I recognized the symptoms because it happened last week with John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood, so in addition to the chores and load of laundry, I walked two miles and practiced my solo piece before allowing myself to return to this riveting novel.
From Kerry Egan’s On Living:
When someone tells you the story of their suffering, they are probably still suffering in some way. No one else gets to decide what that suffering means, or if it has any meaning at all. And we sure as hell don’t get to tell someone that God never gives anybody more than they can handle or that God has a plan. We do not get to cut off someone’s suffering at the pass by telling them it has some greater purpose. Only they get to decide if that’s true. All we can do is sit and listen to them tell their stories, if they want to tell them. And if they don’t, we can sit with them in silence.
By 8:40 a.m., I had completed the morning chores, including a load of laundry. Before a walk and music practice, I granted myself a little reading break. Two hours later, I’m wondering where the morning went and whether I still have enough time to walk and practice before work.
■ Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (Sarah Smarsh; 2018. Non-fiction.)
It would be unwise for me to claim I know how much growing up in a poor family shaped my words. My mother’s strong vocabulary, itself learned alone from books, probably has more to do with my language than any college degree I got. We can’t really know what made us who we are. We can come to understand, though, what the world says we are.
In the United States, the shaming of the poor is a unique form of bigotry in that it’s not necessarily about who or what you are — your skin color, the gender you’re attracted to, having a womb. Rather, it’s about what your actions have failed to accomplish — financial success within capitalism — and the related implications about your worth in a supposed meritocracy.
■ Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying (Sallie Tisdale; 2018. Non-fiction.)
Most people aren’t wrestling with dread so much as trying to ignore a chronic background anxiety. But Becker would say this is just repression. He believed that we succeed so well at repressing the fear of death that we may deny the fear even exists — yet its energy remains, driving us on to create a network of belief and relationship in which our short, fragile lives will have meaning. We call these networks by various names: philosophy, but also psychology, science, culture, religion, and art. Repressed, anxious but refusing to experience the anxiety completely, humans create civilization.
Grief is a disruption. The sound of a footstep on the porch evokes the old world, the other life, and it is only the mail carrier and the new life rushes back. My mother has been gone from my life for more than thirty years, but I hear her voice sometimes when I talk, and I see her in the mirror now and then — sidelong, unexpected glances. There she is. And I think, I should call mom and tell her about that. Grief recurs and spins, a Möbius strip of memory going on and on in a loop. You are in denial about the death. You just keep remembering that it happened.
Try not to say: You shouldn’t dwell on the past. Grief is a story that must be told, over and over. Very few people know how to listen to a grieving person without in some way trying to shut down or control the strong emotion.
📚 Today I reached 121 books read this year. Twenty-six of those are non-fiction works, which means I am only four books from my goal of thirty.
Speaking of non-fiction… from Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom (Ken Ilgunas):
It never failed: When I’d gaze at the stars and the aurora, I’d see my problems for what they were. I always told myself that I’d been under the control of other forces: parents, school, work. And I’d convinced myself that my debt was to blame for everything as if I had nothing to do with contracting the debt in the first place). I hated my job even though I worked for a wonderful company. And I told myself that, because of the debt, I couldn’t travel, couldn’t go back to school, and now couldn’t even leave my room.
Part of me liked being in debt. Part of me even wanted to stay in debt, to keep going on random and expensive three-week trips to places like Ecuador so I could spend my hard-earned dollars on halfhearted adventures, instead of staying focused on what should have remained my true goal: busting out of the great American debtors’ prison, steadily chipping away at its walls with each paycheck.
Part of me like being in that position of submission, tied up in leather, willfully cowering beneath a ruthless whip-wielding Sallie Mae. Life is simpler when we feel controlled. When we tell ourselves that we are controlled, we can shift the responsibility of freeing ourselves onto that which controls us. When we do that, we don’t have to bear the responsibility for our own unhappiness or shoulder the burden of self-ownership. We don’t have to do anything. And nothing will ever change.
Also on the subject of non-fiction… I loved Krimstein’s The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt. What a fabulous introduction to the philosopher’s life and work! Good customer service story: My copy of Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (Elisabeth Young-Bruehl), ordered not long after I finished The Three Escapes, arrived with a bent cover and chipped pages. Hoping for a modest discount, I wrote to customer service, and Amazon refunded the entire cost of the book.
🎭 Since my last post, I’ve seen two plays — Nell Gwynn at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (meh) and Mansfield Park at Northlight (misguided, at best) — and one opera — Il trovatore at the Lyric (fabulous; review here).
☕️ On Thursday I was sick enough to call out from work for the first time. After dragging my tired, sniffling self in on Friday, though, I began a nine-day break, arriving home just a few hours before my younger daughter, who is here for Thanksgiving. (My husband and older daughter begin break on Wednesday.)
🍂 Autumn visited for about three days. Not kidding. A few of my neighbors were unable to finish leaf removal before the first snowfall. It snowed again this past Thursday. We were lucky: During a break in my fever last Sunday, we cleared many of the last leaves; and on Monday, in a scarf, earmuffs, and warm coat, I did the last mow of the season.
This is the avid reader’s “Lose weight” or “Join a health club” goal, isn’t it? A resolution made to be broken before Valentine’s Day with rueful chuckles and the nodding acceptance of most fellow readers.
Although my rate of acquisition has certainly slowed, my commitment to reading from the shelves has been something less than steadfast. (Evidence: More than forty of the titles I’ve finished this year were published this year.) As I made room for new friends this morning, I was struck afresh by how many wonderful books already await my attention. Frankly, walking through my house is not unlike wandering through a tiny but well curated bookstore, replete with the same, “Oooo, that looks interesting!” and “Hmmmm, now what’s that about?” discoveries. The abundance of riches is both wildly cool and a little embarrassing. So although we’re a bit out from the “I resolve” time of year, I have been contemplating a personal reading challenge for 2019, something with a bit more stick-to-it-ness than the designed-to-be-broken, “Read from the shelves.”
I began with, “Read one book from every shelf in my library.” Because there are more than two hundred shelves, though, and because it’s been more than a decade since I last finished more than two hundred books in a year, the goal needed refinement. I have decided on one hundred books from my shelves, including at least twenty-four non-fiction titles and at least one book from each of the following “special collections”: Shakespeare, poetry, NYRB, Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, philosophy, art, and children’s / YA. Since I’ve been finishing between 120 and 150 books annually for the last few years, this goal leaves me a little room for impulsivity. My current plan requires nothing more than that the book have been in my collection before the end of 2018, but I will add more details if or when it becomes less random.
How about you? Do you have any reading plans or goals or challenges for the coming year?