My Life with Paige

One of the books on my TBR list is My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, by Pamela Paul. Paul is the editor of the New York Times Book Review, and she’s kept a list of all the books she’s ever read for the past 28 years. She calls this running list Bob (Book of Books).

bob

This is a book I must absolutely read, because I, too, have kept a list of books that I’ve read, for a period of at least 15 years. In 2000, I bought a beautiful hardcover notebook with the tiny handwriting of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre on the cover. For each entry, I wrote the title and author, the copyright year, the number of pages, the dates I read the book, whether or not I owned it or if it was a library book, whether it was a new read or a re-read, paperback or hardcover. And then I’d write a few pages summing up the plot, what I thought of the book, anything and everything about how it made me feel. Sometimes I’d start a book and never finish, and I’d explain why I didn’t, or what I didn’t like about it. I wasn’t writing formal book reviews; it was purely subjective, a stream of reactions and thoughts at gut level.

The first book I recorded in that journal was The Innkeeper’s Song, by Peter S. Beagle, in 2000. The last book was Across the Nightingale Floor, by Lian Hearn, in 2004. On the last page I listed the total number of books read (64) and a list of the authors. On the inside covers, I recorded quotes about books and reading by various luminaries. If I saw a picture of the cover of the book, I’d cut it out and tape it into the entry. It truly is a detailed picture of my reading life, a scrapbook of literary experiences.

I have four of these beautiful hardcover notebooks, and they cover my reading from 2000 until 2011. The last one is a larger purple hardcover that covers 2011 to 2015; it’s only one third filled in, and I was getting lazier with my entries–I had begun to photcopy the cover of the book and tape it in, and jot down a few words about it. It was about this time I began the blog, and all the books I’ve read since then have been informally reviewed here. For a list of them, go here. To read the reviews, go to “Books” under Categories on my Home page.

With the inevitable transition from handwritten entries to digital posts, I’ve traded in a personal and private relationship to books for a slightly more formal, public one. I can share my love of books with others here and talk about my reading habit with other book lovers, which is wonderful; but I’m also sad that the hardcover book journals have come to an end.

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My book journals

I’d love to take the time to read through them all and perhaps match book choices to life events. I have personal journals stowed away somewhere from this time; it might be interesting to match the dates between the book journals and the personal journals, and maybe see what might have influenced my reading choices. In 2000 I was 29 and two years married; my daughter was nine years away. I worked at the accounting office for most of that time, and I scribbled away privately on various stories. Nothing too exciting outwardly; but my inner life was always working away, churning, evolving, planning, dreaming.

Could I write a book about my reading habits, as Pamela Paul has? Maybe with some thought, but I doubt it would be very interesting to other readers. It’s more of a personal thing, this choosing of stories, of deciding who I’m going to spend the next 15 hours of my reading life with.

I never named my book journals, but if I did, I suppose I would name them, collectively, Paige (get it?).

I really miss Paige. She was an old friend that was always there for me, during the good times and the bad, but I can always revisit her and reminisce. In the meantime, I’ll read My Life with Bob and add it to my list of books read, a continual, never-ending thread sewn into the fabric of my life.

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What If

In my fiction writing, the question “What if?” is a great way to get stories going. What if an abused woman discovers she can leave her body? What if a young boy makes friends with the monsters in the basement? It serves a creative purpose, and it’s a fun question. But in my real life, […]

via What If — Beautiful Detour

Let’s talk about my hair

(Since everyone else seems to want to).

So I’ve been getting gray hairs since my late twenties. Back then, it was a few hairs here and there, something to joke about, oftentimes plucked out, only to be replaced virtually overnight. Not a big deal, though.

It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that they grew numerous enough for me to feel compelled to cover it up with hair dye. But I wasn’t consistent about it–I’d do it three times a year, maybe. Part of it was laziness–who wants to deal with that stinky muck?–and another part of it was, Oh, who cares?

Well, it turns out quite a few people have some fairly strong opinions about it.

I’m in my mid-forties now, and I made the conscious decision about a year ago to never dye my hair again. That slow and steady turning of a few grays a year has accelerated rapidly in the last few years, and I have just as much gray as light brown. Again, the decision was part laziness, part rebellion against the societal pressure for women to preserve their youth and beauty no matter what the cost. Fuck that, right? Yet I was still a little nervous and chose to keep that last box of hair dye in the bathroom closet. You know, just in case.

The reactions I’ve gotten over the past year have been interesting and various, depending on age group. Younger people (35 and under) invariably don’t give a shit. Why should they? To them, I’m already “old” anyway. It’s beyond their noticing.

The only exception to this was some youngish person asking me one day if my gray was natural or if I dyed it gray.

Excuse me? Why on earth would anyone dye their hair gray on purpose? Oh yes, I was informed. Apparently it’s a trend now among the younger set. Lucky me. I’m “trendy” without even trying. And yet I found myself a little miffed, too. Sorry, kid, but you gotta earn those grays. How dare you youngsters try to usurp that privilege! Stick to pink and blue and green, will ya?

Those older than me (50 and up), men and women both, seem to adore it. I can’t get through a single shift at my cashier job without some customer commenting on my hair:

“Wow, your hair is beautiful!”

“Is that your real hair color? It’s gorgeous!”

Gratification ensues. Finally, after a lifetime of hating my limp, mousy hair, it decides to become my friend in midlife.

One older man waxed rhapsodic about my hair–and other women in general who let their gray out naturally–for a solid five minutes. He praised the natural look and criticized that “horrible pharmacy red” that women of a certain age tend to dye their hair. This man has become my champion.

Interestingly, it’s women around my own age who are visibly distressed by my decision. A particular family member seems almost angry: “You’re too young to have gray hair!” Others have commented how “brave” I am to show my true colors. I find both of these reactions a little sad, and yet I’ll still defend the notion with my dying breath that a woman (and men as well) should do what makes her feel comfortable in her own skin. Hair, make-up, liposuction, even plastic surgery. As long as she’s doing it for herself, and not for some one else or “society”.

But that’s where it gets sticky.

The truth is, if I didn’t get any favorable responses, if my gray hair came out in uneven patches or was yellowy and ugly, rather than the lovely silver I inherited from my mother, if I had an unfortunate face, I’d probably dye it. Hell yes, I would!

So that last box of hair dye still sits in the closet, dusty and waiting. You know, just in case.

gray hairs

 

 

 

Tormented Genius Women

I have a thing for tormented genius women.

Not because I think I’m a tormented genius. I’m often tormented, but not much of a genius. It just seems like true brilliance often comes with a price, whether it’s tragedy, mental illness or repression or all of these. I’m thinking mostly of women like the Brontes, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and a host of others. Men aren’t immune–think Van Gogh, or Edgar Allen Poe. The myth is that artists and writers need to be a little unstable to create their immortal work.

Obviously this isn’t true for all creatives. But the ones we’re often fascinated with are the ones that suffered and bled out genius.

What got me thinking about this is the recent film A Quiet Passion, about Emily Dickinson, as well as the BBC’s film To Walk Invisible: The BrontesI haven’t seen the Dickinson film yet, but it’s at the very top of my list as far as movies go right now.

Dickinson was famously reclusive, and towards the end of her life barely left her room. She died in 1886, at 55 years of age, of “Bright’s Disease”, commonly known as nephritis.

(Shamefully, I live only 20 miles away from her hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts, and I’ve never visited her museum. I’ve put it on my summer to-do list.)

quiet passion
Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson and Jennifer Ehle as Lavinia Dickinson.

A few other wonderful films I like about tormented genius women include:

The Hours, based on the book by Michael Cunningham. Though not a straight biography, this film interweaves three story lines concerning Virginia Woolf, her work and themes. Woolf suffered from severe bouts of mental illness, possibly bipolar disorder. She committed suicide in 1941 by drowning, at 59.

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Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf

Sylvia, based on the life of Sylvia Plath. Gwyneth Paltrow portrays Plath, a young poet in the 1950’s, trying to make her mark in the literary world while still outwardly conforming to the feminine ideal of wife and mother. Plath suffered from depression, and committed suicide in 1963 at the age of 30, by carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Paltrow as Plath, with Daniel Craig as Ted Hughes

Cheerful, right?

Luckily, we have other genius women, like Jane Austen, whose dazzling gems of comedy and social satire emphasize the genius rather than the torment. Despite her own life being marked by financial struggles, loss, and the boundaries of her gender, her works are a delight to read. She never married, and died in 1817 at the age of 41, possibly of Addison’s Disease.

I’ve read all of Austen’s novels repeatedly, but never read an unpublished novella called Lady Susan. It’s been made into a movie called Love and Friendship, starring Kate Beckinsale, and it’s also on my must-watch list. As far as biopics about Jane, there’s Becoming Jane, which focused on her relationship with Tom LeFroy. An enjoyable film, but it probably took some dramatic license and exaggerated the romance with LeFroy.

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James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane

While I’m talking about women authors and film, I want to mention The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood (brilliant in her own right, quite sane, and very much alive). I’m seriously thinking about subscribing to Hulu simply to watch the new series based on the book.

 

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Elisabeth Moss as Offred.

Have you seen any of these movies? Do you have a favorite tormented genius woman author? Who have I forgotten? Drop me a line, and we’ll talk about it!