New Goals for 2020: I am a Snail

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All hail the mighty snail!

 

“Finding myself in the middle of a book I never want to end is among the greatest joys of reading. I live for the desire to finish a book in one sitting, and the competing desire to slow down and make the pleasure last. Sadly, I robbed myself that pleasure this year. I blew through everything I read, including books I would’ve dragged out for weeks just to live in their worlds a little longer.” Hurley Winkler

Let me say at the outset this post has nothing to do with anyone else. These thoughts should probably stay in my journal, but in the last month or so, I’ve read a number Tweets or Instagram posts that speak similar feelings, myself included and since this article confirmed all this I decided to share.

Last Monday, the 13th, Charlie Place tweeted an article, “Why I’ll Never Read a Book a Week Ever Again in which the writer, Hurley Winkler, shared her frustration over the stress of reading goals to the extent it affected her love of reading. She had raised her Goodreads Challenge from 40 books read the previous year to 52 in 2019. She found herself reading to finish, instead of reading to savor. “The pressure to finish books sucked some of the day-to-day joy out of my reading life.”

Some of the negative habits that were reflected in this year of fast reading were that she  read books she wasn’t wild about in order to keep up with the habit tracker on Goodreads. Or reading all the stories in a collection when she would normally read only the ones that piqued her interest. In the pressure to read more books she chose shorter-paged books. I am astonished to admit that I could relate to all of these.

In the past, I’ve always felt at peace with abandoning a book before finishing it. Why waste time on a book I don’t love, trudging through to reach an ending that won’t satisfy? But reading a book a week made it harder to justify abandonment. I didn’t want to fall behind—like I said, Goodreads will tell you when you do. And the thought of that sent my Type A brain into a tailspin. So I wound up finishing several books I felt lukewarm about from the very first chapters.

Winkler’s reading experience resonates deeply with me, because not only have the goals and challenges (and my failures to meet them) in the last year affected my desire to read, they also affected my desire to write about what I read. I have made so many excuses to myself as to why this is happening, but nothing made sense until I saw myself in this article and realized how much my reading and blogging has changed in the four years of Relevant Obscurity when at the beginning I took the time to read and then to let the book sit with me before I wrote it up. During the early years I didn’t participate in challenges, except for the Classics Club and the year-long Reading New England hosted by Lory of The Emerald City Book Review. And I just read the classics I wanted to read.

At the end of 2018 I started feeling anxious that I didn’t ‘put out’ as much as I saw other bloggers doing and that maybe I am not as serious a reader as I thought: equating the more books I blog makes me a more serious a reader. I was not allowing myself to be the slow reader and writer I really am.

It’s almost embarrassing to think at this age I am acting like some jr. high schooler who compares herself to everyone else and finds herself lacking because she isn’t measuring up. I need to learn to honor the individuality of everyone’s style without seeing my slowness as a deficiency or someone else’s speed as my liability.

As I think over what I set for reading goals this year, I unconsciously resolved this issue. The challenges are fewer than previous years and have me reading mostly classics, the books I love, and not pressuring myself with a books-read total. I have decided I will not put up a Goodreads goal, but keep my own list until I feel I am back to being honest with myself.

And the books I read, but don’t blog? I will stop feeling anxious about those, too and utilize Instagram or Goodreads for short reviews. Faster readers thrive on goals and contests and I will celebrate those milestones in the bloggers I follow. And I will be ok with being the snail!

I could probably quote every sentence in the article, but this is a perfect conclusion:

“That’s why I’ve set a different reading goal for 2020. This year, it isn’t based on the quantity of books I aim to finish. Instead, I resolve to abandon books I don’t like. I’ll take the whole summer to pore over that staggering novel I never want to end. I’ll recommend books to friends after I’ve lived with the story awhile. I’ll read intentionally and joyously. After all, there are too many good books out there. From now on, I’ll take the time to savor them.”

 

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My new pledge for 2020 is to read only what I love and to blog slowly.

 

At the Beach on Christmas Eve

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Christmas Angel seen at Newport Beach, CA December 24, 2019

 

On Christmas Eve love is clothed with visible vestments, with gifts and written words, with holly-wreaths and flowers and candles. The love that through the year is silenced by ‘busy-ness” is expressed in terms of tangible beauty. Christmas Eve is the Ceremonial of Gifts, of gifts that are given to explain something which the heart cannot say.
Ceremonials of Common Days

 

Happy Christmas Eve from my part of the world where we tended to the Ceremonial of the Christmas Eve Beach Walk, when this year a stunning display of cloud angels reminded us of the magic of the season. And we shared a beach connection with the often illusive, Osprey. Both Gifts that “explain something which the heart cannot say.”

Merry Christmas to All!

 

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One Angel fully formed, one forming and one about to form.

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Can you spot the Osprey in the middle of the photo?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A fine display all along the coast.

 

 

 

 

Make of Yourself A Light

I may regret this post. I believe only once in the four years of this blog have I ever posted anything political.

At the moment, though, my country the United States of America, is causing a genocide and atrocities have already been reported. We have let down and made vulnerable an ally that has protected our soldiers, taken hits for them and us and has guarded a heinous and ruthless worldwide enemy. Our soldiers have relied on the Kurds, have befriended, taught and learned from them and have now been ordered to step away while watching helplessly as they are slaughtered by Turkish forces.

Anger, shame and my own sense of helplessness preoccupies me that the US has gone down this depraved path of allowing the massacre of those who protected us.

At times like this books, the words I cherish, are often my place of refuge, rest from my own troubles as well as those outside myself and where even for a moment I can hide before tackling the stresses I know are waiting. But today the ugliness, the disappointment of this country’s brutal failure as a leader in the world and the sheer impotence of anything I could possibly do to help, has overwhelmed me. No book is a solace right now. No author’s imaginary world feels safe, if even for a moment.

But still, this is what I do. I DO expect someone wiser than me among the myriad of my books, spines straight with contents that span the ages to have something for me. So, I stand in front of my bookshelves demanding something to reach out to me, to help me find direction, healing or some sort of inspiration, hoping my neighbors or anyone walking by can’t hear, “Books, say something. Books, speak to me.”

Finally, Mary Oliver answers. I shuffle through a collection. This poem does the trick, for now. As great as she is it only feels like a temporary healing, but that is worth something.

The Buddha’s Last Instruction

“Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal — a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire —
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

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Make of yourself a light, Laurie. That is all you can do.

Spring Fever?

 

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It often happens when I am struggling with something I really love, a pause helps me remember its joy. I didn’t consciously decide to take April off from posting on my blog, but a gut feeling of needing to focus elsewhere decided for me.

Spring has affected me in a funny way this year to the extent I just don’t want to be inside. And though I am reading a lot, I cannot seem to sit down to write up reviews. We had one of the rainiest winters on record and so many days were spent inside that I think I need to remind myself what a trail looks like and what sun on my skin feels like. I have taken lots of day trips, cooked more and visited with people I have missed. It’s been glorious…and shows me how unbalanced the last several months have been if I have let these things I also love, go.

But this morning I wanted to write, so I sat down to write up a blog post for Zola Addiction that will go up Tuesday. I also noticed a new Spin has been announced and even in the pausiest of pauses, who can resist a Classics Club Spin? These may be the only posts to go up this month, though. I am taking the need to step away seriously, but now with each passing day, the love of reading AND writing is building back up.

Anyone else struck with Spring Fever or something else that made you pause?

A few ways I have been spending my time this month:

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Historic house visiting.

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Day Trippin’ with a cute little companion.

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Meeting the funnest outdoor art.

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Lazy days of reading.

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At trip to Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas.

Mary Oliver, September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, talking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
If I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
Or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. —from “When Death Comes”

 

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Mary Oliver died today.

Poet of nature, of spirituality; she loved all life.

Now she is with all of her beloveds…the two- and four-leggeds, the winged ones, the fishy furry slithery ones, the ones who grow tall from the forest floor their branches a shelter to the spidery predatory squirrelly ones.

Oliver’s death is an uncommon experience for me, since most of my favorite authors are classics writers and long dead! I don’t have to mourn the sudden silencing of their voice as I have to do now. But words live on and become more treasured than when uttered the first time. In 2017, I reviewed her latest collection of essays, called Upstream.

Looking for one of her works for this moment is impossible. There is never just one. So this:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life? —“The Summer Day”

And this:

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?
—”At Blackwater Pond”

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Beginning Again…Happy 2019!

The words of this poem move me. I want to start this year with them in my heart. Life is simple and uncomplicated when I know what is most important is right in my own backyard.

I look up, I look down, in front and around. I look inside. And that is all I need to begin…I am another year old today.

 

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Me as Cormorant, open to all good things!

Remember

Remember the sky that you were born under, know each of the star’s stories.

Remember the moon, know who she is.

Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the strongest point of time. Remember sundown and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled to give you form and breath. You are evidence of her life, and her mother’s, and hers.

Remember your father. He is your life, also. Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.

Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them, listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the origin of this universe.

Remember you are all people and all people are you.

Remember you are this universe and this universe is you.

Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.

Remember language comes from this.

Remember the dance language is, that life is.

Remember.

—Joy Harjo, 1951

It was a rough summer…..

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…..I didn’t think it would take this long to read and post again, but life threw some curve balls forcing me to take a break. I do intend to finish my Classics Club Spin, which I got 1/3 of the way through (Sir Walter Scott’s, Rob Roy) before things went south, and I hope to finish Persuasion and may attempt to write up why I did not like Pride and Prejudice. Yikes, I really did just say that!

I believe my health and other issues are now taken care of. I didn’t post anything for Banned Books Week, but I read through many of the books I own (The Diary of Anne Frank…really???) that have been challenged, and Instagrammed a few as well as some books I found at library sales. This is a stimulating week for me, it gets my ire up. I think it is important to see what classic and contemporary works were or continue to be under fire so we can support them. It is not up to some named or unnamed power to withhold knowledge or information from us or our children, because they think they know better. Only we can know for ourselves what is important to read and why.

I am gathering up my RIP choices for the month and will post those this week. I can’t think about scary books during September when it is still warm here and I am so physically active outside. Once the Equinox comes, the days cool off and it’s darker at night then I can feel the fear…..!!!!

I will continue to post for BTS* on the last Sunday of the month. Nature, through words and images, inspires me and heals me through every big and small thing. And today’s offering feels like a nice way back in.

I look forward to spending some time today seeing what you have all been up to!

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* as a way to share what is spiritually inspiring to me at the moment.