I didn't sleep again last night

I didn’t sleep again last night.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I went to sleep about 10:30 and then woke around 1, with a sense that the stress and anxiety in my body was bubbling up and over and the more I thought about it, the more it felt like I had walked to the end of a pier and stepped off, anxiety overcoming me like a sickly molasses substance, pressing down on my chest and up toward my head and it was only with the greatest of efforts that I kept my nose, and my life, above this rising, boiling mass. 

I knew I had a long day of work ahead and sleep was imperative but that only served to strengthen the demons haunting me, preventing me from doing anything approaching rest.  Instead, I tried counting deep breaths, wondering why I had still not tackled meditation as a practice, the promise of peace-of-mind, sought after at every turn, had not been enough to make me take the time to sit, legs crossed, and attempt to clear my ADHD riddled mind. 

I am worried about money.  More exactly, how I can make more of it and spend less.  And why, when I was making more, I wasted so much of it on silly things, like having our air conditioner filter delivered at three times the cost of going to fetch one at a local store.  I make excuses for this kind of behavior, like I was working so many hours and trying to run a house and family that having such things brought to me by the UPS or Fed Ex guys just made sense but looking back, I’d love to have that $15 back, plus all the other money I wasted on meal services and organic grass-fed meat deliveries and DirectTV. 

My working life has always been feast or famine, with money either flowing in or staunchly dammed.  But for all the worry of those drought months and years, and the empty promises I make, when the money deluge hits again, I spend with abandon, no historical memory of lean times. 

And this knowledge only adds to my stress.  How can I be so stupid at my age?  At what point will I learn these lessons?  Am I destined to continue to repeat this again and again?

I’m in a hustling mode right now, trying to figure out how to cover the bills that are over-sized compared with my meager paycheck.  Maybe this is the time that will do it for me—I’ll stop making excuses and when I figure out this money crisis, I’ll start socking away for the next period when I’m money-hungry and the anxiety it induces will be less because I’ll be able to draw on that rainy day fund, going to bed secure instead of scared witless.  But based on my past actions, I don’t think I’m that smart. 

 

Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”  This phrase forms the basis of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.  Sandberg argues that many factors have held women back from taking leadership roles in the workforce, including their own unwillingness to “lean in” to the work. 

 

I knew exactly what Sandberg meant by this and what she meant when she said that women “leave before they have to leave” when it comes to combining family and work. 

 

I was finishing my Master’s degree the same week my first child was due, and I had little idea what to do next.  An opportunity became available in my department for a job that I believed I was uniquely qualified for and would likely love—but it would mean moving and might be only a temporary opportunity, lasting anywhere from two to ten years.  With a husband who had no interest in moving and a new baby on the way, I didn’t even bother to apply.  I couldn’t see how I would make it work.  It would likely mean a break in the marriage and that worried me primarily because I was uncertain about my economic future—new babies tend to do that to a person. 

 

Fast forward a few years and the marriage ended in divorce.  I had found only part-time work teaching and was struggling financially.  I regretted deeply not applying for that position.  It might have sent me off on a satisfying career path and led to bigger and better things, but I held my own self back, unsure how I would combine the job with an intransigent husband and a new baby. 

 

If I had taken Sandberg’s advice, I would have applied for the position and then figured out how to make everything else work. 

 

Of course this is easy for Sandberg to say.  She has a supportive husband who seems to meet her half way on housework and childcare.  She also has degrees from elite institutions, and she waited until she was older to have children. 

 

But these are all just excuses I’m making for my own inability to take charge of my life.  I have degrees from good institutions.  I divorced a man who had no interest in being an equal partner and my children are now grown and becoming independent.  At forty-eight, I’m set for a renaissance in my career and my ability to pursue my own interests and goals. 

 

As a middle-aged woman, I’m much more secure in my own ability and desires.  I know what matters to me, and I’m more willing to stretch myself to reach for it.  And perhaps that’s the most important take-away for me from Sandberg’s book:  figure out what you want and don’t make any excuses in getting it. 

 

But even if I overcome these internal struggles, it still doesn’t mean I’ll be successful or emerge as a leader.  Society continues to uphold “brick walls” against women who push to take on leadership positions and until we knock these walls over, it won’t matter whether women lean in or out or lose their fear. 

What we must do is combine these approaches.  We must encourage women to trust themselves and to push hard against their internal fears of balancing work and family.  Then we must organize and fight to deconstruct the barriers society has erected to keep women out of leadership positions.  

See the Ted Talk that started Sandberg on her Lean In journey. 

Join or start a Lean In circle

 

Philip Roth's The Plot Against America: Lessons for Today

What would the world be like if Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator and Hitler admirer, had become president in 1940? 

This is the premise on which Roth’s The Plot Against America lies and the book creates an interesting counterfactual tale of Jewish persecution in the U.S. that never reached the crescendo of that in Germany but reveals that if the circumstances were just a little different, might have. 

Could the U.S. tip over into such destructive hate?  Can a majority of people be whipped up to persecute a minority group?  History reveals that the answer is yes, of course, and there are countless examples, including some in the U.S.  So postulating that pogroms or genocide could happen in the U.S. today isn’t that difficult. 

And this is where I found Roth’s book most interesting.  The narrator is the young Philip Roth, who at nine, loses his childhood and his innocence when he realizes that the things he assumed were solid and could be counted on, could not.  That every institution and every governmental assurance could disappear in the few seconds it took to move one individual out of the White House and another in.

 Charles Lindbergh in Germany in 1937

Charles Lindbergh in Germany in 1937

 

And it’s a lesson we are learning today.  During the period between the election and the inauguration, I had countless people tell me not to worry.  They argued that Trump couldn’t really “do” anything because of that whole idea of “checks-and-balances” and the Supreme Court and Congress.  I patiently explained to them that, in fact, all these artificial stops could be repealed, replaced, or eliminated by someone with a mind to do so. 

 

And certainly in the last sixty days, Trump has given it a good go.  But miraculously to date, these very institutions have been the bulwark holding Trump and his agenda back.  The court system is fighting.  The ACLU is fighting.  The people have risen and are fighting.  They are fighting to save each other and a very flawed system, but a system on which we all believe in and believe can be improved upon. 

 

And ultimately, this is what Roth’s novel reveals.  Though he uses some slight of hand to bring down Lindbergh and even offers a possible justification for his actions against the Jews, it is ultimately the systems and institutions that have developed over time to preserve and increase democracy that save it—in Roth’s fictional world and in our world today.

 

If there is a lesson to be taken from The Plot Against America, it is that we must strengthen the systems we often condemn.  We must lend money and time to make them better and stronger.  They are the thing that keep democracy floating.  So volunteer.  Serve on someone’s campaign, knocking on doors and getting people out to vote.  Give money to the ACLU and to Planned Parenthood.  Fight for organizations that fight for the people.  If you want to make America great, dedicate your time to maintaining the organizations that protect us all. 

Gender Gap in the Publishing Industry

I both love and hate this.  A bookstore turned all their titles by male authors around to “white out” the store.  I think that even they were shocked by how few titles there were by women.  The bookstore owner found that only 37% of the titles in the store were authored by women.

What do your bookshelves look like?  I know I read a lot of books by women, but I’ll be make more even more of an effort to support other women authors.

See an article on Loganberry Bookstore in Cleveland and their celebration of women authors.

Yaa Gyasi’s "Homegoing"

Author Yaa Gyasi has crafted one of the most emotionally heart-wrenching books I’ve encountered in a long while, not because the structure of the novel is unique or unexpected, but because the topic — slavery and its long shadow — is handled in unexpected and often lyrical ways. As one of the most celebrated books of the past year, Homegoing is a remarkable debut novel that left me breathless, unwilling to put the book down and yet alternating between anger and tears.

The novel begins with the story of two half sisters who live in Ghana, one who is Fante and the other Asante, and their paths diverge as one, Effia, is married to a white man, the acting governor at Cape Coast Castle, a central staging zone for slaves being sent to the Americas and the other, Esi, is captured in a raid and being held at the Castle awaiting her deportation and a life-time of enslavement at the hands of white men.

The story follows the family history of these two women down the generations, beginning in the 1770s reaching through time until today but unlike other slave narratives that progress over a long-span, Gyasi has covered new ground, avoiding the expected tromp through the Civil War, for example, and instead going into the less-often discussed areas of African American history, such as the prison convict system instituted during the Jim Crow era, which was another form of slavery but by a different name.

While I have studied and read about Africans brought to the Americas and enslaved, I have given little thought to those left behind in their home country who were complicit in the slave system, kidnapping and selling their fellow Africans to Europeans for profit and protection. It is easy to assume that these people had it better or easier than those transported the thousands of miles under brutal conditions but while the experience was different, it was, perhaps, no better, at least in the long term. And this is one of the highlights of Gyasi’s book in that it forced me to confront these assumptions. Slavery was a terrible system, whether you were the one enslaved or the one doing the enslavement. Whiteness or collusion with whites offered definite privileges but came at a cost; guilt, for example, that haunted the people involved.

The book takes a long view of history, illustrating how current racial problems have deep roots, some going all the way back to the 1700s. Race relations in the U.S. will never be settled until these problems are addressed, brought out into the public and acknowledged in some meaningful way. Pretending that slavery, and all its variations after it became technically illegal, did not exist has created a sore that cannot heal. At least not until Americans accept their role in this crime. We are all complicit and the weight of the sin still weighs on our collective souls.

For more reading in this area, see Phillis Wheatley’s poems: https://www.poemhunter.com/phillis-wheatley/

Wheatley was born in Africa around 1753, kidnapped, and brought to Boston. She was a house slave but was educated by her owners and became a poet. She is the first African American slave to publish a book.

There is also Olaudah Equiano’s account, Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789): http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/equiano1/menu.html. Equiano was also kidnapped as a child, sold into slavery, and transported to the Americas.

And consider Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, a book that Yaa Gyasi said inspired her years before she began working on Homegoing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this novel . . .

Originally published on www.howtocopewithtrump.com#howtocopewithtrump

The Judge Says it was Only “Fat” Women Marching: Body Shaming as a Means of Social Control

Soon after the Women’s March on January 21, 2017, Bailey Moseley from Texarkana, Texas, an East Texas Circuit Judge, posted on Facebook that “Trump managed to achieve something that no one else has been able to do: he got a million fat women out walking.” He later deleted the comment but when a reader called him out, he replied with, “It was likely a mistake to delete it. I think the march of last Saturday was nothing more than a hissy fit with no defined purpose.”

Dear Judge Moseley, your comments strike at the heart

of the Women’s March purpose.

            Although women have made significant progress in moving toward greater equality, the United States is not in any way equal. From wage gaps to a lack of paid maternity leave, the men who control the government and corporations have ensured that women are second class citizens, throwing them just enough in the way of opportunity to make it feel like change was occurring—at least up until Monday when Donald Trump showed the world that he, and the men around him in office, have declared war on woman’s rights, and social justice in general.

There are two different issues at play with Judge Moseley’s comments.

First, he sought to control women by body-shaming them. If he, and other men, shame women’s bodies, he believes that he can stop them from being politically active. Second, he wants to see the march as an isolated event that only involved a “certain” kind of woman—the kind that is spoiled and inclined to throw “hissy fits.”

In effect his comments are meant to rally not only men but also women who do not want to be associated with “fat” or “hysterical” women.

Body shaming has a long history and is used by both sexes as a means of social or personal control. Stigmatizing activist women as “fat” in a society that has no tolerance for being overweight, is an easy way to stop a movement cold.

As is labeling a group based on some kind of pseudo-psychology. When Moseley claimed that these were women who would throw “hissy fits,” he struck at a woman’s ability to be professional or objective. Any woman who reacts with emotion is labeled psychotic or hysterical, a state of mind from which rational women want to distance themselves.

            Both of Moseley’s tactics are tried and true forms of social control.

            Society must recognize these comments for what they are—insecure men attempting to maintain their power base. Men who are secure do not use body or psychological shaming as a means of control.

But these shaming tactics will not work. Women do have a defined purpose for marching and continuing to protest an administration that not only seeks to degrade and deprive women of their basic rights but also the LGBQT community, people of color, and non-WASP males.

Dear Judge Moseley, we are Democrats. We are Republicans. We are fat. We are thin. We are tall. We are short. We are black. And brown. And white. We have blonde hair or red hair or no hair at all. We are female. We are male. We are transgendered or claim no gender identity. We walk or are pushed in wheelchairs or strollers.

And just in case you are still confused about our purpose, we march because love trumps hate.

Sinclair Lewis: "It Can't Happen Here"

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sinclair Lewis has given a frightening performance of what how a Trump presidency might play out. Written in 1935, at the beginning of both Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency and Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship, Lewis imagines a scenario where fascists take over the U.S. (in a “fair” election) and systematically turn it into a militarized corporate state. Free speech, both the press and personal talk, are immediately banned and any attempts at subversion are punished through death or sentences to concentration camps.

Yes, Americans are rounded up and sent to labor and concentration camps where they work for the new state, subsisting on virtually no food and little shelter, until they “attempt to escape” or are deemed to dangerous to live, where they are summarily shot.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are purged in this process. All liberal or democratic-minded people are imprisoned, killed, or go underground while those with looser morals go to work for the state. Minorities are punished and immigrants are forced back to their country’s of origin, imprisoned, or killed.

A militarized civilian police force emerges, supporting the President’s goals and, at the first sign of possible revolt, a war with Mexico is invented so that American’s patriotism and loyalty can be put to the test. The president places individuals of questionable quality and ability in key positions, and the basest of human tendencies prevail.

My friend said I was reading this to “feed my paranoia.”

“Nope,” I said. “I’m reading this to be ready for what is to come. It’s like a playbook for what can and may happen, and I want to be as prepared as possible.”

Some things are worth fighting and dying for: KINDNESS. COMPASSION. LOVE. In the face of hate, people must rise up and resist. Lewis has sounded a warning. If Americans do not resist, it can and will happen here.

View all my reviews

Crushing on Shirley Jackson

It always surprises me when I come across a major author of whom I’ve never heard.  I’m a serious reader and even if I haven’t read someone’s work, I’ve usually heard of him or her but what I’m increasingly discovering is that that the “hims” of the world have been way more advertised than the “hers.”  Recently I’ve encountered two prominent women writers who I’d never heard of before—why is that?  Our patriarchal world—whether in politics or literature—heavily favors men, with a few women thrown in during the last two decades to relieve the conscious of the men who have decided who and what to include in the cannon?

One woman I recently discovered is Shirley Jackson.  I must have heard her name or of one of her stories before, but I have no memory of it.  But I’m deep into her body of work right now, brief as it may be.

Betty Friedan mentions Shirley Jackson in the Feminine Mystique, deriding her as a “housewife.”  She says of Jackson (and Jean Kerr and Phyllis McGinley) that as they “picture themselves as housewives, they may or may not overlook the housekeeper or maid who really makes the beds.  But they implicitly deny the vision and the satisfying hard work involved in their stories, poems, and plays.  They deny the lives they lead, not as housewives, but as individuals” (Friedan, 108).

As someone who has devoted countless hours to housework and raising two children while also slipping in time to do paid labor teaching and mostly unpaid labor writing, I believe that you can’t separate the two—and nor should you.  Friedan calls these ladies “housewife writers” but all that does is perpetuate the patriarchal view of the world that dominates everything about our lives—still, in 2016, when we are at last looking at a female president of the U.S. of A.

It would be lovely, as Friedan is assuming here, if women could find a subservient people (our husbands?) who would spend their time primarily caring for house and family, freeing females to do the work they want, plus have time for hobbies and interests.  Those “lesser” people (the husbands) could then fit their “extra” work in the cracks between.   But even if this dream was possible, and I’ve yet to meet a man hankering to be a househusband, that simply perpetuates the patriarchal paradigm.

Perhaps it’s time for a new paradigm.  Women have pushed at the glass ceiling, it’s true, but usually with the broom they are holding in their hand because they’ve just finished sweeping the floor.  I don’t know how to shift the way we look at paid work versus home/family unpaid work.  Perhaps some relationships have it figured out.  I certainly do not.

But instead of mocking writers like Shirley Jackson who managed to write, win awards, and raise four children, we ought to hold them up as symbols of women’s ability to overcome all that a male-dominated world throws at us.   Shirley Jackson wrote AND tended a house and family.  And that’s a hell of a lot more than most men could ever manage.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Creative Living at the Dallas Museum of Art

I drove three hours Tuesday night to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak on creative living.  Her talk can be summed up on one sentence:

Always choose curiosity over fear.

I think that’s a message we need to hear daily.  So many things are scary.  But why do we let those things stop us from doing what we want?  What might make us happy?  Or might bring joy?

I was contemplating a big decision the other day, one that I have wanted to say yes to for a long time but thought I’d have to wait a few more years to make it happen.  Then I realized that I could probably make it happen next year.  I was excited.  But scared.  And I wondered why fear was taking hold?  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time.

But perhaps in anything that represents a big change will naturally come with a degree of fear.  That’s normal.  But not doing it just because fear is there is wrong.  The right thing is to say YES, despite the fear.

And so I choose yes and curiosity over fear.

Han Kang’s Evocative Images Stick With You: A Review of The Vegetarian

I began Han Kang’s latest work, The Vegetarian, late at night, thinking I would tuck into a few pages before bedReading settles me and helps me to sleep.  But not The Vegetarian.  Although I read no more than thirty pages, I slept restlessly, my mind filtering Kang’s word pictures over-and-over, like a coiled snake ready to strike.

The story of a young woman who lets go of the fragile grasp between reality and other, the reader is left wondering whether the story begins with mental illness or whether the affliction comes as a result of refusing to continue with the ceaseless march of daily life.  In her sister’s words, of just “enduring” for another day, week, or month.

Told in three parts, first from the husband’s perspective, then her brother-in-law, and finally the sister, the story of a young woman emerges who is consumed by a dream that leaves her refusing to eat meat and eventually, to eat at all.  Food becomes unnecessary when a person merges and becomes one with the universe.  Living, dying, they are all the same and have no larger meaning or concern because we are all one–one interconnected part of a greater cycle of earth, trees, flowers, animals, and air.

Han Kang’s deeply emotional allegorical tale leaves the reader questioning their ability to control their own life and body, wondering how much control one has over the pains that plague us, taking root deep within our souls.  A beautiful, lyrical read that left me in tears–for the people touched and altered by the protagonist, Yeong-hey’s life, and for my own pain and suffering, embodied by this woman’s struggles.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes.

Chamblin’s BookMine and Uptown, Jacksonville, FL

A quick trip to speak at a conference in Jacksonville last week and in my off time, I did what I do in every town I visit–I find the independent bookstore.

In Jacksonville, this means Chamblin’s.   There are two locations–the bookmine, which is like 3000 plus square feet and the uptown, which is still enormous as compared with most other bookstores.

As much as I love books, I found the bookmine overwhelming.  It was just crushing to see that many books and to try to figure out the filing system and where to start.  The Uptown location was much more manageable, especially if you were just browsing and didn’t have a specific book in mind.

Mostly used, Chamblin’s is a great resource if you are a bibliophile and in the area.  And if you do tackle the bookmine, I recommend lunch at the Metro Diner nearby before hand, to fortify yourself for all the walk and working you’ll be doing in digging through the stacks.

Must Read Books??

I love the “must read” book lists I see all the time, especially at the end of the year when “smart” people are tapped to create such lists.  Do you love them, too?  I go through the lists (like NPRs book concierge), looking to see what I’ve read, what I want to read, what I should read, etc.  Then I attempt to get at it, reading through the books.

I’m sure I’m not the only one doing this, otherwise, why bother making these lists?  But I wonder how books make these lists today?   A lot of indie books are being released and yet, I don’t see them on these lists so much.  Mostly, it’s the books being pushed out by the traditional publishers.  So are the old gatekeepers still at work here?

I found this list of best Indie books of 2015.  Think I’ll start to plow through it.  Figure out what outliers I’m missing.  How about you?

The Girl in the Spider’s Web: The Perils of an Author Picking up a Series

Perhaps you’ve already read The Girl in the Spider’s Web?  I was hesitant to jump in because I enjoyed Stieg Larsson’s first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so much.  (I liked the second book, too, and the third one to a much lesser degree–which figures in to my tale here.)

Despite the press hype, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is not a compelling read.  It reads a lot like a first-time novel writer’s attempt at writing a book.  And it should.  It’s author David Lagercrantz is a journalist and has written primarily biographies.

The question is, why did Stieg Larsson’s estate hand off this series to this man?  Is it because he shares the same occupation as one of the series’ main characters–who is a journalist?  Or because he is Swedish, like the original author?  Or is Lagercrantz a personal friend?  For whatever reason, don’t expect The Spider’s Web to be as nuanced or polished as The Dragon Tattoo.  The style and tone are completely different and not nearly as engaging as Larsson’s original works.  (It’s reported that the third book in the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, was incomplete when Larsson died and patched together after his death for publication, which explains a lack of coherency in that novel, too.)

If you approach The Spider’s Web with no expectations and having not read Larsson’s original series, you will find the book a a descent enough read.  But it’s no where near what Larsson’s first book approached.

Which begs the question:  should a series be continued after the original author dies?

Perhaps the answer lies in the author’s style.  If the books are straight forward and the author’s voice is less unique and more mainstream, it seems that other writers might be able to mimic that and move the series forward with little disruption or fan anger.

But series where the author’s voice is highly unique, relying on an incredible imagination, an ability to describe unknown worlds, or a sharp sense of humor will most likely not be successful.

I’m afraid that the Girl in the Spider’s Web falls into this latter category.

How the Books we Read Shape our Lives

I came across this article in the Independent called, “How the Books we Read Shape Our Lives,” by DJ Taylor.  While an interesting read, I found the premise how books shape our lives far more interesting than the article.

How have books shaped my life?

Beginning in 3rd grade, I was a prolific reader and read everything I could manage to get hold of, including the backs of cereal boxes or tooth paste tubes. In addition to this off-the-cuff reading, I had access to books in a few and set ways:  Scholastic flyers (those lovely four-page newsprint flyers that were issued out about every six weeks where I could order books for $1 or $2 dollars a piece–or sometimes even less!), my school library, the local library of a small Texas town, and books we had at home that belonged mostly to my father.  This limited the kinds of literature I was able to read–or even know existed.

The books I most remember reading consisted of the Laura Ingalls Wilder series (plus biographies and other works available through the library), Harriet the Spy, the Nancy Drew series, all the Agatha Christie books, a series of books on King Arthur, the Melindy Quartet, and Madeline L’Engle’s works.  I dipped into my father’s old college books, reading Emerson, Whitman, and Poe.  And some teacher gave me a list of the 100 most important British literature books, and I made it a goal to work down the list.  I think I made it about a third of the way before I left for college and the list was lost.

Imagine my surprise when confronted with a large academic library at my state college.  There was literature beyond the US and Britain!  How could that be?  I was vaguely aware of Russian literature–my boyfriend had read Tolstoy in 12th grade–but really?  Every nation, every continent had a robust literature?  Why hadn’t someone told me this?  It was as if my small backyard had grown enormous and with it, all sorts of possibilities opened.

And so I began to read books from Africa or Asia.  First by western authors writing about these places and then by natives whose books were translated into English.  And I took classes in the history and art of these places and discovered that the ways of living in the world that I thought were “normal” or “set” were not.  The ways of being are completely fluid, geographically oriented, and changeable.

The next step was, naturally, to travel to these places and experience the settings first-hand.  How does the geography of a book’s setting or even an author’s residence shape the characters and plot?  How does geography determine identity?

As an adult, I often consult book reviews or “to be read” lists published by newspapers, editorials, and magazines that I affiliate with.  This kind of directional reading allows me to try new things that I wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise.  But I’m also inclined to follow Amazon’s “other readers purchased” recommendations or to go down the stacks at a library or bookstore and see what else exists in this area or on this topic. Or even to just choose a section and randomly browse titles and covers.

How have books shaped my life?

They have reinforced values I was taught in my home.  They have made me question the values I was taught in my home.  They have opened my eyes to entirely new places and ways of being.  They have made me open and accepting of difference.  They have remained constant companions, especially in times of stress or loneliness.

I was at a music festival once with a group of people and I was sitting alone, reading, and holding down our chairs/blanket while the rest of the group ventured to other stages to see other performers.  One of the people came back and said to me, “I wasn’t sure how I’d find you but I scanned the crowd for the person holding a book and reading.”

I think it was one of the greatest compliments of my life.  Yep, that’s me.  The one always reading.  The one constantly allowing books to shape, mold, and change me.

Read 100 Books in a Year?

round the first of January in 2015, I received an email from Goodreads asking me to set a goal for a number of books to read through the year.  I figured I’d go for it and it would prompt me to record every book I read.  I thought about a second and declared, “100 Books!”  No problem, I thought.

Hmm.  After more thought, I realized that was roughly 8 plus books a month, and while I dip into way more than 8 books a month, I wasn’t sure if I actually read all of 8 books a month.  And I set that as a condition–I could only count the books that I actually read ALL OF THE BOOK.  Because I start a lot of books and don’t finish them.  I also dip into a lot of reference books and read around in them but don’t even finish 50 percent.  With that “rule in place” and the goal set, I was off.

The project started off great, as most new year’s resolutions do, and I pushed myself to be sure that I got in my 8 books a month through the first few months.  But then summer hit and instead of having more time for reading, I found myself floundering.  I went on trips and worked in the garden and hardly sat down except to do paid work.  I went through the roughly three months of summer with hardly any books accounted.

By the time fall rolled around and I was back to reading, I was hopelessly behind.  Friends who knew of the goal suggested I “cheat” and read a lot of short books.  But that denied the spirit of the resolution–to see how many books I was reading over the course of the year.

Despite my trying to keep this thing pure, I found myself trying to knock out books as quickly as possible just so I could add them to my list.  That’s no good.  I read things and now, just a few months later, have barely a memory of them.

I ended the year with 71 completed books.  A respectable number, I think, but no where near my goal of 100.

And what did I learn?

  1.  that reading for a made up number goal is crap.  I spent more time thinking about the number and the output than I did about the content in the books.
  2.   that reading a lot is important to me but reading for content is more important.  If I’m not recalling the information, what’s the point?

This year when Goodreads sent me that email asking me to set a goal, I said “thanks but no thanks” and clicked delete.  Yes, I’m going to keep track of my reading on Goodreads.  Yes, I’m going to read as much as possible and as widely as possible.  But no, It’s not going to be a competition–even if that competition is only with myself.  Goals are good but not when the objective becomes making the goal rather than experiencing the pleasure and knowledge of the journey along the way.

I saw this article by Darius Faroux about How to Read 100 Books in a Year and it prompted this post.

Great Advice from Austin Kleon

I love Austin Kleon’s books, Steal like an Artist and Show your Work!, and I enjoy reading his weekly newsletter.  If you haven’t heard of him, go to his website.  Good stuff!

He offered 10 Things he Learned While Writing his Last Book.  Some great thoughts here, plus there are links to other thoughts on the writing life.

I’m struggling with #3:  Stop researching and start writing.  In my case, I’ve not done any real research yet and am thinking I should do little before plotting out book 2 of the Rebellion Series.  Since it’s set during the Civil War, some research is needed just to get the plot organized but how much?

I’m planning to start plotting after lunch and I figure I’ll plot and research at the same time.  That’s roughly how I handled book 1 in the series.

Speaking of, I’m on the third draft of Book 1.

 In an ideal world, I’d divide my day like this:

Mornings:  Writing on current work. The tough stuff that requires freshness, thought, and creativity.

Lunch:  downtime, light reading, walks, etc.

Afternoons:  Plotting new works, research, note-taking, reading, thinking, marketing, etc.  Busy work.

Evenings:  cooking dinner, light reading, amusement.

Instead, my work day looks like this:  School work until done.  Then fit in whatever else I can manage and often that means not fitted in at all.

But I’m working toward the ideal.  How about you?  What does your ideal day look like?