The English Section: The Killing Of The Saints – Alex Abella

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I’ve recently discovered our local library, which has a large selection of English books, most of which are not the sort I’d usually read (fantasy, comedy or both). In the aim of opening my mind (and to avoid dithering in front of said bookshelves for ages while my partner and child wait impatiently to leave), I’ve decided to read all of them, one by one, in the order I find them, that is according to the Dewey decimal system, and to do a book review of each one. Of course, I’ll miss some because they’ll be taken out, but I’ll just pick those up later as I go along.

The first book is called The Killing Of The Saints by Alex Abella.

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Not sure I want to know what the image is supposed to be.

It’s about a lawyer who, seemingly in spite of himself, ends up having to defend a mass murderer who claims he was possessed by a god – that’s what the blurb says. It’s also about racism and corruption and politics. It’s about a guy who goes above and beyond the call of duty to defend a mass murderer who he secretly hopes will end up with a death sentence, because even he has a right to a proper defence. It’s about a man who seems bent on destroying his own life, who subconsciously sentences himself to misery for crimes you can’t entirely blame him for, but you can’t say he’s entirely innocent, either. It’s about dealing with huge moral grey areas with a justice system that sees only in black and white.

And it’s about gods and ghosts and religious fanatics, and you could probably explain away most of the scenes through mass hysteria etc., but then you could also not, and choose to believe, because it’s a story, and it gives you that choice.

Unfortunately, what with my new motherly duties, I didn’t actually manage to finish this book before I had to return it, which is not an excellent start to a project which entails doing book reviews, but never mind. I got to the very last chapter, which I think was something of an epilogue – in other words, I know how the trial turned out. I don’t know what the deal with the ghost was (you’ll see what I mean if you read the book, I’m not saying more because no spoilers), but I can tell the last chapter attempts to explain it. I want to finish the book, and maybe I’ll speed-read the ending next time I’m in the library, but that would be a pity, because speed-reading means skipping all the colourful descriptions that drew me in in the first place.

I give it four stars on Goodreads, because it wasn’t at all what I expected, and I had no idea how it would end until I read it (and I still want to read the bit I didn’t finish). It introduced me to a culture (Cuban latino) and a religion (Santeria) that I knew little to nothing about, which was fun, I mentally read almost all the dialogues in a Brooklyn accent (despite it being set in L.A.) which was also fun, and I didn’t expect the paranormal aspect to be such a big part of the story, which was interesting in a crime novel. I liked how there were odd bits of Spanish – artfully translated by the narrator where needed – that immersed me in a whole different culture to the ones I know. The legal stuff goes right over my head, but that’s ok – the author tells it in such a way as not to make it boring.

The main character is deeply flawed, sometimes downright stupid in his life decisions, and often a bit of a twat. The moral principles he lives by make him hate the environment and the people he lives with, who seem to have none for the most part, and he also hates himself for past transgressions that, while they’re undeniably serious, are also somewhat understandable given the circumstances, and god this is hard to talk about without spoiling anything, so I’ll just say this: it’s a good book. If you see in your local library, take it out and read it.

Wow, I am shite at book reviews. Join me in three weeks (or less, if we’re lucky) for my opinion on whatever I’ve managed to read of Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali.

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Childbearing: the ultimate creative act

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Or that’s what I tell myself. There must be some reason I haven’t been able to write about anything but babies and shitty pregnancy symptoms for the past year. Right??

You can find what I wrote about that on Pickles and Muffins, which is a blog I started because I couldn’t suffer through three months of horrible “morning sickness” (=> bullshit false advertising, a more accurate title would be “your body attempting to turn itself inside out through your mouth”) and not complain write about it.

I’m back to occasionally thinking about other things, though, so I have updated the Who Is This Crazy page somewhat, and I’ll be posting a few things as soon as I get time to type them out.

I could have posted pictures of the many, many scarves I crochet’d during my second and third trimesters, but I didn’t because my brain basically went on holiday for a year.

Speaking of brains going on holiday, I quit school. Teaching is not for me, I was right and everyone else was wrong so HA you can all shut up about it now. Crochet has become my go-to thing to do when I’m not doing anything else, and I have a shit-tonne of wool to use up, so you’ll be able to see what I decide to do with it all here in the weeks to come.

I have also recently acquired a library card (*GASP* WHY DIDN’T I HAVE ONE BEFORE?? The answer is that we lived too far from the library and couldn’t be arsed taking the car to get there). Our library has a big-ish collection of books in English, hardly any of which are fantasy, or by authors I know. I’ve therefore decided to take a massive leap out of my comfort zone and read all of them, including the large majority of crime and romance novels, and review them here.

I’ll be interested to find out how long it takes for me to “forget” this particular resolution.

The first book is by Alex Abella, a crime novel entitled “The Killing Of The Saints”. Between the kid and my current obsession with crochet, it’ll be a miracle if I finish it.

I’ve also sort of maybe decided to dye my hair blue. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Scene: Resemblance

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Hi guys, I’m not dead. I’ve been creating another human. I’m not done yet, but my brain threw this at me during a bout of insomnia last night, possibly a last splash of colour in my mind before parenthood takes away my (in)sanity.

Memories of my childhood – precise ones, that is – are few and far between. There is one, however, clear and cold as day even now. I don’t know why this memory is the one that remains, it wasn’t of any grandiose moment in my small existence. Just something that occurred (“happened” sounds too dramatic) on an ordinary day in my ordinary life.
I was coming in from some outdoor activity that my mother never approved of – sea fishing, or hiking up the mountain for plants, or climbing trees and catching monkeys for soup; I could climb higher than the boys, being smaller and thinner than all of them. There was a general air of festive excitement – it must have been Midsummer – and my mother, seeing me enter the kitchen through the back door, immediately turned off the gas cooker and grabbed my wrist, steering me into her bedroom – the only room with a mirror – and sat me down in front of it.
“Dana!” she shouted, “Come here for a moment.”
My twin, though quieter, was no more obedient than I was, and in the end my mother had to go and fetch her from our room (leaving me with a stern order not to move), where she would be mixing some potion or other from the plants I brought home. She entered our mother’s room reluctantly, face straight but eyes betraying her annoyance at having been interrupted in her experiments.
“Sit,” our mother said, pushing her down on a chair next to mine. Glaring at our reflections, she tutted. “You’d think I’d picked one of you up on the roadside.”
I looked at my reflection, and then at Dana’s, wondering who she meant. Me, gold-skinned and wiry, coarse cropped hair bleached blonde by the sun and the sea? Or Dana, pale and thin, her shoulders stooped from leaning over her work, her hair a brown-ish shade that was almost grey? Neither of us resembled her, with her cascade of auburn curls and eyes that changed colour in the light, and which men and women alike had lost their souls to. I concluded that Mother meant that we didn’t resemble each other enough for her liking. When we were little, she used to boast that even she had trouble telling us apart. Now our respective hobbies had taken their toll. Even our eyes were different, I noticed then – Dana’s were a deep, dark blue, whereas mine were paler, more opaque, and streaked in green, as though coloured by the sea.
It was the first time I’d noticed the difference in our eyes, and a sudden shiver shot down my spine despite the midsummer heat, as I was hit with the impression that we were alone in the middle of the ocean, floating away from each other. I felt her hand close on my own, to comfort me or her I didn’t know, and I squeezed it. Her fingers were colder than mine.

My First Hallucination, or How To Make Your Boyfriend Panic

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I may have mentioned that I’ve been feeling the pressure since going back to uni. Depression has abated, only to be replaced by increased anxiety, including barely-controlled panic attacks, mainly on the morning bus or during morning lessons because I really do hate mornings just that much. Did I say I was going to see a doctor about it? I can’t remember. Most of my working memory right now is taken up by Piaget and Developmental Psychology.

I’d contacted what is basically the equivalent of a school counsellor with the panic attack problem, and we made an appointment for last Friday. Then on Thursday evening I got sick of having this cough that I’ve had for like three weeks now and which has been preventing me from sleeping, and since I was going to see a doctor anyway, BF suggested I tell him about the panic attacks, and I’d already decided that if someone wanted to give me anxiety meds then I might as well take them while we’re waiting for BF to get a job that can pay for me to have therapy again, so I did.

The doctor is a new doctor. He’s a little bit patronizing, but generally nice, he listens, and he’s not stingy when it comes to handing out prescriptions if he thinks you need it. Right now I’m still on antibiotics, cough syrup, paracetamol and that gross sea salt stuff you put up your nose that works like a charm only with a lot more gagging, and that’s just for the cough/cold.

For the panic attacks, he recommended that as soon as I have the money, I go see this collegue of his who does hypnotism, because apparently I look like I’d be very susceptible to that (which is actually quite scary when you think about it). But in the meantime, he prescribed anxiety meds. One to take each evening before bed, and if ever I felt a panic attack coming on I could put a half-pill under my tongue. He also insisted on giving me a little plastic bag, even though I’ve been managing fine (-ish) with just a scarf over my nose and mouth and pretending I feel sick. I don’t want to use a plastic bag because then everyone in the bus will know I’m hyperventilating, and then I’ll have to explain, and whenever I start talking about it I cry, and I hate crying in public. So when he said not to hesitate to take a half-pill when I felt an attack coming on, I thought, great. I probably won’t even need the bag or the scarf.

When my boyfriend saw the meds, he said “Wow.” And he got this worried look on his face, because apprently he’d already taken those particular anxiety meds and they basically knocked him out. I thought, well yeah, that’s normal, I must have a sleep debt several days long by now. I only had two lessons on Friday morning and then my meeting with the counsellor, and then it would be the weekend. And I mean, I had to revise and work on my NaNo novel and all, but health comes first, right? Right. So I took the pill on Thursday night and went to bed. Before I went to sleep, the boyfriend asked me how I felt. I giggled, because my basic overall feeling about everything right then was that I didn’t care much about anything. Then I went to sleep very, very quickly.

I slept like the dead. It was great. Having to get up at half six was not so great, but never mind, I’d sleep on the bus. When I got to the bus stop I found a 17-yr-old classmate and casually told her that I was on anxiety meds so I might fall asleep, and she should wake me up if I didn’t wake up when we got there. It’s worth noting that very, very few people in my class know I’ve ever had panic attacks, or been depressed, and practically nobody knows that I still suffer from anxiety, because admitting it means having to explain and talking about it makes me cry and I hate crying in public. I think she didn’t really know how to react to this information, and it was like half seven for her too, so she just nodded.

I didn’t fall asleep on the bus, but I did almost trip quite a few times on the walk from the bus stop to college. I kept bumping into tables and people when we got into class, and even though it was music, which is one of my favourite lessons, I wasn’t very reactive at all. By the time we got into Maths, I was having trouble staying awake. In fact I might have fallen asleep through the lesson if we hadn’t had to group up to create a preschool-adapted math activity. There was a lot of noise, a lot of interrupting, and I couldn’t follow any of it but I was expected to participate, and gradually it started to feel like that Russian prank video where they put a metal pot over the guy’s head while he’s sleeping and bang spoons on it and yell to wake him up, only sort of more constant, and I could feel my heart beating faster and faster, and I could feel the neckline of my top strangling me even though it wasn’t touching my throat…

The doc had said not to hesitate, so I slipped one of the half-pills I’d prepared the night before under my tongue. It worked, of course, though even as I was taking it I wondered what it would do to me, if the whole one from last night was knocking me out this much.

The lesson ended. People left. I stayed, because I had my meeting, and ate in the classroom. Or tried to. I took one bite of my cheese and egg salad sandwich, gagged and spat it out. So it was one of those days. Ok. I ate the yoghurt and the apple and bought a packet of gingerbread slices from the vending machine, and wasn’t hungry any more. I sat on my own and tried not to cry. A class delegate came in, I jumped and concentrated on my food, hmm-ing a greeting. She left. I tried to pull myself together. It was nearly time. I went down to the counselling room.

There are like three teachers who look just like each other, and the counsellor is one of them. I told her everything, through tears that I’d known were inevitable. She was very nice and understanding, and she gave me some phone numbers for therapists that are either cheap or reimbursed by social security, but as I’d suspected, it wasn’t really her role to help me with this particular problem. She’s really there to help people with learning difficulties, disabilities, or difficult circumstances (like the few girls who get pregnant every year) to keep up with their studies. I couldn’t stop crying, and when she said that it looked to her like I was still depressed it occurred to me that perhaps taking the pressure off, medically, had put me back in depression. Pressure – de-pression. That’s how it always works with me.

Well, fuck.

I dried my eyes, pulled myself together somehow and left. I was elsewhere. I was really very absent, and it occurred to me that I should take care when crossing roads, and that I was glad my campus is mostly pedestrian. When I got to the bus stop there was still half an hour until my bus came, so I sat down to wait.

Five minutes later a girl sits down next to me with a Lush bag. I stare at the Lush bag. I can smell it from there. Suddenly I want something from Lush. If I get something from Lush, it’ll make this whole day worthwhile. I ask the girl where the Lush shop is, and she tells me, and I jog off for some impulse shopping.

I haven’t been to Lush in over a year, since I left France. I’m so out of it that I walk past the shop before the smell of it entices me back. I wander in, listen to the nice lady do her talk at me, then tell her I have a budget of no more than 5€ for a present (I don’t mention that the present is for me), because even when I’m heavily medicated I remain a stingy and paranoid, thank god. She shows me those fizzy bath things, and I spend a little while sniffing them until they start making me sneeze uncontrollably; then I buy the first one I can grab. They give me a little free sample of solid shampoo and I am ridiculously pleased. I leave the shop, return to the bus stop, realise I’m ten minutes late, and ring my boyfriend to come and pick me up. He tells me to wait for him in the car park, so I find a wooden stool to sit on and wait.

There are lots of dead leaves on the ground. When I stare at them for too long, they start moving in my peripheral vision, shifting gently back and forth like waves in the sea. I frown, focussing on the moving leaves, and they stop. It’s ok, I think just an optical illusion, like the ones you see on the Internet. I try again, staring at one point but watching my peripheral vision. It starts again. I stop it. Start again. The movement seems to shift closer to me, and I wonder what will happen if I let it reach my feet, or the stool I’m sitting on. I stare again, and this time I let the shifting get wider and closer, until it’s at my feet. I swear my feet are moving. I can even feel a tiny stone being displaced underneath my shoe, and hear it scratch the ground. Am I the one moving my feet without realising it? I let the movement reach the stool. It feels like I’m sitting on a boat, or a swing, or a hammock. It feels peaceful. It occurs to me that I should probably be worried about this. I don’t care much.

Boyfriend rings. He’s waiting at the other car park. I abandon my vision and walk over, watching out for cars. We bicker about which car park he meant, I start to cry. He hugs me, we get in the car. I cry all the way home. I curl up on the sofa, then he walks me to bed (it is 4pm), and the next thing I remember is waking up there the next morning, fully clothed.

I slept 14 hours. On the way home he called my name eight times before I answered. I told him not to worry about the hallucination. I wonder how I appeared to the counsellor, or the Lush saleswoman, or my classmates, but I don’t remember any of them acting any different towards me than usual. I think what really knocked me out – on top of the meds – was fatigue.

Needless to say, I’m not taking them any more. Yesterday was spent at a write-in, alternately working on my novel and doing coursework. I’m still in picky-food mode, I still had to go to the loo to cry last night. But I’m feeling more myself today, whatever that means. Tomorrow I’m going back to the doctor’s to try and find an alternative solution to the panic attack problem – one that doesn’t involve hallucinogenic tranquillizers.

(Mental) health is important, apparently.

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I haven’t been posting much. I haven’t made any videos lately, either. This is mostly because since I went back to uni, I’ve been busy studying, socializing and stubbornly not thinking about how terrifying both these activities are for me.

I’m very good at this. Better than I realised, even after all that introspection and self-tolerance I was forced to learn last year. You have less time for introspection when you’re studying and socializing all the time, and when your environment reminds you of high school, self-tolerance is hard to keep up. You can’t think “it’s ok, I’m allowed to cry” because you’re in public and people will look askance and want a rational explaination. I hate to lie, but even if I didn’t, the dead uncle excuse only works for a few weeks tops.

But today I’ve been forced to take a day off by a minor physical illness which is the latest in a long series since I went back to uni. I went to the doctor, who took my tension, said it was a bit low, and gave me two days off instead of just the one I intended to take. I was going to go in tomorrow anyway, but the boyfriend has put his foot down, which is a rare thing and a sign that I should pay attention.

After an afternoon of reading webcomics, sleeping, and otherwise idling in bed, I realised that in the absence of anything to do, I was spending all my time worrying. Anxiety is my big nemesis right now, so this doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but what got me thinking was the extent to which this worrying was, in fact, ruining my life, and had been since I started uni.

The classroom environment is a particular one: everyone knows you, but they don’t really know you. Nobody knows I’m bi. Very few people know I get panic attacks, and I only mentioned them in passing, like they were something that used to happen a long time ago. Nobody knows I’ve ever been depressed, or mentally ill at all. I’m that girl who dresses like a geek and who’s a bit older than everyone else – what, twenty-eight? Jesus. Quite a lot older, then. I get along with most people, though I know several think me odd for not wearing any make-up or straightening my hair every morning. I’m nice, not bitchy, a morning zombie, I complain a lot about the price of syllabi, take notes faster than anyone else (though not many people can read them) and I can draw, sort of. Occasionally I’m a bit cold and distant, but I think people are beginning to understand that it’s unintentional, and just means I’m preoccupied.

Nobody knows just how preoccupied I am, though. When I think about it, I always have some worry running in the background of my mind. These days the worries closest to the surface are a) that I’ll fail my studies, b) that I’ll somehow ruin my carefully constructed normal-person class persona and everyone will hate me, and c) that my boyfriend will go from interview to interview without ever landing a job and in the end it will break him and I’ll have to quit uni to go back to nannying while he finds an antidepressant that doesn’t interfere with his epilepsy meds.

When I dig a little deeper, there’s more: I worry about the friends I haven’t seen in a while, who are unemployed or depressed or have some other really bad shit going on that I can’t directly help with. I worry about my mum not being able to make ends meet, about my little sisters never getting to do the things they love, about my dad working himself to death. I don’t actually think about these background worries very often. I’m just always very glad to see those people, to be able to hug them and see them smile, and reassure myself that the bad things that I’ve imagined for them haven’t happened, that we’re safe for another while.

Because part of my worrying process is imagining all these bad scenarios. Initially, I guess it was a reflex used to reassure myself (this might seem contradictory, but hear me out). And it has served me: for instance, I was so anxious about not being allowed to sign up for uni because I had the wrong papers that when it actually happened, I already had plans B and C mapped out in my head. My boyfriend, who wasn’t expecting it, was more devastated than I was, and in the end I got back in within less than a week because I reacted quickly.

The fact that this habit has been useful in the past obviously doesn’t help me get rid of it, so I’m trying to concentrate on why it’s bad for me. Obviously, imagining getting mugged by that aggressive-looking guy lurking on the street corner is never going to help me in any way. My brain is too realistic to let me imagine winning in a fight (I have taken one self-defense class), and too paranoid to accept that he’s probably just had a bad day and wants to be left alone. The same goes for my vengeance fantasies for if ever anyone sexually assaults one of my sisters: I can imagine leaving that to my dad (though he would probably leave it to the police because he’s not crazy), but I’d prefer not to think about that kind of stuff happening to them at all, because a) the chances of it happening are definitely lower than my paranoid brain will admit, and b) even if it did, I’m 500 miles away and wouldn’t be able to do anything to stop it.

Hell, even when I was living with them, I probably couldn’t prevent such things from happening. I have to trust their judgement (which as far as I know has served them well enough up till now), and hope I’ll have dropped this habit before I have kids of my own.

Except that I no longer think it’s that simple. The only times I remember being worry-free in my life (apart from early childhood, and odd moments when I’m on holiday) have been when I was so depressed I’d decided there was no point in trying to do anything. In a way, it was a relief to be that depressed. But in the same way, it’s a relief being anxious after so long being depressed, because anxiety means I have a goal in my life. It’s just that the anxiety also spills over into every single aspect of my existence.

Today, I finally admitted to myself that I was having doubts about my decision to become a teacher. I’d been in denial about this for weeks, but I’m glad I did address it, because I’ve realized that the reasons behind my doubts all have to do with my anxiety. Because of the anxiety I feel even on good days, I have trouble relaxing at home, and feel the need to spend hours and hours on the internet to disconnect from my classroom mindset and become myself again. And recently it’s stopped working – I’m always in the classroom mindset. So I spent longer and longer on the internet, and don’t write up my classroom notes, and do my homework at the last minute, which makes the anxiety worse. Then I sleep badly and wake up feeling unstable and panicky, and spend the whole day trying not to burst into tears in front of the whole class. When I get home I cry there instead, which worries my boyfriend, which makes me feel guilty, because he has enough on his plate already, and I really should be doing my best to concentrate on my studies to make it worthwhile for him to be supporting me, and he senses that guilt and it makes him feel guilty for making me feel guilty, and then our roommate sees us upset and doesn’t know what to do to make us feel better, and so on.

And I know that being a teacher is a more than full-time job. Being responsible not only for the continued well-being but also the education of 30 kids at a very impressionable age is not a job to choose lightly, and I now wonder, with my obsessive worrying and need for me-time, if I will be able to do it and continue to write, have a family, a social life, a love life. Lesson planning takes up a lot of personal time, and so far I haven’t been very organised with my homework. What happens if I get ill? What happens if I have a nervous breakdown? What if my mental kids-first barrier breaks one day and I have a breakdown in front of a class?

All this doesn’t mean I don’t want to become a teacher any more. I just don’t know if I’m capable of it. I used to consider my mental health to be my problem, a private matter that nobody I worked with needed to know about, since it didn’t affect them. And for a long time, it was. But the goal I’ve given myself requires me to rethink that. I can no longer put off doing something about this, because if I do, other people will get hurt.

PS – this blog post counts as my NaNoWriMo daily wordcount, even though it really doesn’t, because I need to feel like I’ve achieved something today, please.

NaNoWriMo 2014

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Winter is coming… and with it, NaNoWriMo.

I’m apologize for the overused pop culture reference. I’m tired, and can’t think of anything better.

This year I’m going to try and write tome 2 of the Glimmerlands. Given that I’m quite far from having finished the first rewriting of tome 1, the results with probably be laughable, but I’m sick of my own snail’s pace, so I’m trying to speed things up a bit. Hopefully it’ll inspire me to stop dithering over Wingroots.

I have no name for tome 2, as yet. Suggestions welcome, though I’ll probably just end up choosing a combination of fairy-ish words like with the first one.