Entitlement to be yourself

Occasionally I will read a piece and think “these words were written for ME.”  I felt that way about Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. 

Backed by research, personal stories, and interviews, Cain argues that modern western culture undervalues and misunderstands introverts. But her book isn’t a rail against western culture so much as it is a rally for introverts.  She holds a magnifying glass up to the personality and lifestyle of introverts, offers a compelling description of the gifts introverts have to offer in the home, workplace, and community, and suggests strategies for introverts to employ in order to thrive in a talkative world.

In Cain’s introduction, she writes, “If there is only one insight you take away from this book, I hope it’s a newfound sense of entitlement to be yourself.”  I certainly finished the book with a greater understanding and acceptance of myself, and here are a few reasons why:

  1. Cain normalizes the fear of public speaking.  Not only did the feelings of dread that I always experience before giving presentations, making announcements from the pulpit or even introducing other speakers used to make me miserable in and of themselves, they also sparked further feelings of guilt and embarrassment.  I would think, “Speaking in front of others is a normal, adult thing to do; feeling this anxious is immature and unreasonable.”  By sharing her experiences of not being able to sleep before a big presentation, and of having to practice for hours and hours before feeling comfortable with the content for a talk, Cain helped me to see that failing to relish public performance is not a reflection of my maturity, ability, or mental health (or lack thereof, in each of those categories).  It’s just an aspect of my personality type. 
  2. While encouraging me to accept the fact that I prefer being out of the spotlight, Cain also helped me see that I’m capable of being in the spotlight.  She writes about Free Trait Theory, the proposition that we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits — introversion, for example — but we can and do act out of character in the service of “core personal projects.”  In other words, “introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.”  The reminder that I can do things (and can do them well!) that I don’t necessarily want to do is empowering.  I may just need extra practice, training and support throughout the process. 
  3. Cain gives introverts permission to fortify themselves to operate in an extroverted world with restorative practices and behaviors in their homes and personal lives.  As she suggests to introverts that stepping out of our comfort zone in order to advance “core personal projects” will bring us satisfaction in the long term, she also warns us that it will be challenging and tiring at times.  She reminds introverts to be intentional with where and when we choose to stretch ourselves, and advises that we allow ourselves to lean into our introversion in all other circumstances.  My favorite example that she offers: “Cross the street to avoid making aimless chitchat with random acquaintances.”  This is something that I have done many times, and have always felt a little bit funny about.  Cain validated a behavior that helps me, and I really appreciated that. 
  4. Cain highlights the qualities of introverts that make them valuable members of the workforce, political scene and humanitarian realm.  While noting that modern culture is enamored with extroverted qualities such as charismatic leadership and outgoing sense of humor, Can reminders her readers that there are other ways to lead and have an impact.  She writes of the less glamorous qualities of persistence and reflectiveness that I identify with (much more than charisma and sense of humor!) and emphasizes that introverts can use these qualities to share ideas powerfully, if quietly.  She writes, “The trick for introverts is to honor their own styles instead of allowing themselves to be swept up by prevailing norms.” 

 

Photo by Ryan Riggins on Unsplash

September is the other New Year

“January is the official start of the new year, and I always get a burst of renewed zeal at that time, but September also gives the same feeling of an empty calendar and a clean slate. The air seems charged with possibility and renewal.” – Gretchen Rubin

I’m with Gretchen Rubin: I always get a burst of renewed zeal in September, as well as in January. (I get the same feeling in my birthday month of March, too, and come to think of it, in June, when summer begins.)  Each of these times of year feel replete with potential and a spring is added to my step when considering goals, habits, and plans.  Oftentimes, I set a fresh batch of resolutions during these clean-slate moments, but I also like to use the months as opportunities to check in on myself and the goals that I set in one of the previous “new-year-periods.” 

A little over halfway through the calendar year, September feels like the perfect time to see how I am progressing with my 2017 resolutions: to celebrate what I’ve accomplished, to recommit to goals behind which I may have lost momentum, and to decide where to focus my goal-meeting energies in the last few months of the year.

Celebrations

  • Decrease sugar consumption — dessert is definitely a treat, not a habit, at this point.  This is probably the first time this has ever been the case for me, at least since I was a child and my mom had the keys to the cookie jar.
  • Complete 12 weeks of Kayla Itsines’ SWEAT workouts — done!  I’ve kept up with her workouts or other ones since completing the round.
  • Sibling connection — I’ve talked to each of my siblings at least once each month since setting this resolution. 
  • One adventure per month — going strong, and I just need to continue.
  • Get organized with “giving.”  Caleb and I have figured out which four charities we’d like to donate to annually, one per season
  • Meeting with a Spiritual Director monthly has been a great source of strength and joy

Areas requiring some recommitment

  • Flossing daily.  I was so, so good with this one…until we went abroad for the month of June.  Something about travel and flossing just didn’t seem to click for me.  But I’m recommitting now, and am going to do what I did for the first five months of the year and not miss a day.
  • Acknowledge birthdays.  Ditto on flossing story and recommitment. 
  • Blogging one time per week.  Ditto on flossing and birthdays.  Clearly, our European adventure messed with some of my resolutions!  It was totally worth it, but now that we’re back, it’s time for me to get back on track.

Still to do

  • Read Middlemarch
  • Cook or bake a recipe from the cookbooks I have yet to try something new from

A few new goals

  • Tidy up the house each night before going to bed
  • Meal plan and schedule exercising at the start of each week (or few week period)
  • Pray the daily examen each day
  • Listen to the news one way of my commute each day.

Do you think of September as a sort of new year?  How are your 2017 resolutions progressing?

 

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Doing things and not doing things

From graduation speeches to self-help articles to general words of wisdom from relatives, celebrities and historical figures, there seems to be a prevailing sentiment that you should grab life my the horns and dive into it, to mix metaphors terribly. In the words of Mark Twain, which I’ve heard reiterated in numerous different manners over the years, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”Day Away

This is advice that I typically follow.  As much as possible, I try to say yes to experiences and events that I know will expand my world view, provide fun in the moment and memories to look back upon, and enrich my life at large.  A friend in Divinity school referred to this way of being as a “Yes Philosophy.”  I really do believe that it’s through getting out of my comfort zone and saying yes to opportunities that I develop, grow, find joy and live life fully. 

And yet, my two favorite days of the year are Christmas and my birthday, in part because there are great celebrations attached to each (festive meals and time with friends and family and gifts and sweets galore), but also in part because they are the two days of the year that I have no expectations of myself.  I refuse to make a to-list — even a “for fun” to-do list — on either day, and in fact, it would seem sacrilege to assign tasks to either day. 

Basking in the openness, the relaxation, and the coziness of the present moment never fails to be both enjoyable and restorative.  I end the days feeling refreshed and with a greater sense of clarity about who I am and what I am doing with my life.  And I am able to have these gloriously spacious Christmases and Birthdays precisely because I don’t say yes to doing things on those days.    

In a similar vein, I’ve said yes to a few travel opportunities recently: Caleb and I have a trip to Costa Rica planned for his spring break, and we’re spending the month of June in Europe.  These will be action packed weeks and I am thrilled that we have the chance to embark on adventure together.  I’ve also scheduled a retreat for myself, in the beginning of May, during which I’ll spend four days in silence (with the exception of a morning, afternoon and evening chapel services) at the country home of a monastic order.  Excited as I am about Caleb’s and my planned trips, I am noticing that I feel most eager for four days of silence, reflection and solitude. 

I think it’s worth paying attention to these feelings and worth considering what they are telling me about what I desire and need to live the life I want to live.  I’m going to keep saying a hearty yes to experiences and opportunities and to doing things, but I’m also going to make time for not doing things. 

A Day-Off Strategy for Maximizing Enjoyment

Because I work at a church, I often end up working on weekends, meaning that my days off are fragmented — say, a Friday and Monday, or a Tuesday and a Thursday, with work sandwiched in between.  While I understand that working on weekends comes with the territory of church-employment, it’s not my favorite aspect of my job.  Practically speaking, most other people have weekends off, so that’s when social events happen, and I often end up missing them.  Less rationally, but significant in my mental-processing, is that I miss the ethos of a weekend: celebratory Friday nights, activity filled Saturdays, and lazy Sundays.  There is no substitute for the joy, rest and energy that these elements provide.  Two separate week days off just doesn’t offer the same restoration.    

dsc_0105
Making valentine garlands was an item on my “For-Fun” list

 

 While there is no replacement for the traditional weekend, I have found that being intentional about how I spend my days off helps me feel more satisfied with the fragmented days that, for now, are my lot.  Being intentional involves scheduling social activities, such as a lunch date with a friend who works from home, or an outing with Caleb (whom I am lucky to say has a fairly flexible schedule) and it also involves being really clear about how I am going to spend my time.  It can be easy to fritter away time (on both weekends and weekdays) but the saving grace of a full weekend is that there are multiple days in a row: if I blow off Saturday by sleeping late and dawdling through the work I need to get done, I still have Sunday to do things that will satisfy me.  With a day off here and there, I have to be extra-careful to fill the day with tasks and activities that will leave me feeling as if I have made the most of my day.

One way that I do this is by writing a For-Fun List that I make sure to attend to just as carefully as I attend to my To-Do List.  I have found that my perfect day-off includes a mixture of productive — though not necessarily “fun” — tasks such as cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, going to the gym, and catching up on personal emails (these go on my “To-Do” list) as well as purely enjoyable tasks such as reading for fun, trying a new recipe, putting out holiday decorations, or calling a friend (these go on my “For Fun” list). 

What kinds of tasks would you lay out on your for-fun list?

Quotes for the Year

For my sixteenth birthday, one of my best high school friends got me this little pink polka-dotted journal, and since then, I’ve written my favorite poems and quotations in it.  When I read something in a book or magazine that speaks to me, I copy it down.  When a friend or family member says something that I want to remember, I record it.  When I see a quotation inscribed on a memorial, or floating around on the internet, or in a church program, I snap a picture to then later transcribe into my book. 

dsc_0117

I filled up my pink journal a decade after receiving it, and around the same time I found an old journal of my moms that had been used for the same purpose, with only a few pages filled.  I started a new “quote book” in it.  I return to these books time and again when I am in need of motivation, inspiration, comfort or hope. 

Over my holiday vacation, I spent several hours reading through the entire collection, and I picked out a generous handful of quotes to guide my year.  (Can you tell that I’m into New Years?  I’ve got words, I’ve got goals, I’ve got quotes!  It’s very orienting for me. And interestingly, though I didn’t intend this, I realize that they can roughly be categorized within my words for the year…plus one more category: perseverance). 

To use a quotation itself to explain my inclination towards quotations at guides: “One is pat to think of moral failure as due to weakness of character: more often it is due to an inadequate ideal.”  I agree with Richard Winn Livingstone’s sentiment, and for me, quotes serve as an ideal — a model, an example — to work towards.   

Perspective

“For there is only trying.  The rest is not our business.” —T. S. Eliot

Life is hard but love wins.” – Glennon Doyle Melton

“And now the you don’t have to be perfect you can just be good” – John Steinbeck

“Be joyful thought you have considered all the facts” – Wendell Berry

“Energy creates energy.  It is by spending myself that I became rich.” – Sarah Bernhardt

“At the best moments a great humility fused with a great ambition: to be only what I was, but to the utmost of what I was” – Stephen Spender

Prayerfulness

“Prayer uncovers the truth that sets us free (John 8:32)” – Henri Nouwen

“Grace is the assistance God gives us to do hat is good, true, noble and right.” — Matthew Kelly

“All moments are key moments, and life itself is grace” – Frederich Buechner

“To those leaning on the sustaining infinite, today is big with blessings” – Mary Baker Edy

“A sheltered life can be a daring life as well.  For all serious daring starts from within.” – Eudora Welty

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable” – Mary Oliver

Poise

“Be soft.  Do not let the world make you hard.  Do not let pain make you hate.  Do not let bitterness steal your sweetness.” – Kurt Vonnegut

“The most congenial social occasions are those ruled by cheerful deference for all” – Goethe

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance” — Brene Brown

Perseverance

“I am not afraid.  I was born to do this.” – Joan of Arc

“Everything is hard before it gets easy.” -Goethe

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act.  The rest is really tenacity” — Amelia Earhart

Resolutions

A post or two back, I wrote about my words for 2017: Perspective, Prayerfulness and Poise.  I’m letting those words propel me, like the wind behind a boat, into this year that I hope will be one of growth and goodness. 

resolutions-image

But, we all know that a boat needs more than a bluster to venture far.  A rudder to guide it, a centerboard to balance it and a sail to catch the breeze are as necessary as the wind, and so, too, are some specific smart goals to accompany my words for the year.  Smart goals are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based, and they’re meant to add focus and specificity to one’s actions. 

I love the idea of having a word (or three, in my case) to give an overarching theme to the year, but I know that it’s the practicality of smart goals that will make living out my words possible.  With this in mind, I have created a few smart goals to accompany each of my words for the year.

Perspective

Most of my smart goals are related to Perspective, for a few reasons.  First, it’s my primary word for the year; prayerfulness and poise stem from it and I hope lead towards it.  Secondly, it’s a bit of a catch all.  The place where I most need perspective is work (I need to not let the petty (and legitimate) frustrations, the causes for anxiety, the at-times-annoying people get to me the way I do), and I’m of the mind that focusing on all the joyful, successful, meaningful and life-giving aspects of my life outside of work will help me remember what is important, thus giving me perspective when I have to deal with the inevitable challenges at work.  For this reason, I’ve crafted a whole slew of goals that will direct my attention outside of work.  That’s perspective after all, right? (one of my favorite definitions: a true understanding of the relative importance of things).

  • Try at least one new recipe from each of my cookbooks.  I have all these great cookbooks, but every time I want to try a new recipe, I look on pinterest or elsewhere on the internet, not in them.  I thought this would be a good goal to help me enjoy my home more… and delve into a hobby that I always take pleasure in, cooking.
  • Read Middlemarch.  I have a “Read Before I Die” list and, for the past several years, have tried to read one or two books off of it each year.  This is the year for Middlemarch.
  • Go on one adventure a month (I have a list of adventures, which I’ll discuss in a different post).
  • Complete a full twelve weeks of BBG (this is the exercise plan that I use fairly consistently — I really like it — but hop all over with; having consistency and a sense of completion but completing the full 12-week cycle will be satisfying).
  • Decrease sugar consumption by taking sugar-free weeks, or weeks with sugar just one or two days.  There is no reason that I should be having dessert every day, if not multiple times a day.  With 28 upon me, it’s time to change this.
  • Acknowledge birthdays. Send cards, texts, emails or phone calls.  Do something to celebrate and connect with the people I love. 
  • Blog 50 times.
  • Connect with my siblings monthly, at minimum.  My brothers and sister, along with Caleb and my parents, are the people who matter most to me in the world and I almost always have fun and feel lifted up when I talk/text/snap with them.  And yet, I don’t do it enough. 
  • Get organized with giving.  I donate here and there, but in a highly disorganized fashion.  I want to consider what causes and organizations I value and admire (and Caleb, too) and get organized about making donations to them. 

Prayerfulness

  • Reflect/journal for at least fifteen minutes each day. 
  • Continue to invest in Spiritual Direction, and integrate what Rosemary (my Spiritual Director) has to say to me into my life. 
  • When I have a lull moment — in the grocery store line, or the shower or the car — give a “help, thanks, wow” prayer: ask for help with something I need, say thanks for something I’m grateful for, and lift a word of praise.
  • A feeling of skepticism accompanies most of my moments of prayer; let the skepticism go

Poise

  • Wear heels more, because: look good, feel good, do good.  Or, as William James more poignantly wrote, “Actions seems to follow feeling, but really actions and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not. Thus the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.”  In other words, if I look poised, I will feel more poised, and I will be more poised.
  • Floss daily and take vitamins at least a few times each week.  Flossing is one of those things that I have known for a long time I should do regularly, but just couldn’t have been bothered about it.  I figured that 2017 was as good a time to commit to this as any, and I knew that developing this healthy habit would help me feel on top of my life; the same goes for vitamins.  These goals loosely tie into poise for the same reason as wearing heals.
  • Before going into situations that I know will push my buttons, prepare myself: take a deep breath and say a prayer for composure and remind myself that I have agency and the ability to be poised.  Then go act accordingly!

Words for the Year

New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap.  I always begin the book group I facilitate with an icebreaker question — a way for the varied members gathered to get to know each other better, and a way for me to be reminded of everyone’s names — and this past week I asked after any New Year’s Resolutions.  Not only did 90% of the group not have resolutions, they actively disdained the whole premise of resolutions. 

Haters gonna hate/to each their own/different strokes for different folks/insert your chosen cliche here, and I stand firmly and excitedly by the premise of New Year’s Resolutions.  Goal setting, in general, gives me a sense of order, the chance to self-examine — to reflect on where I am and where I want to be — and an opportunity for growth.  Sure, January first is an arbitrary date for initiating goals and reflecting, but aren’t all holidays arbitrary dates for celebrating the things that matter to us (patriotism, gratitude, faith, love) and the things that make life fun (candy, autumn, warm weather)?  And isn’t an arbitrary date better than no date at all?  Having a set date ensures — for me, at least — that reviewing my life and making plans to improve it will happen at least annually. 

dsc_0082

Because I so enjoy the process of making New Year’s resolutions, and goal setting in general, I tend to make many resolutions.  For the past few years, I have also picked a word as an overarching theme for the year.  This year, I chose three words (all related) and each of my more concrete goals relates in some way to the words.  The words are like the light at the beginning and the end of the tunnel, and my individual goals are like the path that stretches through the tunnel.  The purpose of each individual goal is to help me reach the end, but the light at the end is also the light that propels me to move forward and illuminates the path. 

This year, my words are perspective, prayerfulness and poise.  I spent the afternoon journaling about the words to help me get a better sense of what they mean to me — how I hope they will frame my year, and what I hope they will guide me towards. 

dsc_0089dsc_0092

Do you have New Year’s Resolutions?

Vacation Recipe

Thanks to the generosity of my parents, grandparents, and now in-laws, I’ve taken many — and all kinds of — vacations over the course of my life.  I grew up taking three primary forms of vacation: extended family gatherings (whether that be flying out to California to spend a week with my grandparents, a family reunion with my mom’s ten siblings and a whole slew of cousins, or spending a week with one of my aunts), site-seeing focused and educational road trips, and outdoor activities (camping/hiking/canoeing adventures).  My in-laws added variety to the mix with their traditional family vacations falling more in the categories of beach weeks and Disney trips. 

hike
A hiking trip this past summer with extended family

I will gladly take just about any free outing, and I’ve enjoyed each of these vacations in their own right.  But the thing is, these aren’t necessarily the kinds of vacations I would choose to go on if I were paying for them myself.   I say this not to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, but rather, to reflect on just what it is that I would delineate “the dream vacation.”  It’s worth considering, because as I get older, I’ll be planning and funding more and more of my own adventures. Why not know what will leave me feeling most satisfied?

Right before Thanksgiving, Caleb and I spent the better part of a week in San Antonio, Texas.  The American Academy of Religion (AAR)’s annual conference brought us there, and Caleb spent at least part of each day at AAR related activities, but I was free to spend my time however I liked.  San Antonio wasn’t my favorite city and I probably won’t go back there, but the vacation was ideal in than I spent my time more or less exactly as I would like to on a vacation.  Looking back on my week in San Antonio, and considering the other vacations I’ve taken over the course of my lifetime, I’ve concocted a recipe for the perfect vacation…or at least, my version of it!

Dream Vacation Recipe

The Basic Outline

25% Active experience of the vacation locale: Learning about the place or local culture via museums, tours, other cultural activities (even just going to Mass in the city’s Cathedral).  I feel as if I most experience a place when I learn about it. 

15% Passive experience of the place of vacation, whether that means taking a walk, eating local food, or people watching from a park bench. 

15% Personal time.  This is a four hour window to spend on my favorite activities, like reading and writing.  Unrelated to the particulars of a vacation location, these activities deserve dedicated vacation time because they are the things that I choose to do when time allows, but that I don’t necessarily get to spend significant amounts of time on in my everyday life.  If you aren’t going to spend vacation time — time meant to maximize pleasure — on favorite activities, when will you?

10% Social.  This is either time devoted to the people with whom I’m traveling — just sitting with them in the vacation house living room, or taking a walk together, or lingering over coffee — or time spent visiting local friends.  Obviously, socializing can also occur during the other portions of a vacation, but time dedicated particularly to nurturing relationships feels very important.

35% Rest.  That’s about’s 8.5 hours of non-planned and completely free time, most of which I imagine will be spent on night-time rest.  I don’t want to return from a vacation feeling utterly exhausted, so adequate sleep is a must.

^^ Active Experience of the Vacation Locale in San Antonio.  We toured the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.  I LOVE the National Park Service and so appreciate the amazing job they do in educating and delighting tourists with their educational programming and affordable (free!) presentation of historical sites and information.

Other necessary ingredients

Exercise.  I always feel best if part of each vacation day includes some sort of movement, like walking, hiking or cycling. 

Good food.  I’m a foodie and I love trying local restaurants and flavors, but I’m also happy to eat delicious home cooked meals, particularly when a vacation involves a rental house.  I’m not a snob here: when I say good food, I include hotel breakfasts and hot dog stands.  One of my favorite ways to eat on a vacation is  by having brunch or lunch out, and then a light dinner, or just snack or dessert in the evening.   

img_0675
The Riverwalk, a popular tourist activity in San Antonio. Meets several of my “criteria”: passive enjoyment of a place, exercise and social (walk and talk!)
img_0628
A fantastic Ansel Adams exhibition at the Briscoe Western Art Museum
img_0652
The San Fernando Cathedral, where Caleb and I went to a bilingual Sunday Mass, a spiritual and cultural experience!

When looking at my recipe, I realize that some vacations are simply not reconcilable with the proportions that I’ve prescribed.  For an example, hiking in the Sierras for a week will not include 4 hours spent daily on writing or cultural activities.  That’s okay.  I have full confidence in my ability to enjoy a vacation that doesn’t fit the recipe prescribed, and I have experience to confirm this (heck, some of my happiest memories are from outdoor adventure weeks, and I’m sure that I will continue to prioritize bi-annual hikes, as well as weeks spent in Disney World with my in-laws).  The point of analyzing my imaginary perfect vacation proportions isn’t to determine whether or not to partake in a vacation (relationships matter more to me than having my exact vacation preferences met), but have a sense of what most satisfies me for my own planning purposes, as well as to set reasonable expectations when entering non-chosen family vacations.

As always, self-knowledge is key and thoughtfulness when attending to life and its happenings is never wasted.

A Vial Full of Glitter

Every other summer my extended family goes on a backpacking trip, a trip that will encompass a whole gamut of emotions and experiences: awe at the majesty of the mountains, annoyance at the hiker who doesn’t carry his weight, sheer joy at being with those nearest and dearest to us, disgust from the smells of sweaty feet and unwashed clothes, peace born of unplugging from the world, frustration with the inevitable knee-back-hip-foot pain, giddiness from laughter at stories shared around the fire.  The ups and downs of the experience are as varied as the trails marked on our topographic maps. 

And yet, the memories of the experiences always glow for me.  The annoyance, disgust and frustration disappear along with the blisters, and I’m left with a solid case of rosy retrospection.  I find this to be true in most areas of my life.  Excepting one particular internship, my first fight with Caleb, the job search during my final spring term of divinity school, and a few other select periods, I look back on experiences both big and small with a sense of great content. 

Why is that?

I imagine it like this: our minds have a way of distilling an entire experience into a bite sized portion, and a single memory is like a little glass vial meant to hold the distilled experience.  The vial can only hold so much, and so our memory of an event depends on how we choose to fill the vial.  “Choose” may not even be the right word, because perhaps how we memory-keep is unconscious.  Through a mixture of biology and family and circumstance and personality, we’re each inclined to hold on to different aspects of an experience, so that two people may share a history, but have vastly different recollections of their shared past.  We each pick up different pieces to be preserved forever in the little vial devoted to a particular experience.glitter-vial

When surveying my storehouse of vials — rows and rows of tiny jars labeled “Christmas 2002,” “9th birthday,” “sophomore year,” “half-dome hike” — I can see that they are, with rare exception, full of glitter.  For better or for worse, I remember fondly, and so I enjoy wandering through the recesses of my mind, reflecting on the past and recalling previous moments. 

It’s helpful for me to consciously acknowledge that I have a tendency towards rosy retrospection, because it equips me to deal with the drudgery of the everyday.  Take this very moment as an example: I’m chilly, and somewhat dreading the presentation I have to give at work later, and I’m really missing my dear friend Angela.  But.  The Christmas tree glowing in the corner is magical, and the coffee I’m sipping is sublime.  The candle burning smells delicious, and I’m about to meet a friend for tea.  Hearing her life updates will be a delight, and simply being in her presence will sooth me.  The glowing, sipping, smelling and delighting are the glitter that will later fill my vial, and, these aspects of my life are glitter in the moment, too.  It’ harder to notice them when they are mixed in with the dust — the fear, grief, insecurity, frustration and boredom that are a part of any human life — but the sparkle is there. 

R.F.P.P.

reading

Often, the books I choose to write about are the ones that make me think, the ones with nuggets of wisdom that I want to process more deeply (which writing helps me to do), the ones with beautiful sentences that I want to play with — to hold up to the light to get a better look — or the ones that resonate with my life in a personal way that feels worth commenting about.  These are the books that expand my worldview, promote self-awareness and growth, and add beauty to my days, and I write about these books because I want to distill the ways in which they enhance my life.

But there’s also something to be said for the books that aren’t especially deep or moving (or maybe they are) but are just plain fun to read, the books that I can’t put down (and that I am unable to stop thinking about when work, meals, social obligations, and civility to the people with whom I live demand that I put them down), the books with characters and plot that induce an almost tangible pleasure.  These are the ice-cream cones of literature: yummy, addictive, and easily absorbed.   

After reading The Goldfinch (which was so, so, so, so good, but also emotionally draining and exhausting to digest — to continue the culinary metaphor, we’ll call it kale), I especially craved readable ice cream.  And so I’ve been on Read For Pure Pleasure (R.F.P.P.) kick. 

  • I’m listening to the Harry Potter series on CD during my commute.  What a treat to revisit these books that are so inextricably woven together with my young adulthood.  Because I’m not typically a “re-reader” and therefore haven’t read and reread this series in the decade and a half since I first encountered them, the stories feel largely new to me.  There are loads of details that I had forgotten, making them freshly exciting and full of surprises. 
  • My return to Harry Potter reminded me how much I enjoy Young Adult lit and so I decided to give The Hunger Games a try.  While “easy to digest and pleasurable to read” isn’t the first phrase I would assign to my experience of reading this dark series (and in fact, they, combined with the hideous election we’ve just endured, have gotten me concerned that the apocalypse is imminent) they have certainly been satisfying to work my way through, with their captivating story lines, noble characters, and surprising plot twists.
  • Liane Moriarty is one of my go-to R.F.P.P. authors.  I just finished The Hypnotist’s Love Story, which I enjoyed as much as I did The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies.  Knowing that I still haven’t read several of Moriarty’s books is a very comforting feeling.  It makes me think of Gretchen Rubin, happiness research and writer’s, secret of adulthood: Keep an empty shelf.  She writes about how an empty shelf gives her the feeling that she has room to expand.  Keeping a Moriarty (or Quindlen, or Franzen) book unread gives me the feeling that I have pleasure waiting for me, right at my fingertips.