I read two books recently.
They were both excellent and you can find my reviews here:
For those who don’t feel like clicking through and reading, I gave each of them five stars and they are definitely worth your time.
March has been hard for me. The 17th was the WFH anniversary for my day job. As I’ve said before, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to preserve my health. As someone who is single, whose really only social network was at work, it did not come without its side effects.
I relapsed into old coping habits. Ice cream every weekend, sometimes multiple pints. As I told a therapist, I eat my feelings — every single one. When one is in a constant state of stress from both pandemic and work, that’s a lot of feelings to eat, and eat I did.
I had low energy, and did not keep up with my boxing. There really is something about boxing with a group of other people, but no way was I going to go back to my gym, where masks were optional and the ventilation poor.
I also returned to my other go-to coping mechanism: binge watching television.
None of these things made me happy. None of these things helped me achieve my goal of being a writer, despite drafting two novel length works in the second half of 2020. I’m still editing the first one, and the first quarter of 2021 is almost over.
After some reading and light research, I realized that my lack of sleep was probably a culprit. For the first three months of the pandemic, insomnia was the bane of my existence. I ended up taking over the counter sleep aids every day for about six or seven months in an effort to sleep. And it worked, I guess.
When I discovered the long term side effects of consistent benadryl usage, I stopped, terrified the insomnia would return. It didn’t, but I still wasn’t allowing myself to get my eight hours of sleep. Another coping mechanism? Staying up late will delay the next day, even though I knew from experience it would only make it worse.
Didn’t seem to matter.
With the first dose of the vaccine (had my high BMI to thank for that, I think), it kick started my brain into realizing that I had to make some changes.
The first change I’m finally doing after talking and talking about it? Seeing a therapist. I’m still in the early stages of that, so I don’t know how that will go or if I will need to keep looking for one with whom I’ll click. The main order of business is how to learn to healthily regulate and express my emotions without relying on my unhealthy, non goal achieving coping mechanisms.
The second change was uninstalling various apps on my phone–Tumblr to be specific. I caught myself scrolling Tumblr hours on my phone, delaying bed time, delaying getting up and going on a walk, delaying writing, delaying reading.
The third change I want to implement is limiting my tv watching to the weekends. I tried to do that this week, but did not succeed due to, you guessed it, day job work stress.
But a new week is coming, and I want to challenge myself again. No television Mon-Friday. With no commute, it is easy for me to split up my days: 8 hours sleep, 8.5 hours work, 2 hours exercise, 2 hours write, 2 hours read. That leaves an hour and a half for various chores, including a commute when the time comes (my commute is less than hour there and back).
As I am struggling to wean myself off these coping mechanisms (the tv binge addiction and internet addiction are real), I’ve had to put my writing and reading in the back seat. Reading/writing, due to lack of energy, has been a real struggle anyway in my adulthood. I am prioritizing my physical health because I’ve noticed that exercise is a pretty sure way to keep insomnia at bay.
My greatest priority will be sleep, and making sure I get those 8 hours every day.
My second priority will be weaning myself off those unhealthy coping mechanisms, which makes this my official accountability post.
What goals are you trying to achieve in the upcoming months?
I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz about Whitney Wolfe Herd who has recently entered the ranks of a billionaire. A lot of it has been contextualized as feminism but is it really feminist to hoard that many resources so one can call one’s self a billionaire?
Wielding capitalism in order to break the billionaire glass ceiling isn’t feminism. It’s just a woman allying with oppressive forces.
It’s worse when articles headline with the adjective “self-made.” Nice big fuck you to all the employees who actually work at the company or developed the software or provided the customer service.
Wonder what she’s paying them.
I’ve been fairly ambivalent towards Wandavision. The main draw for me was the interesting premise of the sitcom conceit. It felt meta in a way that wouldn’t be quite so tiresome as some of the other meta works I’ve seen in the past. I was curious as to what the premise and setting would lead towards.
Also, the MCU has a habit of taking itself too seriously, and I was hoping for a break from that.
That said, I came in with reservations, the primary ones being Elizabeth Olsen’s casting and that I’m just not a fan of her romance with Vision.
Wandavision doesn’t attempt to correct the mistakes of its predecessors. Even though there is an attempt at diversity, most of the story still revolves around a white nuclear family with super powers. It becomes particularly troubling as it’s gradually revealed that Wanda’s spell has essentially mind controlled individuals in the town to become characters in her personal sitcom. This is uncomfortable on its own, but feels especially so when the primary nods to diversity are towards the side characters…whose real selves are being controlled by a white woman….who is a whitewashed version of her comic origins.
Though Monica Rambeau was introduced in the story, a character who came back after the Snap only to discover that her mother is dead and the world is entirely different, she consistently takes a back seat when her own grief could have played against or in concert with Wanda’s.
Monica is very empathetic to Wanda’s loss because of Monica’s own loss, but it’s always done in a way that is very safe. Wanda is allowed to be complicated in her grief, but Monica is only allowed to be supportive. The end of the season finale made it clear we’ll be seeing Monica again. I hope she’ll have more of the stage in the next story.
Another disappointing part of the season for me was that they introduced Agatha, previously a nosy neighbor, as an antagonistic witch. This choice allowed Wanda’s role as the Scarlet Witch to be revealed, but I’m sure there could have been a way to accomplish that without going for a witchy antagonist to defeat.
But defeated Agatha is, and Wanda needs to make a choice regarding what to do with her. Agatha’s ultimate fate is to be “locked up” as the neighbor role she played in Wanda’s spell.
There are other antagonists of course — Hayward, who took over SWORD after Monica’s mother. However, even though Monica was the primary voice against Hayward, even though he took a legacy that was supposed to have been hers, it is not even Monica who gets to resolve that.
Darcy gets that moment of resolve by ramming into him with her truck while making a smug remark about prison.
I did join an abolition book club last summer, so I have been thinking about the role of prisons not just in real life but also how it’s portrayed in the media. Though I would not expect anything less from the MCU, prison is set forward as an acceptable part of society. Wanda takes it a step further by essentially forcing Agatha to live a life, to be a self, that is not her own in Westview, which had been cast as its own kind of prison through the disturbing motif of, we can’t leave.
It wasn’t okay for Wanda to do what she did, even if it was unintentional, and the story really seems to shy away from just owning that Wanda did That. Seemed strange to me because a couple scenes back Wanda proclaimed her difference from Agatha because she didn’t know what she was doing, then knowingly and deliberately imprisons Agatha in her sitcom character. Again, it feels that the writers don’t really want to own that Wanda is someone who does that now. Wanda gets to be judge and enforcer of what Agatha has done, and it seems very telling that the narrative makes Wanda exempt. After the spell is well and truly lifted, she walks amongst the people she’s hurt but she does not face them.
I don’t want to take away from character complexities. It’s great to have complicated characters who make choices–good, wrong, in between–and to have them experience the results of those choices in every conceivable messy way.
But Wanda doesn’t actually have to live with what she’s done. She walks away from Westview the same way she entered it: alone & grieving — except this time, she knows she’s the Scarlet Witch. Monica tells her that the townsfolk will never know what she gave up for them — and it rings so hollow. We know this is a spell that Wanda cast on accident out of her grief. We know that the townsfolk were robbed of their sense of self to serve in Wanda’s story. We know that, due to the battle between the two witches, their town is destroyed.
The townsfolk were not even given a choice of what they were to give up, but Wanda already lost Vision. Vision was not real, her children were not real — and I am not denying that they were not real to Wanda, but to contextualize Wanda giving up a fantasy life in favor of the very real lives of the townsfolk, and that they would never realize that amount of sacrifice — feels like it’s putting Wanda on a moral high ground she did not actually earn. It feels as if the hate and anger or whatever emotion the townsfolk may be feeling towards Wanda is not justified because if they knew what she sacrificed they would not feel that way. We do not actually hear from the townsfolk after Wanda releases them.
Monica is not even allowed to have complicated feelings about what happened to her — especially when she’s first introduced to the viewers as Wanda’s Geraldine. Her hair is not depicted in her natural hairstyle when viewers are first introduced to Monica as Monica and when she’s pulled into Wanda’s spell. Surely Monica would have feelings about that? The only instance is when Monica pushes back against Wanda and says the only lies she’s spoken are the lies Wanda made her speak, and that’s not enough for me.
After being assured that Monica doesn’t hate her (???), Wanda leaves the town people to clean up the mess she and Agatha created. In isolation, she reads from Agatha’s book. While the townsfolks get to put the wreckage of their lives back together, Wanda gets to learn more about her powers. And honestly–if the writers would own that, I don’t think I would have a problem. But the natural fallout of her relationships is portrayed as a non issue. Even when Agatha breaks the spell in their minds, the townsfolk speak with one voice. They are not individuals as they plead with Wanda.
This framework frustrated me so much because in addition to abolition I am also reading a lot about restorative justice, and it just does not sit right when no one in the story — no one — even suggests that maybe Wanda should stick around and help clean up her mess. None of the townsfolk characters are allowed to say, help us, or on the other hand, are allowed to say, get the fuck out you’ve caused enough damage.
That’s a problem for me, but it’s also been a problem that has plagued much of the MCU, despite Stark’s taskforce or whatever that was introduced in one of the films, and then paved the way towards the Spider-Man villain (don’t get me started).
Honestly, the writers should have focused on Wanda, Monica, and Agatha as agents of grief. Their names rhyme that is practically reason enough. Agatha ultimately rings hollow as a character because all she wants is to take power from the undeserving. Okay. Can we get a little something more interesting? If each of these characters had been given major themes of grief to navigate and resolve with, against, and outside each other, driving and opposing needs, then the choices they made would have been more significant, along with a more significant fallout. This would have made the overall narrative stronger, more resounding, and would have given me less of a headache.
A few years ago, I would “practice” writing by doing speed writes based on a random three word link.
They were the equivalent of doing scales on the piano, though unlike doing scales, they are far more pleasant to consume, featuring snippets of interesting characters and/or concepts. I won’t post every single one I do–especially if I think I can turn it into something more — but I would rather they exist to be enjoyed than collecting digital dust.
I do believe that writing doesn’t always have to be about plot, characters, and structure. I know people enjoy reading these short little pictures, but it’s very difficult to be have them published. Though I write primarily for my own enjoyment, I also write to make someone’s day brighter.
I’ve launched a Buy Me A Coffee (BMAC) page to store these little snippets — they used to be here, but I didn’t like wordpress for this particular endeavor. This is my author page, and though it may sound odd to separate my flash fiction and other endeavors from my author page, it feels more right to me. BMAC is a platform meant to support creators, and I don’t get that vibe from wordpress (which is fine! time and place for every platform).
Heretofore, a lot of my writing has been self funded. I’m lucky to be in a position to do that, but I also want to see if my writing can be something more. I’m happy to try both the self published route and the traditional path.
If you’d like to read my short fiction you can find them here: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/heysonjanatasha
I did put a little button on my side column as well in case I write a particularly post that struck you.
Thanks for reading!
(feature image by by Micaela Brody)
A lot of folks I know are turning thirty, and they are bringing their angst regarding the age to social media. As someone who passed thirty some time ago and am rapidly approaching mid thirties, these posts do tend to make me smile. I hope one day aging will not be the frightening and demoralizing reality it is so frequently presented to be. Even though I remind myself that aging is natural, it’s okay, it’s sometimes even awesome–I still sometimes forget.
But today is not that day.
Our brains are usually done developing by the time we’re thirty. According to the internet, the age most reach full development is usually around twenty-five. Remember that when you lament how you haven’t accomplished anything or you haven’t accomplished enough. When this pitfall trips you up, just subtract twenty-five from your current age. It really does provides perspective.
Just because your brain has settled down, that doesn’t mean you still can’t change change as a person. At thirty, I was different from twenty-five. I’m different now from when I was thirty.
You never lose the ability to change. You never lose the ability to choose. It’s true that the longer you choose to think a certain way, the harder it will be to choose differently–but that’s not unique to thirty; that’s true with all ages. If you keep an open mind, with age comes experience which comes with more options.
You will probably know more people in your thirties, who can share different perspectives, different contexts, that can be mutually beneficial.
You will never run out of Firsts, but by the time you’re thirty, you will have had so many Firsts, even if they ranged in experience from great to disaster. You’ll have had time to think about those Firsts (especially the disaster ones) so you are better prepared for an exact or similar situation. You will have consumed more information, learned new things or more about old things, resulting in more tools in your toolbox at thirty than you ever did at twenty-five or twenty.
Remember that critical thinking is not a won and done skill. You never achieve critical thinking–you must practice it or lose it. Entering my thirties allowed me to see this more clearly than any other age.
Thirties are exciting because you’re still young, even if your back, knees, hips, and ankles say otherwise.
Yes, circumstance can affect what options and opportunities you have due to system structures. For example, I’m someone who is white, agender (normally assumed to be a woman), and a lesbian and my thirties will reflect that experience.
But I would still urge you not to dread your thirties. That age (every age, really!) has something to offer you–especially if you choose to seek it out.
Since pandemic times, my day job has decided to start a book club. I missed the first two, didn’t write a post about the first one I did participate in (I may backfill that), but our club’s current book is The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.
There will be spoilers in this review.
What’s It About
In short, it’s about regret and not letting that hold you back. Plot wise, Nora (our main character), is in a tough spot in life. Her cat dies, she loses her job, she doesn’t have a relationship with her brother, her mom died, she decided not to marry the guy days before the wedding. So she decides to commit suicide (content warning for that), which brings her to the Midnight Library, a collection of all the lives she could have had if she made different choices. Most people start with undoing their regrets.
The story brings us through several variations of her life–some that she knows aren’t for her nearly instantly, some where she lingers, thinking, maybe this one.
At the end, she doesn’t choose a variant life. Her very last book shows the impact she made on the lives around her (very It’s A Wonderful Life), and she chooses she wants to live in her life, the one she chose to end at the beginning of the novel.
She’s able to get help. She reconnects with her brother. Her life, shitty as it was, is full of possibility that she can now see thanks to all the different lives she’s hopped from.
What Format Did I Read?
Hardcover. Would have given the audio book a try, but a) more expensive b) my libby hold came through when I had already read a chunk of the hardcover.
Did I Like It As A Reader
I thought it was fine. It didn’t blow me away. Perhaps it’s because the concept is very familiar. It is essentially a Groundhog Day narrative, though instead of the same day changed with different choices, it’s the same life with different choices. It is It’s a Wonderful Life expanded, and with significantly fewer angels and explicit critique of capitalism. (Note, I haven’t actually watched It’s a Wonderful Life in years.)
As a reader, I was expecting something like the ending to happen (even though normally, as a reader, I try not to predict endings). As a reader, I was satisfied with the ending. It matched. It paired nicely with the beginning. But also, I wanted more than “see the possibility in your life.” Perhaps it’s because of the pandemic, where possibility meshes very closely with opportunity. After all, how realistic is it really for someone who has only had one piano student to be inundated with enough to pay the bills after putting up one sign at a failing music shop?
Also, Nora would always look out to see if she had depression pills in her lives. I couldn’t tell if she continued to medicate at the end, but it seemed needlessly anti depression meds.
There’s also a scene where her piano student is known to be a trouble maker, and he’s getting arrested by cops, and when she realizes that her giving him the piano lessons was helping him to keep out of trouble–that didn’t land right with me. I absolutely believe that involving people of all ages in their community will more than likely deter from “crime” but it didn’t really actually challenge the idea of crime itself or what even causes crime. As a reader, I’m left with the impression that if this young adolescent had more opportunity or his mom had been able to find something, then he wouldn’t have become a wayward teen inclined towards crime. But let’s be real — not having access to piano lessons or something similar won’t drive most folks to crime. Access to necessities, especially for those already struggling financially, has far more to do with that. And I just feel that this book was far too “pat” for me to be impressed by Nora’s discovery. Maybe this wasn’t the book for that pursuit but the scene was there, and it was written the way it was, and I didn’t like it.
Did I Like It As A Writer
Again, it was fine. I did like the very close third person throughout. Some turns of phrase did a delightful job at conveying Nora’s depression.
Sometimes the chapters were very short, sometimes longer but never very long — the shorter chapters made it easier to read before bed.
Sometimes the chapters were so dialogue heavy with just–nothing but dialogue. I heard once that readers tend to skip prose and go straight to dialogue, but I’m someone who prefers dialogue interspersed with some prose. I like to know what the characters are doing as they’re talking, otherwise I’ll read a play thanks. I didn’t particularly like Haig’s dialogue (I can’t pinpoint an obvious reason why but it just didn’t feel very realistic to me, maybe uncanny valley dialogue?) so that didn’t help matters.
Is It Worth My Time
If you’re looking for an ultimately feel good drama with a splash of soft sci fi then yeah, it is. If you want to read a book that reaffirms something hopeful then yeah, it is.
But if you want that little something more, something that just sparks and you’re like, I never thought about the world this way before (and who knows–maybe you ARE that person, but I’m not) — maybe bring it for that Long Arduous Thing you’ve been dreading that involves a lot of waiting where you need something to distract you, but not something So Good you don’t want to be distracted from it.
It’s slightly hysterical reviewing my old posts.
Half of them are titled with sentiments similar to this one: I have a blog that I forgot about.
I’m still going to try to kick this thing back in gear again. I know the reason I’m not updating it is because I don’t know what I want “it” to be. But that will never happen if I don’t post.
What’s up with Sonja Natasha? We’ll bullet since that’s my preferred way to keep a word count trim.
What’s up in 2021 for me?
And that’s not even counting all the real life stuff lined up for me, which usually includes doing well at my job, attempting to improve my self (long for get a therapist, sonja), and improving my physical health (resolving insomnia and fatigue issues).
How’s your 2021 shaping up to be?
I sometimes forget about this blog. I don’t remember when I realized that my blog had remained silent for the past several weeks, even though I had been active on other platforms. Because it does need be said,
Black Lives Matter
I wrote this up about a week ago. I initially shared this on my personal Facebook, but I believe it needs to be housed here as well. I do not want to take away from a movement, but I also want to face my mistakes rather than hiding from them. I want to encourage white people to look inwards, recognize our racism and complicity in a system, and work on dismantling that system. So I share something I don’t talk about very frequently because it does shame me, and it’s not something I can undo.
When I was married, I was married to a correctional officer. That’s fancy for prison guard. I was also a prison guard for about three months (two months training, one month actually at a facility), and I quit.Everybody in that town was either working for the prison system (google is telling me seven in town which is fewer than I remember) or you were a student (prison town masquerading as a college town) or you worked minimum wage retail. The prison paid well. I could have made more working at the prison as a guard on just the weekends than I could working full time at Walmart.
As someone who has, a little bit, lost their energy for reading (I like to read; I just find it difficult to read working 40+ hour shifts, struggling with what feels like near constant fatigue that is constantly diagnosed as “stressed,” and diverting certain energies into mental and physical health), I have tried to be better about it. If I hear someone quote Stephen King one more time about how writers need to read–
One of the ways I started reading again was listening to audio books on my commute. It was comical when my commute was five minutes.
Now that my commute is 20-30 minutes, who’s laughing now?
(Me, I’m still laughing, I love my little jokes.)
The first physical book I read in a bit was actually Gideon The Ninth (I’ll do a reader’s corner when Harrow comes out), then Corona happened, and my mental and physical health went to shit.
But, I’ve since started listening to audio books now that I’m getting better at walking (sunshine and fresh air…who knew?)
And then I read The Starless Sea.
I first cracked it open when I was at a coffee shop (this was about a week before the world started to shut down), and I couldn’t concentrate because people on one side of me were fear mongering about the virus and the other people on the other side of me were on a very introspective date, I think? And I couldn’t help but eavesdrop.
I was very intrigued about the pirate in the basement.
I didn’t pick the book up again for about a month.
I feel like this is a book I probably would have eaten up when I was 20 and was really into metaphors and books about stories and what they mean.
But I’m older now. I don’t mind a good metaphor but I also like some meat and potatoes with my reading. Like, actual plot with actual characters without the pages telling you that the pirate is a metaphor when I really want to read about the pirate.
That is, if the pirate were an actual pirate on a starless sea.
I would not recommend this book if you read slowly, like me. I would not recommend this book if you struggle with exhaustion, like me, because there were so many threads and imagery that meant something else I literally kept forgetting them. There are three images (that I’ve already forgotten though two of them are a bee and sword–third might be a feather) that were mentioned occasionally and that I kept forgetting. Then another three were added. There were also at least three other books within the book and the chapters would alternate and feed into the main story.
It also starred a main gay character, who was in love with a guy, and they ultimately got their happy ending with one of the most arresting images in the books–
but it was lost, to me, with all the other arresting images and I feel that if the author had just concentrated on the story+subplot leading up to that one arresting image, the book would have been much easier to read.
I’m sure this book is amazing for someone who isn’t me. But for someone like me, the prose was so luscious I got lost in it more often than not.