Running to, and not from

I don’t remember exactly why I thought it would be a good idea to start running, three years ago. Maybe it was having so many instances of diabetes and heart disease in my family. Maybe it was looking thirty in the face. Maybe it was just the fact that it was good exercise, bone and muscle building.

I can tell you what I love about it now. When I say those magic words, that I’m going for a run, I am officially untouchable for the next 30 minutes. It’s just me, and the pounding of my feet and the rush of my breathe; that’s all I’m responsible for.

I also love running for the same reason as yoga; it focuses me in the present moment. If I let my mind wander, things go poorly.

Almost through week 3 of couch-to-5k. Three minute runs are cake. Next week, the 5minute runs start. Here’s hoping!


Inexcusable, by Chris Lynch, reviewed.

To quote my LSG friends: Sherman Alexie, I am disappoint.

If you’re into YA lit, you probably heard about this article from the Wall Street Journal. If you want to read it, go for it; I found it to be a ridiculous portrayal of YA from someone who clearly doesn’t know about the genre, but it’s your blood pressure. But anyway, that article inspired this one, where Sherman Alexie explains why the best young adult novels are written in pain and anguish and blood. In that article, he compared Chris Lynch’s book, Inexcusable to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. If you hang out with me for more than three seconds, talking about YA literature, odds are you’ve heard me go on (and on) about Speak, and how this book is a paragon of genius to me, and how I would have Laurie’s love children for her, if, you know, she didn’t want to use her own uterus for some reason.

So I bought Chris Lynch’s book. I think I was under a heady delusion that I was actually buying a Chris Crutcher book; I thought I’d read something by this author and loved it, so I never bothered to find a sample chapter or anything.

I was so mistaken.

Like Speak, Inexcusable takes as its subject date rape. Only, instead of looking at the subject from the point of view of the victim, as Speak does, Chris Lynch tries to take us through the point of view of the rapist, show us what kind of justifications and denials and madness goes through the mind of someone who is going to overpower another human being and force them to do something unthinkable.

His character is Keir, a high school senior, who has two sisters, each a year older than him. His mother died, either in childbirth, or when Keir was very young, it’s not clear. His father is one of those YA fathers where Keir thinks he’s a hero, and an adult reader (hopefully a teenaged one, too) quickly realizes that Ray, the father, is an alcoholic, and is in no way parenting his son.

This book exposes the limitations of writing in a first person present tense. It starts with a scene between Keir and Gigi, and if you have ever heard of sexual assault, it’s instantly clear what they’re fighting about; Gigi is saying that Keir raped her, and he’s denying it. Then, through flashbacks, we are taken through Keir’s senior year, and we get a laundry list of other things he denies. His family dynamics. Crippling a kid while playing football. His dad’s alcoholism. In a later scene, we get an idea that even his vision of who his sisters are is distorted. But the POV is so narrow, so tight in Keir’s head, that it’s just a he-said-she-said game. I can’t evaluate, can’t think where he’s gone wrong, where others have led him astray.

Perhaps the issue is that Lynch is trying to show us why someone might do this, and the simple truth is that there is no reason good enough. Not one. Also, there is nothing to love about Keir, no reason to root for him. I think he’s a dirtbag from the beginning of the book, and nothing is presented to me in the text to convince me otherwise. He isn’t really an anti-hero either; he’s just kind of a drifter, and a partier, and his absurdly casual drug use makes me insane. So I realized, half way through the book, I didn’t *care* why he did it, he did it, and I wanted to cut his dick off. I finished the book just so I could talk about it here. I’m awfully sorry that this character is so deluded about life that he doesn’t fucking comprehend the word “no,” in the penultimate scene, he doesn’t even register that it is said, since it is not narrated to us (although the scene is not graphic, so it’s kind of hard to tell what’s happened). I feel like Chris Lynch wrote this book, and either he or the publisher slapped the title Inexcusable in place, because otherwise, I would probably think that he thought it was excusable. Or at least understandable.

Not only did I not like this book, I’m frustrated that I spent money on it, and wish I could get my $8 back. No thanks.

In which I am cheesed off at a certain breed of atheist.

or, when Dan Savage made me angry.

Backstory: I was listening to the podcast from a couple weeks ago, and Dan was catching hell from a blogger who had taken issue with a *previous* podcast talking about female ejaculation. Fine, all well and good. The blogger in question — I’ve forgotten her name — is apparently an out and proud atheist which is fine; Dan is also an out and proud atheist. Fine. Given the way he’s talked about the conflicts between religion and sexuality for him in his early life, I’m not surprised.

This caller had a question about her boyfriend who was being inducted into a Wiccan coven and was being told he had to get naked and kiss someone, and the caller was asking if it was cheating. After answering the question by saying, essentially, “It depends on how you define cheating,” Dan and his guest then devolved into a discussion about how silly religion was and how silly people were who left a religion because their religion was overly harsh towards GLBT folks, and so they went and found another silly religion that was nicer to GLBT folks so they could carry on believing in Santa Clause.

I get where the frustration comes from. I hear my fellow theists (and I am defining “fellow” here as similarly liberal, or even conservative-but-sane Christians, not assholes like Fred Phelps) speaking about atheists in really derogatory ways. Saying that people have a God-shaped hole in them, and whatnot. That’s as crappy as saying that a lesbian just needs a good deep dicking, or that someone who is clinically depressed needs to just “get over it.”

There are people out there who state to me that they do not feel the presence of God in their lives. Fine. What can I do but believe them? How can I be so presumptuous and rude to believe that I know where they are in their journey, how DARE I stand up and say “I know better than you what your state of being is.” How would that be any different than the so-called friend who once told me that I was leaving my partner of five years because — well, his actual words were lewd enough that I’d rather not admit them to the public record.

The Bible says, in no uncertain words, that I am not to judge others. People hedge that, say it only applies to this person or that person — I like to take the red words at their face value. Judge not, lest ye shall be judged, says The Man, and I try to listen to that.

I get that I seem to be the exception to the rule, at least in the eyes of my atheist and agnostic friends. But I know when I tend to get pushy and frustrated is when my very strong and incredibly powerful belief is called silly.

When I started writing this, I thought I’d have some grand point to make — some drum to hit, some call to sanity for both sides of the aisle. It would have something to do with how there will never be peace between “us” and “them” until we can agree to disagree AND respect each others positions without denigrating them. But it turns out that I don’t have a neat turn of phrase to explain how I think we all just need to respect each other, and not make broad statements about how each of us relates to the universe, because that is such a hugely personal thing.

I feel like I should be asking someone to dessine-moi un mouton.

Start Where You Are

The hardest part is the starting. I was thinking about this at church today, when we were discussing the drop off in attendance at our youth group. I was thinking about this last week when I got all caught up in trying to find the right first sentence for a story that’s bubbling in the back of my mind. I was thinking about it today, watching the Mae-girl try so hard to roll over, just to get stuck, each and every time, on her side, and then completely lose her mind, so frustrated that she couldn’t complete the move that she was incapable of trying.

There’s this sense that I’ve missed so many thoughts, left so many things unsaid — how can I start again? How can I talk and not reference all those things I didn’t say? How can I start the conversation again?

I don’t have a pat answer. I need to get back to writing, just like I needed to get back to sewing and knitting after Mae was born in March. I need to express myself in creative ways, or I wither and die, and am a bitch to my kids and my husband. That does no good for anyone.

I can be better than I have been. I just have to make an effort.

If there’s anyone out there reading this, it would be lovely for you to shout out and say so. ❤

February has been good to me.

Like always, when spring shows up, I wake up feeling…better. Stronger. There’s a smell to spring, and even though we got hammered by snow yesterday and the day before, and there may be more before the weekend is out, I’m feeling good. Like the earth is coming to life again.

Of course, the fact that the sun is up while I’m walking to work definitely helps. Even the woman puking in a trash can on the bus didn’t get me down. (No, I’m not joking.)

My brain is getting creative again. I’ve been struggling with a rewrite of Cait’s book since I finished up Nano, and was in my usual winter doldrums, convinced I would never have another idea for another book again (even though there’s last year’s Nano project to rewrite), and convinced that Ms. Agent, despite her politeness, will reject the book out of hand again.

And then yesterday, I had one of those moments. Those moments that most artists know, and it’s very difficult to describe to the normies. The kind of moment that makes me think that ADD isn’t all bad. The moment where I see a world, crystal clear, and see what’s going on there. Where I think — oh, yes, that’s how that’ll go.

Once I knew her name — Min — there was no turning back. Not sure what Min is short for yet (and am accepting suggestions), but I am fairly sure that she loves James, although she’ll never admit it to him, and she would die for her brother Peter, and I think her father’s disappearance is more nefarious than she will know for a long time.

I get the idea that Min is going to be patient, but insistent. I’m keeping notes on what I’m hearing from her, but asking her to hang out while I finish up with Cait, while I revisit Shannon. I promised her I’d check in with her when I come back from the land of the elves (they’re not as nice as you think). She’s nodding, and I think she’s spinning at a wheel. I think that might have more power than she thinks, too, but time will tell.

I love spring time.

It’s a good world out there. I feel better about it than I have all winter (as usual).

It’s going to be a year full of weddings. My friends Aaron and Laura are getting married in June, my sister and her long-time fiance in July, my friends Jeremy and Angel are talking about fall. I like weddings. Jana and Douglas got the call that their baby is waiting for them in Korea, and they should be able to go get him in the fall. I love babies.

For the first time, I feel convinced that 2010 is going to be a very good year.

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins.

It takes a lot to make me really like a sequel. Obviously, first of all I had to have enjoyed the first book enough that I want to pick up the second book and revisit that world. Second, the author needs to deepen her world, without betraying it. This is harder than some people might think. Third, I have to learn more about the characters, see how the characters continue to grow and change, without feeling like the author is retconning the story to make her new vision work.

I rarely like sequels, in books or in movies. The ones I like, I tend to love.

That is immediately the truth with Catching Fire; the sequel to Hunger Games, which I read and talked about a couple of weeks ago. It’s not possible to talk about Catching Fire without giving away the end of Hunger Games so if you don’t want to be spoiled, you should probably look away.

You have been warned.

Catching Fire picks up just before Katniss and Peeta begin their “victor’s tour” of the twelve Districts and the Capital. Katniss’ situation is dramatically different than it was at the beginning of the last book. Her family has been moved to a beautiful, spacious house in the Victor’s Village. It has running hot water, and even a phone. Luxury beyond compare. Yet Katniss still escapes to the woods every chance she gets to continue for hunt; even though her family can buy meat whenever they want it now, her friend Gale has not been so lucky. Now that he has to go down and work in the mines, she supplies his family with meat.

This book also begins to discuss the love triangle that Hunger Games only just hints at. There is a new, cool distance between Katniss and Gale, as he tries to understand her survival strategy for the games. It doesn’t help that she and Peeta must be “in love” again, as they start their journey to the Capital, especially once President Snow puts in an appearance to explain just how important it is for Katniss to make the impression he wants.

The first book seemed to be a condemnation of reality TV, and a world where we get our entertainment from watching children kill each other. This book is a story of how that society comes to revolt. How two teenagers convinced the world that they were in love, and therefore have caused the facade that allows this perversion of entertainment to begin to crumble.

Katniss is more likeable to me in this book; in the first, she was necessarily standoffish and cold at times; maybe because I know her better this time, when she is cold, I understand why. I think one of my favorite details is that she isn’t an indecisive wuss, unable to choose between Gale and Peeta, wrecking havoc with her confusion. She loves Gale, and has loved him all her life, although she never thought of it that way, but her harrowing experiences with Peeta have created a closeness with him that is undeniable.

There were a handful of scenes in this book that moved me rapidly to tears; if you give this book to your teenager, I would sneak a peek through the book when you’re not looking, and be prepared to discuss the politics, sacrifices, and demands of rebellion. Collins does an excellent job of discussing them, showing them, showing the consequences of fighting for your freedom. Brilliant work.

Mockingjay, the third book in the trilogy, doesn’t come out until August. I don’t know how I’m going to survive until then. (answer: read more books!)

Paper Towns, by John Green

I read John Green’s books like I read Laurie Halse Anderson’s: in great, gasping gulps that leave me starving for air, but horrified at the idea of setting down the book for even one–small–second.

I was forced to take small breaks when reading Paper Towns because I started reading this morning on the bus, and then snatched a few words during breaks at work and between calls. When I got home, there was a toddler to be tended to, and a dinner to be cooked, and familial obligations to consider. But when I could, I crashed out in bed, to desperately flip through the story of Q and Margo and their many friends.

It starts like a thousand other YA novels. Q — Quentin — is a normal guy. Not quite geek, definitely not popular, he hangs out with the band kids, but doesn’t play an instrument. Margo used to be his friend, but sometime, awhile back, she became a popular girl, and now she doesn’t acknowledge him. In the first chapter, Green treads familiar ground with eyes that so many of us have looked through, but his verbiage is new and fantastic:

Those of us who frequent the band room have long suspected that Becca maintains her lovely figure by eating nothing but the souls of kittens and the dreams of impoverished children.

One night, Margo appears in Quentin’s window, and demands that he act as getaway driver for a crazy plan she has. He argues, but gives in. Their times are crazy and hilarious. And then, the next day, Margo disappears.

It’s hard to talk about this book and not give away the ending. At three different points in the book, I was sure I knew what was going to happen next; I was wrong, each and every time. This is a skillful, thoughtful book, about when we really know each other, and when we don’t, and when we lie to ourselves about it. The soft longing on each page for a dream that isn’t real — but our hearts don’t know that — puts me in mind of Ellen Wittlinger’s Hard Love or Anderson’s Twisted.

In some ways, I do feel slightly that Green is retreading ground he covered in Looking For Alaska, although to be fair, I read that book at least six or seven years ago. But then again, the question of how well do we ever know those around us, those we claim to love, is popular territory due to its complexity. It’s not the sort of question that has a quick, easy answer.

Paper Towns is good reading. If you have any interest in YA literature with thoughtful, sensitive boys, and girls who are more complex than cardboard cut outs, and don’t behave like you’d expect, I recommend it quite strongly.

I remember, back when there was time…

So, I’m just going to get this out of the way. I turned 30 yesterday. I did a pretty good job not freaking out about it, although there are plenty of Forces For Evil in my life (and our society) that lead me to panic about such things.

I remember being 15 and thinking that my life would be over by the time I was 25. I remember being 25, and being panicked that all the things I’d assumed I would have done by then — being published, having a master’s degree, possibly a PhD, and owning a home — hadn’t happened. I remember thinking that I would *absolutely* have those things done before I turned 30.

None of those things have happened. I’m not published any more than I was at 15. I stopped pursuing advanced degrees. We still rent. And yet, I’m happier with my life now than I was at 30. I’ve said before that my focus has gotten both narrower and broader — I think it’s more accurate now to say that it has clarified. Before, I had a thousand goals in a thousand directions; now, I have a handful of crystal clear goals in a priority order. Family. Writing. Life. Cleaning is down on the bottom somewhere (although slightly higher after I finally took a look at my heating vents yesterday, and was shocked into saying some words that Lucy isn’t allowed to say until she’s 30). So many things that used to feel vague and stressful seem easy now.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

So, it took the announcement of the iPad to convince me to put the Kindle app on my iTouch and try out reading a whole book on a computer screen. I’ve done it before, when I was too cheap to buy a copy of Sense and Sensibility or Vanity Fair, but it was last night, when I was trapped at Robb’s computer for hours, trying to beat a PITA piece of malware, that I finally gave in and put a real book on my iPod to read, while I sat still and babysat install and boot scans and whatnot. (I did win in the end, for those who are concerned about such things). So this is two reviews in one, first my thoughts on the book, and my thoughts on reading a book on my iPod.

First the book; I’d gotten good reviews of the book from friends, and was eager to give it a try. I’ve had a bad opinion of this author for absolutely no reason based in reality since my bookstore days; honestly, I think I just never liked her cover art. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I am here to tell you that bland, boring covers mean that I tend to just keep walking. I had an idea that this was going to be a very different sort of book, but I could download a free sample to read, and that was pretty damn good, so I paid $9. It would have been worth $18 if I had paid the hardcover price.

The story is about Katniss, a young girl in a world where two children are chosen each year from the twelve Districts to fight in the Hunger Games, a kind of American Idol of Survival. Katniss, her mother, and her sister, have lived on the knife’s edge of survival for a long time; when her younger sister, Prim, is chosen by lottery for the games, Katniss takes her place. She is whisked away to the Capital, where she is primped, pampered, and made ready for the Games. Her companion from her district is a boy named Peeta, a boy who saved her life a long time ago, who knows more about her than she does about him.

Much like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, you don’t have to dig deep to find the allegory here; the surface story is about a girl doing what it takes to survive, but the real story is about the society that does this to children as punishment and entertainment. About the people who don’t see what a horror is being inflicted upon innocents. Katniss is a strong female heroine, comfortable and strong in the wilderness, hunting and protecting herself with ease; she’s a bit unfeeling at points, and then strikingly soft in others. More than one point of this book moved me absolutely to tears. And, the real test of any series book, as soon as I read the last words and realized there was a sequel, I was searching the Amazon site to see if Catching Fire was available for the Kindle app (it’s not, nor is it in paperback, as it only came out in September). Bah! Where’s my instant gratification?

My only real complaint about this book is that it’s a great example of why authors are always told not to write in the present tense. Because everything is so immediate, the author has to go into such literary contortions to explain things that happened in the past, or even thoughts the character had of two minutes ago, that I start noticing tenses of verbs, and that’s a bit like seeing the guy who’s holding the rope that’s dropping the house on the witch, you know? Grammar and word choice and all that — it’s incredibly important, but it’s the work that you should be doing where I can’t see it.

As to the experience of reading a book on an electronic device: I thought I’d miss more. I thought I’d feel disconnected from the text, that I would miss physically turning pages, that I’d be upset not to have the experience of picking up a book in the store, running my hands over the cover, flipping through those first few pages; I missed none of it. I don’t think it would replace the experience of buying physical books for me, but it could certainly cut down on the number I actually buy, in the same way that Netflix has reduced the number of DVDs that I purchase. I watch them, see if I want to own them, and buy them or not. I can imagine reading books on my iPad, and purchasing the ones I really love, the ones I will read again and again. For the first time, I can imagine a wold where print and e-texts can coexist, and possibly even compliment each other.

In other news, Lucy continues to grow (and grow!). She’s singing half a dozen songs now, sings her alphabet (minus E, F, and G, which do not meet her approval), and counts to ten (except, sometimes, 4, 5, and 6). She sits in a regular chair to eat dinner, except when she consents to use her booster chair, but do NOT discuss her high chair with her. She has been informing me for a month now that “When Lucy get bigger, Lucy gonna have a little gui-tar and a little compooter.” She’s turning into this tiny person in front of my eyes, and it’s blowing my mind. It kills me that I never have time to talk to you all about her anymore. I don’t know if anyone even reads this blog anymore. (That’s your cue to say hi if you’re still checking in).

Anyway, times are good for us, which is nice. Every year, we pay off a little more debt, get a little more solid ground under us, feel a little more secure. Baby steps, you know?

Making your own yogurt

It’s the new … I don’t know, something or other. Something fancy that my mom-brain is too twoed out to actually think about.

First off, the resource I used was this one, as recommended by the always amazing Norma.

This was easier than anything I’ve ever done in the kitchen. Ever. Period. I keep wanting to make my own cheese, but passing it by as too fiddley…this was beyond simple.

The steps are clearly outlined in the above link, and I followed them as exactly as I could while chasing a toddler who was irate to wake up and find out that her father had GONE TO WORK and she was left with a MERE MAMA to comfort her. (I am assured that she wonders where I am when I’m gone, too. No, that doesn’t help).

I was a bit skeptical when the yogurt was cooking. It was very very watery, of course, and I was just sure that nothing good would come of this. I purposefully used milk that was On The Verge, and yogurt that Lucy was not a fan of. I kept thinking that I wasn’t doing enough, that it Couldn’t Possibly Work.

Turns out yogurt is like rice. The more I ignore it, the better it comes out. When I (due to my own bad planning) pulled the yogurt out of the crockpot at 1am, it was creamy and bright white, and quite lovely.

The real critic, however, had been asleep for about two hours at that point (I am aware of how late that was. I’m over it.). I was crazy nervous about trying the yogurt out on Miss Picky. For breakfast yesterday, I presented her with homemade yogurt with a generous spoonful of cranberry applesauce and pureed butternut squash that I’d cooked with maple syrup and cloves and ginger.

She took one bite, said nothing.

She took a second bite (which is actually the kicker).

She looked at me, said “Yum yum!” and devoured half the bowlful.

Totally proud mama here. And I’m going to save A FORTUNE. The only yogurt that I buy for her is the Stonyfield Farms kids and baby yogurt, and even that has more sugar than I really like giving her. With the natural sweetness of the apples (and maybe I cooked them with a tablespoon of maple syrup? Can’t recall, but probably), I don’t need any. Plus, no containers to recycle. Hooray! 🙂