I have to say that this book exceeded my expectations on so many levels. I have to admit to being SHAMELESSLY addicted to the Netflix series - like, w...moreI have to say that this book exceeded my expectations on so many levels. I have to admit to being SHAMELESSLY addicted to the Netflix series - like, weekend binges happen when each season is released. They just do, don't hate. I expected this book to be a dim shadow of the themes seen in the shoe, and Piper to be an unlikable upper-middle class, Ivy league educated, lesbian dabbling daddy's girl who had nothing but complaints about doing her "time".
What I got, however, was a group of characters that closely resembled those that I know and love from the show, and thoughtful discussions about racial injustice, the "special" treatment that Piper experienced in prison because of her appearance (pretty, skinny white girl with money in her early 30s), her race, her "roots" in a prestigious Boston suburb, and her expensive private attorneys. It seems that the ACTUAL Piper managed prison with more grace and finesse than her fictional Netflix counterpart, at least at first, and the stories of the connections and relationships she fostered while doing her time felt real, honest, and deep.
I was surprised by how many of the characters and situations from the show were at least loosely based on those in the memoir; I guess it just goes to show that truth really is stranger than fiction.
Piper was exactly the same age as I was when she began her relationship with her first female lover, and I can't help but consider what exactly I would have done if, instead of a control freak of a forest fire fighter, environmentalist and marketing guru, I had instead been drawn to someone like Piper's "Alex/Nora". I don't know how I would have reacted in my early 20s to such a situation, or if I would have been strong enough to resist the temptations that were Piper's undoing. It was also eerie that Piper was exactly my current age when she did her time...I'm glad to not have to dwell so deeply on the mistakes of my 20s in such a powerless, public, and humiliating forum as prison.
While Piper humanizes those women in prison, especially those charged with non-violent offenses, her experience is a chilling account of the absolute lack of control afforded to those (>2 million) imprisoned in the U.S., and made me grateful for my freedoms.
I should also add that the descriptions of the seasons in Connecticut while she was in Danbury really did bring me right back to my childhood, and sometimes it is nuts how much I miss the seasons in New England. Finally, I'm damn impressed that she went ahead and ran a half marathon on her own on a 1/4 mile track on the day that the New York marathon was scheduled - no fancy shoes, no expensive clothes, no endurance nutrition, and no cheering crowds; just her, a track surrounded by razor-wire fence, and her determination.
OK, lots and lots of thoughts after binging on this book for the last 2 days. I can't say I ENJOYED this book. It's kind of dense and refers more deep...moreOK, lots and lots of thoughts after binging on this book for the last 2 days. I can't say I ENJOYED this book. It's kind of dense and refers more deeply to psychoanalysis, Virginia Woolf and Winnicott than I was able to relate to. It truly is almost painfully introspective at times, but for someone who is often an over-analyzer of just about everything, myself included, it was a good reflection for me.
Another reviewer said this: "Alison Bechdel is such a genius that I kind of just can't even deal with it, and this book is incredible in so many ways. I'm not sure I would've felt this way if I hadn't read Fun Home first, though; there's an analogy to be made between initially unappealing sex acts and a plotless, ultra-meta comic memoir about object relations theory that is an extremely detailed and specific examination of a woman's relationship with her mother. If this had been my first date with Alison Bechdel I might've jumped up, grabbed my clothes, and run out of her room. As it was, though, we'd had such an amazing time together and I was already sort of in love with her, so I was willing to follow this book to places I otherwise wouldn't have been ready to go."
I think maybe part of why I didn't LOVE this book is the teasers relating to her father about which I had no working knowledge. And the object relations theory was....harrowing. The 300+ pages of this book also seemed to say a lot of things, but NOT FEEL a lot of things - does that even make sense? Like, I found myself getting bored while she talked about these wrenching therapy sessions that didn't even come close to engaging my sensitive little soul in any sort of empathy. And the sections from the psychoanalysis literature was just perhaps over my head, but they seemed to last too long, be too pervasive, and add distance between Bechdel and her reader (when the whole point of writing a memoir is to create the possibility of connection between author and reader...at least IMHO.)
And you know what? It's just a little awkward how she continues to engage so closely (daily!?!?) with a mother who clearly takes more than she gives - masochistic seems almost appropriate here, especially when you consider the (OVER A DECADE) of therapy she endured to try to deal with this fraught relationship. And talk about talking to her mother ABOUT THIS BOOK, which is about her mother and their relationship...just a little icky feeling. Add to that the ?tiny bit inappropriate? relationship with her therapist "Jocelyn" (that made me cringe a lot - the "I know you love me" and "I think you're adorable" crap - that's not what she was paying you for!!).
There were some moments of real clarity for me as I was enjoying her casual drawing style, different (physical) perspectives, remembering some of the past hurts between she and her mom....I can tell you some of the weirdest, smallest exchanges I had with my mom, as early as age 3, that stick with me to this day and have shaped some of my internalized self-disgust, self-doubt, and anxiety about life in general and being lovable in particular. For this reason, the "you're old enough to not need goodnight kisses" at age 7 bit sort of hit home.
All in all, I probably need to give this one another read. And I need to read Fun Home to get more perspective. But I still may find myself wanting to skip over some of the overly involved psychobabble and self-involved therapeutic "breakthroughs" - I love a good therapy session myself, but can't quite stomach rehashing 10 years of some other, equally damaged queer lady's baggage.(less)
Cherie didn't think much of it. Here are the bits that I will probably think are the most interesting, if and when I get to reading this book. (see qu...moreCherie didn't think much of it. Here are the bits that I will probably think are the most interesting, if and when I get to reading this book. (see quotes)
"To a certain kind of white, middle class woman, [Ani] was girl power in the purest sense". Hmm. I think I'm that certain kind of woman. (less)
While a great reference chock full of easy to understand principles highlighted with stories and examples, it certainly hasn't made this journey any l...moreWhile a great reference chock full of easy to understand principles highlighted with stories and examples, it certainly hasn't made this journey any less awkward. I like that she comes right out and says that we have all of these resources in place for dating - finding dates, putting out a framework of who you are looking for, etc....but why is making friends as a grown up so tough? And, to be completely honest, some of her suggestions are straight up ridiculous - have an "I appreciate you" party, where you sit around and look all these new acquaintances in the eye and say "I appreciate you"...?? No. That's just weird, and insincere, and...well...AWKWARD. C'mon now. Just no.
I've always had very strong bonds with my besties, but they've scattered across the map. Some have just moved to different phases- the friends with multiple kiddos have more time for play dates than friend dates, if they have time at all.
I did my crazy traveling and living elsewhere when I was younger. I've lived abroad, I've spent time in communal living communities in Europe, the UK, and the US. Now that I have so many things tying me to this place where I live, it's time to accept that I almost need to start over - living in a college town as a non-college student is an interesting (and kind of intimidating) proposition. And working with university students, mainly undergrads, has made me feel old and wizened, and tired...I think I'm young, 'til I come to work and spend all day talking to 20 year olds.
I feel like I'm starting from the beginning, trying to figure out how to expand my tribe with people of similar values, goals, interests...but I can't shake the shame and embarrassment and awkwardness of this new adventure in friend-building. It feels like I must seem flawed...otherwise, wouldn't I be spending time with those awesome friends of mine instead of trying to grow and foster brand new friendship seedlings? I have great, amazing, strong, intelligent friends. I love them all dearly. But...
But in a deep and personal way....I seek friends who are growing in the same direction as I am. Friends who want deep, meaningful relationships. Who want to talk about the tough stuff, who want to challenge and be challenged...I feel that Shasta laid a decent framework for how to build up to that in this book, practical advice about how the more people you meet, the more likely you are to find someone who you really connect with (makes sense right? But sounds exhausting!)...but that niggling thought still rankles-shouldn't this just happen? And is the very act of reading about this topic a little awkward? How was it so much easier earlier in life? You know, I never ever ever thought something so basic, so necessary for the human psyche, could be so challenging to cultivate.
This review is a work in progress. And I am clearly feeling a little hostile, so feel free to take it with a grain of salt.
Update: I'm hoping this gets easier. Finding some neat-o mosquito ladies w/ Fleet Feet, which is awesome! AND still holding out hope that some awesome friends who want what I want are just gonna fall outta the sky sometime soon. School year's almost upon us = less free time to put much effort forth in getting stuff started, or keep it goin' = more 'gettin my zen on' and letting anything (or nothing) happen for awhile. Quiet is good, right? RIGHT?!(less)
As a relatively new and by no means talented runner, I was NOT excited to learn about ultramarathons - half marathons are about my speed right now, an...moreAs a relatively new and by no means talented runner, I was NOT excited to learn about ultramarathons - half marathons are about my speed right now, and a marathon is at the outer limits of what might ever be possible for me. Running for 24 hours straight, however, has never sounded fun in any way.
But this book! Is so exciting! And exhilarating! I got so much more than I bargained for in reading this - I really only picked it up because I've seen SO MANY people reading it on the bus or at lunch or during study breaks that I thought there must be something a little interesting about the story.
A guy meets a crazy, live-off-the-land-in-the-desert guy who runs all day and drinks beer and eats dried corn and then he meets this guy's heroes - the Tarahumara, an isolated tribe of indigenous people now living in the canyons of Mexico's deserts.
I really liked the flashbacks, the descriptions of the runners and the runs they went on, the detailed analysis of the evolution of humans into 'running animals,' and the clan and brotherhood (sisterhood) of ultra elite runners.
"You know what kind of nerves are in your feet? The same ones that network into your genitals. Your feet are like a minnow bucket full of sensory neurons, all of them wriggling around in search of sensation. Stimulate those nerves just a little, and the impulse will rocket through your entire nervous system; that's why tickling your feet can overload the switchboard and cause your whole body to spasm."
..."a higher-consciousness cult called Divine Madness, which seeks nirvana through sex parties, extreme trail running, and affordable housecleaning." (ha!)
"'I love to run just to feel the wind in my hair,' she'd say. She could care less about races; she was just hooked on the joy of bustin' out of prison. It wasn't long before she began defusing job stress in advance by jogging the nine miles to the lab each morning. And once she realized that her legs were fresh again by punch-out time, she began running back home again as well. Oh, and what the heck; as long as she was racking up 18 miles a day during the workweek, it was no big deal to unwind on a lazy Saturday with 20 at a pop....or 25....or 30... One Saturday, Ann got up early and ran 20 miles. She relaxed over breakfast, then headed back out for 20 more. She had some plumbing chores around the house, so after finishing run No. 2, she hauled out her toolbox and got to work. By the end of the day, she was pretty pleased with herself; she'd run 40 miles and taken care of a messy job on her own. So as a reward, she treated herself to another 15 miles. Fifty-five miles in one day. Her friends had to wonder, and worry. Did Ann have an eating disorder? An exercise obsession? Was she fleeing some subconscious Freudian demon by literally running away? 'My friends would tell me I'm not addicted to crack, I'm addicted to endorphins,' Trason would say, and her comeback didn't much put their minds at ease: she liked to tell them that running huge miles in the mountains was 'very romantic.' Gotcha. Grueling, grimy, muddy, bloody, lonely trail-running equals moonlight and champagne. But yea, Ann insisted, running was romantic; and no, of course her friends didn't get it because they'd never broken through. For them, running was a miserable two miles motivated solely by size 6 jeans: get on the scale, get depressed, get your headphones on, and get it over with. But you can't muscle through a five-hour run that way; you have to relax into it, like easing your body into a hot bath, until it no longer resists the shock and begins to enjoy it. Relax enough, and your body becomes so familiar with the cradle-rocking rhythm that you almost forget you're moving. And once you break through to that soft, half-levitating flow, that's when the moonlight and champagne show up: 'You have to be in tune with your body, and know when you can push it and when to back off,' Ann would explain. You have to listen closely to the sound of your own breathing; be aware of how much sweat is beading on your back; make sure to treat yourself to cool water and a salty snack and ask yourself, honestly and often, exactly how you feel. What could be more sensual than paying exquisite attention to your own body? Sensual counted as romantic, right?" ---(this is the most amazing description of long distance running I've ever heard. It takes me at least 4 miles to reach this place, and I can't do it for 20 miles at a time like the woman in this section can, but whoa, this is an awesome piece of writing.)
"...was Zapotek a great man who happened to run, or a great man because he ran? Vigil couldn't quite put his finger on it, but his gut kept telling him that there was some kind of connection between the capacity to love and the capacity to love running. The engineering was certainly the same: both depended on loosening your grip on your own desires, putting aside what you wanted and appreciating what you got, being patient and forgiving and undemanding. Sex and speed - haven't they been symbiotic for most of our existence, as intertwined as the strands of our DNA? We wouldn't be alive without love; we wouldn't have survived without running; maybe we shouldn't be surprised that getting better at one could make you better at the other. Look, Vigil was a scientist, not a swami. He hated straying into this Buddha-under-the-lotus-tree stuff, but he wasn't going to ignore it, either. He'd made his bones by finding connections where everyone else saw coincidence, and the more he examined the compassion link, the more intriguing it became. Was it just by chance that the pantheon of dedicated runners also included Abraham Lincoln ('he could beat all the other boys in a footrace") and Nelson Mandela (a college cross-country standout who, even in prison, continued to run seven miles a day in place in his cell)? "
"Posted on the wall of Vigil's office was a magic formula for fast running that....had absolutely nothing to do with running: it was stuff like 'Practice abundance by giving back,' and 'Improve personal relationships,' and 'Show integrity to your value system'...'Eat as though you were a poor person.'...If Deena wanted to think about training under Vigil, she had better be ready to train like the Tarahumara. That meant living lean and building her soul as much as her strength."
'"When I'm out on a long run,' she continued, 'the only thing in life that matters is finishing the run. For once, my brain isn't going blehblehbleh all the time. Everything quiets down, and the only thing going on is pure flow. It's just me and the movement and the motion. That's what I love - just being a barbarian, running through the woods."'
'"Humans really are obligatorily required to do aerobic exercise in order to stay healthy, and I think that has deep roots in our evolutionary history...if there's any magic bullet to make human beings healthy, it's to run." If running shoes never existed, more people would be running. If more people ran, fewer would be dying of degenerative heart disease, sudden cardiac arrest, hypertension, blocked arteries, diabetes, and most other deadly ailments of the Western world. That's a staggering amount of guilt to lay at Nike's feet. But the most remarkable part? Nike already knew it.'
'Compared with NFL-revering American guys, Tarahumara men are Lilith Fair fans.' (ha!)
'Because I was eating lighter and hadn't been laid up once by injury, I was able to run more; because I was running more, I was sleeping great, feeling relaxed, and watching my resting heart rate drop. My personality had even changed: the grouchiness and temper I'd considered part of my Irish-Italian DNA had ebbed so much that my wife remarked, "Hey if this comes from ultrarunning, I'll tie your shoes for you." I knew aerobic exercise was a powerful antidepressant, but I hadn't realized it could be so profoundly mood stabilizing and-I hate to use the word - meditative. If you don't have answers to your problems after a four-hour run, you ain't getting them.'
'Once temperatures climb above 90 degrees F, a few extra pounds of body weight make a huge difference - so much so that to maintain heat balance, a 160-lb runner would lose nearly 3 minutes per mile in a marathon against a 100-lb runner.'
'After a while, Louis began to look at running to the way other people look at walking; he learned to settle back and let his legs spin in a quick, easy trot, a sort of baseline motion that could last all day and leave him enough reserves to accelerate when necessary.'
'Know why people run marathons?..because running is rooted in our collective imagination, and our imagination is rooted in running. Language, art, science; space shuttles, Starry Night, intravascular surgery; they all had their roots in our ability to run. Running was the superpower that made us human - which means it's a superpower all humans possess.'
'There's something really weird about us humans; we're not only really good at endurance running, we're really good at it for a remarkably long time. We're a machine built to run- and the machine never wears out. You don't stop running because you get old...you get old because you stop running.'
"'Our greatest talent...also created the monster that could destroy us. Unlike any other organism in history, humans have a mind-body conflict: we have a body built for performance, but a brain that's always looking for efficiency. We live or die by our endurance, but remember: endurance is all about conserving energy, and that's the brain's department. The reason some people use their genetic gift for running and others don't is because the brain is a bargain shopper.'
'You and I know how good running feels because we've made a habit of it. But lose the habit, and the loudest voice in your ear is your ancient survival instinct urging you to relax....And there's the bitter irony: our fantastic endurance gave our brain the food it needed to grow, and now our brain is undermining our endurance.'
'If you don't think you were born to run, you're not only denying history. You're denying who you are.'(less)