Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Category: New Reads Page 1 of 16

Bitter is the New Black: New Read

“Bitter is the New Black” by Jen Lancaster is another little gem that I picked up on an adventure that I mentioned in my post about “The Best American Short Stories – 2014.”

bitter is the new black

It’s not a hard and fast rule, more like a guideline, but I try not to pick up books at random as much as possible. There’s just so many books out there. I can’t possibly read them ALL, so I have to have some sort of process when making selections, even from a used bookstore that charges one or two bucks a piece.

My process starts with skipping the fiction section completely. Like fancy processed food at the grocery store, these things are created to catch your eye and make you want them, and they rarely live up to the hype. I’m not a non-fiction snob…ok maybe a little…but good fiction is subjective. You really can’t judge a book by its cover. Your favorite is not going to be mine. Tastes are just too different. So, for fiction, I have to be much more selective. It must come from my list, recommended by someone that I trust, for reasons other than marketing ploys.

PS There are exceptions. “Guidelines, not rules!” I have been sucked into great marketing and been happy for the experience. “Hunger Games” was one of those. Years ago, my sons and I walked into Barnes & Noble with its display of all three novels in piles around the entranceway. My youngest, at the time about 11 years old, insisted on getting it and a mother cannot deny her child a cookie or a book.

While he was reading it, he began describing scenes and I was intrigued. I started reading it, then my other son, then my stepdaughter, AND my husband. A year later the movie came out. …sigh… It was magic.

Where were we? Oh yes, Bitter!

My first stop in a used bookstore is Memoir. I pick up anything by someone I know or who looks like they have an interesting story to tell. Personal points of view are what I’m looking for! It’s my life’s work, my north star (thinking about a post focused on that recent epiphany). “Bitter is the new Black” stood out because, from the cover and subtitle, the story and author seemed completely opposite of myself. And it looked like fun.

From the back cover, “This is the story of how a haughty former sorority girl went from having a household income of almost a quarter-million dollars to being evicted form a ghetto apartment…”

I looked up Jen Lancaster when I started reading the book this morning. Sometimes I feel weird, always coming to the party late, but that’s ok. It’s just part of who I am, always a few years behind the times. If I like this, it looks like there are plenty of others to follow. Her latest book, “Welcome to the United States of Anxiety” came out in 2020, and (once again judging by the cover and description) looks like something I’d be interested in reading.

“Bitter is the New Black” will probably be one of those books that I read in a couple of days, don’t make a lot of notes in, and then summarize my feelings about in a couple paragraphs when I’m done. That’s not a negative, just an observation and prediction. I’m thirty pages in and enjoying it immensely.

The Little Prince: New Read

Feeling a little down this week, so I decided to read a childhood favorite. I’ve read Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s memoir, “Earth, Sand, and Stars,” a few years ago and loved it so much that I still talk about it and recommend it as one of my favorite books. But I’ve never read “The Little Prince”. Crazy, huh?

the little prince
I tried to tell her I was highlighting her, that she’s beautiful even prickly, but she bit me anyway.

I didn’t know about it when I was a child, but I’d see “The Little Prince” on children’s bookshelves when my boys were younger and ask them if we should read it. They refused, already past the age that the cover and description would entice them. I wish I had discovered it earlier, but I’m sure they’ll come around again and read it eventually, maybe to their own children.

Each time I have a few minutes, I pick this book up and read a page and find myself transported back to “Earth, Sand, and Stars.” I love it so far, and I believe I’ll just keep this book with me all the time, ready on stand-by just in case I need a dose of joy and wonder.

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again.”

That’s the truth. Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time talking to people sometimes. I’ve never grown up and explaining what I’m imagining and how it connects becomes exhausting. I’m left wondering if anyone will ever let their mind wander a little and meet me along the path to Neverland, or in the Tulgey Wood.

The page I read last night inspires me to start drawing again. I used to love to draw, but I’ve lost the imagination and the patience. I’ve felt rather lost to try anything new, to let go. I feel held back by something, fear and possibly, yes, most likely, ego. I’m afraid I have grown up or begun to get old. Terrifying thought.

Where do you run to when you get that feeling? Is it a book or an activity? Do you have friends there? Are they waiting for you to return?

Undaunted Courage: New Read

Recently, I was reading a book about writing that mentioned “Undaunted Courage” as one of the best historical narrative books ever written, and when I saw it in a pile of free books last December, I snatched up in glee. It was fate that we found each other.

Undaunted Courage
Reading In Bed with Peanut Butter Pretzels – Love

How does one get choked up over a history book? When the author makes it personal. The introduction got me right in the feels. They had taken an extended trip along the route Lewis & Clark took with friends, students, and their children. Driving, hiking, camping, and canoeing.

“We canoed the river at every stop. Each night, around the campfire, we would read aloud from the journals.”

“Around the campfire we took turns enumerating the reasons we loved our country (not so easy to do with young people in 1976, in the wake of Richard Nixon’s resignation and the fall of Saigon, but we did it with great success).”

That…sniff… Stuff like this makes me feel better about out current time. Yes, things have always sucked for someone somewhere at some time. But there are always reasons to be happy and proud.

I’ve been in the area with my own family a few times. On our first trip to Montana, we stumbled across the Lewis & Clark Caverns and found many museums and trails that commemorate the exploration. We’ve sat around the campfire reading from books we found at the museums. My personal favorite was a kid’s craft book we found someplace that helped kids make small canoes, build fire starters, and make maps while we hiked trails, pretending we were explorers.

On the back cover I read, “Ambrose follows the Lewis and Clark Expedition from Thomas Jefferson’s hope of finding a waterway to the Pacific, through the heart-stopping moments of the actual trip, to Lewis’ lonely demise on the Natchez Trace.”

The first thing I thought was, “He should have just checked Google Earth.” I’m hilarious. But think about that. When planning any trip, we don’t think twice about the best way to get there or how long it will take, how much food and water we’ll need. We just type in the location and the phone gives you the route, timeline, and alternatives. So much easier and leaves us with all this extra time to argue about where we will stop for lunch and whether we will get to see that roadside attraction before dark.

This book is LONG, nearly 500 pages, so I’ll be in it awhile. Have you read “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen E. Ambrose? I saw that he’s written several other books that look interesting. Let me know if you read him in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Read more of my thoughts on this book at:
Keelboats & Trees: Craving Adventure

The Best American Short Stories – 2014

Like all books in my collection, The Best American Short Stories – 2014 has an origin story. All books have their own origin story, of course. The question here is, “How did this book find its way to me?” I’ll tell you: from a used bookstore in Lake Elsinore that I had been jonesing to check out for over a year.

the best American short stories

Last year, on one of my epic “visiting friends” adventures, I saw a billboard on the side of the freeway that advertised a HUGE used bookstore inside the outlet mall at Lake Elsinore. I’d never been to this so-called outlet mall. I didn’t even know it existed. The only outlet mall I regularly peruse (because it’s close and has some great stores and food…glorious food) is the Cabazon one on the I10 freeway. If you’re ever out this way, stop. It’s an experience if you have time to really walk the whole thing, and I’m not talking about shopping.

What kind of an outlet mall has a used bookstore?! That’s what I was thinking as I passed the sign by. It stuck with me though. I must check this out, I thought to myself, but I didn’t until a year later. I was in the area visiting a friend and we were looking for something to do. It was hot…as the area typically is over the summer…oppressively hot. Where could we go to walk around?

“That mall has a used bookstore.” I suggested.

“Have you ever been there?”

Neither of us had, so we decided to go see what we could find.

Let’s just say it was…anti-climactic, much like this blog post. The mall itself is old, like it’s stuck in 1991, and it is outdoors with very little shade at all, not exactly what I had hoped for at these temperatures. I really don’t understand the lack of shade trees in Southern California. BUT there’s a used bookstore!

A quick look around, past the kettle corn tent and directions to the Covid testing site, and there it was. My heart sunk when I approached the corner building. A few shabby old shelves were dwarfed by the large expanse of glass windows they were displayed in. It looked more like a half-empty thrift store. This was not what I was expecting at all. Where was the romance? Where was the dark corner with an easy chair, the smell of old paper and cardboard, the fat cat lounging between shelves bulging with hidden treasures, the sexy bookworm boy I might find stocking shelves? There wasn’t even coffee.

Maybe I read too much. Well…we were already here. We might as well go inside and see what we can find.

One positive – it was easy to find things. The shelves were labeled well. One could easily thumb through all the titles, nothing double stacked or hidden. Not much adventure in that, but you never know, there could be a gem or two hidden away. Another positive: they were cheap! $1 or $2 a piece. I could buy whatever I want. Even if I decided not to read it later, I wouldn’t have wasted much money.

I walked away with ten books that day. Yep. Ten. I paid $16 and was very happy. I found a few interesting memoirs, three anthologies like The Best American Short Stories, and two historical fiction books that looked promising.

Another bonus, there was Dairy Queen across the way from the bookstore where I promptly ordered a Banana Split Blizzard, only to find they don’t have them anymore. “Do you still sell banana splits?” I asked. She nodded. “Can’t you just put one in the Blizzard machine?” She just stared at me. I got a Thin Mint Blizzard instead.

When I went to my TBR shelf last night (can’t pick a new book right when I wake up), my eye was drawn to this book. I need something a little lighter, maybe a tad more fun than what I’ve been reading lately. I think this will fit the bill nicely.

I started the morning by reading the Forward and Introduction from the editors, curious to know a little about the process of collecting twenty short stories and calling them “best.” I woke up late this morning and had planned on only reading through one cup of coffee, but once I started reading the first story I couldn’t just walk away. It ended up taking two cups of coffee and a few minutes of reflection. That’s the glory of short stories. You know the resolution will come soon, no need to pause and finish later. It’s a quickie.

Do you like short stories? Where do you find yours? Online, blogs? Magazines? I’ve written a few of my own and you can find them on Short Stories: My Attempt at Emulating my Heroes.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: New Read

Inspired by my son’s latest attempt at broadening his philosophical horizons, I’m picking up Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” I’ll admit, I have tried to read him before but failed. My last foray was “Beyond Good and Evil” back in September of 2019, which I gave up on only a few pages in. I’m not sure if it was the book or my mood, but I was struggling to understand every paragraph and got frustrated.

thus spoke zarathustra

Earlier this week, my youngest son began “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” and was explaining some of the first pages while we drove to Costco and reading paragraphs to me while I sorted books on my new shelves. His excitement made me want to try again. I put my own bookmark in it today and I’ll start reading it in the morning.

Yes, I know I haven’t finished the last two books I’ve posted about, so now I’ll have three books open at the same time, but it will work out. Asimov’s book, “A Roving Mind,” is a collection of essays and reading them one after another for an hour isn’t working. I’m losing track of what I’m reading because I’m not pausing and thinking between essays. “When the Sleeper Wakes” is not an easy read because it’s older, but it is a novel and I can read that for an hour straight without a problem, a couple hours would be fine too.

My son told me that “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” is a collection of speeches, and they are a bit rough to read for him, so he’s reading one a day, writing down his favorite quotes and then writing a short summary of what he thinks it says. Then he’s reading something else. I’m sure he told me that because he thinks if I’m reading it, I’ll zoom thru and get ahead of him. I told him I’ll do the same and we can compare notes.

Taking a moment to wallow around in the glory of a grown child wanting to read and talk about books.


Wish me luck. Nietzsche is not easy but I have enjoyed explanations of his philosophy and do want to read his words for myself. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this book if you’ve read it. If you haven’t, run over to Thriftbooks and read along with us!

Want to follow me through this book? Read my next posts.
Not Blind Faith and Obedience: Nietzsche

When The Sleeper Wakes: New Read

I thought some classic science fiction would be a good companion read for Asimov’s essays. I went right to H.G. Wells, of course. And I happen to have one of his books on my TBR shelf, so I grabbed it up. At first glance, “When the Sleeper Wakes” sounds like a retake on the Rip Van Winkle story. A man falls asleep and wakes up years later, but it already has an interesting twist. It’s 200 years later and he hasn’t aged.

The last science fiction I read was “The Gods Themselves” by Isaac Asimov, back in February. I’m sensing a theme in my reading this year. Hmm…

when the sleeper wakes

I love to see how old science fiction has stood the test of time. “When the Sleeper Wakes” was written in 1899, one hundred and twenty-two years ago. Technology has changed, as much as the sleeper experiences in the book, but in different ways. I’m curious if it will be a utopian future, but from the first chapter, I believe it will be more of a religious one? I’m not sure.

There was one funny thing that I wish already existed in our world, a clothing making machine. It seems much like a “replicator” from Star Trek, but this one manufactures clothing on the spot from measurements a tailor takes from you. Pretty neat, but it would be nicer if you could just tell the machine your measurements and style and let it pop out clothes for you, wouldn’t it? I hate shopping and I’m so tired of my favorite jeans not being available because I’m the only one that doesn’t want skinny jeans that don’t stay up on my butt, or pretty shirts that have enough room for my shoulders and don’t creep up my waist while I work. …sigh…

I loved “War of the Worlds” and “The Time Machine” when I read it years ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to my husband read “The First Men in the Moon” to the boys when they were little, so I’m sure this one will follow suit.

Have you read any of H.G. Wells’ books? Or have you seen any of the multitude of movies based on them? I’d love to hear your comments!

Want to read more? Follow me through the book in these posts.
To Sleep Like the Dead and Be Reborn Each Day
H.G. Wells, You Old So-and-So

The Roving Mind: A New Read

I started reading “The Roving Mind” by Isaac Asimov this morning, my first tentative step into read more of his non-fiction work.

The Roving Mind

After much tweaking of my mourning routine, I have finally caught the reins and started a more consistent writing schedule…again. And now I get to post about my latest book right as I start to read it, instead of after I finish like I have had to do the past month.

I enjoy writing these New Read posts because my initial impressions about a book are usually pretty different than my thoughts at the end. There was a reason that I picked up the book in the first place, (and, yes, I’ve promised to get better at remembering that reason). There is also a reason I’m picking the book off the TBR shelf today, which may be different than my reason for buying it.

What are my initial impressions of Isaac Asimov’s “The Roving Mind?” I started reading the Foreword, the Introduction, and the tributes from other science and sci-fi writers and teared up. I didn’t realize how much loved he was as a writer and a friend; it sounds like he was fascinating person. Then again, how could he not be? He’s written so much about science, non-fiction and fiction. I know him for his fiction. I’ve read Foundation, The Gods Themselves, and The Fantastic Voyage. I plan on reading more! So far, The Fantastic Voyage has been my favorite, but I think it’s mostly because the movie from the 60’s was so fun (and scary) for me when I was a kid. My husband has read more of his non-fiction. I have some of them on my bookshelf behind me right now.

I don’t consider myself much of a scientific thinker. I lean more on emotion and feeling, more concerned with getting along and making connections with people than thinking along the lines of repeatable experiments and data tables. When a scientist says something is true, I tend to lean more on “Can I trust that person?” than “Is his data provable?” But Asimov…he makes science approachable for people like me and I’m excited to start reading more of his work.

My edition of “The Roving Mind” is a collection of essays originally published in 1983 but republished in 1997 after his death in 1992. I bought it from Amazon, probably because I had the thought to read some of his non-fiction after finishing Foundation. It’s been sitting on my TBR shelf since 2013. I don’t think anything has sat there that long, but it’s science, it’s hard, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. Three essays in and I’m wishing I had read it years ago. This is going to be fun!

Want to follow me through this book? Read more at the following links.

Chaos & Peace: The Roving Mind #1
Media B.S. and Scientific…ahh, who am I kidding?!
Isaac Asimov: Robots and Space Travel

A Walk in the Woods: New Read

What the…?! “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson was amazing. Like, running around telling everyone I know, amazing. I told a friend and my dad that I was inspired by it. I told another friend that he should get it because he’s a “real” hiker, unlike me who mostly just goes for long day hikes. And I commented on another blog about it. THAT’S how much I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down.

A Walk in the Woods
The road calls me.

What was so amazing? From page one, I felt like I was there, and this guy goes and does things the same way my family does, so I don’t feel like I missed anything. When we go on an adventure, whether it be a day trip or a long road trip, we have always researched a little about where we are.

I say, “where we are,” because we don’t plan much about where we’re going, so we really can’t do a lot of research in advance of our trip. We have a general plan of what direction we’re going and where we may end up the first night, but usually the rest of the trip is a surprise. We’ve never been disappointed.

Typically, at the RV park we land at, we browse their gift shop, pick up maps, and ask about local sights. We look for a local museum or historical site, visit a park visitor center, and pick up small publisher books about the place or the people that founded it. I look for older books, ones written by the people that lived it. We walk, A LOT, around the area and within the parks. The point is to try to get to know the place better the short time we are there.

When I read Bill Bryson, I feel like he’s doing the same thing. His story isn’t just about hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s about his misadventures getting ready for it and while he was on it. It’s about the nature he saw, the history of the trail and the towns and parks it runs through, the people he met along the way, and the stories he heard.

Within the first few pages, I was ready to get back out on the trails myself, in earnest this year! I texted a hiking friend and told him about the book. A few days later, he texted me a picture of his copy and asked what we were doing this weekend. And now I have plans to hit the hills at the crack of dawn in a few days.

As you probably know, I dread the coming of summer every year. I’ve lived in Southern California all my life, and in the desert for long enough to tolerate the heat. My trouble comes because I start to get cabin fever about halfway through the summer. I need to get outside but I can’t go out half naked to beat the heat like everyone else. It’s not modesty that keeps me covered up, my friends. It’s my red hair and fair skin.

In the winter, it’s easy to keep from getting sunburned. But in the summer, when the temperatures rise, shedding my long-sleeved shirt and long pants is not an option. I’d burn to a crisp in a matter of about twenty minutes. So, like those of you that spend your snowy winters indoors, I hibernate over the summer, focusing on indoor projects. But I love hiking in the desert so much.

This weekend’s plan, thanks to “A Walk in the Woods,” is to get up early, drive the hour up into the mountains, and hit the trail at 6am to beat the heat. We’ll climb to the top, maybe have a few adventures of our own, have a picnic with a view of the valley below (or more trees, depends on how far we get), and climb back down before the heat of the day tortures us. It’ll be a nice preview of the coming Fall.

I cannot express how much I loved “A Walk in the Woods.” On the back, right at the top, there is a quote from Washington Post Book World, “Choke-on-your-coffee funny.” Yep. That’s exactly it. It’s hilarious, heart-warming, full of interesting information, and I didn’t want it to end.

The last book I read by Bill Bryson was “At Home” and I’m pretty sure I fell in love with him back then. Why did it take me so long to read him again? All I know, is that from now on, every time I see a Bill Bryson book on the shelf anywhere, I’m going to buy it. He’s brilliant.

East of the Mountains: New Read

“East of the Mountains” by David Guterson is my neglected book. This poor book didn’t get a “first impressions” post, I didn’t even take a picture of it. I thought I did, but nope. I started reading it on August 17 and my first notes were, “I’m not liking this. Too sad and lonely.” And then, “Pages of memories, just nostalgia.” By page 108 I had almost had it, “Romantic and sentimental. Barf.”

East of the Mountains book cover.

Why am I so averse to sappy memories and sob stories? I get it! You’re dying. You’re old and have a lifetime of memories! Blah!

Other people’s sadness, pain, “What’s the point of all this?!” feeling, is something I steer clear of. I don’t deal with my own very well and I guess I just don’t know what to do with theirs. I’m not one to break down and tell my story through anguished tears. I hate sympathy. When I do, because I just can’t carry it anymore, I feel like an ass. I’m embarrassed and ashamed of myself. Reading stories like this…ugg…

So why did I finish it? I don’t know. I had to know how it ended, I guess. Where was he going with all this? I’m still not sure.

The story-telling devices he used were interesting. I don’t want to give it away too much, but he makes a plan to kill himself instead of suffering through his last months of cancer. In the process, he has some “adventures” that give him a chance to look back on his life and make some discoveries. I liked how that was done. I got to know him, but I still never really liked him.

“East of the Mountains,” reminded me of something that has come up over the years, especially recently. We have a very strange relationship with death. We live as if it isn’t coming, as if, somehow, we can avoid it. It’s a tragedy when it comes along, a complete surprise. We have no rituals, no philosophy that helps lead us to our end and deal with it gracefully, not for our own end or the end of those we love around us.

But the truth is, we will all die. No one gets out. Some of us leave this world sooner than others. And not one of us knows what will happen when we close our eyes forever.

We do know what happens to us when someone we love dies before us though, and I think that bothers me more. When I worry about my own death, I’m more concerned with how my family will go on without me, not that they won’t be able to take care of themselves. I know they can and will. I’m more worried about them being sad and not being able to cope with it. We’ve even talked about it several times.

Do you talk about death? Do you make plans about what you’ll do when your end comes? This seems to be the best way to deal with it. We drag that monster out from the darkness and lay it out before us. Suddenly, it’s not as scary as it was. Sure, we still can’t know what happens after we die, but we can deal with the reality of what will happen right here with the ones left behind.

The main character in this book was concerned that he would be a burden to his children as he died, and that triggered some memories of conversations I have had with my grandpa and my mom. I don’t understand that thinking. I look at it this way. When I was born, I was a burden, a big one. We all are. It took nearly twenty years for me to become less of a burden and take care of myself. Through all of that, my parents were there. What kind of an ass would I be not to return that care at the end of their lives?

This is where I start to look at our culture and wonder what happened. Where are the things that bring us together in a family? Where are the traditions that help us move through the stages of our lives and those of others? I used to be one that poo-poo’d traditions and rituals. Who needs a graduation, a wedding, a baby shower, a funeral, etc.? They had become only reasons to spend massive amounts of money on stuff we don’t need. But now I wonder. What if they didn’t used to be? What if that’s what we’ve reduced them to?

People complain about the lack of participation in national affairs and community, but I believe that it started with a lack of participation in family affairs. I’m guilty of it myself, but I believe our culture has evolved into this and created these circumstances. We don’t get married and have children, take care of those children, with the help of our extended family, help our grandparents as they get old and be there when they die. Our children live and grow up in institutions with other children. The adults live in the working world with other adults. The old live in retirement homes with other old people, to live out the rest of their lives and most likely die alone. We’ve separated ourselves into sections that no one moves between, and I think we’re starting to feel the effects of that.

A lack of empathy and understanding that started in our homes is now moving into the community and the nation. The lack of family bonds has evolved into a lack of community involvement. We don’t have time to know our children, to take care of our parents, let alone even know our neighbors. Besides, we have social media to keep up with what they are doing, why do I need to spend time with them in person?

In “East of the Mountains,” Ben, the main character in this story, is attempting to go off and die on his own so that his family doesn’t have to carry the burden of caring for him as he dies. On the way, he begins to see (I hope) why that is so wrong. My thoughts on reading this swirl around memories of my grandma’s Sylvia’s death, my grandpa Ray’s decline into dementia, and the trauma in our family resulting in differing opinions about how to deal with it.

Maybe it’s just me getting old, but I’m starting to think that maybe family is far more important than our culture leads us to believe. In the end, and at the beginning, it’s all we have to hold on to. If we can’t, we’re lost.

Have you read “East of the Mountains” by David Guterson? I’d love to hear what you thought of it. Let me know in the comments.

Hop over to my “Autobibliography” page to see my reading list. It’s not fun to read alone. Leave me a comment about your thoughts on any of these great books!

No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners: New Read

How do I even begin to tell you, to explain what goes on in my head? You’ll think I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not. It’s true. I have a very hard time remembering things. How does that relate to the book No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners? You’ll see.

no-nonsense buddhism for beginners

I write things down a lot, lists of things I need to do, people I need to talk to. I make lists in retrospect as well, so that tomorrow I can look back and remember that I did that thing. I take screen shots of conversations and save them so that I don’t forget that someone loves me deeply. Playing cards with me is easy. You don’t ever need to worry about me seeing your cards. The moment I can’t see them anymore, I forget. Playing pinochle with my family was always hilarious because I have to put all my focus on remembering how many cards have been played. But that’s not really a big deal, right?

I know I’ve probably brought this up before but, there is a lot that I don’t remember about the books I’ve read shortly after I put them back on the shelf. I know I did read them because I wrote in the book. And there are some books that have stuck with me. I’ve read that I’m not alone there. Most people, when asked if they’ve read a certain book, can tell you yes or no, but then not be able to give the details about it. They just remember that they liked it or not. One of the reasons I write here is to put conscious effort into putting my thoughts in order and then keeping them to look back on. I remember more of what I talk about and/or explain than what I read.

What does that have to do with No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners?

I’ve been listening to Noah Rasheta’s podcast, Secular Buddhism, for several months. I like what he has to say. I feel like he explains the concepts in ways that are useful to me. But, in day-to-day interaction, I forget what I meant to remember. I keep trying to rewire the way I react to the world, remember that everything is connected, to take a breath and respond instead of reacting, to listen and watch the world around me, but I fail more often than not. It’s frustrating.

I bought his book because I thought having a physical book to flip through every day, instead of just listening once a week, would help cement the concepts into my mind so that I can use them. My goal is to read through it all once, and then go back and re-read each piece once a day, like a meditation practice.

Buddhist principles have helped my mental health tremendously this past year. I wish I had found it earlier in my life. It may have saved me a lot of heartache. This line is what keeps me on the path, “To be enlightened is to be liberated from our habitual reactivity, freed from our perceptions and ideas in order to see reality as it is without wanting it to be different.” That’s it! That’s what I want.

I’m a highly habitual person. I build up habits to keep order in my mind and make the world around me safe. Sometimes the habits aren’t helpful. I try to reassess my habits on a regular basis. I sit down with my notebook and write out my day, the things I do, and ask myself, “Is this serving me?” That’s easy to do with things like housework, exercise, and learning. But emotional habits are a whole other ballgame. Those are well engrained, and I’ve had a rough time changing them, no matter how badly I want to.

It’s like learning new eating habits. I start a new diet, get into it, really feel like I’m getting somewhere, and then BAM, a bad day, a party, a holiday, and I’m right back on the track of a poor diet filled with empty calories, loads of carbs, and plenty of alcohol. My body thanks me by feeling terrible, which makes me crave more “comfort” food, and I spiral down into “you suck” mode.

I have some pretty piss-poor relational habits that need to be resolved if I’m going to live well the next forty years. I’m trying so hard to change those habits in positive ways, but I keep forgetting the damn principles. Just like the game, when the cards are hidden from view, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. I need reminders.

A few weeks ago, I was getting gas in town and across the island I saw a guy with a Buddhist mala prayer bead bracelet on. A light went on. The prayer beads are a reminder, each bead connects to the other to make a whole, just like we each connect to each other. They can also be a focus, moving along the chain and taking a breath, saying a mantra, or thinking a name, until you come back to the beginning.

Today, I ordered a set of wooden prayer beads. I’m hoping they’ll serve as a physical reminder that I’m changing. When I see them, I’ll remember my meditation, and (hopefully) pause to think a bit.

I’m about halfway through No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners already. I think keeping it close-by and ready for me to meditate on a page or two will help me build up these new habits. I’ll keep the beads with me as well and maybe, over time, my brain will connect the peace of what I read, my mediation, and the beads will serve to bring me back when I start to get lost.

I’ve written about my Buddhism journey many times before. Check out Zen Blogging: Writing to Learn? It’s one of my favorites. It’s also one that I have recently went back to and thought, “Wait…what? I’ve had this thought before?!” …sigh…

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