Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Power of the Written Word

Okay. So I haven't been able to blog or anything else in my free time over this holiday because I've been engaged in a reading orgy. I've been reading until the external world almost became less real than the internal one, and I've loved every minute!

Oh my god, it's been so long, with all of that freelance stuff and the gearing up for Christmas, since I've read for pleasure. And I knew I wouldn't have much time once school started up again because I'm teaching an online drama course, and online courses take up TONS of time. So I've read and read and read, and walked around with that slightly comatose, far-away feeling for days now. Every spare second I got, I've had my head in a book.

I finished A.S. Byatt's Little Black Book of Stories (delicious and perfect as always), and Helen Simpson's Getting a Life (gut-wrenching, in a quiet, English kind of a way), Michael Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White (contrived beginning, then good, then lapsing into boring, then suddenly picking up and chugging along fantastically until the UNACCEPTABLE and ANGER-INDUCING finish - grrrr... I'm still mad), and David Sedaris' Naked (fussy and hilarious, as usual), all of which I'd started, but not finished. I completely devoured Indu Sundaresan's The Twentieth Wife, which was well-plotted if obviously a first novel and a little bit ham-handed at times, and fed my inner passion for all things Indian. But the capper was Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.

Over the last two and a half days I almost had a heart attack, so much blood, sweat, sleep, laughter and tears did I sacrifice to that book. Seriously? It is pure genius and, I know it's cliche, but I literally could not put it down. I stayed up waaaay too late and fell asleep with it in my hands. In the shower and changing diapers are about the only times I let go of it. I read it while I blew dry my hair, and while fixing dinner. I snapped up snippets at traffic lights. I read whole portions out loud to Andy.

Holy hell, what a book! I can see why my conventional brother and sister-in-law hated it, but DUDE, my family is IN that book. Mostly me and my mother, and partly my dad and the conventional brother, but still. My mother IS Enid, the mother in the novel. And it freaked me out and gave me goosebumps over and over.

Enid is disappointed and embarrassed of her children. They do not fit her view of "nice" and "normal." This was already eerily familiar as I read, but particularly hit home with me when Andy told me last night that when I was pregnant with Charlotte (remember, Charlotte is only one, so this was pretty recently) my mom told his mom (nice choice of audience, mother) that I am a "great disappointment" for all of their (meaning she and my dad) plans for me. This is what my mother is STILL telling people. Since I was 17, this has been going on. Did she stop to think that by announcing this to my MOTHER-IN-LAW she was essentially saying that my life with that woman's SON is disappointing to her?! No. No she did not. She, I know absolutely, expected sympathy and agreement, and a commiserating tsk tsk at me for putting her through such suffering and travails. It would never have occurred to her to think about the ramifications of what she was saying for anyone beyond herself. She just likes to announce the cross she bears to anyone who will listen. She would be completely bewildered to hear that someone perhaps might find her confessions of motherly disappointment to be a tad distasteful, let alone downright appalling.

My dear friends ErinP. and Philbug asked me today, when I shared this with them, what my mother wishes for. She wants to be able to brag to her friends about me. She can't very well brag about her thrice-married, Master's-Degree-abandoning, poor-neighborhood-dwelling, baby-machine daughter of reality, now can she? She wishes for me to be rich and live in a big house, married to some doctor/lawyer type person (he is of marginal importance in my ideal life-path, except to be professional and respectable and wealthy) and be an acclaimed something-or-other: writer, singer, pianist, violinist... one of those things for which I was trained. I have wasted the many opportunities I was given as a child, you see. She often wistfully quotes my preschool teacher, who said in days of yore, "Beth could do anything she wants to do." Because I was brilliant and shining back then, before boyfriends and speeding tickets. What she has never understood, and what I don't think she ever WILL understand, is that all of that stuff at which I shined so brightly way back when was EASY for me, and therefore would bore me in the long run. No challenge. I never practicied EVER except to cram just before concerts, and I would sing or play like a bird. Same thing with school. Cram the night before, ace everything. Yawn. What is a challenge, what I find valuable and rewarding as hell is being a wife and a mother. THIS, I love. It's HARD, and I love it. This is the stuff for which I received absolutely no training, and I have to figure out on my own, and therefore when I do it well, I know I worked for it. She will never get that. My friends pointed out that if I had gone the route she would have preferred, she would have found something else to be disappointed about. My lovely lovely friends said that it sounded to them like my mother is a very unhappy person, and that that has nothing at all to do with me. I love my friends.

Jeebus. That was a tangent I did NOT mean to meander onto. Sorry. Ahem.

So anyway, I've still got one more Christmas book to finish, J.F. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur. Another India/historical-fiction fix, which is sure to be enjoyable. I shall abandon myself to another reality, with much relief.

It feels so good to have rediscovered my reading self. It's, like, utter luxury for me to immerse myself in a book, even if it's painful, as was The Corrections. Books are my opium. And I feel guilty for having taken a minor leave of absence from blogging, but I totally needed a vacation in the opium den. Yes I did.

So Happy New Year to me.

And to all of you. My wish is for all of you to find the perfect book. It's simple, but coming from me, you can be sure of how very much that wish entails.


Blogger Marti said...

I feel ya on the mom thing. My mom told me once that she was proud of me... and that was when I graduated from college. Other than that it's been 38 years of telling me how stupid I am, and advising me what I should have done.

Ya know, I'm proud of myself because I am living my life by my rules. How many people do that these days? I'm raising a son that is kind, gentle, compassionate, and very intelligent.

FYI... even from afar it's obvious that you are the Mom that she never will be. One with a heart of love and devotion. Because of her, you know of the path NOT to take... maybe you can turn that into a blessing.

2:19 AM  
Blogger Tracy said...

Right on, Sister-Friend, with the book extravaganza. I did the same thing this year, with the same joyuosly blissed out feeling. Gorgeous.
Your mom sounds like my grandma- if she won the lottery, she'd bitch about the taxes. Pay her no mind, GG, for you have accomplished amazing things, and the proof is in your fabulous family- your awesome husband, adorable, brilliant, well adjusted kids- and the wonderful friends you have attracted, myself included. HA! But true, nonetheless.

I wish I could have said all that in rhyme....

7:01 AM  
Blogger candyfortheteacher said...

super! I am an elementary school teacher, second grade. I love to read when I have time. One of my favorite books is A Tall Woman by Wilma Dykeman. It is awesome. I also liked reading The Giver, can't remember the author. I so made me think. I also like Cynthia Voite.
I stumbled onto your blog and am glad I did.

11:39 AM  
Blogger yucaree said...

funny you should mention your reading frenzy over the winter holiday. i did the same too, although i didn't manage to get through as many books as you did.

i finally found "the kite runner" at the library and inhaled that one, just like everyone said i would.

i also read two "kids" books: "kira kira" by cynthia kadohata and "conrad's fate" by diana wynn jones. not sure if i enjoyed both of them as much as i thought i would. kadohata is apparently known for her writing on the japanese-american experience, but i didn't think the book reflected that so much. it won the newbery but i'm not sure why; it's good but not great. as for diana wynn jones, i've only read "howl's moving castle" and its sequel so i'm no expert on her writings, but this one wasn't as "fantastical" as i thought it would be. maybe it would have helped if i had read the other books in the series first. but its plot did have a large portion of "upstairs-downstairs" to it, which i found actually i enjoyed.

lastly, i read "the know-it-all" by a.j. jacobs about his experience reading the encyclopaedia britannica. i myself aspire to know-it-all-ism so it was a fun read. nothing genius, mind you, but fun.

i'm currently reading "learning to bow" by bruce feiler who wrote "walking the bible." i'm finding myself resisting it just a bit and i'm not too far into it. something about reading about japan in a not-so-flattering light (even though its true) is making it hard for me to read. weird.

i also started "the crimson petal and the white" more than a year ago and got stuck. i just couldn't get past a certain point. but maybe i should pick it up again -- what do you think, GG? is it worth it?

as for your mother, it must be so hurtful to hear these things. but i think marti is right about you being the mother she'll never be. there's a term in japanese -- *hanmen kyoushi* -- that came to mind. it basically means someone is an "opposite teacher"; the opposite of what they do is the right thing to do. that's your mom: she's the *hanmen kyoushi*.

and your other friends are right too. your mother is not a happy person, which is actually really quite sad. it sounds like she never will be happy or find happiness for herself or for those around her. and what kind of life is that?

although i'm sure that to a certain extent no matter what we all know rationally, the things your mother says will continue to sting. but try not to let it; you have so much more in your life to be thankful for and enjoy.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Erica said...

Your mother doesn't know what she's missing. If it's any consolation, I brag about you, and I've only ever met you online. (Which is probably not much in the way of consolation, now that I think about it.)

Nevertheless, glad the reading orgy was so good. Now that the mania is over, I plan to do much the same.

5:49 PM  

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