Reading: “The Nest” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

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Leo had been avoiding his wife, Victoria, who was barely speaking to him and his sister Beatrice who wouldn’t stop speaking to him—rambling on and on about getting together for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving. In July. Leo hadn’t spent a holiday with his family in twenty years, since the mid-’90s if he was remembering correctly: he wasn’t in the mood to start now. 

So this is Leo and this will be Leo for the rest of the book, no matter how much he seems to undergo any sort of reformation; people like Leo do not reform, they perform. To an excellence it may even fool themselves at times…

In The Nest we encounter the Plumb family – mother Francie, brothers Leo and Jack, sisters Bea and Melody (in this oder), their late father Leonard Sr., ever-present thanks to his financial legacy called “the nest”, as well as his second cousin George – and a variety of people in their lives, most notably Stephanie, Bea’s former literary agent and Leo’s former lover; Walker, Jack’s husband; Walter and twins Louisa and Nora, Melody’s family…to just name a few. Leo, the oldest brother and the most successful sibling regarding monetary matters, crashed his car while high and drunk getting a handjob from 19-year-old waitress Matilda Rodriguez, whom he picked up at the wedding he attended with his wife and sister. George Plumb, trustee of “the nest” and family attorney, seeks the best possible option for Leo, with his wife Victoria filing for divorce and the New York high society already waiting for a scandal involving Leo Plumb: he pays out Matilda using a huge part of “the nest” and gets Leo into rehab, away from everyone and everything, until the dust settles and no one will even remember who Leo Plumb is. Which seems a good idea – but it’s not, at least not regarding to the rest of the Plumb brood.

Especially Jack and Melody desperately need and count on the money from the “nest.” They would get their share of the trust on Melody’s 40th birthday, which is just months away when we enter the story; now, after George and their mother Francie decided to use the money to get Leo off the hook, their shares shrunk significantly and are not enough to cover the expenses they already made and pay back their debts.
But of course, this book is not only about the money. In the end, it is hardly about money at all, but about a dysfunctional family in a dysfunctional society in a traumatized city full of traumatized people who try to make a living in the best ways possible. And that’s were the magic starts, at least in my opinion. Focusing on the basic themes – moderately rich or well-off white brats going through life more or less aware of a world and people around them; immigrants trying to make it big or at least bigger than their parents in their new home country; people traumatized from war, injuries, 9/11 and its aftermath – we have seen it before (and better) BUT I’m always ready for more if it’s well done (which is totally subjective, of course) and I really like the way Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney tells the stories. There’s a number of characters and a lot of names, so I had my usual problem remembering who is who at times (husbands Walter and Walker, for example), but this happens to me all the time, so it’s nothing special. My ADHD and lack of focus is not an author’s fault, anyway.

Most importantly, at various points throughout the novel, just when you start thinking “hello cliché, no surprise meeting YOU here,” she takes a different direction, not necessarily one that no one would have foreseen BUT one that you would not expect her to go, simply because novels of this category – “light fiction”: funny with some (dark) humor, entertaining, bit of a critical undertone, but overall enjoyable – often choose the easy way out, ‘rewarding’ clichéd expectancies with the appropriate clichés. This rarely happens here, so I really enjoyed spending my time with the Plumbs and the people around them, even though some twists and turns were more foreseeable than others. Besides, some twists seem foreseeable because they are familiar – don’t we all know this ONE SPECIAL friend/family/ex-lover/colleague/acquaintance/asshole in exactly the same situation as Leo, Jack, Bea, …?

So what happens to people spending with money they haven’t gotten yet and, thanks to the overall human incompetence of their oldest brother, will likely never get? They are in a world of shit…so to say. And we are there with them, front row special seats. It’s a composition of different life stories and their various voices, perspectives, and worlds; an enthralling novel and a real pleasure to read. If you want something entertaining, humorous, and diverse to read, check the blurb and if you like it, go for it!

I want to close with a quote I love from the last chapter of the book – SPOILER ALERT – so be warned and continue reading on your own risk, knowing too much too early OR not understanding a thing:

Years later, when the tree had grown and formed the perfect canopy over the rear of the yard, Lila would marry beneath the massive leafy boughs turning red and orange on a blindingly beautiful October afternoon. She would ask Jack to escort her down the leaf-strewn path to her partner. Jack would be good to Lila all her life, showing up whenever she was missing a father. On the day of her wedding when Lila appeared on Jack’s almost-seventy-year-old arm, Stephanie would see Leo at her side and for a debilitating moment would be crushed by the enormity of everything he’d missed.

I love this quote because it is so positive, it is not about the daughter being left behind and missing out, but the father missing all the wonderful stuff that comes with having kids. To me, there is so much love in this small passage, I cried the first time I read it (you may need to read the whole story before even trying to understand my emotional exaggeration…).

 

 

 

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Reading: “The Diary of a Nobody” by George and Weedon Grossmith

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May 9: The Blackfriars Bi-weekly News contains a long list of the guests at the Mansion House Ball. Disappointed to find our names omitted, though Farmerson’s is in plainly enough with M.L.L. after it, whatever that may mean. More than vexed, because we had ordered a dozen copies to send to our friends. Wrote to the Blackfriars Bi-weekly News, pointing out their omission.

May 12: Got a single copy of the Blackfriars Bi-weekly News. There was a short list of seceral names they had omitted; but the stupid people had mentioned our names as “Mr and Mrs C. Porter.” Most annoying! Wrote again and I took particular care to write our name in capital letters, POOTER, so that there should be no possible mistake this time.

May 16: Absolutely disgusted on opening the Blackfriars Bi-weekly News of today, to find the following paragraph: “We have received two letters from Mr and Mrs Charles Pewter, requesting us to announce the important fact that they were at the Mansion House Ball.”

Mr. Charles Pooter leads the ordinary life of the lower middle class in late 19th century England. He is a devout husband, a humble employee, and a respected father and friend – at least he likes to think of himself this way. For some 15 months he keeps his diary, cherishing good experiences, pondering about the bad stuff, and in general wondering how and why the world changes and with it a lot of things he took for granted.

I came across this book when I was actually looking for a birthday present for someone else; since I love literature from the late 19th and early 20th century Britain, I decided that every new day is a sort of birthday and I should not let this opportunity to gift myself with a wonderful piece of literature pass by. Of course there are certain issues like dress codes, vehicles, professions, and vernacular that are hard to grasp nowadays, especially for non-native speakers; however, being “calibrated” by writers like the Bronte sisters, Austen, and Doyle, I found my way around the lesser known expressions and enjoyed an entertaining and funny read.

A cause for concern is the conduct of Pooter’s only son Lupin – actually called William, but opting to only use his second name Lupin –, who does not show the same steadiness regarding his career and way of life as his father, who has been working for the same company for the last 20-something years at the time he is writing his diary. Mr. Charles Pooter does his best to get Lupin back on track, even going so far as getting him a position in the same company he’s working for (this – surprise surprise – does not end well), but we will learn that Lupin follows his own path, skillfully avoiding the average and humdrum life his parents are leading.

It seems evident that Mr. Pooter does not think of himself as a person of great importance, he states so in his diary regarding a possible publication of his writings after his death; however, what he states and what he’s writing about differ to some degrees (as can be seen in the quote above). He may not be important in regard to a certain social rank but this does not mean that there is no order which one has to follow; servants are servants, artists are artists, and respectable men (and women) should know how to act appropriately in every possible situation.

The authors use some references to people and circumstances of their time which can cause initial confusion if one is not that savvy regarding the everyday life of the lower middle classes in Victorian England. But this does not thwart the immense fun of reading this book. If you ever wanted to read a diary that is neither puberty-cliche-ridden, dramatic, and/or your own, than this is a good one to start. First published as a book in 1892, this book has lost nothing of its charm and the likelihood to find traces of oneself in Mr. Charles Pooter’s musings. Enjoy!

 

 

I sense a certain sentiment …

2017-09-09-12-32-52.jpgIn the last few days I booked a flight and my Dad found me a nice hotel in an ideal location between the university and the rest of the city I want to see and discover. Regarding the practical aspects of this little adventure everything’s already taken care of, everything’s fine. Which is wonderful and I’m so grateful that my dad, mom, and my sister, my whole family, is so supportive and helpful, even though I brought that on myself, thinking I could accomplish a conference/city trip to NYC ON MY OWN. Wonderguy too is just great, and he’s also already in the “goin’ to New York” mood (even though he is not coming with me), putting together a Spotify-playlist with songs about NY (from Sinatra’s classic to my favorite, Alicia Keys, he found some really great songs which I will listen to while out and about in NY). Furthermore, he gave me some of the novels he got that are set in New York, one being Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I will take a closer look at this book in another blog post, soon. For now let me just say that certain fears not only Oskar but other protagonists as well talk about resonate deep with(in) my own dark places… 

And it can be dark down there … Sleepless nights filled with horrifying visions triggered by too many true crime podcasts and too much war crime material keep me awake. Have you ever seen “Mayday”? I have. Oh my, yes I have …
At the opposite end of this extreme emotional spectrum lies my longing for peace, being someplace where no one knows me and no one notices me and I will be invisible. And once again being invisible would make me invincible, at least deep down in my heart. “These streets will make you feel random” – I long for that feeling. The same feeling I loved so much when walking through the streets of New York the first time I was there, four years ago. No one cares about you, but not in a bad way. Rather like we are all parts of the surrounding, belonging to this street, this street corner, this certain place, nothin’ to fuzz about, just everyone going their ways. 

I felt safe there, always. True, I wasn’t out and about at 3am in the morning all alone as a woman, and I won’t do so in December. But still, I felt safer in New York than I felt/feel in London, though I love London just as much and I’m more familiar with the city, having been there several times. And I guess that’s the crux of the matter: because I’m less familiar with NYC I feel safer there than in London – knowing a place, being familiar with it means knowing its ‘good’ and its ‘bad’ sides; just reading about the dark sides does not change a thing. I read tons of stuff about war and war crimes and the like but I would never in a million years assume I “know” war – that’s not how it works.  Never. Of course I read about places where one should not go, what one should and should not do, especially as a woman, and that might be one reason why I can’t sleep at times, but this does not change my good memories about the place. Besides, “feeling safe” in my understanding also means being able to stay in my own little thought bubble all the time because I don’t know a single person so no one will disturb my thinking, musing, and wandering. I’m not sure if this corresponds with a general understanding of “feeling safe” but I don’t strive for unifying different views. Live and let live, wander and let wander …

For now, the “goin’ to New York”-theme is huge, listening to the playlist, reading books from/about/set in New York, most of this thanks to and inspired by Wonderguy. That’s because it’s my first trip alone to one of my most favorite cities. It’s a long flight and at average an expensive stay, so it’s not like I can see NYC whenever I want to – this is something special. And even though I feel total overwhelmed and panicky at times (thanks, weird wired brain) I really look forward to “goin’ to New York”.

Besides, let us not forget: I’m there for work as well … one more reason for sleepless nights! 🙂

Chick(s) without kids

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Today, by chance I listened to the episode “Choosing to live child-free” of the What would a feminist do?-podcast (you can listen to it here); I haven’t thought about that issue for a while, but what the three women – host Jessica Valenti and her two guests, authors Meghan Daum and Danielle Henderson – talked about resonated deeply with me: I never wanted kids and therefore, at 30+, I don’t have kids.* [I will continue to talk about the conscious decision to not have children, NOT about involuntary childlessness. For obvious reasons I’m in no position to talk about the latter, nor do I want talk about something I know nothing about. So let’s continue with the less tragic part of this vast subject.]

Whilst all my female and even male friends are breeding like there’s no tomorrow, I would rather drop dead than seriously think about having a baby. Usually, I’m the sole master of my life, my time, and my priorities which is a privilege I treasure very much, even though this means I have less financial security than someone else my age who leads a ‘traditional’ life. But for me, that’s worth it. I can read a book at any given time, I can stay up and work all night, I can withdraw from the world every time I feel the need to be alone and no human being depends on me. This is exactly how I want it.

On an intellectual level, I can understand why people want children: all these myths and stories about having children as a sort of symbolic immortality, having someone to take care of, humans having a biological urge to breed – I get that.

On an emotional level: no way. Why someone would sacrifice all her time, energy, health, well-being, money and sleep for a being that will not be able to take care of itself for at least 10 to 14 years and at times will treat you like shit and still take all your energy, money, and well-being is a mystery to me. There is nothing lovely about that, it rather reminds me of leeches or tapeworms. Also,  there is nothing sweet about babies or toddlers; they smell, cannot communicate properly, and cry a lot. I can take that for a while concerning my friend’s kids – since I don’t want to lose close friends just because they choose a different path, I am indeed in regular contact with human beings who can stand tall beneath my kitchen table –, but not much more because I don’t want to. Most kids are boring and I don’t know what to say to them; like many people (and as stated in an earlier post) I’m really bad at small talk and this gets worse the younger my conversation partner is.

The most important aspect is one I mentioned before: I don’t want anyone to completely depend on me; this is a sort of responsibility I am NOT seeking. Thanks to some of my issues there are days when I’m glad I can take care of my own most basic affairs – I never felt the need to extend this experience to other human beings. As weird as it may sound, at times I really NEED to be alone because otherwise I know I might get a panic attack or fall into one of my dark holes due to the sensory overload of all the people and the world around me. I would never risk my solitude, ever. Especially not for kids.

My mom once said that when she listens to me explaining why I don’t want kids she gets the impression that having a family is like being in solitary confinement in Alcatraz; I told her that I would choose solitary confinement in Alcatraz over children at any given time.

In the end it all comes down to this: individuals deciding what to do with their lives. It’s as easy as that. But because some of those individuals are biologically female it gets out of hand; religion, society, politics, medicine, and other people want to interfere with decisions that are none of their fucking business. At which point the never-ending cycle of explaining and justifying yourself starts again, again, and again.
Still, let’s wish each other just the best, no matter how we decide to live our lives. 

 

*Yeah I know, what a statement! Groundbreaking, never heard before, and totally trivial! But also still relevant, because as a woman who consciously decides to not procreate, therefor NOT blessing the world with another set of urgently needed no-necked monsters, you do know that at certain points in your life – with your family, friends, in-laws, colleagues, acquaintances, and at times even strangers – you will have to discuss your decision again and again. And again. Because breeding is the ONLY thing that gives the existence of a female human being any sense and fulfillment AT ALL. So your refusal to do so is unacceptable and has to be challenged. [And now the rant is over, I promise.]

 

Nevermind me, overcompensating like a pro

 

2017-03-31_10.44.16.jpgWe all have certain mechanisms we like to use in times of need. What exactly  ‘times of need’ are will vary from one to another, but still: you put on your armor, get out your tools, and walk out into this world, doing your best to be brave, strong, and confident.
Or babbling bullshit nonstop. Which is what I usually do.

You see, for people who do not know me I may seem like a) a nice and funny girl who at times talks A LOT; or b) like an arrogant, smug bitch who obviously HATES being around people.
I am neither – and both.
I have huge problems interacting with people, which makes me insecure. Also, I don’t especially like people because I don’t understand most of them. 90% of the time I don’t know how to handle a “casual” social situation; if it seems like I’m all grown-up and mature, knowing what I do, that’s thanks to the fact that I try my best to imitate a certain conduct I think (and hope) is appropriate in certain situations. I like to observe and watch the world around me, and over the course of years I recognized certain behavioral patterns people commonly display in certain situations; now, repeating similar behavioural patterns is something I can work with (contrary to most emotions and erratic behavior in general). What’s more, during the three years I worked as  a bartender, I learned that you definitely do not want to be another nice little insecure chick behind a bar at 2 am, with a seemingly huge male audience waiting for your next joke/laugh/insult/mistake, hoping that you get off lightly, because: nope, fuck it, you won’t. Have the last word, be ballsy, put them in their place, otherwise you may as well get a new job and, depending on where you work and/or live, a new life.
So if you don’t want to deal with other people’s bullshit, drown them in your own. Which makes me the queen of blabla-nonsense-smalltalk in some situations and the absolute goddess of inappropriate, shitty answers and comments in tons of other situations. Because, why not.

So, as a sort of self-defence, when I feel insecure and I don’t know how to act and react appropriately, I talk like there is no tomorrow. Feeling the pressure to keep it nice and casual, I tell my vet that I wasn’t kicked out of an all girls catholic school because I am an atheist, but because I am an asshole, all while she is trying to inject my jittery cat some vitamins; I tell my new boss that while it may seem like I slept my way up to the new position because my boyfriend recommended me for the job, that is – of course – not the case, even though it would be really funny; I tell a heavily pregnant acquaintance of mine that she doesn’t need to worry about feeling fat and ugly like a whale because whales are beautiful creatures too, just like elephants or rhinos. I talk all this nonsense not to offend anyone or because I don’t like the people I talk to, I utter all this bullshit because I have no idea what people I hardly know usually want to talk about so I talk about stuff I know and think about. Only after I say things I realize that whatever I said could be offensive, inappropriate or otherwise pointless.

At times I think I want people to care. Not necessarily about me, but about the fact that one should think before talking. Because if you do, if you truly stick to the stuff you care/think/know about, there would be a lot less talk and a lot more action. The world would be a little less noisy …  And maybe, just maybe, people would pay more attention to WHAT is said and not so much to WHEN it’s their turn to say something again. 

“Never in a million years” or: ‘shame fics’ seem worse than shame fucks (but they are not!)

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From what I’ve written in some of the blog post before, one may assume I am a sophisticated reader thanks to my academic ventures (*cough*) in the field of comparative literature. Well, sometimes I am. Depending on my mood, my ADHD, the lunar phase, and the position of Jupiter to the last third of my cat’s lowest karma zone, some lucky days I am capable of hiding my nice little face behind the covers of something of worth to the academic and/or intellectual community (mind you, I spared us all the name-dropping of distinguished authors, mainly because I couldn’t think of anyone else besides Susan Sontag right now). But those days are numbered, especially when there’s a lot of stuff going on in my life. So when ADHD is ruling my daily life, I resort to reading rather ‘light’ fiction, as one might describe it. Nice little whodunits, for example, preferably from the franchise of Murder, She Wrote or set in the 1920ies and 1930ies in the UK (probably because this reminds me of P.G. Wodehouse’s works). They call these books  ‘cozy mysteries’, as I found out just recently, and that makes me cringe even more…

You see, the most shocking thing about this is, that I never ever in a million years would have thought that I ever start reading whodunits. We had to read The talented Mr. Ripley and another mystery novel by a local author in high school and I hated it. I read The Judge and his Hangman by Friedrich Dürrenmatt and it bored the hell out of me, even though I like Dürrenmatt. I absolutely and truly hated the stuff, I found it boring, uninspired and a waste of time (especially Tom Ripley). I thought I never again would read any sort of crime or mystery novel. Boy was I wrong.

So, with Jessica (whom a lot of us will remember from TV), Daisy, and however the main protagonist (usually female, of course) is named, it’s always nice, warm and chatty. They make you feel all cozy and comfortable and at the same time solve a murder that is in no way gory or grisly. After all, this is not CSI or Criminal Minds, this is Murder, She Wrote and Miss Marple on the loose. Of course, witnessing a murder or finding a body has its effects on our beloved protagonists, but it’s not like you can’t go on with your life just because you regularly happen to stumble upon corpses. Off they go, head first into the adventure of finding whoever disturbed their tranquil and cozy lives, to bring them down and restore peace and order. And right they are, at least in their setting.  Eventually, everything falls into place and in the end, all is fine and someone nobody cared about is dead. But that’s okay because our heroine found the killer and everyone can feel safe again. Usually written in an entertaining and sometimes slightly humorous voice, I do understand why these books are called ‘cozies’.

I don’t know how I came to like them as much. I watched Murder, She Wrote with my gran when I was a child and I really loved that show, so when I found the books I was understandably thrilled to find some additional material on my favorite amateur sleuth – which may explain this newfound literary love of mine a bit. But how it would go from J.B. Fletcher to Daisy Dalrymple, I can’t really explain (P.G. Wodehouse may have something to do with it, as stated before).

But you need not fear the worst, because I already went through my Sophie-Kinsella-romance-novels-phase nearly a decade ago, after a rather painful break-up. So at least this won’t happen (again and yes, I’m sure about that). Though I like it cozy, neat and nice when reading ‘light fiction,’ that does not include unnecessary and annoying romantic entanglements with no real surprise ( yeah, I know, the concept of ‘surprise’ may be a debatable issue in the cozies as well, but hey, nothing’s perfect). Also, I do not intend to bore you any further with this little ’shame fic’ of mine…but it’s as much part of my life as my struggle to keep my work going and organize myself, so it’s also part of this blog, at least for this one time. And now I’ll go sit in a corner and be ashamed of myself…just a little bit, while reading You bet your Life.

 

New Hope or: the road to hell is paved with good intentions …

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Now this entry sounds way more dramatic than it actually is. Fact is, I didn’t work ‘that much’ on my thesis or academic ventures since returning from London last May. For one thing, wonderguy and I moved in together shortly afterwards and there was a lot to organize and do for weeks afterwards; secondly, I did indeed work a lot for several months, though not on my dissertation.

With the beginning of 2017 I decided to make a fresh start. Right now this means starting slowly by catching up on some reading (not that much, but still necessary) and trying to get an overview of all the material I’ve already gathered. After all, I do have about 200 pages of literary analyses (first draft, but at least this part of the dissertation is somehow finished), so for more than a year now I’m dreading to start with the historical background (more because I have to organize my information the proper way) and especially the theoretical background (because I simply cannot decide which theoretical strings to include while at the same time – OF COURSE – excluding others … which could be just as interesting, but probably not that fruitful in context of my work BUT who knows and do I really want to commit myself to just a few theoretical approaches while there are so many other brilliant and great theories and ideas out there? Won’t I risk making the wrong decision, so it’s better to not reach a decision at all because that way I won’t risk excluding brilliant positions and views?).

So it’s obvious I need some new tools, because the fact that I feel deadlocked regarding my thesis could never have anything to do with my messy, insecure brain. No, of course not.

Long story short, since I also start a new job in April and want to go back to writing more on a regular basis in general, I got completely overwhelmed by my own good intentions and imaginary work steps and bought a new laptop, or rather, notebook. It’s more portable and practical than my old MacBook and I can use Linux (heeeeelloooooo freedom of choice!!), so I can put a ton of excellent writing programs on it for free. Because, as I might have stated before, I intend to use this as my new main WORK laptop, taking it with me pretty much everywhere except the bathroom, so to not find any more excuses to NOT work or write.

You know, it all starts with good intentions, and let’s just hope it doesn’t end there as well…

 

[By the way, the picture has nothing to do with the text. Since I could not take a picture of my new notebook, I decided to try something completely different…birds. Flamingos, more precisely.]