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January 31, 2011

Thanks to you all I have a long list of things to read, and an even longer list of potential book topics for this website (once a month or so shall we talk about books?  I swear to god, some kind of format in which I can talk about books, recommend books, hear about new books, AND be bossy (in that I will be the one driving the discourse) is my idea of absolute heaven.  I only ask that you tell me if you actually read any of the things I recommend.  I think there is no better feeling than telling someone about a book you have read and loved, and then having that person read it and report back to you what he or she thought.  So.  Are you game?)

However, I have still not decided what reading material to bring on my trip.  I am flying on a very severe airline, whose rules prohibit even overhead baggage (unless one pays extra, which I will not.)  I probably can only bring two, maybe three books (this is terrible) and even though I have strictly instructed my mother (who understands about these matters) to bring only books I have not read AND am guaranteed to like, my former bookless experiences continue to haunt.  Beckett and Nietzsche and nothing else when one has dysentery?  Have you ever had such a thing happen to you?  It is not easily forgotten.

Anxiety about choosing the right books is, actually, the least of my worries right now.  For unknown reasons, I have lately been rather a basket case.  I am nervous about the weather and about my flights, which is ridiculous.  I have never worried about weather or flights, not even when traveling long distances with babies and plane-phobic husbands and dogs in crates in the hold.  I am nervous about leaving the children with the au pair, who has been rather astoundingly incompetent lately.  I am nervous about leaving in general, which is preposterous.  I’m nervous about the things I need to accomplish before I leave, and nervous about the things I will need to accomplish when I get back. I am, truth be told, an absolute bundle of nerves, from the moment I wake (when I promptly pull the covers over my head and lie as still as I can, stomach churning, afraid to get up even though I know that getting up is the first, necessary step toward snapping out of panic and into routine) until the moment I go to sleep.

One can always blame Winter. The cold and the dark and the snow, yes, but also the flashbacks to the last several grim Winters of Divorce.  The first crisis that precipitated the end of the marriage occurred in January five years ago, and it was almost exactly three years ago that we told the kids we were splitting up.  But that seems rather lame, since there were plenty of horrible events in spring, summer and fall.  And besides, I don’t want to be counting “two years since this, four years since that” for the rest of my goddamned life, as if the divorce were the defining event, my own personal Year Zero.  I’d like to start looking forward instead of always looking back.  So let’s not blame the season.

Though I’ll tell you what, writing about the separation on the Babble site has been much harder than I thought.  “So don’t write about it any more,” my mother has said, implying that I am Dwelling on the Unpleasant.  It’s true that trying to tell the story in a cogent, fair, comprehensive way unsettles me in a way I don’t quite understand.  It’s not that I am afraid to talk about the divorce, or think about it.  I write in my journal and I continue to bore the shit out of my poor friends with my tedious unpacking of various events.  But the Babble story catapults me right back to an unpleasant emotional state, a general feeling of precariousness, as if I’m reliving the dread and drama that dominated our lives for months and months and months.  I’m also perpetually anxious that I’m telling the story wrong.  Or maybe it’s that I can see, from the distance of a few years, just how desperately I was winging it back then.  You’d think there would be catharsis, or at the very least a happy feeling of “Good grief, how lucky I am to have gotten THAT over with,” each time I write another installment…but no.  I think I may ditch the straight chronological narrative before too long, but for now, there’s another post up.

If you have comments about divorce mediation–mediations that worked, those that did not, other ideas–please leave them over there. I have lots of ideas about why ours did not work–I will write more about that later on–but I also have a nagging suspicion that mediation might not be the best way to dismantle a marriage. This may be heresy to many of you. It seemed like heresy to ME, too, until I found out about collaborative divorce.

Oh, and the people who looked at the house aren’t really interested (I finally emailed to ask what was up.) I am thinking I will hang on to it for at least another year. It seems ridiculous to sell at the nadir of the market, and if I can find a tenant for the guest bedroom, I should be able to stay solvent. And holy mother of god, I honestly don’t know if I have it in me to deal with trying to sell it again. Just that one day–the cleaning, the fretting, the high hopes and the inevitable letdown–put me in a horrible mood that has persisted ever since. So unless someone appears on the doorstep with a suitcase of money and offers to take the place As Is, I think we’re officially staying put for now. The kids, once I get around to telling them, will be thrilled.

39 Comments leave one →
  1. January 31, 2011 11:53 am

    would hate to see you run short on books. i packed mine by mistake in the checked luggage and got stuck without during a several hour delay. anyway — can you ship some to yourself? might be cheaper than trying to pack them. then ship ’em home or just leave them. personally, i rarely read a book twice, but that’s me. doesn’t explain why i still hold on to every blessed one.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 31, 2011 12:09 pm

      Going to a third-world country, so shipping probably not the most efficient (what a good idea, though.) I will have to choose carefully–something that will LAST. I read too fast. One time I was absolutely certain I was a genius for bringing The Wings of the Dove with me to Venice. I brought nothing else. I love Henry James. I’d loved the movie. I was sure I’d be absolutely in heaven…and it was a short trip, so one book would be sufficient.

      Alas. It is not my favorite Henry James, it turns out. Trying to read through the spaces between the seats in front of you (someone up there had a pretty good collection of magazines, and someone had a sappy girly book I’d already read, but beggars can’t be choosers) is hell on one’s neck and strains the eyesight terribly…

  2. January 31, 2011 12:05 pm

    I sympathise. Bleah, crappy times of grief and stress! I loathe the way the unsettling atmostphere of it hangs around so long after the fact. It’s like you’ve seen through the cracks and the illusion of solidity is gone forever. Gah! Woe, it’s horrendous.

    HOWEVER, on the principle that the things you worry about most turn out to be fine, I predict all will be well. Travel well, friend. Have, you know, FUN. Go on!

  3. January 31, 2011 12:07 pm

    Perhaps you’re now primed for feelings of anxiety, bleakness, etc because you’ve been thinking and writing about the misery your divorce? You must have heard of those studies – students becoming slow and forgetful after reading words linked with old age, test subjects growing more and more rude when exposed to stories about rudeness. Possible antidotes: poetry about butterflies, gooey cinnamon buns, and silly jokes. Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl going to the bathroom? Because the P is silent!

  4. Jan permalink
    January 31, 2011 12:54 pm

    If you like Vikram Seth and haven’t read it yet, consider A Suitable Boy, which I love and re-read on a 16-hour round trip Megabus slog. It’s over 1300 pages long (nearly 1500 in paperback), so you might look it over at a library or bookstore to see if it grabs you enough carry it on. The second reading was just as fun as the first.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 31, 2011 1:03 pm

      You’re psychic, because I have it in paperback, and I started it recently, then stopped because I thought it would be perfect for the trip. So yes, A Suitable Boy is going! I also bought a copy of Wigs on the Green for my Mitford-obsessed mother–I can whip through that on the plane, then hand it over to her….

      • February 1, 2011 4:00 pm

        I chewed on A Suitable Boy for several hundred pages before drying out completely. I’m not sure I’ll get back to it this decade: I’d enjoy a precis of the end!

        • irretrievablybroken permalink*
          February 10, 2011 12:42 pm

          I carried it there and back and didn’t read a word! Alas. Someday, though.

  5. January 31, 2011 1:20 pm

    I haven’t gone through a divorce like you but have been dealing with some serious life change and your description under your covers hit it right on. Thanks for sharing. For a moment I fell like at least someone else out there knew what I have been feeling. This time of year is always tough for me too.

    Oh, and have you read any Elizabeth George? Great mysteries and really good characters. Also the Flavia books by Alan Bradley? Absolutely wonderful.

    Thanks for the great writing!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 31, 2011 3:40 pm

      Love Elizabeth George, I think I’ve read them all, though there may be a newish one I’ve missed? You’re not the first to recommend the Flavia books, am making a note!

  6. cherylc permalink
    January 31, 2011 1:25 pm

    What about a kindle or nook? My husband bought me a used kindle when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and it has saved my sanity. It doesn’t take up much space, and I can hold it even if I’m too weak to hold a hardback book (not that that is a consideration for y0u this time, but it would have come in handy during dysentery). In some ways it’s not as much fun as a regular book, but it has it’s advantages. For instance, I read Susan Cheever’s bio of Louisa May Alcott and then immediately downloaded a free copy of Little Women and re-read it. This kind of thing is gratifying to me.

  7. January 31, 2011 1:57 pm

    i agree about the kindle–i’m not a fan of ebooks, either, i love a real book and all that is symbolizes, but for a trip, definitely: all the books you want in one trade-paperback-size package. you can download books onto your ipad, too, if you have one.

    i think airline travel is more stress-inducing now than it ever has been. some of the reasons are valid–these ridiculous full-body patdowns and invasive searches of person and property, the randomness of cancellations and delays–but many, i think, are just the byproducts of a generally alarmist society. there are so many stories about hours-long stints on the tarmac, or belligerent passengers, or what have you, and who knows how representative those anecdotal tales really are? i have absolutely no desire ever to fly again–at least not until my kids are all into adolescence, at least–but every time i do, i get where i’m going, without major disasters. so will you.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 31, 2011 6:54 pm

      Cherylc and Vikki–I would love a Kindle for traveling. (Cheryl–I’m assuming there’s no “c” attached to your first name–are you all right now? I’m so glad the Kindle got you through being too weak to hold up a hardcover, poor brave girl. The spontaneous re-connection (rekindling?) between books would indeed be a huge bonus-I’m surprised Amazon hasn’t capitalized on that bit of info.)

      Vikki–My main issue is only weather, and no airline can help with THAT–but I agree. Generally I have good luck, or what seems like good luck. My ex husband was terrified to fly, and I seem to have caught some of his paranoia. Alas…

      • cherylc permalink
        February 2, 2011 11:43 am

        I’m okay, but I’m not done with cancer treatment. I can hold a book now, though, and have gone back to using the library, otherwise I could spend $50 a week on downloads. Currently, I alternate between print and Kindle books.

        Now I’m wanting to read about the Mitfords. I know the general outline with the fascism and I think estrangement, but you’ve piqued my interest for details.

  8. Jenny permalink
    January 31, 2011 2:05 pm

    I know this blog plus Babble is probably plenty, but you might consider starting a book blog. I started writing one about three years ago, with a beloved friend who shares my book tastes, for exactly the reasons you have above — I wanted to talk about books, recommend books, hear about new books, and be bossy. It’s been huge fun.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 31, 2011 4:26 pm

      Is it still up? What’s the URL? I’d love to look at it.

  9. January 31, 2011 3:11 pm

    I resisted the Kindle for a long time because I didn’t want to be responsible for the death of the bookstore, but I got one as a gift and read three times as much as I used to. For travel, it is invaluable. In fact I’ve done a complete 180 and I kind of don’t read non-digital books any more.

    (And yes, more book talk please! I like it, can you tell? And I totally have stage fright about you disliking the William Boyd I recommended so heartily.)

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 31, 2011 4:27 pm

      No stage fright necessary–though it’s not here yet, and I fear I may have to leave without it. Which just means I’ll have something to look forward to when I get back.

  10. youngest wren of nine permalink
    January 31, 2011 5:34 pm

    Hah — I took “A Suitable Boy” with me to the hospital when we had our first child, 17 years ago. For those downtimes when baby was sleeping… Of course I never got around to more than a few pages because even when baby was actually sleeping I was watching him, just enthralled. What book could compete with that? I did read the whole thing a few months later on a trip to Vevey, and I remember one evening looking up out of the window at a bright strip of light, broad, almost like a motorway. A road — across Lac Léman?! It was the reflection of the full moon on the water, and it was stunning, and in my memory it remains linked to Seth’s book forever. (Btw, do you know about Seth’s Great California Novel — the one in iambic tetrameter?)
    Re reading books that you’ve recommended: your “contender” post from last January made me take the Oresteia down from the bookshelf where it had languished unread for… we-ell, a few decades, according to the date I pencilled in when I bought it. I have Lattimore’s translation, and I’m finding it quite difficult. (You know when you pause after half a page or so and you have no idea what you’ve just read? It’s happening to me here.) So I think I’ll have to try another translation. (Just curious: why do you think Clytemnestra is doing all this “with no man else have I known delight” lying-through-her-teeth? Couldn’t she just, you know, be quiet?)

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 31, 2011 5:42 pm

      Oh, you must get the Fagles translation–it’s the Penguin, and it’s SO wonderful, and the intro by Bernard Knox is worth the price of the book.

      My professor thought that Clytemnestra’s whole “with no man else” etc speeches are double entendres and that she’s really referencing Aegisthus. But Agamemnon doesn’t get it, and of course his first words to her, after 10 years, are basically “Shut up, woman, you talk too much.” My prof. called it “Agamemnon’s Dis” and then chuckled. He was possibly the least hip guy in the world, and knew it–we were all highly amused.

      I promise you will have an entirely different experience if you read the Fagles translation. It’s amazing.

      • Jenny permalink
        February 1, 2011 2:56 pm

        I just finished the Fagles! I had Anne Carson’s Oresteia recommended to me, too.

  11. January 31, 2011 6:05 pm

    More mystery favorites of mine include PD James, MC Beaten, Anne Perry and my favorite new series are the Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. They are about post-WWI England and are totally addictive. Great writing, compelling story, well-reearched. The mystery part of the books get better with each book. Books are my one refuge and really give me that break at night to escape (usually under the covers). I’m glad to hear you’re a reader. I find they usually make the best writers.

  12. January 31, 2011 6:23 pm

    Would it be so Oprah-book club of me to offer up Freedom, Jonathan Franzen’s new read? I’m halfway through and it’s lovely and rich. One to get lost in for sure. I love Birds of America by Lorrie Moore – short stories are ideal for travel. There’s no trying to figure out where you left off – and lots of small victories of closure. Books of essays – Joan Didion, Anne Lamott and this:

    I adore Marjorie, who passed a few years ago. If you haven’t read her, you must.

    Have a wonderful, safe, anxiety-free trip, my friend.

  13. January 31, 2011 6:47 pm

    A Suitable Boy is a great holiday read but it depends whe you are going. I once took various Latin American magical realist novels to India and it was a disaster – culturally they were both too unfamiliar.

  14. Celeste permalink
    January 31, 2011 9:22 pm

    I want Book Chat and I want it badly.

    But until you get around to that, can your upload pictures from your trip to your third world country destination? I don’t even have a passport and would love to do some vicarious living through you. I suppose that would mean taking a laptop if you’re already doing so, hmmmm.

    In any case I hope you’ll have a lovely trip, because you really deserve a getaway after all you went through at the holidays and now with the faux buyers getting your hopes up.

  15. January 31, 2011 11:36 pm

    To the online book discussions: yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

    Random other good news fact: they (or you?) finally worked things out on Babble so that clicking on your byline brings up all the other articles you’ve written! This makes me very happy indeed.

  16. February 1, 2011 12:04 am

    i hope you don’t mind my saying so but if someone is willing to gift you a kindle, don’t say no, you mustn’t!! my nephew and i got one for his dad/my brother for xmas, and he loves it. he’s an avid reader and reads everything – even my chick books like the ones by lisa see or amy tan.
    it is so weird, the other night i could not do anything because my heart was just racing with anxious thoughts for 7 long hours. i’m not kidding. so i feel for you. perhaps consider writing about divorced with kids maybe 2 times a month?? i hope your trip gives you a really nice break!!

  17. February 1, 2011 2:59 am

    Oh, the anxiety, I am with you all the way (and as you know, in similar situation in various ways). Barely coping at all, in fact. Perhaps it’s time for the annual re-reading of the complete works of Nancy Mitford?

    Incidentally I am completely loving The Imperfectionists as recommended by lovely you. And I hope your holiday is GOOD.


  18. Pinkie Bling permalink
    February 1, 2011 11:10 am

    YAY, book chat! I’m getting so many great suggestions here!

    I can’t recommend the Kindle enough. When it supports library checkout, it will be perfect. I resisted it for the longest time, too (just got mine for Christmas), but it is honestly a joy to use. I read more now than I have in quite a while, and I’m quite enjoying being free of the clutter of books (heresy to many, as above)!

    I’ve always loved flying, but did once go through a phase where it made me very anxious. Airport bar, anyone? I hope you have a wonderful trip!

  19. Francie N permalink
    February 1, 2011 1:35 pm

    Have you read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke? It is a great, great book. Totally engrossing, and long, and full of tiny and amazing footnotes. It’s one of my favorites I read last year.

    I love your blog, by the way, and there have been so many times I’ve wanted to comment that I’m surprised my first comment is about a book. Oh well, baby steps.

  20. February 1, 2011 6:07 pm

    Any interest in going for a run? That sorts out anxiety for me, if I can manage to make myself get out of the house to do it.

    When I went to Corsica about ten years ago, I read all my (fat but hopelessly inadequate and unsatisfying anyway) holiday books in the first few days and had to subsist on French newspapers the rest of the time. It’s no wonder I drank so much.

    Enjoy your trip…

  21. February 2, 2011 3:30 pm

    I don’t know if this helps or not?, but our realtor believes that the housing market will “start to pick back up” starting this summer. I…don’t understand these things as well (hence why we have a realtor rather than doing this ourselves), but thought I would pass that along.

    I will also stay tuned as to why you think the divorce mediation didn’t work….was the the overall mediation process that you didn’t like?, how your particular one was handled?, something else? Anyway I will stay tuned.

    I know I’m in the minority here but I do love reading “actual” books as opposed to on an e-reader, but this could be because I am a nerd. 😉

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 10, 2011 12:41 pm

      I too am that kind of nerd, if that is indeed what we are…

      I think I’m going to keep the house off the market this year (I can’t take it emotionally, and the waste of time cleaning etc is colossal) and rent a room out. But it’s always good to hear optimistic news, so thank you for that!

  22. Julia permalink
    February 6, 2011 12:46 pm

    Too lazy to read the comments. A friend got me onto goodreads via facebook. It’s awesome. Very addicting book sharing info.

  23. February 9, 2011 2:59 pm

    An honest and humble post. Lovely. So thrilled to have found my way here.

  24. Starting to Get Worried permalink
    February 9, 2011 8:48 pm

    Aren’t you ever coming back?

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