missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
A sure sign that I've been overdoing it physically is waking up feeling like I've been flattened by an 18 wheeler in my sleep. It's not unusual for this time of year - I'm biking more (including more than an hour to and from Sauganash on Monday), running a lot of errands, doing spring cleaning here and there, plus teaching yoga as well as maintaining my own practice. But man, am I exhausted today. Given that my activity levels aren't likely to decrease anytime soon, I think I'm going to start making a regular practice of SOMA (short for Sit On My Ass) days. And luckily, today is a good candidate. All I have to do is teach a class at 6:00; other than that, I can rest and read and maybe take a nice hot bath with Epsom salts.

And what a perfect sort of day to write up a weekly book meme!

What I've just finished reading

all about love, by bell hooks. While eight months is not the longest time I've taken reading a book, it's on the high end, especially for one this relatively slender. You know the old joke, "Where do you hide a book? --In a library"? Also true of my bedroom and its multiple bookshelves with books stacked multiple layers deep. I set this one down halfway through, it got whisked onto a shelf in a frenzied cleaning bout, and I couldn't find it for months - and then when I found it again, it took me several weeks to get back to it amidst everything else I was reading. I'm glad I finished it when I did, though; having taken up the book meme, it gave me a chance to experience the text on a more interactive level, since I was writing about it on a regular basis rather than just in summary at the end.

I have a bunch of highlighted passages, but the one that I think best summarizes the thrust of the book, from the final chapter: "...the journey towards self-actualization and spiritual growth is an arduous one, full of challenges. Usually it is downright difficult. Many of us believe that our difficulties will end when we find a soul mate. Love does not lead to an end to difficulties; it provides us with the means to cope with our difficulties in ways that enhance our spiritual growth." (Emphasis mine.) I don't have much to add to that, other than simply to say that it aligns with my experience, and I feel it's a distinction that many folks in our culture would benefit from reflecting on.

Interacting with the text (especially at the same time as Meditations from the Mat) also helped me articulate my mixed feelings about philosophy/self-help books. One of the things I really liked about all about love is that it feels, in many ways, like a meta-analysis of its subject - hooks draws from numerous books, studies, interviews, and popular sources for her conclusions, and while she does use personal anecdotes to illustrate points that speak to her experience, she doesn't (usually) attempt to generalize those stories as representative of universal experience. Many, many other philosophy books fall into precisely that trap, which becomes increasingly problematic as you move farther away from the author's nationality/income level/culture/other demographics; it remains my single biggest pet peeve with popular philosophy...probably, as with most pet peeves, because it reflects a similar tendency in myself that I'm not proud of.

What I'm reading now

What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, by Benjamin K. Bergen. Cut for profanity - it's hard to talk about a book about profanity without using profanity! )

Meditations from the Mat
, by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison. I took a break from this one for a couple of weeks, but have returned to reading an essay or two each evening before bed; it's helped that there's been less anecdotal generalization and more abstract philosophy. I particularly like Gates' definition of tapas, the yogic principle of 'burning zeal', i.e. the discipline required to make positive change in one's life and spiritual practice. He talks about karma as the trajectory we're set on by the circumstances of our birth, gender, social class, family, and experiences; and he defines tapas as "the generation of internal momentum to counteract the momentum of karma". This dovetails nicely with my reflections on the differences between comedy and tragedy, which are in turn reflective of my longtime thoughts on nature and nurture, predestination and self-determination, order and chaos. I'm not sure I have the spoons to articulate it all today, but the interplay between karma and tapas seems a good place to start. It's a complicated universe we live in that often seems immutable, and yet by the very laws of gravity, to quote British quantum physicist Paul Dirac, "Pick a flower on Earth, and you move the farthest star." As in so much of our universe, I suspect the answer is not one or the other, but both - even when that seems to create a paradox.

The Black Count, by Tom Reiss. Dumas has found himself in possibly the biggest nightmare a man of his ambition, talents and determined physical agency could encounter: at the mercy of a hostile foreign power, trapped within a Kafkaesque bureaucracy of diplomatic and military affairs, and now struck with some kind of mysterious ailment that may or may not be an attempt by the aforementioned hostile foreign power to rid themselves of a politically inconvenient 'guest'. I admit that I didn't foresee this particular twist; while his imprisonment was mentioned at the beginning as part of his story, given his constant friction with Napoleon, I had assumed it would come at the latter's behest once the man had consolidated his power. Given that Dumas was nearly as famous and respected, however, as well as far more physically impressive, I find myself speculating whether Napoleon's recasting himself as military dictator would have gone quite so smoothly had Dumas, and his strong belief in the principles of the Revolution, been present to object. The book hasn't (so far) presented the question, and from its presentation of the General's canny political instinct as well as the political structure of the time, it feels unlikely, but so far I have only the one source to go on.

What I plan to read next

I've noticed that I tend to select books the same way I do hair colors - there are general rules that I (usually) follow, but the actual selection depends largely on my gut feeling at the time. So in other words - stay tuned!

New growth

Apr. 18th, 2017 11:24 am
missroserose: (Show Your Magic)
Yoga teaching continues to go well. Yesterday was my second weekly class at Sauganash, and the first time I was so focused on someone's form that I completely blanked out on a cue - in the Sun A part of the sequence, which normally I can teach in my sleep. :P Luckily one of the students was a little more on the ball than I was, offering up "...mountain pose?" when I trailed off, and I laughed and thanked her and found the rhythm again. Appropriately enough, I had just set the intention: new growth, and remembering that new growth comes directly from old growth, so if your practice doesn't turn out how you want it to in this cycle, rather than feeling like you've wasted your effort, remember that it'll help your next cycle be better. Way to give myself an opportunity to practice what I preach, haha.

I think it went over pretty well, especially given the glorious spring weather. There was at least one repeat student from last week, and one new-to-yoga student who was enthusiastic about my teaching. Another girl was clearly not new, and clearly working hard in her practice, even though her body wasn't as limber as she clearly wanted. I gave her a lot of assists and she seemed to find them useful; afterward, she came by the desk and was all "I wanted to give you a hug..." She got a big hug, and I hope she comes back.

I remember, when I had been coming to CorePower for a few months, one of my favorite teachers telling me "I love it when you come to class, because you always try." It seemed a little odd to me - doesn't everyone try? - but I think I have a better idea what she meant now; there's a distinct difference between the students who are there just to move and stretch and the ones who are actively working to improve. (And I'm sure it can change from day to day; God knows there are times when I'm just not up for the sort of painstaking body awareness that improvement requires, and there are teachers for whom specific anatomical cueing is just not their skill.) But it makes me happy to see those students in my class, and it makes me want to be a better teacher so I can help them continue to improve. To that end, I have a sub tonight and one tomorrow as well - lots of practice to continue that new growth.
missroserose: (Book Love)
What I just finished reading

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon. As I think I mentioned before, the characters really made this book for me. Regardless of his own personal lack of faith, Landsman doggedly pursues his case and his own personal demons to a remarkably satisfying finish. Berko, Landsman's half-Jewish partner and friend (another favorite quote: "But to look at, he's pure Tlingit. Tartar eyes, dense black hair, broad face built for joy but trained in the craft of sorrow."), finds some peace in his identity. If the book passes the Bechdel test, it's only by a squeak, and I didn't get a sense that any of the female characters got distinct arcs; however, there are at least two well-drawn female characters of determined agency; especially Bina, Landsman's boss/ex-wife/longtime soulmate, who treats him with an eminently believable mixture of love and caring balanced by sick-of-his-shit boot-to-the-ass exasperation.

But really, I think it was the timing that made this book one of my favorites. Sometimes you read a book and realize you would have enjoyed it a lot more in the past; other times you pick up a book you've had on your radar for ages and realize you appreciate it a lot more than you would have if you'd read it when it came out. The atmosphere of melancholy and apprehension that pervades the story nicely mirrors the recent zeitgeist of my social circle. But it was really this bit from the end that launched it into "personal favorite" territory:

For days Landsman has been thinking that he missed his chance with Mendel Shpilman, that in their exile at the Hotel Zamenhof, without even realizing, he blew his one shot at something like redemption.  But there is no Messiah of Sitka.  Landsman has no home, no future, no fate but Bina.  The land that he and she were promised was bounded only by the fringes of their wedding canopy, by the dog-eared corners of their cards of membership in an international fraternity whose members carry their patrimony in a tote bag, their world on the tip of the tongue.

Given how much of my anxiety of late has been tied directly into that sense of rootlessness, the fear that all the work I've put into building my life will be lost - that everything humanity has created, all the knowledge we've gained, will be lost - it's good to be reminded that life is resilient.  If whole cultures have existed for centuries without even the foundation of a country of their own, who's to say I won't survive whatever uprooting forces are coming?  And if I don't, others will; and if we don't, some other species will come along, and discover the remains of our species, and wonder.  I find this an oddly comforting thought.

What I'm currently reading

all about love, by bell hooks.  I read a few chapters this week:  on romantic love, on loving through loss, and on mutuality - the latter being called "the heart of love".  I particularly like how she calls out patriarchal culture for creating a world where women are socialized to be emotionally fluent and available to their partners, but men are not; thus, women generally are good at meeting their partners' needs, but men are not.  Given that having your emotional needs (for acknowledgment, for support, for acceptance) met is an important part of mental health, this then feeds into the narrative that men are inherently superior, more even-keeled, and better able to govern themselves and others.  It's an insidious dynamic, and one that I'm glad is getting some attention through discussions of emotional labor.  

What I plan to read next

So many options!  I just picked up an audiobook on Audible Daily Deal titled What the F:  What Swearing Reveals About Our Langauge, Our Brains, and Ourselves, which I suspect is going to be high on the candidacy list - language and biology and sociology, three of my favorite things!  But we'll see.
missroserose: (Warrior III)
Almost exactly six months after I began teacher training, I have completed my first day of paid teaching. It's official - I'm a professional yoga teacher now!

It's been a long journey, filled with a lot of work, a lot of anxiety, a lot of learning about community, a lot of growth, and a lot of realizing exactly how much I have grown but hadn't discovered it yet. And now I'm here. Which is really only a brief stopping point - I have so much yet to learn. But it's still a point worth celebrating, I think.

I got this card to send to a dear friend, but hopefully he won't mind me using a picture of it here, as it's perfect to the moment:

Here's to learning, and growing, and doing difficult things we want to do in spite of our anxiety about them.
missroserose: (Default)
As of this morning, I have completed all paperwork, meetings, studio walkthroughs, and desk shifts required...and as of Monday, I'll be teaching my first yoga class! (My first two yoga classes, actually, since I picked up a sub that evening.) Earlier in the week, I was anxious bordering on terrified; after some breathing and journaling and other anxiety-acceptance measures, I'm feeling at least a little more sanguine about it. The manager at the studio has been super chill and supportive, including responding promptly and positively to my numerous emails about questions and small administrative details. And no matter how badly I screw up, I know I'm not going to be as bad as The Worst C1. (I don't think I ever wrote about it here; suffice it to say, the girl barely moved from the back of the classroom the whole time, she didn't touch anyone, she spoke in a soft near-monotone that sounded for all the world like she was reciting a memorized script, and her whole playlist was atonal noise rock, including savasana (?!). At the very least, I know I have a better playlist.) But there's still a lot of anxiety for me in getting up and being open (and thus, to a degree, vulnerable) with a whole group of people, for a whole class. Which, I suppose, is a sign it'll be a good learning experience, too.

Anyway, onto the book stuff!

What I've just finished reading

*hangs head* I have not finished anything this week, either. I strongly suspect I'm letting my anxiety occupy too many emotional cycles; I've noticed that I tend toward obsessive behaviors when it gets going - refreshing social media, occupying myself with ticky administrative details, looking over my calendar repeatedly, etc. (Why, yes, I do have a family history of obsessive-compulsive disorder, how did you guess?) It's surprising, how much time and energy it takes to be anxious. Anyway, I'm working on it.

What I'm reading now

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon. Dialect or no, I've been finding myself wishing that I was reading a physical copy of this book; Peter Riegert is turning in a perfectly decent performance, but there are so many wonderful descriptions and delightful turns of phrase that I really want to savor but that just go by too quickly. I finally have taken to using a combination of Audible's "bookmark" feature and (for ones I think Brian will enjoy) transcribing and texting them to preserve their ephemerality: "the sudden awareness, like an inverse satori, that he has made a grave, if not fatal error...his jaws snap together, making each tooth ring out with its own pure tone as the impact of his ass against the ground conducts its Newtonian business with the rest of his skeleton." "The winter sky in southeastern Alaska is a Talmud of grey, an inexhaustible commentary on a Torah of rain clouds and dying light." "They all looked shocked; even Gould, who could have happily read a comic book by the light of a burning man."

For all the lighthearted metaphor, there's a very real atmosphere of melancholy and uncertainty in this story; not grief, precisely, but the recognition of opportunities missed, the sense of having taken a wrong turn somewhere without knowing precisely what it was. Perhaps this is appropriate to a tale of Jewish culture, even alternate-universe Jewish culture; I know it probably resonates with me more now, at this point in American history, than it likely would have even a year or two ago.

I'm a bit torn on the worldbuilding; there are hints of a broader global alt-history stemming from the decision to relocate Jews to Southeast Alaska instead of Israel, but whether due to my personal ignorance of world/Jewish history or simply to the fact that it all goes by a bit too quickly in audio format, I'm having trouble piecing together exactly what's different from our more recent history. That said, the tensions and troubles and cliques and feuds and foibles of this particular group in this time that never existed are beautifully rendered. The plot is mostly pretty standard religious-political-conspiracy stuff, and it moves a bit slowly, but one gets the feeling it's more of an excuse to spend time in this world and with these characters, and said characters are entertaining and well-drawn enough to be worth the investment. I'm wondering how it'll wrap up; the themes don't point for a truly happy ending, and neither does the alt-history-noir setup, but given the effort they're putting in to untangling this mess, I suspect Landsman and Berko will pull at least "bittersweet".

all about love, by bell hooks. This week's chapter is on community, and the importance thereof in giving us a place to practice love, especially for those of us raised in unloving and dysfunctional family situations. I've long been a proponent of making community connections a bigger part of our lives - it's something that doesn't get a lot of emphasis in our mainstream culture, with its deleterious emphasis on the nuclear family as the social unit uber alles - but I'm not sure I agree with her framing. She seems to come from a place of fundamental certainty that everyone participates in a community in good faith; thus, she believes that, while distancing is sometimes necessary, there is no reason to ever cut ties with a person; everyone can and will change for the better when presented with evidence of the hurtfulness of their actions. She cites one friend in particular whose family was incredibly hurtful towards her when she came out as a lesbian; apparently after some years, their attitudes changed and they were able to have a worthwhile relationship.

Obviously, I have a lot of issues with this paradigm. I'm all for giving people the benefit of the doubt; we're all human, we all make mistakes. But she seems to be falling headlong into several common social fallacies; the fact is, there are drama queens, and missing stairs, and other individuals that a community is better off without. Setting boundaries with these people, and actively limiting your social interactions with them, is a net social positive - not only because it increases your happiness, but because limited options due to social censure is its own lesson. I'm more torn on the question of whether they can learn; presumably, we need to give people the benefit of the doubt in order for them to learn, but based on my past experiences, I have a very difficult time trusting that someone with an established pattern of behavior will have any desire to change, let alone gain the self-awareness to do so. I'm sure it can happen, but I have a hard time trusting that it is what's going on in any given situation - especially when it's so much easier to claim you're trying to change without actually, y'know, doing any of the work. Maybe this is a reflection on me and my trust issues more than on anything inherent to humanity, I don't know.

What I plan to read next

Back before I put a moratorium on new book-buying, I had pre-ordered Cherie Priest's new book Brimstone, which just arrived in the mail. I have a feeling my to-read shelf is going to go neglected in my next selection...
missroserose: (Default)
As anyone who reads the little notifier at the bottom of my posts is aware, I've been crossposting to LiveJournal from Dreamwidth for years now. My reasons for maintaining an LJ account were numerous; partly for the fond memories, partly for the friends and acquaintances who hadn't transitioned to DW, partly for the ease of having a mirror backup.

However, given the recent move of LJ's servers to Russia, and the associated new terms of service, I feel it's time to leave LiveJournal completely. I doubt anything I post is likely to be of interest to the owners, but I can't in good conscience support a blogging platform that forbids "political solicitation". Open and free political discussion is the lifeblood of any democratic society.

After this post, therefore, I'm turning off cross-posting and will no longer be maintaining this blog on LiveJournal. I am genuinely sorry to do so, both for the nostalgia factor and for the connections I've made here. I hope I can convince you all to move to Dreamwidth with me; there are a number of links here with instructions on how to move your whole LJ over to DW. Having done it myself, I can attest that it's a minor pain, but you only have to do it once, and it has the advantage of preserving comment threads and privacy settings. Honestly, even if you don't plan to use DW primarily, it's not a bad idea; backups of years' worth of work are always a good thing to have, and LJ's future is more than a little shaky at this point.

If you don't wish to join me on DW, I will genuinely miss you; I hope we can connect elsewhere. As with all well-structured social networks, the people I've met on LiveJournal have been the best thing about it; I'm glad there's a similarly-structured substitute out there for those of us who like doing longer-form posts than a Facebook or Twitter post allows for.
missroserose: (Default)
Weird experience of the day: halfway through a yoga class, my brain just shut down and was like "nope, no more." It's been a busy week, and I've definitely suffered fatigue from overwork before, but what really made this one stand out was the separation between physical and mental. I know my body pretty well, and it was tired but could have gone on for some time; mentally, though, I was just noping right the hell out. So child's pose it was for a few minutes; afterward I went home and bailed on evening plans so I could spend the rest of the day napping and otherwise recharging. (Brian, dear man that he is, brought me pie from the locally- and justifiably-renowned Bang Bang Pie shop. Pie is excellent for recharging one's spoons.)

So that's my excuse for why this is late. :) On to the reading!

What I've just finished reading

Nothing, I'm afraid. Which seems extra surprising given that I took last week off from the spa for tattoo healing - you'd think that'd be prime reading time. But what with splitting my attentions between three books, and all the other stuff - private clients, prep work for the new yoga job, anxiety about starting said job in April - that's been taking up my mental space, I haven't finished anything this week.

What I'm currently reading

The Black Count, by Tom Reiss. Having garnered many accolades for turning around the Army of the Alps and singlehandedly conquering space that was thought unconquerable, General Dumas has been reassigned to the Army of Italy, which has until recently been in similar straits. A similarly talented general of a very recognizable name is in charge of another division, and has made great progress in driving out the Austrians - and even greater progress in squandering the goodwill this has generated amongst the Italians by eschewing the complicated logistics of supply lines in favor of plundering the countryside. Dumas, a man of honor, does not wish to directly challenge his colleague Buonaparte; he nonetheless has taken to countermanding the worst of the abuses where he sees them, and notifying the other general using the time-honored tactic of "I'm sure you couldn't have known what your men are up to, but..." With the clarity of historical hindsight, I suspect we're beginning to see where his downfall will stem from. (Also, if Lin-Manuel Miranda wants to write another multiethnic historical musical, this would be an excellent source - I suspect Dumas and Napoleon could easily fit in the Hamilton/Burr dichotomy of man of honor/man of opportunity.)

all about love, by bell hooks. This week's chapter was on greed, the way in which our culture's lionization of it prevents us from expressing and experiencing love, and the way we attempt (unsuccessfully) to use it to fulfill our longing for connection. Again, lots that I agreed with. This passage in particular jumped out at me, especially given current events:
Our prisons are full of people whose crimes were motivated by greed, usually the lust for money.  While this lust is the natural response of anyone who has totally embraced the values of consumerism, when these individuals harm others in their pursuit of wealth we are encouraged to see their behavior as aberrant.  We are all encouraged to believe they are not like us, yet studies show that many people are willing to lie to gain monetary advantage.  

It's often struck me as odd that we punish behavior that's a natural extension of our expressed social values.  Stories like The Wolf of Wall Street demonstrate the paradox nicely -- Jordan Belfort was so admired for his wealth, despite the fact that he made it by cheating people out of their income, so that even a hatchet job by the press only made job seekers come hounding for a chance to work with him.  

As with most philosophy books, there are parts where the author generalizes; she paints a picture of the sixties, for instance, as a golden time of radical action and hope for change.  Which is perhaps true so far as it goes, but it also elides the very real uncertainty and fear that pervaded those years, something that Mad Men does an excellent job demonstrating.  Yes, change was (and still is) needed, but change always brings discomfort, which gives rise to backlash movements - something that we seem to be experiencing at an elevated pace lately.  In this way, the book feels firmly set in the economically prosperous nineties, and not just because the worst thing hooks seems to be able to say about the President is that he lied to the American public about an affair.

There's one other passage I want to quote.  I don't really have anything to say about it, but it haunts me.

When I interviewed popular rap artist Lil' Kim, I found it fascinating that she had no interest in love.  While she spoke articulately about the lack of love in her life, the topic that most galvanized her attention was making money.  I came away from our discussion awed by the reality that a young black female from a broken home, with less than a high school education, could struggle against all manner of barriers and accumulate material riches yet be without hope that she could overcome the barriers blocking her from knowing how to give and receive love.

Meditations From The Mat, by Rolf Gates.  I feel like I've been dissing on Gates' philosophy a lot, so I wanted to post a quote I really liked.  For instance, this one, discussing tapas, the niyama governing spiritual discipline:  "We will have good days and bad days, days when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and days when the opposite is the case.  Years of consistent practice are not built on rigid self-discipline; they are built on the desire to know more."  This dovetails nicely with something I've been ruminating on for a while now; we all talk about how we want to eat better and exercise more, but "wanting to be healthier" clearly isn't a strong enough motivator to overcome the lack of desire (and, not to get sidetracked into a discussion of privilege, but also the lack of opportunity) to eat well and move more.  Finding a form of exercise you genuinely enjoy is a good first step, as is figuring out healthier foods that you like; even better, however, is realizing how much better you feel when you're employing these practices, and giving yourself permission to be that happier person - which requires compassion for your flaws and mistakes as well as curiosity about what more you can do.

Of course, Gates then goes on to talk about how he attended a talk by a disabled and socially underprivileged person who had a spiritual awakening while in prison, and proceeds to completely skip over any of the details of the man's experience and simply go on about how inspiring it was and how universal the themes of his journey, which feels more than a little...dehumanizing and exploitative?  Maybe I'm reading too much into a single paragraph. Or maybe I'm afraid that in my love of pattern-seeking and big-picture stuff I sometimes do the same thing.

What I plan to read next

Still TBD - I suspect I'm going to continue to be busy with these for a while.  But watch this space...
missroserose: (Default)
My last post might have been lighthearted in nature, but strangely (and despite freezing temperatures today), it really does feel like spring has begun. I wonder if there's any actual connection between changes in people's lives and changes in the seasons. I know it's always felt that way to me, but I'm not precisely an unbiased observer.

In any case, we're due for a high of 72 on Friday. Time to get the bikes out!

What I've just finished reading

Paper Girls, vol. 2, by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang. I'm completely entertained at how much DNA this series shares with Stranger Things, at least for the first couple of acts; refreshingly, however, the kids terrorizing their neighborhood on bikes are all girls, and this informs their outlook more than a little. There's less character-building and more action in this volume, as the futuristic elements teased in the first come into full play here. I enjoyed it - the thought of a Godzilla-sized tardigrade terrorizing a quiet suburb entertained me to no end - but missed the interplay between the characters, as most of this volume (understandably) consists of their splitting up to do detective work and figure out what's going on. There are some good moments, though; I'm hoping that the next volume, which is going to have to start providing some explanation, finds a way to keep the character development going alongside.

What I'm currently reading

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon. I remember seeing promotional posters for this book everywhere when it came out, probably because it's set in Southeast Alaska and I had just moved to Juneau at the time. I'm enjoying Chabon's characters and the wryly vivid way he describes his characters and world: "The rest of Sitka's homicides are so-called crimes of passion, which is a shorthand way of expressing the mathematical product of alcohol and firearms." Interestingly, I'd barely noticed the dialect until reading a review that pointed it out, despite having had real trouble with it in other works (I couldn't make it past the first couple pages of A Clockwork Orange). I wonder if it's because I'm listening to it via audiobook; it would make sense, given my significantly-better reading (as opposed to audio) comprehension, that my brain would be worrying at the unfamiliar words and have trouble getting past them when written, but would be so busy interpreting and piecing together the sounds that it'd be more willing to sort of gloss over the unfamiliar words and pick them up from context.

all about love, by bell hooks. Given my general dislike of philosophy books, I seem to be reading a lot of them all of a sudden. Even when they annoy me, realizing I can journal about them and make them into a sort of dialogue helps them feel less preachy. But it also doesn't make for particularly fast reading - I think I've managed all of one chapter of this one all week.

The chapter in question is on values - and specifically, how many of our cultural values actively inhibit living by a love ethic. So it's probably not surprising that I found a lot of stuff I agreed with, haha. Still, this passage in particular caught my eye:
We see movies in which people are represented as being in love who never talk with one another, who fall into bed without ever discussing their bodies, their sexual needs, their likes and dislikes. Indeed, the message received from the mass media is that knowledge makes love less compelling; that it is ignorance that gives love its erotic and transgressive edge.

Speaking as someone with more than a passing interest in erotica, this kind of thing drives me nuts. Some folks really do dig anonymous sex, but in my experience they're a minority - and usually it's more the transgressive thrill of the act itself than anything particular in the sex that they enjoy. Seeing so many movies where the message is "these people are in love and that magically means they're 100% compatible in the bedroom despite their never having, y'know, sat down and talked to each other about what they like" both sets up an unrealistic cultural standard and actively suppresses a normal and healthy part of sexuality. It took me years and several partners to get past the "if I have to tell my partner what I like then clearly we're not really In Love!", and I know some people never get past it; opening up your mouth and asking for what you want is hard enough without that kind of baggage attached. (I genuinely wonder if this kind of problem has been more harmful to our collective sexual health than the oft-laughed at pornographic tropes; at least with the latter, it makes no bones about being a fantasy and not representative of real life.) Besides, talking about your desires is sexy - it demonstrates confidence and self-knowledge. Leaving that out of a romantic story means you're missing out on some seriously good stuff.

What I plan to read next

It's pretty up in the air at the moment - I've got a fair amount on my plate right now.  Still, I suspect I'll be eyeing something new soon - you can't keep a good polybibliophile down for long!
missroserose: (Default)
Massage work is picking up. I have a beautiful new tattoo. And I just accepted an intern position teaching at CorePower.

Spring has sprung.
missroserose: (Default)
I've always loved the archetype of the leap of faith. It shows up in literal form in more stories than I can count, but as with all archetypes, it resonates because it's a metaphor for an integral part of our lives. In any undertaking, there comes a point when you've done all you can do; you've trained, you've studied, you've worked hard, and you've sent the culmination of all that energy out into the world. You've propelled yourself forward with everything you could, and now all you can do is hang suspended in the air, waiting to see if your ballistic arc is wide enough to carry you to the other side.

Which doesn't make it any more comfortable to be in the midst of that arc, with no visible means of support and no idea if the opposite side is coming any nearer.

All of which is to say, I'm having a tough time waiting to hear back on my yoga audition. My default mode is simply not to think about it and get on with other aspects of my life, and that's working to a degree. But it doesn't help with the fluttery nervous feeling I get when checking my email (even knowing it's far too early to be hearing back), or buying tickets (what if I end up teaching a class right then?), or what have you. I'm used to a strong internal locus of control; it's hard to face the fact that significant forks in my life occur due to the decisions and agendas of people I have little to no influence over (and, often, don't even know exist). But it's good practice in patience and acceptance, I suppose.

Luckily, I have a number of (more prosaic) things to be grateful for in my life right now. My wrenched back is 90% better after less than a week - which surprises and pleases me, given that my wrenched knee took something like a month to get to this point. Massage work is picking up, thanks to the new spa management, seasonal changes, and my being more available post-teacher-training. I have a massage of my own booked for this afternoon. And after years of waiting, tomorrow I go in for my tattoo. There does seem to be something poetically appropriate about having a set of wings drawn in my flesh during a time that I'm hanging suspended from a leap of faith.
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What is it that makes minor back injuries the reverse of minor head injuries? With the latter, they hurt like the dickens in the moment but then (presuming they're not serious) fade into the background. Minor back injuries, however, might not feel like a big deal at the time, but boy do they make their presence known as you go about your day.

And my leg had finally recovered from wrenching my knee a month ago. Grumble.

Anyway, let's get on with things:

What I've just finished reading

The Honor of the Queen, by David Weber. (Okay, so I technically have an hour left on the audiobook but I'm going to finish it today and I doubt anything's coming that'll drastically alter my opinions.) During one of the apparently-endless hashing-outs of potential battle strategies and planned tactical maneuvers, my mind wandered a bit, wondering why it was that I couldn't bring myself to care about any of it. It was during the prolonged battle sequence that I figured it out: the loving descriptions of drive technologies and weapons capabilities and tactical maneuvers were all coming at the expense of any real characterization, which meant that the rapid-fire point-of-view changes between characters was getting confusing - not having learned anything unique or memorable about any of these people, I couldn't remember who half the names were. I know some people love this kind of strategic minutiae for its own sake, and more power to them, but my interest in strategy is directly tied to my interest in the people involved, and I just can't bring myself to care about this course-change or that missile salvo when I don't have the first idea who the people are plotting the courses or firing the missiles.

In fairness, and to my relief, the gender politics haven't grown substantially worse over this installment...but at the same time, I can't say they've really gotten that much better; this series has a serious case of "story about a woman written by a man". (I have never once met a woman who would describe "crossing her arms" as "folding her arms under her breasts". For serious.) And what with the pacing and characterization issues, I'm frankly just not that interested in continuing.

What I'm currently reading

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss. As my post about historical perspective might have indicated, I'm very much enjoying reading this right after Alexander Hamilton; it's kind of fascinating to see what was going on in France at the same time, and thanks to having the lyrics to the musical memorized ("Seventeen...sev-sev-seventeen-eighty-nine...") I actually have some dates in my head to draw rough correspondences. Interestingly, the older Alexandre Dumas also grew up in the French Indies (in what is now Haiti, to Hamilton's Nevis - truly a forgotten spot in the Carribean), so the fact that The Black Count goes into some additional detail about the sugar industry of the time lends itself to further understanding of Hamilton's childhood as well.

Reiss' primary difference from Chernow, so far, is that he's far less focused on his title character; rather than closely examining primary sources to tease out the quirks of his personality, the text has so far been content to draw him in broad strokes while filling in a good chunk of French history. Given that it's written for a popular American audience, whose perceptions of the Revolution are probably shaped entirely by, say, a TV adaptation of The Scarlet Pimpernel (Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen! *swoon*), I'm totally okay with this, but it might feel a little basic to someone already well-read about the period. I do hope we get to spend a little more time with the titular Black Count himself - I'm about a quarter of the way through, and so far we know that he was extremely strong, intelligent, dashing, and ambitious...and not much more than that. Some of this might simply be a lack of primary sources, however; it's rather easier to gain insight into a historical figure's personality when they had the twin advantages of a tremendous output of writing and people actively dedicated to preserving their work after their death, neither of which (I suspect) Dumas Senior had.

What I plan to read next

My goal for this week is to pick up and hopefully finish All About Love. Fingers crossed!
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When I attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I had the good fortune to take a Modern World History class from Professor Cole. His courses were known for being high-quality, but not easy - study groups were strongly recommended, as the reading was dense and we went over almost none of it during the lectures. The reason for this, though, was also what made him such an excellent teacher: he spent the lectures talking about (and, while flipping through a truly gargantuan stack of transparencies, offering examples of) perspective, propaganda, confirmation bias, and precisely why it's so important to seek out multiple sources when studying any historical event. The very first class, for instance, we watched Rashomon; the rest of the course would continue in a similar vein.

Just yesterday, I came across an interesting example of just the sort of narrative nuance he warned us about. So in true Professor Cole fashion, I'm going to demonstrate, albeit with screenshots rather than transparencies.

First, if you'll pardon the slightly long quotation, we have a passage from Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton:

Chernow, <i>Alexander Hamilton</i>, 2004, p.316

Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 2004, p.317

Needless to say, this doesn't paint a particularly flattering portrait of Thomas Jefferson - he comes off as a naïve idealist at best, and an intentionally blinkered one at that.

And yet, while reading Tom Reiss' The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, I came across this bit of context that Chernow left out of his analysis:

Reiss, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, 2012, p.98

Despite the damning evidence of the founding father's own words, it's worth also considering Chernow's biases in judging Jefferson's shortsightedness. It's pretty clear from the name that Alexander Hamilton isn't focused on Jefferson, except in how he relates to the title personage; given that Chernow clearly admires Hamilton, the fact that they were constantly at odds with each other means that Chernow has a vested interest in portraying Jefferson as clueless and/or villainous. (Lin-Manuel Miranda, to take the examination further, had an even stronger reason to do so when writing Hamilton, as any good musical needs a villain to drive the dramatic action forward, and the British were more or less out of the picture by the end of Act I.) Whether or not this was historically justified is a separate matter; it's certainly arguable that after centuries of canonization, Jefferson is due for some examination of his flaws. But by leaving out the fact that he was far from the only person who foresaw a peaceful end to the French Revolution, and that general public opinion (at least prior to the brutal winter of 1788-89, and the following grain shortage that spring) agreed with him, Chernow makes Jefferson's letters sound like the pronouncements of a lone, ludicrous figure, rather than a perhaps overly idealistic man speaking from a position of privilege. It's a subtle bit of character assassination, and worth considering.
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After years of attending classes, working on their cleaning staff, getting to know the teachers and managers, not to mention paying for and attending Teacher Training and Extensions, filling out applications, and getting my CPR certification...I've been invited to audition for a yoga teaching slot at CorePower.

Obviously I'm pleased about this. But it's turning out to be a bit more nerve-wracking than I anticipated. The grapevine has it that 75 people applied to the Uptown studio alone; presumably not all of them are auditioning, but chances are there'll be a lot of people looking to fill just a few available spots. This has always been my concern with CorePower's business model; they market teacher training heavily because it's a big moneymaker for them, but as the local yoga market has reached saturation and their regular teachers settle into their grooves, the number of classes they need taught has shrunk significantly even as their potential supply has grown commensurately larger. I feel like I have some advantages versus the crowd: I've been attending for years and know a lot of folks in the community, I have a lot of flexibility in my schedule, plus I'm already on their payroll, albeit in a very minor capacity. (Cleaning staff are paid minimum wage plus a half-price membership in exchange for at least 1.5 hours of work per week.) But on the other hand, if the rest of the TT groups this go-round were anything like mine, we're going to have a serious glut of talented, capable teachers looking for a spot.

Upon reflection, I suspect what I'm feeling is that sense of insecurity that comes from having put most of your eggs in one basket. I'm not a joiner by nature; I tend to spread myself out, preferring to build minor connections in multiple communities rather than become a central figure in a single community and thus beholden to its failings and dysfunctions. So this whole "being a recognizable face in a large group" thing is new to me. And...it's a little anxiety-inducing, realizing that I've invested a not-inconsiderable amount of time, effort, money, and social capital in a community that may or may not return my investment, whether due to a lack of affection or simply a lack of availability.

None of which is to say it'll be the end of the world if I don't make the cut. It'll mean some changes in my focus, which are always uncomfortable when you've gotten into a habit. But they'll also be opportunities for growth, just in a different direction than the ones I'll face if I do teach for them.

I suppose we'll see which of my patron Five Gods deities shows up on audition day - the Mother of Summer, or the Bastard...
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Updating a little later today, because I am officially certified in adult and pediatric CPR, AED use, and first aid! Which is to say, I spent six hours today at the local Red Cross headquarters watching videos and listening to an instructor, with occasional breaks to practice on the mannequins and my classmates. A lot of the information was stuff I'd picked up piecemeal over the years; I remember learning to do chest compressions at some point in school, and a combination of reading, life experience, and common sense had taught me treatment of stuff like heat exhaustion, nosebleeds, diabetic shock, bleeding, etc. But it was helpful to go through the motions of an actual incident, as well as get clear information on where the boundaries of responsibility (and liability) are for a first responder. Plus I got to learn how an AED works, which was surprisingly cool. I wouldn't have thought you could make defibrillation idiot-proof, but AEDs are pretty darn close; they even check for a heartbeat before administering the shock. So cool! Suffice it to say, my confidence level is bolstered enough that I'm much more likely to offer help in case of an emergency. Which is basically the whole point of such courses, so I'm going to call that a success.

What I've just finished reading

Penric's Demon, by Lois McMaster Bujold. Speaking of first responders - poor Penric; he meant well. The henpecked younger scion of an impoverished noble family, Pen is on his way to his betrothal when he encounters a Divine of the Bastard who appears to be in distress, and stops to offer help. As so often happens when one attracts the notice of a trickster deity, his entire life is turned rapidly upside down as he finds himself sharing his body with a demon - a symbiotic consciousness possessed of many lives, and one that generally identifies as female, to boot. Having named her Desdemona, he proceeds to navigate the tricky physical and political questions brought on by his new status, as well as gaining some fairly immediate lessons in spycraft and intelligence-gathering.

Although I've yet to read the rest of the series, I suspect that this is the weakest link in it; Penric's quiet nature and overbearing upbringing have made him a follower by nature, liable to obey authority without many questions. Needless to say, his passivity doesn't make him particularly compelling; the first part of his story basically consists of him doing what he's told - either by outside sources, or by the demon - without question and despite any personal reservations. Nonetheless, there are moments of interest, especially where his burgeoning relationship with Desdemona (who, unsurprisingly, has a pretty proactive personality) is concerned, and in places where he begins to question what he's been taught. I'm looking forward to seeing how things go in the next novella, once Penric's had some training and hopefully feels a little less at the mercy of the world.

What I'm reading now

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss. I don't usually seek out biographies, but I picked this up on a Kindle deal a while back, and after enjoying the Hamilton biography as much as I did I opened this one almost on a whim...and was immediately sucked into the tall tales told of its subject, Alex Dumas (father to the author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers). The son of a marquis and a slave, possessed of a fearsome physique and an even more fearsome intelligence, Dumas was lucky enough to be born into a time and place well-suited to his outsize talents - in this case, the French Revolution - and unlucky enough to be a man of idealism and integrity in the sociopolitical environment that followed. I suspect this will be an interesting companion piece to Hamilton, although from the tone so far I expect it'll be less concerned with political and interpersonal minutiae and more with swashbuckling tales of heroism. Still, it won a Pulitzer, so it can't be all fluff.

What I plan to read next

Nothing immediately on the docket that I haven't already talked about. I still haven't picked up All About Love, in part because it's a paper book and I've mostly been reading on my Kindle or listening to my audiobooks on the go. I will get to it, though!
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"The last thing to determine conclusively is whether you are in a comedy or a tragedy. To quote Italo Calvino, ‘the ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: The continuity of life, the inevitability of death.’ Tragedy, you die. Comedy, you get hitched."

--Professor Jules Hilbert, as portrayed by the inimitable Dustin Hoffman in Stranger Than Fiction

Back when I first saw this movie years ago, it set me on ruminating over the difference between comedy and tragedy. The definition above isn't untrue, if a bit simplistic - obviously there are plenty of comedies that don't end in weddings, and tragedies that don't end in death. A better definition might be that a comedy ends in a strengthened sense human connection, whereas a tragedy ends with a weakened connection and/or increased sense of isolation, but that's describing the effect rather than the cause.

So here's my proposal: a comedy is a story where the protagonist learns, grows, and changes. A tragedy, on the flipside, is a story where the protagonist has an opportunity to learn and grow, but misses it, and fails to change (or fails to do so enough to avert loss).

This, I think, is why comedies are so often love stories - be it romantic love, filial love, friend-love, or even self-love. Love is one of the primary drivers of change in our lives; to quote M. Scott Peck, love is "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth". For those of us lucky enough to live in relative safety, few other forces will ever highlight our weaknesses while simultaneously driving us to aspire to better - that is, provide ideal circumstances for learning, growth, and change - than love.

I suspect, also, that this is why comedies tend to focus on younger protagonists, often those of working- or middle-class. Younger people, even those in their 20s, are in many ways are still discovering the world around them; it's often easier for them to admit that a former assumption was incorrect, because their world is still very much in flux. That's not to say that a change isn't without consequences, both internal and social; otherwise the story would have no stakes. Think of the romantic hero afraid of being laughed at when he falls in love with a less-than-acceptable partner, for instance, or the pre-med graduate whose whole life has been about becoming a doctor, until they picked up the guitar. But it's easier to make a drastic career change, or to make better friends, when you're younger; as you grow older and settle into habits, the stakes get commensurately higher. Tragedies, by extension, tend to focus on older, higher-class subjects - especially rulers in one form or another. And whoo boy, when you're the political and social figurehead of a kingdom, do you have a lot to lose by admitting that you're wrong. Often, however, your country has even more to lose by your refusal, which compounds the magnitude of the tragedy.

Of course, no good framework is ever offered without examples and discussion - that's how we vet any theory. So let's have an impromptu humanities class! What are your favorite comedies or tragedies? (No judgment allowed on people's choices; there's just as much room for discussion of the tragic/comic aspects of Riverdale or Three Men and a Baby as there is of The House of Mirth or The Yiddish Policeman's Union.) What are the stakes? How does the main character change (or refuse to change)? Is the story a tragedy from one perspective but a comedy from another? Does your choice upend my whole theory? Let's discuss!
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Brian's in Nashville this week and I've had very few commitments, so I've been cleaning house and hustling for more business and making all kinds of progress on my to-do list...in an alternate universe. In this one, I've been spending an unhealthy amount of time reading social media and streaming shows. (Riverdale may well be my new guilty pleasure.) But I've also been doing a fair amount of reading:

What I've just finished reading

An Unseen Attraction, by K.J. Charles. One of her best works so far. It's devilishly tricky to write quiet, unassuming main characters who're also compelling, and Charles manages beautifully here. Plus, surprisingly for a romance, I loved the politics. Neither of the primary characters are political in the least, but (as with people in every era) political issues suffuse their everyday life: questions of gender roles, of racial identity, even of environmental pollution (these were the days of the London Particulars, after all). After reading any number of "Regency England" romances that hand-wave away the Napoleonic wars and the pervasive fears of revolution and numerous other aspects of the social zeitgeist, it's refreshing to see a period romance that's placed firmly within the tenor of the times.

The Lawrence Browne Affair, by Cat Sebastian. This was an Amazon recommendation algorithm impulse purchase, and initially I was afraid I'd wasted the $2. Especially coming after Charles' by-now-polished depiction of character and chemistry, the first act of this story felt rough at best; the broad strokes of the characters were promising (a con man who poses as a secretary to an agoraphobic earl and finds he's attracted to his mark) but there was a lot of tell-don't-show and the pacing of the building-attraction was frustratingly scattershot. That said, I'm not sorry I stuck with it; things smoothed out somewhat as the story proceeded, and the characters became endearing, even if their romance never quite reached its scorchingly-hot potential. Given how often the reverse happens and I wonder why I even bothered finishing a book, it was a pleasant surprise.

Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. The behemoth audiobook (36 hours), surmounted at last! For all Chernow's exhaustive research, what really makes this book fascinating is his talent for finding the human drama behind what might (in the hands of a lesser historian) come across as dry sausage-making. Indeed, it's that very drama that I found both fascinating and oddly reassuring about this book. The many printed broadsides, pamphlets, registers and newspapers served as the period's social media, and thus have preserved a remarkable cross-section of the public chatter; as Chernow notes, it was not at all uncommon for private letters to be opened in transit and their contents sent to the presses. The rhetoric that surrounded the creation and early years of our country was no less violent, extreme, or ill-considered as that which has more recently surrounded the creation of the ACA, or the 2016 elections. Americans - even prominent politicians who theoretically should know better - have always denounced their enemies as illegitimate, slung mud at their opponents, threatened secession when things didn't go their way, and declared the moral and spiritual decline of the culture. After months of reading a social media feed full of similarly extreme rhetoric, it's surprisingly calming to realize that none of this is new, and that while the survival of our nation and its values is hardly guaranteed, we've certainly weathered similar storms in the past.

What I'm reading now

The Honor of the Queen, by David Weber. Perhaps surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) for a series starring a female starship captain, there's something about the gender politics of the Honor Harrington series that doesn't quite sit right with me. I have yet to quite put my finger on it; certainly Harrington herself is a fine character, intelligent and proactive and ambitious. Still, there's something about how her various problems and weaknesses - an occasionally crippling lack of self-confidence, a near pathological fear of advanced math, an inability to make her first crew respect her, a youthful encounter with a would-be rapist which she didn't report because "no one would believe she was attractive enough" - are all problems we associate with femininity, while her strengths - supreme self-possession, keen intellect, ambitiousness, physical prowess (which she used to fight the aforementioned rapist off) - are traits we consider inherently masculine. It's an insidious bit of coding, especially in a series that one would hope would be a little more enlightened. Obviously I liked enough about it to give this second installment a go, but given that our intrepid Captain and her crew are headed toward a planet notorious for its backward gender politics, my hopes are not high - I expect we're going to see a lot of comparative "Look how enlightened the main characters are" with little examination of the author's problematic assumptions. But maybe this one will surprise me too!

What I plan to read next

Penric's Demon, by Lois McMaster Bujold. This is the first of a series of three novellas set in the world of Chalion, a high fantasy world with a surprisingly complete and fascinating religious system. (I occasionally wonder if, were I an adherent, my soul would be taken up by the Mother of Summer or the Bastard. To all appearances my life favors healing and order, but I have just enough of a socially perverse streak to appreciate the chaos and destruction - and, thus, opportunities for improvement - that trickster gods bring. And frankly, I love the idea of a patron god of bastards, non-heteronormative lovers, and other social outsiders.) Bujold is one of my all-time favorite authors, and for all that the Vorkosigan series is probably my favorite, the nontraditional protagonists and subverted fantasy tropes of the Chalion series make it a close second.
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What I've just finished reading

--Seven Summer Nights, by Harper Fox. I've been on the lookout to try more gay romance authors (although K.J. Charles is still my favorite), and this came up on a recommendations list. Stylistically it's very different from Charles' spare-yet-articulate prose; if I had to come up with a descriptor, I think I'd pick "heightened". Everything is just a little too bright, a little too sharp, like a camera plate that's been slightly overexposed. But given that the story is about a shell-shocked WWII veteran coming home to England and falling in love, it doesn't feel out of place - to the contrary, it's efective both in portraying his sense of alienation and in getting across the sheer intensity of feeling new love brings. I'm not a big one for using my Kindle's "highlight" function, but these passages I had to save:

Archie's face had softened oddly, lust transforming in his eyes to a huge and loving comprehension


But Rufus couldn't find words to describe the state to which a come from Archie reduced him. Not even a reduction--a rebuild, more like, a miraculous redefinition of sex for him, so far from his lonely encounters with Henry and all the back-street strangers that he could hardly believe the act was the same.

It's the same feeling I try to convey when I write erotica; the power of sex combined with deep and pure love to connect us to each other, and to the world, even over our insecurities and fears and (at times) objections.

As a reviewer, I feel it incumbent upon me to point out that there's a lot that goes on in the plot that doesn't quite gel. At one point, a character says "Your manhood condemns you to seek the truth through reason," referring to the age-old trope of 'feminine' emotional intuition vs. 'masculine' rational logic, and I thought to myself "If my annoyance at the lack of organization in the plot is any indication, I'm just a man at heart." But in the end (and, again, in keeping with the Amor Vincit Omnia tone) the logical inconsistencies don't end up feeling all that important; and if the central MacGuffin doesn't have quite the same emotional weight as the central romance, well, one of the joys of falling in love is how it makes everything else seem tame and surmountable by comparison. All of which is to say, I think this might well be a favorite despite its flaws. I'll definitely be checking out other titles of Fox's.

--"A Private Miscellany", by K.J. Charles. An epilogue to the Society of Gentlemen series, which ties up some loose ends. Of absolutely no interest to anyone who hasn't read the series, but a delight for those who love the characters and want to spend just a little more time with them before they fade into the distance. I laughed aloud many times, and when Brian looked at me enquiringly, could only flap my hands and say "It's a long story." Three volumes and one scorchingly-hot short story long, in fact.

What I'm Reading Now

--An Unseen Attraction, by K.J. Charles. (Yes, this has been the week of All The Gay Romance.) Clem is a quiet sort of landlord, kindhearted and giving and agreeable to a fault, with a family he rarely talks about. Rowley is a solitary type with a very different family history, whose career choice of taxidermy tends to put people off; as one of Clem's lodgers and more recently his lover, he's happy - until his shop is burgled, and another of Clem's lodgers is murdered, and some kind of nefarious plot begins to tighten its snare around these two inoffensive paramours.

I really like how Charles is playing with the formula here. Typically, a romance (whether heterosexual or homosexual) has pretty predictable plot beats: the first half of the story sets the stage, the characters, and the potential obstacles to their getting together; the middle (usually the exact midpoint, I've noted on my Kindle more than once) is the Big Confession Of Love (and, in modern romances, the first sex scene); then the rest presents the challenges the lovers must overcome in order to stay together, and details how they do so. Here, the romance begins early and proceeds without much difficulty at all, or certainly not with any more than the usual amount of angst or argy-bargy that two people with lives and histories and insecurities bring to a new relationship; however, the horrific external events also shine a light on those insecurities, and seeing these two gentle souls work through their respective fears is genuinely pleasurable.

--Meditations from the Mat, by Rolf Gates. I've been trying to pin down what it is that twigs me about this book's tone, and I think I'm getting closer. For instance, I found myself reacting strongly to this quote:

The fact that we spend more on defense than on education begs the question "What are we defending and why are we defending it?" Wrapped up in this ongoing political debate is the wisdom and the message of aparigraha. The energy we expend defending unhealthy attachments could be spent making the world a better place.

It may be that I was just recently reading an extended and quite intelligent (if, in my opinion, thoroughly wrongheaded) analysis of the United States' foreign policy decisions since WWII, which offers up several cogent answers to precisely that question, but this quote came off as ridiculously naïve and smug. Whether or not you feel the US's goals and achievements in the international sphere have been worth the gigantic outlays on national defense is another question entirely, but the book doesn't even attempt to address said question, instead presenting it as a given that of course it's a waste of resources, and here's a pat answer in the form of a yogic principle - if only our government all practiced this philosophy, how many problems we could solve! Never mind that "making the world a better place" is a frustratingly vague goal, or that many (not all, certainly) of the people perpetuating American military spending have done so out of a genuine belief that a strong military is crucial to keeping peace with our neighbors. Which I suspect most world citizens would agree makes the world a better place, as fights between nuclear powers are likely to affect the rest of the world pretty negatively.

I think what's most frustrating about the book is that I don't disagree with the philosophy at all - to the contrary, I think these are valuable principles that are worth considering, and some of the meditations offered are beautifully written on topics that we don't often speak of, culturally. But others are simplistic to the point of ridiculousness, and often exclusionary: to pick just one example, the author talks about how "we are a fortunate generation in a fortunate country, and most of us have been able to have our material wants gratified many times over". Again, I realize this book is written for a very specific audience, but even here in America the gap between the rich and the poor is growing starker by the day; when you factor in the fact that the eight wealthiest individuals currently own the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the world - of the entire world - the text starts to look shortsighted at best.

On a more personal level, I suspect my annoyance has partly to do with a sense of guilt for being firmly in the book's target audience - a demographic that holds a significant chunk of material wealth and power and seems frustratingly uninterested in examining the costs and responsibilities to the rest of the world that such a position entails. Given how yoga lovers are constantly going on about how it can be beneficial for everyone, maybe a book on yogic philosophy would be a great opportunity to introduce a little perspective?

What I'm planning to read next

I don't have anything in queue that I haven't already talked about. We'll see what happens - I have no shortage of books in my Kindle or Audible libraries, and yet new ones always seem to crop up...

([livejournal.com profile] alexmegami, you're up!)
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I've been trying to write a life-update sort of post, but I'm recovering from a cold right now and my brain doesn't feel up to the herculean task of narrative coherence. Suffice it to say: I've finished Extensions, I'm working on getting my CPR certification and applying to teach. Auditions are likely to be around the end of March, which should be interesting, as I'm booked for my first tattoo right around that time. I miss writing letters to people and am trying to pick it back up, however, see above re: narrative coherence. Brian and Jamila have been making numerous batches of macaroons, and they come out perfectly puffed and chewy-crispy each time; I'm having to be careful not to overindulge and make my blood sugar grumpy at me.

There, life update done. Meantime, inspired by [livejournal.com profile] osprey_archer, I'm trying out a weekly book meme thing. I haven't been as consistent with book reviews as I'd like, lately; I'm hoping that this will help me get my thoughts out in the moment and thus reduce the time investment involved. Plus it'll mean my LJ gets updated more consistently...assuming I prioritize the time to actually do it every week, heh. Still, it's worth a shot!

What I've Just Finished Reading

--Temptations of a Wallflower, by Eva Leigh. I have an interesting relationship with the (hetero) romance genre; I like how their heroines have just as much agency as their heroes, and for reasons I've never quite grasped I'm a sucker for period romance. However, the formula is strict enough that the storytelling often feels stifled or shoehorned in, with conflicts and resolutions arising from plot necessity rather than organically from the characters. This one's in the middle of the spectrum on that point; not the most egregious example, as the characters are strongly drawn, but motivations do get a little muddy in places. I did like the hook of a heroine who secretly writes erotic fiction; the samples in the text were a trifle threadbare in their writing to convincingly be all-of-London bestseller material, but then, look at the 50 Shades series.

--Wanted, A Gentleman, by K.J. Charles. Now, when it comes to gay romance, I am all about it - especially Charles' work. Her story craft has been uneven in the past, but she's clearly coming into her own on that front - and, as always, her characters are beautifully drawn and have seriously smoking chemistry. I particularly like how her latest stories have included men of color; she's clearly researched what life was like for men of African descent in Victorian London, and convincingly portrays their even-more-fraught tangle of emotions hidden beneath strict social mores.

--Season of Wonder, edited by Pauly Guran. A collection of Christmas-themed short stories with a genre bent. As with most collections, this was hit-or-miss for me, but (as with most collections) I appreciated the chance to sample some authors I'd never heard of, whose work I might not otherwise have picked up. Particular standouts for me were Robert Charles Wilson's "Julian: A Christmas Story", which transcended its shopworn genre tropes through strong worldbuilding and its narrator's strength of character, and Connie Willis' "Newsletters", a humorous take on the alien-abduction story. And Janet Kagan's "The Nutcracker Coup" entertained me to no end; I'm always a sucker for a story about engineering social change through refusing shame.

--"The Isthmus Variation", by Kris Millering. My personal elevator pitch for this story, which I'm rather proud of, is "a virtuoso burlesque of intrigue and guile". I love the pacing, the way the narrator slowly reveals the Game, and the game within the Game, and the game within that. If the story has one weakness, it's a certain emotional remove from the characters; what could have been a gut-wrenching tragedy is instead a series of saddening events observed from a distance. Still, as a narrative tableau and a demonstration in worldbuilding, it's beautifully executed.

What I'm Reading Now

--Bara roligt i Bullerbyn, by Astrid Lindgren. This is the first non-English book I've ever seriously tried to read, and whoa, is it a humbling experience. It's a good one for me to start with, though: it's just a little above my current fluency level, so I only have to hit Google Translate a few times per page; also, being aimed at kids, it uses a lot of simple, repetitive language, and has occasional pictures. (That was part of the humbling - I was a precocious reader as a kid, and I literally can't remember ever needing the pictures to help me understand an English language book. But I need Google something like half as often when there's a picture of what's going on. Context helps!) Additionally, I read this book in an English translation as a kid, so it's entertaining to me to be working my way through one of the stories, suddenly remember something about it, and then find it in Swedish a page or two later.

--Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. Having listened to the musical a slightly embarrassing number of times, I'm now listening to the audiobook of its source, and aside from my brain wanting to occasionally go off on lyric tangents (many lines from the musical are taken directly from this book), it's a pretty cracking read - Lin-Manuel Miranda did not have to exaggerate when it came to the drama in Hamilton's life. It's good to get the less-streamlined, more nuanced telling of many of the events, as well as context for some of the big historical moments, but I have to admit I'm curious how much of this I'll retain in ten years - as opposed to the musical, where the lyrics are probably permanently imprinted on my brain.

--Meditations From the Mat: Daily Reflections From The Path of Yoga, by Rolf Gates. This is one of the more popular selections among the teachers at CPY, and I can see why - it's a series of reflections on various yogic philosophies and their applicability to this person's life, and thus to life in general. I think it's the second part of that that's not quite sitting right with me; there's a lot of presumed universality that just kind of puts my hackles up. I'm a big fan of letting everyone find their own path, and for a practice that supposedly touts just that philosophy, yoga has an awful lot of evangelists. (My friend Kat to me, in response to my "yoga's done a lot of good things for me but it's not for everyone and if you don't jive to it that's okay" speech - "I think you're the only person who practices yoga who feels that way.") Still, it's pretty clearly written for the audience I'm likely to be teaching, so I suspect it'll be useful, and there's definitely some good stuff in there. Plus the gourmet-jelly-bean format (read one or two reflections at once) helps keep it from feeling overwhelmingly smug. I'll probably be working my way through this one for a while; further updates as my feelings warrant.

What I Plan to Read Next

--All About Love, by bell hooks. This is actually more of a "plan to finish" - I read half of it and promptly lost my copy, only to find it again...right after a friend loaned me her copy. >< (Where do you hide a book? In a library...or in my case, a bedroom overflowing with books stacked two-deep on far too many shelves.) There's some really excellent stuff here, on defining and reclaiming the term "love" from its watered-down and eroded cultural niche, and on recognizing the many forms of relationships referred to as "love" but based instead on codependency, social expectation, or habit. I'm looking forward to seeing where hooks takes it.
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Right now I'm in the middle of Extensions - that's the follow-up class to CorePower's Teacher Training, where they give you more instruction on stuff like playlist- and sequence-building, environmental settings, and assists/adjustments, as well as polishing your cueing and timing and other minor stuff like that. I admit I went into it with low expectations; they market TT heavily but never mention Extensions (or the additional tuition, or that it's mandatory to get hired) until you're actually in training. So I was expecting it to be a lot of "this is how we do it at CorePower because we're the best!" puffery with maybe some useful bits thrown in. To my pleasant surprise, it's actually turned out to be quite useful; there's definitely some stuff that's CPY-specific, but a lot of it is more generally applicable, and it's been refreshingly puffery-free.

In any case, I went to a C2 class today just before Extensions; we had a lecture scheduled (as opposed to a physical practice) so I figured it'd be okay if I was a little tired. And I was more or less okay, but realized afterward that I'd missed dinner, so at break time I hopped next door to the Subway to nab a sandwich. Much to my surprise, the cooler full of bottles of soda looked super appealing to me. This almost never happens; I'm not a big soda drinker, and I rarely indulge (given that pure glucose is kind of awful for my wonky blood sugar issues). However, it struck me that I could use the caffeine, so I reached in and grabbed a Diet Coke, paid for it and the sandwich, and went back to the studio.

Weirdly, though, the soda didn't taste anywhere near as good as I thought it would. It wasn't the aspartame, which I'm plenty familiar with; there's a definite rush I get when my body's really craving something, and it wasn't happening. I was halfway through the bottle (and the sandwich) before it hit me - the reason the soda had looked so appetizing was because it was full of sugar, and my carbohydrate stores were probably depleted from the workout. Needless to say, the diet version wasn't scratching that itch in the least. And with the fiber/protein/fat in the sandwich, I could've drunk it without any blood sugar trouble, either. Exercise brain is not always great at logical reasoning, heh.

But now I'm home and treating myself to a ginger beer, with bitters and a squeeze of lime. So that's not nothing.
missroserose: (Default)
...my path through the cultural morass has mostly been to be unquestionably brilliant -- it's really hard for people to argue that you shouldn't be on the team if you're the best at it.
--[livejournal.com profile] thewronghands/[personal profile] ivy, on dealing with society's engrained sexism

Having written recently about my sense of pride, this quote resonated in my mind with the clarity of a plucked string. If I'm the best at something, no one can criticize me or tell me I don't belong somewhere; in our culture, as a member of a group traditionally excluded, that's a potent defense. Unfortunately, it feeds right into the negative side as well - It makes it difficult for me to learn new things, because I have to first admit that I'm new to this and don't already know everything about it. And if it turns out to be harder than I expected to pick it up, if my unspoken mental "time allotted to become brilliant" is exceeded, I grow very tempted to abandon the effort - the risk of being challenged on it is simply too great.

Upon reflection, I realized it's social as well as vocational: I used to be obnoxiously assertive with my opinions, arguing them to the death when challenged. I've grown better about this in recent years, cultivating the ability to ask others and listen to their responses as well as to pick and choose my battles, but I've noticed that the more men are in a particular group, and especially the less attention I feel they're paying to non-male points of view, the more likely I am to revert to my old habits.

And god forbid I am challenged and shown to be less than brilliant, says my insecurity - that might lead people to question my brilliance in other arenas, and soon I'll be shut out entirely.


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