The Journey

BOOKS REMAINING:  ZERO

CURRENT BOOK:  Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I have been meaning to — well, I’m not sure if I want to say “wrap up” — this blog for a while, and I’m sorry I haven’t made time for it.  I am not sure exactly what I will do now that I have finished all of the books on The List.  I’m hoping to see things related to the books in the news and maybe have something to comment on, once in a while.  Perhaps I will read some other books related to the ones on The List.  But for now I am catching up on all the escapist fiction and grisly murder mysteries that I haven’t been reading for the last year.  As far as nonfiction and things that run deeper, I have been ready to take a break from those for a while.

I suppose it was a fitting end to my journey reading all of the books on The List, to read a book about a journey, while I was embarking on my own journey.

First, I have to gush that Ireland was amazing.  The amount my husband and I spent on the vacation was about what we expected and was within our means, and seems worthwhile since it was a trip of a lifetime for me.  It was his first time in Europe, and my first that I will be able to remember.  (My parents and I lived abroad when I was a baby, so I have been to many places but I couldn’t tell you anything about it except to show you a picture where I am in an infant carrier on my mother’s back).  When we discussed this with one of the bartenders, he asked us why we chose Ireland out of all the other places in Europe where we could have gone.  And I would say, why NOT choose Ireland?  But with my Irish ancestry, what we had heard about how beautiful the country is, how warm and welcoming the local people are, and that we didn’t have a language barrier, even in hindsight I do think it was a good choice.  We got to drive a pretty good loop around the country (despite my husband’s anxiety about driving on the other side of the road and navigating treacherous country lanes) and the scenery was incredible with dramatic cliffs, green pastures, majestic hills and mountains, quaint small towns, and cities built on rivers with footbridges.  The hotels selected by our tour company were lovely and were an excellent value.  We hardly had the same beer twice even though we limited ourselves to Irish non-stout beers that were available on tap, and they were all crisp and flavorful.  As far as the food, they are not kidding when they call it a “full” Irish breakfast, and they serve huge portions with potatoes on top of potatoes and on the side of everything, with fries thicker than an adult’s finger.  The time change actually didn’t affect me as much as when we went the other way to Hawaii (and my stylist who has also been in both directions said the same thing).  We did have a red-eye flight and slept on the plane there, since we knew we needed to so we could hit the ground running when we landed in Dublin.  The trip back did make for a very long day and we were dozing off in front of the television all weekend after we got home.  It hardly felt like the one day was my birthday except that I opened a few cards, but then again, I didn’t want the milestone to hit too hard.  Being on vacation for almost two weeks provided a huge buffer.

I did learn a little more about my family history and that some of my ancestors likely came from the most remote part of Ireland.  Although I did not have a chance to visit the particular county where the Irish branch of my family originated, it blows my mind to imagine a humble peasant seeing the same mountains and pastures and making the decision to leave it behind and seek opportunities in the United States.  My ancestor might have had to walk miles carrying just a few possessions, to the nearest very small town where transportation might have been available to one of the larger cities on a coast where my ancestor could obtain passage on a ship.  When my ancestor disembarked in New York City it must have seemed like it could not even have been part of the same world as rural Ireland.  Even to this day, the two places could not be more divergent.  To say that my ancestor must have been brave, is putting it mildly — and even children who emigrated with their parents without making decisions for themselves still had to be brave.  I am here where I am today due to the fact that someone several generations ago came to the United States from Ireland, and then that person — or one of his or her children — met someone in the United States and had a relationship which would not have happened back in Ireland, and that relationship produced a child, and that child eventually grew up and had a child, and so on, until my parents had me.  While this idea was always there in the back of my mind, going to Ireland and being near where my ancestors likely came from, has given me a much richer perspective.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I finished Wild on the plane between Chicago and Dublin, two days before my deadline.  I have read the book before and enjoyed both the book and the movie, and it inspired me to do some hiking of my own and made me want to see the parts of the country that Cheryl Strayed visited while she was on the Pacific Crest Trail.  She was perhaps a bit better prepared than I would be to “rough it” for an extended period, but not by much.  It amazes me that she made it, because I don’t think I would have.  Although she encounters many challenges and obstacles and it is not easy, she does learn along the way, and despite that she must modify her goals due to circumstances beyond her control, she does reach her goals in the end.  She begins her journey from a very dark place in her life, and the hiking trip is something that she wants to do to reset herself before she starts a new life that she hopes will put her in a better and happier place.  There have been dark times in my life when I wish I could have done something similar.  It’s a parallel to Eat, Pray, Love in that respect.

While my journey reading the books, and my journey to Ireland, did not necessarily put me in a better or happier place, at least not to the extent that Strayed’s journey did for her (unfortunately when I returned from Ireland I had to go right back to work the next day after traveling for almost 24 hours and landing in New Orleans at midnight), I do hope I am well poised to move on to the next phase of my life.  Maybe by having the good health I enjoy at the age of 40, by having steady work, and by being able to travel to Ireland since it’s quite possible that no one in my family before me was able to make the trip back to the homeland, I am living the life and enjoying the opportunities that the humble peasant who made a huge leap of faith and left Ireland, would have wanted his or her descendants to have, and may have left Ireland for that purpose.  As far as journeys go, I suppose that’s not a bad place to be.

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The Day Has Come

WEEK 51

BOOKS REMAINING:  0

CURRENT BOOK:  Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Books remaining, zero.  I always knew I’d make it, even if I did skim some of the books.  Sure enough I did finish Wild on the plane to Ireland.  And sure enough I did make it to Ireland, despite a major hiccup at the connecting airport which prevented me from leaving Chicago on time.  After frazzling my nerves for over an hour they finally figured out what was going on and fortunately were able to put us on another plane direct to Dublin from Chicago and we still got in yesterday morning like we were supposed to.

And sure enough today is my birthday.  I suppose if Beverly Cleary turned 101 yesterday and Sarah Michelle Gellar turns 40 tomorrow I’m in good company.

I’ll blog about Wild later since we only have one more day in Dublin.  I just wanted to shout out that I made it, in more ways than one.

Second to Last

WEEK 50

BOOKS REMAINING:  1

CURRENT BOOK:  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Well I guess it’s actually happening.  I’m at O’Hare airport in Chicago waiting to board a flight to Toronto which will connect me to my flight to Dublin.  I’m going to Ireland for real.

For this extended vacation, I actually left work at 5:00 on Friday, but only because I worked crazy overtime all throughout the week to make sure my desk was clear if it killed me.  Sure enough, Boss Girl dumped two projects on me after 4:00 on Friday and one of them involved a monster scan job.  And I lucked out that Boss Man had to leave early to pick up one of his kids.

Anyway, I finished To Kill a Mockingbird on Saturday before we left but have not had time to blog about it since we attended a music fest and finished packing on Saturday and then left for Chicago early Sunday so I tried to enjoy Chicago instead of diddling on the smartphone.

I never did understand why so many people think Mockingbird is the Greatest Novel in the English Language.  It’s not bad.  But I never loved it.  (Yes this is a re-read from being forced in junior high).  Now that I am a little older I can appreciate Atticus’ wisdom somewhat better.  I do think it gives good insight into growing up in a small rural town in the South during a certain time in history, especially how people were defined by their families.  And I do see the important theme about not prejudging people, and that this goes beyond skin color.  I can see its place on The List, as it is told through the eyes of a young girl by a significant female author.  But I still think people make too much of it.  I never did read the sequel that came out, was it last year or the year before?  Especially since I thought Atticus was at the heart of the story and I heard he was a different person in the sequel.

I did start on the last book, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, on the way to Chicago and made more progress at the hotel while my husband was resting.  So with a transatlantic flight ahead of me I do expect to finish with The List by my deadline on Thursday.

They’ll be boarding in a few minutes so I’d better sign off!

Borderline

WEEK 49

CURRENT BOOK:  Them by Joyce Carol Oates

BOOKS REMAINING:  2

Now that we are THIS close to the big trip (as in, we will be in Dublin this time next week, although I will still be in my 30’s at that point), I have decided that I am never again traveling anywhere, especially with my husband, where we have to do more than drive over for the weekend.

Granted, I am having a horrible week at work since they don’t have anyone to cover for me and I need to stay over and clear off my desk every day so I don’t wind up in an even worse jam last thing on Friday which of course is the worst possible time.  This ALWAYS happens when I try to go out of town, to the point that it is not even worth trying to take  a day off.  It is supposed to be in the mid 70’s and sunny on Saturday and I am planning to go to the free music festival in the French Quarter and have a late lunch in a French Quarter courtyard.  Unfortunately the completely adorable jumpsuit I ordered as a splurge with my anticipated overtime money is not going to come in time to wear for the festival, but I’ll figure something out.  Not to mention I had to work through lunch and stay an hour over yesterday, not for overtime, but just to make up time from a dentist appointment which of course was entirely unpleasant.  And I have extra freelance work this month too, something that will only be fun in about two or three months when I get paid for it.

And I don’t think my husband has been having an easy time at work lately either, since he has had to assume a few projects for a co-worker who is on maternity leave.  He has tried to be supportive and even offered to do all the cleaning for me before we leave, while I work, he hasn’t been 100 percent and his fuse has been about as short as mine.  And while he did do some cleaning on Sunday he has been easily distracted since then.

So I’m not planning on doing any more big traveling anytime soon.

As far as the creatively acquired Them, I was able to finish it just as my co-worker received a nagging little e-mail from the library reminding her it was due in two days.  (Her library gives you two weeks with four renewals.  Mine gives you three weeks with two renewals.  Go figure.)  It wasn’t the worst thing on The List, but as the co-worker and I discussed, Oates is not the type of author who would appeal to everyone.  I felt there was a lot of disconnection between different significant things that happened in the novel, almost like certain things never happened.

The novel follows a working-class family in Detroit and the dysfunctional relationships and activities in which they become involved.  Even at over 500 pages that is the best way I can describe it.  The mother marries in haste.  The son and daughter both become involved with married people.  The son goes on the run.  The daughter has a nervous breakdown after briefly turning to prostitution.  That kind of thing.

And I thought my family and my husband’s were bad…

Different Perspectives

WEEK 47

BOOKS REMAINING:  3

CURRENT BOOK:  The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

Although I was supposed to have received my packet for Ireland this week, I haven’t yet.  So I’m starting to get nervous!  They admitted there have been “delays” but we are coming down to the wire!!!

In the meantime, I am having a slow week at work except maybe for yesterday morning.  Slow enough to ask for work from whoever from any of the other groups, had anything that I could do.  And slow enough to sneak in a blog update.  This Friday is dragging along and pizza and a movie cannot come soon enough.

The Woman Warrior provides different perspectives on the lives of the women in a Chinese-American family in the 20th century.  One can see the position of women in Chinese society wherein some characters can remember that as they were growing up, the culture was changing but women still had their feet bound, and wherein a man could take multiple wives (although the first wife still enjoyed the highest social status).  For girls who grew up in a Chinese family and received an American education, they received conflicting messages about the appropriate standard of behavior for girls as the Chinese way was for a girl to be more demure while the American way was for a girl to be more assertive.  However, as it turns out in the end, even within the same family, parents can have different standards for their daughters and encourage one on the path to marriage and motherhood and the other on the path to education and a career.  And it seems wise for parents to recognize and support the uniqueness of each of their children, regardless of culture and gender.

Interestingly, the idea of the woman warrior refers to Mu Lan (as in the Disney movie) and one of the main characters looks to her as a role model rather than to women who fill more submissive roles expected of them by Chinese society.  The book also provides interesting insight into the superstitious nature of the Chinese, even the younger generation.  While The Joy Luck Club explored some of the same ideas, The Woman Warrior is like looking at another facet of the same diamond, and I am glad that The List included works representative of the Asian culture.

Creative Acquisition, or, the Long and Short of It

WEEK 46

BOOKS REMAINING:  4

CURRENT BOOK:  The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

I finally finished the monstrous The Second Sex.  I even had to use most of my lunch breaks for the last week (which I was already cutting short in order to leave work early on Friday to take my husband to march in a St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown New Orleans), reading 75 pages instead of 50 every day, so I could make sure I stayed on track and didn’t use up too much of my allotted time to read it when I still have four books left.  While the suppression of women throughout history is indeed an important subject, I never realized there was enough material to fill an 800-page essay about it.  Especially after finishing Our Bodies, Ourselves I have never been as glad to get required reading over with.

And I’ll confess I skimmed the d-mned thing.

This book just did not resonate with me.  I do agree that women need to strive for independence and should not rely on being taken care of by their fathers and husbands.  And that marriage doesn’t really benefit women except for the pressure that society still puts on them (at least, it doesn’t really have any practical benefit for women in Louisiana, when it just locks you into a community property arrangement which is not necessarily a good thing if your spouse is not financially stable).  And that women are improperly judged based on externals and standards of behavior which present a double standard when one considers how society judges men.  But that’s as far as I’ll go.

It seems like de Beauvoir is basically just complaining about all these things that bother her, and delving back into history, without acknowledging how society has changed and is changing, and without offering any opinions as to how society should treat women differently than they have in the past.  And it’s just not something I respect when someone says “You’re doing this wrong” without also making clear “This is the right way.”

So FINALLY on to the next book.  I was able to get The Woman Warrior on interlibrary loan, and it is blessedly short.  I had to exercise what I’ll call “creative acquisition” to get Them from the library, because I had go outside of my library system and get a friend who lives in the neighboring parish (which is how they refer to counties in Louisiana) to get it for me from her library.  It was longer than I expected but I think it will still be easier to read than The Second Sex or Our Bodies, Ourselves.  Although my packet for my trip  to Ireland did not arrive on St. Patrick’s Day which would have been sublime, it is supposed to be in the mail, and at least we now have new cabinets in the bathroom with doors and drawers.  And after weeks of harassment my husband finally ordered the towel bars and cabinet pulls.  So hopefully we can move everything back in there soon.  And considering I wanted a new bathroom for Christmas, to at least get it for my birthday would be something.

Trying to be Healthy

WEEK 45

BOOKS REMAINING:  5

CURRENT BOOK:  Our Bodies, Ourselves by the Boston Women’s Book Collective

I really have been trying to do well this week.  Not so much regarding what I ate.  I was conscious of it at least.  But I still mostly ate junk.  (Yesterday when two of the girls at work invited me to join them and get pizza for lunch, was not my fault.  Until they asked me to go with them, I was going to get a burger and fries for myself.  Which I got today.)  But I have been good about exercising except for Wednesday when my husband and I had a last-minute appointment to bring our paperwork to our tax preparer.  I even took a walk in the neighborhood yesterday after following up with my eye doctor for a pressure test and dilation exam that he had been wanting to do, and everything checked out fine and it was not as much of a nuisance as I had expected.

Not to mention it is less than a month until my husband and I leave for Chicago-before-Ireland.  He is an engineer and since engineers are like that he is in the process of mapping out where all our hotels in Ireland are and where all the attractions are and figuring out what we will do each day.  We still have not received our packet from the tour company with all of our vouchers but I’m sure it will feel even more real once we do.

Anyway, back to the books.  I am so glad that I only have five books left and that except for The Second Sex (which sucks) they are short.  I did not like Our Bodies, Ourselves much more than The Second Sex because there is just too MUCH of it.  Yes, it is a vitally and crucially important subject.  And it was written in an approachable way.  However, all of the sidebars made it difficult to read through.  I disagree that they should have omitted anything about mental health because, despite their statement that information can be found elsewhere, I don’t believe there are as many resources (and I’m not talking self-help books), and also I think it is very different for women than men as far as dealing with feelings and trauma and etc. so I think mental deserved at least a chapter when the book was 800 pages already.  Much of women’s health centers around reproductive health and pregnancy and childbirth, which do not apply to me because of my medical condition which involves nonfunctioning ovaries.  My medical condition (which ONLY affects women) was only briefly mentioned in a sidebar, and I felt it was out of context because it was within a discussion of premature menopause.  “Premature menopause” seems to me to be an inaccurate way to describe a condition wherein the menstrual cycle never even starts, much less pauses prematurely

Our Bodies, Ourselves takes a very liberal approach to women’s health and goes so far as to suggest that women should no be pressured to have their labor induced or to undergo a C-section and should wait it out longer than doctors and hospitals generally allow, it is not that difficult to breastfeed, and that women need access to undergo abortions if they choose and that terminating  a pregnancy is essentially not a big deal.  One of the most interesting parts of the book addressed gender identity and sexual orientation, and in a very open way.  The authors expressed support for the Affordable Care Act and a single-payer healthcare system.  While I am somewhat liberal, I am not quite as liberal as the authors.  I am sure if any one country had found a foolproof method to health care reform that solved all problems, every country would be doing it — but there just isn’t anything out there that doesn’t have its pros and cons.

I agree that women need to be knowledgeable about their bodies and their health.  We need to be able to act as informed consumers of healthcare.   But I’m not sure it should have taken 800 pages — with sidebars — to accomplish this.

In any case, it’s Friday.  And I’m not dealing with any more 800-page monstrosities on a Friday.  I’m going to the gym.