It will surprise exactly no one that one of the first things I did upon arriving in Boston was to arrange a book club. And so it was that Monday evening found me sitting in a booth at Trident with five friends discussing Lorrie Moore’s first story collection in 16 years, Bark.
Only here’s the thing–we didn’t actually spend that much time talking about the book. And yes, probably part of that was it was our first meeting and we didn’t all know one another so we needed some discussion and ice breaker time. Another reason was that this is a dynamic and spirited group of women and we were perhaps too busy having fun to talk about the business at hand.
But really, if we’re being honest, I think we didn’t spend much time talking about the book because there wasn’t that much to talk about. Though we’d all finished the book relatively recently, the stories seemed to have drifted out of our brains as soon as we’d finished reading them. This is never a good thing in a story collection. There were some enduring images and characters, but most of the collection felt dry and maybe a little preachy.
Lorrie Moore is not for the faint of heart. Her writing is sharp and dark, often punctuated with her trademark black humor. Most of the characters in her stories are middle-aged and stranded in a kind of misery fostered by unhappy marriages, cruel divorces, and bland suburban existence. They are not easy stories to read for those of us, say, in the midst of those cruel divorces or unhappy marriages–but it’s not supposed to be easy. It’s all part of the circus. Maybe we’re supposed to feel comforted that we’re not alone in this pain, but I don’t think that’s the end game here. I think what Lorrie Moore does is remind us of the absurdity of our issues–for instance, in the first story, “Debarking”, Ira is a newly-divorced man who can’t get his wedding ring off his finger. How’s that for symbolism? But instead of beating that dead horse, the story opens up into Ira’s relationship with a woman who appears to be in love with her teenaged son. It’s creepy and weird and unsettling and you don’t quite know what to do with it, but there it is–life can be creepy and weird and disconcerting and there’s nothing we can do about it.
“Paper Losses” is perhaps the most sad story in the collection, telling the story of a couple who takes one last vacation with their kids before divorcing. The narrator grapples with the realities of the impending divorce, the absurdity of the language of it (“irretrievably broken”), her undesirability to her husband, who’s been having an affair with another woman. It’s poignant and sad, but not sappy–before the announcement of the divorce, the narrator acknowledges that she’s come to hate her husband during the years of their marriage, hates every thing he does and says, though they rarely speak to one another.
Not all of Moore’s characters are alone and depressed–”Foes” is a quiet story about an older couple at an uncomfortable political gala, and “Thank You for Having Me” is a story of a backyard wedding interrupted by a biker gang. One of my favorites was “Wings” in which the lead, KC, meets an older man, Milt, while walking her dog around the neighborhood. KC, an aging musician with a deadbeat boyfriend, forges a friendship with Milt that ends up changing her life.
Though Moore writes realism, “The Juniper Tree” veers into surreal territory. It’s unclear what’s happening and is one of the collection’s weakest points. It’s a departure for Moore, a ghost story in the midst of stories about the living.
Today is 4.14.14, which is a palindrome–the same forwards as it is backwards, and it seems fitting to look back on where I’ve been so far this year. It’s a date burned into my memory for other reasons, too, and though it was not an easy weekend, I’m trying to keep a positive outlook today.
A few months ago, I wrote a post about my resolutions for the year. I wanted to write a brief update reflecting on what I resolved and how much progress I’ve made in those resolutions. It’s good to be held accountable in a public space, and also, if you don’t look back at what you wanted, then they’re just more empty words, and I don’t need any more of those in my life.
Here is my original list, with my current comments:
- No Fear.
This is a tough one to quantify, but I successfully packed up my things and said goodbye to New York, my dog, my friends, and my life there and moved to Boston, a place that once felt like home but now feels like just another strange city. But I faced it, and I continue to face it, and I don’t think I’ve said no to many opportunities or challenges, so I’m counting this one as a work in progress.
- Finish a draft of my novel
Hahhahaha. There’s still time for this, right? I looked at what I wrote so far, that has to count for something…
- Write every day, in some form
This one has been tougher than I thought. I’ve been decent at it, but not as disciplined as I would like. This is definitely something I need to continue to work on.
- Take a writing class
Ding ding! I started a Master Fiction class at Grub Street a couple of weeks ago. It’s a good step forward for me, and I think I will learn a good deal about writing.
- Take another class in something creative, like knitting or sewing
I’ve done a little bit of research and would like to take a sewing class in the fall, when my writing class is over and the weather starts to cool off again.
- Submit, submit, submit (my writing)
This is also a work in progress. I’ve definitely been submitting, but since I haven’t been writing as much as I would like, I don’t have a lot of work that I consider ready to submit. So, another work in progress.
- Challenge myself at work. Take on new projects and explore new options.
Ugh, this is a big fail. I’ve definitely got a lot on my plate right now and I’m trying to take initiative and do more interesting and creative things, but I’ve been having a lot of trouble focusing lately, which is a big problem.
- Get in the kitchen more–cooking, baking, whatever it is, I’m going to do it
Another fail. I’m just not into it. I’m getting used to cooking for myself again, and many times, it’s just so much easier to heat something up or eat ice cream than it is to spend time making a healthy dinner for just me. I have been good about buying groceries and making big salads to take for lunch during the week, though.
- Get back into yoga–I miss it
I gave this one a fair shot. I took two weeks of classes at a yoga studio near my apartment and while I liked some of the classes, I have to admit to myself that yoga just isn’t for me. It exacerbates the pain and tension in my back too much. I’m giving it up.
- Keep working out as a priority in my schedule–make it happen at least 4-5 times a week
Nope. Not doing so great with this one, honestly. I haven’t joined a gym, and it’s been really difficult to find the motivation to work out. But now that it’s nice out, I’ve been running more frequently and it’s been a little easier to get out of bed in the morning to work out. I’m optimistic.
- Make new friends
I’m doing pretty well with this one, actually.
- Reconnect with old friends and keep in touch with good friends–these last few weeks have also helped me appreciate what great friends I have
I’m doing okay with this one too. I miss my New York friends a lot, but I’m having a good time with my Boston friends and catching up with friends on the phone/via email more often than I used to.
- See my family more often
I went down to RI for my sister’s birthday and it was nice to be able to do that–I look forward to more frequent trips like that.
- Create a budget for myself and stick to it
I’ve never been much good at this. I’ve been budgeting, but the dinners and drinks I have with friends in order to be social and get out of the house really add up. I’m trying to pay more attention to that in particular as I figure out just what my Boston budget looks like.
- Take a vacation–go somewhere new
I haven’t done this one yet, unfortunately, but I’m thinking about it a lot and hope to plan something in the near future.
- Appreciate me, take care of me, allow me to make mistakes
Another tough one to quantify, and perhaps one of the toughest to implement as well. I’ll just call it a work in progress.
- Use the Internet in a more productive way–too often I find myself scrolling endlessly through Tumblr and Pinterest just ogling the pretty pictures and feeling bad about myself. I want to read more articles, write more blog posts, learn more about the world and the people in it, not just the pretty things.
Fail, fail, fail. This is kind of hopeless.
- Write more book reviews on the blog
I haven’t been amazing at this, but I also have been in a little bit of a reading rut. I will be better about this.
- Have faith–in myself, my friends, the universe
Not doing so great with this one recently, but I’m trying. That’s all a person can do.
What were your New Years Resolutions? Have you been able to keep them?
I’m in my 30s and I still have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to makeup. I wear it almost every day, but mostly I feel like I’m just blindly smearing stuff on my face and hoping that I don’t leave my house looking like a Picasso painting. Or a clown.
Despite my ignorance, I still like to treat myself to pretty makeup, so when I have the opportunity, I cash in my credit card rewards and get a Sephora gift card. It’s like getting free makeup! For this particular shopping trip, I had enough for a $100 gift card. I went to the Sephora in the Prudential Center after work on Friday evening and found that it was surprisingly not too crazy busy. In fact, I think it’s the only time in recent memory where I’ve gone into a Sephora and was helped, willingly, by the salespeople there. In most cases, I’ve had to walk around the store looking like a lost puppy (in need of eyeliner) for a good fifteen minutes before I could get anyone to notice me, but not this time, which was a nice change.
I went in thinking maybe I would buy a new hair dryer, but it turns out that the nice ones are significantly more than the ones they sell in CVS–who knew? I decided to stick with the good old Conair I’ve had for the last seven years for the time being and buy some fun new products instead.
First thing I needed was new eyeshadow. I knew I wanted a palette of browns with some shimmer, and I ended up choosing a TooFaced palette. For $36, it seemed like a pretty good deal, but so far, I haven’t liked it as much as the Urban Decay Naked palette I’d been using before. I also needed some new eyeshadow brushes, so I bought a cute kit of 5 for $22.
Once I’d chosen those (and some makeup remover since I was out), I still had some money left to spend. I didn’t need foundation (I’ve been using the Garnier BB cream and it’s pretty good) or lip gloss (I’m a diehard fan of the Revlon lip butter) so I wandered around for a while, picking things up and putting them back down, totally unsure of what else to buy.
I’ve heard a lot of good things about Philosophy’s Hope in a Jar, and I’ve been meaning to invest in some new moisturizer, so I bought a small jar to see how I like it ($15). So far, it’s been okay. Next, I decided I wanted some fun new eyeliner. I ended up going with the same Clinique eyeliner I’ve been using, but in a pretty purple shade ($16).
Finally, I wandered back to the hair care section and tried to decide which Living Proof product I wanted to try. The hair mask I mentioned last week was too expensive, so I went with a daily blowdry treatment. ($26) I have used it a couple of times and haven’t really noticed a huge difference. Has anyone used any other Living Proof products?
They were having a 15% off sale, so I ended up only spending $10 out of pocket for all that stuff, which I think is a pretty good deal.
What are your favorite makeup products? Do you feel as inept as I do when it comes to makeup, or am I just challenged?
This week it’s finally starting to feel like spring. This week I went running outside. This week I ran into a friend on the bus and we got beers and I didn’t do my laundry like I was supposed to. This week I started taking a fiction writing class. This week I met with my writing group. This week I got some heart-wrenching news. This week I stayed out later than I should have. This week my divorce papers were filed.
So it goes. I’ve been back in Boston for two months now. I can’t tell if that’s a long time or a short time. There is a lot I can’t tell anymore.
But it’s nearly the weekend and there is sun and the promise of warmth. I’m going to see artist’s open studios tonight, and my roommate performing tomorrow night, and a concert on Sunday night. Maybe I’ll go running again. Maybe I’ll finally do my laundry. Maybe I’ll actually do some writing. Maybe I’ll finish the book I’m reading. Sometimes the maybes are okay.
Best of the Looks:
A midi skirt has been on my wish list for a long time now, and I love this one on The Classy Cubicle, especially paired with the striped blouse.
Speaking of midi, I need this dress from ASOS.
Would you try this nail polish for spring?
Best of the Books:
I think it’s safe to say that we all have some reading problems.
This is what happens when you invite Seymour Glass to your dinner party.
Rookie continues to be awesome.
An interview with Karen Russell about her new novella, Sleep Donation.
It’s National Poetry Month. Here are some poems by James Baldwin that are good.
So it took me a month, but I finished reading Anna Karenina. I started it years ago but put it down after about a hundred pages because I was about to start grad school and I knew my reading time would be limited, so I wanted to read lighter and shorter books. I’d always planned on picking it up again and I finally did last month. I’m really glad I did. This is one of those novels you hear everyone talking about, one of those books you might feel like you don’t have to read because there’s a movie and because we all know how it ends. But if you haven’t read it, and you have even the slightest interest, I would highly recommend it.
It’s well worth your time, and here’s why: even though Tolstoy wrote this mammoth novel more than a hundred years ago, he managed to portray a truth about human relationships, faith, politics, and society that rings true today. Yes, everyone in the book has four different names (crazy Russians) and there are many (many) descriptions of farming methods and the state of the peasantry, but that doesn’t diminish the brilliance of the book.
Of course, the central conflict in the book comes from Anna Karenina’s betrayal of her husband for the dashing playboy, Count Vronsky, who’d previous been courting the young Kitty–the younger sister of Anna’s brother’s wife (it’s like a soap opera!). Flying in the face of convention, Anna leaves her husband and son behind to travel with Vronsky, living in unmarried sin. She gives up her place in society, as well as many of her friends, in order to be with the man she loves. However, their love soon sours, as is wont to do, and Anna is plagued by doubt and jealousy, ultimately destroying the only good thing left in her life.
As Anna is arguably the heroine of the book, the audience is supposed to sympathize with her. She’s drawn as a lively and kind woman doomed by the restrictions of her society. Maybe due to my own recent circumstances, I just didn’t like her. I didn’t feel much sympathy for her when she reaches her inevitable end. I didn’t believe she was a good woman. I don’t know if I’m alone in this–what does everyone else think? Did you like Anna?
My favorite people in the book were Kitty and Levin. Levin, a kind of coarse man who prefers to live in the country, had been spurned by Kitty in favor of Vronsky, but when Vronsky runs away with Anna, Kitty and Levin are brought back together again. It’s in their quiet and gradual love that the book resonated most with me. In Levin’s musings about the nature of life and work and faith, in Kitty’s struggles to recover from heartbreak and her simple happiness at finding love with Levin, accepting him for who he is, though they are very different people–that’s where I thought Tolstoy’s understanding of human nature really came through.
But the book’s title is Anna Karenina after all, so I created an outfit for Anna. It’s her style that is most described in the book–how she is so striking that she is able to wear simple black dresses and still be the most lovely woman in the room, how Kitty hopes she will wear lilac to a ball but understands when she shows up in black that it is what suits her best.
Here’s a more modern look for Anna: