An Old School Blog Entry of Random Dating Thoughts. You’re Welcome.

When I was younger, in my teens and early 20’s, I used to have this picture in my mind of what my perfect person would be like. It wasn’t a visual image, just a feeling for who they would be and how it would feel to be with them. I made a list once or twice of what mattered to me in a partner. 

Later I would use this list to create a narrative around my dating life. This person was missing this trait and that’s why it didn’t work. This person had too much of that, which is why we broke up. It was all about lessons learned, refining my requirements, getting closer to that person as if I was hewing them out of stone.

Now I think that was ridiculous and pointless. An attempt to create order from chaos. These days the way I think about dating and love and romance is vastly different. I still believe you can learn things from relationships, but you can also have a relationship where you don’t learn anything and that’s just fine. It can be a thing you experience, a part of your life, a chapter in your story, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be more.

What I want from a relationship now is so much less than before it’s almost hard to believe. And yet, while my demands are down and my list of requirements is gone, I find myself completely unsatisfied.

I was in a book slump for a while this winter and I think maybe I still am. It’s not that I’m never happy with books, many of them make me very happy. But I quit so many. My patience for them is at an all time low. For every 10 that I start, I finish 1. Often my experience with a book lasts less than 5 pages. My pet peeves are more sensitive. No, I don’t want to read another book about rich people or the holocaust or a man’s midlife crisis or a prep school novel or a college novel or a story about friends who move to New York. (The list is much longer, but that’s a start.) I’m still reading just as much, it just takes me longer to find books I care about. And even when I look at the list of books I loved recently and feel that it is a truly stellar list, a little bit of me feels like there should be more there.

Where I am with books and where I am with dating are similar in many ways. Which is why I’m now wondering if this is part of some larger internal crisis of dissatisfaction. (Also the other day I had a playlist on Spotify and kept hitting skip track over and over and over again. So that’s three strikes.)

Now I try to picture the kind of person I could start a serious relationship with and I get nothing. I can no longer think of what they would be like. I admit that part of me feels that there is no one who actually fits the bill. 

I go out with people and it’s not like I have dating disasters. I just stay in this same place of unexcited, uncommitted, meh-ness. 

It’s also not that I don’t want it. I do. And my wanting of it has varied, so I can’t say it’s because I want too much or too little. The wanting goes in waves, up and down and up and down, a pendulum of my own emotions moving around in my head and reacting to each other. Whether I want it desperately or not at all or somewhere in between, there still isn’t anything that happens. My dates don’t get better or worse. 

When I start thinking about this, my brain just goes to the same lyric over and over again: I will never be satisfied, satisfied, satisfied. And I know this may in fact be true. (I wept all the way through “Satisfied” when I saw Hamilton and maybe that was for a reason?)

This is why I have also spent a lot of time thinking about being alone. This is the default setting now, I’ve settled into it. I may stay here, I may not. I try to enjoy the parts of it I like and avoid the things I don’t. It’s hard, though.

I read All the Single Ladies, Rebecca Traister’s excellent book about the rise of single women and how society is (and isn’t) changing around them. When I see things like this I feel powerful and strong and want to just stay on my own forever. There are so many things about being on my own that make me feel like I’m more fully myself than I’ve ever been. But I can’t seem to make this last. Inevitably I reach a point where I do not want to be alone. Regardless of how I feel most of the time, there is a thus-far undeniable piece of me who feels that partnered should be my default. I don’t know if that portion of me is right, but it’s definitely a squeaky wheel.

I’m working on finding the new normal. I want it to be well established. If I don’t find another relationship, then I need to be good where I’m at. I’m trying to get a better support system. I’m trying to bring more people into my life that I enjoy and that I can count on and that I want to support in return. 

I also remember clearly just how much love messes with your head. I want my normal to actually feel normal. I want my priorities firmly in place. I want my sense of self to stay exactly the same next time I’m with someone. I know that I don’t want a new relationship to replace other things in my life. I don’t want to lose a lot of sleep or reading time or writing time, and those things always go by the wayside in the past. 

Maybe my problem is that I’ve never had a relationship that looks like what I want the next big one to look like. I can’t sketch out in my mind exactly how it will work. It will be something I (or we) have to build from scratch and create through trial and error. And maybe with all that uncertainty it’s just silly for my brain to spend time imagining what kind of person could fit that mold.

I know I’m guilty of trying to create a version of what I thought a relationship should be when I was younger. I tried to create the moments and meaning that were supposed to be there. But that doesn’t work. I know that quite well. 

There’s no resolution here. No tidy wrap up. Just more of this same inbetween. More of the waiting and seeing. More work to make myself comfortable with where I am. And more reminding myself that I like who I am right now, I like it more than I ever have before, and it’s worth doing everything I can to keep growing and not let anyone pull me back.

How to Get More Book Club In Your Life

If you’re going to scroll right by this because you’re not a book club person, stop for just a second. I used to think the same thing, but I’ve found a bunch of different book clubs that work for me in a bunch of different ways. 

The Any Book Book Club

This is the invention of one of my fellow contributors at Book Riot. The Any Book Book Club frees you from the usual Book Club model. If you don’t like having to read something by a deadline, or having other people choose the book, or discussion questions, then this is the perfect book club for you. There is no assigned book, instead you just show up with a bunch of your reader friends and talk about what you’ve been reading that you love. Not only is it fun to see your bookish buds, you also get a bunch of recommendations to add to your to-read list.

read harder How to Get More Book Club In Your LifeThis is the model we follow for the Read Harder Book Groups, too. You can find them in a whole bunch of cities now with more to come. We’ve been going in Boston since September and I’ve enjoyed every single one. Bookish people are a great bunch, and I’ve made several friends through our group. Plus it’s just so chill, everyone is accepting of different tastes, and there’s lots of note taking and comparing opinions and general goodness. If you’re that person who is always talking about books, this is a great place to get it all out. 

Or you could start your own!

The Book of the Month Club

I was invited to try out Book of the Month Club last year and I really enjoyed it. The model is super simple. Each month they give you 5 selections, you pick the one that sounds best to you, and they send it to you. There’s discussions online around the books, so if you’re not much for in-person book clubs, this is a great fit. And I’ve been very impressed with the picks. They tend to be very new releases, often very buzzy, and the selection usually includes nonfiction, crime novels, women’s fiction, and literary fiction. 

I am friends with a few people who work with and judge books for Book of the Month Club. My initial subscription was complimentary. I liked it so much that I took them on as an affiliate partner, so joining through me helps support DMTM at no extra cost to you.

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You can skip any month where you don’t like the titles. You can read at your own pace, since the discussions stay up even after the month passes. Plus, you pay less than you’d pay for the book in a store. (1 month is $16.99 for a new release hardcover, and it’s as low as $11.99 if you sign up for a year.) PLUS they’re running a ridiculous sale now so you can get 3 months for half off (that’s $7.50 per book!) using code APR50. So head to Book of the Month Club quick and if you make it by April 21st you can still get one of this month’s selections. 

Meetup.com

If you don’t know many people in your area or you don’t have a local bookish crew, then meetup.com is a great place to look for local book clubs. This is how I found my favorite book club of all time, where we read mostly classics, and we had actual MEN and people of all ages. If you’re feeling particularly brave, you can start your own book club there. You do have to pay a fee to keep the listing up, but you also get to make it whatever book club you want. Cozy mysteries? Romances? Obscure fiction in translation? Go for it!

Facebook Book Clubs

Another great virtual option is to start your book club on Facebook. You can use polls to choose books so everyone gets a say, and put discussion questions in individual threads. Since most of your friends are there anyway, and you may have reader friends who aren’t local, you can all congregate there for discussions. I’ve had some great success with online book clubs, these can work on forums and message boards, too.

Office Book Clubs

Yes, I go to my book club at the office when I can. At first I was kind of skeptical, but ultimately the convenience won me over. I didn’t even have to go anywhere, I just stay a little late one evening a month. Plus our group brings snacks and treats that go with the book. And any book club with snacks is a book club I would like to be a part of. We are already all connected through office email and use the same calendars, so it makes planning really simple. 

This model works for any group you already see regularly: Church, school, neighborhood, etc. 

 

And a few tips to maximize your awesomeness once you’ve got your book club going:

  • Lean towards backlist titles (aka books that have already been released in paperback). That makes it a lot more accessible for people with a small budget or who get the book from the library and won’t have to wait in a long hold line.
  • Don’t forget to keep track of what you’re reading. Are you reading all male authors? All white authors? A diverse set of books is more appealing to a wide group and it makes for a more interesting mix. 
  • Connect with your book club on Goodreads. Once you have a feeling for who you mesh with, you can see what else they’re reading and get great book picks that way.
  • Reach out to authors! Remember when I got Lev Grossman to do a Q&A with my book club when we read The Magicians a few years ago? That was pretty cool and it really made for a more interesting discussion. Some authors will do Skype meetups with your book club, too, so check the author’s web page and Twitter.
  • Read a book with a movie or tv-show tie-in. That always generates a whole bunch of discussion about which was better. (Although you know it’s always the book.) And if there isn’t a show, maybe create your own dream cast as one of your book club questions?
  • If your club doesn’t have a dedicated genre focus, try different ones and don’t be afraid to try something new.
  • Keep up with local author visits. If an author is visiting for a new release, have your book club read one of their older titles and go to the reading and Q&A together.

I’d love to hear your best book club experiences, your best practices, and your favorite book club reads.

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The Mystery of Who You Are

When your child is an infant and a toddler, you don’t know a whole lot about who they are, but at least you can describe them. Sure, that description has little to do with their personality and a lot more to do with how they sleep, what they eat, their gross and fine motor capabilities, but you can at least pin those things down. And maybe for some kids they stay that way during the terrible 3’s, but some of what makes that age so tough for me isn’t just the constant frustration of a tyrannical preschooler, but the lack of consistency. 

Tessa just turned 4 and I cannot for the life of me pin her down. Fickleness may be her most distinctive trait, to be honest.

Sure, I can nail down a few likes and dislikes. She likes accessories and riding her bike and bunnies. But you could pick out something that’s absolutely perfect for her and she’ll hate it. She doesn’t have a consistent favorite toy, what she loves today she cares about not one whit tomorrow. 

 

A photo posted by Jessica Woodbury (@jessicaesquire) on

Some of this is garden variety developmental whatever. She asks for something, then when given it 5 seconds later is now furious that you’ve given her THIS and not THAT even though this is exactly the thing she begged and pleaded for. But there is no old reliable, no go-to, nothing that I always know will cheer her up. 

This adjustment is a little hard because Graham was such a child of habit and ritual and routine. He fit into a very specific box. It’s an unusual and eccentric box, but it’s a box nonetheless. He responds well to praise. He loves a certain kind of toy. He enjoys a certain kind of game. And while these things change over the years, there is a lot of consistency from day to day and week to week. It’s comforting to know how he’s going to respond, even if I don’t always like it.

But Tessa? You’ve got me. She doesn’t respond consistently to praise or discipline. I can say for sure that she is stubborn. 

Sometimes she is vocal and opinionated. Sometimes she is content to stay in the background. Sometimes she blends in with her friends and is totally mellow. Sometimes she is bossy. Sometimes she is the little sister who repeats everything her older brother says. 

I feel like I should know more about who she is by now. I’m her mother, right?

But I’m also the kind of parent who recognizes that my kids have their own very deep and very strong inner life that hardly involves me at all. I don’t want to put pressure on her to be a certain way. I want to give her the power to define herself at her own pace. I just get impatient about who this little one is.

I’m also acutely aware of how little I know of her because I know that autism presents in very unexpected ways with girls. Our family is a prime model of this. Graham who follows a very well-worn type, and Tessa who doesn’t fit any type at all. Her therapists don’t have any more of a clue than we do, but everyone agrees that she’s generally happy, fun to be around, and quite bright. 

It’s okay if I have to keep waiting to see what her challenges will be. There are certainly worse problems we could be having, I definitely know that. For now, I still won’t know when she’ll hop happily along beside me and when she’ll refuse to stand up even though we are going to do something fun and go somewhere she wants to go and why will she not just stand up already (while Graham starts losing it in the background). For now, she still doesn’t quite have the words and the awareness to tell me how she feels or what she wants all the time, even when she is upset. 

But I do give her full props for being a master of standing her ground. Like the other night when she wouldn’t stop making noise and kicking the wall in bed. She was keeping Graham awake and making him increasingly upset, so I pulled her out of the room and had her sit in the hall for a while. Despite very lenient bargaining, she refused to stop making noise and when I let her back in she went right back to kicking the wall. So she stayed in the hall. She planted her flag in the hall. And she wanted to make sure I knew it.

 

 

She fell asleep with that scowl still on her face rather than go lay nicely in her bed. I may not enjoy dealing with that kind of stubborn but I can’t help but admire it. 

I think of all the traits I want my daughter to have…

That level of commitment and willingness to flout authority? I feel like she’ll be okay.

Cozy Up with Winter Books

Even though we tend to save the beach books for summer and the important tomes for fall, every year some of my absolute favorites come out early. Last year two of the year’s most buzzed books, A Little Life and Girl on the Train were out in March and January, respectively. So happy us, with so much to read (and reserve!) in these chilly months.

These are listed alphabetically because you cannot make me choose. All links are to Amazon, all are affiliate links and purchasing through them helps support the blog!

Out Now

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksThe Ballad of Black Tom Cozy Up with Winter Books by Victor LaValle is one of those unusual books that is doing many, many things at one time and yet it also manages to be wildly entertaining. This is Horror, I know that’s an automatic out for some of you, but it’s also a big throwback, specifically to the writing of H. P. Lovecraft. The problem with Lovecraft is that a lot of his writing was explicitly and horribly racist. And yet he’s considered the father of modern horror fiction. LaValle, who is one of my favorite writers and I will read anything he does because he is always interesting, basically writes  his own Lovecraft story, except at the heart of it is a black man who experiences the real horrors of racial injustice. It’s a real feat. And, you know, it’s also a really great supernatural horror story whether or not you love the old school style.

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksThe Guest Room Cozy Up with Winter Books by Chris Bohjalian was the first 2016 release I read, way back in summer. Bohjalian is a pretty reliable writer who moves between pretty much any genre, he is so good at raising tension and holding it. His new book is basically a thriller that starts with a bachelor party that goes horribly wrong. You cannot stop turning the pages of this book, and I am not joking. Just read the first chapter and see if you can quit. And when you finally put it down and take a breath you realize that you just finished a unique examination of rape culture and sexual trafficking along with all the fast-paced suspense. 

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksJuliet Takes a Breath Cozy Up with Winter Books  by Gabby Rivera was a title I knew I had to pick up after following the author as an editor at Autostraddle, including some excellent OITNB recaps. And how could I not pick up a story about a newly out lesbian Latina from the Bronx who is suddenly a fish-out-of-water in hippie Portland? These days I find myself wanting something different, dammit, as I quit book after book about young white kids moving to New York City. Snooze. I want to hear something new. I want to see something different. And this fit the bill perfectly. We need more.

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksThe Opposite of Everyone Cozy Up with Winter Books by Joshilyn Jackson is the latest entry from one of my long-time loved authors. Jackson’s books are always a mix of dark and light, funny and sad. This one is a new step and I approve of the new direction. Do not let the cutesy cover fool you. Paula is a badass lawyer… and also a mess. Not the cute kind of mess either. The blackout drunk kind. Paula is still recovering from her disastrous childhood, biracial and fatherless, raised by a white woman who named her after an Indian goddess, never staying in the same place for long, and eventually going to prison and sending Paula to be a ward of the state. Paula’s past comes back to haunt her when she gets a letter from her long-lost mother and decides to track her down. The book moves through time, from Paula’s childhood to the present, as she tries to figure out who she is and who she wants to be.

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksThe Queen of the Night Cozy Up with Winter Books by Alexander Chee is the rare historical novel I not only pick up willingly but devour. If you’re an opera fan, like I am, this one is a must-read. Even if you’re not, there is a reason this book has been so crazy with buzz in the book world. It’s the closest readalike I’ve ever found to one of my favorite classics: The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s full of twists, betrayals, double-crosses, secrets, etc. etc. etc. It goes from the circus to the brothel to the palace to the opera house and plenty more along the way. I do not want to spoil any of it for you, but if you’re like me and usually don’t read much historical fiction, you may want to reconsider.

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksUp to This Pointe Cozy Up with Winter Books by Jennifer Longo is the only YA on this list, but I’m a total sucker for a ballerina book. (I know some of you are the same.) Harper is a high school ballerina who has planned out her life with her best friend Kate. When that plan goes off the rails, Harper decides to escape from everyone and head to an internship in Antarctica just like her ancestor the famous explorer who tried to reach the South Pole. A fun contemporary YA with a truly unusual setting. A light and easy read that will make you grateful that no matter how cold it is where you are, at least you’re not in Antarctica!

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksThe V-Word: True Stories about First-Time Sex Cozy Up with Winter Books edited by Amber J. Keyser. Sometimes I read books because my friends write for them. Sometimes this goes well and other times it doesn’t. This time was one of the good ones. If every teenage girl got a copy of this book, the world would probably be a better place. (Ditto teenage boys.) The main goal of this collection of personal nonfiction is to show teenagers just how different that loss of virginity can be, how it looks for different kinds of people, and what it means for the rest of your life. There is everything from the unplanned casual fling to the serious and meticulously planned event. There is straight and gay and bi and trans. Plus there’s a great list of resources at the end, including sources of information on sex for teens and a bunch of YA books that address a variety of important issues.

 Cozy Up with Winter BooksWhat Belongs to You Cozy Up with Winter Books by Garth Greenwell is a slim debut novel by a poet that is full of lyrical prose and raw emotion. Usually when I hear that kind of description I think, meh. But this book does something I can’t quite explain. It’s so vulnerable and honest that it’s like seeing someone’s soul spilled out on paper. This book sat on my nightstand for a few months while I was stuck in a reading slump. I put it down because I knew that this novel needed the kind of attention I didn’t have yet. I waited, and while I waited I heard rave after rave about how this book is part of the new gay literary canon. And when I finally felt back to myself, I picked it up and I was happy to see that it was just as good as everyone said it was.

Coming Soon

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksBlack Apple Cozy Up with Winter Books by Joan Crate (March 1) In Canada, the government and the Catholic church used to remove native children from their homes to be educated and civilized. This book looks at what that means for one Blackfoot girl and the nun running the school she is taken to against her will. It starts a little slow, but if you’re one of those people who likes to read books that show you a part of history you never knew, this is a great pick.

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksThe Passenger Cozy Up with Winter Books by Lisa Lutz (March 1) Full disclosure, I haven’t read this one yet. But it’s on my to-read list as a long-time fan of Lisa Lutz, who wrote the hilarious Spelman mystery series. I hear lots and lots of good things about this thriller following a woman trying to hide off the grid.

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksThe Travelers Cozy Up with Winter Books by Chris Pavone (March 8) Pavone wrote the popular and satisfying thrillers The Ex-Pats and The Accident and he specializes in normal people who aren’t actually so normal. This time it’s Will Rhodes, a travel writer who is blackmailed into a life of intrigue and must hide it from his wife.

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksVersion Control Cozy Up with Winter Books by Dexter Palmer (February 23) Sometimes I know when a book will be on my Top 10 list before the book is even over. And this is one of those books. I love this book. I love it deeply. I love it so much I am considering reading it again. It hits me in all my sweet spots. A near-future setting following an unhappily married couple. She has a truly unique job for a dating company, he runs a physics lab that’s on the verge of a big discovery. I really don’t want to tell you more so I don’t spoil it. But I will say this book makes a great companion to last year’s popular Fates & Furies with a time travel twist.

Sorry, I’ve Hit My Quota

Oh hi, blog. 

I am not one of those people who apologizes for not blogging. And honestly, for the first two weeks I didn’t give it a second thought that I hadn’t blogged. But now we’re about to hit a month with no posts. In fact, if I scheduled this for Monday, the way I normally would, January would be my first month without blogging since 2007. More than EIGHT years I’ve blogged at least once every month. Not because it was a goal or a benchmark but because I always wanted to blog at least once every month.

It’s not that I didn’t want to blog in January. And yet I didn’t blog. And I kept wondering what was happening.

Then  I realized. I have a word quota.

The thing that is different this month is that whenever I have time to write, I work on my novel. When my head is in that writing space where I’m feeling clear and quiet and ready to go, I work on my novel. And after I write my novel, I am done with words. Finished. Complete. 

There’s the time factor, of course. My blogging frequency has been low as long as I’ve been in this single-working-parent thing. Time is precious and I am tired and I need to have my brain in a good place when I blog. Back in the day when I was at home with my kids, my blog was my escape and my outlet. I still see it as an important part of myself and I still value this space, but I don’t have the capacity these days to post often.

So yeah. I didn’t realize it was possible for me to run out of words. But I guess it is. I’m trying to get 1,500+ words every time I sit down at the novel. And sometimes it takes an hour and sometimes it takes 3 hours. And especially if I’ve been working for 3 hours I do not want to write anything else. I do not want to write an email. I can do tweets but that’s about it.

I don’t feel bad, though. Not at all. Writing my novel is what I WANT to do. It’s what I’ve wanted to do for most of my life and while this isn’t the first time I’ve tried, this is the first time I feel like I’m going to finish. (I passed 25,000 words this morning. Most novels are around 80,000-90,000. So I’m getting close to 1/3 way done, but it’s very possible mine will be longer. I know, you’re shocked.)

Maybe once I finish and start editing, writing on my blog will go way up, since I’ll want to do more original and carefree writing. Totally possible. Maybe I’ll be putting up one post a month for the rest of the year while I work on this thing. (My only goal is to have the first draft done by the end of the year. It’s a generous goal, considering my current pace. I want to give myself the time and space to breathe and roll around with it and wrestle with it if I need to.)

So hey, little blog, you’re not unloved or alone. You’ve just moved another rung down the priority ladder. I know you’re used to it. 

If you miss my sparkling personality, I still do far too much writing on Twitter.