ACK!

There comes a time in a woman’s life when she reaches a new milestone: when she begins to identify with Cathy. You know, Cathy:

Cathy

“Cathy” is the cartoon you always skip on the Sunday comics page when you’re a kid because it’s not funny. There are no talking animals, no smart-alecky kids, just a cranky lady who seems to cry a lot. Cathy, I misjudged you.

I more readily identify with the updated Cathy, Liz Lemon.

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I, too, am workin’ on my night cheese.

For my renewed identification with Cathy and Liz Lemon, I’m blaming Aziz Ansari. Aziz has written a wonderful book, Modern Romance.

ModernRomance

Read it! Just be prepared to feel as romantically hopeless as ever. But you’ll come away knowing you’re in good company, or, if not good company, at least abundant company.

This isn’t just another book of repurposed stand-up material from a popular comedian. This is something else, with a lot of statistics and research and scientists to back it up. Aziz understood how to make this book happen so that it would be taken seriously, but wrote it in a way that doesn’t feel like an overwrought dissertation. The book, as Aziz lays out in his introduction, is largely focused on, and intended for, the 20-30 year old middle class dating demographic. Those of us in “emerging adulthood.”

I feel like I could have done without my emerging adulthood. I could have slid happily into a 1950s-style companionate marriage. I realize this is a terribly unenlightened thing for me to say, but the ticking of my biological clock is beginning to keep me up a night. Being a twenty-something woman in my emerging adulthood stage (which should fast be coming to an end, but feels like could stretch long past what is supposed to be. . .’actual’ adulthood?), I spend a fair amount of time thinking about my romantic life (or lack there of), when I’m not stressing out about my career prospects and figuring out how to just be a person in the world. Friends are getting engaged, getting married, having babies – I’m inadvertently planning my wedding colors and the song I want for the first dance as husband and wife.

It’s the transition from passionate love to companionate love that my relationships haven’t seemed to survive. The transition from passionate to companionate gets mistaken for, ‘You’re no longer interesting and/or exciting and I think we should break up.’ In my (limited) experience, I have yet to find a guy who wants to go from passionate to companionate. Or, maybe I really just am not that interesting and/or exciting. Should I have been given more of a chance? More of a time investment? Should the relationship have lasted longer to see if companionate love could have been in the cards? I’m not saying my potential future husband has already passed on me, or me on him, and too soon. . .but maybe? I am a slow burn; it takes a while for me to warm up to someone, but once I do, it’s lasting. Which is why those “dangerous” points in the passionate-companionate love chart are especially dangerous for me. I’m still building up my fire, and he’s burnt out. To use Aziz’s elegant analogy, I am a Flo Rida song: you have to invest some listening time to realize I’m a hit (“the Flo Rida Theory of Acquired Likability through Repetition”).

I have less dating experience than my fellow emerging adults, I’d say, and I identify with a key problem Aziz and his researchers noted: being overwhelmed by choices. I am paralyzed when faced with too many options (“The Paradox of Choice in Relationships”), especially online, where dating apps are more like games than a way to connect with someone. Online dating sites are not designed for someone like me. With so many available options, I don’t think it’s possible to believe in “the one,” it may be more realistic to believe in Michael Scott’s ‘“the one.” I think I am a maximizer learning to be a “satisficer” (a word that frankly, does not, and should not exist, but that Aziz explains is ‘a term that combines “satisfy” and “suffice”‘). Meaning I need to stop constructing an ideal in my head and continuously researching and searching for it in real life. It’s ultimately fruitless and leads to dissatisfaction.

Aziz is the perfect person to write this book because he not only has genuine curiosity about the subject, but brings a much needed lightness to what can feel like a heavy and hopeless subject, especially if you’re single and reading it. Not only is it easy to draw the conclusion of ‘I’m going to be single forever,’ but also ‘my phone is potentially ruining my life and my brain.’ (Now there’s a book endorsement if ever there was one.) Dating has become a sophisticated power struggle game, based on, essentially, withholding gratification (who can outlast whom when waiting to text back), with the added layer of who-we-are-online-is-not-necessarily-indicative-of-who-we-are-in-real-life. It’s easy to feel hopeless and want to give up. Fortunately Aziz knows when to swoop in with a joke about the bozo population on dating sites and in texting situations, or words of wisdom from Pitbull.

Ultimately I think the best take-away from Aziz is his mentioned-somewhat-in-passing approach to dating: going to places and doing things you enjoy and would want your potential partner to enjoy because they’re probably at those places enjoying those things. Seems obvious. And yet.

Modern Romance is by no means an exhaustive or definitive exploration of dating and relationships, but it’s a digestible look into how the dating landscape and techniques have changed, largely because of technology and the fact that we’re all now terrible at having conversations in person (among other things). Yes, it feeds into my cynicism, but it also provides a lot of perspective and different ways to approach and analyze my own dating life. Also, it makes me want to eat tacos and ramen. (Just read the book.)

Tu M’etonnes

In case you were wondering (you weren’t), my ballet obsession is alive and well.

I just finished reading the book Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. And it is everything I wanted this book to be. Well, ok, I wish it were slightly longer and that the final ballet were described in more detail. But, aside from those two points, it is everything I wanted it to be.

astonish me

Joan is a fantastic character. For much of the novel, I am on her side and my heart breaks for her while she struggles to be the kind of dancer she dreams of being, but can never quite achieve, and falls in love with the unattainable, asshole of an egomaniac, Arslan Rusakov. But she is slowly revealed to be far more complex than I thought she would be. She is not a fragile ballerina tragically giving up a life of dance for the life of stay-at-home mom. She’s a bit of a snake, frankly. And though I was taken aback by some of her actions, I like her more for her sometimes astonishing behavior and manipulation.

I nearly always identify with the struggling artists in a novel. Though the book is filled with ballet dancers, both struggling and naturally brilliant, Elaine and, surprisingly, Chloe turned out to be my favorites. In both these women Shipstead captures the kind of inner torment it is to be an artist.

Never in her life, not once, has she danced the way she wishes to, but futility has become an accepted companion. The ideal that lives beyond the mirror makes teasing, flickering appearances but never quite shows itself, never solidifies into something that can be looked at and not just glimpsed. She might surprise it as she whips her head around, spotting during pirouettes, or catch it flitting through one hand or foot. But it never stays.

Joan’s story, ultimately, is more about love than about dance. In falling in love with Rusakov, she’s forced to realize the superior beauty of his dancing and the inadequacy of her own. And for her it’s better to quit dance than to torture herself trying.

I think if I had been allowed to toil in obscurity like I’d planned, everything would be better. I would admire Arslan from afar and idolize Ludmilla even though she’s a bitch, but now it all seems so disappointing. So drab. Now I have to think about how if I’d only happened to be more talented, my life would be a thousand times more exciting and i’d get to really dance with him, and he would take me more seriously. It’s like there’s an empty space in the world that was meant for me, but I can’t get inside. I can just bang on the outside.

Joan’s realization of her own limitations is sad, but her acceptance of those limitations is admirable. She understands her place in the world, her relation to the world and to history. (Although, some of her actions and motivations are really slimy.)

Most theaters have a red light in the back for the dancers to spot off of as they turn. She had been that light for Arslan as he considered defecting, a fixed point to look at, to steer by, unremarkable except in its use.

The relationships and the partnerings and the love configurations (because they are more than just triangles) are complicated and messy and disappointing and maddening and expertly crafted by Shipstead. Everyone in this book, at some point or other, is manipulative and used by someone or using someone for their own agenda. No one in this book is innocent (with, arguably, the exception of Jacob). The unfolding of these characters and their histories and entanglements are brilliantly paced. Shipstead gives you just enough to bate your interest and curiosity before propelling you forwards or backwards on the timeline of Joan’s life.

Shipstead captures the triumph and torture of love and art in Astonish Me without falling into cliches or becoming overly sentimental. She writes about the desire for perfection and the pain of inadequacy, and the impressions a person has from loving the artist from afar about dance as well as McCullers (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter) and Patchett (Bel Canto) write similarly about music. The women in this novel are fierce and unapologetic and refuse to be reduced to props in someone else’s production. The story is addictive and immensely satisfying. Definitely add Astonish Me to your own summer reading list.

Book H(e)avens

Last week I made a pilgrimage to The Book Barn in Niantic, CT.

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The Book Barn is magical. The main site is comprised of several barns and sheds packed with hundreds and hundreds of used books. It is a book browser’s paradise. It’s such a wonderful indulgence: I can be outside in the sun, in their lovely gardens, and still be surrounded by books.

bookbarnenter        bookbarn

None of the new arrivals are in alphabetical order, which I kind of love. It makes the browsing more interesting. The genre sheds are in alphabetical order, so if you’re looking for a specific book you can find it. (The fiction shed, incidentally, smells amazing. My mom found my saying this totally weird. But it smells like books and old wood, and it just speaks to my soul. Breathe deep, fellow book lovers.) I went without a plan, solely for the purpose of browsing. It’s a perfect way to spend a few hours.

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And I was really good; I only bought four books. I had to remind myself that I didn’t need to buy everything right away. There will always be books. Especially used books. I love used books. I particularly love finding an inscribed used book (no luck this trip). Every novel contains a story, but every novel is also its own story. It’s lived in someone else’s home or dormroom. It’s been held by other hands, maybe even stained by other tears.

I love book people. While I was in the fiction section, I overheard a guy talking to his girlfriend about Faulkner. He told her to read Light in August because ‘it’s easy.’ And she said, ‘It’s easy, or it’s easy for Faulkner?’ I interrupted saying, ‘I love everything about this conversation.’ When he said something about ‘Absalom’ and how he couldn’t seem to find a clean copy he liked, I said, ‘Are you looking for a copy of Absalom! Absalom!? I found a copy out front with the new arrivals; I can show you.’ He looked a me and said, ‘Oh! Do you work here?’ ‘No, I just saw it and it caught my eye.’

This is partly because I love Faulkner. But this is also because I have spent years of my life as a librarian and bookseller. Even on my days off, I’m helping people find the books they need. Once a bookseller, always a bookseller.

I spent my bookselling year as an employee at the wonderful Newtonville Books. Literary Hub recently featured an interview with the owner. I love Newtonville Books. It’s so much more than a bookstore, it’s really a community of book people: booksellers, readers, book buyers, authors, editors, reviewers, general book enthusiasts. It was difficult to leave. Being a bookseller or librarian comes with its frustrations (namely, people), but it is also somewhat of a luxury to spend my days among books.

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This spring/summer I hope to cross a few more off my bookstore bucket list. I welcome any and all suggestions!

For Mother’s Day

We are all unique and beautiful and should love our bodies and ourselves.

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Now that that’s out of the way, really with this ‘dad bod‘ nonsense? Finally fellas, after years of the stifling social pressures from the media, and continual self-hatred for not having flawless skin or being able to fit into a size 2 or having a ‘thigh gap,’ you can rest assured that women love the ‘dad bod.‘ And how does one achieve the new standard of male perfection? It comes from a few years of picking up your babies and playing with your kids in the backyard (or, for the younger, childless ‘dad bod,’ occasionally going to the gym), while still having as much pizza and beer as you want. You go, ‘dad bods.’

Fine, yes the ‘dad bod’ praise is a positive thing. Realistic standards of beauty. I fully support this. But for Mother’s Day, let’s talk about the rather-not-talked-about #mombod.

‘Mom bods?’ Gross. You got all stretched out from carrying a living being inside your own body for nine months (give or take). Then countless magazines and fitness regimes told you to ‘Get your body back!’ as quickly (and as out-of-sight) as possible. But you’ve probably still got stretch marks, or cesarian scars, or saggy boobs from feeding another living thing with your own body for months (if not years). You’ve put your looks at the bottom of your to-do list, under loving and supporting your family, doing your jobs (both inside and outside the home), juggling everyone’s schedules, and being expected to hold your shit together. And in the midst of all of this, you’re bombarded with people telling you how you do or should look. ‘You really lost the baby weight!’ Does it actually feel good to hear that? Or, ‘You should get more sleep.’ That’s got to be helpful.*

And for the non-childbearing or childless ‘mom bod’ variety, we’ve achieved our physiques by: not being 17 anymore, discovering the joys of wine and cheese, and knowing we should probably get to the gym but resigning ourselves to the fact that there are so many other things we have to do or would rather be doing. But this is not necessarily a thing to celebrate, I think it’s what is most commonly referred to as ‘adulthood.’

Women can do what they can to celebrate their bodies and their scars, but the ‘mom bod,’ the ‘nice balance between childbearing hips and community zumba’ will not become the new feminine ideal, not in this country. The ‘mom bod’ is only lauded when it has ‘bounced back’ to its former glory. Is this backlash from us claiming we can have it all? Society has said, ‘Fine, you want it all: here it is! And all the shitty, unrealistic expectations that we’re going to load onto it!’

There is already plenty being said about ‘dad bods’ vs. ‘mom bods.‘ But for Mother’s Day, let’s toast the ‘mom bod.’ Because, truly, is there anything more amazing than the female body?(I, for one, am convinced that Freud got it all wrong, and it’s breast envy, not penis envy, by the way.) Women can CARRY LIFE inside their bodies (if they so choose). And then FEED that life. WITH THEIR BODIES (yet another Pete Holmes reference for you). I want to toast the ‘mom bods’ we inhabit, that carry us through this world, childless, child-bearing, or otherwise.

So here’s to you, ‘mom bods!’

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And an extra shout out to my own mother who carried me in her womb for nearly an extra month, because I am just that stubborn and indecisive.

*Disclaimer: I am not a mother nor do I claim to be an authority on motherhood or the pressures that come with it. I am only an empathetic, observant female with opinions.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

I don’t know about you, but my heart is certainly a lonely hunter. I’ve been feeling that more acutely, recently, and I think I stumbled upon this book at a very fitting time.

mccullers

Can we just take a second to laud the title The Heart is a Lonely Hunter as quite possibly the best title of a book, ever. (Side note: I don’t I think I like any of the cover art I found for this novel.) I don’t know how I’ve gone nearly 28 years on this planet without reading it. My education, nay, my country has failed me! But, then, if I had read this book ten years ago, I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it the way I do now. Or maybe that’s underestimating my younger self. Either way, why aren’t people constantly talking about how wonderful this book is?

Firstly, I’m not sure how a 23-year-old could be so accurately emotionally insightful. Haven’t we all been Mick Kelly? Dressing up for a party, thinking, ‘This time things are going to different,’ and, ‘Aren’t we all such grown ups?’ only to have that image devolve into a game of tag? Discovering something you want, someone you want to be with your whole being, and trying to become that person, by whatever meager means she has, only to be struck with the thought that “Maybe when people longed for a thing that bad the longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them.” Mick Kelly, how are you so wise?

Mick Kelly is one of my favorite coming-of-age female characters, right up there with Thea Kronborg and Scout. So many of her sentiments are perfect, and I don’t want to just plop down a list of quotes here, but she is so thoughtful, I just can’t help myself. Her reactions to music are so spot-on, for me.

“This music was her – the real plain her. [. . .] The whole world was this music and she could not listen hard enough. [. . .] Wonderful music like this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole world was this symphony, and there was not enough of her to listen.”

I have felt that feeling. And it’s a beautiful kind of hurt and longing. And McCullers got it perfectly. Isn’t that the mark of a great book? The author’s ability to put into words what you’ve felt but haven’t quite been able to express? And then suddenly, there it is. You recognize yourself in writing.

Then there’s Mick’s concept of the inside and outside rooms. Not ground-breaking, but revelatory for a pre-teen/teenager. And then when Mick has to grow up and can’t access her inside room as well as she could because being a working grown-up is exhausting? Heartbreakingly real. The reader watches Mick grow up in ways Scout didn’t have to, wishing she could have been Thea Kronborg. (In my head, they’re 11-year-old fienemies.)

I’m also in love with some of Biff’s observations about love. Except, I’m also slightly confused by them because I’m fairly confident he didn’t really love his wife, so I don’t know why he is the one to have these beautiful revelations:

“Why was it that in cases of real love the one who is left does not more often follow the beloved by suicide? Only because the living must bury the dead? Because of the measured rites that must be fulfilled after a death? Because it is as though the one who is left steps for a time upon a stage and each second swells to an unlimited amount of time and he is watched by many eyes? Because there is a function he must carry out? Or perhaps, when there is love, the widowed must stay for the resurrection of the beloved – so that the one who has gone is not really dead, but grows and is created for a second time in the soul of the living.”

And later, on the same note, thinks, “And how can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?” How can this not just split you open?

I love these lonely hunters. Although, I don’t love their exploitation of Singer. As soon as he showed up I worried about how these people were just going to take and take and use him up. And I wasn’t ready for his end. Heartrending. But fitting.

There is so much more going on in this book than the quotes I’ve jotted down, enough to resonate with many people in different ways. A note on reading this library book, however: The copy I got had a few passages underlined, and all I could think was, ‘You’ve completely missed it!’ But we’re all searching for something different from what we read.

Yes, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a sad book with an appropriately sad ending.  It’s heartbreaking in a beautifully real way. Maybe I do read too many “sad books,” but what exactly is a “happy book?” (novels, not, like, cartoon collections) And is there value in a “happy book?” If no one goes through struggle, or confronts sadness or difficulty, or changes, why would I want to read that book? But, again, we’re all searching for something different from what we read.

To Boldly Bro Where No Man Has Bro’d Before

When it comes to the Star Trek vs. Star Wars debate, I am firmly rooted on the side of Star Trek. I don’t dislike Star Wars, I just prefer to watch Star Trek. The original and Next Generation and the reboot. I love Star Trek.

I’m much more emotionally attached to the Star Trek characters than the Star Wars characters. There are no greater bromances than those aboard the USS Enterprise: Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty.

Yes, the original series has its flaws. It’s campy and sometimes misogynistic. But it has great story lines. Captain Pike, Khan – and, yes Tribbles are silly, as are those aliens on that abandoned planet that look like flying fake vomit, but that’s the thing about Star Trek; they never took themselves too seriously. The show found a great balance between fun and suspense and friendships and enemies.

Sure I wish there were more strong female characters featured in the series. Uhura is fantastic and vital to the ship, and the ship could use more Uhuras.

But it’s the rapport between Kirk and Spock and Bones and Scotty that sticks with me. These men live and die for one another. And they’re unflappable, usually. Bones gets frazzled, but, Damn it, Jim, he’s a doctor, not a magician. They all work well together under pressure and ultimately save the day. And at the end of the day, they can imbibe some Romulan ale and laugh with/at one another.

And I cried a lot when Kirk went into the warp core in Into Darkness.

But the original will always hold up. “I have been, and always shall be, your friend.”

Live long and prosper, Spock.

If I Can’t Be the Talent, I Want To Be Talent-Adjacent

HAVE YOU SEEN THIS?!

Of course you have; you don’t live under a rock. But, in case you haven’t, watch it immediately.

I have watched this video, approximately, too many times. I’m obsessed. With Hozier and with this video. And after watching this a few times, I fell down a Youtube rabbit hole of ballet. I watched several clips of Sergei Polunin dancing and interviews with him, which then led me to Rudolf Nureyev, since Polunin has been called the next Nureyev. And then my obsessions collided.

Last month I read the book Dancer by Colum McCann. It’s fantastic. Colum McCann is another obsession of mine. He is an exception writer. I have read four of his novels and love each one immensely. Dancer, incidentally, is historical fiction about the life of Rudolf Nureyev, the infamous Russian ballet dancer who defected to the United States and became a phenomenon, with good reason. I’ve watched a few documentaries about Nureyev and his partner Margot Fonteyn, I’ve watched clips of him dancing, watched the full length recording of him in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (which is obviously more of a vehicle for him than Fonteyn- and that death scene is one of the most powerful things I have ever seen, beautifully and intelligently choreographed and danced; it’s perfection) three times now, and have ILLed a biography of him, which I am eagerly awaiting. I want to know everything about him and see him dance every role he ever danced and imagine that I knew him. He is excruciatingly beautiful. I hate saying things like, ‘Just. . .all the feelings,’ but I cannot accurately put into words how extraordinary Nureyev is or how I feel watching him, it’s just. . .all the feelings. He, and Polunin, are equally intimidating and alluring and so damn good at what they do/did.

Prokofiev, it’s worth saying, is one of the greatest Russian composers, and when I first discovered his Romeo and Juliet, I became – yup – obsessed with it. And, in further obsession collision, Prokofiev’s Cinderella is being performed at UConn next month, and who choreographed it? Nureyev. Then my brain exploded.

This is not the first time I’ve gotten stuck on a ballet obsession. When I was a kid, my parents brought home a VHS (yup.) of Mikhail Baryshnikov in the Nutcracker. I was mesmerized. (And slightly disturbed but also intrigued by Baryshnikov’s very muscular, very white, and very naked-looking legs.) I loved it so much, I made my mother, God bless her, reenact the pas de deux with me. I have never been described as having a ballerina’s figure, and I was not a slim kid. But there we were in our living room, in front of the television, Mom lifting me à la Baryshnikov, and me, pretending I was floating like Kirkland (I was not). I wanted to be a part of that magic. I wanted to be a ballerina.

Cut to a few years later when I realized how awful I looked in a leotard and tights and quit dance classes all together. Of course it wasn’t just the outfits, it was that I had no talent for dance. I wanted to be a ballerina, but not enough to suffer through jazz and ballet classes. I didn’t enjoy it. We spent forever learning one routine that we performed once in front of our parents and then started all over again next year. Not thanks.

Now here I am, many years later, still wishing I could be a ballerina. It’s not that I wish I had the body of a ballerina, it’s that I want to know that kind of dedication and drive. To know by the age of 11 that this is what you’re going to do, to dedicate your life to. To be utterly devoted to your craft. Have absolute trust in your partner and your company. The intense artistic connection you have with your partner. It’s not just the end result I want, it’s the work that leads up to it. Things I clearly could not appreciate as a kid.

I think now I may be past my prime. I may have to let that ship sail.

But my ballet obsession is still alive and well. Part of why I love it so much is because it is a thing I have no talent for, no real experience of. It is completely otherworldly and foreign to me. My dream now is to just sit in on a ballet rehearsal, to be in the presence of all that talent and focus, and just pretend I am somehow a part of it. If I can’t be the talent, I want to be talent-adjacent. I may no talent for ballet, but I can appreciate the hell out of it.