Valentine’s Day

My ex-husband and I never made a big deal about Valentine’s Day. I won’t be missing flowers, chocolates, or a fancy dinner out. But it will be the first time in 30 years that I have a Valentine’s Day without a partner, and that feels harder than I expected. I’m reminding myself of some important things.

First, this isn’t really my first Valentine’s Day “alone.” Last February 14, he still lived here, but in the important ways, our marriage was over and he was already gone. Sleepwalking through life in the fog of depression, I just couldn’t see it clearly. I felt lonelier then, physically together but emotionally distant, than I do now.

Second, my life is full of love. Far more than I realized a year ago. Let me count the ways:

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Long Bright River, by Liz Moore

A few years ago I read a New York Times Magazine story about the Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington, home to the “largest open-air heroin market on the East Coast,” which has stayed with me ever since. Jennifer Percy’s story describes an encampment of homeless drug users in an abandoned railroad ravine, and it seems to be in that same ravine that Liz Moore’s novel Long Bright River opens. Two cops respond to reports of a body in the ravine, something all too familiar in their work, where they are always finding people who have overdosed–some can be brought back from the dead by Narcan; for others, it’s too late.

One of those cops is our narrator Michaela (Mickey) Fitzpatrick, who grew up in the neighborhood. Every time she is confronted with the body of a young woman, she fears it will be her sister Kacey, an addict she has found “dead” more than once already, and who is now missing. The woman isn’t Kasey, and she doesn’t seem to have died of an overdose, either.

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sunrise view from my yoga mat through a small diamond shaped window

I promise I’m not going to turn this into My Divorce Blog or My Depression Recovery Blog, but those things are continuing to influence my reading.

These days, I’m pondering what I want my new life be like. My nest will soon be emptier than I ever expected. What do I want to put into the spaces that are open in my life with no children at home, and now, no husband? What am I learning about what caused my long spell of depression, and how it–and I–contributed to the end of my marriage? And how do I want to change in response to what I’m learning?

latte in a blue and green patterned cup and saucer

It’s too soon to have an answer to those big questions, though I’m working on it.

I’m starting with smaller question about what I want and what makes me happy. Like “Would I like doing yoga every morning?” (yes! that’s a sunrise view from my mat above) and “What pretty cup should I choose for my coffee today?”

Recently I listened to two very different books in which the authors explored creative ways of re-fashioning themselves, and which gave me hope and inspiration for my own refashioning.

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Reading in a Terrible Year

I wrote this on New Year’s Day to get it out of my head, and then sat on it for a while, unsure if I wanted to publish it. I couldn’t found a way to talk about my reading year without talking about what’s been going on in my life, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. But I’m practicing being open and vulnerable and hardly anyone reads this blog, so here goes.

I’ve struggled with depression my whole life, and this was the fifth? sixth? year of a depressive episode I had made sporadic attempts to get help with but couldn’t seem to shake. Then, in the fall, my husband moved out. It takes two to get a marriage in trouble. I knew mine was, and that my depression was a major contributor. But I’d had no idea he was at the point of ending it.

I’m grieving. But I also have anti-depressants that are working, a good therapist, and friends and family who love and support me. I’ve grown closer to many of them this year, something I wanted but couldn’t initiate in my depression. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by sadness, but sometimes I feel happier than I have in a long time. I’ll be OK. I’m OK now. No need to comment on this, really–just talk to me about books!

What did I read through these enormous changes and a pandemic?

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The Worst Best Man, by Mia Sosa

Writing up my February TBR Challenge review, I lamented that my romance TBR, mostly acquired a few years ago, is so white. Recently I’ve been trying a few recent, more diverse choices from the library to see if that might reignite my enjoyment romance reading.

It’s been a mixed bag, and that’s mostly about me and where I am personally rather than about the books. When I think about it, I struggle to be fully immersed or emotionally engaged in any book I read these days. And for romance, that might matter more to me than with other genres. When I first started romance reading, it felt transgressive (yes, I saw it as a guilty pleasure) and so much fun. I was hooked on the feelings. (Sorry). I don’t mean to suggest that genre romance offers no intellectual pleasures, but when I can’t get swept away by the story, I don’t find the reading very rewarding. All this is by way of context for my thoughts about Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man. I did enjoy it. But maybe I tend to nit-pick more, or just have more questions that aren’t fair to load onto a single book, if I’m not in the right place to just say “Book, take me away!” These are thoughts I dashed off while my students were writing an in-class essay, so they aren’t fully formed.

Worst Best Man made me think about how reading a romance generally requires readers to extend some generosity to the book right at the start. The meet-cute and set-up are often exaggerated or implausible scenarios. There is something larger than life about these books, even when the setting is realistic and contemporary. Are you, the reader, willing to go with it to get the emotional payoff later? As I write this, I’m wondering about how much of our willingness to buy in comes from the writer’s skill, and how much from the reader’s mindset? I think it’s some of both. There needs to be reader-book chemistry—in a sense, every time we read we’re having a blind date with a book. Will we click? Why is it that some romances have me rolling my eyes, and others have me eagerly strapping in for the ride? I’m not sure I can say.

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