A Virtual Book Club - What are YOU reading?!

Category: Experiences Page 1 of 11

Losing Touch With Our Symbols

I have a new skill. I can hear the difference between a male and female Great Horned Owl in the dark, and not have to hear them right next to each other. Listening to a female call to her mate in the dark this morning, I wondered about the symbols of Fall. Why do we put owls in our Halloween decorations along with ravens and crows, harvest symbols like corn stalks and pumpkins, and cool nights and big orange moons low on the horizon?

I grew up in the city, only going into rural areas on special occasions; camping weekends with my family or hiking with friends. We slept with our windows closed-up tight, the doors locked, and the air conditioning on. I woke up to an alarm clock inside a curtained room, rushed to get breakfast and my things to get to school and then work on time. I spent very few quiet days and nights.

Moving to the rural high desert of Southern California changed my life immediately in many ways, the first of which was an immediate slowing and quieting down. My city nerves, always twanging, never resting, continued to fire off even in the quiet desert atmosphere. Like…when you leave a concert or a bar after a long evening of dancing and drinking, you lay in bed, ears still ringing from the clamor of music and laughing. Or like when you finally get the cast taken off a broken limb and your skin, grown used to the constant touch and rubbing of the material, crawls for days with the cool air against it. Those neurons in my head were so used to hearing noise, seeing light, and reacting to stimulation, it took a long time for them to relax and quiet into my new surroundings.

A couple years into living here, I began to notice the changes in seasons. The feel of the air from one season to the next, the plants that changed, the animals that came and went. People say that Southern California has no seasons, but they’re wrong. They may not be garish and obvious, but they’re here. You simply have to be quiet and look closely.

In a house with large windows filling up almost every wall, you notice the light day and night. The sun coming up a little more and more to the north or south, and then back again. The moon changing each and every evening, sometimes you think a neighbor has a new unshaded porch light, so bright that you have to close your curtains to sleep. The stars change with the seasons! I didn’t know that until I lived here.

But the owls are what I love most. Summer gets hot here, as you probably know. By August, the swamp cooler runs all night and into the morning. The big fan sits on the roof pulling air from outside, through wet pads and into the house to cool us as we sleep comfortably. It feels marvelous but it is loud and monotonous. I know Fall is coming because the swamp cooler has been able to cool the house enough to shut off in the night, leaving the house quiet and still when I get up in the morning.

Fall has officially arrived when I can turn the swamp cooler off when I go to bed and open all the windows to let the cool, dry night air flow through the house as we go to sleep. Lying in bed, it’s quiet, so quiet that I can hear animals walking by outside my window, coyotes on the hunt. It’s an amazing feeling, but not half as amazing as what I hear in the morning.

I usually get up around 4am. Walking through my office, I pick up my journal, my book, my glasses (stupid aging eyes), and my phone. I stop by the kitchen for a glass of water and a cup of coffee and then on to my livingroom couch to settle in and read until the sun starts to lighten the sky.

Surrounded by my open windows, without the fans running, I can hear all the little things in the dark, including the owls. They seem to be most active at this time of day. Maybe they are just like us, it’s the end of their day, the kids are fed, Dad is home from work, Mom wants to talk about what went on and how she’s dealing with the neighborhood. The sun will be up soon, so they’re gathering the family together and settling down?

All I know is the noise that occasionally goes well into daylight hours and finally settles down as the sun begins to peek over the horizon. I hear the higher pitched female calls first and wonder what she’s saying. Then I hear the male return her call with his low WHO WHO from across the yard. As Fall moves on, I’ll hear strange screeching noises and more who-ing…it’s mating season and they’re calling each other to bed.

I could talk about owls all day, but I’ll leave you with this…what I originally was thinking when I started writing to you about owls. Why are owls a symbol of Fall? Because when we didn’t live in cities, when we were out on our farms and ranches, making our way in the world, when we sat in the dark making up stories about what was happening around us instead of watching them on Netflix, we heard the owls being sexy out there as Fall approached and associated them with the cooler nights and the shortened days. The spooky mating calls of a large night predator became a symbol of the coming winter and we incorporated them into our own stories and lives.

My culture perpetuated the symbol, but I had lost the meaning. Moving to the desert brought that richness back into my life. Nature, human and otherwise, remains constant. We may cover some parts up and lose track of the meanings for a while, but it’s still running underneath the surface, waiting to come up and reveal itself from time to time. We just need to keep our eyes open and look for it.

Why DO I write here anyway?

“We need to talk.” It’s probably the last thing you ever want to hear from a close friend or family member, right? Sends shivers down anyone’s spine! But we do and don’t worry, it ends well!

About my last post, if you haven’t seen it, you can read it HERE, but all it really says is “Why do I write and post here?” I thought about it all weekend. I’ve thought about it before and I’ll probably think about it again (mostly because I have a cute little squirrel brain that doesn’t hold on to things for very long, but it makes things…interesting).

An existential crisis began on Saturday morning when, in an attempt to catch up on writing my “What In The World Is She Reading” newsletter, I opened a book that I had finished a couple weeks ago and recognized none of the text inside. I flipped through the pages reading here and there thinking, maybe that part wasn’t interesting? Maybe I was thinking of something else when I read that short story? I flipped to another page and started reading. Nope. It’s all gone, slipped out of my mind like those planetary systems Princess Leia said Darth Vadar was losing through his grip.

I slapped the book down, piled up my notebook and my laptop, and went to sit on the porch and stare at the desert. I was out there for an hour.

The rest of my Saturday spiraled slowly down into a mild depression. My heart hurt and I held back tears the whole day. My family began to worry. I watched a movie. I cleaned my closet of extra clothes. I laid on my bed and watched the ceiling.

If I can’t remember what I read, what’s the point of reading at all? And then what’s the point of writing about it? I spend a lot of my day reading, making notes, taking pictures, and posting about what I read. Am I just wasting my time? Is there something more important and lasting that could be done?

Maybe I should spend more time knitting. At least I’d have a product at the end of my time. I recently bought a cross-stitch kit thinking I’d like to make some presents, so I spent an hour trying to learn it. In my mental state of the moment, it didn’t go well, as you can imagine.

I continued to pout and get angry all day and well into the evening. My best friend was off busy all day, my youngest son left for work, my husband and oldest son were working on projects in the garage, and here I was…useless. I’m just killing time waiting to die…yep…I heard myself grumbling to myself. I’m a freakin’ bundle of fun sometimes.

At some point, we ended up on the couch watching a tv show and eating leftovers for dinner, when I laid my head in my husband’s lap and poured my heart out. He patted me and gave me some loves. My son gave me some advice that I grumbled about and then I went to bed.

After a good night’s sleep and a long Sunday morning of yard work, I took a hot shower and then sat down at my desk. Picking up the book, I flipped through it again. I still don’t remember much of those stories. I picked up another one and flipped through its pages. Hold on a minute. I remember a lot of that book! What happened? Why do I remember so little from this book?

All of a sudden something important occurred to me. There were a lot of notes in the book I remembered a lot of but the book that I didn’t remember had very few. I opened up Instagram and scrolled through my pictures to find only four quotes that I shared from the book I didn’t remember and ten from the book I did.

My son was right the night before. The advice I grumbled about…stupid kid…doesn’t know anything…you don’t know my feelings! Like I said, I can be really fun if you love sarcasm, dramatic exits, and self-pity parties. His advice was…Mom, you probably didn’t need any of those words, so your brain dumped them. Some day you’ll read that book again and that’s when you’ll remember because you’ll need it, or you’ll know someone else does so you’ll loan it to them. Kids these days!

He also reminded me, when I cried about wasting time, that no time is ever wasted if you’re doing something you enjoy doing. I don’t know where he gets this stuff.

Here’s the thing, my friends. I like reading books, all of them! Each book has its reason for being there. Some are packed full of information that I need. Some are guidance in troubled times. Some help me help someone else. Some make me smile, and some make me cry. Some are just damn fun. I don’t read because I have to and I don’t read things that I’m not enjoying, even if the information in them is important. I just love the experience!

Getting up before dawn, grabbing a cup of coffee and settling into the couch with my current lover…I mean book…is soul satisfying to me. It feeds me.

So why do I write and post about it here? There are two reasons really. The first is that writing about what I’m reading, while I’m reading it, helps me remember what I read. It helps me link other things I’ve read to what I’m currently reading. Organizing my thoughts on the page also helps me use what I’m reading to organize my life. I’m a better person because of what I read and write about and that cup overflows onto my family and friends. Happy reader…happy wife, mom, friend, PERSON!

The second reason is you. The book is already read. The page is already written. The photo is already taken. Why not post it all to the internet on the off chance someone out there might need it or at least enjoy it? It’s a little like sending a message in a bottle. I’m out here on my desert isle, writing out little messages, rolling them up and stuffing them inside my empty whiskey and tequila bottles, throwing them as far out into the sea as I can. Hopefully the tide will catch them and bring them to you…although, I know some do get washed back up onto my shores, but I just brush them off and throw them out again!

So here we are. I’m glad you’re here to listen to me rant about these things. I can tell you’re a great listener, so thanks. Let’s get back to books!

What are you reading?

Strange Stalkers

They are up to something I just know it. Just as I sat down to write to you about them, I heard them gathering again just outside my window. Their innocent chatter doesn’t fool me. When I looked out, there were about fifteen of them, a bigger group than I saw yesterday, mostly grown and clearly looking for trouble.

Yesterday I went out front to water some of my plants before the sun got too hot. The dog went rushing out and down the driveway as she always does, racing to see if she can flush out a rabbit or two to chase away. Her beagle instincts say chase, but with her short corgi legs she never can catch them. She doesn’t even seem to be trying. It looks to me like she has more fun just scaring them out of the creosote bushes and running them off, trotting back to the driveway with her tongue hanging out and tail up, that “happy dog” look.

As I drag the hose around to the few trees and juniper bushes I have out front, the cat comes sauntering out of the gate. He sits on the front porch with that bored look all cats have, as if he just can’t believe he’s stuck here.

The water bowl is refilled, the agaves sprinkled when I notice a fat quail leap up into a Joshua tree in the garden walk. I love the way one of them always gets up high as a look out for the others. He warns them of any potential problems, and I swear gives the direction it’s coming from because they all seem to stay carefully aware and moving away from any predators…except my cat.

This time I heard the lookout give a chirping warning to the covey below and then hop down from the tree and join them. They were moving away from me and the hose, I thought. Then I saw the cat on the path, just walking slowly like a lion on the Savanna. He wasn’t stalking, just walking along toward the pine tree at the end of the driveway, not a care in the world.

Once he was out in the open, I noticed the quail about ten feet behind him, tentatively following him. He had to notice they were there, their chattering was hysterical, but he kept walking. When he got to the shade of the tree he stopped, and his followers stopped too, a group of about ten mostly grown quail. I stopped watering, stood still, and watched as the drama unfolded.

The cat continued up the driveway toward the house, seemingly unaware of the little marauders at his heels. He moved slowly, not making any sudden moves. The quail moved in one large group behind him, getting braver if the cat kept moving, but stepping back flustered whenever he slowed or looked back at them.

They reminded me of teenage groupies after a handsome young movie star. Star struck, they clearly want an autograph but not a single one is brave enough to approach and ask their hero directly for what they want. They keep pushing each other closer, “No, you ask!” “No, you!” “I’ll go if you do.” “No way!” It’s hilarious. I can barely keep myself from laughing and breaking up the whole show.

Once the cat got closer to the house, he stopped and sat in the shade of a bush. The quail stayed behind the next bush, chirping and squeaking amongst themselves, jostling for position. The cat made a move to straighten his fur as he sat and they all rushed a few feet back to the next bush, only to make a comeback when they realized he wasn’t moving toward them.

I kept watching, wondering what the plan was. What were they trying to do? Keep him away from a nest? I’ve seen a young couple do that to him in the yard before. They can be aggressive if he gets near where they have been nesting. But these were not nesting adults, they were a teenage gang. Maybe they were made brave this year by their swell in numbers. I’ve never seen this many quail broods and in such large sizes, as I have this summer. One group of tiny babies numbered over twenty-five birds!

The cat was on the move again. He continued his return to the shade of the porch and his stalkers kept up their pursuit, albeit from a safe enough distance. As he came around the bush and towards the gate, our dog noticed him and bounded to greet him, scattering the birds all over the yard.

I laughed out loud at the front yard antics and went back to finishing up the watering. I told him he should probably be a little careful out there. They are up to something wicked; I can just sense it. He seems to think he can handle the situation because today he was out there lounging on the front porch as usual. He can’t say he wasn’t warned.

What Can I Do?

My evening meditation and reading always ends up being attended by my followers, Chili and Abe.

I read another chapter of “A Guide to the Good Life – {the ancient art of stoic joy}” by William B. Irvine. As I read, I took a few notes, asked myself a couple questions, and had an “ah-ha” (not the band) moment, only to find that the end of the chapter confirmed my thought process.

I love it when that happens.

The chapter was on The Dichotomy of Control. The Stoics say there things you can and things you can’t control. Mr. Irvine expands on that a bit, adding that there are things you have some control over as well. That made me think about my current situation.

How much influence to change the world do I have? Here on my blog? Very little. On social media? I don’t suppose much at all. I’ve learned first hand lately, that my personal posts are enjoyed by and encouraging to people that already share my values. I make people smile with my cat pictures. I make people laugh with my jokes. But do I influence anyone to think or change their minds? No, not really.

That’s where the Stoic philosophy came in. Why bother doing something that has so little effect? Why not simply keep my posts to neutral subjects? Because I feel as though I’m leaving part of myself hidden away, a part that I’m proud of and want to share.

So what can I do? Create an internalized goal. My goal isn’t to change my readers’ minds or educate my friends as to my point of view so that they will come to their senses and adopt it. I have no control over how anyone perceives what I post or what they do with it.

My goal in posting here and on social media is to share a slice of my life with others and to clarify my point of view to the best of my ability. I have control over that and I can meet that goal every day.

This goes right along with participating in government and community. I do the best that I can to keep up with what’s happening, educate myself, and vote for what I think is best. The outcome is irrelevant to my goals.

Coping With Trauma

Photo by Erika Fletcher on Unsplash

Trauma happens in everyone’s life. Even in the best of situations, childhood is complicated. Just like us, our parents were doing the best they could with what they had at the time. We’ve all developed coping mechanisms to keep going. Some of them are causing more problems than they solve.

I used to have a ’69 Chevy C20 pickup truck.

When I say that people think I mean one of the carefully restored ones, but they’re way off. I started to search my files for a photo of it but got distracted by adorable videos of my children, so the above “stock photo” will have to do.

It was a work truck, white and rusted. The headliner had long been torn out and my husband had glued some eggshell foam to the ceiling to cut down the noise inside. The floor was rusted a bit. The bench seat had an old woven cover. It smelled like an old truck, a combination of metal and exhaust. I loved it.

I love telling the story of the time the brakes went out suddenly on my to work. I was driving along, slowly, along side streets on my way to work. The traffic signal turned yellow and I braked, but the pedal softly lowered to floor and had little effect. I was moving slow and the truck was heavy, so the brakes worked well enough to stop me before I rolled into the intersection. I shifted into park and thought quickly while I waited for the green light.

I couldn’t just pull over. I needed to get to work. This was before cell phones, so if I left the truck in the intersection, or someone kindly helped me roll the behemoth to the side of the road or the next parking lot, I’d still have to find a phone and call for help. The brakes weren’t completely gone, I thought, and shifting into park does stop the roll. I was only a block from work. I can do this.

The light turned green and I began to accelerate. I put my emergency blinkers on so people would know I wasn’t driving five miles an hour to irritate them, but it didn’t seem to help. Drivers have always been in a bit of a hurry. They’re only trying to get to work on time too. At the next light, I shifted into neutral and let gravity slow the truck down, shifting into park just as it stopped.

I can do it! Only one more light to stop at and then I can make the right turn into my company parking lot and I’m home free. It got done, no problem, and it made a great story about why I was five minutes late for work. I called my husband to tell him about the problem. It was his day off, so he came by while I was at work to see if there was anything he could do to temporarily fix it and get the truck back home.

I didn’t stand there screaming, looking for someone to blame for the problem. I didn’t continue to drive the same way, crash into people, and then tell them I couldn’t help it because my brakes were bad. Something was broken on my vehicle, the lack of stopping alerted me to it, and I found a way to struggle a bit and then get it fixed.

What if we lived our emotional lives the same way?

Identifying trauma is not an excuse for poor behavior. Things happen in our lives and we develop ways to cope with them. Depending on our personalities, our age, our culture, and a myriad of other things, we all learn to cope with trauma in different ways. Some of those ways do not serve us well. Some of those ways hurt the ones we love.

What I’ve learned (way too late for my taste) is that identifying trauma is an invitation to repair it. Noticing the behavior is the first step. I noticed a long time ago. I’m still learning to behave better. It’s a lifetime process.

No one was evil in my life. No one deliberately hurt me. No one is to blame. Not even myself. We all learn at different rates, with different experiences. Good teachers come and go at different times in everyone’s lives. Any growth is progress.

I don’t have any how-to advice. I’m still learning. But I do have encouragement.

Live. Love. Forgive. Accept. Be kind. We’re all simply tourists here.

Sunrise Reminder

The sun tries again.

“Real”

“Gifted women, even as they reclaim their creative lives, even as beautiful things flow from their hands, from their pens, from their bodies, still question whether they are writers, painters, artists, people, real ones. And of course they are real ones even though they might like to bedevil themselves with what constitutes “real.””

“…a tree is real when it is still a seed in the pine cone. An old tree is a real living being. Real is what has life.”

Women Who Run With the Wolves – by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.

There is some amazing stuff in this book. I’ve questioned my “real” myself. “Am I a real writer?” only touches the surface.

If I live simply. If I ONLY read, write, clean, cook, raise my children, love my husband, cherish my close friends, is that a REAL life?

Yes. It is.

Discovering Small Spaces

There are spaces built into our lives, small stretches of time between tasks where we used to take a breath and think. I started to re-discover these spaces this past month when I deleted Facebook and then Instagram from my phone.

If you’ve been reading my posts, you probably know that I’ve had a long-term love/hate relationship with social media. I’ve thought about it a lot and I’ve written about it a lot. Honestly though, I have a love/hate relationship with just about everything. How much I love it or hate it depends on my mood of the day (or hour), but in the long run there is little that I truly abhor.

Ultimately, I love the concept. I love being able to stay connected through the internet with friends and family. I love being able to share pictures, books, and articles I find interesting with whoever wants to listen. No more losing addresses or phone numbers. No more having to print and send pictures of the kids. No more photocopies of articles tacked to the bulletin board.

But there are downsides, that’s for sure. We all know them well.

With all the hubbub in the world, I found myself needed to put a little more distance between my home and the online world, so I decided to take the apps off my phone so that I couldn’t just unconsciously scroll. I didn’t leave the platforms, I just limited when I could interact with them. That’s when I discovered the spaces.

Once the apps weren’t at my fingertips, I found myself daydreaming more often. And it’s so nice. As I finished my coffee, caught my breath after a walk, waited for the dryer to finish; whenever I had a moment, I sat there thinking instead, staring out the window, or doodling on a piece of paper. I found a few epiphanies to write about. And I relaxed.

Over the course of a few weeks, I realized that, with the apps right there in my hand, I had been filling those quiet spaces with other people’s thoughts and I was losing mine.

I’ll admit, I have considered leaving social media completely, but I just can’t seem to justify it. I can’t think of a convenient way to stay in touch over long distances. I want to be there so that my people can find me, so I stay.

I now have two social media accounts, Facebook and Instagram. On Facebook, I get on the computer and share a few things each morning. Depending on my mood and my availability, I chat with a friend or jump over to a friend’s page and see what’s up. You, my sweet reader, can “follow” me there if you like. I post many things publicly.

Instagram is different. You can only post to your page from the app. I can still follow interesting pages and comment from my computer, but I can’t post my own. I tried having the app on my phone and self-limiting my time there so that I could post, but I kept inadvertently filling in my spaces, so it had to go, at least until I can develop a stronger habit of not scrolling.

My social media use has evolved once again.

Speak. Because You Have Something to Add.

You guys!

It’s so important to live out loud and honestly.

Speak.

Tell your stories. Show your pictures.

Share your ideas, your thinking, and your passions.

You may never get positive feedback. You may never gain followers or an income. It may feel like no one is ever listening or learning from you.

But they are.

Someone is out there and they need to hear you, whether they know it or not.

Overloaded Outlet

These past few months really threw me for a loop. Not because of what’s going on but my reaction to it. I thought I was better than this. Have I learned anything?

I read emails while I eat breakfast. I know…don’t multitask, Michelle. Be aware of your breakfast. But people, while oatmeal is delicious and nutritious, it’s just not much to be aware of. Give me a break here. Emails are much nicer to think about.

Yesterday’s “Moment of Happiness” from Gretchen Rubin was especially relevant to me, so much so, that I wrote it down in my journal.

“Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage

The visual of “a clock during a thunderstorm” really struck me…pun not intended but…good one! What I wouldn’t give to be like that clock!

A couple things came to mind when I read it. The first was how do I get that “quiet mind?” I have routines, meditation times, I read, I keep a journal, I “make space for me,” yet my squirrel brain continues to race around. I can’t seem to tame this beast.

And then, how do I protect my “private pace?” Shit, how do I figure out what my own private pace IS?! From childhood to young adulthood, to parenthood, I’ve always felt like I was running someone else’s race. My parent’s, my school’s, my job’s, and then my children’s. I’m always keeping up with them, filling their needs, inadvertently neglecting my own. Only recently have I begun to have time to even think about what my own personal pace will be now.

So I sat, drinking my coffee and thinking about it and it dawned on me. The scene from “A Christmas Story” came to mind, the one where they’re trying plug the Christmas lights into the socket and it’s overflowing with plugs.

I am that outlet! I’m overloaded with plugs draining my power at a rate I just can’t keep up with. I need to prioritize. There are some things I just can’t let go of, nor do I want to. My husband, my children, my home, and some very special friends are what make life worth living. At times they are also drains on my energy, but mostly they add to my life in amazing ways.

I need fewer pulls on my attention. I need quiet time. While I don’t generally spend a lot of time outside my home, I do spend a lot of time socializing online. And that is what I need to let go of.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Medium, Tumblr, even LinkedIn, all vie for my attention. Like an outlet with a poor fuse, if it even has one at all, I’m more likely to spark and start a fire that consumes it all than to blow a fuse.

So, I’m taking some advice that I got over a year ago and letting them go. All of them, except for my personal Facebook page. I’m keeping that because I use it as an online scrapbook and to keep in touch with my friends and family. I’ve set it up so that it pulls as little attention away from my physical reality as possible.

What does that mean for my blog? It means that my posts won’t be automatically shared across platforms. I will be sharing each post to my personal Facebook page, so if you are there, you are welcome to follow me. I won’t accept friend requests from readers but follows of my public posts are very much welcome.

My monthly newsletter will also continue to go out to all my email subscribers. I love writing that newsletter! It’s mostly about the books I’ve been reading all month, but I also share my favorite posts from the month. You’d like it. Go sign up. Please!

I need more time without the constant bombardment of other people’s input so that I can create things that are uniquely me. That doesn’t necessarily mean blog posts! I’m still trying to discover what my thing is.

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