Thoughts

Early Morning Anxiety

And then you wake up at 2am
And you run through the quick-list of safety checks
(odd sounds? husband breathing? unidentified presence? lights on?)
To make sure
You’re safe
You think briefly of the late afternoon coffee you had (no caffeine after 12pm)
Before your thoughts shatter & pile up treacherously in your head.

And the sky is smeared with amber streetlights bouncing off the mist
And the rain on the window is irregular
And your neck throbs pain to a fine point in your temple
And the choices you didn’t make yesterday return with imagined consequences
And you remember gruesome stories about roaches living in people because
Your abdomen hurts & you think it must be roaches pickled in caffeine

And you want to start crying
But you don’t want to wake your husband
And you want to fill the glass on the nightstand with water
But you don’t want to wake the cat
And then the red numerals from the alarm clock tell you
The exact minutes of sleep you’ll be missing in the morning
And the blue light from the stereo reminds you that your melatonin levels aren’t right
(Clearly, because you are awake).

You’re never going to sleep again because the air is muggy & the arrhythmic rain interrupts your breathing & the false dawn outside is a reminder that you are lying to yourself about the amount of air you have left to breathe & will there even be a world tomorrow if we keep manufacturing plastics & lights & weapons &

Your hair has joined the harmony of pain between your neck & your head
And when your husband shifts uneasily in his sleep beside you
You try to keep your fear contained by counting backwards from 99 by threes
Because you love the threes table & the magical song created by children’s musicians
And covered by rock bands.
You get stuck at 90 & realize how stupid you are, you can’t even get
To the next number without saying 89, 88, 87 to yourself.

The clock turns to 2:45 am & the very fact almost
Brings you to tears again because of Elliott Smith.

Your neck pops and snaps when you move it
And your husband turns, somehow knows you’re awake,
Says sleepily, Are you ok?  What are you doing?
Writing
, you say.
You should turn a light on, he says and you mumble something
About writing by feel & the dim outline of the page and
Not wanting to wake him.
He complains about being cold despite burning up to the touch,
Like so often happens now at night, right before you go to bed.

You tell him everything is ok & tease him for not being able to keep his inner thermostat straight.
He keeps asking questions, making sure nothing else has happened or intruded here.
The cat is still downstairs and does not need to be fed,
The circling fan still hums,
The pillow is cool,
The rain quiets.
You arrange the covers better around you both &
Everything is ok.
Everything is ok.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: The Bassoon King

The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and IdiocyThe Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy by Rainn Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A memoir by Rainn Wilson about art & personal experience in the vein of Yes Please, Scrappy Little Nobody, or Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living.

It’s 2017 & I’m just now getting around to watching the American adaptation of The Office. But as I’ve made it through the first two seasons, I was reminded of how much I loved the character Arthur in Six Feet Under & oh, yeah, that actor guy wrote a book awhile back. There are some interesting stories here that I really got into, especially when it touched on topics like growing up religious with conflicted parents or being anxious about pursuing an artistic life. There was also lots of cool anecdotes that I wanted to hear more about. (Dude, tell me more about Arthur, I think it’s awesome you love that character too but why?)

There were some curmudgeonly asides that grated, but at its core King is more about Wilson’s interests in the intersection of art & faith & he has plenty of room here to talk about his search for understanding these parallels. Overall, the book walks the line between being quirky & being philosophical & it doesn’t always work. But, I still think it would be cool to compare weird religious upbringing stories with him.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Winter Tide

Winter Tide (The Innsmouth Legacy, #1)Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aphra Marsh is one of the three types of humans; she is a daughter of the water & an Aeonist who believes in the cosmology of the Old Ones. Her people have fared badly in the United States, having had their communities raided & families sent to concentration camps. Now, as WWII ends & the Cold War begins, Aphra is recruited by the US Government to investigate any possibility that the Russians may have learned forbidden Aeonist magic–a weapon even more frightening than the nuclear arsenal both nations have at hand. For Aphra, this means returning to her destroyed hometown & recovering what she can of her past life.

I picked this book up on a whim from my library, mainly because I recognized John Jude Palencar’s cover art. When I also saw that Tide included deep references to Lovecraft, I started reading him at the same time so I wouldn’t be lost. However, I soon found myself much more interested in Aphra’s story. If interested readers have played any of the Fallen London games, they’ll find Emrys’s rearranged America familiar–even enjoyable with examples like a Harvard-like school that is the best place to learn Enochian & other esoteric pursuits. Tide is also driven more by its events & locales than by its characters. On the plus side, this approach keeps readers’ interest engaged. On the negative side, there are numerous characters to keep track of & frequently do not become more than a list of traits (gay, Jewish, patriotic or Black, multi-lingual, cynical).

But, the thing that Emrys does well is emphasize the community-building & empathetic insights that her characters have with one another. The ultimate subversion to Lovecraft here is that this book about social misfits learning to trust & help one another, not retreat, secretly think themselves vastly superior, or wander so far up their own assholes that you wonder why you, the reader, are even paying attention. (& you are probably starting to guess why I put the original Lovecraft on the back burner.) Tide is a good, engaging start to a larger series & I’m hoping the narrative kinks will be worked out as Emrys continues to explore her take on the Lovecraftian world.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Electric Forest

Electric ForestElectric Forest by Tanith Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a near-perfect society, the ugly Magdala bides her time on the edges, waiting for the small luxuries she allows herself & to eventually die unnoticed. That is until the charismatic Claudio enters her life & presents her with more than she could have ever dreamed: beauty &, with it, power. Little does she know the price that she must pay for this fantasy.

If I could, I would give this as a fuck-you-very-much present to the character Roman DeBeers. Because the story certainly comes across as if Tanith Lee wrote it on a fit of pique, where every justification she gave for the story & its structure is driven by “because I say so.” Why is this story about a futuristic society presented as a book? Because it’s a part of an academic presentation & because I say so. Why is the subject avatars & displaced consciousness? Because the idea of changing personas can be used in unhealthy ways & because I say so. Why should readers who like “hard sci-fi” be interested in what is ultimately a story about relationships & self-perception? Because we should not “ignore the nakedness of humanity before the huge-wheeled vehicle of progress”, oh, and BECAUSE I SAY SO.

While the story itself is captivating (it is really more of a traditional noir story reskinned with tech), I found myself drawn to Forest’s meta-ness & how the main character flits in & out of awareness of the greater forces around her. I found myself not moved by Magdala’s struggle to define & redefine herself through her trials but by the pure idealism presented in the epilogue. It is a truly authentic statement about why the arts, literature, & chosen illusion remain important in a society that is constantly looking forward & outstripping its reach with cold purpose. But I’ve also read other stories by Lee & I know that her idealism is never starry-eyed & is always waiting to be grounded by reality. I loved it & will probably reread it soon to pick apart its structure with my new insights.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: The White Album

The White AlbumThe White Album by Joan Didion

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The White Album: a collection of essays by Joan Didion covering a phase of disillusionment she suffered in her thirties with the upheavals of the American 1960s & the paranoia of the 70s as its narrative backdrop.

This book proves to me that sometimes a book or an author just has to come to you at the right time. I had previously read Blue Nights & found myself underwhelmed with much of it. I picked up Album partially because some of it had shown up in an episode of You Must Remember This & partially because I felt ready to give Didion a second chance. As I read further, I found myself deeply empathetic to Didion’s bewilderment of living in a time where violence & chaos seemed part of everyday life, mistrust underscored every relationship & experience, & with Didion’s own confusion about what her role was supposed to be in her developing family & Californian community. Her words were a odd comfort to me, a conflicted thirty-something trying to figure out how to get through the current troubles racking American society in 2017.

Even the essays which would seem dated today, like the development of the first HOV lane or reflections on the lofty ambitions that created the Hoover Dam or the Governor’s Mansion built by the Reagans before they left for the White House, have fascinating connections to today’s crumbling infrastructure, the rogue Park Service’s struggle to maintain public lands, & the hollow display of wealth in American politics. Reading Didion’s subjects also emerged, to me, as a clearer influence on Claire Vaye Watkins & helped me understand some of Gold Fame Citrus better. (Although, there is some very clear class conflict that Didion recognizes but is unable or uninterested in pursing further.)

Because of these personal associations with reading The White Album, I can’t promise that another reader will have the same epiphanic moments as myself. But I do think that the collection is still powerful & will move readers in unexpected ways.

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