"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall 2014 To-Read List

This week over at the Broke and the Bookish, we're posting lists of the top ten books on our to-be-read list for the autumn.  Mine is shorter than usual, since I'm anticipating that school will cut into my pleasure reading time, and I may even have to start doing some school readings on the bus instead of vegging out on my Kindle - Horrors!  Anyway, here's my list:  

1.  A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness:  Several people have raved about this series to me.  The only quandry that I have is I might need to read the second and third book ASAP, so I hope it doesn't cut into my study time. :) 
2.  Main Street by Sinclair Lewis:  My prof mentioned this book the other day, noting that it's about a librarian.  That was enough for me to add it to the list and download to my Kindle.

3. On the Road by Jack Kerouac:  Not sure why, but I've been curious about this book lately.  I've also been trying slowly make my way through the books on the BBC's Big Read list, and Kerouac is one that I haven't read.

4.  The Chosen by Chaim Potok:  This book has been of interest for a while, and I should be able to get it at the library.

5.  The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis:  Actually, The Betrayers comes out today!  I'm waiting to see if I get a gift certificate for my birthday before buying it, but I love Bezmozgis, so this is a must-read.

6.  The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez:  I saw a blog on this recently, and added it to my TBR.

7.  The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro:  I have had mixed feelings about Ishiguro; I loved Never Let Me Go, but hated The Unconsoled, so I'm interested to see if this one will be more to my style.

Friday, 19 September 2014

How Infertilty Has Changed Me

I actually wrote this piece in July, anticipating our one-year anniversary of trying, but have been back and forth on whether I wanted to post it or had more to say.  After an emotional day (for no real reason, just because), I've decided it should go up.  Please excuse the length.

When I was 14, I wrote a short story in which a teenage boy witnessed his female friend slowly lose her personality, while her body became weaker, only to realize that her boyfriend was an alien who was slowly sucking out her soul. (Spoiler alert: She died in the end.) I'm not sure why my Grade 9 self was so morbid, but in retrospect, it seems my story from half a lifetime ago mirrored my life to come. Truly, sometimes it feels like I've lost my personality to infertility.

Not to romanticize my former life, which had its fair share of sad and frustrated moments, but I really was a vibrant, interesting person at one time. I mean, I got to brief generals and the chief of staff to a cabinet minister at my job. One year, I traveled to Hawaii AND South Africa. I learned languages, led youth groups, and had fun and crazy girls nights with friends that involved photo scavenger hunts and corn mazes. I think it's safe to say that I was fun once. Now it feels like my whole life is ultrasounds, blood tests, and waiting for ovulation. My mood is dictated by whatever hormones are being pumped into my body this week (either naturally or through supplements), and the simplest things like seeing a cute baby in a store can set me into a day-long slump. I cry at everything. I hate this person that I have become.

Probably the worst part of the emotional fall-out is that it is so hard to share joy with others. I want so badly to rejoice at pregnancy announcements and new babies, but it is hard. I have pulled so many brave faces that sometimes I am not sure what I actually look like any more. I know, logically, that it isn't like there are only so many babies to go around, but sometimes when I see another pregnancy announcement online, it is like a physical punch to the gut of “Once again, it's not me.” As a friend once said: “You are happy for them, but sad for you.” Sometimes, though, I am so sad for me that whatever happiness is underneath, it just can't get to the surface. As much as I know this is normal, and I have heard it from infertile women of all stripes, there is no way not to feel like the world's most selfish person.

On top of the inner guilt for not rejoicing with those who rejoice, you have the imposed guilt from everyone who tries to convince you to “buck up” and “be positive” and “stop saying those negative things about yourself”. So now you feel badly for being a downer, and for making everyone else sad. If infertility is one thing, it is a series of masks that you wear to pretend you aren't a mess just so you can get through that baby shower, that work day, or even just that trip to the store, without causing an incident.

In the worst moments of infertility, you feel yourself pull away. I go through days when the thought of visiting my friends back in Ottawa is unbearable, not because I don't like them, but because I know there will be subtle glances at my stomach and hints around when we will be trying. I contemplated going to the summer women's Bible study, but wondered if I could bear being around all those women, with all those potential questions. I don't call or email friends for weeks because I don't want to be a drag, and I have nothing happy to share. All I want to do is sit on my bed watching Harry Potter movies and pretend that magic is real, that one day someone will whisk me away to a special place where I will be so much more than what I am now.

On the other hand, infertility has stretched me as a person, and taught me a lot about myself. I feel like layers have been stripped off, the veneer of “successful” and “satisfied” that I felt was over my life, and I have been forced to look at what is underneath and analyze where I came from. In the first place, I've realized how much I have taken my health for granted. It's true that I've resented my body over the past year more than ever before, but I've also realized how lucky I am that this is the first time I've had to really engage with the medical system. I have never really been sick. Sure, I had pneumonia as a toddler (which was far more traumatic for my parents than for me), and mono as an adult, but aside from flus and for few minor and stupid accidents, I have only seen doctors for an annual check-up. For 32 years I took it as a given that my body would do what it was supposed to. This is a privilege that many people don't have.

In the broader scheme of things, I have come to realize how much of my life has been easy. I was born into privilege, maybe not into riches, but into a loving, middle class home where I had everything I needed and more. I might have been shy, but was also smart and articulate. I have always lived a life in which you work hard and reap the rewards. As a Christian, I do believe in my head that we cannot expect God to gives us only good and not hardship, or that I can have all my desires granted in a sinful world, but I am only just realizing that my theology and my life expectations don't match up. There have certainly been difficult times and soul searching in the past, particularly in times of family drama, but when I look back, I realize how much I have always naively believed that things will turn out in the end. Getting pregnant is the first thing that I have really “failed” at, and the first time that I have had to confront the idea that God can be good even if our longing for a baby is never granted. It is hard, but it is a lesson I will surely need to learn at some point.

I have learned again and again that I need to take care of myself. My default has always been to keep busy, so that when troubles come, I can put them aside until tomorrow. A dozen or so infertility-related breakdowns later, I am realizing that it's okay to pull back. It's okay to quit Mandarin classes for a while because medical appointments are taking over my schedule, and something's gotta give. It's okay to show up for an hour at that baby shower, and duck out early because you are hurting. I've also learned that while sometimes the resentment against my body is high, I still need to take care of my health, to exercise and rest, because it will ultimately make me feel better.

To some extent, going through infertility has shown me how much I dislike the veneer of pleasantness that we paint over ourselves in polite conversation and social media. I am still figuring out how to navigate honesty and privacy, but I hate knowing of the many Facebook pregnancy announcements I've seen, some of them must have been following difficulties like ours, but when they go out online, it makes it look like everything has always been rosy. I hate the idealized photos and snippets of family life that make everyone who is barely getting by feel like they are failing. I want to live a life – online and in person – that is more honest, where people can feel encouraged by my story instead of feeling like they have to aspire to a lifestyle that I don't even have. I want to be more real, and to find people with whom I can be real.

I'd like to be able to say that I learned how strong I really am.... but I'm not sure that's the case. I guess I have learned that whenever I think I can't make it any longer, as TobyMac says, I “get back up again.” I know that even though I loathe to think we will still be in this game a year from now, five years from now, after getting through the past thirteen months, I know that even if it takes that long, we will still keep getting up and finding joy where we can.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I Need To

Today's Top Ten Tuesday (over at The Broke and the Bookish) is looking at authors that we've only read book, but would like to read more.  Here's my list:

1.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:  I read Americanah earlier this year after seeing it on someone's blog (though I can't remember who).  I would love to read more of her work, as I appreciate her unique viewpoint.

2.  Orson Scott Card:  I'm like the only person who hasn't read Ender's Game or really anything else by Card.  I enjoyed PastWatch (because, hello!, time travel), but would like to read more of his work.

3.  Yael Hedaya:  I saw Eden at the library and picked it up on a whim.  It was the first book I've read taking place in modern-day Israel, and I would like to read more of her work.

4.  Cathy Marie Buchanan:  The Painted Girls was great, and I appreciate her attention to detail in historical fiction.

5.  Tan Twan Eng:  Because The Garden of Evening Mists was sooooo good!

6.  Henryk Sienkiewicz:  I loved Quo Vadis, but have yet read his other books that take place in the more recent past.

7.  Audrey Niffenegger:  I don't know how I've missed reading more of her, but it might be because I loved The Time Traveler's Wife so much that I was worried that her other work would be a let down.  I'll get around to reading her again eventually.

8.  Lawrence Hill:  After The Book of Negroes (AKA Someone Knows My Name), I was so impressed that I will definite pick up his next book, Any Known Blood.
9.  Charlotte Brontë:  How is it possible that I've read Jane Eyre several times, but never picked up any of her other books?  One day soon, I promise!
10.  Louisa May Alcott:  I loved Little Women as a child, but never read the sequels.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Underrated Books or Authors

I'm finally doing another Top Ten Tuesday (hosted as always by The Broke and the Bookish).  Sorry it's been so long, but life just got crazy and there were a few topics on which I was a bit uninspired.  Also, sorry for posting this one day late.  Yesterday was a rush and I forgot to go on and push "Publish".  Yep, it was that kind of day.  Anyway, this week's topic is underrated books or authors from any genre.  I am honestly not great with dividing books into genres, so I'm just listing books and authors that I like, but that I find many people have never heard of:

1.  David Bezmozgis:  I found his book of short stories, Natasha and Other Stories, at the library by serendipity and enjoyed it.  I ordered his first novel, The Free World, as soon as it came out.  As a russophile and a Torontonian, there is so much in his work that I find interesting.

2.  Connie Willis:  I've posted about her books a few times before, but I can't believe she's not that well known.  For those who like time travel, she's a must-read.

3.  Octavia E. Butler:  Again, I've mentioned her before, but she's awesome, and her dystopian work is leaps and bounds over most of the dystopian fiction being published now.

4.  Elizabeth Gaskell:  North and South is similar in many ways to Pride and Prejudice, yet has nowhere near the fan base of Austen.  Maybe it's because there are too many smokestacks and not enough turns around the garden?

5.  Francisco Goldman:  When I was in high school, I had a gift certificate to spend at a big book store, and I recall spending at least an hour scouring the shelves to pick *just* the book that I would get.  For some reason, I came away with Goldman's The Long Night of White Chickens, possibly for the title alone.  I loved it and have enjoyed other work by him, but I've never met anyone who had even heard of him.

6.  Yevgeny Zamyatin:  Okay, speaking honestly, I never finished We, probably because I started in grad school when I was already having to read hundreds of pages a week, BUT it's an important novel.  Brave New World and 1984 get all the credit for the dystopian genre, and Zamyatin's influence is sadly overlooked even though he predated Huxley and Orwell. I do plan on picking it up again one of these days.

And a few underrated books:

7.  The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith:  I love this book and probably read it a dozen times as a child, but invariably people tell me they never knew the movie was based on a book.  Folks, the book is so much better.  Read it.

8.  A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra:  I thought this was fabulous, but have never met anyone that has heard of it.

9.  Dracula by Bram Stoker:  Okay, not really underrated as everyone knows about it, but I've been surprised at people who say things like, "Why not just read Twilight?"  Dracula isn't just another vampire novel; it is THE vampire novel.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Big News and End-of-Summer Update

I've been neglecting my blog lately.  I'm sorry.  I can't even say that it's been too busy, because the truth is that we had a slow summer.  Honestly, there were a few Top Ten Tuesday topics that left me flat, and otherwise I've been feeling pretty blah about life in general... BUT I'm back now and want to give a few life updates.

Firstly, some BIG NEWS:  No, I'm not pregnant, but instead I'm going back to school!  The idea of being a student again has been in the back of my mind for over a year, but I finally bit the proverbial bullet and applied.  My classes start this week and I will be studying Information Science to one day be a librarian!  Everyone around here must know how much I like reading, so this seems like a perfect fit for me.  I'm a bit intimidated, since it's been close to a decade since I was in school, but from the orientation last week, I think I'm going to like it.

Fertility update (seeing as I've posted on this earlier in the year):  Nothing to say here.  As you may have gathered from some of my posts in the spring, this year has been very difficult for me, and I have no cheery news to share now.  To be brutally honest, I have never before felt so isolated and hopeless as I did these past few months, which is probably why I've had no real desire to plaster my thoughts up on the Internet.

Family update:  I have a new niece!  Eve Audrey was born last week, a little sister for Ezra.  Our family is growing a lot, seeing as my step-brother and his wife had baby Luke last March.

Husband update:  Gil is fine.  We had a quiet summer and mostly stuck close to home. Even though this year has been trying, I'm still loving life with my husband, and I couldn't have made it through the last few months without Gil (and also the World cup, but mostly Gil, haha).

Mandarin update:  Stunted.  Like I said, this summer has been sad and emotionally draining, and eventually I decided I just needed to cut things out of my life that were stressing me out.  I hope one day to resume my classes, but for now I will be busy enough with school.

Cat update:  Still cute!  Thank goodness for adorable fur babies when the going gets tough.

See, she's pretty cute!