Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I am currently finishing up my first Haruki Murakami book, Norwegian Wood, and am totally loving it. The only other Murakami I have read was his memoir on running, which I liked, but this is of course much difference. Have you read any of his? What one should I read next?

My son is extremely chatty, which is normally just fine, since I love to hear what he has to say, but I absolutely loathe it when I am trying to run on the treadmill and he keeps interrupting me. The other day I gave him three cards and said that he could "spend" each of them to tell me something, but when he was out I was going to ignore him until I was finished (unless it was an emergency, of course). He used the first three in twelve minute and I ignored him for the remaining twenty. I'm curious to see if he ever becomes more strategic with them. 

I had really wanted to start a summer book club with some of my teacher-friends but I completely dropped the ball and, weirdly, lost motivation. If you're reading this and I initially contacted you I'm sorry. I suck. I still might? Maybe the end of July? I'll decide asap.

Someone suggested that I listen to Judah and the Lion since I love The Strumbellas so much, and I am totally into their album Folk Hop N'Roll right now. It's so much fun. 

I just finished listening to The Habitat podcast and I really loved it. The eight (or something like that) episode series follows a group of people locked in a habitat in Hawaii for a year, meant to simulate what will happen to astronauts if we ever send any to Mars. It looked at their daily routines, their interactions, challenges, and what happened to them after the experiment. It was fascinating, and the host, Lynn Levy, was delightful. 

As this posts, Sawyer and I should be headed up the coast for our little trip. We're planning to go to Hearst's Castle, Big Sur, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and the Big Basin Redwoods State Park. I'm so excited! 

Bookish Banter- Ian McEwan's Machines Like Me

Recently Julie from JulzReads and I both read and virtually discussed Ian McEwan's latest, Machines Like Me, a sci-fi love triangle that asks some serious questions regarding humanity and society. She and I have been blogger friends for years and years, so this truly was a long time coming and I'm sad we live half a continent apart and can't meet up in person (some day, some day). Read on to see what our thoughts were:

Julz: Considering we both went into this with pretty low expectations, I think we both enjoyed it.  Because the man can write!  I thought his character development was great.  Even as a robot, Adam was a dynamic figure.  What did you like best about it?

Christine:    I agree, I really didn’t have high hopes. It’s sort of the same with how I feel about Metallica- their old stuff is where it’s at and recent attempts seem to fall pretty flat. That being said, once this picked up momentum I was totally into it!

I think one of my favorite parts about the book was this idea of how we define personhood, and whether or not that definition is fluid. Do our definitions need to evolve as science does? The juxtaposition of this sort of innovative scientific perception of consciousness versus the traditional sort of political component of the story, as well as the quintessential “Adam/Eve” naming, was also well-done. I loved how he took so much liberty with history and science in his timeline. 

Julz: That is such an English teacher response!  And your feelings about Metallica match my feelings about Dave Matthew’s Band.

I think my favorite aspect was the whole Alan Turing alternate history thing.  What a world it would have been had he lived!

The night Adam went missing and the Prime Minister was assassinated, I was convinced Adam was the culprit for a few pages there.  Did that at all cross your mind?

Christine:  I never even thought about Adam being involved, but I totally see how they would have crossed your mind

Julz: How did you feel about Miranda taking justice into her own hands with Miriam's rapist? 

Christine:  I had really mixed feelings about Miranda’s actions, as well as Adam’s, which of course was McEwan’s intent. At the end of the day, I appreciate the orderliness of law/rules, and I think that if we don’t adhere to some sort of process society would become even more chaotic. But it bothered me deeply that he’d get away with raping and hence causing a suicide- the abhorrent misogynistic act of this sort of violation is never permissible. Her vigilante way of taking care of it was a risk, and I think she handled it well. I just wish there had been another way to honestly bring about justice in her friend’s name.

I found myself often annoyed with Charlie, his work ethic, his lackadaisical approach to the slightly-frightening robot living in his house (although I get it; Adam became more and more human-like, therefore harder and harder to easily turn off), etc... What were your thoughts on his character?

Julz:  In some ways I could relate to Charlie it two respects: getting by in life with minimal effort and true love being his driving force.  But I would have taken advantage of Adam as a slave way more than he did.  That’s right, bitch, I’m never doing the dinner dishes again and my house will always be immaculately clean.  Why spend so much money on Adam if you’re still going to do your own washing up?

Otherwise, I thought he was pretty harmless.  I didn’t feel strongly about his character one way or another, but I did enjoy witnessing him falling in love and how that matured him.

Christine:  Also, what did you make of McEwan’s use of the little boy, Mark? I thought it was an interesting, useful little side-plot. 

Julz:  I hate to see kids born into bad situations.  Mark’s parents were garbage and that was no fault of his.  So the idea that Miranda and Charlie could be his saviors was really moving.  And it was a sub-plot I was not expecting.

I had SO much fun doing this and I can't wait to do it again, hopefully later this year!  

What's a Feminist to Do?

I recently read The Farm, Joanne Ramos' very buzzed-about book of 2019. The premise for this book is that mostly poor women are recruited as "hosts" for the the wealthy's embryos. The women are compensated generously at various stages of the pregnancies, as well upon delivery (bonus if you forego a c-section!). The women have pristine living conditions, have their health monitored meticulously, are provided with the prefect pregnancy diets, and aren't expected to do anything but grow their babies. Basically, it's like a nine-month stay at a wellness spa, except the fact you're growing someone else's baby and have little control over your own body. Oh, and all of your communications with the outside world are monitored and you have very little privacy. 

My knee-jerk reaction is to bristle severely at the prospect of using these women like animals on a farm. Their freedom is restricted, they're constantly monitored, they're censored with outside communication, and their bodies are being used for the wealthy? Disgusting. 

But.... Is it? Completely? They were completely aware of what they were doing, had everything spelled out contractually, were compensated handsomely, and were living in luxury. They made the choice to become "hosts" and would benefit financially from the agreement. Sure, some of them were hesitant, but no one dragged them in against their will- they signed up for it. Assuming the women were of sound, body, and mind, is it actually an antifeminist concept? Or is the idea of using your body how you choose actually an act of feminism? 

This dilemma is much broader, if you think about past this literary example. Is surrogacy a problem? That's basically what these women were doing, although with more strings attached and more money to be gained. Most people see surrogacy as a beautiful thing. And what about sex workers? If a woman is empowered and doesn't feel that selling sex is her only option, is that a crime (think about the connotation between the words "prostitution" and "dominatrix"). The list continues- porn actors, skimpily-clad cocktail waitresses, strippers, etc... If a woman makes a conscious decision and is fine with what she's doing, who are we to judge? We use our talents to gain money all the time- artists, writers, hair-stylists, accountants, lawyers, chefs,... But, is she really fine with her choice? Will she be in ten years? Is she extremely young? Does it matter? Are we allowed to make our own choices? 

What's a feminist to do? 

There's no standard, one-size-fits-all rule that we can apply. At the end of the day we have to trust each other, but we also have to look out for each other. 

Two Audiobooks and Two Podcasts

Over the years I've moved into someone who only listens to music in the car to someone who now splits the time with podcasts and audiobooks. When Sawyer is in the car with me we stick to music, since I can't focus on much with all the chatting, but when he is not I often to listen to what he calls my "talking books." Here are a few things I've listened to and enjoyed lately that I thought I'd pass on, in case you've missed them:

Slow Burn, Season 2- These nine episodes take a deeper look into the Clinton impeachment, focusing on Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp. I was in high school when all of this originally went down, so I knew the basics, kinda sorta. I blew through these in just a few days, mostly on my solo trip from Vegas to Zion and back. 

Armchair Expert, Experts on Experts: Elizabeth Gilbert- I wasn't exactly a huge fan of Eat, Pray, Love, or Big Magic, for that matter, but I loved the idea of an author being on the show, so I listened. She was absolutely delightful and fascinating. 

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb- I listened to this audiobook about a therapist who went to therapy, after a sudden breakup. She discusses her own experiences as a patient and on the other side of the couch, both sides equally insightful. This book really caused me to do some reflection, and, long story short, my decade-long desire to go to therapy is even stronger now (I am too cheap to pay weekly copays, have no time, and am intimidated by the process of finding one). 

So Here's the Thing... Notes on Growing Up, Getting Older and Trusting Your Gut by Alyssa Matromonaco- I listened to her first book about her time working for Obama and absolutely adored it, so I couldn't wait to listen to this one. She didn't let me down- her candor, humor, and insights on being an independent woman are spot on. She isn't preachy, she isn't trying to be a self-help book, and she doesn't self-promote. Basically, I want to be her best friend. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

When I was driving in Vegas last week I saw a billboard from a hospital that announced births as they were happening, and then when I was back in town I saw one for a local college congratulating specific graduates. Such positivity and happiness! I love it (especially the baby one... it's like the hospitals that have special chimes when a baby is born- so many warm fuzzies).

I know people are totally into grocery delivery services or curb-side pick up, but I'm way too old school for all of that. I like to go in and select my own produce, compare prices, find new products, etc... Maybe if I was injured, elderly, or had a new baby I'd feel differently, but I'm going to keep hoofing it in to shop. 

I've finished two books in the last few days, one on running and the newest Ian McEwan book. It feels good to get some momentum going, since I want to get through fifteen books this summer. I've taken Sawyer to preschool the last two days and have made sure to dedicate some specific chunks to sitting on the couch in quiet, away from my phone, to read. It makes all the difference! 

The running book, 26 Marathons, by Meb Keflezighi, was incredibly motivating. I don't have any real running plans right now, other than fitness, but just hearing him talk about perseverance and he finds the bright side in tough situations was such a great message. For a few weeks after I read book like this I always notice that I have an easier time sticking out runs, improving my posture, and adding mileage. I guess I need to just read a running book each month! 

I made this lasagna recently and it was so, so, so good.

Scott and I watched Always Be My Maybe on Netflix and I thought it was super cute and reminded me of the good ol' romantic comedies from my youth. I know people love Ali Wong's standup, but I HATE standup. Ugh. I've tried, but I just can't.  

My Fitbit Versa strap has been in the process of breaking and the warranty replacement from the company finally arrived. I went to change it yesterday, and two mangled thumb nails, four hundred f-bombs, a few tears, and one husband who couldn't do it either later I had to drive to a jeweler for help! I was desperate! It took him two minutes and he didn't even charge me. For someone like me who is incredibly co-dependent on her tracker, it was a much-needed happy ended.

Sawyer and I are off to the beach today! It's cloudy and cool, which is fine by us! He will play with his sand toys while I read, we'll take a break for a picnic lunch, and then get back to the reading and playing before we beat the traffic home. I love that he's old enough to make this so easy now. 

Ten Things I'm Looking Forward to this Summer

I'm not going to lie- I have a printed, categorized, to-do list that I carefully prepared a week ago. It's summer break! I have eight weeks off! If you know me in the slightest, or have been reading here for awhile, you know that it's in my nature to see this time as a period requiring hyper-productivity. It's who I am.

Instead of boring everyone with every last entry ("clean out each each junk drawer" and "steam clean carpets"), I thought I'd condense it to the top ten things I'm looking forward to the most:

1. Our trip to Vegas/Zion- fine, that's done already, but it was a great way to see a new place and kick off summer

2. Our trip to the coast- Sawyer and I area staying in Monterey for three nights and plan to hit up Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Santa Cruz while we are there. I haven't been to that area in well over a decade, and Sawyer never, so it will be a fun little adventure. 

3. Cleaning every nook and cranny of my house- I'm maybe not looking forward to this, but it will make me feel better

4. Going to the Natural History Museum- Sawyer has developed quite the love of dinosaurs, so we will head out to LA at some point to see them there

5. Beach time- I was able to make a few beach trips last summer and want to get out there at least three or four times this year. It's about an hour each way, so it's not too crazy. Sawyer loves to play in the sand and I love to read while listening to the waves. 

6. Reading reading and reading some more- Self-explanatory, right?

7. Starting my Etsy shop- My goal is to officially open it when I have ten pieces ready to sell. I have two right now, so if I want it to happen at the beginning of next month I need to hustle. 

8. Visiting with my family- My mom and sister are coming down in a few weeks to stay with my grandparents, and my brother and I are trying to plan a day for all of us in San Diego at the zoo. 

9. A cheap bathroom re-fresh- A remodel isn't in the budget right now, so I've brainstormed some things I can do in the master bathroom for under $100ish to get it looking better. Right now I plan to redo all the caulking in the shower, give the walls a fresh coast of paint, and sand down and stain the cabinets. It's going to be quite the project, but I really feel confident I can do it. 

10. See friends- A lot of my friends are teachers, so this is always the perfect time of year to get together with them, since we are all off!

A Quick Trip to Zion

I have always wanted to visit Zion National Park, so when a friend offered me a spot on their Subway Hike (you have to have a permit) I sprung into action trying to figure out how it would work with childcare. Luckily my in-laws live in Vegas, which is on the way, so I was able to drop Sawyer off with them on Wednesday afternoon and then drive two more hours to where my friends were staying, in time for the hike Thursday morning.

I have a weird relationship with hiking- I don't necessarily go our every month or anything, but I've done the laborious trek up to Half Dome in Yosemite twice and have done some local trails. Sawyer and I were also able to explore in Canada last summer, as well (he is part of the reason I don't get to go as often as I'd like, truth be told). I consider myself to be relatively in-shape enough, so I don't balk at the idea of a tough, long hike, even though I'm not out there in the hills super frequently. I don't consider myself experienced, but definitely enthusiastic and willing. 

Given that, for once, I wasn't the one who had to coordinate things (thanks Jeannette and Matt!), I sort of didn't look into this one much before I went, other than just some of the basics. My friends had already done it and assured me I'd be fine, so that was good enough for me! Unfortunately, what I couldn't have predicted was coming down with a cold the day before I left California. It started out as a sore throat and turned into a fever on the drive to Nevada. I shrugged it off, took some Dayquil, and just planned on being better the next day. Spoiler alert: not quite.

We started hiking around 6:30 in the morning and climbed down to the bottom of a canyon- it was absolutely beautiful and the weather was perfect. It was a really steep, rocky descent and I was definitely concerned about the way back, but what can you do? After about an hour and a half of hiking we took a break and I was feeling like absolute crap- my fever was clearly back. I seriously considered quitting, having them drop a pin at my location and pick my up in like six hours. Fortunately, my friend had Aleve, and within twenty minutes I had a renewed pep in my step and was good to go. That girl is a lifesaver, I'm telling ya. 

We hiked to the Subway part, which was also our turnaround, and it was absolutely beautiful. I fell multiple times on the slippery rocks on the way there, so I was bruised and scraped up quite a bit, but it was still really pretty and it was so nice to just sit there and relax. 

The way back we tried to stay in the super shallow river (?) water, which was never higher than out hips, mostly mid-calf. It was a more direct route and was cooler, since we started getting the sun. There were hundreds of little toads jumping around, which were super cute.

The killer was hiking out of the canyon- it was thirty minutes of torture. I can't even count how many four-letter words I dropped, dripping in sweat and with my heart rate at like 165. But, we did it! And, despite the hiccups, I'm really glad I was able to push myself. I haven't done something super physical and challenging in a long time, so I was really proud of myself. Most of the hikes I have done in the past have really clearly marked trails, but this one was rough- we were constantly climbing over rocks and finding our way. It was different, in a good way.

After the hike (about 10ish miles and 9 hours) I basically got right back in the car and drove back to Vegas to relieve my in-laws. It was a really hard drive back- I was tired, I was still not feeling great, and I was in this weird state of starving and not wanting to eat, which I find typical of myself after I do something that requires a lot of endurance. I had to stop a few times to get out and stretch, since my legs were cramping up and I got sleepy.

I'm back home, getting over my soreness (my legs, my arms, my chest....), but I am so glad I was able to go. The company was excellent, the scenery was unlike my normal trips, and it was a nice break away from home. I really feel like it's important to push yourself- it would have been so easy to bail on the trip when I started to feel sick, but I knew I could do it. And I did. 

Box-o-Books 2019

For the past few years I bribe myself to get through the end of the school year craziness with a box of books. This year I saved some Amazon gift cards and also grabbed some desk copies that I might consider using in my classroom one day from a publishing company. All of these books cost me less than $25 out of pocket- not too shabby. 

A lot of these have been on my wish list for several months and I was being good and saving them for the occasion, so I'm proud of my self-control. I've actually bought only six books for myself so far this year, which is goddamn miracle, if I do say so myself. I'm trying to get my TBR pile down to 80 books by the end of the year, although this new stack of reads doesn't really help that situation.

I definitely don't plan to read all of them this summer, since I have some other books I've been waiting for summer to read. I know I will definitely get to Norwegian Wood soon, since we might try to teach it for our IB curriculum. I just started 26 Marathons by runner Meb Keflezighi, since I always find these sorts of books inspiring, exercise-wise. The Farm has gotten a ton of buzz lately, so I'll probably get through that as well. After that? Who knows. Whatever I'm in the mood for. 

Have you read any? What are you reading this summer? 

The Week that Nearly Killed Me

Maybe I'm exaggerating, but dang. It's been touch and go.

Last weekend was on the lighter side of busy, so I was just at my typical level of tired to start the week. Monday I chaperoned the Disneyland trip for our senior class, which meant over 25,000 steps walked and not going to bed until 1 am Tuesday morning (was past my bedtime). I was then up at 5:30 to teach all day, and then the same for finals Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday night was also graduation, along with dinner with a friend afterward.

Did I mention the grading? Ugh. 

I was actually fairly caught up, but because our turnaround time for grading finals and submitting the semester marks is ridiculously short, I was pretty slammed. A few times I fantasized about leaving all my work in my car with the doors open at night in front of my house, hoping someone would steal them (even safe neighborhoods have theft, right?). Nonetheless, it all got graded.

I also had to rush to finish our book club book yesterday too, which meant finishing the book about two hours before lunch, during my prep period. Clearly I am learning from my students. I prefer to finish the day before so I can let things sort of percolate before discussing, so I didn't feel like my contributions were very articulate. Granted there were only two other teachers there besides me, so it didn't really matter. But still. 

Today I worked to clean my classroom for like four hours and ran around campus taking stuff to my car, chatting with colleagues, and finishing up our checkout procedures. 

But, really, there was so much good in the crazy. Disneyland was SO MUCH FUN. The two parks were virtually empty (this NEVER happens) so my friend and another colleague that joined us were able to go on a ton of rides between the two parks. Sawyer has had a blast at school this week as they kick off their summer curriculum (will water day excitement ever wear off? I think not) and has started talking about how happy he is about kindergarten in a few months (he's been a little anxious about switching classes). I've seen so many of my friends this week and have been able to catch up on their lives. Graduation is always such an important day, both in terms of seeing what the kids and teachers have done during the school year. Oh, and the weather is finally warm and when I checked my air conditioner the other day to make sure it was still working after a long winter, both units fired up immediately (this seems so minor, but our units are getting older and those suckers are pricy). I've had some epiphanies about things I can do on the cheap around the house, as well, and we all know how much I love a good project.

But now, Friday afternoon? I am genuinely concerned about my ability to hoist my body of the couch when need be. 

I'll be back soon to regular posting! I have a whole bunch of new books to share, as well as some books I'm excited about reading this fall. 

May Reviews

Admittedly, I didn't read quite as much as I usually do or would have wanted to this month, but that's life! Busy at home, busy at work, you know the drill... Here's what I did get through-

I tackled the other two plays in Sophocles' Theban series, getting through Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus. I wrote more about how much I have grown to appreciate the trilogy here

I read two novels as well, Dave Eggers' Heroes of the Frontier and Eleanor Morse's White Dog Fell From the Sky. The Egger's book is about a divorced mother who has recently lost her dentistry practice and takes her two young kids to Alaska to drive around in an old motorhome. It's a tragi-comic, episodic account of her experiences there, and is well-written, of course (it is Eggers, after all). It just wasn't a good fit reading-wise for me when I read it, so it took me awhile. It probably could have been a shorter and would have been easier to tackle. At times it felt like my journey reading it was as meandering as hers driving, but not in a good way.

 The Morse novel was excellent, a story about a young man named Isaac who escapes South Africa to Botswana only to be accused of being someone he is not. The novel parallels his story with his employer, Alice's, who is having a bit of an early mid-life crisis, and ends up becoming more involved in her gardener's life than she would have ever thought. It was one of those books where I'd sit down to start reading and be surprised at how far I'd gotten and how long I spent when I finally checked the time. It was excellent. 

902 pages 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

It's finally spring in Southern California and all I want to do is go to the beach to read in the sun while Sawyer plays in the sand next to me. He is pretty scared of the water, so it's kind of a perfect situation... for me.

Things are getting bussssssy. Friday night is Sawyer's preschool graduation, Sunday we have plans with friends, and Monday I will be at Disneyland all day with one of my best friends chaperoning a school trip (it's pretty awesome- we ride down in the bus, wave at the seniors as they walk away, and count their heads when they arrive back twelve hours later). Then next week is the end of the year- finals, grades, classroom cleaning, etc...

Podcast note #1- listen to the tax cab episode of The Daily. I had no idea how the medallion system worked in NYC and found the whole thing fascinating.

Podcast note #2- I juuuuuust started listening to My Dad Wrote a Porno and I was giggling to myself all the way to pick Sawyer up. This man's older father wrote an erotic story and gave the draft to his son, who then promptly turned it into a podcast with his friends. 

You know what? I still really, really love print magazines. I only subscribe to two, In Style and Shape, but if I had the choice I'd get fifteen.

Have you watched Dead to Me? It's so good. I love half hour shows and this one is the best combination of drama and comedy, Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini totally perfect together. I've been trying to only watch two or so episodes a week to make it last. 

Last night I googled something and FOR ONCE THE RESULTS WEREN'T BAD. I really try to not look things up that are causing my anxiety, but I did and it turns out an occasional dry wall nail poking out is actually more a cometic issue than one of indicating your house is about to fall apart. 

Manageable Chunks

One of the hardest parts of blogging is not over-sharing. Actually, I think that’s sort of the hardest part of living. I always wrestle with this concept- you want to tell people enough about you so that you feel connected and supported, but you also don’t want to be that person. You know, the acquaintance that you haven’t seen in five years but run into at Trader Joe's and all of the sudden they’ve told you their deepest darkest secrets when you really just wanted to get some cheap bananas? I mean that hasn't happened to me exactly, but you know what I mean.

I run into this problem at work all of the time. I teach my students for two years in a row, as juniors and seniors. I want them to respect me as their English instructor, but I also want them to see me as a human who has emotions and has had experiences outside of the classroom. There’s a line, though, and I constantly have to decide what’s okay to divulge and how. I think I do a pretty good job of sharing parts of my life with them, and in return they do the same with me. If you want people to work for you they have to feel emotionally invested on some level.

So, basically, this has been one long preface to say that there have been some really heavy things going on in my life for several months, which is part of the reason why things have been quieter around here and sometimes lacking substance (or at least that's what it feels like to me). Because of the whole boundary concept, I can’t really divulge what’s up, but I will be okay and life will work out, eventually.

Because of this I’ve really had to put safeguards in place to protect, well, my sanity. I’ve been feeling bogged down emotionally but also with the sheer volume of things that need to get done between work and home. I haven’t lightened my load in terms of any of these things or with doing things on the weekend and whatnot. Sometimes I feel like there isn’t enough caffeine in the world to get me through life. I resist relying on others for any sort of support and I also refuse to stop adhering to the whole "fake it 'til you make it" mentality on a day-to-day basis. 

So, in response to this, I’ve really started practicing what I preach to my students: you have to create manageable chunks.

Yesterday this concept drove my entire day and I was able to get so much done. I’d clean for thirty minutes, spend thirty minutes doing puzzles with Sawyer, grade for thirty minutes, go back to cleaning, etc… and by the end of the day everything was crossed off my list. Being productive makes me feel better, so it was a win-win. I felt better and more on top of things that I had in a really, really long time. 

I’ve been using this concept for bigger things as well. When I was doing all of the HELOC paperwork I was pretty stressed out. I felt in over my head at times and was worried I’d missed something in the documents. In order to combat this, I assigned myself a task every day- answer an email to the loan officer, discuss the solar panel balance with the credit union, ask my accountant brother-in-law for clarification on items, etc…. This week I have a ton of insurance claim paperwork to deal with, complete with tracking down some stupid billing codes, so each day I am going to chip away at a different chunk.

Really, it's sort of a lifestyle, if you think of it. Manageable chunks- if you tackle things slowly and methodically, bit by bit things will happen. 

I highly recommend it. 

Five Reasons Why You Should Read the Theban Plays

I honestly don't even know who I am anymore. Me, the girl who did everything in her power possible to avoid classics classes while in college (as in BC work, not like Bronte), read Sophocles' three Theban Plays for fun this past month (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone). I actually taught Antigone again, for the fourth time, so I guess that one was obligatory. I had such a good time explaining the backstory, though, that I even sold myself on the whole thing and ordered copies to read for pleasure. I had read Oedipus when I was in high school (didn't we all?), but Colonus was a first for me. I admittedly like Antigone the best, probably because I know it so well and Colonus the least, but really, I can truthfully say I thoroughly enjoyed the process. And now I'm here to convince you to do the same:

The stories- Incest! Death! Suffering! Family drama! This is how I entice my students before they start reading Antigone, by giving them the details on poor Oedipus killing his dad and marrying his mom. They're horrified, but hooked! They went into Antigone being intrigued and were more motivated to tackle the language. I have a ton of kids reading the other plays for outside reading now, since these themes have proved to be so interesting. And really, they are. The way that Sophocles just totally destroys Oedipus' family is horrific- basically the first train wreck people couldn't stop watching (except a chariot... really).

It's accessible (especially with the right translations)- I know we typically think of things written by scholars and great playwrights like Sophocles as incredibly challenging, but I really think with a tiny bit of literary elbow grease anyone can successfully tackle these three books. And then, when you surprise yourself and do, you can be super proud that you're nailing Sophocles.

Sophocles' commentary on power- Creon's progression through various degree of power is such an interesting process and is so timely. Sophocles shows what happens when someone gets too much control and refuses to listen to others- he's left with nothing, no one, and without respect. The church vs state debate is also relevant, the challenging notion clearly a problem that has haunted civilization since the dawn of infrastructure and bureaucracy. 

Fascinating minor characters- I love discussing Ismene, Antigone's sister, with my students. Is she smart in her desire to protect herself from Creon or is she a coward? Teiresias plays such an integral part in the three plays as well, despite not having many spoken lines. Haimon is also a fascinating character, as Antigone's cousin-fiancee who pulls the original Romeo and Juliet sort-of-move at the end of the series. 

The minimalism- I gravitate towards contemporary novels with details, extensive plot development, multiple perspectives, and hundreds of pages. The Theban Plays are quite the opposite, considering Sophocles was really at the forefront of developing a lot of these theatrical advances. Not long before Sophocles' time there were only one or two characters in a play! These plays are still very short on cast lists, don't devote any space to developing settings (except in Oedipus at Colonus, there is some time spent discussing a sort of sacred area he is at), and there aren't a ton of stage directions. It totally works, though, as the reader/audience isn't getting distracted by irrelevant information that detracts from what Sophocles is doing with the characters and their tragic story. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

This past weekend was super busy and fun. I started things off with the Strumbellas concert in Orange County with a friend. They were absolutely amazing live- it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a show before. If you haven’t heard of them before I highly recommend checking out their last album, Hope, on Spotify. Their newest one is good, for sure, but the one from 2016 is the best.

Sunday Sawyer and I met up with my brother and his wife at the San Diego Zoo. It was raining, but we came prepared with umbrellas and jackets, and had so much fun. There were two particular highlights- getting to see a zookeeper carry a sloth right by us (we naturally followed them) and then seeing a giraffe in labor (the poor thing had the calf’s legs sticking out for hours and hours; we didn’t see the actual birth it took her so long).

I have been tracking all my expenditures for a few months now, and it’s been so incredibly helpful for trimming extra expenses. I’ve always been fiscally aware, but it’s amazing how a $10 order from Amazon one day, a $3 treat the next day, and a $18 run in to Target on the third can add up. Just like tracking calories, knowing that I’ll be held responsible really makes me question the necessity of things.

Our weather here in Southern California is ridiculous. It’s almost June and I’m sitting here in long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a blanket. I know I’ll be eating my words in a few months, but the clouds are what kill me. I need sunshine.

I’ve started reading White Dog Fell from the Sky by Eleanor Morse and so far I am really enjoying it. Morse isn’t herself African, but I do appreciate the increase in novels being published about this continent over the past few years.                      

What You Should Read While Lying By the Pool this Summer

Or, anywhere, for that matter. Just take a break and read something, got it?

Every year I come up with a list of suggestions of “beach” reads for those who are maybe a tad more literary-inclined, books with a little bit of bite but maybe not as much as normal. That way if you’ve had a poolside cocktail, are stuck on the tarmac while traveling to your destination, or are holed up in an office pissed at the world over not having a summer break you can still concentrate.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
226 pages
Mystery, international setting, family bonds
This tongue-in-cheek murder mystery set in Africa is written in quick little chapters that make it a perfect traveling companion (especially if you have small kids that CONSTANTLY want to show you something). Braithwaite’s descriptions and development of the sisterly relationship show she has writing chops beyond what your “typical” mystery writer might have, though, which I greatly appreciated.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
383 pages
Memoir, tech, family bonds
In a world consumed with Apple, who doesn’t want an inside peek into the Jobs family? I know there has been some criticism surrounding his daughter’s memoir, but I thought her perception was fascinating and struggled to find any real incentive to lie. The book read like a novel, for the most part, and I couldn’t put it down. 

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
368 pages
Music, interview format, drama
This book was read in anticipation of some serious book FOMO, since everyone read this when it came out. The interview format makes it feel like a Behind the Music episode and the characters were directly inspired by Fleetwood Mac, which classic rock lovers like myself will enjoy. It’s not a book that requires a great deal of concentration and is super easy to pick up and put down, so it’s totally idea for a busy summer schedule.

Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold
320 pages
Memoir, outdoor adventures, amazing accomplishments
Can’t get away? Want to partake in some outdoor adventures but can’t? Honnold’s account of free-soloing Half Dome won’t necessarily be a substitute, but will help take the edge off your wanderlust. He details his ultimate feat, but also describes many of his climbing expeditions from around the world beforehand.

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
194 pages
Short stories, race, sci-fi-ish
I find short stories (and essays… see Sedaris below) to be a perfect solution when I know that I’m going to be on-the-go and may not be able to devote a ton of time to a lengthy novel. Enter Friday Black. These are definitely not ordinary short stories, though, there are messages relating to social justice, cultural issues, and humanity in general. The subtle sci-fi layers, and even horror, add a whole layer of complexity as well (and I’m not necessarily a fan of either of these genres; it totally worked for this collection, though).

Calypso by David Sedaris
272 pages
Humor, essays
This was my first dive into Sedaris, almost a year ago, and I found myself laughing aloud constantly! Many of essays center around the beach home he purchases, which totally jives with our summer reading theme. I remember really loving how he incorporates his loved ones into his work; he’s honest, pokes fun, but you can tell her really cherishes them. His astute descriptions and comical realizations are the perfect combination.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
421 pages
Literary fiction, AIDS epidemic, complex relationships
This is the book for those of you who don’t want something a little easier or slimmer this summer- you want the big book that maybe you wouldn’t normally make time for. This is the one, folks. Spanning over several decades, tackling a tough issue (the AIDS epidemic and intense relationships), and forcing you to engage with a variety of emotions, this your big kahuna.

Happy (almost) summer!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I am on a total Sophocles kick (an admission I never thought I’d utter). We are finishing up our study of Antigone, so I revisited Oedipus and then read Oedipus at Colonus for the first time. Who am I? I’m hoping to write more on this crazy turn of events soon.

I rarely watched movies, but my husband and I watched Wine Country on Netflix last weekend and I really wasn’t very amused….

I’ve written ad nauseam about whether or not I want to start an Etsy shop for my embroidery (“I don’t suck at it!” “But the market’s saturated” “It would be cool to make a few extra bucks” “What if I never sell anything?”). I’ve decided I’m going to do it (I even snagged my Instagram handle name for a shop), but what I really need is a hard deadline for the opening date (I want to have 10-15 hoops totally done and at the level of quality I would want for selling). I wouldn’t call myself a procrastinator by any means, but I do much better without flexibility. (follow me on Instagram @daily_floss_ )

I can’t believe that there are only two full weeks of school left before finals. I am never one to turn down time off, but, for the first time in my entire career, I’m not salivating for break. I love my students, I’m in a good place with grading, I enjoy being on campus every day with a few good friends, I like having time alone in my classroom during my prep period and before school, etc… I just feel like I’m in a good groove right now, which is basically unreal for being a teacher in May.

Every May I order a box of books for the summer, and this year I was extra good and HOARDED all my Amazon gift cards from holidays, so it cost me nothing. My box arrived and is waiting to be opened on June 7! I’m already starting to forget what I ordered…

The other day Sawyer and I were driving home and he was looking at his last Scholastic mailer of the year (sniff) and he started talking about a Panda book. I heard him sounding out words and, sure enough, he had sounded out “Zen,” all by himself, without being prompted. Proud mom moment!

This past weekend I basically had no plans, besides a quick proctoring session Saturday morning at work. Honestly? It was horrible. I need things out of the house to look forward to and obligations to help me focus my time. I got a lot done, but I didn’t end the two days feeling happy, fulfilled, or stimulated. I totally understand that this is probably an issue I need to work on, and I own it, but the fact that I’ve been struggling a little to stay as positive about life lately was not helped by laying low at home.

On that note, I’m crossing my fingers that this weekend goes as planned. Friday night one of my dearest friends and I are going to the Strumbellas concert, Saturday Sawyer and I are supposed to meet up with a friend and her new puppy, and then Sunday Sawyer and I are going to San Diego to the zoo with my brother and his wife, since we all have annual passes now.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. This week feels all out of whack; it's May and it's cold and stormy, I'm out of my classroom twice to proctor AP exams, and I last night I woke up at 2 am because some spammer from Morocco was calling me (my phone is connected to my Fitbit, so it vibrates). For awhile I thought tomorrow was Friday, alas here we are.

2. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother's Day- plenty of time to remind me how much how little the work I do is recognized [shrugs shoulders, rolls eyes, moves on]. 

3. I just started reading Dave Eggers' Heroes of the Frontier and I just have this feeling that it's not the right book for my current headspace. Does that ever happen to you? It's a good enough book but where you are psychologically isn't a good match? I will power on, but having this thought in the back of my mind isn't making me anywhere near obsessed with reading it.

4. Just in case anyone was wondering, cutting up string cheese doesn't work the same as using shredded mozzarella [shrugs shoulders, rolls eyes, moves on].

5.  The current diplomacy issues our country is having is disturbing. 

6. Also disturbing- listen to The Daily's last two podcasts on surveillance in China. Daaaaang. 

7. I think my five-year-old is attempting to be sarcastic at times- I'm not sure if I'm proud or worried.

8. I think the stars might align and I might get a few hours to myself, at home, on Saturday. This basically never happens, and while I love my family and all that, I CANNOT WAIT.