisite way that makes you feel, but not mind, the pain. I was truly crazy about this book.

[Part II coming soon...]

Sunday, December 25, 2005

On The First Night Of Chanukah My True Love Gave To Me

...a first-season Partridge Family DVD.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Books I Listened To In 2005, Part III

Jewish Stories From the Old World to the New (various): This was a series put on by our local NPR station, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, that I had never managed to listen to, and yet had always wanted to. This compilation had something on the order of 36 or more stories, almost all of which were ready by someone whose name was either familiar or VERY familiar to me. I really enjoyed hearing these, though the enjoyment clearly waxed and waned over the series, because, dude, these are all very different writers with very different points of view, and...In any case, if you get a chance, check this out.

72-Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell: I have this particular interest in bipolar disorder, as you all well know. And so I really wanted to like this book. Really. And there were parts, moments, whole sections where I thought that might happen, that I might be able to like it. The writing is strong, and I had a lot of empathy for the mother's character. But then. That whole second half, where it went spiralling out of control into this bizarre other-worldly place...and worse, where it then came thumping back down to reality, and NOTHING HAD CHANGED, all the unreality was for naught...It just left a bad taste in my mouth. I was, to put it mildly, disappointed. I'd hoped for so much more, for a human face on a more-common-than-most-people-think problem, but this wasn't it. Ah, well. Better luck next book.

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett: Truly beautiful. And truly disturbing as well. I found Ann and Lucy's relationship to be distressing and sad and oh-so-needy, and I didn't understand what Ann 'saw' in Lucy. It drew me in, though, and it held me, and it affected me. (Oh, and it also impelled me to read Lucy's Autobiography of a Face, which will be in my 'books I read' list, but which, in a nutshell, wasn't nearly as good as Patchett led me to believe it would be.)

On Beauty by Zadie Smith: I didn't want this book to end--not only because it was so well written (it was) but because I knew that any ending would let me down (it did). There was so much going on in this book, so many deep, wonderful characterizations, so many threads to follow, that I felt a letdown when some of them were never spun out completely, and when the characters did things I wouldn't have expected of them, or didn't like, or didn't agree with. Still, it was a warm book, a personal book, a funny book, a good book, maybe even a great book.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Oh, to live back in the days when a visit to your friend's house lasted for days, and a visit to a relative lasted for weeks, months even! To live back in the days when reading and playing the piano and singing where your main occupations. To live back in the days when Mr. Darcy would come and rescue you, make everything all better, and love you just for who you were. Sigh. I want Jane Austen to write my life.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri: I can't say what it was that appealed to me so strongly about this story in which so little and yet so much happens. Beautiful writing. Strong, strong, strong characterizations. I couldn't really 'see' through Gogol's eyes, because his family and its traditions sounded so wonderful to me, so warm and loving and embracing, but I did love hearing about how he worked his way through it, through the ambivalence and the pain and the love. Just beautiful.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles: I missed a lot of books in my time, because of an unusual high-school education in which I went from regular grade-school english classes to these 'extra-honors' classes in which we read Kafka and Dostoevsky in 9th grade instead of Shakespeare and Dickens. So I've made it a point to try and get to some of the books I know all the other kids had to slog through in school, except I tend to enjoy them more as an adult. This was an exception. Maybe this is a boys' book. Maybe it's better read when you're younger. Maybe I just didn't get it. No, I definitely didn't get it. Listening, I felt simultaneously sad and angry, but only a little bit. Mostly, I felt bored.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: And then there was Bel Canto. Which, by the way, I thought I would dislike. Ugh, terrorists. Ugh, opera. But it had been recommended to me highly by my erstwhile boss, and besides, I'd enjoyed Truth and Beauty so much, I felt I owed it to Patchett to get through at least one of her pieces of fiction. And so I was unprepared for the way it knocked me off my feet when I started it, and the way my heart lept from my chest and into the middle of these words, and these feelings, and these people and their lives. And aside from not quite 'getting' the epilogue, I loved it with every fiber of my being. Every second of it. I just loved it. There were a lot of really special books I either read or heard this year, but I can say without hesitation that this one was my favorite. Even if I can't really say why.

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler: I get my book suggestions from a number of different places. Sometimes you guys drop me a note in one of my "what shall I read?" pleas. Sometimes I find a book blog, or a newspaper 'best-of' list. Anne Tyler came from one of those places, though I can't remember where. I'd stopped reading her after Accidental Tourist. I'd loved Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant when I read it, oh so manymanymany years ago, but I'd gotten bored with her. I should have listened to myself. It's not that The Amateur Marriage (or Back When We Were Grownups) was bad, exactly. It's that it was, to me, pedestrian. No larger point, no point at all. Stories to keep one occupied. But I'm looking for more than that these days. Or, rather, when I'm looking just for that, I'm looking for stuff that's lighter than this, less of a downer. If I just want to be entertained, I'll go elsewhere. And if I want to really think and feel, I'll go elsewhere as well.

Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler: This one annoyed me even more, if that's possible. Because I just did not get what Rebecca's problem was. That whole 'crisis' of hers? Didn't make a stick of sense. Plus, if you're going to set the thing up like a romance, than play it through to the end! Is she just going to string Zeb along for the rest of his pathetic life? Feh.

[And so, now on to the books I actually read. And, hey! If I press forward a little, I might actually make that magical 25 before the year is out! Yay me!]

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Books I Listened To In 2005, Part II

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer: I could have literally wrapped my hands around Foer's throat and throttled him for the ending--well, not so much the way the plot itself ended, but the trailing off, the suddenness of it all, almost as if he got all the way there, but just couldn't see it through for four or five more lines. Otherwise, though, I thought this was a brilliant book. There were inconsistencies in the characters that bugged me a little, and there were so many threads to follow that I got lost a couple of times, but the story itself--its inventiveness, its nuances, its insights--overcame all of that. I was impressed, despite being skeptical going in. And that's something.

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott: As you'll see in my Books I Read In 2005 list (when I get to it), I had read Traveling Mercies before getting to Plan B. Both were exceptional books. Her reading style doesn't quite do her writing justice, but again, in the end, I enjoyed hearing the author read her own work, because it felt more authentic that way. I could go on and on about the feelings this book stirred in me, and there are about a dozen philosophical points I'd love to debate as a result of these two books, but instead, I'll just say this: As a direct result of reading Anne Lamott's thoughts on faith, I finally got off my butt and joined a temple, for the first time in my life. Lamott reawakened a need and a thirst for faith and belief that had lay dormant in me for decades. She changed my life.

Never Let You Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: So many people loved this book. If you're one of them, please, please, please tell me why. It infuriated me! Not the story so much, because, eh. It had some interesting elements, some things to think about. But the writing. Or, rather, the crafting. I mean, there's a scene near the end, the denoument, where all is to come clear, all the mysteries explained, the veil lifted from the main characters' eyes. And how does it come about? The main characters sit down in a room and one of the antagonists, so to speak, literally gives a pages- (or in the case of the audiobook, minutes-) long speech that lays it all out for the protagonists. Hello? Mr. Ishiguro? What happened to 'show, don't tell'? It was so badly done, so clearly lazy on the writer's part, that I was literally angry by the time it was over. And then it goes and makes the Man Booker short list, and all sorts of stuff like that, and I just don't get it. Feh.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: Every time someone would tell me I should read this book, I would reply that I have so little time for reading that I don't feel the need to spend it on books that I know are going to be painful to get through. (The number 1 thing on my list of Things I Don't Like To Read About is little kids being hurt.) I finally gave in, though, when I heard it was in audiobook format. I was right, by the way. It was painful. But it was OK. Although, overall, I felt as if Sebold had stepped over the line a few too many times with the mystical-magical stuff, the interfering and body hopping and such. It wasn't a waste of time, but I wasn't transported, either. Mostly, I'm just glad that I no longer have to feel like I might have been missing out on something important by refusing to read it.

Hypocrite in a Poufy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman: Some of these essays were touching, others painful, others quite funny, some all of these at once. I wonder, then, why I can hardly remember them. It's a great title, though.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornsby: I guess this was entertaining. All I know is that I felt disappointed, let down. I hoped for something more for my efforts. Instead, I got a badly sketched soap opera and the feeling that Hornsby was writing the screenplay for the movie version even as he worked on this novel. I hit the ground, hard.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding: Oh, bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. Really bad. But kinda fun at the same time.

New Rules by Bill Maher: I'd heard almost every single one of these already, because Baroy watches Maher's show religiously. Waste of time.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi: This is one of those books that I'm glad I heard, rather than read. Because even though I found it really difficult to keep all the 'girls' straight without being able to go back and see who was who, I think I might have been derailed by the sections on history and straight-out literary criticism (especially those dealing with books I haven't recently read; I enjoyed the sections when I could follow a lot better). And that would have been a pity, because there's a lot in this book to learn and to think about. It was a little bit all over the place, and there were unanswered questions and threads of thought she never seemed to follow up on, but I learned and my eyes opened a little and I got a glimpse of a life I might not otherwise have glimpsed in quite this way. Plus, she inspired me to dig out my copy of The Great Gatsby, which I don't think I've read since high school, and to get an audio version of Pride and Prejudice out from the library (see part III of this list) and experience hearing the book all these years after having read the book. And that in and of itself was worth the time and effort.

Name All The Animals by Allison Smith: I realized that I'd probably grown somewhat jaded by all the memoirs and books of personal essays I'd already listened to or read this year when I basically reacted to this tale of the loss of Smith's twin brother in a car accident and kept thinking, "But why are you telling me all of this?" I think part of it was the fact that the book is almost as much about Smith's experiments in sexual orientation as it is about her brother's death, and I just didn't see the connection. And I think part of it was the fact that I didn't love her brother--I didn't know her brother, even after reading the book--and so his death, while sad as a concept, didn't move me sufficiently to give the book the heft it probably should have had. Oh, and one more thing. Alroy? That's a little bit creepy, if you ask me.

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie: After dead siblings and Iranian oppression, I needed something light, palate-cleansing. This was. It was fun, and exceptionally frothy. There's nothing more to say about it than that. Except, maybe, can someone explain to me the difference between chick-lit and romance novels? Because, dude. They seem the same to me. I think the chick-lit writers need to stop assuming that romance novels are somehow 'less than' and just enjoy the genre and the ways in which its limits can be tested and played with.

[Next up: the last of the three-part Books I Listened To In 2005 series. And don't you roll your eyes at me, Missy. You asked for it. Well, maybe not you, but a few of your compatriots. And I'm nothing if not willing to please.]

Monday, December 19, 2005

Books I Listened To In 2005, Part I

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris: Is Sedaris ever not simultaneously funny and brilliant? There's a scene in here between him and his mother, after he's been kicked out of their home by his father, that will leave a scar somewhere on my heart forever. And I'm not sure that the muscles in my ribcage will ever recover from my laughter during the story about Santa Claus and the Eight Angry Black Men.

A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill: Eh. I've read/heard better.

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs: This is one of the better that I've read/heard. I know I'm late to the Burroughs party, but I was astounded by this man's ability to spin a yarn, and to prove just how much stranger truth can be than fiction. The one problem? I am now OBSESSED with figuring out who the psychiatrist really was.

Dry by Augusten Burroughs: Although this one wasn't quite stranger than fiction, it was certainly more absorbing. It did strike me as odd how completely disconnected this part of his story was from the story of his childhood--how he seemed to have completely cut all ties with his past, despite how they undoubtedly led to his issues in the present of this book--but I otherwise found it completely engrossing. I could feel the pain and hurt and the confusion in this book in a way that I simply couldn't amidst the complete oddness of Running with Scissors. And, oh. The scene in rehab with the stuffed animals? Beyond funny.

Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs: If I hadn't read his previous two, I'd have been enthralled with this collection. As it was, my bar was perhaps a tad too high, so I was only fascinated (though I could have lived without a step-by-step description of his mouse execution).

The Fourth Hand by John Irving: Figuring it was time to move on from my memoirs-only stance of the previous month or two, I decided to listen to Irving's latest, despite the fact that I've been less than excited by what little of his work I've read since Owen Meany. I should have listened to my gut. I wouldn't say it was a waste of my time, but it just didn't go anywhere important, and the places it did go often rang false to me.

The Secret Lives of Bees by Sue Monk: Cute. Sweet. Predictable. Utterly forgettable.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain: This was FUN. I sort of want to own the book, though, so that every now and then I can look over the what-you-need-in-your-kitchen sections (especially the part about which knives to buy) and the dining-tips sections.

America, the Audiobook by Jon Stewart: Riotous. Abso-freaking-lutely riotous. I so very much do heart Jon Stewart. Nobody does it better.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: Oh, this was a hard book to listen to. Painful and deep and passionate. Still, I have a number of quibbles with Hosseini--I think he rushes the last third of the book, and I think he took a too-easy way out by having Assef reappear as he does. It shook me out of a world into which I had settled deeply, if uneasily. I may have questioned the intensity and necessity of Amir's guilt and self-blame, but I felt it, utterly...until I got near the end, and things started rushing by, unreal and almost wholly unexamined. Still? It's a pretty darned brilliant book.

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Piccoult: Not so darned brilliant, but not so bad, either. This was one of those books that were probably made less brilliant by being put into an audio format, because they chose to have different 'actors' for each of the main characters, and it became more of a show than a reading. I thought the issues raised were interesting, the characters themselves less so. Still, I stayed up until 3am one night to listen to the end of it--and I was literally sobbing at the ending (which, stupidly, completely blindsided me). So I shouldn't complain too much, right?

The Partly-Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell: That voice. That voice! It took me away from the sheer force of this woman's talent for about 12 seconds, but by the time I'd gotten through the second or third essay, I couldn't imagine hearing them read by anybody else. Now, you have to understand that I don't go in for this whole 'fan' thing with writers, usually. But the more I listened to Vowell and her way of thinking and her clarity of insight, the more I kept thinking, "I NEED to know this woman. I NEED for her to be my friend!" I searched valiantly for an email address for her, because I had Things To Say to her. Important Things. Things only she would appreciate and understand. But, sigh, she remains unaware...or, rather, shielded from my stalker self. Well, one of those.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell: If possible, this was even more brilliant than Partly-Cloudy Patriot. For one thing, anyone who could even come up with this idea needs to be lionized. For another, anyone who could execute it the way she did needs to be read, listened to, heard. (Plus, Jon Stewart as President Garfield? Rocks.)

[Two more parts to come...and then on to the books I read.]

Friday, December 16, 2005

Four For Eight...Or Is That Three For Eight...But Definitely Two for Eight!

I couldn't wait any longer to go back and see how I'd done with last year's resolutions, especially since I couldn't remember what resolutions I'd made. And now that I've done it, I'm...well, frankly, I'm underwhelmed.

1. Sign a contract to write another book.
Nope. Not so much.

2. Make significant progress on my 'memoir'--or, preferably, finish it.
Depends on what you call significant. It's longer than it was this time last year. But it's not anywhere near "finished."

3. Summon up the courage to begin an actual novel. It's time.
Not even a little bit.

4. Finish and self-publish my family cookbook.
Sob. I really wanted to do this. Instead, I didn't even move it along.

5. Exercise needs to be part of my life again. I miss running, but it may not be possible with whatever I've done to my knee. But that doesn't mean I can't do a lot of walking, or find something else that fits into my lifestyle and time constraints.
Now, THIS I've done. I'm now walking four or five times a week (or more on the weeks when I'm not working too much) and logging quite a few miles, too. Yay me!

6. Continue on--or, rather, return to--my weight-loss journey.
Again, I guess this depends on your point of view. I didn't get anywhere dieting this year, and in fact ended up gaining another eight to ten pounds. BUT, when I stopped taking Effexor and started taking Celexa, I dropped between six and eight of those pounds. So, it's possible that by January 1 I will be at or below the weight I decided would be my goal sometime this summer, but it's through no effort of my own.

7. Find time for my tatting and cross stitching, because even if they're old lady crafts, and even if they make most people's eyes glaze over, they make me happy.
Nope. No time for tatting. Boohoo.

8. Find time for reading. My goal: to finish reading 25 books this year. I don't think I finished reading five last year, and I miss it. I did have an excuse, but this year...no excuses.
Oy. Another one that depends on definitions. I didn't "read" 25 this year, though I got a lot closer than I'd have thought. But if you count audiobooks, then I read a whole lot more. So...I dunno.

Soon to come: Lists of the books I read this year, the books I heard this year, and my resolutions for next year. No, no, really, TRY to contain your excitement, folks. You're just embarrassing yourselves.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I Had To Take A Xanax Tonight

That's not so unusual; happens nowadays about two, three times a month. I'm just pleased it isn't more often, to be honest. But what bugged me about it tonight was why.

The phone rang at 6:30. Baroy called upstairs, where I was working diligently. (Or playing sudoku online. One of those two.)

"TC, it's Dr. Oui."

Gulp. A quick glance at the clock confirmed what my stomach had just told me: Despite having gotten a phone call on Friday from his office, despite having put the appointment card on my desk (downstairs, where I wasn't working/playing, unfortunately), despite having planned out my day last night with this specific issue in mind...I'd forgotten to show up for my 6 pm psychiatrist appointment. For the third time. Out of the last four.


So I was already feeling crappy when I picked up the phone, not only because I hate that my mind no longer works despite the fact that the postpartum brain-drain excuse hasn't been in play for almost five years now, but because I heart Dr. Oui. (Have I ever mentioned that? OK, but have I mentioned it in the last five minutes?)

But it only got worse when I picked up the phone and cursed mildly and apologized for being just plain stupid.

"Not a problem, TC," he said in that smooth-as-silk and deep-as-the-ocean voice of his. (Have I mentioned...? Oh, yeah.) "But I did have something I wanted to talk to you about."

"Oh," I said, surprised.

"It's about my imminent departure from University Where We Both Work."

And all I could think was, shit. Shitshitshitshitshit. Where the fuck did I put that Xanax?

It's not going to be that big of a deal. I mean, I'll follow him wherever he's going, and if he's not covered, I'll just cut back to once or twice a year. I don't feel like starting over with someone new. I'm stabilized on my meds; the reason he's been seeing me every two weeks to a month for almost a year now is because of how hard it was, initially, to get me to a stable place, and I think we've both sort of fallen into a habit of continuing frequent sessions. Plus, it's only recently that we've both felt that I'm actually at the other end of whatever was going on with me.

But for some reason--because my own exit from University Where We Both Work now seems to be stalling? because I'm not sure how stable my current mood stability is? because I just really like Dr. Oui?--hearing that he's leaving kind of rocked me. I went from a perfectly good mood to a mondo crappy one in about five seconds flat, finished making dinner, and am now waiting for my after-dinner mint (which is, by the way, for anyone who's never taken Xanax, not minty at all, but rather the proverbial and literal Bitter Pill) to kick in.

Isn't that stupid? Of all the mundane and minute things to get all antsy and anxious over...

Friday, December 09, 2005


I had to go yesterday to have a small mole removed from my neck: It was too dark, the dermatologist had said two weeks earlier.

The idea of this squicked me out. I came up with 75 Really Good Reasons to cancel the appointment, but thank goodness for my phone phobia, because I just couldn't pick up the phone and do it. So I showed up, but not without a few dramatics, like telling Baroy that if I died on the table... (He later asked me, "Was there even a table for you to die on?" I stuck my tongue out at him.)

But just because I showed up didn't mean that I was going to behave like a 41-year-old--or even a 21-year-old.

"I'm scared," I told the nurse. "I'm a total pain wuss. How much is this going to hurt?"

"You'll feel a pin prick and maybe a little burning when I put in the lidocaine, but that's it," she replied.

"You know, I haven't been to a dentist in over 25 years," I said. That always gets a reaction, and she didn't fail me. "Is it going to be dentist-bad?"

"Oh, goodness, no," she said. "This is nothing compared to the dentist. But 25 years?"

"I told you I'm a pain wuss," I said.

"I guess so!"

I repeated my little song and dance when my dermatologist came in. There aren't a lot of times in your life that you can watch yourself angling for a particular response as you're doing it, but this was one of them. I knew what I was saying, without saying it: This may be the 12th mole removal you've done this morning, but it's my first one ever, and I need you to take your time and be careful, and maybe treat me a little bit specially. And he did. While the initial appointment had been rushed and impersonal--one of the excuses I'd been turning over in my head for not keeping the appointment, in fact, was that I didn't like his bedside manner--he was friendly and smiling and kept asking me if I was OK, even if the entire thing took less than five minutes, including the stitching.

"Well, I didn't die on the table!" I announced to my office mates when I got back to my desk, less than 45 minutes after I'd stepped away. (The benefits of working on a medical campus include being footsteps away from all of your doctors.)

"Oh, were you supposed to?" one of them asked, laughing at me. (My hypochondriac reputation precedes me pretty much everywhere I go.)

"I know it's not a big deal to you," I said, pulling a face at him. "But this is the..." And then I stopped.

What I was about to say was that this was the first time I'd even had to be stitched up, even if it was just a single stitch. Which is true...if you don't count my TWO c-sections and the DOZENS UPON DOZENS of stitches and staples they had to use to close me up after them.

"This is the what?" he asked.

"This is the absolute proof that I'm freaking insane," I said, laughing, and walked away.

And hence the curtain came down on yet another non-drama in the life of TC.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Good Intentions

Good intentions don't pave the road to hell; they pave the road to nowhere. At least, that's what my road to nowhere is paved in.

I start everything with good intentions. This blog, for instance. It was intended to be updated much more frequently. It was intended to have a point, a theme. But, two-plus-years in, it's nowhere. If I post twice a week, it's a lot. If I say something significant once a month, it's a lot. There are things that have come out of this blog, for sure, but there's the potential for so much more. But, instead, I sort of let it get away from me for lack of focus and organization. I don't even know what I've written in the past, and couldn't find a previous post if my life depended on it. Or my livelihood.

I have so many ongoing projects right now that I'm embarrassed to list them all. More embarrassed because, initial good intentions aside, I have nothing to show for most of them, and the ones that I do have something to show for, it's an inferior product because of my lack of focus, my lack of follow-through. I have, for instance, a half-written book proposal for a parenting series. Thing is, a year ago, I had someone at a publishing house who was interested in such a proposal. I had an in. I had an idea. I had good intentions. And then I sat down to write it all up, and I became absolutely paralylzed with fear. I called it other things--burnout from writing my bipolar book, needing to spend time with the kids, needing to catch up on things around the house--and then later I moved on to other excuses, such as needing to do work that was going to pay me in the short term, rather than gamble on something that might never pay off. And so that proposal is in the same state that it was 10 months ago, and I'm sure my in is out by now. Good intentions. Nowhere.

I also have more than 50 pages of my "stalking memoir" in a file somewhere. I won't say I've written 50 pages of it yet, because that's not true: this is spew-style stuff, paragraphs that don't necessarily connect to one another. It's sort of like a pile or rubble out of which I might some day be able to build a small house, because in there are all the bricks and beams I will need. But I have to sort through it first, and throw away the stuff that isn't up to snuff, the stuff that's structurally unsound. Of course, almost all of what's in that file was in there a year ago, too. More good intentions--to get somewhere with this piece. And then I talked to my agent, and she told me that memoirs are like fiction rather than nonfiction, and that just a sample of what I'm hoping to do with the piece won't get me an advance; I've got to write the whole thing, and then she'll see if she can sell it. Read above the part about fear. And about not having motivation to work when there's not the immediate gratification of a paycheck coming in. So much for those good intentions.

I had good intentions to keep myself organized and on top of the journal I'm editing, and if you saw my desk right now, you'd know where those intentions have gotten me, just a month into the gig.

I've also had good negative intentions. I've been intending to learn how to say no. "No," I need to say. "I can't take on an assignment for your magazine right now." Instead, what comes out of my mouth is, "How much did you say you'd pay?" and "Sure, that sounds easy. I can handle that." And I could handle it. If I weren't already working three jobs, that is.

(And isn't that last bit obnoxious in its 'embarrassment of riches' way? But the truth is, that's what's going on right now. And every time I go to say no, I start to worry...What if all the other stuff starts to dry up? What if I quit my job and then I have no way of bringing in any money? What will we do? So I say yes. Even if I have absolutely no right to do so.)

Hell, I had good intentions when I started this writing prompt (which is what this is, from a creative non-fiction writing group for mothers that I recently joined), that I'd finish out the full 30 minutes. But it's 20 minutes now, and I'm done.

So much for good intentions.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Fifteen Things About Books

Tamar tagged me to do a meme that involves simply putting down 15 things about books. Hey, even post-flu, mid-deadline (upon deadline upon deadline upon deadline), pre-breakdown, I CAN DO THAT!

So here goes:

1. I do, more often than I should, judge a book by its cover.

2. I prefer to own books rather than borrow them from the library. Part of that is because I don't like to feel rushed in finishing a book, and I want the opportunity to pick it back up again and reread bits and pieces if I want. But really, most of it is because I hate book jackets. Especially the crinkly plastic library book jackets that go on top of the regular book jacket.

3. I prefer trade paperback to hardcover. Yep, the book jacket problem. Plus the portability problem. Plus the it's-hard-to-hold-up-while-you're-lying-on-your-back-in-bed-reading problem.

4. I like smooth edged book paper rather than that linen-y rough-cut stuff. Another plus for trade paper.

5. That said, I did get a huge kick out of reading my stepfather's leather-bound, gilt-edged copy of Madame Bovary when I was a young teen. I think it was the built-in bookmark, to be honest.

6. And another plus for new-versus-library: There is nothing like that new-book smell.

7. The physical rush I get from being in a place where I'm surrounded by books--I'm thinking of the Strand in New York, or even this incredible little mostly used-paperback bookstore I know in Burbank--feels a lot like an anxiety attack: a weight on my chest, difficulty breathing, tingling in my fingers and my face. Except in this case, the symptoms are a result of sheer, visceral excitement.

8. It's this feeling that's made me think that I might like to be a librarian, surrounded by books all day. I figure I'd get over the crinkly book covers eventually.

9. I feel about certain book authors the way most people feel about musicians and movie actors. Except I don't want to yell screaming after my favorite authors. In fact, I think I'd do almost anything to avoid having to meet them. Not because I think they'd be bad people--I know they wouldn't--but because I don't think I'd have anything interesting or useful to say to them, and they've already given me everything I need via their written words.

10. Sometimes I forget that *I* am a book author. Mostly because, when I talk about books, I'm talking about fiction. Funny, coming from a non-fiction writer, isn't it?

11. In fact, Baroy and all three of his brothers are book authors--though they all write different kinds of books. One even writes fiction. But, obviously, I don't worry about meeting any of them!

12. Actually, I know a fair number of book authors, but most of them are science writers and such, so they don't fall in the "in awe of" category. I mean, if *I* can do it, how hard can it be? That's why fiction is in an entirely different category. That, I can't do.

13. I am not a fan of experimental fiction. And I haven't been a big fan of genre fiction since I was younger, when I was a HUGE Harlequin Romance fanatic; it was a passion my grandmother and I shared, and we had a wonderful time reading together and trading books. We even once went to a Harlequin convention. God, that had to have been...um...yeah. 29 years ago. Shit.

14. I taught myself to read when I was four, and have been a fanatic ever since. My mother used to take my little sister and I shopping with her, but when we got to a department store, she would find a quiet rack of clothes, sit me behind the nearest mirror/post, and go off and shop with my sister while I read. I would sit there for an hour or two, never looking up or moving, until they came back and got me when they were ready to go home. (We're talking early 1970s here.)

15. I can't imagine my life without books.

I can't think of who to tag. Any volunteers?

Friday, December 02, 2005

There's the Exit Strategy. And Then There's Actually Exiting.

I've been working on this so hard and for so long, this exit strategy. I started with the assumption that there was no exit, and I despaired. Then came my therapist and approximately $10 quillion in psychopharmaceuticals, and suddenly it dawned on me! There IS a way out! And I can find it! And so I did. It's not going to lead me to the place I'd hoped to land (which would be called Only Having To Work When and Where I Want To And Not Having To Worry About Money Ville) but then again, that place doesn't exist on any real map. It's not going to lead me to a place called There, or a place called The End, either. It turns out that this is a work in progress, my life. That I'm going to have to keep redefining it and myself. Who knew?

But still. I put a few goals together, and I started working towards them. And there have been a bunch of times when I thought they wouldn't happen. And they haven't, not completely, not yet. But they are going to, it seems. I'm about to be faced with that time. That time when I need to put up or shut up.

There are still a couple of hurdles. Things like health insurance, of which we won't have any if I leave my job or of which we'll have to pay close to $1500 A MONTH to have, that can eventually be overcome with some creativity, I think. Maybe. And then there's that eeeeeeennnnnnssssssssyyyyyyy teeeeeeeennnnnnnsssssssyyyyyyy hurdle of Baroy. The hurdle being...um, well, see, it's like this. Um....well....I haven't told him yet.

I know! I know! But it's so haaaarrrrrd! Not that he's going to stop me. Not at all! He'll say something about how it's my choice, and it's my life, and he supports me fully. And then he might add something about being concerned how we're going to swing it, but like he said, he supports me. And then I'll see him poring over our Quicken accounts, and holding his chest like he does whenever he has an anxiety attack, and snitching Xanax from my prescription when he thinks I'm not looking. And he'll go back to sending out dozens of resumes each day and obsessing over each and every one of them, and he'll be up all night worried and depressed. And I'm going to be too scared myself to have to deal with his fear. Except I'll have to. I know. I know.

And so I'll sit on this a little longer. Not the exit strategy; he knows there's one in place. But how close I am to it, what needs to happen for it to be a done deal. The fact that I'm thinking I might even be able to give a Jan 1 or Feb 1 end date for my official employment here. (And yes, I know, there are people from my office who might read this, though I doubt it. I also doubt this is news to any of them, except for maybe the specifics. So, screw it.)

It makes me wonder, a little, whether a marriage can be a good marriage when so much of one's life--and of one's dreams for one's future--aren't shared. It feels like a good marriage, or at least a good marriage that's being guided by two flawed individuals. I often complain to Baroy about some of the ways in which 'we' don't feel like partners as much as two people moving along and just checking in with each other fairly regularly. Or, in the case of my exit strategy, not-so-regularly.

(One of the not-very-big arguments we had just before we got married was about the fact that he wanted to--and, in fact, still wants to and does--do his own laundry. We have side-by-side hampers at his request. I do my laundry and the kids' laundry, but he does his own, and then folds everyone's, because I always leave it, but that's besides the point. I have never understood why it is that he wants to keep our laundry separate, just like I've never understood why it bothers me so much. But there you have it.)

So, I wonder: Is this exit-strategy-secrecy-stuff emotional laundry that I'm just trying to keep separate from him and his own baggage? (Ouch. It hurts to mix metaphors that clumsily, you know. Don't try that at home.) Am I protecting him or trying to hurt him? I think I'm just trying to avoid adding one more messy moving part to this already messy steamroller of an equation. But I could be kidding myself. It wouldn't be the first time.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Why I Don't Celebrate Jesus (for Tricia)

Because he was just another Jew. Probably a really nice guy, from what I hear. But just another Jew. And I just don't have the time to celebrate the birth of every Jew ever born, nice as that would be in the abstract. And I certainly don't have the time or money to make every Jew's birth into a national holiday--which, by the way, is what Christmas is. A national holiday, I mean. And as much as I love time off--and as much as I'm not going to complain about time off--I'd be more than happy to come in to work on Christmas if it would mean that I wouldn't have to take VACATION DAYS in order to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or Passover. I'd trade it for the time off for even ONE of those. Since, you know, none of those are national holidays--or, in my school district, even school holidays. None of the Christians I know have to take vacation days to observe their most holy religious days. But the rest of us? You betcha.

Where was I going with this again? Oh, who cares?

Look, Tricia, assuming you meant your comments seriously: You have to know from spending ANY time here that there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that I'm going to nod my head sagely and say, "Ah, yes. Those poor Christians are so badly persecuted." But at the same time, let me say that I think Christmas is a great, fun holiday, and we always have a wonderful time spending it with friends. When I talk about it with my children, I talk about how lucky we all are to be able to share our traditions with other people. I don't want a single Christian person to stop celebrating Christmas, or even to lessen their enthusiasm for the holiday. All I want is for them to stop expecting me to greet it with the same enthusiasm as they do, because I won't. And--both more importantly and more to the point--I want Christians to stop making it essentially impossible for me and my family to opt out of participating in the holiday, if that's what we choose to do. We're off school, we're off of work, all the stores and the restaurants are closed. There is no option to pretend this is just another day. And there is no way to miss the difference between the way this day is treated by the world at large--including those who don't celebrate--as opposed to the way everyone else's life goes on as usual when it's our religion's most holy of times.

Now, all that said, wanna hear the kicker? The absolute best part of this all? I went by my temple on Tuesday evening, after posting to my blog, to pick Em up from Hebrew school, and was waylaid by one of the ladies from the sisterhood.

"Would you be willing to help out?" she asked. "It's something we're doing for the holidays."

"Sure," I said, making the obvious assumption that she meant Chanukah. Never assume.

"Well, we've adopted a couple of families from [a local organization for the needy], and we're trying to get together some Christmas baskets for them."

And so, today, I went out and bought an 8-year-old boy some underwear and socks and t-shirts, and someone else is getting him the Pokemon he wants, and someone else is buying his mom a basket full of soaps and powders, and someone else is getting a turkey delivered to their home on Christmas Day.

So there you have it. Even my temple doesn't feel my pain--or, probably, they're just better people than I, less rancorous and spiteful and able to be generous without looking to whether, if the tables were turned, we would be the recipients of the same amount of generosity.

Like I said, all I need is a time machine. Most of the year, I'm a pretty mellow person. Unless, of course, there's a presidential election coming up...

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