Tag Archives: books

2018: year in review

This year, 2018, was the best year of my life. I’m usually not one for absolutes, but 2018 was the year I finally got to meet my son, which has been the best and most transformative experience of my life. This time last year, I was newly pregnant, just starting to tell people, and blissfully snoozing my days away. I got to spend quite a bit of time in Idaho in the first part of the year reading, hibernating, and gestating. I also got to see the snow sculptures for the first time this year. T and I made a trip to Casper, WY. My pregnancy cravings were really kicking in at that point, and I spent long mornings eating at the hotel’s very decent continental breakfast and watching the news while T was working. I also got a delicious banana milkshake at Dairy Queen (I would eat much more junk like this in the third trimester).

sherewin

Instagram 2018 “Best Nine”

I spent the last months in my SLC apartment. For the last time, I watch the daffodil bulbs emerge from the ground (always so early!). I ran my daily laps around the park that I came to know and love so well. (I was able to easily run until I was 23-24 weeks pregnant.) In February, I announced my pregnancy to the world, and the world joined my celebration. I got the 20 week anatomy scan and saw my baby for the first time. I flew to Kansas City, Missouri for a work conference. I was still barely showing then.

After months (years really) of searching, I finally found a house and bought it. Call it nesting, call it what you will, but I knew for sure that this house was right for me and haven’t regretted the purchase for one second. I like being in the house. I love the community. It’s right by Utah Lake. It feels completely idyllic to me and was my necessary “next step.”

Mom came to visit for a week and brought my nephew to Utah for the first time. It was a hectic trip (since I was in the middle of buying and updating a house), but I loved it. Thinking back nostalgically, the trip might’ve included the last time Graysen will ever jumped into my arms. He ran to me, and I lifted him up easily over my bump and into a hug, and my mom wondered out loud if I should be doing so much lifting.

Sadly, my grandma passed away unexpectedly in the spring, and I drove home for her funeral. Now nine months later, her death seems unreal to me. I still feel like I should go over for a visit and show her my new baby.

Following my trip to Oregon, I frantically updated and moved into my new house. T was a saint during this time, doing all of the painting and heavy lifting for me. I officially moved during the first week of my third trimester. Physically, I don’t recommend it. I was nesting and highly motivated in every other way though.

I returned to Oregon for Mother’s Day weekend and the baby shower of my dreams—pink and yellow, lots of flowers, friends, family, and all of the foods and sweet candies that I love. This was also the weekend that I got my maternity photos, and all of my family finally officially met T.

Once I returned to Utah, I put my nose to the ground to teach summer school (which was physically challenging, but a welcome distraction), continued unpacking, prepping the nursery, and lugging by increasingly heavy body around in the warm Utah summer.

I made my last trip to Idaho in early June and then spent most of the following month alone. I ate. I ate tremendous amounts of anything I wanted. I savored my last weeks, days, and hours of alone time—keenly aware that it might be years before I have such solitude again.

I began to relax and become increasingly ready on every level to give birth to my child, who now catapulted around my stomach in waves—comfortably, though. I was incredibly comfortable and deeply relaxed throughout my entire pregnancy.

Once summer school was over, I took long walks daily along the paved path by my house. People stopped and said things like “Any day now.” I felt supported in every way. I watched the birds, the plants, the animals. I walked slowly. It was the one thing I accomplished each day with devotion. Some days I would get too hot. I had mild Braxton Hicks contractions from 14 weeks forward. Some days I would feel strong. I no longer felt I could run. Nothing fit me anymore besides one or two giant shirts over a pair of cheap leggings. It’s possible that I have never been happier, and I certainly have never felt more blissful.

As my due date approached, I felt confident that I would go a week, or even two, past and told everyone to wait. But, much to my surprise, I ended up going into labor the day before my due date and giving birth the day after my due date. (The full details of that story to come.)

After an unexpected week in the hospital (for both me and baby), I spent a few weeks in Utah, with a lot of postpartum help from my mom. Then, I transitioned to Idaho.
In the fall, I returned to teaching and meetings (much of which could be done online and via video chat, thankfully, because I had (am having) a particularly slow and painful recovery and even short trips to campus left me sore, exhausted, and weirdly shaky and shaken.

Those first months were filled with daily urgent challenges, sleep deprivation, pride, love, and experiencing my new self as a mother. It’s a transition I’m still making, and the daily urgent challenges continue, although the pediatrician thinks things will even out soon. (I hope so!) That time included doctor appointments, prescriptions, pain, healing, learning how to eat a new diet—one that didn’t include the top eight allergens, or corn, oats, beans, cruciferous vegetables, and nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes), and what else? The list seems to go on. I’ve mostly subsisted on chicken, rice, and mild vegetables, like carrots. The bright side? I’ve lost all the baby weight! Everyone gets to complain about pregnancy and caring for a newborn, but if your baby does not have the colic, reflux, and severe eczema trifecta, and you complain, then I will want to punch you in your throat.

T worked and traveled quite a bit in the last months of the year, and I solo parented.

Mom’s birthday was another highlight. In November, she joined us in Utah for her 60th and my grandpa’s 80th combined birthday party. Being with her and having her support in caring for my baby is such a relief.

We spent Thanksgiving with family friends in Idaho. We made an impromptu trip to Oregon for Christmas, and that brings us up to date.

In 2018, there have been challenges so severe that I honestly think many people would not be able to handle them. But, it’s also been the very best year full of experiences that were deeply wanted and loved. In 2018 everything changed forever, and I was ready.

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The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy by Rachel Cusk

Since I read Outline by Rachel Cusk, I’ve wanted to read her earlier book The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy. I finally got the chance to finish it this winter. Cusk’s genius is in her observations. She has some of the most shockingly astute and artfully articulated insights on the human condition that I have ever read. She also has a vast vocabulary, which she integrates beautifully into her writing: inchoate, lachrymose, acolyte, obeisance, balustrades.

Image result for The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy by Rachel Cusk

image from goodreads.com

The book comments on foreign travel, staying, getting sick of a place, hating and loving a place, connecting, awkwardness, presence, living in the experience, and art, and an eye, and the moments between people that capture the feeling or meaning in art.

Two thirds of the way through, I’ll admit that I wanted a bit less description of some of the art (though I can see that it was necessary). I wanted more of the human interactions, the mistakes, the moving, the descriptions of the land, the houses, the people. This wasn’t a joyful read, but it was quiet and thoughtful, which is what I needed.

Just a few lines:
“In this it is the artist who is God. And it is a strange kind of proof we seek from him, we who are so troubled by our own morality, who know we will all eat a last supper of our own” (53).

“Now our violence is diffuse, generalized: it has been broken down until it covers everything in a fine film, like dust” (148).

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

As you know, one of my favorite genres is a memoir from a female comedy writer. It’s like hanging out with a really funny best girlfriend all weekend. Is it weird that I artificially fabricate this experience through reading? Maybe. I don’t care. I read Mindy Kaling’s first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? during a frantic “pleasure reading” phase I went through between the time I submitted my dissertation and the time I graduated.

This time, I am realizing (perhaps late) that Kaling writes, plays, (and maybe is?) just one character. But, like Jack Nicholson and James Franco (maybe I’ve only seen his stoner films?), nobody cares because it’s such a good character. The Office’s Kelly Kapoor, The Mindy Project’s Mindy Lahiri, and the identity Kaling develops in both of her books are all basically the same person. She’s a myopic, worst/best basic bitch kind of person, and it’s hilarious. She’s always simultaneously doing great commentary on gender and femininity. She describes the persona best: “Mindy is…a combination of Carrie Bradshaw and Eric Cartman” (75).

image from books.google.com

Here’s the take away of Why Not Me: First, you will want to eat McDonalds. And yes, there is some filler content. All of these books have filler. Like, okay, I’ll read a script that’s not going anywhere and a commencement speech that you gave. And, yes, the book was probably written by a ghost writer (but that ghost writer does a great job maintaining Kaling’s voice throughout!) And regardless, Kaling writes some grade-A jokes for these books, and even inspires her reader a bit toward the end. I was thinking, “Hey, yeah, why not me?!” Then, laced up my running shoes and achieved my dreams.

Here are some of the lines I loved:

Real Talk

  • “I’m skrilla flush with that dollah-dollah-bill-y’all” (4). This is the single best description of me on payday.
  • “[T]he gulf between a friend and a best friend is enormous and profound” (27).
  • On breakups: “So, the only decent way for him to have broken up with you is to not break up with you and stay with you forever” (39).
  • “As someone who enjoys secrets, exclusivity, and elitism…” (40).
  • People don’t say “Give me your honest opinion” because they want an honest opinion. They say it because it’s rude to say “Please tell me I’m amazing” (125).
  • “[R]ecycling makes America look poor” (139).
  • “[H]ard work must be rewarded with soul-replenishing gossip” (139).
  • “I have a terrible habit of impulsively sending text messages that reveal my true feelings” (140-41).

On Body Image

  • “One of the great things about women’s magazines is that they accept that drinking water and sitting quietly will make your breasts huge and lips plump up to the size of two bratwursts” (10).
  • “I cannot imagine a life more boring and a more time-consuming obsession than being preoccupied with watching what I eat” (194).
  • “But my secret is: even though I wish I could be thin, I don’t wish for it I don’t wish for it with all my heart. with all my heart. Because my is reserved for way more important things” (202).

I want to say some more about the body image stuff. So, I can work to get the sick body, the one with that weird vein between your lower ab and hipbone, but it does require me to think about what I’m eating and get regular exercise. It takes time and mental energy–time and mental energy I’m not always willing to give. Take graduate school, for example. I knew I would take four years and focus my energy on learning. And, so I didn’t think much about what I ate, and I taught and practiced yoga several times a week. I gained weight. I felt fine. This lasted four years.

Now, I can focus more time and energy on my body. Most people I know who pour 100% into looking good look great, but aren’t very interesting to talk to. Additionally, I simply have the kind of brain that requires me to spend time thinking about the meaninglessness of life and experiencing existential angst. I simply can’t/don’t want to transfer that energy into diet and exercise. I liked when Kaling wrote, “I don’t wish for it I don’t wish for it with all my heart. with all my heart” (202), and I think that’s a healthy approach. Anyway, I certainly haven’t found a balance, and I sort of don’t think a balance is possible (for women), and that sucks…is the way I’m going to end this post.

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Let me start this way: it’s been a very, very long time since I read a book like Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist. This kind of plot-driven book felt like a throwback to my junior high and high school days when I picked through the slim reading selection in my small town library in rural Eastern Oregon. The Orchardist is such a great title too! However, as a reader, I was hoping to learn more about the workings of an orchard.

book cover from NPR

In addition to the landscape, The Orchardist is driven by characters too, though. Like in the reading forays of my youth, Coplin’s characters are often completely transparent, irrational, and occasionally infuriating. I wonder if Coplin was ever irritated with her Talmadge character like the reader would be at times.

The following could be considered somewhat of a ******spoiler******:

Much of Talmadge’s behavior can be forgiven because of his traumatic upbringing and the loss of his sister. What cannot be forgiven of Talmadge, nor of Coplin, is the violence enacted upon Jane as she is giving birth. Jane is a woman who has endured incredible abuse. In her deepest moment of vulnerability, when she is in labor, the midwife, Caroline Middey, and Talmadge are both complacent in her violation as they ignore her desire to be left to labor alone. Instead, they struggle with her even as she is on the brink of exhaustion. Talmadge violently grips and presses her thighs until the child is born. Jane indicates over and over that she wants to be left alone physically, but the well-meaning Talmadge and the trustworthy midwife do not abide. When Jane takes irreversible action soon after, the reader knows she wasn’t kidding about wanting to be left alone.

Each character in the novel possessed a combined inability to reach out, communicate, and move beyond the confines of their past and their current circumstances. There is no real character transformation in this book. The product of the story is Angelene, and this character’s welfare is completely unknown by the end of the book. As a reader, I was left wondering what became of Angelene.

In her debut novel, Coplin is a master of creating a gripping plot. However, the first page of the book is a long physical description of the main character that will make you want to put the book down. Those descriptions continue throughout without the book, without adding much if anything to the reader’s understanding of the plot or the characters. That said, Coplin will, no doubt, have a long career as a novelist, and hopefully she’ll learn to rein in those long descriptions.

Even with the long descriptive flourishes, the book will hold your attention and curiosity after the first few pages. In fact, I couldn’t put it down. Beyond her long-winded descriptions, her writing is effortless and entertaining. Some of the character’s insights are truly enlightening. If she writes a sequel about her character Angelene, I will read it. In fact, I’m quite curious to see what Amanda Coplin will write next.