“Yes Please”

AmyPoehler

Amy Poehler’s book is doing me a world of good right now.

“Great job,” he said.

“You guys missed my cue,” I said.

“No one noticed”

“I did”

“Relax, it was great.”

“Relax” is a real tough one for me. Another tough one is “smile.” “Smile” doesn’t really work either. Telling me to relax or smile when I’m angry is like bringing a birthday cake into an ape sanctuary. You’re just asking to get your nose and genitals bitten off.

Her stories and vignettes about her life and career are good therapy for women. Check it out.

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It’s 11pm and I can’t sleep

RegAnnGlastonburyTor

My husband and I atop Glastonbury Tor. 2013

10 Years ago I started this blog. I had just graduated with a Master of Arts in English and I missed the writing and research part of my university experience. I wanted a place to track my thoughts and not write a journal, per se, but interesting articles about my thoughts on various topics. I was not ready to give up writing.  I’m proud of some of the things I’ve written, especially movie and book reviews and my struggles with religion, namely Christianity.  I feel that I’ve lost the heady thrill of college writing and the joy of discovery.

Well, a lot has happened since. It’s been almost a year now since I moved back to the States after splitting from my husband and it’s been almost a year since he died of cancer. The former was planned but the latter was a surprise. I have not written about it except in my personal diary because it’s a long embarrassing and painful story.  What I thought would happen didn’t and what I never thought would happen did. When I left for the UK, I followed a dream. However, that proved to be exactly what it was; a dream. Unreal. Fantastical. Too good to be true. Did I mention I’ve become bitter as well?

Ironically, the only job I could find at my age upon returning to my home state of Illinois, starting completely over again and even with a Master’s degree, was a job in a church doing admin and financials. It pays better than I expected, and even though it IS a church, I don’t think I believe in God any longer even though I give it a half-hearted attempt now and then for old times’ sake. Sure, at work I can talk the talk as good as any of the pastors. But my heart’s not in it. In fact, my heart’s not in much anymore.

I no longer believe in the democratic process once a supreme corporate asshole like Trump got elected. No amount of umbrage on the part of journos, politicos, or anyone with any Washington clout seems able to change that. I tired of being outraged a few months ago. Also, for the first time in 45 years, I’m not attached to the hip to any boy/man that I’ve attempted to earn love from by jumping into the sack first thing. I’m no longer giving everything I have to a relationship that doesn’t give a shit about me. The self-sacrifice I’ve spent my life on has yielded exactly … nothing. In fact, the only thing I look forward to now is not dying of breast cancer or heart disease, both of which have visited me in my life at various points.

I now spend my time working, playing Red Dead Redemption 2, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and reading books. Those things are my favorite things (except the working part).  I don’t think I was ever cut out to do great or even semi-great things. I just don’t have the energy to invest. I’ve spent it all. I don’t have, nor will I have, any significant goals. I wish that, like Thoreau, I could find my cabin (read electronically wired house) in the woods and retreat into Nature. My best years are behind me, and if that sounds depressed, perhaps it is. Perhaps, too, it’s just reality.

Maybe I’ll write more now. Maybe that’s the therapy I need. We’ll see.

The Crash and Burn Syndrome

 

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I’m a weirdo, I admit it. I go along almost as happy as you please and then I let things build up internally. I take an insult here and a jibe there from a coworker. I become miffed at a misspoken word or I get irritated about something. These little things add up day after day and sometimes week after week and BLAMMO!! I explode and go on a tearing bender of a fit and lay waste with my scathing wit or anger everyone who just happens to get in my way! Well, ok, maybe it’s not that bad, but it feels like it sometimes. Then, I am fine for awhile until the cycle starts up all over again.  Anyone else do that?

So what’s the answer? Religion used to soothe me. Reading still distracts me but sometimes I can’t concentrate enough to read. I’ll watch a good movie, but they only last two hours at the most.  So I’ll take a whole weekend and just become a hermit. Except I can’t do that much anymore now that I live with my daughter. But I can sure try!  Yesterday I watched the Tim Burton movie Alice in Wonderland. The movie was visually appealing and a definite work of art, but the story wasn’t so great. No, it didn’t follow the original much. Same characters, different plot. I did become very sidetracked by the glorious score by Danny Elfman:

I could listen to it all day. It soothes me.

Then I read my book for awhile:  The Gate House by Nelson DeMille. I had to put Greg Iles away (The Devil’s Punchbowl) without finishing it. It bordered on torture porn and don’t we have enough of that with all the television shows that feature the female victim of the week. I mean really! How many times do we have to see rapes and murders of young women? Aren’t there enough of those in the news. We are a world full of voyeurs.  But in any case, I don’t need that to calm my nerves now do I? My counselor once asked me why I didn’t just pray to God and, granted she was a Christian counselor, I told her that God and I didn’t communicate much anymore. She said that that didn’t matter, the very act of praying would help. So I did and right before gnawing my paws off while trying to go to sleep on the worst of the nights, I asked God to help me out here a little. Anything would do, a little peace of mind or some new insight or hey, how about some nice calming peaceful feelings? I then went to sleep and woke up feeling much better.

Now I don’t know if God did anything or not, but it doesn’t hurt to think so. It also didn’t hurt to ask. And I didn’t even have to straighten up and fly right first! Some parents could use that lesson.. ahem.. In the coming weeks when one of the most important days of my life comes to pass (my wedding), I need to remember why my fiancée and I are doing this, how little time we have on this earth to love each other, and frankly how tiny some of those seeming insurmountable problems appear from an eternal viewpoint. Whether eternity turns out to be nothing at all or some celestial kingdom, it can’t hurt to imagine one’s life in such a time frame. People get so overwrought about things that are meaningless, me especially. My philosophy should always be,  “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” Sometimes there’s some great shit in the bible! 😀

Others’ Rooms and One’s Own

Yours and my own room might not be so eclectically pleasing or so richly furnished, but the Guardian book blog has got a revealing series about where writers write. These writing spaces range from richly furnished rooms to cabins. Looking at these brings back fond memories of finding such a place for myself.

Since I was a little girl I’ve wanted my own space to write and be reclusive. I remember that the books that resonated with me the most back then were books in which the main character had a secret place to go to in order to be alone. There was a book called Jenny about a young girl who made a place for herself among tall, tall grass in her backyard. I specifically remember a character of another book who found an old abandoned shed with a little desk in it and a large, metal key to lock it with. I don’t remember the title to the book now, but I vividly remember the picture in my mind of the shed, the drawer, and the key and the times she would steal away from her house and go there. She would carefully unlock the desk and take out her notebook and write. Oh to be able to shut and lock your own place! This image spurred a lifelong passion for diaries, journals, and locked books.

I remember another book about a girl who velvetwas a migrant worker’s daughter. She went to an abandoned house and found a tower room with windows on all sides and window seats with cushions against all the walls of the circular tower room. The cushions and curtains were pink. I just found out the name of that book after all these years. It’s The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. I read this book in the 4th or 5th grade and have never forgotten it. The product description at Amazon.com reads:

Robin was always “wandering off” (her mother’s words) to get away from the confusion she felt inside her. It was not until Robin’s father found a permanent job at the McCurdy ranch, after three years as a migrant worker, that Robin had a place to wander to. As time went by the Velvet Room became more and more of a haven for her–a place to read and dream, a place to bury one’s fears and doubts, a place to count on.

A place to count on. Hmmm. Another of Snyder’s books was magical as well. It was called Black and Blue Magic and resonated deeply in my soul. It was about a boy who found some magical cream that he could spread on his shoulders and sprout wings. With those wings he could fly out of his window at night and fly over the city in which he lived. Wonderful All of these books were about children who find solace in solitude and being away from all that would intrude into a child’s need for privacy. They were all about a place they could count on to heal them.

When I fled the abuse in our childhood home, I tried to go anywhere I could to find such magical places in our un-ordinary household in our ordinary small town; a place of solitude, safety, and comfort.  A place to count on.  Like Jenny in the first novel I ever read above, I tried to find my own place out in the backyard amidst a small hedge of short pine trees. They were enclosed somewhat, but less than ideal.  I spent some time in there writing stories in my notebook. However, I could never find the perfect spot, that spot that you just KNEW was where you could be most private. The cellar of our house, accessed through a door outside, was too dank, musty, and spooky for that purpose, although my sister and I found a nice, big steamer trunk with old jewelry in it and a set of books about Egyptian methods of mummification. This set off a period of stealing spices from the kitchen cupboard with which to conduct “experiments” down below.  There was a shed out in the backyard, similar to the one found in the book (whose name I can’t remember), but it had no windows and spiders thrived. Ick. And of course I could not find a Velvet Room as their were few abandoned houses to retreat to that were in such good condition, nor was their magical cream with which to sprout wings.

I never did find that place of retreat. I think that my whole life has been spent trying to find that place of solitude that would allow me to think my own thoughts and to write. It’s every writer’s ideal. Virginia Woolf wrote of all those lost women writers who were never discovered because they lacked a room wherein to write and the means to support themselves. In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf writes,

When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.

Yes, where might all the mothers be, trying to flee young children by locking themselves in the bathroom, if they had a room of their own in vw-monks-housewhich to write? What masterpieces might there be? Or, perhaps, what could we have learned from hearing how ordinary women lived ordinary lives and tried very desperately to carve out their own spaces amidst the duties designated for them? Woolf said that not only did women need rooms of their own but sufficient income to support herself doing it. It appears that one cannot have one without the other.

As a mother with young children I remember watching The Waltons on television while my kids napped. I remember that John Boy wanted to turn the small shed next door to his house into a room of his own where he could write.  I think Mary Ellen was rightly outraged about his claiming to be older and a boy and therefore more rightly entitled to the place. Similarly, in the television show The Brady Bunch, Greg and Marcia Brady had it out in a step-sibling brawl over the attic room and who rightfully could claim it. I remember thinking that the boys would always win that one. Men, it is assumed, needed their own places to be creative. Women had the run of the whole house after all, they reasoned! But they forget that so does everyone else and the whole house is not private for  women.

Having one’s own room is the beginning of claiming your own space for the first time AND asserting your right to have one. Until recently, I never did find a secret place of my own. Now I have such a place, albeit not secret. But it’s mine. Mine will never be photographed for the Guardian Book blog, but it is no less important in the grand scheme of things than anyone else’s space and it is certainly, if I just realize it, more than adequate to provide me with that place I need to write; that place I can count on.

I think the need to have a private place where one can go and think their own thoughts and perhaps paint or write or compose music is a necessary thing for everyone. Women however are notoriously selfless when it comes to asking for their own space. They need to be more selfish and unapologetic at the same time. They need to be more assertive about asking for space, or better yet, just taking  space and claiming it as their own.  It’s a universal innate thing to do; retreat to a place we can count on to heal us. So, do you have a secret room? I certainly hope so.

Blessings!

Pleasure is..*Gasp*…Good For You

And deep down we always knew this didn’t we? It’s a new year, and in the midst of everyone else’s desperate resolutions to deny themselves something vital in order to teach oneself a lesson (a convenient precursor to Ash Wednesday and Lent of course), my resolve is to make none of these resolutions. Yes, my resolve is to be happy and to enjoy myself because pleasure is good for you.

Oh no!! The world will end if we all took that tack, right? The Kantian imperative lives! Not so, says Blake Morrison of The Guardian. In his review of the book Sex, Drugs, and Chocolate: The Science of Pleasure by Paul Martin, Morrison wonders why we’ve become so anti-pleasure oriented as a society when our forefathers and mothers indulged in pleasures far more  frequently with none of the horrific effects that our religious purveyors warned us against. Sure, sure, there are exceptions, but moderate use never harms anyone.  He writes:

The pleasure principle is, on the whole, a sound one, then: having what you like is fine so long as you don’t have too much of it in one go. But as a scientist by training, Martin is also keen to explain how the principle works in practice – the key being the way that pleasurable experiences release a neurotransmitter substance called dopamine in the nucleus accumbens region of the brain. The neurobiology is complex, but Martin keeps it bracingly simple, even when elaborating on terms such as anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure), acedia (aka accidie or taedium vitae) and ataraxia (a state of serenity). Numerous experiments with rats are cited. What they mostly illustrate is a truth that writers and philosophers arrived at a millennium or two ago: that pleasure and desire are different things, since the former can be satisfied but the second cannot.

He goes on to explain the pleasure of drugs, sex, and chocolate and how Martin’s book is a feast of pleasure in itself. I think I might have to buy this book, just for the cover alone (Morrison describes it in the article).

Our aim in life should be improvement. But why must improvement always mean denial in all areas? Why can’t indulgence also be an improvement? I think that we take our Puritan ancestors’ advice to heart way too much.  In conversation with friends, a discussion ensued about what teaches us more pleasure or pain? I’d like to think that pleasure could teach us just as much as pain does.  And in fact one could argue, as some do, that we learn in SPITE of pain not because of it. What think you?

Be a Better World Shopper

An associate pastor where I work pointed me to a site that would be a really good idea for a Christmas present this year. Maybe everyone’s heard of it but me, but in the Midwest, some of us are slow on the bandwagon. It’s Better World Shopper and the book is only $10 per copy. It lists all the companies, products, and services that make this a better world to live in. I’m all for making the world a better place to live in if we can and if it’s at all possible. The problems are choices (aren’t they all?)

One problem, the pastor and I discussed that some shops on the “worst” list are the only ones supporting organic foods in our area and the only ones offering them. Now what do you do? Do you buy the organic foods at a non-better world store or refuse to patronize them and buy commercially horrible items that exploit or pollute? Any thoughts?

Nothing as Basic as the Love of Books, Unless It’s a Secondhand Bookshop

Theodore Dalrymple has written a lovely little essay for The English Review entitled “Of Bibliophilia and Biblioclasm.” He extols the virtues of secondhand bookshops, despite the grumblings of Orwell himself whose memories of working in secondhand bookshops left a lot to be desired. I disagree of course. Many long hours of mine have been spent in secondhand book stores. I remember a particular bookstore in Denver, Colorado that was not in the way of any significant traffic and never sported more than a couple of people (me included) at a time within the confines of its three rooms. But there was something about it that drew me there. Sitting on the floor in front of rows of books is one of my fondest memories; in bookstores and in the one library that I actually had the opportunity to work in. While working in that library, I think I checked out more books from the cart than I was instructed to put away. But that was the joy of working there. I came across any number of books that I would not have found otherwise.

I discovered the curiosity of “eavesdropping” on other peoples’ reading tastes. I found endless items tucked away inside books returned for shelving; bookmarks, love notes, pieces of homework paper, articles clipped and forgotten. I usually kept the bookmarks, but I’m sure I would have had a fairly decent eclectic assortment of other papers had I kept those; or at least the makings of a really juicy novel. Dalrymple writes of his love of collecting books with inscriptions by their previous owners. In some, the owners are known. In others, unknown, but telling:

In my copy of The Condemned Playground by the critic, Cyril Connolly, published in 1945, is a short inscription. It is in the cultivated hand that one very rarely sees nowadays: a comparison of inscriptions shows how coarse handwriting has become in the last half-century or so. My guess is that the inscription was written by a young woman, no more than thirty years old when she wrote it. Her words were few and to me of a great poignancy: To my beloved husband, Christmas 1945.

Why should these words have struck me as so poignant? Because I think that, though they are simple and could hardly be more direct, no one would use them to inscribe a book now. At any rate, I have not found so vulnerably tender an inscription in any book since. It is not so much that our use of language has changed, as that our feelings have changed. For all our resort to psychobabble and endless talk about ourselves, we are less inclined to lay ourselves open to others, even those closest to us. Power is more important to us than love.

He’s right on that front. No one would inscribe a book that way today. For the same reasons that no one wanders secondhand bookshops anymore, no one writes such lovely snippets anymore either.  People are not willing to peruse anything more than they absolutely have to and that includes the contents of their hearts.

LIke my finding scraps of paper inside returned library books, finding the detritus of human reading habits is also intertwined with my joy at wandering the shelves of secondhand bookstores today. Like Dalrymple says, these shops are fewer and fewer in number due to the internet and the reading publics lack of interest in dusty shelf perusal, but I still think that the finest way to spend leisure time is casually running my finger along the spines of used books on a shelf and picking one at random to leaf through. To me, that’s not time wasted.