Adulting

what i do The Little Prince is beginning to fall into a school-morning routine, with only the usual and expected amount of teenage grumbling. The Princess, bright and shiny as a new penny, is settling into her first job.

That’s right, my baby is gainfully employed. It was a pretty painless process, since she’s fearsomely organized and cheerful. (No, I don’t know where she got that from. I am as mystified as anyone else.) I am still agog that the squalling bundle pulled out of me eighteen-ish years ago is a productive adult. For making it up as I go along, maybe I haven’t parented too badly. Of course, any credit goes to her for being a wonderful human being from the get-go. I’m just glad I didn’t mess everything up. When I was eighteen, I couldn’t wait to escape. It’s pleasant and wonderful that the Princess actively wants to stay home. To her, this is a safe place, and I am glad.

School has been such a thing for so many years now that it’s kind of weird not to be sending her off each day at the usual time. It’s also weird to be adding adult things to the relationship–things like her taking over some of her own filing and paperwork, or shifting communication protocols now that she doesn’t have to check in with me about her location as frequently. We’re both pretty conscious that these things are changing, and most days it’s easy enough to keep up. Every once in a while, though, one or both of us needs a hug and some deep breathing.

Who am I kidding? It’s mostly me. For so many years you guard your child’s every breath, and the process of easing up as they grow into an adult works against that habit something fierce. This is all new for her, taking her first steps into the world she’s hopefully pretty prepared to make some headway in. I have to remember to slow down and take things I’ve been doing for decades–balancing a checkbook, say, or knowing how to jockey a bureaucracy–and break them down into easily digestible components for her. I mean, I’ve always done that, but the process has accelerated a bit of late.

The Prince, of late, is also changing. He’s no longer the baby, being Fourteen and All Grown Up Now. Seeing his sister take on some of the trappings of adulthood means he needs to bump his nose against some boundaries just to be sure they’re still there, still cradling him. It would be frustrating if I didn’t understand how scary it is when you’re that age and things start changing rapidly. As it is, it’s damn hard to keep a straight face when he does the boundary testing.

Through it all, the writing flows, some days easier, other days harder. The book I’m working on now is taking its sweet time, and what began as a simple gift for my agent has turned into something I know I have to finish, just because. It was a method of saving my sanity between contracts, but now that I’m 30K in and there’s (still) no contract in sight, finishing is somewhat talismanic. My own version of a nervous tic. Each time life gets more complex, I turn to writing. Sometimes I think it’s to process, other times I’m pretty sure it’s an escape, and there are times I know the truth: that it’s a lifeline, and keeps me balanced when everything around me is shifting.

Now it’s time for a run, to sweat out the stress. Later it’ll be time to spin a whole world out of whole cloth, from my brain to my fingers and onto the page. Last but not least, to hug both my children, no matter how grown-up they are. “Mom hugs are the best hugs,” the Princess tells me.

“Even when you’re a legal adult?” I ask.

“Especially then,” says she. And hugs me harder.

Clearer Focus

summer queen It’s cool and cloudy, which is not at all like August in this part of the world. The weather report says not to worry, we’ll be expiring of heat soon enough, but I can’t help but wonder at the intense shifts the weather takes.

Oh, I don’t have to wonder. It’s climate change, after all.

I woke up this morning with Ellen Foster in my head. It seems I’ll have to read it again, after finishing Volume I of Shelby Foote’s magisterial work on the Civil War. I remember coming across it when I was much younger and working in a used bookstore, and being absolutely blown away by the pitch-perfect voice. Since then, I’ve only read it every decade or so. It seems it’s time again.

Apparently reading means one will live longer. I might end up immortal, and truth be told, I’d need to be in order to get through my TBR pile.

My dreams have grown intense of late, but not the kind of intensity that dredges books from my subconscious. Instead, it’s the highly saturated, emotionally complicated dreams that tell me I’m processing things. History. Old hurts, new knowledge. I came across a poem earlier this morning about life trading calm and truth for one’s youth, and thought, yes, that is how it is. I am glad to not be young anymore.

For me, each passing year takes me further from helpless childhood, the plaything of rageaholics. I have my own car keys, my own bank account, my own home. I can set a book on my kitchen counter and it won’t be torn up or thrown away. When I shut my door, anyone who comes by may knock for admittance, but it’s up to me whether or not I grant it. My children have no idea what it’s like to be barged in on even when one’s door is locked–just recently, the Princess told me about one of her classmates who has no privacy even in her bedroom, and remarked how she can’t imagine such a horrible boundary trespass.

It felt good to hear that, indeed.

Sometimes, I’ll lay an item down somewhere temporarily, and my heart will still pound and my breath catch with the instinctive calculation of how likely it is I’ll lose it to someone’s random fury. It takes a moment, looking at the object and breathing deeply, to remind myself I am no longer at the mercy of anyone who would do such a thing. I’ve grown comfortable with my life, and found a measure of peace. So my dreams are turning over all these things, fitting them together in a life experience grown much more capacious.

When you’re young, there’s no sense of proportion. Things feel huge because you have nothing to compare them to. Acquiring a bit of brute experience quickly resolves the picture into clearer focus.

I don’t dislike the dreams. They’re intense, but not nightmares. I’m even glad of them, I can feel the scar tissue becoming deeper, tougher, supple instead of delicate.

So I dream, and I write, and when I lay an object down in my own house, sometimes I leave it there for longer than it needs to be.

Just because.

Solidity

rocks

I hate travel, but I like to hear stories from people who’ve gone elsewhere.

Friends often ask if they can bring anything back from a trip for me. I generally say no. Once in a while, though, I’ll ask for a rock, even a piece of gravel, from their wanderings. Holding a piece of earth’s solidity, I can taste where a friend walked, and their happiness while they traveled. (Or their irritation.) Each one comes with a story, too.

These are from my writing partner’s last trip to the ocean. She and her darling husband (we call him the Boy Scout) visited my favorite place on earth and brought these back. I put them on my dresser, where I can see them every morning.

It’s good to have friends.

The Chewing Tree

Gnaw gnaw gnaw.
Gnaw gnaw gnaw.

Something is masticating this very large fir tree. Miss B has to investigate the marks thoroughly each time we pass. It’s set alongside an elementary school, but the marks reach way higher than even the most steroidal sixth-grader. The tree itself seems to still be healthy, so I’m hopeful.

Try to be kind to yourself this weekend, dear Readers, so you can be kind to others. We all need it a little more than usual.

Over and out.

That Simple

The Little Prince just came home from a friend’s house.

ME: Oh, hi. How was it?
MY SON: It was okay. They didn’t have a pump for the soccer ball, but I hung out to talk with X and Y.
ME: *trying to place the name with a face* Y…is that the girl who was here the other day?

I think I remember her. Tall, coltish, shy, hair over the face.

MY SON: Transgender. So…yeah. It? *glances at me for confirmation*
ME: Well, do they identify as a girl now?
MY SON: Yeah, male to female. So, a girl.
ME: Okay, so then she.
MY SON: Okay. We hung out. They might be over later. *goes to unload the dishwasher, since it’s finished*

I stood there, a great swell of pride and love breaking inside my chest.

Okay, so then she. To him, it’s just that simple.

This is how our children teach us; this is how they crack us open. This is how they give us hope for a better world.

REVIEW: The Vegetarian

Vegetarian I read a review of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian not so long ago, and was intrigued enough to pick it up. I read it all in one sitting–well, mostly, with only a short break to make and consume dinner with the Little Prince–and, when I had finished, felt as if my interior space, physical as well as psychic, had been violently pummeled and made larger by the experience. The writing, translated by Deborah Smith (who also translated Kang’s Human Acts) is stunning, simple, and incandescent.

The book centers on Yeong-hye, a young Korean wife who has a disturbing dream one night and consequently refuses to eat meat. But that’s a little like saying The Metamorphosis is about bugs. The Vegetarian is densely layered and extremely brutal in the way only true things can be.

The structure of the book is interesting–three interlinked novella-length sections, each told from a different point of view. The first is told Yeong-hye’s husband, the second by her brother-in-law, and the third by Yeong-hye’s sister In-hye. If that seems odd, you’re right–we are given almost nothing from Yeong-hye’s point of view except two very short passages that might or might not detail the “disturbing dream” that sets the entire book in motion. Those passages could be read as her husband Mr Cheong’s imagining what the dream might have been, and that’s only the first of several layers of contrasting interpretation, meaning, and allegory.

At first, The Vegetarian seems to be about the dissolution of Yeong-hye’s marriage, since she not only steadfastly refuses to eat meat but also to wear a bra. She simply Bartleby the Scriveners her way out of both things, simply, quietly refusing to ingest what she doesn’t want to or confine her breasts. Mr Cheong, having married her thinking she was absolutely ordinary Korean housewife material, is alternately ashamed of and infuriated by his inability to “control” her the way Korean society thinks he should and he has come to expect. Mirroring his fury is Yeong-hye’s father, who at one violent family dinner tries to assert a right over what his (until now passive and obedient) daughter will do with her body. Young-hye’s resistance is largely passive and turned inward–since patriarchal strictures hem her in so thoroughly, the only way she can opt out is through refusal and, eventually, self-harm.

The middle third of the book shifts to Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law, a visual artist who allows her sister In-hye to support him while he’s “blocked” creatively. He’s obsessed with using Yeong-hye’s body as a canvas for one of his works, and the attempt to do so destroys his marriage as well. Paradoxically, his obsession gives us an insight into what Yeong-hye might actually want, although in the following section, we find out she may have still been heavily medicated all during the interactions and thus robbed of even that small measure of consent or agency.

The last third of the book is where everything is truly ripped open and The Vegetarian ascends to the level of a masterpiece. Everything leading up to it has been filtered through male perceptions and a patriarchal search for control of a female body, as well as the violence that ensues on several levels when said female body (not to mention the female owning it) refuses even tacitly. Yeong-hye’s sister visits her in a psychiatric hospital, and the unflinching examination of the stripping away of Yeong-hye’s bodily autonomy by the medical personnel is only part of the agonizing pain. In-hye has done everything “right” and been a model child, wife, and mother, and yet she’s in desperate agony. In-hye is forced to examine her relationship with her sister, the cruelty of their upbringing, and the pressures on women in Korean society. Wondering if her sister’s methods of coping with said cruelty and pressure are any better or less self-destructive than her own is a powerful question, one In-hye can barely bring herself to articulate, much less face.

The complexity of In-hye’s emotions around the caretaking of her sister and her son, the utter betrayal of her husband, and the emotional labor she performs for her family, all hit me right in the solar plexus. Realizing, once I had finished, that I had identified so thoroughly with In-hye that I had come to regard her sister as a symbol just as Mr Cheong and In-hye’s husband had was a nasty shock. Colluding in the strictures that attempt to rob women of bodily autonomy is almost impossible to avoid in most of the world, and Kang deftly performs the almost-impossible trick of implicating everyone, even the reader, in the violence of trying to make Yeong-hye conform. Not only that, but the allegory of the pressures on women in Korean society is so stunning that it also eclipses her, implicating the reader even more thoroughly.

I suspect I have not done this book half the justice I want to. It went straight back on my to-be-read pile for another go once my head has cleared, which is not at all usual. I feel like I have to go back and reread, maybe to try and find Yeong-hye under all the differing perceptions of her, maybe just to marvel at the sheer effortlessness with which Kang piles on and pulls away different layers of meaning. I also want to find Kang’s other work and devour it whole, which will either have to be through interlibrary loan or maybe selling some plasma to pad out my book budget next month.

TL;DR: Simply amazing, completely savage, and well worth buying in hardcover.

A Full Weekend

Markedcover2 I’ve added new perks to the Indiegogo campaign for The Marked. If you have an idea for a perk, do let me know.

This past weekend, the Princess graduated from high school. (Good Lord, I feel old.) Yes, I cried. That seems the only appropriate response when you’ve successfully managed to get a tiny dependent being through the eighteen years of childhood and early adolescence. The ceremony to mark such a thing, while boring, is still important because it’s a ritual, drawing a nice bright line between the phase of “public school” and the entry into young adulthood. I rarely have the patience for communal rituals, but I recognize their import.

My baby, growing up. *sniffles a bit*

She’s handling the transition better than I am. You get into the habit of feeding, caring, listening for their breathing, constantly blocking traffic for them, guiding, watching, loving them so hard your very bones ache when they’re in any kind of pain. It leaves an imprint. Learning to let go, bit by bit, as they grow, is hard. You wake up one day, and they’re doing things like BEING ALL GROWN-UP. And the feelings get so big they leak out of your nose and eyes and mouth.

The other thing I did this weekend was run a writing workshop for teens. It was interesting. I have often thought of running online writing workshops, and it was fun to do sort of a dry run and see what kinds of questions people ask, how a workshop is structured, and how to keep an audience interested. I think it went rather well.

Still, all the emotion, and the public speaking, left me drained down to a bare shadow of myself. I suspect I’ll need another day or so to recover, then it’s on to Cormorant Run revisions. I planned to start them at the beginning of the month, but the zombie apocalypse story grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I think I was using the zombies to decompress, or just plain to escape.

…yeah, my wiring is weird. But then, if you’re reading this, you quite probably knew that already. I’m retreating, also, because the news is so terrible, and I am old enough to realize it’s very likely nothing will be done. People simply love their fear and their hatred too much to change; it terrifies me that my children will be going into such a world.

So I’m off to refill my creative well, and to go back into a world I built a while ago. If there’s hope, it lies in creating. Or at least, so I tell myself. It’s all I have to fight the fear.

Over and out.