Sunday, December 4, 2022

Syllabus #179

We went to Kroger this morning around 11:00 and the parking lot was half empty, which we thought was wild for a Sunday.  It must have been right before church let out, because it was just us and a bunch of fellow Satan Worshippers, trying to figure out which of the half-rotten vegetables remaining in the produce section would best complement the goats and small children we were planning to sacrifice later for Sunday Supper.  Seriously, I bought the last onion, so if you needed one for your post-slaughter onion juice recovery drink, I'm sorry.  

Anyway, I say we got there right before church let out, because by the time we left, the parking lot was packed and a parade of church ladies was marching into the store in their sensible pumps and wool coats.  HOWEVER, there was also a parade of, I don't know what kind of person, maybe members of the First Reformed Church of Abstaining from Sleeves and Zippers?  Interspersed with the church ladies, every 3rd or 4th person we passed in the parking lot was wearing a blanket instead of a coat.  Otherwise decently dressed people getting out of vehicles they didn't appear to live in, just swaddled like newborn babes.  Fleece blankets.  Afghans.  Chunky knit decorative throws that only people who don't have pets would dare to put on their couch.  All of it.  Like Joseph's Technicolor Dream Not-Coat.  

Life is a rich tapestry.  One that you sometimes wear in the cold, apparently.


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Have you noticed the Wordle being a little too on the nose lately?  FEAST on Thanksgiving was honestly offensive.  Why not GRAVY or PLATE or ROAST or GENOCIDE or oh gosh, that's too many letters, isn't it?  

Save your Spotify Wrapped, I'm here for all the end of hte year best books lists, so I can play catchup and make my reading list for 2023. Here's the NY Times 100.

Not to be outdone by dueling Top Ten Lists from Slate's Laura Miller and Dan Kois.  

Some years, I feel pretty smug, like I'm fully aligned with the book lists and discover just a handful that I missed and want to read.  This year, I can't believe I missed so many of these.

Analog Reading:

Small Game by Blair Braverman was a fast, intense read.  I kind of sped through it because I felt like the faster I read it, the sooner the characters would be out of their misery.  I mean that in a good way, though.  It was a well-crafted story that made me real glad to be reading it indoors, fully clothed, with a fridge full of food.

Flight by Lynn Steger Strong was also excellent and short, which is exactly what a holiday family gathering, the subject of the book, should be.  No shade to my family.  I love you and this is not a criticism.  It's just, it's hard to square each individual's expectations for holiday magic with the reality of time and energy, and my delicate constitution can only take so many consecutive days of eating and drinking like the world is going to end before I just feel like a bloated corpse.  

The Passenger, Cormac McCarthy's new banger.  And by banger I mean book about a guy who is more than a little interested in banging his own dead sister.  Also he's a salvage diver who gets wrapped up in a mystery about a plane crash, but the sister banging is a lot to unpack all on its own, so, you know.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Syllabus #178

Hello, are we tired of eating yet?  I sat down to make a grocery list this morning and was just utterly disgusted with the thought of having to think about food, and cook food, and then put that slop on a plate and transfer it to my mouth and chew it.  If Kroger had a Soylent aisle, I'd push my cart straight to it and be done.  This is not about saying I was 'bad' for indulging in so much rich food for Thanksgiving.  It's not about diet culture, although I hear big butts are out and we all should be doing rails of Ozempic diabetes medicine so we can look like Kate Moss, and like, I'm as tired of squats as the next person, but can we just not do this again?

But no, I just need a breather to renew my palate and my interest in gorging before we do all this shit again in three weeks.  You might be thinking, this all makes you sound like a miserable hag.  And you're not wrong.  You are, in fact, correct.

Ask anyone.  I am the worst.  I nearly caused a riot and ruined Thanksgiving, and had 9 out of the 10 other people in the room screaming at me, so, you know.  

What happened was, we were playing Fishbowl, in which every player gets 3 pieces of paper to write down a Thing.  It can be an object, a place, a well-known person, a familiar saying, a song, etc.  The first round of the game is like taboo, where you can say anything, except the actual words written on the paper, to get your teammates to guess the Thing.  Second round, password - the clue-giver can say only one word.  Third round, charades.  

I was already skating on thin ice from one of my previous submissions, "I was in the pool."  Isn't everyone on the earth familiar with George Costanza's protestation about shrinkage?  I then took things beyond.com because APPARENTLY, 'Kid Rock's Big Ass Honky Tonk and Rock 'n Roll Steakhouse' was TOO SPECIFIC.  I thought it was perfect.  Here's how one might have approached it:

First round:  "It's a horrible place on Broadway in Nashville that is infamous for a guy pulling out his colostomy bag and swinging it around."

Second round:  "Colostomy"

Third round:  *pantomimes removing colostomy bag, swinging it overhead like a lasso*

I rest my case.  I will take no further questions.

This is the only picture I took all week


Okay, I said I don't want to think about food, but this is the exception.  I've never done acid or roasted a chicken, much less eaten one in almost 20 years.  And yet I find myself with a hankerin' for Jia Tolentino's Acid Chicken.  I put the essay collection this came from on hold at the library.  [My First Popsicle:  An anthology of food and feelings, edited by Zosia Mamet, I mean just look at the title of this blog, could there be a more on-brand book for me to want to read?]


Breaking News:  Teaching is hard.  My immediate reaction is to check the byline and feign shock that it wasn't written by Captain Obvious, but also, that's exactly the problem.  It's a given to anyone who works in K-12 education, but most people who aren't teachers think it's a cute little job that ends at 3 pm every day and gives you summers off.  Yea, there are moments where it's cute, and there are times when I do leave at 3:15, but dang, guys, we have kids as young as 4, up to like, 10 year olds who are larger than me, physically assaulting teachers.  Biting, kicking, scratching, pulling hair, throwing objects.  And unless you are specifically trained in safe methods of restraint, you can't even really touch the kid even to hold them away from you.  All this has definitely escalated since March of 2020.  I think the psychological impact on kids has been more of a problem than the learning loss, and if all the trauma dealt with appropriately, and kids felt safe enough to calm down and focus, the learning loss would be a lot easier to address.


ICYMI, petty thievery is in.  


Analog Reading:


The Four Winds improved when I decided to suspend my criticism and just blow along with it.  I was kind of hoping at least one of the winds would be flatulence, but, spoiler alert, none of them were.  By the end, I was very invested in the fate of the characters, and teared up a little over the way things turned out.  


Small Game by Blair Braverman.  A novel about a reality show about wilderness survival.  I'm into it.  Except I need to reread about 10 pages because I popped an edible and got in bed to read, and there's a character named Lenny who I kept conflating with our cat named Lenny, which was very confusing at the time.  Then I fell asleep and dropped my Kindle on my face, and I think my nose advanced the screen a few pages.  All this to say, the closest I will get to wilderness survival is reading about it, and I can apparently barely manage that.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Syllabus #177

The cat in the hat came back.


Apparently, we underestimated Lenny's deep, abiding love for us.  He FREAKED OUT and hid in a chimney when he arrived at what we believed would be his new home.  The people were unfortunately not up to the challenge of earning his trust.  Honestly, it wouldn't have taken much.  All you need to do is feed him, not make any sudden movements or loud noises, and possibly provide him with life-saving medical care.  

That last part might be why he's so attached to us.  It's like that book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.  If you take a stray cat to the vet because his actual ass has been ripped open by another animal, and then let him live in your bathroom for a month while his wounds heal, and give him food and water an safety, and climate control and affection, he's going to love you forever and never leave your house.  That's basically what happened in the beloved children's book written to provide a humorous illustration of cause and effect, right?

I guess he's here to stay.  If anyone has any tips to help two cats stop beefing and learn to tolerate one another, please divulge.  We've tried everything you can probably think of, except drugs.    

Anyway.

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This essay about growing up with an absentee father really hits.  I still to this day remember the first kid who asked, "Where's your dad?  Like, do you have a dad?"  It was partly the question itself, but mostly the totally snotty, condescending way she asked it.  She may as well have been asking, "Do you know you just stepped in dog shit?"  I could conjure a highly detailed police sketch of that awful child, down to her gold hoop earrings and her weird curly mullet that so many little girls had in the early 90s.  I'm sure she has no recollection of this, or even of me, period.  And she's probably a perfectly decent human being.  But in that moment, I wanted to throw her into a volcano and watch the flesh melt off her skull as she sank into bubbling lava.  


True Life:  I am a sucker for documentaries about crackpot theories of ancient aliens and unknown civilizations.  At least, I was as an impressionable youth with a TV in my bedroom in the heyday of The Learning Channel and The History Channel, when they were just transitioning from quasi-educational content to straight up conspiracy theories and reality television designed to gawk at people who made questionable life choices.  It's a format that never truly died, apparently, because here's a new crock-umentary on Netflix that sounds just utterly unhinged.  


In another world, where I host dinner parties and no one complains about my cooking, I would love to unveil this dramatic-ass whole stuffed roasted pumpkin on my dinner table.  


Analog Reading:

Horseman, Pass By by Larry McMurtry.  I loved the Lonesome Dove series, and Andy recently read this and said it might be some of the best fiction he's read in a long time.  I gave it a whirl, and honestly I kind of hated it.  Mostly because there was no real plot to speak of, and not much character development, and the only 3 things that did kind of happen in the book were deeply upsetting acts with no real closure or redemption.  Which is, I guess, an accurate reflection of life, but I expect literature to be a little more than a mere depiction of how much of a shitpile life can be sometimes.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah.  I feel like I'm really striking out with books that other people have recommended to me lately.  I have read at least one other book by KH, The Great Alone, which was gripping and disturbing, but was a real page-turner.  This one leaves a lot to be desired.  Despite its length, it feels hastily slapped together, and like certain parts of the story were rushed through and under-developed.  The relationship on which the entire book hinges basically begins when a spinster, who sneaks out of her parents' house with makeup on for the first time, fails to gain entry to a speakeasy, meets a rando on the street, fucks him in the back of his truck, and then the rest of the events unfold from there.  It just seemed HIGHLY UNLIKELY and rather abrupt.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Syllabus #176

We sent our sweet Lenny to a farm upstate this week.  

No, everybody chill, that's not a euphemism.  I mean an actual farm.  He isn't dead, he just lives somewhere else.  With other people.  Who don't have another cat that tries to murder him every time she sees him.  

We are so sad, and we miss him terribly.  He is a shy boy, but a very good one, and I hope he's happy in his new home.  We tried everything to stop Lola from opening a portal to hell and attempting to remove his very soul with her claws every time they were in the same room.   We did the usual exchanging of scents, we tried feeding them finest of Fancy Feasts together, we tried pheromones, we tried exorcism.  Lola just was. not. having. it.  

And so we found him a new home with the in-laws of a friend.  They live on a giant farm, where he will get to play outside if he wants, but still come inside to 3 hots and a cot.  Because being a pet is basically like being imprisoned by well-meaning jailers, for the minor crime of being too dopey to survive on the streets.

Ever since Lola realized he was gone, she's been glued to our sides.  We don't know if she was scared of Lenny and that's why she bullied him relentlessly, or if she's now scared that she could be sent away next, or if she's just so thrilled that she got her way in the end.  Whatever the reason, she's basically been my conjoined twin for the past 72 hours.  I can only hope Lenny finds as much happiness in his new digs.

Bon Voyage, Lenny


But OMFG the stock image they used for 'librarian' in this advice column.  


Elon's shiny new toy isn't as fun for him as he hoped.  The rest of us, on the other hand, are doing just fine.  


Analog Reading:

Finished The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons.  Speaking of regrets, I have some.  I expected more about the metaphysics of being in limbo while cultivating a relationship, and less graphic descriptions of banging a member of the spirit realm.  It was an amusing conceit at first, but I didn't need like 200 pages of deep ghost dicking.

Now is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson was, OF COURSE, fabulous.  We attended his reading at Parnassus Books on Monday, and bought a pre-signed copy before the event.  Wilson is a delightful human, and exactly as quirky as you would expect the person who wrote those books to be.  It was so cool to hear him read passages from the book and then immediately start reading it myself.  I could hear his voice narrating all the while, like my own private audiobook.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Syllabus #175

Hello I am one thousand years old. Last night, in a dimly lit restaurant, I struggled like an Old to find that sweet spot in my depth of field where I could read the menu with both eyes.  If I don't dial it in just right, I end up having to close one eye or deal with double vision.  I have a headache all the time and I am nearly driven to a murderous rage by the frustration It's fun!



Enjoyed this interview with Kevin Wilson, one of my favorite authors of the last few years.  I've read everything he's written so far, and am stoked to learn he has a new book out on Tuesday.  AND we are going to Parnassus Books on Monday to hear from the man himself.  I can't wait.  Andy is indifferent.  I'm sure he would love Wilson's books, but he's only going because he feels bad for me that I can't drive at night until I get new glasses.  


Moving photojournalism.


Heidi Klum's worm costume has been tunneling through my brain, making dirt, all week.  Unsettlingly Grotesque is the new Sexy.


I started watching Weird, the Weird Al mock bio-pic starring Daniel Radcliffe.  The first 25 minutes were so perfectly, hilariously stupid.  I mean that as the highest complement.  It is a sincere and gentle and dumb sendup of the parody master, even while the movie itself is an absurd parody.  I want to finish watching it ASAP.  


We need to do this Natchez Trace Parkway drive sometime.


Oprah's Favorite Things hits so much different in print.  I miss it so.  I guess it's marginally more convenient to have a fully linked version available, but I long for that fat, glossy periodical full of aspirational products arrayed just so on the page.  By the time my eye traveled from upper left to bottom right of the spread, I had experienced the full spectrum of emotions:  indifference to the gardening tools, disgust at the thought of paying money for a stale-ass pie made by a stranger to be sent to you in the mail (homemade pie or GTFO forever), envy and desire for the luxurious skincare items, and complete rage at the suggestion that I spend three figures on a candle, which is literally lighting your money on fire.  


Analog Reading:

Finished Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.  Woof to reading that in the aftermath of the Supremes (the mostly shitty kind, not the Diana Ross kind) overturning Roe.  Also woof to a book about 30 year olds having mid-life crises.  Not a knock on the book, though.  It was superb.  The characters were so real to me that I found myself wondering what they were doing now in the days after I finished the book.

Reading The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons.  It is unlike any book I've ever read before.  Not to say that it's completely unique, but it seems very of-the-moment and young-Millennial in terms of cultural references and sex-forwardness within the plot.  Also, it's about banging a guy who's technically dead but didn't die correctly so he's lingering on earth until the afterlife is ready for him?  


Sunday, October 30, 2022

Syllabus #173


I can see clearly now, my lens is gone.

Yes, that's right.  I, an adult human woman, 37 years of age, had cataract surgery on Friday.  

I've always been advanced.  A vanguard.  Ahead of my time.  A hipster, if I may (I may not, it's fine).  So when all y'all fellow elder millennials start getting cloudy-ass lenses, I can say I replaced mine before it was cool.  Just the one, though. 

And let me tell you, it is wild.  I still can't see great because I'm so nearsighted in my non-cataract-having eye that in order to not eff up my depth perception, they gave me a -3.00 lens, but the difference already is amazing.  Before, looking out of that eye, even with glasses, was like trying to see through a fogged windshield, and colors were all desaturated.  I may as well have smeared vaseline on a contact lens and jammed it in my eye.  Now, there's a point about 30" from my face where I can see pretty clearly, and anything closer or further away is shit.  But like, there's the potential for full sight once I get an updated eyeglass prescription.  So that's something.  

The surgery itself seemed to last less than 10 minutes.  I wasn't completely knocked out, but it was like that twilight sleep they used to give birthing mothers in the 50s, which is appropriate because I'm pretty sure Andy was nervously chomping on a cigar and pacing the waiting area the whole time.  He was far and away more freaked out by the whole process than I was, which was either sweet or mega-weird.  Pero, ¿por que no los dos?  

Those were some good drugs, though.  All I remember is that they taped my head to the table so I wouldn't move.  It was real high tech - they honestly wound a roll of masking tape over my forehead and under the bed a couple times like I was a frigging Home Depot box full of tchotchkes on moving day.  Then they tucked me in all cozy under a blanket and probably covered up my good eye, I assume, and then I was treated to this Pink Floyd-ass light show inside my eyeball for a few minutes.  

Oh, and I definitely remember that before they gave me the drugs, the surgeon came in to answer any questions I had pre-surgery, and I really wanted to ask him how edibles might impact recovery but I narced out and just asked, "What if I'd like to have a glass of wine?" as if I would ever have A glass of wine like a civilized adult.  And he said, sure, tomorrow you can have a glass of wine, that would be alright.  [Ok, fine, I'm trying to sound like a borderline alcoholic chill person but honestly it would be 2 or 3 glasses, not like 7, and even then there's a non-zero chance I'm projectile vomiting the next day and my eyeball just rockets straight out of my face, so I'm not drinking at all for probably like 2 weeks, are you happy now?].  

And then he asked if it would be alright to pray with me before the surgery and inside I was screaming get me out of here but I figured anything that would help this guy feel like he's going to do a better job cutting open my eyeball is fine with me.  So I said, sure, and did the awkward thing I do every time they say grace before a staff meal at work and I just stared vacantly at my lap, dissociating from my body.  But two days post-op, I'm feeling pretty good.  Jesus take the scalpel, y'all.

---

I didn't have a lot of time for the internet this week.  I did read this review of Cormac McCarthy's new novels, and even though the review kind of panned them both, I'm intrigued.   I haven't been so jazzed about sibling incest since Flowers in the Attic!  I have them both on hold at the library.  Will report back in approximately 42 weeks.  Guess I'm not the only person with a morbid curiosity.


Analog Reading:

Finished John Darnielle's Universal Harvester.  I am left with questions, but overall it had a mood.  How do we each deal with loss and loneliness and isolation?  Some of us roll up our sleeves and get on with it...others of us never let it go, and can reach some disturbing conclusions in our quests.

Halfway through Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.  I saw the movie when it came out, but I don't remember that much about it.  Something about taking the PATCO to see it at the Ritz at the Bourse and sneaking pony bottles of Sutter Home into the movie theater.  But that just means the book is fresh and untainted.  Even though the book came out in 1961, the idea of confronting your life's purpose at middle age (NOT at a mere freaking 30 years old, like Frank Wheeler, THANKYOUVERYMUCH, but then Hi, it's me, your gal with the surgically extracted cataract so what do I know), shuffling paper piles around at a meaningless job, all that resonates.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Syllabus #172

Might be time to buy a rake


This past week was book fair.  I know all y'all have fond memories from Scholastic Book Fairs of yore, but have you ever RUN a book fair?  If you haven't, then simmer down and reminisce on your own time.  I've got trauma and we are going to unpack it right now.  

Can I tell you how many coins I had to touch this week?  No amount of hand washing will erase the smell of pennies.  I'm going to have to remove a layer of skin with undiluted bleach, that's all there is to it.  And the sweaty money that's been clenched in a tight little fist for an untold amount of time?  Ick.

I had to count out $18 worth of quarters that came out of a sock.  I had to make children cry because, sorry, two dimes, a nickel, and six pennies, is, in fact, $.31, not, as they called it, Nine Monies, and thus, it is insufficient to buy anything.  Never mind the fact that I created a pitifully easy reading challenge that any child could have easily completed, that would have earned them a free book from the book fair.  I'm clearly the monster here.  Just ask the kid who threw a book and kicked a display case because I wouldn't let him use his reading challenge reward to buy a toy instead of a book.

Sidenote, it's amazing how many kids asked if I was making a lot of money from this, and they all were honestly shocked when I explained that it's a fundraiser for the school, and we get only a percentage of the profits, and I'm not actually lining my own pockets with the spoils.  Then again, these are probably the same kids who think I buy books for the library with my own personal money, bless their misguided little hearts.

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Some solid but also very predictable advice for staving off winter illness.  Bonus tip:  Stay away from children.  Those little disease vectors will cough right into your actual mouth while you're talking to them if you aren't careful.  They're in bed with big pharma, I just know it.


Have you read Gone Girl?  I haven't, but this Gone Girl-themed cruise sounds completely unhinged and wonderful.  


This article has it all:  Vulgarity, feminism, and the fascinating use (and limitations) of text-mining to determine the origins of words and phrases, such as, in this case, Barefoot and Pregnant. 


Analog Reading:

The Day the World Came to Town by Jim Defede.  It's about all the US-bound trans-Atlantic flights that had to land in Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11, and how the weird, sleepy little Canadian town jumped into action and welcomed thousands of airline refugees until US airspace reopened.  That sounds like a real big downer, but I've been reading it almost like a bedtime story.  It's a little boring, but I read a chapter or so and then fall asleep thinking about how even in the face of the worst actions man can scheme up, there are plenty of other people who are kind and compassionate.  And then I have night terrors about the book fair, so it's really a wash, but we're trying.

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle (of Mountain Goats fame).  I read his latest book, Devil House, earlier this year, and loved it.  There's something experimental about his fiction, which I appreciate.  In this one, there's a sort of 3rd person omniscient narrator who is gradually revealing him- or herself to be someone perhaps orchestrating all of the events of the story, which centers around a small-town Iowa video store in 1999/2000.  The owner and one of the clerks get sucked into a mysterious and disturbing plot when they find a bunch of their movies have been spliced with grisly home movie footage.  It's odd and I like it.