Thursday, December 16, 2010

Varda's Radioactive Reading List for Yuet

Today was test day number two for me: repeat bloodwork and a HIDA scan of my gall bladder. This is the one where they inject a bit of radioactive tracer into my vein and watch what happens inside my gall bladder.  Ethan is excited by the idea that I *might* just start to develop mutant superpowers afterward, like the characters in his beloved cartoon shows do.

What?  It could happen?  (Remember who I'm married to.  Spider-Man, right?)

Anyway, I have not been the happiest camper these last couple of days.  I've been edgy and cranky, not my usual self.  I have had less patience with the kids at a time when they are needing extra-kind-Mommy, and so I'm not very happy with the parent I'm being.

Ethan, little sponge that he is, is really picking up on the heightened anxiety floating freely about our home right now.  He has been moody, cranky, a little anxious himself.

And for Ethan?  This delightfully translates into extra obnoxious.  When anxious his impulse control, dubious at the best of times, becomes completely non-existent.

If I tell him to stop doing something because it is annoying me?  He will compulsively do it over and over giggling all the while.  And though I know he is not trying to be evil, that it's his anxiety pushing him into this, my reptilian brain reacts not well.

And Jacob?  When Ethan is bouncing off the walls?  Thinks everything about it is funny, and laughs.  Maniacally.  In Ethan's face.  Guess how much Ethan likes that?  Yup.

So you can see how we're a lovely combo right now.  Deep breaths required.

So, this morning after I brought Ethan to school, I stayed for the beginning of the PA meeting then stepped out after the principal's report to head off to doctorville.  Then I had a happy surprise: a moment with a dear friend I have just not had a chance to see hardly at all this fall.

I got a quick hug and a big smile; the 3 minute update.  Just what I needed.  She wished me luck in my scans today, I told her I would be fine because I had my book with me. (Leaving it home was my miserable fail on Monday, although I did catch up on a thousand trashy magazines worth of gossip about celebrities I didn't care about and fashion I would never in a zillion years wear.)

My friend's eyes lit up; she got all excited the way only a reader will: "what-are-you-reading-how-do-you-like-it?"  She works in the school system, and so her vacations correspond with the kids.  Thus the snuggly week between Christmas & New Year is her big reading week.

When I told her the three books I am currently in the middle* of,  I swear she squealed. "I want to read all of those. You have to do a reading list post."  

And this friend?  When she talks and commands requests?  You listen and say yes.  Hence the title of this post, which she also demanded suggested. 

Also?  I am a reader and I love books.  (You all knew I was a reader, right?  Is there a writer who is not?  Doubtful.)  So I have been thinking about writing about reading for some time.  And it has perfectly coalesced to be now.

Thus I am starting to write this post sitting in the waiting room of the imaging center, as there seems to be a substantial delay in my scan start.  And I have figured out something... writing is even a better distraction from the anxiety of waiting than reading.

Even if my thumbs are starting to ache.  (And have I mentioned I want an iPad?  YES, I WANT AN iPAD.  Just saying.  You know.  In case anyone has an extra $600 sitting around and wants to buy me a belated Chanukkah present. Would be terrific for Jake, too.)

Sitting next to me in the waiting room, there's an old man loudly discussing how to fill out the intake forms with his slightly less elderly wife.   He is 90 and frail and now I am missing my Dad so achingly much.  Being here without him feels so very odd, still not right.

I'm the patient this time?  Really?  Well OK, if you say so.

The old couple are misinterpreting and answering a lot of questions wrong, and it takes every ounce of self control in my body to not sidle over and help them.  But not today.  I'm minding my own business, yes I am.

I'm not listening to the young woman making arrangements to settle back into her life here after having lived abroad for some years.  She's trying to renew her very expired driver's license and also to get tenants out of her condo so she can move back in. (People, if you don't want the world knowing the details of your private life?  Don't discuss them loudly on your cell phone in waiting rooms.)

The room abounds in lovely distraction.  Sigh.  Have I mentioned I have to fast for this test again today?  I am getting so hungry the plump arm of the woman sitting next to me is starting to look good.  Or the potted plant in the corner.

Distractions, yes, some days my ADD is wonderful useful.  Because folks?  I really don't want to think about why I'm here.

So back to the topic at hand: what am I reading?

Lit: A Memoir (P.S.)Well, the book I brought with me is "Lit" the latest book by the wonderful memoirist Mary Karr.  Having been primarily and voraciously a fiction reader my whole life, I am finding myself increasingly drawn to memoir as my current writing is obviously mining that vein.

This is a powerful book, and I am happily still close to the beginning, just digging in for a good meal.  To quote the back cover blurb (because it's been a long day and I'm feeling tired, so taking a tiny lazy cheat here), Lit is "about getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; learning to write by learning to live."  Yup, that's the basics.

I love how in spite of the harrowing facts of her life, she keeps a biting sense of humor about everything.  How she begins by running from knowledge about herself, but obviously evolves to embrace it.  How she reflects constantly on the process of writing, moving from poetry to memoir.

Here's my favorite quote so far: "Such a small, pure object a poem could be, made of nothing but air, a tiny string of letters, maybe small enough to fit into the palm of your hand.  But it could blow everybody's head off."

The Mind's EyeOn my bedroom nightstand, you would find The Mind's Eye.  No one makes neurobiology more interesting and personal than Oliver Sacks.  He was the conduit through which most of the world was originally introduced to the amazing autist Temple Grandin.

This book is yet his most personal, as he is a patient & subject as well as the doctor & observer.  In it he documents his growing vision problems due to ocular cancer, leading to blindness in one eye and the accompanying loss of stereoscopic vision.  He also talks about his face blindness, a fascinating condition that many people on the autism spectrum share.

It is dense and intense writing.  It makes my brain tick and click and spin in very good ways.  But if I try to read it when I'm too tired?  I realize I'm reading the same paragraph over and over, not making enough sense.  But when I'm fresh?  Wonderful stuff.
Composed: A MemoirAlso, in my bathroom (AKA the Library) is the incredible Rosanne Cash memoir Composed.  This is a re-read for me, a delicious one.  I had devoured it when it came out this summer (on my 50th birthday, no less) it being one of those "can't put it down" books.

And now I have the decided pleasure of coming back to it and taking my time. I know where it is going so I don't have to rush through.  I can savor, roll the words around in my mouth and images around in my mind for a while, like tasting a good aged wine. Maybe a Cahors; complex, leathery but delicate, hints of flowers and fruit but lots of earth too. 

This is a great book for bloggers, as it clearly swims in our rivers.  Rosanne is a dyed in the wool storyteller with prodigious talents.  A few critics have called it rambling.  I am a vocal fan of rambling; I say to hell with straightforward.  Some folks confuse a lyrical and fluid, organic flow with chaos and lack of structure.  Don't listen to them.  This book moves like a river; jump in, let it take you for a ride.

Yes, there are stories she chooses not to tell.  We all have those stories.  That hers is such a public life just raises the stakes for her.  As any blogger knows, this is not just her story, it's her life, and because she is a mother, it's her children's lives being laid out here. What is told is so lovely and full, emotionally rich and giving of herself, only a greedy fool would call her on what she holds back.

At the core of this book are motherhood, parental loss and her creative process.  Could anything be more tailor made for me to both enjoy and relate to? 

Finally, I have also just finished a children's book that I am really looking forward to Ethan being ready for.  It's for a slightly older kid, or a more precocious 8 year old reader than he.  This book was brought to my attention by my wonderful book-loving friend Jill.

Jill is a children's book editor and writer who keeps a (terrific, if sporadic) blog about children's literature and what she and her kids are reading, and also about what she's writing, as she is in the middle of a writing MFA.

The Wednesday WarsThe book is The Wednesday Wars, and it is fabulous.  It takes place on Long Island in the late 1960s, which is also the time and place of my own childhood, and the author, Gary D. Schmidt gets it just right (as he was born in Hicksville, New York, so he should).

It's the story of Holling Hoodhood, the only Presbyterian in his seventh grade class.  It takes place over a school year and is about his relationship with a special teacher, his family, a girl, Shakespeare, friendship, the Vietnam War, loyalty, kindness...

I don't want to call it a "coming of age" story because that makes people think cliche, and this is anything but.  But there is growing up and coming to truths in there, without ever any heavy handedness for even a moment.  The book is deep as the ocean and yet full of light.  Buy it for a 10 to 12 year old boy you know. But read it first yourself, as you will really enjoy this funny and deeply moving novel.

OK, enough books.  Enough blog.

Tomorrow I will talk to my doctors, get the results from today's tests, strategize our game plan for going forward.

Tomorrow I will eat more skinless chicken and pita bread while dreaming of blue cheese and chocolate truffles.

And now, dear friends, I must sleep.  

*writing this on my Droid, auto-correct tried to make that "muddle of" which also feels about right.

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