I just finished two books, almost simultaneously. I’ve always got several (4 or so) going at any given time — 2 fiction for devouring (one with my eyes, one with my ears) and a couple non-fiction on a slow simmer in the background for when the mood is right. Because my eyes are so much faster than my ears, it’s unusual that I’ll finish two up around the same time, but this time I did. And this was one of those times where an interesting theme emerged and made me think.
I spent the entire day on Saturday (very literally) finishing up the sixth installment of the Green Rider series. My friend Jess got me hooked in grad school, which was all good because there were already three books out at the time and I got to read them in rapid succession. I’ve had to wait years between each of the others though, so when I finally get my hands on the next one, I basically have to check out of life for a bit to soak it all in.
I’ll spare you the details… ok, actually, I’ll spare me the details because it’s pretty much hardcore fantasy and a description would likely scream NERD… but suffice it to say that a major theme of this most recent book was a journey that required a witness.
I didn’t really think much of that theme until this afternoon when it appeared once again. The book I finished on my post-work, full-sun (!!!) run was the third in a series recommended to me by a fellow audiobook lover — the Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I’m still early in the series (there are 17 books!), but I fell in love with the bizarre yet brilliant Special Agent Pendergast right away and love that the books bring back some, but not all, characters and settings from the previous book each time. It’s super fun and they’re a great listen for my runs. I was hoofing it up a big hill (Mount McMillan as my friend Amy would say) this afternoon listening to the epilogue of The Cabinet of Curiosities when Pendergast brought this book’s (surviving) sidekicks to a barely marked grave in a public cemetery north of New York City to burn the secret to prolonged life… an event of historical import so great that it couldn’t be done alone, it needed a witness.
The book ended shortly thereafter, but that word — witness — stuck with me. It tickled something in the back of my mind and fueled my thoughts for the rest of my (blessedly downhill) run home.
I wrote about another book and its use of the phrase “benevolent witness” a couple years ago the first time Seth and I went through IVF. It was something of an explanation for why I am like I am with all the words. And I liked, and still agree with, that post upon re-reading. But it didn’t quite capture what I thought about this afternoon. In that moment, I knew I needed a benevolent witness — someone to really see me and be kind anyway. But it wasn’t so much about kindness today.
I came home and did what any hard-hitting writer-type would do: research.
Google search: can i get a witness
Done and done.
So, it was Marvin Gaye all those years ago who, with a kick ass song (with so-bad-they’re-good dance moves from the crowd, at least in this video), coined the phrase.
Mistreated by a lady love, Marvin Gaye wanted a witness to the unfairness of it all. For someone else to see the truth.
There’s something inherently comforting about knowing that someone else has really seen you in any given situation. Served as witness to joy or pain, bravery or fear, success or unfairness. Regardless of the role a witness ultimately plays in a situation, to know that someone was there validates us in a way nothing else can. Our minds can play tricks, our emotions can wreak havoc, but a witness is stolid — a witness stands by you and says this is real, you are real, you matter, you experienced…
But why on Women Rock Wednesday?
Because Women have so often born witness to the biggest and smallest moments of my life. They still do.
The more I mull it over, the more I find myself believing that there’s something experiential about being a woman in the world that lends itself well to women serving as witnesses for each other. Even when we didn’t share a physical or temporal moment, there are so many familiar stories that, when recounted, end with a common refrain: “I can’t believe I thought it was just me!!”
Most of us have bled through our shorts/pants/pajamas at some point in our lives. Most of us have felt badly about our bodies. We’ve been patronized. We’ve struggled with sexuality, fertility, family planning, femininity (too fast, too slow, too much, not enough). We’ve all spent our lives walking a line between being nice and being firm. These are things that, at least in the culture I know, are nearly universal. And we can serve as witnesses for each other in these ways and so many others.
It can be tempting to isolate, particularly in moments of shame or pain. But to have a witness is to receive validation (or maybe even a dose of reality should we have contorted something painful into something worse than it really is), to share the burden, to recognize the universality of our experiences in a way that removes our ability to truly isolate ourselves from the world. Women can do that for each other. Should and do do that for each other. And for that, I’m so grateful.
I answered the question by sharing my story, by putting my words out there, and engaging (with the internet) in an honest and authentic way.
It’s been stilted lately, though, this little blog-o-mine. And I’ve struggled to figure out why.
Last week, I enjoyed my first two days at Leadership Marshfield, a training program put on through the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MACCI) focused on enhancing the ability of potential community leaders to function effectively. It was an amazing experience and I’m really excited to continue with the program over the next 7 months… but it’s already had an impact.
On the second day of the two day retreat, we were instructed to prepare to share our personal leadership hero(es) with the group… with a prop. Naturally, on my way home from day one, I stopped at the (brand spanking new and beautiful) Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library to check out a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. (Don’t get me wrong, I own it, of course… but a Kindle just doesn’t make a terribly effective prop, in my opinion.) It was actually on the cart behind the circulation desk to be reshelved, which made my heart happy knowing someone else had recently had their hands on it, and I brought it with me the next day.
The next morning, I stood up in front of the group and talked about my two leadership heroes:
(1) Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, who changed my entire perspective about what it really means to engage in my life, my workplace, and my community. She taught me not to be ashamed or afraid of what and who I am, to value myself for my talents and my passions, and to move forward, with gusto, whenever I’m able.
(2) Ronda Kopelke, Director of the Marshfield Clinic Center for Community Outreach, who showed me what an amazing manager and leader should look like, up close and in practice. She continues to teach me (literally daily) what it means to really care about the people around you and to help them understand that you do. She’s also shown me how to be solution-oriented and engage with people in a positive, respectful, relationship-focused manner.
I sat back down, and then Shelley from Roehl popped up (sharing at Leadership Marshfield is popcorn-style… mmmmm… popcorn) and was mad/glad that I stole her thunder/had the same leadership role model as her. Again, my heart, so glad!
I thought a lot about Sheryl Sandberg that day, chatted with Shelley about her and about Lean In at the ROPES course (yes, I did the mother effing high ropes!! impressed? I am! go me!) and thought about what it was that reading that book had done for me and how it had changed my trajectory in the first place.
Sheryl Sandberg was the one who had asked me (and the millions and millions of other readers of Lean In) that question that started it all: what would you do if you weren’t afraid?
And I did those things. A lot of them. The blog three years ago. The ROPES course three days ago.
But I had never thought about the converse question:
What does it look like when you’re living in fear?
I know the answer now. Not on purpose. Not because I want to. But I look back on the last year and I can see, so clearly, what it looks like when I am afraid and I choose to live there.
I run. Literally, metaphorically. All of the above. I ran from my life and from everything that hurt and was scary. I ran and ran and ran. A marathon. Until I broke my foot (not literally, I just pulled a ligament, but it hurts like a b, so there’s that). I ate my way through Festival Foods to run from feelings and stopped vacuuming my floors. I ran from real life. I said yes to everything and anything at work to run from free time and I have ensured that I’ve had none over these past several months. No time to think or dwell, only run. From one assignment to the next. One workout to the next. One bag of chips (or box of candy, carton of ice cream, etc) to the next.
I even ran from writing and sharing and speaking and connecting. So much of me was just so tender and everything and anything could be salt in the wound without warning.
I have been afraid.
Of what, though, really? Grief after a miscarriage is one thing, but fear? I mean, fear that it would happen again would be rational… but you have to get pregnant first for that to be a possibility… getting pregnant is even less my strong suit than staying pregnant, so what then?
The what, I have to assume, is failure. That infertility wins and this is it. And “it” is failure. A life of settling because I can’t do the thing I want to do. That I felt so strongly I was supposed to do. Meant to do even. Family is the next step — love, (schoooooool), marriage… baby carriage. Even my childhood rhymes said so!
It hurts to fail. And I can do physical pain, but emotional? Nope. I hate it. It feels bad to be jealous, too. And I felt like I had replaced my rose-colored glasses with green ones, everywhere I looked ultrasounds and bumps and even literal baby carriages that weren’t mine. Might very well never be. I don’t like those feelings. I don’t like to fail. So I ran, cowered, stopped vacuuming.
This September, the anniversary of all the bad stuff came and went. The missing heartbeat on September 11th. The surgery on the 16th. The black days immediately after when I felt like I couldn’t breath… and didn’t want to. A year later, I’m still here. Still moving. And slowly recognizing a haze of fear. Recognition.
I take you back to the scene in Love Actually when Mark confesses his completely unrequited love to Juliet (yes, I’ve literally already said this) and then walks away, saying to himself, “Enough. Enough now.” It’s like that. Just like that.
Time to move on. To stop being afraid. Or, at the very least, to stop running from it. To face fear head on. Like Brene Brown and FDR’s man in the arena (highly recommend Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly). But also like Shana Niequist in Present Over Perfect (my newest and truest literary love affair) — sitting with it, even when it’s uncomfortable. Letting myself feel it and living my life anyway.
We have a lot of moments in life that are before and after type moments. Things that define us. But sometimes the moment is longer than a moment. Sometimes the moment is more like a year. For me, it was a year of fear. A year spent running, but getting nowhere. Except back to life. And that’s ok.
For my upcoming birthday, I’m building myself a library. A special little space full of coziness and books. (And when I’m in it, a big old nerd!) A space to read, think, relax, unwind or wind up, depending on the book, maybe even write a little. And I’m pretty dang excited about it. All I need is the chair — and that’s going to be my birthday present from Seth. Something big enough so that should Curly choose to join me, there will plenty of space for the both of us.
Maybe a little side table for the lamp and cup of tea I envision at my side. My set up will face the fireplace, of course, for night time reading, and soak up the sun from the big window when it’s shining. But most importantly: the books. And I’m definitely an avid collector in that respect. Physically and mentally. I just soak them up, always have, always will. 2015 has been no exception in that respect, although it has been exceptional in a million other ways and because of that — books have been even more important than usual. They have consoled me and distracted me in a way nothing else possibly could and I am so grateful that comfort like that is always, always, always available. Words are so powerful. And well-timed words are probably the most powerful thing of all. I read some spectacular ones this year.
As I moved my most special books from their stacks, shelves, and cupboards into my new little library, I thought back to the Lincoln Later El library (I think it’s maybe called Brick now?) — where I spent all my lunchtimes many years ago. Sixth grade was probably my peak of loser-dom and recess was kind of a nightmare. So to avoid it, I reshelved books in the library. It was glorious to spend my lunch that way every day — handling the books, seeing what others were reading, getting ideas about what I should read next, and helping Mrs. Van-can’t-spell-the-rest a little bit at the same time. (But most importantly, avoiding the playground.) As I looked over my laundry baskets of collected books, I thought back on those lunch times, about the Dewey Decimal System, and how I would organize things in my own little space. A story about the stories I’ve read began to emerge and it suddenly seemed like an appropriate way to sum up the year I’ve had… my mental shelves are bursting, after all. So a little recap of 2015 — in a literary context:
Even before it started, I was quite aware that 2015 was going to be a tough year. Our last round of IUI was in December of 2014 and when it was unsuccessful (again) we knew that IVF was next. I was unhappy and I wasn’t alone. My sister-in-law, Kayla, and I were both dealing with stuff, feeling unhappy, and so we thought we’d read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin together. We started and I thought the research on happiness was fascinating, but we quickly petered out — I don’t know. It just wasn’t really for me, maybe it was the rigidity? Under normal circumstances, I’m a big fan of plans and dates and times and the like, but there’s something about the beauty of evolution and letting things naturally develop over time that I guess I find preferable. Happiness is always a worthy goal, to be sure, but I guess I prefer to take a step, see what happens, and let that inform the next step over making a 12 month plan with its 12 pre-planned steps and putting checks in the boxes as I accomplish them. (Gasp! I love to check boxes! A revelation that that does not apply here.) I’m not sure what Kayla’s thoughts on the topic are (note to self: ask Kayla for her thoughts), but I think the read was worth it just to better understand the science of happiness — the idea of a set point that you can’t sway too much and the notion that little things can make a surprisingly big difference when they become part of the every day.
One of those little things that makes a huge difference for me is audiobooks. I subscribed to Audible in the middle of 2014 and started listening to books while walking, running, mowing the lawn, sewing, driving long distances, etc, and ho-ly cow, I’m so in love. While there’s no doubt in my mind that reading is a worthwhile activity, I somehow always either felt guilty for reading while I could/should have been doing something else or, conversely, while doing something else hobby-ish, I’d rather be reading. Audible has solved that problem completely — now I can do both. This year alone, I’ve listened to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Murial Barbery, Lightning by Dean Koontz, Saint Odd by Dean Koontz, One Door Away from Heaven by Dean Koontz (so yeah, I’m a big DK fan, and his books are so fast paced that they’re some of the best I’ve found for running to), The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (although admittedly, I haven’t finished this one yet — probably better for something like driving than running), The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (which I hated so much, but we chatted about that before), all three All Souls Trilogy books by Deborah Harkness (A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life), The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, and, at present, Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz (his newest — yay yay yay). I also listened to Scrum by Jeff and J. J. Sutherland. That one was not my choice. It’s a book about a business productivity technique that Seth wanted to listen to and he talked me into listening along as we drove across the UP in September. It was interesting, but not super duper applicable to my lone wolf work environment. On the plus side, however, it was in exchange for that listening experience that I talked him into listening to The Five Love Languages with me on our next drive to and from Madison. As far as self-help goes, it was ridiculously cheesy and almost alarmingly intuitive, yet, Seth and I had an excellent time mocking the self-important and overly serious author and, honestly, recognizing the primary way in which we tend to hear and speak love (me in words, Seth in action) was excellent for us both. Five hours of car time well spent! As far as the rest go All the Light was so beautiful and so hard, but so important and I’m so glad I read it; Orange is the New Black was interesting and informative, definitely a good look at the broken prison system in America, but probably not what you would expect if you just watched the show — sometimes I felt like I was in prison listening to the overly long descriptions of kind of boring things, like prison cheescake and salad bars, a thousand times over; and all the Dean Koontzes were delightful as expected, except that I’m craving so much more about the smooth and blue than the final Odd Thomas book had to offer. The others warrant special attention, however.
The Invention of Wings and The Elegance of the Hedgehog were two of the best books I read all year. They’re both amazing, thought provoking, fascinating. And, while I didn’t think of it really until now, both have in some respect shaped the way I feel about life’s unexpected turns as well as its meaning. Like, so much so, that I should really go back and read Elegance again with an eye to the point of existing, as I’ve lamented over recently. I was so annoyed with both narrators at first — the self-important adolescent and the chip-on-her-shoulder concierge. But they grew and I loved them for it so much in the end. So so much. Anyone can grow, everyone has purpose. Even if just for a moment. Oh, love, love, love! Similarly, the main character in Wings seems so naive at first — and she is, I suppose, because she’s 11 and it’s basically your job at 11 to be naive. But growth and change and heartbreak and breaking hearts, standing up for what’s right for others and recognizing what’s right for yourself, all of that. It’s just beautiful. One of my favorite, favorites. So much so that after I was gifted a second copy (thanks, sweet Ellen! you do know me well!), I re-gifted it to my dear friend Marie and then again at Christmas to my friend Deb. And now you should all read it. Because it’s so so good. (Btw, Sue Monk Kidd also wrote The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, which you know you loved, and that should be an even better recommendation for The Invention of Wings.)
Speaking of good fiction… I also devoured The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and think it was truly the best of the best that I read all year. It’s a World War II-based story about two sisters who are both simultaneously jealous of one another and insecure about themselves, in the end realizing that they’re both incredibly courageous in two distinctly different ways. It’s such a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful story. Simultaneously heart breaking and heart making. This is probably the book I’m the most insistent that other people read — when Aimee said she was reading books with bird titles I was so excited for her to get to this one, I told Erika to start here when she was looking for recommendations, I sent it to Melissa after she had surgery, and gave Marie a copy for Christmas. These are people I love very, very much and this is a book I love very, very much. Definitely my 2015 Must Read. Oh! And one more “deep fiction” winner — At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen, the author of Water for Elephants knocked it out of the park once again with another fascinating look back in time, although this time it was the Loch Ness craze in war battered Scotland rather than the depression-era circus scene. Loved.
But it’s not just prize-winning, super deep fiction that I love… I just love, love, love a good story, and twice this year, Lara Lacombe delivered, with both Lethal Lies and Killer Exposure. The biggest problem with Lara’s books is that if you have even the tiniest inkling of nerdy girl-ness inside you or potential for enjoyment of romantic suspense, you better start reading on a Friday night so that by the time you have to go back to work, you’re done with the book and ready to come up for air. I can never put them down and I think that Killer Exposure was actually my favorite that Lara has written so far. It’s crazy to me how addictive her stories are! Similarly, I devoured lots of Dean Koontz, as mentioned above, including my old hard copy of Life Expectancy, which again, proved itself to be my favorite Koontz of all time. It’s just SO good. I also forced Erika to read it. And she loved it. N = 2, must be true! I also loved One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, which wasn’t quite as amazing as Me Before You, but still excellent and a good reminder that when life is super crazy hard, we can, and should, lean on each other; Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal, a race-exploring New Orleans-based book with super likable and interesting characters; Invisible Ellen by Shari Shattuck because I’m a total sucker for stories about fat girls finding acceptance, friendship, worth, purpose, self-love, etc (a la Jemima J by Jane Green), and this book totally fits that bill — brilliant and interesting and funny and witty and super feel-good; and Lila by Marilynne Robinson, which is apparently a stand alone part of the Gilead series that I obviously need to read more of. Sadly, however, not all the fiction I read delivered quite so well and I did find myself pretty disappointed in Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin, probably because it was my understanding that Le Guin was a science fiction writer and I just couldn’t reconcile my expectations with the reality of the book — although if I really wanted to read about a woman bogged down by unreasonable expectations that had to overcome great adversity, particularly within the context of her unexpected husband, I’d re-read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (a total masterpiece) instead. I was also disappointed by The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner, which is so sad because it’s a legitimately brilliant idea for a story — I just didn’t really dig the execution, I think. It could have been such a lovely little love story wrapped up in history, but instead felt cheesy. I feel like I want to read the same story with an author like Sarah Gruen or Sue Monk Kidd instead, which seems like such a mean thing to say, but it’s my truth. Sorry, Susan.
Perhaps my two most personally important fiction reads, however, actually fall under a broader category of books — namely, those I read in the wake of grief and really helped me to cope. I re-read J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series this year, as we’ve discussed, and while I thought it was about making my maybe baby magical, it actually ended up being an important thing to have done for myself, as I learned only in the wake of my miscarriage. Interestingly, my friend Kristen also recommended to me an adolescent-fiction-slash-graphic-novel called A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and it kind of had a similar story line — a young man’s mother is dying and he calls up a monster to save her, except, the monster wasn’t actually there to save his mother. The monster was there to save him. It’s a quick read, but ridiculously profound and I loved it so much. Probably my number one recommendation in the context of grief specifically. It’s beautiful. I sobbed. So did Kristen. I highly recommend this book. I also recently finished the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness as I mentioned above. Had I read anything about them before diving in, I probably wouldn’t have even stepped a toe in the water — the vampire, witch, demon deal sounds a bit too Twilight-y to suit my HP devotee style (Hermione for life!!), but my mom’s friend and former school social worker, Linda, recommended them to me as I walked and walked and walked through IVF and I am so grateful that she did because I absolutely adore these books. History and magic and love and family and meaning and spirituality and all of the above. Love, love, love, love, love. At nearly 30 hours a piece, it’s impressive to think how many miles I must have run and walked while listening to these three books. The main character even grieved a miscarriage at one point. It was perfection.
In addition to the grief-important fiction, I’ve also read a lot of grief-important non-fiction. Early after my miscarriage, Aunt Becky sent me a copy of To Live Again by Catherine Marshall and I walked with Ms. Marshall for a good long while — in Hawaii, on my way home, many difficult nights, and she’s proven to me over and over again why I find her Prayer of Relinquishment so meaningful, it’s how she lives her whole life. It’s the place she found after the greatest of tragedies, in the wake of the most difficult situation, and she and her words are really an amazing source of strength. Similarly, and then again so completely not similarly at all because there really is no comparing the Catherine Marshall of the 1950s to the Jenny Lawson of now, I also read and loved Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy this year. We talked about the brilliant Bloggess already, but to bring the point home one more time — to move from grief into a state of long-standing, long-battled, hard fought mental illness is not a surprise. Depression is always there waiting for me and I live with it, through it, in spite of it, every single day of my life. Some periods are harder than others and I am not alone. To have collaborated with my healthcare providers to decide to use medication, to participate in talk therapy, those things are not weaknesses — they are strengths, they are good decisions, they are active participation in my own wellness and growth. Also, Jenny Lawson is freaking hilarious and for someone to fit jokes in amongst all that good stuff? Well, that just seems rather amazing, doesn’t it?
(Sad sidenote: hoping for non-fiction goodness a la Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling and Jenny Lawson and the like, I also picked up Yes Please by Amy Pohler at the Honolulu airport after I busted my Kindle on the beach. Unfortunately, I was disappointed — I feel guilty for even saying so, but it just felt so name droppy and gushy about the amazingness of her amazing friends without being particularly hilarious, except when she basically says, “trust me, we were all so hilarious”… I guess you had to be there? So sad about this… but it’s the truth, and it sits half read in a stack next to my bed. Sorry, Amy. This doesn’t change the way I feel about Parks and Rec. Promise.)
I also super loved The Shack by William P. Young and found it particularly encouraging to read Young’s super fascinating imagining of God the trinity. God as black woman, even if only as a representation, among other anti-institutional and/or anti-dogmatic sentiments, has this book frequently labeled as heresy, which I love so much because it says so much about the people who label fiction (a la the Dan Brown books) as such, don’t you think? But besides that, it’s just such an interesting read. I especially loved the way God, the black woman, greets the main character when he first shows up:
Instinctively he jumped back, but he was too slow. With speed that belied her size, she crossed the distance between them and engulfed him in her arms, lifting him clear off his feet and spinning him around like a little child. And all the while she was shouting his name — “Mackenzie Allen Phillips”– with the ardor of someone seeing a long-lost and deeply loved relative. She finally set him back on Earth and, with her hands on his shoulders, pushed him back as if to get a good look at him.
“Mack, look at you!” she fairly exploded. “Here you are, and so grown up. I have really been looking forward to seeing you face-to-face. It is so wonderful to have you here with us. My, my, my, how I do love you!” And with that she wrapped herself around him again…
… He felt the presence of love. It was warm, inviting, melting.
…and I lose it. I highlighted that passage when I gave this book to my dad for Christmas (even though he’d already read it) because I wanted to make sure that he knows that that’s what it feels like to be his daughter. I just loved the things this book made me think and feel and consider. If you’re at all interested in spirituality sans dogma, in spite of dogma, or to make you think about dogma, this is a really good read. Also, spiritually speaking, I super loved The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I started reading it right after my friend Aimee‘s mom (I love all Rathbuns so much — like, they’re basically my sports team and I should get myself a jersey to wear) pinned it and shortly thereafter, my mom bought me a copy that she then kept for herself because she loved it so much too. Brene Brown is a shame researcher, a true academician and expert in psychology, and also one of the greatest spiritual thinkers/writers I’ve ever encountered. Imperfection is all about being who you really are, warts and all, why that’s hard, and why it’s so necessary. There was so much good packed into the book that I feel like I need to have it with me at all times as a reference manual — things to constantly think about until completely internalized. Similarly, Savor by Shauna Niequist is a daily devotional, or perhaps more accurately a book of daily reflections, chock full of this kind of thing — ideas about giving yourself grace, being present in the moment, etc, that are totally worth thinking about. Beautiful things, every day. And something I think I could read over and over again every day in perpetuity.
At present, I’m reading Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America by Margot Adler as quickly as I can and tiny bits of Praying with Celtic Holy Women by Bridget Mary Meehan and Regina Madonna Oliver on a daily basis. The Moon is a really interesting historical narrative on polytheistic practices in this country over the past century, as well as where they may have come from in the more distant past. I got interested in the topic after reading about some of these Celtic Holy Women who were really fascinating early adopters of Christianity. I wish I had more time to spend deep diving into all the millions of areas I get interested in because both of these books make me ask more and more questions and want to read more and more books. I suppose that’s what my little library and all this spare time are for.
I approach 2016 knowing that we’re in for another tough year. My 32nd birthday is nearly here, which means my ovaries are rapidly approaching what the fertility specialist appears to believe is the end for me in my fertility journey. We’re doing IVF again in the spring and I know full well what that means now. In addition, I also know that even in the unlikely event of pregnancy, miscarriage is not only a very real possibly, but a pretty likely outcome. I know what that feels like too. But I’m not ready to give up on this path quite yet, so we head into the new year with our eyes wide open and our scars still red and fresh. My mental library has a whole new annex and my physical library will be a place of refuge when I need it. So back to my dear Hagrid, one more time — what’s coming will come and we’ll greet it when it does. Fortunately, for me, I can greet it like my beloved Hermione, frizzy haired and nose in a book.
Au revior, 2015! Any recommendations for stocking my shelves in 2016???
But it’s way more than just a little book– it’s a journal too! And it’s lent-specific. Things to think about every day for 40 days. Kind of excited!
The title of the book is “40 Soul-Stretching Conversations” and every day for the forty days of lent, there’s a little bit of space to write, and two little things to think about– one quotation from someone awesome (e.g. Teresa of Avila) and a reflection on the topic by Joan Chittister (the awesome-est).
So let’s chat about these things, shall we? For 40 days! 40 nights!
Hopefully it’ll be more pleasant than wandering in the desert 😉
So today, conversation numero uno:
“The things of the soul must always be considered as plentiful, spacious and large.” –Teresa of Avila
“But what are the ‘things of the soul’? Surely they are every breath we breathe, every word we hear, every thought we think. The things of the soul have been too long compartmentalized. And so we got religion but not spirituality. We got church but not God. We got the sacred but no the sacredness of the secular. Or better yet, the revelation that there is nothing ‘secular’ at all.” –Joan Chittister
And in reading that very first page… I knew that this was absolutely the book for me. It so eloquently says things that have been swirling and twirling around in my head for a long time now.
Simply put: merely going through the motions cannot feed your soul.
Granted, the entire notion of something “feeding the soul” was completely foreign to me until two short years ago when a woman I met at a conference in Milwaukee asked me about the church I go to– she said, “yes, but are you being spiritually fed?”
I was kind of taken aback at first. How do you answer something like that? How do I know if I’m being spiritually fed?
So I stopped thinking and I answered with my gut.
No, I was not being spiritually fed.
But was that my church’s fault?
It was mine. I wasn’t even looking for food for the soul.
I had church without God. I had religion without spirituality. I had a compartmentalized soul that was so well compartmentalized that it rarely saw the light of day. And not just in the realm of religion/spirituality/the other-worldy-in-other-ways. In everything. What fed my soul just wasn’t a consideration.
My soul, though, has been released from it’s compartment as of late. And dang. That this is hoooooong-ry! Nom nom nom…
Turns out, lots and lots of things can feed my soul. Before that nice, yet rather blunt, lady I had never even thought about it. Now I think about it all the time.
Because I think if I look for the common denominator in all these soul foods, of the metaphorical variety, of course, I think intention is really where it’s at.
My intention changes the way I approach everything, even secular things, and turns them into activities that feed my soul.
When my intention is to build relationships and be the best communicator that I can be, work feeds my soul.
When my intention is to move my body and feel my muscles work, exercise feeds my soul.
When my intention is to spend time preparing good food for myself and my family, cooking feeds my soul.
Anything can feed my soul… if I choose to let it. If I choose to approach it with good intentions, a positive attitude, a sense of optimism, an eye out for the silver lining.
A little soul for everything and everything for my soul.
Dang, guys… you and your friends and your mom and your dog are all basically freaking awesome. I write some of the craziest, silliest, saddest, weirdest, yet super honest, stuff and you’re awesome about it. Every time. The more whatever-est it is, the more supportive you (and your friends and mom and dog) are and I’m so super grateful. Huge props from me… and my therapist, who agrees that the catharsis of Under the Tapestry is probably the number one factor keeping me out of the loony bin. I mean, I assume he’d agree based on his positive comments regarding the post and the response to it. However, “loony bin” isn’t a phrase he tends to use all that often (i.e. ever– professionalism or whatever). So thanks for that. I’ll let you know either way in a couple of weeks and we can all cry happy or sad tears, eat happy or sad ice cream (with lactaid), and think happy or sad thoughts together.
When I say cathartic, I mean it, and it’s amazing how fessing up to that one dark moment seems to have released so many additional words that have been queuing up for a while. (Queuing because it’s my goal in life to become British. Obviously.)
Except it’s a little more nuanced than that because I don’t find being overly familiar with someone whose willing to be overly familiar right back a problem. For example, I’ll probably make a lame joke if we try to talk about the weather for 10 minute at a party, but if I run into you in the bathroom and you confess that you’re suffering from diarrhea, we’re basically going to hit it off right away. Probably I’ll tell you about all the GI distress I’ve struggled with and we’ll laugh and say, “ha ha ho ho hee hee– clearly we were meant to meet like this!”
(Quick fun fact– I just got a text from a brand new, way too quickly overly familiar friend that said “Well let’s just say maybe our meeting was meant to be.” With the exception of the “ha ha ho ho hee hee” I’m basically just writing from real life, yo.)
Books are what makes my introvert heart particularly happy because when you have read the same book as someone, you automatically have an intimate connection that you don’t have with just any random person on the street– no GI involvement necessary. And I think, after much consideration, that is why I like book clubs so very, very, very much.
It’s a social situation, that’s awkward, but it’s a bunch of other people who read the same book as you which means their mind has been in that same storied place and let every one of the same words and characters and thoughts and ideas tumble around in their brain just like you did. Maybe even some different thoughts or ideas about the very same words and characters. That’s intimacy right there. It’s also something non-small to talk about. An introvert-who-paradoxically-also-craves-social-connection’s dream.
So I basically love book clubs. I love everything about them. Everything except the social anxiety inducing process of identifying potential members, inviting identified potential members, and hosting a get together with all accepting invited identified potential members.
I guess you could say that it’s getting to the point of comfort with people that we can begin to relate over books that’s the hard part.
Despite the my awkwardness and the necessity to participate in uncomfortable activities (like talking to other humans who didn’t already know about my secret nerdiness) to get to the good part, I managed to start a third book club and we met for the first time a couple weeks ago to discuss The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler.
Everything about a book club is truly a celebration of the nerd-tastic to me and I spared no expense on Saturday. While reading the book on my Kindle, I highlighted any mention of the snacks and drinks served by each host. At game time, I noted the highlights, looked up recipes, and managed (with the tremendous help of my dear friend Amy) to whip up a feast fit for even the picky perfectionist Jocelyn. Granted, we’re not classy enough for the wine selections mentioned in the book… but everything else! Moscato and sweet white and sparkling pink to be served over ice (am I making your teeth hurt?) for my crew!
We had creme de menthe squares and lemon bars and molasses cookies and almond crescent cookies and cheese and crackers and venison sausage (Wisconsin, yo… and Matt got a deer!) and bottle after bottle after bottle of delicious wine.
It was a delicious menu, to be sure, but I was a bit concerned going into the event because I didn’t just want to make and serve it all… I also wanted to eat it all! So I endeavored to make as much as I could gluten-free and dairy-free. That’s where Pamela comes in…
Pamela the miracle worker.
Pamela the business-woman.
Pamela the magician and creator of the most amazing gluten-free flour I’ve ever tried:
It says it can be substituted cup for cup for regular flour. Hard to believe, but in this case, finally true. The lemon bars, molasses cookies, and almond crescent cookies were all amazing… I don’t even think you’d know the difference if I didn’t tell you (although Seth swears that he can). Huge victory for me and by little buddy Noah this Christmas season– can’t wait to share all the recipes with his mom!
So Pamela was the first champ of the evening. I cannot recommend that amazing four highly enough if you struggle to bake gluten free!
And then came Bernadette. Not a flour. She’s the fiction.
At book club, people came and went… some stayed the whole time, others popped in for a bit and left early, but once everyone was all gathered around in my living room (doh! not enough comfy chairs!) we popped the movie version of the Jane Austen Book Club in and watched for our friends who hadn’t had a chance to read the whole book.
It’s the same general story, of course, by the characters in the movie were basically mutilated… especially Prudie’s poor husband Dean who really got the short end of the movie stick, I must say. But besides that, at the end of the night, as five girls remained (some of us tipsy, myself included), four of whom were introverts (Amy, let’s face it, you’re as extroverted as they come), we all decided that the best character in the movie, the one we all endeavor to be like, was Bernadette.
Granted, book Bernadette was probably a good twenty years older than movie Bernadette, but that didn’t change the fact that she was a woman who was 100% comfortable in her own skin… no matter what. And we all loved that. Who wouldn’t?
Maybe someday it will be the norm for us, that level of self-comfort. I hope so! But more importantly… it is my sincere hope that we, at the very least, become that way around one another in relatively short order. Wine will help at first, of course. Wine and gluten-free cookies. But a bunch of introverts out of their shell on account of books? Seems like a recipe for comfort to me.
Perhaps someday I’ll even write all of us into a book. A couple of teachers, an environmental policy specialist, a science writer, some doctors, a nurse, a healthcare administrator… and the recurring and fascinatingly flighty Sister Doctor. You’ll read it, right? Somebody’s going to need to start breeding dogs and dating a sci-fi enthusiast… then we’ll have it down.
Before I get on with the business of the day, I’d like to clarify what I said about academic condescension yesterday. Please be assured that it is 100% knowledge-based snobbery, not title-based. In fact, I have considerably less patience for those with lots of letters behind there name and very few thoughts between their ears and I very much admire those without the letters who have come by incredible and complex thoughts by way of experience (my dad, my friends Marie and Michele– really, really incredible thinkers, no need for letters). True, I have some letters behind my own name, but I am of the opinion that having a “terminal” degree doesn’t mean the end of learning, nor is it the only path to being learn-ed. <End Rant> Hash tag– yes, that’s personal.
I is an interesting letter in this little adventure you and I are on.
Originally I was going to wax poetic about icing. You see, frosting was the first binge food I ever got caught with. (Got caught with… not first binge. Big difference.) Kind of a big deal when it was discovered in my filing cabinet. (Because what second grader doesn’t ask for a file cabinet for Christmas??? And what third grader doesn’t keep a carton of chocolate frosting and a spoon inside?) Except, while working my way to the letter I, I was also reading two books– Innocence by Dean Koontz (to get technical about it, that was actual my Audible book that I listened to while running, walking, or mowing the lawn– talk about motivation! dang!) and My Own Country by Abraham Verghese (a gift from my dear friend Suma because she thought I’d like it… and did I ever!) and the parallels and really interesting points about innocence were too poignant to ignore.
Therefore, the letter I is for the idea of innocence. Super interesting– just hear me out!!!
The Dean Koontz book is kind of a given here. I’ve been a little bit disappointed with some of his most recent work (77 Shadow Street? It was the pits! Took me for-ev-er to slog through it and even at the end, I was unable to find any redeeming qualities), but this book captured me pretty much immediately. The basic premise is this: a guy who cannot be seen, a girl who cannot be touched, both social exiles, but things change when they find each other. There’s that supernatural Dean Koontz-y element that I love so much and the story was so so good. In the end (not really a spoiler, don’t worry) you find out that the reason for the main characters’ differences was literally their absolute and complete innocence– an innocence so magnificent that anyone who looked at them or touched them was doomed to instantaneous reflection on all the reason that they themselves were not innocent. And that’s not pretty for anyone.
The Abraham Verghese book? Totally different! Dr. Verghese is the MD who wrote Cutting for Stone, which is truly one of the best books I’ve ever read. Cutting for Stone is fictional, it’s beautiful, it’s amazing… read it! My Own Country is an autobiographical account of Dr. Verghese’s “coming of age” as an infectious disease specialist during the first years of the AIDS epidemic in the United States.
Where’s the parallel, right?’
I’m getting there.
Verghese is an amazing writer because he is so beautifully honest, even when the things he’s being honest about aren’t so beautiful. He does not write himself as a hero, he writes himself as a man– warts and all. (He never actually mentions warts, just flaws. I say warts because I used to have SO many warts on my left knee, you guys. It was awful. I was in derm every other week because this was before the time of the canned freezy do-it-at-home spray stuff. It was an awful time! Now I wrote about my warts and you will think of me as a beautifully and genuinely honest author, right?)
Anyway, in My Own Country Verghese talks a lot about how his patients were contracting HIV in the small town of eastern Tennessee in which he lived and worked. As you are likely aware, the AIDS epidemic really came to light in the United States amongst gay men. Yes, there were also many cases that resulted from intravenous drug use, blood transfusions, and in hemophiliacs receiving clotting factor concentrates, but it was risky sexual behaviors that were the hot topic. Especially because, at the time, homosexuality was rarely talked about and certainly not well-accepted by any means. As such, Vergheese found himself immersed in a sub-culture that he was completely unfamiliar with and he had so many questions. Not necessarily about the lifestyle, the culture, or anything, although those things were certainly of interest– more so about himself, his prejudices, his biases, his thoughts on innocence and guilt and what having HIV and AIDS really meant.
At one point, Verghese describes meeting a heterosexual couple who were both HIV infected. The husband had undergone heart surgery, during which he had received several units of blood… HIV-infected blood. He then transmitted the virus to his wife. A very sad story, of course, and Vergheese found himself emotionally invested from the get go… this poor, innocent couple.
Until he questioned his notion of what it actually meant to be innocent. If this couple was “innocent,” did that imply that the gay men he routinely saw were somehow not innocent?
I love so much that he questioned himself, his own beliefs, his own prejudices. How many of us can say that we generally do? That we can examine our own thoughts about guilt and innocence and to admit that maybe we weren’t being completely objective… completely fair.
It was interesting to read these two books simultaneously… the first describing how much we can despise the innocent for emphasizing our own shortcomings, the second pointing out our quick leap to a judgement and dislike of those we consider “guilty.” Such an interesting dichotomy.
Innocent, guilty… ultimately– “who am I to judge?” I think Pope Francis got it right. Who are any of us to judge?
I know that I am not innocent– far from it (remember the chocolate frosting??? also, I’ve been a big fat liar since day one, etc, etc, etc). As such, you shouldn’t find me casting any stones.
Shouldn’t being the operative word.
Because sometimes, I think I do. Ok, I know I do.
I appreciate Abraham Verghese bringing this to my attention, for making me really think about innocence and what my own prejudices might be. And Dean Koontz for underscoring the point when it was brought to mind.
Reading and thinking… do it! Even fiction can make a difference!
H was almost for Harry Potter. Almost. I mean, I love Harry Potter. LOVE IT.
But my favorite part of Harry Potter:
The hair! The brain! The condescension!
She’s perfection 🙂
I knew it from the moment she introduced herself and one-upped the boys with her oculus repairo spell.
Also, I love that my brother called her HER-ME-OH-KNEE until we saw the movie. It makes me smile so big. Until I remember that he got pissed off about something after like the fifth book and never finished them. Can you even imagine the insane level of dissatisfaction? Maybe someday he’ll finish the series up. (Please, Stubby?)
I’m sure it’s pretty obvious to you why I like Hermione so much– I totally relate to her. On so many levels.
First: the hair. We’ve talked about that before, mine gets pretty insane. Once, my friend Aimie‘s kids were in my office and we were talking about Harry Potter and I told them my hair was just like Hermione’s. Noah didn’t believe me, so I pulled it out of the ponytail it was in to demonstrate. Both of their jaws dropped– it was too cute! Yep, my hair is a big, frizzy mess. But if it’s good enough for Hermione, it’s good enough for me! (And it’s also why I do better in the north!)
Second: the brain! My brain is definitely my biggest, and strongest, asset. (But seriously, I have a very big head, I imagine that I must have quite a bit of brains in there to fill all the space.) I thrive on knowledge, on learning. I looooove to read. Anything and everything. In fact, I used to take the dictionary into the bathroom with me as a little kid (ask my parents, it’s 100% true) and I’d sit on the toilet and soak in all the new words. I also read my encyclopedia set from cover to cover and bookmarked all of the interesting pages (i.e. I bookmarked pretty much all of the pages). If only I weren’t a muggle… think of all the magic there would be to learn.* (I’m not kidding, you guys, my head is literally real big.)
And third: let’s be honest, it’s totally the academic condescension. I’m the worst. I try really hard to be cool about people not knowing things, and yet… I’m kind of not. I’m a snob. Sue me.
That whole “it’s not wingardium leviOsa it’s wingardium leviosA” thing is totally me. To a T. Or an H, even 🙂
And I know other people have noticed. As recently as grad school, my advisor said to me that she thought I might have a hard time teaching because I’d have to be patient with people who weren’t as smart as me.
Oooo. Burn on me!
But I can recognize that truth about myself. We all have our flaws… even me and Hermione.
*Seriously, though. I am half magical, on my mom’s side. Not 100% muggle. I’m not even kidding. My Grandma Rita’s parents, Alex and Rachel (my namesake) Liberacki were professional magicians.
No, I do not know how they do that. Little bit of whiffle dust, I suppose. I did learn lots of tricks though when I was younger– magic in the talent show was totally my thing. Except for the year when I sang Matchmaker, Matchmaker with two other girls and three mops. Or the year I read Shel Silverstein poems…
Oh man, I am such a Hermione!
… Read on if you’re a die hard HP fan like me …
I wore this sweet necklace to work today and I was suddenly aware of it’s heaviness against my chest in the middle of the day, which is when I realized:
This Petoskey stone is the horcrux in which I keep the Michigan girl part of my soul.
That way, even if I die, that bit of me never will.
Voldermort may have been on to something.
Congress, take note– that is how you act bipartisan!
One of the items that’s been on my to do list for quite a while now is a quarterly book club review. This is a review of the books we’ve read for my actual in person, physical book club in the last three months… I thought you might want to know about them! Especially because all three were G-O-O-D good! And, for some reason, people often ask me to recommend books. It’s like they know I (really) like reading or something 😉
(Also, I just finished The Master of Ballantrae last night for our Under the Covers virtual book club, but I’ll tell you all about that one another time.)
I think I’ve mentioned all three of the books we’ve read so far at some point, simply because when I read I get very wrapped up in the fictional world I’m enjoying and it’s hard (really, really hard) for me not to let it creep out into my real life. (Take, for example, my new Hermione-style time turner to keep me from sitting in front of the computer for big, long, extended periods of time.) But here are my real, true, comprehensive reviews of the first three books we read… all in one place.
So, without further ado, let me tell you about Murderers and Nerdy Girls Work Late by Lisa Boero, Deadly Contact by Lara Lacombe, and Mary: Mrs. A Lincoln by Janice Cooke Newman.
Murderers and Nerdy Girls Work Late by Lisa Boero
(Dang… that picture is big. I just noticed the goosebumps on the legs– that’s hilarious to me!)
I told you quite a bit about this book before here, so I’ll spare you the big spiel about prosopagnosia. Instead, let me tell you about why this book was such a good read!
Honestly, the thing that struck me first was the title. I mean, nerdy girls. That’s my love language. Nerdy is a word that truly describes me to a T and I try pretty hard to embrace it, as opposed to shying away and trying to insist that I’m cool (I swear!) because I’m not. I’m a nerd. And that’s ok. (You had me at nerdy, Lisa. You had me at nerdy.)
Nerdy Girls is a totally self-written, self-published, and self-promoted masterpiece. I’m so impressed by the circumstances in which Lisa wrote the book. And besides all that, it’s GOOD! Really good! I think everyone in our book club agreed that the ending was a little too brief… like all of the sudden everything was clear, the murderer was captured, the hero and heroine were in love, and it was the end. But besides that, truly a good read. Especially because of the prosopagnosia piece. (Clearly, I lied when I told you I’d spare you that spiel because here it comes).
Like women in real life, women in books are insecure for all sorts of different reasons, but it seems most often to be related to physical (I’m not thin enough!) or emotional (you don’t think I’m thin enough!) insecurities… this was the first time I considered the notion of a neurological insecurity, and I thought that was really interesting. To be honest, the way that the main character Liz copes with her neurological condition is actually very similar to the way I’d say I cope with depression in public. You know the motions, you know the drill, so even if you don’t really feel it, you can smile when you need to, chuckle when you ought, and make it through day after day after day out in the world without anyone ever being the wiser. It was a fascinating thing for me to think about!
When I went and heard Lisa Boero speak at the Marshfield Public Library, she mentioned that she had five more books in the nerdy girl series on the way. (Exciting!) Apparently though, all of the books feature Liz’s prosopagnosia-based story. That’s super cool, I really liked Liz, but how fascinating would it be to have all sorts of different “nerdy” girls with different neurological and/or psychiatric issues as the heroines?! I thought it would be really cool! (Note that I’m using the word cool here in a way you may be unaccustomed to it being used… you know what I mean.) I said so to Lisa during the Q&A (I got so brave for a minute) and she seemed intrigued by the idea… although I’m sure she’d have to quit her day job to research other disorders since prosopagnosia is the only one she’s got! Regardless, if you see that series come out sometime in the future, you can totally credit me!!
Deadly Contact by Lara Lacombe
OMG! I loved this book. I absolutely devoured it.
I remember the day I read it very distinctly because my in-laws were over and my sister-in-law came over with her copy, thinking she might read a bit. I had just finished something else and can’t stand when my SIL thinks she reads faster than me (because she doesn’t) so I picked up my copy too, thinking I’d get a little ways in once everyone left. Except I couldn’t… stop…
I have no idea how late I was up reading, but it was seriously late. I woke up the next morning and started reading again in bed (good thing it was Saturday– that may have been difficult to explain to the boss), eventually moved my behind out to the couch, and didn’t stop until mid-afternoon when I was completely done and left quite satisfied with the ending.
It was just that good! Not only that, but I actually know know the author… like she’s a personal friend of mine. She’s an absolutely brilliant and meticulous scientist, she mentored me in my first ever grad school rotation, and the last thing I would have ever guessed would be that she happened to dabble in romantic suspense on the side. And that she’s really, really good at it! How the? What?
So not only is it brilliantly written, truly romantic, and exceptionally suspenseful, but all the freaking SCIENCE is correct, too! For instance, near the end of the book, she was describing the vial of yellow-ish opaque liquid that Kelly was going to have to deliver to the bad guy and I thought to myself, “Lara, you know better– if it were liquid and not on ice, all the bacteria would be dead, and the bad guy would be tipped off immediately.” And then that’s what Kelly said to the guys in the FBI… because she’s like Lara, and she knows her science.
Now, how Lara knows her romance… that leaves much up to the imagination, but clearly she’s expert. Definitely an awesome read and another in the works for later this year, I believe– I will be anxiously awaiting it!
Mary: Mrs. A Lincoln by Janis Cooke Newman
Another book I absolutely loved. Although, with some caveats.
First, the book is really, really long. At 620 pages, it takes you through Mary Todd Lincoln’s life from beginning to end and spares little detail, I’m sure. I loved the completeness of it, but there are really only so many times you need to hear about how Lincoln’s great oration made Mary’s “bosom heave” before it becomes a bit much. I get it. He talks, she’s hot and bothered. It was the 1800s… what are you gonna do?
The other kind of crappy part is how confused I feel about Mary Todd Lincoln now. I thought I knew some things about her, but now I am plain confused. I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to read an actual biography now because I’m so disturbed by some of the things about Mary’s life that may or may not have been fictionalized. You see, the book is based on the historical facts of Mary’s and her family’s life, but it’s also historical fiction, which means it is, in fact, fiction. So… did Mary Lincoln really have an affair during Lincoln’s presidency? Were her tendency for hoarding and her attachment to things really as horrifying as they sound? Was Robert really that unloving toward his parents, his brothers, and his wife? Clearly, I’ve got some researching to do! It’s difficult sometimes for me to appreciate the good and bad about a historical subject. I get that people are complicated, and always have been, but it can be hard not to idolize people who did so much good in their lives and are now long gone… to remember that they weren’t perfect.
But besides all that… a truly awesome read. I’m completely fascinated by the Civil War era and this book really highlights some of the most important injustices suffered, especially by women, at the time. Not only that, but it really highlights how far psychology has come over the last nearly 200 year. We’re much better at not poisoning crazy people, or even accusing them and labeling them of being crazy, as we were back then. The “remedies” Mary took, and Lincoln too, were just disturbing!
Probably the most interesting thing to me in the whole book was that the worst offense ever uttered to Mary during her life was related to the notion that she, a woman, might have had some sense of ambition. Can you even imagine?!
This was definitely the most mixed of our books so far, in terms of reception. I really liked it and so did one other member of the book club… the other two struggled to finish and probably wouldn’t readily recommend it. So I’d say it’s a taste thing for this one. The nerdier you are, the more likely it is to be your cup of tea (sorry, Emily, but like I said above– I really don’t think of nerdiness as a bad thing and you are legitimately cool and pretty, even though you liked Mary like I did).
Next up we’re reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Spoiler Alert: It’s really freaking good. Like so good I force people to read it by telling them they have to pick it as their next book club book. Abraham Verghese is an MD who wrote a beautiful, beautiful work of fiction and I’m super excited to read it again. I read it crazy fast the first time, wanting to know more, more, more… this time I can slow down a bit and really think about some of the things I might have thought of only briefly the first time around. I’m already really enjoying it. But more on that next quarter, yes?
Have you read anything good lately? Are we friends on GoodReads? We should be!
Imagine for a moment that the world really had been flat when Columbus decided to sail around it. He’d have literally fallen off the face of the Earth.
His trip took a long time and I can’t imagine that cell service reached that far meaning that contact with home was non-existent. As such, people probably thought that he did fall off the face of the Earth.
Last Thursday, I said yes to a real big grant with a very short timeline.
And as you may have noticed, I sailed my ship right off the face of the Earth.
Or so you thought!
But like the world, my grant was round, and here I am! Back among the living! (Just a little tired…)
Sigh of relief though. That was a doozy! The grant still isn’t technically out the door and I’ve spent most of the day today making minor tweaks and changes and edits and such, but for the most part, it’s ready to go. Monday is the official deadline, and on Monday, “send” shall be clicked. Huzzah!
In the meantime, I had a total It’s a Wonderful Life moment. My house was a MESS! I almost took before and after cleaning pictures last night… but it was simply too horrifying to even be funny. We had crossed the line. (See! I matter! I really do!)
My gmail inbox has 55 unread emails– and that’s after deleting the junk! (Huge apologies if I’ve been ignoring you!)
I have an episode of Downton Abbey on the DVR (what that whaaaaat?!).
My nail polish is flaking off to a pathetic point and I haven’t even had the time to pick at it. (But I love picking at it!!)
And I haven’t posted on Under the Tapestry in over a week!!!
Oy. None of this is ok. Thank goodness for this upcoming weekend!
But there are some reasons why the insane hours and the seriously mentally taxing work (and not just mentally! I hurt my finger on a staple! writing can be physically taxing too!) was completely worth it… there were some silver linings, if you will.
First, I learned A LOT. About A LOT.
Unfamiliar funding mechanism, unfamiliar topic, unfamiliar PI. But not anymore.
I could write another HRSA grant, and I could do it well. (Fingers crossed HRSA thinks it’s written as well as I think it is.)Especially given more time. Because seriously, I could have used more time. A lot more time.
The topic– fascinating!! I have a personal interest in improving access to behavioral health services (because remember, I’ve kind of cra-a-azy) and I think the proposed project offers a really wonderful way to do that in our community. Very easy to get on board. Not as easy to learn the material. But I read and read and read (and googled and googled and googled) and I’ve come out the other side with a much better understanding of the role that different types of health professionals can play in behavioral healthcare as well as how the different pieces of the organization I work for can fit together to make that happen. Fascinating stuff!
And the PI… she was wonderful. Truly a dream to work with. She’s passionate about what she does and really understands how to make care better for patients. And that’s why she does what she does and why I wanted to help her do more of it. She makes all those hours worth it… and will continue to do so as I cash in on some favors I’m owed to help advance some other program grants I’ve been toying around with. (Mr. Burns-style excellent.)
So, yes, I am tired. And my poor husband is starved near to death. But we survived it. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat, even if it meant there was another week where we couldn’t chat.
(That’s not to say I haven’t missed you, because I have! And dearly!)
Anyway, I’ve sailed back to you, little lovelies! Back to Earth, back to normal, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Yay!!
Are you a football fan? A couple of pretty awesome, down-to-the-wire games this weekend. And rightfully so! The stakes were high, after all!
I was watching, cheering for Seattle (over the 49ers– the Fail Mary over the 2x post-season Packer defeat, the lesser of two evils), and having pizza with friends. And we, like pretty much everyone else, were pretty floored by Richard Sherman’s post-game interview. I mean, dang! He was amped!
The Internet pretty much BLEW UP over Richard Sherman’s comments. And I mean BOOM. There were articles condemning Sherman, articles defending him, biographical articles, and tweets, tweets, tweets galore! It was certainly hard not to think about Richard Sherman, or at least note of him, in the days following that game.
So Sherman’s “rant” was on my mind. And it was on my mind as I worked my way further into Robert Louis Stevenson’s Scottish tale The Master of Ballentrae when I realized what it was that Sherman was actually doing: paying tribute to a literary classic!
It makes sense if you think about it. Sherman graduated at the top of his high school class with a GPA of 4.2– no small feat considering he came from Compton, a notoriously tough suburb of LA. He went on to graduate from Stanford and even started a masters there before being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in 2011. Of course he’s a fan of the classics… and of course he was paying homage to Henry Durie when he made his post-game speech! Don’t believe me? I’ll show you!
First, here’s what Sherman said in his interview with Erin Andrews:
Andrews: The final play, take me through it.
Sherman: Well, I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that is the result you gonna get! Don’t you ever talk about me!
Andrews: Who was talking about you?
Sherman: Crabtree! Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick!
A little context for you. This was a big game– last step before the Super Bowl. And Crabtree, wide receiver for the 49ers, knew that he was likely to be up against cornerback Richard Sherman and he talked some crap… a lot of crap… in the days leading up to the game. And yet in the final seconds of a seriously brutal competition, Richard Sherman knocked a touchdown pass out of the air before it made it to Crabtree’s hands, preventing the touchdown, and winning the game. He punched his team’s ticket to the Super Bowl. It’s no wonder he was absolutely ON FIRE in those immediate moments after… I can get that.
And then what Henry Durie, Scottish nobility, says nearly 270 years earlier in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae in response to what amounts to trash talk written by his (jerk) brother:
“What do you think of that Mackeller,” says he, “from an only brother? I declare to God I liked him very well; I was always staunch to him; and this is how he writes! But I will not sit down under the imputation”– walking to and fro– “I am as good as he; I am a better man than he, I call on God to prove it!… I shall stuff this bloodsucker.”
Considering the vernacular of 1700s Scotland and that of the National Football League circa 2014, I’d say these two speeches are pretty much identical.
History does repeat itself, doesn’t it?
Both Richard Sherman and Henry Durie were mad– and with good reason! Their good names had been dragged through the mud by people who by all accounts should have had respect for them and they were tired of it. Given the opportunity to reclaim their good name, they did so! Vehemently!
So whether it was a literary throwback or just a well-deserved chance to publicly “stuff” (as Henry Durie would say) the man who spent so time trash talking him before the game, I’d say Richard Sherman was completely justified.
Regardless, it was a LOT more fun to watch than the typical “We just went out there and played our best and scored more point than the other guys” crap that most players bore us with after the game.
More Richard Sherman! More literature! Less milk toast!
PS: I just looked up milk toast… I knew it was supposed to be bland and boring, but I honestly had no idea what it was. Sounds pretty much like I expected– bland and boring…
…and kind of DELICIOUS! I’m thinking some milk toast (with lots of lactaid) may be on the menu this weekend! (At least French toast!)