missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
Posting late again - between Sculpt in the morning, errand-running all afternoon, and teaching class in the evening, my Wednesday filled up quickly. Today I'm much less busy, but one of the squat exercises from yesterday did a number on my right hamstring. Luckily I have today off, so I'll forego the biking and hope it's just a mild strain...cross your fingers for me?

What I just finished reading

Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho. I wanted something lighthearted and fluffy, and a story of romance and magical intrigues set in Regency England seemed likely to fit the bill. I absolutely adored Cho's novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, especially its matter-of-fact portrayal of life as an ethnic minority in 1920s England and its strongly-drawn protagonist.

I'm pleased that I got some of the same here; the two protagonists are both ethnic minorities, and the narrative explores the fraught history and circumstances thoroughly while managing not to fall into maudlin character-defined-by-their-hardships territory. Unfortunately, the greater narrative is somewhat less well-drawn; the middle act in particular, where much of the juicy intrigue happens, feels rather jumbled and unfocused, with many excellent opportunities for worldbuilding ignored and a general feeling of narrative Calvinball. This isn't precisely helped by Zacharias being a frustratingly passive main character; he keeps hearing about these various machinations being fomented against him, but he never seems to do anything about it. By midway through the book I was genuinely wondering at the source of his confidence, and whether he was a champion minimizer or in active denial.

Luckily, things pick up towards the end, and the denouement nicely ties up all the loose ends. My one other complaint is that the two main characters are both so emotionally closed-off that, while I could see thow they would admire each other, I wasn't really buying the romantic angle; they simply hadn't grown emotionally close enough for the sort of love they were professing. I feel like that might have been better saved for a sequel, when the two of them have spent some time together that isn't taken up with politicking or putting out magical brushfires. Still, I enjoyed the story on the whole, and I hope Zen Cho continues to write.

What I'm currently reading

The Hummingbird's Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea. Still enjoying this trek, even if I'm not sure where it's all going. At one point, one of the characters talks about how he's reading Don Quixote, and that set off a ping of recognition in my brain - I've never read the whole thing, but I seem to remember that it's written in much the same style, a string of anecdotes that combine to (in theory) produce a greater narrative. The atmosphere here continues to be all-encompassing; I swear there are times reading it when I can feel myself in the Sonoran desert again.

What I plan to read next

So many options! I'm leaning towards a genre trilogy of some sort; I've been hearing from all sides that Leckie's Ancillary books are amazing, but [personal profile] ivy recommends Jemisin's The Broken Earth series. I may do the latter in audiobook form and the former on paper (the Ancillary audiobooks are notoriously awful); I'd taken a break from audiobooks while I was mainlining The Adventure Zone, but I've listened through their entire first campaign. (How did a podcast of three nerds and their dad playing Dungeons & Dragons make me cry. How.) So, as usual, we'll see!
missroserose: (Joy of Reading)
Hello, fellow book friends! CorePower is doing a 20-classes-in-30-days challenge, and looking at the charts I realized that I haven't been to class since the month started. I've been teaching a lot, but between work and social obligations and a bit of personal-life trouble I've been slacking off. I hit Sculpt this morning and I could really feel it - I had plenty of endurance (thank you, bicycling) but I was much stiffer than usual. I think it's going to be restorative yoga this afternoon - there's a class at Uptown that ends half an hour before I need to be there to teach. Convenient! Now to see if I can get back to a regular practice.

What I've just finished reading

Paper Girls vol. 3, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang. The breakneck pace of this story hasn't let up, and while initially that worked in its favor, it's starting to become a handicap. We're still getting bits and pieces of history and character development, but a few of the girls are still frustratingly interchangeable; additionally, there's a new character introduced whose perspective is radically different from our main characters' and who is potentially fascinating, but who gets far too little screen time to really explore any of that potential. To top it off, the girls and the audience are still incredibly fuzzy on what the rules are for this adventure; while this certainly helps to evoke the confusion and fear on their part in this unfamiliar time-traveling situation, it feels more than a little like narrative Calvinball. I hope the author slows down for a breath or two in the next volume; it doesn't have to be six issues of "so, Bob, this is how the rules work in this particular time-travel adventure", but a little more development of the ensemble and their situation would be helpful, as would giving them a chance to be proactive instead of just flailing desperately.

Appointment With Death, by Agatha Christie. I was all set to get started on one of my yoga texts, and then I realized I hadn't finished my Poirot omnibus I borrowed from my friend in Boston...priorities! Unfortunately, I can't say this was one of Christie's stronger efforts, even discounting the by-now-expected casual racism/sexism. I liked the depiction of the future victim as an emotionally dominating tyrant who kept her entire dysfunctional family in misery around her - I think we've all met people like that - but the actual solution felt like it came out of left field, and that's leaving out some very questionable depiction of mental illness. Still, like much of Christie, it was pretty compulsively readable, and at least now I can send the book back to my friend.

Special DNF Award: Joyful Desires: A Compendium of Twentieth Century Erotica, by a collection of pretty obvious pseudonyms. I found this in a Little Free Library up in Sauganash (one of the more suburb-y neighborhoods of Chicago), which tickled me. Unfortunately, it's turned out to be pretty mediocre stuff, better-edited but generally about on par quality-wise with the old Usenet-sourced shorts I used to read online as a teenager in the nineties. (The book was published in 1998, so that might account for the stylistic similarities as well.) I read about half of one story, half of another, and skimmed a few other bits; it's all very focused on the physical, with little to no character depth or emotional interplay...you know, the stuff that makes sex interesting. :P There are some pretty entertainingly bad bits, though, almost enough to make it worth reading further just for the comic value. My favorite from my quick skim: "Turning to one side, I let my head rest there, high on the creamy smoothness of her curved back while I slid my hands up under her torso to cup her dangling breasts through the slick gown. I hefted those litle pendants, sliding my palms up and over the silky fabric, curling my fingers around that wonderfully soft titty-flesh, clutching her hanging boobs and pumping them through the thin crinkling dress." Yeah, I just don't even know where to start with that, other than "laughing uncontrollably", which is what I did. I guess I'll drop this one off in one of my local Little Free Libraries and let it continue to circulate.

What I'm currently reading

The Hummingbird's Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea. The pace of this story might be best described as "leisurely", but I find myself caught up in it nonetheless - it's an engagingly-drawn portrait of the personalities and people in a particular group, their suspicions and fears and values and beliefs. Definitely recommended to anyone looking for insight into rural Mexican culture of the time, although perhaps not if one prefers a rip-roaring thriller. This is very much a tale from the Land of Mañana, where nothing gets done in a hurry but still, somehow, things get done, and lessons are learned.

What I plan to read next

Still eyeing the yoga books...but I think right now my priority might be something easier - I feel like I need a mental break as much as a physical one. We'll see.
missroserose: (Book Love)
Yesterday was a recuperation day, physically and mentally. I wrote in my paper journal, went to Sculpt with a friend (and kicked ass at it, too - it's amazing what you can do when you reclaim your mental energy), did some laundry, had a nap, and burned my way through two-thirds of the new KJ Charles book. And completely fell down on cleaning the house or posting here, but sometimes that's how it goes when you're recuperating. Luckily I have today off as well, so I can take some time to catch up.


What I've just finished reading

Death on the Nile, by Agatha Christie. Poirot does it again (not that there was really any doubt that he would). I liked the twist that his reputation has grown at this point to where the murderer has to account for his presence and alter plans accordingly; it seems like a lot of more modern mystery series will go on for books and books without the protagonist's string of successes having any apparent effect on their world. The solution to this one was fairly ingenious, too; it might have seemed slightly far-fetched, but Christie spent enough time establishing the characters to make it feel believable. Still not a fan of the casual sexism/racism - Christie appears to have an especial hate-on for charismatic and powerful women, although a chunk of that is probably cultural conditioning - but I still enjoyed the story.

What I'm currently reading

Blood of Ambrose, by James Enge. Contrary to my earlier surmises, the Ambrosii and their nephew the Rightful King have retaken the castle and the kingdom...after literal months spent hiding in the tunnels underneath it. Which...okay, it's at least reasonably believable, but living underground for long periods has distinct effects on the human psyche, and while the Ambrosii may not be entirely human, it seems like some of those effects might have established themselves in the poor young King's mind. But that's kind of how this whole book is turning out; it seems like a lot of things are happening that are rooted in human nature on a surface level, but don't really stand up to scrutiny. People are complicated beings, and dealing with them is complicated; the despot here could really have stood to read The Prince a few times before getting all torture-and-purge-happy. Not that that really separates him from many fantasy despots - or real-world ones, for that matter. I wonder if that's why Sand dan Glokta from Joe Abercrombie's The First Law series remains one of my favorite characters, despite being an evil and twisted bastard; he might be a torturer by trade, but he understands the limitations of the tool, as well as how it fits into greater power machinations and when a carrot is going to be more effective than a stick.

The Spectred Isle, by KJ Charles. I'd been...not saving this one, exactly, but trying to resist devouring it within 24 hours of publication like I usually do with Charles' books. But even though I still have half of Ambrose to get through, I decided to break it out last night - a good romance and cracking supernatural mystery seemed like just the thing for a recuperation day after being dumped. And as it happens, it is - the story concerns two thirtysomething men who, between the devastating shock of the Great War, the stress of dealing with its aftereffects on the supernatural realm, and the repressive sexual mores of 1920s England, are wrapped up in as many layers of defensiveness and self-protection as any human being...and yet they still manage to untangle themselves enough to be vulnerable and open with each other. It's a slow-burn romance with some fascinating worldbuilding, and eminently satisfying.

What I plan to read next

In keeping with the theme of reclaiming my mental energy, I am going to finish Come As You Are this week. I haven't dropped it because it's not fascinating; I just have so many other books! But they can wait a week.
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: (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: (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!
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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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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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.
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Me on Thursday: "Ow ow ow. My back is cramping up. I'd better get a massage."

Me yesterday: *gets a massage*

Me, today: "Ow ow ow. Now my neck and shoulder are cramping. WTF?"
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*looks at It Has Been 50 Days Since My Last Anxiety Episode sign*

*flips the counter back to 0*

*sighs*

Bag Lady

Sep. 27th, 2016 01:50 pm
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I've been saying to people lately that I wish I had one of those "It has been XX days since our last workplace accident" signs, modified to fit my mental health. For the record, it has been 09 days since my last full-blown anxiety episode, and only one of those days started with the quick-trigger adrenaline response that heralds a bad day. Luckily it was a workday, so I was able to breathe through it until I got to the spa and got into the swing of things. Hurrah for working in a field that requires mindfulness and focus. (My friend the yoga teacher/Instagram happiness guru was telling me that she enjoys teaching yoga for much the same reason, and we compared notes on the similarity of the experience. When you have to hold that space for someone else, somehow the effort seems much less than when you're trying to do it for your self. I wonder if some of that is our brains' well-known ability to downplay their own problems, or if it's yet another example of how it's so much easier to go the extra mile for others than for ourselves. Maybe both.)

It's hard not to feel like a little bit of a drama queen for saying "I feel better" - it's not like I've been nonfunctional. Life has been fine, what with work and hanging out with friends, and even enjoying myself here and there. There's just been a cyclically encroaching-and-receding-and-reencroaching cloud of dread hanging over a lot of it, which makes it hard to find that deep-seated gratitude and joy in life that marks the really good days. But despite the relative lack of difference from an outward perspective, I do feel deeply and fundamentally better of late, so I'm going to own that. It's good to be feeling better! Even this insane election hasn't managed to cast a pall; I'm not sure if that's the effects of the changing seasons (hurrah for fall!), or me getting better at accepting things, or what. But I'll take it.

Another potential contributor has been my latest project. To wit: after seeing this post on Facebook, I decided on a whim to gather supplies to make 100 bags to take down to the local homeless encampments. (Aside: I find the term "blessing bag" to be a little twee and condescending, but I haven't been able to think of anything to replace it with. Does anyone have suggestions? End of aside.) My gut told me that having something positive to focus on would help me regain some sense of control and contribution, and I was willing to trust that feeling, even if it wasn't likely to effect any real change in the grand scheme of things.

Unfortunately, my gut does not understand finances well, and initially I was worried that my plans had been far too over ambitious. Toothpaste, deodorant, toothbrushes, maxi pads, and even condoms are all relatively cheap in bulk, but stuff like high-quality granola bars and wool socks (winter is coming, after all) add up fast, and while I don't begrudge the money for the needy, there's only so much I can justify shelling out while still sticking to our saving-for-a-house budget. To my surprise, though, when I started spreading the word in hopes people would come over Sunday and help me assemble the bags, I got lots of offers of financial help as well. One friend found a great deal on the socks, another sent me a contribution that ended up almost perfectly covering the granola bars, and other folks have been sending smaller-but-cumulatively-helpful amounts as well, or ordering things off our Amazon list. All that, plus several folks have offered to come help assemble the bags, when originally I had expected maybe one or two. I feel a little bit like my life has turned into the Stone Soup parable; one of the contributors even thanked me for having the idea and putting things together so she could do something to help. I'm more than a little humbled by the experience. And I think Sunday's going to be a lot of fun.
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It's been a weird couple of months.

Contrary to my hopes, the anxiety roller coaster continues. Sometimes I'm fine, content with my place in the world and the sheer good luck I've had to have the life that I do. Sometimes I'm...not depressed, although in some ways it resembles depression. Scattered. Inward-turned. Uninterested in making social plans (although usually if someone invites me, I have a good time). Unable to talk to people as easily as I usually can. Sullen. Brooding.

Some weeks ago, a Facebook acquaintance pointed me at the connection between panic attacks and hypoglycemia. Short version, adrenaline is a sort of ugly hack ([livejournal.com profile] thewronghands's on-the-nose description) when your blood sugar is low; not only does the resulting rush warn you that something's not right with your body, but it also signals your liver to release its emergency-stored glucose, which brings your blood sugar levels back up temporarily. Kinda neat biologically, but not particularly pleasant to experience.

Since discovering this, I've been making a concerted effort to be extra careful with my food intake, keeping simple carbs to a minimum and eating lots of protein and whole grains. It's helped some; certainly my incidences of adrenaline-fueled acute anxiety attacks are down. But, strangely, there are times when I get the mental effects of such attacks (obsessive thoughts, feeling of impending doom, withdrawn and sullen affect) despite lacking the actual adrenal involvement. It's almost like my body's conditioned to respond that way to stress now, despite my knowing that it's not a good coping strategy. (Which would jibe with Brian's observation that at times it looks like I'm intentionally looking for things to be anxious about.) Frustrating.

I'm not sure what to do about this. My profound (and, I think, justified) aversion to our screwed-up physical and mental healthcare system has kept me from seeing a doctor about any of this so far, but if I can't figure out a way to get myself more stable, that may be the next step. Writing or talking about it helps, but that's tougher when I'm in the middle of an episode, since one of the most obvious symptoms is how I suddenly lose interest in either. Breathing and mindfulness exercises may help in the moment. Past that...well, we'll see. One thing I noticed about massage school and yoga both was how, while I was actively learning new things, anxiety attacks were rare. With that partially in mind, I signed up for CorePower's teacher training for this fall. (I still have the same reservations about their corporate culture and business model that I did before, but it wouldn't hurt to have an additional less-physically-intense income stream to supplement massage, and the knowledge crossover and reinforcement is a very real plus, and the community involvement and journaling it'll require both seem likely to be beneficial. And it's not like I have to stick with CorePower exclusively - I'm looking at working for them as a starting point rather than an end goal.)

As an aside, I was recently laughing in rueful recognition at [livejournal.com profile] thewronghands's description of physical fitness as a constantly moving target; as my life has gotten busier and my yoga attendance has dropped, I've gained back a good ten pounds compared to my peak fitness there. Uncomfortably, I'm beginning to realize mental health is much the same. I mean, I thought I had this whole anxiety thing sorted out, and it turns out, nope, that was just temporary. I guess I could be frustrated about that, but I'm going to try and think of it as an opportunity to expand my toolkit instead. Just as soon as I'm done reading this article about the election and how we're all doomed.
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I've written quite a bit about my struggles with anxiety and depression, both in terms of how they feel and how they manifest in my behavior. Yesterday, however, a friend linked to an article that resonated quite a bit: Living With High-Functioning Anxiety.

My experience is somewhat different from the writer's. For one thing, mine tends to move in cycles; there are times when I can't stop the stream of internal criticism, and other times when I feel perfectly normal and happy. For another, even when I'm in an anxious phase, my symptoms aren't usually that severe. But I feel firsthand so much of what she's written. The perfectionism. The need to constantly be busy while avoiding important or high-stakes tasks. The inability to ask for help, because that means admitting you're not capable of handling things on your own. The vacillating between "everyone has it together but you, what's wrong with you" and "other people have things so much worse, what are you complaining about".

Those of you who've been around the past couple years have probably noticed my increasing focus on self-care, mostly through increased physical activity and better diet. (I know that, to some people and in some circumstances, I've come across as more than a little evangelist on this point; to those people, I owe an apology. Yoga and self-care have been quite literally life-changing for me, but I suspect in my exhortations I was ignoring the twin contributions of a move to a much better-for-me environment and a significant socioeconomic boost that came about at the same time.) This has done a lot to stretch out the periods of feeling happier and more balanced. But these past several months, I've been feeling the anxiety creep up on me even with those efforts; this latest bout has lasted some weeks.

Another link from a friend, Life Hacks of the Poor and Aimless, has shed some light on what's been going on in my subconscious. Laurie Penny posits that my demographic's obsession with self-care isn't in spite of the scary events going on in the rest of the world, but is in fact a reaction to that very sense of helplessness. We can't refill the Ogallala aquifer, or stop ourselves hurtling past the carbon emission point of no return, or fix a broken political system, or avert any number of other disasters that seem to loom over the horizon. So we turn our focus selfward instead, and convince ourselves that by practicing "radical self-love" we can find happiness - and, on this philosophy's darker side, feel as if we're insufficient when our self-care practice fails to adequately substitute for a stable and functioning social contract.

And yet, the answer can't be to give up self-care entirely. One of my favorite yoga teachers would probably fit Penny's description of an "Instagram happiness guru", or at least an aspiring one. But I go to her classes regularly, because she makes a real effort to make them a safe place, where we can work on self-improvement without judgment. When it feels like the world is falling apart around us, where there's no good answer or right thing we can do to stop things hurtling toward a horrible conclusion, there's a real value in that sort of centering, in exercising that little bit of control we do still have. I always leave her classes feeling more hopeful, more able to focus on the positive aspects of my life. It doesn't always overcome the overall sense of helplessness, but it provides a bulwark, a small protection for my sanity that helps me keep a more even outlook.

And let's not kid ourselves - outlook is important. It's a lot easier to focus on the positives, to work towards making the world a better place in those hundreds of small ways that seem insignificant but are far more likely to ripple out into something lasting, if we're feeling energized and stable and hopeful for the future. Zeitgeist matters; the more we become convinced that the world is headed for disaster, the more likely it is that we will bring that disaster on ourselves. No single one of us can prevent it, no, but by each doing what we can to help raise each others' spirits, perhaps we can improve our collective future.

That's what I feel in my more hopeful moments, anyway. During those times when the anxiety starts to build, when (to paraphrase Brian) I spend more and more time either absorbed in news articles or staring off into the distance, I start to think that this is what my friends and family felt like during the Cold War. Those awful moments of hope mixed with increasing dread, that encroaching certainty that the worst will happen, it was just a question of how and when. It's not a fun feeling; I especially hate how it robs me of the ability to enjoy things in my life here and now, when the worst (whatever that might be) hasn't yet happened, and may not at all.

I've been thinking, too, about my earlier post on paradox, and how essential it is to our existence, even though it's uncomfortable and difficult for us to accept. Perhaps this is how humans get into these destructive spirals in the first place: we don't like uncertainty, we want things to be good or bad. And if things stay uncertain enough for long enough, if the constructive future feels too difficult or too far away, eventually we pick the bad option, just for the relief of knowing the uncertainty is over. Perhaps this is why it's so important to practice holding our paradoxes: that anxiety and depression are challenges to overcome and perfectly reasonable reactions to an increasingly scary world; that we need to focus on taking care of ourselves and fighting for a better society; that we can contribute meaningfully to our collective future and we're dependent on other people to help us build that future.

My head is not the happiest place, of late. But I hope getting these thoughts out in the open will help, if only in the sense of lancing the wound. And to everyone whom I owe letters, or a phone call, or words of comfort - I'm sorry I've been so unresponsive lately. Hopefully this will go some measure towards explaining why.
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As I mentioned, earlier this month I spent a week staying with my mother to help unpack things in her new house.

We worked a lot - getting up and eating breakfast, spending a few hours unpacking or putting togther furniture or running errands, grabbing lunch, unpacking, preparing and eating dinner, and unpacking a bit more. Usually around eight or nine o'clock, we'd start to flag, and I'd suggest getting ready for bed. Mum would sit down for a minute, realize how tired she was, and agree. So we'd go brush our teeth and get into our nightclothes, and I'd settle down in bed with a book.

My mother, however, would continue unpacking. For hours.

This happened at other times, too, when I was trying to take a break, or finishing my lunch; she'd just keep going and going at it. It made me more than a little anxious - partly because I felt like I wasn't keeping up my share of the work, partly because I was concerned about her apparent indifference to self-care, and partly because my hindbrain was convinced that if she caught me slacking she would start yelling at me, because she'd be feeling frustrated and overwhelmed and getting angry was the only way she could muster up the energy to keep going. (Even though that particular pattern hasn't played out in nearly two decades, something about your childhood experiences never really leaves you, especially with the same people involved.) Obviously, I dealt with it, and accepted that my mother's just a bit obsessive sometimes about finishing tasks before she can relax.

Now that I'm home, however, I'm starting to recognize where I manifest that same pattern. I'd always thought of myself as much more easygoing and Type B than my mother, but I'm beginning to suspect that I just avoided committing myself to a career or a community precisely because I was afraid of that anxiety. Certainly now that I'm busier, I've noticed that same difficulty in relaxing when there's Something That Needs To Be Done, to the point where I've been overdoing it and woken up exhausted more than once. Even when I hit that point, if there are Things That Need To Be Done, I'll often push through, promising myself I'll rest on such-and-such a day. (Sometimes I even do, when it doesn't get subsumed into the to-do list as well.)

This was brought into stark relief today, when I strained something in my foot. It felt relatively minor, so I kept on with my schedule, running errands all over Lakeview, ignoring the pain until it started getting worse and I was actively limping. Finally I took the train to my station, limped the three blocks home, and sat down; at which point my foot proceeded to swell up and become far more painful. Luckily it doesn't seem to have been serious - some ice and heat and Advil and a few hours' rest and it's barely more than a bit stiff - but it felt like a warning against overdoing things.

...And yet, despite that very sensible assessment, despite the very real pain whenever I got up, all afternoon and evening I still had to actively force myself to stay on the couch, because there were Things That Need To Be Done.

I find myself wondering what it is about the Things that's so urgent as to tempt me to risk more seriously damaging my foot (resulting in, at the very least, missed work). Clearly none of the individual tasks are that important; sure, it'd be nice for the house to be clean in preparation for Brian's mum coming to housesit for us, and yes, I should get together some of the kitchenware I'm not using for my friend who's moving into her own place, and true, I should at the very least pick up some of this clutter that's taking over the coffee table. But none of it is life-and-death, and Brian's doing a lot of it, besides. So why do I keep having to force myself to stay sitting?

Some of it is a feeling of control - it's frustrating to be stymied by something as small as a minor foot sprain, when I'm used to feeling so capable. I wonder, too, if part of it's a sense of safety. That so long as things are finished and in order, nothing bad can happen. Which is completely illogical, of course, but certainly satisfies my perfectionist streak and my childhood-experience-imprinted hindbrain both. And with Brian working so hard, some of it is probably that sense of inequitable distribution of load, as well.

But at the very least, I guess we've proven I'm related to my mother. Heh.
missroserose: (Default)
Happy summer, world! Technically the solstice isn't until the 20th, but proper summer weather has finally shown up here in Chicago (in all of its roller-coaster glory -- 93 today, 68 tomorrow, 90 on Monday, and high seventies for the rest of the week), and this weekend is Andersonville's Swedish Midsommarfest. Which I'm sure Petra would say is hardly a proper Midsommar, not being in Sweden and not even on the right day, but there's live music and booze and good food and hey, this is Chicago. Någon förevändning för en fest!

In further summer-y news, I finally have a working bike! Last fall I bought a 1985 Schwinn Sprint road bike from a friend who was moving; what with the colder weather coming on and my having zero experience with urban biking, it promptly went into the storage unit. I'd almost forgotten about it until our local bike shop opened a pop-up right by my train stop; after a couple weeks of procrastination, I finally got the bike out of storage and did some research on it. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't an expensive bike to begin with, and this model (and ten-speeds in general) seem to be pooh-poohed by the cycling community, at least in the threads I found. Still, it felt solid enough, so I took it to the shop for an exam and (presuming it was road-worthy) tune-up. After a minor repair, the mechanic said it would absolutely get me around fine; it's not the fancy fendered Dutch cruiser I'd been envisioning, but even with the steel frame it's a heck of a lot easier to carry up the steps and store on our porch. (And, not to put too fine a point on it, it's not going to be a target for thieves the way a newer/fancier bike would - this is Chicago.)

Yesterday I took it out for its inaugural journey, a half-mile stretch along Broadway with its relatively new bike lane. There's one intersection in particular that can get a little hairy, with a loading zone for a stretch of restaurants where trucks regularly park partway in the bike lane, right before all the turning cars cross over to get in the turn lane. I ended up stopping behind the parked truck on the red light, and letting all the cars go by after the light changed before proceeding. (Luckily there weren't any impatient cyclists behind me; I can't imagine such a tactic going over well in traffic.) I also noped out of attempting a left turn to get to my destination - in my defense, the intersection is under a train overpass and in the midst of construction both, with obscured sight lines everywhere. But it wasn't precisely difficult to hop off the bike, roll it onto the sidewalk, and cross at the crosswalk. Another advantage a lighter road bike has over a cruiser -- I can walk it one-handed.

On the whole the trip was actually a lot less scary than I thought it would be, despite being made around rush hour. Having a designated bike lane definitely helps, as does already being familiar with the traffic patterns in my neighborhood. And while I'm definitely less protected on a bike than in a car, I'm also much more maneuverable, and speedier than on foot -- although I can see why some folks look down on ten-speeds; there's definitely a point where it feels like I could be going faster if I had the gearing. But I don't need to zip down the road at that speed quite yet. So I think I'll do okay -- at the very least, it gives me another option for getting to the yoga studio if the bus is running late. Now to get a rack and panniers for grocery runs.

Partially related: this morning I woke up feeling like I'd been hit by a truck, despite having slept ten hours, and having tried to be more aware of my activity levels the previous week. I suspect the combination of a busy couple of days at the spa, plus yoga, plus the (short) bike ride and various walking-around-in-nice-weather activities all kind of added up. Luckily some Advil and Emergen-C and a nap (my personal cure-all) did the trick; hopefully my body will acclimate to the increased activity level soon.
missroserose: (Default)
On the one hand, going two-weeks-plus without a day off from physical activity (power yoga or massaging or both) was probably not the greatest idea that I've had. It would certainly explain why my quick nap a few days ago turned into a four-hour rest, as well as why, come Saturday, I woke up after a full night's sleep and an hour later wanted desperately to go back to bed. (I cancelled my yoga plans and instead booked myself a massage, and am consequently feeling much better today.)

On the other hand, just now I took a moment to really look at my arms in the mirror, and...damn. Maybe I should go on workout benders more often.
missroserose: (Default)
Hallo from Vegas! (Or more precisely, Paradise, Nevada, as The Strip isn't technically in the city limits.) I was realizing that, while I mentioned my upcoming trip a number of times on Facebook, I never got around to writing about it here...I've been busy enough that my blogging has kind of suffered.

It's been an interesting week. I'm here because Brian has a work conference and thus had the hotel space (a damn nice suite at the Cosmopolitan) paid for. I'd basically expected to spend almost the entire time either by the pool or hiding away in the hotel room, catching up on reading and napping and letter-writing (and blogging, heh) and all the stuff I've been neglecting due to my work and social schedule. Instead I've found myself doing far more of the touristy things than I'd anticipated. I have a lot of thoughts percolating in my head about my expectations versus the reality of the place, along with some classic Big Questions about art vs. artifice, the occasionally-fine line between service and exploitation, and how one's experience of a place can drastically differ depending on one's presentation, socioeconomic status, and ability to set boundaries. (Because apparently I can't even go on vacation without my brain turning it into a sociological dissertation.) Whether or not they make it into a post is up in the air, but suffice it to say, I've enjoyed myself rather a lot more than I anticipated. Not enough to make it a destination of my own choice, necessarily - week-long stays in swanky suites with giant soaking tubs aren't exactly cheap, and for that kind of cash, I'd rather go to Europe - but enough that I'd happily tag along again.

Unfortunately, Brian managed to pick up some con crud, which he graciously passed along to me...and even more unfortunately, it's been the rare bug that hit me far harder than him. He felt under the weather for maybe a day; I've spent the past thirty hours coughing and sniffling and fighting a fever. The good news, however, is that the fever recently broke, which in addition to that "I'm a new woman!" feeling means I won't have to fly tomorrow while feverish (fingers crossed). So that's a pretty big relief.

A few experiences that have stood out:

--The Fountains at the Bellagio. A truly stunning bit of public art, and well worth the accolades. Our suite's terrace overlooks the fountains; I've spent a lot of time watching them both from here and ground level. As a side note, I've been a little amused at how much the compressed-air boom of the Shooter jets, combined with the hiss of the water hitting the lake again, sound like an approaching monsoon.

--Truly excellent local buskers. A couple of standouts: a youngish kid playing the heck out of an electric violin, and an older gentleman singing Motown with all of his heart (which is the only correct way to sing Motown). The latter was especially cleverly placed at the bottom of one of the open-air escalators, so you had the whole ride down to listen to him; I wanted to tip him, but doing so on the Strip can be tricky - the place is littered with hawkers of tickets and titties and God knows what else waiting to pounce on you the moment you pause, and they can smell an open wallet like sharks smell blood. I was pretty proud of the strategy I came up with on the fly - I used the time on the escalator to fish a bill from my wallet, strode toward the busker at my usual "I've got places to go be fabulous that aren't here" pace, dropped it in his tip bucket, gave him a big smile and accepted his high-five, all without breaking stride - and leaving the inevitable crowd of hawkers and their "Oh, hey, Miss, come back here, can I interest you in..." in the dust. Kinda felt like I should've gotten a power-up for that one. Or at least an Xbox Live achievement.

--A shopping/fashion critical success. It's been much cooler here than we anticipated - the forecast had originally said highs of 85 all week, and instead it's ranged from the mid-fifties to sixties. Given that the only real coat I'd brought was my heavy wool winter one, I thought I'd look for an inexpensive jacket with long sleeves. Unfortunately, it being springtime in the desert, neither Marshall's nor Ross had any kind of outerwear section to speak of. I poked my nose in a couple of clothing retailers, but everything I found was either far too casual for the clothes I'd brought or far too expensive (or, in some cases, both). I'd about given up when I saw a sale rack at a White House | Black Market; lo and behold, the very first thing I pulled off of it was a black bolero blazer that both went perfectly with my outfit (a black maxi skirt and long pink shirt that matched my hair) and classed up the whole look. Even better, it fits a niche in my wardrobe I've been meaning to fill for a while - I'd been looking for something I could wear over a dress when it was just a little chilly out. All of that, *and* it was a whopping $30 on sale. Score.

--Brian being awesome. I've been more than a little grouchy about being bedridden for the past day and a half. (I really wanted to ride the High Roller before we left; I have an irrational fondness for Ferris wheels, and it's the largest one in the world, set over a glittering neon wonderland. Sign me up!) Brian's been an absolute champ, listening to me grouse, fetching me soup and tea, and generally making sure I don't stew in my own misery. He really went above and beyond, though, when I asked him if he could get me a hot toddy from one of the bars downstairs. After striking out at the bar (him, via text: "Turns out you can get anything in Vegas but a hot drink"), he went to the coffee shop and ordered tea with honey, took it to the Chandelier bar to get a shot of whiskey poured in, then (at their suggestion, since apparently they were far too chic to keep such a pedestrian garnish around) hit up another bar to get a lemon wedge. So I got my hot toddy after all, and he only had to trot all over the hotel to get it for me. <3

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