Evening Alexa is Mostly Concerned with Snacks.

I was entirely overwhelmed by the lovely welcome I received upon my return. I’d had a sinking feeling said return would be greeted by silence as I tapped weakly at my electronic microphone, and instead you splendid people shocked and delighted me with kindness and alarming information about Mary Wollstonecraft. I shall respond to questions from the comments, but let me tell you about my new job first, because wondering about it is probably keeping you all up nights.

So, my new job! I have one! I went from working for a massive multinational corporation at its 6,000-person headquarters to working for a company with fewer than 100 employees total. Most of these employees worked for said corporation at one point or another: several years ago my former employer divested its law school/academic business, and like the arm of a starfish, or maybe it is a snake or sea creature—what is that thing that makes a whole new self from a severed limb? The point is, the limb struck out on its own and now I work there, editing casebooks and such, beautiful heavy books written by learned and sometimes adorable legal scholars. It is perfect for me, and quite novel to be working on authored and mostly non-statutory material. If there is a spelling error it can usually be fixed, rather than left with a dry footnote until the legislature gets around to correcting itself.

As I also mentioned, my office is downtown, and the location means I no longer have to drive to work. There is a bus stop one block away from my apartment. I walk there in the morning and then a fleet ten minutes later am deposited two blocks from my building. I have always said that if there was one thing that could lure me away from the Twin Cities it would be public transportation—I do not care for driving—so this is very exciting for me. The people on my bus in the morning (the 6:22) are always the same, and because my ride is too short even to read, I am in the midst of creating involved backstories for them. I love my morning bus ride, and it always gives me a pleasant, diffuse sense of closeness with my fellow citizens.

I feel close to my fellow citizens on my afternoon bus as well, but come afternoon this closeness no longer seems something to celebrate, because that particular bunch of fellow citizens smells terrible. I try to be tolerant and expansive, because my bus passes the city’s largest homeless shelter and not everyone has access to washing facilities and I am very lucky! So lucky and grateful! AND YET. I am not my best or kindest self in the afternoon, because I am tired, and crabby, and have been working for many hours and usually have dreadful Manuscript Wrist and am oppressively aware that people in my house are going to be expecting me to have some sort of Plan About Dinner, and then to carry out this Plan, and so instead of equanimity I feel only despair. How has my life come to this, that I am sitting on a bus, oppressed by the unwashed, on my way home to an unwashed house and another set of unwashed persons all of which will remain thus unless I wash them myself with energy I do not have?

Morning Bus Alexa thinks about how hard people work and how everyone is doing their best and how nice it is to be a part of the human family. Afternoon Bus Alexa wonders how she can be expected to bear up under the weight of the human condition, all of us struggling in vain toward largely unattainable goals. Why is life so terrible? she wonders, and why must it also smell so bad?

But then I am home. The children are returned from their various keepers, and they cheer me right up, and my afternoon cortisol dose kicks in, and the need for that Plan About Dinner means I am too busy to contemplate existence anymore, thank heavens.

What are you all reading? I just read the new Kate Atkinson, and have now moved on to a memoir of sorts—a heartbreaking tale of one woman’s lifelong struggle with mental illness called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”

36 comments

  1. andi says:

    Oh, did you like the new Kate? I loved it, almost as much as the just previous Kate, which means nearly as much as the very first Kate. And I’m reading The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits, which is lovely. Nice to see you back.

  2. erin says:

    In actuality, I’ve been logging on to Twitter every few days just to look and see if you’ve tweeted anything about your job. Because my life is entirely devoid of interest. It sounds lovely! (If you’re into that sort of thing, which you seem to be…)

    I am reading The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, which is about lesbians in London during and after WWII. It’s pretty good except it’s told from three different characters’ viewpoints, but all in the same voice, so it’s hard to keep track of who’s who.

    To be quite honest, I mostly picked it up because of my affection for Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, which has way more vampires in it.

    • Debbie A-H says:

      I just finished Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. I didn’t love it, but the end was satisfying. I may have liked it more if it had vampires? Right now I’m reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Everything I Never Told You by Cynthia Ng.

      So glad you’re back, Alexa. I’ve missed you!

  3. Swistle says:

    Favorite part, hands down: “a memoir of sorts—a heartbreaking tale of one woman’s lifelong struggle with mental illness called ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’.”

    But I also loved the descriptions of Morning Alexa and Afternoon Alexa. I identify.

    I am reading a book I thought would be really cool (kidnapped pregnant teen turns out to be genius sociopath and turns situation against captors) and instead it’s just awful. It’s written as if the author is imagining how the movie version would look. It is full of BEYOND unlikely twists, which the author tries to justify by having the detective explain how common those unlikely twists are in detective work. Also, it is difficult for people to write convincingly about people smarter than them (see also: Bones; The Big Bang Theory); it ends up being a parody of what less-smart people THINK smarter people are like.

    • Jenny says:

      This is so, so true. I could give several more examples. Also examples of books/ plays written about smart people BY smart people, which might be my very favorite kind of book.

  4. samantha campen says:

    I’m reading the tidy book and love it, but yes, I fear she has a pretty intense mental illness and cringe when she goes into backstory about her childhood. Did…she ever play?

  5. Natalie says:

    so, so true… the afternoon is the worst… I am taking hydrocortisone pills but only in AM, can’t wait to hear more about your cortisol supplementation. As ALWAYS, your words are so beautiful!

  6. Lawyerish says:

    I am reading “A God in Ruins” right now, and I love it. Before that, I read a somewhat embarrassing self-help-ish book that I actually liked even though it was one of those that gave somewhat vague anecdotes to support an already thin premise (along the lines of “all you have to do is THINK POSITIVE!”), but even in that book I found a few decent ideas to kick me in the pants about taking a Brave Next Step when the time is right. Before that, I read this short and amusing little book by Penelope Fitzgerald, whom I hadn’t heard of but who evidently is somewhat famous, especially in Britain. It was called (and now I have to go over to Amazon and look) “The Bookshop.” And before THAT, I read “The Rosie Effect” which was cute and funny, if implausible and mostly a rehash of the last book.

    I’m so glad you’re back. May I be so bold as to ask what this blogging platform/template is? I love it.

  7. hulsta says:

    haha i thought the exact same thing while reading that book. why on earth is everyone enabling this poor woman’s OCD? she seriously needs medication.

    on the other hand, she turned her lunacy into a lucrative career, so who’s the crazy one etc etc.

  8. Cara says:

    I just finished Neil Patrick Harris’ choose your own adventure autobiography. Hilarious. I highly recommend it.

  9. Miss Grace says:

    I am choosing not to read about that mentally ill woman, but I am following twitter’s group reading.
    So far I have deduced that if Quentin’s ratty t-shirts do not give me a spark of joy when I hold them, then I can throw them away.

    I just read that Patti Smith memoir. It’s good, although a bit name droppy and a bit I AM POETIC. But I feel that’s par for the course for celebrity memoirs.

  10. Stacy says:

    As it happens, my husband and I are Marie Kondo’ing the shit out of our 2-br apartment. We’re at an impasse due to massive pile of clothing to donate that is taking up most of the floor space in my office/spare room. Thus I cannot get to two bookshelves full of academic tomes that I probably will keep anyway. She might be a bit mentally ill, but I must be too, as I like the process. But that’s before I have faced the paper in our filing cabinets. Ugh. Happy you are back!

  11. Davida says:

    That description of the tidying book is hilarious. (Although now I worry: I used her book to cull all the clothes I do not like out of my closet. So far I am considering it a win. Does this make me mentally ill?)

  12. Deborah says:

    Your commuting experience and evening sound so much like mine! Except that my commute is much longer. :( I am so miserable driving home and not looking forward to all the evening stuff to do, and then I see my kids and I feel so much better. Except there’s still stuff to do.

    Anyway, nice to have you back.

  13. Amber says:

    Okay, so not to turn this into book club, but . . . I felt a little cheated at the end of the new Kate. I felt really emotionally invested in the rest of the book (so many tears cried) and then I was all “seriously?” So overall I preferred Life After Life. Currently I’m reading Human Croquet. (I just can’t quit Kate.)

  14. Pamela says:

    So glad you’re back! I found the Tidying book quite delightful, though I did worry about her OCD tendencies. I realized I actually do a number of things she suggests including keeping things that spark joy though I wouldn’t have said it quite that way.
    I love Kate Atkinson–Life After Life is one of my favourite books. Do want to read her latest but I’m put off by “series” books in general. I like books to stand on their own but will definitely give it a go. Why are almost all YA titles written as a series???? Just started One Good Turn by Atkinson and just bought The Drifters by James Mitchener to re-read. This was one of my all time favourite books as a teenager and made me long to go to Spain for YEARS. Finally going this month though backpacking is now out of the question. :)

    • Jenny says:

      One of my favorite book bloggers says never to start a YA series that isn’t finished. Then you can binge on the whole thing, like Netflix, and it’s like one long book. I think it’s not bad advice.

    • Amber says:

      Just wanted to say that A God in Ruins is more of a companion book to Life After Life and could be read independently without missing out on anything since it’s completely Teddy-centric.

      • Pamela says:

        Thanks! I expected I would read it anyway since I’ve read almost everything Atkinson has written. Just my particular annoyance about series books…. :)

  15. Maggie says:

    I am so happy you are writing here again! I really enjoy your sentences. And I LOVE Marie Kondo. She is magic. Now, when I want a quiet, calm moment at work, I think about my almost completed Kondo’d kitchen, and I feel peace.

  16. Dr. Maureen says:

    You are such a fun writer. I initially read your first sentence as “I tapped weekly on the microphone” and I got all excited to think you are going to be here EVERY WEEK.

    I am in a Facebook group about Marie Kondo, but I haven’t read it and have gone on record adamantly refusing to. I don’t need to read it because I’m dead inside and perfectly willing to throw or give things away I’m supposed to care about, I just needed the kick in the pants to start actually DOING it. And now if I get my regular work done early, I reward myself with cleaning out junk. The secret, it seems, is to actually get the stuff you don’t want out of your house, and I have identified drop-off donation centers and I’m on a roll. But I don’t thank things for their service or let my socks rest or any of those things.

  17. Jess says:

    Oh I am just so glad you’re back. And so so glad you are so happy at this new job. I just feel awash with gladness for you, evidently.

    I just finished The Goldfinch for my book club, which I ended up loving, and then the new Marian Keyes as a lighter read. I enjoyed it–I love all Keyes–but I don’t consider it one of her best.

  18. The Plan About Dinner makes me want to weep every day and I am lucky enough to work from home. I’m reading steampunk/sci-fi/fantasy at the moment, Lindsay Buroker, which has been good enough to see me read all the way to book eight in around 10 days, which is probably why there is so much work I ought to be doing rather than enacting my Plan About Dinner. (hashtag: firstworldproblems)

  19. Martha says:

    I read Behind the Scenes at the Museum several years ago when a friend passed it along to me. I liked it, but went on to the next book without taking note of the author. Over the last few years have found myself thinking about it occasionally and wondering if it was a well-known book. I finally looked it up and discovered it was by Kate Atkinson’s and that she had written several other books that were widely accepted. I was intrigued by the premise of Life after Life, so I ordered it from the library – and devoured it. I’m not on a binge, but I do look forward to enjoying more of her. Most recently I read Jasper Fforde’s The Woman Who Died a Lot, which sent me back to rereading all of the Thursday Next series so that’s where I am now – book 3. The first time I read The Eyre Affair I hadn’t yet read Jane Eyre so I appreciated it a bit more this time. I suppose now I really shouldn’t go much further without reading Great Expectations. (If you haven’t read Jasper Fforde, some of this won’t make much sense. I highly recommend him.)

  20. MJ says:

    I love commuting by public transportation, although in my case it’s a train, which I think is even better. I cannot imagine driving to work. I always tended to be grumpier in the morning, pre-coffee and on my way to work, and more generous in my judgments of my fellow commuters on the way home. But then my train is pretty expensive and so attracts a lot of suits rather than tenants of a homeless shelter.
    I’m reading Disclaimer, by Renee Knight. It’s pretty good – I always like to wait to pass judgment on a book until I finish it, so “pretty good” is pretty high praise at this stage.

  21. Jenny says:

    I’m re-reading Little, Big by John Crowley, which is one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors, so I’m feeling pretty blissful along about now.

  22. Elliesee says:

    You hilarious about KatiMari something, I am curious about the one tip you’ll remember and live by. My bus ride is a good one and long enough to read, a book in the morning, in the afternoon the short free newspaper and do the games, no brain left for a novel. The most offensive morning smells are the occasional mothball or alcoholic that really, really needs to leave the house (for the liquor store I assume. I read Eleanor Catton and was delighted by Alice Munro, she eerily got in my head and spelled it out in her short stories. Off to read the comments now.

  23. G'sgirl says:

    Have the Julavits but haven’t cracked it yet; was frankly a little disappointed with A God in Ruins after waiting so long for more Teddy since alive After Life and loving all but two of Atkinson’s previous books. Rather liked Tom Rachman’s Rise and Fall of Great Powers this fall so finally getting around to his first novel, The Imperfectionists, which is alternately tedious and enthralling. Just finished A Little Life, an absolutely devastating novel that deserves to be called a tour de force as many reviewers have but I warn you goes to some very, very tough places before it’s done and reduced me to bouts of weeping more than once that simply aren’t ever part of my usual reading experience.

    I read The Drifters as a teen and have wanted to go to MOROCCO Ever since–funny it made someone else want to go to Spain. Maybe I’ll add that to the stack of paperback re-read I’m accumulating for vacay travel.

  24. Mariana says:

    No book recs or tips (still adjusting to life with two kids including a needy 3 month old = no time or focus to read actual, adult books). Just a shout out to say: so, so happy to discover you’re writing again, Alexa!
    Now back to lurking :).

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