Reads: Sisterland

Sisterland
by Curtis Sittenfeld
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I waited patiently for Sisterland. As a newer release it had a long list of holds at the library. Knowing it would come soon, I tried to speed through any books I currently had through the library. When a book is on hold you have it for just three weeks with no option for renewal. I wanted nothing to get in my way of finishing this book. Thankfully, nothing did, and frankly, it would have been quite difficult for anything to come between me and finishing this book in three weeks. Because I was so engrossed, it only took just over one. I was a little uneasy at first, but soon the pace picked up and I could see the story coming together.

Much shorter than Prep and much simpler than American Wife, Sisterland pulls together the story of two sisters, which I assume you figured out already. These two sisters have premonitions, feelings, visions, of things to come. How they each deal with this gift is the groundwork for the novel. The book surprises at the end, by turning what was a book about premonitions into a book about the realities of life. Sittenfeld has a talent for bringing out the emotions of the day to day and the intricacies of relationship. She showed that in American Wife quite well, and she still brings it to the table in Sisterland.

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Reads: Sugar in the Blood

Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire
by Andrea Stuart

We talk a lot about race in America and it is very easy to forget the entire picture of slavery in the New World. Andrea Stuart’s writing helps to put it in perspective. The descendant of a European immigrant to Barbados in the 17th century, Stuart explores her family’s past. I picked up this book expecting strictly family lore and stories, and instead found that Stuart deftly explores an incredible amount concerning the history of slavery in the Americas, its impact, and the consequences. I was floored by her ability to weave in the facts that she could find about her family with the historical facts she so obviously painstakingly researched. I loved this book from beginning to end, and was grateful for everything I learned from it.

Five Months

It has been five months since he left Mom. Two months after I had my own wedding, he walked out on my mom. I can count the number of times he’s gotten in contact with me on one hand. I would still have fingers left over.

I turned 30 in November, and he didn’t acknowledge it. I assumed that would happen, as I always knew my mom was the one who planned birthday parties and bought presents. It still hurt.

I always heard the stereotypes about children of divorced parents. They blame themselves, they feel caught in the middle, they don’t want to be the messenger.

Nobody talks about the adult children of a divorced couple. I find myself laughing when I realize how similar my experiences must be with a 9 year old. I tell myself I should’ve said something earlier, I should have been more adamant. I loathe talking about it with my mom. I hate getting those few e-mails from my dad because he is so distant. I know I need to talk to him, but I have absolutely no idea what to say. No idea.

My parents are about to finalize their divorce. I am 30 years old, but I feel like a little kid.

Too Familiar

I got the new Menomena album. My husband and I listened to it as background noise as we read on the couch that night. Later that week, in the car, I heard this song. Very familiar to what has been happening these days.

Fits

I take care of a 5-year-old. It’s my job. I also take care of a three-year-old. This is, you know, part of my job. The girls are professionals at throwing tantrums. My tantrum philosophy is Ignore It. When you Ignore It, you are telling the child that they can’t use that means of communication. I’ve noticed with the three-year-old that if I simply Ignore It, the tantrum is over in less than five minutes. After that time, she becomes her usual sunny, happy self. It’s quite funny, actually, to watch her go from “NO!! You!! NO!! I don’t want you!!!” to “I found a sticker today.” Simple as that.

The 5-year-old has had more practice in the art of tantrums, and although she knows that my “no” means exactly that, she still fights for what she wants. The three-year-old worked herself into a tizzy quite a few times last week, and the 5-year-old and I could look at each other and roll our eyes, sigh, and laugh about it together. Why, then, is it so hard for the 5-year-old to see the silliness in her own tantrums? She can look right at her sister and think her tantrum is outrageous, but when she’s in her own world, wanting what she wants, it’s serious business.

It reminds me of myself. That sometimes I look at others and think “what gives?” I want to shake them by the shoulders, look them in the eyes and say “grow up.” Why can’t I do that to myself? Why can’t I see my own ridiculous actions from an objective viewpoint and talk myself out of it?

It’s a Woman’s World

I get really nervous in womanly places. Not the woman aisle in the store, or among a group of women I know. Instead, I get nervous heading into salons. I feel uneasy in places that require femininity. Oh, I know femininity has nothing to do with clothes and hair and we’re all very much evolved to the point where we can all just be who we are and not worry about the social pressures of womanhood.

Uh huh.

Maybe I’m just insecure, but I’ve never felt firmly in one camp or the other. My entire adolescence can be summed up by the phrase “does not fit in”. And not the  “does not fit in” in the stereotypical teen comedy/drama on Fox, but “does not fit in” because I was always in the in-between. I wasn’t a tomboy, but I never wore makeup. I wasn’t a punk rock girl, but I did wear band t-shirts. I wasn’t outgoing, but I wasn’t shy when people talked to me. I wasn’t incredibly smart, but I loved reading.

This continued in college, at my liberal Christian college, where I wasn’t incredible vocal about my faith (but it was the most important thing in the world to me).

As I’ve gotten older, and perhaps (fingers crossed) grown up a little bit, I’ve started to embrace a form of femininity. Or a portion of it. Or somebody’s portion of it, anyway. I am grateful to be a woman, that I will (fingers crossed) one day have children, that I have met women who make me happy to be a woman. As I grew out of my comfortable little shell, I found that I liked wearing big earrings, having a cute haircut, and wearing dresses. I still feel uncomfortable wearing makeup. I still much prefer jeans and Vans.

What is femininity? Every woman is different. Everyone’s experiences are different. My conscience tells me that I am there, that I am okay as-is. Every day my conscience tells me this.

Then I’m forced into a little cave of a world where beauty is of the utmost importance. I look at my un-dyed hair (my gray hair!) and feel inadequate. I look at my picked-at nails and feel gross. I feel naked without makeup. I feel…I feel…I feel.

Today I went to a new stylist. I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that she owned a cute shop, a beautifully decorated shop. I planned my outfit. I looked at my face. I decided to hide my nails. I wondered if I should pluck my eyebrows a bit. But, the wonderful thing was that I felt entirely comfortable. I did not feel the need to apologize for anything. She never asked me why I don’t want to dye my hair. She didn’t ask how long it had been since I was in a salon. Instead, she smiled, listened, and did what I asked her to do.

An Honest Life

Eleven years ago I called up a boy and asked him to take a walk with me. I had a serious crush on this boy, and the phone call from my dorm room to his was prefaced by shaking hands and deep breaths. I’m positive he knew what was happening, what this was about, but I was all jitters and oblivious. He was always cool. 

I intended to tell him about how much I liked him. We shared a strange love for strange music. He was funny and I loved to laugh. He was a clown and I was shy. We made mix CDs for each other, went to small rock shows together, and he played the piano for me while I sat on the couch in the boys’ dormitory lounge. Of course, I thought he was wonderful.

We took that walk. He didn’t return the sentiment. I realized it wouldn’t work. Over the next couple months, as we remained friends, I found him unreliable, selfish, and full of himself. I was glad he didn’t like me back. 

My memory is not too great. Instead, I feel like most of my growing up years are a big blur, studded with incredibly sharp incidents that suddenly turn blurry again. 

This walk was one of those sharp incidents. I remember that walk. I remember how I felt, I remember where we walked to, I remember walking back. I remember the feeling I had the moment I realized he had taken my confession and let it fall. He did not return it to me. 

But on that walk, I began my confession with a statement: “I told myself that when I started college I would be honest. I would be honest to myself, and to others”. And that is how I found myself spilling the beans to this boy who didn’t care. And this is how I find myself on this blog.