Walking down Market Street at 6:30pm, just after dark, was like walking through a fever dream. I saw a man selling light up Mickey Mouse balloons, four different very fragrant hot dog carts, a man balancing on a unicycle while playing an electric violin, and a huge group of bikers on illuminated, old fashioned bicycles. What a world.
Man, this was a quick Oscars season. From the nominations being announced on January 13 to the awards ceremony on February 9, that gave us less than four weeks to get through all the best picture noms this year.
I felt like we went and saw movies over the last year that I thought would help us out in this season: we saw Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, The Lighthouse, Parasite, and Knives Out in 2019. And yeah, I enjoyed seeing those other movies, but I sure wish they had been boxes to check this last month. =)
Ten days ago I had four movies to go, and I honestly thought it might not happen this year. But we made it – and so here’s my ranking of the best picture nominees this year, bottom to top:
9. Joker – Eh.
8. The Irishman – I didn’t hate this, but it was SO LONG. Like, I started watching it and then four days later I was somehow still watching it??
7. Ford vs Ferrari – I think this and The Irishman would have swapped places if The Irishman had been 1 hour shorter. Like, it was fine. Do I ever have to watch it again? No.
6. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood – Drew and I went to the movies back in July and saw this. I didn’t know the Sharon Tate story and so I think some of that context was lost on me. The performances were good but there were multiple times that I was asking, “Why are we still here?” That said, it’s grown on me after thinking about it, and I do think about it fairly frequently.
5. Marriage Story – There was something about the story of a marriage falling apart where no one was the obvious bad guy that I thought was really poignant.
4. Little Women – I assumed this would be higher on my list.
3. 1917 – I assumed this would be lower on my list.
2. Jojo Rabbit – I went into this knowing nothing about it. It was a delight!
1. Parasite – I loved every second. What an thrill ride. I’ve thought about this movie probably three times a week since I saw it four months ago.
(I still wish Knives Out had made it onto this list.)
I have DNFed Stephen King.
DNF meaning, of course, “did not finish” – a book review in itself.
Goodreads has become one of my go-to apps, for keeping obsessive track of what I read each year and how long it took me and what order I read it in. Some people shelve the books they didn’t finish onto their DNF shelf – but I prefer to just remove it altogether.
I would call myself a Stephen King fan. I have called myself that. On this blog. At one point, eight years ago, I wrote a whole post about how I had collected almost all of his books, and what did I still have left to get?
I’ve been keeping up with his recent work, although it hasn’t had the same kind of pull for me that some of his earlier novels have. I’ve read The Stand probably a half dozen times. Ditto It. Ditto Pet Sematary and Misery and Rose Madder and Carrie and The Shining. But ask me to tell you the plot of Mr. Mercedes (2014) and I’m coming up blank.
Before I abruptly dropped out (long story) of my skype book club, one of the books we read was Stephen King’s The Outsider, published in 2018. During that read, I realized how often he has written sexual violence, particularly against children, particularly against young boys, and I let myself think about how uncomfortable it makes me.
There have been other things I’ve had to stop reading lately – particularly dystopian, post-apocalyptic stuff. I just can’t handle it. It stresses me out too much. And I think, having young kids, I just don’t want to read that kind of violence against kids. Much like my experience reading “Guts” last October, I would just prefer not to put that kind of negative energy in the air around myself.
This year, Stephen King’s new book, The Institute, came out. It also came out on audiobook, narrated by Santino Fontano, who is the voice of Frozen‘s Prince Hans, and played Greg Serrano on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. He also narrates the audiobook of Caroline Kepnes’ You, which recently became a Netflix series. He’s also a dreamboat, and a good audiobook narrator. Good at voices. So I thought this would be a shoe-in for me: the Santino Fontana-narrated audiobook of Stephen King’s latest novel. I spent one of my credits on it and downloaded it.
Between downloading it and starting to listen to it, Stephen King tweeted something about diversity in art, which landed him a lot of backlash.
It was in a larger conversation about reading or viewing things with an affirmative action kind of perspective – to actively seek out art from less-heard voices and to put a value on raising those things up. He disagreed with that idea. And maybe what he’s saying makes sense here, like sure, there’s a world in which the entire playing field is level and you judge everything only on its own merits. But that’s not the world we currently live in. So I think it was short-sighted of him, a wildly successful older white man, to say he would never consider diversity when deciding on what book or movie should be nominated for an award.
Anyway. I started thinking about all his work, and the way certain characters are treated (or mistreated). I know times are a-changing, but it still hit me that there are some outdated characters and behaviors, even in his recent works. So when, in The Institute, I met a character who was a young woman of color, I paid attention to how it just all rang really false for me.
There have been other authors for me in the last year or so, where I’ve been a rabid fan as a teenager and 20-something, and rereading them now feels empty. There’s almost always some kind of casual phobia to their writing – whether it’s homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, or even just misogyny – I just can’t do it anymore.
The Institute audiobook is 19 hours long. I could spend 38 commutes listening to The Institute and cringing at characterizations that are rubbing me the wrong way – or I could listen to one of the many other books or podcasts that can help expand my mind and teach me something. So, I DNFed it. The year 2020 is going to be about cutting out things that aren’t good for me, and embracing things that are. And not being apologetic about it.
Last night, I was in the kitchen and Drew was finishing up bedtime. He called me in, and I thought for sure it was going to be to, like, see both kids reading in bed or something. But when I got there, he said, “Do you hear that?”
Coming from somewhere was this incredibly spooky, sobbing noise, that sometimes sounded like laughter. It sounded like it was coming from inside their closet. Like there was a toy or something making this noise. Or a ghost. Drew pulled some stuff out of the closet and we both leaned inside. The closet backs up to the hallway closet, and I went and pulled stuff out of there. It literally sounded like it was coming from inside the wall.
It went on for a little while. Drew banged on the wall, and I shouted, “Are you okay?” and then it kind of moved around a bit.
This whole time, the kids are both sitting there like, “What’s going on?” And so we’re trying to be all calm with them, like, “Oh no, it’s nothing, just someone upstairs, we just want to make sure they’re okay,” but then turning around and making big freaked out eyes at each other.
And I just finished reading all these haunted house books, so that was fresh in my mind. Although we’ve been living here for 7 1/2 years, so it seems like we would have known if it was haunted.
I even texted our landlord to ask if he had any idea what was going on, and he gave us a bunch of personal information about our upstairs neighbors (yikes) and then said “Maybe one of them is having guy troubles” (double yikes).
After Drew shouted “Are you okay??” louder than I did, the sound seemed to stop. It was definitely just the upstairs neighbors, right? Definitely. Totally. We haven’t heard it again since. It was definitely just a one-time thing.
On Sep 30 I realized it’s time for HALLOWEEN BOOKS and I wasn’t prepared! So I did a bunch of googling, and came up with a several options, which I promptly put on hold at the library. But one of them is a classic Agatha Christie, and I already own it, so I could dive right in.
A fun fact about me and Agatha Christie is that I got obsessed with them (and Hercule Poirot), bought a bunch of them, read them ferociously, and retained very little. So I know I’ve read this before, and pieces of it feel familiar, but I have no clue who the murderer is. Fun!
It’s not spooky or scary, per se, but it’s called Hallowe’en Party, so this is my first October book.
(Actually, I’ve been reading Margaret Atwood’s new book, The Testaments, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s also not strictly speaking a Halloween book, but is pretty scary, so maybe I should count that one as well.)
Coming soon to my local library with my name on them:
The Silent Companions
From Amazon: “When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But pregnant and widowed just weeks after their wedding, with her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her late husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure—a silent companion—that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of the estate are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition—that is, until she notices the figure’s eyes following her.
A Victorian ghost story that evokes a most unsettling kind of fear, The Silent Companions is a tale that creeps its way through the consciousness in ways you least expect—much like the companions themselves.”
Update: Haunted house! Enjoyed!
From Amazon: “Haunted is a novel made up of twenty-three horrifying, hilarious, and stomach-churning stories. They’re told by people who have answered an ad for a writer’s retreat and unwittingly joined a ‘Survivor’-like scenario where the host withholds heat, power, and food. As the storytellers grow more desperate, their tales become more extreme, and they ruthlessly plot to make themselves the hero of the reality show that will surely be made from their plight. This is one of the most disturbing and outrageous books you’ll ever read, one that could only come from the mind of Chuck Palahniuk.”
It’s been years since I read Chuck Palahniuk, but he’s definitely stuck in my mind, and this feels like a good opportunity to dive back in.
Update: I read the first story, and I was such a violent combination of horrified and disturbed that I didn’t get any further. It was the short story “Guts,” and originally published in Playboy, and so maybe it was the also the grossest. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it (and cringeing) and I felt like I needed to stop reading so I wasn’t bringing that energy around me.
So to lighten the mood, I read Rosemary’s Baby.
I do not know much about this book, and I want to keep it that way until I read it. I know it’s about a haunted house and I really love stories about haunted houses, so I’m excited for this. (Unfortunately my library doesn’t have this on hand! Kindle store, here I come.)
I have a couple other options but I’m trying to be more reasonable about how much I can actually get through in the next month. This might not be a six or seven book month. Which is okay. I’m excited to read these, and to look for plenty of Halloween stories to read to my kids to establish this tradition with them. I love this time of year.
I do think I’ll try to finish off with a reread of another one of my very favorite haunted house stories…
Update: It was a light read but not as scary as I wanted…and a bit repetitive. Liked not loved.
Update: I didn’t get to The Shining but I did listen to Carmilla (by J. Sheridan Le Fanu) and The Conception of Terror: Tales Inspired by M.R. James.
I also read something that’s been on my kindle for ages: Perfect Days by Raphael Montes. It’s your classic “weird guy falls in love with strange girl, stalks her, kidnaps her, and things go sideways” story. I recommend it.
Happy Halloween! What are you reading this month?
A couple weekends ago, Drew dropped me off at Pier 41 and I got on the ferry to Angel Island, to go read at Poetry in Parks with Quiet Lightning. They accept submissions on any theme, and then from what they get, they curate a literary mixtape. All the writers come and read out loud, in the midst of other artsy events. On my day where was a guitarist who did a couple sets, and there were some younger writers (middle and high school).
I’ve never been to Angel Island, and I had no idea what was out there. There are walking trails, and you can go around the entire perimeter of the island in about 5 miles. I got there way too early, so once I figured out where I was supposed to be, I just hung out for like…two hours? and admired the view. Drew caught the later ferry and came over.
Performing is not my thing. It was nerve-wracking. Plus, I had made some edits to my piece, but got there and realized that literally everyone was reading along in the book, so everyone would know what edits I had made. So I just went with the original, but you’ll get the smoother version below.
After I was done, and I walked back around the crowd to sit down with Drew, a guy turned around and said, “Good job,” which was nice. Then a woman came over and sat next to me during the one after me, and said, “What you just read…that’s my life.” And I said, “Oh, how old is your kid?” And she said, “Eleven.” And—that felt really good. I think connecting over the journey of parenting is low-hanging fruit. It’s easy to bond with someone when you’re going through something so similar. And let’s face it—it may look very different close up, but from far away, it’s all the same. But it felt really good to have faced this fear, and done the thing, and then have the immediate gratification of someone saying, “I heard that, and I feel you, and thank you.”
So…I got through it! And we spent a day hanging out in the sun at a state park neither of us has ever been to.
Maybe Inside a Black Hole Is Better
A woman writes the code that manages to get the first ever photo of a black hole. It looks like a blurry Spaghetti-O and for two days everyone is sharing the photo and making Interstellar jokes and talking about aliens and how This Is the Beginning of The End. You look at the photo and think it’s cool, and then for a few days you see a lot of online content hyping the coder who helped make it happen, and then the Mueller Report gets released and it kind of pushes the black hole thing out of the news cycle.
Your daughter’s sleeping is shit. She’s never in her life been a good sleeper—and now, at age three, she goes through cycles where she’ll sleep all night long and you get used to it, and then she’ll start waking up at night. Lately, she’s been waking up at night. A lot. The first time it happens in a night, you’ll stay calm and soothing, talk gently to her, give her water or blankets or find the unicorn she dropped. But then it seems like that’s all you have to give, because when she starts crying again, less than 20 minutes later, you feel your internal thermometer spike and you don’t have that calm, soothing voice anymore. You whisper threats at her and swear that you’ll take away her favorite toys if she doesn’t stop. making. noise. right. now. It never works, and now you’re up for a chunk of time in the middle of the night, looking at Twitter even though you know that’s not helping. The black hole photo doesn’t come up anymore…now it’s all uproar about a transphobic kids’ book that’s come out, and memes of this guy pretending to ride a miniature pony.
On the fourth night, when the crying starts at 1:45, you fight it for a moment, feel your body try to sink into the mattress. But your husband has already been in there around midnght. You wonder if other people think about the Path Not Taken as often as you do. Then you throw the covers back and put your glasses on and pad to your daughter’s room. She doesn’t seem to actually be awake.
You slide back into bed and google the black hole. Your husband is awake and he asks what you’re looking at and you tell him. “That thing scares me,” he says, without rolling towards you. The phone screen reflects off the white wall beyond his side of the bed. It’s probably keeping him from falling back to sleep. You scroll. Your daughter starts to whimper, and the whimper turns into a full-blown cry.
“Maybe inside a black hole is better,” you say, rolling back out of bed again. The brightness from the picture on your screen—even a picture of a blurry black hole—has thrown off your night vision. You don’t need it to find your way into her bedroom and to the side of her bed, but then your pupils still haven’t adjusted and where her head should be on her pillow, all you see is the fire-red outline of a black hole, 26,000 light-years away from Earth. From inside comes the pitiful, grating, debilitating sobs of a child who can’t stay asleep, and can’t explain why.
You wonder if she would agree with you. If there’s a way to send your entire family directly into the center of the black hole. You wonder what you would find there. If it would be calming. You can do this. You take a deep breath and summon up your most gentle voice, gentle touch. You rub her back. You know it will get better. You picture the quiet stillness at the center of it all.
My kid B is six and a half years old, and almost done with kindergarten, which means he’s been in public school for almost two whole years, which is buca di beppo (this is a fun new way of saying something is hard to believe or seems extraordinary, without having to use language like “crazy” or “insane”). Here are some things that my six-and-a-half year old kid is super into lately:
Googleplex: I’m not sure where he learned about googleplex, because I didn’t teach him, but he knows it’s a 1 followed by 100 zeros, and he knows it would take him a long time to count that high. (Not that he doesn’t try.) When I say “Five minutes till pajamas” he likes to say “Thank you googleplex minutes” and hope I don’t notice. He has taught the other kid, H (currently aged three and a half), about it and now they both use it as a general punch line for jokes.
STOP THE PRESSES I JUST GOOGLED (ha) IT TO SEE IF I WAS EVEN RIGHT AND I LEARNED
TWO THREE THINGS:
- It’s googol not google
- A googol is 1 followed by 100 zeroes
- A googolplex is 1 followed by a googol of zeroes
Talk about buca di beppo! What a rollercoaster this was. Whew.
Minecraft: OMG he’s OBSESSED with Minecraft, and sometimes I think it’s adorable and he’s building skills and doing A LOT of reading (and writing his own signs) within the game…but sometimes when he’s starting every single sentence with “Mama, you know in Minecraft…” I just want to never see another cube again. He’s so into it though. He started, like, a month ago? And has gotten so good at it. It’s so weird to see kids and technology. Like the way H knows to swipe and how to zoom in and out…they just GET this stuff.
B came home from school the other day with the best book I’ve ever read, plagiarized mostly from the Minecraft Netflix show (it’s a choose your own adventure show!). But it was a full story with a plot arc, and nicely illustrated. I love it so much. It’s my new favorite book. (Was I clear that he wrote this book? I’m not sure that was clear. He wrote and illustrated it.)
(P.S. Endermen are like…some of the bad guys in Minecraft? They’re actually kind of terrifying, just black shadows with really long arms, glowing purple eyes, and they leap from one place to another.)
Chickadees: I have no idea where this one came from, but B and his bff from school have invented this elaborate thing where at recess they study chickadees, draw pictures of them, and come up with facts about them. Then they make up quests to send each other on, relating to chickadees. Here are some “facts” about chickadees:
- They only come out when it’s really cold
- They eat bumblebees
- They are preyed upon by turkey vultures
It’s a very nice contrast to the Minecraft thing, the idea that these two little boys are wandering around making up stories about birds. (I guess they could be actually spotting real chickadees, but I’ve always just assumed they’re looking at a variety of smallish birds around their school.)
James and the Giant Peach: A while back I got The Fantastic Mr. Fox from our local bookstore, and read it to B. It’s a shortish book, with big pictures on every page, so it was a good intro to “older” books. He really liked it, and we read it over and over–we could generally read half of it one night, and finish the next night. Then I tried other Roald Dahl books of a similar length: The Magic Finger (not one I knew from my childhood but good because in the first five pages, a teacher gets turned into a cat) and Esio Trot, both good two-nighters, although if you’re feeling really snuggly you can do the entire thing in one go. Then I wanted to try something longer, so I got James and the Giant Peach.
James has multiple pages with no pictures on them, so you have to have a bit more patience. It also has maybe twice the amount of pages as the others. The first time I tried to read this to him, he didn’t really settle in for it, so we put it down for a few weeks…and then I tried again. And he got sucked right into it.
We would do 3-4 chapters a night, generally, and we were getting through it at a pretty good clip. But then around the same time, we started doing this thing where the kids go to bed around 7:30 (ha) and then we let them keep a lamp on and they’re supposed to read quietly (haha) until we get fed up with them not actually reading, and turn the lamp off.
B will actually sit in bed and read through books. It’s one of my favorite things about this age. So on multiple nights, we would read a few chapters, and then he would take the book and read ahead. And then, the next day (or sometimes that night when I turned off his light) he would tell me about what he read. So it’s like, he’s a) reading for fun and b) actually retaining what he’s reading! Incredible!
It got to the point that when we were maybe 15 pages from the end, he took the book to bed one night, and then finished it by himself. So I was like, “Oh great, wow, amazing, what a great reader you are,” but truly it was a little bit anticlimactic, because like, I thought we would cross that finish line together. So then one night I said, “I didn’t get to finish this with you, let’s read the end together,” and so we picked up where we had left off together, and we finished the book. And it was so cool because he already recognized the story, and so he was excited about me hearing it for the “first” time, something that he enjoyed.
I’ve been gathering this list of things I wanted to write down about B, because he’s changed a lot over the last year, and he’s been doing some pretty amazing things. This last six and a half years has sometimes felt like a lot longer than that, but I’m starting to see what kind of person he’s going to be, and I think it’s all going to be okay. (Parents–especially ones with little kids–will understand what I mean, I think.)
I’m constantly surprised by how much the younger kid picks up from the older kid…and then what she builds on top of it. Watch out, world.
Recently they’ve both picked up Eeny Meany Miney Mo. Which is great. They use it indiscriminately:
I’m going to Eeny Meany Miney Mo which one of us gets dressed first.
Wait, I’m going to Eeny Meany Miney Mo which thing on my plate to eat.
I’ma Eeny Meany Miney Mo which blue puzzle piece is better.
Look, I’m going to Eeny Meany Miney Mo whose name is Mommy!
Sometimes Eeny Meany Miney Mo ends in tears, because they haven’t yet figured out that you can always plan ahead to make sure it lands where you want. And if you don’t, you just go, “My mother said to pick the very best one. And it is you. For the entire day. Ay” until you get it.
(Sometimes Eeny Meany Miney Mo ends in tears because it seems like everything around here occasionally ends in tears…just to keep life interesting.)
Eeny Meany Miney Mo is one of those things so quintessentially childhood…like when B came home from school on a rainy day recently and said that his class had played Heads Up Seven Up, and Drew and I swooned. So I like hearing them do it, and it validates my parenting. I can’t be messing up too much if they have the time, the attitude, and the inclination to play silly childhood games. I try to keep this in mind when someone has to Eeny Meany Miney Mo which shoes out of her 14 pairs of shoes to wear today (and then gets upset when it doesn’t land on the pink boots WE ALL KNEW she wanted).
Take a moment this weekend to Eeny Meany Miney Mo something—whether it’s something you need to choose between, something you are going to rig the game towards, or even just “Whose name is Mommy?” See if it doesn’t just warm your heart.
Here’s what I’m reading for Halloween this year!
I’ve come to realize that I am really spooked by haunted house stories, for some reason.
Picked this off a “scary books” list based on the cover.
I’ve seen this movie, and thought it was great and creepy.
Picked this off a list too. Wish me luck!
And of course I’ve restarted listening to the podcast Lore, which tells 30-minute creepy stories, perfect for this time of year.
I. Love. October.
A few months ago, I entered a writing contest with this organization that provides an opening and closing sentence, and then you have to write 48 (!) paragraphs in the middle to create a story. Each paragraph has to have at least 40 words (!), and there is no dialogue allowed (!!).
I did not win the competition, but I was a finalist, and so my story is being published in an anthology along with 3 winners and 22 other finalists. I’m told it will be available on Amazon shortly.
I’m going to be honest with you—I don’t love this story. But I’m excited that it’s included in this group. I’m looking forward to reading the other entries. If you want to read my version of what happens between the first and last paragraphs, a story I’m calling “In the Shoe Tree,” just click here.