Monday, April 2, 2012

When I Have Fears

It's been an interesting winter, I suppose, but finally, finally, it's turning into spring.  I love this time of year.  I survived the cold dark of fall and winter and now I'm to be rewarded with warm days that last and last.  I can always tel, because the wild mustard is already blooming on the hillsides, and even a few brave poppies have poked up their golden heads before the final frost.

Unfortunately, it also brings my birthday.  I know, it's a silly thing, and I should be excited or something, but the one thing no one realizes is that in truth, I'm terrified.  I know I say that and people laugh but. . . The reason I went so all-out for my birthday last year was because I rather planned on it being my last.

Don't freak out, I don't have any plans. I just - and I realize how ridiculous this is - don't want to get old.  It's a completely irrational fear, I know, but like all my other irrational fears, it comes with a great deal of anxiety.  It's hard to explain where this came from, only I know I've felt like this since I was 14.

I've always been afraid of aging.  I'm not so concerned for vanity's sake - neither my mother nor grandmother look even a decade near their true age - I'm concerned for other reasons.  For years I've felt like 21 was it.  And I royally blew it.  What did I do this year?  I spend a wonderful summer in Salem, OR, I went back to school and dropped out again; I reconnected with R--- and K---, I'm working a dead-end job for my father and have little more than a high school education.  Not much to show for 21 years on this earth.

And that's what I'm afraid of.  When we're young, we're starry-eyed dreamers, but we're gradually robbed of that as we get older until we're nothing but shells of who we once were.  I don't want to wake up one day and realize that I'm 40 with a husband and 3 kids and haven't lived my life.

I mean, how many 40 or 50 year olds do you know who are genuinely happy with how their life turned out?  Who rejoice in their aging? I've been told time and time again by people I love not to get old.  I know they mean it jokingly but. . . I genuinely don't want to.

Maybe it's just the Big D talking but . . .  I've been worrying about this for a while.  It's more than just worrying about not living fully or "making my dreams come true" (whatever that means...), but I can't quite articulate it.

I mean, I feel like this is it.  My friends and I are growing up, we're running out of things to connect us.  I know that's a normal part of growing up, but I want a do-over.  I didn't do high school right, I royally fucked up my college "experience" and all I can think is that I'm running out of time to do all the living I have to do before I'm conned into giving myself up and forced to grow up.  The unfairness of it is so bitter and vile.

I look at Kenzie and how wondrous the world still is to her and feel sick when I think that in 15 short years, she'll probably be as disillusioned as me, if not more so.  And in 15 years, I'll be 37.

Am I a horrible person for feeling so trapped? I've heard all the "it's never too late to do what you've dreamed of" that I can handle.  I just want to know what my options are.  I'm really worried where I'll be in a few more weeks. . .

10 Books for Daughters

I was bopping around on Pinterest earlier and stumbled across this. It's brilliant. Truly genius. (Not mine, not stealing. Please please please go look at this woman's blog - it's brilliant.)

"10 Books You Must Read to Your Daughter (Or How to Keep Your Daughter From Ending Up Like That Horrid Girl in Twilight)
January 29, 2012, 5:31 pm

So now we have a baby daughter. Look how she slumbers. She doesn’t even know that I stay up at night worrying about her self-image. And, oh horrors! What if someday she wants to read Stephanie Meyer’s literary atrocity, the Twilight series? You know the one, the books featuring a non-descript female protagonist who, in addition to having no interests or talents of any kind (other than smelling delicious to a sparkly 100-year-old vampire), is helpless, boring, and basically suicidal when her 100-year-old sparkly vampire boyfriend breaks up with her? Yeah, those books. So, I’m coming up with a reading list containing female characters that could put a smack down on Bella Swan any day of the week and reveal what a real woman looks like.
1. The Anne Books by Lucy Maud Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables and the 7 sequels that complete the series were a staple of my childhood. Anne is fantastic. She’s clever, charming, resourceful, imaginative (to a fault), and hysterically funny. And she goes to college and gets a BA during the Edwardian era. So that’s impressive. I actually saw the miniseries first and read the books later. IMPORTANT: Anne of Green Gables the film and Anne of Green Gables the sequel (Anne of Avonlea) are wonderful but for Pete’s sake DO NOT watch Anne the Continuing Story. Pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s an absurd and wretched thing that dishonors the very name of Anne. Really. Part of you will die.
I agree completely. I read the Anne books as a girl and adored how vivacious, independent, and utterly extraordinary she was. She didn't necessarily fit in with the other girls but pursued her own dreams and set her own goals.
2. The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder: I was probably a little too obsessed with the Little House books in my day. I may or may not have worn lace-up black boots, braids, and read under an old-timey quilt next to an antique hurricane lamp most of the time between the ages of 6 and 8. File this one under the category of “capable women doing cool stuff.” Laura Ingalls is awesome, obvi.
I learned to read by age 4 when my father went through this whole series with me. I loved the fact that we were reading a fabulous story that actually happened to a real person. It blew me away to think that a little girl just like me wrote down her adventures. These books inspired me to be a writer myself. Not to mention how totally badass Laura's mom was...
3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I have a distinct memory of finishing the last pages of Louisa May Alcott’s finest mere minutes before heading to the theatre to see the 1994 film on Christmas Day with my mom. What girl doesn’t adore the awkward and gutsy Jo March? I have to confess though that when I read it last year I realized I’m probably more like Amy—not because I have the slightest visual artistic talent but because we’re both selfish. I love that each of the four sisters are so different and yet each one exudes a positive kind of femininity, although, to be fair, Meg’s “I-don’t-worry-my-pretty-little-head-about-it” attitude isn’t quite what I have in mind for my daughter. Warning: after reading this I was rather bitter that I didn’t have sisters. Just a heads up.
I actually have not read Little Women. I know this is bad of me, but I have sisters so I don't think I'm missing much, and the movie really bugged me. However, I will concede that as female protagonists, they are pretty good. And I definitely remember trying to be a bit more of a tomboy to be like Jo...
4. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: You’d be hard pressed to find a book series with better female characters. There’s a quote swimming around the internet attributed to Stephen King: “Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.” I concur. I love that Rowling can depict a strong, brave, capable, intelligent, and compassionate woman in such a variety of characters: a middle-aged stay-at-home mom of seven, a pink-haired dark wizard catcher, an elderly spinster teacher, and an overachieving teenaged student, to name a few. If my girl emulates Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Ginny Weasley, Nymphadora Tonks, Minerva McGonagal, or, of course, my beloved Molly Weasley, I’ll be a happy mama. And it doesn’t hurt that the whole plot pivots around the sacrifice of one amazing mother (Lily Potter) for her son. Anyone who’s down on these books can’t have read them.
Yes, yes, yes and YES. I love this. Harry Potter is so full of very real characters, both good and bad (Rita Skeeter, Bellatrix Lestrange or Dolores Umbridge, anyone?). I adore that Stephen King quote (SO true), and there is also one from Emma Watson on her character, Hermione Granger. To paraphrase: "Girls are told they have to be the princess. Hermione taught them they can be a warrior." Someone else said of Hermione, "She, unlike so many other modern heroines, did not give up her femininity in order to be brave, to be 'one of the boys.' She maintained her emotional depth but was quite talented and stood out from the crowd as a powerful figure." Basically, almost all the women in this series are total badasses.
5. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis: This complex book is a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth and Orual, the main character (Psyche’s older unattractive sister), is an incredibly complex character. It’s not so much that Orual should be a role model, but her spiritual journey is worth reading and the book is sure to lead to some good discussions about what a good woman should be. It’s notable that Lewis had lots of help from his wife, Joy Davidman, when writing this book. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine how a man could be so amazingly insightful about a woman’s mind.
C.S. Lewis. Can't go wrong. I would add Chronicles of Narnia and Lucy Pevensie to this. Lucy was the one brave enough, sure enough in her convictions to lead her siblings (older and more influential than she!) to a world of magic, wonder, and learning. Way to go, Lucy.
6. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: OK, so definitely not a girlie book (not that any book in this list has an exclusively female audience), and there’s very few female characters. However, the ones it depicts are fantastic. Galadriel? Eowyn? Yes, please. The book also exudes so many virtues that it seems hardly possible that having completed it your daughter will care two cents about Stephanie Whats-Her-Name. See? I can’t even remember because I’ve read Lord of the Rings. Also, it’s full of real men which is an important thing for a girl to be able to recognize. I’ll take Faramir, thanks.
Yup. This series is just awesome. I'll say my favorite thing about this series is that the characters are real - yes, they are virtuous, but they are also flawed. And that's real.
7. Anything Jane Austen wrote: Want your daughter to know a thing or two about interesting women? Read all six of these novels to her. After reading them, one should know exactly what kind of woman to be and what kind of woman to avoid. Elizabeth Bennet has more clever things to say in one page of P&P than Bella Swan could mumble in her entire miserable existence. And none of Austen’s heroine’s decide to curl up and die when they’re “crossed in love.” Philosopher Alasdair McIntyre supposedly said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like Jane Austen.” I quite agree.
Even Emma, which has Jane's most unforgivable female character, has strong female characters who are educated, brave, passionate, and driven. Even when Elizabeth Bennet's pride hurts her relationship, she learns from it and carries on. She is a strong contrast to her mother and youngest sisters' silliness and vanity. Way to go, Jane.
8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: A plain little orphan stands up to terrible relatives, survives a childhood of neglect and abuse, strengthens her mind with education, is the intellectual match of one of the most imposing and fascinating male characters in British literature, and makes the prettiest girl in the county look like a spineless nothing in comparison, among other impressive exploits. Supposedly, Charlotte Bronte bet her sisters (and fellow authoresses) that she could write a successful novel around a female character that was neither pretty nor charming. She won, obvi.
No. I cannot agree with this (no matter how much I agree with the others). While Jane was quite accomplished, in the end she goes crawling back to a man who lied to her, locked his first wife in the attic, and sends his adopted daughter to a horrible boarding school where she is taught to be quiet and look pretty. Why did Jane go back to this kind of monster!? That's not being a strong woman, that's ignoring your strengths as an independent woman and giving all that up for a man who doesn't deserve you! I'd much prefer my daughters were single, independent, and secure than married to men like that, even despite the slant of forgiveness at the end. I don't like it at all.
9. A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter: Lesser-known book published in 1909, but a real treat. Stratton-Porter’s main character, Elnora Comstock, is so wonderful and endearing. Also she collects moths, so that’s cool (or at least Phillip Ammon thinks so). The prequel, Freckles, is also charming and delightful.
Hmmmm, I've heard a lot of negative things about this book so until I read it for myself, the jury is out. Sorry.
10. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset: This three-part saga by Norwegian author Sigrid Undset won the Nobel prize for literature and is one of the finest works you will ever read with a female protagonist rarely paralleled. Kristin is an amazingly human character with as much depth as any female literary character I have encountered. Her spiritual journey is fascinating and the saga is set in 11th century Scandanavia which makes it way more awesome to my medieval-loving heart. However, there are some sexual themes which might make it inappropriate for younger girls. Absolutely worth reading and discussing.
Yessssss. Kristin is wonderful! Definitely not appropriate for children but great for adolescent girls and a great book for discussion.

At three months, I don’t think Baby Lucy is ready to dive into these, yet. In the mean time, this mama will be praying lots of rosaries. Anybody else have so many more worries about raising a girl?
Did I leave anything out? What are your recommendations? Any advice on how to raise strong, capable, intelligent, compassionate, confident women? I’m all ears…
If you enjoyed this post you might also be interested in 10 Books You Must Read to Your Son."

You can read more from this fine literate lady here: Carrots for Michaelmas.
To access the original post to read some (admittedly) really interesting comments, click the title and it'll take you there.
To this list I would add the following:
Ella Enchanted: Ella is such a strong, vivacious girl who reminds me strongly of Anne of Green Gables. She handles a troubled family life, the loss of her mother, and the complications of loving someone while cursed with such grace and strength; I loved Ella as a girl - my paperback is battered and well-loved.
The Hunger Games: Not the series, just the first one (I have certain issues with the second and third books). Katniss is a wonderful protagonist who puts her family before everything. She's a tomboy out of necessity, but is still a very strong maternal figure to her sister. Most refreshing, this is not a love story. There is romance involved, but is not the main plot of the books. For once.

There were others I would add, but I'm tired now. This is a great list (except for Jane Eyre, sorry) and I'm excited to read through more of this blog and see what other great things I find!