Saturday, 5 April 2014

review: "This Is Where I Leave You" by Jonathan Tropper

"At some point you lose sight of your actual parents; you just see a basketful of history and unresolved issues."
Judd Foxman is a man left by his wife for his boss, living in a strangers' basement. He has nowhere to turn. He has a recurrent dream of being an amputee, which, in its various forms, haunts most of his nights. Then his father dies, and to all this a new stress factor is added: apparently his father, a non-religious man, requested that shiva be sat for him by his entire family. Thus, many more characters are introduced: Judd's mother Hillary, a psychologist very much in the vein of Dr. Beverly Hofstadter, a brilliant child-rearing expert who screwed up her own children; Judd's siblings: the dysfunctionally married Wendy, the family screw-up Phillip, the hopeful-until-life altering injury Paul, now in charge of the family business. We also meet the secondary characters: Linda, the next door neighbour, always present, surrogate mother to the kids, and her son Horry, Wendy's high-school flame, who got his head bashed in and as a result lives with his mother to this day. From their meeting on, a classic family-and-friends drama unfolds: old relationships come to life, old injuries and injustices are rekindled, unsavoury sex is had, extramarital sex is also had, you know, all kinds basically. Judd's wife Jen reappears with a surprising piece of news at about half the book, which changes nothing, except that there's one more player on the scene.

The whole book is supposed to convey the effects of a family reunion on the family members, to show off the parallels between the parenting of the different generations, offer a meditation on the relationships between brothers and sisters, parents and their kids. Which, as you might have noticed, is not exactly a new idea. It has been done many times, even in this cultural variation (last time I registered it was Jami Attenberg's brilliant novel The Middlesteins), and there's nothing wrong with that. The problem emerges when you, like Jonathan Tropper's new novel, have very little new to say on the subject. The book has some very nice observations about family and life, but they all ring a little familiar:

We all start out so damn sure, thinking we’ve got the world on a string. If we ever stopped to think about the infinite number of ways we could be undone, we’d never leave our bedrooms.


You never know when it will be the last time you’ll see your father, or kiss your wife, or play with your little brother, but there’s always a last time. If you could remember every last time, you’d never stop grieving.

Those are well crafted sentences which go down well, maybe even move you a little, but that's all. The writing in general is a bit lazy, relying maybe a little too heavily on its near-universal subject matter. There are great sub-themes in the book: the "alternate universe" Wendy mentions, where Horry, the otherwise ideal man, is not a seizure-prone incontinent victim of a stupid, unnecessary attack; the relationship between Linda the neighbour and the family: those ties strong in every other but blood sense. 

None of the books numerous themes even attempt to dig deep, though. They're all just swimming around on the surface, ending up somewhat disappointing to the reader. Nevertheless, the book is still entertaining enough to get through, so maybe a good read for an airplane ride or a carry-around book for your daily travels. So: entertaining and occasionally witty, but ultimately (and disappointingly) shallow.

Apparently, there is now a film being made based on the book. It doesn't seem like a good idea, but I'll definitely be on the look-out for it, in case it manages to cash in on some of the good points that remained undeveloped in the book.

Friday, 4 April 2014

top five ways to mishandle your socially awkward friend

I can't even count how many times I've been told "You know, the people thing? You're doing it wrong." Now, I am 23 years old. It's not pleasant to hear that at this age. It was not pleasant when I was fifteen, but I was suffering from severe untreated social phobia then, so it was at least kind of easy to see where it was coming from. I have been treated for three years now and I was beginning to think that I've at least learned something in this field, even if I might have not mastered it. Apparently that's not the case. I thought about it and I think I have a few things to say to people who dish out this pronouncement to their socially less apt friends. Did you ever pause to think that maybe you're not helping us by what you're doing? This is a list of things that might help you if you care about that. If you don't, feel free to stop reading right now.

Note to my IRL friends: None of this is meant as a personal dig at you. If I'm writing about it, many people must have done it. If it were a personal dig at you, I wouldn't be writing a fucking blog post about it, I would be talking about it with you, personally.

1. The "What's wrong with your face"

I've never smoked a cigarette in my life. If it comes to it, I usually say that I grew up in a non-smoking household or something to that effect. That's true, but there's also another, much more important reason: growing up, and especially as a teenager, I was seldom invited anywhere. I did have friends, and those friends did go out, but almost always without me. I didn't say no to cigarettes. I never had the opportunity to do it. I used to agonize over why my friends, who seemed to like me otherwise, saw no need to include me in having fun. After some time I realized it was because I was considered not to be fun. The result seems kind of obvious: I grew up into a self-conscious adult, who in spite of never being given the opportunity to find out, was convinced that she's boring and incapable of having fun.

Now, I did get to participate in social gatherings in college, and found out that I can have fun and that people don't hate me by default. There is a thing about former sociophobics that doesn't seem clear to everyone, though. Here it is: when you have social phobia, you are painfully shy and incapable of normal human interaction. The "painful" in painfully shy pertains to you, the sociophobic, as interaction with people, any people, not just new people, is physically demanding to you. Social phobia is not being shy around new people. It is a debilitating disorder often co-morbid with persecution phobia, OCD or depression (I had all of those, I'm not just making that up), that makes interaction with people so difficult it physically wears you out. When you eventually get treatment, what it does is make you not sociophobic. It eliminates the rapid heart rate, tremors and tics happening when talking to people.What it doesn't make you is a party animal. If only because you were effectively isolated until you got treatment, it is still not super easy for you to meet people. The change is in that now you can. It's that simple.

2. The Social Exclusion Paradox

So, you have a friend who's been through all this, and thus can be a bit quiet at parties or social gatherings. It doesn't mean we don't want to be there, or that we're not having a good time. It just means that we've been excluded until recently and now we're learning to meet new people. Personally I enjoy meeting new people and being able to chat to anyone without feeling as though I'm about to puke. Unfortunately this is not clear to the world outside, so I still get excluded simply for not making the right face at the right time. Reasons for that include "I didn't think you'd like it," "I know you're shy" and my personal favourites "There would have been people and I wouldn't have been able to talk to only you" and "You always seem so unhappy and it makes me feel bad." Now, I understand you might mean well, but these are assumptions based on nothing but your vague feeling or prejudice, and they are seriously hurting me. And no matter how well you meant, in the end you've driven your friend into further isolation. When I'm sitting home, knowing I'm alone and bored for some of these reasons, I'm not thinking how glad I am that I didn't have to feel shy for five seconds or that I didn't have to meet new people.

All this is also the main reason why the next item is so very infuriating.

3. The "Why don't you go out and meet new people"

Usually, the way of making friends consisting of the lines "Hi, I'm Gabriela. Let's be friends!" ceases to be feasible once you graduate from the sandbox into the real world. Surprisingly, it seems to me that sometimes my friends imagine the process of meeting people like this. That I just go to a social occasion by myself, and utilise these two sentences to make new friends. Unsurprisingly, I don't do that. It's absurd. I mean, do you? Did you ever? Does it seem organic to you that I just enter a room full of people I have never met and start "making new friends"? As far as I know, people usually meet other people via their existing friends. Yes, their existing friends. Those friends, who refuse to invite you among their friends, because your face around new people makes them feel uncomfortable. Can you see why the titular question makes me mad yet?

4. The "You have too few friends"

This is basically a variation of the item above. The only other thing that I can think of is that maybe those people who urge me to make new friends think that my other friends (don't worry, I have those; I'm that good) will invite me somewhere and I will make new friends, thus eliminating the whole sandbox theory. The thing is, why would you think that? It's not just you who worries about me/you being uncomfortable among other people. Other people might do that too. Didn't think of that, did you?

5. The "You're too clingy"

Of course I am. I have few friends, remember? Odds are I love you, because as an introverted former sociophobic it's still difficult for me to maintain relationships, not only establish them, so you must be worth it (that's not sarcasm by the way, I mean that). Also I wasn't properly socialized, because the whole social phobia business wasn't a thing when I was little or when I was a teenager. Nobody gave a fuck about how difficult these things were for me. And for all those years, I didn't just sit at home, pining for friends. I worked my ass off to de-scare myself of people. I wanted to socialize myself. I had interests that involved group participation. I went to camps. I joined societies. It didn't make me less scared or less sociophobic, because, well, it couldn't. All the while all my teachers were telling me something was wrong with me, because I spoke too quietly and wasn't assertive. Not "Do you have a problem with that," "You're being scared on purpose and I'm gonna give you shit for that for eight years."

Now, all this is absolutely not your fault. I'm working on not being too clingy, I really am. I just thought you might appreciate a window into how that is for me.
I'm posting this top five on Friday, because it's too important for me to go out on Saturday. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

my new deviantArt gallery

Today I'm just plugging my deviantArt gallery. I'm slowly setting it up, but some of the photos are already on sale as prints, so feel free to check it out or comment if you're so inclined.

I'm thinking of setting up a portfolio, but as I'm currently in no state to be starting a business, deviantArt seemed like a good place to be in the interim period. The other deviants have been extremely welcoming, too, so I feel great there. I'm not really sure about how the prints work since no one has ordered anything yet, but I'm sure it's not very complicated. Of course I'd also be very grateful if you spread the word on your blogs or social media!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

I just vlogged to say...

Hey, I made a vlog! It looks and sounds weird, but it's up and it's there and you can all watch it and delight in my weird accent and the range of faces I can pull in such a short amount of time.

Sorry for the lame joke in the title, I just couldn't help myself.

choice quotes I'm appreciating right now

I'm depressed. I cry often in public places, or I'm trying not to. I find myself in places I shouldn't find myself, because when I was going there, my brain wasn't working properly. I'm meaner than usual, and angrier, all that mixed in with all the crying. I'm a fucking mess.

People who have had the joy of having to interact with someone like me often fail to appreciate just how much of a mess that person is. I'm not eloquent enough to express that, so here are some quotes to help you.

1. Sylvia Plath, "The Bell Jar"

I didn't want my picture taken because I was going to cry.

This quote captures the state of mind a depressed person often finds themselves in, if (as mine did now) their shrink fucked up their dosage, or if they're not taking any medication.

2. Ned Vizzini, "It's Kind of a Funny Story"

I didn't want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep.

3. Allen Ginsberg, "Tears"

I’m crying all the time now.
I cried all over the street when I left the Seattle Wobbly Hall.
I cried listening to Bach.
I cried looking at the happy flowers in my backyard, I cried at the sadness of the middle aged trees.
Happiness exists I feel it.
I cried for my soul, I cried for the world’s soul.
The world has a beautiful soul.

God appearing to be seen and cried over. Overflowing heart of Paterson. 
This poem is not necessarily about a mentally unstable person. Still, it captures the joy of crying all the fucking time.
4. David Foster Wallace, "The Infinite Jest"
The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.
5. William Faulkner, "The Sound and the Fury"

Sir I will not need Shreve's I have sold Benjy's pasture and I can be dead in Harvard Caddy said in the caverns and the grottoes of the sea tumbling peacefully to the wavering tides because Harvard is such a fine sound forty acres is no high price for a fine sound.
I chose this one because it shows the incoherence of thought you're experiencing while trying to function normally. That it deals with death is just an unfortunate coincidence. I didn't even pick up on the fact that Quentin actually dies in the book when I first read it. 

Additionally, if you manage to talk to one of us without making this person cry, good job. You did something very right. If you've made someone cry, well, either you were a jerk, or maybe it had nothing to do with you. I've had both of these this week, one unfortunate coincidence and one case of douchebaggery. We're not enjoying this any more than you are. It's here, it sucks, more/different/any drugs are needed. Hopefully it will pass. Until then, it's not you (except when it is), it will pass, and I'm sorry.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

top five Saturday: cat-o-cracy

{I'm betting it's still Saturday somewhere. So there. I forgot to publish one yesterday due to still reeling from my crappy Social Exclusion Friday that I'm now officially making too big a deal of.}

Here's how my cat rules my life. Leave your own cat-o-cracy observations in the comments!

1. The I could pee on this Phenomenon

One time Loki sat on me just as I was waking up in the morning, and peed all over me. Some people say she's territorial. Some say it's because I named her Loki. I say it's because she enjoys it.

2. The "Oh, you made/bought this? It's mine now."

Basically, you can't keep stuff from your cat unless you lock it away. I keep my handbags in the spare room, because otherwise I would have no handbags. Or at least no scratch-free handbags.

3. The Cat Picture Paradox

In spite of cats being the most photographed animal on the Internet, some cats hate being photographed. As I insist on putting pictures of my cat all over all my accounts, this happens a lot.

4. The Scratching Post Inefficiency

The scratching post is only good in that one place. Once that is worn out, it's time to proceed to the couch/new sweater/owner's jeans.

5. The Bowl 99% Full Rule

For some reason, the one on the left is empty to the cat, and once she nudges that tiny empty place into existence, it's MEEEOW FEED ME time immediately.

Note: this is what my cat is like. I don't mean to discourage other people from getting cats, just offering sympathy to other crazy cat people. If you're thinking of getting a cat, know that even if it turns out to be as evil as mine, it's very much worth it.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

cluelessness reloaded

This will probably only make sense to those who have read Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. And maybe not even them. Sorry about that.

So, you know how in the book Toru just up and moves and works and travels and completely disappears on his friends? And then he tries to call Midori and finds out she's ten kinds of mad because she'd missed him and he completely flaked out on her without a word? I'm mad like that now. I wonder if that's why I love the book so much, that its characters are so approachable. I also wonder if there is some kind of an equilibrium where in a pair of people one of them needs to be a bit of an asshole. It's been looking like that to me recently: either the other one is a douche, or, if it so happens and I come upon a genuinely good-natured person, I take the place of the asshole. Again, I wonder.

I was looking for company yesterday, so I texted a friend of mine to go out with me, and he said, sure, let's go out, and invited a couple more people. I even ran into one of them on the tram and we talked without any problem, and then everyone came and I knew all of them and we talked and drank and it was so cool. I've never really belonged in any group, seeing as I used to have pathological fear of people, and then, when I finally got on drugs, I was already in my twenties and it was kind of hard to fit in anywhere. But suddenly I was invited to be with a group of people who I sort of knew and they all seemed to have no objections to me being there, and it was nice. And I thought, I have friends now! Friends who know people, and so I can also get to know people and isn't that so neat? That's what I thought, right until the moment when everyone started talking about an event taking place today, and it became apparent that I was the only one in the by the time quite large group, who wasn't invited. Now seeing as it was imminent, they all talked about it quite a lot, and I felt like more and more of an idiot, and also a bit sad. I was also drinking, which didn't help matters. Finally, when the ratio of drunk and sad got to the place of stupid decisions, I asked my friend, the one I texted before, and who happened to be hosting the event everyone kept talking about, why I wasn't invited. It kept getting to me that apparently I didn't belong in this group after all. He got angry instantly and said that "a lot of people weren't invited." Interestingly, none of them were there, and it occurred to me that I probably shouldn't have been either. Then he yelled at me some more, and then left and I decided it was time to go. It was a good decision, since I started crying right after I left the place.

And that's why I'm Midori-level mad. And I wonder what happened, because I am, after all, socially inept. I have a very limited frame of reference when it comes to anything involving people. So maybe I was wrong, and it just seemed like I got snubbed and then everyone kept rubbing it in. I don't know. I'm just sad that I got cocky and thought I was finally on my way to fit in somewhere.

I feel more clueless than I have in a long time. And let me just tell you, it sucks.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

top five Saturday: great free crochet patterns

I've been crocheting a lot lately, so I know that there are tons of awesome free patterns. Be it a pattern that is featured on someone's blog, or a one of those complicated looking ones that yarn vendors give out, most of them are sure to lead to some great pieces.

Buying yarn and making a sweater or a shawl is cheaper than buying a ready-made one where I live, so that's also a plus for me. Other than that, making clothes and accessories for yourself or someone else gives you a perspective that you might otherwise lack: seeing how much time and effort goes into creating a handmade piece makes you think about those low prices that knitwear is sold for and how they got so low.

My dad once told me that when he was young, learning to knit and sew was compulsory in schools - you had to make your own supplies before you could start learning. If it were for me, learning how to make things would still be in any school's curriculum, since by its not being there generations of people grow up without ever learning to appreciate that the clothes they buy are not brought to the rack by magic.

Here are some of the patterns I've liked lately.

Note: The photos are of what I made, but the patterns are not. Please respect the license specified for each pattern.

I was obsessed with wraps and shawls one time. This one was a lot of fun to make, quite quick and easy, too. I decided to make the tassels differently, so if those in the pattern don;t work for you, you can try mine.

This is a pattern offered for free by RedHeart. You don't necessarily have to use their yarns, though - I used a locally made one and it worked out just fine. You can see in the picture that I made the mistake of ironing the piece, which flattened the pattern somewhat, so don't do that. I made the ribbing differently, doing simple sc in back loop only instead of the ribbing the pattern has, which I wasn't able to figure out. I skipped the ruffle, too.

3. Vasarely blanket

This is a really great, simple pattern, which gives you an optical illusion if you assemble the pieces right. Mine isn't a blanket, but a laptop sleeve. I chose this pattern because it produces sturdy fabric if crocheted tightly enough, and has no holes while still being modular.

4. Festival Shawl

I loved making this shawl and I love the finished product - I can disappear under it completely and it's wonderfully warm. The shawl can be made in any size by just adding rows. Mine doesn't have the fringe, because I ran out of yarn. You can see the inspiration for this feature (High Fidelity) on the right.

5. Give it a Whirl Hat

Very quickly made and really great. Sadly, the photo doesn't quite do it justice, and I gave away the prettier one I made. I don't normally even make the same thing twice, so that's a testament to how awesome this pattern is.

That's it. Happy weekend!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

the animals {photopost}

This is Oggy, the family dog. She eats cat poop and likes to roll around in the litter.
She's enjoying the ignorance of Loki getting armed.
"I was going to lie quietly and be cute. But then you started taking pictures and I had to sabotage that."
You can imagine who's the more aggressive one.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

top five Saturday: scenes you miss when you only listen to tv shows

I usually only listen and half-watch TV shows. It's a stupid habit, and I'm always assured in exactly how much when I spot a scene that I never noticed before, and which significantly contributes to the whole thing, or even is just funny. The fact that I can just listen to them means these shows are great, but I tend to forget that great shows usually also have great visuals. These are some of the few I could hunt down.

There are probably some spoilers here. Also, Gaby Hoffmann made this post NSFW.

1. Gilmore Girls

Right before Lorelai is supposed to marry Max, this happens for about two seconds. I've seen Gilmore Girls an unhealthy amount of times, but the Max storyline has never made sense to me. It still doesn't, but this is a really good visual.

2. Modern Family: Claire
Anything Julie Bowen does with her face is worth watching. In fact, I'd say that Modern Family is one of those shows that you can just have running in the background and not be bored, and at the same time you're losing on some awesome physical comedy. It can do both those things, because it's a great show.

3. Modern Family: Mitch and the Princess Castle

 3. The Big Bang Theory
Leonard proposes during sex, and then proceeds to don Penny's pink bathrobe, because of course he does.

4. Girls
And obviously, Gaby Hoffmann and her bush must make an appearance. I get how this thing gets made fun of and why people have given it a Twitter account etc., but at the same time I still remember the feeling of dread at that scene, this powerful visual of vulnerability, insanity and pain. Scenes like those make Girls still very much worth watching, no matter what you might think about the characters or the storylines.

Obviously enough, I do not own these images.