Creatively Restored! + CRM Review of Hannah Pittard’s “Listen to Me”

For about the last year I’ve had a huge creative block. I can’t say ‘writer’s block’ because I’ve still written. I’ve written this little something here. And thank goodness, because it’s pretty much gotten me through this block.

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I feel like I’ve had some good essays on here, but there are days I write just to write. Because I feel like I need to write to keep those muscles strong. I could just do book reviews (I’ve considered this), but I kind of like to write to get my thoughts and ideas to gel into coherency.

But, like I said, this last year I’ve sometimes written just to write.

I write for work, too, but that’s not really writing. Unless I get to write an article: it’s a sort of writing, although it’s not creative. Getting creative with the news is frowned upon (well, at least where I work . . . ).

But all of the sudden my creative juices have been flowing, and I feel like I’ve had some great ideas. Blog ideas, story ideas, even maybe a novel?  We’ll see. That last one is daunting for a few reasons:

  • First is the actual ideas. I’ve got them flowing, and right now I’m doing a great job of writing them down–for now. But it’s hard to write them down when I’m just falling asleep, or when I first get up in the morning. I’ve been keeping a notebook by my bed for that very reason, but it’s hard to climb out of the twilight of near-sleep. But it has to be done, or all day long I feel that “it’s right there on the tip of my tongue” thing all day long.
  • Second is the time. Finding the time. There’s the family: they feel like they need me. Especially the kids. Yes, they’re 13 and (almost) 12, but they (especially my younger daughter, with Down syndrome) still need stuff. Like food. And rides to practices and activities. And then there’s work. I’ve got to get that in. I don’t get paid a lot, but it’s a pretty good gig. And it keeps me working from home, so that’s nice. Especially with those pesky kids
  • And then there’s the fact that I feel like I’m getting a little long in the tooth for the first novel thing. I write because I feel like I need to write. But I would love to write something worth reading. And those somedays are getting away from me. Someday needs to be today.

Now that the creative juices are flowing again, I feel like the other problems are surmountable. I need to get up a little earlier and write–this I can do (I actually LOVE mornings, once I get out of bed . . .). I need to get over the age thing and just do it. Because it’s not going to start going backwards.

So this is a celebration. Creativity is back!!!! Life is overwhelming, and it will continue to be so. I still have to work, and I like that, too. I’m not getting any younger-no one is. So get those creative juices flowing and get ready for the ride. The hardest part is still to come. It’s the actual writing. The ideas are there. Getting them to the page in sentences that want to be read is the hardest part of all.

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Wish me luck!

Okay, onto my review of Hannah Pittard’s  Listen to Me.


 

“It seems you’ve found the one. It’s in the cards. Your future; your doom.”

Hannah Pittard, Listen to Me

The Premise

Maggie’s a little paranoid lately. Mugged nine months ago at gunpoint, she can’t seem to get back to her center. Her PTSD has her feeling paranoid and a little obsessive, spending a large part of her day trolling  for stories of disaster and random crimes. Just as she was starting to join the world, a woman down the street was mugged in a similar way. But this woman was killed, making Maggie relive the event over and over again.

We meet Maggie and her husband Mark as they are getting ready to make their annual trip from Chicago to Virginia, to visit his parents. Maggie and Mark are a financially successful couple without children: Maggie is a veterinarian, Mark is a college professor.  They’ve been pretty comfortable in their life. Until Maggie was mugged.

On this road trip Mark is forced to confront his feeling about his wife. He’s not sure if he can still love her if she’s turning into this scared shell of a woman. Maggie’s not sure if she can turn back.

Outside the car a huge storm is brewing. As Mark and Maggie (and their neurotic dog Geronimo) navigate the roads and the storm, they must also traverse the rocky roads of trauma and marriage.

My Thoughts

Listen to Me was not what I thought it would be. Going by the blurb, I thought this would be more of a thriller. Rather, it’s an intimate look at a marriage when one partner has changed and the other partner feels helpless.

I liked Maggie as a character. She’s vulnerable and broken, but she’s smart enough to know it. And she’s stronger than she thinks. While the couple traverses the storms outside the car, she retreats into herself in an attempt to figure out a way to heal.

Mark was ‘That Guy,’ and I didn’t like him very much. In his mind he’s way smarter than EVERYONE: He has all the answers to fix the world, or at least he does when he’s on campus. But after Maggie is mugged, Mark starts to realize that his intelligence couldn’t, and can’t, help her. The more she’s unable to heal, the more he realizes how inadequate he is to help her.

In my opinion, Listen to Me is pure Hitchcock in someways. At the core, Hitchcock looked at the dark side of people and their relationships, putting them in situations that force them to confront their fears and foibles. The blurb for Listen to Me promises “A modern gothic about a marriage and road trip gone hauntingly awry,” and I would say that is spot on. It’s an interesting look at a marriage on the brink, and the characters have the choice to change or to let their marriage die. It’s also an intimate look at what PTSD can do to a person as well as their friends and family.

If you would have asked me right after I finished to book, I would have given it 3 stars, because it was not what I expected, but the writing was so good.  But a couple of weeks after finishing Listen to Me, I have to give it 4.5 stars. It’s a book I come back to again and again (especially as we drove back from Colorado as a family). It’s made me think about how hard marriage is, the micro and macro of relationships and the stressors that make them even harder.

So, 4.5 stars. Interesting and compelling!

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On being a housewife + “American Housewife” by Helen Ellis

A day in the life of this housewife:

This morning. Semi-typical morning for me. I got up at 6:00. Well, actually, I was snapped awake when the neighbor’s dog barked outside at 4:45. But I rolled out of bed at around 6:00. I made sure older daughter was awake. We’re out of coffee, so no coffee. I herded Zoey, one of our dogs, into my office–she’s having surgery today, so no food for her–and let the other dog, Gigi, eat.

Got the older daughter off to the bus, despite it being the first really cold morning (below 5) and a mini-argument about her wearing a hat (I lost, or I gave up; she’s old enough to figure it out). Got younger daughter up, got her breakfast, dodging the hungry eyes from Zoey, who didn’t get to eat. Found the library books that have been missing since before Christmas break (VICTORY!!!!). Made her lunch–gluten free, because it’s 2016 and we know that someone in our family has to have a food allergy. Got her bundled up and onto the bus.

12509665_10208252900861577_654289579799353805_nLoaded Zoey into the car while dodging Gigi’s questioning eyes asking why SHE didn’t get to go in the car as well. Drove to the vet, took Zoey in, and dealt with her wondering eyes asking why I was leaving her there. Zoey is really good at puppy eyes, making me think she should be on an ASPCA commercial.

Went to Starbucks for a few, to shake the guilt I felt for just leaving Zoey there all alone (I know, I know). Went to the bank, then the grocery store. Shopped while listening to an audiobook, cognizant of the snacks I’m purchasing — stocking up on protein snacks for our swimmer and gluten free snacks for our Celiac. Also, for the husband, aware that he can’t have certain things because he has gout. Meals have been planned beforehand (sort of), knowing that we have these perimeters.

Then home, to unload the groceries, load the dishwasher. Whip up some banana bread , throw that in the oven. Toss ingredients for chili (no beans, because ‘ew, beans,’ and ground chicken due to Ted’s gout) in the Crockpot.

And now it’s nearly noon. Time to get to work. I eat lunch while I start work, saving time. Now I’m between moments at work, dashing out this post because writing my own words keeps me sane.

This is my housewife life. I’m lucky, because I work from home; I can start the chili at 11:30 and have it done at the right time. I can put banana bread in the oven and take it out while I work. But this doesn’t make me special, just lucky.

I think many take umbrage at the word housewife. But it is what it is; it is what I am. Back in ‘olden times,’ most married women spent their days not working but managing their homes. When women began to work outside the home, the word housewife took on a negative meaning, and conjured images of June Cleaver. Things have rebounded a bit again, or women have decided that you can’t really have it all. Half my women friends (and, in my small part of the world, most are mothers, because much of my activity revolves around my kids) work outside the home, half stay home. In those numbers are a few that get to work FROM home like me.

And to me, all these women are housewives. Some have husbands who do the cooking (as I do, on some nights), some have husbands who clean. Some divide the duties, others do nearly all the home stuff. So get a cleaning lady because they’re horrible at cleaning and so are their husbands (like me). But each and every woman that I know, whether working in or out or from the home, is a housewife. Married to the their house, managing their home and their family.

Some cook all weekend, having meals ready to go for the week. Some cook meals throughout the week. Others decide that eating out or grabbing takeout works better for them.

Some women (most, not me though!) are in charge of the family budget. Most women I know manage the family calendar and figure out where everyone needs to be and making sure they get there (relatively) on time.

When I think of a housewife, I think of a mother. Many I know are married, but I know plenty of single mothers. So when I think of housewives, I think of mothers. Because life gets infinitely more confusing when you add little humans.

And I think of housewives as kind of a logistical experts: figuring out how to get meals in everyone’s mouths (hopefully more healthy than not), how to get everyone where they need to go, how to make the money last through the month while keeping a roof over heads, food on the table, and electricity flowing. How to keep the cars in good shape, how to keep the house clean, how to keep those in your house healthy, happy, and safe.

Single moms have it the hardest, because I know, as much as I complain about my husband, he is my support, and I am his. My kids get to do a little more because we’re a team and can work together. Our home runs a little smoother (not smooth, just smoother) because I have a co-manager (although sometimes he’s more of an assistant, and every once and awhile I’m the assistant).

Any way, back to my life as a housewife. At 3:00 I’ll get my younger daughter off the bus. My co-house manager will get our older daughter from her after school activity at 3:30. I’ll run younger to dance, he’ll run older to swimming. While I’m at dance, I’ll do some work in the car. He’ll come home or go to someone else’s home and do some of his work (he’s in restoration and renovation and some handyman-type stuff). I’ll go to a committee meeting (taking younger daughter), finishing work before my deadline at 6:00. Husband will go coach lacrosse at 6:00. Hopefully my meeting will be over at around 7:30, so I can get older daughter from swimming and we can meet my husband at home so we can all it eat dinner together before homework and bedtime.

And then a glass of wine and it’s off to bed.

And tommorow,  I’ll get up and do it all again.

Speaking of Housewives, her is a humorous collection by Helen Ellis:American Housewife.


 

 

I watch ten minutes of my favorite movie on TV and lip-synch Molly Ringwald: “I loathe the bus.” I know every word. Sixteen Candles is my Star Wars.

From “What I Do All Day”

I love this little collection of stories. Highlighting my life, and my dark thoughts about my life, but darker, and lighter, and funnier than my life. And by my life I mean the life of an American housewife. And bonus! A couple of the stories are about housewives who also write.

Some of the short stories are hilarious and on point as to life everyday. The first of the stories, “What I Do All Day,” is a run-down of a housewife’s typical day.  “Southern Lady Code” is a hilarious look at what certain descriptors actually mean to a Southern Lady–although I would argue that this ‘Code’ works for all ‘Ladies.’

Other funnies include “Take It From Cats” and “How To Be a Grown-Ass Lady,” which provide such gems as:

Listen to gangsta rap in the privacy of your own headphones. Listen to erotic audiobooks when you scrub the bathroom floor. Worry about cancer. Google menopause. Challenge insurance claims. Ask your friend who’s a shrink if you should see a shrink. Don’t look at your profile because it’s not the mirror or the lighting or the time of day, it’s you.

From “How To Be a Grown-Ass Lady”

Other stories in the collection are darkly funny. Manhattan housewives seem to be more Gothic than the most Southern Gothic of women. Fighting to the death over the style of a shared lobby space. Joining a book club with a very generous benefactor but a very demanding initiation. Taking on the arduous task of ‘firing’ troublesome doormen. Learning to give up a promising writing career to become a woman of influence in the art world.

Readers are also treated to reality shows, bra fittings, childhood pageants, and the crazy worlds of corporate sponsorship and novel writing.

I loved this collection. Quick and quirky and fun, but also dark and twisted. I give it 5 stars. Perfect for nearly any housewife with a sense of humor.