All right! Back at it again with the actually good book we’re reading. Now, some have reminded me that I also thought The Mister was a good book when we started it but I was really forcing myself to be generous with that one. From what we’ve seen so far with Crave, the author can actually write sentences that don’t make you want to hurl yourself from a helicopter into the caldera of an erupting volcano.
Month: July 2020
Need to catch up?
- What is The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp?
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Prologue
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter One
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Two
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Three
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Four
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Five
Some people have noticed that this story has veered wildly off the course set by the blurb my friends wrote for the fictional book cover. That’s because this nonsense is flowing through me. I am a conduit for the whims of the universe. And that universe is full of Greek mythology because that and ragging on Nathaniel Hawthorne were the only parts of English class I liked in high school. #OriginalClashOfTheTitansWasBetterThanTheRemake
Honestly, I thought I would have transitioned into stand-up comedy. No, seriously, that was my bucket list item for this year. I was going to do an open mic night. I wasn’t going to tell anyone I know, I was just going to drive to a whole different city, do an open mic night, and cross it off my list of things I’ve always wanted to do but never did. Some of my jokes were about turning forty and how people start assuming you can’t learn or do or be anything new at that age.
And it’s true. All through my thirties, my friends and I were telling people that it’s never too late to go back and get your doctorate or your real estate license or learn how to be in roller derby. After all, Alan Rickman didn’t start acting until he was forty!
Well, now I’m forty. At the end of the world.
I’m fired up to do new things, take different directions, reinvent myself as a person. How the hell do I do that now? I can’t go out and start a weird, midlife crisis grasp at my stand-up dreams that never panned out. I can’t go to improv classes or form an experimental theater group. I can’t up and run off to New York to chase the dead hope of the Broadway career that didn’t happen then and will never happen, now.
I’ve lived my life fantasizing about the stuff I’ve always wanted to do. I saw turning forty as a golden opportunity and I was going to Rickman the hell out of it. Maybe I would move to L.A. and try writing for television! Maybe I could try my hand at acting in small films in Chicago! What if I decided to ride my bicycle around Lake Michigan? I could do it all.
Instead, I’m seriously considering starting a YouTube channel that’s just me riding my bike around town with a GoPro looking for the flock of cranes.
I guess the thing I’m struggling the most with right now is the idea that I’m not the only thing holding me back. Somehow, my lack of courage to pursue everything life has to offer was totally acceptable but forces I can’t control are completely devastating. Maybe I was expecting to suddenly shake loose the bonds of self-consciousness and soar to the heights I’d imagined when I was a kid acting out Yentl in my living room. The point was that I had a choice.
Now, I don’t have any of those choices. So, make a cautionary tale out of that as you will.
I’m usually miserable on my birthdays. Largely because I struggle daily with this idea that the circumstances of my birth made me a problem, that I started all this trouble by being born. I try to be happy but there’s always a weird thing in the back of my head saying, this is the day you ruined your mom’s life. This is the day you burst, in all your larval obnoxiousness, into a world you still don’t understand well enough to navigate without inconveniencing someone. But the milestone birthdays always seem to be about a transition between now and next.
So, here I sit, having just become forty, trying to remember the upsides and downsides of every milestone birthday. Not including my seventeenth, which isn’t a traditional birthday milestone but was a new frontier in making out because my boyfriend put his hand up my shirt and I touched it through his jeans.
For the sake of symmetry, though, I’m thinking specifically about decade milestones.
Ten years ago, I turned thirty not knowing that I was about to have some of the most painful transitions, transformations, and losses of my life. I’m still processing those. They can’t be left behind easily or summed up in hindsight. It’s all still too close. I didn’t know I’d have to give up my name. But I also didn’t know that I was about to become a much cooler person in that new identity.
Twenty years ago, a boy who would become one of my most painful heartbreaks leaned over during a late-night showing of the first X-Men movie to whisper happy birthday in my ear. I didn’t know then that only a year later, I’d find my soulmate and have two children before my next decade started. I had no idea how much the world was going to change, and how much my world was going to change. And I’d never even considered writing a book.
Thirty years ago, I was trying so, so hard to be a human correctly. To make people love me. To not annoy anyone too much. To take my pills and go to my therapy and not allow my erratic emotions to become a burden on my grieving family. To not be selfish and make a traumatic loss all about myself. To not sin, to pay attention in church, to perform the deeply ingrained and complicated rituals of two incredibly strict religions. But I also had a sweet-ass scrunchy and only four years to go before I’d meet some of the best friends of my life.
So much has changed in forty years. I can’t assume it’s all going to be for the worst. Or, I can. I just shouldn’t. But I’m so afraid that forty is going to be this weird-ass decade where I start drinking smoothies and pretending avocado doesn’t taste like butter someone dropped in the grass and also one of the children I birthed is going to be an adult in six months and I’m sitting in bed at 1:30 in the morning on my birthday drinking 64 oz. of Tang out of a big plastic pineapple because that’s how we party when time and mortality are making themselves so, so damn present.
Speaking of presents, this year, in lieu of diamonds, sacred objects, or the gift of song, I just really want someone to write me a Community fanfic where I’m friends with Troy and Abed.
CW: mental illness, suicidal ideation
To: “Depression” (email@example.com), “Anxiety” (firstname.lastname@example.org), “C-PTSD” (email@example.com)
From: Jenny Trout (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Subject: What team? WILDCATS
Dear mental illnesses. As you may have gleaned from the subject line, I come to you with a proposal of teamwork. We’re all in this together. You’re the Troy to my Gabriella, the Ryan to my Sharpay. Actually, the everyone to my Sharpay. The important part is, I’m Sharpay at the denouement of every HSM story after she realizes yet again that being a team player is better for everyone and we all help each other to be stars. And that’s why we’re all going to do that from now on.
Depression? I totally understand where you’re coming from. You’re right; somedays, it’s just too overwhelming to get out of bed. And you’re trying to do the right thing by me in supporting, nay, encouraging me to take a break. But sometimes, you want that to be a forever break. And that doesn’t work for me. I know you think you’re helping when you suggest that wading into freezing lake water with my pockets full of stones might be an easy way to get some time off. And I know a lot of the time, this is an idea you’ve already brainstormed with C-PTSD. But the advice you two are coming up with? Really not working for me. Imagine if I really did drive my car off a bridge. What if I lived? Can you imagine the bullshit hassle? First would be the hospital stays, then the hospital bills, probably some surgery, some in-patient psychiatric supervision, and then when that’s all over you’ve got to fight with two different types of insurance, it would be a nightmare. By the way, Anxiety is really good at extrapolating things out that way. I’m sure that if you just consulted with it, you’d see the downside to this plan, and the other plan, which is the one where I neglect bills, notices, important mail, my children, my pets, my friends, my hygiene, basically I just cancel whatever is going on that day to stay in bed, Google all the reasons people hate me, and just leave Big Mouth running on a constant loop in the background until Depression Kitty shows up and I momentarily pay attention so I can chuckle with wry humor at how same and a mood it makes me feel, without ever acknowledging that I shouldn’t take pleasure in the fact that everyone in society is fucking miserable all the time, always, forever, isn’t the helpful shuffling around of my schedule as you think it is.
But Anxiety, while I appreciate how you constantly motivate me to be and do better, I think we can find a better way of doing that. Maybe a pep talk that doesn’t start with me getting up to refill my water bottle and ends with my entire family being homeless because of that minute-long break. You definitely shouldn’t be sharing my biggest fears with Depression; it has absolutely zero productive ways to use them. What generally happens, I imagine, is that you see me not working and you think, well, she’s never going to get back to it. And if she doesn’t get back to it, she’ll be another day behind. And if she gets too far behind, we’ll be homeless and probably dead and eaten by rats in an alley. I guess I can see where that might be a concern. After all, my failure to manage our life is the reason we almost were homeless. And admittedly, there are two rats in my office. But I think the more important point we need to focus on here is that those rats are in a cage. They’re probably not going to eat us. Also? People probably do think I’m lazy. But remember: what other people think of us? Is not the end of the world. We have to keep on keeping on. Remember how we started taking those pills and OCD decided to go on hiatus? Consider sucking up some of those brain-altering pharmaceuticals, yourself.
Now, C-PTSD. You and I have a lot of work to undo. ABA ruined what should have been a perfectly awesome brain. But you and I have to be on the same page here. Having my own emotions isn’t actually inconveniencing or hurting anyone, just so long as my actions aren’t inconveniencing or hurting anyone. I’m also allowed to set boundaries. I shouldn’t be grateful that my friends and family love me despite all the shitty things about me. I should be grateful that my friends and family love me and recognize all the cool things about me. And nobody is trying to kill us. Nobody will reject us if secretly, in the quiet of our mind, we let ourselves be mad or sad or uncomfortable. And that touch of the ’tism that ABA was supposed to fix? It’s not the burden to everyone around you that you think it is. Like, 70% of all the people you choose to hang out with are also “on the spectrum.” Look, we deserve to not be victimized by weird childhood traumas we couldn’t express because bad therapy trained us to pretend we were fine with everything all the time and that if we weren’t fine with it, that was selfish of us. I promise, hand-to-god, that we do not have to be constantly tense and ready to defend ourselves or flee from imaginary dangers like someone coming to the door. Yes, they might be pushy. Yes, you might have to assert yourself in a way that might feel rude to them. I promise, they don’t know we’re broken and also, we’re not responsible for how they feel when we don’t want to go to their church. Oh, and PS. expressing our anger at Papa in the one whole argument we ever got into his whole life? Didn’t kill him. Time and Russian-level alcohol consumption did that. We’re not to blame, no matter how much our perception of how our emotions damage other people insist otherwise.
You guys. We’ve got this. We can be a team. Imagine how much time off you’re going to get once you’re not constantly bombarding me with all this helpful advice. Look how much better we feel now that we’re letting go of some masking behaviors. Imagine if all of us could just kick back, put our feet up, and function? I know we can get there.
Jenny, the brain you ride around in.
Ahhhh. You know that feeling when you read a book and you’re like, this book was written specifically for me?
Full disclosure: This book actually was written specifically for me. Knowing how much I crush on late-night talk show host Craig Ferguson, Scarlett Parrish set out to write me a dirty story that for weeks was simply titled Fergporn. I waited patiently as she sent me maddening updates, all the while promising that she was nearly done. But the god damn thing kept getting longer. What started out as a novella with a target of 40k words about a comedian banging his ex during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival grew and grew and grew…into an incredibly touching and tragic story about what-ifs and could-have-beens.
Please excuse the really ridiculous gushing you’re about to read here. I am not going to give you an objective review at all. I’m just going to projectile vomit my feelings at you and those feelings are achingly bittersweet and shockingly horny.
Afton Collier is a recently divorced actress who’s returned to her beloved home city, Edinburgh, to nurse her broken heart. Unfortunately, it’s also the city where her heart first got broken in a toxic relationship with Glenn Peterson, who’s moved on to become a talk show host in America. Twenty years after Glenn—”Oosh,” as Afton remembers him not so fondly from their drugs-and-sex fueled past—disappeared from her life without a word, he returns to Edinburgh to perform a one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For reasons Afton refuses to truthfully acknowledge to herself, she invites him to stay at her in the apartment she views as a palace of her marital failures.
Now, this whole set up could easily have turned into a “and there was only one bed!” situation. It also could have fallen into the trap of “oh my god, just talk to each other!” due to the internal nature of their conflict. Instead, the abrupt, unresolved ending to their romantic relationship and their two decades of keeping tabs on each other from afar makes you fully sympathize with Afton’s inability to disclose the painful aftermath of Glenn’s departure from her life.
So, those paragraphs alone should have sold you, right?
Wait. There’s more.
Afton Collier shares her author’s proud love of Embra and its history, which winds in and out of Afton and Glenn’s personal history like a parallel love story. From memories of Oosh quoting the Burns poem for which Afton was named, to the stark reality of managing recovery in a culture proud of their alcohol consumption. The land that comforts Afton is part of what drove Glenn away; you feel the pull between her love of her homeland and her resentment toward Glenn for leaving without her.
As a first-person POV heroine, Afton wrestles not only with the abrupt end to her marriage but also the unresolved issues that have kept Glenn on her mind for years. One of these (mild spoiler ahead) is the abortion she had at age nineteen, after Glenn, then thirty, fled to America. Afton’s feelings about the pregnancy she ended are complex; though she knows she made the right choice and doesn’t regret it, she does regret that she had to make the choice at all. I’ve never seen a romance novel present abortion in such a nuanced way, where the heroine is allowed to be relieved and fully comfortable with having an abortion while still wishing the circumstances could have given her another choice.
Glenn is everything I love in a romance novel hero. Not just because I have a thing for Scottish late-night hosts, but because I have a thing for damaged men who struggle with their own vulnerability. Glenn knows what he did to Afton is unforgivable; he spends as much time apologizing to her for the past as he does putting his foot in his mouth in the present. His tendency to be “on” instead of genuine is painfully relatable, especially when it fails him.
Now, let’s discuss the sex. This is a book about a heroine who’s nearly forty and a hero who’s almost fifty. They’ve had active sex lives and aren’t shy with each other once they decide to act on their rekindled attraction. Their chemistry and banter outside the bedroom made the easy reconnection of their intimacy completely natural and a heartbreakingly sweet contrast to the emotional intimacy left unresolved for decades.
The longing and the angst and the relatable drama pulled from realistic circumstances despite the fame and notoriety of main characters working in a highly visible industry makes Take Me Home not just the best romance novel of 2020, but possibly the best I’ve read in my life.