… the musings of a thirty-something, married, Southern teen librarian with a 14-year-old's sense of humor, an awkward spirit, and a stubborn, mouthy, redheaded country boy to accompany her through life.
February 17th, 2011 was a Thursday… three days after Valentine’s Day and four days after the one year anniversary of the death of a baby I loved. I was 23 years old and living in a mostly empty apartment, after drunkenly throwing out, quite literally, everything I owned, save for my clothes, my bed, an 80s dining chair, and my TV and television armoire, on Christmas Eve. I had no real furniture, no dishes, and no kitchen appliances that didn’t come with my apartment, because he’d touched those things. Life was bleak, as I drove to the county seat, where I sat alone in a judge’s office, tearing up because my life wasn’t supposed to be this way.
At 23, in the South, I was bombarded with social media posts of engagement rings and wedding portraits and announcements of new jobs and new homes. I was even beginning to see a regular flow of ultrasound pictures and self-righteous mommy wars posts… and here I was, listening to a surprisingly compassionate judge explain my state’s laws for remarriage after divorce and thinking about all of the plans I’d had for my life, five years earlier, and how this so very much was not one of them. I was utterly humiliated and completely defeated.
I’d filed the paperwork for my divorce almost three months earlier, but had waited to finalize them until my taxes and FASFA were submitted. I was hyperaware that I’d screwed my life up plenty and, as a graduate student who has always excelled at delayed gratification, wasn’t about to put my educational financing in jeopardy, even if it meant remaining legally married to a psychopath for a little while longer. I hadn’t seen my ex since the day I both bribed him with a cellphone and threatened to call in his warrants, just to get him to sign my car over to me and sign the divorce papers. I was aware that he’d been breaking into my apartment, during the 60 hours I worked each week on top of school, to steal anything of value… but didn’t have the energy to care much or do anything about it, other than drive around with my valuables in the trunk. I’d spent close to my last dime having a paralegal draft the paperwork, to make sure it was done correctly, and was focusing every ounce of energy on keeping my head above water and scraping together the funds to finish the process. That was easier said than done, as I handed over what little cash I had in exchange for as many certified copies of the divorce papers as I could afford.
I left the courthouse and went straight to the Social Security Office, where I officially reclaimed my maiden name on my card and followed it up with a trip to the tag agency, where I did the same with my driver’s license, before stopping by the bank. With no time or money to eat, I barely made it to Walgreen’s to get a new passport photo and requested a name change on that, too. If I recall, it took the last of my budgeted divorce money and cost me $110. Every other 23-year-old I knew had Spring Break travel savings and here I was draining my divorce fund. I went home, defeated and heartbroken, and changed into pajama bottoms and an old high school team t-shirt… yes, I remember what I was wearing that day… and instead of having a good cry, I went to work. I’d already taken off from substitute teaching to run those weekday only errands. I couldn’t afford to lose a day’s worth of minimum wage earnings from my job cleaning rec equipment at the Community Center with my hard-earned bachelor’s degree in family and consumer science education. I couldn’t have chosen a more ironic specialization if I’d tried.
That was exactly ten years ago and it simultaneously feels like someone else’s life and also not that long ago. I remember parts of it so vividly and others are a haze. Within a few months, I moved into my single girl apartment, where I felt safe for the first time in far too long. I didn’t recover overnight, though. I slept with a .357 revolver in a pink gun sock, for several years, in fact. I’m actually not sure if I put it away until I met Jake, the first man to share my bed, and realized how very, very dark that looked. I had nightmares. I developed the occasional stutter, which all research tells me is trauma induced.
In the beginning, I felt like I was taking three steps forward and two steps back, emotionally and financially, but that still equated to progress. I got my first half-time circulation job with the library system, but found myself inexplicably entangled in a lie of omission to my coworkers, deliberately letting them believe I was a spoiled white girl who’d never known a day of hardship in her life. I lost a bunch of weight and started dressing cute and dating, but had no idea how to go about it and never did quite learn how to spot when someone was flirting with me or return the exchange. I slowly built up my credit score, while also taking out the maximum in student loans just to get by and consolidate the debt left over from my divorce.
Ultimately, I graduated from the MLIS program at 25 and was promoted to half time librarian. I had a thriving social life and plenty of hobbies, though I was still working two jobs and rarely got any sleep. I spent the school year saving every dime I could to survive the summers without substitute jobs, the first time I’d find myself with any real free time. I think those summers might have been the best thing for me, as I read by the pool in my $20 drugstore lounge chair, took the dog on long walks, and had dinners of snack foods while yarn bombing the living room during a Vampire Diaries binge.
In time, I made my peace with God and went back to Church. I continued to date, while I tried to figure out if I really wanted marriage and family or if I’d just been told so all my life. I still remember the day I realized, with 100% certainty, that I wanted to get married again and have children. I was subbing an elementary music class during the last week of school. I never subbed young children, unless I really needed the money, but I was looking at three months without jobs, so I took what I could get. That day, there was an assembly, seemingly just for entertainment, where Ronald McDonald did slapstick comedy as the kids roared with laughter while their parents watched from the sidelines. I realized that, although the comedy was childish and stupid, the parents were enjoying their kids’ delight so much, that they were laughing, too. I looked around the gym I’d spent my own elementary school years loathing (never the athletic type) and wondered if I was going to miss this, having children and watching them enjoy moronic assemblies, my husband by my side. I decided to get serious about dating and met Jake approximately one year later. Six months after that, I got my first full time position in the library system and a year later, I had an engagement ring.
Jake and I have been married for almost four years now, together nearly six. We own our own home, in a different town unique to us both, have little debt, and promising careers where we plan to stay, exactly ten minutes from our front door. We have great friends and close family relationships. I still have the occasional nightmare about that time in my life, when I didn’t know what the future held or even what I wanted it to hold. Getting divorced at 23 was easily one of the scariest things I’ve ever done and I was not emotionally or financially equipped for it… but I did it anyway. I shudder to think where I’d be if I hadn’t had the nerve and now, ten years later, I know that I would have been 33 regardless. This way, I’m 33 and have an amazing life. So, for anyone reading this, trying to drudge up the courage to change your life, be it by filing for divorce or going back to school or starting a new career or relocating, just know that time is going to pass either way. It’s up to you where it takes you and a lot can happen in ten years.
I’m sure I’m not only speaking for myself, when I say that 2020 was an isolating year. The shut-downs began in mid-March in my area and, despite my Gramma constantly quoting Trump’s claims that we’d be “wide open by Easter,” it wasn’t long before I was beginning to realize this wasn’t going away until we had a vaccine.
I worked the last Sunday the library was open, March 15th. We closed for two weeks, which quickly turned to three, then four, then six. Fortunately for my husband and I, my library system paid every single employee their full pay and benefits and didn’t even assign us any work, while we were at home. I was luckier than most in my field… than most in general. Regardless, this all happened on the heels of some really difficult personal issues and suddenly… I was all alone. Jake is an essential worker and never had a single shutdown-related day off, which was certainly for the best in the long run, but in the short-term, sort of just left… me, dealing with some really tough stuff during a pandemic.
Those days have mostly blurred in my mind. They were a series of Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart trips for presumed essentials, because the idea of not having access to something was freaking me out almost as much as the rising virus cases. They were hours of playing Netflix in the background, while obsessively reading the news. They were endless walks around the neighborhood, accompanied by audiobooks. They were pings from apps about the rising cases and paranoia that my job wouldn’t be there when this all ended. Mostly, though, they were lonely. I’d gone from seeing my teens three days a week, to not knowing when I’d ever see them again. I’d gone from having family nights and weekends, dropping in on Taco Tuesday with my pals from the West Side Library, seeing friends and coworkers daily, attending meetings and breakroom potlucks, to the occasional text message conversation and talks with my Gramma that always ended when it got political. Easter was spent at home, with Jake, attempting to enjoy a beloved family holiday with a Sad Ham for two and a Zoom call with my family. Not that the rest of the year was leagues closer to normalcy, but the solitude of those six weeks, even for a proud homebody, was devastating.
It’s been about three and a half years since I deleted my Facebook account, a decision I’d advocate for most and March of 2020 was the first time I’ve ever genuinely considered returning. At least with Facebook, I’d be able to connect with family, see their updates, message them, and maybe feel a little less alone during a pandemic. Then I remembered my previous social networking experiences and thought about all of the political articles, rants, and conspiracy theories I’d be treated to, by both my extremely left and extremely right family members, who have little to no understanding of basic social media etiquette.
I thought about the time my crazy redneck uncle told my high school friend that he wasn’t “no better than” him, just because he had a “two dollar degree”… without knowing that this man had no more than a high school education and was a former marine. I thought about the digital slap fights between women who didn’t even know each other in high school, let alone today and the family gossip based entirely on speculation from social media posts. I thought about the mommy wars and the inevitable comments about how women without children had no idea how hard all of this could be, the comparisons of busy schedules and stress. I noted how awesome it was that, after three years, my family had finally accepted that I was no longer on social media and every piece of news, from family parties to family deaths, was going to have to be delivered over the phone… as it should be, and I didn’t want to ruin that progress. It was already a difficult year and all of the above were not going to make me feel better. So, in lieu of social media, I clung to strangers like a lifeline, through various subreddits.
I started with a subreddit that I’d previously frequented in phases, one populated by somewhat traditional women, that focused on dating and improving your marriage. At first it was fun and I felt like I was socializing with real people. Then… it turned and comments were made about how women shouldn’t work if they have children and women who didn’t want them would live lives full of regret, so I wrote a snarky comment about how the subreddit was no longer for me and left.
Next, I tried to connect with my fellow librarians, since I missed interacting on a professional basis at work. This was probably my second to briefest attempt to connect through Reddit, because libraries can be politically toxic, ironic for a profession rooted in serving all. By ironic, I mean wildly hypocritical. After ignoring the inevitable politics in posts and comments for a few weeks, I saw one directed at teen readers advisory. That’s totally my jam… or so I thought. This post was from a straight, white man, asking for book recommendations that starred straight, white boys, who were progressive and inclusive and championed their minority friends, be they Black, gay, trans, what-have-you. The comments were filled with criticism about how boys should be able to look up to female leads and tangents about how books have historically only starred boys. Riiiiiight, but do we really want the only male heroes young boys look up to to be the kids from Lord of the Flies? Boys should make do with female leads, even though you’re arguing the reverse is a disservice? Are we not allowed to have role models that everyone can see themselves in, or is it just white males? Aside from these terrible arguments, there were entirely unrelated rants about the lack of representation of lesbians in YA fiction and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to talk about helping teens, all of them, not just the ones that made my resume look or gave me conference talking points. I just wanted to bond over the profession I’d missed and in just a few weeks, Reddit had made me want to leave it altogether.
So, I decided to try something a little lighter in the Gilmore Girls thread. What could possibly go wrong in sharing a fandom?!?!? Y’all, in 2020 I learned that all fandoms be fucking crazy. People wrote pages about how every single character was abusive or narcissistic or sociopathic or ::insert WebMD diagnosis here:: for fucking Gilmore Girls. They attacked me for saying I thought Melissa McCarthy’s modern-day projects were crass, for thinking Dean was alright in the early seasons, for liking Emily… and they fought each other over the exact same topics, viciously. Really?!?! Am I the only one who thinks that I shouldn’t have to thicken my 2020 raw skin to discuss Gilmore Girls?!?! But folks, I’ll tell you… it was nothing compared to the Harry Potter fandom.
I made it a day, y’all. I made it one day in the Harry Potter subreddit, before someone tore into more for a very mild defense about how Draco Malfoy was just a kid and a pawn to his family. The response was a half-page long and went on about how when this person was a teenager, they knew better than to do the things Draco did, that they weren’t bullies, because they were more self-aware. Instead of replying that they might not have been bullies as teenagers, but certainly were now, or writing a lengthy comparison to the Malfoys and organized crime families, I deleted my comment, left the feed, and never returned. Apparently the Harry Potter subreddit is moderated by Lord Voldemort, himself.
In the meantime, even the subs I followed for some light pick-me-ups, like r/interestingasfuck and r/aww and r/crafts became hostile. I stumbled on an anti-Catholic rant in comments, others about how people who won’t let their dogs sit on the couch were abusive, and when I shared a photo of an art project my library teens did, someone left multiple comments about how I could have done it differently and it could have been improved.
Finally, r/romancebooks, which had been a surprisingly fun and accepting space over the course of a few months, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Previously, tastes ranged from Pride and Prejudice to rapey drug dealer porn and all were accepted, if not shared. Then Bridgerton hit and newbie fans to the genre joined, lacking an understanding of how very many sub-genres it possessed, and the judgement sky-rocketed. Even authors only a few steps off the beaten path, like Kristen Ashley and Joanna Wylde, were being vilified for “romanticizing abuse” and posters were theorizing about how the authors themselves must have horrible personal lives and joking about egging their houses. Excuse me, but has anyone ever checked in on George R. R. Martin’s sister, to make sure she hasn’t been sold to rapey horse lords? How about Stephen King’s kids? Are we worried they might have been butchered by some ancient folklore creature? No? Then I guess it’s only women we judge for their art and men get a pass. After another poster began harassing me on my last post, I’d had it. I rage quit Reddit. I deleted every username and installed blocking software on my laptop, phone, and workstation computer, so I couldn’t even browse absent-mindedly without a username.
After the Reddit debacle, I searched for a replacement, but all of the less popular forums seemed just as hostile. I even messaged a friend and asked, point-blank, “Are there any good, supportive forums online, or is everyone a jerk?” Her immediate response was “Everyone’s a jerk.” This was the same friend who tearfully messaged me when someone called her a bad mom for working, on a Dave Ramsey Facebook post. I had to point out that this woman was clearly not spending her time engaging in interactive puppet shows, if she was tearing down other moms on Facebook.
Twitter was out, because I thought I couldn’t possibly care less about celebrities. Their Covid-19 Poor Little Rich People attempts to relate to the common man proved me wrong. Instagram is just as bad as Facebook, unsurprisingly as they’re both owned by Mark Zuckerberg and are notorious for causing FOMO and body issues and just general judgement toward all women. The only perk to Instagram is the lesser degree of political commentary and even that can crop up seemingly out of nowhere. Even BoredPanda, a feel-good site with articles about cute little animals, is politically out of control in the comments. Why can’t I look at pictures of kittens in peace?!?!
So, I finally accepted the truth, at 33 years old: there are no supportive spaces on the Internet. Adults will forever lecture kids and teenagers about cyber bullying, as they type out hateful messages to people they should be building up, on Instagram and Twitter and Reddit and Facebook.
I left Facebook years ago and I’m reminded that I had the right idea, as I not only feel less criticized and frustrated without any of it, but have more time to do the things I actually care about, like read and sew and work on my digital photo albums. Hopefully, that list will soon include interactions with Real Live People, so I won’t feel the need to grasp for human connection online. At the very least, however, I now have more time to entertain Future Belle and you people.
If you’ve followed my blog for over a year, you know that I love New Year’s… and I’m fully aware that no one loves New Year’s. When I was a little kid, I was always confused as to how this was a holiday. There were no presents and we didn’t see my extended family. We just… stayed up late and the next day was no different than the one before. New Year’s paled in comparison to Christmas and Thanksgiving and Halloween. Why were we celebrating this? How was this celebrating?
As an adult, I tried my hand at many different types of New Year’s Eve celebrations. There was the night I went downtown, stayed with a friend and a handful of people I’d never met in some guy’s apartment… who wasn’t actually present. Huh. That might not have been entirely on the up-and-up. It was the first time I almost got my ass kicked in a public restroom… got thrown out of a bar for napping… nearly got my friend in legal trouble by screaming “I can’t do coke, I’m a librarian!” on a city street… the first time I got high… the night I realized I was definitely straight, when a woman kissed me. It was that crazy night I felt I had to have, but knew I’d never want to relive… and I was right.
The next New Year’s Eve, I rented a room at a casino with a friend and had some less crazy fun, with low stakes gambling and bar food, ending the night in a less than luxurious bed that had at least a 50% chance of not having been the site of a rape at one point.
In the years that followed, I learned the best New Year’s celebrations involved small gatherings, with food and alcohol. As I got older, I nixed the alcohol, preferring to start a new year hangover free. In what now seems no time at all, I’ve come full circle from watching the girl who played Mary in our Sunday school play, dance naked in some guy’s apartment, to spending New Year’s Eve with my husband and our favorite junk food. That’s been just fine with me, as we’ve spent every December 31st since we got engaged, celebrating Jake’s dad’s birthday, in his home town. At most, we’ve gone to see some of his high school friends, but overall, we’re boring thirty-somethings, whose children will one day look at our celebration and declare “Why are we celebrating this? How is this celebrating?”
As for New Years Day, now that’s always been a time of reflection and goal setting. I’m pretty sure I’ve written a post for every new year since I turned 25 and started this blog, highlighting my accomplishments from the previous year and declaring what the next one’s will look like, because I love New Year’s resolutions… and I’m fully aware that no one loves New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I didn’t just make a list of 2020 goals last year. I cited goals for the next ten years by opening the decade with a post on how I wanted Belle of 2030’s life to look and well… I think I can safely say that she’ll declare 2020 took a lot out of her, to put it simply.
I posted a little less last year, even taking a five month hiatus at one point, and while I plan to give some more details as to why later, I’m pretty grateful that last year’s New Year’s post gave me ten years to work on said goals, because I’m not sure very many of them were accomplished. I know 2020 was rough on pretty much everyone and I was no exception. There were days when I didn’t get out of bed, weeks when I barely ate, hours of watching the same show or movie on loop, because I found something that wouldn’t upset me. It was a difficult time and honestly, I think my biggest accomplishment of 2020 was getting through it. One thing I can certainly tell January 2020 Belle, is that I do love Jake just as much now as I did then, maybe even more so, because he was there during one of the most difficult times in my life, when I quite frankly wasn’t able to hold it together. He was the string to my kite, y’all.
I cautiously say that things have begun to look up, not just in my personal life, but globally. Covid-19 has multiple vaccines and my being phase two in my state gives me hope that I’ll be able to get it in the next month or two. The divisive election is over, where ever one may stand. Cases aren’t going down, but there’s hope that they will soon. That dim grey lining leaves a pretty bleak outlook on the New Year’s resolutions front, but I’ll give it a go:
Be healthy. Stay healthy, mentally and physically.
Get the Covid-19 vaccine, as soon as possible.
Keep your job. Do well at it. Save your money and put any stimulus money toward debt.
Go back to church, when it’s safe.
That’s all I’ve got, folks. I’m so grateful that I finished 2020, I can’t really muster up any more than that for 2021… not even me. So, on January 28th, I say… happy new year? I hope.
It’s a Wonderful Life has long been one of my favorite Christmas movies and remains so, as our holiday film selection becomes increasingly over-saturated with emphasis on a depiction of Santa Claus, that no more resembles the historical Saint Nicholas than Disney’s Pocahontas resembles the 17th century twelve-year-old of the Powhatan tribe.*
This is a 12-year-old.
As a religious person, the overwhelming focus on Santa, by others of the Christian faith, baffles me. I don’t even want to do the Santa thing, anymore, because I feel the emphasis has become so skewed in favor of a cartoon character and materialism over the birth of theMessiah. A couple of years ago, I told my grandmother that I wasn’t playing Dirty Santa, at the family party.
Me: “It’s just not fun for me and it’s expensive.”
Grandma: “Well, that’s what Christmas is about, you know… giving each other gifts.”
Me: “No, it’s not. Christmas is about Jesus and family.”
My 82-year-old grandmother told me Christmas is about things, y’all. That should horrify you, even if you’re not religious. Santa can go jump in a lake.
So… I’ve really grown to appreciate the old Christmas movies that aren’t afraid to broach faith, family values, and societal responsibility, like Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, and It’s a Wonderful Life. Despite this, every year, as I watch this favorite Christmas classic, I have some… issues… with George Bailey and the fact that he’s… well, kind of a tool… by the standards of his time and mine. I’d even go so far to state that in 2018, George Bailey would fit several of the prevailing stereotypes of Millennials that I’ve been hearing all of my adult life. For example…
The opening scene of It’s a Wonderful Life, depicts three stars discussing a man on earth who is dangerously close to taking his own life. Ultimately, Clarence AS2 (Angel Second Class, which doesn’t even make sense as far as acronyms go), is assigned to intervene, as we listen to the prayers of George Bailey’s family and friends, one of which clearly declares that “He never thinks about himself.”
Never thinks about himself?!?!? The only truly selfless thing George Bailey does in this movie is to save his brother when he falls through the ice, ultimately losing his hearing in one ear, an action and a consequence he never again mentions. As wondrous as that behavior is from a teenage boy, it’s also the moment little GB peaked. Just a few weeks later, we see him arrive late to his after school job in a drug store, before providing terrible service to the only customers present.
Violet: “Help me down?”
George: ” Help ya down?!?!”
George: “Make up your mind yet?”
Mary: “I’ll take chocolate.”
George: “With coconuts?”
Mary: “I don’t like coconuts.”
George: “Don’t like coconuts? Say brainless, don’t you know where coconuts come from? [pulls out a National Geographic magazine] Look-it here, from Tahiti, the Fiji Islands, Coral Sea.”
Mary: “A new magazine! I never saw it.”
George: “‘Course you never. This is just for us explorers. It just so happens I’ve been nominated for membership in the National Geographic Society.” ::puts coconut on the ice cream, anyway::
Spoiler alert: by “explorers”, he means “men.”
Immediately following this scene, we see George approach his boss, Mr. Gower, who’s just lost his son to the flu epidemic of 1919 and is naturally drunk, devastated, and ill-tempered. Realizing that the impaired pharmacist has mistakenly filled some capsules with poison, George risks his ire to correct him, ultimately taking quite the boxing of his sore ear. We’re lead to believe that this is another truly honorable moment; but I think it’s worth considering the fact that this kid just showed up late to work and treated Mr. Gower’s only customers like dirt, prior to pestering him during his grief. While he might not have deserved to be hit, it was a reprimand appropriate to the times. Furthermore, I work with teenagers and I just don’t consider it a stretch to think that any one of them would speak up if they thought someone was about to poison some children, no matter the consequences. I feel like the average American is only impressed by this “heroism”, because they have such devastatingly low expectations of teens.
As the movie continues, we see George grow into a man… an extraordinarily selfish man, who speaks incessantly about what he wants. Even his last words to his father, for which he shows no remorse, are entitled declarations about how he deserves more.
– “Oh, now Pop, I couldn’t. I couldn’t face being cooped up for the rest of my life in a shabby little office…Oh, I’m sorry Pop, I didn’t mean that, but this business of nickels and dimes and spending all your life trying to figure out how to save three cents on a length of pipe…I’d go crazy. I want to do something big and something important.”
After his father dies and the board votes to keep the Bailey Building and Loan open, in response to George’s passionate defense of the community, they only have one condition: George must stay on and take his father’s place.
– “Let’s get this thing straight. I’m leaving! I’m leaving right now! I’m going to school! This is my last chance! Uncle Billy, here, he’s your man!’
That’s right. George’s first consideration when his father’s legacy, his community, is on the line, is what he wants. The next four years apparently offer little growth, as he tells Mary, the night he calls on her:
– “Now, you listen to me. I don’t want any plastics and I don’t want any ground floors and I don’t want to get married ever, to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do!”
“He never thinks about himself”? That’s the entire premise of the first half of this movie. All George Bailey does is think about himself, about what he wants, what he deserves, because…
As a millennial, I literally hear about the entitlement of my generation, weekly… but no matter how many participation trophies I received as a kid (because I certainly didn’t earn any legitimate ones), I have never, in my adult life, compared to the entitlement of George Bailey.
In 1940, only 5.5% of men had completed a college degree, compared to 3.8% of women, not because it was a time of equality, but because a college education was so incredibly rare.* That’s eleven years after George sits at his father’s table, in his very nice middle class home, and tells him he’s better than the Bailey Building and Loan, a year when only 68% of American homes had electricity.* Just weeks later, after his father’s death, George even ridicules the man’s failure to have paid for not just his, but his brother’s education.
– “You are right when you say my father was no business man. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap penny-ante building and loan, I’ll never know. but neither you nor anybody else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was… why in the 25 years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself, isn’t that right Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me.”
He does so to a room of men who likely went no further than the 8th grade, themselves, because in 1940 less than 25% of Americans had completed high school.* If you’re wondering why all these stats are about 1940, that’s because prior to that year, the surveys weren’t interested in levels of completed schooling, but literacy. A healthy chunk of the country couldn’t read the day ol’ GB haughtily declared he was turning down the position of executive secretary of his own business to go to college.
Yeah. I’m entitled.
It’s not just his demand for a college education that made George Bailey insufferably privileged, by the standards of that time and this one, but his general disdain for his hometown. I get it, he wanted to travel the world, in a day when men were lucky to have jobs at all, but the lack of exoticism in Bedford falls certainly didn’t earn the level of contempt George had for it.
– “It’ll keep him out of Bedford Falls, anyway.”
– “Homesick?!? For Bedford Falls?!?
– “… stay around this measly, crummy old town.”
This “crummy old town” has an indoor swimming pool under the high school gym. The only rundown house is eventually transformed to a glorious Victorian mansion by Mary Bailey, herself, with just a little elbow grease. Even George declares the falls are beautiful in the moonlight, when he tries to petition Violet to climb Mount Bedford. The dystopian version still has a successful library.
The citizens of Bedford Falls aren’t completely without their struggles, of course. George mentions to Sam Wainright that “half the town” was recently put out of business when the tool and machinery works was closed down. Does that stop him from criticizing anyone who works for Mr. Potter, though?
– “In the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you’re nothing but a scurvy little spider… and that goes for you, too!”
Well, George, not everyone was just handed their father’s business, at 22. Zetus Lapetus, much of this movie took place during The Great Depression! Choosers were literally beggars, which brings me to my final point of our “hero’s” entitlement. George Bailey was 12 in 1919, born in 1907. These years weren’t exactly known for the wealth of choices they provided. Throughout the entirety of It’s a Wonderful Life, however, George is constantly choosing his path. He chose to stay and run the Bailey Building and Loan after his father died. He chose to give his college money to Harry and let him take another job, when he was more than willing to take over. George chose to marry Mary, immediately after stating that it wasn’t what he wanted. He chose not to invest in Sam Wainwright’s business despite the fact that he’d apparently saved two thousand dollars for his travels. That’s thirty thousand dollars, today and ol’ GB chose to forfeit it to keep the Building and Loan open.
In a time of rampant polio and domestic violence and 25% unemployment, George had the luxury to choose his path and each and every time, he was an absolute martyr about it. He didn’t do these things, because he was selfless. He did them because of societal expectation, because of his image, and we know this, by his perpetual bellyaching, because…
When I went on this rant during my bi-weekly teen book club, because that’s the librarian I am, my kids argued that this was the point of the movie and I’ll give them that. However, in the opening scene it’s heavily implied that George Bailey is only presently forgetting how good he has it, as he faces financial ruin and scandal on Christmas Eve. I mean, who wouldn’t see the brown spots on their lawn, in that light? For our “hero”, though, the grass has perpetually been greener. The entire movie highlights his general unhappiness and lack of appreciation.
George Bailey sits in his father’s home, as he’sserved by a maid, and insists he can do better for himself. He somehow begrudgingly both inherits his own business and marries a beautiful women, who’s been in love with him her whole life. He has a respectable excuse to avoid the war and make beautiful babies, yet still finds something to complain about, while other men are dying and losing limbs. All the while, Mary Bailey remodels their home, cares for their children, and runs the USO, without a word of complaint. You the real MVP, Mary Bailey, because if this movie is an accurate indicator of your husband’s daily behavior, I’d have smothered him with a pillow in the first month of marriage. I mean, you could have been a librarian.
Years go by and George Bailey lives in a beautiful home, in a wealthy little town. He’s a respected member of society, by everyone from the town tramp to the bartender to his arch nemesis’s financial adviser. Still, his days are ruined by such inconsequentials as a loose newal cap on the staircase.*
Dude, even Zuzu was like, “Paste it, Daddy.”
Is it that much of a surprise, when things really go sideways and he says:
– “…It’s this old house. I don’t know why we all don’t have pneumonia. Drafty old barn! Might as well be living in a refrigerator… Why do we have to live here in the first place, and stay around this measly, crummy old town…”
– “Wrong? Everything’s wrong. You call this a happy family — why do we have to have all these kids?”
– “What kind of a teacher are you, anyway? What do you mean, sending her home like that, half naked? Do you realize she’ll probably end up with pneumonia, on account of you? Is this the sort of thing we pay taxes for, to have teachers… to have teachers like you… stupid, silly, careless people who send our kids home without any clothes on?”
That last little remark earned him a busted lip, and despite the general disagreement of the community of Bedford Falls, I’d say it was quite well-deserved. It’s at this point, however, that we see George Bailey finally begins to realize how good he has it, and yet… the only hope poor Clarence has of convincing him of this, is a glimpse through the most self-centered lense of all time. Looking into the eyes of his loving wife, adoring children, and loyal friends wasn’t enough to convince George that life was worth living. Nope. Ol’ GB could only see value in his life when someone put a gold star next to his every good deed. His existence was only worth the effort, once it was proven that just by being alive, he changed the world. Folks, if that ain’t a participation trophy…
My new year’s resolution for 2020 was to read a minimum of 52 books, half of which were not dragon erotica. Since my library teens still have to read the classics and I never actually read any, myself, I decided those 26 titles would be undoubtedly considered classics. I’ve surprisingly enjoyed most of my choices, as evidenced by my review of the first seven, here. So, I present, books 8-13.
8. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy ⭐
I’ll be blunt. I have never before finished a book I hated as much as Anna Karenina. I am so tired of people who loved this book telling me that I just didn’t understand or read it thoroughly. Classics are almost as bad as politics in that, if someone doesn’t agree with another person, they must be less intelligent or not know all of the facts, because we’re all arrogant assholes, incapable of respecting different opinions. Not only did I read this book, I also read many analyses on this book, to make sure I fully understood it, after these insistences. I did and I still hated it. If you love this book and consider it the greatest work of literature ever, I respect that, but you might not want to read further.
Anna Karenina tells the story of Russian socialite, Anna’s, affair with Vronsky, some dude she saw for four minutes on a train and for whom she decided to throw away all of her social standing and clout, cuz feeeelz, despite knowing the society she lives in and the consequences of an indiscreet affair. Women are stupid that way. s/ As Anna falls deeply in love with Vronksy, her husband, Karenin, essentially demands discretion or divorce. Selfish cow that Anna is, she denies both and nearly dies birthing Vronsky’s child. Karenin forgives Vronksy, which embarrasses him and he tries and fails to kill himself. Ultimately, Anna and Vronsky run away together, with Anna forfeiting her son, because she is a horrible, wretched person and ultimately being shunned by society, no matter where she goes, while growing more and more insecure of Vronsky’s affection. Finally, in the best scene in both the terrible book and the terrible movie, she throws herself under the train and I have a new fandom: the train from Anna Karenina.
Alongside this story, we read the tale of Kitty, Levin, and farming. Kitty, Anna’s young sister-in-law is also infatuated with Vronksy, so certain that he’ll propose to her that she turns down the good and honorable, if provincial, Levin, only to have her heart broken, when she realizes that Vronsky never had any true intentions toward her. Over the next year, she spends time in grief and self-reflection, mourning her mistake, and because she’s a very good girl, Levin comes back and asks her to marry him again. She says yes and they move to the country, where there’s farming and tilling and plowing for entire chapters, in a needlessly drawn out symbolic message of “idleness and city life bad, hard work and rural life good.” Kitty ends up happy and Anna ends up dead. The end.
This book is 864 pages long, so the above summary is of course oversimplified. I’ve read that the book isn’t supposed to be about likable characters and I get that. I liked The Great Gatsby, because it was beautifully written about awful people. This wasn’t. Anna Karenina is the kind of classic that makes people hate classics, because everyone claims it’s amazing.
Why is Tolstoy above reproach for the writing tropes we mock today? Let’s start with the instalove. There was no explanation for Anna’s affection for Vronsky. I get it, she wasn’t really given the chance to choose her path, but poor women weren’t either, and many of them remained faithful, even after four minutes on a train with another man. Her husband wasn’t abusive or cruel. Despite the ridiculous arguments I had on Reddit about this book, there is zero evidence that Karenin mistreated Anna. He even raised her illegitimate child. He was kind, if distant, and she had literally every thing she wanted. She was doing pretty damned good for 19th century Russia, so when she threw it all away, I needed a reason… besides boredom. If Tolstoy had written a compelling love story between Anna and Vronksy, I could’ve felt a lot more for Anna, torn between her head and her heart. However, she literally throws away everything, including her son, for this man she barely knows and we’re never told why. Even if it was adventure and excitement, which I don’t buy considering her unexplained obsession with Vronsky, she didn’t do anything with Vronsky she couldn’t have done with Karenin. No. It was instalove and vaginal tingles and that’s just as stupid as when modern romance novelists do it.
As for Kitty and Levin… I don’t hate their storyline, but I’m often told that this book was feminist and are you fucking kidding me?!?! There is not a single point, in this book of 732 characters, where Tolstoy introduces a woman who is more than one-dimensional. His lead females are The Madonna and The Whore. Kitty keeps her legs closed and her eyes down and gets the life she wants. Anna follows her passion and ends up under a train. Even the female side characters are vapid and shallow hens. This book is not feminist, no not even for the time period, in part because we get no compelling reason for Anna’s actions. She’s just a bitch in heat, as far as Tolstoy is concerned, a slave to her baser nature. The fact that society treats her differently than her lover doesn’t even garner much feeling, because she was the one who was married. While her brother was treated differently for his affair and that might have had some merit with different telling, the execution of this tale just painted a picture of a horrible woman I was glad to see die, as opposed to a woman caught up in a double standard. If the reason this book was empowering was Kitty’s personal growth and self-improvement, Louisa May Alcott told that story much better, and much more quickly, in Little Women.
Then there was the length. So much of this book is filler, dragging out a poorly told story about awful people, that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it. I’ve read long books. I’ve read books about horrible people. I’ve read long books about horrible people. I’ve mentioned several times that I love Steinbeck, but his filler is interesting or pivotal to the storyline. Tolstoy is just in love with himself and takes full advantage of a lack of more entertaining pastimes to ramble on about nothing for almost 900 pages, because the people of the 19th century couldn’t discreetly download alien erotica for a better time.
So there you have it. I hated everything about this book, aside from the Kitty/Levin plot, which was still simplistic and preachy. I hated the characters, the writing, the oversimplified themes, the Poor Little Rich Girl plot, the length, and my favorite character, by far, was the train. I’m glad I read this title halfway through the year, because this is truly the kind of classic that makes people hate classics. I give Anna Karenina a single begrudging star.
9. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway ⭐⭐⭐
Yes, I Googled “shortest classics” again. However, I surprisingly enjoyed this audiobook, which was only two hours and some change. It told the depressing story of a fisherman who meets his ultimate opponent, the marlin that will bring him glory, only to hook him but fail to reign him in, as he’s pulled further out to see. Eventually, both the old man and the marlin face defeat, as the man makes it to the shore, his glorious catch mostly devoured by sharks.
That’s pretty much it. There’s not much more to the summary of a two hour book, nor was there a way to avoid that spoiler, but it was well-written and engaging, as it painted a picture of ultimate futility. Honestly, it’s brevity was what I liked most and not just because I wanted to check another book off my total. It made for a more exciting story and a more relatable protagonist. It was a simple tale, told simply, with no forced happy ending. I give The Old Man and the Sea three stars.
10. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Upton Sinclair’s, The Jungle was assigned to me in my high school AP U.S. History class. If I recall, I read about half of it, before the English teacher everyone hated ruined the ending for me and I quit. I do remember thinking it was boring and depressing and that the names were all very confusing, so I wasn’t really looking forward to reading it, this year. Y’all, this was one of my favorite books. While the Lithuanian names were indeed a bit confusing, I listened to the audio, which substantially mitigated my troubles and I’d highly recommend the same, if you have similar struggles.
The Jungle tells the story of Jurgis Rudkus, who starts off as a brawny, hardworking immigrant, eager to support his family. Despite overcrowding of immigrants wanting a job in the Chicago meat packing district, Jurgis finds work immediately, as a strong and hardy man, as do the other members of his large family. Despite their dreams and willingness to work for them, however, the Rudkus family is doomed from the start, by the sheer number of every day villains, waiting to take advantage. I can say little more about the plot, without ruining the story for you, but I found Jurgis and his family to be compelling portrayals of immigrants done wrong, who can therefore never catch a break. The only criticism I have of this story is that the last chapter reads as Upton Sinclair’s personal Socialist manifesto, which really didn’t fit the tone of the book, regardless of my political opinions.
Speaking of which, I am a Capitalist. I consider our system flawed, of course, but I also think it’s the only political system that will ever work in the United States, agreeing with Theodore Roosevelt that “Radical action must be taken to do away with the efforts of arrogant and selfish greed on the part of the capitalist.” That being said, the political themes of this work didn’t turn me off until the end, when they became overtly preachy. Before that, they were both organic and historically accurate. The turn of the 20th century was a dark time to be alive and anyone who says we haven’t come a long way isn’t paying attention, as The Jungle is largely credited with the creation of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, due to the deplorable and stomach-churning conditions outlined in this book, despite Sinclair’s intent to call attention to the absues of workers. In time, however, that has clearly improved, as well, since pickle factory workers no longer lose their feet. I give The Jungle four stars and warn the reader that there really is no happy ending.
11. The Pearl, by John Steinbeck ⭐⭐⭐
For me, John Steinbeck is the author I love, while completely understanding others’ distaste for him, as he’s often overly wordy and descriptive. This was a novella, however, so I got all the bleak joy of Steinbeck in just a couple of hours.
The Pearl tells the story of poor pearl diver, Kino’s, discovery of “The Pearl of the World,” that one pearl that will make him rich beyond his wildest dreams, just when he needs it most. His fortune almost immediately turns sour, however, with the doctor he needs trying to overcharge him, market buyers trying to swindle him, and even blatant thieves coming after him.
As Kino and his wife, Jauna, escape into the night to find somewhere to sell the pearl, tragedy strikes and Imma just give you the #deadbaby trigger warning. Kino and Juana make their way back to their home, realizing that the pearl was never a blessing, but a curse as Kino heartbrokenly flings the pearl back into the ocean, scorning mans greed and inate evil.
Have you ever read those stories about people who win the lottery, only to have it completely destroy their lives? That’s essentially The Pearl, as Kino’s world is torn apart by finally acquiring the riches he’s spent his life seeking. No amount of wealth can overcome the doctor’s racism and avarice. His community and friends turn against him. Strangers chase after him, bringing the ultimate tragedy down on him. It’s not a happy tale and doesn’t have a happy ending, but I enjoyed the bleak symbolism, despite occasionally feeling that the better path would be obvious, even to Kino. I give The Pearl three stars.
12. Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Not a single person has recognized this title, when cited, but Alas, Babylon is a classic post-apocalyptic novel, set in 1959, during the Cold War. The premise sees the scales tipping, when through a series of unfortunate events, the Soviet Union perceives a first strike and attacks the United States, wiping out all power and communication in fictional Fort Repose, Florida.
Randall Braggs is living an aimless life when his older brother, an Air Force Intelligence officer, warns him that the world is essentially about to end and sends his own family to Florida, in hopes of securing their safety, while he stays behind in Nebraska, knowing he won’t make it, himself. Randy finds himself the keeper of his grieving sister-in-law, nephew, and niece, in addition to a band of townspeople, including the spinster town librarian (fuck you, Pat frank), the Black farmers up the road, his girlfriend and her family, and the local doctor after “The Day,” when the entire state has become a contaminated zone. Throughout the book, the group faces many threats, from lack of food, to illness, to highwaymen, as they try to survive the aftermath the blast.
I won’t lie and tell you that this book necessarily holds up well in 2020. At times, it’s both racist and sexist. Though Randy is considered a “progressive” in his rural township, in the context of Alas, Babylon, that just means that he considers Black people to be humans, ranking slightly above women. I do not have a hard time putting these things into context, for the day they were written, but I could certainly understand if they weren’t someone else’s cup of tea, so consider that a trigger warning of sorts.
Aside from the above, Alas, Babylon is a great read. Where many modern post-apocalyptic media leans too heavily on clichés and tropes of the genre, such as the diabetic and the prepper uncle, this one stars a protagonist who has very little warning of the coming blast and actually regretted some of the preparations he forgets. Since many of the men are recent veterans of the 1950s, their survival instincts are far more organic than that of Rick Grimes. The struggles they face are ones few would consider today, such as a lack of salt and their solutions are clever, without reaching. Jake hates when I read this stuff, because I always want to order bugout bags and that backpack you can put your cat in for travel, but if I could find more titles like Alas, Babylon, I’d devour them. I give Alas, Babylon 4 stars.
13. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley ⭐⭐⭐
I think I mentioned, in my last post of reviews, that 2020 was the wrong year to read a bunch of weird political dystopian novels, but I must say, Brave New World was probably my favorite of the genre, due to it having so many parallels to modern day society, while still managing to be delightfully bizarre.
The book begins with world building, as we see different classes of society being conditioned from birth to appreciate their lot in life, from babies being trained to fear sunshine and flowers to older children learning acceptance and docility through “sleep learning.” These things are a stretch for modern civilization, but Huxley then goes on to describe a society that encourages children to experiment with one another sexually and derides adults who practice any sort of monogamy, including playing favorites with one of their many lovers. The concept of parenthood and pregnancy are ones of shame and disgust, as are aging and religion and it is the societal norm to dose oneself with Soma to rid the mind of all negative thoughts and emotions.
Upon threat of being sent to Iceland for his vocal criticisms of World State, our protagonist Bernard takes a trip with his favorite gal, Lenina, to visit the “savages” on a New Mexico reservation. There, they feel disgust for all they see as these people value religion and actually repair their clothing (shudder). It’s here that Bernard and Lenina discover a woman from their own society, who was abandoned years ago and committed the disgusting and shameful crime of birthing a child. They return to London with her and her now-grown “savage” son in tow and all hell breaks loose.
I read Brave New World in college and it remains my favorite dystopian novel. Both U.S. political parties like to compare the other to 1984, but I find that to be much more far-fetched than the general societal norms of Aldous Huxley’s world of mandatory promiscuity, waste, and assumed drug use. Meanwhile, there are just enough weird quirks, like the engineered classes of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons to keep this book firmly in science fiction territory, as opposed to relegating it to the more political fiction of Orwell or the symbolic story of We. I give Brave New World three out of five stars.
When Jake and I got engaged, I frequently ranted about how generic all of the marriage advice sounded. Three and a half years later, I feel just as strongly that if you haven’t discussed finances or kids or familial boundaries, you have no business even getting engaged. I also firmly believe that “never go to bed angry,” is the single worst advice ever for two incredibly strong-willed individuals.“Continue arguing, no matter how exhausted you become” sounds like a great recipe for mariticide.
Now, here we are in 2020, the worst year ever for planet Earth, and I find the best marriage advice I can possibly suggest, is to concentrate more on what you give than what you get, with the obligatory disclaimer that this only applies to healthy relationships and not those who are married to lazy scoundrels.
Y’all, 2020 has hit hard and if anything, it has made me love Jake more. He’s string to my kite and I can’t give him enough credit for his unwavering strength and support through the breakdowns and the days when I just can’t get out of bed. So, when I have it in me, I do what I can to give back, in the following ways:
Doing Things He’d Never Consider
When Jake visited his parents the weekend before last, I did my best to keep myself busy, feeling as though being alone with my thoughts was the most dangerous place on Earth, even during a pandemic. So, I decorated for Halloween and updated my annual photo album. I went through some old pictures, trashing many, and made copies of others, for Jake and my Gramma. I filled the remaining slots in the photo collage dedicated to Jake’s pre-Belle days. I finally went through that box of wedding cards and realized I could use them to fill up the pages of our nearly empty guest book. I made a trip to Hobby Lobby and purchased some Thanksgiving decorations and a glass block frame for our wedding invitation, because there’s no point saving something that’s not displayed. I bought another frame for the blackout poetry I made in my first year at the Cherokee library and some reasonably priced decor to round off our his and hers bedroom theme, so Jake’s side looked more masculine. I bought pumpkins and a hay bale for the porch, replaced some old plants, donated books I’ll never read, and bought supplies to make Jake a pizza when he got home. He couldn’t have pinpointed these things, but he was pleased as I showed him how hard I’d worked to make our home more comfortable and inviting, in ways he’d have never considered.
Keeping the House Clean and Even Doing His Chores
Jake and I have split our household duties, as opposed to trading off, so we never have to argue about taking turns. So, while he was away, I took the liberty to do not only my share, but his. I cleared off the porch, emptying the bags of potting soil into the planters and cleaning up the dead elephant ears in the vegetable garden. I did the dishes and wiped down the kitchen counters. I went grocery shopping and organized the pantry and refrigerator. I swept and vacuumed and replaced the waxes in the burners so the house would smell nice. I cleared off the dining room table and made sure all of his laundry was done and the sheets were clean. Many of these things fell under the heading of Jake’s responsibilities, but I figure if he can sit quietly with me through a bad weekend and put off visiting his family, so I wouldn’t be alone, I could make his life just a little easier on a good one. Even when he’s home, I do my best to follow old and new routines, by switching the towels on Tuesday and Thursday and Sunday, watering the plants on Thursday and Sunday, making the bed every day, and washing the bedding every two weeks. Considering the fact that we have literally nowhere else to go, this has been vitally important to our mental health in the dumpster fire that is 2020.
Giving Him Video Game Time, Sans Nagging
When Jake comes home from work, he often either does chores or plays videogames and one of the ways I’ve tried to make his life more enjoyable, during a tough year, is to be more forgiving of the latter. I’ve never been a videogame hater, but I do consider them a massive waste of time, comparable to my romance novels and teen shows (though these actually make me better at my job), so in excess, I find them pretty obnoxious. During a pandemic, however, I’ve worked to redefine my internal definition of “excess.” What else is he supposed to be doing with his time? During a normal year, he usually only plays video games a few days a week, especially during Daylight Savings Time, but… this ain’t normal. Sure, there are some projects he could work on around the house, but that’s a lot to ask of someone who’s been working a very stressful new job all day. So, each night, after we’ve watched a movie or show or gone on a walk, I try not to give Jake too much grief when he wants to spend some quality time with his XBOX again, especially when it’s a social event, because he’s playing online with my step-brother or his old oil buddies.
Doing Thoughtful Little Things
Jake is not good with “thank you.” He sucks at “please,” too, as a matter of fact. I see why, when I visit his family and not a single person utters such pleasantries. It’s as if they think that family doesn’t need these formalities, but it drives me batty. How hard is it to show just a little bit of basic gratitude?!?! This year, however, I’m trying to do more nice little things for Jake, regardless of the lack of praise. I get him his favorite movies from work, make his lunch if I get home first, surprise him with a Monster drink or a Dr. Pepper, and unload the dishwasher so he doesn’t have to do it on his lunch break. I buy him the gum and coffee beans he likes and a bag of bulk chili mango slices, which I’m not only allergic to, but find absolutely disgusting. With or without verbal thanks, I know these things make Jake feel loved and appreciated and I’m doing my best to do them more often.
Cherishing the Little Bit of Normalcy That is Staying Cute
This year isn’t going to be any easier on either of us, if we both get fat and sloppy. In fact, that would make next year suck, too. While I’ve essentially stopped wearing makeup, for the time being, because it seems like a waste when half my face is always covered, I’ve done my best to maintain my fairly low-maintenance beauty routine of shaving my legs and using the fancy conditioner (fancy still means $3) on Thursday and Sunday, keeping my skin as clear as I can when it’s often covered by a mask, trimming my bangs, and once again dressing cute and professional for work. I’ve spent some of the money we’ve saved this year on new dresses and shoes from Kohl’s and Old Navy and thrown out anything ratty or torn. I’m hardly dressed to the nines, but I also refuse to make my life any more difficult by gaining 30 pounds or getting into the habit of lounging around dressed like a slovenly mess. It makes both Jake and I feel a little better to recapture the normalcy that is not living in athletic shorts and a tank top, as I did during our six week lockdown.
Giving Him the Best Birthday I Can
My Red Panda turns 36 next week and I’m going to give him the best birthday I possibly can, in a year when Earth is still only varying degrees of open. I’ve been saving for several months to buy Jake a new 30 gun safe, a long time goal of his. I’ve read the first in The Fellowship of the Ring, so we can watch it together and I’ll know what’s happening. I’ve gathered a few small surprises. I’ve got a plan in place to get his favorite cake and I’m going to make him his favorite cookies. This weekend will be all about him. Whatever he wants to do, that we’re able to do we will. My birthday was a little underwhelming, but I’ll do my best to give my favorite cowboy whatever I can.
This has been a hard year, folks. While I don’t claim that my values or emphasis are universal and fully understand that there are many different kinds of marriages, I encourage you to do something nice for your spouse, whatever that may be, expecting nothing in return. We all need someone right and it’s the luckiest of us who have our best friend with us each and every day.
At the beginning of this year, I set a lofty new year’s resolution, as I tend to do. Last year’s resolution was to finish 52 books, in an effort to end my habit of beginning seven and maybe finishing two. I accomplished that goal… barely. I literally finished listening to Little Women on New Year’s Eve, at double speed, but I did it. So, this year, I decided to take it up a notch. Not only would I read at least 52 books, half of them would inarguably be titles of substance, meaning not werewolf/mafia/motorcycle club/time travel/alien romance novels. Since my library teens still have to read classics for school and my one and only act of rebellion in high school was to put more effort into not completing assigned reading, than it would have taken to actually read the books themselves, I decided that all 26 books would be classics. It seemed an overly ambitious way to make myself better at my job, of course, but then a pandemic hit, freeing up an awful lot of time for me to read 26 classics, so you don’t have to…
Dracula, by Bram Stoker ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Dracula was my first classic of the year and, if I’m honest, I was dreading my entire project at this point and wasn’t enthusiastic about a book that is essentially a compilation of diary entries and letters. I don’t even like graphic novels, because the writing style takes me out of the story. Fortunately, however, I was able to download the audio for free, from work, and that completely removed the distraction. While I was confused, at times, as to why something was being shared, I did find that all of the pieces ultimately lined up into a genuinely scary tale. Jonathan Harker looking out his window to see Dracula climbing the side of the castle was quite possibly one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read. It was refreshing to experience horror without gore or smut, despite the many trashy movie adaptations, with all their genitalia. I give Dracula five stars and it’s easily one of my favorite books, now.
2. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I’ve never loved stories told through weird mediums, like court documents or interviews. It’s done in non-fiction for transparency and in fiction, to better resemble non-fiction, but I don’t enjoy either. I find it really difficult to get into a story, if I’m still putting together the puzzle while reading. Maybe I’m just lazy, but I feel like that’s the author’s job, before publication. That being said, it’s ironic that my first titles, of such a lofty goal, were both written in this style.
When I started In Cold Blood, I assumed it would be dry, as was the way of most non-fiction of the time. I had also had dental surgery just a few days before, so I was high as a kite when Jake came home for lunch and found me sitting on the couch, crying.
Jake: “What’s wrong?” Me: “Nothing.” Jake: “That’s not true. You’re crying.” Me: “They were just all so scared! Even the dog was scared and then all of his owners died and it doesn’t even say what happened to him!”
While I wouldn’t recommend reading this one on hydrocodone, I can attest to it being not only engaging, but truly disturbing, as you’re made to empathize with two vicious murderers. In fact, only after I’d finished this title, did I discover that Truman Capote was actually somewhat obsessed with the killer, Perry Smith. Some speculated that he held romantic feelings for him, while others theorized that he saw himself in the man. That’s… even more disturbing, so kudos to Capote for taking it to the next level. Simply for the slow pacing that is unavoidable in most non-ficion, I give In Cold Blood four stars.
3. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding ⭐⭐
Lord of the Flies has always sounded fascinating to me. Just the concept of an utter breakdown of society amongst young boys, who aren’t as strictly indoctrinated into social constructs of acceptable behavior, sounded thrilling and I never understood why all of the teens I worked with hated it. Color me surprised when I, too, wasdriven far more insane than the main characters, by my complete and utter boredom.
Y’all, nothing happened throughout most of this book. The first 10% of the story revolved around establishing a rudimentary society of gentlemanly norms, while the next 80% depicted the destruction of said norms, and the last 10% revealed the consequences. The beginning of the story was interesting, as young boys scrambled to build a way of life and a hierarchy that closely resembled the only one they knew. About 10% out of the next 80% was engaging, as the carefully constructed society devolved, while the other 70% was largely internal monologue. The final 10% woke me up, with an exciting chase scene and a surprising twist. Despite the rousing ending, however, over 2/3 of this book was simply filler and a failed attempt at suspense. While I enjoyed the concept, the execution left me wanting… three more stars. Two disappointed stars for Lord of the Flies.
4. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck ⭐⭐⭐⭐
If I were hard-pressed to name a favorite author, who doesn’t turn out cozy and predicable romances, it would be John Steinbeck. I understand that people dislike him for being too descriptive, but unlike certain contemporary authors (here’s looking at you Diana Gabaldon and Stephen King), Steinbeck is actually good at it. Like Tolkein, Steinbeck isn’t wordy, because he’s in love with himself, but in love with the world he’s creating, specifically his characters. Can that be tedious, regardless of his motivations? Sure, but I love good characterization so much, I find I don’t mind. Of Mice and Men, however, hit a sweet spot, managing to have deep characters, despite its novella length.
When I told friends that I was reading this story, many of them shared that the ending made them cry. Judging by reviews online, that was Steinbeck’s intent, as he painted a rather dated picture of the plight of Lennie, a man who was likely on the autism spectrum. In 2020, however, I felt little for Lennie and all sympathy went to George, because I know several people on the spectrum… and zero of them are psychotic. I know, I know, he was a big guy, who didn’t realize his own strength, and was misunderstood. That’s the story described by George, anyway, as he recounts all the jobs and plans that haven’t worked out and all the times he had to take Lennie and run, because George is the real MVP. His life could’ve been so much simpler, were he to have Lennie committed to some sort of home, but he was loyal and acted as his protector, through all of his mishaps… until the very end.
I realize that Steinbeck meant for Lennie’s final actions to be an accident, a tragedy beyond his control, but I don’t accept that, with the understanding we have for special needs people, today. I’ve met too many of them, in my line of work, to believe that murder is such a small step, regardless of strength. Lennie had severe anger issues and was truly dangerous. He got what was coming to him. My heart went out only to George, in the final scene, as he bestowed such heartbreaking mercy on his lifelong friend. I give four stars to Of Mice and Men, despite feeling very differently about the characters than basically all of mankind.
5. Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I admit it. There was a month, where I Googled the shortest classics, so I could more easily accomplish my goal and Metamorphosis was one of them. Unlike most of the titles I’ve chosen this year, Metamorphosis is a symbolic, artistic piece and I loathe that stuff. As a teen librarian, I spend all of April, National Poetry Month, ranting about how poetry is stupid. I’ve been known to declare that it’s not art, if I can do it. I’m simply too direct for metaphors and beautiful prose, so I figured an art piece wouldn’t be my jam and researched what it was supposed to be about, before reading. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Knowing that Kafka intended this novella as an allegory for his relationship with his father, painted a portrait that was both haunting and heartbreaking. Even Kafka’s mother and sister apparently had their limits on their affection for their source of income. He was a meal ticket and when he wasn’t that, he was an insect. Four painful stars.
6. We, by Yevgeny Zamyat ⭐⭐⭐
This might not have been the year to read a bunch of disturbing political classics, now that I sit here in terror, sporting my foil hat, beneath my bare lightbulb; but I’m a sucker for classic dystopian and I’ve always wanted to read the source material on which virtually all of them were based. We tells the story of One State, a supposed utopian society made of steel and glass, removing any and all sense of privacy from a totalitarian state. There are no individuals, only parts of the whole, as is reflected in the one and only pronoun: we. The only delineator for each of these parts is a letter/number combination, as we see in the spacecraft engineer, D-503. Society’s laws and rules are based entirely on mathematic formulas and emotions and dreams are considered a sickness, of which the consequence is death.
Y’all, I think one of the reasons I love these books so much, is that they’re all so very bleak.No one gets a happy ending in a world of government corruption, far surpassing anything we could imagine in our modern society. In this regard, We is no different than the books it inspired and I quite enjoyed the overall plot, as D-503 rebelled against his beloved One State, with the help of a beautiful woman, I-330, in a tale as old as time. Much like Eve, I-330 offered D-503 the curse of knowledge, inducting him into Mephi, an organization plotting to overthrow One State, despite the risk that they could both be destroyed by the Benefactor’s Machine. I won’t ruin the ending for you, since no one has actually heard of this book and I genuinely enjoyed the story, but I can attest to it being a somewhat confusing read.
Perhaps because it was translated from Russian or due to the fact that it’s literally 100 years old, We wasn’t a leisurely read. Much of the story is told in prose and imagery, to the point that the reader is not always entirely sure what’s happening and what’s metaphorical, a disruption only compounded by the use of invented terminology, along with words that have simply fallen out of fashion in the last century. There was some definite rereading required and that made for a tedious experience. I’d ultimately recommend the book, but it’s by no means light. The juice is still worth the squeeze, however and I give We three stars.
7. Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I tried and failed to read this book about 10 years ago, when I was going through my divorce, and that was probably for the best, because this is not a book to read when you’re already depressed. Flowers for Algernon was another title that was told entirely through first person journal entries and medical reports, so I’m thrilled that I spent the last couple of years training my brain to comprehend audiobooks. People often judge the quality of an audiobook by the reader, but unless it’s either really good or really bad, I rarely care. The narrator for Flowers for Algernon, however, was fantastic. As the book progresses and simple-minded Charlie Gordon undergoes the same procedure as test subject mouse, Algernon, the narrator becomes noticeably, but gradually, more articulate. As Charlie surpasses his colleagues, his voice becomes more arrogant, espousing scientific jargon and passing judgement on everyone around him. As he sees Algernon failing and his own mind begins to degrade, he sounds frantic with terror and humiliation. This is a good book, but an excellent audiobook and quite possibly one of the few that left me near tears… at least without a dog dying. Five devastating stars.
Eight years ago today, on my 25th birthday, I started this blog. Since then, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a five month hiatus… but there also weren’t any global pandemics in that time. As much as I’ve enjoyed chronicling my day to day and making self-deprecating jokes, as much as I love viewing snapshots in time of my life and my person, I just… haven’t been able to bring myself to share these last few months, because 2020 is kicking my ass.
For nearly 10 years, this blog has predominantly been a positive form of self-expression. Sure, I’ve shared tales of frustration with bad dates or disappointment over friendship breakups or work woes and stress, but never have I experienced a full year of devastation… at least not since that 25th birthday.
Jake and I are okay. If anything, this wretched year has made our marriage stronger. I know it’s made me love him more. As for the reverse, well, if I didn’t really know why he liked me before, I definitely don’t now, because I’m a complete and utter mess. We’re both still employed in our fields. He’s actually looking at a promotion. Our pandemic suffering has not been a career crisis, but I can’t bring myself to share all of the horrible details as they unfold, because I don’t want to look back on my worst year since 2010.
I’ve been making annual photo albums, through Mixbook, for years. I started with 2010 and began working my way to present day in 2013. I’ve always been a record keeper, even in my teens, when I carried a film camera to school every day, until I upgraded to digital. I eventually scanned every one of those photos into an album and had it printed, as well. My Mixbooks are one of the first things I’d grab under a tornado warning and I can barely bring myself to compile 2020’s. It’s a good thing I’ve forced myself, regardless, because I guarantee that I’ll have no desire to look back and create it later… something I genuinely enjoy and which makes me feel immensely grateful for my life and all the blessings in it.
So, today, on my 33rd birthday, I’m updating you. Where have I been? I’ve been at home… almost exclusively. I’ve been at the library, where there are almost no customers. I’ve been wiping down tables in gloves and a mask and goggles. I’ve been spending days in bed, because I can’t bring myself to get out of it, sometimes watching Netflix and sometimes doing nothing. I’ve been missing my family and friends and normalcy. I’ve been crying… a lot. There’s of course more to all of this and I will share in time, but the pandemic has hit me hard… and that’s not a snapshot I’ll want to view in five years.
This blog has long been my pride and joy. I’ll try to post more, perhaps sharing my thoughts on the 25 classics I’ve vowed to read this year or who would make a better president than our current terrible options. I am not gone… just coping. Thank you for sticking with me. Check on your friends.
Right now, I have a firm grasp on positivity… which of course means that later, I’ll have a firm grasp on a bottle of whiskey. My highs are really high and my lows are really low. I half-ass nothing.
So, in my latest up moment, I’ve been considering all the ways that I’m at an advantage during this pandemic, either by good decisions I’ve made that have ultimately prepared me for disaster, or the more likely scenario of pure chance. I’m a firm believer that where liberals tend to underestimate the role of moxy and self-determination, conservatives tend to underestimate the role of luck. So here’s a mix of both.
We’re used to eating at home.
Zetus lapetus, I don’t know how you people eat out all the time. Jake and I split a McDonald’s burger and fries (no drink) to celebrate Easter, since it was already the lamest holiday ever and it cost $7.26. That’s why we never eat out and y’all are crazy. Fortunately for us, this means we’ve got quite the cache of recipes, because we’re used to cooking. We’re not eating pasta night after night, but instead we’re eating soups, stew, salmon, enchiladas, salads, burgers, garlic green beans, battered fish, fries and tots, coconut haystacks, chocolate chip cookies, cake mix cookies… We’ve developed a lengthy menu over the years. Since we come home for lunch, that includes lunches. We are not scrambling for meal planning ideas.
I’ve been cutting our hair for years.
Zetus lapetus, I don’t know how you people get your hair cut all the time. A few years ago, I decided I wanted bangs, but I knew they’d need more upkeep than my twice annual haircut, so I bought some hair sheers on Amazon for $15 and started doing it myself, with tips from YouTube. A year ago, Jake asked me to cut his hair, so we could save the $20 every couple of months. For the cost of one of those haircuts, I bought a trimmer on Amazon and have been doing it ever since. Despite all salons being closed, there are no shaggy folks in the Granger household.
I own walking shoes and workout equipment.
I’ve had an elliptical for years and purchased my rowing machine about a month before the pandemic really hit. I also bought a good pair of walking shoes about six months ago and live in an older neighborhood with large lots and wide streets, so walks are a great way to get out of the house.
We don’t have kids. We want to do the baby thing soon, but we haven’t gotten around to it just yet and I’ve gotta say, what a time to be childless. I cannot imagine going through the highs and lows I hit in one day with small children in tow. I miss my job and the days feel long and meaningless, while I’m constantly terrified that I’ll get news that there won’t be any paychecks after a certain date. I can’t sleep, because I wake up and remember we’re in the middle of the apocalypse. It’s exhausting and I’m so glad I’m not solely responsible for another human’s health and well-being at this very moment of my life.
We have stable(ish) jobs.
They’re furloughing nurses and doctors in my state, during a pandemic. No job is 100% safe. Jake and I, however, have been lucky enough to keep our jobs and pay thus far. While I’m home, I am doing three remote programs a week with my homeschool kids, to justify that pay and none of my managers seem worried that we’ll lose it, let alone our jobs. Jake is essential, if people want to continue getting water in their homes, and he goes to work every day, as per usual.
I have a contingency plan.
If the bottom falls out, I just passed my school media certification test to add another subject area to my teaching certificate, which I’ve kept going all these years. They will always need teachers and I can always teach… even if that means eventually relocating to Jake’s home state, where teachers are better compensated.
We already bought a house.
Realizing that Cherokee property values were soaring and recognizing that if we waited to buy until we had a 20% down payment, we’d price ourselves out of the market, we purchased our 2,300 square foot, 1980’s flip on over an acre, for $210,000 with 5% down in 2018. Since I have no idea what Covid-19 is going to do to the housing market or mortgages as a whole, I’m really glad we’ve already bought a home that we plan to stay in for at least the next 15 years.
I just refinanced that house.
Literally, two weeks after the lock down, we signed the paperwork on a lower fixed interest rate and a lower monthly payment, which stated that we’d already earned 10% equity. We won’t have to make a mortgage payment until June and can use those payments to secure our financial position.
We’ve paid off a lot of debt and are now nearing an ideal financial situation.
I married a man with a nest egg and that is pure luck. Do any of y’all remember my rants about Fifty Shades of Grey and how I’d let a man hang me upside down and gut me like a deer if he’d only pay off my student loans? That happened!
Not that part… the part about the student loans. While I still owe on my federal student loans, they’re on an income based repayment program that only counts my income and comes out to about $220 a month, while the remainder is due for public service student loan forgiveness in 2024. My private student loans, however, were killing us. We were paying $300 a month just to keep the phone calls at bay, because we weren’t even touching the principal… that is, until my romantic hero swept in and paid them all off, along with my car and credit card, ultimately lowering our overhead by quite a bit. We’ve also paid off multiple credit cards since then and managed to secure a car payment of about $200 per month, while maintaining a sizable emergency fund.
I like my husband… and for some reason, he likes me. I’ve seen a lot of memes and articles citing the stress that this pandemic is putting on marriages. Maybe it’s because Jake is still going to work each day or because we have a lot of space to offer each other, but I just don’t feel that way. I have thought a hundred times how much worse this pandemic would be if I were single. I could barely handle getting iced in all alone during Southern snowstorms in my twenties, and those only lasted a few days. I would go crazy with no one but my pets, sitting around 24/7 reading articles about the end times.
During Armageddon, Jake gives me a reason to be in a good mood, to be sober, to keep a clean house, to make healthy meals, as opposed to my famous single girl dining experience of Lotso Snack Foods. Marshmallows and maraschino cherries for dinner anyone? Jake provides comfort and company and someone to share sad McDonald’s burgers as we celebrate Isolation Holidays with video games and drinking. For some reason, he’s grateful to have me around too and I’m beginning to think that’s it’s just his provider instincts. When crisis hits, he needs something to take care of… enter me.
Three weeks ago, I got the news that my library would be closing for two weeks, in the face of Covid-19. One week ago, I got the news that my library would be closing for two more weeks. Last Thursday… I think, the days are beginning to run together… I got the news that my library would be closed for the month of April.
Text to My Boss: Can we just stage a coup and go back anyway? Open the library, welcome people inside. I’m tired of being a part of the solution. Let’s be part of the problem.
In that first week, I posted an adorably ambitious list of pandemic goals. In hindsight, I now realize, of course, that this is the equivalent to a Google search for the most popular New Year’s resolutions. So I’m here to revise…
Goal 1: Do Everything I Can to Keep My Job
I am being paid, in full, while still accruing leave. I have a paycheck and health insurance through the end of the month, guaranteed. None of my managers are concerned about our jobs. We have a very secure funding model, similar to that of teachers. That being said, my state is on the list of potentials for the next Covid-19 hot spot and the president is about to advise that everyone wear masks in public. I bought gas for .99 cents a gallon yesterday. Sam’s Club doesn’t have meat. It’s the apocalypse, yo. Anyone who thinks their job is totally secure isn’t paying attention.
There aren’t a lot of ways to librarian from home, folks. I’m doing remote programming with my teens two days a week, listening to classics and reading YA novels, researching programming ideas for fall. I’m jumping at every chance for a video conference, internally and externally and planning to do some some software training on YouTube. I’m writing bi-weekly reports of all of my contributions and sending them in unsolicited. I’m obsessively checking my email, even though it’s been mostly crickets from management, all in the hopes that if this goes on long enough to require tough decisions, they’ll layoff anyone else.
Goal 2: Don’t Get Fat
Call me vain, I don’t care, but directly below keeping my job comes the goal of not getting fat in isolation. Y’all, I am literally holed up all day, with all of the food ever. There’s almost nothing I could want to eat, that I couldn’t eat. I have ice cream and cookies and Easter candy and fried chicken strips and frozen pizza and very little to do, beyond cry because the world is ending.
Forget yoga. Forget zumba. Forget healthy eating. Methodology no longer matters to me. If maintaining my weight means I walk around the neighborhood listening to audiobooks for two hours a day, so I can’t raid the fridge, so be it. What else am I going to do with my time? If it means drinking nothing but coffee until 1:00 in the afternoon, while doing an impression of Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka, fine. As long as they don’t have to roll me out of isolation, like Violet Beauregarde I’m happy.
Goal 3: Be Nice to My Husband
As essential personnel, my husband is still going to work every day. If anyone is going to get me sick, it’s him. If anyone is going to take care of me, it’s him. If anyone is going to keep me from feeling totally isolated, it’s him. It’s not his fault that I’m home, all day, theorizing that the evangelicals might be right and this could be the Rapture… at least beyond the point that he married me. He has to live in this incredibly stressful world, too… and he has to actually venture out into it. I don’t have to be the perfect housewife, but the least I can do is keep home pleasant.
Goal 4: Don’t Destroy the House
I am a homebody, y’all. I love my house. There’s no place I’d rather be… except maybe work these days. This house is 2,300 square feet, though, including the converted garage and it sits on over an acre. If not properly cared for, that becomes a huge chore. So, while Jake takes care of the lawn, it is my goal to keep our home comfortable… since we’re possibly going to die in it.
Goal 5: Don’t Destroy the Pets
Jake deserves 100% of the credit for the fact that our pets are not insufferable. He has trained them quite well, not to beg or get on the furniture without permission. They’re not allowed in the kitchen when we’re in there and they’re just generally much nicer to be around than many other people’s pets. Thackery Binx will meow at me first thing in the morning, because he wants me to hurry up and sit down with my coffee, so I can snuggle him. He seems to understand, however, that these snuggles have a time limit, because I have to go to work… until now. Now, I am home 100% of the time, to respond to everyone’s every whim, so I’m making it a goal to be slightly more emotionless, so as not to utterly destroy my pets in the time I’m home, however long that may be.
Goal 6: Don’t Spend Money
Times are simply too uncertain for retail therapy. Jake and I were quite fortunate to have started a refinance on our home six weeks ago, and to have finalized it just Wednesday, which means we’ve saved $300 on our mortgage and now have a 3.375% interest rate. We actually had to send in our most recent pay stubs, again, just to prove we still had jobs, the day before we signed, though. The economy has tanked and while I do still have my teaching certificate, because I love contingency plans, we don’t know what the future holds. So, spending less money is important right now. The mortgage payments we don’t have to make, the stimulus checks that are on their way, the extra paychecks we’re expecting in a few months… these are all going to securing our financial future, so that if things get bad, they’re not as bad.
Goal 7: Read Books
I have no more goals about what I should read, simply that I should read something that isn’t the news. It can be a romance novel I’ve read three times, as long as it’s not staring at a screen, crying over the end times. It probably shouldn’t be the next Left Behind novel or anything else that’s actually about the end times, but I’m not going to be that specific in my parameters.
So there we have it, my minimalist, realistic goals. If I can make it through this apocalypse employed, human sized, married, with a home and pets that don’t suck, without wasting all of the money we’ve saved, and without driving myself crazy by reading about Armageddon all day, I will be in a better place than most. They aren’t stimulating goals, but they’re goals all the same.