Time for some quick-fire book reviews. If you want to see what I'm reading these days, check out the Books tab and scroll down to the bottom for my 2017 reading list.
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus (read for book club): To say this is an experimental novel is an understatement. Ostensibly, it's about a woman who becomes obsessed with a man (an English literary/culture critic posing as some kind of cowboy artist), but that's really not what the book is about. I found it easier to like this work by thinking of it as a piece of performance art concerning feminism, art criticism, and most of all, who gets to speak. I Love Dick is Kraus's living answer to that question. I'm not sure how they managed to convince Amazon to make a TV show based on this book, but I can't comment on that having not seen it. If you do decide to take the plunge with I Love Dick, I would recommend skimming the section about the paintings. As far as I can tell, a lot of this book wasn't intended for the every-day reader, being more specifically geared to Kraus's peers (art and literary critics in the most academic sense of the word). It's a hard book to finish, but you should because the ending is fabulous and there is a lot great insight sprinkled throughout.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (read for an upcoming Adichie talk): I'll be honest, this book was a bit of a struggle for me until the latter half. It's about a Nigerian family, well-off and highly respected because of the father's business success, his support of the free press in an oppressive and dangerous political landscape, as well as his generosity and extreme catholic piety. To outside observers, he is the perfect figure-head to the perfect family. But what no one else knows is that he regularly beats and terrorizes his wife and two children, usually for some kind of perceived sin, however inconsequential (or non-existent) it might be. The father is a fairly interesting character because you can only wonder how he became this way and why he hurts his family even as he so clearly loves them. I suppose it's because he's been taught to believe by missionaries that he will lose them if they aren't able to uphold every rigid, arbitrary rule of Catholicism, much in the way he's "lost" his father who simply refuses to convert. Anyway, you can already tell from this review whom I'm more fascinated by in this book, even though it's told from the perspective of his daughter. And I feel a little bad about that, because it's clearly not her fault that she's so passive and weak - she's been terrorized into silence by her father. So her passivity is understandable, but also very frustrating to read. Most other characters outside of her family also get annoyed by her for these same reasons, so I suppose my reaction isn't entirely out of place, but we at least know why she's so weak, and so we know how unfair it is to judge her for it. Once the daughter is more or less removed from her home by her aunt, she begins to improve, but it was a slog to get there. I just got very tired of reading the lines "I wanted to say..." over and over. But again, I understood why she couldn't say it either. It definitely made you feel complicit in the plot, like you were just another character passing judgement on the poor girl, making her life extra miserable. So her passivity made it hard to push through Purple Hibiscus, but I'm glad I did. Can't wait to hear Adichie's thoughts about it and what I may have missed.
Would definitely recommend you try both of these novels. Like I said, they're kind of difficult books in different ways. Purple Hibiscus is certainly the more readable of the two, but the narrator was less compelling compared to I Love Dick's (who most of my book club hated, so this may be a taste thing). Anyway, check them out if you're in the mood for some heavier reading. I probably wouldn't have finished either if I hadn't been reading them for very specific reasons, but I'm glad I did. Definitely enjoying the accountability of my book club for that reason.
So for all my writing and reading friends out there, I wanted to give you a quick heads up about some exciting literary events that are coming to the D.C. area, in case you happen to live around here or will be passing through.
First of all, the National Book Festival is coming up on September 2! This FREE event is sponsored by the Library of Congress and brings together some really exciting authors for the public to listen to and engage with. Speakers include Roz Chast (of New Yorker cartoon fame, whose book I wrote a review about here), Diana Gabaldon, Roxane Gay, Ha Jin, Condoleezza Rice, Cokie Roberts, David McCullough, Colm Toibin, and so many more. You can find the full list here. For a one day event, I think it's going to be really hard to see everyone I'd like to! The National Book Festival takes place at the Walter E. Washington convention center with doors opening at 8:30 am. I've wanted to go to this festival for YEARS, but have never gone for one reason or another. Can't wait to finally experience it and nerd out with other book lovers.
The other big literary news is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is coming to Maryland! She's giving several talks at different locations from September 24-26, including at the Baltimore Book Festival, about her novel Purple Hibiscus, which Maryland Humanities is sponsoring as a kind of state wide book club. I'm about half-way through the book, and it's very well written, though I admit I'm having some issues with the main character's passivity - but it does make perfect sense since this is a story about family abuse. Looking forward to finishing it and seeing how it turns out.
It was actually my best friend who alerted me to these upcoming talks, and even though she lives all the way in Dallas, she's flying home for the long weekend so we can see Adichie together. My friend is a huge fan of her writing, but also of her TED talks, including the one I've linked above, "We Should All Be Feminists." Check it out! I admit, I have not read enough of Adichie's work (Americana is perpetually on my "to read" list), but this has been a great excuse to dig into her catalogue in preparation to hear her talk.
And if you're in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area this September, I hope you'll be able to make it to these events. I know I'm super excited :)
Last week I spoke about starting Lexapro, so I wanted to give you a little update about how I'm feeling.
Actually, not bad. Pretty good even. My problems aren't solved by any means, but they certainly feel less impossible. I don't really know how to describe it. It's not that I necessarily feel happier, but I am having an easier time seeing how my goals and issues can be broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces. I certainly don't feel like a different person, but I do feel less "wound up," if you know what I mean.
For instance, I've been struggling to finish a short novella for the last few months. It could not be a simpler story (purely commercially driven for publication on Amazon's KDP) that I'd already completely plotted out, and yet I have not been able to just sit down and finish the damn thing so I could move on to better projects.
Yesterday I finished it. After literal months of being about 2000 words from the ending, I was finally able to sit my butt down and get it done.
Is it the medicine? A placebo effect? A combination of all the other things I'm doing? Not sure. But I'll take it.
The only other thing I've been doing differently is making more of a concerted effort to apply some cognitive behavioral therapy exercises, particularly the one related to procrastination/perfectionism. It works like this: you make three columns on a piece of paper and label them Task, Perception, and Reality. You write out your tasks and then on a scale of 0-100, rate how difficult you perceive they will be. Then after you complete the task, you rate how difficult you actually felt it was in the Reality column. Those of us that struggle with anxiety generally perceive things to be more difficult or awful than they really are, which contributes to our procrastination. I've been struggling with that issue lately, so I've been using this exercise and finding it really helpful, because it provides tangible evidence that the activities I need to do aren't nearly as hard as I expect them to be and it creates a kind of positive snowball effect for future tasks.
Anyway, just wanted to report that I'm definitely feeling a little better and having an easier time with things. The mild Lexapro side-effects have worn off and I'm feeling like it's really helping, especially in combination with the cognitive behavioral therapy I've been working on. That makes sense since the combination of medication plus therapy is supposed to be more effective than either one alone. I don't know why but I find that pretty cool to see in action. It gives me a lot of respect for psychiatry.
Sorry I've been awol these last two weeks. Been busy with a lot of stuff, not least of which is both my therapist and doctor diagnosed me with moderate depression/anxiety (no doubt triggered by how my life has changed post-separation/divorce).
For whatever reason, I found this diagnosis pretty surprising, even though the writing has been on the wall for a few months now. Beyond a brief period in the 7th grade when I was very socially isolated after my best friend went to a different school and all my other friends were in different classes, I've never really felt very down or low for more than a day at a time. But something has definitely been off for the last few months, something that goes beyond just the standard breakup grief.
I guess I didn't realize what was going on because I didn't expect depression to feel this way. At least for me, I can only describe it as this sense of hopelessness and feeling trapped. My brain gets stuck in these perpetual worry loops where I can see no way to solve my problems or change my current situation. I'm still able to get up and do the things I need to do, but mostly just the essentials, because everything feels so much more difficult and overwhelming than normal. And frankly, nothing has felt very fun. I've also been feeling generally nervous all the time, even when there's no reason to be, which I suppose is the anxiety - something that definitely runs in my family.
So on my doctor's advice, I've started taking Lexapro, which seems to be one of the more commonly prescribed SSRIs. I've only been on it for a few days now, and thankfully the side-effects already seem to be wearing off, though they were never that bad to begin with (just feeling a little "off," sleepiness, some mild GI issues, etc.). I know it's too early to tell, but I swear I already feel very slightly better (tbh, it's probably a placebo effect). For instance, today I noticed that butterfly feeling in my stomach had kind of gone away. I'm not exaggerating when I say I've been feeling that fluttery, nervous sensation on and off all day for weeks now. So it's been kind of nice to get a reprieve from that.
Sometimes I don't really know what to do with this blog. Do I narrow its focus onto reading and writing? Or do I open up and tell you guys a little bit about my life as well? I guess the only reason I decided to share this information with you is because I found it incredibly helpful when my friends and family openly discussed their depression issues and how much medication helped them. Honestly, if it hadn't been for two women in my life who told me years ago that they were or had been on anti-depressants, and how it didn't "change" them, but helped them get through some rough periods of their life, I don't think I ever would have felt brave enough to try it for myself.
So, I figured I'd use this blog post to share with you all that I'm giving anti-depressants a try in case reading about my experience is of any benefit to you. I don't expect to be on them forever, but right now I need the help. At first I felt slightly ashamed to admit that, to myself and especially to my parents, but then I thought about how we don't judge people for needing medicine when they're sick. I mean, I would never hold it against someone who needed chemotherapy, right? Well, my nervous system is just all out of whack at the moment, so why shouldn't I take medicine to help it get better? I'm still doing other things, like cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, journaling, and obviously talking to a therapist. I'm just also adding medication to that list because my goal is to get back to feeling like myself again.
So I'll let you know how the Lexapro goes. I actually have pretty high hopes for my case. Like I said, I already feel like I'm responding pretty well to it and it just remains to be seen how it goes in the longer term.
I keep thinking about how if this is what moderate depression feels like for someone whose living situation has only been upended (but gets a lot of family and medical support), I can only imagine how hard it is for someone who's experienced real loss and trauma without the same kind of safety net. In some ways I'm kind of thankful to be going through this, because it really makes me more empathetic to others who are going through depression. I just didn't get it before. So If you're feeling low or stuck, know that I'm sending you a big hug right now.
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