Honestly, Changes

I’ve been debating what to do with this blog now that my divorce is six days from being finalized.  Because this really, truly, began as a “divorce blog” — a place where I could be completely honest, and chronicle my navigation through separation and divorce.  I began it about a month after we made the decision to separate, and now the journey is almost over.

In the past, my modus operandi has been to just jettison the blog in favor of starting a new one, with a different URL and a fresh start.  I don’t want to do that this time.  There’s a reason why I picked the name “Honestly, Megan”, instead of something separation- or divorce-related.  I wanted to allow room for change, for the story to evolve and transition into happier content.  I wanted to be able to continue the journey, long after the ink was dry on our divorce decree, long after I ceased signing my checks “Megan B****” and went back to the familiar old “Megan F******”.  There was a time, a few months ago, when I didn’t see a foreseeable end to the rocky, bumpy saga that this has all been.  But the end is in sight.  It is six days away.

And it is time to think of new things, of where I want this blog to go.  Some of them seem pretty obvious.  Others are gazing pretty far into the future.

Academia, or chronicling my climb from neophyte to true historian.  This one seems painfully obvious.  I’m slated to graduate either in December ’13 (doubtful at this point) or May ’14 (more realistic, I think).  Once I complete my Master’s degree, I plan to try to get a job, but also to explore the option of going for my Ph.D., which was recommended to me by my thesis editor, Dr. W.  The idea is terrifying, but exhilarating!  Obviously the GRE comes first (I didn’t have to take it going in to CCSU)…so that will be fun.   My first choices would be Boston College, Boston University, or Northeastern University, but I wouldn’t say no to a school in the D.C. area as well!  Most sources recommend applying to at least five schools for candidacy, so there’s quite a bit to think about!  Obviously with that goes…

Moving from Connecticut.  David and I had always planned to move to Massachusetts (his home state) at some point during our lives.  Clearly, the dream of us moving together has fizzled out, though he plans on going himself.  And naturally, he assumes that I will not go.  But why not?  I have friends in Massachusetts, it’s only two hours from my parents, and I could be quite happy there.  The last year saw me alter my plans and resign myself to living in Connecticut for the rest of my life…but it doesn’t have to be that way.  With divorce comes the knowledge that I am master of my own destiny; I can do what I like.  I can move where I please.  And…we shall see.

Entering my 30’s.  I’m not going to lie.  I’m a little terrified at the prospect of turning 30 in just over two months.  But as I said in my “About Me” page…my 20’s weren’t exactly a walk in the park.  I’m a little saddened that I spent so much of that decade fumbling in the dark, trying to figure out who I was and what I was doing and how to get healthy again, but I suppose that is what your 20’s are for: screwing up and figuring out who you are.  Of course, there were some bright, happy moments as well: the first three and a half years of my relationship with David were the happiest years of my life (age 24 and 1/2 to 28).  But as I go into my thirties, I go with the realization that it is time for me to do the following things:

– Stop apologizing for who I am and what I believe in.
– Stop living for everyone else, and:- Start living according to what makes me happy, because nobody else is living my life.

(Eventually) dating again.  Eek.  As terrifying as this is…I’ve already gotten a head start.  I’ve been on one date and talked to a few other guys (none of which panned out) and I’m slowly tiptoeing into the dating pool again.  It’s been weird even thinking about it when David and I were still married (on paper), so hopefully it will get easier once everything is finalized.

Children.  This one is in the far distant future, most likely.  I’ve wanted to be a mother since before I even knew I wanted to be married, and I always assumed (in my “I’m never getting married” years) that I would probably end up having to adopt.  I’ve decided that if I am not in a committed relationship by the age of 35, that I will begin the adoption process, even if I have go the foreign adoption route.  Again, this is YEARS away.  Considering that I met, married and divorced David in the span of five years (and two months)…clearly, anything can happen between now and 2018 (when I turn 35…eeek).

Navigating finances.  The plan is (eventually) to buy a house and pay off my student loans.  We’ll see how this plays into the next few years of my life.

Becoming a better fire spinner and continuing involvement with the Wildfire community.  I’m taking on my first staff position in August, and although I can’t go to Wildfire in September (I’m a bridesmaid in a wedding that weekend), I look forward to Wildfire next year, becoming a more intrinsic part of the Wildfire community, and improving my skill on both staff and fans.

Whew!  That’s a long, crazy list of upcoming events, goals, and plans.  I think that’s all more than enough blog fodder, don’t you?

In any case, my short-term (hell, even long-term) goals begin with finishing school.  I’m working on research for my thesis (story of my life) and gearing up for my final year (or half-year) of my Masters’ education.  I’m pretty happy with my apartment (now that the washing machine is no longer busted), and after a short hiatus from running, I am back on the C25K bandwagon!  This week promises to be a roller coaster, but I think after Monday, things will begin to look up.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

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Review: A World On Fire by Amanda Foreman

My work on the biggest book I’ve ever had to read for school has finally come to an end.

Now it is time for the tale!

A World On Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman is less a book than it is an insanely-detailed anthology of two nations experiencing growing pains.  I need not go into detail about the American Civil War — even an elementary school student can give a concise (if oversimplified) summary of the causes and events.  But Great Britain was struggling with a changing national identity in the mid-19th century as well, though it was not as explosive or damaging as America’s.  The Industrial Revolution had changed GB’s economy, Parliament was fiercely divided among Conservatives and Liberals who constantly argued over the pros and cons of the so-called “republican experiment” (a derisive term for American government), and while its former colonies struggled, the British went back and forth between showing their support for either side and maintaining a strict policy of neutrality.

Foreman has done an exhaustive amount of research, yet her writing style is definitely more “popular” than “historiographical”.  The result is a book that can be easily read, yet also used as a secondary source for a scholarly article or paper (hence my interest in it).  Its length, and the sheer volume of information contained therein, were the only downsides in my opinion.  In trying to cram everything — battles, economics, politics, trade, finances, diplomacy — into one book, Foreman wrote something so massive that it’s difficult to wrap one’s brain around.

But it is in the individual stories where she truly shines.  Explaining the motivations and thought processes of many of the players in this extraordinary event in history is what Foreman really does best, and her storytelling is phenomenal.

Length: Goodreads says 988.  My copy was over 1,000, but a large portion of this is eaten up by notes and bibliography.  The actual number of pages read was 817.  Still hefty, but not nearly 1,000 or over.

Recommend: Yes

To Whom: I would generally say to the historian or history-enthusiast; I think it is really too large and detailed to hold the interest of the casual fan.

Rating: ****

Review: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankel

I know I should be only strictly reading The Behemoth right now (less than 300 pages to go!) but I have to pause and review this tiny, but very important, little read that I actually half-read, half-listened to on my Kindle, a week ago.

In 1942, Viktor Frankl was a psychologist living in Vienna, Austria, when he was arrested and sent in a transport to Theresienstadt ghetto with his wife.  Two years later, he was deported to the death camp, Auschwitz.  He spent the remaining year of the war being transferred from camp to camp, working as a doctor, counseling those in need.  After his liberation in 1945, Frankl returned to Vienna and wrote his (originally anonymous) memoirs about his experience in the camps, entitled Saying Yes to Life in Spite of Everything: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp.  His enduring philosophy was that any suffering or hardship in life could be survived, in fact, glorified, by the sufferer’s ability to attribute some sense of meaning to his suffering.  The book was later published under Frankl’s name, with the new title Man’s Search For Meaning.

The underlying message of the book is that man should not ask what is the meaning of his life is, but rather, what the world and life itself are asking of him.  Through the discovery of his own meaning,  his place in the world, man can understand the meaning behind his suffering, and through that suffering, find purpose and make something amazing out of his life.

This book was brilliant.  I loved it, and my only sorrow is that Frankl is long gone (he died in 1997) and I will never get to go to one of his lectures.  Part I of the book is infinitely more readable, though much sadder, as it is Frankl’s recollections of life in the camps, the struggles, those who died, etc.  Part II is more related to the nuts and bolts of his logotherapy method of psychology, but it is interspaced with stories and examples of how his methodology worked, so it is still quite interesting.  I am not a “self-help book person”, so I was initially hesitant, but I would definitely recommend this.

Length: 184 pages, short but sweet.

Recommend: Yes

To Whom: Anyone who is going through a rough time and struggling to find a purpose in it all; also, those who are interested in Holocaust memoirs.

Rating: ***** of 5 stars.

Review: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Two years ago, in 2011, I made a goal to read 100 books in a year, which I accomplished (you can read my old reviews on the blog I kept that year, Read.Knit.Spin.Blog.), but due to returning to graduate school in 2012, reading sort of fell by the wayside.  This year, I’ve renewed my goal, but amended it to 50 books in 2012.  I will publish reviews as I go along.

Book 2 for 2013 is Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins.

Confession: I have a love/hate relationship with YA literature (and Philippa Gregory, but that’s another story for another time).  While sometimes I find the books to be entertaining, I also find myself eye-rolling at times.  For every Hunger Games, there’s at least one Abandon *shudder*.  And after I hurried out to buy Insurgent this year (after LOVING Divergent the year before), and being horribly disappointed, I pretty much gave up YA lit again.  When I got an offer on PaperbackSwap to finally, after almost two years, receive a copy of Hex Hall, I hesitated.  Did I really want to use my last credit on a questionable YA novel?  But I took the plunge, and read it in two days.

I like it.  I really do.  I want to read the sequels now please.

Hex Hall is told from the POV of Sophie Mercer, a young witch who has been busted one too many times for using magic incorrectly.  For her protection (and the protection of those around her) she’s been sentenced to Hecate “Hex” Hall, a reform school for Prodigium (witches, shapeshifters, werewolves, vampires, and faeries).

This is sort of a Princess Diaries meets Harry Potter type of novel, though I wouldn’t put it on the level of Harry Potter, and Sophie, unlike Princess Mia, isn’t quite as eye-rolly and overdramatic.  She’s dealing with some tough issues — an incapability of harnessing her magical powers, bullying at the hands of pretty sociopaths, an outcast roommate who is in desperate need of a friend — but like any teenager her age, Sophie just wants the guy she has a crush on to notice her.  In that respect, she is relatable and understandable, and at times, very funny and witty.

I agree with other reviewers that say that the writing can be somewhat juvenile.  Constant references to current pop culture (Britney Spears, Abercrombie and Fitch) won’t help the novel’s relevance in the future, but then again, Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series made many mentions of current pop culture and is still a goldmine in the publishing world, so what do I know?  Still, the book is a quick read and the ending is a cliffhanger, and I really, really want to read Demonglass and find out what happens next.  Definitely an enjoyable YA read.

Length: My hardcover copy was 321 pages.  It feels like a lot less.

Recommend: Yes.

To Whom? Fans of YA and magical literature (Harry Potter, Princess Diaries, etc).

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Review: World Without End by Ken Follett

Two years ago, in 2011, I made a goal to read 100 books in a year, which I accomplished (you can read my old reviews on the blog I kept that year, Read.Knit.Spin.Blog.), but due to returning to graduate school in 2012, reading sort of fell by the wayside.  This year, I’ve renewed my goal, but amended it to 50 books in 2012.  I will publish reviews as I go along.

Book 1 for 2013 is Ken Follett’s epic work of historical fiction, World Without End.  

The sequel to the epic bestseller The Pillars of the Earth takes place almost two hundred years later, in the same village of Kingsbridge, with a new cast of characters battling evil, corruption, and the Black Death as they struggle to live and love in the English Middle Ages.

This book marketed itself as a sequel to Pillars, but the similarities only went so far as the setting of the novel and vague references to characters from the so-called “prequel.”  In Pillars, Follett seamlessly interwove his fictitious tale of a poor builder’s quest and a young ambitious prior’s wish to build a cathedral in the poor little village of Kingsbridge, with the true historical tale of the sinking of the White Ship, the death of the heir to the British throne, and the dynastic battle between the King’s daughter, Maud, and her cousin, Stephen.  What makes Pillars great is not only the seamless blending of history and fiction, but also Follett’s ability to create dynamic characters that are a mix of the best and worst in personality, making “flawed”, but still likeable and sympathetic, indviduals.

In World Without End, Follett succeeds at the latter.  It is difficult, reading through the book, to determine the “evil” characters from the “good”, as they move from sympathetic to unsympathetic.  Even the “heroes” frequently commit sins or make mistakes that sway the reader to indignation.  The characters who seem to be truly evil do, occasionally, have some redemptive qualities (although not many).  Spoiler alert: In Pillars, the reader feels not an ounce of sympathy for wicked William Hamleigh; yet the “William” character in World Without End, Ralph Fitzgerald, occasionally displays morality or at least hesitancy in his wickedness.  This ability to craft “real” characters is one of Follett’s masterpieces.

Unfortunately, World Without End is not the brilliant piece of historical fiction that its predecessor was, and the fault lies not with the fiction, but the history.  The Black Plague as a backdrop for the story is written well, but the other “true” storyline, barely hinted at throughout the book, is not truth at all, but sensationalized historical fabrication.  This could be forgiven, if it was dynamic, or added anything to the story line, which it does not.  As a history fanatic, I approached the last 30 pages of Pillars with trepidation and excitement; the ending blew my mind.  I reached the end of World Without End with feelings of mild disappointment.

While I was impressed with the scope of the writing (and as always, with the research), I would have probably enjoyed this book more if it hadn’t been marketed as the sequel to one of my favorite books of all time.

Length: Clocking in at 1,025 pages (my paperback copy), this is no small fete.  It is a relatively quick read, despite its length.

Recommend? Yes

To Whom? Anyone who is interested in historical fiction, particularly that of the Black Plague or the Middle Ages in England.  I would not really recommend it to anyone who picks it up looking for the same caliber as Pillars; though the book is a good read, it is sadly not up to the standard I had expected.

Rating: *** of 5 star.