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Monthly Archives: December 2013

2013: My Year in Review

2013:  My Year in Review

I spent the day of January 1, 2013 with Paul, who had recently become my official boyfriend. We drank pink cans of champagne on the grass of the National Mall and strolled around the Hirshhorn Museum to try our hands (literally) at sketching paintings. I liked that I had found a partner who would go along with my random ideas for afternoon activities — someone who is as interested as I am in learning, self-improving, and trying new things. It was the first News Years Day in a long time that I wasn’t hungover (although I was tired), and I think the day kicked things off as a year in which I would strive to improve my mind, my heart, and my spirit.

New Years Day 2013.  I sketched this painting with colored pencils.

New Years Day 2013. I sketched this painting with colored pencils.

MY YEAR IN REVIEW:

In summary, I…
-moved from Cape Cod to Richmond, Virginia
-moved again from Richmond to Seattle, Washington (which included a cross-country drive with Paul)
-continued tutoring Ukrainians and writing math curriculum; got a job as an after-school assistant
-started taking guitar lessons and doing work-share at a Seattle yoga studio

Things I Accomplished:
-wrote two novels and several other short pieces
-drew something every day for a month (in the month of June)
-participated in a 5K race and twice ran 6 miles without stopping (which is a major feat for me)
-learned how to play four and a half songs on the guitar
-learned how to do side crow in yoga

Running in the Ugly Sweater 5K race

Running in the Ugly Sweater 5K race

Places I went:
-the AWP conference in Boston
-the San Miguel de Allende Writers Conference in Mexico
-Yellowstone National Park
-Teddy Roosevelt National Park
-the top of the Space Needle and Bainbridge Island
-a chimposium at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute
-Roanoke, Virginia (where I was a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding)
-North and South Carolina
-my grandma’s house (three times!)
-New Orleans for the Burlesque Press Literary Festival

Crossing the Rockies on the way to Yellowstone.

Crossing the Rockies on the way to Yellowstone.

Pieces I Got Published:

“The Collection of Princess Langwidere, or, The First Head” (poem) – Composite, December 2013 (Reprobates Issue)

“Sweet Tummy” (poem) – Burlesque Press Variety Show, November 2013

“Four-Handed Dentistry” – Vagabond City Issue 2, November 2013

“The Three Gateways” – Witches, Stitches, and Bitches AnthologyEvil Girlfriend Media, September 2013  See promotional video here.

“My Life” (micro-poem) – Hoot, September 2013 

“In the mornings” (poem) – Emerge Literary Journal, 2013

“The Cut” – Front Porch Journal, Summer 2013

Ode to Boys (poem)- Burlesque Press, August 2013

“Chicken Skin” (poem) – Pif Magazine, June 2013

“How to Reach Me” (poem) – Stone Highway Review, 2013 

“Silver Man” (flash fiction) – Compose Literary Journal, Spring 2013; guest blog post here

“Girl Fisher” (flash fiction) – Cafe Irreal Issue 46, 2013

“Chicken Skin” (poem) – Black Lantern Publishing, 2013 (free pdf here)

In June my goal was to draw every day.  Here's one of my last drawings -- a self-portrait.

In June my goal was to draw every day. Here’s one of my last drawings — a self-portrait.

Books I’ve Read: (*  =  I really enjoyed and ** =  I really, really enjoyed)
Where’d You Go Bernadette – Maria Semple
*Posh – Lucy Jackson
The Explanation for Everything – Lauren Grodstein
Blood Meridian (OK, I only read half of it…) – Cormac McCarthy
*Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (couldn’t finish it; didn’t like it) – Aimee Bender
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami
Wintergirls – Laurie Anderson
*On Writing — Stephen King
*The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer
*Night Film – Marisha Pessl
Witches, Stitches, Bitches – Evil Girlfriend Media
Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walters
**Born to Run – Christopher McDougall
Vampires in the Lemon Grove – Karen Russell
The Casual Vacandy – J.K. Rowling
**Next of Kin:  My Conversations with Chimpanzees – Roger Fouts
The Ape House – Sara Gruen
The Silver Star – Janette Walls
*The Marriage Plot – Jeffery Eugenides
The Mares of Lenin Park -Agustin Martinez
Divergent (couldn’t finish; didn’t like it) – Veronica Roth
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – Betty Edwards
The Energy Bus – Jon Gordon
*Life After Life – Raymond Moody
The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin
Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
Torch – Cheryl Strayed
The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ – Philip Pullman
Fairy Tale Review — yellow issue
*The Death of Bees – Lisa O’Donnell
The Paris Wife – Paul McLain
Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Stayed
Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward
Practical Magic – Alice Hoffman
Chime – Franny Billingsley
**Wild – Cheryl Strayed
50 Shades of Grey (couldn’t finish; it was so bad) – E.L. James
I’m a Stranger Here Myself – Bill Bryson
The Diary of Anais Nin
*Many Lives, Many Masters – Brian L. Weiss
Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn
Dark Places – Gillian Flynn
Committed – Elizabeth Gilbert

Yay for 2013!

Yay for 2013!

 My New Years Resolutions:  

-Submit my novel(s) to agents.

-Worry less and feel less guilty about a variety of things  (The other day I told Paul that I was worried I didn’t laugh enough…)

-Laugh more and have fun

-Eat less sugar, but don’t feel guilty when I eat it

-Keep writing this blog!

 

I Am Not a Damsel; I Just Need a Little Support

I Am Not a Damsel; I Just Need a Little Support

*Check out my latest book review on Burlesque Press:  The Explanation for Everything*

I never realized before moving to Seattle what a hilly city it is. To be honest, I knew very little about Seattle at all, except for rain, Nirvana, Starbucks, and the Space Needle (and I didn’t even know what the Space Needle was exactly.) Anyway, turns out that the city is a series of incredibly steep, San Francisco-style hills. Mostly, I like them. They make for some fantastic views of the city, and taking a walk in my neighborhood is like doing two Buns of Steel videos back to back.

But when I very first moved to Seattle, I was a little afraid to drive and park on the hills. One day, for example, I parallel parked on a very steep side street, and when it came time to get the car out of the parking spot, I got a little nervous. I needed to reverse, but I was afraid to take my foot off the brake. I knew as soon as I did, the car was going to roll forward at a frightening speed, and I worried that in the time it took for my foot to move from the brake pedal to the gas, the car was going to hit the BMW parked in front of me.

And this is exactly what happened. Now I was sitting in the car, clutching the steering wheel, my foot on the brake, and my front bumper was smooshed up against the back bumper of the BMW. What was I supposed to do? Of course, I knew that I would have to put the car in reverse and gun the gas, but I was nervous. What if I hit the car behind me? What if somehow I damaged the BMW? I knew that this situation was exactly what bumpers were for, but still, I was afraid. The hill was so steep it was freaking me out, and so I called my boyfriend, Paul.

When I explained the situation, he seemed confused. “I don’t know what you want me to do,” he said. “It sounds like you’re going to have to back up.”

“I know,” I said. “But I’m scared. This hill is really steep, and I’m afraid I’m going to mess something up.”

“Where are you? Do you want me to come and help you?”

“No, no,” I said. “That’s silly You don’t have to come.”

“Are you sure? What street are you on?”

“No.” I was starting to get frustrated. “No. I can do it myself. I’m just scared.”

“Well, what should I do? Should I come find you?”

“Never mind. I can do it myself.” I hung up. Then I put the car in reverse and gunned the engine. It worked, and I was out of the space and on my way in a jiffy. I wondered why I had called Paul, if I’d known what to do all along.

My car (Lil Bee)

My car (Lil Bee)

Recently, a few days before Christmas, I found myself in a place that is the opposite of Seattle in many ways: a small town in  the North Carolina Piedmont with a flat-flat-flat topography that does not provide nearly as good an opportunity for butt workouts.

Paul and I were staying with his parents, and I wanted to get some kind of exercise, so I said I was going for a walk. “Be sure to call us if you get lost,” his mom said as I headed out the door. I had my cell phone with me, but I seriously doubted I was going to need it.  It’s not like I was in New York City.

I started walking down the street, past ranches and colonials; the classier ones decorated with holiday wreaths, and the not-so-classy ones with blow-up snowmen or Spongebob Santas deflating in the front lawns.

I wanted to get a good workout, so I walked and walked and walked. One mile, two miles, three. I turned down a street and then another and then another. I crossed a set of rail road tracks. I was attempting to make a big loop, but streets that I thought would go straight ended up curving around and spitting me out in unexpected places. All the brick houses were starting to look the same, and  after I’d been walking for forty-five minutes, I had to go to the bathroom.

I considered turning around and retracing my steps all the way back, but that seemed annoying and inefficient, and I was still hoping to make a loop of some kind. So I called Paul. “I’m sort of lost,” I told him.

“Where are you?”

“Gloucester and Main.”

“What are you doing all the way over there? You’re really far away.”

“Well, what’s the best way to get back from here?”

“Stay where you are. I’ll take my dad’s car and come get you.”

“No, don’t do that. I walked here. I can walk back. Just tell me the best way.” I wouldn’t have minded wandering around until I figured it out, except that now nature was calling. “Should I turn right on Nottingham?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t know which direction you’re going in.”

“I’m going towards your house, I’m pretty sure.”

“Let me just come find you.”

I was getting frustrated. I could hear his parents talking in the back ground. “Where is she?” they were asking. “Is she OK?” Great. Now his parents thought I was an idiot who couldn’t take a simple walk around the neighborhood without getting lost.

“Never mind,” I said. “I’ll just retrace my steps.”

“Can you do that?”

“I assume so.” And with that, I hung up and started to walk. I took a right on Nottingham, and things looked familiar, but in a moment of doubt, I called Paul back. “From Nottingham I take a left on Spencer, is that right?”

“Stay where you are,” he instructed. “My dad and I are on our way to find you.”

Feeling sullen, I stood at the corner and kicked at the curb. They picked me up two minutes later and drove me half a mile back to the house. And yes, I was supposed to take a left on Spencer. Which made me all the more annoyed. I hate feeling stupid. I hate asking for help and then realizing I could have easily done it on my own.

* * *

I’d felt really stupid about the parking thing, too, on the day I had called Paul, freaking out about the steep hill. “I wasn’t sure what you wanted me to do,” he’d told me later. “I wasn’t sure if you wanted me to drive over and help you or what.”

“I’m not sure what I wanted you to do, either,” I said. “I guess I just wanted support. I was freaked out, and I wanted you to tell me that I could do it and to have confidence in myself.”

“That makes sense. Well, I’m glad you called me for support, even if I wasn’t sure what to do.”

This is something Paul and I are still figuring out: how to ask for what we need, and how to give what the other needs, even when they don’t know how to ask for it themselves.

It was the same situation when I got lost on the walk. Paul thought I was asking him to come rescue me, but I wasn’t. I’m not a damsel, and I don’t like feeling helpless or stupid. I didn’t need someone to save me, I needed someone to pump me up so I could save myself. I guess I wanted him to say, “I’m sure you can find your way, Eva. You’re going in the right direction. Follow your instincts.”

Because, at the end of the day, what feels better: getting there because someone else did it for you, or getting there because you drove yourself?

Sometimes all I really want to hear that I’m going the right way. I want people to tell me that they believe in me. That they know I can do it if I try.  I’m not a damsel.  I just need a little support.

Merry Christmas from Eva!

Merry Christmas from Eva!

When a Friend’s Not on Facebook, or, Not-So-Great Gift Ideas

When a Friend’s Not on Facebook, or, Not-So-Great Gift Ideas

I got to spend some time recently with one of my oldest friends: a zany red-head who I met at Girl Scout camp when we were eight years old, and who has remained a close friend of mine ever since.

One of the first things she said to me when we sat down at an Ethiopian restaurant for dinner was, “so, Eva, somebody told me you have a blog? I never knew that.”

“Yeah. I actually just posted my two hundred and fiftieth post.”

“What? Oh my gosh!”

I felt bad. Had I really failed to mention my blog to her? It’s possible. She’s not on facebook or Twitter, and she rarely checks her email, so she’s missed out a whole lot of other things, too. She hadn’t seen pictures of my cross-country trip or my new apartment in Seattle. She didn’t know about the poems and stories I had gotten published.  And I didn’t really know what was going on with her either.

“I’m gonna be honest,” she said, tossing a handful of red curls behind her shoulder. “I don’t actually know what a blog is.”

Once I explained the general idea she said, “oh. Do people actually read blogs?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I mean, I think so. I have about fifty people who consistently read my blog.  Of course, they’re mostly people I know.”  (And, I recently realized, my boyfriend’s entire extended family.  I went to his family’s holiday dinner the other day, and everyone already knew everything about me, which was slightly disconcerting, but it also saved a lot of time.)

But here I was eating Ethiopian lentil mush with a friend who doesn’t read blogs or look at facebook, and therefore knew little about my life these days. I would have to tell her everything the old-fashioned way. 

Christmas is coming!

Christmas is coming!

When I sat down today to write about my visit with my red-haired friend (due to her fear and hatred of the Internet I won’t mention her name, although anyone who knows me can probably guess who she is), the first thing that came to mind was how we were both on the newspaper staff in middle school and were co-editors our eighth grade year.

We used to write most of our articles together. We would create fake advice columns or make up quizzes and horoscopes. Most of our articles were silly fluff, filled with jokes instead of actual news. Under our direction, the Woodrow Wilson School Newspaper was much more of a bad humor magazine than anything resembling journalism. In fact, I think she and I predicted the popularity of sites such as Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, as most of our articles were actually glorified, seasonally-themed lists, like “How to Survive the Holidays” and “ Six Things Your Should NOT Tell Your Honey This Valentine’s Day.”  I have a lot of good memories of the two of us sitting at a classroom computer, cracking ourselves up as we wrote our articles.

And so, in honor of my dear, red-headed friend, and in memory of our pre-teen days on the school newspaper staff, I will create for you now a silly, seasonally-themed list. I wish she were here to help me. And since I know she will probably never read this on her own, I better give her a call and tell her that I wrote it.  Facebook is a nice short-hand for keeping in touch, but I think the best of friends are still made and kept the old-fashioned way.

NOT-SO-GREAT GIFT IDEAS:

facial hair wax kit – Never mind that it was on clearance at Big Lots. Never mind that Aunt Trudy could truly use it. You’re just going to have to endure her scratchy kisses for another year.

WillMaker Plus Software – Helpful, sure, but it sort of sends the wrong message to those older relatives of yours.

mop (or broom or toilet bowl brush) – I knew someone (my brother) who gave a mop to someone (my mother) for Christmas. His defense was that “she needed it.” This present is only acceptable if it comes with a coupon saying you will be the one using it.

sex toys – Hey, I’m all for jingling those bells and stuffing that stockings, but your lover can’t really open a gift from Taboo Toys when she is sitting around the family Christmas tree. And what is she supposed to say when everyone asks, “so, what did your boyfriend get your for Christmas?” Awkward.

holiday-scented bath gels and lotions – I have a theory that no one ever actually uses these, and if they do… well, is it really a good idea to make yourself smell like spiced eggnog?

anything that looks like it was purchased at CVS – You know what I’m talking about: a Whitman’s sampler box of chocolates, hair dye, a bad DVD (probably starring the Olsen twins), a snowman coffee mug filled with those strawberry candies no one likes (except for my boyfriend). Maybe you meant well, but a CVS gift just screams “this was last minute and I grabbed it off the shelf while I was picking up my birth control prescription.”

Poo-pouri toilet spray — Yes, this is a real product and not something from a Saturday Night Live commercial.  If you don’t believe me, click here.

poo

cash – Ironic, isn’t it: the one gift everyone actually wants, and yet it’s the one gift you really shouldn’t give.  Unless, of course, you want your loved ones to think you’re lazy and unoriginal. If you’re going to give money, at least write a check. Or put it in a homemade card.

At the end of the day, when it comes to gifts, it’s the thought that counts. Do your best, don’t stress, and remember that giving and receiving gifts is supposed to be fun. It’s not a contest or a chore; only a way to say that you care.

Happy Holidays, Internet!  Love, Eva

Six Little Words

Six Little Words

The great thing about teaching advanced ESL is that I can basically assign whatever I want, as long as it involves the English language. Sometimes I make it Sergiy’s assignment to read my blog and answer questions. Here is his assignment based on my recent post, An Intimidating Yoga Instuctor from Eastern Europe:

a)  Why did I find the yoga teacher intimidating?
b)  What did she do that made me feel belittled?  (And what does the word “belittled” mean?)
c)  Describe Nikola’s personality in your own words.
d)  What is the balance I am trying to find?  Do you also try to find this balance?  Explain.

Other times I assign Sergiy a youtube clip to watch (most recently a Madonna interview), or make him listen to podcasts I enjoy (usually This American Life). And then we discuss over Skype. Ah, the life I lead!

Sergiy’s most recent assignment was to write a six-word memoir about himself. We had been reading about six-word memoirs in his ESL textbook, which explained how Ernest Hemingway famously wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” proving that a “story” can be told in just six words.

I first learned about Hemingway’s radically-condensed story back in graduate school when I was studying abroad in Madrid. A friend of mine and I decided to write six-word stories for all of the people in our Expatriate American Literature class. The only ones I remember are “Here for a year, can’t order beer,” for a boozy guy we fondly called “Sketchy Nate,” who had been living in Europe for a year but could only speak English, and “Bueno, bueno, bueno; break-o my change-o?” for a happy-go-lucky dude with atrocious Spanish who, I swear, I had overheard at the Cambio asking that very question.

The friend and I performed the six-word stories at open-mic night, and I had secretly made up one for her, too, which I read. She had not done the same for me, and I remember being a little bummed. I was curious to know how someone would sum me up in six words.

Eva in Segovia, Spain (2007)

Eva in Segovia, Spain (2007)

Sergiy’s textbook went on to discuss an online magazine called SMITH, which asks its readers to write six-word memoirs; instead of simply telling a story, they had to reduce their entire life into one quick phrase. Here are three of our favorites:

“Never finished anything, except cake.” – Carletta Perkins
“Afraid of everything, did it anyway.” – Ayse Erginer
“I thought I would be taller.” – Lisa Brown

Very clever, we both agreed. We wondered if the authors had scarified the complete truth for what sounded good.

When I assigned Sergiy the challenge of writing his own six-word memoir, I promised him I would write mine, too. As it turned out, neither of us could settle on just one, and I think the both of us did a little bit of truth stretching as well.

Here are Sergiy’s:
Always saying truth made him hated.
Sport, smiles, healthy food – happily retirement.
Fantasy guided to incredible, unexpected peaks.

Here are mine:
Starting talking early and never stopped.
Never stayed long at boring jobs.
Chose experience over money and prestige.

What about you? How would you sum up yourself, or your life, in just six words?  You can publish your six-word memoir at SMITH magazine!

A Money Band-Aid Doesn’t Always Heal

A Money Band-Aid Doesn’t Always Heal

Out of all the many part-time jobs I’ve had (bar trivia host, U.S. Census-taker, SoCo shot girl), working as the after-school assistant at a Seattle elementary school is by far the easiest. I get there at 3:20 pm to supervise snack time and take attendance. I make sure all the students get to their proper after-school activity, and then, forty minutes later, I make sure everyone gets picked up by their proper parents. I’m usually out of there before five o’clock.

Sometimes I help the after-school teachers, like the other day when the cooking class instructor was making donuts with the kids (is this a good idea?!) and needed someone to help her manage the small children and the hot oil, but generally the teachers want to be left alone, and I’m happy to oblige. I usually sit on the couch in the upstairs hallway and read until it’s time to start checking the kids out.

Probably the most important part of my job is that I’m the one who waits with the students when their parents are late or calls when the parents have completely forgotten to pick up their children. This is the sad part.

“Where’s my Mommy?” a concerned Kindergartner will ask.

“Don’t worry,” I’ll say. “I’m sure she’ll be here soon. But I know how anxious you must be to get home.”

I don’t really mind waiting because I get paid by the hour, so I look at late parents as a little bonus on my paycheck.  Besides, this is the time when I get to have some one-on-one time conversations about topics such as dinosaurs or Captain Underpants. I feel like this is the most important part of my day – reassuring kids that their parents care about them, and then helping to distract them until their parents arrive.

Children making donuts in a classroom?  Ummm...  not the greatest idea.  Photo credit.

Children making donuts in a classroom? Ummm… not the greatest idea. Photo credit.

Friday was the last day of after-school activities for the semester, and so the classes had performances for the parents. The students in the musical theater class put on an abbreviated version of Aladdin, which was mostly unrecognizable except for when they sang “Arabian Nights.” The kids in Pirate Club, wearing eye patches and tinfoil hook-hands, gave their parents handmade maps and led them on a treasure hunt around the school. And the older kids in Newspaper Class handed out the school newspaper and gave a presentation on what they’d learned about journalism.

This meant that most of the parents were already at the school, and checking out the kids at the end of the day was fairly easy. Good, I thought. I wanted to go to a yoga class at 5:45, and I figured I’d have plenty of time to get there.

Except that when I checked the Newspaper room, there was one girl, we’ll call her Serena, whose mother had not shown up for the presentation and was not there to pick her up. So I called.

“Hi this is Eva from –”

“Oh, Serena!” the mother said, mistaking me for her daughter. “Where are you?”

“This is Eva,” I said again, enunciating. “I’m here at school with Serena, and newspaper class is over, so I’m just checking to see if someone is on their way to pick her up.”

“Newspaper class?” The mother sounded elegant and proper, maybe even slightly British. “Oh my gosh, I missed the performance, didn’t I? Oh my goodness.”

“So I’ll be here waiting here with her…”

“Yes, yes. OK. I’m on my way. I’ll be there in… fifteen minutes.”

Serena and I went to the table in the front hall of the school to wait.

“Your mom says she’ll be here in about fifteen minutes, so you might want to get out a book or some homework,” I suggested.

Serena pulled a book of Calvin and Hobbes comics from her bag and hunched over it.

Fifteen minutes went by, and Serena asked the time. “A little after five,” I told her.

She sighed and went back to Calvin. I, too, was getting a little antsy. I didn’t want to miss my yoga class.

Ten more minutes went by, and the mother still hadn’t arrived. Finally, at forty-five minutes late, the front door swung open and a woman in a long, camel hair coat dashed inside. Her blond hair was frosty and perfectly-styled, and her face, though old for the mother of a fourth grader, was well-maintained and attractive. She seemed rich, put-together, haughty, even. Except that there was a tear beneath one eye, which she swiped at with the back of her manicured hand.

“Serena!” she rushed to her daughter. “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry! I’m so, so sorry!”

Serena looked up mildly from her comic book. The mother turned to me. “You must be…”

“I’m Eva,” I said. “You talked to me on the phone.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“It’s OK. It’s my job. I really don’t mind.”

She pushed eight crumpled dollars towards me. “It’s all the cash I have on me, but please–”

“Oh no.” I shook my head. “No, really, it’s fine. I get paid by the hour. It’s really not a problem.”

She insisted, and again I insisted no. I thought about my yoga class and wondered if I could still get there on time.

“Those are such beautiful earrings,” the mother said suddenly.

“These?” I touched one with the tip of my finger. “Thank you. They’re just from American Eagle.”

“They’re beautiful. They look real. I mean they really do. They look like they could be real diamonds. They’re lovely.”

“Well, thank you.”

“May I see?” The mother reached out to touch one of my earrings, and I wondered if she, the woman in the expensive camel hair coat, really thought my eight-dollar earrings were beautiful, or if this was her way of trying to smooth things over. Nearby, Serena watched us, and I wondered what she was thinking.

“Please.” The mother held out the five dollar bill. “Please. At least take this.”

I hesitated. I didn’t want to take the money. On the other hand, if I didn’t, I could imagine the exchange going on for another ten minutes – me refusing to take it, and she insisting that I do. If I wanted to get to yoga on time, I would need to leave right now.  And so, against my better judgment, I reached out my hand.

“If it’ll make you feel better,” I murmured. “But really, it wasn’t a big deal. It was fine.”

We said goodnight, and the mother wrapped her arm around Serena and led her outside where cold, misting rain fell from the black skies.

I pocketed the five dollars. I felt bad. I felt dirty, even. I shouldn’t have taken the money. The woman had made a mistake, and she thought she could fix it with cash, but I doubted it had made either of us feel better.

Besides, it wasn’t really me she was apologizing to. It didn’t matter that she’d made me wait around. That was my job.  What mattered was that she’d missed her daughter’s presentation and made Serena wait in the cold, empty school. It was Serena she had been apologizing to all along.

On my drive to the yoga studio, I decided that I wouldn’t report my over-time. I felt bad about accepting the five dollars, but at least I wouldn’t get paid twice. I thought of Serena’s mother with that tear shining beneath her eye like a tiny diamond and marveled at how difficult it must be to be a mother — even a glamorous one.

I guess it’s like Calvin says in Calvin and Hobbes:  “There’s no problem so awful, that you can’t add some guilt to it and make it even worse.”

Dear Book Club, Why I Won’t Be Finishing Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian

Dear Book Club, Why I Won’t Be Finishing Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian

I’m going to my book club tonight, and I’m sorely unprepared. We’re discussing Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, and according to my Kindle, I have only read 24%.

I knew that Blood Meridian was going to be a problem for me. When one of the other book clubbers suggested it, I immediately said, “I don’t like Cormac McCarthy.” Then I revised my statement: “OK, so I’ve never actually read a whole book of his, but every time I start to read one, I can’t get through the first chapter.”

So then, with a sigh, I compromised:  “You know, maybe it would be good for me to be forced to read a Cormac McCarthy book. Because I know I’m not going to do it on my own.” I figured I had no right to say that I didn’t like an author when I’d never actually read more than twenty pages of his work.

Blood Meridian it is!” the book club decided.

Not that I was expecting to change my mind about Cormac McCarthy. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like the book, but at least after reading it I’d have some powerful and accurate ammunition for when I started bashing his stuff.

And, to be honest, I bash Cormac McCarthy pretty frequently. My common insult is to say that his writing style consists of sentences like the following:

The man looked at the boy. The boy looked at the man.
or
There was sun and then there was rain and there were clouds in the sky and there were horses in the field and there was a cat and there was a dog and there were lots of things everywhere doing stuff.*

Yeah, I’ve been McCarthy bashing for years.  Once, back in 2008, when I was in a graduate-level creative writing class, I accused a fellow student of trying to be the next Cormac McCarthy after reading one of his short stories. I think he would have taken it as a compliment, because I think he was trying to be the next Cormac McCarthy, except that I had a sneer on my face and said something to the effect of, “what’s up with you not using quotation marks? Do you think you’re too good for grammar? Do you think you’re the next Cormac McCarthy? It doesn’t work when he does it either, you know.” We got into a pretty heated debate in class. Later on in the semester, we ended up in a pretty heated make-out session. But that’s another story.

Cover of the 1st edition

Cover of the 1st edition, 1985 (wikipedia)

So what didn’t I like about the first 24% of Blood Meridian? Well, for one thing, it’s written in run-on sentences with truckloads of unfamiliar words – many of them relating to the Old West like hackamore, demiculverin and felloe, and many of them archaic or show-offy like bistre, bruit and surbated, as well as strange Spanish words like rebozo and azotea and words McCarthy might have just made up such as scurvid and slear.** (By the way, as I typed this, Microsoft Word put red squiggly underlines under all of those words.)

So, OK, I can see that McCarthy is interested in language.  He has an impressive vocabulary and has certainly found his own unique and gritty style, which is admirable, but I do not like his style . I find it pretentious, I find it boring, and I find it extremely hard to follow. I would read a page of Blood Meridian, realize that the entire page was one long sentence, and then say to myself, “hmm… now what just happened?”

What seems to have happened so far (spoiler alert, sort of) is that the protagonist (only called “the kid” because McCarthy has an aversion to naming his character) is wandering around the Old West, spitting into the dust and meeting various crusty men. He joins a rag-tag group of soldiers who are heading to Mexico for some unauthorized mission. He survives a bloody Comanche attack and then wanders around the desert with the only other survivor until they are taken to jail. Then there’s a bunch of pages where most everything is in untranslated Spanish. That’s where I stopped reading.

I won’t even go into the fact that this is a total boy book. As far as I can tell there is not a single female character, unless you count some dead Mexican women that the kid saw floating in a pond. Not that a book needs to have a female character for me to like it, but it’s something to note. Blood Meridian is frequently named as one of the best novels of the twentieth century. Do you think there are any novels with a solely female cast that bear the same distinction? In fact, my friend Jeni said,  “The only Cormac McCarthy book I can stand is The Road. I think the rest of them are macho, chauvinistic, and not nearly as deserving of praise.  I don’t know a single woman who enjoys his books.”

But, like I said, I’m not going to go into that. Because really, the main reason why I stopped reading Blood Meridian was not because it was a boy book. In fact, I’d say that the violent Comanche attack was probably my favorite part because it was the most interesting and coherent. (Despite the fact that it was a run-on sentence of over 250 words, and yes, I counted.)

No, the reason I will not be finishing Blood Meridian is that it is not any fun to read. And yes, I realize that I could look at it as a challenge, but I give myself enough challenges.  When I read, I want to enjoy it, or I want to feel that the book is teaching me something (usually how to be a better writer).

And to me, good writing means good communication. An author transports the reader into the world he’s created. The author wants the reader to understand what’s going on in that world. But with Blood Meridian, I sometimes felt like Cormac McCarthy didn’t really want me to understand. I felt like he only wanted to show off his burly vocabulary and his blatant disregard for grammar (why doesn’t he capitalize proper nouns, for example?) And maybe that’s not true. Maybe he really did want to communicate his version of the Old West, and this was what he thought was the best way to do it.

I can see why his style is intriguing or even awesome to some people, but I am definitely not one of them. I want a book that I can get lost in, not one that loses me in the first chapter.  I’m looking forward to seeing what book club thinks.

*Please note that neither of these sentences, as far as I know, are actual lines from a Cormac McCarthy book.

** For more crazy vocab that McCarthy uses in Blood Meridian, see this list.

 

An Intimidating Yoga Instructor from Eastern Europe

An Intimidating Yoga Instructor from Eastern Europe

I may not always act like it, but I am intimidated by people quite often. I’m intimidated by people with good hair or cool clothes or exotic accents. I’m intimidated by successful people and people who act like they don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m intimidated by people who seem older and/or more experienced than me, like parents, or people who have traveled to Africa, or most forty-year-old women.

One forty-year-old woman by whom I’m particularly intimidated is a yoga instructor at the studio where I now do work-exchange. (I work twelve hours a month in exchange for free yoga.) This instructor (I’ll call her Nikola) has all of the attributes that intimidate me: beautiful hair (it’s jet-black and so thick it looks like a horse’s tail), cool clothes (if this is how she dresses for yoga class, I can only imagine her fashionable street attire), and an exotic accent (which involves tongue-trilling and ending most statements with “yes?”)

I had taken a few classes with her before I started work-exchange, and I always came home with stories to tell my boyfriend. “My god,” I said one day, “this instructor is insane. She’s like a Gumby doll! But an inhumanely strong Gumby doll.” I got down on the floor and tried to demonstrate. “First she put her leg behind her shoulder. Then she lifted herself up with one arm and sort of spun around into plank….” At this point, I was rolling around on the ground like an up-turned beetle and Paul was frowning at me. “Well, I can’t do it,” I explained, “but if you saw her, you’d be amazed.”

I’m definitely intimidated by Nikola’s yoga abilities, and her expectations of those who take her class. I always thought I was pretty good at yoga, but in her class I feel like I belong back in the baby pool. I can’t do a headstand. I can’t extend my legs in side crow. When I hop into plank, I’m weak and sloppy, so I’ve gone back to stepping. When she walks around the room, I always wonder if she’s going to stop to correct me, maybe even tell me I belong in level one instead of level two.

“Flexible people sink zey are good at yoga,” she said to the class the other day, “but zhat is not always true, yes?” I felt like she was talking directly to me. “Zey throw themselves into positions without care, and zey often get hurt. It is zee not-so-flexible…zey move slow and discover their body and challenge themselves. Zhat is true yoga, yes?”

She then began to twist herself into some impossible position. I sat on my mat staring at her. My leg was supposed to go where? And how exactly was I going to balance like that?

“We must try, yes?” she said sternly. “How will you know what you are capable of if you do not try?”

With a sigh, I attempted to bend myself into the position. My muscles screamed in protest, and I remembered the time several years ago when I popped my hamstring by throwing myself into a yoga position too quickly. I decided not to push it.

“Do something!” she admonished. “If you don’t do zis, do something else, but don’t just sit!”

In 2009 I popped my hamstring doing this position. It was extremely painful and I couldn't do yoga for a long time. Now, when getting into this position, I go VERY slowly.

In 2009 I popped my hamstring doing this position. It was extremely painful and I couldn’t do yoga for a long time. Now, when getting into this position, I go VERY slowly.

Yesterday I went to the last part of my work-exchange training – shadowing the front desk worker. As I sat at the desk waiting for people to arrive, Nikola walked in from the cold, her black hair up in a perfect twist.

“Hi.” I smiled shyly at her. “I’m Eva. I’ve taken your class before; I don’t know if you recognize me. I’m a new work-exhanger. I’m just shadowing to make sure I know how everything works.”

She nodded. “And are you practicing tonight?”

“Yes.”

She shrugged off her coat and sat down, pulling her cell phone from her pocket. This was my chance, I thought. Maybe if I talked to her a little I’d realize that she was a nice, normal person and not some intimidating yoga queen looking down on me from the top of the mountain.

“Nikola,” I said, “I’ve got to ask you, where are you from?”

She looked up from her phone, her thinly-plucked eyebrows arching. “Give me second. Let me answer zis text message.”

I felt like she had taken her palm and squashed me like a bug.

“I’m from Slovakia,” she said a moment later. “Prievidza”

“Oh, OK.” I nodded vigorously, smiling, trying to shake off the feeling of being belittled.

“Are you familiar?”

“Oh, no.” I shook my head apologetically. Now I felt stupid, too. Of course I wasn’t familiar with Prievidza. I couldn’t even name a single city in Slovakia, and probably couldn’t point out the country on a map.

“But I sink zey are having shavasana now.” Nikola pointed to the closed door, beyond which was the yoga studio with a class in process. “So we should be quiet.  Sound travels easily.”

I hadn’t thought I couldn’t feel any smaller, but now I did. “Oh, of course,” I whispered, nodding. I knew then that I would never feel like Nikola’s equal. I felt like she had established her position, and it was high above me.

Eva doing wheel.

Eva doing wheel.

I am intimidated by people like Nikola who have worked hard at their craft and accomplished amazing things.  It makes me feel like I haven’t been working hard enough.  I haven’t accomplished enough.

Maybe most of all I’m intimidated by people who do the activities I consider myself good at – yoga, writing. This is why I’m so intimidated by people who have written successful novels. I have chosen writing as my career, but so far I haven’t had much success.

I’m constantly wondering how much to push myself in order to attain the level of accomplishment I want to reach. I know I need to push myself to write (novels are hard, and they don’t just pour out of me), but on the other hand, if I push too hard I’ll get stressed, frustrated, discouraged, depressed.  And I don’t want to live my life filled with those feelings.

It’s a balance, I suppose, just like in yoga. Push too hard, too fast, and you end up hurting yourse, but if you don’t push at all, you’ll never make any gains. If you don’t at least try, you won’t know what you’re capable of. It’s a balance between being stern and being loving with yourself. It’s just hard to figure out the right combination of the two.

Last night in Nikola’s yoga class, I tried to find a balance. I didn’t do all the crazy-hard moves Nikola suggested, but I tried some of them. For inversion practice, instead of taking it easy in shoulder-stand (the way I had last class), I forced myself to do dolphin – the uncomfortable precursor to headstand. But still, when Nikola walked around the room, I felt hyper-aware of her presence, and I stretched harder and adjusted my alignment, imagining myself in her eyes.

“I tend to over-arch my back in zis pose,” Nikola told us towards the end of class. “It is something I am working on. Something I am trying to improve.” So, I thought, she’s not perfect after all.

Of course, deep down, I knew this already. I know that no one, even the most seemingly accomplished, has reached the end of their journey. We’re all struggling up our own personal mountains, and there are no peaks, only places to rest along the way.

In addition to finding balance, I must try to stop feeling so intimidated of people. Stop doing my asanas for the approval  of yoga instructors.  Stop writing for the purpose of impressing others and getting published.  And remember that it’s not a race.  I don’t have to slop down novels as fast as I can in order to make progress.  Like the non-flexible yogis, I can move slowly, discover my abilities, challenge myself to do new things.  Better to move slowly than not at all.  And at the end of the day, instead of comparing myself to others and feeling intimidated, I should look at how far I’ve come and feel proud.

Also important? Having fun.

Also important? Having fun.