Friday, March 20, 2020

Welcome to the Jungle

Greetings from the apocalypse.  My notes for this post disappeared weeks ago which is appropriate.  Half of the people in our house have the flu, and those standing don't look so hot.  But it's okay because I started watching Love Is Blind a few nights ago - though I can't believe I'm leading with this.  It's a Netflix show about people who get to know each other by talking in "pods," who propose to each other without ever meeting in person.  It's ludicrous and fun, and I watched while cattily positing who was going to make it and who was not.  The whole experience has been a welcome distraction from the general stress of a pandemic, and the specific stress of two fevered, whining children. 

Another distraction has been, quelle surprise, a rock bio about Axl Rose called W.A.R. - The Unauthorized Biography of William Axl Rose.  I can't explain why reading about people who soak their lives in adrenaline and chemicals soothes me so much, but it sure does. 
I drank it down.  A while back, I heard GN'R bassist Duff McKagan on Marc Maron's podcast, on this episode of WTF, and he just sounded so dang sweet.  Of course, the real reason I picked up the book was because of the stigma and enigma that is Axl Rose himself.  

Moving on.  At someone's suggestion, I read Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney and really, really dug it.  The title is not my favorite, but who asked me?  The ending was also a little wobbly for me, but I consumed the book in great big draughts, including one stint when I sat down at eleven at night, knowing somewhere in the back of my mind that I would stay up reading until I finished it, which I did with no regrets. 

I picked up a pretty cookbook called The New Sugar & Spice: a Recipe for Bolder Baking after hearing the author, Samantha Seneviratne, on my friend Amelia's podcastThe New Sugar & Spice has a narrative bent and is broken into these sections: Peppercorn & Chile, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Clove & Cardamom (my fave), Vanilla, and Ginger.  The book is infused with histories of all the spices, has beautiful photos, and was deeply relaxing to read, though I haven't baked from it yet.  Seneviratne's second book, The Joys of Baking: Recipes and Stories for a Sweet Life is on my list to read. 

I read Ronan Farrow's Catch and Kill shortly after reading She Said, which I wrote about here, and really loved Catch and Kill's style.  Since then, I've heard Farrow describe his "preparation" for writing the book (read: procrastination), which was to plow through stacks and stacks of novels, in an effort to structure his own book with as much suspense as possible.  I appreciated this effort and think it paid off.  Though I knew much of the information in the book already, its pacing and the way its details rolled out made it a compelling read, indeed. 

I have heard Farrow intimate, in a few podcasts, that he's somewhat neurotic and an overachiever, and he writes in the book that he was no picnic to be around, when all the events of the book were unfolding.  But it is plain fun for me when a young writer reaches so big and sticks the landing.  It reminds me of how enamored I was of Karen Russell's debut, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, although let's be real, the wolf on Russell's cover won probably half of my devotion.

Speaking of youth, and its passage - while glancing right past my latest birthday in February - I watched Echo in the Canyon, which was not at all what I thought it would be.  I was expecting a deep dive on musical groups coming out of L.A. in the 60's, and while I got a little of that, it was more of a celebration of a concert put on by Jacob Dylan in 2015 celebrating the 50th year anniversary of the Byrds's Mr. Tambourine Man.  There were some beautiful parts to the movie, including some heavenly shots of Tom Petty (RIP) discussing musicians who influenced everyone, and there were details about Neil Young that made him look a little jerkish, which I welcome even though he has been one of my idols.  But discussion of Joni Mitchell was nowhere to be found and, in some ways, the whole thing was a little wan, though still worth a watch.  There were shots of David Crosby saying wonderfully arrogant things, making the assertion he made in Remember My Name, which I wrote about here, that Dylan went electric after watching the Byrds rehearse with electric guitars one day.  But probably the most touching scene was when Steven Stills was leaving a studio and clasped hands with Jacob Dylan.  The casual intimacy between them was moving.  It seemed simple and real and made me wonder, because of his father, if all these musical heroes are somehow family friends, too. 

Other books on my side tables right now: Sally Rooney's book Ordinary People and Dani Shapiro's Devotion.  Notes from No Man's Land by Eula Biss, and Muriel Hemingway's memoir Out Came the Sun, about mental illness, depression, and addiction in the Hemingway clan, await me on a shelf behind my desk, and I may never finish any of them.  Staying home all day with sick kids doesn't undo me the way it would some.  If I never had to get in a car and drop another kid off somewhere for the rest of my life, I would not miss it.  But the whining and clinging is not much fun, and I find myself unable to accomplish anything beyond drinking coffee some days. 

March is supposedly Women's History Month and while I don't love contrived, calendrical reasons to become more conscious, I haven't minded perusing National Geographic's Women book, which came out last fall and which I recently checked out with some hefty suspicion.  I don't always love National Geographic's take on the world, and I'm never eager to delve into human beings like they are exotic zebras, but there are some beautiful pictures in the book and nice interviews in the middle of it, including one with Oprah.  It's also infinitely interesting to read about how different generations of women have dealt with sexism in their careers.  Some older women tend to credit their success with their ability to ignore unfavorable environments, to stand up for themselves, without fail, or to put their heads down and work.  I'm sure there is much truth in these insights, but it also, at times, can read as slightly shaming for women who don't have unshakeable confidence, who aren't or weren't able to live so boldly. 

Friends, that's all I've got.  These are strange times, globally, and also for me, personally.  Ellis has some minor health problems that have been tethering me close to home, even before all the semi-quarantining, and it can be overwhelming.  Like most of us, I'm ready for some sunshine and some easier air to breathe. 

P.S. My sister-in-law sent me a link to this series that children's author and illustrator Mo Willems is doing right now.  We watched it yesterday, and it was a true lift.  There's also something endearing about how Willems's face, beard, and glasses seem to be taking on the spirit of Theodor Geisel.  

Speaking of Dr. Seuss, here is a picture of him in his office.  Would you ever in your life get a thing done if that was where you worked?