Summer Reading: Reflections on Reading Lists, Self-Splitting, and Intellectual Landscapes

Okay, so I’m feeling real behind on my summer reading challenge. So far, I’m about 9/10 of the way through My 1980s and halfway through After-Cave. I checked out Natalie Diaz’s book from the library, bought Citizen: An American Lyric from The Book Corner, and currently have Nests and Strangers and not so, sea sitting in my Small Press Distribution cart.

It doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading though. If I’m honest, this is more like what my reading has looked like the past month:

reading diagram cropped

My 1980s is denser than I expected. What pleasantly surprised me is its lack of nostalgia (so far), its insistence on praise and looking at a work on its own terms, and Koestenberg’s hyper-attention to detail. It’s so like my own, but he’s able to zoom back out and talk about what the tiniest of details contributes to in the grander scheme of things.

What nags at me:

1. its attention to primarily white artists (with the exception of Roberto Bolano). (Does any one know how to put a tilda over the n here? I don’t know how to do it. How embarrassing.)

2. How “high” culture some of the subjects seem. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m not familiar with a lot of classical music (despite how much I listened to Beethoven and Bach and others during childhood road trips) or visual artists as much, but much of the discussion seems firmly rooted in privileged perspectives.

3. Much of this feels very removed from the world I inhabit as a woman of color and someone who grew up in a rural area, which leads me to ask the question: what would my 1980s/1990s/2000s look like?

So while I have some qualms and disconnects with the book, I’m still enjoying it, and it’s making me think very seriously about my own intellectual autobiography and what’s shaped my view of the world. My 1980s has also exploded my notions of the purpose of essays, how they can be structured and how they can be written.

(Who else has done that for me? Jordan Karnes, It Hasn’t Stopped Being California Here. Roxane Gay. Dear Sugar. Chuck Klosterman, once upon a time. Maybe still. I don’t know.)

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I have such a hard time with linear thought.

Now that I draw out my reading map over the past month, I can finally see what’s happening. It’s what I’ve suspected for awhile — it feels like a splitting of selves. I have my writer self, and I have my professional self. I’ve been neglecting my writer self, almost by necessity, to help my professional self survive. Some days I wonder if I’m still a writer, and now it’s clear to me that my splitting of selves has made me antsy. Not being able to write makes me anxious. It keeps me up at night. I’m still a writer.

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So The Islanders. In thinking about my intellectual autobiography and what has shaped my worldview, my view of right & wrong, of relationships, I remembered this series I adored in my teen years called Girlfriends. It centered around this group of 18-22 year-olds, friends who were out of high school. Some in college, some bartending. One was in a rock band, I think. They were figuring out life, love, relationships. Of course. There were some tame love scenes, maybe some drug use. My dad read one and forbade me to read any more of them. I continued to secretly check them out from the library and read them, though.

I loved them because they were gritty and real. Because they were maybe the first books I had read where not everyone went to college after high school, and it wasn’t a disaster. Because there was sex and some of it was casual, and it wasn’t a big deal. Everyone was doing what they thought was best for them, and sometimes they wouldn’t make the “right” decision, but it wasn’t scandalous and no one was ostracized for their actions. They were just alive and no one was making them feel like the world was ending because they made decisions.

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So. I was trying to find Girlfriends (still haven’t found them) and came across the Making Out series, which I also adored. They’ve been re-packaged and re-released as The Islanders series. I immediately checked them out from the library and inhaled the first two volumes. I’d forgotten how funny they were, and how each character had distinctly “unlikeable” characteristics. Zoey dated two dudes at the same time and was led by her emotions. Jake was a nice guy but a little lecherous, a little too black-and-white, you’re either good-or-bad, right-or-wrong. Claire is “aloof,” “mysterious,” self-serving. Nina (my fave) uses humor and rebellion as a defense mechanism against sincerity. Aisha relies on logic, even in matters of love. Lucas draws a little too heavily on his experiences in teen prison.

And still, I love them all. Because they aren’t representations of those traits. They’re written as very real people. They’re all complex teenage human beings, motivated by complex feelings and emotions, making decisions with complex consequences.

One of the characters struggles with her experiences of being molested at age 11. I don’t remember reading anything else at that time in my life that treated/described that experience with an acknowledgement of its messiness and complexity. And then race! It acknowledges race and racism with conversations between Black and white characters that make a mindful effort to have real dialogue about race. That shit is complicated. There is, obviously, no one convo that can fix everything, but these books model ways in which those conversations can begin.

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A writer friend recently told me something that amounted to this: You are a writer. Despite your output, despite your writing speed, you are a writer. Give yourself the time and the space and the patience to nurture whatever it is inside you that wants to bloom. There is nothing wrong with being a slow writer, or a writer that needs time.

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I’m going to be kind to myself. Instead of making myself feel bad or failed for not being where I want to be on my reading list, I’m going to acknowledge that July has been jam-packed and busy for me. I frame my reading list as intentional reading, and the other things I read alongside it are dots to connect back to them. They cannot be siloed or split. Because the words are being housed in me, these very different reading choices are inherently connected. They do not serve different aspects of myself. They serve my whole self. Conflict resolution and poetry. My 1980s and the YA fiction of my adolescence. They are connected. I am the connector.

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Don’t even ask about Kissed by a Rancher. Terrible.

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2015 Summer Reading Challenge

So, yes. I’m reviving this. It seems easier to revive a blog with something structured, such as Oliver de la Paz’s summer reading challenge. You can find the rules by following the link to his blog, but the gist of it is: choose 15 books you want to read by the end of August. 3 of those books must be inspired by other participants’ lists. There are some other rules too, which you can read on OdlP’s blog.

So, here’s my list.

1. Kindred — Octavia Butler
2. My 1980s and other essays — Wayne Koestenbaum
3. Talking to Girls About Duran Duran — Rob Sheffield
4. Decision Assessment and Counseling in Abortion Care: Philosophy and Practice — Alissa Perrucci
5. not so, sea Mg Roberts
6. After-Cave — Michelle Detori
7. Citizen: An American Lyric — Claudia Rankine
8. Oracle — Cate Marvin
9. Mad Honey Symposium — Sally Wen Mao
10. Post Subject: A Fable — Oliver de la Paz
11. Nests and Strangers: On Asian American Women Poets — ed. Timothy Yu
12. Against Interpretation — Susan Sontag
13. The Dead Wrestler Elegies — W. Todd Kaneko
14. When My Brother Was An Aztec – Natalie Diaz
15. Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows — Eugenia Leigh

Bonus (and  by “bonus,” I mean “books I would like to get to this summer, but I may not be able to, but if I am able to get to them, then it will be a super sweet bonus”):

The Radical Doula Guide: A Political Primer for Full Spectrum Pregnancy and Childbirth Support — Miriam Zoila Perez
Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty — Dorothy Roberts

P.S. I know, decision assessment and abortion care counseling doesn’t sound like the most riveting summer reading a girl could do, but it is for this gal. I believe it’s a revolution. I can’t wait to get to it and respond to it. I feel equally the same about all the other books on my list.

Let the summer reading commence!

 

Why I love Backline and why you should too

Today, the basics. Next post, more.

What is Backline? I’m glad you ask. Backline is a non-profit organization that promotes non-judgmental, unbiased and unconditional support for people in all their decisions, feelings and experiences with pregnancy, parenting, abortion, adoption, infertility and pregnancy loss.

What does that mean? If you’re a person who has had or are having any kind of experience with pregnancy in any way, shape, or form, and you have thoughts or feelings to process, we’re here for you. If you just found out you’re pregnant and you’re freaking out, we’re here to listen. If you had an abortion three years ago and you aren’t “over it” yet, we’re here for you to talk it out. If you’re trying to decide what your options are in your pregnancy, we can do options counseling with you. If you need to talk or process anything, we’re here for you. We’re also here for you if you just need info on finding ways to pay for your abortion. If you need some parenting resources, we can help with that, too. Backline is there to provide whatever support you need at the moment.

Do you provide support around issues of infertility and/or pregnancy loss? Absolutely! If it has anything to do with pregnancy, we’re here to help.

How can I get help from you? We have a toll-free number you can call (1-888-493-0092). You’ll reach one of our totally awesome peer counselor/advocates who have been extensively trained in non-directive client-centered counseling and values clarification, and they can have any conversation that you need to have in the moment that you’re calling. If no one answers, leave a message! We  make multiple attempts to return calls.

What’s the catch? Are you a Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC)? No! We are NOT a CPC and there are NO strings attached to the help that we offer. We want to hold a space that supports people in all their decisions and feelings as they weigh their options and make the decisions that are right for them. These moments in our lives are difficult enough without having to worry about judgment or fulfilling extra obligations so we can get the support we need.

This sounds great! Is there a physical location I can visit to get help in person from Backline?  Great question. Unfortunately, Backline doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location from which we can offer our services. But you can help change that! We are currently raising money to open the very first of its kind All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center! This center will be located in Bloomington, Indiana, a little island of blue in a sea of red.

First of its kind? Something like this doesn’t exist already? No! Isn’t it crazy?

What does “All-Options” mean? It means if you need free diapers and baby clothes, you’d be able to get some from us. If you want in-person peer counseling, you’d be able to get that from us. If you need an abortion referral, you could get that from us. Need info on quality adoption agencies? You’d be able to get that from us too! “All-options” means that we are here to help you consider whatever options you feel are viable for you — parenting, abortion and adoption. We don’t specialize in one option — we’re ready to talk about all of them. 

Why Indiana? Unbiased, non-judgmental resources for pregnant people in Indiana (and across the nation) are shrinking. Bloomington is a central location in the state and we believe Bloomington has the community support to keep an all-options resource center alive once we get it going. Bloomington is a great little town. And, as Program Director Shelly Dodson says, “If it can work in Indiana, it can work anywhere.” Backline hopes that this All-Options Center will serve as a model for future AOPRCs all over the country.

I don’t live in Indiana. Why should I give you money for the All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center? Because, believe it or not, All-Options Pregnancy Resource Centers do not exist already. Yes, it’s a great idea, and I know you want to start one in your community because it seems like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, and funding for something like this is difficult to come by. Some places don’t want to give money to an organization that allows abortion to be part of the conversation. Some places only want to give money to an organization for whom abortion is the only option.

Why should you donate your money? Because you care. Because you (or your sister or your best friend or your daughter or your mother or…the list goes on) might need something like this someday. Because you (or they) needed something like this yesterday, last week, last month, ten years ago. Because you want to change the conversation around pregnancy/abortion/adoption from being simply about pro-choice/pro-life to being about offering unconditional support to a person regardless of the choices they make or will make.

If that doesn’t convince you, think about a time where you’ve found yourself in circumstances where you felt like you had no one to talk to, where you felt like you’d be judged if you told anyone what you were thinking or feeling. Could be pregnancy, could be abortion, could be anything else you can think of.

Imagine telling someone in your life about what you’re going through and finding judgment and shame there. Our lives and our situations are messy and complicated and we all want someone to just listen to us, to hear what we’re saying and treat us with dignity and respect. I truly believe that Backline and its All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center are taking the first steps toward creating a world where this is the norm, not the exception.

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Want to read some articles about Backline? Sweet!

Our ‘Pro-Choice’ and ‘Pro-Life’ Labels Aren’t Working. Can We Move Beyond Them? (Think Progress)
Group Plans to Open First-of-its-Kind All-Options Pregnancy Center (RH Reality Check)

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Where can I donate?

All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center – Backline’s Crowdrise Funding Campaign

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In my next post, I’m going to talk even more about why I love and believe in this work and in Backline. Stay tuned.

I’ve got to get better at this.

Big sigh, imaginary readers. I feel like I’m always confessing things at the beginning of these posts, or writing a disclaimer that says something like, “I actually started writing this several months ago and forgot about it, but here it is now, oops!”

So here it is. I’ve been on a some kind of hiatus. I don’t know what kind of hiatus. It wasn’t one to rejuvenate, and it wasn’t one to get my shit together and come back in full force. It was just a hiatus where I couldn’t bear to look at a blank page and a blinking cursor. There were (and are) things I wanted to write about but I didn’t know how and I still don’t.

Since my last post about the YA love of my life, Mortal Instruments, my life has become much more complicated. I hope to be able to write about it here and elsewhere one day. Right now, I can’t. Because everything I’m feeling surrounding this event is still so fresh and new, I have no idea how to express it precisely — and precision is important. Especially when it comes to pain and feelings and emotions (I’ve just discovered feelings and emotions are two separate things). And anonymity for the people involved in this is important for reasons of safety and privacy. (Don’t worry — nobody’s dying.) And, simply, I’m not ready to announce this to the world. I realize this is pretty vague. You’re just going to have to live with it.

I feel like every blog has a thing, and I don’t know what my thing is. That’s not true. I do know what my thing is. My thing is wandering. My thing is the journey. It’s figuring out who I am and who I want to be, and it feels like those journeys should be written about. It’s easier to write about it in hindsight rather than in real time, and I want to challenge myself to write about things in real time. There’s no timeline to the journey, no set point where I’ll get to say, “Okay, that’s done. Now I can write about all this in hindsight.”

I do know that one day, my brother and I will co-write a book about our lives. At the very least, an essay. It will be funny. It will be heartbroken. It will be heartbreaking. It will be dark. It will be light. It will be full of love. We just have to make it to a moment where we’re ready to write it.

So here I am, trying to process in real time.

*******

Since my last post, I’ve had 40+ hours of training in non-directive client-centered counseling and intensive values clarification. I’m a peer counselor. I listen to people talk about their lives, about the decisions they have to make. Sometimes they don’t want to make decisions, but they have to. Sometimes they’re forced to make decisions they don’t want to. Every time, their feelings are messy and complicated and contradictory (seemingly). My job is to listen. To make sure that each person knows that they’re not alone, that I am hearing them, that everything they feel and think is valid. That it’s okay to cry. That’s it okay to feel two, seemingly opposed, things at the same time.

It’s heavy work. At the end of a shift, my body feels exhausted. I struggle to keep my eyes open. My arms feel as if they’ve been holding heavy things for hours. All I want is to sleep. But I love this work.

This work has taught me to recognize my own shit and get over myself. When I sit with someone and listen, I have to be fully present. (They can tell if you aren’t.) I can’t be worried about what I’m going to say next. I can’t be preoccupied with trying to figure out how many different ways I can say “Tell me more” or “That’s hard,” so I don’t sound like a robot to myself. I have to sit and listen to the person who is speaking, be attentive and hear what they’re saying. I can’t have a wall of irony or pretension or self-preservation up. The person who is speaking to me is trusting me with all the things she feels she can’t talk to anybody else in her life about; there’s no place for irony, pretentiousness, criticism in that space. There’s only room for compassion, empathy, active listening. If I’m really listening to her, the next thing that comes out of my mouth will be the “right” thing because it won’t be about me. It will be completely and unequivocally about her (or him).

What this training and this process has also taught me is to trust my voice and my story. Every person I listen to has a story, and every person’s story is important. There is no throwaway story. There is no person I speak to where I think, “You don’t have it that bad.” After every person, I always think, “Fuck. That’s hard. I hope she’ll be okay in whatever happens.”

By holding that space for others, I learn that it’s important to hold that space for myself. To allow myself to contend fully with moments in my life whose importance I’ve minimized. That time I was groped on the playground in first grade? That’s huge. That time I was stalked by a strange man my entire vacation? Fucking important. And so on.

So now I’m writing again.

I can’t put down Mortal Instruments.

SPOILERS!

(Note: The first half of this post was written in October. Oops.)

I know, I know. Groan it up. Get disappointed in me. I don’t care. I love Mortal Instruments. I felt iffy about it in the opening chapter of City of Bones, but decided to forge on. After the second chapter, I couldn’t put it down. I read City of Bones in a week. I blew through City of Ashes over the weekend. My gem of a boyfriend picked up City of Glass and City of Fallen Angels from the library for me last week. And I’m almost through with City of Fallen Angels; I’m trying to plow through these books, joyfully and reluctantly — I love these books, but I also want my life back.

I’m sure there are plenty of things wrong with Mortal Instruments, and I’m currently blind to every single one of them. I love Clary and her lack of hesitation; she knows what she wants and heads straight for it, vampire hotels be damned. Jace is a treat: a perfect storm of looks, ego and a tortured soul. Isabelle is a strong woman with a whip and a solid sense of her sexuality. Simon is a decent best friend/boy next door, though he can get a little protective of Clary and it’s annoying. (“Let her live her life, man! Come on, Simon, quit being a dummy — this is none of your damn business!” – me) Alec is another decent best friend/brother to Jace — perhaps he’s Jace’s Simon.  There are elements that come out of nowhere that change the entire plot at crucial moments, and for some reason, I don’t mind.  

***

What’s strangely intriguing to me is the possibility that Clary and Jace are related, and their inability to squash their passion for each other, despite the possible incest. I think Mitchelll Hurwitz, creator of Arrested Development, once said something like, who doesn’t love a little incest? He was, of course, referencing the relationship between George Michael and Maeby on Arrested Development. And despite the fact that incest is one of the many running gags on AD, it breaks my heart a little that George Michael and Maeby will never be able to love each other the way they want to. In the Goodreads reviews of these books, there seems to be a lot of hissing and spitting directed at Cassandra Clare specifically because of this (possibly!) incestuous plot twist.

But I mean… can you even imagine that? If you were Clary or Jace, that would be the biggest bummer in the world, wouldn’t it? You think you find someone you’re completely in love with, and it turns out you may be long-lost siblings? How are you supposed to stop the flood of teenage hormones and feelings? That kind of doom is almost Shakespearean.

***

I’m trying to reflect on what is so damn addictive and exciting to me about Mortal Instruments. There is something familiar in the writing, the way that each character is fleshed out (even minor ones), and the care that Cassandra Clare takes to craft electric moments between Clary and Jace.

And then I discovered that Cassandra Clare started out writing fan fiction.    

Okay, I have to confess. I started out writing fan fiction too. It’s embarrassing for me to admit because the subjects weren’t even wonderful, fictional people you’d want to spend time with, like Ron and Hermione, or Sonic the Hedgehog, or whatever people write about these days . I wrote…(gulp)…’NSync fan fiction. Yes. Yes, I did.

It starred my best friend (at the time) and me, and we were BFFs with ‘NSync. But when you’re writing yourself into this world where anything can happen — I could write a version of myself that was outgoing, loud, had a driver’s license, could stay out past midnight, simultaneously study medicine at “Berkeley” and be a cast member on MAD tv — you write your ideal self, and you write the ideal of all those people you wish you knew. And because all these people are real to you and you want to know all of them, you flesh each one out with a distinct personality and history, no matter how minor they are. You write those moments you wish you could have with JC (or whoever), and you write them for yourself, and no one else.

I think that’s why Mortal Instruments feels so satisfying and rounded to me. Because it’s written like fan fiction, with a distinct sense of who each character is and with the strongest love for them. Some people write their characters as experiments in human nature, to answer the question, “What if?” and our job as readers is to empathize with them, but not necessarily love them. To me, fan fiction writes each character with care and with love as if they were real people. 

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Oh, and re: the excitement of incest. Because of my love for Clary and Jace, and because it broke my heart that George Michael and Maeby could never be together, I worried for a little while that there was something profoundly crazy in me that attracted me to incestuous relationships.

And then I watched the Korean film Oldboy. I am happy to say that there was far too much incest for my liking there, and that I am comfortable with a dash of it. I also read an essay in Shadowhunters and Downworlders: A Mortal Instruments Reader that speaks directly to the “excitement” of incest and why it’s not totally gross for Clary and Jace to be into each other even after they’ve found out that they might be brother and sister. 

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So anyway. I’m about to start Book 2 of Infernal Devices. I’m not as enchanted with these characters, but there’s something about it that feels more complex. I’m not ready to write about it yet, but I will eventually.

And with that, I send this blog entry out into the interwebz. Finally.

Scenic views and bravery

About a week ago, I finished Kate Zambreno’s Heroines, and I’m so full. This book is a gamechanger for me. When I finished, I didn’t know what to do — write? Write about the book? Talk about it? Blog? Sit in a coffee shop and marinate/meditate on Heroines?

Instead, I marked Heroines as “read” on my Goodreads profile and gave it 5 stars. And then I made the mistake (it’s ALWAYS a bad idea, ALWAYS) of scanning the reviews. There were many good ones, and there were those who completely missed the point of the book. Many of them focused, as a point of ire, on Zambreno’s dislike of the Midwest, which isn’t even close to the point of the entire book. If you’re going to single out that aspect of the book, at least get it right and/or thoughtfully engage with it. And anyway, her descriptions of the Midwest are her experience. Of isolation, alienation, in a place that’s supposed to be the heart of the U.S. A place where people are, allegedly, friendly and open and welcoming. And her experience doesn’t reflect any of that. So deal with it.

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I currently live in the Midwest, and I identify with Zambreno’s experience of the Midwest closely. I live in a great town full of good food and festivals and hippie stores and co-ops and farmer’s markets. And I’m trying to love this landscape as much as I love the place I grew up in, but even on my best days, this place feels isolating, toxic, barren.

My beau and I used to go for walks on a thing called the B-Line Trail, only to find that the entire trail is saturated with arsenic, far past any legal limit. They say it’s okay though, because no one will have to “touch the ground.” We go hiking at Brown County State Park and McCormick’s Creek, and the trails take you through forests that feel magical, but the scenic views are rarely vista-worthy. Sometimes they look out into the tops of trees. Not even over the trees, but into them. Some viewpoints are viewpoints only at certain times of the year.

Where I’m from, a viewpoint lets you gaze over a valley in every direction. One of my favorite vistas is the top of Winnemucca Mountain. In one direction, you see how small my hometown is. Behind you, a bed of sand dunes stretches out, like wrinkled, shifting sheets. To one side, patchworked farmland. To the other, the road west and the sparkling threads of the Humboldt River. That’s a fucking view.

Not only is it a fucking view, it’s a chance to, literally, rise above everything. Your shitty little town, every component that makes up your tiny life — everything that feels huge down there is nothing up here. You get perspective. If there’s a place in Indiana that gives me the same thing, I have yet to find it.

***

So all this is to say that the Midwest lament is not the fucking point of Heroines. Not to me. The point is feeling claustrophobic. About getting emotional and feeling guilty or bad or unprofessional about getting emotional. About witnessing the lives of women whose voices were snuffed out. That we, as women who write, are living the legacy of these women. We’ve internalized these pathologies, these diagnoses of insanity, of unevenness. The fear that I’m almost 30 and I haven’t figured out how to write or what to write or is what I’m writing good enough or I’m writing about my ex-boyfriends from my late teens/early twenties, whatiswrongwithme.

***

Nothing is wrong with me. I’m writing about how I lost myself. I’m writing to my broken-hearted, self-destructive self. I’m trying to take her back. To love her and tell her it’s okay that she (is so) fucked up. That she needs time to think things over, get her shit together.

I’ve been working toward an acceptance of my voice, form, subject. I’ve been telling myself that, no, what I’m writing and how I’m writing isn’t academic, isn’t like the writing I love or don’t love. And it’s okay. This writing is me, and I can’t/shouldn’t try to write like anyone else, even the writers I love. I have to do me.

I picked up Heroines at exactly the right moment in my (writing) life. Her exhortation to be brave, to be emotional, to be excessive, to write ourselves, to fight against silence and erasure, to be our own heroines. This is the only way I can be. We have to cultivate whatever support we have in whatever ways we can — long, rambling emails, hours-long Skype calls, Facebook (gasp).

And write, goddammit. In whatever form it comes. Write, and don’t be afraid. Be messy.

So here’s to being brave enough to say/write what you need to. Here’s to no apologies. Here’s to crying at the movies, or at dinner, or in the middle of the day in your office with my door open or closed, or at home at the end of a long day. Here’s to writing my shit out. Here’s to re-visiting my young self, here’s to telling my self that I am okay (and believing it). I am not crazy. I am a full human being.

Thank you, Kate Zambreno.

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I wrote all that about a month ago. Why didn’t I publish it immediately? Because I was trying to find the photos I took from the top of Winnemucca Mountain to go with it. I couldn’t post this damn thing without the photos, because I have some need to prove to the reader that: 1 – the view I’m talking about is amazing, and 2 – I use the urge to polish my writing before I post it as an excuse for not putting it out there at all.

Which is the opposite of the sentiment of this entire piece and my lessons learned from Heroines. So I’m posting this without the photos. When I find them, I’ll put them in. That’s the beauty of the internet. I have to be unafraid.

The long winter begins.

So, my beloved St. Louis Cardinals lost the World Series to the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday. Though I’d like to believe differently, it probably couldn’t have ended any other way — the odds, as fans of The Hunger Games say, were ever in their favor. The people of Boston have been through a lot this year; they deserve a World Series win at home.

Every team we’ve faced in the postseason has been formidable, from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the LA Dodgers to the Boston Red Sox. Every series has been a nail-biter with emotional highs and lows. Unwarranted bat flips, monster home runs, grand slam robbings, cracked ribs, bruised ribs, weird errors, filthy pitching, obstruction calls. It’s been a crazy postseason.

***

I should admit here that I’m a relatively new fan. I officially fell in love with the Cardinals during the 2009 postseason, when we got swept by the Dodgers in the National League Division Series. I was starting my second year of graduate school, teaching my first semester of Composition, and the academic grind had just begun its work on scrubbing the shine off my newbie optimism. My relationship with my boyfriend was new, too. He is a lifelong, die-hard Cardinals fan; I began watching the Cardinals with him, learning the language and rules of baseball. When the Cards made it to the NLDS, we decided at the last minute to drive to St. Louis on the day of Game 3. We didn’t have tickets for Game 3, so we took a chance and bought them from a man who was, for lack of a better term, a “street ticket vendor.”

Going to my first Major League baseball game was an incredible experience.  I was the only person in our section wearing a leather jacket and no Cardinals gear (I wasn’t even wearing red). There was a Dodgers fan sitting behind us. That night, the crowd was excited but subdued. We were losing, but winning the game wasn’t out of our reach. All around us, Cardinals fans were grumbling about Tony La Russa‘s managing, our lifeless bats. Someone in front of us would mark his scorecard after every play and then cross his arms over his chest, never saying a word.  During our last out, we had men on base; this was our moment, our chance to either tie the game and put it into extra innings, or win it. Tony La Russa put in Rick Ankiel to bat. A man sitting next to us shook his head and said, “He’s going to destroy that poor kid all over again.” (For those who don’t know about Rick Ankiel, read this and this.)

We ended up losing, getting swept (and embarrassed) by the Dodgers. Despite that, I fell in love. It might have been the way the entire city loved their team. It might have been the feeling of being a part of something much, much bigger than me.  It might have been the way the man sitting next to us talked about Rick Ankiel. It even might have been the way that the Cardinals fans congratulated the one Dodgers fan in our section on winning the series. It might have been the first time I was in a huge crowd and I didn’t feel alone.

****

I’ve never been a team sports person. I’ve never been against team sports — I’ve just never experienced them. My little brothers are five and seven years younger than me. We lived 30 minutes away from town. I rarely had friends over for sleepovers, and I rarely went to others’ houses. I spent my weekends lost in books and writing myself into worlds where I lived in a town and had next door neighbors and went over to friends’ houses all the time.

So, I grew up and didn’t understand what it meant to be part of a team, or what it meant to be a fan of a team. Five years into being a St. Louis fan, and I’m discovering things about myself that I never knew and I’m discovering what makes a good and mindful human. I plan to elaborate on the various “lessons” I’ve learned in a series of posts because each “lesson” is its own beast and deserves a thoughtful write-up.

What I’m trying to say here is that this postseason for Cardinals fans was a nail-biter. I know 28 other teams would have loved to be in our position, but they weren’t. It was us and the Red Sox, and the Sox were the better team this series. Better managed, better hitting.

What makes me sad is not that we lost the World Series. It’s that there isn’t another baseball game to watch tonight. Wednesday night’s game might have been David Freese‘s last as a Cardinal. It might have been Lance Lynn‘s last night, and Jon Jay‘s too. I can’t even talk objectively about the looming possible departure of Carlos Beltran. In these empty days after the World Series, you realize how much time you’ve spent with your team — you’ve spent nearly every day since April watching their every move, talking to them through the television screen, screaming at the manager to take out the pitcher already. And now, at the end of October, they are gone. There’s no easing into it — one day you’re watching them, and the next day you aren’t. And the next day, and the next day.

Now, I have my life back. I’m washing and putting away the lucky shirt for next year. I can read all I want, work out all I want, write all I want. I have no baseball games to watch. It’s good to have my life back, but it feels a little bit like biding my time. Watching trade rumors, who’s leaving us and who’s staying. Predicting what our team will look like at the beginning of the season. Getting excited about our young players. Waiting for the first day of spring training (117 days), then Opening Day (150 days).

I’ll do whatever the hell I want for the next 117 days, but I’ll keep my eye on the beginning of spring. To the St. Louis Cardinals, thank you for a tremendous and incredible season. We didn’t win this one, but the future is bright. Here’s to our young guns and our grinders, our veterans and our future base stealers. The long winter and the countdown begins… #12in14.