"I am trying to summon all my strength just to not want anything for you. Not to hope you have all the things I didn't, and all the things I did, nor to frame your being with the stiffened angles of my own regret. Not even to hope you will be able forgive me, for all my many trespasses."
-- Susanna Hislop, To My Unborn Child
There are far too many exquisite quotes to pull from this particular Hislop piece. We're so in sync. It's as if she's drawing her fingers across the pulsing surface of my heart and translating the Braille of its rhythm. Okay, just a couple more, but you really ought to read the whole thing!
"You are endlessly fascinating to me, even if I did sometimes find myself - in the slow, empty chaos of hours and days and weeks after you were born - torn asunder by fear and boredom and shock. Even if a genetic predisposition to not dealing with you at all well hovered in the shadows of the room as I held your hungry mouth to my breast. No. I love you, I am sure, more than all the love I have ever held in my heart."
"But in this catching of happiness - if I am to be a good mother - will you make me dull? It's the women I listen to. George Eliot ridiculing Celia in Middlemarch: that familiar figure of nappied inanity lost in a world of maternal arrogance. A pregnant Plath, having 'boarded the train there's no getting off'. But then Woolf, with whole houses and a mind of her own, howling, childless, in the night..."
"My very far away, unborn hope: of you I am as terrified as of an unknown child in a darkened room, whose clear vowels rise through the moonlight, asking only for love."
As I launch into the writing of my third and final term paper of the Høst 2014 semester, it occurs to me that I never did share my reading lists with you, my readers, many of whom like lists of books almost as you enjoy the actual reading of the books themselves. I'm like that, too. Reviewing a soundly curated book list is like taking an imagination break and walking the stacks of a library of the mind. So, I thought I'd post a couple of the lists here for your pleasure/edification. (Course descriptions have been cribbed from the UiO website.)
Women Writing: Feminist Fiction in English (ENG 4363)
This is a course in English-language feminist fiction from the nineteenth and/or twentieth century. Students will study a selection of novels and/or short stories that focus on women's lives and reflect on what it means to be a woman and a feminist from various sexual, racial, class, and national perspectives. The course will consider the development and thematics of feminist fiction and its contribution to the development of new narrative techniques.
- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929)
- Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905)
- Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)
- Octavia Butler, Kindred (1979)
- Sarah Hall, Daughters of the North (2007)
- Helen Oyeyemi, Mr Fox (2011)
- Joyce Carol Oates, 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?' (1966) (available online)
This was my favorite reading list of the semester, and not because I'm a raging feminist, either. I simple responded well to the variety of voices. Every book was unique and uniquely suited to the aspect of Women's Writing we discussed that week. Mr. Fox was, far and away, the strangest, but being the most contemporary, that didn't surprise me. A Room of One's Own was the book I couldn't believe I hadn't encountered prior to this course (having graduated with my B.A. in English from UC Davis in 2006 and my M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Lesley University in 2012). And Wide Sargasso Sea is the book I'm not recommending to people who tell me their favorite classic was Jane Eyre.
Time & Money in the American Novel (ENG 4416)
Time and money are two of the main forces that shape human ends. Our conception of time has a profound impact on how we understand ourselves, and on how we draw the boundary between the possible and the unreasonable. In a similar fashion, our collective understanding of money exerts a sharp influence on how we order our personal and communal lives. This course will examine these two forces through the lens of literature. It will use the reading and analysis of a select group of American novels as a way of interrogating the links between time, money, and literature.
In this course, we will examine the ways in which novels work to naturalize or challenge social conceptions of time and money. More importantly, we will consider all the ways in which the reading of novels helps us reflect on the nature of time and money, and we will think about the way these reflections are connected to issues of race, sexuality, subjectivity, and community.
- Frank Norris, The Octopus
- W.E.B. Du Bois, The Quest of the Silver Fleece
- James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man
- Nella Larsen, Passing
- James T. Farrell, Judgment Day
- Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis
- Richard Powers, Gain
Honestly, I think this course needs to be renamed. Time, Money & Race in the American Novel would have been spot on. These were challenging texts, all. The Octopus was exceedingly long, but beautiful, and it was a perfect fit for the class. The Quest of the Silver Fleece is the book that will stick with me longest, I think, and I enjoyed writing my final paper on it. Here I'll admit that I did not read Judgment Day. I was in California for the class discussion and had already selected a different text as my qualifying essay topic, so I gave myself a break. And between the surreal Cosmopolis and the enigmatic Gain, I'd have to say that this was the most eclectic class reading list I've ever encountered.
Last night, we watched Valley Uprising, the latest in the Reel Rock Tour movie series, all about Yosemite Valley's climbing revolution. It made me want to get back on the wall again. Like, immediately. Like, if Jonathan said, "Let's move back to California and live close to Yosemite this time," I would have begun packing before he finished the sentence. That's not likely to happen, though, at least not for now. The movie was cool, full of wicked climbing footage and resonant musings on the evolution of the sport. If you're a climber, you should definitely check it out.
But this is not a post about climbing. Rather, I was reminded last night that one of the downsides of being a climber is what it does to your hands. For years, not only did I have to keep my nails cut down to the quick, but the chalk dried out my skin and my fingers were constantly scraped up, sometimes bloody. I didn't know what I was missing, really, because years of playing and coaching volleyball and basketball had also necessitated strong, quick, low maintenance hands. But since moving to Norway, I've had the luxury of growing my nails out on occasion (and one pleasant side effect of pregnancy happens to be healthier nails), which has made me think about nail polish for the first time in my life.
OPI has quickly become my favorite brand. It's awfully expensive here in Oslo (like everything else), so I don't get it often, but last weekend I acquired a new color from the Duty Free on the DFDS mini-cruise we took to Copenhagen. Why? Because their new Nordic Collection was so sparkly.
With colors like Going My Way or Norway? and Thank Glogg It's Friday and Do You Have This Color in Stock-holm? how could I resist?
I nabbed OPI With A Nice Finn-ish, a shiny gold. Sadly, because I haven't become the kind of grown-up who is dainty with her hands, I'm sure it will be chipped up like crazy before Christmas, but I don't mind. I'll just do it all over again in a couple of weeks. Because my last final paper will be due next Wednesday and then I'll be on winter break. Time to celebrate!
*A fun write-up on all the colors in the Nordic Collection can be found on The Polish Aholic Blog.
Suffice it to say that there's a lot of garbage out there on the interwebs. It's tough to sift through the majority of it to find the relevant, articulate, credible stuff. Social Media is sometimes the worst way to do it. Then again, social media guarantees that I--deep in my liberal bubble lined with back issues of The New Yorker--won't miss out on at least a few bits of priceless crap. Like this one: THE SEXODUS, PART 1: THE MEN GIVING UP ON WOMEN AND CHECKING OUT OF SOCIETY. Please don't click on it. You don't need to read it. Chances are it will offend you, as it offended me, and as it would offend anyone who believes that the ultimate goals of humanity should be love, respect, intelligence, and dignity for all.
For those who aren't aware of it, there's a movement that has begun to swell. It's a group, mostly men, who believe that the American way of life has been bastardized by the Feminists, and that the rights of men have been severely trampled by the advancement of women over the last century. These men rally. They march. They rant.
It looks, in fact, a lot like the very beginnings of the Feminist movement must have looked so long ago. Whiny and irrelevant. And we all know what happened there, so maybe we'd better keep an eye on these guys.
Or not. Because there actually is no deep Feminist plot to keep men down and put women in all the high places.
Which is one of the major differences between the Feminist movement and the, shall we say, Masculinist movement. When Feminists call for "women's rights," they're talking about rights which previously have been granted to men, but not women in equal measure. When Masculinists call for "men's rights," they're talking about rights which used to be theirs exclusively, and have been allegedly usurped by women. So, these are rights that the men want back.
What rights are the Masculinists talking about? For starters: American education has, allegedly, been so twisted by the Feminist "establishment," with the focus placed entirely and obsessively on the needs of girls, that boys have stopped being accommodated at all. This has, according to the Masculinists, led to a decline in male literacy, male high school completion, and male college attendance/degree acquisition. Teaching has been Feminized, and the poor little boys are suffering.
I'll grant you that the decline of male educational achievement is no myth, but the only way you can blame that decline on Feminists is if you simultaneously admit that women have never been the weaker sex... simply the dormant one. If you believe what these Masculinists are preaching, the only logical conclusion is that, the second women stood up to fight on fairer ground, men sat down. Which is ridiculous.
Unfortunately, Masculinist propaganda like this Sexodus piece manages to reach its intended audience: men who aren't part of that movement, but who due to personal circumstances and/or upbringing, believe they are entitled to more than they have actually earned, and are looking for someone to blame. These guys grew up watching Disney's Cinderella, too. But where the girls were being negatively saturated with the image of a helpless, stoic, beautiful girl who is rescued from her plight by a nameless prince... the boys were being negatively saturated by the image of a nameless prince whose only task was to ride up on the horse with a glass slipper to have the beautiful, silent girl throw herself into his arms. Now, we're reaping the consequences.
I love the marriage Jonathan and I have built. And there may be people out there who are surprised to learn that our relationship includes almost zero power struggle. We split the tasks required of us based on personal prerogative and aptitude. It could be that our conservative Christian upbringing has positioned us to maintain some kind of modern relationship hybrid in the liberal setting to which we've moved ourselves--including the best parts of love, sex, monogamy, fidelity, partnership, respect, and equality. Or not. Maybe it's all luck. But I'm writing this piece while barefoot, pregnant, and in the midst of sending my husband off to the office with a kiss... and I'm still a Feminist. And so is he.
"I can't tell you what to do. No one can. But as the mother of two children, I can tell you what most moms will: that mothering is absurdly hard and profoundly sweet. Like the best thing you ever did. Like if you think you want to have a baby, you probably should.
I say this in spite of the fact that children are giant endless suck machines. They don't give a whit if you need to sleep or eat or pee or get your work done or go out to a party naked and oiled up in a homemade Alice B. Toklas mask. They take everything. They will bring you the furthest edge of your personality and abso-fucking-lutely to your knees.
They will also give you everything back. Not just all they take, but many of the things you lost before they came along as well."
― Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
(Nothing like some Strayed-esque wisdom. I'm so happy/relieved, by the way, that the Wild movie comes out before the Hazelnut does. I can't wait to see it, and I understand that movie-going stops being easy once you have an infant to tote along with you.)
Holidays are here again. Jonathan and I just spent four days in Malmö, Sweden celebrating an expat Thanksgiving with friends. We hopped the DFDS overnight ferry home yesterday and enjoyed a buffet dinner full of Scandinavian holiday classics (ribbe, meatballs, potatoes, gravy, etc.). Pulling into Oslo this morning, we found Christmas in full swing. The Karl Johans gate julemarked is up and running; white lights are tangled in the trees; the large Christmas tree is up in the square in front of the university; and as we climbed the stairs to our apartment, we noticed that a tree full of lights had appeared in our building's backyard, too.
Thankfully, I'd managed to be enough on the ball before we left last week to pull together our advent calendar. Since we married, I've made an advent calendar for Jonathan every year. Past models have included Christmas jokes, Christmas memories, quotes from Christmas movies. There are usually presents, too, of course, but I flatter myself that Jonathan looks forward to my wordplay more than he does to the goofy gifts I wrangle together.
This year, daily slips of paper suspended from a red velvet ribbon will be opened to reveal my own written version of The Nativity Story. The opening lines:
Where previously there was none, a flower blooms, a fruit suspends itself from the branch of a tree, and this is what we see: round, starburst thing. Velvet petals and smooth, rosy skin. Shape and matter, weight when we lift it between our own curious palms. Where did it come from?
Happy December, everyone!
Either way, for this child, I was already wishing for a warm heart, a curious nature, a quick wit, a thirst for adventure, and enough courage and empathy to stand up for himself/herself, as well as for others. I was already wishing for a love of books, a best friend, an independent spirit. None of these things changed when the ultrasound tech made the call.
"You're having a girl."
There was never any question. I wanted to know the sex of our child, and I wanted to know it long before that final, stressful, painful, desperate, overwhelming, emotional day of my pregnancy. It was a decision that ran much deeper than a simple "because I can", and I've wondered about it a lot in the last few weeks. Why did I care? Why did I need to know?
It's true that boys and girls are different, but it's more true that children are all different from one another. The boy/girl dichotomy is a spectrum like anything else. I've seen it. I've lived it.
The pulsing kernel at the center of my being is striped both pink and blue. My energy at different points in my life has been both masculine and feminine. I suspect this is true for most people, but the way our society structures things in terms of gender norms bullies us into selecting a side based on our biologically-determined sexual apparatus. This is the way sensitive, nurturing boys get pegged as sissies, and the way assertive, confident girls get called bossy.
That's not a view of the world I want to perpetuate. And after careful consideration, I can't imagine a single lesson which would be appropriate for me to teach this girl as I nurture her toward womanhood but would be inappropriate for me to teach to a boy on his way to being a man.
In September, I couldn't tell anyone. It was just me alone in my home nursing a headache and crying over TV commercials, wondering how I could talk Jonathan into allowing me to name the child myself. Not because I don't like the names he picks out (Thor Fjellbjørn?), but because he's so good at vetoing the ones I like.
Little Camper is due in mid-April, which is great, because spring and summer in Norway are the best, and I'd rather attempt this whole motherhood thing for the first time in sunnier, warmer circumstances. I'm now 18 weeks along and feeling happy and healthy and basically normal.
But how about those first few months...
My pregnancy is the real reason my doctor told me to relax and let go of my plans to run the Oslo Half Marathon. I ended up watching the race from the sidelines after training all summer long. That was rough. I did run Munchbreak Hill (as I've christened the steep climb at 15-km, approaching the Botanical Garden) with my training buddy, Corinne of Northern Natterings. She nailed the race to the wall, and it felt only right that I should accompany her through the toughest part. We finished off the loop at that part of the race, then she hugged me and ran off to finish for all three of us!
It's a good thing, ultimately, that I didn't push it. Fatigue had been my worst symptom so far. It was a crushing kind of tired. The kind that made the inside of my mouth ache. The kind that made the act of exhaling seem titanic. I napped out of nowhere, and would sleep for hours if I failed to set an alarm. Drooling, twitching sleep. Dream-filled sleep. Sitting through my classes at the University of Oslo was--in an impressive bout of understatement--difficult.
Why was I so tired? Partially, it has to do with my growing a human being and a placenta, and partially it's due to my inability to either sleep through the night (twice-nightly bathroom runs made me grateful for my heated floor) or to ingest enough calories to fuel my day (to say nothing of the growth of the aforementioned tiny human and placenta). For a straight week, all I could eat were popcicles and pretzels, washed down with ice water. Which didn't exactly limit my trips to the bathroom. A vicious circle.
In honor of Farsdag (Father's Day) in Norway--which happened last weekend, and I missed it--I thought I'd post something sweet and pensive about fatherhood, written by a poet friend of mine.
"Practice Makes Permanence: The other night I held my son in my arms and we exchanged a gaze that seemed to last for an infinite number of minutes. After kissing and asking him if he knew how much his daddy loves him, he stuck out his tongue. I took it as a yes. He's only 7 weeks old but I tell him every day. Sometimes, even though words are not capable of making their way over the tongue, a father and son can still express their love to each other. He will eventually need this when walking the world." -- Enzo Silon Surin
Happy zeroest Father's Day to my sweet Jonathan. Thanks for knocking me up!
Silence warmed the room. I considered my hands, my boots, the fibers of my jeans, the stacks of paper on shelves in the anteroom across from me. I counted books and meditated on paintings and faded photographs in frames on the walls. Without a clock in sight, I willingly lost track of time. People continued to enter the room.
By and by, I found myself talking with God.
Though to put it that way makes it sound as if I received some answer, which I did not. But the silence flushed my mind clean of all distractions and opened up my channel of communication with the divine, which has existed since I was a small child. I have always spoken to God. Gently. Questioningly. The way I would address a dependable friend. This isn't something I've even considered prayer. It's a reflex. My thoughts are simply open, and sometimes directed skyward. But it's been a while since I've spent any time in this vein intentionally.
Part of that has to do with the noise of my life. When I have downtime, even to cook or clean, the television is on to keep me company. When I walk somewhere in the city, I listen to podcasts. I begin and end my days at my computer or fingering the screen of my smart phone. That bright light--all those digital images and instantaneous updates from friends--is noise, too. It isn't that I can't tune it out; it's that I don't even try. I am complicit in a life lived noisily.
There have been times in my life when I have dutifully given myself over to silence. Daily devotionals in high school. Writing sessions with friends. One weekend away at a remote hytte in Northern Norway. It is no surprise to me that these respites end with better writing from my pen or with a deep sense of personal peace.
For many years, my brother the Marine could only fall asleep at my parents' house with his stereo blaring or the TV on. I could not understand this. Or I could, but I didn't want to dwell on it. Silence did not comfort him. Even as he drifted off to sleep, he needed the backdrop of screaming, angry music.
I must admit that I cannot easily fall asleep in total silence either. We grew up with white noise at bedtime: a fan whirring in the hallway between our bedrooms. Today, my fan whirs atop my dresser, and Jonathan has gotten used to it. It's almost an addiction, me and this fan. But I don't really hear it. That's the way white noise works, as a regulator, a canvas against which I can experience the world with more control. I can fit my mind into a specific slot for that hour or two, let my hands and feet move as needed separately from it, and emerge sometime later, productive, though perhaps not in mind.
It's like hypnosis. The worlds of others--real and fictional--unfold as I fold laundry. My brain pulses with this information, none of it necessary, none of it satiating, all of it pleasurable. A low hum of mildly stimulating data, which I can release as quickly and as soon as I can see it. No one expects recall.
But what is sacrificed in this practice? Maybe I avoid admitting all this--avoid even acknowledging the problem--because to sit in silence and allow my thoughts, varied as they are, to find one another on the downhill, to trickle together until they become rivers, would be to stop denying the constant pain of the real world outside my carefully constructed bubble.
Everywhere there is war, violence, mayhem. Everywhere disease, famine, abandonment. Everywhere hopelessness. It crushes me to read the news every day, which is something I do because I hate willful ignorance more than almost any other human tendency in this world.
There is so little I can do in the face of these large scale tragedies in the world that long ago I began to allow myself denial. A sweet balm. A heady temptation. To live here and now, to do right by my fellow man insofar as I interact with him daily. And to do nothing else. To pretend everything else happening to everyone else out of arm's reach isn't real. To shrug off the existence of these graver issues because I can string together 10,000 unaffected days, personally.
I hate a hypocrite, especially when it's me. So, I give money to reputable organizations and inform myself about issues so that I may assuage the fear perpetuated by the media machine, both in myself and in others. And I live with white noise in the background.
This way, it remains easy to laugh at my husband's jokes or wipe my leftover dinner into the trashcan or spend two hours at a movie theater watching superheroes save the world from aliens. (Because invented superheroes require worthy foils. Because starving children and racial hatred and genocide as they exist today aren't flashy enough for the likes of Thor or Captain America.) With the white noise, I remain in control.