Posts Tagged what should i do with my life

A book round-up

Life in Motion

Anyone who knows me has to be aware that I read voraciously. My partner sometimes calls me ‘Wormie,’ since I’m such a bookworm. So, while it is always my intention to review the books I read, sometimes I’m plowing through them so rapidly that I just can’t take the time. I thought, instead of lengthy reviews, that I’d list some of the books I’ve read in the past few months, with a few comments about each of them, and why I picked them up.

I was wandering around our local Barnes and Noble and found myself drawn to the three for the price of two table. Well, okay, I’m always drawn to that table, but I don’t usually buy anything because I can never find three I want to read. But this time, I did. I’m already through the two memoirs:

I picked up Life in Motion: an unlikely Ballerina, by Misty Copeland, largely because my niece, Audrey Rachelle Stanley, started out in ballet. Audrey danced for two years with the Nashville Ballet’s second company, before switching to Contemporary Dance. She now lives in New York City, and dances with Teresa Fellion, among others. I was curious about the ballet world, and about the way a black woman has made it in what I know to be an extremely competitive and demanding profession. This inspiring book is partly about that, and partly about Ms. Copeland’s crazy childhood, and the wonderful people who inspired and helped her along the way. I could hardly put it down. Certainly, the chapters where she talks about dancing on injuries because she was afraid she’d lose her position confirmed my suspicions about the ballet world, but much of the book says that if we have enough passion, and we work hard enough (and maybe have that extra something special?), we can achieve greatness.

I also picked up What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Way Dogs Perceive the World, by Cat Warren. I enjoyed this book, even though it wasn’t quite what I expected: I thought there’d be a lot more science about how dogs and humans smells things, but it’s more about the training of dogs to become cadaver dogs, and testing of other species for that purpose. There’s enough of her personal story with her dog Solo to keep the story moving, and I learned some things about the use of dog-generated evidence, but my main take-away was that I shouldn’t feel bad that my two corgis don’t listen to my commands when they feel that they know better than I do.

I also picked up Freud’s Mistress, by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman, off the sale table while I was at B&N. This book is based upon what is known about Minna Bernays, the sister of Freud’s wife, and Freud’s relationship. I imagine that this book would be very  interesting, since Freud himself has been so influential, and I have enjoyed novels about Hemingway’s wife and Frank Lloyd Wright’s mistress. Also, Freud’s Mistress has received a fair amount of press. I’m sure that the authors did their research well, as they include many details about life in that time. For my taste, they are too caught up in the details, and the guilt that Minna feels, and the prose is stiff. Freud comes across as a horrible man, and I wonder why Minna would find him attractive. Perhaps he was awful, but it seems over-done. I plan to finish the book, but I keep picking up others instead. I think a lot more could have been done with this material to bring it to life.

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taking on too much

Are you someone who tries to do too much? I sure am. Lately I feel like one of those clowns who is trying to juggle so many objects that she can’t keep track of all of them. The balls, pins, and whatever other objects fly out into the audience, where they are forever lost.

I should know better, right? Years ago, I worked with a life coach who had me put an elephant on my desk. I forget exactly why an elephant, but it was supposed to remind me to do less. The elephant is still on my desk – 20150503_213823but to be honest I hardly ever look at it. It’s lovely and even has colorful pinwheels in it, but I ignore it! I just keep taking on as much, no more, than I can handle.

A discussion on facebook about signing up for an online writing course sparked this post and made me wonder if there’s a cure. More than likely, I won’t have time to finish this course. I’m already behind and we’re just finishing the first week. I have excuses, but I’m also realizing that I didn’t need to add anything else to my to-do list. It looked so delicious and it’s FREE! How can I resist, except that I have deadlines coming up quickly, and I’m trying to write and edit stories for an anthology of my own short stories, help market Mosaic, get in shape for the summer bicycling season, and then there’s the day job. Oh, and I’m trying to design a WEB site for my author stuff, and well, I think I’m seriously becoming embarrassed, so I’ll stop listing the huge amount of things I’ve taken on, all of which were derailed this weekend by social commitments.

The only defense I have is that every single one of these things is important to me. Very important. Life-giving and exciting and interesting and many other wonderful adjectives. I want to do it all. And I would, if only there were twice as many hours in each day. Unfortunately, something will fall through the cracks, and it’s up to me to decide what that will be. In my opinion, though, prioritize is a dirty word.

What about you? Leave me a comment, and I promise to respond.

 

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Bicycling with the Bend Bellas

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI tried something new yesterday – a local women’s cycling group. I’ve bicycled for years, from the time my father taught me how when I was six (and oh how I remember that first lesson. No training wheels in our family meant Dad had to hold up the bike while I wobbled around and figured out how to push the pedals and keep my balance). At times, I’ve been pretty serious about it. I’ve even done two centuries, although I’ve never raced. But I’ve usually ridden by myself, or with one or two other people.

Still, there’s a great group of women cyclists here in town, so I finally gave it a shot. There were ten of us of varying abilities on a short, rather level ride. We stopped frequently to let the slower ones catch up, which is a really sweet feature of this organization. No one gets left behind. If you have a flat, someone helps you out. What a concept!  We had one pretty inexperienced rider, so the rest of us spent quite a bit of time waiting for her (she made the whole ride and was smiling at the end!). While we waited, we chatted about our favorite rides and how often we go out, getting to know each other a little. Instead of being competitive, it was low-key and fun.

Putting together Mosaic was a bit like that: sharing common interests with a group of people, and making sure no one got left behind, while we all learned something. Plus we were smiling at the end (this time because it’s such a well-written book).

But that isn’t really what I want to talk about in this post. I was thinking a little bit tonight about who I write for, as in who do I have in mind when I write. I went to a talk by Ruth Ozeki this afternoon, and she said that she writes for herself. That doesn’t sound very collaborative, does it? Yet it works for her, as she’s won numerous awards for her novels, and the auditorium was packed with people who seemed to have all read her most recent book (it was the Bend Community Read this spring). And if I think about who I write for, it’s people like myself. People like the women I rode with today. How can I do otherwise?

I admire someone who can write a book for children, or for teenagers, when they’re no longer one themselves. But I’m not like that. I write what I want to read. I write to explore issues which concern me. Things such as what it means to be a woman with a career, how to find a calling in life, how to move past childhood wounds and find self-worth, or deal with a difficult relationship. Sometimes I explore larger issues such as poverty, cruelty, or environmental destruction. And occasionally, I just have some fun and play around with the world of magic and adventure while throwing in a dash of these other issues. Ruth Ozeki did say something interesting: she strives for a balance between tragedy and comedy. I like that concept. I hope I manage to do that.

How about you? When have you collaborated on something, or made sure no one got left behind? How did that work out? If you write, do you write for people like yourself, or for a different group? Please leave a comment and let me know.

And don’t forget that Mosaic, A Compilation of Creative Writing is still free. Click here to get your copy. And don’t forget to leave us an honest review!

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Computer craziness

What do you do when a computer crashes? Do you call the local computer guy, replace the machine, or start trying to fix the problem yourself?

This time around, I went with the latter. The crash was my fault, so I suppose that I felt guilty and responsible. I had done something almost embarrassingly stupid (so stupid that I’m not going to tell you what it was because, well, would you tell me if you wanted to download a free episode of a TV show and the site insisted you click on a suspicious link before it would let you and you knew it was a bad idea but you did it anyway and seconds later you knew for sure that it was a mistake but by then it was too late?)  which led to a virus or some other dastardly creature on our hard drive. Before we knew it, the windows system was corrupt and the machine wouldn’t load the operating system. I know, I know, for most of us this is already speaking a foreign language, so I apologize in advance. But this explains why I haven’t gotten much of anything else done for the past several weeks.cpu fan - good place to blow dust out

Anyway, after the machine wouldn’t do what it’s supposed to do and bring up that lovely blue screen, like an idiot – or rather a fool who has no idea what might happen – I dove in. As the laptop started up, it displayed an error message. I looked it up. Oh, I needed a certain file, did I? And I could create it on another computer, use that computer’s start-up disk (it actually came with one, unlike the messed up laptop). That file didn’t do the trick, though, so I started reading more stuff on the internet. I spent hours, trying one thing after another with no luck.

And then, hurrah! A friend said that her boyfriend, who lives halfway across the US from me, could help. I struck gold. Kind of. He sure knows his way around a computer, being an IT guy and having repaired many a sick machine like ours. He came up with a strategy. I don’t even want to tell you what he’s helped me go through, all from a distance. I made a few mistakes, he misunderstood a few things I said, I ordered a hard drive which turned out to be bad (I am returning it), and on and on.

Oh, yes, along the way I managed to disconnect the laptop’s power switch. It took two or three days just to figure out why the machine wouldn’t power up and then to come up with a fix for THAT mistake. I was so totally tempted to use the machine as a frisbee, but it’s a little too hard for my dogs to catch. So maybe it could be of some use out in the garden, perhaps holding the gate closed, or as something to kneel on while I weed?

We’re not done yet, but we’re closer. Close your eyes, because I’m going to speak geek for the rest of the paragraph. I figure that I’ve earned the right. I’ve moved all the photos and text files of note over to my Mac, and we’ve reinstalled not only an operating system which Steve put on an IOS file in dropbox for me to retrieve, but also all of the drivers for all of the little devices which the computer needs to run and they work. Every single one. Eek! Steve pretty well figured it all out from photos I took of the insides of the computer.

Okay, done with geek. You can read now. Steve deserves to receive a pile of gold, say about $10,000 worth, for all of the time he’s patiently spent leading me through the process. I wish it was finished, but I probably have to spend another day on the booger. But, as he says, we’re keeping it out of the landfill and saving money, if not time.

I’ve learned enough I could probably fix your computer, but please don’t ask.

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Book review: Life After Life

life after lifeKate Atkinson’s 2013 novel Life After Life has received much praise. It sits near the top of several lists of the best books of the year (#6 in Goodreads). The basic idea is this:

Ursula Todd is born over and over again, in England, on a snowy night in 1910. She then dies over and over again, each time in a different manner. She gradually grows more and more aware of her previous lifetimes. In her first few repetitions, she merely feels fear when the event which caused her death is imminent and manages to avoid it, but eventually she begins to have actual memories of her lifetimes and learn more consciously from them. This causes her life to take a different path, and a different death to overtake her. With each life, Atkinson fills in some of the details of Ursula’s family and the world she inhabits. Thus Ursula gets the ultimate do-over, until she creates an opportunity to kill Hitler, which is actually where the novel opens.

This novel reminded me a lot of the movie Groundhog Day. Like that movie, it attempts to satisfy the ultimate fantasy, the idea that we could have an opportunity to go back and redo our lives, armed with what we now know. If only, we think to ourselves, I hadn’t said that, hurt that person’s feelings, or taken that walk, then my life would be wonderful. If only I’d never met so and so. If only I’d finished that college degree. Well, you get the picture.

Since this novel takes place in England and, in at least some of her lives, Ursula moves to London, where she spends World War II, we are treated to a slowly filled-in portrait of both the English countryside and then London itself as the Germans bomb it to pieces. We learn about the awful older brother, the wonderful sister and younger brother, and the eccentric Aunt. At the same time, we explore philosophical questions, such as: are we all repeating our lives over and over (apparently yes, since it isn’t only Ursula who does things differently each time around, although the others seem unaware that they are repeating). It also looks a little at women’s role in the workplace and home in upper class England at the time.

Each life begins with Ursula’s birth on a snowy day, and each time something a little different either occurs or gets explored, to keep the event interesting and provide the perspectives of the mother, doctor, housekeeper, etc. Luckily for the reader, that’s about the only thing which repeats (unlike in Groundhog Day), because Atkinson assumes we can recall the events she leaves out. It would be tedious otherwise. The fun comes in reading about the device which allows Ursula to avoid the death event of her previous life.

This is a wonderful concept. It’s clever, and the number of different ways Ursula dies is great (none of the deaths are made to seem particularly gruesome or painful). I found myself reading onward just to find out how she would die next. I liked it enough to give it three and a half stars, but I really wondered why it’s gotten as much praise as it has. It often drags. Ursula is not a particularly interesting person, nor does she come across as very engaged in her life. Atkinson’s prose floats about the drama, reading like a ledger of actions, dispassionate for the most part. Turning to a random page, I read:

The office was a tedious, rather irritable place these days – fatigue, probably, due to the cold and the lack of good, nourishing food. And the work was tedious, an endless compilation and permutation of statistics to file away in the archives somewhere—or to be pored over by the historians of the future, she supposed. They were still “clearing up and putting their house in order,” as Maurice would have it, as if the casualties of war were clutter to be put away and forgotten.

There’s more, but I got bored just typing this. It isn’t all this dull, of course. My real problem with the novel is the way the very first scene with Hitler comes about. In most of the novel, Ursula goes through similar lives each time, tweaking events to arrive at different ends. However, she has only three lives in which she goes to Europe, and only one in which meeting Hitler is described (a life in which she doesn’t kill him). Since she recalls each of her lives only a little, how did she recall enough of that one to know how to get close enough to kill him? Why doesn’t she live that life over and over again, not quite succeeding until the final one? That would seem more consistent with the whole re-lived life concept as carried out in the rest of the book. Of course, Hitler gets do-overs too, so she would have to kill him over and over again, in life after life, I suppose, though we are spared this detail.

Someone should do a sequel, portraying what happened in Europe after Hitler’s murder. With no Hitler, would there be no World War II, no concentration camps, and no nuclear weapons? Or would it all have occurred anyway? Anyone up to the task?

related posts:

NYTimes: Subject to Revision

Goodreads reviews

Not the Booker prize 2013: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (oh, and read the comments, which pretty well agree with me)

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Painting Class

For the past month – all of November – I participated in NaNoWriMo, a challenge to write 50,000 words in a single month. This challenge pretty well took up all of my time and energy, and now that it’s finished, and I have a very rough first draft of a novel, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with myself. I could have continued writing, but I really did need a break, not only to put paperwork and house in order, but to refill my creative well. I read a couple of novels, watched a couple of movies, and participated in a writing group via Skype, to which I provided the flash fiction piece below.  I noticed that one of my writing buddies, Alex Brantham, posted a nice little flash piece right after he finished NaNoWriMo, too. He’s a British guy, with a droll sense of humor. You can read his story here.

Now, here’s Painting Class. Please tell me what you think of it.

Painting Class

George was certain his wife was having an affair. She had a certain glow about her that spoke of only one thing: sex. And it certainly wasn’t sex with him. After fourteen years, their romantic life consisted of a quick kiss in the morning, another right before bed, and dutiful intercourse the last Friday of every month.

She’d been radiant ever since she’d taken that painting workshop in the summer, or had it been writing? She was always going to something; he couldn’t keep track. He was pretty sure she took the writing class last fall, then quilt-making during the spring, and finally painting, because she’d had paint in her hair half the summer. She must have hooked up with another painting student, but he hadn’t asked her about it, of course he hadn’t. What if she told the truth? Would that end their marriage?

Ελληνικά: Δελτία για αποδελτίωση και δελτιοθήκη

Ελληνικά: Δελτία για αποδελτίωση και δελτιοθήκη (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And what if she lied? He didn’t want to see the quick shift of her eyes to the right the way they always did when she tried to pretend she hadn’t cheated on her diet, or spent too much money on shoes.

Instead, he snuck a look at her computer any time she left it on. He figured out her password and read her email. He peeked at her cell phone. Once he even called a number that appeared frequently, but it turned out to be her friend Caroline. He tried to listen in on her conversations, sure Caroline was acting as go-between, but never heard anything suspicious.

All of his spying turned up nothing. He’d never realized what a master she was at deceit.

Finally, he could stand it no more. He took a vacation day without telling her. He pretended to head to work, but instead went to the coffee shop. He waited, watching the first snow of the winter dust the trees, until he knew she had left for her job at the bank, then returned home and began searching the house. If she was cheating on him, he would surely find some trace of it.

He rifled her stack of purses and went through her pockets, but he didn’t find anything suspicious. As far as he could tell, she hadn’t bought any new clothes in a long time, at least none that he could find. Perhaps she kept them all at her lover’s home. He turned green at the thought of her in a sexy negligee, a gift from this unknown painter.

One more pass through the house, he thought, and he would give up. He started in their bedroom, checked the kitchen, and went into the room she used for all of her projects. Her easel sat in the corner, covered with dust. There was nothing in the sewing box, or hidden under her stash of old buttons. Then he turned and saw it: a shoe box tucked far back on the top of the bookshelf. He brought the step-stool, and carefully lifted it down.

Inside, packed tightly together, was a stack of index cards and miscellaneous bits of paper. His feeling of triumph was accompanied by a sinking sensation in his stomach. He hauled his find to his office.

For over an hour, he sat at his desk, unsure whether or not he dared read the love notes. But he had to, didn’t he? He owed himself that much. Finally, he poured himself a drink from the bottle of scotch he hid in his safe and rarely touched. After gulping half the glass, he returned to his desk with the bottle to carefully examine each slip. When he finished, he sat back, puzzled. Every single note was in his wife’s handwriting. He lined them up across his desk in the order he’d taken them out of the box and read them. The third one said: ack hubbie and Car for faith in me, lib for research. The rest formed a coherent thread.

He smacked his forehead. His wife was planning a novel! Was that why she seemed so happy? Could something creative, having nothing to do with sex, cause her skin to look ten years younger?

Carefully putting the box back together and returning it to its hiding place, he wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed, but at least he knew one thing: this evening, he would ask her why she was so happy. Perhaps she would confess to the novel and his agony could end.

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One thing off my bucket list

Sometimes, we have to let all caution go to the wind and experience life to the fullest. We may pay for it later, of course, but it just may be worth the pain. That’s what I decided on Sunday, at least, knowing that I would hurt like crazy today.

My father and I have wanted to climb South Sister for a while. For those of you who don’t know, there are three rather famous mountains close to Bend in Central Oregon: South, Middle and North Sister (we also have Mount Bachelor, and lesser peaks called Little Brother, The Wife and The Husband – cute, don’t you think?). South Sister is by far the most accessible (as evidenced by the many people climbing it Sunday).

Anyway, we tried last summer, but there was far too much snow. This year, we waited longer. It’s been warmer, anyway, and so the trail was clear. It isn’t a long hike in terms of miles  – probably about 12 round trip, although the different maps we consulted varied quite a bit. However, it’s almost a five thousand foot climb, and the path is loose talus and cinders for a good part of the way. We knew there would be a lot of people, since it was Labor Day weekend, and there were, but it was a beautiful day with clear blue skies and perfect temperatures.

My father with South Sister behind him after the first climb.

So far so good. We started a little after nine. We did the first climb up a ravine to a flat area, crossed that and started climbing again. Pretty soon, my father said he’d like a break. There’s a lovely shoulder with trees and a nice view, so we stopped for lunch. We agreed to keep going after that, but Dad was beginning to make noises that he didn’t think he could go much farther. Now, you have to know my father to know that it’s difficult to take him seriously when he starts complaining, even though he’s eighty-two. About fifteen years ago, he and I went on a seven day backpacking trip. The entire first day he complained constantly that he couldn’t take another step, that he would never make it, and we had to turn around (however, we couldn’t, because we had hired a car to drop us off in a remote spot and the driver was long gone), yet he did just fine and we made our entire hike a couple of days faster than we thought we would.

Anyway, this time I suggested we take it one step at a time and turn around when he wanted to. So we kept climbing and climbing. We scrambled up some talus. It was a little scary for him. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I could get back down, but I didn’t tell him that. We took another break and examined the GPS and the map, and decided we had climbed 3000 of the 5000 feet. I felt pretty good at that point, but I was worried about him by now. I thought maybe he had gone far enough. We started out again, anyway, but pretty soon he said he had had enough.

Broken Top (a local mountain whose name doesn’t fit into the family theme) from somewhere along the hike.

Now, I could have turned around with him, but the thought at the beginning of this post had been teasing at me, pulling at my shirt, all day. We couldn’t have been more than a mile and a half from the summit. I’ve lived in Central Oregon for a number of years, and I have never been to the top of this volcano, but I had always wanted to. None of my friends ever seemed to want to do this hike, and this might be my last chance. What was up there? The words just popped out of my mouth, that, if he didn’t mind waiting, I would go on up.

So I left him, knowing that he would be fine, up there on the side of the mountain, on such a nice day, with fantastic views all around. And I started climbing faster. I climbed and climbed. After a while, I realized that I really wasn’t in shape for this hike. I was going to be really sore. The last thousand feet or so are loose cinders, so it’s like walking on dry sand. It’s extra work. One part of my brain kept saying “turn around. Go keep your father from being alone up here, and save your legs.” Yet, I really wanted to know what I would find.

All that red stuff? It’s loose cinders. Also, notice all of the people. It was quite the busy mountain.

It’s glorious up there. It’s a huge crater, filled with a glacier, surrounded by a thin volcanic rim that has a trail on it. The 360° views are stunning.

When I came down, I discovered that my father had climbed another 800 feet. He stood by the trail, waiting for me, watching everyone come past. I was so sore, I could barely make it back to the car. He helped me over a few places where tree roots and rock meant I had to lift my feet higher than I could stand to do. The second day soreness has been pretty excruciating. But I will be fine and it was totally worth it. Sometimes, we have to let all caution go to the wind and experience life to the fullest.

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