Paris Review: Ten Things I Learned from Ursula K. Le Guin

There are very few artists whose passing could make me feel like Le Guin’s did. It was a heavy reminder that we really need people like her in the world now, still, and forever.

4. You can regret a decision you made in an earlier book and correct it in a later work. (This is a hard one in our unforgiving times, when your previous missteps are eternal and only a google away. But there is nothing shameful in becoming a better person, a wiser person. Done right, it’s pretty heroic.)

Read Karen Joy Fowler’s whole list here.

Vague recollections of books, pt 1

I get super ambitious about posting reviews of the books I’m reading. The whole time I’m reading I’m thinking of insights I would like to share, but of course I resent the idea that I should write them down in case I forget. Mind like a steel trap. When I finish the book, I don’t want to write a review just yet because I want to sit with the story awhile. And then a little later, when I have time and energy at the ready for it, I think, ‘I just read a whole book, I have to do homework now?’

So I’m basically left with a pile of books I can’t really remember specifics about, but I feel guilty giving them no attention at all. I’ve decided to embrace my failings instead of fighting them. Please enjoy the following list of books I kind of remember.

The Bishop’s Wife, by Mette Ivie Harrison

This was a surprising year for books because my friend Rebecka brought me as her +1 to a special-invite-only Random House warehouse sale. Rebecka and I went to publishing school together after our undergrads and although our entire class had to flee the post-recession publishing industry within a decade of graduation, she has enough remaining connection to that world to still be on the invite list. It’s a ‘buy as much as you can carry’ sort of situation – new paperbacks for a DOLLAR, hardcovers for five. And since I had the luxury of grabbing all sorts of things I know very little about, I grabbed this Mormon murder mystery.

The cover blurb calls it ‘an insider’s nuanced look at the workings of the Mormon church,’ which sounded great because I’ve been super curious to know more (than Big Love could tell me) about the Mormon church, but apparently not so curious that I’d go dig up something actually informative. What a compromise! An insider’s look, while I solve a mystery!

Outcome, based on general recollections: I was wrong, the book was awkward and predictable, there’s no way a big ol’ hunk of DNA evidence would just sit in an often-used shed that many years, and I am properly chastened and will find something dry and historically accurate on Mormons instead.

Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood

I was pleased to find this at the warehouse sale as well, but ended up disappointed. A retelling of The Tempest centered around a disgraced, exiled Artistic Director of a small-town theatre out for revenge, it was part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project so maybe it was kind of like homework for Margaret Atwood. It really felt like two concepts shoe-horned together and I spent the entire reading hoping for something that didn’t feel so strained to match a pre-existing narrative.

Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh

I loved almost all of this novel about a woman who lives with her alcoholic father and works in a juvenile prison. Her life is weird and disturbing and stalled and repetitive and deeply unmotivated, but internally straining towards escape and actualization all the same. A woman arrives at the prison who is much more passionate and powerful, unknowingly pushing the narrator out of her deep, deep rut. The whole thing is told from the main character’s point of view but many years later, without much in the way of apologies and with a long-range detachment that adds a lot.

Be My Baby, by Ronnie Spector with Vince Waldron

Okay, I’m cheating a bit with this one, it’s the book I finished most recently. But hey everybody, I need to dole out spoilers because everybody should know and you might not get around to it otherwise. Veronica Bennett was a super driven Harlem kid and natural star that the Beatles were dying to tour with and the Rolling Stones got tongue-tied around, until Phil Spector obsessed about her, built some hit records out of her, got possessive and married her while purposely tanking her career, then locked her in the house for a few years of psychologically abusive behavior not the least of which was making her watch Citizen Kane practically every day. Pause a moment to consider that.

This co-written book’s voice is kind of toneless which is too bad, but it’s still worth it – after all, not everybody makes it out to tell their story. Also, Ronnie has a baby in a toilet at seven months, by accident. This book is great, psych yourself up for it here.

The Circle, by Dave Eggers

I have a lot of friends who know I work online with mystery people all over the world, but don’t have a frame of reference for the differences between a lot of the big web software companies. A ton of those people told me to read this which is too bad because I hated it, it was just bonkers over the top and there were a ton of weird plot things I could not suspend belief for, and now I’m not sure how to reassure my friends that I’m not being subsumed into some global digital Silicon Valley borg.


Whistler Grand Meetup

Like every other year at Automattic, I met up with (almost) all my coworkers in a spectacular location for a week this month. I have been busy and not good about remembering to take pictures, but my friend Clicky is exceptionally great at it. (The remembering part, sure, but also the photos.) You can look at me and Zandy and Watkis right here. :heart-eyes:

zandy and denise.jpg

And you can see his other excellent pics of our week over at allmyfriendsarejpegs.





Last night I was sprawled out enjoying the new comfort of my new living room after many, many weeks of moving and setup and house-fixing, drinking some wine and chatting with Celeste on the phone. It was about 9:30, and we were interrupted by a knock at the door.

Ground-level living is not something I generally yearn for. I was super happy years ago to trade a ground-level apartment with a backyard for a second-level apartment with a small balcony. I like a level of separation, I think it reduces your visibility as well as the chances of being bothered by something weird and/or threatening.

On the other hand, I am now a House Owner in a neighbourhood of house owners. It’s weird to make that shift in the winter, when it’s dark so early and people are cocooned inside all the time. I am going to live here a long time and I want to meet people and participate in all that, so I know already that there are just things that my comfort level is going to have to get over, and I haven’t even gotten started.

Neighbour encounters have been sparse, a bit hit and miss. So far I’ve met:

  • a man who says his welder is still in my shed (I’ve verified, it’s true)
  • a man who very kindly came over to give me his extra garbage tags so the city would take all the bags the departing owner had left out. Very thoughtful!
  • a man who managed to be cheerfully welcoming, but vaguely racist AND homophobic in the first five minutes
  • a woman I really enjoyed meeting, whose kids pointed at me from their car when they saw me hauling gear, adorably and disproportionately star-struck, ‘That’s the drummer, Mommy!’
  • a friendly older man on his porch taking down Christmas lights, and his wife who glared at me instead of returning my greeting. Eeeep. Split the difference.

So, surprised but also aware that the previous owner is supposed to come by sometime soon, and feeling a bit better that Celeste was still in my earholes on the phone for potential murder-witnessing, I answered the door.

A stranger stood there, friendly enough, a little urgent in how he spoke but not too much. He lives down the street, he told me, his daughter is epileptic and had a seizure, she’s okay, it’s not unusual, but the pharmacy delivery is coming soon and he doesn’t have cash until his wife gets home tonight at 11pm.

I mean, it sounds like a scam right out of the gate, but also not completely impossible – so that’s a hard call to make on the spot, especially if you want to be the kind of person who provides help when people need it and you can. And it puts the onus on you to challenge.

I got his name and his house number, but what help is that, really. I mean, sure, all these things ran through my head right then that I could have done to verify him.

I could tell him I have no cash in the house, but that’s a little hard to make believable. I could ask for ID and see if it matched the name and address he’d given me. I could insist on taking his photo. I could try to take his photo secretly. I could tell him I’ll drop the money off at his house in a bit so that he could only have it if the house story was real.

But honestly, all those things carried some element of risk since I knew nothing about him. If he was genuine, it would be rude although certainly understandable. If he was lying, well, I don’t know if he’s got a temper or an eye on getting into the house. My door was already open which is a vulnerable position to be in, and it was only going to cost me $20 to get it closed safely, for sure. So I pretended none of those things were running through my mind and I gave him $20, which he promised to return after 11pm, when his wife got home.

He did not return with the money, obviously, I never thought he was going to. When I went by that house number today, it had many fancy shrubs and immaculate porch decorations that just don’t scream children to me, let alone ‘dude who doesn’t have $20 in the house.’ So I’m left thinking about what I would do next time.

I mean, first of all, better blackout curtains so it’s not so obvious I’m here. The curtains were shut but they kind of glow. But not answer the door? I really don’t want to be someone who doesn’t answer the door. It’s my house, it’s my door.

I noted today that the glass outer door has a lock on it, so maybe the answer is to lock that if I’m in the house alone, and talk through that if someone comes to the door. Still sort of sticks you with the need to refuse to open it, which… awkward.

When talking about security one day, my house insurance guy showed me this video doorbell thing that he has. It streams video to your phone of who’s at your door, AND takes pictures, AND allows you talk to them from the app on your phone if you need to pretend you’re not home right now, heh. But it seems like a bit of a crappy, suspicious solution, and I feel like it would mark me on the street as someone who would use it. And expensive in a way that’s out of range with the actual problem.

Okay, but maybe I will anyway. Even though I knew what was likely up, I still felt like a dummy in a bunch of different ways when I woke up this morning. For giving an obvious scammer some cash. For going to the door at all. But I can’t even think of one thing I would have done differently in that moment even though I was caught by surprise, although if there’s a next time I’ll be better mentally prepared.

The thing that lingers with me, though – it’s such a familiar thing we do with our faces in comparable situations. As long as the threat level is unsure, our faces go, ‘I am cheerful, I am supportive, I believe you so much, we are having the most small talk of belief. If only you could stay here forever so I could believe you the most possible amount! Come by anytime for more belief!’ And that stupid face is our defense until we get the door closed.