missroserose: (Default)
What I've just finished reading

Future Sex, by Emily Witt. Those of you following along at home may have noticed that this book has generated an awful lot of drama for what feels like, in retrospect, a 200-odd-page blog entry. But such is the danger of high hopes. I'd almost given up on the book halfway through, but persevered through the end, which was bittersweet - Witt returns more to her analytic mode, and even shows some self-awareness about her privileged perspective. For instance:

No wonder people hate Burning Man, I thought, when I pictured it as a cynic might: rich people on vacation breaking rules that everyone else would suffer for if they didn't obey. The hypocrisy of the "creative autonomous zone" weighed on me. Many of these people would go back to their lives and back to work on the great farces of our age. They wouldn't argue for the decriminalization of the drugs they had used; they wouldn't want anyone to know about their time in the orgy dome.

[...] To protest these things in everyday life bore a huge social cost - one that only people like Lunar Fox were willing to grimly undertake - and maybe that's what the old Burners disliked about the new ones: the new ones upheld the idea of autonomous zones. The $400 ticket price was as much about the right to leave what happened at Burning Man behind as it was to enter in the first place.
 
I also really enjoyed her (lamentably short) chapter on birth control and reproduction, and how our entire social framework for childrearing remains stuck in 1950s norms despite technology having thrust us into an entirely different world:  

40 percent of births in the United States are to unwed parents. This happened because most people have separated their sex lives from marriage, but the thinking about the subject has yet to flip. When people cite the research about the advantages of raising a child in a two-parent home, it tends to be an argument for marriage, not for improving the experience of raising a child outside of it. And this has meant that many women, unmarried but also pragmatic about the challenges of single parenthood, feel the 'choice' they have made not to have a child is not much of a choice at all.
 
Indeed, she brings the subject of that disconnect home, in this particularly insightful bit:

I had always preferred success through recognized channels: getting good grades, going to the right college. I experienced satisfaction in obeying rules, and I had greater affirmation from my family when we acted as if I hadn't chosen to be alone, when we spoke as if I was simply waiting (maybe for decades) for the right person to come along. [...] I had now absorbed a powerful lesson about resistance to change: that it manifests less by institutional imposition and more by the subtle suggestions of the people who love you.
 
I feel like there's a really great book in here about social order versus social anarchy; about the way people who dislike or don't fit in to the majority norms instead seek out subcultures with their own norms and rulesets, because most humans function best with boundaries and limits and social reinforcement; about the price those people pay in terms of estrangement from the greater culture, and the varying ways (closeting, sociopolitical advocacy, withdrawal) in which they minimize or deal with that estrangement; and about the ways technology is enabling these subgroups, and whether this means our sexual culture is broadening or merely splintering into individual shards. Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, these remarkably clear-eyed observations are clouded by the author's own unexamined prejudices and assumptions, especially once she starts getting into her own experiences. Ultimately it feels like a missed opportunity, but I nonetheless hope that it might start a conversation on these important topics.

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee. Buckles were swashed, adventures were had, supernatural solutions determined to come at too high a cost. The ending is satisfying; without going into details, our three heroes ultimately reject their proscribed social roles, running off to do...they're not sure exactly, but certainly to live their own lives as they choose, Monty and Percy as lovers, and Felicity quite possibly as a medic on a pirate ship. ("But girls can't be pirates!" "Haven't you heard of Grace O'Malley?")

That said, I'm personally a little torn on said ending. It's certainly appropriate enough for the story, and it's true to both the late-teenage perspective of the protagonists and the YA intended audience - it's a stage in life when most of us have little to tie us down and a great hunger for new experiences and the possibility of trying new identities. But the way it's handled feels...just a little bit facile, like the characters are playing dress-up rather than committing to a difficult life road. To a degree, this can be excused by their immaturity; they acknowledge that it's going to be a tough time but clearly don't understand exactly how tough it is to forge your own road, outside of the social ruleset you've been raised to follow. But the ending as written feels like it's supposed to be an unfettered triumph, rather than a "we've overcome this set of challenges, hurrah, but new ones are right on the horizon."

Maybe it's precisely that tonal dissonance that's not quite sitting right with me; as a fellow 19-year-old I would have been all "Yes! Screw the patriarchal social hierarchy! Go live on a tropical island with your beloved with no skills or visible means of financial support! Love is all you need!" whereas 34-year-old me, having had some small experience with the difficulties of moving to a new place with entirely different sets of rules (as well as having complicated moral feelings about piracy as a career in the 18th century), is somewhat more mixed on the prospect. But, difficult as it was, I eventually found my niche, and what I feel is a good balance between social approbation and forging my own path; perhaps they will too.


What I'm currently reading

So this is kind of awkward - technically I'm in the middle of a number of books, but I've done so little reading lately that I haven't made any progress in them this week. Clearly I need to fix this!


What I plan to read next

I have two primary candidates at the moment. One is James Enge's Blood of Ambrose, a birthday present from my delightful friend Claire (with the promise of the rest of the trilogy to come if I like it). Apparently it has an Ambrosia in it! However, my friend Olivia gifted me with Jennifer Finney Boylan's memoir She's Not There: A Life In Two Genders, which looks fascinating - and happens to be written by Olivia's aunt. I'm leaning towards that because she'll be officiating at Olivia's wedding later this month, and if I'm going to possibly have the opportunity to meet her I'd like to have read something of hers - I know very little about her other than that she's a writer. But I still have so many other books to finish! Sigh...
missroserose: (Warrior III)
aaaaaaaaaaaa

^^The feels I'm having when I've literally just finished my internship and my studio manager emails me saying "hey, we've got a C2 opening up in September Mondays at 7:30 PM, do you want it? It's plenty of time to get you ready to teach C2s, and I'd love to have you in another prime time slot."

I mean, yeah, without a deadline I'll probably never push myself to get there, so I'm not going to say no. Breanne's not going to leave me hanging on training, and she wouldn't have offered it if she didn't think I'd be up for the challenge. And this is a huge compliment - Monday nights are super-prime-time for attendance. But whoa, that's...a little high-stakes, relatively speaking.

Good thing it's just yoga. :)

(aaaaaaaaaaaaa)

(feels)
missroserose: (Freedom on a Bike)
It's been thirteen months, hundreds of miles, a few traffic near-misses, and a slightly embarrassing amount spent on accessories, repairs, and eventually a new bike, but I'm beginning to feel like a seasoned urban cyclist. I bike so much (and Brian works from home so much) that, for the first time since we moved here, I've given up our monthly transit pass subscriptions; it makes more sense now to pay as we go, or nab Brian a weekly pass if he's got an on-site job.

My unstated, very-unofficial goal for the spring/summer/fall has been to only use the car for trips involving at least two people. With the notable exception of my once-or-twice monthly Costco/Trader Joe's stock-up trips (I have yet to figure out how to load a pallet of toilet paper onto a bike), this has been surprisingly doable. Especially in a crowded city, biking is often faster than driving for short distances; it may not be quite as fast for longer ones, but that's balanced out by not having to search/pay for parking at the end. (The one exception currently on my regular schedule is the Sauganash studio, which is a fifteen-minute drive with a free parking lot at the end, versus a 25-30 minute ride. But that's balanced out somewhat by being a far more pleasant commute by bike, as well as getting to eat All The Calories afterward.) There's definitely been an adjustment curve with my physical condition, but I feel like I'm largely over the hump, even if my hip and glute muscles might not agree, heh.

All of which is to say, biking is feeling less like a novelty and more like a lifestyle change. I'm...torn on saying whether I'd consider it part of my identity; there's a lot of aspects of the urban-biker subculture I either don't fit into or am less than enthused with (I have zero desire to do triathlons or multi-city tours; I bike largely for commuting/eating purposes rather than recreation; I try not to look down on people who primarily drive, not all of us are able-bodied enough to pedal everywhere). But I think it is, to a degree; I like who I am better when I'm biking most places.

I'm not sure how this coming winter is going to shape up. Last year I put my bike away in late November when the temperature was regularly dropping below freezing; there was more than one period over the winter, however, when the mercury rose and I regretted not having it handy. I think I might try leaving it out this year and seeing how often I can ride it. I am nowhere near hardcore enough to ride in snow, but if the roads are clear and I have enough layers I don't see why colder temperatures have to be a barrier. I suppose a lot will depend on the weather.

In more fun news, I've been combing through Redbubble looking for stickers to decorate my new bike - hence the reflections on biking culture and where I fit (or don't) in it. Still, even with the hardcore athlete/snooty stickers discounted, there are some good candidates, even if my all-time favorite is untrue for me on every level, haha. I like the colors in this one, and the fanciful vintage air of this one; this one has a nice minimalist feel to it as well as being a good shape for a crossbar. This one probably gets the award for most accurate/most likely to be purchased, possibly with this one as a complement; also, it's nice to see an actively non-snooty message in a bike-oriented sticker.

How about you? Are there any subcultures you probably fit in but are hesitant to actively jump into?
Have you ever tried something new and discovered you hadn't even realized it was part of who you wanted to be? Seen any great bike stickers lately? Let's discuss!
missroserose: (Life = Creation)
I was reflecting just now that lately I've been both hyper-aware of what day of the week it is, and completely unaware of how the days are passing. The former because it's the basis for my entire schedule, and the latter because my commitments vary so much week to week that it's hard to get any sense of cycle or rhythm. I'm not overextended, precisely; I've been doing better about keeping my pace sustainable, and taking days off when I need them. But I feel like lately all I've written about here is either the books I'm reading or how tired I am; this seems to be an indicator of the thoughts that occupy my downtime.

Which is not to say I haven't been doing fun things - this summer has been full of them! I went to a storytelling event with my friend Andrea just before leaving for Washington; Brian and I went to the Welcome to Night Vale live show; we took Jamila to see Aladdin and Jamila and her mother to see Hamilton on Broadway, we went to see a local production of Three Days of Rain solely on the strength of the company's previous performances (a gamble that paid off; it was an excellent show), we've been rock climbing with our friend Erin a couple of times, as well as the various just-hanging-out events like movie nights and festivals that summer here is full of. To paraphrase Alice Isn't Dead, Chicago in the summer is happy in a way few other cities seem to be. So it's not that I've been doing nothing other than work. It's just...I don't have a lot of downtime, and a lot of days I fall into bed exhausted. Maybe that's why we all curl up into our hermit-shells come fall and winter - we're so tired from running around so manically for months.

Still. Perhaps I'll block tomorrow off for a rest - no plans to go out, just take a yoga class and some much-needed downtime. (Now that I've said this, I'm almost guaranteed to get a text from someone hoping for a last-minute massage booking, haha.) Saturday is my birthday; Brian and I are getting massages and then going to check out some open houses for a couple of condos in the neighborhood that look promising. Onward and forward.

...I wonder if that isn't actually the fundamental source of my difficulty achieving balance - that need, a la Miles Vorkosigan, to keep the forward momentum going, lest I fall into another rut, leading to a depressive episode. That might explain a little about that sense of almost-fear that feels like it's driving me sometimes.
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
Introducing Atalanta! So named because she's swift and sleek and virginal - I've never had a brand new bike as an adult. No word on whether she plans to join the Argonauts, but she gets me around town in style. Although there does seem to be something slightly inconsistent about double-locking a bike named after a woman most famous for refusing to marry because it would impinge on her freedoms, heh. My only complaint is that she didn't have much in the way of color choices; I wanted a purple bike, but my options for this model were "would you like black or silver?" Oh well. Time to go shopping for some stickers!

It's been a ridiculously busy week, so this update is going to be short:


What I've just finished reading

*hangs head* Nothing this week. Work and house cleaning and bike shopping and houseguest all ate my brain.


What I'm currently reading

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee. Poor, poor Monty. A life of determinedly drinking, gambling, and seducing his way as far into his father's bad graces as he could short of being outright disinherited has ill prepared him for a cross-Continental high adventure, filled with mystery, personal revelation, self-awareness, and just maybe a dash of thoroughly undeserved but nonetheless beautiful romance.

I was a little afraid at the start that Monty would end up being a little *too* unsympathetic; he spends a good chunk of the first act feeling sorry for himself. Not that he doesn't have valid reasons - an emotionally and physically abusive father who consistently punishes his sexuality is rough no matter your class, and arguably harder when you're otherwise socially privileged (as his mixed-race best friend and educationally-stunted younger sister are keen to remind him). He gets a bit of a pass on pure charm as well as on his fierce, undying devotion to Percy, his best friend, but nonetheless he sits right on the knife edge of "selfish and useless" for a while...right up until Percy's illness becomes apparent, and suddenly he has a reason to Grow Up and Do Better. And boy, does he - not perfectly, not in any way out of character with his self and his history, but his sheer determination to find a cure and save his friend from a life in a sanatorium is heartening, as is his slow discovery of his own talents. His sister Felicity is, luckily, quite tolerant of him, and willing to lend her clever and resourceful brain to any task that will help; his growing respect for her is one of the best parts of the story.

Needless to say, I'm enjoying this greatly, although I'm curious how it'll end up, especially his relationship with Percy - there's a potentially-supernatural thread being introduced, but it's not constructed in a way that seems conducive to a deus ex machina, nor to a "everything must sadly revert to status quo" ending. So I suppose we'll see!


What I plan to read next

I swear to god I'm going to finish Future Sex, even if it is becoming increasingly annoying! Also, a friend of mine asked me to beta read a short story of hers, which I suppose counts, although I don't know anything about it...
missroserose: (Balloons and Ocean)
One quirk of the Swedish language that I'm particularly fond of is that the words for "heart" and "brain" are only one letter apart. This just feels right to me; we need each as much as the other, and God knows there are times when it feels like they're pulling us apart with equal force.

Luckily, as such times go, this one's rather less high-stakes and more pleasant than some. The good news: I'm buying a new bicycle for my birthday! I've been riding my 80s-era steel-frame Schwinn road bike around for a good year and a half now, and it's been a solid beater, but the repairs are starting to run more than I paid for it initially, which seems like a good point to start looking at nicer options - God knows I've proven that I'm going to put a more expensive bike to good use. (When I walked into my neighborhood bike shop yesterday and said I was thinking about investing in something newer with a warranty, the woman who does the repairs - and has thus seen me on an almost monthly basis for a year and a half now - laughed and said "Yeah, you deserve a new bike!") Also worth considering is weight; Chicago's not a hilly town, so it's less of a big deal when riding, but I store my bike on my deck when I'm not riding, and carrying a nearly-thirty-pound frame up three flights of stairs versus a 17-pound frame makes a bit of a difference, especially after a long ride.

The dilemma: yesterday I found a bike at the shop that I really like. It's not a well-known brand (KHS, which Google tells me is a Korean manufacturer), but that's not necessarily a drawback - I'm not planning on attempting to resell it anytime soon, the price point is lower than a Cannondale or a Trek or something similarly recognizable, and (this is Chicago) it's not going to be as tempting a target for theft. I brought a friend with me who's much more knowledgable about bike stuff, and she says the frame is solid, but the components are mixed in their quality - the gearbox is high-end, the brakes decent, the shifters sort of mid-range. This fits with both what I've been able to find online about the brand (a couple of people mentioned they make strong frames with mixed parts) and my experience riding it (the smoothness of the pedaling is phenomenal, the shifters were fine but a little more finicky). I'm pretty sure I can live with that, and if not, there's no reason I can't get them upgraded later on.

So now to the dilemma: my friend thinks that I should hit up another shop or two and try out a few more bikes in my price range from different brands to see if I like any of them more. And, objectively, I agree it's a good idea! ...but that requires researching shops, getting down to them, riding around, assessing, not to mention finding the time in my schedule to do so...and some part of me's like "but you could be riding your amazing new bike this week!" Ah well. No matter which way I jump, here, I imagine I'll be pretty happy with the results. :)

(Hrm...I need a bicycling icon...)
missroserose: (After the Storm)
Happy Day After Loud Patriotic Noises day! On Monday I taught two classes at Sauganash, my usual 1:30 and the 6:15. What with the long holiday weekend, I had a huge crowd for the 1:30 class - 20 people (my usual count is between two and five) crammed into a relatively small studio. It turned out to be an awesome class, though; despite the fact that there was a whole range of skill levels, everyone meshed well and flowed together, and I felt like I had a good rapport with people. I got lots of positive feedback from folks afterward, too, which is always gratifying, and a teacher who took my class gave me a good tip on dealing with crowds. I was curious if the evening class was going to be similarly crowded, or if everyone was going to be drinking by then...as it happened, it was closer to the latter, with all of four people, one of them Breanne (the studio manager), taking my class so she could give me my internship evaluation. (As hinted at in the headline, it was almost completely positive; she said I was clearly already an excellent instructor, and she couldn't wait to see what I started doing with the more advanced classes. She also particularly mentioned my music and gave me possibly the best compliment I've ever had - "The choice of songs at the beginning and the way they fit with the timing made me feel like I was in a musical!" So many warm fuzzies.)

It's been a busy week, but luckily I managed to get some reading done, albeit mostly yesterday at the park. So on to the meme:


What I've just finished reading:

The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories, by A.C. Wise. A collection of short stories, many of them with some kind of queer romance theme. A lot of them feel like they could have been fleshed out a little more; the title story especially seemed incomplete, like it was really a novella rather than a short story. Still, there's a distinct sense of atmosphere throughout most of the stories; I found "The Final Girl Theory", about an archetypal 70s-esque slasher/mondo/gore horror film and the cult following that had sprung up around it, particularly chilling.

The Wicked + The Divine vol. 5: Imperial Phase pt. 1, by Kieron Gillen. The gods are in the second year of their supposed two-year lifespan. And, as an academic dryly notes in this volume, "There are very few stories of gods bathing in blood in the first year of their return." There's a lot to unpack here, about the effects of power on ungrounded human minds, about the ways in which various personalities deal with the stress caused by a sense of disempowerment, and about exactly how dangerous a powerful person who feels disempowered and victimized can be. (That last feels especially cogent for our times, on an individual and a group level.) Given all of that, the subplot about The Darkness - an as-yet-unexplained threat that the gods are so far the only ones equipped to deal with - feels almost like a red herring; far more interesting has been seeing how the embattled deities try to aggregate their own fecal matter, or (in the case of Sakhmet) don't even try.


What I'm currently reading:

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee. A complete impulse buy, and I'm all of one chapter in (in truth, I burned through the last of The Kissing Booth Girl almost solely so I could get to this one - I was that charmed by the description), but this is shaping up to be a new favorite. Henry Montague, a brash and self-centered young 18th-century British lord, is off on a Grand Tour of Europe with his (sigh) younger sister and his best friend/confidante/longtime secret crush. Swashbuckling action, perhaps-requited pining, and encounters with historical figures have all been promised, and given the strength of the main character's voice in the first chapter, I'm already sold. I fully intend to savor every chapter.

Future Sex, by Emily Witt. Despite being almost three-quarters done (and not a long book), this one's feeling more and more like a slog. I've been reading the chapter on polyamory, which I have something of a personal stake in, and find so many problematic aspects with her analysis, stemming in large part from the fact that her case studies come almost entirely from a single demographic (rich white Silicon Valley workers in San Francisco). While I realize most practitioners of poly come from a background with a certain level of privilege (it's hard to juggle multiple relationships when you're working three jobs just to survive), there's all sorts of unexamined assumptions here, especially in the couple privilege and unicorn-hunting fields. The entire tone is faux-supportive-while-actually-being-condescending - "Look at these adorably earnest young people and how dedicated they are to their alternate lifestyle that their parents already tried and failed at in the 70s! But they really think they can make it work!" It reminds me a lot of the New York Times article on polyamory that generated a lot of justifiable resentment from the community - it's at least a more nuanced perspective than the usual "blog post illustrated by stock photo of three pairs of feet sticking out from under the covers", but nonetheless feels written to reinforce the couple-centric monogamous norm rather than challenge it.

Now that I think about it, that's probably my biggest issue with the entire book; supposedly the author's writing about possible roadmaps to future ways humans might engage with each other sexually, thanks to technology and changing social mores, and yet the whole book is written with a sense of exoticism - "Look at this! Isn't it strange/disgusting/fascinating/novel?" - that's very much at odds with its purported mission, and only serves to reinforce the "othering" of those particular lifestyle choices. Bleh.
I'll probably finish it, if only because I'm pretty close to the end already, but for a book I had such high hopes for initially, it's been awfully disappointing.


What I plan to read next

I'm beginning to feel like my reading style is downright Heisenbergian, or perhaps Schrödingeresque - there are possibilities, and maybe even probabilities, but the fact is I just can't know until I'm there. So as usual...stay tuned!
missroserose: (Default)
I'm grateful that I have no particular difficulty with fireworks; I wouldn't want to have people shooting them off every night, but once or twice a year doesn't really bother me, and I genuinely enjoy the more artistic displays. Towards that latter end, we decided to head down to the park to watch the Saddle and Cycle Club's (yes, we have an honest-to-god country club in our neighborhood, dating back to the 1920s when this area was a tony suburb of Chicago) annual fireworks display. They were gracious enough to invite the plebeians to watch from the beaches and parks nearby...you know, the ones that are public property. So generous!

After literal years of talking about it, Brian had finally nabbed a small grill to do a cookout. So yesterday morning, we bundled up the car with the grill and charcoal and bags of chips and utensils and blankets and a cooler bag with approximately 50 pounds of various meatstuffs and salads and ice packs, and drove all of five blocks to the lakefront park, intending to unload and have me drive back/walk down (parking at the park is difficult on any nice day, but absolutely insane on holidays)...only to discover that the police had blocked off the parking lot, likely to manage traffic flow. Well, at least we didn't go too far out of our way, heh. We pared down our supplies some and I dug an old wheeled luggage bag out of the closet to pack up the cooler and we managed to trundle everything down on foot; Jamila came down to meet us and helped us unpack everything. The weather was lovely - humid, but not unpleasantly hot, with a nice breeze to keep the smoke from the fireworks and cookouts moving. Most of the families around us were Hispanic; Brian commented later that it was nice to spend Independence Day surrounded by immigrants.

Brian's food was predictably excellent; Jamila got a great picture of him in front of our tiny grill. She also documented our excellent burgers and one of our gigantic beef ribs; and, at my spur-of-the-moment request, did her best Baby Groot impression). I spent most of the time sprawled on our blanket, reading and occasionally reapplying sunscreen; at one point our friend Erin stopped by and we chatted for a bit, although unfortunately her dog was feeling poorly so she wasn't able to stay for the fireworks.

Possibly my favorite part of the day, aside from the fireworks show, was dusk; the crowds were starting to go really wild with the fireworks, so everything was getting noisy and flashing, but amidst the chaos there were comparatively tiny fireflies coming out, blinking hopefully at the colorful displays. You keep those aspirations high, fireflies!
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
Hello, book friends! As I posted on Facebook, coming back from vacation is almost as much work as getting ready to go. Since returning on Sunday I've dyed my hair blue, bought groceries, made a playlist, taught two classes (with two more upcoming), run numerous errands, sent a nastygram to Hertz over being charged half again what Expedia promised, hosted two private massage clients, had Dominika and her husband over for dinner, and (according to Strava) biked nearly 20 miles all over Chicago. Still to do: mail presents to my mum, finish unpacking, clean out the fridge and microwave (seriously, it's been like two years and they're getting disgusting), create a Facebook page/website to connect with more potential massage/yoga clients, prepare for teaching my first yin yoga class on Sunday, winnow out my clothing/shoes/movies/general possessions, catch up on spring cleaning that I missed because my massage bookings went through the roof in May...and that's not even half of it. Augh! One step at a time.

Still, I've managed to carve out some time for reading, albeit less than I'd like since returning from vacation...


What I've just finished reading

Notes of a Native Son, by James Baldwin. I finally gave up on finding the time to read the paper copy of this I'd bought, and listened to the rest of the audiobook. It's good stuff, and thought-provoking, but I really don't think the format was right for me for this work; I've always been a faster and more thorough reader than listener (much to the frustration of my schoolteachers, heh), and audiobooks are frustratingly ephemeral when it comes to volumes that traffic in ideas - it's hard to consider and write about related experiences when the person just keeps talking. I do hope to reread on paper and consider more thoroughly, but as an overview of the ideas discussed it was definitely a good introduction.


What I'm currently reading

Come As You Are, by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. This continues to be one of the most fascinating and (to borrow a term from the tech sector) disruptive books I've read on the subject of sexuality. The framework Nagoski presents is far more sexuality-positive, and particularly female-sexuality-positive, than the overall cultural narrative we all grew up with; I've noticed that Nagoski shares my fascination with personal and cultural storytelling, how it assigns meaning to our world, and how that meaning can be either beneficial or harmful to our sense of well-being. For instance, the hymen, possibly one of the most frequently misunderstood parts of feminine physiology, came to that point of misunderstanding largely due to patriarchal concerns over paternity, which led to a cultural narrative of female "purity" being perceived as desirable - despite the fact that the organ itself has little to do with a woman's sexual state.

I also particularly enjoyed the chapter on arousal nonconcordance, describing exactly what's going on when someone's genital behavior demonstrates arousal even when their brain is not sexually aroused. I was particularly interested in the correlation statistics; unsurprisingly, it's higher for men than for women. But even in men, it's only a 50% correlation; contrary to our cultural narrative, it's perfectly normal and in fact common for men to sport an erection without actually desiring sex. (This seems particularly significant given how often female-on-male rape is culturally dismissed, and likely hugely underreported, due to the supposed impossibility of it.) In women, nonconcordance is even higher - only about 10% of the time does increased bloodflow and lubrication correlate with actual sexual desire. Newsflash: our genitals are excellent at indicating sexually relevant scenarios (those where we perceive or expect to perceive sexual stimuli), but our brains are much, much pickier in terms of what actually turn us on.

As with the best sociological research, all of this seems fairly obvious in retrospect; the fact that few of us could have articulated it speaks to the power of cultural narrative (and the power of research to create better, more accurate narratives to displace them).

The Wicked and the Divine vol. 5: Imperial Phase Part I, by Kieron Gillen. The initial conspiracy arc having been (bloodily) resolved, the question for our various god-teenagers appears to now be, "What's next?" And, in the tradition of humans realizing sudden apparently-limitless power, the answer appears to be disturbingly close to, "Anything we want." For those of us familiar with the way such arcs usually go, the shape of the rest of the story is starting to be indicated; the hard limits may have been removed, but that seems most likely to have sealed our characters' fate. It's not difficult to imagine a bunch of teenagers given godlike powers self-destructing spectacularly, and well within the dictated two years' deadline; Baal in specific seems determined to avert that outcome, but it remains to be seen how successful he is. (The title indicates a couple of possibilities, neither of which bode well for regular humans.)

This collection begins with an award-winning issue, written in the style of a gossip magazine, where the authors had real-world writers "interview" the various gods (via chat roleplay) and write articles on them. It's a neat trick, adding surprising verisimilitude; the illustrations are spot-on for a fashion/gossip rag, and the writers add their own voices and reactions in a truly impressive way. For all that Satan remains the best character, and her interview is entertaining to say the least, my favorite is almost certainly feminist writer Laurie Penny going up against racist sexist man-child and self-proclaimed "shithead god" Woden. "And here the self-pity. It all comes out in a slosh of self-justifying red-pill logic that you really don't need me to describe. The biggest issue of all is Woden's specific limitation: unlike the other gods, he can only make magic for other people, which must be a bummer for a misanthrope." Reader, I about died laughing.


What I plan to read next

Still working on the currently-reading pile, heh. Seven books is a bit much, even for someone with my voracious appetites...
missroserose: (Balloons and Ocean)
Hello, fellow book nerds! Last Wednesday was a bit nuts; Brian and I were scrambling about trying to get all the last-minute preparations done for our trip to Washington state, only to discover that our pleasant evening flight had been delayed into an overnight flight thanks to thunderstorms shutting down O'Hare. (Thanks a lot, Chicago weather!) We made it eventually, although we had to shell out no small amount for Lyfts as transit wasn't running that late/early...ah well. The past week has been full of robot fights and gigantic waterfalls and a quick visit with the goddaughter and walks with my mother-in-law and driving. So much driving. And more later today. Washington state, why do you have to be so huge. >.>

And, of course, there has been reading!

What I've just finished reading

The Heiress Effect, by Courtney Milan. Incredibly generic covers aside, I've found this series to be one of my favorite period romances. It does suffer somewhat from the common "Regency romance that's basically modern people living in the trappings of the period" problem, but the characters are so well-drawn and likable that I enjoy them anyway, even if they're ultimately a little forgettable (except, perhaps, for Free and her Suffragettes! in book 4).


What I'm currently reading

Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, by Emily Nagowski, Ph.D. (Yeah, I'm reading roughly a million other books right now, but I bought this intending to read it right away...almost exactly two years ago, if the receipt is to be believed. :P In any case, I finally picked it up off my nightstand and brought it along for the trip.) If you're interested in sociology and sexuality, this is a fascinating book - far more interesting than Future Sex, for all that it's more science-based than memoir. Nagowski's big reveal (er, spoilers? She talks about it in literally the first chapter) is the accelerator/brakes model of sexual arousal, where rather than an on/off switch, eroticism is mostly a matter of context. So we react sexually when there are enough turn-ons present in the environment (say, presence of an attractive partner, sounds/sights of other people having sex, relaxed and receptive mood) and relatively few turn-offs (say, crying children, an unappreciative audience, history of sexual trauma, general life stress); ergo what we think of as "sex drive" is really as much a question of what's going on in the person's immediate surroundings and in their life.

I have a lot of thoughts on this theory. Primarily, Nagowski seems to think it's mostly applicable to women, because their sexuality is socialized in a more complex way; that may be true, but I strongly suspect it's true for a lot of men too, if perhaps to a lesser degree. Similarly, I don't think it's only sex that utilizes this mechanism; laughter, say, is heavily context-dependent, as articulated in the benign violation theory of humor. And the sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system works in a similar way to generate a whole host of responses to a range of different situations. So I'll be interested to see where she takes it.

The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories, by AC Wise. I picked this up as part of the LGBTQ Humble Bundle (it doesn't count as buying new books if it's supporting a good cause, right??), and basically opened it up knowing nothing about it. It seems to be lyrical sci-fi stories with a queer bent; the worldbuilding's been a little scanty in the stories I've read so far, but the sheer human longing at the center of each has been strong and well-rendered enough to easily drive the plots forward.


What I plan to read next

Given that I currently have something like eight books on my currently-reading list, I think I'm going to be best served by finishing some of them before I start to plan more, haha.
missroserose: (Book Love)
Hello, fellow book-lovers! This morning I sent an email to the spa manager requesting a leave of absence. I've enjoyed working there and learned a lot, but it's pretty clear at this point that the job is requiring a far bigger investment of energy than I'm willing to give, especially with yoga teaching becoming more central in my life (and also providing an avenue for increased private bookings). It's a little scary, striking out on my own, and it may yet prove to be temporary, but it feels like the right thing to do. So here I go!

Meantime, in Booklandia...


What I've just finished reading

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. Oh man. I can see why some people regard this as her masterwork; it's a lovingly rendered and terrifyingly believable portrait of an incredibly dysfunctional family dynamic, told through the eyes of a person strongly invested in perpetrating it, who nonetheless manages to remain a sympathetic narrator. It's that last that really gets to me: seeing Constance and Merricat's world through the latter's eyes, you understand why she does the things she does and root for her, even though objectively the outcome is a terrible one. Which isn't to say it's entirely her fault; Jackson is unflinching in apportioning the blame to gossiping townsfolk, a gold-digging cousin, well-meaning friends, and Constance's own agoraphobia. But like the most impressive tragedies, in retrospect, there is simply no other way things could have played out; despite having been given the opportunity, the characters are fundamentally incapable of change. The fact that the narrator genuinely regards the outcome as a happy one simply makes the ending all the more chilling.


What I'm currently reading

A Wind in the Door, by Madeline L'Engle. I'd forgotten that Mr. Jenkins comes along for the adventure this time! I love that Meg had to find something to love in such a pathetic person who had genuinely made her life (and was continuing to make her brother's life) difficult; such people are some of the most difficult to see as fundamentally human, and arguably some of the most important for precisely that reason.

An Unnatural Vice, by K.J. Charles. At this point I preorder all of Charles' books, and this was a happy surprise to find on my Kindle on a difficult day. I enjoy all of her romances, but I have a special fondness for the enemies-to-lovers trope - it's hard to do well, but when it's done well the inherent conflict and pent-up lust makes it absolutely scorchingly hot. This installment focuses on Nathaniel Roy, an attorney/journalist/general man of integrity who's been grieving his lover for some years, and who of course (given Victorian mores) must hide his grief from the greater world; naturally, he finds himself having to work with (and deeply, disturbingly attracted to) Justin Lazarus, a spiritualist/con man/general man of few morals.

As great as the chemistry is, one of the unexpected delights of this series has been the central mystery plot; not so much for its own sake, but because it gives the main characters reasons to interact, and they and their relationships are all so beautifully drawn. I particularly liked a conversation Nathaniel has with Mark, a one-armed war veteran friend of his:

As they turned together onto Greystoke Place, Mark took Nathaniel’s arm, pulling him to a stop. “Look, mate. I’d say I’m pretty able to handle myself, yes? You don’t go around telling me to stay out of fights, do you?”

Mark was perhaps the last man Nathaniel would have wished to brawl with. “Indeed not.”

“But even so, if I said I was going to take up bare-knuckle fighting, you’d maybe point out I come up a bit short in the matter of knuckles. Right?”

“I see where this inelegant metaphor is leading.”

“I’m missing a hand, so I need not to get into situations where that’s a problem. Well, I’m not the only one missing something, that’s all I’m saying.”

We can all only hope to have friends as good as Mark.


What I plan to read next

Given how little I've managed to read this week, I'm not going to speculate. So many possibilities! But we'll see.
missroserose: (Warrior III)
I'm just over halfway through my internship, and picked up enough substitute classes to shave off more than a month (it's been less than two months, as opposed to the three-and-a-half it would have taken if I'd only taught my single regular weekly class). I've successfully dealt with a couple of unexpected issues mid-class - including, one memorable week, a confused-seeming woman bursting in through the emergency exit door (!) in the middle of a class, saying something about wanting her free week. (We have signs in the window advertising a free first week; she had found the front door locked and gone around to the side, where apparently I hadn't pulled the door all the way shut after airing out the studio. I gently-but-firmly explained to her that she'd need to come back before a class, through the front. Fortunately she left without incident; it was disconcerting, but happened at a convenient stopping point and I just skipped ahead to the next section of class.)

As with any performative skill, I have a hard time measuring objectively how I'm doing - whenever anyone asks how my internship is going, I say something like "Well, I haven't killed anyone yet, so I guess it's going well!" That said, I do feel like I'm settling into a rhythm of sorts. I'm more confident, at least within the confines of the format. I'm getting better at the more conversational parts, too, although I usually do some journaling and occasionally practicing in the shower to make sure I can convey my point in the limited time window. Somewhat entertainingly, Dominika (my two-levels-up supervisor/former anatomy teacher/friend/person I greatly admire, who also has taught at CorePower for years and knows basically everyone in the community) came to one of my classes...and of course it was the morning that I'd forgotten I was subbing an earlier class and was mildly hungover. Oops. I got out there and taught as well as I could; I knew I wasn't running at 100%, but past that, I couldn't really tell how I'd come off. So I braced myself for some honest feedback...and then Dominika came out and unhesitatingly told me I was already a better teacher than people she knew who'd been teaching for ten years. o.O Well, I wasn't going to look that gift horse in the mouth, even if I felt a little undeserving, heh. Still, that combined with the fact that I regularly have students inquire what classes I teach on the schedule tells me I'm doing something right.

Making playlists remains one of my favorite parts of the job; this week's, however, was giving me trouble. I'd challenged myself to make something more instrumental-focused, since I'd noticed that it was easier to teach when I wasn't having to compete vocally with singers. And I discovered that figuring out instrumental tracks is a lot more time-consuming - it's harder for me to bring a song's hook to mind without a chorus to hum. I ended up working on that one right down to the wire, convinced that it wasn't one of my stronger efforts...and discovered in situ that it actually was one of my best in terms of mood and timing. (Gift horse number 2!) I also had multiple people comment how much they liked it after the three classes I taught yesterday and today; that marks the first time anyone's commented on the music specifically. Combined with the positive feedback I've seen other teachers get on mostly-instrumental playlists, that seems like a strong indicator...I guess I'm going to have to get better at remembering song hooks and start listening to more instrumental music.

So that's the first half done! I suspect the second may take a bit longer, as I have a vacation coming up and also some visitors, but we'll see. The weather has been mostly excellent, so between teaching at Lincoln Square and Uptown and Sauganash, I've been biking all over the far north side of Chicago; I've been packing my little rechargeable Bluetooth carabiner speaker and having a complete blast listening to the Awesome Mix as I pedal against the wind. My thighs are going to be massive by the end of summer.
missroserose: (Joy of Reading)
Hello, world! The weather has been glorious all week! I biked thirty miles on Saturday! I kicked ass at Sculpt yesterday! I might be just a little bit manic following recovery from that cold, but I Feel So Dang Good! So let's talk about books.

What I've just finished reading

A Talent For Trickery, by Alissa Johnson. So frustrating - I really liked the character setup here, but the plot felt overly contrived and kept the main character passive throughout, which led to the big emotional beats of the romance feeling hollow. Oh well.


What I'm currently reading

Future Sex, by Emily Witt. I continue to have mixed feelings about this book, and the primary split between excellent social analysis and no real self-observation on the part of the author is only becoming more blatant. The chapter on live webcams, and the industry and culture that's sprung up around them, for instance, is absolutely fascinating; after talking quite a bit about some of the more well-known members of the community Witt joined and relating bits from interviews with performers and customers alike, she talks about a couple of friends she made and how, with their help, she tried setting up a session herself - and then just stops. Cold. No description of what happened, or how it felt to her, or how it fit in to her sense of who she was and what she was looking for vis a vis sexual connection - just, a little more general analysis, and then the chapter was over. It seemed such an abrupt halt that I'm genuinely starting to wonder if the book's problem came about during editing. She might have initially written it to be much more personal and memoir-ish, but then decided it worked better as social analysis? Or perhaps she just wasn't comfortable sharing so much so publicly, which, okay, fine, but this is an odd topic to tackle and then suddenly play shy.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. I picked this up from Audible in preparation to listening to Jackson's biography, and whoa. I've known for a long time that she had a real talent for portraying the darker side of human social dynamics and the horrors that can arise from them (frankly, anyone who's read "The Lottery" could probably guess as much), but this is an elegantly simple and chillingly effective portrayal of insular family dysfunction caused in part by social ostracism, given an extra frisson of uncertainty by being told through the eyes of a narrator who is...likely not entirely reliable. I can see why it's considered a classic of the genre.

A Wind in the Door, by Madeline L'Engle. When I started rereading these books, I was feeling very uncertain about the world and where it was headed, and part of what resonated with me was the way L'Engle's world acknowledges that uncertainty rather than denying it exists. I picked up this one last night, in the midst of an emotional high point, and strangely that still resonated - but even more was the certainty that, just as there are supernaturally powerful beings of chaos and darkness in the universe, there are also equally powerful beings of order and light that are fighting to preserve what's been built. Being the humanist that I am, I interpret this as allegory for the two sides of human nature (and, indeed, of the universe), but it's a potent message all the same, and I'm glad I'm rereading them now.

What I plan to read next

Hrm. I still have that copy of Jackson's The Sundial waiting for me...
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
Last Tuesday I had the sort of back-of-the-throat sinus pain that usually heralds an oncoming cold; however, given the option to believe it was allergies, which I've never had (in fairness, May is an especially terrible month for allergies in Chicago), or a cold, I inexplicably went with the former and did not adjust my activity schedule in the least. Three hours of massage, an hour of biking, two hours of yoga, and two days later, I was in full-blown no-energy knocked-on-my-butt cold territory, and missed two days' work at the spa as a result. Eugh. I'm nearly better, aside from a trailing cough, but it serves me right for not listening to my body.

But hey! Lots of reading time!


What I've just finished reading

Sunstone, vol. 5, by Stjepan Šejić. The writing in this lesbian BDSM love story has been a little uneven - though, in fairness, no more so than most romances - but the artwork. Whoa. (It's not explicit, though definitely NSFW.) Šejić has clearly cultivated the high-level comic creator's ability to visualize a scene in an unusual way that contributes to the telling of the story, and several of the story bits that might feel a little interminable in text are rendered in striking and imaginative ways that help communicate the narrator's state of mind. I particularly liked, in this volume, watching Lisa's somewhat fragmented mental waffling illustrated as the falling petals of a nearly universe-sized daisy - she loves me, she loves me not. (Because man, when you're in love and uncertain, it really can take up your whole universe.) And even with its somewhat fanfic-y feel, the character and major plot arcs are all resolved in an emotionally authentic way. I loved it.

All In the Timing, by David Ives. This was a gift from [personal profile] cyrano, and while I enjoyed reading it, it definitely illustrated to me why I don't spend a lot of time reading plays any longer - I haven't cultivated that sense of directorial vision, capable of considering multiple possible presentations simultaneously, and doing so is a lot more mental work than just reading a novel. Still, my benefactor asked for my thoughts, so here they are:

--The concepts behind "Sure Thing" (where two strangers navigate the tricky waters of a coffee-shop conversation on the way to genuine connection, with a gong helpfully sounding whenever one of them missteps) and "Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread" (a musical number playing on the eponymous composer's stylistic quirks and nihilistic sensibility transposed into a completely banal setting) both made me smile, although I wonder how many people the latter would really play to outside of particular demographics - surely lots of theater-goers haven't seen Koyannisqatsi.

--"Words, Words, Words" (in which three monkeys with typewriters serve as a metaphor for the blind human push toward art-making) struck me as a little precious in its conceit, but could work with a good enough director/cast.

--"The Universal Language" (in which a con man sells lessons in his invented "Unamunda" language to a woman suffering from a stutter, only to find such joy in teaching it to her that he falls for his own con) surprised me in its earnestness; I'd thought that I had pegged the collection as rather more postmodern cynicism, but it was oddly touching all the same.

--"The Philadelphia" was more straightforward, didn't outstay its primary joke, and made me genuinely laugh. ("I've been in a Cleveland all week. It's like death, but without the advantages.")

--Weirdly, "Variations on the Death of Trostky", which seems to be the one most people remember from this collection, didn't do a lot for me as written; I think that may be the lack of directorial eye speaking. I felt like I was missing something, whether from the direction or political context or simple lack of familiarity with 1930s Russian socialist philosophy.

Still, on the whole, I enjoyed the collection, and would totally audition for the part of Dawn in "The Universal Language".

An Extraordinary Union, by Alyssa Cole. Luckily this picked up some as the story progressed; most critically, Elle gained some depth of character. I appreciate that she's still prickly and judgmental (and justifiably so, given her history and contemporaneous context), but she gets to be a little more three-dimensionally human as things go on. And the Confederate vs. Union spy plot does a nice job moving things along, as well as giving the romance a sense of urgency sometimes lacking in the genre.

The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Hrmm. So many mixed feelings on this one. [personal profile] asakiyume brought up some very cogent points about how it feels like a very specific and limited dystopia - although there's some discussion of how it affects other groups (largely through deportation), the focus is by far on educated middle-and-upper-class white women, and reflects a very specific fear of their social worth (and, thus, their privilege) being reduced down to that of baby-making machines. Which seems almost quaint in retrospect - as she pointed out, if anything, what's kept women subservient (in our culture and in others) has been not a lack of fertility, but an abundance of it; higher education and social autonomy for women is linked strongly to access to birth control.

That's not to invalidate the underlying fear - given the persistent volume (if not necessarily numbers) of the conservative movement, and the high placement of some of its more extreme members, it's understandable that the Netflix series has become popular - but it does seem rather blind to how its dystopia would be received by women of different ethnic or social groups. (There's no mention as to what, if anything, has happened to black women, for instance. I pictured the narrator's friend Moira as a lighter-skinned black woman, although I don't think there's anything in the text to support that. Nor is there much differentiation in social class - would a poorer woman already used to being largely looked down on embrace her role as a Handmaid, given that it comes with a certain cachet?)

There are some touches here that ring true - I especially liked the portrayal of a culture that promises women freedom from predatory sexualization under patriarchal guardianship, only to have those same supposed guardians be the one doing the predating. But for every detail that felt "right", there were others that brought up far more questions - who, for instance, does this dictatorship even serve? How does it fit into global politics? Who are they fighting? How did they even get into power in the first place, absent some kind of major disaster? I realize that our narrator's limited viewpoint means some of these questions naturally would go unanswered, but I have a feeling [personal profile] osprey_archer's Society for Improved Dictatorship would have some choice words for these people.


What I'm currently reading

A Talent for Trickery, by Alissa Johnson. In a weird way, this is turning out to be the opposite of An Extraordinary Union. The female protagonist is charming and well-drawn from the outset, but both leads are getting bogged down in a lot of Feelings About the Past, which, while certainly a valid part of romance (especially between two thirtysomethings with a history), doesn't make for a particularly dynamic plot. Most of the actual plot developments have been fairly external to the characters, which isn't necessarily a problem, but here has had the result of making the female lead especially a passive reactor in her own story - something that's frustrating to her (given that she's a former con woman and not used to passivity) as much as me, the reader. I do like the theme of how people's lives and priorities can change over time, but I hope things pick up here as well.

Future Sex, by Emily Witt. "Internet dating had evolved to present the world around us, the people in our immediate vicinity, and to fulfill the desires of a particular moment. At no point did it offer guidance in what to do with such a vast array of possibility. {...} It brought us people, but it did not tell us what to do with them." Even beyond Internet dating, this seems to be the thrust of the book so far - Witt writes about her desire for connection, but seems patently uninterested in forming any kind of actual personal connection with anyone she encounters. I think [personal profile] asakiyume hit the nail on the head last week when she pointed out that going into any kind of relationship simply looking to get your needs met is a recipe for failure, since a relationship should be about what you can do for the other person as much as what they can do for you; this definitely adds a pathetic (in the sense of "pathos" as well as the more common definition) dimension to her search. I'm waiting to see if Witt will show any insight on this point, although I admit my hopes are not high. Luckily it's not a terribly long book.


What I plan to read next

I'm going to need a new audiobook to replace The Handmaid's Tale. I'm eyeing Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, although I want to read a bit more of her work before I tackle the biography - I've read a bunch of her domestic-humor writing (which is notable in how it's been dismissed as trivial, despite the very real thread of psychological horror and fear in losing one's personhood to 1950s domesticity...or maybe that's just my interpretation), but little of her outright horror other than "The Lottery". I have a copy of The Sundial I ordered more than a year ago (!) that I've been meaning to read...or maybe I'll use one of my Audible credits to nab The Haunting of Hill House or another of her works. Suggestions?
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
What I've just finished reading

Last week was the big "finish all the things" push, so this week's been more about starting new books! Interestingly, I've started three, and despite being somewhat disparate in genre, they all have a similar issue:

What I'm currently reading

An Extraordinary Union, by Alyssa Cole. This book came highly recommended by the Smart Bitches, and I liked the premise - a black woman with an eidetic memory who works as a spy for the Union during the Civil War - but so far the execution is kind of meh. Some of it's probably stylistic - there's a certain amount of tell-don't-show happening, and the dialogue between the characters doesn't really mesh - but honestly, I think the biggest problem is that I just don't care about the protagonist. She's certainly smart and driven, but doesn't seem to have much actual personality past her work. That's really showing now that she's met the main character - their interactions to this point have been either neutral or hostile, but suddenly they're bantering, and I don't have any real sense of how her emotions got from point A to point B. Realizing you're both spies working on the same side might explain some of it, but all of her other feelings that we've seen have been curmudgeonly at best, so enh. I'll probably read a bit more and see if it picks up, but so far this is showing a high likelihood of DNF.

The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. I picked this up off a library giveaway cart ages ago - I think I was nineteen or twenty at the time - and I couldn't get into it at all. At the time I didn't have the historical or sociopolitical knowledge to give it context; now that I'm perhaps somewhat painfully informed on those fronts, I thought I'd give it another go - especially since Audible has a nicely-produced special edition they've just released to promote/capitalize on the series. And...it's not bad. I definitely have a better appreciation now for the worldbuilding and the social commentary. But I'm not really grooving on this one, either. I think there might be some of the same issues going on - I'm about a third of the way through and so far, Offred hasn't really been a character in her own right so much as a means to view her world, which feels doubly strange given that we're clearly supposed to feel shock and horror at how this world treats her as a thing to be used. The craftsmanship is higher-level, though, so I'll probably keep listening - it helps that I can do housework or whatever at the same time.

Future Sex, by Emily Witt. This was an unintended purchase from the local feminist bookstore. (Brian, seeing me engrossed: "I was going to buy that for you but I would've sworn you already had it." Me: "I do not, would you buy it for me?" Brian: "Sure, but why don't you buy it?" Me: "Because I'm trying to stick to my moratorium on book-buying.") So far it appears to be half girl-dating-in-the-city memoir (a la I Don't Care About Your Band) and half history-and-analysis-of-nontraditional-relationship-options. She opens the book talking about how her expectation (like most women in our culture) had always been that she would date for a while before eventually meeting and marrying Mr. Right; this book is supposedly a chronicle of what happened when she turned 30 and, not having met him, decided to challenge the cultural narrative and try different models for meeting her sexual needs, from the relatively banal (Internet dating, webcams) to the more outré (polyamory, attending Burning Man) to the avant-garde (orgasmic meditation). And a lot of the analysis is solid; I particularly liked this passage, on both how much and how little has changed for women in this arena:

In theory, I could behave as I wished.  Without breaking any laws I could dress as a nun and get spanked by a person dressed as the pope.  I could watch a porn starlet hula-hoop on my computer while I had sex with a battery-operated prosthetic.  I could contact a stranger on the Internet, tell him to meet me at the north entrance of the Woolworth building, tell him I would make myself known only if he arrived carrying three Mylar balloons referencing Disney animated classics, and then, if he fulfilled my wishes, go to his place for sex.  I could do all these things without having to wear a scarlet letter, get thrown in jail, or be stoned in public.

I did not do any of these things.  My timidity not only concerned ideas of sexual "safety" (especially since most such ideas were ruses that gave women a false sense of control in an unpredictably violent world).  My avoidance of sex also had a lot to do with an equation, a relationship of exchange around which I organized my ideas.  {...}  Being sexually cautious meant I was looking for "something serious".  Having sex with more people meant I privileged the wims of the instant over transcendent higher-order commitments that developed over long stretches of time.  {...}  The arbitrary nature of these correlations had not occurred to me.

I appreciate her ability to articulate the cultural assumptions that so many of us never examine, and for that reason I'll likely keep reading.  However, I've noticed that she's somewhat less solid on examining her own reactions.  For an author who's supposedly interested in exploring alternative forms of sexual expression, she seems to come at them from an extremely judgmental standpoint.  I get that some of that is probably because she's operating outside of her comfort zone, but a lot of the time she comes off as perpetrating exactly the sort of social moralizing that she supposedly has rejected.

I wonder if part of the problem is that she doesn't seem to have differentiated between sexual needs and emotional needs.  She talks about them as separate, so clearly she understands that they're not the same thing, but in describing her experiences she often appears to conflate the two, expressing disappointment when an encounter (even one specifically acknowledged to be solely sexual in nature) leaves her emotionally unfulfilled.  It's a strange blind spot from an otherwise quite articulate writer.  

What I'm going to read next

Notes of a Native Son, by James Baldwin.  My paperback copy arrived and is staring at me sternly from the coffee table.  I'll get to you soon, Notes!  I promise!

missroserose: (Warrior III)
After years of dismissing it as "yoga for masochists" or "yoga class in hell", I finally took a Yoga Sculpt class Monday - a couple friends of mine are in teacher training and I wanted to support them. The format is sort of a yoga/boot camp fusion - you do some poses to warm up, and then you add free weights and start using the various poses as bases from which to work various muscle groups. And believe me, they work you *hard* - I thought I hated horse pose before, but horse pose in a regular yoga class is nothing compared to horse pose + reps for five times the length.

Needless to say, that was pretty much the longest hour of my life. Afterwards, I almost felt drunk on the endorphins - my balance was off and I was super friendly towards basically everyone. (Not quite to the point of slinging an arm over people's shoulders and slurring "I love you, man!", but close.) Definitely type II fun, heh.

Now, a couple of days later, I'm still sore but considering doing the teacher training for it - making playlists is one of my favorite aspects of yoga teaching, and unsurprisingly, the playlist is a big part of keeping the energy going. I already have roughly a zillion ideas - what about a Awesome Mix class? Or a Broadway musical themed class? ("My Shot" is sort of a gimme, but I'm laughing out loud just thinking about using Book of Mormon's "Man Up" for the last big push at the end when everyone's dying.)

Whether or not I do the training, I'm trying to decide whether I want to start doing Sculpt classes regularly - it's a real challenge, and I admit I'm a little nervous about the potential for injury. But on the other hand, I feel like now's a good time in my life for anything physical - I'm more active than I've ever been, I don't have any significant physical limitations, and frankly, that won't last forever. I don't have any particular fitness goals - I'm not trying to get ripped, or get a six-pack, or run a marathon or GoRuck event - but I like the feeling that I can do more now than I've ever been able to in the past; I've reached the point physically where the standard yoga classes are great for maintenance but aren't really a challenge. It feels like it might be worth the investment to push a little harder, just to see what I'm capable of.
missroserose: (Default)
What I've just finished reading

Radiance, by Catherynne M Valente. I haven't written anything about this previously, because I've been reading it out loud to Brian, and between our respective schedules and hobbies our reading time has been far more intermittent than I'd like - it took us well over a year to finish this. That said, a book like this, told in snippets, and where any given passage is about the language and imagery as it is any real advancement of plot, works surprisingly well in that format. I'm not entirely certain how well the various themes - of the search for oneself at the heart of the parallel journeys of moviemaking and interstellar travel, of the carelessness and lack of understanding with which humans appropriate their environment, of the story told by the camera by omission as much as by projected images, of the effects of observation on stories, and on people, and on the stories those people create - hold together, but clearly they stuck in my mind even when the details had faded. I want to go back at some point and reread this in one chunk, but given the size of my to-read list, I'm not certain when that might be.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. My enthusiasm for this one waned toward the end - Marguerite spends the entire final act doing little more than being an observer for the audience, which puts her in some slightly beyond-the-suspension-of-disbelief scenarios solely so she can over hear so-and-so's plans. I'm put in mind of more than one piece of writing advice that discourages both first-person and third-person-limited viewpoints for precisely this reason; personally, I feel that it depends strongly on the type of story you're telling - if our heroine had had more of an emotional arc in the second half of the book, this might have worked far better. Alas, for most of the ending the story feels unnecessarily chained to its passive protagonist. I did enjoy the final plot twist, predictable as it was; still, I think I'll stick to the miniseries the next time I want to experience the story - Marguerite is much more interesting in that one, and it skips the pretty blatant anti-Semitism.

A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeline L'Engle. I'd forgotten exactly how gosh-darn quickly everything happens in this story. Reading it as an adult, the breathless pacing lends extra pathos to Meg's protestations that she and Calvin and Charles Wallace haven't been prepared for any of this - they haven't. But I wonder how much of that feels extra identifiable to young adults, who are often thrust into new situations (that may well feel life-and-death) with little to no advance preparation. Ditto to the three W's constantly telling them "we can't tell you what to do, you have to figure it out for yourself" - that reads as frustratingly condescending to me as an adult, but to an eleven year old sorting out how to navigate tricky social situations, that's basically just Saturday.

I was surprised at how much I disliked Meg, especially towards the end - it felt like she spent darn near the entirety of the book whining about the unfairness of whatever situation she was in. But whoa, did I see myself in her big moment of character development:

At last she turned to her father. "I'm--I'm sorry, Father."

He took both her hands in his, bent down to her with his short-sighted eyes. "Sorry for what, Megatron?"

Tears almost came into her eyes at the gentle use of the old nickname. "I wanted you to do it all for me. I wanted everything to be all easy and simple...So I tried to pretend that it was all your fault...because I was scared, and I didn't want to have to do anything myself--"

"But I wanted to do it for you," Mr. Murry said. "That's what every parent wants."
 

I've been pondering a lot about my relationship with my mother, and why it's felt so rocky lately.  I'm not quite sure exactly how this maps to my experience, but my gut tells me it's at least part of it.

What The F, by Benjamin K. Bergen.  The last couple of chapters deal with the legal censorship of profanity, in the context of the research that's been done to back up the claims of harm that it perpetuates - which is frustratingly limited and contradictory in its conclusions.  The author's ultimate conclusion seems to be "we need more research, but what we have indicates that moral panic over profanity actually makes the problem worse", which I generally agree with - but there are so many nuances here that aren't addressed. Profanity! )

What I'm currently reading

Notes of a Native Son, by James Baldwin.  This came recommended by a friend when I moved to Chicago, so I picked up the audiobook awhile back.  The other day, I pulled it up on a whim - and within ten minutes I was wanting to cheer aloud, while simultaneously feeling frustrated that this was a book written in 1955 and so much of what it talks about still feels so immediately relevant.  That said, I ordered the paperback almost immediately after returning home (it doesn't count as a new book if you already had it in a different format, right?); there was so much going by so quickly, and I know I'm going to want to dissect it properly for discussion here.

What I plan to read next

L'Engle's A Wind in the Door is next in the series, although Notes may displace it as my current-paper-book of choice.  (I tend to read a lot of books at once, but I try to limit myself to one in any given format.)  Other than that, who knows?
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
It's amazing how much "I just finished three weeks with all of two days off and no relaxation days in any of them" feels like "I'm fighting off a cold", except without the sniffles and coughing. Not that I'm complaining, but I suspect I've learned my lesson about scheduling downtime, heh. At least until the next time I have a busy period following a long quiet one.

What I've just finished reading

Yesterday was my first SOMA day in three weeks, so while I've gotten some reading in here and there I haven't finished anything. I'm nearly done with a couple of books, though!

What I'm currently reading

What the F, by Benjamin K. Bergen. I'm not sure if the repetitive style is easing off in later chapters or I'm just growing used to it, but it's bothering me less as we go on. Some of this might be due to the proportion of new information I'm encountering - I found the section on profanity as parts of speech, and the unusual rules it follows, particularly fascinating. Cut for profanity, duh. ) Being a giant nerd who loves overarching patterns and rules, but loves finding exceptions to those patterns and rules even more, this kind of thing is absolutely delightful to me.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. Oh noes! Marguerite, having betrayed the titular hero of legend to the representative of the corrupt French government in order to save her brother, has finally realized that he was, in fact, her seemingly-brainless fop of a husband all along! (Er, spoilers? I mean, the book's over a century old at this point...) Now he, on a mission to save another Comte, races headlong into a trap! Can she get there in time to save him - or, if all goes wrong, at least find him in time to apologize and accompany him to the gallows? I think the modern critics who've compared this to superhero stories aren't far off - the level of subtlety and nuance in the writing is about on par with earlier comic books, haha. Still, it's good clean melodramatic fun - sometimes you just want to cheer the beautiful maiden on against the evil and corrupt government, especially when one's own government seems determined to fulfill that same role.

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle. I read this one roughly a bazillion times as a kid but haven't touched it in more than a decade, and I'm surprised at how accurate my memories are of some of the lines - lots of other books in that category I find I've misremembered. Something that jumps out at me a lot more as an adult is how trusting Charles Wallace is of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which - and even more so, how trusting Calvin is of all of them and the Murry family, despite having barely interacted with them prior to being invited to dinner. And yet, I totally feel his exultant joy in having found a clan of people with whom he fits in; combined with the more adventurous/less risk-averse mindset of a teenager, I can completely understand how he'd be down for a cross-universe adventure on the strength of a gut feeling of belonging. Still, the part of my brain that's all "Informed consent! That's important!" is shaking its head more than a little, and thinking it's lucky that the three W's were ancient beings fighting for the good of the universe, and not (say) representatives of the Sea Org.

What I plan to read next

Totally up in the air at the moment, but I strongly suspect it'll be from my shelves/Kindle storage - I've already broken my "no new books" rule once recently, haha. (I read them when I was a kid! That makes them old books, right??)
missroserose: (Default)
On the more liberal side of the current tug-of-war over basic workers' rights, one concept that's seen some experimentation is the idea of the six-hour workday, wherein the traditional workday time is cut by a quarter. The idea is that, especially in white-collar brain-intensive jobs, studies have shown that six hours gives you the best ratio between availability and reasonable productivity, before fatigue sets in and workers start making more mistakes and/or seeing deleterious long-term health effects - so we should take advantage of that and hopefully reap savings in terms of less stressed-out workers.

Interestingly, however, over the past few weeks I've been having almost the reverse issue. Most of my workdays over that time have been only a couple of hours at most - a massage appointment here, a yoga class there, a shift at the spa a couple days a week. And yet I've been discovering the hidden cost to going for weeks without a break, even when the bulk of any given day seems like it should be fine for relaxing.

For one thing, a massage appointment isn't just a massage appointment, especially working out of my home. If someone's coming over, I need to make sure the living room, kitchen, bathroom, and hallway are clean; the furniture is moved; and the table is set up. Depending on how messy the house was before and whether Brian helps (which, dear man, he often makes himself available to do), that's often a two-to-three hour job before I even get to the appointment itself. (Although, on the upside, the house stays a lot cleaner when I have regular clients than it does otherwise.)

For another, although yoga teaching doesn't require any cleaning, there's the transportation time to consider. When I'm teaching at Uptown or Lincoln Square that's maybe ten or fifteen minutes each way on my bike or the bus; however, my regular class is at Sauganash, which is either a 35-minute bike ride or a 45-minute transit ride away, depending on my energy and the weather. For an eight- (or even six-) hour workday, an hour and a half round trip isn't a huge deal, but the proportion compared to a single two-hour shift is, unsurprisingly, much higher.

And that's not even taking into account the mental effects of going weeks without a proper day off. I constantly remind my clients that relaxation isn't what happens in between everything else you do; it's a conscious choice that requires active practice. Needless to say, it's much easier to make that choice when you're not likely to have to suddenly get up and dash - i.e. when you've got that full day off.

I'm not complaining, exactly - I made the choice to take on the workload I did, for various reasons. (Income is helpful! Practice at my trades are good. Feeling useful and productive is nice, too.) And in a lot of ways, I'm privileged - I don't have to take on less-than-ideal schedules if I don't want to, for fear of not making rent or running out of grocery money. But I cannot even articulate how relieved I am to have a couple of full, real, genuine days off on my schedule tomorrow and Wednesday. And while I understood intellectually why a yoga teacher friend of mine would occasionally cancel plans with "I'm sorry, I need to stay home and eat cheese," I grok that mindset in a much more real and immediate way now.
missroserose: (Joy of Reading)
Last week was rough. I taught three classes, and while that's hardly a ridiculous workload, this whole getting-up-and-being-vulnerable-in-front-of-people thing is still pretty new; after a couple of busy days at the spa to finish out the work week, I was really noticing the drag on my moods. Specifically, I found I was brooding over sociopolitical trends and possible futures that were very much not under my control and therefore unproductive to speculate about. Luckily some rest seems to have restored my usual more cheerful framing of the world, and I've certainly gotten some reading done in all this time spent recuperating!


What I've just finished reading

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss. I'm trying to pinpoint what left me so ultimately unsatisfied with this book, and I'm having a hard time. It perhaps suffers in comparison to Chernow's in-depth period knowledge and detailed historical detective work, but as popular biographies go it's certainly solid. Reiss has done his homework, sought out primary sources, and put together a perfectly creditable account of the senior Alex Dumas' life. Moreover, in doing so, he also gives a solid narrative of the arc of the French Revolution, and specifically the state of civil rights among men of African descent in France and its colonies at the time. Things I learned: France proper was the first European nation, post-Revolution, to establish universal manumission and emancipation; the Revolution's initial principles of Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité were deemed to require it. It's not a fact without a significant asterisk, though; the situation in the colonies, whose primary export was slave sugar, was far more complicated. And eventually Napoleon walked it back entirely, due to both pressure from plantation owners and concerns about France's ability to compete in a marketplace flooded with cheap slave-produced goods. (It turns out that slavery, like most extractive institutions, was perniciously difficult to dismantle.) All pretty fascinating stuff.

And yet, coming away from it, I don't really feel like I have a sense for who Dumas was. Reiss talks at several points about how the future novelist Alexandre Dumas practically worshipped his father, despite (or perhaps because of) the senior Dumas having died when Alexandre was four. But it seems like we spend the entire book looking at Alex from Alexandre's perspective: a giant of a man, who did so many amazing things, suffered an unjust imprisonment and betrayal by his government, and eventually died in what should have been his prime. There's no real sense of intimacy, no feeling of who this man was other than the swashbuckling hero his son (and most of the world) saw him as. Not having access to the same primary sources Reiss did, I'm not sure if this is due to lack of details or merely a hesitancy on Reiss' part to ascribe motive and personality only implied by the text (whereas Chernow would get right in there and offer his opinion, as well as three or four pieces of evidence to support his assertion). It's a much more hands-off approach to biography-writing, and certainly more concise, but I have to admit my preference for the more intimate type, when it's well done - I'm interested in people because they're people, with their own personal histories and foibles and quirks and internal narratives. Their place in history is interesting, but ultimately secondary in my personal consideration.


What I'm reading now

What the F, by Benjamin K. Bergen. Still enjoying this irreverent take on linguistics, but I've noticed a pattern in the text that's starting to chafe a bit. Each chapter is written very much like a talk on the subject - tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you've told them. (Often this pattern also holds section by section, and occasionally concept by concept!) The author is an admitted academic, and perhaps that's par for the course for academic writing, but it starts to feel more than a bit repetitive. Initially I didn't mind it so much, as I was listening and I figured it'd help me if I missed something important, but recently I've noticed my mind tending to drift because I know he'll summarize or rephrase it later. Frustrating, because there's some good stuff here, but it feels more than a bit like we're padding things out to make it to book length.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. Arguably one of the oldest entries on my to-read list - I've been meaning to read it ever since seeing the 1982 Anthony Andrews miniseries when I was...ten? Maybe? In any case, having just read an actual history of the French Revolution, now seemed like a good time to visit one of the more famous pieces of fiction set in the period. I was surprised to discover that, contrary to usual, they fleshed out the story more than a little for the adaptation - the book begins far more in medias res, and keeps the identity of the titular character secret for far longer. I'm also amused at how clearly, despite the setting, it reads as a turn-of-the-century potboiler; I'm not sure I could put my finger on anything, but there are certain turns of phrase and stylistic quirks that put me in mind of Dickens or Collins. For all that, it's certainly enjoyable enough, and I like that so much of the narrative is being told from Marguerite's point of view.


What I plan to read next

Subject to change, as always, but over this past week I had several bits and pieces of Madelene L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time series recurring in my mind - perhaps understandably, given that she wrote them during (and often about) the Cold War. This morning I ordered the set off Amazon; I haven't read them in years (and there's a fifth book I didn't know existed!), but I have a feeling the themes will resonate, probably more than they did when I was a kid.

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