Monthly Archives: March 2013

Book Talk

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I look forward to our big getaway every year, because we go to a place in Mexico where there are no phones, no iPads, no WiFi. It’s almost like I now NEED this in order to be able to read a book. Which is both disturbing and bizarre.

Here are the two books which made the biggest impact on me.

The Girls From Ames, by Jeffrey Zaslow

A few people including Kathy have compared “Faces of ALI” to Jeffrey Zaslow’s narrative non-fiction approach, and now that I have read him, I am seriously humbled. If I could even approach the peerless way he tells stories that matter, that describe the human condition, I would be thrilled.

The Girls From Ames describes the lifelong friendships of 11 women from Ames, Iowa over 40 + years. The premise of the book is how important female friendships are to the health and emotional well-being of women, but the sprawling narrative covers so much more than just that. We meet these women as children and watch them and their friends grow up, experiencing dating, college, marriage, careers, loss, miscarriage, infertility, parenting, cancer, joy, celebrations and divorce. In essence, The Girls From Ames is a book about life as we both know it and don’t know it.

Unfortunately, Jeffrey Zaslow passed away in a car accident in 2012. I have a feeling he planned to revisit the “girls” regularly and update their stories, and unfortunately, we won’t read the continuation of their journeys.

Zaslow writes in the introduction: “…I know there’s great power in honest stories about real people.”

Wise words.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

SPOILERS!!! SKIP IF YOU PLAN TO READ THIS BOOK!

Almost everyone I know (and many people on the plane and at the beach) is reading Gone Girl, a rare literary sensation in 2012 that was seriously considered for the big prizes but also had great popular appeal.

Gone Girl is many things: a biting indictment on everything from the death of print journalism, the economic decay of the US, the rise of avenging crime reporters like Nancy Grace to the “con” of marriage. It’s a thriller, a crime novel and a sick romantic comedy of sorts gone horribly, terribly wrong.

Set first in New York in the midst of the dying world of magazine writers, then the decaying town of Carthage, Missouri, the plot concerns the disappearance of a wife (the typical beautiful blond of the mystery stories that entrance Americans), who vanishes in the midst of the death throes of her marriage to a handsome bartender (and former journalist).

There is clever writing (the former journalist compares print journalism as an industry to “buggy whip manufacturing”), and I liked how the book talks about the pressure on women while dating to hide their true selves and instead pretend to be the “cool girl.” You know, the Cameron Diaz type: the one who’s fun and eats endless amounts of junk food while simultaneously remaining rail-thin and never brings a guy down with complaints and nagging. It’s been a while since I was single, but I remember those pressures pretty well, especially while dating my college ex. The plot is gripping and I didn’t really want to put it down.

BUT I HATED THE CHARACTERS!!!!! They were so unlikeable!!!!! Yes, I need to use that exact amount of exclamation points because they really were that disgusting.

I read the whole book in pretty much one day and I needed a palate cleanser afterward because I hated the end and hated the characters. Their oily, slimy tricks unfortunately gave me bad dreams.

So then I read a VI Warshawski novel (Body Work) and felt much better after tackling that straightforward tale of murder and mayhem.

Are you able to read books where the main characters are awful people? What did you think of Gone Girl if you read it?

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Why Blog?

When I started blogging back in 2010, I, like most, was reaching into the void, attempting to send some communication that I was here. I felt extremely isolated at the time, after that second miscarriage, surrounded by those telling me it was for the “best” or even worse, those who were so disappointed they could not speak at all.

The Lost World

Like Jodie Foster in Contact, I longed to see what was out there. Where there others feeling as alone, as isolated as me? Did they want to communicate? Could some soul out there possibly feel some empathy for my infertility and loss? I was skeptical, but some part of me must have felt there WERE others.

And then my lonely sole signal was received by Mel, who shone a light back. Through Mel and her community, I discovered a blogosphere of writers talking about infertility. Some were in the beginning of their journeys, some would over the years attempt treatments and ART. Some would move onto adoption. Some would decided to live childless/childfree after infertility. Some were telling their stories from a distance, with a sense of time passed but never forgetfulness.

As a child I had often had fantasies of discovering a lost world, a type of world that would exist if I climbed the neon green hills higher and higher in the spring during hikes with my parents. I imagined that suddenly beyond a vista a mysterious land would appear and I would discover like-minded children: ones who would rather hide behind a book than chase after a soccer ball, a place where quiet would (mostly) prevail, but where my strange sense of humor, centered in the absurd, would lead to laughter not bewildered stares.

The infertility blogosphere ended up being that lost land in many ways. At first it seemed a mirage, an illusion: there couldn’t possibly be so many souls out there like myself. But there were.

Of course this new virtual world ended up to not be a utopia. There were rules, alliances, cliques even among the utopia. And for a while I got lost.

On my vacation I had time to consider what it is about blogging that is so important to me. Why I return to it again and again. Why, even though I’m “done” with infertility, I won’t cut the tie.

A Hogwarts of Sorts

It’s because, like Harry Potter when he finally received his letter, I discovered Hogwarts that iron gray day back in March of 2010. In the midst of pain and anger and sadness, somehow I was initiated into this magical world of those like me. I know that sounds bizarre. No one would wish for infertility and loss. I would not wish it upon anyone. Yet, there is a magical world of sorts here, invisible to the fertile, the muggles, if you will, bless them. Our meetings with others ARE magical, and I always enjoy reading about them from other bloggers. We have super powers of empathy and sympathy and we cheer each other on.

I once compared BlogHer to Hogwarts, but I wasn’t accurate. I met and connected with my fellow ALI bloggers there. THAT’S why it was Hogwarts.

It is not a perfect world. Hogwarts wasn’t either. We are human after all.

Yet, every time I connect to you all and read your stories and comment, I feel distinctly LESS alone, more accepted, more understood.

For Everyone Here, There are 1,000 Who Are Not

I spoke to a woman on vacation who had undergone IVF four times. I recognized the telltale signs of parenting after infertility: the fear, the gratitude, the guilt. I’ve connected to a number of women in real life who are going through/have gone through infertility and I try to offer them what I (hope) I offer you: empathy, sympathy. But mostly: the sense that they are not alone.

It’s a message that needs to be amplified.

Not everyone reads blogs. I often forget this, but it is true.

However, some of the best things in mainstream media about infertility, adoption and loss COME from bloggers. And this week is a good reminder of that.

This week, Lavender Luz had a soft launch of her wonderful and much-needed book about Open Adoption, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole. I urge you all to please consider buying this book. Making this awesome tome a must-have, must-read book, a bestseller, would be a huge boon to us all.

The RAD Kymberli penned an excellent and accurate article demystifying surrogacy for CNN. She was also in the latest Essence issue, included in a sympathetic and accurate round-up of infertility.

A Mission Statement of Sorts

In the end, this is what I believe comes from blogging: I believe that each one of us who blogs makes a difference. Each story has the potential to encourage one person to feel understood. I heard a report on NPR about the importance of telling stories, from a Middle East think tank who studied how individuals responded to issues. You’d think that the overall statistics, the logical dry arguments would be the more powerful methods but it turned out that wasn’t the case. The only way to change a person’s mind about a particular issue was to tell a story about an individual who was living in the midst on it: what happened to them.

I believe this is true for infertility too.

Do you agree that telling your story makes a difference? Why did you start to blog? Why do you blog now?

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Gone Fishin’

Please excuse this horrid post: I am typing it while on my phone at a airport hotel with shaky wi-fi.

Here’s the latest:

I am working really hard on something really exciting. I hate to be vague and lame, but finally I realized I dropped off the face of the cyber earth and in case anyone was wondering, it’s not a permanent move.

I’m sorry I haven’t been commenting more and I’m really sorry for the flakiness. Consistency, Jessica. Try it more! Yikes.

Mea culpa.

I will be back (with a vengeance?) next week after returning from a trip. I miss you all and hope you are very, very well.

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Top 10 Things I Learned From Laura Ingalls Wilder

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We’re wrapping up the “Little House” series. The good news is my daughter is now fascinated with all things Prairie — she says she wants to go back in time and live as a pioneer. I much prefer Wilder’s narrative, where one strives for self-sufficiency, than the passive princess storyline she previously used in her imaginative tales. Which apparently she picked up via osmosis from friends, since we don’t allow “waiting for my prince” books in the house? It’s such a battle to try to combat the Cinderella complex…Peggy Orenstein was right. Sigh.

It’s been informative to go back and read the “Little House” stories as an adult. For example, I didn’t remember how important it was to Ma for her daughters to wear the latest fashions. They were on the Prairie! Who cares? Yet back then, families clung to clothes and books and furnishings as a way to feel “civilized” in an unsettled and wild place. Laura is a strangely modern and relatable girl/woman much of the time too: most notably, she pursues a career to help pay for her sister’s college.

(Aside: can we talk about “Blind Mary,” as I began referring to her in my head, because seriously? To Laura, there’s not much more to Mary other than her visual impairment. Example: “Her beautiful unseeing eyes looked at nothing.” If I were Mary and I read the books, I would be pissed.)

Laura teaches school by herself in strange towns, she wants to get in snowball fights even though it wasn’t “ladylike” and she achieves the best grades in her class. (One notable exception to her modernity: she claims she’s not like Almanzo’s sister, who wants the right to vote.) Overall, I found I liked her just as much as an adult as I did when I was a kid.

So here are my Top 10 Lessons I Learned from Laura Ingalls Wilder, because I like lists.

1. All the latest fashions come from Iowa.
2. Always, ALWAYS look in the Northwest for a cloud. You never know when a blizzard might spring up and freeze you to death before you can climb into a haystack. (Getting into a haystack may help you survive a blizzard, BTW.)
3. Don’t play a snowball game with your students if you expect them to respect you as a teacher.
4. Almanzo was HOT. He and Mr. Darcy remain at the top of my literary crushes list.
5. Laura may have liked Almanzo’s horses and sweet buggy more than she liked him. In the beginning, at least. I guess a beautiful team of horses and a pretty buggy were the equivalent of a cool car back then?
6. The best food in the world is oyster soup, especially if you enjoy said soup with some tasty oyster crackers.
7. Pa learned the same hard lesson we all do at some point: your crops (or home or bonus or promotion) is not the same thing as money in the bank until you actually SELL said crops, get the money and put it in the bank.
8. Grasshoppers are EVIL!
9. The most important essentials for surviving a long winter? Wheat, hay and a coffee grinder. And a positive attitude.
10. “All’s Well That Ends Well!” Ma was always saying this after they nearly drowned in their covered wagon crossing a river, or Pa almost got eaten by a panther or an ox fell through their roof. And, it’s good advice for us all, really.

My son wants me to read the Harry Potter series next. The twins are five: is this appropriate? Is the first one OK? If you read me regularly, you probably know I am a HUGE fan of those books, but I am still scarred by the Happy Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It gave me the sads. ADVICE WELCOME!!

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