Once more with … less feeling, please?

 

IMG_20170809_232328_236.jpgA few days ago I received an invitation to a conference in December. I never in a million years expected anyone to accept my paper because a) it’s not even a conference with a focus on literary studies and b) I’m no fancy academic pursuing her studies not looking left or right, but rather a freestyle academic, pursuing her studies when finding the time next to work, life, and stuff. So not exactly distinguished ivy league university material. Not even ‘attending a conference at a distinguished university I always wanted to see’ material… 

Obviously, no one ‘there’ knows that, which is why they are delighted to include my paper in their conference. And I’m delighted, happy, overwhelmed, and panicky all at once. For days now. And nights, which is worse. I sent a submission to give it a shot, “aim high”, as they say (I don’t know who “they” might be, but hey, “they” for sure never suffered from anxiety disorders and shit like that) and try for universities (and cities) I always wanted to see or love to visit. I have been to New York before and missed my chance to see Columbia, at least from the outside. I may get a second chance now. 

Still, I have to finance this wonderful craziness – New York is pricey, especially in December (I guess). Also, I have to keep my shit together to go there. It’s not that I am too nervous to actually attend a conference and present a paper I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so that’s not the issue here); rather, the real challenge will be organizing the trip, finding a hotel and staying on top of things. I hate organizing because I’m really bad at it. Also, since receiving the invitation, tons of unfounded fears came creeping up from the shitty dark holes I forced them into; they caress my arms, creep up and down my spine, float into my semiconscious mind in the early morning hours, lay their heavy burden on my weary shoulders (yes I know, THAT sounds cheesy…). Depending on the mood I’m in, I can take them one at a time, pushing them back into the holes they came from, or I let them flow, because there’s no use in fighting it, not right now. 

I know, I sound like a whiny kid, and I don’t want to. I simply did not expect this to happen – some provincial freestyle academic presenting a paper at rather well-known university. London has already been great, and this too is a wonderful opportunity and it feels huge. Overwhelming. Unreal. And frightening.  

Greetings to my demons. 

Reading:”American Gods” by Neil Gaiman

 

2017-04-22-23-25-06.jpgYes, I know, there is no need for another sort-of-review of any of Neil Gaiman’s books because there are already thousands of highly qualified writings about his work out there. He is a prolific writer, has a wide, diverse and also devout audience (of which Wonderguy is a proud member) and countless different platform—a lot of them highly professional and influential—have already discussed his numerous works. Still, thoughts are free and unicorns are still a thing, so let me reflect on my personal adventure with Shadow, Wednesday and all the other blokes who are setting the stage for a reading experience that was by far not as smooth as The Graveyard Book (my favourite Neil Gaiman book so far, though I have some more reading to do), but still gave me one of my favorite characters.

First off, I have to confess that I do not “like” and therefore hardly read any fantasy novels. I never read the Harry Potter-series (though I always wanted to read something by J.K. Rowling and A Casual Vacancy made that happen, but that’s another story) or Lord of the Rings  and I was surprised to find out that Philip Pullman was NOT in Independence Day (though: kudos to a fellow atheist, may the bridges we burn light our way…). Apart from an occasional Terry Pratchett I am hardly Neil Gaiman’s target audience, which might be a reason why reading The Graveyard Book, with its comparably small cast and fictional world, was ‘easier’ and much more enjoyable to read than American Gods. Another reason might be that Wonderguy told me to read Norse Mythology  before American Gods to be well-prepared and—truth to be told—this sort of preparation pretty much killed my vibe. I am all for some deeper insight into the backgrounds of stories and novels, but my enthusiasm has its limits and Norse Mythology exhausted these: starting with all the ridiculous names I never had a chance of remembering (for e.g. Gullinbursti the boar, Svadilfari the horse, or inanimate objects like a chain called Dromi)  followed by the mind-boggling number of protagonists, I lost track of the stories most of the time and confused everyone with everything except for the main ‘characters’  Loki, Thor, and Odin. [At the risk of sounding indifferent to fascinating historical knowledge: I’m an atheist which in this context means that religious and mythological symbols and/or characters are interchangeable and mostly irrelevant to me; the Norse mythology may be far more colorful than many of today’s religious symbols, stories and myths, but to me, in the end it is just another ‘metaphysical instrument’ for explaining seemingly inexplicable events and experiences while at the same time using this power of illusory knowledge to control the people seeking help and guidance.]
By the time I actually started reading American Gods I was already exhausted regarding the stories and adventures of Odin a.k.a. Wednesday and his various henchmen thanks to the enlightening ‘research reading.’

But Shadow kept me going. Through all the exhaustive dream sequences and fantastic elements which would otherwise rather discourage me to continue reading a book, I wanted to know what would happen to Shadow. Of course I acknowledge and appreciate the immense research work Neil Gaiman must have accomplished for this novel—no one needs me of all people to state that Gaiman is a master of his craft. Moreover, I loved the stories he tells in small subchapters throughout the novel about how the various gods and mythical creatures came to the US; they feature different voices and perspectives which introduce interesting and captivating insights in how myths and ‘gods’ can be created, transformed, and sometimes even killed off. 
Though the book dragged on at times—at least for someone who is not that much into fantasy—there were of course quite a few surprising twist and turns that made it an entertaining read, not only for the sake of finding out where Shadow’s path would lead him. Gaiman is a great author and knows his way around language, which always makes him a great read, even when delving into a genre one usually avoids (yeah, the “one” is me…).
With Shadow, American Gods features a protagonist that seems familiar, even though I cannot thoroughly explain how and why; he reminds me of Bukowski’s Hank Chinaski, various protagonists in war literature (Joker in Gustav Hasford’s The Short-Timers, Walter James in Larry Brown’s Dirty Work, some of the guys in Tim O’Brien’s The Things they Carried  and Paul Berlin in Going after Cacciato as well as Colby Buzzell’s depiction of himself in the midst of the Iraq War) and probably some others I can’t remember right now. Shadow is the one you want to have with you on a road trip (yeah I know, what a surprising remark considering parts of the book); he is the one you want to ask how to handle the ugly shit—even better, you want him to handle the ugly shit; in short he is the big brother I always wanted. He is THE one invariable in the midst of an ugly and violently changing world—and I’m not referring to the sort of Ragnarok Gaiman describes in  American Gods. Maybe Shadow is in some ways an all-American hero which makes him seem so familiar; maybe it’s something personal in regard to ex-cons in literature, I don’t know. I do know that his character, his story was the reason I finished the book. 

Again, this is in no way a book review; though I work in the field of literary studies, I don’t do reviews here (or elsewhere, for that matter). Literature is art and art has no limits (sort of); different people like different things, that’s all. It’s just another account of my reading experience and reading adventure, this time with Neil Gaiman. It was not the first, it won’t be the last, though it was a difficult one. But it was more than worth my time.

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. 

Reading: Jennifer Egan “The Keep”, “A Visit from the Goon Squad”

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 Something less trivial for a change: Jennifer Egan, whom I just recently discovered thanks to wonderguy, who gave me A Visit from the Goon Squad to read. He thought I might like it because I love short stories and he was right. Though of course, it’s not a collection of short stories in the traditional understanding. I read in one review that Egan herself does not like to categorize this book, even though a lot of readers feel the need to know for sure – have the author tell them, so to say – whether they are reading a ‘novel’ or a ‘short story collection’. Tim O’Brien’s The Things they carried is another one of these works that often resist a clear categorization, yet it tells a completely different story.

I love books like A Visit from the Goon Squad, even though they are challenging for me because I am awful at remembering names and those collections of different life stories that work together to tell a wide-ranging story mainly work with a likewise extensive cast. So while I’m all for diving into the lives and stories of different people I’m also all about forgetting their ties to the story and why I’m reading about them because I can’t remember who is who. Egan lets those various chapters and stories dance with each other, like a well choreographed and fluent harmony of moves and interactions, so as to paint a giant picture of different lives that crossed and at times clashed with each other. With some protagonists one may think “well, he/she definitely got what he/she deserved”, not necessarily in a positive way (I will not give away names, because I don’t want to spoil all the fun; also, I can’t remember the names that well…). Then again, the fate of others may take you by complete surprise, as literature should do [maybe not all and not all the time, but you may get the picture). Long story short: A Visit from the Goon Squad is a harmonious composition of life stories that are anything but harmonious, glorious or even positive (in some cases), arranged in a versatile, diverse, and, in some instances, rather unusual tone and style. With  helluvalot of names…

After finishing A Visit from the Goon Squad I knew I had to read more Egan and I decided to go for The Keep next. What starts out as a seemingly ordinary tale of a guy who had to get away from his life for undisclosed reasons turns out to be a much more complex and polyphonic tale about life and what we make of it. Here too, people meet and get know each other, some for better, some for worse, and a surprising twist brings together two (and even more) storylines that initially don’t seem to have any connection at all. There are some  main features of the protagonists who seem familiar in one way or the other, not only in Egan’s writing; failed lives, losers, who don’t want to acknowledge or have not yet realized that their sole accomplishment in life is that they are still alive and breathing. Even though they hardly recognize it themselves, Egan’s failed lives indeed sound like failures; contrary to Willy Vlautin’s ‘losers’ (of whom I will write in another post), they are not lost, trying to fight their way back, but they DO lose, actively participating in their own downfall, and in some cases, fighting their way back, too. Of course, Egan does not limit her scope of characters to people fighting their own happiness; there’s the guy who overcame a deeply traumatic experience only to relive it once again; the mysterious countess who makes being a member of old German nobility seem like being a member of the A-Team (sans B.A.’s jewellery, of course, yet with much more insanity than Howling Mad Murdock); a protagonist who seems to be the epitome of the euphemism “professional teenager”; and a teacher who is overly committed for some unusual and unforeseen reasons. (Oh my, see, I spoiler! Though only because the cast of The Keep is more manageable than in A Visit from the Goon Squad).

As with a lot of other authors, I appreciate Egan’s voice, I can ‘hear her talk to me’ – or worse, I can ‘feel’ her voice -, to sound a bit corny. Not every voice is equally intense and captivating, since we all have different interests and characters. Sure enough, this is no special feature of the author, but rather just an ordinary question of personal likes and interests. So go, read Egan. Delve into stories that are intertwined and autonomous at the same time, life paths that run alongside each other, meet, divert, cross, and sometimes even clash, only to part and sometimes even reunite again.

Something fresh…

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So the new laptop finally arrived!! UPS and I had some initial problems of finding some time for each other since our doorbell wasn’t working as it should (probably for the last months – which explains why we never get any parcels, but always have to fetch them at the post office), but in the end, THANKFULLY, everything worked out just fine. I’m always a bit nervous when waiting for a valuable item, especially with parcel services like UPS. It’s often hard to get a hold of the individual driver because it’s an international company, so they only offer ‘international’ customer service. ‘International’ in this context rarely means ‘professional’ but rather ‘hard to get.’ So I was really worried that something might go wrong and all my new hopes and good intentions would be crushed before I even get a chance to actively crush them myself with my distinguished lack of energy and drive.

So now I’m already writing on my new notebook, to get a feel for it (as stupid as it may sound, every keyboard is different), with all the fancy Linux stuff I don’t know shit about. I’m still in the process of getting used to Linux and the system with its various components, which is all new to me – though it’s not that difficult, still, in the beginning one is always careful, as if the device may suddenly burst into flames and cease to exist just because you entered one wrong command….who knows, there’s a first time for a lot of different things. I know I may need at least half a day to get acquainted with Scrivener, which sounds ideal to work with for my dissertation and other writing projects that need some organization. Furthermore, there’s still this huge variety of stuff that helps you (and your system) to work better, but I will need some more time to discover all of that. As you see, ‘bird person’ (my notebook’s name, because everything needs a name) and I are still getting to know each other…

I may have a new assignment which will keep me busy until the deadline in June – I will find out in the days to come if it is still on – so this is the perfect test for me working with ‘bird person’ AND with Scrivener. O course, it is also the perfect opportunity to get into the optimal regular-writing-mood I will need if I really want to give my thesis project another shot, like, finish it. I’m usually all about professional and perfectionist when it comes to paid writing/work assignments that come with a deadline. Not surprisingly, I’m also all about the perfect procrastination mode in regard to work that has no deadline in sight. So my good intentions may get some outside support from tech stuff, at least I hope so.

(FYI: You may find references to Rick and Morty and P.G. Wodehouse in this little text of mine. They are easy to detect and deliberate, so to make the repetitive elaboration regarding my incapacity to stick to my idealistic academic goals a bit more diverse and enjoyable.)

“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.