Literary Inspiration: Middlesex

Middlesex Collage

Have you ever, fearing the absolute worst of something or someone, just put that something or someone off, for days, weeks or years?  I mean, hopefully if that something is, say, renewing your license and that someone is twenty one pilots’ drummer Josh Dun’s arms the Queen, you could hotfoot it a bit, but by and large, there are a spectacular number of obligations, experiences and even people that we can, and do, put by the wayside, sometimes forever, but mostly just for what feels like forever.  Then, many moons later, we finally get our acts together and do the uncomfortable thing that we’ve been putting off for absolutely no good reason whatsoever, and it’s no big deal.  Or, more likely, it turned out to be a great time/the very best course of action/just the thing that  needed to happen, and all we can do is berate ourselves after the fact for our nonsensical dithering (also known as WhyDidn’tIDoThisSooner-itis.)

I’ve done this with countless big ticket purchases (cars, mattresses, our apartment) and experiences – 13 Disney-less years of existence prior to 2017 would certainly bear out that assertion.  And I do it with the media I consume as well – whilst tidying up our possessions in contemplation of the nearly-completed renovations to our apartment, I found all manner of forgotten movies, television shows and books, things I meant to get to, but never did, because at one time in the distant past, they just weren’t speaking to me.

But life is short and all that not-so trite shite, and in my advancing years, I’ve learned that putting off the uncomfortable, the awkward, the expensive and the unpleasant does you no favours in the present, and maybe even a good deal of damage in the future.  So go ahead and buy that new mattress that both your back and sleeping patterns so desperately need, even though you know it’s going to be a righteous pain in the ass to move it in and dispose of the old guy, and mattresses are so expensive, so why even bother in the first place, even though you’re pretty sure if you sleep one more night on the back-breaker from hell, you’ll wake up crippled (totally speaking from personal experience here, and yes, our new mattress – delivered four days ago, and indeed, it was a pain moving it in – is divinely comfortable, and we’ve been getting great sleep, and Why Didn’t I Do This Sooner?)  Or hit up that restaurant/theatre/gallery/club/bar that you’ve always been interested in visiting, even though it’s in a completely inconvenient part of town with absolutely zero parking, and, and, and…just go, struggle a bit with the parking, sure, but ultimately enjoy a fantastic evening and discover a fun new activity, and Why Didn’t You Do This Sooner?  TL;DR?  The only predictable thing in life is its unpredictability, and the universe WILL be a dink.  So stop making excuses and get on with it already.

And that goes doubly for the movies and TV shows we (don’t) watch, the music we (sometimes) listen to and especially the books we (forget to) read, which have a tendency to languish on IKEA Billy bookcases for decades until we take them down and finally devour them as part of a friend’s reading challenge (the third prompt, “Carpe read ’em – a title on your TBR for 1+ years”), unexpectedly love the crap out them and then spend the next week berating ourselves for not reading them sooner.  Once again speaking from personal experience, this time regarding Jeffrey Eugenides’ 2002 Middlesex, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from the author of my favourite book, The Virgin Suicides, and a novel that sat, unread, on my IKEA Billy bookcase for 17 years, because I ultimately just wasn’t that interested in the story and could never work up the motivation to even crack open the front cover.  And this is a book that was gifted to me because I asked for it!

Middlesex Bookshelf

But I was wrong to put off this novel for so long, because it was a certifiable discovery, one of the most enjoyable things I’ve read in years, and one tagged with a front cover pull quote from my hometown newspaper, no less!

Middlesex 1

But on its face, I get it, Middlesex doesn’t look like much.  This is the story of Calliope Stephanides, an American-born Greek growing up in suburban Detroit in the 1960s and ’70s.  Cal is born with ambiguous genitalia, a fact that goes completely unnoticed by her aging doctor, her loving, but increasingly WASP-y family, and even herself.  It’s not until Callie fails to develop like other girls her age that her parents take her to a specialist in New York City, an act that blows the lid off a huge family secret and sets the wheels in motion for Calliope to truly become Cal.

The story actually begins in 1922 in Bithynios with the man and woman who will become Cal’s grandparents fleeing the Turkish troops laying waste to their small Greek island.  We follow them as they immigrate to America, settling quickly in Detroit, with Cal’s grandfather, Lefty, taking work in the then-flourishing auto industry, whilst also dabbling in a bit of rum-running, gambling and speakeasy-ing on the side.  We watch as Cal’s grandmother, Desdemona, struggles with new American customs, holding firm to the old ways, though still desperately trying to outrun the past.  We see Lefty and Desdemona begin a family, and then watch as their son, Milton, grows into a deeply romantic young man, whose spurned affections for Tessie, the girl next door, lead him into a deeply ill-considered stint with the Navy.  But Milton returns to Detroit whole, and counting their lucky stars, he and Tessie marry and they begin a family of their own.  We then watch as their daughter, Calliope, grows up in the shadow of the floundering Motor City, a product of her Greek immigrant grandparents more than she could ever know.

Middlesex 3

Middlesex is a book about a person finding their true identity, inasmuch as they choose to be defined by their genetic markers.  But moreover, it’s a book about a person finding their true identity simply by living it.  We are there for every moment of Cal’s mostly average suburban life.  We see her attend school, make friends, develop an infatuation, spend time with her family – the stuff of normal childhood and teenage life.  She becomes the person she was was meant to be (or more accurately, the person he was meant to be) mostly because of her upbringing and environment – post race-riots Detroit – and less because of what gendered box she checks off on the census.  And when Callie finally does embrace the Cal side of her identity, it changes virtually nothing about his basic personality, which has always been kind, thoughtful, respectful and loving (dated though it now is, this book could be a timely resource in today’s politically-charged climate, a reminder that not all “others” are scary freakshows trying to steal the government’s money so they can swap genders as easily as pulling on a pair of pants; it’s a LOT more nuanced than that, and also a lot more normal – whatever that word means – than you might expect.)

There is a reason Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize, and that’s because Jeffrey Eugenides is a phenomenal writer.  Bit of a literary hermit, that one – he really only pokes his head out every 10 years or so, drops some astonishing bit of prize-winning art on us and then retreats to his foxhole.  But when people speak of effortless, lyrical writing, this is what they mean.  I can think of few authors who would be able to turn such a sprawling family tree into this engaging, enlightening and slyly funny a coming-of-age tale.  I absolutely adored Middlesex.  Please read it so we can talk about it together.

As always, I have nail art to accompany this review (can it be called a review if you spend the first 800 words talking about your renos?)  Here I’ve got the Detroit city skyline as against a gradient pink sunset, the only kind there apparently were in the heyday of the Motor City, when all the smog, pollution and miscellaneous floating about the atmosphere turned every sunset into a lurid pink fever dream.

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Woefully Unprepared

Blackout 1

That was my husband and I this weekend after back-to-back tornadoes struck our hometown of Ottawa, Ontario on Friday evening.  The storms – a rare, although not totally unheard of occurrence – tore through the city in a matter of minutes, leaving utter destruction in their wake – flattened homes, uprooted trees and a completely decimated power station, which knocked out electricity to nearly 180,000 homes and businesses, ours included.

In the eerily still moments that followed the lights going out, it began to dawn on us that we were not in the best of positions to ride out anything longer than half a day’s power outage.  In an effort to curb mindless munching, we keep precious little “emergency” food in the house – crackers, granola bars – or even easy to prepare things like salad and sandwich fixings.  So we had no food, and a rapidly thawing freezer full of things that could only be heated up.  We also live in a condo apartment, so we have no barbecue, gas stove or hot water heater.  Also a multi-storey walk down to and then back up from the garage in order to check the news on AM radio because neither one of us carries a data plan on our phones, choosing instead to tap our home or public wifi, which is great practice in terms of saving money and curbing poor phone habits, but terrible in the event of an actual emergency, because when the power goes out, so too does the wifi.

On Saturday evening we braved the roads – signal lights out, all intersections down to the mostly respected honour system – and went over to check on my parents, who were having a veritable blackout party when we straggled in, weak from a diet consisting of nothing but dry Mini Wheats straight from the box.  Bustling about their gas fireplace-warmed kitchen in a cozy-looking jewel toned robe, my mother laid out their bounty of “eat this now”s, expressing concern that it wasn’t much (my mom’s definition of “not much” being wildly skewed, of course; their granite-topped kitchen island was crammed with a tantalizing assortment of salads, deli sandwiches, dips, heaping bowls of leftovers and half a chocolate cake!  I nearly burst into tears, but crying would have gotten in the way of all the eating; we fell on this unexpected feast with gratitude.  My parents are pretty awesome.

We rode out the remainder of the weekend in our apartment doing what we did all weekend long – cramming as much reading as we could into the daylight hours before passing out from boredom about two hours after sundown.  When the power came back on, I nearly cried, again.  It was a bit of an emotional weekend.  Having the power off was its own challenge, sure, but it was the weekend-long information vacuum we were plunged into that made the whole situation that much worse – I was utterly furious that for all our expensive devices we have jacked up in our faces at all hours of the day, when it really comes down to it, we’re still just sitting in the dark, clueless.

And the silence – it was deafening.  I never realized before how much white noise I like to have in my life.  I have slept with a full box fan bearing down on me virtually every night of my life.  I score nearly everything I do – cooking, cleaning, blogging, driving, personal care, working out, travel, socializing – to a vast assortment of playlists and favourite music.  I work on an asskicker of an Alienware gaming computer that pumps out a low, never-ending hum.  I nearly always have a movie or a show queued up on our TV; extra white noise points if it’s one I’ve watched hundreds of times before (jest not, I’ve definitely seen Beetlejuice and The Lost Boys more than 250 times each.)  At one point Saturday night as I lay in bed struggling to fall asleep to the deafening din of nothingness, I thought, “Is this what Simon and Garfunkel were singing about in Sound of Silence?”

In our defence, I will say we weren’t completely lost souls in all of this.  We actually had a very productive weekend – my husband, who fought off an emerging cold all last week, finally gave in to the germs and allowed himself to just rest.  I used the downtime to finish one book, start another (on the Wall Street implosion of 2008, for pity’s sake!) and take up the entirety of our second bedroom floor.  And last night, in something of a stroke of waste-not, want-not brilliance, I cannibalized three different Hello Fresh entrees that I was utterly crushed at the thought of having to dispose of, cobbling together a rather posh and large feast of Tex Mex-inspired salad and balsamic-drizzled caprese salad with naan bread, by candlelight.

The power came back on about 10:30 Sunday evening, and we were beyond thankful for it.  Then we started to get a picture of the true destruction to our city, of which we were mostly spared.  Aggravated and inconvenienced for two and a half days, yes, and I had to throw out virtually all of the contents of our refrigerator (once again, I nearly cried; I absolutely loathe wasting food) but thankfully spared the indignities of so many of our neighbours – leveled homes, flattened cars, uprooted trees and lives.

But this entire incident has taught us a few crucial lessons.  First, Mother Nature hates us, and she has good reason to.  Climate change exists; you simply can’t deny the negative impact our wildly wasteful lives have on the environment.  And if you do, boy howdy, do I have a one-way ticket to Mars for you right here, my friend.  But secondly, and most important to our immediate lives, we discovered, as I stated off the top, that we are wildly unprepared for any emergency situation, big or small.  So we’re formulating a more responsible plan for next time, because there will be a next time, because see above, re: climate change.  And also something about history something-something and being doomed to repeat it.  Unless we learn our lessons, to close off this circular argument.

And now we rebuild and heal up and try to return to something approaching normal.  Get better soon, Ottawa.

Blackout 2

All About Me

Collage of Me Main

Riveting, to be sure!  But actually, yes, I just spent quite a bit of time updating my About page so it reads less like a bulleted ransom note and more like an invitation to explore this blog’s offerings and the blogger behind the babble. 🙂 Metaphorical exploration, that is!  Trust me, this is definitely NOT me setting out my cybersex shingle.  Hmm, I think this paragraph might have gotten away from me a bit. 😦

Anyhow, if you’re at all interested in getting to know the mind behind the manis, I offer myself up.  Ack, but not like that!  Not like offer-offer, just that — actually, you know what?  I think this is just going to be one of those days when everything that comes out of my mouth is loaded sexual innuendo designed to get a rise out of someone, so I’m just going to choke this off right now and — dammit.

The Blueberry Bush

Blueberry Fingers

A number of years ago I got more than a little cocky about my abilities as a balcony gardener.  I have two large balconies that overlook a river, and for one glorious summer three or so years ago, I cultivated a thriving garden of everything that’s not supposed to grow on a windy hunk of waterless concrete, from herbs and pansies, hibiscus trees and roses, to succulents and ferns, daisies and – in my greatest feat of green thumbing EVER – a fruit-producing raspberry cane.  BOO-YEAH!  All right, so it would appear I haven’t quite abandoned the cocky thing just yet, but come on, that’s kind of impressive, right?  I’m still impressed!  Just look at this little raspberry!  I made him!

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Although perhaps I should not be quite so down with me, because that one glorious summer of thriving bounty?  Never to be repeated again. Subsequent summers have netted naught but a wasp infestation in my gerbera daisies, one tiny bulb of garlic that grew into a slightly larger bulb of garlic and a flowering magnolia that steadfastly refused to flower.  It should also be noted that that one perfect year I harassed the power of nature, my blueberry bush REFUSED to do, well, anything.  It sent off a few promising green shoots and then just sort of sat there for the season while I periodically cursed it out.

But there was no swearing at these cute blueberry nails, which were not only easy (detail brush for the leaves, dotting tool for the berries) but also didn’t require me to go outside, which is terrifically attractive when it’s as cold and rainy as it is today.  Not that I’d be gardening today anyways, but the analogy stands!  I think.  The one thing I can be absolutely sure of, though – these little lacquered blueberry bushes are a lot prettier than the real deal, and definitely more bountiful!