Rome!

It’s a long story, but I ended up taking the kids to Rome last week by myself, and it was great.

Really, I should have been doing more of this all along (I say that without having looked recently at my bank balance – it’s not the sort of thing I can easily afford, but oh well). It actually wasn’t that hard to travel by myself with two kids. We didn’t push ourselves, but each day we had adventures. And I think it helped that we stayed just in Rome for the week. We didn’t feel pressured to see everything in just a couple days (which is impossible anyway). Instead, we relaxed, and got to feel that we were Romans for a week.

One of the movies I loved last year was The Great Beauty (I bought the soundtrack and listen to it constantly for writing music), which is set in Rome. I thought that this guy at the Capitoline is the river god that Tony Servilio sat next to in the movie poster, but now I’m not so sure…

IMG_1015

Anyway, the Capitoline is one of my favorite museums. You can’t beat the view over the Forum, and it’s not that crowded. Plus, this …

IMG_1008

I remember studying this statue of Constantine in art history. It’s so amazing it’s just sitting out there in the courtyard. But that’s what I love about Rome, there’s something incredible around every corner, no big deal.

IMG_1073

IMG_1072

When I was in Rome a million years ago, I missed getting in to see the Pantheon because it had just closed. On this trip, we not only went inside, but then had lunch across from it, staying for a good couple hours. (It was hot, and the cafe had this amazing mist machine… heaven!)

I had a wonderful class on the Romantic poets in college, but somehow I didn’t realize the huge influence Italy had on them. The Keats Shelley house is right by the Spanish Steps.

IMG_1024

The kids were troupers, only sometimes complaining of all the museum-going. (The Vatican museum was especially challenging. It was simply packed, to the point where we felt we were just pushed along by crowds of people all with the aim of getting to Sistine Chapel, where we stood miserably crushed together feeling like we were in a cattle pen.) But of course, the Vatican has things like this:

IMG_1035

My one stroke of genius was that each kid could have a day to choose what we did and decide things. For her day, Simone wanted the beach. We took the train north (this was fun: a little challenge involving the tickets, the destination, even finding what platform we should be at—and we had to run for the train and made it just in time). Santa Marinella was a little beach town about an hour away. Just gorgeous. We spent the afternoon dozing under an umbrella, reading and people-watching.

IMG_1098

We’re back now, and the whole trip feels a little bit like a dream. My hope was that while I was there I’d gain a different perspective on things, and possibly uncork some new ideas. I did have some thoughts and vague inklings of new stories. But even if nothing results in terms of stories or manuscripts, it was good to do. Now back to normal life!

The latest news from revision land

Photo of coffee brewing by Karl Fredrickson

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged lately, despite my best intentions. And suddenly it’s April. April is indeed the “cruellest month” to quote T.S. Eliot—but not for the reasons given in The Wasteland. It’s because, after I’ve spent months luxuriating in the newness, the beginningness of a fresh year, April comes as such a shock: holy crap, the year’s already one quarter over.

Where has the time gone?

First, I’ve been slowly but steadily plugging away on The Shadow Clock. Ari, my editor, sent me her notes at the end of November, and I spent December and January trying to strengthen the story and make everyone’s motivations clearer. The distressing problem with books set in a magical world where heists and thievery are prominent is that everything must also make logical sense. Go figure! At any rate, I’m writing a new draft now. But February and March are always impossible months for me—things like taxes or my daughter’s birthday can take whole weekends out of play, and then I’m left with the tiny scraps at night when I’m propping my eyelids open or the slug-brained times at 5 in the morning when I’m trying to jolt myself awake with coffee.

Maybe at some future point I’ll write more about how I’m approaching the revision. But the short version is—resist, panic, drag feet, then take a deep breath and crack it open. One of the biggest things I can do for a successful revision is not rail against my situation. Yes, I’m busy, and my job and home life mean I can’t spend as much time on it as I’d like. So what? My novel notes file is full of lectures to myself about how it doesn’t matter a bit how I feel. Stop paying attention to feelings about the work and simply do the work!

On the subject of being busy (and illustrating my incorrigible tendency to overcommit), I’ve been consulting for Write the World, a global student writing community. I first met the Write the World group back in November of last year when I was a judge for their novel writing competition. I was so impressed by the quality of the student entries, and so intrigued by their mission and community, I asked if there was a way I could continue to be involved. What I find so great about this site is the emphasis it places on getting constructive feedback and revising as part of the writing process. I can’t help but think if I had learned to embrace revision earlier, I might have had a much smoother journey. Write the World offers writing prompts and monthly competitions. If you have high school age kids or know teachers who would be interested in sharing this with their students, please check them out.

In January I made a list of writing goals for the year; one of them was to write and submit four short stories to literary journals (I am nothing if not crazy aggressive in my goals). Well, I have one written and submitted so far. This is a huge accomplishment for me. When I was in my MFA program, I struggled with short stories. I kept feeling like I was doing them wrong. I didn’t get them. And of course I was so thin-skinned about rejection, I gave up immediately if a piece didn’t get accepted. During the past few years, I’ve been so focused on novels, I’d kind of forgotten all about short stories. But there was something about this idea that I kept returning to. It was something I really wanted to write, and I knew it was a short story, and not some other form. So now it’s out there, hopefully finding a home. Be well and spread your wings, little short story!

Cover of Deep Singh Blue by Ranbir Singh SidhuSpeaking of my MFA program … one of the talented writers I met there was Ranbir Singh Sidhu, who’s just written a great novel called Deep Singh Blue. I had the chance to review Deep Singh Blue for the literary journal Your Impossible Voice. That review has just appeared, and Ranbir’s book has just come out. It really is a gorgeous, funny, tragic coming-of-age story. Plus, it has an only-in-California hot tub scene. Definitely worth checking out.

Here it is on IndieBound. And you can read more on Ranbir’s blog. Though be warned, he lives an utterly enviable lifestyle. If I chuck it all and move to Crete, you’ll know who to blame!

 

Awesome coffee photo by Karl Fredrickson from Unsplash.com.

2015 in review

Photo of fireworks

Photo by Kazuend from Unsplash


 
As I finished writing this, I just found out that my wonderful friend Cynthia Jaynes Omololu passed away this morning in her sleep after living in style and with spirit for more than a year and a half with stage 4 cancer. I can’t even begin to list the ways that I’m grateful to her or how deeply this news affects me. What a reminder to go forth and live with the time we have remaining!

Every year I try to look back on highlights and progress. Here are some of the things that made 2015 memorable.

Writing
I’m proud that I finished the draft of The Shadow Clock, started the revision for it, began other writing projects, and even finished the first short story that I’ve written in ages, all while working, commuting, and being a mom.

It’s getting tougher, though. I find I cannot stay up at night to write like I used to. My sleep patterns have changed and I’m often far too tired now after work. Or if I stay up I cannot then get to sleep. So 2016 will be a challenge as I tweak my process and schedules and try to be relentlessly disciplined. I have so much more I want to write, and it is up to me to do it.

Lovely writer friends’ book launches
I’m eternally grateful to have such wonderful writer friends. I was lucky enough to get out to a few launch parties and celebrate them:

I know I’m forgetting people or leaving them off. So please forgive me!

Elena Ferrante
I was enthralled by Elena Ferrante from the very first pages of My Brilliant Friend. I read all four books through late summer, by the soccer fields, on the train to work, lugging around paper copies and constantly dog-earing favorite pages or marking up favorite passages.

I often feel American literary fiction works very hard to convince that it’s important, and it often announces this ambition through style. It’s relentlessly written.

So I love the directness, the brusqueness, the rawness of Ferrante. With such humble material – a friendship between two poor girls – there is no place to hide. I thought about cooking and how (as I’ve heard multiple times) it takes real skill to make a dish of simple ingredients. I think it’s hard to write so naturally and honestly about real life.

There was so much I related to in the struggle to be free and self-determined, a female artist and mother. But beyond that, I especially loved how the struggle to escape the past is rendered so physically – how fathers and mothers are there almost as monsters inside their children. How a pair of shoes can have such meaning. How two dolls from childhood can cause shivers. Absolutely masterful.

Music
Uh, this was year I probably listened to the most Drake I ever have. Really, I just gave up and listened to Drake constantly. He was always there, so what could I do?! But I’m somehow disappointed or feel lazy. I feel the need to branch out more, musically. Just tons of pop/rap, I’ve given up on … I don’t even know what to call it, “alternative”? Haven’t listened to rock in forever. I listened to familiar stuff because I was working and needed not to think. Perhaps my avoidance of “difficulty” is why I resisted Kendrick Lamar’s ambition on To Pimp a Butterfly and found myself singing along to Fetty Wap instead.

There was some late happiness on the classical front. I heard “The Bells of St. Genevieve” by Martin Marais for the first time randomly on the radio and loved it. Also, I am super excited to be following this Spotify playlist: “Peaceful Choral Music by Living Composers” – aside from the music, I love the oddly specific title. And it is exactly as advertised, so yay!

And a last minute discovery coming at the close of the year. I loved the gorgeous choral work “I Lie,” which I encountered first on the soundtrack to The Great Beauty. Then what joy to discover that the composer, David Lang, also was responsible for the score to Youth, another beautiful Sorrentino movie, and that he wrote the gorgeous “Simple Song #3” for the film. I predict I’ll listen to much more David Lang in 2016.

Art
I got out to only a few shows in 2015, but loved Keith Haring “The Political Line” at the de Young, as well as the show on Turner, “Painting Set Free.” Both made me see anew.

I can’t wait for the new downtown BAM/PFA to open in Berkeley. And it will be wonderful to have SF MOMA back again. Hoping that 2016 is filled with art and museum-going.

Film
It was yet another year of low-level moviegoing. Here are a few favorites.

  • Creed: Just when I think I cannot be a bigger Michael B. Jordan fan, Creed comes along. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler blew me away with Fruitvale Station last year and made me cry. Creed made me smile. And Sylvester Stallone is great in this!
  • Mistress America: This was absolutely lovely. Greta Gerwig is fantastic.
  • Youth: Saw this at the very close of the year and so far it is staying with me. May we all have careers as long-lived and varied as Michael Caine’s!

Life and the rest
Kids are growing, soccer abounds. Grant continues to press forward on multiple creative projects, leaving me in awe. Our dog is still handsome and yet something of a pain. I would like to drink less red wine and go back to cross-fit (2015 was a year of alarming sedentary-ness). But perhaps most of all I hope to get enough sleep and reflect positive energy back into the world.

Happy 2016 to all!

A recent obsession with scent

Sometime during the two weeks I took off work to finish my draft of THE SHADOW CLOCK, I found myself using (wasting!) my precious writing time to read wildly on the Internet about perfume.

A short explanation of how this happened. I ran out of some completely serviceable, everyday perfume my mother-in-law had brought back for me from a trip to France. I was fine with it, I wore it unthinkingly. A uniform.

But, trying to buy a replacement online, I encountered an entire subculture and community of perfume obsessives who wrote endlessly about perfumes and what they meant (viz. Basenotes).

I was floored. Discovering these sites brought up memories of a time when I took perfume seriously. In high school, a friend who we looked up to as a tastemaker wore her mother’s perfume. I remember her sniffing a handful of her shirt and announcing “I reek of Chanel No. 5.” It was hard to follow that, but I tried. I remember dutifully applying myself to the sampler bottles at the perfume counter in the local department store, trying to convince myself that Chanel No. 5 was great, although it remains one scent I can never bring myself to like: cold and ill-suited to me.

When I lived in Paris during college, perfume became something without which you felt under-dressed. I was not (still am not) a very polished person. But perfume offered welcome help in presenting oneself as an adult. And it was impossible to walk through Paris without encountering parfumeries—stores dark and steeped in feminine glamor, that sold only perfume.

I was surprised to discover that perfume threaded together so many different memories and times. I did not think perfume had importance in my life, but I was wrong. The bottle of Opium, for instance, always on my mother’s dresser, became shorthand for years of my childhood. Then there was the pretty bottle of some Annick Goutal scent that I bought on a trip to New York after reading about her in a fashion magazine (a memory that forced me to realize, yes, I used to read those!). Too goopy and flowery in the end.

I had also forgotten perfume’s power to unsettle and suggest. In high school French, reading Baudelaire’s “Correspondances,” I felt somehow scandalized by his list of scents, which start with those that that smell like babies’ skin, and ends with those that are “corrupt, rich and triumphant.”

All these moments, recollected through a memory of scent, of course made me recall the famous madeleine scene in In Search of Lost Time. There, it is the taste of the cookie crumbled into the lime blossom tea that opens a magical pathway to the past:

But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

And there it is, the paradox. The ability of scent—which is insubstantial—to carry surprising weight is what makes it worthy of obsession. I found this lovely meditation on the power of perfume on Barbara Herman’s blog in an entry about the strange suggestiveness of Chanel No. 19:

“[P]erfume is, among other things, the most portable form of intelligence.” — Luca Turin, Perfumes: The Guide.

I feel this is the place to address this arresting quote from Luca Turin (written in a review of Issey Miyake’s Le Feu D’Issey). Chanel No. 19 was a similar fragrance for me, astounding me with its suggestiveness, its intelligence, its moods, its significations. I pondered this perfume as deeply as a film, book or song that moved me. It’s been one of the many revelations for me in discovering perfume in this sensual/cerebral manner that there is, in fact, a limbic intelligence that we don’t cultivate enough. Perfume is the perfect vehicle for exercising this intelligence and articulating what it has to tell us.

The market in rare and vintage perfumes—how they’re sold on eBay or other sites in the original packaging or with notes about the condition of the box—did end up giving me an idea for some of the magic trading that happens in THE SHADOW CLOCK. (It may not stay in, we will see.) So it wasn’t wasted time. But I only realized that later—after I was frustrated and angry with myself for following this thread, for avoiding work and word count. Which brings me to another realization, perfume has meaning because it exists outside of practicalities.

I was glad to rediscover it.

2014 in review

The last day of 2014. It’s cold and crisp in the Bay Area, and very very clear. From our corner we can see a miniature San Francisco gleaming on the horizon and the Golden Gate Bridge, which looks like a paper cut-out against the sea and sky. I think we might go to the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park and see the Houghton Hall exhibit (grand English house stuff). But first, some reflection.

My big achievement this year, of course, was the publication of Dreamwood. And this meant I got to read at various places and write blog posts for other people and talk to kids and librarians and other authors. It was fantastic. Beyond what I ever hoped. Being an author is simply the best, and I’m so so grateful to everyone who helped get me here. Hugs, kisses, and chocolate to you.

But then, second achievement was coming up with something new. A year ago exactly, I was trying to think, “what next?” Even though I feel so impatient with my rate of progress, it’s important to remind myself that a year ago I had no next novel. Just vague electricity at my fingertips.

How vague? I was taking long walks and trying to pry stories out of my brain. This is what I did. I started making lists of resonant images, and in my notebook I wrote this:

Small train yards, wind, a girl working in the diner from the story I wrote long ago, the aunt in curlers, yearning, vineyards at dusk, train crossings, old-fashioned houses – white and alone, shielded by a clump of trees. Russia, monasteries, the abandoned house, peddlers, traveling performers, hippies, deadheads, they live on wind, they’re goblins, the loyal friend, sea otters, Kansas City, in cold blood, timber rattlers, midnight revels, looking through the window, we’re in danger, we’re all in danger. Keys, maps, kids on bicycles, the wind. Birds watching, geomancy. Green, moss-covered standing men. The town square emptying out, gulls, spindly women with the air of priestesses, dead flowers, mysterious illnesses, “a corpse will be transported by express.”

(That last line is from Under the Volcano, one of my all-time favorite books.)

Some of this stuck together and some of it continues to float around, a bit like mental dust bunnies. But making lists was hugely helpful. And now I have THE SHADOW CLOCK under contract, but also significant forays into new stories, some of which dip into the mulchy list I have above. So I have something about those vineyards and all that wind and some terrifying priestesses to go in a novel somewhere, someday. Deliciousness!

Third achievement? Just being here and trying to make writing work with normal life. Continuing on at the day job, with the soccer practices and tournaments and school stuff, walking the dog, appreciating good friends and my amazing family. I am lucky to have you.

Now, my very limited list of cultural highlights of the year.

2014 Music
Here are a few of the 2014 releases I loved:

  • Lydia Ainsworth – Right from Real
  • EMA – The Future’s Void
  • Pharmakon – Bestial Burden
  • Drake – 0 to 100/The Catch Up
  • G-Eazy – These Things Happen
  • D’Angelo – Black Messiah

(This was also the year that I started almost every workday by listening to Tyga’s “Switch Lanes.” Does it look like I have an appointment with Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist in my future? Absolutely.)

2014 Books
The three books I absolutely LOVED this year:

  • Euphoria, by Lily King
  • Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith
  • I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson

(Not published this year, but read—and hugely enjoyed—this year: Wolf Hall, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, The Flamethrowers.)

I am consciously looking at the diversity of my reading list. Which, as you can see as represented above, is pretty monochromatic. So, I’ve given financial support to We Need Diverse Books, and bought more “diverse” titles (how I hate this terminology, btw) and am looking forward to seeing how my list changes next year.

2014 Movies

Ugh – I really saw very few movies in 2014. And most of them were not great. Kind of an underwhelming year, no? So there’s really only one on my list. I loved, loved, loved, really loved The Grand Budapest Hotel.

I’ve run out of time. We must go see the Downton Abbey-esque Houghton Hall show. Right this minute!

A happy 2015 to all!!

Week in review – I have a teenager edition

This post marks an effort on my part to record what all I’m doing. For the longest time I kept an agenda with random notes in it about the day. That’s no longer happening. So … I don’t know. Maybe blog writing can fill the gap.

J 2014Life:

My son turned 13 today, so I am officially the parent of a teenager. What’s great is that we sit around and watch “Friday Night Lights” together and comment on everyone’s morality and future. He is still a giddy, coltish creature who brings light wherever he goes. We may have difficult years ahead, but for now I feel I have more to learn from him rather than the other way round.

Reading: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

One of my favorite reads this year. The chapter entitled “Cave Paintings,” a great lesson in using setting, interior thought, body language, objective correlative, etc. to create an emotional moment. When I was writing my book I went through a hellacious last draft scab-picking hundreds of editorial comments that went like this: “Can you add body language? Gesture?” (No, because I suck at that stuff.) Jess Walter makes it look exceedingly easy. I’m in awe of this book, which is at once light, gorgeous, true and serious as death.

Listening: EMA

I feel like my musical tastes can be summed up thus: raunchy boy rappers and smart women rockers. EMA takes place with Savages as favorite female discoveries of the last year. Somehow I spotify-stumbled onto EMA’s “Past Life of Martyred Saints” from 2011. Loved “California.” And now with “Future’s Void,” I feel like shouting about how amazing she is. Today I listened to “So Blonde” at least five times. Seriously. I am sitting on my hands so I don’t ruin everything by listening to it again.

Tabs:

What I have open now, besides email and Twitter:

  • Gateways to the Classical World – article from Sunday New York Times on apps like lexicons and maps. Catnip to a former Classics major like me.
  • Helping – a flash fiction piece by R.O. Kwon at Tin House’s Open Bar
  • How to tell if you’re inflamed – Mark Sisson’s web site where I occasionally go for Crossfit and paleo inspiration. Am I inflamed? More than anyone will ever know. A longer post about health is in order, but guys, I am basically staring down the barrel of a life of seaweed, bone broths, and cold-water fatty fish right now.
  • P.E. – an amazing short story by Victor Lodato in the New Yorker. Set in Tucson, baby!
  • Medium – Ok, everyone’s doing it. Should I blog here, too? Can the Internet even handle my frequency of 3 to 4 blog posts a year?
  • Andrew Smith’s blog (intriguingly titled Ghost Medicine) – Because I don’t know. Grasshopper Jungle or something someone said on Twitter.
  • 28 must-follow Tumblrs for fans of YA – a great list from BookRiot. But watch me go back to my dismal Tumblr life of not looking at what anyone else does and only posting the occasional song that gets me through my day.
  • A map to Paintball Jungle – We did paintball for my son’s birthday. And omg, this is one crazy scene.

Ok, signing off now. There’s more, of course, but it’s a little dark and gripey. I will leave you with the cheerful sounds of air compressors refilling and little paintball pellets exploding their orange goo everywhere, while the morose ice cream man drives his truck up and down the dirt road hoping for business from camouflaged warriors. I bought a pack of chili picante CornNuts from him on the edge of an open, abandoned field.

Highlights of 2013

I’m a little behind in wrapping up 2013, but I’m still going to do it! Or at least try to make some notes about what stuck with me, mostly in the cultural realm. In terms of actual life 2013 was an incredible year — all about pushing through and turning corners — but it was very very difficult. I’m so glad it’s behind me.

THE BIG NEWS

Cover of DreamwoodGuys, I did it. I finally finished up my book, which got a new name (Dreamwood) and went through copy edits, and now I have galleys. Actual honest-to-God ARCs. All I can say to everyone is thank you. Everyone who has expressed any interest or been supportive, it just means the world. You know what? I had the idea for this book about 10 years ago. It was a tiny little nubbin of an idea and I wrote some stuff down on legal pads and noodled. And then I went through a whole saga. Seriously a saga. But who cares about that now? Because it’s done! Honest! It comes out in June.

READING

I read fewer books than usual this year – about 25 – partly because I was so busy finishing up Dreamwood. Here are a few standouts, kids and adult books all mixed together:

A Bend in the River, by V.S. Naipaul – easily my favorite book read in 2013. Wow.

Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan – This book has the most incredible voice. Willow is such an original, wonderful character, and her story had me wishing I could hug her.

Intuition, by C.J. Omololu – Ah, this book is fun. It’s a sequel that takes things to a new level, features one of the best love triangles I’ve read, and has you pondering the gift (or is it curse?) of being able to remember your past lives. I devoured it.

The Twelve, by Justin Cronin – more crazy vampire stuff on an epic scale by a really good writer. Increasingly you see lit fiction writers trying to write genre and they usually fail, which makes Justin Cronin all the more remarkable.

Canada, by Richard Ford – I was strangely taken by this. Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I found myself thinking I preferred it even to The Sportswriter, even though it’s also ruminative to a fault.

MUSIC

This is the year I got way into Spotify. And I have to say, as a result, I’m listening to tons of music. Part of it is due to my day job, where I put the headphones on and try to laser focus. Here are my two most recent faves from 2013

Pusha T, My Name Is My Name – which was stripped down, minimal like Kanye’s Yeezus only not so overblown and without the lame lyrics (e.g., the infamous sweet and sour sauce line). This album had it all: hard, menacing (“King Push”), confessional storytelling (“Nosetalgia”), even the occasional dream (“Sweet Serenade”).

Deafheaven, Sunbather – Ha. Joke on me. Never thought I would listen to this kind of intense black metal but it’s amazing. It’s really hard to call out particular songs – but “Dreamhouse,” “Sunbather,” and “The Pecan Tree” are especially awesome.

MOVIES

Readers, I’m running out of steam on this blog post. Oh, I have so much to say about movies this year. But sadly not tonight. Before I go to bed here are my three favorites:

American Hustle

Spring Breakers

The Great Beauty

Happy 2014 to one and all!!!

Kids, don’t kill your wizard

Gandalf-2What does it say about the modern parenting experience that I’m reduced to telling my kids I will lose hit points if they don’t stop squabbling?

This time of year is always wonderful but also so hard. The adults here are exhausted. Kids are hopped up on sugar and screen time and vicious cycles of anticipation and letdown. We’re all thrown together in a small house. Everyone says “Let’s just stay home today and do nothing but read,” but that’s not the reality. The reality is we’re constantly chafing at each other and someone must walk the dog or he will pee on the floor. I’m trying to find creative renewal after working so so hard this past year. (I had one week of crazed holiday prep. Now in my remaining week of break, I intend somehow to do a year’s worth of cleaning and take care of that little matter of starting a new book.) I feel like a drained battery.

I’ve never been so aware of how delicate my energy is. As a parent, a working person, someone who’s trying to write, I’ve realized it’s all about guarding your life energy. If you don’t, you can’t create. So it means exercise and clearing clutter and staying alkaline and somehow trying not to drink too much red wine. But it’s also not reading depressing news stories. And it definitely means trying to reduce the exposure I have to squabbling.

So while Grant is away visiting family, and I stand alone and brave as the sole parent/cook/tech support/mediator, I have a hit point counter. On the way to the airport I explained how all the daily crap kind of chips away at my points until I have a total mom-burst. But in a game you would never let your family wizard lose so much energy they couldn’t cast spells or cook you omelets or whatnot.

And this seemed like a perfect way of putting it, accessible to the game-addled child of today. Until my son reasoned that if I were an opponent, his goal would be to get me to zero.

Sigh. Holding steady–for now–at 100.

2012 I hardly knew ye

2012, you’re a blur. A hard year, during which it seems I mainly worked. Worked hard at a new job and then came home and worked nights and weekends on my neverending novel revision. (I have still spent nearly all of holiday break grumping around as I try to finish this latest go-round.) But it’s important to look back. I used to record a bit of every day into my Moleskine agenda. It’s been many many years since I’ve kept anything so luxurious as a diary, and I think I read once that Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s husband, didn’t go in for diarying either, but kept a notebook with expenses and short to-do lists, appointments, etc. From that you can reconstruct your life. So I keep things like movie ticket stubs, and I know that receipts (if they are old enough) take on magical summoning properties—and other flotsam, trusting they will someday transform into madeleines. And I try to write a line or two of summary in the agenda – though now I find I go back and do a month or two at a time. That’s the wrong way to go. (Resolution: Do it each night from now on.)

I’m cheating on my revision now to write this—I have only a little time to write—but here are highs from the past year.

Crossfit: Someday I’ll write a longer post about this. But the fact that I can now execute a squat while holding 70 pounds over my head is nothing short of miraculous. I’ve had to do things that terrified me. I couldn’t do handstands when I started. Hated them. Prayed, please no handstands in the workout today. Now I eat handstands for breakfast – raaah! Also, when you’re middle-aged, you know what you’re good at and you tend to do that stuff only. It’s REALLY good to do things at which you suck.

Watching: No movies really stick out for me this year. Shame, which I thought was great, was officially released in late 2011, so I’m going strict here and won’t count it. The movie I LOVED most was Moonrise Kingdom and with secondmost love: 2 Days in New York. Enjoyed Beasts of the Southern Wild. In kids movies, (which I’ve seen plenty of) Pirates: Band of Misfits. Reluctant “mehs” to Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, and The Hobbit. I am SO tired of same-looking CGI and endless battle/chase/alien smackdowns, it’s all boring as hell. But I haven’t been to many movies this year and I haven’t yet seen a lot of the Oscar bait – Lincoln, Django Unchained, etc. On TV I’ve really enjoyed Girls, Portlandia, Homeland. Somehow I’ve fallen behind on Breaking Bad. But Breaking Bad is in a lifetime Hall of Fame all by itself, so it little matters what year I get to it.

Category by himself: Martin Freeman? BEST. HOBBIT. EVER.

Life: My children are growing up. I don’t know how to write about them—certainly not on a dashed off blog. But they are entering new phases of life at 11 and almost 8. I’m struggling to be a good mother and often just feel overwhelmed by that: the PTA meetings I don’t go to anymore, the playdates I can’t manage to coordinate, the alternatives to screen time that I’m desperately trying to provide. And then in a larger life sense, I wish life were not so narrowly focused. I have hardly any time for friends, let alone volunteering, but I wish I were doing something … extra. Gun violence in our country and the ongoing violence against women in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India …. you’re getting me down. I have a wish to do more with my life than what I’m currently doing and a wish to have it count as something that positively impacts other people. I sense a reckoning looming – I’ve gotten too busy and too stressed and it’s gone on far too long with too little restoration. Reckoning, I put you off. But for how much longer?

Reading: Thanks to my new system of index cards, I’m keeping track of every book I read and when I read it and what my reactions are to it. In 2012 I read slightly more than 30 books. Highlights:

Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
Bleak House by Dickens
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
True Grit by Charles Portis
Immortal Beloved series by Cate Tiernan
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Music: Kendrick Lamar! For which I am endlessly teased by our guitar teacher (who’s always like, “I didn’t know you …!” This time it was “I didn’t know you listened to rap!”). So now whenever she sees me she’s like (scary rapper voice) “Stand up. Drank. Sit down. Drank.” And I’m like, “That’s not even my favorite song of his!!!” Good Kid M.A.A.D City just delivered on all levels. Loved it.

Happy 2013 to all!!!

Goodbye, Alice

I’ll always think of you watching the world go by from the top of Buena Vista Park while the fog rolls in.