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.
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...

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