Tag Archives: books

Seeking approval (or something like it)

I just finished reading In the Land of Men: A¬†Memoir by Adrienne Miller, an account of the writer’s time as the very young literary fiction editor at Esquire,¬†which coincided with her professional and intimate relationship with writer David Foster Wallace. “DFW” was ten years her senior and already famous, and Miller’s account paints him as brilliant, deeply troubled and misogynistic, even if she doesn’t use those exact words.

Although it isn’t framed that way, I came away believing that Miller wanted both Foster Wallace’s desire and his approval. She doesn’t reveal much about their sexual relationship but I got the idea his desire was more readily available than was his approval. While a ten year age difference isn’t always germaine to power dynamics, it usually is when one is in their twenties and the other in their thirties. I think Miller wanted David Foster Wallace, the famous, genius writer – who people were falling over themselves to “court” – to validate her intellect, to find her, a woman, worthy. (That she was young, tall, slim, and attractive, she never addresses as undoubtedly being of significant interest to him, certainly as much as her considerable intellect and conversational skills, which seems either short-sighted or deliberately obtuse on her part. The man comes across as an admitted horn-dog, despite the author’s efforts to share his sweet, vulnerable side.)

Quite awhile ago I knew a man whose approval I wanted. It was only after I got it that I realized it wasn’t worth having. It was a lesson I won’t forget quickly.¬† I do not believe, as some say, that only our own¬†approval is necessary in this life, but I damn sure believe if you want approval, you best do everything you can to first learn if it’s worth having.¬†

 

 

 

 

 

About my winter (and 2020 resolutions)

I’ve had a good winter. It was productive and the little “kick” in my step I felt in the fall hasn’t gone away. There’s been a bit of reprieve from an on-going problem in my life (not because anybody did the right thing but just out of a change in circumstances) and it’s allowed me to breathe a little easier. So that was certainly part of it. Creating more focus and direction for myself in the last three years with the annual resolutions has helped me considerably. I’ve already made a good start.

In a post a few years ago I remember saying that I felt like my life was a big ship in need of minor course adjustments. But big ships don’t change direction easily. They groan and strain and balk when required to turn; momentum has got them chugging along straight and that’s the easiest path. My ship has groaned and strained and balked but BY GUM it has turned. I don’t feel as wasteful. Wasteful of time, energy, talents, potential.

I stayed in shape and ate well. That’s one of the most important things I do every winter. It’s important always but tougher in winter. I pushed myself to not get lazy or eat more calories than I burned. In years past I’d be very active in good weather and was burning off the calories I consumed but come winter, when I slowed down physically, my calorie intake didn’t. I have finally realized I need to start dialing back the portions, even in a fairly healthy diet, in the fall not later in winter. I ate fruit like it was my job. A good, juicy mandarin orange, for one, is an amazement each time.

Somewhat of an aside but I feel like mentioning this: Last summer and again this winter, I bought a lot of food from Amazon. I’m in an area where Amazon offers home grocery delivery for Prime members. I only get Prime, which I split with someone, occasionally and when I do, I go to town. See, a year of Prime is $119. However, if you pay by the month and get it, say six months a year, it costs, at $12.99 a month, $78 a year. I don’t need Prime every month and I don’t even need it six months a year (last year I believe I got it for two months and two separate weeks when they had a special). Point being, when I do get it, I make sure to get my money’s worth and part of that has become groceries, both shelf-stable and perishable. Having food delivered to me has been wonderful. It’s not perfect but it’s made my life better. My life really does revolve around meals.

I was doing yoga but injured myself (not doing that) and had to cut back in the last month but have kept up my other exercising (push-ups, hand-weights, walking, and so on).

One of my goals was 8 attempts at a pull-up (or chin-up). Not 8 consecutive attempts but 8 visits to a local playground to have a go at it. The bar is just out of reach, so that when I’m standing on the ground below it, just the tips of my fingers touch it. I have to jump up to catch hold of the bar and decided that if I could touch my chin to the bar that’d count as a success. On my third visit I was able to do that and did it once more to make sure I could. I wouldn’t call this a pull-up exactly. I think a real pull-up requires you to pull yourself from a dead weight (no jumping involved) and to get your chin over the bar. Still, I was pleased to accomplish what I did!

I’ve read 15 books (out of a goal of thirty). I recently discovered Playaway books at the public library. They are cute little recorded books that you plug ear buds or headphones into. I am really enjoying being “read to”. I’ve listened to two books I read in years past, Animal Farm and The Handmaid’s Tale as well as two other novels. It’s fun to have these for variety (in addition to actual books) and I can go outside or do routine chores while listening. Some readers are fantastic at the narration and their talents really add to my enjoyment. (I was half-expecting that Margaret Atwood would read her own book but it’s Claire Danes; the story’s narrator is a young woman so of course it makes sense to have a younger person narrate.) While I’ve listened to books on CD in the past, I’ve yet to listen to any podcasts and resist reading books on any kind on an electronic device (like Kindle) so the Playaway books are a big deal for me!

I am on a mission to get rid of stuff. I’ve already put 72 items on my list this year. I’m not living in an empty house by any means but it is streamlined and orderly and visually attractive. Getting rid of a lot of stuff in the last several years is a big reason for that. I can find things, I know where stuff is. There is something very freeing in getting rid of things. I haven’t stopped buying NEW things but right now the things are going out in larger quantities than they are coming in; I’m trying to be very particular about what comes into my home (and my life for that matter; it’s all connected).

In December I fixed up my kitchen with a a “poor woman’s” semi-Italian update. No major appliances left or came in; it was largely a cosmetic project but I’ve been very happy with it.

I went through ALL of my clothes, looking at everything with fresh eyes. I got rid of (charity, etc) anything that wasn’t working for me or made fixes that could turn clothes into better versions of themselves. Whether I get them new or second-hand, I routinely have to take “tucks” in most of my jeans, pants, and shorts at the waist in order for them to fit right. (If I buy a smaller size, then the rest of the garment is too tight.) Taking in “tucks” at the waist makes pants or shorts sit where they should so the rest fits better.

If I got a piece of clothing free or cheap, I feel freer to “operate” on it. I bought these cute Forever 21 shorts for a dollar at a rummage sale last year but realized they were just too big. I remedied that by hand-sewing new seams down both sides and cutting off the excess. Now the shorts fit and flatter me.

This Merona sweater (a former Target brand) that I think I got from a thrift store is very sweet but just a bit big and additionally, it “gapped” in between buttons (you women readers know what I’m talking about; people can look right in at your bra! I hate that.). I fixed the button-gapping by sewing buttons (I keep a small stash of extras) permanently on between the gapping buttons at the top. Now the sweater is a pullover – since the newly added buttons sewn right through the front – but that’s okay because at least it looks good and I’ll be more likely to wear it.

IMG_20200312_100319

The second & fourth buttons are sewn right through the sweater

I also went through all jewelry. I think there’s a point, although I haven’t decided exactly where it is, where you can have too much of something to truly enjoy it. I think this is true of clothes and jewelry too. When I clear things out I can see what I have and I appreciate them more. This doesn’t mean I have hundreds of things because I don’t. Just that I want to manage anything I have where there’s reason (or desire) to have more than a few of it (clothes, jewelry, music, dishes, etc) so that I have a number that works for me. What is the point in merely collecting things in quantities you don’t actually use? Or really love? That’s where my head is at.

I’ve done 10 “good deeds” of the twenty on my resolutions list. The good deeds have to be something more than I might normally do; they can’t be everyday stuff I do all the time; I have to go a bit out of my way. And I have to do them with no idea of being rewarded. I hesitated to even mention this resolution when I wrote about my 2020 plans because I didn’t want it to sound self-congratulatory. I still don’t. But if I was reading this, I might want to know what kinds of things I’m talking about when I say “good deeds” so I will tell you one.

The small grocery store near me is having financial issues and going through changes. I have mixed feelings about the store but I don’t want it to fail and while I won’t give them extra cash (they’ve been doing quite a bit of fund raising) I will help in other ways if I can. On a recent Sunday many grocery carts were outside the store, where they’d been abandoned, rather than stored inside for new customers. Usually an employee is in charge of bringing the carts back inside but I could see nobody was around (maybe nobody ever does this task on Sundays or maybe it was just this particular Sunday). I took it upon myself to round up all the carts and bring them inside. It took a few trips. It is harder to push a line of carts than it looks! I came back through the store a few hours later to see if the carts needed to be brought in again but an employee had apparently already done it.

Basically, I’m keeping my eyes open for things I can do to be helpful or decent or kind, where it requires more effort from me than what I might normally do. And — except for here in this blog – I am keeping them to myself. They are secret good deeds, at least part of the time.

I cut back on my DVD watching. Less internet and less DVDS mean more reading, etc. I’m still doing crosswords and other mind-challenging activities. As much as I want my body to stay strong, I really, REALLY want my mind to stay strong. That said, I’m no zealot and I believe in entertainment. I’m catching up now on movies that were nominated for or won Oscars this year so my DVD-number is on the increase. I figure I’ll just slow it down later this year. I was uncertain about setting a number, but I think a movie a week is good, plus a few series.

It is always about balance. Modern life is not about balance. It’s about excess and immoderation, about indulging one’s self, and never having enough. Does that sound preachy? I don’t mean it to be. But everywhere I turn, I’m encouraged to overdo it and not in good, healthy ways. It is a real struggle to stay in your own lane and not be caught in anyone else’s agenda, be it an individual’s or a corporation’s, or even a government’s. You have to decide what is important to you and keep to it. Beat those distractions back with a stick! That’s what I tell myself.

I enjoyed this winter more than any in years.

“Horror”

When I was young I read horror. Not exclusively (there was a time in my teens when I read lots of romance novels too, the so-called “bodice rippers”, suggesting I wasn’t exactly stuck on one genre) but I was definitely drawn to it. Stephen King was a favorite. At the time critics were hard on him – I remember one comparing him to the literary equivalent of a Bic Mac & fries – which I found unjustified and unfair. I saw his books as novels first, with well-drawn characters and believable dialogue, and the horror aspects while not incidental, as vehicles in his story-telling.

Then there was actual horror in my real life and although I can’t say that was the only reason, in retrospect it was certainly a large one in why I stopped reading fictional horror. I lost my taste for it.

Many years passed. As I’ve blogged before, while I still read some books, newspapers, and magazines, the internet, in the last ten years or so, became the primary focus of my reading, the culprit that slowly damaged my ability to sit down with a book. I still thought of myself as a “reader” but how many books was I actually consuming? Not so many it turns out. I was not happy with myself. I’d let the internet take a dominant place in my life and not entirely for the better.

In 2018, among other goals, I planned to read 20 books. At year’s end, I’d read 30. I set the same goal for 2019 an I’ve already read 24 this year. LESS INTERNET MORE BOOKS.

Although I’d shied from him for a long time, I’d not forgotten my earlier attachment to King. His output and his stature as a writer have only grown. At one point I’d known that he’d even assumed a pseudonym for a series of books in order to temporarily escape the fame and reputation his own name held. I wondered if I could – or should – read him again. I wasn’t sure if it would appeal so I started with a slim newer volume, Elevation. Then I picked up Pet Sematary, a book I’d read long ago and was aware had been made into a movie last year (one I haven’t seen). It had been such a long time I remembered only that it was a book about pets coming back to life and being “not quite right.” I knocked out the 400-page novel in 4 days (the way I USED to read). This book is so much more than I recalled, which admittedly wasn’t much.

Pet Sematary is largely a book about grief. Dealing with loss. In part I want to say, how had I not seen or remembered that from my first read but I know the answer. I was young when I read it. I didn’t really know about grief. I am newly blown away by King’s insights, insights he had as a relatively young man (it’s noted that he wrote the book from ’79-’82), but he was a father of young children and although I’m not a parent, I have an understanding now of the love and fear that go into a good parent’s sense of responsibility for their children.

Humor loops through the tale as well as dread, a dark humor perhaps, yet one I appreciate deeply and recognize as a tool in my own arsenal for dealing with those parts of life which are unfathomable and threaten to crush those they strike.

If you love you will lose. Be that love for a person or a pet, the risk is always there. If you live long enough and you are capable of feeling, losing beloved people (and animals) to death is a given. And it changes people. Some never recover. Not unlike those brought back to life in Pet Sematary, they are never “quite the same” again.

It’s true of me. I’m not the same as I was when I first read King’s book. I already knew that but this book’s deeper meanings weren’t wholly apparent to me. While I no doubt enjoyed the book the first time I read it, there were elements to the horror that would have been lost to me because I’d yet to live them. This second read made that so very clear.

If it was possible, to what end would you go to “bring back” a pet or person who had died? Would you if you could? Even if they weren’t “quite right?” Even if it meant tangling around with dark forces that weren’t entirely benign and perhaps far worse? Pet Sematary wades into those murky waters and even though it’s a work of fiction, the questions it poses, even if posed metaphorically, are provocative.

In my own life I’ve worked hard to accept the deaths of people and animals I’ve loved. I felt convinced that how you handled loss – handled death – could and likely would determine how you conducted – and experienced – your life.

Makin’ progress on my 2019 “resolutions”

It’s time for a little update on my¬†kinda, sorta, resolutions¬†for 2019. I’m off to a good start.¬† I’ve read 9 books (the year’s¬†goal is 20)¬†but I actually think nine isn’t that many because I started several I didn’t finish so they don’t count. I’ve been having trouble finding books that really hold me. My attention wanders or I’m not anxious to pick the book up again after starting it. I know completely what it is to¬†fall into a book, to be absorbed and excited and unable to stop turning pages. THAT’S what I want but lately that hasn’t happened so much. The books are “okay” just not blowing me away. Best one so far was Kathryn Harrison’s book of essays, True Crimes: A family album.

Yesterday I started reading Chuck Klosterman’s collection of essays X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century and I’m happy to say, it’s going fast. He is so readable especially to anyone prone to analyzing, particularly pop culture.

The yoga is off to an excellent start. I’ve done the “Sun Salutation” sixteen times (the goal for the year is 50) and I’ve done 30 minutes of yoga eleven times (the goal is 25). I never used exercise videos before but to teach myself yoga, I’ve been checking DVDs out of the public library. I’ve done five different ones. My impression so far is that yoga is no different than anything else;¬†instructors have very different styles & approaches. For instance, one instructor says always breathe through your nose and out your mouth while doing the poses and another says always breathe in through your nose and out through your nose. I don’t really care one way or the other; the breathing aspect is not my concern. My¬†exhaling while practicing yoga is most obvious to me; it’s a sign I’m¬†relaxing.¬† I like teachers I can relate to, who have a sense of humor, and aren’t overly rigid; to that end I can already tell I prefer Tara Stiles over Rodney Yee, for an example (of two well-known instructors).

To me, yoga is exercise focusing on balance, strength, and stretch. The way I see it, most of us over time limit our range of motion which doesn’t serve us as we age. Yoga positions aren’t ones you’d typically find yourself in on the average day. Like, how often does any of us make a point to bend over backward or remember to stretch out our spine or balance on one foot or swing our feet over our head while laying down? I dunno about you but these things aren’t in my usual day’s repertoire of motion. Yoga gets you to make a point of these things and much more.

I’m not going to tell you my life is transformed but I am sure yoga is good for me, physically and mentally. However much I do of it. I think it helps you to not take your body for granted and to become aware of it and everything it does for you. And — quality of life is often attached to strength and range of motion. The longer you¬† can remain strong and agile, the better off you will be as you age. This is my take. I am the one taking care of me so I have a BIG investment in staying strong and capable.

I made simple loose leaf lists to keep track of my progress. In my experience, things – of pretty much any stripe – are always longer ago than I remember them, so the lists keep me on track. I can take a quick look and see, “Oops, I haven’t done yoga in a week!” Since I’m far more a when-the-spirit-moves-me-person than one-who-adheres-to-a-strict-routine, this works well.

IMG_20190307_095846_kindlephoto-1393425

IMG_20190307_095009_kindlephoto-1038925

I’m more active in warm weather so, since I don’t belong to a gym (and never have) I really need to make a point to keep moving in winter. I wanted this to be a year of getting physically stronger. Not that I’m any slouch, but I wanted to do more. I’ve been walking a lot and using my treadmill, a manual one someone gave away in 2017, on days I don’t walk outdoors. I’m doing pushups (the man kind) and using my hand weights. I didn’t include this in my resolutions, but I’m also regularly using the hula hoop I picked up at Target a couple years ago. I’d like to think it works your mid-section but even if it doesn’t, any kind of motion, I figure, is good.

IMG_20190307_095118_kindlephoto-983872

Switching gears, I have to make fun of myself yet again for thinking it might be “hard” to find fifteen things to get rid of this year. See, I’ve already done all kinds of de-cluttering in years past. I read Throw Out Fifty Things and Peter Walsh’s book and more recently even Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy (although I’ve never seen her show). No one would walk into my home – I promise – and think I had a clutter problem or needed to get rid of stuff. And YET…. I’ve already put 97 things on my list!! I’ll grant you, almost all were small items, but still, that’s 97 things given away, recycled, or tossed. Here’s a small section of the list to show you. (As you see, I editorialize myself occasionally with things like an UNHAPPY face, which is basically me rolling my eyes at myself.)

IMG_20190307_095153_kindlephoto-1136805

I’m slacking on the Italian CDs. I have the Conversational Italian CD set out of the library but I haven’t gotten past lesson 6, meaning basically I haven’t done any in 2019. My goal was to get through all the lessons but I’m no longer sure I will. I’ve never felt I had a knack for anything other than the English language and trying these Italian lessons, sadly, hasn’t changed my mind.¬† I haven’t learned nothing exactly; I can say – poorly – that I speak a little Italian. I should probably learn how to say I speak VERY little Italian.

On whole, I’m feeling good about all this. I might do some yoga, and I might read some books, and I might throw out stuff¬†¬†with no resolutions and no lists but with the resolutions and my simple lists, I KNOW I’m doing it. 2019 is about pushing myself physically and mentally, preventing drift and being more focused. I like it.

My Kinda, Sorta New Year’s Resolutions 2019

As I did last year I’ve decided on a few, albeit not exactly typical, goals for the year. I actually started on them in the last week or so of December; I didn’t see any reason to wait. The thing about goals is you want to make them specific, so it’s not “lose weight” for example, but “walk thirty minutes three times a week” if that’s an area you want to improve. I find it’s very helpful to write things down and in 2018 it gave me real satisfaction to keep adding entries to the simple lists I kept on loose leaf paper.

First is to read 20 books, same as last year. (I read 30 in 2018 after all was said and done.)
IMG_20190112_085103.jpg

I want to try yoga so my first goal is to do the Sun Salutation fifty times. There’s a couple variations of it; the link is to a 10-pose version but the one I’ve been doing has 12 positions. Doing the poses takes about a minute and I repeat them five times; it doesn’t take long at all. It’s a matter – for me – of slowing myself down and making a point of doing it.
img_20190112_085042

In addition, I will also commit to doing 30 minutes of yoga 25 times. I found a one-inch thick (this matters) yoga mat on Amazon for $10 so I’m all set. If I do more yoga, that’s fine, but the idea is to get started and see how it affects me. One thing I’ve already noticed is my obvious exhaling while doing yoga (and other stretching type exercise). I think it’s a kind of de-stressing exhaling. Have I been – has my response to recent life been – “holding my breath”? I think maybe so.
img_20190112_085054

If I can get a hold of it I want to try the New York Times Crossword. I am in a regular crossword habit but that is one I haven’t tried yet.

I plan(ned) to get rid of fifteen things.
IMG_20181221_194442_kindlephoto-38237660
HOWEVER I started on this at the end of December and, having had the time and energy for this project, I’ve actually already gotten rid of – give away, recycle, throw away – over 50 things! I don’t know what I was thinking when in an earlier post I shared my concern that I thought, given how many things I’ve already shed in years past, that 15 might be a tricky goal. Man, was I wrong. Most of the stuff is little things but it doesn’t matter. There is such a relief in shedding excess. I am giving my belongings a very hard look. When you stay in one place a long time as I have, vigilance is key, even when the place isn’t big.

Examples of stuff I got rid of:
– 4 belts I don’t wear
– 3 extra large glass peanut jars with no lids
– 1 full-size piece of foam
– A rusting finch feeder
– A small bag of jewelry
– A small bag of boards
– An extra aluminum water bottle
– 2 wire baskets
– A broken night guard case
and on like that.

I started and will finish a CD set on conversational Italian – and then I’ll decide if I want to try any others.

I’m going to watch the Marx Brothers movies (again). My life could use more levity. I already watched A Night in Casablanca which I checked out from the library. I think I can find several others through the library system also.

This isn’t exactly a goal but I’m going to keep track of the DVDS (and series) I watch. I LOVE movies and I watch a lot that I’m able to check out from the public library but I couldn’t tell you how many I watch in a year for instance – I just don’t know. And how is my DVD watching compared to my book reading? Should there be a ratio? One book for every four hours of DVDs or something like that? Until I nail down how much I typically watch I won’t know if I should set a goal around this issue. I adore movies. Did I mention that?!

My food/cooking goals aren’t elaborate for 2019. I would like to try Thai cooking. I made a Thai salad (coleslaw, green onions, lime, cilantro, amino acids, roasted peanuts) this past year that I loved – lime, cilantro & peanuts, especially combined, sing to me. I’d love to find other simple dishes that use these flavors. I think I’d also like to try making Pupusas – I just saw them on a PBS show featuring various restaurants and I think I’d really like them. In a future blog I’ll share the Thai coleslaw recipe and if I can tweak a pupusa recipe to make it healthy (perhaps less oil, for instance), I’ll share that.

It is easy, if you let yourself, to drift. Okay, I’ve noticed it in me. In 2018 I felt ready to make changes. I recovered my reading habit and made new recipes. This year I will add yoga to my life, continue shedding excess belongings, keep reading, and make sure I’m challenging myself, intellectually and physically. And I am damn sure going to have some levity.

NOTE: I apologize in advance for a delay in responding to any comments to this post. I DO want to hear what you have to say.