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

Tag: fiction Page 1 of 12

Conversations with Friends: New Read

The system finally worked! What system? My notecard system to keep track of why I put a book on my TBR list! I have a pile of notecards nearby and when I find a book I need to read, I write the title/author on one and below it I write where and when I learned about it. Then, when I get the book, I put that card inside of it so I can write about it later.

conversations with friends
My Afternoon Read – I DESERVE this!

I needed a short, lighter book to read, so I picked Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney off my overburdened TBR shelf. It was late at night, I couldn’t sleep, so I sat up late reading. Two hours later, I was nearly halfway through the book wondering why I had added it to the list. It didn’t seem like my kind of book.

My card had no other notes than the title (something I have vowed to change), so I went to the original book, How to Live. What to Do by Josh Cohen. I just went back looking for a post about that book and it’s one I didn’t write about. I must have been in a blogging slump when I read it back in June. Thank goodness for his notes in the back of the book. I found where he had mentioned it and read the section again. Ahh… here we are.

It was in Chapter 4 – Adolescence Part 2: First Love. The book is clever because he is a psychoanalyst and uses characters from books as case studies. He brings up Frances in her story Conversations with Friends, mentions the relationships and their communications styles. “Roony’s novels turn on a similar problem: the weird and unsettling proximity of love to cruelty.”

Is that love? Really? We can be very cruel to each other when we are fearful of being vulnerable. The dance between new people is dangerous. If I open up to you, will you hurt me? It’s terrifying and delicious.

“In novels, as in life, we find the inner self is annoyingly uncongenial to the maintenance of a steady state. It is divided, pulled in different directions by different impulses – it wants safety and risk, consistency and change, to say yes and to say no.”

I’m trying to remember that he’s talking of adolescents, but Conversations with Friends characters are all over twenty-one years old, some are over thirty. When does he think we come out of this phase of our lives? I guess it depends on how much work we put into growing up. It’s something I feel we’re not encouraged to do these days. Many of us remain childish our whole lives, never learning our inner selves and knowing what real love is.

This was not what I was getting from reading Conversations with Friends. At halfway through, I was more drawn to the politics of these girls and their so-called “friends.” The way they talk to each other and treat each other doesn’t seem like friends at all. They seem closed off, never opening up to themselves or the people they call friends. They hide their true feelings, always pretending to be something they aren’t.

Also from How to Live. What to Do, “Frances, the complex, spiky narrator of Sally Rooney’s Conversation with Friends (2017), is immersed in this ether of doubt as she wanders the treacherous landscapes of love and sex. Her Dublin is a wired global city of big banks and coffee chains and trust fund kids, a far cry from the shuttered repression of the city of James Joyce’s Dubliners.

But much as we shouldn’t understate the place of historical change in determining the ways we love, perhaps we should be equally ware of overstating it. If Conversations shows us how our post-liberation age has transformed the conduct of love, it also reminds us how much stays the same. Confusion, anxiety and volatility are as present for Frances as they were for Werther.”

THAT book is sitting on my TBR shelf as well, and it’s on my reading list for The Classics Club, so guess what I’ll be reading next?

This morning I read more and my feelings about them are starting to change. The author is revealing them to me, and I like it. I seem to remember the same feeling when I read Normal People.

One thing I’m not liking is the lack of quotation marks in the dialog. I’m having a terrible time following who said what or just thought it. I know this is a new thing. Call me old, but I’m not a fan. I’ll post more about the book when I finish reading it.

The Gift of Choice: Final Thoughts on East of Eden

Reflecting on the gift of choice as I close the final pages …sigh…

the gift of choice
So much reading to do!

I finished East of Eden. Ten days, 778 pages in 18.58 hours. Nearly two hours a day I spent in that book, and that’s a lot because I’m currently reading two other books. I loved it so much. The story covers three generations, and I never thought the story dragged. I never ached to know what was happening next. I never thought, “Why in the world is this chapter here?” I just watched it unfold, and every chapter was beautiful.

When I got to the end of the book, I paused before I turned to the last page. Please, please, please don’t destroy my dreams with your words, Mr. Steinbeck! It was gorgeous.

So, what’s the book about? Choice. Every single one of us has a choice in life. Do we do good for ourselves and those around us? Or do we do them wrong? We are all good and evil combined. It’s what we do with our lives that counts.

Chapter 24. around halfway through the book, was my “Ah-ha!” moment.

Lee explains to Adam his study of the story of Cain and Abel from Genesis. Word translations come into play, something I’ve spent time questioning myself. When we translate something from one language to another, it isn’t an easy task. One small tweak of a word and the whole thing changes tone. We also put our own background and culture on top of the words we’re translating, not to mention all the time that has passed between the original manuscript and our current work.

I don’t think the following quote will spoil anything, but if you want a pure reading, maybe save it for later and skip to the bottom.

“Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel – ‘Thou mayest’ – that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For it ‘Thou mayest’ – it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’”

“Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”

“It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there.”

We all have choices to make every single day.

It reminds me of last year when I cut my finger chopping onions for a sauce. I learned a lesson that day: always cook first, or at least finish using sharp tools, and then get a nice adult beverage. Never the reverse!

It’s rare that I hurt myself badly enough to need a visit to Urgent Care, but after holding it for thirty minutes the blood just came gushing back the minute I let go. I needed stitches. My husband drove me down to town and was thrilled to find out that, due to Covid restrictions, he didn’t have to go inside with me. He hates that kind of thing. Poor guy. I wouldn’t have made him anyway.

Once inside, the nurse took me in, numbed the pain, and then sewed up my finger. The process was fascinating to me, and I took the sharp pain of the needle without complaint. Once it was numb and she started sewing, I loved watching. I’ve never had stitches before. It was exciting.

I told the nurse what a great job she was doing, and I was so thankful that she was around to help me through my stupid moment. Everyone makes mistakes, right? Good thing there people around to help you through the pain of fixing them.

She was so grateful. She said most people come in angry when they are hurt. They snap at her as she tries to clean a wound and give them the means of healing it. “Why would they do that? We aren’t animals.” I commiserated. Everyone’s on edge lately.

Animals don’t have a choice to behave better. They only react to the present moment. They can’t see the bigger picture. We can if we take the time to calm ourselves and see it. We can respond instead of reacting. A large dog bred to fight, doesn’t think, “It’s in my blood and training to fight strong and win, but what if I don’t want to?” But a human has something animals don’t, that choice within them. It may be hidden away under years of experience and trauma, but it’s there. Which leads me to another track: my mediation this morning. But that’s another post.

I’m glad I found East of Eden at that used bookstore. I didn’t know I wanted to read it, only knew the title because I was sure it was an old movie, and Steinbeck. He’s famous, right? It was my first read from my Classics Club five-year reading challenge post. Not a bad start!

What’s next? That amazing find that came to my mailbox when I first started reading East of Eden, The Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters by John Steinbeck!

The Power in Stories: East of Eden #3

Another morning, nearly two hours straight, completely absorbed in a story. There’s so much power in stories. And it’s not only the story that’s grabbing my attention, but also the truths he’s touching on. The way he writes, narrating not only the story, but coming out of it to talk to you like he just thought of something to mention. It’s more like a conversation than a novel.

power in stories

Four days, and this is where I am. Halfway through a fat novel I didn’t know I even wanted to read in the first place. It makes me want to go back and read his other novels that I initially hated. Was it the story I didn’t like, or was his voice different? Or was it because the first time was in a high school classroom, forced to read a story before I was ready?

The last few pages I read this morning are what I want to highlight today. And you don’t have to worry about spoilers. These are taken out of context and related to me personally. That’s the way I read. Author’s probably hate it.

“I think when a man finds good or bad in his children he is seeing only what he planted in them after they cleared the womb.”

There’s a lot of truth here. How our children behave has a lot more to do with how we raised them, than how we conceived them. Do we honor their natural temperament or squash it? Have we dealt with our own past demons or are we passing on that lesson, to be learned by the next generation?

“An unbelieved truth can hurt a man much more than a lie. It takes great courage to back truth unacceptable to our times. There’s a punishment for it, and it’s usually crucifixion.”

Have you ever told the truth and been ostracized for it? It destroys more people than lies do. The fear of it makes us hide our feelings, our thoughts, our true selves, from the world around us, especially those closest to us. Safety is a rare space.

“Lord, how the day passes! It’s like a life – so quickly when we don’t watch it and so slowly when we do.”

It’s lines like this, ones that express so eloquently what all of us know instinctually, that make my heart skip in joy.

“No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that is true and true of us.”

That brings me back to wondering about those Steinbeck stories I read when I was younger. For whatever reason, they mean something to humanity in general, not individuals at any given time. Something that means something to generations, no matter what you personally get from it, are worthy of respect. As you change, they change. Something in them is important, something in them reflects humanity, you may not be able to see it yet.

“I’m feeling my way now – don’t jump on me if I’m not clear.”

This should be on the title page of my blog. It’s exactly how I feel each time I start to write a post.

Samuel had leaned on his elbows on the table and his hands covered his eyes and forehead. “I want to think,” he said. “Damn you, I want to think. I’ll want to take this off alone where I can pick it apart and see. Maybe you’ve tumbled a world for me. And I don’t know what I can build in my world’s place.”

Lee said softly, “Couldn’t a world be built around accepted truth? Couldn’t some pains and insanities be rooted out if the causes were known?”

This is the essence of my thinking lately, one I learned to see through secular Buddhism. We should be tearing down our worlds and rebuilding them constantly, not clinging to what we believe we already know. It’s the only way to stay sane. Keep an open mind, stay curious, try to see what’s right there in front of us, and use that information to build new worlds. This is progress.

Yesterday afternoon, I stopped at the mailbox on my way into town for groceries. This was inside.

power in stories

It’s that book I told you about when I first started reading East of Eden a mere four days ago, Journal of a Novel. I thought I’d read it alongside East of Eden, but I’m already still heavily involved in The Portable Atheist and Reflections on a Mountain Lake. I’ll have to wait, but it’s definitely next.

By the way, I did make a bit of a fool of myself when I found the book in the mail. I ripped open the package right there in the car and took a picture, quickly texting it to several people I knew would be just as excited to hear about it. Yes, I’m THAT kind of geek!

Click back to my first post on East of Eden by John Steinbeck for more.

Fiction Can Transport You: East of Eden #2

East of Eden. Sometimes fiction can transport you to whole other world. It may surprise you, but I’m not usually one to read the same book non-stop for hours. I typically read for about thirty minutes, go to the bathroom, get a cup of coffee, read another thirty minutes, get some exercise, write some, read another thirty minutes… It goes on all day. About an hour is the most I can read in a single sitting, even when the book is thrilling and I’m getting a lot out of it. My mind wanders.

But this… It’s just different.

fiction can transport

I didn’t sleep well again last night. I’m a light sleeper anyway, always have a hard time staying asleep, but summers are worse. It’s hot and uncomfortable, at least that’s what I’m telling myself. I’m on day three of eating less, one cup of coffee in the morning, no candy, and no alcohol. It’s an attempt to see what it is that is keeping me up. I’ve tried just about everything.

…sigh…

I skipped our morning walk today. I woke up at 4:45 and just didn’t have the energy to put on shoes right away. I dove into East of Eden while my husband got ready for work. Before I knew it, the sun was up, the livingroom was flooded with light, and it was two hours later.

What happened?

Reading East of Eden is like being there or watching an amazing movie that you can’t take your eyes off. It isn’t a complicated read. The words flow and the scenes pull you in. The story is simple, yet so deep. It’s one of those books that you talk out loud to while you read. “No!” “You can’t!” “Why?” can be heard from the livingroom couch as I roll through each chapter.

Hopefully, as I write about what piques my interest in this book, I won’t give away any big spoilers. If you’re sensitive to that, maybe skip this next part if you haven’t read the book yet.

“When a child first catches adults out – when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not have divine intelligence, that their judgements are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just – his world falls into panic and desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.”

Do you remember realizing this? I wonder if it’s different for different kinds of people. Some people are far more sensitive, maybe they build others up to impossible standards in their minds, and when they fail to meet those standards, the repairs are complicated. Adam learned and accepted that his father wasn’t a god early in his life. Charles learned later. Neither of them is a well-adjusted and heathy adult. But then, good stories aren’t told about well-adjusted and healthy people. It would be boring. But we find little bits of ourselves in these stories. It makes us feel better about ourselves and others.

“As with many people, Charles, who could not talk, wrote with fullness. He set down his loneliness and his perplexities, and he put on paper many things he did not know about himself.”

I identified with this piece. I do talk, a lot, but it’s generally not about much. When I write, I feel like it’s easier to put my thoughts in order, but then I wonder how much of it is truly understood. Like Charles, I get little written response. It doesn’t detract from the value of writing though. I’m not writing too anyone specifically, as he was.

“…maybe love makes you suspicious and doubting. Is it true that when you love a woman you are never sure – never sure of her because you aren’t sure of yourself?”

That’s not love, my friend. It’s ego and possession. He’s right. To be that suspicious and doubting doesn’t say anything about who or what you love. It speaks about your love of yourself. You can love anyone, with all their flaws and mistakes, if you love and respect yourself. That’s something I only recently discovered and have begun to practice.

“I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of the truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller. A story has in it neither gain nor loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape. I suppose if that definition is strictly held to, then a writer of stories is a liar – of he is financially fortunate.”

Every story is just a grand lie, right? We know that and accept it as listeners/watchers/readers. The teller isn’t trying to sell us false goods. But a liar…that’s different. We know it instinctually, but it’s fascinating putting it this way.

As you can probably see, I’m returning to my old way (way back to the beginning of this year) of writing a little about each day’s reading as I go. It seems the best way to tease out what I’m thinking and makes my little heart happiest. I hope it works for you too.

East of Eden: New Read

I love it when a plan comes together!

What plan? Michelle, you never have a plan. You just run into life head on, no regard for consequences, and then see what happens. Later, when things slow down, you sit back and put the puzzle pieces together as if you had a plan all along.

Yeah? So? I bought a book.

No! Really? You?

Yes, I did. And it was a book I didn’t need. I have a whole shelf of books to read. In fact, I have four shelves of books to read, even though I swore that I would never have more than one. That…well… it wasn’t working out for me and it all started when a friend moved out of state and gifted her library to little ol’ me.

east of eden
My brother said I find books in my yard like an Easter Egg Hunt.
I should try a better storage system. Always the comedian, my family is.

There I was, relaxing in Big Bear, out for a day in the (slightly) cooler temps of the mountains and a dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant. I can’t be there and not check out the used bookstore. That would be wrong. I don’t need more books, but then again, “need” really is subjective. Isn’t it?

I try to keep my spontaneous book purchases to used books, preferably classics. I need to find a way to create a list on my phone of what I already have though. Suggestions are extremely welcome in the comments. I picked up five books that day, one of which was a disappointment. I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Probably the extra margarita. And it turned out to be an abridged version of a book I had been wanting to read. I don’t like those. But at least I only paid $4.

I came home and posted a picture of my haul on my Facebook page, and my brother mentioned he wanted to read one of them, East of Eden. I told him I’d send it to him and then rethought it and told him to buy one of his own. That way, maybe we can read it at the same time.

Sidenote: Searching for a link to East of Eden on Amazon, I found this: Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. And now THAT is on its way to my house as well. I may have a problem, but how can I pass that up? Steinbeck wrote letters to a friend as a warmup while writing East of Eden. I’ll be reading this alongside the novel; as it should be, make it so, engage!

The next week, I stumbled across The Classics Club and immediately joined it. Looking through their classics list to create my own five-year reading list, I saw East of Eden and decided it would be my next read, the first one to check off the list. I started reading it this morning and lost my mind.

The only thing I knew about East of Eden before I started reading it was that it was by John Steinbeck. I wasn’t a fan of Steinbeck. I read Of Mice and Men when I was in high school, by force, and it was depressing and boring. And this book…wow…it’s a thick one, like Stephen King thick. 778 pages. I only hoped it wouldn’t be as terrible as I remember Of Mice and Men being.

I had a vague recollection there may be a movie of the same name. My husband confirmed it. East of Eden? Yeah, babe… James Dean? You don’t remember that?” I looked it up and, of course, it’s not on any of the streaming platforms that I pay for. Nothing that I search for directly ever is. But you bet I’ll be watching it once I finish the book.

When I started reading this morning at 4:30am, I was instantly pulled into the story. I was there. Forty-five minutes later felt like an instant to me when my husband walked in and reminded me we were going to go for a walk. All I could think was that I needed to get back there as soon as possible.

This is going to be a great read.

Want to read more of my thoughts about East of Eden? Check out:
Fiction Can Transport You
The Power in Stories
The Gift of Choice: Final Thoughts on East of Eden

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

Three Douglas Adams quotes that make me love So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish.

Before I start here, a quick question for my fellow readers. This big ol’ fat book is a collection of five novels in one binding. If you were going to count books, would you count this as one book, or five? I say five. These are the things I ponder in the evening before I sleep.

so long and thanks for all the fish

Second, I think that, so far, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is my favorite Douglas Adams novel. It’s the one with the most lol’s in the margin. And I’m not using that term figuratively. My husband believes I may be slightly more insane than I was before I started reading, because I’ve been bursting out in laughter every few pages. When I try to read to him what was funny or explain the joke, he just stares at me. Some people just don’t get it, but I still love him.

The following three quotes came up towards the end of the novel, and they just…well…you’ll see.

“Yes. They are the words that finally turned me into the hermit I have now become. It was quite sudden. I saw them, and I knew what I had to do.”

The sign read:

“Hold stick near the center of its length. Moisten pointed end in mouth. Insert in tooth space, blunt end next to gum. Use gentle in-out motion.”

“It seemed to me,” said Wonko the Sane, “that any civilization that had so far lost its head as to need to include a set of detailed instructions for use in a package of toothpicks, was no longer a civilization in which I could live and stay sane.”

This has actually happened to me, several times. The first was this:

It’s an actual sign at Disneyland that my stepdaughter took note of. She about fell to the floor in astonishment but didn’t because she was still aware that she was in a public bathroom and just because it’s Disneyland does not mean it’s clean enough to roll around on doubled up in laughter. She was still sane at the time. Please do not attempt to explain this to me. It is not the only incident, and it will not be the last.

“But the reason I call myself by my childhood name is to remind myself that a scientist must also be absolutely like a child. If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he thought he was going to see or not. See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting. Most scientists forget that. I’ll show you something to demonstrate that later. So, the other reason I call myself Wonko the Sane is so that people will think I’m a fool. That allows me to say what I see when I see it. You can’t possibly be a scientist if you mind people thinking that you’re a fool.”

This should be quoted in every science class, everywhere. It’s not only good for scientists, it’s a good rule for anyone attempting to live in the world we actually experience and a great way to make it a slightly better place.

“I come in peace,” it said, adding after a long moment of further grinding, “take me to your Lizard.”

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”

“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”

“No,” said Ford, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”

“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”

“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”

“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”

“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”

“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”

“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”

“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”

“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”

I don’t think I need to expound on this commentary on the political thought process. For those that believe this has only been the case the last few elections here in the US, this book was published in 1984 in the UK.

Every time I open the book to read, I hear this.

Next up, Mostly Harmless! I’m so glad I decided to re-read all of these. It’s been a wonderful romp.

Some Much Needed Douglas Adams

You’ve probably been wondering what happened to me. “She was writing every day for so long and then it petered out and she disappeared into the ether! What could have happened? Did she suffer an enormous blow to her charmed life? Was she not able to cope with the devastating effects of ennui? Anything could have happened?!”

douglas adams

Never fear. It was nothing serious. Just life happening along its happy little path, catching the big toe of its clown-sized Converse on a small pebble and tipping forward, catching itself but then, realizing it was being watched, deciding to make a big show of a small mishap and do a double somersault, attempt to land on its feet but land on its head, knocking itself unconscious for a moment. When it came to, there was an overwhelming amount of work piled up around it, so it stood up, dusted itself off, stuffed its hands into its parachute pants pockets and sauntered off whistling a tune and hoping no one would notice.

I think I’ve OD’d on Douglas Adams lately. Looks around sheepishly. But what else can you do when you get in a funk and can’t seem to find your way out? It all started when I took a few days off from my entire routine to visit with my parents, and when I got back, I just couldn’t get back on track. Much was achieved during those four days, many notes were taken, a-ha moments were had, and I came back a slightly different person. On top of that I was still reading, still thinking, still listening to podcasts, gathering books from bookstores, and adding more titles to my ever-expanding TBR list, but I hadn’t had any intelligent way of sharing any of it.

It’s happened before and I know it will happen again (because it is happening now), but here I am wondering where and how to jump back in and restart the flow. That thought has been overwhelming, so true to form, I just didn’t. Like my friend Life, I stuffed my hands in my pockets and sauntered away, but instead of whistling, I got another giant glass of iced coffee and picked up The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and hid inside.

Remember when I went into Barnes & Noble (I swear for the last time) just to pick up that book and then walked out so much poorer in cash and not much richer in books?

Hitchhiker’s is the book I jump into when I “just can’t” anymore. Can’t what? Can’t. Just plain can’t. It’s fun and hilarious and has brilliant lines like, “I’m so hip I can’t even see over my pelvis.” I originally started reading the books in high school, I think. My dad shared it with me, and we’ve been laughing about it ever since. We know the answer and have been helping to look for the question. We’re real cool froods, man.

douglas adams 42

Although I haven’t been able to get my sons to read the books, they are far too serious, when they were younger, I did get them to carry towels with me on Towel Day. And they are well aware of significance of 42.

douglas adams towel day

For the past week, I’ve been spending my morning hitchhiking with Ford across the galaxy. Time not wasted. My brain needed the break. I’m halfway through this collection of “five novels in one outrageous volume” and, believe it or not, it isn’t all random craziness. There is reason and depth.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Marvin, the terminally depressed robot, and I think I may write a whole post about it. The meaning of life, the concept of sentience, improbability, and so much more all comes up to make you laugh and (if you’re paying attention) think in these books.

This morning I’ve spent quite some time procrastinating…again. I’m very good at it, so I’m not all that sure why I spend so much time practicing, but I do. Suddenly, it came to me. I’ve reached critical mass. I know exactly where I’ll pick up and start writing. Right exactly where I am. The past is gone, the future is unknown, but right now, right here…that’s real, at least as far as my senses can tell. I could be dreaming, but as Mickey says, “This is MY dream!” So, I’ll do what I want. And what I want is to tell you, once again, that I’m back and I’m reading, and I’m excited to start sharing what I find with you again.

One more thing before I run off. So much of Douglas Adams is quotable. This time around, I find myself reminded of Dr. Who and Rick & Morty, both shows I hadn’t seen when I’ve read the book before. I’ve been putting down a mark at lines that I literally LOL’d at and this one… you’ll love it.

“All right!” bawled Vroomfondel, banging on a nearby desk. “I am Vroomfondel, and that is not a demand, that is a solid fact! What we demand is solid facts!”
“No, we don’t!” exclaimed Majikthise in irritation. “That is precisely what we don’t demand!”
Scarcely pausing for breath, Vroomfondel shouted, “We don’t demand solid facts! What we demand is a total absence of solid facts. I demand that I may or may not be Vroomfondel!”
“But who the devil are you?” exclaimed an outrage Fook.
“We,” said Majikthise, “are Philosophers.”
“Though we may not be,” said Vroomfondel, waving a warning finger at the programmers.

Reminds me of a Monty Python skit.

Thoughts on Youth by Joseph Conrad

Youth by Joseph Conrad is the first short story in my edition of Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction, and I liked it very much. The title reflects the recurring thought of “youth” as if he were saying, “Sure, this is what happened, but maybe I’d do things differently now that I’m older.”

Stories about the ocean, ships, weather, etc. are usually beyond me. You might as well be talking about an alien world. I’m not an ocean enthusiast, not by a long shot. I don’t even like hanging out at the beach, a mortal sin for a Southern California native. And sailing?! The extent of my experience ON the sea boils down to two instances.

When I was in my 20’s, I worked as a stage hand at Disneyland and during the strike each night at Fantasmic!, I would pretend I was a pirate on the Columbia while I coiled cables, threw lighting fixtures into the hatch, and stacked things away in the hold for the next nights show. Also, I once went on a cruise to Mexico, and I was sick nearly the entire time.

So, when I read, “…England, where men and sea interpenetrate, so to speak – the sea entering into the life of most men, and then men knowing something or everything about the sea, in the way of amusement, of travel, or of bread-winning.” I had a feeling I’d be a bit lost in this one.

But amazingly, I was not! Conrad sure does have a way with words. Every scene is crystal clear, even if you are unfamiliar with ship terms. In this edition, there are footnotes for some terms, and I found them a tad annoying, especially when it would explain one term that seemed obvious from the context and then not another. Those I had to look up, but I’ve seen enough movies to get the picture.

Describing the ship that he’s about to be First Mate on:

“There was on it, below her name in big letters, a lot of scroll work, with the gilt off, and some sort of a coat of arms, with the motto “Do or die” underneath. I remember it took my fancy immensely. There was a touch of romance in it, something that made me love the old thing – something that appealed to my youth!”

When we’re young, that “do or die” attitude is so appealing. As we get into middle age, the motto “do and see what happens, it’s all good” seems more appropriate.

Here’s something I could relate to:

“It was January, and the weather was beautiful – the beautiful sunny winter weather that has more charm than in the summer-time, because it is unexpected, and crisp, and you know it won’t, it can’t last long. It’s like a windfall, like a godsend, like an unexpected piece of luck.”

And other synonyms. Joe, please. We get it. I do love that feeling though. In the desert, we get it in the reverse here in the summer. Those unexpectedly cool days when a summer storm comes in, the sky clouds up, the wind blows…mmm…so nice. But you know it’s only a cool day. The tomorrows won’t be colder and colder.

And then this about a sudden explosion on ship:

“…felt a dull concussion which made my ribs ache suddenly. No doubt about it – I was in the air, my body was describing a short parabola. But short as it was, I had the time to think several thoughts in…”

My sons have both described something similar when they have crashed while racing dirt bikes. One said that he saw me as he took a jump a little wonky and thought, “Oh my poor mom is going to freak out!” Yes, I did. I had the same feeling myself when I fell ten-foot bungy jump scene on to the top of junk yard car at Knott’s Berry Farm while building the Halloween Haunt. “This is how I die.” I didn’t.

He drank.
“Ah! The good old time – the good old time! Youth and the sea. Glamour and the sea! The good, strong sea, the salt, bitter sea, that could whisper to you and roar to you and knock your breath out of you.”
He drank again.
“By all that’s wonderful it is the sea, I believe, the sea itself – or is it you alone? Who can tell?”

It’s youth. Those things we look back on, even if they were hard times, when we are older always seem so romantic. For me it was the shows I worked on at Knott’s and Disney. Starving, scrambling to pay rent, relationship drama, growing away from family, late nights, exhaustion, broken limbs, and near misses.

It wasn’t the job, or the art. It was youth. Everything was amazing, new, an adventure! Not so much now. I’d rather read about it, have a nice meal, and go to bed early. The young can keep their adventures.

Like I said, I enjoyed story much more than I thought I would. It turns out there is a lot to relate to. Even if the context of life isn’t the same, the humanity rings true to us all.

Heart of Darkness: New Read

I read Heart of Darkness in my early 20’s…geez that was a long time ago. Why did I read it? I’m not sure. It wasn’t for school. I had dropped out of university the year I turned twenty. I remember Barnes & Noble having a series of hardbacked classics at the time. They were relatively cheap, and I had decided to buy a new one each time I went in and then…wait for it…read them. I couldn’t live forever on Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I was trying to broaden my horizons.

I’d heard that the movie Apocalypse Now was based on that book. I still can’t stand that movie. It’s so depressing. I’m not sure what it is about any Vietnam era anything. I can’t discuss it calmly. “Understandable,” you think. Sure, but I swear it’s different for me. I don’t know. The feeling is strange. There’s no other subject that I am this averse to. It’s like a memory of a traumatic experience, and I wasn’t even born until 1972, so maybe it’s past life thing…who knows.

But Heart of Darkness! The first time I read it, I didn’t get it. I had no clue what was going on or what I was supposed to be understanding. And how, in the name of “based on the book,” was this related to Apocalypse Now? I don’t think I was paying close enough attention to either. I moved on.

Fast forward thirty years and I read Lord Jim, also by Joseph Conrad. I loved it, so I thought maybe I’d give his other books a try. That’s when I found this edition. It’s a used Barnes & Noble Classic and includes “selected short stories.”

This morning I read the introduction. Do you read those? I didn’t used to, but I read the one for Frankenstein and boy did it really make the story feel different. It meant so much more to me. I suppose if you’re reading a modern book, one written in your own time, from your own culture and language, it would be easier to see what the author was trying to get at. But the farther from my experience an author is, the harder it is for me to understand. Our vantage points on humanity are different, like someone on the other side of the universe pointing out stars to guide each other. Introductions move us closer together.

The introduction to this book was long, but great to read. Understanding where the author came from and the world he lived in, gives context to his fiction. It went into his life, when he was writing, and the controversy that followed his work then and now. It did get into some of Heart of Darkness and pointed out the similarities to Apocalypse Now, which was very helpful. I thought I might have to watch that movie again (torture) and now I don’t.

I’m looking forward to reading this. It starts with the short story, Youth, then Heart of Darkness, Amy Foster, and The Secret Sharer. I’ll be trying to post some thoughts daily. Have you read this? Was it for a class? Some people have said they had to read it in high school. We never read anything in high school. Literature wasn’t important, only grammar, again and again and again. But that’s another story.

A Story That Left me an Emotional Mess

Wow, what a story The Dictionary of Lost Words was. There was so much to take to heart, so many leads in new directions. I was a emotional mess when I closed it.

I have a habit; one I refuse to get control of. I’m always looking for books to buy and read. I know! It’s crazy. I mean, buying them is one thing, but READ them too! I’m nuts! But it’s true. Wherever I am, I MUST browse any book section, and I cannot resist books about books, libraries, writers, or words. It doesn’t matter who wrote them or when, they are instantly tossed into the basket.

You know I’m kidding. They are carefully placed into the basket away from other items that may endanger them.

I picked up The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams at Costco a few months ago and it did not disappoint me. I’ll be honest. I didn’t know much about it, and it was slow to start, but then it just started to snowball, and I ended up devouring the last half in a mad rush to get it all in, as if someone might take it away from me. Much in the way I eat tacos, I might add.

Sitting here trying to tell you why I loved it has had me stumped. Like I said when I started reading it, at first, I thought I had already read it but then realized that it’s set inside a true story about the making of the Oxford Dictionary, which I’ve watched a movie about recently. In this book, the fictional character, Esme, grows up in the room where her father works helping create that first dictionary.

Doesn’t seem that fascinating until she gets deeper into the story. It spans from 1886 to 1928. Think about that. What else was going on in England at that time? A lot. And this book is all from a woman’s point of view. There were ideas about words, how they are used, what was considered vulgar. Women’s suffrage and World War I. Relationships (my favorite) and growing up female at that time, so different than my life. And “Esperanto,” a whole language “made up, in a way. It’s meant to be easy enough for anyone to learn – it was created to foster peace between nations.” I need to know more about THAT.

I closed it crying it was so beautiful. My husband thought someone had died.

It raised so many questions for me, so much I want to look deeper into, starting with women’s suffrage.

When I started thumbing through the book, thinking of what to share, I got stumped. I just sat here with a cup of coffee, staring out at the desert. It was all too much.

But then it hit me. I’m trying to convey the whole book to you when what I really want to do is tell you how it made me feel and that I think you should read it too. So here I am.

I’ll leave you with a few of my most favorite quotes. It was hard to pick just a few. The whole book was beautiful. I’m going backwards through the book, looking for my highlights.

“If war could change the nature of men, it would surely change the nature of words, I thought.”

Yes, it does. Every war brings with it new words, some funny like “boo-koo” and some not so funny, like new definitions of horror and despair that get us no where.

“Say it,” he said.
“Say what?”
“Whatever is on your mind.”
I searched his face. I didn’t want anything to change the way he looked at me, but I also wanted him to understand me completely.

This went right into my soul. Have you felt this way? I have.

“Well, it’s easy to say the right things– “ she glanced towards me “– but words are meaningless without action.”
“And sometimes action can make a lie of good words,” Gareth said.

“People have always taken different roads to get to the same place,” Gareth said when he turned back to face us. “Women’s suffrage won’t be any different.”

Much of her words on women’s suffrage reminded me of the Civil Rights Movement.

“You are correct in your observation that words in common use that are not written down would necessarily be excluded. Your concern that some types of words, or words used by some types of people, will be lost to the future is really quite perceptive. I can think of no solution, however. Consider the alternative: the inclusion of all these words, words that come and go in a year or two, words that do not stick to our tongue through generations. They would clog the Dictionary. All words are not equal (and as I write this, I think I see your concern more clearly: if the words of one group are considered worthier of preservation than those of another…well, you have given me pause for thought.)”

So many languages of the past, whole cultures, are lost because that civilization never wrote anything down. Once writing was invented, things changed. That doesn’t mean those people had nothing of importance to remember. But how do you document what isn’t written? Those smart phones, the ones everyone has in their hands, recording just about everything…game changer.

“Mostly I set the type. I’m a compositor.” “You make the words real,” I said, finally looking at him. … “I prefer to say that I give them substance – a real word is one that is said out loud and means something to someone. Not all of them will find their way to a page. There are words I’ve heard all my life that I’ve never set in type.”

There were so many more wonderful quotes that gave me pause. But this next one grabbed hold of my heart. I’ve committed it not only to memory, but to a small post-it on my fridge.

Just because we have wounds and scars, doesn’t make us less useful. We’re only chipped, not broken. We keep going on in this life.

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