Job Hunt Part 2: Even With A Small Child At Home?

On Sunday, while we were running errands in hell BabiesRUs I got a call back from a job I had applied for on a tech job listing site. The editor was calling to set up an interview for that day (Sunday, reminding you: Sunday) or on Monday. Because I am not one to turn my nose at an opportunity, regardless of how sketch it was to be getting called on the weekend, I returned the editor’s call and set up a formal interview for an hour later.

Initially it was the usual “tell me about your background” type of conversation, but then she asked me to tell her about myself – stuff that wasn’t on my resume. I started giving her more of my background, how I had graduated from grad school and then pieced together my writing career at the height of the recession, blahblah, but she stopped me and said, “No, I mean stuff that isn’t on your resume.”


So, flustered, I said I had two kids, that we had moved up to Seattle a year and a half a go when my husband got a job at Microsoft…. and she chatted amicably with me about the west coast and having kids, her only child was now 22, etc etc.

Things got weird again when she suddenly said they would like to offer me a trial job. A trial job? I said. Like a contract? I asked.

Well no, not like a contract, she said. This would be 2 articles a day for 2 weeks to make sure I would be a good fit, that I could keep up with the work… especially with having a small child at home.

With having a small child at home, would I, professional me, with a masters degree and 5 years of this particular experience under my belt, not to mention the bajillion other jobs I’ve held down, even during grad school, even during undergrad, even while also TAing….. be able to complete my work?

I let the comment slide, but stuck it in my back pocket just in case, because my next question was: And what would the rate be for this?

Oh, this would not be paid. Two weeks of part time work, getting 20ish articles out of me, for freebies.

No thanks, I said, that would not be acceptable. She gave me her email address (which I pretended to copy down) just in case I changed my mind, and that was that.

Even with a small child at home, even with the cost of 2 daycares looming, even with our house savings completely halted while I am scrambling for work and taking phone interviews covered in spit up…. Even with all of that, I know I’m worth more than that and I’ll wait for it.

Professionalism, I have it.

I’m starting to get ready to go back to work. I’ve been applying for jobs and last week I had 2 phone interviews. While prepping for the first one I experienced a wave of hot white rage washing over me. I had not had time to shower that morning while trying to get everyone successfully out the door. Gabe had not picked up his toys from the morning, there was still half eaten breakfast to be put away that was still sitting on the kitchen table. Kamel had taken his sweet time in the bathroom while I was still in yesterdays nursing tank and was wrangling an obstinate toddler to, “C’mon Gabe, we need to change your diaper. One… Two……….” When Kamel and Gabe finally left for the day I surveyed my mess of a domain and recounted my plan of attack for the first phone interview I’ve had in over a year.

First up, ignore that I was in maternity yoga pants and a dirty nursing tank.

Second, plan to nurse Fae an hour before the interview.

Third, plan to strap her into the lillebaby where she would be guaranteed to fall asleep so that I could…

Fourth, stand in the corner of the room where we get the most reliable* cell service.

But, as I was pacing the floor with a PISSED Fae who was having none of being strapped into the lillebaby, I began to bubble up with frustrated indignation.

How many men are home trying to apply for jobs and stage interviews while juggling childcare? Did Kamel ever have to consider the feeding schedule of his infant as he considered how to ace the first stage of getting a job? I wonder who has to start off an interview with, “oh and I apologize for the baby sounds, I have my infant home with me,” men? or women?

At work I try to not wear my mom hat. I don’t want to be seen as a MOM, I want to be seen as Professional Lauren. Lauren Who Is Competent and Awesome. Talented Lauren. Funny Lauren. And especially in an interview of ALL PLACES I do not want them having in their minds: MOM. I want them to be thinking: Experienced and an Asset to Our Team.

I enjoy my time away from my kids. It makes me a better parent when I am home. It makes me awesome. At work I am not the one blaming lateness on a sick child, or making excuses for my frazzled appearance with the fact that I had to switch shirts three time due to spit up. It may be true, but I don’t talk about that at work. As much as I would appreciate a more family friendly work mentality, the choice to not wear a loud and proud mom hat at work is not out of fear, it’s because I need to have a space where I am not mentally or physically attached to my kids. I need a space where I am viewed as Lauren.

The truth of the matter is: women do most of the child rearing, women are most often the primary care giver. In many, many households it is the woman who takes a career hit to handle sick days and doctor appointments and the inconveniences of parenthood. That’s not even talking about the career hit of actually birthing a tiny human, but that’s like… a monumental post that has no resolution in the foreseeable future. Weee!

I try very hard to maintain equality in my house. I have no interest in being a stay at home mom. I do not want to be the primary care giver. I want a partnership in all house things. I, unfortunately, have to remind Kamel fairly often that he is not “helping me” with the kids or the chores or whatever. I am not Parent 1 and he is backup Parent 2, I am not Home Caretaker 1 and he is back up Home Caretaker 2. We are Parents and we Share a House. Done and done. But things don’t always shake out that way in the real world of my life.

I would like to think that we take turns. And for the most part this is actually very true. Sometimes Kamel is peacing out of work in order to run the kid(s) to the doctor or working from home to deal with a sick one. Sometimes it’s me. Sometimes he has on his housemaid mental uniform and is moving the couch to vacuum and mopping the kitchen floors, sometimes I’m baby wearing and doing 3 loads of laundry.

Currently, though, things are not even. And the argument could be made that it’s because I’m not working. But – fuck that, fuck it so hard I don’t even want to talk to the person who is saying that right now. I had a fucking baby. And at 6 weeks postpartum I started frantically applying for work, while also being the primary caregiver of that baby. While also being the primary food producer of that baby. While also, because somehow it became some annoying default, being the primary house MAID for this goddamn house. Laundry and breakfast dishes and restocking diapers and wipes and picking up toys and shoes and napkins-a-plenty. And this explains my white hot rage while I was transitioning into PROFESSIONAL LAUREN while living in the world of exhausted, sore, and unwashed MOM LAUREN.

And what happened with that phone interview, anyways, you may be asking…

I nursed on time as previously discussed, I lillebaby-ed, but Fae would not stand for that shit. She would not stand for it at all.

So 10 minutes until interview time, with a crying baby, I took her out and held her with one armed and bounced and she quieted. But how sustainable is holding a baby with one arm? Until said arm falls off? Not so very sustainable.

Fae refused to fall asleep.

I apologized initially for any baby sqwacks, explaining I was home with an infant.

Within 15 minutes I was completely covered in sweat, spit up had splashed on my leg, but I had no time and not enough hands to remedy it. Fae started to fuss again. I tried to switch arms, but that just pissed her off even more. While trying to stay as composed as possible on the phone, I managed to put my interview on HOLD for a second while I shoved a boob into Fae’s mouth so she would STFU.

Overall the interview was a total cluster fuck.

Total emergency nursing moments: 2

Total dropped calls: 1

Total spit ups: 4

Total time of interview: ONE HOUR.

Total moments of sleeping baby during the interview: 0

Total beers consumed post interview: 758475. No, really: 1

Total jobs torpedoed: probably 1.

Towards the end of the interview the lady actually asked me: So…. is that….. YOUR baby? YES, YES IT IS.

Did she think that I would decide to babysit while also trying to convince people to hire me for work??

Professionalism, I have it. Allegedly.


*Still not super reliable.

City of Flour and Sawdust

I looked up nicknames for Minneapolis and this was the first one, coined in 1883. So shout out!


The Twin Cities are the midwest hub of publishing right now, which is fascinating. One might think its Chicago, but you’d be wrong. There is quite the scene in Minneapolis/St. Paul and I got to experience a tiny taste of it last week.


(At the sculpture garden, Margaret checking out an exhibit)


It also rain/snowed and then snow/snowed, which was magical and (admittedly) a little bizarre in mid-April. Then it became warm and beautiful and I wore a dress and sandals.


But mostly I was at a conference or spending hours chatting with Margaret and Jeff or meeting a lovely internet friend, Kelly, or moaning about being super sore and pregnant. I was there from Tuesday to Sunday and did a lot of thinking and planning and learning about my next steps in book publishing. It’s complicated because of time, because I need to be good – really good – and because it is such a multifaceted experience.

Will I need an agent?

Will I need to publish smaller pieces in notable places in order to boost my writerly “resume”?

Where should I even submit this book to?

And of course… how and when will I finish it?



I am very grateful for the opportunity to continue to feed my professional self. Which just so happens to be my creative self, my independent self, my deep inner Lauren self.


This week is my birthday week and I came home to a hubub of activity and it has been a scramble to get back to work, to get back to Gabe, to spend time with friends and family and everyone is asking me how my trip was. How was my trip? How was the conference?



It was great! It was restoring! It kicked me in the ass and gave me a clearer vision for what I’ll be working on for the next year (probably 2). It made me long for the routines of family life. It made me feel extra extra secure in Kamel’s parenting skills. It made me realize how much I truly need my kid(s) and my husband in my life on the regularly, that maybe traveling alone is not for me. But to have that freedom and head space, what a gift!


Parenting small children is a phase, parenting bigger children is also a phase. I entered parenthood knowing that eventually that phase would be done, a new phase of adult relationships with my children would flourish, and that what is not a phase is …. me. I am me, right here, ever changing and growing and becoming better versions of the original. Investing in that is key. Regardless of how I go about it, babies strapped to me or following behind like little ducklings, relying on my partner for the freedom to grow and expand my talents… investments must happen. I am so grateful they do.


(The mighty Mississippi)

The Writing on the Keyboard

So… I’ve been writing. And by writing, I mean WRITING. All caps. For a book I’m… writing. Writing a book. It’s just so weird to say that (write that) out loud. I’m not even going to tell you what kind of book it is, because it’s too embarrassing. UGH OK FINE, it’s a coming of age. I resisted putting coming of age in quotes because that somehow seems to dumb it down or make it seem like it’s only a coming of age in theory. But there it is. Hopefully I finish it some day and then maybe other people can read it.

I’ve been writing so much because I have a sort of self imposed deadline that is fast approaching at the first week (ish) in April. Where I shall be handing over pages to Margaret where she will write giant question marks in the margins and ask me about motivation and where the story is actually going. (You will, Margaret, don’t tell me you won’t.) Because oh my god, I don’t even know if I know. Last week I made a story arch like you do in freshman English class when the teacher asks you to point out the rising action, the climax, and the falling action. I pretty much only have one of those things figured out.

It is so much easier to talk about this in regards to me not knowing what the hell I’m doing because I don’t. I never do. I have never been super confident person when it comes to writing. Afterwards? Or in workshop classes? Super confident. Sort of. But when it comes to actually doing it. Oh my god, obsession, second guessing, terrible doubt city. It’s where I reside. I don’t know if it is productive but it maybe makes some of my scenes super sharp because I edit them in my head while walking from the grocery store to my car. And during elevator rides. And when I should be actually working, the work that actually gives me money for living.

But! I thought I would share a tiny smidge of what I’ve been doing for the last few weeks. It’s kind of exhilarating to share a voice that is not just my blog voice, which just so happens to be my inner monologue voice. This voice is sort of… out of myself. I hope you find it neat.


We moved to an old person neighborhood when I was in 2nd grade. The hills were too steep for neighborhood bike riding and we lived on the corner of a busy street. Even dribbling a basketball was treacherous. One wrong move and the ball was lost, bounding into traffic, down the hill, gaining momentum until it was too far gone.  

Old people were everywhere, or rather nowhere as they rarely were seen out of their homes on weekends. The only people out in the neighborhood was a small gaggle of teenage and pre-teen boys who congregated across the street from my new house and who were all older than me. One of them was lucky enough to have a flat driveway to play basketball in. They had a hoop and everything. I played basketball for my CYO team at school and sometimes with my mom on the weekends. I watched the boys, all a year or more older than me, with envy and unspecified lust from my bedroom window.  

My bedroom was over the garage and if my parents left early in the morning, I could feel the garage door opening and closing beneath me, the low rumble under my floor. All summer long I heard a constant and rhythmic nose from both the birds cawing on the power lines outside, and the near constant bouncing of a basketball followed by the swoosh of the net.  

Sometimes my mom would convince me it was a good idea to go shoot around at the YMCA down the street. I’d eventually work there during the summers, running a sports camp for squirrely children and getting an unprecedented farmer’s tan. When I was too young to work, but old enough to feel unexplained hot shame for purely existing, the basketball court at the YMCA was ripe for a million different unspeakable scenarios. The ball bounced too loud on the hardwood floors. My shorts felt too short. There were never any other girls in the old gym where we played, and sometimes we had the whole place to ourselves, but when we didn’t I could tell the other men and boys were annoyed that they were being limited to half court press by some mom and her little girl. If this had happened to adult me I would be thrilled by the opportunity to encroach on their turf, but being a pre-teen the truth of patriarchy was both overwhelming and humiliating made only worse by my mother’s clear disregard for its silent rules.  

In the neighborhood before the old person neighborhood there had been 3 homes with kids; my next door neighbors who had 3 boys, and then 2 houses on the other side of my block, past the crack in the cement that sometimes housed a hornets nest, past the barking dogs behind the chain-link fence. We all played together at different times, we all ate lunch at each other’s houses, we all road bikes around and around and around our block, sometimes cutting through the ally even though we weren’t supposed to. One time the neighbor boy showed me his penis. I think he was 3. I thought it looked like a broken finger. I expected to be integrated into the old people neighborhood kid-pool eventually. Maybe I just hadn’t made a firm enough move. That first summer I was eight, perpetually bored and fairly lonely. 

It was a Saturday and we were just getting back from Costco and all of the boys were outside playing ball in the driveway, like always. I hadn’t yet introduced myself to any of the neighbors really, being generally shy and afraid of grownups, but I imagined the onslaught of homemade pies and cookies paired with a friendly knock on our door and the Welcome To The Neighborhood meet and greet would happen any day now. The only new neighbors I had ever experienced came from the movies and that’s what happened on the silver screen, so it must ring true in real life. 

After I helped my parents unload the car from a weekend trip to Costco I told them that I was going to walk over and say hi. They had no problem with this and I had no doubts this was going to go amazingly well. It started off exactly as I had imagined and I had imagined this exact scenario many, many times. It was a beautiful early summer mid-morning, the sound of tennis shoes hitting pavement, of lazy bees milling about, and me in keds tennis shoes and matching short and t-shirt combo skipping, yes skipping, over to the boys’ driveway. I don’t think up until this moment I had ever felt this much confidence, nor have I ever felt it since.  

My skipping had motivation behind it. I thought in that instant it was the most nonchalant move on the planet. Like, “Hey, just thought I’d skip over here for a second. Since I have a free moment in my day, just thought I would stop by, as one does, in the neighborhood, skip skip skip.” The boys briefly all stopped playing to look in my direction.  

“Hi!” I said brightly, “My name’s Anna, you wanna play?”  

Their was a brief pause before the laughing started. Almost as soon as it began, though I waited just long enough for my face to fully collapse, and my very first true feelings of disappointment mixed with acute embarrassment to soak in, before quickly turning and sprinting across the street straight back down my steep driveway, down into my garage, and directly into my cool basement.  

I cried, but not until I was certain they wouldn’t see.  

Empty Spaces

Yesterday I went in for my 16 week baby checkup. Listened to the heart beat. Bunnyfrog still lives and is still in there. Bonus: I only gained 3 lbs. Small victories. Not that I’m like RESTRICTING my weight gain, but it is always best not to gain 20 right off the bat (I always say).

Body changes are an interesting part of pregnancy. In some ways they are the most straight forward. It’s not a shocker to grow an egg on the front of your person, it’s pretty standard pregnancy folklore that you do round out.

The part that is always so startling for me are the changes of who I am. I’m not Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde-ing it over here. I don’t hulk out or have intense mood swings. I don’t feel like I’m on one giant PMS roller coaster. That’s not what I’m talking about.

For me it’s about motivation. I mean, you see it here. The emptiness is echoing around this blog. Where is the content? Where is Lauren? Where are all of the things she is supposed to be writing about and doing? Echo echo echo.

Non-pregnant Lauren, Lauren of “Ordinary Time” (a catholic reference if there ever was one), is high functioning, insanely motivated, and a massive work horse. I am exactly the mother I want to be, making my own baby food, working full time, running around at the park, writing a ton, having adventures, taking on new and exciting projects.

Pregnant Lauren is exhausted and mentally incapable. I do not juggle. I do not where all the hats. I wear 3: I go to work so I don’t get fired, I love my child and am mostly phoning in motherhood, and I am mindful of the other human I’m growing so I try to make positive choices regarding that. I’m also married but that reads mostly like: Thank you darling for not letting the house burn down and all of us starve to death while I sit her being pregnant.

I don’t think other pregnant people are like this. I think other people are like the homesteading pregnant folk who came to the west coast via the Oregon Trail and walked 13 miles a day. When I am not pregnant I am building a house with one hand and nursing a baby with the other. When I am pregnant you need to push me around from place to place in a wheel barrow. I am a potted plant and my brain go boom.

I hate this. It is part of why I hate being pregnant. It doesn’t matter what my intentions are. It doesn’t matter how many balls I had in the air before getting pregnant. They fall. They all fall. It doesn’t matter how many pep talks I give myself about really pushing myself this week, really working on xyz, really making it happen… I’m still asleep by 10pm and I am still a walking sack of goo after 6pm.

On Tuesday I threw up at work. Just a normal pregnancy activity. I thought I was doing so much better but then guess what? I didn’t take my meds the night before and that morning barf city in the handicap stall in my office before I could even make it to my desk. Hoo-fucking-ray.

My body can come and go, but my ability to get shit done, my mental capacity for doing-it-all… I miss it. I want it back. I have so many more months.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem: A Review

Oh hello book lovers! Fancy seeing you here… in my world where I have totally neglected you.

How embarrassing.

But I have not forgotten and I have finished the reading list. Only this and 1 other to go and I am finally complete with this little experiment. More book loving and reviewing and reading to come, I promise. But only once I can be relied upon to make a deadline.

Anyways, on to the point. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion is one of her best known works and one I had only read excerpts from in grad school. It’s a collection of essays about the free love era and the hippy movement in San Francisco.

I love Didion as a writer. Her craft is something I aspire to in my own work. A Year of Magical Thinking changed the way I saw relationships. The way Didion writes a sentence, her use of echo and repetition speaks to me beyond any other writer. And this collection of essays is equally as powerful. It lead to an evening of researching videos of people experience LSD, of old news shows about Haight street during exactly this time, of me reading whole sections out loud to Kamel and crying over the really terrible parts. It’s amazing. And it left me with one majorly nagging feeling.

In college professors were always adding Hunter S. Thompson onto nonfiction reading lists and holding up as this pillar of gonzo journalism. Didion was also just as much of a gonzo journalist during the exact same time as Thompson. She isn’t quite as insane about it and maybe not quite as reckless, but she puts herself into the world that she is investigating, she goes there, she becomes part of the story. Why did it take me until grad school to read this? And excerpts at that? Why isn’t Didion standing next to Thompson on that gonzo journalism pillar? It reeks of another example of how men are the “pioneers” and women are the work horses.

It’s not just my voice you get to hear today! We are also hearing from Melissa who has been very kind about my absolute tardiness when it comes to getting up her review.


Melissa: Initially, I was excited in the way that you are excited when you are doing something good for you that you might not love but, you know, it should be good for you. Reading non-fiction is like eating my vegetables, except I like vegetables. Reading non-fiction is like getting up early and exercising. A few pages into the first essay, I thought, “Okay, this is going to be an easy read and at least mildly entertaining.” I am from Southern California, though I have been away 14 years (I’m old!) and I do enjoy books that evoke a certain California mystique.

Part I: Joan Didion’s self-indulgent look at other self-indulgent people around California in the 1960’s, through essay. I kept thinking, these are well-written and I like them, but who bought these things? This was her job? Answer: Vogue and The Saturday Evening Post bought these things. Best essay and best essay title, in my humble opinion: Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream. This passage took me home:

January 11, 1965, was a bright warm day in Southern California, the kind of day when Catalina floats on the Pacific horizon and the air smells of orange blossoms and it is a long way from the bleak and difficult East, a long way from the cold, a long way from the past.

Part II: Navel gazing. Reads like a teenager/early 20-something’s journal. Except Joan was in her 30’s, I think. Though she may have ransacked her younger self’s journals for the material. Still, I kind of liked it. Her way with words enables me to forgive a lot of the pretension, but it’s my least favorite section.

Part III: More personal reflections, this time focusing on different locales of importance to the author.

My favorite essay is found in this section, “Notes from a Native Daughter.” Her titles are so intriguing, and I love this passage:

…California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension; in which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things had better work here, because here, beneath that immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent.

Yes, it makes me have a lot of feels, so… success!

Lauren: Yes. The one thing that at times really irks me and at other times I find refreshingly honest and naive is the way Didion consistently writes with a very self-indulgent and privileged view. She lives in a world of old money and of never really feeling like she couldn’t do something. Sometimes I feel like UGH! White American viewpoint I’m so over this! And then other times I think, Wow this is really honest and so naked feeling. It’s not necessarily PC, it is just like… very wide eyed and pure. Not brave necessarily, but I respect it for what it is.

Melissa: Didion creates sense of place so very well and I would recommend the book based on that alone. The Haight hippies and the various “intellectuals” were vomit-inducing. However, Joan (we’re on a first name basis now) seemed equally unimpressed by them. The tone of her writing was like a little wink to the reader: aren’t these people ridiculous? Yes, yes they are.

Lauren: But I also felt like she saw them as both misunderstood and horribly uneducated. They were fascinating and also tragic. And some stuff with the small children I had a horrible horrible time with. I really do wonder what happened to all of those people. 

Melissa: [in regards to being surprised by anything in particular] I don’t remember enjoying her writing style as much when I read The Year of Magical Thinking. My memory may just be faulty, but that was a nice surprise.

Melissa: I did enjoy it. I am all about style and poetic prose. I would recommend the book to others who love clever wordplay and mulling over pretty lines.

Overall what do people think of Joan Didion? Have you read Slouching Towards Bethlehem? I would love your thoughts!

Too Many Happenings

There was no Weekend-ing this past weekend. Half the day was gone on Saturday before I realized the camera was left idle somewhere in the apartment. It happens. Every once in a while I just need to not think about it like that and just do how we do.

There were visits with family, long long walks, errands downtown, chasing Gabe all around carousels of men’s shirts, and rented movies. There was football and best friends, there was pita chips and dip, a lot of toddler giggles, and even a grown up dinner out with friends.

I struggle with doing the work of reflection and the work of living and being an active participant. That has always been my struggle when it comes to writing, photography, quiet moments, all of it. When do I say, “Enough, I need to step back and create something,” and when do I dive in with both arms and legs? I am always wanting both at the same exact time. Life is short and life is long, again, both at the same time.

The UnAmericans: A Review


I think I feel like I’m supposed to like books of short stories because I have a literary background more than I generally do. Or, maybe short stories are actually way harder to write successfully than most writers think and so the majority or meh at best? Probably a little bit of both. Thankfully Molly Antopol is one of the really really talented short story writers because The UnAmericans made me late getting back for lunch, it made me look up after a story and want to find someone else who had read it just to say, “Can you BELIEVE it?!” The stories did not feel too short or too long, I didn’t wish for more (like they should have been a novel and weren’t or they were just an excerpt of some greater work) when it was over.

I was really excited about reading this book because there was a lot of hubub about Molly Antopol and the timing of this book with everything that is always happening in the middle east/Russia/here, but what’s happening over there now especially. She is also a lot of what I wish I was and have been, which is spooky and also reassuring and also terrifying all at the same time.

But while I’m over here having a literary/lady crush, let’s meet the other readers who were kind enough to review The UnAmericans.


This is Sarah! She is a general surgeon and lives in Alaska, the great wilderness! I read all about her thoughts on doctor-ing on a now private blog I am very lucky to be included on. She is one of those people I never tire of hearing from/reading about/hearing her opinions on a variety of topics. She does a lot of canning, has a dog, and has some pretty fantastic adventures on her bike.


This is Jenny! She is an athletic wonderkid and this  last year ran…. a million color runs. Like Woah. I watched it all via her instagram. She, very honestly, inspires me every day to kick butt and is now training for a half marathon. Jenny lives in Vegas! And writes at A Natural Blonde.

Overall I really loved this collection of short stories, but it may also be because I am a huge reading/writing nerdo, and I am quick to support and cheer on modern, young, women writers – especially those getting a bit of fanfare. Women writers truly do not get enough, so three cheers for Antopol! But now I am excited to hear what others thought!

Sarah: Honestly my first reaction when I realized this was a book of short stories I was a little bummed. I like loonnng books, I like excessive details. I read insanely fast (a holdover from 8 years of school after high school) tend to be disappointed by short stories, always wanting more. I just hoped not to be too let down by the length in general. That being said, I was intrigued by the theme of “UnAmericans” and learning more about a culture that I don’t have that much personal familiarity with.

Jenny: I honestly didn’t know what to expect from The UnAmericans. I hadn’t heard of the book but the reviews on the back cover made it sound interesting and with so many other incredible authors praising the book I knew it would be good. I was excited to read something so different than what I normally reach for. I’ve been stuck in a bit of a rut with trilogies and was happy to see that it was a stand-alone novel. 

Sarah: The book is a collection of stories of Jewish people spanning the years from the 1950s [Lauren edit: I think it is more like the 1930s as there are some references to WWII] to the present. They all have very different life circumstances and the stories do not intersect temporally or story-wise.

Jenny: A collection of short stories that revolve mostly around Jews in World War II Europe, communists and the red scare during the McCarthy era, and Israel.

Sarah: I thought the recurring themes were of loneliness and isolation from others. The characters in each story deal with loneliness (of different types) in different ways, often dictated by their cultural situation. I also felt like there was a nagging sense of sadness pervasive throughout the whole book. Each character has their own struggles, but these aren’t typical here is the struggle and here is the solution stories.

Jenny: Though each story is different and unique each character seems to find their sense of self through loneliness. While I loved all stories besides one, all of them sucked me in and surprised me with the raw emotion the author could capture in such few pages. It is incredible that Molly Antopol accomplishes so much storytelling in 8-12 pages when other authors take an entire novel. The one thing that I was surprised with was that each story involved sex. While it wasn’t distracting to the story I was simply surprised that she used one of the few things that connects us all as humans to get her point across.

Lauren: The loneliness was really interesting, because in certain places it didn’t make me sad, it was just kind of there. Sometimes it was heart breaking, sometimes it was motivational, sometimes just a fact. There seemed to be a lot of searching happening in this book. Maybe as a writer we are all kind of searching searching searching for who we are, what our story is, etc. Maybe part of the Jewish experience is searching searching to reclaim a multitude of cultures and history. It really was a beautiful undercurrent that was not at all overbearing. 

Sarah: I think Molly Antopol is a great story-teller. Despite my preconceived notions of short stories, these stories were able to hold my interest and didn’t leave me with the feeling I sometimes have of ‘wanting more’. Each story was complete, with excellent character development and completeness of story. I also think there was perhaps a bigger goal of exposing readers to a variety of stories outside of the usual romance, drama and mystery. I wouldn’t have picked up a book of Jewish short stories on my own, but the stories were intriguing enough, that despite the narrow focus, the stories conveyed wider messages.

Jenny: I think Molly Antopol succeeded in telling her stories with flying colors. The only thing I really have to complain about is that I wished several of the stories weren’t so short, I ached to know more what happened next with several of the characters. 

Lauren: I really felt like this succeeded on so many levels. First, the stories individually were so good. I only felt once that I wished the story was longer. Second, as a collection I thought they really spoke to each other in a beautiful way. Even though they can stand alone, they were also really wrapped up in each other. I’ll never be able to think of one without thinking of another. I also genuinely liked or at least thoroughly enjoyed watching the characters, which happens so rarely for me. 

Sarah: [In regards to surpises] The last story has some twists I didn’t see coming, but I won’t spoil it for anyone.

Jenny: Nothing about this book really surprised me. Nothing was predictable but each story did have a bit of a twist, which was welcomed. 

Lauren: The Communism!! Maybe we are just extra sheltered from Communism in the US, or maybe modern Communism is just not the pervasive “threat” it was 50 years ago, but I was shocked at how big a part Communism played in the lives of so many of the characters. 

Sarah: I overall enjoyed the book. I’m still not totally sold on the idea of short stories, so I would recommend it to someone who likes that type of writing, but it wasn’t enough to win over someone like me who really prefers a long, involved novel. Anyone with a particular interest in Jewish history, or the cultural narratives of immigrants would definitely enjoy these stories.

Jenny: This book was absolutely wonderful. I cannot recommend it enough. Each story left me a little haunted. Even after I finished reading it I had to stop and think through each of the elements. You feel such sympathy for each and every character. A Difficult Phase and Retrospective were my two favorites. I don’t want to say too much lest I spoil any of the stories. Whether you’re in a bit of a trilogy rut or are interested in historical fiction, this book is so worth buying. It is one I will re-read over and over. 

Lauren: I definitely can see myself coming back to these stories as well. Some of them are the kind of stories I’d want to break out at a cocktail party – as weird as that sounds. Or maybe read out loud to a friend. This is one of those books where sometimes I can’t remember if it was a show or a book because the stories are so vivid in my mind. It was also a really fast read for me, which is a nice break between big novels. 

Has anyone else read this? Thoughts?

The Inevitable Woes

I was supposed to write about writing today – well it was supposed to happen yesterday, but I was tired and… life so anyways – I was supposed to write about my writing season, but instead I’m writing about this.

I feel so dumb even admitting this.

I am really having a hard time turning 30. And I’m not even turning 30 until April!! Which means I’m not even half way through my 29th year! Gah, Dupuis, get a freaking grip.

But there it is. I’m having a hard time with it. I don’t want to get older. I want to stay a young grown up forever. I want to have all the time in the world. I don’t want to admit that some ships have sailed.

I am sprouting greys and I will not be dying them. I just don’t feel like handling that kind of up-keep. So I will go slowly slowly grey and whatever, I don’t care about the color so much but fuck, the texture. All wiry an sticking out in fucked up directions, WHAT IS THAT? WHY? Ugh.

I feel wrinkly and like my skin is dry and papery. This is maybe kind of harsh considering, but I am seeing the beginning signs of aging and it is not all misty reminiscence.

Also it’s my dad’s 59th birthday today. So that adds to this post’s ridiculousness. Because hello…. if anyone is old, it’s probably him (except not, he looks 40 and probably always will). Happy Birthday Dad!

But then there is this other thing where I can’t stop making lists in my head of all the other jobs I could have chosen, and what is wrong with me? Why didn’t I choose THOSE? Why didn’t someone tell me I could have been a voice actor or a zoo keeper or a photographer or a librarian? I mean I almost went to grad school for BOOK PUBLISHING, and we all know how that worked out. Good thing I picked writing instead. HA. HA. HA… hurumph.

Mostly I feel like I am kind of a mild, mediocre, failure at my current situation, my current job trajectory. And yeah, I’m about to start a new decade, and I’m feeling stalled out whereas the grass is always greener on other people’s lawns, that they own, in front of their house and stuff (or at least maybe like a townhome?), and people are movin’ on up while I am sort of crossing my fingers week to week that this place still finds use for me and my job doesn’t become obsolete and/or taken over by robots.

And did you know that I am writing a book? A book that will take me 10349302745834 years to finish. I’ll be dead and the book will still be but a few sad pages on a computer somewhere that no one can even access because tech has moved so far forward they use computers as coasters. I’ve been working on this book for a month now and do you know what my goal is this week? To get to double digit pages. Why is this the sad state of my creative life? Because I wrote a bunch and then I deleted it and started over. Which is a legit creative strategy if you want to get almost nowhere – almost because it’s a better nowhere than the previous version of nowhere 1.0 since the reboot.

You know when I was 23 I told my advisor that I wanted to have my first (my first, as if there would be many many more) book published by the time I was 30. She said, “you totally can. absolutely” and I was genuinely surprised she saw that much possibility in me. Unbeknownst to her I had just sort of pulled that nice round number out of my butt. Far enough away to give me time, but legitimate enough to make it reasonable. I remember exactly where I was when I said it, I remember exactly what I was wearing and the tea I was drinking and the notebook I was writing in as if it had happened last weekend because that is exactly how it feels. And now I am 29. Have been for a minute or two. What of it?

I guess I didn’t also think I’d have a kid or be married or have as many interesting/strange jobs under my belt or have as many interesting/strange adventures. I guess that stuff is what happened. I just didn’t expect the greys or the amount of unrelenting chin hairs, my slowly failing eyes, and my intense longing for a backyard with a kiddy pool and a barbecue to come along with it. Or you know, how nothing professional happened like I thought it would.

Ugh 29. You’re the worst.

An Untamed State: A Review

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I saw Roxane Gay speak at AWP last winter when it was here in Seattle and she was kind of mesmerizing. She wasn’t particularly intimidating, she actually seemed incredibly approachable and one of those people I wanted to hear speak on any topic for any length of time. I think she will also be one of those people on my “Who would you invite to dinner if you could invite any 5 people” lists. Not as a negative – but I feel like she is also probably one of those people who I would never say the right thing around. I have a knack for sticking my foot in my mouth around really smart, well read, strongly opinioned people. Anyways! I really wanted to be Roxane Gay on the list, but I originally wanted to put her latest book, Bad Feminist on. Unfortunately it just recently came out (well … I guess fortunately!! Because now I can read it!), so instead I put her first novel on. And woah. It rocked my socks on a lot of different ways. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay is …. really fucking good, and hard, and intense, and sad, and a massive page-turner.

But before I get fully into that, let me introduce you to our other 2 readers.

Sarah Book Review

This is Sarah! She just recently wrote about home and the ocean while I was on blog-vacation. Another fun fact: She was the first person who told me I was buying clothes that were too big and to stop that right now. (I still have trouble doing that, but that insight changed my clothes buying world for the better!)


Tina (on the right) went to law school with Maris and is also from Seattle though we didn’t meet each other until we were all in grad school. She is probably one of the funniest and most thoughtful people I have ever met. It’s magical how she can be both goofy and deep at the same time. Tina is basically amazing.

Now on to An Untamed State…

Sarah: I’d actually come across the book a few weeks before it was assigned, and decided to add it to my “to read” list. I’d been reading a lot of fluff and YA (not necessarily at the same time) and had been on a kick to find something that would be a less comfortable read. “An Untamed State” had popped up several times tagged “disturbing” along time same lines as Cormac McCarthy’s works, and was widely praised, so I figured it fit the bill. I wanted something that would be a challenge, not just easy reading. When it was assigned I took it as a sign that I’d made a good choice.

Tina: I was pretty apprehensive about reading this book, because I assumed there was going to be a certain amount of heinous violence against women in this book. Spoiler alert: I was right. I find reading about or watching depictions of violence against women particularly difficult, and this was no exception. As such, I knew reading this book would be challenging emotionally.

Lauren: I knew nothing about this book when I picked it and it wasn’t until Margaret mentioned something about it not seeing the world very optimistically… or something like that (Margaret, correct me because I’m totally flubbing your thoughtfulness) that I sort of thought oh shit, what did I get everyone into…

Sarah: Mireille Duval Jameson, an American born daughter of a wealthy Haitian businessman is kidnapped and held for 13 days while on a visit to her parents’ home in Port au Prince. While waiting for her ransom to be paid she has to find a way to endure incredible brutality, and once released, find a way to return, if possible, to the woman, wife, and mother she was “in the before”.

Tina: A well-off Haitian woman in kidnapped for ransom while she is visiting her parents. The ransom negotiations don’t go well, and her kidnappers take out their frustrations against her father (who they called for the ransom) on her. She is utterly helpless in this situation, and has to find a way to endure until she can be freed. Afterwards, she has to deal with putting herself back together.

Sarah: So many of the reviews say this is a book about hope, but I absolutely disagree. It would be really easy to peg it as a book about resilience, overcoming, and strength, but I think the main theme was actually much darker. Cruelty, in all its forms, and how much damage it can do. While the first half of the book focuses on the sheer brutality of her kidnappers, the smaller, every day cruelties of her family, friends, husband, and self do just as much damage. Interspersed in the fantastical story of torture and its aftermath, I think it was these small cruelties that Gay really intended us to pay attention to. Reading through I was shocked to see how many of them really bothered me – because they were familiar. So yes, cruelty and damage.

There were aspects of the story that bothered me, for sure – specifically the actions of her husband, throughout. He’s not portrayed as a bad guy, but there were so, so many times I wanted to shake and smack some sense into him. I do think it was important to show that even our favorite people are flawed, but there were times where it really felt exaggerated to me.

The dynamics of her relationship with her in-laws and her sister really sucked me in. The nuances were so well thought out that while these supporting characters weren’t nearly as fleshed out as she was, the relationships felt real, full and complex.

Tina: There were several recurring themes in this book. First, is the idea of privilege. There seem to be two types of privilege: wealth, and the privilege to be free from fear. Mireille’s parents immigrated to the United States and made their living there, until they moved back to a gated mansion in Port-au-Prince. Her father owns a construction company and is very well-off, especially compared to the majority of the country. This dichotomy between rich and poor, and the extent to which Mireille had taken her lifestyle for granted, come to a head when she experiences firsthand what poverty can make people do. The kidnappers seemed to be taking out their rage at the unfairness of the system directly onto Mireille’s body, and she has no choice but to come to terms with how privileged she used to be.

Second, Mireille’s fearlessness is taken from her by the experience. Her husband had always respected her and she wasn’t afraid of men in a general sense, but her kidnapping takes this away from her. Afterwards, she is afraid of all men, and constantly imagines the worst thing a man can do to her. For example, when she is back in the US, during an encounter with a police officer, she imagines the ways in which he could hurt her. She will never fully trust men again. I think this is something that happens to many women who are victims of sexual violence.

Third, the title of the book seems to be another theme. At first, I thought “An Untamed State” was referencing the country of Haiti itself. But as Mireille stays longer and longer with her kidnappers, she becomes like a feral animal in order to cope with what is happening to her. She forces herself to dissociate from who she used to be, telling herself “I was no one.” After she is freed, she is still more animal than human, hiding under beds and constantly feeling like there was a leash around her neck. It seemed like she became an allegory for the underbelly of Haiti—the kidnappers, who had been dehumanized by generations of inequality, then take out their frustrations on a rich lady who represents everything they despise, and she becomes dehumanized by their treatment.

Lastly, violence against women is a clear theme throughout the book. There is the obvious and horrific violence that Mireille experiences at the hands of her kidnappers, but afterwards, she has extreme PTSD and is afraid of all men. There is a really harrowing scene when she has to go through security at the airport to return to the US, and the equivalent of a TSA officer leers at her and has to pat her down. Her husband also pressures her into going to the hospital, and a male doctor tries to examine her. These would be uncomfortable experiences, even for a woman who hasn’t been brutally raped for two weeks. It was surprising how little empathy even her husband could have, because he didn’t really understand how much she had experienced. It was very strange to me that the husband didn’t insist on a female TSA agent or female doctor for his wife. I don’t know if this is supposed to be a subtle message about the patriarchy, or how men don’t really understand how women can be afraid of men, not just her attackers.

Lauren: I really thought the heart of this book came down to choices. The choices we make have ripple effects. But it isn’t just action/consequences. It’s about the power to withhold, the choices we make in the face of powerlessness, the feeling of having no choice (when maybe that is actually a false feeling), and on and on. When faced with the worst thing imaginable, what do you do? What about the second worst thing? Who will we be when something terrible happens or when we are called upon to act?

Sarah: At the end of the book, I think the holes in the story were intentional, and necessary. As so much has taught us over the years, you don’t need to see everything to really know what’s happening and there is such a thing as too much detail. I think Gay rode that line extremely well – both in her descriptions of the brutality, and when it came to possible healing.

Nothing felt like it was missing. I wasn’t really wondering anything at the end, but it didn’t feel neatly wrapped up, either. I could fully imagine the characters continuing on without the readers to witness.

Tina: The author very successfully told the story of a woman who endured horrific violence and how she eventually found her way back to being almost whole. I read this book all in one sitting because I could NOT put it down—mostly it was so harrowing, I had to finish and find some sort of conclusion to all the violence and pain. After I finished, it really affected me—my hand was shaking, and I had to watch some random sitcom to decompress from the book. There weren’t any holes in the story, because it was fully from Mireille’s point of view. I was left wondering what happened to the kidnappers, but it felt okay that it wasn’t 100% explained. There was no police report or court case, because that’s not the kind of country that Haiti is. It would have been too neat for Mireille to find out what happens to her kidnappers, because in real life that wouldn’t have happened. I was okay with not knowing everything. It was enough that I could imagine horrible things happening to them because of karma.

Lauren: I had a few issues, but I have to say that overall the realness of the characters in this book was striking. These were complex people who I would not be surprised to see walking down the street. It was such a well thought out scenario and plot, there is an entire world here beyond just this one section in these people’s lives. Roxane Gay has a shit ton of talent. It blows me away. That being said my issue, again, has to do with her son. A baby. It drives me crazy when there are babies in books/movies/sitcoms that are not actually part of life. And I guess this might be because if you actually had to deal with real needs of a child, half the book would be taken up with reading the same children’s book 15 times and changing diapers. But it does get really frustrating for me when the real needs of a small human are kind of brushed aside or handed off. It really distracts me.

My other issue: I felt like what happens after the kidnapping dragged. I really appreciated seeing what happens to someone after going through a terrible experience and it wasn’t simply wrapped up after 13 days yay everyone gets to go home and go back to normal, hoorah! But, it sort of felt like Roxane got caught up in the action and like a runaway train couldn’t reel it in at times. There were places where I would have been with a few lines of summary and not having to go through the paces. I started to feel exasperated by Mireille at certain places and it took me out of the story.

Sarah: The focus on small cruelties really surprised me. I expected a fairly cut and dry book about the kidnapping and her life after, but what I got was much more complex and much more personal. This, though made for an extremely layered and engrossing story.

Also, the last chapter surprised me. It was information that seemed out of place and unnecessary – the chapter before felt much more like closure for me. While I understand why Gay wanted to include this chapter, I can’t help thinking it was out of place – it fully felt like it had been intended to be included earlier in the story, but was tacked on at the end.

Tina: Even though I knew bad things would happen to Mireille, I was still kind of shocked that she was raped. For some reason, I thought that her kidnappers wouldn’t rape her to get the ransom money. But really, there are certain kinds of men who will combine rape with all sorts of heinous crimes, and there doesn’t seem to be a moral code against rape in Haiti—especially the “untamed” Haiti that Mireille experiences. The sheer level of horror that she endures really surprised me, and my reaction to the story also surprised me. I don’t usually cry at books, but I cried, and I felt something like sympathy pains in my uterus for what she was going through (kind of like how if you watch someone’s hand get cut off your hand starts hurting/tingling too?).

Sarah: This was a really difficult book to read. When I first started I spent a couple weeks reading a couple chapters here and there, taking breaks when it got too uncomfortable, or too confusing. I realized a few days ago that it was so confusing and uncomfortable because I kept stopping. So I started over, and read the entire thing straight through. Doing that I could see that the writing patterns that were bothering me (in the early chapters Gay continually flashes back to Mirielle’s earlier life, with no warning or apparent context; and often relies on the “I didn’t know how bad it would get” trope – which got old quickly) were intentional – when read in larger sequences they built the tension and really helped me to get into Mirielle’s mindset. The different locations, thoughts and characters really built together, even when they didn’t appear to, until my emotions reading began to mimic those in the story itself.

Based on the sheer brutality of the story itself, it would be hard to say I enjoyed it. But I’m not sure there are many people that could. And I’m not sure Gay means us to. It is a masterful piece of writing, and a very, very important story – but no, not enjoyable. I was emotionally exhausted when I finally finished the book, and I didn’t sleep well after it. But it also made me think. And one of my main criteria for art is that it make me think. Extremely well done. I would absolutely read other writings by Gay (she apparently has a book of essays (Bad Feminist, available August 5th) coming out soon – I will definitely be picking it up.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who has the same critieria for art that I do – for those willing to look in the face of uncomfortable themes and really explore them. At the same time, I’d recommend it be read with copious amounts of wine. With as brutal as the book is, start to finish, some extra fortitude can come in handy.

But if you look to books for an escape? Probably not the best story for you.

Tina: Despite the really terrible things that happened in the book, I really did enjoy it. The story is really well-written, and the dichotomy between Mireille’s old life and her new post-kidnapping life was jarring and helped up the anxiety level of the reading experience. Even though the overall themes of the book were so dark, I felt really hopeful after reading it. The fact that Mireille was able to function at all after what she went through was remarkable. If this had happened to me, I would have become a drug addict in a psychiatric home or something. But she pulled herself together and managed to live an okay life. She was never going to be 100%, but the fact that she got even halfway there was amazing. It goes to the incredible enduring power of the human spirit.

Lauren: I really loved this book. It is a story I will be thinking about for years and years to come. It was just so well done. It could have come out campy or cliche or “seen it!” but it didn’t. I felt like it takes on a specific experience that as a white American I will most likely never experience. It made me feel like I understand parts of humanity better now. The bad parts, the desperate parts, the victim parts and the resilient parts. Humans are complex, our situation on this planet is complex, this story shaves off just a small chunk of all of that, but I would have never experienced it otherwise.