Friday, May 10, 2013

Goodbye, Blogger!

I'm so glad I didn't cancel my WordPress blog completely, because I've decided to move back to WordPress and good riddance to Blogger. There are several reasons I'm moving:
-- Folks are getting dangerous site notices on my blog at times. I have no idea why. This has only happened with Blogger and not with WordPress.
-- The Blogger App on my phone SUCKS.
-- Blogger ditched GoogleReader and I worry that Blogger is next.
So back to WordPress it is.... Wander over there some time today and you'll see a cute picture of Persy Jane.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Rough Magic: a Biography of Sylvia Plath by Paul Alexander

If you've read my blog for more than five minutes then you know that I'm a bit of a Plath fanatic. My love of Plath has manifested itself in many different ways since my first discovery of Plath when I was about 11 or 12 years old. It was about 1992 and my mom and I were in a gutted department store at the giant, annual library book sale. It was fire sale day. For $5 one could fill a giant paper sack full of books. And fill bags we did... lots and lots of bags. As a bookworm with a love for the classics I threw in every stinkin' book that even looked enticing or if I sense an author name was familiar into the bag it went.We went home -- the day was rainy -- with the car trunk loaded to the brim. It took us several weeks to get the books inside; we'd smuggle a few a day and add them to the shelves in an attempt to avoid a lecture on "too many books in the house" from my father.

A title that left the car on the first evening and found a home on my bookshelf headboard was a yellowed and battered copy of The Journals of Sylvia Plath (the Hughes-approved McCullough edition). I devoured the book. At this time I was hitting puberty, I was angry, I read voraciously, and I wrote poems that made no sense and usually involved ridiculous amounts of blood. Plath's journals -- at least this version -- focused on Plath the writer and Plath the Depressed. I believed these things had to go together if you're a girl. As Bikini Kill sings in Bloody Ice Cream Song:
 The sylvia plath story is told to girls who write
They want us to think that to be a girl poet
Means you have to die
Who is it
That told me
All girls who write must suicide?
I've another good one for you
We are turning
Cursive letters into knives
 My middle and early high school self worshiped Plath as a poet and as a mentally ill person. I truly believed that the sadder one was the better ones poetry (and we all know that isn't true). In fact, my mom would take away my Plath and Sexton and other women poets because she said they made me maudlin. I don't think they "made" me depressed, but it made it okay for me to be sad and angry and smart in a world that wanted me to be complacent and pretty and Christ-like.

In my later high school years my perception of Plath altered slightly. As a burgeoning feminist I was dismayed by Plath's death and personal life seemed to over shadow her genius as a writer. Other women writers I loved had the same issue: Anne Sexton, Shirley Jackson, Edna St Vincent Millay, and Virginia Woolf were all "broken." It was implied that this brokenness or illness caused these women to write or at the very least had a hand in the genius of the writing. On the contrary, Dylan Thomas and Ernest Hemingway and other "writers with issues" were primarily writers with personal lives, mental illnesses, and suicide seen as a mere footnote. To say I was pissed would be an understatement. I resolved to only adore my favorite authors, Plath was one of them, on the merits of the writing.

And then I had a baby my freshman year of college. I was pursuing creative writing and had plans to go to graduate school and travel and write books of poems and be a single mother to the most perfect little girl. And I was going to do all of it perfectly. Now Plath was back to being a writing role model and I felt a great personal affinity with Plath as a mother and a depressed woman. I understood her anger. I understood how goddamn hard it is to write and mother. I understood how greatly stacked the world still is against women - especially women who want everything. Yes, Sylvia, the Fig Tree spoke to me, too:

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.  From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.  One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.  I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.  I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.  
~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Chapter 7
 Now let's jump ahead to myself as a 33 year old married mother working in an academic library and, yes, still writing (although I don't share poems anymore). Having perspective and looking back on my life has allowed me to view Plath as an entire person. She wasn't just a sufferer of mental illness, or a scholar, or a writer, or a mother. She was a human. Her life had sadness and hardship and ended in an awful manner, but among all of that was happiness. Love. Kids. Success. Life. A whole lot of life.

Paul Alexander's biography of Plath, Rough Magic, is the first biography I've read of Plath that paints her as a human. Not totally good and not totally bad. Sad and ill at times and yet joyful and well other times. His discussion of Plath's last year was also incredibly balanced. I've heard academics argue that Plath died because of Writing or Being a Woman in that Time or Ted Hughes being a Douchebag.

Guess what? Plath died for many reasons. Her death is the culmination of pretty much every reason one would have for dying. Of course balancing life as a mother and a writer is one aspect and Hughes did behave badly which didn't help things. But there is also a family history of depression on her father's side and she may have had postpartum depression which wasn't recognized as a mental illness at that time, and actually mental health care wasn't all that great back in the day, and she had been ill with sinuses infections and the flu for months, and she was worried about money, and due to the awful weather the electricity kept cutting off and her flat was horribly cold. Alexander turns Plath from Poet-Goddess-Martyr into a flesh and blood human with a death that was sad, but not some fate-ordained ending. I even think he aptly portrayed Plath as fighting to live; her introspection and writing, her reaching out to friends and family, and her personally seeking therapy and medical help all point to Plath trying to fight against her illness. This romantic notion that madness begets poetry and of the Poetess "indulging" in sadness is bullshit. Alexander gets it right with his portrayal of Plath as a real person and not an icon of  "insert movement" or a victim of a particular "-ism."

I highly recommend this book to fans of Plath and those who enjoy well-written, non-fanatical biographies.

This book was read for my TBR Challenge!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Itching to Read, OR, How World Book Night was Almost Ruined

The idea of giving dystopian feminist novels out on a street corner like a complete nutter appeals to me on so many levels. I eagerly anticipated World Book Night 2013 so I could giveaway my 20 copies of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale at a local coffee shop. 

To sweeten the deal my good friend Catherine was coming over for a visit. We had plans to cuddle baby Persy, give out books, and indulge in some treats (Catherine brought cheese, Earl Grey, and homemade whole wheat quinoa bread). Sounds like the perfect day, right?  Catherine comes over. We gush over the baby. We gush over getting people to read. She brews a pot of coffee and we prepare to enjoy our day when...  ... the daycare calls...

 ... Atticus has a rash.

 I pick him up and take him to the doctor thinking that it is just his eczema flaring. We'll get him checked out, slap on a cream and take him back to daycare so he can enjoy a day outdoors with his friends. Of course, nothing is this simple. The doctor declares its SCABIES. UGH. I leave the doctor, call Sam, line up prescriptions and prepare for a day alone with an itchy tot, a baby, the washing machine, and a vacuuming session.

OMG, what about World Book Night?! I cannot take a napless, parasite infested tot to hand out books. I want people to itch for reading, not just to ... itch. So I did what any dedicated book nerd would do- I charged my fellow comrade in literature -- Catherine - to hand out books for me. I dropped her off at the library -- a quick walk to the coffee shop -- and went home. But never fear, super husband appeared. Sam came home from work and stayed with the toddler and the baby. I joined Catherine on the sunny sidewalk outside the coffee shop. We ate bread and cheese and drank large cups of Earl Grey. And, of course, we gave away all the copies of The Handmaids Tale. We had the stack of books on the table and only gave away the books in fits and starts. I solemnly looked at Catherine and told her I thought I would know when someone needed this book. My days of handing out Bible tracks in middle school was going to pay off. We gave books to younger women, older women, younger men, older men and people seemed thrilled. Thrilled the books were free and thrilled it wasn't a religious treatise.

I cannot wait for next year. Several of my friends are talking about doing a big event where we all give out different books in the same location. World Book Night is certainly a book event not to be missed.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me!

The past month has stressed this mama to the max. We're on a reduced income at the moment so there are financial worries. Then there was all the illness. I've had strep twice within the past two months, Sam had a sinus infection, Persy Jane had a terrible yeast infection encircling her neck and strep, and Atticus brought home scabies. The wearing down of my body, the hours of nursing, the caring for wee ones who are cranky with illness has taken a toll. The laundry piles, the bills back up, my husband I only see for snatches of time that are spent discussing children, money, and family worries.

I put a halt on many of our plans and declared this past week a rest and mend week. It has soothed me beyond belief. There were still piles of laundry (thanks, scabies) and cranky kids, but that's just life. There were many instances of loveliness:
  • I enjoyed sitting outdoors with a good friend discussing books and motherhood while we enjoyed large cups of Earl Grey, homemade whole wheat quinoa french bread, and thick wedges of delicious cheese.
  • My knitting group met. I had a delicious latte (decaf) made by an amazing barista, knitted a row or two, and laughed uproariously at a book about poop.
  • I spent Friday morning with my mom. We ate breakfast and chatted for hours.
  • Atticus has taken to waking around 5am and cuddling on the couch with me.
 Today, my 33rd birthday, has been the best day.
  • I had my morning cuddles with Atticus; he looked at me solemnly and asked where was my birthday cupcake. After cuddling with Atticus and nursing Persy Jane and waking the sleepy teen I was off to the coffee shop.
  • While at the coffee shop I participated in Dewey's 24-hour-readathon... sorta. I read three chapters of Vanity Fair and about 50 pages of a Plath biography and then I was pretty much done for the day.
  • The rain and cooler temperatures made for perfect reading weather and brightened my mood.
  • Sam brought me birthday tulips. 
  • In the late afternoon/evening Sam and I found ourselves a baby sitter and went out for a few hours.
  • First we had some of the world's best pizza at Atlas Pizza. The restaurant was packed, but those silly pizza shop friends of mine cut off all the lights, brought me a becandled turtle brownie and sang a hilarious and ghastly rendition of "Happy Birthday." Then we had coffee and excellent conversation.
Now it is nearly 11 and I'm off to bed before little ones wake up needing hugs or milk or countless rounds of "you are my sunshine."

33 is going to be wonderful.

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Birthday Readathon

Talk about waiting until the last minute! Readathon begins in less than 10 hours and I've just decided to sign-up. I've wavered on participating because I cannot devote the entire day to reading. Readathon pretty much makes me feel like a loser. I cannot read/write/cheer/participate at the level of my book nerd idols. Nope, I'll just be reading and skipping out on all the other frivolities.

Truly I'm using Readathon as an excuse to read. I desperately miss the thrill of uninterrupted reading; much like I miss my blogging and interacting with other bloggers. Since tomorrow is my 33rd birthday, I decided to spend the morning tucked away at the coffeeshop with a book. Happy Birthday to me. Sam will be watching the wee ones in the morning and then I plan on reading some more during naptime. Tomorrow night is reserved for Sam and I to go on a date for a couple of hours; our first date since Persy Jane's birth!

I want to make this readathon also a blogathon. I'm not planning on throwing a bunch of posts online, but I'd like to spend some time reassessing the purpose and direction of my blog, do some outlining and scheduling and then start building up some backup posts. I hate the disconnect I feel from other bloggers. I truly miss the community of readers, makers, bakers, parents, and awesome people I've "met" through this blog.

Okay, here are some goals for tomorrow--

Finish Vanity Fair
Finish Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath
Listen to an audio book
Visit the public library

Decide on whether to move back to WordPress (blogger and the blogger app is increasingly glitchy.)
Outline the month of May (generally)
Work out a plan to increase my commenting on other blogs
Find someone willing to help me possibly move my blog and make it pretty in exchange for bags of coffee.

Reading is first priority, but when I start to doze I'll switch gears and tackle some blogging issues.

I'm so ready to be back in the thick of it!

Happy Reading, Friends!