Hair and Boredom

So it’s been rough trying to come up with things to write about, since my days lately are spent sending out resumes like crazy, desperately searching for a new show to binge-watch, and feverishly devouring the Outlander series books (it’s been about a week and a half of reading and I’m already on book three). It’s harder and harder to get motivated to do anything, partially because I have the luxury of too much time, and partially because in the three weeks we’ve been here and the dozens of jobs I’ve applied for, I’ve had exactly one phone interview so far.

That’s probably not terrible, but I’m impatient. And slightly horrified of how bored I’ve become, and how much I miss interacting with people. Who knew an introvert could get too much alone time? I sure didn’t.

So today I had a plan to get out and do something, even if just read my book in the park or swing by a coffee shop, just to feel like I’m still part of a living world.

Then I got sidetracked by my hair.

I have three go-to hairstyles: down, ponytail, or bun. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll braid a section of my hair going into the ponytail. Or just pull the top part of my hair back. Despite the world of exciting hairstyles, I am not adventurous enough (read: too lazy) to try anything that seems remotely intricate. (No matter how much I drool over the Khaleesi’s hair in Game of Thrones).

It occurred to me that with this wealth of time stretching before me, I might as well teach myself a few new tricks to spice up my hair-life. It was on to YouTube, where I studiously tried several adorable “easy” styles.

The first I tried was a variation on my usual braid-into-ponytail, which was all well and good, but really only added time to a hairstyle I already over-use. The other two are hot-mess versions of what should have been adorable twists to the usual “little bit up” style I’m also used to. I probably should have gotten pictures of the front, because my hair was bulging and sticking up all over the place. Also, it doesn’t show in the pictures, but my super-fine strands kept getting gnarled around the elastics and refusing to sit in a casually poofy way.

The only style that came out fairly okay was the two-rope-braids-into-side-bun (the last of the styles shown in this video). Even this isn’t as carefree as hers, but it gives me hope that one day, I’ll get the knack for fun, casual up-dos down.

Now that my hair is off my neck, at least, it’s off to the park for some reading in the sun!

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The Dark Side of Writing

This is about to get really real. Maybe too real. “Over-sharing”. But it’s been inside me for a long time and needs to get out. And maybe someone else needs to hear it. Maybe we aren’t alone, after all.

Sometimes, my dreams of getting published seem hopeless. And not because “so many people are trying, why should I succeed?” or “I’m just not good enough.” Maybe a little of the fear comes from the second, but not for the obvious reason that I think my writing is crap. Semi-objectively, my writing is decent. I’ve written some brilliant things I’m super proud of, and some really awful things that make me cringe just thinking about, but most of my writing falls into the category of “good enough” to be published. I notice weak writing — recognize my own short-comings — in published books all the time, so why not me?

No, I’m hopeless because I hit these blocks that are so much more than “writer’s block” the way I understand it. I don’t know how other writers experience it, so maybe I’m not as alone as it feels. The term “writer’s block” seems so benign. Like “eek, I’m stuck, time to brainstorm” or “wrote myself into a corner” or “let’s take a walk to clear my mind and come back fresh.”

That’s not me.

When I hit a block, words desert me and I tumble face-first into a rock-strewn canyon. It’s dark and frigid and lonely, even walking hand-in-hand with my lover in the sunshine. A revelation smothers me, replacing the marrow in my bones with a certainty that I am nothing and will never amount to much more.

It’s not so much that no one will care what I have to say. That fear is quiet and constant, like a cat sleeping at my feet, occasionally hopping onto the table to flick my nose with its tail.

No, the writing depression is darker, more personal. It assures me that I do have a story worth telling; it encourages me that someone — maybe even just one person — needs what I have inside me, but I’ll never find the words to tell it. I am my own worst enemy and the only thing standing in the way of greatness.

If only I could shed the weaker parts of me. If only my brain could leave my damaged heart and trembling fingers for a stronger body. Or maybe it’s my heart — tender and full — that needs to escape the dictator in my brain, unfeeling and inconsiderate of the words trying to bleed freely. Maybe my skin is trapping the story, pressing it against muscle and bone instead of allowing it to burst into the world. If only I’d been born someone else, I wouldn’t have this problem. My imagination inside a stronger vessel would find its purpose.

In this dark place, I sit on the cold ground, my back pressed to the ravine wall, staring at characters I love more than life. Apologies whisper past my lips: “You should be real,” I tell them, “not me.” It isn’t fair — they have words to share, but a worthless creator who can’t hear them.

The hopeless void stretches in front of me, with no end in sight. I read other people’s words and know I could have said it better, if only my brain worked harder, if only my heart felt more (felt less?), if my hands held the pen with more authority, if my soul didn’t smother my words.

My chest aches, dull and hollow, like an empty mussel on the beach at low tide, picked over and baked. I hunker down to wait it out, desperately clinging to the fragile hope that — someday — words will return, and it will feel as if I could never fail.

I’ll ride that high as long as I can, until, inevitably, I tumble to the ground again. I could walk away from writing, but in the words of Anne Shirley: “I can’t help flying up on the wings of anticipation. It’s as glorious as soaring through a sunset… almost pays for the thud.”

 

Rambling Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was very hard to read. Not because it was poorly written or boring — that’s not the case at all. The story was intriguing and I was invested in the narrator’s plight. The end felt like such a cliffhanger that I audibly yelled “are you serious!” which scared my husband, but then I realized there was more to the story in a new section with a different perspective (so if you hit a snag near the end, keep reading — it’s not just end of book acknowledgements!).

No, the reason this book was so hard to read was its terrifying plausibility. Most dystopian novels are set in a far off future, after wars and bombs and viruses and apocalypses have utterly changed the face of the earth and how society runs. Some dystopian novels are a chilling commentary on where the world could be headed (think: 1984), but this is so much more immediate. The changes, the leeching of power from the people — or from certain types of people — are so subtle at first, so insignificant that by the time enough people start to question things, it’s far too late.

In a lot of dystopian stories, there is one dictator or a small group of “bad guys” lording it over the masses. The majority of the people don’t agree with their leadership, but are too downtrodden and tired to fight back. In The Handmaid’s Taleplenty of people agree with the new society. There are rumors of underground movements, sure, but most people seem supportive of the new order’s ideals.

The story is both intense and detached, told by a narrator who has nearly given up on everything that mattered to her in the world before. It is both resigned and angry, rebellious and cautious, disgusted and apathetic. It is a desperate warning wrapped up in inevitable possibility.

I had to take a lot of breaks while reading this one. It isn’t something you’ll binge-read for hours or enjoy while lounging on a beach. It’s a tale best told in snippets and whispers, with long silences to digest each piece of new information. It’s heavy with real-life foreboding, but I’m so glad I read it.

Memories of July 4th

When I was a kid, my family would go to the local park on July 4th for chicken shish-kabobs, funnel cakes, sno-cones and games. We’d end up at the church nearby to watch the fireworks. My brother and I would roll down the hill, staining our clothes green and arguing over who was faster.  To this day, July 4th feels weird if I don’t get a chicken kabob.

More recently, my husband and I gather with friends or family to grill, maybe play some cornhole or other yard games, and try to catch some fireworks. Last year, we were on the roof of our building in Arlington, struggling to see the national fireworks across the river through the oppressive cloud cover.

One of my favorite Independence Days in recent years came a few years ago. We met up with a friend in Arlington, where we porch-sat and day-drank American beers before heading across the street to a little park for some wiffle-ball. There was only three of us, so it was mostly one person hitting, one pitching, and one fielding. It still felt very patriotic and youthful. As the day moved toward evening, more people showed up. I’m sure we grilled, and I know we took a walk to get ice cream. The grand finale was watching the fireworks at the Iwo Jima Memorial. It felt beautifully “American”, snuggled on our blanket or crowding along the curb, shoulder to shoulder with strangers of all colors and backgrounds, sitting near one of the most iconic memorials, watching the firework reminders of “bombs bursting in air” that brought us our great nation.

We were sunburnt and sweaty and together, a thousand different stories sharing a single experience for a snapshot in time, celebrating freedom and independence and joy.

The Meaning of Burnt and Toasted

Question for you: when you pop bread into the toaster, at what point do you consider it “toasted”? And what constitutes “burnt”?

I ask because, to me, it’s pretty straightforward: burnt is black and toasted is golden brown.

To my husband, anything darker than the lightest yellow-gold color is burnt. He likes his “toast” warm, maybe a tad hardened, not-quite-golden. When I make grilled cheese and the bread turns brown in the pan, he says I’ve burned it.

Somewhat related, we’ve been on a pretzel-kick lately. It started in Charleston, were we visited many brewery-type places offering pretzels on the menu. My favorite in Charleston came from the Lagunitas Charleston Taproom & Beer Sanctuary (yes that really is the name of the restaurant. I’m sorry, “Beer Sanctuary”). The pretzel was dark brown, crunchy on the outside, steaming hot and chewy on the inside. Perfection. My husband was not impressed. He enjoyed the pretzels we ordered at the Gin Joint: the lightest shade of gold, soft and fluffy throughout.

Recently, we were in Rehoboth Beach, DW, at Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats when (of course) we ordered the pretzel bites. They came out golden to dark brown, a slightly hard coating with a hot, chewy center. The way a pretzel should be. My husband took one bite and said “Too bad they’re burnt.” I explained that pretzels aren’t meant to be like a buttered roll any more than toast is meant to be slightly warmed bread. This led to a discussion of the definitions of “burnt” and “toasted” and the fact that sometimes it depends on a person’s preferences and sometimes said person just doesn’t understand facts or cooking terminology or what makes a damn good pretzel.

Rambling Review: The Virgin Suicides

Virgin Suicides

References to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides kept popping up around me recently, so I decided to check out this modern classic for myself. I can’t deny I’m into darker/heavier stories like the synopsis suggests (5 sisters kill themselves within a single year) and was intrigued right off the bat by a collective narrator (the story is told by the neighborhood boys as a whole).

Because it’s a relatively slim paperback, I brought it along on vacation, intending to read it on the beach or during down-time between activities. This encouraged a lot of horrified feedback from my friends, who always ask what I’m reading. They then spent the week checking in by asking “how many girls have died now?” then following my answer up with a head shake and a “why do you read stuff like that?”  That’s how I discovered pretty much my entire group of friends consists of happy, shiny people like my husband who prefer little depth and pain in their entertainment.

Leaving aside my friends’ responses, this is not a good beach read. In the way of most classics, the story needs your attention for good chunks of time. I found myself re-reading sentences and chapters and getting frustrated because I couldn’t devote more focus to it.

The story is beautifully written. There are some of the lovely descriptions and word-pictures that I love, and the fact that it’s like the neighborhood boys have sat me down to tell me their observations adds a touch of near-innocence to a tragic experience. Rather than being a novel about suicide, it’s more of a love letter to the sisters from the boys who grew up watching them.

It is sad. The parents are misguided and in my opinion arrogant in their negligence. The novel does discuss suicide, the ways the sisters end their lives, in just enough detail to make the reader uncomfortable without turning it into a caricature. Suicide should make a person uncomfortable to read about.

But it’s also a subject that is treated with respect. Eugenides captures the bewilderment and guilt and shock and grief that lingers over those left behind. The narrator shows how suicide affects a neighborhood, the process one goes through to try to understand something no one will explain outright.

It is a heavy book. It’s tragic and inevitable and beautiful. A modern classic, indeed.