Friday, March 22, 2013

Dealer's Choice

On Tuesday I was raised by my alarm from a dream in which I was going to lose my job, or might have been going to lose my job, or was going to get reshuffled, or whatever, and the key point, other than man, what is it about getting woken up from a dream? I was groggy the whole darn day - was: I wasn't too upset. Yes, it was a dream, and also my eraser turned into a miniature kit fox and ran into the corner, but the prospect of losing my job, even on waking, was not terribly distressing. I had a momentary flash of panic about the mortgage and other expenses (as well I should), but my main reaction was, "Hmmm. I could do a lot with all that extra time."

Which is perhaps why two days later, after a work day that made me wonder to which cost code I should charge 30 minutes of seething and 45 minutes of wasting my damn time, I thought, hmmm. I could just not have to deal with any of this.

I could just be at home, and do home stuff, and be homey and homely and home. And then I had a little frisson of delight and relief - all of the irritating insoluble problems of the workplace could just vanish, just like that, and I would be free.

It sounded wonderful. For about five minutes. Then I remembered that:

a. I really do like my paycheck very much, and

b. I also am kind of involved in things at work right now, and walking out would leave me with an eternal sense of having left something unfinished, plus

c. Irritation is good for me.

It took me a while to realize this. Irritation - not crushing stress or daily misery, but the kind of condition where you have to sigh sharply and bustle in and do things right - is good for people. So is training yourself to suck it up and just deal with the fact that the air conditioning comes on when it's 46 degrees outside (WTH, Building People?), that the computer upgrades you need to do your job aren't likely to come before October even though other people in the office just got brand new iPads, and that meetings will always be dominated by the ones who do nothing but complain. It's like exercise: it's uncomfortable during the practice of it, but afterward you feel great, plus your muscles are better toned.

So: instead of getting all bent out of shape when I get yet another incomprehensible request to deal with something that I'm pretty sure we solved three months ago, I just breathe, smile, and think feel the burn. And also: nope. Not leaving. Not today.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What I'm Reading This Week

And for a few weeks past. It's a smattering: I'm trying madly to keep up with the madness that is The Morning News' 2013 Tournament of Books. This year I'd read a whopping one (1) (uno) of the books on the list when it was announced in December (Gone Girl), so I've had a lot of reading to do - since December I've read Arcadia, How Should a Person Be, May We Be Forgiven, The Orphan Master's Son (mostly - augh that thing was long), Bring Up the Bodies, and The Song of Achilles. I did my darnednest with Where'd You Go, Bernadette, but I could not stand it (the snark. The snark killed me). I'm still working my way through the marvelously uncompact Building Stories (it comes in a box, with "Multiple easily lost parts," according to the instructions to the library cataloger) and sure-to-be-one-of-my-year's-faves, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. I've read enough Alice Munro to get a sense for what Dear Life is like and I've probably seen at least a few of those stories already. I've got Round House on hold (until July, I'm guessing. A smarter person would just buy the book already, but my shelf is full. And do not talk to me about the anathema that is the ebook. I do not want one.) So, out of 16 books, 9 down, 3 in progress. Not bad (pause for a moment while I pat myself on the back. Bear with me: this is one of the few areas in my life where I accomplish things.) Also, it gets my current fiction itch scratched for a while. I'm not always a very engaged fiction reader, I'm sorry to say. Get to the point already! I might think, as I peek to see how many pages I still have left to read. Or: Is this going to be worth my time? Or: Who's this Greg guy, again? I'll own it: I'm a purpose-driven reader. I'm a sucker for any and all self-improvement projects, especially if I can do them in bed with the overhead light off. Reading fiction just because: difficult to justify. Reading fiction because someone told me I should: sign me up!

So I'm reading Building Stories and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. Also my first entry in my TBR pile, Mean Spirit, by Linda Hogan, and a collection of essays by Elliott West (my mind is already blown, and I've only read one. Not so much from sheer brilliance - these are standard academic essays - as the way in one essay my admittedly limited understanding of the Cheyenne Indians was totally knocked down, run over with a steam engine, and put up in a completely different place. All with the same source material as I've had all along. Man.)

Building Stories, Chris Ware: like I said, it comes in a box. It looks like a board game, an expensive, heavy one, until you open it and pull out all the pieces: two or three single cartoon strips (it's a graphic novel, or a book of graphic short stories all focused on one person - what is a novel, anyway? What's a short story? What does it mean to read? These are all questions I start fiddling with when I'm pulling the pieces out of the hat), a few soft cover books, a hard cover book, a board game (no pieces, alas.) I'm so intrigued I immediately start thinking of making my own novel-in-a-box: would it be feasible to include animal bones, do you think? Probably not. Anyway, these cartoons will be familiar to readers of the New Yorker: they center around a depressed young woman to whom nothing huge happens, just the usual growing up stuff, no real beginning or end. Very like real life, and like real life you can assemble the pieces in different ways, read them in your own order, skip back and forth, etc. Less like real life, to me, is the persistent feeling of generic-ness: these stories feel less like they've been struck with the lightning of truth and more like they're someone's idea of what a depressed young art student might feel if she were crowdsourced. I get claustrophobic after not very long, reading these.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain. I've been wanting to read Ben Fountain for a while, and so even though the subject matter of this is the kind that makes me go, huh (a company of Iraq war heroes are featured on stage at a Superbowl Halftime show, written by a nonsoldier), I was eager to pick this one up. And so far, five chapters in, it does not disappoint. Every page, every sentence, almost, I feel like I'm discovering something new, something that I knew all along. The author has a wicked ear for dialogue, and zeroes in immediately  - but with compassion! - on some of our weaknesses, as a society.

Mean Spirit, Linda Hogan. I've been reading this for over a month, and for a long time I just sort of read a few pages dutifully at the end of the day, to fulfill the agreement I'd made with myself in January. I thought it fell wearily into the expected trope of Indian-helpless-and-good, White-Man-predatory-and-bad: small town fiction with a helping of victimhood. The gentle pace didn't help. Only, imperceptibly, it grew on me. It knows stuff. The Christian preacher, half Indian, half white, going into his closet to ask his Indian grandmother's medicine pouch what's going on when things start to get crazy: I didn't expect that. The man, buried accidentally (everyone thought he was dead), who crawls out of his grave and walks around town unmolested, because everyone, white and Indian both, think he's a ghost: I didn't expect that, either. Actually, right now it's got a circus's worth of insanity happening on every corner, the book still has this gentle pace and gentle tone that make me take it more seriously than if the tone were more self-consciously arty or manic.

I'm also listening to Wild, by Cheryl Strayed: almost done. I suppose like everyone who reads this, I kind of want to go out and research hiking the Pacific Crest Trail; what I think about most, though, is why this is so popular. Don't get me wrong: it's a fine book, if occasionally a little magazine-style generic in tone (the death of Jerry Garcia, which happened while she was hiking, felt not just like a death but like "the end of an era." To cite just one example.) It's also a story to which I can relate, even while I don't actually relate to very much of it at all (hmm: maybe that's my answer right there). But I'm always curious what grabs the zeitgeist and what doesn't. I'm glad this one did, but I still don't quite get it.

 Okay: that's my book talk from this week.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Carpe le diem

So here we are in March, or "march! march! march!" as Helen used to say when she was two years old and wanted to get things moving again. Thus, a selection of activities behind which I have been wearily tagging along:

1. Over the weekend we went to Winter Park (to ski), Frisco (to sleep, mostly, and also order waaay overpriced pizza) and Steamboat Springs (more of the ski) (sigh) (I am getting to the point where I think as we leave the ski area parking lot at the end of the day, "Well, one less ski day to go in this life." I suspect my relief is deeply unhealthy.) While in Steamboat, Helen carpe-ed the diem and talked us into fulfilling her lifelong dream of bungee trampolining:

Embiggen for her expression of anticipation.
Was it as good as she dreamed it would be? She said yes.
2. While fulfilling Helen's lifelong dream cost only $10, Silas has been badgering us for a little more payout. "It's time to make some Spring Break plans," I told him wearily the other night, thinking that if we had a plan, we might be able to avoid some of the wretched fights* of the past two long weekends. "Hawaii?" he said immediately, lighting up. "No, that's too--well, sure, price it out, kiddo. See how much it would cost to fly four of us to Hawaii."

Twenty minutes later he looks up from the computer screen and says, "$3,384. How much do you make again?"

I explained about budgeting and vacations and If We're Going To Spend That Kind Of Money, feeling like a miserly fool (well, why can't we use one month's salary for a four-day trip to the most expensive destination you can reach without a passport?), and also like I walked right into this one.

"What if just you and me go?"

 "Sweetheart, we're not going to spend our entire vacation budget on a trip for two of us."

"But I want to go to Hawaiiiiii."

"It's just not very realistic for a trip three weeks from now."

And etc. At least it didn't end with weeping, if I'm remembering correctly, which I'm probably not.

3. The ironic thing is that we've spent nearly that amount to get us all skiing, a dream destination vacation for people all over the world (especially that trip to Wolf Creek. Damn. Four feet of snow in 48 hours.) Si is only vaguely aware of this expense; he mostly notices the imperfections of the experience, such as the lack of suitable ski partners (Mom's too slow, Dad's too good, and cousin can't goooo), the irritating length of the drive to get there, the fact that getting there involves leaving at particular times not of his very own choosing. The fact that in order to get to skiing tomorrow, less Minecraft must be played today. Also, we said he DID choose this and he DID NOT, we're LYING, he DID NOT choose this.


(For Pete's SAKE, kid. Let it GO.)

I hesitate to leap into this run. Si no longer does.
 In any case, we all went skiing this weekend, as I mentioned above, and Si was enthusiastic and engaged as soon as we left the premises. He made great strides in his skiing this weekend, or so I heard. I myself was straggling along behind Helen, who is still in the Very Cautious phase of her skiing career, which tends to lead to one grownup or the other being dissatisfied with the skiing experience at the end of the day. Skiing with Helen also makes it difficult for me to determine exactly where I am in my own skiing development - I am definitely better than I ever have been, but I still have a visceral dislike of speed. I am not exactly slow, but I am deliberate. And I am exactly slow when it comes to trying to keep up with Silas, even, as of this weekend, on the bumps (I used to be able to keep up with him on the bumps.)

So the discussion then becomes: in what ways is my blithe admission that I will never be as good a skier as my 11-year-old son demonstrating blind adherence to these familial patterns?

Familial patterns that are not mine, by the way, and don't really get under my skin in a significant way, but which are perhaps more worrisome to M for stemming from his own history. Will this be the shoal on which our family founders? Unlikely, I maintain. Nevertheless, I try to put on my game face and at least make a good show of pretending in company that I want to be a middle-aged first-time extreme skier.

(To which I say: HA. And also: is it time to stop for hot chocolate yet?)

I'm always taken by how much skiing is like sledding, except for the cost. It makes it harder to take seriously.

* We had a taste of teenager this past weekend. On the surface the fight, which was full family, and lasted approximately TWO HOURS, which is insane, was about monitor time and also the frankly minor rhetorical point that while we said that Silas said that his choice was to go to Winter Park on the way to the condo, he said that he did NOT in fact say this. Below the surface, of course, the fight was about control, and how we wish he enjoyed different leisure activities, and how sometimes this wish comes across as wishing he was a different person.

Friday, March 1, 2013

More later

I spent a week at a work conference and all I got was this weird sense of having been completely divorced from my own self. I'm still not totally back, plus we're actually as we speak trying to pack for a trip to the Condo (when you gotta go, you gotta go, apparently, with this privilege), so I'm only here to say I'll catch you later.

More here.