Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman—7/10

"Like Cushman's 1995 Newbery Honor Book, Catherine, Called Birdy, this novel is about a strong young woman in medieval England who finds her own way home. . . . From the first page, (readers) are caught by the spirit of the homeless, nameless waif . . . (who) gets the village midwife to take her in, names herself Alyce, and learns something about delivering babies. When she fails, she runs away, but she picks herself up and returns to work and independence."

So the thing about this book is that I liked it, but only a certain amount. I wasn't caught by the protagonist from the first page, and I don't think this book is nearly as good as Catherine, Called Birdy. Alyce's story is really fantastic, and I love all the things that happen. It is a great book, and I enjoyed it—especially the middle chunk, which I listened to on audio—but I never felt hooked. Luckily it's such a short book that that was never an issue, and I would still definitely recommend it. It's a lovely story of learning strength, overcoming fear, and finding your place in the world. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

An Uncharacteristically Good Day

Mike was off early yesterday. We drove to Salt Lake to pick up my paycheck, and then we deposited it, which meant we had money again for the first time in like three weeks; that was really the beginning of everything feeling great.

There was a get-together in Salt Lake we were supposed to be going to, but it was kind of an anxiety day for both of us and that didn't end up working out. So instead we decided to see the new Batman movie at the Gateway mall theater.. Both our tickets, together, were only $12.50 (which is exactly $2 more than what you pay for one evening ticket at the theater we lived nearest in Texas). We were intrigued by the theater's seating system—when you buy your tickets, you choose specific seats—and pleased to find that our movie was almost empty. All the employees were absurdly friendly, we got delicious popcorn, and the movie was really good.

We went to Olive Garden in Sandy on the way home, and though our food wasn't anything special (we both ordered something we've had often), it was just all really delicious, and we had a lot of fun. We'd been listening to the last disc of Harry Potter 7 in the car, and having just seen that movie, we had a lot to talk about. And then there were fireworks along I-15 as we drove home, which was fun to watch (because they weren't happening deafeningly close).

I know none of this sounds very exciting, and on paper, it isn't. But it was just one of those afternoons when we felt really happy and were having fun just being together. It also may have helped that it's been about three weeks since we had more than $10 in our bank account at one time, and it was so nice to get out and actually be able to spend a little bit of money. We'd also never been to the theater at Gateway, and had never been to that particular part of Sandy—as we've been stuck in Orem doing very little for the last month, that was a nice touch.

Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale—10/10

I've read the Harry Potter series several times, but this was my first time listening to the audiobooks, and I'm so glad I finally heard them that way. Audiobooks will never replace physical books for me, but I've discovered a particular love for them in the last few years—and when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Because now I can read even when I can't read. But for me, the Harry Potter series is kind of a paradox in this format. The quality is brilliant; Jim Dale is the best narrator I've ever heard, and these audiobooks are especially well done. They're more fun to listen to than the movies are to watch. My problem is just the way I get sucked in every time I read this series. 

Each time I start over with book one, it takes only a few chapters before I essentially drop everything else that can be dropped and start spending every possible minute reading until I finish book seven. And with the audiobooks I couldn't really do that. It's hard for me to find opportunities to listen, first of all, because I can't just sit and listen without having something to do. Driving is perfect, but I almost never get to drive by myself anymore; housework is also good, but there's only so much to be done. In the end, I have to put my iPod down much more frequently than I would let myself put the physical book down. And there's also the fact that I can read faster than I can listen, so even when I do get a solid stretch of time with the book, it takes longer than it would if I were reading. I really did love listening to these recordings, but I have to admit, this slowing-down of the process was actually pretty hard for me—it took me three months to finish what usually takes me only a couple weeks. These are books I want to devour, but this time I was forced to savor.

It baffles me that there are still people who refuse to read these books. My dad is like that (and he won't see the movies, either). He likes to go on about how predictable the plot is—"and Harry saved the day"—even though that is (a) false and (b) absurd coming from the guy who would watch the Bourne movies every single weekend of the rest of his life if my mother would allow it. It's kind of a joke in the family, and really I don't care, because hey, it's not my loss. But I definitely don't get it, because honestly, these books are a pretty important part of my life. (I refuse to feel silly about saying that, in case you're wondering, because reading is one of the most important things in my life, and Harry Potter occupies a prominent place in that realm. It's basically just math.)

But I digress. Here's the other thing about listening to the audiobooks: I cried a lot more. (In case any of you refuse-to-read-ers are reconsidering at this point, you should know that there are massive, series-destroying spoilers ahead.) I still always cry when I read these books, but after the first time through each of them, the tears have been a lot fewer. Listening to the books, though—hearing human voices for each of the characters—it was like the first time all over again. And the thing about me is that I don't just cry when sad things happen; I cry when characters are feeling sad, or emotional or afraid or whatever else. I cried for Hedwig, Moody, Dobby, Fred, Lupin, and Tonks. I cried when they were at the Burrow, waiting for all the Harry decoys to come back, and worrying that they wouldn't. I cried when Harry thought Hagrid was dead, and when Hagrid thought Harry was. I cried when McGonagall came out of the castle and saw Harry in Hagrid's arms. I cried when Ron left, and when he came back. I cried when Hermione talked about wiping her parents' memories. I sobbed through Snape's memories, when Harry used the resurrection stone, and when Ron had to drag Percy away from Fred's body. I was crying all over the place; it was a little ridiculous. And there were times when I knew this meme was a little bit too accurate.

Isn't it funny how, no matter how many times you've read the series, you still feel that emptiness when you finish it again? For a few crazy seconds, I usually consider starting over again immediately—or at least just skipping to a place in the middle of the book and going from there. I definitely considered it tonight, because I was in the middle of a walk when it ended. Instead I thought about what I was going to write in this blog post, and hurried home to start it. It will probably be another couple years now before I jump into the series again—although I'm sure in that time I'll watch all the movies at least once or twice, just for fun. I feel really great about having finally listened to the audiobooks and adding this new dimension to the Harry Potter-shaped space in my life.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

So... Running.

I sort of run now. I started at the beginning of July, although actually most of that time I've been walking instead of running (I figured I should work up to it, since—even in the many periods of my life where I have exercised regularly—I've never run).

I'm actually really enjoying it. On my more leisurely days, I take my phone with me and snap pictures of the lovely Orem neighborhoods I walk through. On the more intense days, I go to the track and listen to whatever Harry Potter audiobook I'm on at the moment (yes, I listen to audiobooks when I exercise. I do have an exercise playlist, but ever since I started the HP books I just haven't wanted to miss a chance to listen). And when my anxiety is acting up and I start feeling agitated, I've actually found that I want to go walk/run for a while.

But here's my problem. I can't do physical activity in the sun anymore. I've tried, and it's taken me several killer headaches to figure out that it doesn't work. But I don't have anywhere to walk indoors, either. For the most part this isn't a problem, because I just go around 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening and the sun has gone down enough that it's fine. But at those time when I feel like I need to expend some energy—like right now—there isn't anywhere for me to go. 

It's kind of a shame, really. I have never in my life enjoyed exercise like I do now; even when I have kept up regular routines for several weeks at a time, the best I could say was that I felt good for being consistent. I certainly didn't like it. And now that I do... I have the strange experience of wanting to exercise and not being able to. It's actually kind of a nice experience, but I wish it wasn't necessary.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Life is Weird Right Now

I haven't had much to write on my blog lately, for several reasons. One is that I've been listening to the Harry Potter series on audio, and that's dominated my reading for the past few weeks (which means no book reviews to publish). Another is that there isn't a lot that's good to say about life lately.

And another is that I'm getting my brain exercise elsewhere. I've always used my blog to talk about my thoughts, and sometimes that's been hard for me because what I really want is discussion, and that never seems to work out here as well as it could. When I write a blog post and link to it on Facebook, I always get significantly more comments on Facebook than on the actual post. When I'm interested in a news story, I know I need to post it on Facebook instead of my blog if I want people to talk about it. And I'm a member of several Facebook discussion groups now, where I spend a lot of time. We talk about things like social issues, history, books, religion, and personal journeys. And it leaves me with very little to bring back to my blog (largely because... there's no real point in doing so). 

I suppose if I'm being honest I should say there's also the fact that people haven't always responded very well to my thoughts and feelings about certain topics, and that's not as much of an issue in the Facebook groups. Sometimes it's just easier to go there where I know my feelings won't be offending people. It's a cop-out, I know, but there it is.

So. I guess the moral of the story is that I don't know right now what the future of my blog is going to be. I don't think this is what I intended to write about when I started this post, which is kind of funny. And I'll be disappointed if it turns out that there isn't much point to my blog anymore, because I really do love it, and I hate using Facebook so much. I wish it weren't the platform for everything. But that just seems to be where people are right now, and I don't know what I can do about that.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Feminism Is Not Just a Women's Issue

I just read this article on The Nation, and it makes a point that's really important (in response to that popular article in The Atlantic on why women still can't have it all).

"What’s irked me is the continued assumption that this is a women’s issue. The problem isn’t that women are trying to do too much, it’s that men aren’t doing nearly enough."

I think men have a much bigger place in the feminist movement than anyone—including, sometimes, feminists—tends to give them credit for. This isn't just a women's issue, and we all need to stop thinking of it as one. Patriarchy isn't just men, after all; it's a system, and it hurts men in a lot of ways too. Yes, women need to be the leaders of our own liberation movement. But feminism isn't just about women, it's about equality. That's why so many feminists are also strong advocates for LGBT rights, and why we are quick to correct people who confuse feminism with man-hating—because feminism is about all humans being treated equally. 

Feminism opposes patriarchy, but that does not translate into women opposing men. Feminism isn't just women, and patriarchy isn't just men. Feminism is a belief that all human beings are equal (end of story). Patriarchy is a system in which men hold all the power, women are expected to do nothing but bear children and please men, and no one has access to the full range of human emotions and experiences. Men can be feminists. Many men already are. In fact, I know men who are feminists when their wives aren't.  

Men can take on feminist issues, not because they're trying to take over the fight, but because they see injustice and are not okay with it—and because a lot of those injustices are against men themselves. Men can fight against wage inequality, because it's wrong to decide how much to pay a person based on their gender. They can fight for family-friendly work policies, because they have families too. They can be just as concerned about parental leave as women are, because they have a right to be considered parents and not just wage-earners and babysitters. (Did you know the Census Bureau considers fathers a "child care arrangement"? Yep, just like day care.) Men can take misogyny seriously and speak out against it when they see it happen, not because they need to protect women, but because it's wrong. And they don't need to do any of this on our behalf, because they have just as much right—and responsibility—as anyone to fight for equality.

There's only so much women can change on our own, because we need more than just the legislation. There are certain beliefs and attitudes that accompany patriarchy, and as long as those attitudes persist, we won't have achieved equality. Laws are interpreted by people, and people choose how to implement them. Many issues won't be affected by legislation, anyway: not the issue of women doing most of the housework even when they work full time, or the issue of parents and teachers encouraging their boys to do more than their girls (and the reverse issue of people freaking out if boys don't like "boy" stuff); not the issue of rape culture, or the issue of sexual harassment. These are systematic, cultural problems, and they can't be solved by women alone. We need men to participate. We need everyone to participate. Because inequality and systematic oppression are everyone's problem to fix.

Monday, July 2, 2012

I'm Terrible at Being a Grownup.

I am really unsuccessful at life so far. I'm 27, and I was thinking last night about what I've done in my twenties that's meaningful on a lifetime scale (the answer is exactly two things, one of which is getting married, and it sort of looks like that's going to be it for this decade). We're trying to get settled right now, which is making me very aware of all the things that just won't go right.

The thing is, I am really good at making plans. A lot of people have things like careers that guide them when they're moving—you know, they go where the job takes them—and considering the fact that Mike and I have no such guidance in deciding where to live, and that our families are, unhelpfully, firmly rooted in two different states (neither of which I want to inhabit), I feel like I do a really good job of assembling some kind of life plans out of thin air.

But the other thing is that my plans are usually destroyed by circumstances outside my control, and that's really frustrating. I'd been feeling really good about our move for the last few months, because we started saving a long time ago and were supposed to be arriving in Utah with a good amount of money set aside so we'd have time to look for jobs without pressure. That didn't happen. Instead, we arrived in Utah with about $2 in our account and no car. The no car situation has made looking for jobs in Salt Lake a lot harder, because while there is a great public transport system around here, (1) we don't know how to use it yet and their website is not very helpful,(2) the trip from Orem to Salt Lake is over an hour, and (3) most importantly, it's pretty expensive to ride without a monthly pass. For both of us to go to Salt Lake and back once, it would cost—I think—$18.80. We can't afford that.

Besides which we're no longer sure we should even be looking for jobs in Salt Lake, since it looks like it'll be a while longer before we can move there and the commute Mike's been doing is not helpful (nor is it ideal for his parents). I've been trying to look for temporary jobs in Provo and Orem, so that I won't have to feel bad about quitting if we're able to move within the next few months, but most of the temporary jobs specify six months anyway, so I'm ending up just looking for anything I can find. (I saw a listing this morning for a job I actually really wanted, but the application deadline was today at noon and when I called to say I was coming and make sure they hadn't stopped early, I was told not to bother because they'd already pretty much made up their minds. That was really disappointing, because it was the only job I'd seen that I was actually excited about.)

Essentially, I am frustrated that life does not cooperate with me more. I work really hard to try and figure things out, and man, does it suck when all my hard work and constant medium-level stress ends up going to waste.