What I Don’t Say

On Saturday we had our first rehearsal for Listen To Your Mother Boston 2015. It’s my 3rd year going through this. I’m at the point where sometimes I underestimate how something will feel because I assume I have a handle on it and I know what to expect. Sure enough, the whole thing can take me by surprise sometimes.

I’ve been sitting with words on pages, names on note cards, getting the cast figured out, trying out different orders, going through edits. So I was a little off guard when I got in a room with all these wonderful people and felt like I was overflowing. 

I got up to walk everybody through what was about to happen and I found that I couldn’t give the whole talk I’d planned on because I knew if I started telling them how amazing they are that I’d lose it. So I cut my notes down a bit and decided to just let them see what was about to happen on their own.

In my current show order (still not finalized) I put myself in the second slot. So it was only minutes after I started the reading that I had to read myself. 

That was when I got another reminder of how this all works. 

Reading your words out loud changes them. And it doesn’t feel the way you think it’ll feel. 

I’m a crier and it’s not a happy piece, but I was already struggling in the second paragraph. I didn’t audition, so this was my first time reading these words to anyone and that wasn’t helping.

But part of it was that I don’t get to talk about these things. Even to my friends, even to people who know, even to people who care about me. There’s this thing we all do when something is difficult where we downplay the struggle and upsell how well we’re doing. We’re afraid to make other people uncomfortable by showing our vulnerability, our fear, our need.

Even me. Even a person who shares her soul on the internet has this problem.

I realized while I was reading these words that I still don’t get to talk about anything besides the practicalities of divorce and single parenthood. I don’t get to have conversations with people about the terror and the loneliness and the struggle of it. I write about it, and that’s not nothing, but it’s also not the same.

I have talked about divorce a lot in the last couple years. I can talk about it without being upset, without batting an eye. But as soon as I start talking about it this way, in a way that isn’t stating a fact but opening a tightly held set of feelings, every bit of that emotion just comes gushing out and I don’t have much practice at dealing with it.

So yeah, I didn’t exactly have a perfect read. And I know I won’t have a perfect read on show day. It is going to be a struggle to get through and I know that. But saying these things showed me how much they need to be said. 

And I am glad I get to say them. Even if I don’t say them calmly or thoughtfully, even if I’m kind of a mess as the words come out of my mouth. Saying them matters, even if it only matters for me and no one else. 

This life is all about fake it till you make it, and putting up that strong front is almost second nature now. I do it with everyone. Because if I take it down, even if it’s just for a little while, then I know that person is going to worry about me. And the minute they ask me if I’m doing okay, I’m just going to put that front up right away. The defense mechanisms kick in and for whatever reason I can’t let myself be vulnerable even if I want to.

That’s part of what’s hardest about being on my own. Being partnered gives you that person, the one where you put your fists down and just say what you feel.

I can see how much I miss that in my life. I can see how much harder it is without it. I can see all the bottling up that’s still happening, all the demons I still haven’t fully confronted, all the fears that are still tucked deeply inside.

Sharing here just doesn’t quite do it. If you asked me about this post tomorrow, I’d respond with a smile and say I’m feeling better. That reflex just doesn’t turn off.

So for now I’ll stand in front of a few hundred people in a few weeks and speak those words. And I’ll still have my defenses up, I’ll still be working hard to say those words without losing it completely. But I’ll be saying something that needs to be said. 

That’s something.

YA Alert: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

I really don’t like to complain about being a book reviewer. It is pretty much the sweetest gig on earth and I still can’t quite fathom how lucky I am to get to do it. 

But if I had to complain about something, it would be the timing. There are so many books that come out, I try to screen as many titles as possible and the easiest way to do that is to get them as soon as they’re available. The problem with it is that I read a book like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which comes out April 7, in August. Yup, AUGUST. 

 YA Alert: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda YA Alert: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens AgendaThe thing about a good book, though, is that it doesn’t matter how long ago I read it. As soon as I got an email asking if I’d like to join an excerpt tour for this book, I said yes without hesitation. I may have read this book months ago, but I gave it a 5-star review and I’m a bit stingy with my stars. 

I liked this book more than the big YA blockbusters like Eleanor & Park or The Fault in Our Stars. I don’t dislike those books. I like them a lot. But Simon hit me in all the feels but also made me remember exactly how it feels to be a teenager and like somebody. 

Simon is a real teenager. If you grew up in nearly any suburban high school, a lot of his life will seem familiar to you. He doesn’t have any kind of big tragic back story. But he does have a family, friends, the drama club, the usual stuff. Still, there are a few wrinkles. Simon is gay and he’s not quite ready to have to declare his sexuality openly to his entire school. He also has a secret penpal who goes by the name “Blue.” Blue is also at Simon’s school, also gay, and also not out yet. They email each other and share all their secrets in that way that sometimes it’s easier to tell the truth to someone you don’t know. They also start falling totally in love even though they don’t know each other’s identity.

There’s about 5 more plots mixed in there, including blackmail and best friend fights and interesting new people and all that stuff. It’s a tricky book to sell because it’s just a book about being a teenager, but the thing is that I adored it. Adored it completely. I didn’t actually see the author’s name before reading and I was shocked to see it wasn’t written by someone who’d actually lived the life of a gay teenage boy. (How did you do it, Becky Albertalli??)

Today I’m joining in on Simon‘s Excerpt Tour. You can see the first part (Simon’s email to Blue) from yesterday’s post at Caught Read Handed

FROM: [email protected]

TO: [email protected]

DATE: Oct 31 at 8:11 AM

SUBJECT: Re: hollow wieners

Jacques,

Sorry to disappoint. I’m not opposed to dressing up, and you make a compelling

case for it. I completely see the appeal of being someone else for the evening (or in

general). Actually, I was a bit of a one-trick pony myself when I was little. I was

always a superhero. I guess I liked to imagine myself having this complicated secret

identity. Maybe I still do. Maybe that’s the whole point of these emails.

Anyway, I’m not dressing up this year, because I’m not going out. My mom has

some kind of work party, so I’m stuck at home on chocolate duty. I’m sure you

understand that there’s nothing sadder than a sixteen-year-old boy home alone on

Halloween answering the door in full costume.

Your family sounds interesting. How did you talk your parents into buying you

dresses? I bet you were an awesome flapper. Did your parents try to ruin all your

costumes by making them weather appropriate? I remember throwing this ridiculous

tantrum one year because THE GREEN LANTERN DOES NOT WEAR A

TURTLENECK. Though, in retrospect, he actually kind of does. Sorry, Mom!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy your day off from being Jacques. And I hope everyone

likes your ninja costume (that has to be it, right? The perfect mix of simple and

badass?).

—Blue

Check out tomorrow’s stop at There Were Books Involved

Simon is out in April so you best get yourself to the library to put it on hold now before everyone finds out about it. Or you can pre-order now at Amazon YA Alert: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

And here’s more on the author: Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers; some of these experiences inspired her debut novel. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction.  Visit her at www.beckyalbertalli.com and on Twitter: @beckyalbertalli

Boston Ballet Shades of Sound

event Boston Ballet Shades of SoundLast week I had my very first trip to the Boston Ballet. My first trip to see any ballet since far too many trips to The Nutcracker as a teenager. I’ve been immersed in reading about ballet for months and I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see one live. I chose to attend the dress rehearsal so that I could bring my camera and maybe get a few pictures of the Boston Opera House and the dancers on stage.

When you think of attending a ballet, you probably imagine a super swanky crowd and a few dull hours of girls in tutus. But this performance is actually three short dances (with two intermissions) that provide a really fantastic set of modern and traditional music and choreography mixed together. If you’ve never been to a ballet, you’ll find there’s a lot more than you could have expected. This is a great show for a newbie.

First: the Boston Opera House. It’s nearly 100 years old and was completely restored in 2004. It’s got great history and it’s in great shape. (It’s the home not only to the Boston Ballet, but to many of the touring Broadway shows that come through town.) I could’ve stared at their light fixtures all day…

Boston Opera House 1 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound

Boston Opera House 2 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound

Boston Opera House 3 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound

It’s not so big that the seats in the back feel too far away. The chairs were all in great condition, too.

The three ballets in Shades of Sound are all relatively modern. It began with Chroma choreographed by Wayne McGregor with music that includes orchestrations of The White Stripes. It premiered in 2006 and feels distinctly modern. Some may even call it more modern dance than ballet. 

All three of the pieces, including Chroma, have specific costumes and sets to go with them. Chroma is perhaps the most distinctive, with its strange shapeless costumes and bright white background. It also has the most distinctive choreography. The dancers aren’t wearing toe shoes or tights. Their muscles are visible, if anything they’re often emphasized by their movements. It’s a very visceral and physical ballet, the steps vary from animalistic (several are very birdlike) to sensual to awkward. It ignores much of the typical masculine and feminine roles, and when the dancers break into groups there are often men dancing with men and lifting each other instead of just the typical male/female partnerships. 

The bright white lights and sets meant I got my best pictures here, though I was sitting a little bit too close. (Note to attendees, sit at least 5 rows back if you want to see people’s feet.)

DSC 0890 e1427066479401 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound
Dancers: Bradley Schlagheck and Kathleen Breen Combes

DSC 0891 e1427066519281 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound

DSC 0912 e1427066561941 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound

 

DSC 0964 e1427066596224 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound
Dancers: Lasha Khozashvili, Kathleen Breen Combes, John Lam, Jeffrey Cirio, and Misa Kuranaga.

This was the piece I loved the most. The music was sometimes melodic, sometimes atonal, and the movement had the same mix of traditional and unusual. It was always unexpected and always interesting and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. If you’d like to get a little taste of Chroma, you can see this excerpt from the Royal Ballet.

After Chroma comes Episodes, the most well-known piece of the 3, dated 1959 and choreographed by George Balanchine to the music of Anton von Webern. The music is spare and distinctly modern, the dancing looks much more like a traditional ballet. There are toe-shoes and tights, but the typical ballet movements are punctuated with bursts of angular and blunt steps. The women often do a play on a doll, pointing their feet and knees in instead of out. There are several rounds, where one dancer starts a series of steps, then another starts it a few beats behind, then another, then another. The usual synchronicity of the corps de ballet is not what you’ll get here.

Like ChromaEpisodes has a few distinct segments with different pieces of music and different combinations of dancers. All the costumes are black and white and the sections range from more traditional to more modern. Each piece stands alone but they work together as well.

I couldn’t get much from my camera, it was a bit too dark for my lens, so here I’m borrowing lovely photos from my friend Nikki Myers

Episodes 1 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound
Photo by Nikki Myers. Dancers: Whitney Jensen, Diana Albrecht, Dawn Atkins, Lauren Herfindahl, Bradley Schlagheck, Junxiong Zhao, Matthew Slattery, and Patrick Yocum.
Episodes 2 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound
Photo by Nikki Myers Photography. Dancers are Paulo Arrais, Lia Cirio, Maria Alvarez, Ji Young Chae, Corina Gill, and Brittany Stone.

Closing out the evening is Black Cake, originally performed in 1989. It’s choreographed by Hans van Manen and has a variety of music, including Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky. Yet again, the performers are in different costumes and different shoes. This time the men are in head to toe black and the women wear black dresses in all different fabrics with high heeled shoes. 

Much of Black Cake looks like a ballroom dance, there are bits of foxtrot and quickstep and waltz peppered all through it.  The piece itself takes the conceit of a ballet that tells the story of a party or event, but plays with the idea by letting the party get a little bit out of control the way these things sometimes do. There’s a fighting couple, there’s a surly waiter, and everyone has a little bit too much to drink. A great way to end the evening with a little bit of lightheartedness. 

I only took one picture because I thought they weren’t turning out. Big mistake. It’s not half bad given the light! Wish I’d had more, it was such a lively and delightful dance.

DSC 0029 e1427070211602 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound
Dancers: Misa Kuranaga, Erica Cornejo, Ashley Ellis, Caralin Curcio, Brittany Summer, Lauren Herfindahl, Eris Nezha, Jeffrey Cirio, Lasha Khozashvili, Patrick Yocum, Junxiong Zhao, and Matthew Slattery.

You can see a little teaser from Universal Ballet Korea that saves the best jokes but still gives you a feel for the dances. 

You’ll have to hurry, Shades of Sound is only running until March 29th. Tickets start at $29. 

Thanks to Boston Ballet for inviting me to their dress rehearsal!

New Literary Fiction

affiliate links pic New Literary FictionThere’s a lot of great new and upcoming novels that fall into that fancy “literary fiction” category. It’s something of a catch-all, it’s true, but on the other hand the writing in all of these books is pretty stellar. Usually books this good show up in the fall when they roll out the heavy hitters, but most of these books are by newer authors. No matter, they’re stellar.

 New Literary Fiction New Literary FictionIf you follow me on social media, you probably already know how much I love A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. If you move in book circles you’ve probably already heard the buzz. I’d heard nothing when I started it, but I was only 10% of the way through the book when I realized it was something very special. Granted, 10% is still a long way in a novel that has over 700 pages. But I’ve never minded a book that can also serve as a doorstop if it offers something really worthwhile. I’m still standing by my highly preliminary statement that it’s the best book I read this year, but I feel pretty justified in that. After all, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

You will hear that this is a book about 4 friends. It’s not. They’re a nice framing device, but this is a book about one person and the people who are connected to him. His life is made up of extremes. I found myself weeping over and over again because of the love and compassion and kindness that characters in the book displayed. But this book has some of the most harrowing and horrifying scenes I’ve read anywhere. It is not really spoiling anything to say this involves terrible things happening to a child. (If you have trouble reading about child abuse, it’s probably best you not read this book. While it’s essential to the story, it is not glossed over or referenced vaguely and what is described is truly terrible to contemplate.)

It takes a lot of effort for me not to go on and on. If the book didn’t have so much that’s painful to read, I probably would have gone right back to the beginning and started it again when I finished. But I needed some time to recover. And it’s probably no accident that since finishing it my book list has been significantly lighter in tone and plot. This book requires a recovery, but it’s worth it.

 New Literary Fiction New Literary FictionThe Tusk That Did the Damage New Literary Fiction by Tania James sucked me in because it was short and one of its three connected plot lines was about an elephant. I like authors who take risks and this is a book where James aims quite high and hits the mark quite well despite its small size. The novel is about elephant poaching in India, which sounds like a dreary topic, but it’s really not. She follows an elephant orphaned by hunters, an American filmmaker documenting an elephant sanctuary, and an reluctant poacher who would rather stay home on his farm.

Sometimes the intertwined stories books can bug me. This one didn’t. It’s unclear whether they’re told at the same time or how they’ll come together, and besides the topic of elephants, they often feel completely different. I am trying to figure out how to get you to read this, because I know the topic may not appeal to many people. I did leave out one reason why I chose this book while sorting through the many books available: the title. I loved it. I knew I had to read more from the person who crafted that title.

 New Literary Fiction New Literary Fiction
Hausfrau New Literary Fiction by Jill Alexander Essbaum is another book with strong buzz. The way the book is being pitched is rubbing me wrong. The plain truth is this is a wife-has-an-affair book. There are shades of Madame Bovary and stronger glimpses of Anna Karenina and if you like those novels, you should read this one. I read Anna Karenina just a few years ago for the first time, and while I found it hard to sympathize with Anna as a person, I sympathized with her plight. How terrible to be trapped the way she was. How terrible to have your whole life so constrained. The modern Anna of Hausfrau (who is actually named Anna as well) is trapped in a very different way. She had the freedom to make her own decisions, made good ones, and yet she finds herself in a marriage that feels like a prison. She has three young children, which doesn’t help with the feeling of being stifled. And her husband has moved the family to Switzerland, where she doesn’t speak the language and feels completely out of place. While I sympathize less with modern Anna’s plight, I sympathized with her more as a person. I got her. I really got her. And I think a lot of the reason for the novel’s strong reception is that other people get her, too.

Essbaum is an extremely talented writer. She’s able to get you into Anna’s head. It’s a very cerebral novel, you live so much in Anna’s head that you get her craving for physical sensation that she satiates with her lover. For me, while I enjoyed the experience a lot, I didn’t end up with an all-out rave. Anna’s psychiatrist is constantly giving commentary, and she must be a Freudian because it’s so heavily analytical, it sounds almost made up. It’s kind of like the equivalent of a greek chorus telling Anna what’s happening while it’s happening. I found it rather heavyhanded, but I tend to prefer subtlety in these situations. I also found the last third of the novel very frustrating, but again it’s a matter of taste. It certainly doesn’t stop me from recommending it as a really interesting read.

 New Literary Fiction New Literary FictionHausfrau would pair nicely with A Bad Character New Literary Fiction by Deepti Kapoor. The woman in A Bad Character is more Anna Karenina than modern Anna, as she lives in India with her aunt who cares only about getting her married. The more you know about how dangerous India can be for a woman, the more shocking it is when our unnamed narrator starts hanging around a man who is obviously no good. She gets in his car and eventually his bed. Her actions always walk the fine line between self-discovery and self-destruction. Kapoor’s writing is beautiful, lyrical, poetic, I was spellbound by it. It starts a bit slow, but stick with it.

Other upcoming or recent releases to check out: 

  • The Half Brother New Literary Fiction by Holly LeCraw, a prep school novel with a love triangle between teachers.
  • The Seventh Day New Literary Fiction by Yu Hua, a surrealist Chinese novel in translation about a very unique version of the afterlife, where a man revisits the story of his life after his death. If you’re looking for a book that’s different from anything else you’ve ever read, this is it.
  • The Harder They Come New Literary Fiction by T. C. Boyle. Boyle writes the kind of real-life characters no one else does. Here it includes a senior citizen on vacation in Mexico who kills a group of muggers and becomes a celebrity back in the US, a young woman who shoes horses and has radical right wing views, and the mentally ill man who connects them together. Boyle is gutsy and so is this book.

 

Pandora’s Blog

Once upon a time, I kept an online journal. Back before blogs were a thing. 

I never showed it to anyone. A few people know about it, but only because it’s how we met way back in the day when it was nowhere near socially acceptable to meet someone in person that you only knew from the internet. But it remains a big, fat, hidden thing. I never showed it to my ex-husband or any of my friends. 

I wrote in it every day for 3 years, and then every so often after that. It is full of the mundane details of my day-to-day existence, but it also contains a look into my head during some of the most pivotal years of my life. It was anonymous and so I made little effort to sugar coat things. I wasn’t 100% honest. After a while when I had friends who read I thought more about how I presented myself, and there were things I’d hold back because I didn’t know how I felt or what I thought and I wasn’t ready to process it publicly.

But this blog? This is something else.

I still hold back. But pretty much everything else is different. I can’t write about people in a negative light. I’m certainly not anonymous. I try to write less about the daily details and more about what’s going on in my head as days and weeks pass. 

Oh, and there’s the fact that nearly everyone who knows me knows about my blog. 

I used my real name before it was an acceptable thing to do because I saw little value in hiding it. Eventually it would be found and I wanted to own it upfront.

It was easy to think that way when I wasn’t single. 

Now I am dating and the blog is one of those things that’s going to come up sooner or later. Preferably sooner. Because it’s a pretty significant part of my life and I try to be open about who I am. If I feel uncomfortable sharing my blog after a couple dates, it’s probably a sign that I’m not really comfortable with this person.

I recently went out with a guy a few times. I liked him. I thought he had the most potential of anyone I’ve been out with in over a year. And, of course, the blog came out. Even if I’d wanted to hide it, it was during my little viral spike so it was heavily visible. He called it “Pandora’s blog.” He asked how I felt about him reading it and I was honest. 

“There’s nothing there I wouldn’t want you to see,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things there that would make you uncomfortable. There’s several years of my marriage. There’s a lot about my kids. Ultimately it’s a mostly unfiltered look inside my head for the last 7 years. That’s a really long time. It’s a lot of information. And I get that it can be kind of terrifying to have access to all that.”

I know he looked at the blog but I don’t know how much he read. I didn’t get a chance to ask because he broke it off before it could really get started. I don’t know why exactly, and I have no reason to suspect the blog as the culprit. But it’s not impossible.

Dating has me a bit beat down, I admit. And knowing that any time I think there’s potential with someone I have to present them with my Pandora’s Box and let them decide how they want to handle it is not something I really enjoy. Some people are completely okay with it and very comfortable. It’s not like it’s been a disaster over and over again. But it’s always a thing.

I am honestly kind of flummoxed at how unsuccessful dating has been.

They say people can’t change, but I definitely have. 

When I was in college, I had a relationship with every single guy who asked me out with one exception. (And I still went on two or three dates with him.) Same in grad school, again with the one exception. After law school and my religious crisis, when I started dating for real, I ended up making a boyfriend out of the second guy I went out with. And after we broke up, my ex-husband was only the third guy I’d gone out with.

And yet, here I am, months and months of dates with only one extremely-brief semi-relationship to show for it. It is almost always me who puts a stop to it. If the guy ends it, it’s usually just because he beat me to it.

I don’t know what it is and why it’s so hard and why I can’t seem to find a spark anywhere. 

The blog certainly isn’t responsible for holding me back. Dating also makes terrible blog fodder because I keep repeating the experience of meeting nice guys whose company I enjoy but who don’t get me excited in the ways I really want to be. It’s a boring story, and it just keeps repeating over and over again.

Plus, writing about dating means there’s even more sketchy stuff that will make some future guy uncomfortable when he decides to sit down and go through my archives because he’s thinking about getting serious.

I’m feeling a little cursed, honestly. I don’t believe in that whole you-find-someone-at-the-right-time thing. I found plenty of people at the wrong time. And when it comes to how much it could add to my happiness, well there haven’t been many opportunities better than right now. 

I guess it does all save me from one thing: figuring out what to write about my first real relationship. Looks like I’ll have plenty of time before I cross that bridge.