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

Thursday, 29 December 2016

2016: A New Hope or The Darkness Strikes Back?

This year. I can't sum it up in words, more like guttural utterances and tears, with a few profanities strewn in. On top of our personal crises, which included the death of my beloved Sadie and several rounds of failed fertility treatments, we had a number of celebrity deaths, Brexit, the Trump campaign, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, the growing crisis in Syria, and probably a lot more than I'm forgetting. The world feels darker now. My anxiety has been ramped up considerably. My coping has been shaky at best. Despite a couple of high points such as my graduation (which was somewhat marred by my cat's death the day before) his year will go down as a bad one in my life.

On Friday, I went to do something I had really been looking forward to: a friend date to see the film Rogue One. You see, I have been a Star Wars junkie since I was quite small. I grew up enjoying the exploits of Han, Leia, and Luke. Just before meeting my friend, I learned that Carrie Fisher had suffered a heart attack, and on Tuesday her death was announced, followed by her mother's death the following day. I grieve. I was then reminded of this post from one year ago today, when I was feeling low about the year that was, and found a sliver of hope in watching Star Wars, Episode 4: A New Hope. I wrote these words, which feel ridiculously optimistic after the year that we just experienced: "So maybe it's there, somewhere, that hope. Maybe I can find it and grasp it, if even for a little while."

Looking back on 2016, it feels less like A New Hope than The Empire Strikes Back. It feels like this year was spent fighting the darkness within and without. I did a year-long study of Revelation and then an autumn study on spiritual warfare, yet I feel more helpless than ever against the darkness. I feel like I'm losing and being closed in on all sides. I have prayed and sought and prayed and sought some more, but it's hard to find God in the darkness. As we close off the year, it feels like the Emperor is in charge, Darth Vader has the upper hand, and Han Solo is frozen in carbonite. All I can do is hold on to a tiny hope that this isn't the end and that this darkness will not define the rest of my life.

However, in a dark time such as this one, I am reminded that Carrie Fisher, too, struggled with dark demons, that many people consider her a powerful spokesperson for those dealing with mental illness. So in honour of Carrie, I will raise a glass to toast the end of the year that was, and go forward hoping and praying that this year will be the one when the tide turns, when the darkness ebbs, and when I find hope again. Perhaps 2017 will be the year when I learn how to fight like Princess Leia. May it be so, and may the Force be with you.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books I Read In 2016

2016 is heading toward it's end. I can't say I'll miss this year; I'm consigning it to the dust heap of history for a multitude of reasons, but one of the few bright lights was that I read a lot of great books. Today for Top Ten Tuesday, we're listing our favourite books read in the past year.

1. The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra: This was hands down my favourite book of the year. 

2. The Diviners by Libba Bray: A paranormal and super creepy story set in 1920s New York. I was gripped from the get-go and I can't wait for the third installment.

3. The Passion by Jeanette Winterson: A beautiful and strange story set in Venice and during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia. I liked it so much that I sent it as part of my Secret Santa gift to Melissa over at Writer Grrl Reads. Except that they had changed the cover from what I was used to and the new one has a topless woman on it, so I spent 20 minutes agonizing in the store about whether I'd be creeping out a stranger by sending her a book with nudity on the cover. I sent it anyway, and we both had a laugh over it.

4. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: Gripping and beautifully written novel set in post-War Barcelona. I loved reading it while I was visiting that city.

5. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton: I plowed through this in a couple of hours while killing time at the library. So. Many. Emotions.

6. The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng: A complex and layered novel set in wartime Penang. 

7. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: I put off reading this book for so many years, but I ended up find it to be a real page turner. Sure, there are parts that I skimmed (mostly battle scenes), but I felt really involved with the diverse cast of characters. I'm so glad that I finally read it!

8. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: I don't know what to call this book exactly. It's in some ways a series of stories about the aftermath of an affair that leads to the break-up of a marriage. 

9. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: I just love World War II novels, and this one did not disappoint.

10. Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: A series of letters that the author wrote to his son about his life and what it means to be African American. I listened to the audiobook of this book in the car and found it so compelling that I was sorry I didn't have a print copy so I could underline everything.

Honourable mention:
Persuasion by Jane Austen: It was my third time reading this book, so I didn't want to count it amongst the books I'd read for the first time, but I find that I appreciate this book more as I get older. It is probably my favourite Austen, and that's saying something because my love for Pride and Prejudice runs deep.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

On the Term "Childless"

I've been thinking a lot about words lately. As a writer, words are important to me. There is a reason why we choose one synonym and not the other, why we say that something is 'gargantuan' instead of just 'big', for example. I myself have been known to prefer the term 'barren' because the former conveys the bleakness of my lost hopes in a way that the medical 'infertile' does not. Lately, as we ponder the life ahead of us, I'm wondering about 'childless' versus 'childfree'.

This is a polarizing topic. Those who choose not to have children often define themselves boldly as 'childfree', showing that they feel unencumbered by the societal pressure to have a family. It's something I admire, but I do not relate to. I do not feel like I belong among the 'childfree', those who are pleased to choose a life where they can go across the country on a moment's notice, trek the Andes, or just go for drinks after work without ever worrying about who will do the daycare pick-up. Moreover, my inability to conceive feels less like freedom and more like a millstone around my neck, dragging me to the depths, a perpetual burden. I do not think that I will ever view my lack of children as anything other than a lifelong grief.

On the other hand, there is the term 'childless'. Some people, particularly mothers, prefer this term because 'childfree' denotes a sense that to have children is burdensome. I sympathize, because I do experience my situation as marked by loss; however, I do not like those who have children deciding on the term that I - who cannot conceive - should use to define myself. More importantly, I do not wish to constantly define myself as 'less than'.

Those of us who have been in this position, pushing into the 30s with nary a stroller or a bassinet or a baby bump, have perhaps experienced the sense that at some point, their lack of children made them somehow 'less' than others. With phrases exalting a "mother's love" and a "mother's heart", and declaring that "moms are special people", we who are not mothers are defined as less loving, less compassionate. Our time is always less important; it is we the childless who should work late in the office and cover all the holidays. I hear this constantly as my husband consistently works almost every holiday in the year so that the parents in his practice can 'be with their families', as though I am not my husband's family, and as though Gil does not deserve to attend church on Easter like the rest of the doctors can. As though my punishment for being barren is that I should spend the next 20 years of Christmases alone while my husband works at the hospital, so that the deserving fertile people get to be with their families. We are told that our opinions and experiences are less meaningful when people throw around phrases like, "Well, you'll feel different about that when you have children." In churches, we are often an afterthought, the ones asked to teach Sunday school or hand out programs at the multitude of 'family-friendly' events; we are part of the body of Christ, but we're one of those less vital organs, like the appendix or the spleen. The moms - special as they are - get to be the heart and the lungs.

So when I am told that I ought to use the phrase 'childless' to appease some mothers, I wonder why? Why should I walk around defining myself constantly as lacking, as less than, as having a piece missing?  But maybe, in fact, we don't need a term for us as all, because we don't really exist. We are like the wallpaper that you might have noticed at first, but after a while you've forgotten whether it has flowers or polka dots. I don't need a word for my lack of children because my deep grief barely exists, it is invisible to most - even those have been told about it repeatedly - and in a sense, it's as though I don't really exist either.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing Me

Today's TTT topic is books that we wouldn't mind getting for Christmas. Here goes!

1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling: Squeeee! Just take my money.

2. Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford: I probably would never actually cook any of the recipes, but I'm sure the pictures are nice. ;)

3. Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine and Beyond by Olia Hercules: Another recipe book that looks lovely.

4. History: From the Dawn of Civilization to the Present by Adam Hart-Davis: This is totally up my alley.

5. Swing Time by Zadie Smith: I've read a few of her books and this looks very interesting.

6. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: Because I have a thing for collecting historical biographies.

7. Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman: I've meant to read this for a while now, but never got around to it. The cover is so nice! I wouldn't mind owning it.

8. Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan: I will probably get this from the library, but I love owning heavy historical books, so it would make me happy to find it under my tree.

9. The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew: I've been reading a lot about First Nations issues recently, and this autobiography seems like it would be interesting and important.

10. When Breath Become Air by Paul Kalanithi: I've heard so many rave reviews of this book, and it seems like one I might want to read more than once.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I'm Looking Forward To In 2017

Another Tuesday, another link-up. This week's topic deals with books we're looking forward to in the first half of 2017. I'm not sure if that is specifically looking at new books or just books we're looking forward to reading, so I'll do a little bit of both.

Books anticipated in early 2017:
1. Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han: I just love this series so much. The characters are adorable.

2. Warcross by Marie Lu: To be honest, I just found this book as I was looking up books coming out in 2017, but it sounds like a fascinating concept!

3. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli: I need this!

4. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman: I am new(ish) on the Gaiman train, but this looks fantastic.

5. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: Woohoo, more Russian themes!

Books I plan to read in 2017 that have already been released:
6. One Night in Winter by Simon Montefiore: This has been on my list for a while and oh, hey, it's another Russian theme.

7. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende: While have long intended to read some Allende, I recently read a book about travels in South America, and the section on Chile made me bunk this modern classic up my list.

8. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: I might as well jump on the bandwagon!

9. Avalanche by Julia Leigh: I've heard this is a gritty, real take on a failed IVF experience, and I'm really interested to read it.

10. Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks To Your Plan B For A Meaningful And Fulfilling Future Without Children by Jody Day: Sounds cheerful, eh? I'm really trying to wrap my head around the hand we've been dealt. I'm not okay with it, and I'm not sure I ever will be, but I'm trying to find a sliver of a silver lining, and hopefully this book will help.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Have Yourself a Snarky Little Christmas (Card)

'Tis the season for Christmas cards. Around this time of year, we go to the mailbox and find it stuffed, not just with a gazillion flyers for things we probably don't need, but also with cards. Our mantles and fridges are decorated with images of angels and reindeer and bells, covered with red, green, and gold, and bedecked with photos of families in their holiday best, smiling in a meadow or in front of a Christmas tree. Doesn't it put a smile to your face?

It doesn't. Not to me anyway.

You might wonder why I am such a Grinch? People take time out of their busy lives and pay for postage just to wish me a happy holidays, and here I am, tossing their handiwork in the recycling bin. Am I just a horrible person who hates children and families and the true meaning of Christmas?

I've posted in the past about how difficult holidays, and especially Christmas, are to me in my infertility journey. There seems to be a societal consensus that Christmas is for the kids, that we're supposed to find the magic in watching our little ones open their gifts from Santa and experience the joys of the season. All of the radio and television ads are about children. They feature happy families putting up a tree. We all know that Christmas is about families, and those of us without children - who may never have a little one to spoil in the name of Santa - well, we can just sit back and watch everyone else share the magic.

It's no secret that this year has been extremely difficult in many ways. There were joyful moments, like when I graduated and our brief holiday in Spain, but overall, 2016 has been a hard year. Our infertility treatment failed. Our cat died. I suffered anxiety and depression. I feel like have been mired in sorrow, fighting so hard just to get one foot in from of the other while I am up to my knees in the mud and muck of loss and grief.

One of the saddest parts of this journey has been the lack of support from loved ones. When you lose a family member or get sick, people rally around you. They bring casseroles and send flowers. This has been one of the most profound grief experiences of my life, but no one sent flowers or brought around food. Very few people have acknowledged it at all. Many of our friends have faded quietly out of our life, unable to face us in our sorrow. It hurts.

So what does this have to do with Christmas cards? Well, everything. This time of year, the cards come in. People who never acknowledged our pain, who never sent so much as a two-line email telling us how sad they are for our situation, are now sending us cards with their adorable children. Maybe they think this is helpful and their way of sending love, but when you've been silent during my grief, a photograph of your happy family makes me feel like you're rubbing it in my face that you have a family and I don't. It doesn't say "I love you" to me; it says "LOOK AT MY BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN." If you haven't reached a hand down to help pull me out of the pit, then I don't want your family on my fridge. I don't have time for superficial friendships any more. I want to invest in the people who will invest in me in return. I want to spend my time and emotional effort with people who will make me feel loved and supported in my darkest days.

This Christmas, maybe I am the Grinch. I'm okay with that. I've been asking myself the hard questions this year, like why do I bother sending cards anyway? Is it out of habit, or because I truly love these people, and if so, how am I prepared to invest in those relationships in the coming year? I ask you, too, to think before you send that card. What are you trying to say with it? Is this person going through a hard time, and have you reached out at all? How are you investing in that friendship in other ways, or is it just a once-a-year, Christmas-card relationship?  Let's not just do things because we think we should. Let's make gestures that are meaningful instead.

Merry Christmas. This year, let's love harder and better.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2016

Today's TTT topic is "Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read for the First Time in 2016". Pretty self-explanatory. Here's my list!

1. Elena Ferrante: I've been making my way through the Neapolitan novels. One book left, and that's on deck for me when I finish my current read.

2. Kristin Hannah: I loved The Nightingale. So good!

3. S.E. Hinton: I finally read The Outsiders when I found myself with hours to kill and no book while waiting for my car to be repaired, and to my surprise, I utterly loved it.

4. Dan Simmons: I had Drood on my list forever, but finally made my way to it in the spring. I'll definitely be reading more of his books.

5. Geraldine Brooks: People of the Book was a really intriguing concept. I definitely want to read a few more of her books, especially March.

6. Carlos Ruiz Zafon: I read The Shadow of the Wind while on holiday in Barcelona, and it was one of the best books I read all year.

7. Libba Bray: I finally started the Diviners series, and boy am I hooked. I can't wait for the third book to come out!

8. Becky Albertalli: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda made me laugh and cry.

9. Markus Zusak: How did I wait so long to read The Book Thief?

10. ShayaLonnie: Okay, so this year I discovered FanFic and got obsessed. ShayaLonnie is one of my favourites.

Now it's your turn, readers! What new authors captivated you this year?