My last post is fairly incomprehensible, huh? That’s what happens when you decide to write late at night. I’m also generally out of practice with writing.

I’m also generally bad at staying in touch with my friends and updating them on my life, so I’m going to try to update this blog more often with the nonsense that’s going on with my life. Turns out, having my own domain (ivyperez.com) has actually somewhat stymied my writing because it so strongly feels like This is What I Think.

So, in the spirit of blogging about myself, I want to summarize a few of the quite ambitions things I plan to do with my fall. They’re not all ambitious per se*, but considering that I’m starting class again next week, doing anything at all outside of school is ambitious.

Flax Cardigan for Baby Mila

My obsession with knitting has started up again, but this time I’m determined to stick it through to the end and actually finish some garments. Right now I’m working on the Flax Cardigan by Tin Can Knits, with some worsted Knit Picks Shine. It’s a beautiful-looking fabric, but the cotton is pretty hard to work with; it’s killing my fingers to keep trying to get it onto the needles. I also knit fairly tightly, so that might be an issue. Other than that, it’s leaving little fuzz balls everywhere!

I also want to start on Little Wave for Matt (or for myself), Runa for myself, and a Featherweight Cardigan for Lisa. (If you’re someone else I love and want me to knit something for you, let me know).

FINALLY, I’m going to take a Continental Knitting class at Vogue Knitting live next weekend. I’m hoping that It’ll click/stick for me, as I’ve tried teaching yself continental knitting a few times. I’m hoping that continental knitting will help me knit faster in general, but also help me with 1X1 ribbing and seed stitch, both of which are featured o the Runa hoodie.

Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon

I’ve had a taste for epic literature lately. I polled my Twitter followers (all 3 of ’em) and some friends about what book I should read next. By far, the book that got the most recommendations was Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. I’ve picked it up a couple of times, but when a friend said that Mason & Dixon was just as good, albeit “more difficult” because of the 18th century vernacular, I got excited–something epic & period-y sounded good! Sci-fi is about the future, Mason & Dixon is about the past.

I’m about 100 pages into it, but after reading the “Meaningful & Deep” annotations, I’ve decided to start over to make sure that I get as much out of it as possible.

I’m also reading Flash Boys, by Michael Lewis, about High-Frequency Trading and the flash crash. I’m finding it a bit disappointing, sadly. It’s somehow not as meaty as I wanted it to be. That’s part of the difficulty with non-fiction books, sometimes authors are lauded because of their ability–which is certainly laudable–of making dense topics accessible to vast audiences. But I sometimes want more detail, to get into the nitty-gritty. But this book is also disappointing in the sense of painting a picture of a narrative. It’s ostensibly the story of a team of programmers and traders who try to beat the system, but I can’t fully imagine what they were like. I don’t have a feeling for what it was like for them to work together. I love stories of teams working together, and that’s part of what drew me to buy this book–but I’m not really getting the team feeling.

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Strength in growing

A recent theme in my story of myself is how much better I’m feeling now that I’m less weighed down by thoughts that I’m not smart enough, or creative enough, or disciplined or driven enough. Suddenly, I’ve been feeling more and more assured in myself.

It’s exhilarating, but intoxicating. Sometimes too much ego, too much arrogance, and you can find yourself bringing yourself right back down. After basically feeling like I could do no wrong at work, I got swamped  by so much work–so much challenging work–that I think I just turned into hating everyone around me. I got drunk on feeling high-and-mighty, and shaking my head at the odd choices and behavior of people that are older than me but have been working much longer than me. Or lived much longer than me, for that matter. Basically, something got a little bit too big, and it didn’t always feel good. Too much confidence in yourself can be damaging, just as too little can be.

Suddenly this is feeling like a rather weak epiphany, but sometimes I have those, things that are probably obvious to everyone else but that suddenly clicked to me. A path opened itself, and I became glad that I could take it. The beginning of that was the first two weeks that I worked at Descartes Coffee, because they were such hell.

It was yelling, from morning until evening, again and again, but I told myself, “You can’t be mad unless he’s completely wrong, and you’re completely right.” “You can’t be mad unless you’re actually perfect.” Somehow, that worked as motivation; I actually started working really, really hard. I learned how to make the most common drinks–latte, capuccino, coffee, machiatto; foam from bone-dry to sloshy milk; filling three coffees before the first person had looked up from their phone to grab sugar and cream. Be unassailable before you can be angry. It’s not advice that I think is fair to give to anyone, necessarily, but it’s something that worked for me. He wasn’t always nice, but he couldn’t attack one of the things I was most afraid of failing: the speed, dexterity, fluidity. I almost wish I had had a work at Starbucks, after all, somewhere where those skills could be appreciated.

I wonder if that’s what’s called “grit.” The way grit is being described these days in “the literature” is as tenacity and determination–but I actually feel like I don’t have those. I didn’t work as hard in college as I could have; I didn’t study as much as I should have and I watched more television and spent more time with my assorted boyfriends than was best for my grades. I didn’t study for my LSAT, do real research for my thesis, go to office hours, or try to network. All of these things, I should have done. I didn’t make the best of a great situation. But damn it if I’m not great at making the best of some of the worst situations.

Haha, that’s depressing. But that’s not actually how I meant it. I guess I was trying to distinguish between two kinds of discipline and two different kinds of tenacity. There’s the kind of tenacity that keeps you focused on something out of your reach, and there’s the discipline of always trying your very, very hardest–no stone unturned, no vice indulged–I don’t think I’ve had either one of these. Rather, I’ve had the tenacity of pushing a heavy stone right in front of me, and the discipline to figure things out on my own, to always be honest with myself about who I am and what I want.

I’ve had this chip on my shoulder, like I’m not appreciated, like I’m always overlooked. I should stop thinking about it that way. I should even stop thinking about what I’ve been thinking about lately–I might have been an idiot before, but now, now I’m the smartest, most innovative person around.

Neither are true. What I am is a work in progress. But I’m very happy to be making progress. Forward is how you go. Forward is how I want to go. I may be smart, but that doesn’t mean that I always make smart choices. Knowing what to do with yourself is one of the hardest things to figure out. I used to think that this was a matter of shooting for a certain class in life, a certain level of intelligence, and being worried and sad that I wasn’t figuring out what I was supposed to do. I won’t be the President of the US, but I’m not going to work for minimum wage all of my life either. But where in the middle I was was my constant preoccupation.

But those categories are subjective and immutable; they’re a result of a mix in your life–not just good luck, not just hard work, but something in between. And it’s not just hard work once, either–or rather, it’s not just sustained hard work and discipline at an early age that does it.

I wasn’t a disciplined a very disciplined 18-22-year-old. I wasn’t the smartest, most curious, or most diligent 18-22-year-old. But somewhere along the way, I gained some discipline, and some hard work, as well as some hope and empathy (or I just learned how to use it). And now, painfully but not as painfully as I thought it would be, I might be learning humility.

This has been a circle, going round and round and saying the same things, but, oh well. I haven’t been the most disciplined of writers, either. I’ll try to be one tomorrow.

When you work in an office everyday, when you walk to the train, from the train to the company bus, when you eat at your workplace’s cafeteria, when you work a few dozen feet from the windows, when they always pull the shades down so that you can never fully see outside, do your dreams start to feel more real than waking life?

When waking life becomes habitual, do your dreams pick up the slack? Or is it just that it seems that way because you’re remembering more noteworthy things about your dreams than during your life?

I’ve had a lot of vivid dreams lately, and I had a very vivid one last night.

I had a dream that Harrision and I got back together. There were two things that stand out to me, now, about the dream: the fact that he owed me money, and that when I made even a cryptic hint about it, he immediately pulled out his wallet and handed it to me.

Dream-Harrison was not very much like real Harrison, except for a few details, details that I had forgotten, details that remind me of the awesome, frightening ability of our minds to remember, deeply remember, things that we think we might have forgotten.

Memory is malleable, but often what scares me more than the malleability of memory is its effervescence. I remember so little of the day to day, especially now that I don’t write every day. But this was frightening in an entirely different way. It seemed as if something inside of me was forcing me to recall feelings and pieces of life that I never again thought would resurface.

It’s weird, it almost makes me nostalgic for pain. In dreams, it’s almost the feelings that matter more than anything else. Maybe that’s why I remember my dreams so well: emotion is an agent of memory, and in my dreams, my emotions are razor-sharp and very heavy, they wield a force and last night especially it felt as if they were wielding it against me.

Harrison is a mystery that my mind, brain, heart, and soul can’t pull apart. But I think that the answer is that there isn’t actually anything there. He’s just a guy, just a guy, just a guy. The mystery is that he’s someone that I at one point… I don’t know… depended on… so completely? “Depended on” feels like the wrong thing to say, though, he was so damn unreliable. Maybe it’s that I mentally depended on him. That is, maybe it’s that my identity had depended on him.

Damn, I can’t remember. Is that what “trauma,” means? Harrison is the big marker of my life. After him, darkness, and after darkness, what feels like my real life really started. My current job, my ascent to financial, physical, and, eventually, mental stability; the relationship between Matt and me.

In the dream, he was himself and he wasn’t. In the dream he lay on top of me, and the dream made me remember not just the feel of his embrace, but how familiar that feeling once was.

That’s the imposition that’s bothering me so much about the dream: although we were getting back together in the dream, too; in the dream, too, we had broken up and were mending something and he was returning to me after making me feel less-than, there was still an intimacy and a familiarity and a longing, in a way. And it feels really odd to have that intrude into my current headspace right now. Until last night, I remembered almost nothing abou thim and I almost liked it that way. After last night, I remember now that there used to be longing there, even if it was a confused longing. I almost feel as if my heart and mind are mocking me, they’re saying, you were attached before to this Pillsbury Doughboy.

When there’s a before and an after, when there’s a temporal division between I Love You and I Loved You, what’s the thing between the one and the other? I’m honestly so confused about it that I wouldn’t even be able to tell you if I ever loved him. It’s not that I’m trying to say that I didn’t (I’ve had that impulse before, to just say ‘I  never loved him,’ and if I knew that for certain, I would cling to it. But the truth is that I don’t know. I can’t remember, it’s inaccessible to me now.

Or, at least, I think it’s inaccessible. Some of the things I felt and saw last night during my dream were emotions and sights and sense-memories that I had forgotten I had forgotten.

If our selves are a story that our minds like to tell….. what does that mean about these memories?

I’m honestyl caught between the feeling that I rather not know, and just bury it, because it’s in the past and because it’s inferior, and the perhaps more humble feeling that there are things that I know that I don’t know.

There’s two of me, the before and the after. But there’s also the memories, put away somewhere inside of me, and the person who lives and walks and doesn’t remember and is (mostly) fine with it that way.

Is there a person, at some point in the future, who will know?

Do I want to know how I felt about him? In a way I’m still so afraid to even touch that memory. Will it burn as much as it did before? And yet, although his abandonment stings, there’s also….

Well, there’s two things: 1. I was very unhappy at the time, existentially unhappy, and so perhaps that is more to blame than anything between us for what happened to us. Then there’s: He said he didn’t love me anymore.

And that turns into: 1) Well, I could perhaps dismiss his lack of love for me as being because I was so depressed and confused and despairing, but 2) Perhaps not. Perhaps he just stopped loving me, full stop.

Maybe he stopped loving me because he thought I was something that I then didn’t turn out to be.

Maybe he stopped loving me because he found out that I was more fear than courage.

Maybe he stopped loving me because I had too many expectations of him and too few for myself.

I don’t know, but I think that maybe it’s a question worth figuring out, because I don’t want to get to the point when I don’t know… who I am.

I don’t know if I loved him, but I think that I’m still upset that… I wasn’t someone that he thought he loved. And now I’m remembering Jake, too, who never said he loved me, actually, but that liked me and cared about me a lot at one point until suddenly, he didn’t.

What a weirdly melancholy mood for me to be in. I’m usually not like this, even this winter, when things have been hard for me. Cold is hard for me, and having a cold is hard for me, but still, what’s this feeling?

Maybe this is the kind of space that I need to put myself into in order to be able to write about what I went through in the year after I graduated.

But a big difference between then and now, maybe the biggest difference, is that back then, I had no conception of the ability to come up again after going down.

Four months into 2014, I want to write about my favorite books of last year. Some of these books are the latest from some of my favorite authors, like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowlands, and Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. Others are books about which there was enough hype that I had to figure out what the fuss was about, like Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Some books were accidental revelations–I read Bolaño’s 2666 in part because it was notoriously difficult, but got swallowed up by its prose and ambitious storytelling. Skippy Dies was endorsed at the end of a Culture Gabfest podcast, but unlike many of the books endorsed, I went further than just writing it down in an exponentially growing want-to-read list, and actually bought it and read it. Freedom and The Luminaries were among the best-reviewed of the year, and I gave in to reading each of them in part because of that.

The Luminaries was the 2013 winner of the Man Booker prize, but I think it got an extra boost in publicity because the gender, age, and nationality of Eleanor Catton, a young New Zealand author, were somehow a surprise. And yet, I think my list shows that, for me at least, the muses of good literature do not discriminate–my list has authors young and old, men and women, American, Scottish, Japanese, Chilean.

The only non-fiction book in the top five is Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, which I read as part of a non-fiction memoir writing class late last year. This isn’t because I don’t like nonfiction–in fact, it’s become one of my favorite genres–it’s just that it’s that much more difficult to find good non-fiction books. You’ve got to like the subject matter, the writing style, the pacing, and you’ve also got to like and believe in the author; their efforts can’t be transparent. I hope to find more non-fiction books like that in 2014.

THE TOP FIVE 

2666Roberto Bolaño

2666  features, at least in part, a group of  four literary critics, with cosmopolitanly diverse European nationalities–French, Spanish, Italian, and a lone English female, are obsessed with German writer Benno von Archimboldi. Except, is he really German? Archimboldi sounds almost Italian. Other mysteries about the author eventually convince the critics (in the original Spanish-language version, that’s how Bolaño refers to them: “los criticos”) to go on a search for the mysterious author. With and without them, the rest of the narrative takes us to Mexico, where the critics believe von Archimboldi might have gone.

The third section of the lengthy novel takes place in the fictional Santa Teresa, a place that maps closely to the existing city of Juarez. A beautiful, sophisticated, diverse city, Santa Teresa has lately been plagued by the murders of many women. The novel is concerned with the murders, it catalogues and describes the bodies, the state in which they are found, and how they were dressed. It’s repetitive, gory, heartbreaking, and strangely lulling. The way that the discoveries are portrayed–each one is one of many, yet each one has particular details, feels very human. Sometimes, the narrative is diverted enough to give us some biographical details about the dead, where they were going when they were captured, and their family.

2666 is messy but tight, it’s sprawling but self-contained. This book will haunt your dreams. It’ll chase you down and eat you up. It’ll kick you apart, kick you apart. 2666 takes place everywhere and no-where, always and never. The primary themes of the novel are violence and chance, mystery and coincidence. Although the thoughtless, senseless destruction of people in much of the book sends a chill down my spine in the way that it rings true, the book also convinces you about the global nature of humanity, and life: we’re all in this together, and we’re more connected than we think we are, and maybe more connected than we think we are.

What it Reminds Me Of: Infinite JestWhite Noise

The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries is set in a prospector’s town in New Zealand, a town so new that the landscape still seems to be mostly mud, ramshackle wooden houses, and opium-supplying pharmacists.

With one of the novel’s protagonists, the hapless, pointless, and slightly clueless Walter Moody, we stumble into a meeting of 12 men determined to get to the bottom of a series of mysteries. At that point, the men launch  into stories that are connected to each other, and although the mystery isn’t solved when they’re all done, they come to the consensus that everything that’s happened to them is related. The first few chapters of the novel are so involved, with so many intersecting storylines, that I drew up a diagram to see if I could keep all of their connections straight.

Eventually, though, each of the characters involved in the mystery becomes so human that the story isn’t that difficult to keep in your head. Once the stories of each of the 12 men in the room are told, the men band together to solve that which is still mysterious: where did the bullet go, who killed a whore’s baby, and who is conspiring with whom.

The world that Catton creates is bold and post-modern in a way that’s different from Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, or Delillo. It is aggressively witty and yet unapologetically unironic. It’s about love and coincidence, revenge and vendettas; and what the stars can tell you about the people under them. The only cynicism in it is the cynicism of some of its characters. The Luminaries invites you to believe in fortune-telling, magic, and good people who do bad things when they’re misinformed.

An unexpected winner of 2013’s Man Booker prize (because she’s female, I guess? ugh, the world sometimes), The Luminaries shows that literature can still have surprises in tone–there’s something in between campy and genuine about Catton’s storytelling here, and the ‘twist’ at the end is surprising in its simplicity.

What it Reminds Me Of: 100 Years of Solitude, anything by Jorge Luis Borges

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

Much like The Secret History, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch [believes] strongly that ancient magic and art can exert real power, uplifting or destructive, over the lives of its devoted disciples. In this case, the novel’s protagonist is hopeless in the thrall of a three-hundred-year old painting that, once he takes it after a terrorist attack that kills his mother, shapes the course of the rest of his life. It’s not just the theft of the painting that affects Theodore–it’s the way in which it represents, for him, the possibility of meaning and beauty in a world that often seems like mostly shit and disappointment.

The world of The Goldfinch often seems to have an excess of rarified air–I’m not sure I know many thieves of centuries-old art or antiques dealers–but it’s air that still gets mixed up with the smog of busses, broken vehicles, and the warm heat of Las Vegas. Tartt mixes the sublime with the mundane in a way that makes you believe, really and truly, with an ache in your heart, that there are beautiful, ancient things that matter,  that are worth preserving, that are life itself. And yet, as grandiose as Theodore Decker’s life gets after he steals The Goldfinch, there’s enough raw humanity in the novel that there isn’t a page in which you don’t yearn, helplessly, that his mother had never died at all.

What it Reminds Me Of: Getting Kicked in the Stomach by a Van Gogh, repeatedly

Skippy Dies, Paul Murray

The boys’ boarding school at the center of Skippy Dies earned the novel the nickname of a “Scottish Harry Potter,” but Skippy and his friends seem more like the freshman dweebs in Freaks & Geeks. They’re dweeby, runty, nerds–and they’re not even that good at school (except for Rupert, their overweight friend. So, basically, they’re real boys, budding adolescents; all Skippy wants is for the bigger kids to stop picking on him, for his parents to give him a call every once in awhile, and to maybe get a pretty girl to dance with him. Their observations and naivete are at once hilarious and heartbreaking as presented by the narrator’s insightful and often biting wit.

What it Reminds Me Of: London Fields (although I never finished it), Looking for Alaska

WildCheryl Strayed

When Vicky and I read this for our Memoir Writing class, we love it so much that it inspired us to go hiking “as soon as the weather got better.” What’s followed is the longest winter Chicago or the world has ever seen. (That’s the way it feels, at least.)

Although the memoir is ostensibly about Cheryl Strayed’s month-long hiking trip along the Sierra Crest Trail, it’s also about grief, addiction, family, love, and coming to terms with who you are. With so much time alone and in the wilderness, Cheryl is forced to reflect on her choices and to accept responsibility for some–though not all–of the bad things that have happened to her.

Wild is enough to kindle anyone’s wanderlust, but there’s a lot more to Cheryl’s, awakening than nature. She awakens to herself – she accepts the parts of herself that she can’t change, and determines to abandon the more destructive forces in herself–or at least, to harness those powers for mostly-good.

What makes my skin tingle about the novel is not just that Cheryl is open to traveling, alone, stinky, in difficult nature, but that she’s also very open–to the people she meets, to almost every experience that opens up to her. Sometimes, this isn’t great–she sleeps with men a little too easily and sometimes regrets it, she falls off the wagon and back into her heroin addiction along the road. I wish that I could be so open, even though it’s dangerous. That’s exactly the terrain that Wild is a guide to–when being open can be dangerous, and when it can be great.

What it Reminds Me Of: Nothing, actually. Maybe a more humble, guile-less Joan Didion. 

 

Anna told me that she and Tizzie are planning to run a half-marathon in September and she asked me if I wanted to join them. I said yes (yay!) but there’s a lot of preparation that needs to happen before I’m quite ready to run. Not only do I want to complete the half-marathon without dying at the end, but I also want to do it at a pace that doesn’t make me embarrassed to ever see her again. I also have memories of Matt last year after he ran the marathon, how he was barely standing upright after the marathon that he ran. And he’s a super fit guy. 

So, basically, I have a lot of work to do. It’s kind of weird how I wanted to work out and run in order to be healthier, but also so that I could lose weight. But now, something funny is happening with my priorities: although I’m still interested in losing weight, I’m becoming increasingly interested in becoming a better runner for the sake of running in itself.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s not still hard. When Matt and I started on our “long run” on Saturday, I started to hurt only about a mile in. Last night, we each pushed ourselves a little harder and reached four miles. Now, my mind is focused on how we’re going to fit running into our weekend while we’re in NJ. 

I forgot what the point of this post was. Only, I wish I were running. 

Knitting projects

  • Finish dish towel from Fearless Knitting Workbook
  • Finish Chato’s scarf
  • Finish Charlie’s scarf
  • Try to start Whichaway Mitts
  • Some kind of hat
  • A seemed shirt/sweater/cardigan

These are the skills I want to teach myself:

  • i-Cord
  • Using double-pointed needles
  • Mattress stich
  • More cabling