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Chilled-Out August Time

Sometimes you want to write something with deep personal insight and wisdom. But sometimes you just want to record life with its sensations, memories, sounds, scents and sights. This post is really more like the latter, a kind of scrapbook entry: life, things I’m doing, a little of what I’m thinking. Perfect laidback August vibes, mellow and chill…

So the big news in life (besides being my baby’s mama) is that I got a bike! My sweetheart got me one for my birthday, and it’s a beauty. I love it so much. 

  
I ride it downtown to the coffee shop where I do my writing thing at — I love the sense of freedom and adventure that come with riding a bike, though traffic eternally freaks me out. (I just don’t trust drivers!) And we’ve been going on little excursions, like a local bike tour/pub crawl. It’s so nice to have new experiences and challenges (outside the challenge of raising a wee one.) My soul has been craving them lately, ones that feel expansive and energetic and physically bolder than what I’m used to. Maybe that’s why I’m also craving things like carnival rides and rollercoasters and trail rides — I want experiences that transport me out of myself and give me a feeling of accomplishment, especially since I’m still struggling a bit with postpartum depression and it’s so hard at times to shake this grey fog of hopelessness and sadness that sometimes descends upon me.

Nothing beats a mental abyss of existential despair and ennui like escapist comedies, at least temporarily — which is why I enjoy the ridiculousness that is the new season of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp:

But mostly these days I watch a lot of documentaries. They’re easy to stop and start, especially when Baby is a-calling, and I feel my brain is doing something. I watched all the Antarctica docs I could find on Netflix, but my most recent faves are the “Chef’s Table” series, which highlight a particular genius chef’s philosophy, process and creativity in each installment. I highly recommend if you’re looking for something inspiring, and hello: mouth-watering cinematography.

(And yep, as these selections make clear, I watch a lot of Netflix nowadays!)

Oh, and this is my summer jam:

I have no brain left for new music except for what’s easy (which means whatever other people around me are listening to or what’s on the radio). But I am legit excited for the Weeknd’s new record. I hope he still remains on his dark and skeevy thing, though this record is getting a lot of pre-release hype, so I imagine it’s a lot poppier. I like this other single more, though it’s less of a “jam” and more of a “dirge”:

What interests me more than my own musical consumption is the development of Baby’s own tastes and reactions. I love the look of wonder and innocent joy when he listens to something he likes — he gets very still and his eyes widen and then suddenly he breaks out into his wide, gummy smile. Right now we play a lot of Rockabye Baby, which are lullaby versions of artists like Kanye West, Metallica, the Beatles, Radiohead and the like. His favorites are all of Elton John’s songs as well as Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge”:

Speaking of Baby:

  
This is his first official picture on my blog!

The thing about babies is that their adventures sort of become your own, if only because it’s like experiencing something you’ve taken for granted for the first time again. Recently we took Baby to my gym’s pool for the first time. He was not amused but was a good sport as he got used to the noise and crowds:

  

(Style note: yes, I am using a very old Vanessa Bruno dress as a swim coverup. #stillgotsomefashiongame #trying)

Most summers I read like a fiend, but the sad thing about being a new parent is just how much less time I get to read dense, challenging things. Instead, I re-read a lot, or I read magazines. (I do read The Economist, which is both cleanly written and yet intellectually stimulating, though I’m always arguing with them in my brain about free markets.) I did read Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings before I gave birth, and I’m very pleased to hear it was nominated for the Man Booker prize. But I need something new to read, something very smart yet page-turning. Any recommendations out there?

And finally…tending cats! Yes, I’ve become a little obsessed with this iOS game Neko Atsume. It’s very simple to the point of dumbness: you basically have a porch, you set out toys and food and cats come to eat and play. When they’re done, the critters leave you fish that you can use to buy more toys and food. And that’s it! But what’s kind of brilliant about it is just how simple and low-pressure it is. I find this game oddly relaxing because it’s so silly and easy. And it is SO CUTE. 

  
What can I say? Perfect summer wind down game!

Anyway, this is a bit of a scribble-scrabble entry, but it’s that kind of a season right now, I suppose. I’m looking forward to fall but trying to enjoy this final turn of late summer — I hope the rest of the golden months go beautifully for you all!

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Pieces of Life on August 9th, 2015 | No Comments »

Fireworks in the Distance, Blues on the Brain

Usually I like the Fourth of July. I’m particularly fond of fireworks, mostly because I liked to pretend as a kid that they were the world’s secret present to myself. 

That sounds pretty self-centered, but let me explain: as a kid with a late June birthday, I never really got to celebrate my birthday with my friends. Most of them would be gone, either on vacation with their families or just kind of forgotten in the way that little kid friendships can be “out of sight, out of mind.”This always made me sad, of course. But luckily my birthday is in close proximity to Independence Day, so I would pretend the exploding “sky flowers” were for me. I would make a wish on every firework in that way that kids read omens and signs into everything. (Or maybe that was just me.) It made me feel a little more festive, and a little less sad. That’s why every year since I was a child, I’ve always looked forward to a fireworks celebration. I’m not patriotic or nationalistic by inclination; they just made me feel a little more happier and a little less lonelier in the world.

This year, though, I didn’t go. I didn’t want to bring my four-month-old baby since I wasn’t sure how he’d like the loud noises, and it would also be way past his usual sleep time. And I could’ve lined up someone to watch him but it was a logistical clusterfuck, honestly — the idea of unraveling it made me exhausted. And exhausted is honestly how I feel a lot of the time now, being a new mama and all.

But it made me sad to miss the fireworks this year. I could hear them not too far from where I live near downtown. I watched them a bit on TV, too. My town actually puts on a good show — it’s actually better than nearby Chicago or Madison, which didn’t even have fireworks this year. So it bummed me out to hear and sense them nearby and not be there. 

I actually feel really bummed out a lot lately. Beyond bummed out — a touch of the post-partum depression, maybe. (I’m not quite sure, though…it doesn’t feel chronic enough to keep me from functioning, but it sure does feel blue when it happens.) I think maybe four months of chronic severe sleep deprivation have finally caught up with me, not to mention the loss of my old identity and life, the often physically grueling changes I’ve been through, and social isolation. Sitting there missing the fireworks underscored how isolated I felt and how cloistered my life has become, and it only made me sadder — but I felt sadder than I think is normal to feel. (Or maybe this is normal? Oh, man, that would be sad.)

I’ve been trying to “fight it off” and take care of myself really well, but it’s not like a cold: it’s not something that goes away by “thinking positive” and it’s not something I can “snap out of.” I exercise, get fresh air, I see loved ones on the regular, I do all the self-care stuff they say for you to do, I try to make time for myself. 

But this isn’t just the normal difficulties of new parenthood. It’s being so overwhelmed by even the simplest things at time. It’s intense, irrational rage or sadness at things you know are small and yet somehow you’re still so fucking angry or distraught. It’s when everything — a grumpy look from your partner, a spate of fussiness with the baby — feels like the end of the world. It’s sometimes feeling so horribly sad that you feel like you will never feel joy again. 

And on top of it all, there’s tremendous guilt and fear that you’re a bad mama because you’re going to ruin your child with your inability to get over yourself and regulate emotions. Which is why no one talks about it, admits to it and why so many unhappy, harried mothers inevitably smile though their pain and say they’re perfectly “fine.” 

And well, sometimes I’m not “fine.” Some days, I really worry about myself. Some days I just don’t feel like me, and I don’t recognize the person who frets about these small things or gets irritated so easily.

Luckily, I still have a lot of good days, which save me, and I try to store up the feelings and memories to draw upon when I feel shitty. I’m lucky to have a wonderful partner, and truth be told, a happy, even-tempered baby. 

But my bad days are super, super bad sometimes. And it’s hard to wade out of the “grey mist,” as I think of it.

I’m actually wavering on publishing this because the past few weeks have been pretty good — I’ve been better at asking for what I need, especially in terms of alone time and being creative — and I’m wondering or perhaps trying to convince myself it’s not post-partum depression. 

But even if the grey mist doesn’t descend again — or it isn’t as dark or heavy as it has been — I still think these “baby blues” are important to talk about. If there’s a new mother out there reading this — and feeling like the joy has been sucked out of the world and guilty that somehow you just can’t enjoy your beautiful new baby you’re supposed to enjoy and overwhelmed and resentful at the huge transitions you’re going through — just know that you’re not alone, you’re not “crazy,” and it’s haaaaaaard being a new parent to a new human. Get help, get rest, get time for yourself, get enough peace to be able to hear what your inner self says you need. Reach out, though it feels like the last thing you want to do. It helps, it really does. 

And maybe I’m just taking to myself here — but I know that one day I’ll be able to go to the fireworks again. I’ll be able to look up in the sky, see all the lights and be able to celebrate life with a bright festive spirit again.

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Pieces of Life, Soul + Wisdom on July 15th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Viv Albertine’s Book is Yet Another Stealth Memoir About Rock ‘N Roll Motherhood

Maybe it’s a literary version of wishful thinking, but lately the only thing I really want to read as a new mama are rock biographies and memoirs. Parenting books make me feel anxious and overloaded, I don’t have the attention span for serious novels these days and anything truly new in terms of non/fiction feels very “in one ear, out the other” if it’s something I don’t have much prior knowledge about. (My new information absorption abilities have been seriously challenged since early-onset parental insomnia, as I call it.) 

But rock books are easy: I usually know a bit about the music, band or person thanks to years of reading music mags, books and blogs. And books about musicians are usually FUN. Fun is easy to get through and makes the nights of baby tending and sleeplessness much easier to deal with. Fun is very doable.

Luckily, we’re in kind of a golden age when it comes to rock bios and memoirs, especially if you’re a lady of the punky/feminist persuasion. I already read Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band in the early throes of parenthood, and found it surprisingly insightful and inspiring about motherhood, creativity and identity. A few weeks ago I finished the Slits’ guitarist Viv Albertine’s book Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. and was also surprised by how deeply it affected and resonated with me. I liked the Slits, though I wasn’t a huge superfan. Still, I had nothing but mad respect for them and liked quite a few of their songs, and so I was curious to read about the early history of punk from ground zero — and from a feminist and feminine perspective.

On that tip, Viv’s book is excellent, both on the gossip front — she dated Mick from the Clash and knew Sid Vicious very early on and even went to art school with my early 80s crush Adam Ant! — and on the musicology front as well. And it’s inspiring on the feminism and creativity bit: sometimes I think the best bits about any biography are HOW artists find their voices and inspiration and guts and bravado, and Viv goes into great detail here about the experiences and people who made an impact on her.

But surprisingly, there’s very intimate, vulnerable detail about Viv’s experiences with infertility, parenthood, marriage and divorce — and it’s this second half of the book that proves to be most riveting and arresting. It’s partly because it is so very vulnerable, open and honest, and also because it’s always a pleasure to read about a creative being trying to be actualized while also raising a child and balancing a marriage. 

In some ways, though, Viv’s story is a cautionary tale — I don’t want to judge, but it reads as if Viv withdrew from creative life to focus on her marriage and child. It’s very understandable in some ways — she went through such trauma and hell to become a mother. And damn, after all that — IVF treatment after treatment — I don’t blame her for just wanting to focus on her personal life. It was so hard-won. 

But she paid a price in terms of identity and livelihood, and suddenly she had one of those moments where she looked at herself and her life and wondered what the hell happened? She found herself in a bit of that Talking Heads “beautiful life” feeling, where you look around and you’re like “How the hell is this my life? And who am I now anyway?” As someone who, at this moment, often wonders just how I’m going to achieve anything creatively anymore and worries about being devoured by motherhood, this is my biggest fear and reading about someone who went through this is so raw and resonant. It’s a scary experience.

Viv did manage to claw her way back to herself, playing music again and performing, though it seemed to have cost her her marriage — which makes me sad, especially after reading about Kim Gordon’s divorce. (Please someone tell me a rock mother memoir of someone who had a happy marriage and had a child and was creatively inspired and isn’t a trust fund kid so I don’t get discouraged.) 

All this makes me — well, not exactly think, but perhaps ruminate in between feeding the baby and going for long walks and working and writing. I always hated the whole concept of “having it all,” because sometimes I just don’t think it’s humanly possible to be all things to all people all at once. 
And yet here I am, trying to “have it all.” Of course, it all depends on how you define “all,” I suppose. I haven’t even attempted frivolous things like being well-dressed or “get back in shape.” (I do dream about clothes, though.) I don’t even aspire to cooking or a splendid home or public recognition or whatever. 

But creative, intellectual and emotional progress is important to me, as are my child, relationships and my family, not to mention just trying to feel somewhat healthy and thriving again. Oh, and financial serenity and prosperity, because it’s not just about me anymore, but what I can create for my family. And already this feels overwhelming to me! The journey back to the things that made me feel like me seems very slow and halting now. I still go back to that feeling of being adrift at sea and seeing the shore of the island that used to be me…and the tides and winds sometimes push me back closer but sometimes they just suck me back away.
(Ugh, I tried so hard not to write about parenthood, and yet here I am, blah blah blah.)

The important thing is to have hope, and you do come away from these middle-aged lady punk memoirs with a sense of it, however fragile it may be. Humans have a vast capacity for venality and cruelty, but they have an equally resilient ability to find meaning and happiness in whatever life throws at them. And so I read Clothes, Music, Boys with a beginning intention of diversion and fun, but found some real hope, a little fear and a rare feeling of comradeship in a fellow creative person trying in her way to fulfill the possibilities of her life for love, growth and family, especially in unconventional ways. I don’t know exactly what my own path will be, and I worry if I’ll find my way, but I only hope to come out of it with something beautiful, surprising and magical. I hope.

  • In other news, I had the pleasure of guest-editing an issue of Storychord! It was a true pleasure to do. I had the privilege of featuring a heartbreaking story by Lisa Ko, as well as the stylish sounds of Folding Legs and a stunning photo by Cari Ann Wayman. Please do check it out, share with your friends via social media, etc…all the work deserves the biggest possible audience!

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Art + Culture on June 30th, 2015 | No Comments »

An Insomniac’s Survival Guide To New Parenthood

There is a lot to be petrified about when you’re getting ready to give birth and become a parent. Hemorrhages, depression, exhaustion, psychologically ruining a small, innocent human being: pick your damage! Yes, I jest, but all those are valid fears to face when preparing for parenthood. But for me, the biggest fear was much more mundane: I was most scared of not sleeping. 

I know, I know: sleep is the most basic casualty when it comes to becoming a parent. Everyone knows you just never sleep when the presence of a squalling, demanding yet adorable wee one arrives in your life. It’s part of the deal: you lose sleep (and often your sanity), but you gain an oceanic, overwhelming and sometimes transcendent love. But as someone who’s struggled with insomnia all my life, returning to a fractious, troubled relationship to sleep seriously scared me.

After all, I’d spent so much time, effort and willpower to defeat my insomnia and develop healthier sleep habits. While I had the occasional slip-up, I was much more able to recover faster, but it’s been a lot of hard work. There’s nothing like getting to the other side of insomnia to know just how beautiful, enriching and blissfully restorative sleep is — and how I can’t take it for granted, and how you have to be pretty vigilant at times to stave off insomnia. How was I going to do without it? What would happen once the baby came?

The standard advice is “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” But as many insomniacs know, that’s easier said than done. That advice assumes you can fall asleep easily, with the wiggle of a nose and a kiss on the elbow. But sometimes just falling asleep is an epic battle of will and frustration — and sometimes sleep just does not come, no matter how hard you try. Couple this with the fact that a lot of my previous mental health measures — exercise, meditation, yoga — went out the window for awhile in the throes of early parenthood. So it’s so surprise that my insomnia flared up again, and I was just a bit more challenged at this point in my life to deal with it.

I’m in the middle of it now, but here’s what I can tell you: being a new parent as a former, still struggling insomniac is hard. Sleep now is often broken-up shards of 2-3 hour intervals, punctuated by feeding, changing or playing. I can carve out 6-7 hours of sleep with a few naps a day, but there is a huge difference between a 2-3 hour chunk versus a longer block. You really physically understand the importance of quality of sleep — I’ve read that you really need a solid block of about 4 hours to reap the benefits of sleeping, and now, well, I can really attest to that. My ability to be patient, calm and just happy and content is so much stronger on a 4-hour block of sleep versus a shorter one. It’s almost better to get five hours of continuous sleep than seven broken-up ones. 

Sometimes I think the very real psychological collateral that women experience in the early nights and days of a new baby — baby blues, mood swings, jags of crying, anger, resentment, unmitigated rage against your partner — can be chalked up to a lethal combination of no sleep, hormones and societal pressures. I mean, we’re all aware of how prisoners are tortured by robbing them of sleep — imagine doing that for MONTHS, just at a time when women feel the press of societal perfectionism to be an ideal mother the most, and there’s a very real, very vulnerable baby to care for. It’s honestly more of a wonder that women don’t crack up in higher numbers.

At the very beginning, in the round-the-clock “feed/poop/sleep” phase, I was so tired that I fell asleep easily, though my sleep was pretty haunted in some ways: by dreams so vivid I’d wake up from them feeling drained, or by any little noise, as if I were extra vigilant about protecting my new baby from whatever primordial danger lay out there. 

Then Baby started sleeping more solidly, which you think would be a godsend — except I’d lay awake in those newly free hours, mind racing with anxieties, plans, worries, memories, emotions. I went through a spell a month or so into parenthood when I’d wake at 4am, feed Baby…and then be unable to sleep afterwards. It was heartbreaking and frustrating, and I wanted to cry so badly. Part of it was the growing light of dawn when I finished; part of it was dealing with the thoughts and doubts and worries that parenting-while-exhausted bubble up.

It didn’t help that I could hear Baby’s little gurgles, snores and heavy breathing from the bassinet, punctuating the never-ending mental movie running through my brain. And all the subtitles of this mental movie read “YOU NEED TO SLEEP!” But of course, yelling at yourself in your head to fall asleep is pretty much a guaranteed way to keep you awake. (And eventually for sanity’s sake we had to move the bassinet into Baby’s own room in order for me to get some non-anxious sleep.)

Luckily, little babycakes is now approaching four months (growing so fast!) and my sleep ability is starting to come back. But getting through this latest insomnia slugfest was rough. What helped — and I hope this helps any other insomniacs dealing with the early flush of a new baby — was embracing the idea that babies change and grow so fast that these challenging, hard circumstances will pass eventually as well. Baby will sleep more in the future at some points, and so will you. I know it’s little consolation in the moment when you’re up at 3 in the morning and up to your elbows in burp cloths and dirty diapers — AAARGH! But I told myself in those early endless nights that Baby would never be this little and precious again, and that it was nice to be awake to soak it all in and cherish all those little things: how they yawn and then sprawl in your lap, milk-drunk, how the little hairs at the nape of their neck stick up all ducky-like.

(And also, if you’re nursing and not sleeping anyway, embrace all the TV and reading you want, because you’re going to be plopped on that sofa for a very long time with nothing else you can do. Man, Baby nursed for soooooo long in the beginning — and so why not take the opportunity to binge-watch “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” on Netflix?)

And everyone says this as well, but: get as much support as you can, whether that’s friends and family who will hold Baby so you can do stuff (like nap!) or make meals (so you can nap!) or clean up (freeing you up to nap instead!) I know for me this was hard, but luckily I have a super-intrusive family (half jokes!) and they were keen on coming to play and hang out with Baby. And if there is no one nearby to offer this kind of support, save up money to hire cleaners, get a meal delivery service or whatever — it is worth it. And don’t feel bad about using that extra time to sleep!

But many insomniacs know that sleep is kind of a mental and psychological game, and it’s very easy to find yourself with mind racing when you know you should be sleeping. The big thing that helped was being able to share my worries and experience the emotions I was going through — just letting myself feel what I felt. There are so many “shoulds” when it comes to motherhood in particular. The subtleties, ambiguities and shadows are accompanied by a huge sense of guilt and doubt — and there’s nothing like those two feelings to feed the insomnia monster. The thing I had to do, I found, was just facing them down and give them some breathing room to exist, then to dissolve and dissipate. And then deep breath, and deep breath, and again and again.

Parenthood is profoundly unpredictable, and the lack of routine — along with the huge emotional adjustment, swirling hormones and rollercoaster of changes — is a perfect breeding ground for insomnia. But it’s helped to let go of the hope and expectation of getting a perfect or ideal night’s sleep. A whole solid eight hours is such a rarity now. Instead, I think now in terms of “good enough” and cherish those solid 4-hour chunks — and am so amazingly grateful on those rare nights when seven-plus hours happen. I still don’t get enough sleep as I’d like, but there’s just a bit less angst about it. It still feels exhausting, but it’s not an existential calamity. (Well, sometimes it is, but try to wait till the next significant nap before you decide to throw yourself off a bridge.)

And there’s also the consolation of watching the little one sleep, so peaceful and cherubic with the little snores and wadded up fists and feathery eyelashes — it really does make this kind of hardship worth it in beautiful and tender ways.

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Soul + Wisdom on May 30th, 2015 | No Comments »

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