Notable Reads of 2018: Micro Book Reviews

This list does not include every book that I enjoyed this year, but it includes the ones that I found unique, challenging, and full of good questions.

From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty – When searching for the Good Death, anything beats traditional American death rituals.

The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt – Short stories where everyone has a secret, and that secret is usually that they can turn into an animal.

The Power by Naomi Alderman – If women had the ability to run the world through force, would they run it any better than men?

Vacationland by John Hodgman – It’s E. B. White. He’s talking about E. B. White.

Relief Map by Rosalie Knecht – The police won’t let anyone in the town leave (no phone or electricity) until a fugitive is found.

Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax – A future Japan that mixes questions about immigration, war crimes, fertility, and artificial intelligence exquisitely.

Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht – Is Vera Kelly a spy? Is she in 1950s Argentina? Is she a lesbian? Is she a smart cookie? Yes.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh – It’s a lot harder and also a lot easier than you would expect to sleep through an entire year.

Nothing Good Can Come From This by Kristi Coulter – Drinking keeps women from realizing their full potential, and alcohol is everywhere. Sobriety opens up new avenues.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee – Pain becomes story becomes myth becomes novel.

Severance by Ling Ma – If the fever takes hold of you, you lose yourself, becoming stuck in mindless routines. Hell in an office building.

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling – Daphne disappears off the grid with her toddler, trying to decide whether or not to join her husband in Turkey.

What were your notable reads for the year? Please share in the comments!

Moratorium

IMG_20181215_150709450I’ve decided to refrain from buying books during Q1 of 2019. And what do you do before the moratorium sets in for January through March? Buy as many books as possible, of course!

Seen here: The Best American Travel Writing 2018 edited by Cheryl Strayed, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee, and The Best American Food Writing 2018 edited by Ruth Reichl.

Books purchased at The Tattered Cover on Colfax.

Picture location at Hooked on Colfax.

Housework and the Creative Woman

“I’ve seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write… and you know it’s a funny thing about house cleaning… it never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman….Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.”

― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

Housework. It’s a wholesome, responsible activity. Certain aspects of it have to be done in order to have meals, clean clothes, and a sense of order. But to what extent is it necessary when considering the life-span of art and the fulfillment of the creative self?

Consider how many works of art by women have been subsumed and lost to hours spent dusting, cooking, vacuuming. What would happen if women did less housework and made more art? Many of us have set conditions like the ones set by Cinderella’s stepmother: “If you do the floors, and if you finish the dishes, and if you fold the clothes, and if you reorganize the kids’ bedrooms, then you can spend an hour on your art.”

The arbitrary housework rules that you make up, that I make up, might only be a way of procrastinating. To paraphrase, the housework you will have always with you. Your creative drive and the ability to make art is finite.

Here are three ideas to put into practice to increase creative productivity and diminish the neverending pull of housework in your life.

Art first.

Draw first. Write first. Paint first. Pick up your instrument first. Do not “just do the dishes real quick.” That leads to a distracted spiral. The housework will bother you, it will make your mind itch. Leave it anyway. For half an hour, let your art take precedence. You will get to the dishes afterward, or you will assign it to a family member, or the chore will be there in the morning. Whatever the case, your creative self will take notice that you put it first this time. Make it a habit to let the housework wait in order to show yourself and your art that it has priority.

Lower your standards.

This practice applies to housework and art. Let the carpets and floors go for as long as you can. Accept that the way your children or your spouse does the dishes is not your way, and let them do it anyway. Buy extra underwear and socks so laundry can sit longer. No one does it all, and J. K. Rowling openly speaks of her experience: “People very often say to me, ‘How did you do it, how did you raise a baby and write a book?’ And the answer is–I didn’t do housework for four years. I am not superwoman. And, um, living in squalor, that was the answer.”

In your creative endeavors, it may not be reasonable to hold out for a two-hour block of time before you can focus. Accept that 30 minutes for writing, drawing, etc. is good enough to get something started. Focus your efforts on producing something without judging the quality. Art is made in several half-hour blocks. It helps me to remember that dollars are made up of pennies, and hours are made up of minutes. The time you spend on your art is not wasted; it accumulates.

Go somewhere else.

If you work from home even part of the time, you are probably aware of the ways that your home life intrudes on your work life. In between meetings and emails, you might unload the dishwasher, start a load of laundry, feel compelled to wipe down the kitchen counters when you get a cup of coffee. These chores do not interrupt you at the office, because you’re…at the office.

If you want to spend time on your art without the distractions of minor housework, get out of the house. Cafes and libraries provide relatively quiet spaces devoid of chores and menial interruptions. And keep finding new spaces so that the environment doesn’t become stale to you. The creative mind is just as distractible by ruts and routines as it is by noticing that the recycling needs to be taken out.

 

What you choose to invest in now will manifest results over the weeks, months, and years. Do you want to have a book, an online comic, a piece of music, an album, a sculpture, a painting to show for it? Or a really, really clean house?

Travel Journal: San Francisco

I was recently able to travel to San Francisco for my birthday. My wife conveniently had a conference, and I tagged along and explored the city during the day while she was busy. I only had 50 hours there, so it was a whirlwind of activity. This is the journal of my two-day experience.

Day 1

Wake up in the hotel and put on my running shoes because I plan to cover a lot of ground today. Mesmerized by the architecture of the neighborhoods and the hills so steep with no switchbacks. Breakfast sandwich and crunchy potatoes at MyMy Cafe. The food culture here is amazing. Last night an Italian dinner at Colombini. I love recalling the flavors of the pesto and icebox balsamic. I hear so many languages, so many accents as I walk the north side of the city. Australian, British, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, German, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Portuguese, French.

I walk to the Marina from my hotel in the Tenderloin. Put my feet in the Pacific Ocean for the first time, taste the cold salt water from my fingers. Now it is part of me. Golden Gate Bridge. Alcatraz Island. The traffic of rowboats, tankers, sailboats in the bay. A man about my age walks onto the beach and shucks his shirt, shorts, and shoes into a neat pile. He walks into the ocean in swimming briefs and begins to breaststroke in the dark, chilly water. I find three tiny shells, unbroken in the surf, to take home.

The plant life is abundant and wildly different from Denver. Palm trees, magnolia trees, succulents, irises, lilies, orchids. The sweet scent of jasmine on a trellis.

I take a break at the Marina branch of the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL). A small branch but great selection. Pro tip when traveling: libraries usually have free wifi, bathrooms, and water. The library is located beside a small, gated playground. Sign on the gate announces a city ordinance: All adults must be accompanied by children.

I have a persistent headache. My migraine medication doesn’t touch it. A pressure headache? Allergies? I power through. Continue reading “Travel Journal: San Francisco”

No Excuses Solo Travel

When was the last time I traveled completely alone?

I went to Oklahoma for my mom’s birthday in 2017. But I traveled with my sister and stayed with my parents, so that doesn’t count for these purposes.

No, when was the last time I went somewhere completely by myself? I visited my best friend when I was in high school and flew alone to Louisiana. But her family picked me up at the airport, and I stayed with them the entire time.

I can conclude then that I have never traveled completely alone. I have always had family or friends with me for the better part of a trip. I’ve never been in a position to independently plan my days and activities. How strange to be in my late 30s and only now contemplating solo travel.

My favorite excuse for my inability to travel alone has been Motherhood. In fact, Motherhood has been my most-used excuse for the things I’ve said no to in the last 14 years. Motherhood was at some point somewhat of a hindrance, and it still offers limitations. But I am not so limited as I pretend.  

What would it be like to go to Portland, Oregon on a solo trip for four days, three nights?

Getting only myself onto the plane, off the plane, then to my accommodations. Taking some time to settle in first then go walking and exploring, getting a feel for the neighborhood. Finding my bearings and a cafe. Dinner. An early night to rest up for the next day.  

Choosing the day with the best weather to go to the beach. Walking the shoreline, exploring, turning over driftwood, rocks, feeling the cold sand, breathing the brine. Lunch. Finding another coffee shop or quiet bar to write and read.

Another day I would go to Powell’s Bookstore and make that my epicenter for exploration. I would walk in ever-expanding circles (or more probably rectangles), discovering the nooks and crannies of the high streets. Looking in at boutiques, used bookstores, pastry shops, Thai places. I would get a tarot reading, a massage.

I would go a whole day without speaking more than necessary pleasantries. I would be eyes and ears, hands and feet. I would tunnel into the thoughts these sensations evoke. Slip out of expression except through movement and writing. How interesting to be, without being forced to emote or communicate outside of oneself. Only for a short time, but what a pleasure to vacate the land of speech.

I’m going out to find new stories, my own stories, and bringing them back to share.

Fewer excuses, more stories.

 

Metamorphosis

Here is why I think people can change:

My mom just shared a trans rights supportive post on social media, saying how valuable trans people are. My mom used to be a fundamentalist Christian. But when my wife came out as trans three years ago, my mom did not hesitate to love and accept her. When who she loved came into conflict with her beliefs, she changed her beliefs not her love.

Love is transformative, and I’ve seen it happen.

Idea Soup 10/19/18

Idea Soup is my weekly cultural round-up of my food for thought. These posts will highlight the books, articles, songs, essays, poems, films, and TV that I am consuming. Not meant to be an exhaustive list, but a best-of compilation for the week. Click on the embedded links for more information or to purchase any of the media listed.

 

This week’s ingredients in my Idea Soup:

A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women by Siri Hustvedt“Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind.” The collection takes on such varied topics as entrenched sexism, neuroscience, psychiatry, writing, teaching writing, teaching writing to psychiatric patients, pornography, the economy/price structure of art, Robert Mapplethorpe, and gender roles in domesticity. Siri Hustvedt is one of my favorite writers and thinkers, and I enjoy the challenge of following her mind. Her structured arguments feel like elegant fractal somersaults.

 

ForeverAn Amazon original series starring Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen. They play a married couple who seem to have a loving, stable relationship. When everything seems perfect, what could go wrong? The show plays with the ideas of perfection, security, the afterlife, existential angst, and how individuals who sacrifice themselves for a relationship don’t do the relationship any good. The opening sequence of the first episode rivals and pays homage to the opening love story in Up. This show kept me guessing, and I recommend it to people who like Maya Rudolph, existential questions, and The Good Place. 1 series, 8 episodes.

 

“Now or Never Now”The fourth track on Metric’s newest album Art of Doubt. After a minute-plus instrumental introduction, the lyrics start with ideas of failure, weakness, and regret but progress to strength, self-confidence, and owning the self that you’ve become from experiencing defeat and artistic frostbite. I appreciate the duality of “now” or “never now”, which I interpret as playing with the idea of present time and the decision to unfreeze, move on, and own your experiences.