Sunday, January 31, 2016

Recent Readings

Winter comes and along with it a desire to read comic books. Graphic novels, I suppose I could say, since what I'm reading is solidly bound and available in all your finer bookstores and libraries. But really, they're comic books.

Rereading an old classic, the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman:
We have some of the volumes in the original editions,
but I'm filling in our collection with this new reprinting.
And I've discovered what I think will be a new classic, Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples:
He also wrote Y: The Last Man, which we also have. 
The boys are used to plundering The Dude's collection; he has an extensive collection of both the classic and new renditions of familiar characters (Batman, Superman, The X-Men, Legion of Superheros, etc., etc.). I think he's set aside certain volumes he doesn't want them stumbling on. My collection, however, is pretty much only stories I don't want them stumbling on. Of course, D was so intrigued just to see me reading a comic book that I suspect he'll do his damnedest to get his hands on them. Perhaps a locked bookshelf?

It hasn't been all comic books this season, I've had a rich fiction run as well.

I'm continuing in my quest to read everything by Haruki Murakami: After the Quake, Hear the Wind Sing, and Pinball 1973 are the ones I finished this fall and I'm currently reading Kafka on the Shore. I had vaguely been trying to read them in order but I think I've given that up.

I've found a new author whose works I'm so in love with I will probably also try to read them all, poetry and prose: Chris Abani. He's given a couple of TED talks and here is one of them. I then discovered that he's currently teaching at Northwestern University, just north of Chicago in Evanston, which made me think that maybe he'll give some lectures in the city sometime; sure enough, he's speaking at the main library in April and I've already extracted a promise from the family that I can take that day off to go listen and then stand in line for a very long time to have a book signed. The question of course is which book? I own a number of them now and have read Song for Night (a novella) and Sanctificum (poems).

I read Ruth Ozeki's novel, A Tale for the Time Being. Finally a new one! I also read Jonathan Franzen's latest, Purity. Both of these I just wanted to keep reading forever. Except that then I wouldn't get to read anything else. And then various books on writing or creativity: Annie Dillard, Steven King, Dorothy Allison, Elizabeth Gilbert, Steven Pressfield, and Richard Rhodes, among others. By the way, when I mention authors or books here, it's only those that I really thought worthwhile and would recommend, I don't bother listing books I wasn't excited by.

In the middle of my scary movie/book month I also read Ta'Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me. I think this is pretty much required reading for any white person in the United States. That is, of course, if you actually want to be part of making things better in the world rather than just coasting by.

Oh, and I finally finished Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson. A fascinating book, lots of information I hadn't been aware of, and despite the seemingly uplifting title, also kind of another indictment of America, in documenting how long it took for America to enter the war, how much we dragged our feet in becoming fully engaged once we did, and then how we behaved with our Allies once it was clear that the war was being won. The individual troops may rightly be called "The Greatest Generation" as they are referred to in this country, but our government, not so much.

Now on to read some more.

Eagerly,
Annie

Monday, January 18, 2016

What I've Been Up To (Part 3B)

Back to the writing. Sometime in June I had the thought, when I'm dying, what will I most regret not having done? And the answer was immediate: Not writing the book(s) I always thought I would. Because I have always assumed that I would write one book at least, someday. I just always thought it would come from whatever work I was doing. Since that wasn't happening, I thought I'd better just start writing, instead.

Once I allowed myself the time to just write whatever I wanted it didn't take long to realize that I had a novel I wanted to get out. And once I allowed myself that, all kinds of memories and ideas came pouring in. In October I even uncovered a cache of story ideas and beginnings from ten years ago, the last time I took a writing class, including one that was eerily like the novel I'd started three months before. I guess that idea decided I was still the right person for it.

Of course all this gives me permission to read more! And with that the realization that there were books I had not been allowing myself to read, out of wanting it too much, without knowing that was my thinking ("This is the sort of stuff I want to write, but I could never write that, so I'm not going to read it...") Funny how we work against ourselves, yes? So I'm enjoying reading novels again.

I do not think I would believe I could see a longer work of fiction through to its end if it were not for marathon training, and running in general.* For knowing the results of putting in daily effort, one step in front of the other. For learning how to build habits, outside of will power. For setting concrete long-term goals - goals that no one but I care about and no one but I am paying attention to - and seeing them come to fruition. It's exciting, and inspiring. Funny to think I can be an inspiration to myself.

With determination,
Annie

*I have written longer non-fiction works in the past, as well as short stories, though have not tried to see them to publication. Some time soon I want to look through that cache I found and see if I can do anything more with any of it.

Blankets, Updated

Turns out we have at least 33 blankets - I had forgotten the Halloween-themed ones.

And maybe 34 by the end of the year? I've begin working on a new quilt.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Tale of Two Blankets

I am feeling very rich these days, and it's all about two blankets.

Our entire household loves blankets, and we have lots of them.* Homemade baby blankets, still in use for making forts and creating quiet spaces. A huge duvet from my single days, back when I occupied my queen-size bed by myself. Soft, cuddly fleece blankets from Target for the sofa and kids' beds and smaller, thinner sports-themed fleece throws. Gigantic thin fleece blankets for covering the sofa - why we didn't spend the extra money to get a dark-colored couch is beyond me. Full-size store-bought quilts for the boys' beds. Medium-sized thick fleece blankets for our bed and the guest bedroom, brought over from Germany when I came for college, thirty years ago.

And two god-awful comforters that The Dude had from his college days.

Lumpy, ripped, ugly comforters. I've never liked comforters anyway, and the entire time we've lived together I've hated these, hated making up the Dude's side of the bed and seeing another rip which I would dutifully mend, hated the lumps and the fraying fibers. And then a few years ago, I don't remember why, I started sleeping under one as well. I immediately vowed to make a quilt for myself to replace it, only that didn't happen, and eventually I didn't see it happening any time soon.

Then over the summer our cat started peeing and pooping places she shouldn't. Namely, our sofa and the beds. (It was a medical issue, now thankfully addressed.) I started having to do a lot of laundry, using special anti-urine enzymatic products which got the smell out just fine of everything but my comforter. Not that it smelled of cat pee, exactly, I think that comforter was just so old and tired I could no longer get it feeling fresh. So we retired that one and I went back to sleeping under an assortment of fleece blankets of varying sizes and thicknesses.

And then G got his own full-size store-bought quilt for his birthday. (He in particular loves blankets and had been coveting his brother's.) One day he had it spread out on the ground for some game or another and I looked at it and I thought, "I want that quilt." Not one with dinosaurs on it, certainly, but something of that size and weight. I had not felt that way about the ones we'd bought for D some years ago, but G's quilt was a little nicer, a little bigger.

I said as much to The Dude and he remarked that the store had had a plain quilt in that size as well and did I maybe want it for my Christmas gift?

Heck yeah.

And so it was. And I liked it so much - and so did The Dude - that two weeks later we went out and got the remaining style (with a sports theme) for his side of the bed.

Once I had the quilt on my bed it just made sense to put the throw my mother had knitted for me this year on it as well - I had loved the colors and feel of this smaller blanket but hadn't found a good way to use it other than as a decorative piece. (I didn't want to put it on the sofa where it ran the risk of cat or child accidents, but our bed we cover with a tarp these days, just in case. So classy.**)

And now every time I come to bed I see these two blankets - my quilt and my mother's throw on top of it - and I feel rich.

The quilt isn't visually exciting by any means, it's very neutral: a mix of muted blue, red, cream and tan, in no particular pattern. In fact it's so simple that it's inspiring me again to make my own quilt, since I have lovely and meaningful fabrics I've been saving for that purpose. But it's the right size and the the right weight and it's mine. And it's not lumpy or ripped or ugly.

Dreaming sweetly,
Annie

*I counted up all the blankets in the house that I could think of and we've got 27. I'm pretty sure there are more seasonal ones I'm not thinking of.

**No, we don't sleep under the tarp. The cat's not allowed in at night. But her daytime hidey-hole is in a box in our closet, so we can't close the door during the day. I think there's been only one accident since the summer but that's one too many for my liking.

Friday, January 8, 2016

What I've Been Up To (Part 3)

What I have been doing these last four months is writing. In fact, I've been working on a novel.

Back in June I decided it was time to start taking my writing more seriously, and I gave myself a year to write whatever, to figure out through writing what form I was most drawn to. (Some background: I have always thought I would write a book... someday.) I assumed that form would end up being nonfiction: essays, perhaps, or memoir. I was surprised to find out as I worked that I had a novel taking form. I've been working on it now since July.

I spent a number of months trying to figure out a writing routine: times of day, by hand or on the computer, that sort of thing. Not unlike trying to figure out a training routine! This wasn't easy with marathon training going on as well. Then at the beginning of November, with the marathon over, I decided to take part in a writing challenge, the National Novel Writing Month. Right from the start it was clear I wasn't going to be able to meet the word counts, but focusing on my writing for the month showed me what routines and methods will work for me.

I don't expect I'll finish this novel any time soon, so while I am letting people know that I'm working on it, I'm not giving out any details. I'm also developing some other projects, so I have something to turn to when I'm feeling stuck or disheartened at my slow pace on the book ("A month's work and it's in the wrong direction!" Yes, I did have that happen already.) Capturing ideas, taking notes, collecting scribbles. Saving newspaper clippings! All things I have always done but with no clear end in mind.

I'm having fun. It's not easy, of course - I can see why I haven't settled down to this before now. But I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing.

With great satisfaction,
Annie

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What I've Been Up To (Part 2)

What I haven't been doing is a lot of running. I struggled to find new routines after the marathon. Some of that was logistical - we changed our commuting schedules based on the kids' school - and I wasn't helped by literally not being able to get into a routine: I was sick a couple of times - not for long, but enough to want to take it easy the rest of the week. We had family visits. There's always something at work, especially in the fall. The holidays were here. And I was really run down after the marathon, just more easily tired, not as fast, not as much endurance.

But I think mostly my malaise came from not knowing anymore what I wanted to do with running. I've been vaguely looking to make changes for a while, but hadn't fully committed to doing so. It's safe to say running has been my number one thing for several years - and I no longer want it to be so. I have other things I'm working on. But then what does that look like in my day, my week? Could I be content with all short runs? Could I be content with not training for anything in particular? With not trying to run faster or longer or both?

I'm glad to say I'm finally feeling back in the groove. I'm running short 2-3 times a week, and once a week I'm running "fast" (but not keeping track of my paces). Then on Saturday mornings I leave the house before the others are up (but later than I do during the work week) and run "long". I am always going to love the feel of going long, and of orienting the rest of my running around that. Those times of just me and my thoughts covering ground feel essential to me. But the distances don't have to be as long as before.

Is this what "normal" running looks like?

Contentedly,
Annie

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Little Things

And the internal soundtrack on my run today...

Sinead O'Connor "I Am Stretched On Your Grave"

Miranda Lambert "Little Red Wagon"

I could have put on headphones today and I did bring them with me, but it was misty and still dim when I started, and even when the sun came up the air was soft and gray and it was nice to just float along in the quiet of the world.

And now it's time for more cookie baking. Mexican hot chocolate snickerdoodles, to mail to a couple of friends who pledged this summer. Apricot almond glaze cookies, just because I saw the recipe in the Trib and wanted to try it out. And seven layer bars, for a dessert potluck this week. I may pull out a Sinead O'Connor album or two and listen while I bake. G will be my helper today if I can pull him away from his Duplos.

Merrily,
Annie