Five Thoughts on Outline by Rachel Cusk

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I'm  not really sure when everyone on bookstagram started posting about Rachel Cusk's trilogy, starting with Outline, but I was quickly intrigued by the idea of a series that was literary. She's quite polarizing, which made my intrigue grow, and now I see why. Here are five take-aways after reading Outline:

1. If you aren't a fan of character-driven books, this isn't for you. There's basically no plot whatsoever, and the structure if semi-episodic. The episodes, though, are just the narrator's (we eventually learn she is Faye) interactions with others.

2. Cusk's syntactical choices are a great representative of the characters and subjects in which they are employed, yet do sometimes irritate me. I love long sentences, but I don't always love really long sentence, ya feel me? She's no Faulkner, rest-assured, but there were a few times I was dying for a period. 

3. There are so many nuggets of wisdom about marriage, life, love, writing, etc... that kept sneaking up on me and knocking my socks off. I am definitely regretting not reading with a pen handy.

4. I have a definite soft spot for books about writers. While it's not necessary about writing, the idea is constantly in the background. 

5. Cusk develops a steady tone that is perfectly complemented by her setting. Athens is stifling hot, bright, but also mellow. And throughout the novel it feels the same way- the narrator is having these languishing conversations with people that simultaneously feel important and never-ending. This book in it's entirety feels like a hot, Mediterranean afternoon with some academics. 

I think I might start doing this for all of the books I read from now on, as opposed to a big pile of word vomit at the end of the month. I'll link back each month to these little reviews, but it might be something I try. Of course this is probably a dumb thing to do now that life is going to be super ridiculously crazy, but we'll see! 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I can't even articulate how disappointed and angry I am in this country for effing up the pandemic again. Delta prevalence exists because eligible people didn't get vaccinated. Plain and simple. A virus mutates when it has able bodies to do so in, and it does, because of so many people who refuse to take advantage of this scientific gift that millions of people in third-world countries would love to have. This is a nation of Red Bull chuggers, Botox injectors, and processed-food eaters. And you tell me you don't want to put a vaccine into your body because of what is in it? PLEASE. I just cannot. I just want to have a normal school year where my biggest concern is staying on top of grading and not if my son is going to get Covid or if my students are worried about coming to school or if we end up shutting down with twenty-seven seconds notice. 

I am having to dig realllllll deep right now to push myself to finish summer happily and productively (I go back on Tuesday). A lot of my teacher-friends agree- things feel strange this year. It's not the normal "wah I love summer and don't want to get up early" emotions that we usually feel, but instead this sort of dread and concern. Last year was so unstable and we had to  "PIVOT" so many times we were left scrambling and dizzy. And, yes,  I know most people don't get a break, but most people aren't required to teach 150ish kids a day with a smile on their faces, either. We can't act apprehensive, wary, or skeptical- the kids need us upbeat, energized, and optimistic about the school year. It's hard to feel that way right now. And no, this is not me saying I want to teach from home, because I do not (simply not true, nor would I want to be called lazy or a bad teacher, right?). I just want stability and safety for me, my family, and my students. 

Oh, and I have a feeling that the 5-11 shot won't be out until a bit later than anticipated, because of the FDA's call to add participants. It's good to collect as much data as possible, but I'm going to be sad if this impacts the timeline Pfizer had set out. 

I think once August is over things will be easier to wrap my head around. 

This concludes the venting portion of today's post... At least, I think it does. No promises. 

Happier item: my son can finally swim. He's not going to the Olympics any times soon, but after practicing for nearly every day this summer (there were tears and some very intense moments, let's just say), he can get from point A to point B without touching the bottom. Such a relief and my biggest victory in months. 

At what age do parents stop feeling responsible for their child's dental hygiene? I help Sawyer every time he brushes and flosses, so when we go in for his visits I'm the one crossing my fingers that I've done a good enough job to prevent cavities in this other human being. I got my gold stars and all, but when I asked the dentist and hygienist were like, "you have to help him until he moves out." They were kidding, of course, but, still.

My pool vacuum has been reminiscent of a drunk old man lately, constantly knocking into walls and not being able to pick himself up (I say old because in pool vacuum years he is ancient). I sort of waited it out a bit to see if he decided to enter a twelve-step program or something, but he did not, so his replacement is going to be delivered today. I am so excited. About a pool vacuum (and the leaf canister that I also got). I mean, eff the book content, but get excited about the pool equipment updates. 

I ordered Sawyer and I these book spine posters from Jane Mount's Ideal Bookshelf site, where you get to draw your books in yourself, and I am going to do a version on my own for my students! They're going to be each doing a spin that represents their favorite book and I'll make a big bulletin board from them. It will be the perfect first-day-of-school activity, since the kids know me already and our schedule is weird that day. I just emailed them all reminding them to start figuring out what they want to draw!

I don't really watch many movies, but I am ALL about House of Gucci. Lady Gaga and Adam Driver are going to be perfect together and I bet the soundtrack will be excellent, I'm sure. 

I've been doing more hiking this past week at a trail about ten minutes from my house. It's so nice to have somewhere different to take Ellie, and it tires her out a ton. Of course I start going at the end of the summer! At least it will be an option when I'm on my next break in November (gulp). It gets really crowded on the weekends, even as early as 6, since people want to beat the heat!

I feel like we are at the point in the summer where I'm looking out the window going "is it smoke or clouds?" Our home owner's insurance premiums went up a ton this year, again, because of where we live. It's unfortunate, but I am SO glad we weren't canceled like people in my neighborhood were (we like in suburbia surrounded by dry hills, basically). 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I'm back! Summer (or life?) has just this weird vortex that skews time so intensely. Sawyer and I have been busy doing lots of fun things (having tons of friends over, going to the beach, swimming, etc...) and just got back from several days in Lake Tahoe. We had the BEST time. I hadn't planned on a trip this summer, but my husband's hybrid schedule was just too good to pass up, since I could go for a stretch of time and not have to worry about dealing with the dog. Over the course of our trip we hiked over thirty miles, read lots of books (on our own now, which the best), and ate lots. It was a really, really long drive, but Sawyer is awesome in the car.

Speaking of the car, I listed to Malibu Rising between the trip up and back and thought it was really entertaining. Not well-written (she needs to utilize some synonyms for "said"), but the perfect summer book to listen to while driving. 

While in Tahoe I finished Andy Weir's Project Hail Mary, which was also entertaining, and started We Came, We Saw, We Left, a memoir about a family's "gap year." I could never be as unplanned and adventurous as them, but I am loving living vicariously through them!

I have preordered several books recently, including Emily St. Mandel's newest, Colson Whithead's, and... Dav Pilkey's newest Cat Kid Comic Club book that doesn't come out until November (Sawyer mailed Dav a 10 page comic book he created special for him and we got back a form letter, but on the outside someone wrote him a note about his book being awesome... it was so cute... and I may have mentioned it already?).

I bought a Hyperchiller on Amazon and it totally lived up to the... hype. Ha. As a summer iced-coffee drinker, this a game changer and I am totally in love.

I have been using a lot of time-based tricks to motivate myself into productivity lately. I need to really deep clean and organize, but who really wants to do that? This morning I set a timer for ten minutes and started tackling the laundry room- I made some serious progress, and just quit when it was time. Same with a junk drawer and a bathroom. Sure, neither are quite done, but I'm over half way done and finishing up doesn't seem like a huge chore. Yesterday I did the same with my workout- I knew I needed to get thirty minutes in, so I did a quick barre routine for five minutes, ran for five more, did ten minutes of a steep incline walk, jumped for abs and arms, etc... It flew by and I got a good session in!

Work starts in *gulp* ten days, and while I refuse to do anything until then, I do read emails, and man have they started coming in.... We get three teacher prep days before the kids come, which are plenty for me. I don't know if the public really realizes that we only get paid for ten months a year, and while I choose to spread my salary out over twelve, I am not working for free on my break. I give them plenty of my free time during the school year. 

Five Tips I Use for Getting Through a "Meh" Day

Things are going well, nothing catastrophic has happened, but you still feel... meh. Know the feeling? Maybe it's from being over-tired, maybe a tiny bit of a funk, whatever it is, you're not feeling what you know to be your best. Earlier that week that was totally me- I was super tired (we have some schedule changes happening in our house right now that were totally anticipated, but still need to be adapted to), there are some nagging household things that have to be taken care of, and it's starting to get hot (I know, it's summer, it happens every year, but I hate July and August heat). Here are some of the things I did to get by-

1. Acknowledge it- I think I have spent most of my life in denial about these sorts of days, pushing myself to "be happy" and "be thankful." All of that toxic positivity nonsense. I was reading through a blog post from last August and I was so, so low- it permeated from basically every sentence. I told myself, "July 2021 Christine, you should be so thankful and happy you aren't August 2020 Christine! You are going places! Seeing people! Your family is super happy!" While this is all true, I was denying myself the option to even feel less than Suzy Sunshine. I think relieving that pressure helps right out of the gate.

2. Make plans- This really is the not-so-secret to my happiness, that I've been really vocal about. When I have thing to look forward to I automatically feel happier, so I made a hiking date with a friend and invited some people to come swim next week.

3. Get productive (with easy things)- I find that this is not the time to say, paint a room or clean the garage. Instead, I do a few quick tasks on my to-do list and benefit from the endorphins of productivity (my drug of choice).

4. Be creative- Lucky Sawyer loves to sit around and do projects, so I can recruit him to hang out with me while I plan an embroidery project or, like lately, work on a LEGO project.

5. Work out- Even a five minute break to do some quick weights, yoga asanas, or a walk around the block helps.

Bonus- Go to bed early. I am horrible at this (not that I stay up that late, but once Sawyer is in bed my "ohmygod I'm freeeeeeeeeee second wind kicks in). 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

After buying it a very, very, very long time ago, I finally finished the LEGO Tree House, which was so much more satisfying to put together than anticipated. I really enjoy LEGOs and play with my son fairly often, or at least supervise while he puts together sets. I love tree houses very much, so it was the set for me. It took probably 12-15 hours over the course of several weeks, and I'm a little sad that it's done.

I just got the call that my new reading couch is ahead of schedule and will be delivered on Monday. I'm so excited!

I just ordered a magical drink chiller that apparently will turn my hot coffee into iced coffee in just sixty seconds. If this is true it will be life changing. 

I've been a reading machine since school got out- I think I've read twelve books so far? It's so nice to have so much time to just read and not feel guilty about needing to work or do all the other domestic things I have to put off while I'm gone during the school year. I just started How to Be Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri and both are wonderful so far. 

Even if you aren't a podcast person, listen to the Critical Race Theory and Alzheimer's Drug episodes from this week on The Daily. CRT is becoming a hot-button issue where I live (although it's not even CRT... it's ethnic studies, which is really  not the same),  which I will probably complain about several times a month indefinitely. The Alzheimer's one is actually super disappointing, since things seem really, really fishy with how the FDA approval played out. My grandma is in the late stages of the disease, so I was hopeful that other families would maybe have an option to helped love ones in the future and not go through what we have. I am trying to be optimistic that even though this one seems to be shady the drug technology is headed in the right direction.

I hit it off with one of Sawyer's friend's moms and we went out the other night and all the sudden we had been sitting at a restaurant bar for three hours and were shutting the place down. It can be sort of awkward navigating the social life of your child when they're super young, so I feel super lucky that some of his friends have cool moms.

I have meant to start an allowance for Sawyer for a few years now, but I never have cash on me! My friend suggested fake money and I can't believe I didn't think of that sooner! I ordered some the other day and we're off and running! I attribute my money-sense to having an allowance from a very young age and being forced to budget. My parents didn't have much money for extras, but they would give us a few dollars a week- it was up to us to save for new books, extra clothes we wanted, going to the movies, etc... I want him to be in the same boat! 

June Reads

My first month of summer break was a success in many ways- we've been super busy with seeing friends and going to places we haven't been in awhile, and I've also read nine books.

Four of the books were nonfiction, one being a guide for the course I teach, which I won't bore anyone with the details about. Alison Bechdel's The Secret to Superhuman Strength was a graphic memoir that examined her lifelong experiences with intense exercise. She ties it to many historical figures, which, frankly, I could have done without, but still appreciated. The Science of Yoga is a super in-depth, practical guide at the anatomy that connects to the most important asanas, plus a lot of extra information about yoga's connections to your health. I am try to improve my practice this summer and also use it as a way to deal with hip pain, so it was very helpful. World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatahil was a collection of essays that tied her experiences to the natural world, along with some illustrations. Her writing was absolutely beautiful and she was incredible poignant, but sometimes her links between her life and plants/animals seemed a little far-fetched. It did make me think about what a cool creative writing assignment this would be for my students, though!

On the fiction front, this month was rock solid. I reread Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, which I read back in high school. I don't always love books from this time period, but this one I definitely look back at fondly. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell surpassed the hype, with stellar writing, character development, and plot. I am not typically a big fan of historical fiction, so I went into this anticipating appreciating it but maybe not liking it, but I was wrong. Dawne Walton's The Final Revival of Opal & Nev was a more topical, better written version of Daisy Jones, which I know a lot of people would like to come at me for saying. I wrote a bit about Lisa Taddeo's Animal last week, and while I had some issues with some of her choices, I thought it was definitely a read I'd label as "an experience." She's such a unique writer and I can't wait to see what she does next. I finished The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich most recently, for book club, and it was a great combination of solid literature with historical implications.