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

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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.

A HOT One

Going to be an extra hot one here.  I better stay inside and read, just to be safe.

The Classics Club: My TBR List

I’m so excited! Why? Two big reasons of which I shall now elucidate!

First of all, thanks to Laurie at Relevant Obscurity, I have discovered The Classics Club! What?! A blog that links together other classic readers?! Yes, please! I know, I get excited about the strangest things, but it’s not often that I find other people that are reading the same kind of books that I read.

the classics club
The first NINE books from the list!

As per their rules for membership, this post is a declaration of sorts. I’m listing fifty classic books that I promise to read between now and August 29, 2027. Five years to read fifty assigned books is perfect for me because it let’s me read many of the other glorious books that come across my path at the same time. But what to choose?!

The first thing I did was print their list and find the books I had already read. That was a little disappointing. It turns out I KNOW more of the titles on the list than I have actually read, but I’ve read quite a few, so I’m not unhappy, I’m inspired.

The second thing was to look on my TBR shelf for any books from the list that I have already bought. I found ten, so that takes me well into the first year of the challenge. And it gave me the nice picture for this post!

The last thing to do was put a mark next to any book on the list that I had heard of and was planning on reading already.

And now I have my list! Are you ready?

Flatland by Edwin Abbott
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? By Edward Albee
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Plague by Albert Camus
Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Middlemarch by George Eliot

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
Faust by Johann Goethe
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiel Hammett
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

The Iliad by Homer
The Odyssey by Homer
The Alchemist by Ben Jonson
The Dubliners by James Joyce
Ulysses by James Joyce
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
The Man Who Would be King by Rudyard Kipling
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
The Misanthrope by Moliere
The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott
East of Eden by John Steinbeck

The Red and the Black by Stendhal
Rosencratz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
Idylls of the King by Alfred Tennyson
Candide by Voltaire
The Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

A formidable list to be sure, but at less than one book a month, it is doable even when the book gets hard or I have other books I MUST read or else perish. Yeah, feeling a tad dramatic. I’ll be coming back and linking any post that I write about these books as I read them, so stay tuned.

But Michelle! You said there were TWO reasons you were excited. What is the other reason?

Oh, yeah! Well, it pertains to this list, the blog, and spending countless hours reading and writing in general. You’ve probably read something from me along the lines of angst and broodiness since my sons have deserted me…I mean grown up like they were supposed to and struck out on their own. I’ve been a housewife and mom for over twenty years now. What am I supposed to do with all my time now that I’m not raising other humans?

I thought about getting a job to fill the time. Didn’t sound very exciting, and amazingly it’s not as easy as it sounds, even in today’s economy (at least the one reported on the news). It seems that the old story (which I do not understand) is true, businesses aren’t keen on hiring people that haven’t worked in years. Maybe they’re jealous, I can’t say. But I’ve put out ten applications in my town and only one called me back, but still no work. I decided to take it as a sign that I was needed elsewhere.

I love reading and writing about things, but it doesn’t pay at all. I’m not published, and this blog isn’t all the popular. I get discouraged. What’s the point of spending all this time?! And then it dawned on me.

I’m happy and content with my life. Why do I feel like I need to be paid to be making a difference in the world?! And I do make a difference here, in small ways. So that’s what I’m doing. I’ve been reading more blogs like mine, branching out, talking to people, and then this classics club shows up in my feed and I’m off to the races!

My husband laughed at me as I sat at one of my bookshelves with a printed list of books.

“What are you doing? You look like you’re on a mission.”
Glasses on, pencil in hand, on the floor running my finger across the spines. “I joined and book club of sorts and I’m finding books to add to my list and write about. They read books like I do!”
“That’s what I love about you. You get so excited about things.”

I can’t wait to get reading! I finished The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy this morning, so I’ll be picking my next book from the list this afternoon.

Saturday Dreams

Happy Saturday!
Plans? Read, coffee, snacks...❤

I Have Declared a Cheat Day!

What do you mean by “cheat day,” Michelle?

Well, you know when you’re dieting, and you just can’t seem to find anything tasty that isn’t 1000 calories? Or you know that you’re going out with some friends and there is NO WAY you’re NOT going to have that burger and a giant beer?

Cheat day, right? You’re not going to stop working toward your goal of losing the extra pounds, but in the name of mental health, you decide to take the day off and live a little.

That’s kind of what I’m doing today with this blog post. My goal is to write and post every day, but I never said it would be a brilliant piece of work EVERY time. I also have reached the milestone of 67 posts in a row. I can’t lose that streak! It would be devastating in my heart place!

So here we are having a blog post cheat day together!

What have I done today? Well…

In my defense, I did do the dishes this morning and make a nice breakfast for my mom and stepdad before they left. And I did my laundry. I also spent quite some time adding books from old reading journals into the database I’m setting up in Excel. I’ve gotten back to 2018 so far!

More importantly, I spent over three hours reading I. Asimov this morning. I’m enjoying it so much. He writes like he’s talking to friends over dinner. I think I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve read from him. He seems like the kind of guy that would be fun to have at a party. There’s only one downside to it though; it’s not a very quotable book. That’s why you’re not seeing many Instagram posts from me lately. It also makes it hard to write about what I’m reading without simply rehashing what he said.

I think I’ll start another book tomorrow morning to read alongside Mr. Asimov, in the interest of mixing things up a bit. I’m not sure what just yet, but I have five books that I bought over the last couple of weeks that I’m dying to get into. Which will it be?

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope your weekend is as blissfully quiet as mine will be. Maybe take a cheat day?

That Time of Year Has Come!

It’s that time of year again. When we all come together and compare note about what we read last year! Right?!

Anyone?

Beuller?

Well, I know I do. I get a nice cup of coffee, gather my notebooks and logs, a pen and paper, and then sit for hours looking over what I read and compare my stats to previous years. It’s an annual New Year’s Day tradition!

This year though, I was a little depressed at first. I read fewer books this past year, spent fewer hours reading, and read fewer pages! I could have sworn those numbers would be higher. I mean, I knew it would be fewer books, but I thought the average daily time and pages read would be higher. I read some long and some complicated books this year.

But here it is in black and white. Tabled out for the world to see. No way to deny it.

that time of year

My husband rescued me. He’s the king of pointing out things that I have missed. What would I do without him!

“Didn’t you make a plan to write more in 2021? I seem to remember you saying something about creating a practice of writing for one hour every day, even if you didn’t post it.”

The light brightens… “Oh, yeah!”

I did make that pact with myself, and because I only have so many hours in a day just like everyone else, my reading had to slow down to accommodate for the time spent at the keyboard.

Hold the phone for a moment…I achieved a goal! Yay, me! Damn I’m good.

This year I read sixty-two books, and out of those sixty-two books I wrote about fifty-nine of them. The year before I only wrote about nine of the seventy-one books I read. And the results of that are showing in my blog growth.

Nice, right? This is the kind of stuff that makes me feel great. I mean, I spend a lot of time complaining that I’m wasting time here. If you lived here, you’d hear the following sentences loudly lamented on a weekly basis.

“All I do is read books and half of them I don’t even remember!”

“No one reads any of this. What’s the point?!”

“I can’t achieve anything. I don’t even know how to set a goal and follow up.”

“Who drank all the whiskey?!”

But all this time, it’s been there working in the background. Writing about the books I’m reading helps me remember more of what I read. No one read my blog because I wasn’t writing. And I did set goals and follow up on them, it’s just that I had created such a good routine for myself that I didn’t even notice it adding up.

PS It’s me. I’m the one that drank all the whiskey. 😉

A quick nod to habits and routines. They really do work. Even the smallest addition to a routine can get you somewhere. What can we accomplish one step at a time? Anything!

What did I read this year? As usual, more non-fiction than fiction. Here’s the genre breakdown:

DNF: Did Not Finish

Over the last couple of days, I’ve considered what my goals for ’22 should be. (See what I did there? I refuse to keep writing out the year like a sci-fi movie.) What skills would I like to build? What do I want to achieve? I’m still not sure I’m a goals-oriented kind of girl. I’ll just list them out as I think of them so you can get an idea of who I am and where I’m going (and so I have something to look back at in January of ’23.

  1. Less hope. Less attachment. I’m working on letting go and loving what is right now, right here. Putting daily mediation back in my morning routine will help.
  2. Keep writing and post every day, even if it’s not a work of art. My morning routine will include writing earlier so that I get my most important tasks done first.
  3. Read more of what I have. I took a picture of the three shelves (I know. I said I keep it to one.) of TBRs, but it’s just too embarrassing.

Oh, who am I kidding? Look at this mess!

I’m not going to promise I won’t buy more, but I really need to focus and read what I have here. There is a lot of great stuff! I want to read these, but…there are so many awesome books out there.

Now, I’m reminded of the dad in About Time. The first thing I noticed was all the books he had piled everywhere, and I thought, “How does he have time to read all those?!” and my envy eyes were flashed.

With a better routine, and less distraction by social media, I believe I’ll get my hours back AND write every day. I can reward myself by having a little time in the afternoon for a cup of tea and a few more pages of a novel.

And here is the big one, so stand back a little.

  • In ’22 I will…gulp…send something out to be published. I subscribe to several magazines, and I found one that accepts submissions from readers. That’s where I will start. It feels safe enough. You’ll hear all about that when I do it. It will be soon.

Ok. That’s enough jibber jabber for one day! This is going to be another great year, and hopefully I’ll notice it as it happens instead of having to wait and discover it after the fact.

The Midnight Library #2

Have your ever been so focused on some task that you lost time?

I recently chose to do that while waiting for my son to get home. IG reels lift my spirit and make me smile. I had some time to kill and I was too tired to read, so I dove in for some laughs.

I love that sense of losing myself in a project of any kind, but it’s very hard for me. There’s almost always a running dialog in the back of my mind while I do anything that keeps me from real focus.

Other things I need to do. Guilt about spending time. Wondering if this is the best use. Ego about whether or not it looks good or will come out right. And on and on.

Moments like these: reading this in The Midnight Library, creating the graphic, posting it here, and the process of this comment, are growth instances for me.

The Cider House Rules #3

A book is different for each reader.

A Love Letter: A Long List of Wins

I don’t have a book quote to riff off of, or a podcast to share. I don’t have some special insight, or some polished bit of advice, not even an anecdote. But I still wanted to write to you today, so I’ve decided to write a love letter to my friends. Let’s see what happens.

Man child doing tech things that I can't possibly understand.
Man Child

Big news: my youngest son found work this week and is now looking for a place of his own, probably just a room at this point. He’ll be leaving our desert again. This time heading for the coast, where all the action is. At this time, he wants to continue his college classes and then transfer to a UC school next year, so he found some restaurant work because of its flexible schedule. He’s a smart one. I’m just happy that he won’t be in another state like the rest of our family. No offense to you guys, I know you’re all doing what’s best for you and that’s awesome, but, yes, if I had my druthers, we’d all live in the same area and party every weekend.

I spent an amazing afternoon with one of my closest friends this week. We went to the Macaroni Grill and ate something so glorious that I can’t keep my mind off it, butternut asiago tortellaci. So good, that I went home and looked up a copycat recipe to see if I can’t recreate this piece of heaven at home. You know how good it was? I usually eat as if someone will take the food away, but this I savored one tiny bite at a time while my friend and I solved all the world’s problems. I told the waiter all about it. And he was another win of this week.

That guy! There were only a couple other people in the restaurant, so he had time to stop and chat. My friend asks great questions, and he seemed happy to stand there and talk to us. I left that restaurant with a renewed faith in the people of this world. Here was another young guy, not unlike my own sons, that had moved all the way across the country to start a cool new life of his own, struggling a bit, like everyone else, but making it and happy. I would have liked to talk more. Why did he come here? And where was he going? We may need to eat there again next week. I think I’m in love.

Here is the biggest win of all: for the first time in my life, I noticed an emotional reaction and consciously chose how I would respond to it. Thank the maker! I’m catching on. Yes, I’m 48 years old and FINALLY starting to have some self-control. I was having a conversation with a friend and something he said just triggered something nasty in me. We don’t need to get into specifics because that’s not the point here. The point is that I actually had (and noticed) a moment where I felt thrown into an emotion.

Have you ever felt that? Something you see or hear just moves your whole soul to a sore point in your life and you feel like it’s brand new? Like…let me see…you burned yourself severely years ago, it’s been healed, a scar is barely visible, but then you see something that puts you right there at the moment and you feel the burn all over again. It really sucks. I’m sure I’ve been in the place before, but in the past, I reacted before I realized what was happening and created a new wound. Same analogy, I felt the burn memory like it was real, scraped at my body to get the heat off and went running for safety.

This time was different. I slowed down for a fraction of a second, took a deep breath and thought, “This is an emotion. Emotions are temporary.” In the next few minutes I thought, “Where did that emotion come from?” Then I sat with it awhile, wrote out the feelings, and moved forward. I didn’t need to be angry. I did mention what I was feeling and why, but I didn’t blame anyone or (my typical MO) snarl and bite like a dog protecting a wound. A few hours later, it was gone, and the journal entry of my process remained. I had done it. Success!

Now, I am well aware that next time might not go so nicely. I’m not a Zen master. But I now know it is possible to do this. And I’ve got one practice under my belt. I’m a happy girl.

Books are a love letter from the past.
The NEW one of the seven bookcases and ME!

There were other things that happened this week, as you can imagine. For a woman that doesn’t have a job and lives away from people, I sure do have a lot of activities. Well, maybe some people wouldn’t call it activity. I’ve been enjoying the company of my son while he is here, had several great text conversations with some friends, helped someone with a homeschooling question, and read and wrote a lot. Oh, and reorganized by books because I got a new bookshelf. I feel peaceful and, what’s the word, together.

And, as if this week weren’t amazing enough, I made another cheesecake from scratch, and it did not crack! First time EVER! This one is extra special because I wanted it to have a chocolate cookie crust and they didn’t have that at the store…so I googled it and made my own like a freakin’ boss!

Can cheesecake be a love letter to your friends? Yes.
Gloriousness in Springform

A special, heart-felt, THANK YOU, to all my readers, the ones I know about and the hidden ones, the likers and the lurkers, the ones that read now and the ones that may read in the future. Thank you for reading my love letter, for allowing me to pour my heart out every day. Thank you for letting me in. Your interest in my humanity is felt every time you visit, and it feeds my soul. If I could, I’d buy you all a round of drinks.

What did you win at this week? I’d love to get a love letter from you!

Listen Like You Mean It: Another New Read

“Listen Like You Mean It – Reclaiming the Lost Art of True Connection” by Ximena Vengoechea is my next read and I’m very much looking forward to it. It seems to be exactly what I need right now!

"Listen Like You Mean It" book cover on a desert background.

Something I have very hard time doing is listening in a conversation. I’m a talker. I’ll talk all. Day. Long. Non-stop. In fact, just yesterday I spent literally all day talking. I talked on the phone with one person as I drove down to have breakfast with another. I talked on the way to lunch with another friend. And then on the drive home with someone else. Once I got home, I talked about the whole day with my husband and talked with my son about his day as well.

Did I run out of words? Nope.

Can you guess what my biggest complaint is about the world? My immediately family will laugh and tell you, in my voice, without hesitation, “No one is listening to me! I feel so disconnected!”

Enter, “Listen Like You Mean It.”

Will this book help me out? Thirty-five pages in and I’m thinking, yes.

My first note in this book was, “I wonder if I can make reminders for myself, like a tattoo on my hand or a button on my purse.”

Two quotes from the first pages that have shown me that I’m on the right track:

“When we are on autopilot, we hear enough of what the other person is saying to hold a conversation, get our work done, keep in touch with our friends, and stay polite with our neighbors and shopkeepers.

…we tend to react based on how we wish to be treated, rather than respond to what our conversation partner is actually saying or in need of.”

“We may, for instance, assume that others relate to things in the same way we do, our of a desire to bond over a “shared” experience (You had a pet as child? Me too. It was great, right?).”

That’s me. I know I’m doing it and I’m believe that I’m doing it to show you that I’m just like you. We have something in common! But not everyone is telling their story to connect that way. They may feel upstaged or not heard.

Another thing I don’t do well is ask questions and get people to explain what they mean or how they feel. And that is a direct result of my surface listening. I’m only listening enough to connect what you’re saying to something I have done or felt, then getting ready to tell my side.

The very thing that I do to connect with others is the thing that makes most people feel unheard and discouraged from adding to the conversation. I’m creating my own feedback loop!

Listen Like You Mean It is going to be a game-changer for sure…if I can only remember to implement what I’m learning!

If you’d like to read along with me, go get the book at Thriftbooks.com and leave me a comment. I can’t wait to hear your stories!

Read more posts about this book!
Patience and Trust: Not Every Thought Is Essential
Listening Skills to Practice
Final Thoughts

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