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Archive for the month “December, 2013”

Growing up in 2013

As 2013 draws to a close, I want to touch on my year in review. I spent the bulk of the year as an unemployed person. About halfway through January and February, I decided that being unemployed in a career absolutely did not mean I was unemployed in life. I tried everything, said no to nothing. I attempted to broaden my mind and get in touch with what I can ultimately contribute to this planet and species outside of the workforce.

Mixed results and harsh truths aside,  I can honestly say I would NOT trade in my year of exploration for anything.

2013 was also the year my life would forever change as I know it. I became a wife. I struggled with this all year long, not because I was afraid or worried I wasn’t ready (I was), but I wanted to understand what becoming a wife, or simply a married member of society, truly means.

2013 was, more than anything else, the year I became an adult. I’m 34 years old- already quite the adult, you might argue- but I crossed two life changing thresholds over the course of the 2013 and I don’t think I was ever more ready in my life or was more able to cope with what faced me this year. It’s an astounding feeling, being an adult. I wouldn’t say I feel old or even more wise, I just feel, well, capable.

I’m now married and I now have full time employment in a brand new career. I definitely ended 2013 as a slightly different person with a completely new perspective on life. I want 2014 to be a balls-out year, meaning I want to dare myself to go further. I want to find out more about who this new adult person is. I want to continue to enjoy being married and discover who this new wife person is. I want to keep searching and carving out my mission for this life. I want to be a revolutionary.

Here’s a look back at the year 2013 in all its glory.

January:

My search for a new career started with a bang and then ended up with a couple of busts. I have almost never been without a job in my entire working life until my layoff in November 2012 (while welcomed, I was completely unprepared for how long it might take me to find a new one) and I quickly realized that what had served me well in the past was not going to serve me at all in the current job market. The competition alone astounded me. It soon dawned on me that without the right set of skills and the right amount of job experience, finding a career outside of what I was already familiar with might be next to impossible. What did I want to do? I knew what I didn’t want: I didn’t want to end up in another dead-end career where I felt stuck and unfulfilled after a certain period of time. I wanted to do work that thrilled me, challenged me, and dared me. I started off 2013 in high hopes and spirits that my “perfect job” was out there waiting for me.

February- March:

Probably my most dire and depressed months. I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so desolate and unskilled.  I thought I had a great résumé and a lot to offer. That’s just it: so did many, MANY other people. These were the humbling months, but also the months where I found I was very useful in other areas. I became a helpmate for friends in need, driving people to doctors visits, babysitting kids. I saw several friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I made myself available to anyone and everyone who might need assistance- paying, great, but not necessary. I meditated. I prayed. I began to rediscover and understand that my job (or lack thereof) in no way defined me- I defined me. And there was no better time to start.

April:

When I first started this blog back in April of 2013, I wasn’t sure what my focus would be or what I would even want to write about, but I knew I had thoughts and I knew I had to write them down and share. Somehow, this blog became almost entirely devoted to books and reading. Not a bad thing, indeed! Reading consumed me in 2013, partly because I found myself with lots of time on my hands. I have very fond memories of sitting in my back yard with a cup of coffee, reading a lovely new book and listening to birds whistle and squawk while the trees rustled in the gentle wind. These were good days. I have never felt more part of the literary community- reading and writing- than ever during 2013. I became active in my book club. I joined a 2013 reading challenge. I joined online forums where I could write my rants and raves on pop culture to my heart’s content. I even published a few pieces in the international webzine The Paperbook Collective (view back issues here). If 2013 is remembered for anything, I will fondly recollect this time in my life as the moment I rediscovered my love of words. I also found my voice. It’s still a work in progress, but I enjoy writing and the more I practice doing it the closer I am to discovering how I can contribute to this wild and wacky literate world.

Moving into 2014 I still want to keep my options open and maintain this blog as a completely blank canvas. Though I imagine I will still continue to write about reading and books, I don’t want to narrow my focus just yet.

May:

May 2013 will be the month I rediscovered my love of theatre. I collaborated with one of my friends from acting class and became a “Directrice du Marketing” for her independent play. The play combined my two favorite loves: France and theatre and I was immediately besotted with the project. I had never campaigned via social media before, never really witnessed what it takes to put up a play from the ground up, but I loved every minute of it and learned so much. I think I also saw more live theatre in this month than I had in years. Such a wonderful month!

June-August:

The exploratory months. I prepped for the wedding, I continued to look for a job, I freelanced as a consultant, I helped my friend with her September theatre workshop. These three months were great months for me to explore what might be possible outside of the traditional 9-5 job. I read A LOT. I bonded with my soon-to-be husband who became such a pillar of support during my long career hiatus. I never loved him more.

September-October:

I became a wife! September was a blur of last minute wedding activity, but October was tumultuous. I feared I would be as clueless on my wedding day as to what the day really would mean as I had been for most of the year. And then the day came and I suddenly figured it all out. I had a partner for life, in all the truest sense of the word. We became eternal helpmates for each other. We weathered the bad stuff, got through it, and still loved each other. He was patient and kind, supportive and shrewd all throughout my unemployment period. I knew I would do the same for him when the time came (hopefully never). What’s next? Who knows! The delightful surprise about marriage is that from day one it’s an adventure, even if you have been together for a long time.

September through October also became a period of my life where I fought hard and strong for a job I truly wanted. It was a long process, and I knew that this time I had to give it my everything. Through several interviews and conversations  I discovered some strengths I didn’t even know I had. I felt good about what I have accomplished so far and knew that I could give so much more.

November:

Have to be honest, I don’t remember much about November (and it was last month!). We got back from the honeymoon and I was in the final interview stages with my new job. I had a brilliant idea that I could occupy my days by trying something new every day. I think I made it about a week, week and a half. I learned how to code from Codeacademy.com and I faithfully kept a journal of new word-of-the-day vocab from Oxford dictionary. I even tried to broaden my French vocabulary. I read non-fiction books, “The Drunken Botanist” and “Great Tales from English History”, in my attempts to rev up for the end of the year and learn something new.  Looking back, this isn’t a bad way to stay busy.

December:

I reentered the workforce in a position and job I wanted. It’s a brand new industry for me filled with great people. I spent my first Christmas with my new husband. I more or less finished my 2013 reading challenge. I loved, I laughed, I took a deep breath in and a brave step forward.

I can’t wait to see what the New Year brings.

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Book Review: “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” by Therese Anne Fowler

Z

“Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” by Therese Anne Fowler

This is a difficult book to review. Was it the writing that left me wanting at the end of the novel or, since I listened to this via audio book, was it really the actress’s interpretation of the narrative that irked me? I ultimately decided it was a bit of both and split my review down the middle. For more of my take on audio books, please read An Earful of Books.

I probably also liked the book much more than I should due to the subject matter alone. I adore F. Scott Fitzgerald and the 1920s, so this type of historical novel is right in my wheel-house. Told from his wife Zelda’s point of view, I was even more intrigued to read about the era’s first self-proclaimed flapper. I finished it slightly disappointed. Please don’t get me wrong- this isn’t a bad book by any means. But it could have been so much better, and I do really have to wonder if it was the fact that I read it as an audio book that is really to blame.

First of all, the actress reading as Zelda chooses the most syrupy of Southern accents, and the novel reads like a bad community theatre version of “Gone With the Wind”. But what is worse is the actress’s portrayal of the male characters, especially Scott Fitzgerald. She drops her voice an octave or two and attempts to put on a stern and authoritative “man voice”. The result is unintentionally comical, not to mention distracting, from the overall story and takes away from the depth and poignancy I think Fowler was trying to achieve. I spent most of the first half of the novel trying to decide if it really was the writing that was bad or just the reader.

After a while, I decided the writing isn’t solely to blame for my disappointment. Told in the first person, every time Zelda speaks from her point of view, lost in her own thoughts, the novel is tremendously more interesting. Zelda spent the bulk of her adulthood trying to find her own identity and escape from being just “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Wife and Champion”, a label that seemed to haunt her her entire life despite her efforts to prove herself as an artist and writer in her own right. I felt for her, and the author does a great job of letting Zelda develop naturally and unhurriedly from naive Southern belle to Jazz Age party girl to a woman who wants to define herself, and not just by her husband and who he was. Fowler’s exploration of women’s early forays into freedom and liberation and society’s response is nothing short of fascinating and I enjoyed these portions of the novel much more than anything having to do with the Fitzgeralds as a couple and their tumultuous marriage.

Which brings me to main issue I had with the book. Dialogue is not Fowler’s strong suit and the fact that I was listening to a woman reading in a man’s voice along with a heavy and stereotypical Southern accent just made the novel read like it was written by an amateur. And this is maddening because for a novel about one of America’s most literary figures, the book itself is not very literary. Scott- awful voice or no- tends to speak in platitudes and declaratory statements: “Quite right!” “That’s my girl” “Here, here old chap!” “My god, Zelda!”. Judging by his dialogue, I would never guess this was the same brilliant wordsmith who could turn out a rich and beautifully crafted novel like “The Great Gatsby”. He’s not written in this book with any particular depth and his interactions with Zelda are clunky. These two folks do not read as “real” people, but rather as the author’s idea of who they were.

Fowler is obviously a sympathetic fan of Zelda’s. From my research, Fitzgerald scholars often agree that Zelda- and to a certain degree, Scott- did indeed get an unfair portrayal in the media and from supposed friends, such as Ernest Hemingway, who had his own demons to deal with and was certainly not always a fair judge of character. But I don’t think Scott gets the best portrayal in this novel either. He was an extreme alcoholic and very insecure about his own writing and self-worth, this much is known and true, but Zelda was equally known for her dark moods that often clashed with Scott’s need for validation and caused much discord between the two (often publicly). Zelda’s darkness and periods of manic depression are largely missing from this book until the last third of the book when she was diagnosed as a Schizophrenic (modern doctors, however, say she was more likely bipolar). The author foreshadows very early on in the book that the Sayre family (Zelda’s maiden name) had a history with depression, but it never comes up again until it absolutely needs to be introduced when we reach the point in history where Zelda was hospitalized. This lack of attention to Zelda’s recurring depression for much of her life that obviously affected her marriage makes Scott come off as a complete jerk who was solely responsible for the demise of their marriage.

But aside from the unevenness of the writing and the audio issues, I did particularly enjoy the story. I instantly felt a part of the Jazz Age world and loved the portions of the book where Fowler describes the literary elite of the era. Zelda Fitzgerald is an interesting woman. I would really like to read more about her, not to mention reread most of Scott’s books, since Zelda was a huge influence on his stories. I’m not sure this author is the best authority on Zelda’s life, but I would recommend the book to anyone who is a fan of Fitzgerald’s work and the 1920s.

An earful of books.

Is there a great distinction between reading a book versus listening to a book? Lately, I think there is.

This past week I’ve been listening to “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” by Therese Anne Fowler on my way to and from work. I must admit, though, I’m not normally a particular fan of audio books, but it seems to be a necessary distraction for when I’m sitting in wall-to-wall traffic on the 405 freeway. While I have honed my aural skills over the years by listening to radio programs such as “This American Life”, “A Prairie Home Companion”, and “The Dinner Party Download” among others, I find listening to books a completely different animal and I’m not quite getting the hang of it.

First of all, if you’ve ever listened to anything while driving there is always the “mind wandering” factor. I can listen to NPR for hours, but am I actually LISTENING intently for each and every one of those minutes? Absolutely not. And since I’m driving and supposed to be paying attention to the road, I’m also doing double duty by listening to book, trying to change lanes, keeping alert for my exit, and occasionally berating the car next to me that wouldn’t let me into the lane. All of this pulls my focus from the novel. Twice, I’ve found myself half-listening to one chapter and about two chapters later I have no idea what is happening in the story because somewhere along the road I drifted into my own thoughts. The book thus becomes background noise. Of course, my mind can occasionally wander while reading a book, too, but do you ever find that it’s actually harder to just listen rather than scan your eyes over the page and absorb the words?

Secondly, there is the fact that the book is being told to me. This is the hardest to get used to. At first I thought it was kind of smart and different to have the book actress read in a Southern accent- just like Zelda Fitzgerald. But after a while it becomes somewhat laughable, like listening to a bad version of Gone With the Wind. Also, the book reader/actress- whatever she is- does ALL the voices, male and female. Le sigh… I can’t distinguish if the writing is just bad or if it’s the actress’s interpretation of the narrative. Are books meant to be read this way- with another person’s voice giving inflection and tone and nuance to words that really aren’t meant to be spoken aloud? Does the author get any say in how her book is read?

Still, listening versus reading is an interesting exercise. And since my drive is not destined to get shorter any time soon, I hear more audio books in my future.

Book Review: “Great Tales From English History” by Robert Lacey

Great Tales From English History by Robert Lacey

 

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Delightful! A cornucopia of interesting and surprising tales from English history in its early viking days to the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth II. What is so fantastic about this book is that is not merely a collection of facts and retelling of events. Each chapter discloses a particular period in British history and reads like a small short story. The author should also be credited for his storytelling style: he writes each piece with whimsy, humor, and simplicity. I can’t say that I was ever lost or confused while reading this book. And I must emphasize that these tales are SHORT: every chapter is only a couple of pages and never feels either too brief or too heavy, and in the end the pages and stories just fly by. I was only ever bogged down by a handful of stories and ended up skimming through- Robert Lacey does tend to get hung up on politics and wars- but because the book more or less follows British history in chronological order, you do need to at least skim each of the chapters before moving onto the next, otherwise the next tale might not make a whole lot of sense.

As Lacey describes in his opening pages, so much of history is just a retelling and reshaping of true events. The tough part is to get as close to the first hand sources as you possibly can in order to get the most truth. Many events and tales in English history- King Arthur and Robin Hood, for example- started off as myths that eventually got accepted as historical fact, and Lacey sets out to debunk a few of these myths by going back to original sources. And his list of sources in the back of the book is awe inspiring! Many of the documents are actually available to the public and online, so you can read more about each tale to your heart’s content.

Lacey also concludes that history is imperfect and ever changing: “There may be such a thing as pure, true history- what actually, really, definitely happened in the past- but it is unknowable. We can only hope to get somewhere close. The history that we have to make do with is the story that historians choose to tell us, pieced together and filtered through every handler’s value system” and he is certainly right on about this when you look at recent events and discoveries. In fact, in the case of Richard III, Lacey will have to adhere to his own statement and republish with updated information. In the book, he claims that the physical appearance of King Richard III as a hunchback was largely made up to portray him as a villain to the public. He even cites modern researchers who found that Richard’s “hump” was added to his portraits years after his death and that his body was thrown in the river and never buried under the Greyfriars Church. However, since the discovery of Richard III’s remains in the last couple years, we now know for a fact that he did have a curved spine and he was indeed buried where early historians had originally claimed.

History buffs, especially those interested in British history, will find this book a great companion to what they already knew- or didn’t know- about how England came to be. I also loved Lacey’s descriptions of how the English language has developed and changed over time due to the social, political, and economic strife the country has experienced for the last 1000 years or so. It’s not necessarily a book of facts, but you will learn the origins of common vocabulary we use everyday, which I find fascinating. I’m sure it was tough for Lacey to choose which tales to include in this book since he was covering such an enormous time period and this might be the reason why such well-known and beloved British heros and heroines only get passing mention- or no mention at all- in the book: sadly, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Mungo Park, and Charles Dickens didn’t make the cut to garner much attention in this volume. But that small nitpicky complaint aside, this is a fantastic book and I highly recommend for any lover of history.

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