The Book Buffet

For micro-post Wednesday enjoy the reading buffet I set up in my living room. Magazines, library books, an assortment of bookmarks, and an apple cider candle for ambience.

The vacuum cleaner in the background serves as memento mori: someday you must clean.

The Bookstore That Got Me Out of Accounting

Writers can’t stop talking about bookstores, and I am no exception. Today I am writing this in the downtown Denver location of The Tattered Cover Bookstore. The very same bookstore that I passed every weekday morning on my walk from Union Station to a corporate job. Stopping in at the bookstore before work was my nod to arts and creativity, a chance to breathe before the day rushed in. On paydays, I bought a stack of two or three books as my reward for keeping myself emotionally together in a work environment that caused me great stress and anxiety.

If I had 10 or 15 minutes to spare, I went through the heavy wooden doors on the east side. A quarter of an hour to put off the crushing responsibility I felt at my desk for babysitting the money of rich people. Reading gave me escape routes from work and family stress, but it also kept me in mind of those first thoughts of writing for a living. It took bravery to put that dream to rest while I gathered confidence and experience. Then it took another turn of bravery to quit the corporate world and get to work writing.

One Friday, I bought a beautiful copy of Emma (Austen) and the 50th-anniversary edition of The Master and Margarita (Bulgakov) with the art nouveau cover. I lugged them to the cubicle quad that I shared with Sales. They stayed on my desk for the day. Reminders that I was made of more than balance sheets, payroll deadlines, and catching the train.

I remember other just-bought books on my desk serving as talismans to keep my soul from being eaten up by finance. A few lines from Cat’s Eye (Atwood) sustained me through the headache of payroll. An essay from the Best American Science Writing collection kept me sane while deciphering an account that had not been maintained for two months when the accounting manager left. Caitlin Doughty’s essays about searching for the Good Death gave me perspective and watered the seeds of doubt that I had about continuing another decade of the work I was doing.

The bookstore on the corner of 16th Street and Wynkoop provided a testament to the life available to an artist. A testament that I needed desperately at the time. I still visit the Tattered Cover, still browse the shelves. Sometimes for 20 minutes, sometimes hours. And in those visits, I appreciate all over again what a bookstore can mean to someone who is looking for a sign.

Migraine Days

Somedays aren’t yours at all / They come and go as if they’re someone else’s days”

Somedays by Regina Spektor

 

Waking up with a migraine is the biggest bummer. Like waking up and finding out your car has a flat tire and you’re out of coffee and you have a big presentation first thing in the morning. It’s a harsh reality that cannot be avoided or put off. It requires immediate resolution.

Migraines have been part of my adult life since I was 26. At first, I suffered through them. Three days of pain while hiding in darkness, lying as still as I possibly could, putting off my life. Day 1: the onset, sharp pain that can still be worked through and thought around. Day 2: the main battle, no movement, no work, only intense, exhausting, inescapable pain. Day 3: the hangover, the pain is gone but in its place a tenderness, a bruise that slows all thoughts and actions.

Then I figured out that the headaches followed periods of intense exercise as well as the general pattern of hormones. I wish I could say that I demanded pharmaceutical help sooner, but like a good, guilt-ridden young woman I thought it was simply mine to bear. My wife and my family encouraged me to see a doctor. This resulted in two medications, one to thin my blood on a daily basis, another for when a piercing pain above my right eye begins to curve behind my ear and nestles under my skull. I now lose only half a day at most to a migraine instead of nearly half a week.

I woke up with a migraine today. I did not take medication immediately because sometimes it just needs water, caffeine, a shower to clear the pressure away. So I followed the usual morning procedures: glass of water, cup of coffee, toast.

The pain continued but at a low frequency. This is the worst trick that a migraine plays because I have to weigh giving up my morning but squelching the headache against trying to work through low-grade pain but being productive. I have to weigh the risk that a migraine becomes full-blown and possibly forms a lesion on my brain against sleeping through a morning of work.

Hindsight, it always makes sense to swallow half of an oblong white pill and sleep while my brain sorts itself. In the middle of the choice, it is difficult to give up the belief that maybe I can power through it. Maybe it’s not really a migraine. Maybe I’m being weak or lazy.

Migraine days appear and demand that I practice self-care. Like a meditation practice, a yoga practice, a running practice. I often don’t want to take the time to care, don’t want to slow down, don’t want to admit that I am at the mercy of the blood flow in my brain.

But there it is, and here I am. Taking the time to care for me. Taking the time to heal.

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”