Not the Big Pile

I’m sure your To Be Read pile (TBR) is tall/long/extensive, like mine. There are 387 books on my kindle, stacks of books by my bed and various chairs and tables, collections of lists in every possible place, and a separate to-read list on GoodReads. I need to get better about taking care of myself if I’m going to live long enough to make any headway. In my various book clubs, I’ve always been surprised when someone had no idea what book to suggest when it was their month…..for me, the question is which one of all the ones I’m waiting to read. Assuming our so-called president doesn’t get us nuclearly annihilated, of course.

But in addition to the full TBR pile, there’s also the Currently Reading list, which is far shorter. One good thing about GoodReads is that it keeps the list for you, if you log a book when you start reading it. Right now that list shows seven books I’m currently reading, even though a good five of those are kind of in a permanent suspension (Nox, Jitterbug Perfume, U and I, The Art of Memoir, and Glass, Irony and God. Oh, also Minds of WinterI want to finish all those, I mean to, they’re just kind of….on pause). It’s funny how that happens — I really DO want to finish all those books! For each one, something happened to pause the book and then I just never got back to it.

But there’s a hot short list bubbling around at any given moment, the “which one, which one, which one to dive into right now” list. Mine includes:

  • The Idiot, by Elif Batuman. This one’s getting so much attention, and it’s supposed to be so funny and wonderful and beautiful. She’s a staff writer for The New Yorker, and I think I’d like to read something light and funny. And beautiful.
  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit. For personal reasons having to do with my upcoming life change, this was recommended to me. And to be honest, while I really love Solnit’s activism and scholarship, I find her writing hard-going. Not clenched, exactly, but certainly not light and dive-in-able.
  • The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt. I started reading this one and it’s fascinating, and on the edge of catching fire. It’s about the rediscovery of a nearly lost manuscript 600 years ago (On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius) and the way that manuscript sparked the Enlightenment, and changed the whole world. It’s well written, and interesting, and maybe it’s time for a bit of non-fiction?
  • Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. Saunders is, of course, one of our great humans. His compassion shines through everything he does, and heaven knows the world (and I) need him desperately. I started trying to read it and this one’s kind of hard to get into; but I know and trust him as a writer, so I want to push through the resistance.

All four of those are pushing on me real hard in their own ways. Have you read any of them? Any words, if you have?

It’s Tuesday, so poetry group meets in my house tonight, looking forward to that so much. I’m going to bring a couple of poems by Sharon Olds — not this one, but this is a gorgeous Sharon Olds poem:

Rite of Passage 

As the guests arrive at our son’s party
they gather in the living room—
short men, men in first grade
with smooth jaws and chins.
Hands in pockets, they stand around
jostling, jockeying for place, small fights
breaking out and calming. One says to another
How old are you? —Six. —I’m seven. —So?
They eye each other, seeing themselves
tiny in the other’s pupils. They clear their
throats a lot, a room of small bankers,
they fold their arms and frown. I could beat you
up, a seven says to a six,
the midnight cake, round and heavy as a
turret behind them on the table. My son,
freckles like specks of nutmeg on his cheeks,
chest narrow as the balsa keel of a
model boat, long hands
cool and thin as the day they guided him
out of me, speaks up as a host
for the sake of the group.
We could easily kill a two-year-old,
he says in his clear voice. The other
men agree, they clear their throats
like Generals, they relax and get down to
playing war, celebrating my son’s life.

Olds has long been a favorite poet of mine, and she was recently included on a list of five female poets who are doing good work in the resistance.

The world feels extremely scary right now. Every day, scarier than the day before. I gaze at this beautiful child and hold my breath.

oh the insanity

My computer is going so slowly because one program is using up all the resources: Chrome. Why is Chrome using up all the resources? Because I have 30 tabs open. Insane. And they’ve been open all week, too, the bulk of them. Every day I add one, maybe two, and here I am. Thirty tabs. You know where this is going: link love! They seem heavily slanted toward long form pieces I really want to read:



  • And finally, the other great video thing that came out this week. Stephen Colbert making the best of being stood up by Daft Punk. I love every second of it, but that first scene on the dance floor with Bryan Cranston may be my favorite moment of them all. That Colbert is a good dancer!

Wow. That’s a lot of great stuff. Your Saturday is taken care of now! Have a good one y’all. We here in Texas will be h.o.t.  Guaranteed.

lots of stuff

I thought I was going to write a post about intimacy, but I’ll have to set that aside and get this one down for myself. I’ve got such a huge lot of tabs I can’t seem to close so I save them here, and hope that one or two interests you:

  • Flavorwire posted 17 essays by [female] writers that everyone should read. Adrienne Rich, Jamaica Kincaid, Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, Joyce Carol Oates, great great company.
  • And just for fun, Flavorwire also posted 10 obscure punctuation marks that should get more play. I kind of like the sarc mark, but the interrobang also wins for its fun name.
  • Here’s a recording of Flannery O’Connor herself reading A Good Man is Hard to Find. Amazing to hear her voice from way back in 1959.
  • I just want to read all the links on this post from the Paris Review about unreliable narrators and fictional memoirs.
  • How you resist these 8 little things to do every day that will make you happier?
  • This is a sweet little video of what happens what random strangers sit together in a ball pit. They’re given questions (written on the balls) that ask the big questions, not the stupid small talk questions. If you watch it, watch it through to the end. I love it.
  • This isn’t a link, but something I read this week:  It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis. ~Henry Miller, in Of Art and the Future.  You are so very right, Henry Miller.
  • If you like seeing the players crack themselves up on SNL, you’ll like the video in this link. I always love to see Bill Hader crack up. And I learned that the writer puts surprise cue cards in for Stefon that Bill Hader never sees until he’s performing, which contributes to his breathless laughing.
  • A gorgeous conversation with George Saunders, one of my favorite writers ever. And for fun, the stylesheet his copyeditors used for Tenth of December.
  • A healthy closing note: eat certain grains and beans at room temperature for good colon health! Covering all the bases this morning. 🙂

Whew, with that my browser is now much more manageable. We’re crossing our fingers for some rain here in Central Texas — hope you get what you want today, too.

good thing of the day: pecan pancakes. with real maple syrup.

hollow or shell take your pick

Last night I went to one of the greatest independent bookstores around — BookPeople, near downtown. I cancelled something else to go to this event, because I couldn’t believe how lucky I was that George Saunders was here, in Austin, promoting his new book Tenth of December: Stories. The New York Times Magazine did a great profile of him recently, titling the article “George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year.” He was utterly charming, and so hilarious I actually cackled a number of times. The whole second floor, where the reading took place, was packed — standing room only, but in the way of a subway car in rush hour. It turns out he’d given his very first ever book reading at the same store, but there weren’t many people in the audience and half were his family. (You do know he’s a Texan, right? Yup, born in Amarillo.) He told an adorable story about it, and when he answered questions after the reading, each answer wandered off into adorable stories, always funny and always unexpected, either in what happened or in the way he’d tell it. I wanted to buy a copy there and have him sign it, but I’d left my wallet at home (I thought; turned out it was in the car. Bummer.).

But I very nearly didn’t go. It was an outstandingly beautiful day today, mid-70s and sunny blue skies. I’d worked hard all day. I’d looked forward to seeing him since the day after I moved here, literally. It’s just hard to get out the door, it’s hard to push myself into the world. Still. Oh, I’m doing it, I am, I’m going, I’m pushing, I’m happy houring, I’m brunching and all that stuff. I am. And when I’m there, I am enjoying myself, often a great deal, but it still has an odd feeling to it and I haven’t been able to figure out what was so odd. Today I realized that I feel like an empty shell — a mostly empty shell, anyway. It’s kind of like my face smiles and shows I’m happy (and I am….), my throat and mouth and face cooperate and I laugh (and I do…..), and my body language shows I’m engaged (and I am…..), and my mind is present and involved (and it is….) but what’s missing, I realized, is engagement by my heart. Or my spirit, or something. It’s not quite that I’m going through the motions, although I kind of am. I feel hollow in a very odd way.

Partly, of course, I’m still displaced and heartbroken and I miss my husband. And he misses me. It feels so odd not to be doing things with him — so there’s a double aspect to it. He’s not there and that’s odd, leaving me looking around, what did I forget. And partly too it’s a test of what I think about meaning, and happiness. Texans are wont to say things like, “oh, I just love winter,” or “boy I really do love snow!” And of course, at least in this part of Texas winter is mostly an idea and snow is rare as hen’s teeth — so it’s an untested love they have. Put them/us in a real winter with long-lasting ugly black snow piles and then let’s talk again. Well, I’m in a similar boat here about being alone. All my adult life I’ve said, “oh, I just love time to myself,” or “boy I’d just relish having all that time like you do.” And yet I’ve never lived alone, since I was in high school really. So now here I am, at put-up-or-shut-up time and let’s talk.

I struggle with meaning now in a way I didn’t before. So I wake up alone, spend the entire day alone working, and in the evenings sometimes I go somewhere alone, or I meet brand new people and do things in their presence. And then I come home alone and go back to sleep alone. I dream alone. I hear scary noises at night alone. I go to a movie alone, and afterwards while I’m driving home alone I think about the movie. Alone. I make dinner alone and eat it alone. I shop alone to fill my lonely refrigerator and pantry, filled with oh-so-neat stuff, all lined up and clean. And now, in a way I never have before, I find myself wondering what it means, what it’s even about, What it’s worth. (This is not about depression to any degree; it’s about the importance of another person in shaping the meaning of things.)

So there I’ve been, my whole loudmouth life, saying that my life is filled with meaning! I find meaning in all the little things, the birds that come to my feeder (meaning! beauty!), in writing and reading (meaning! thinking deeply about things that matter), making my coffee (the pleasure of being mindful during a daily task, and the pleasures of the process), taking a walk (meaning! appreciating the world around me), talking to strangers (ok, that’s hard for me, but …. meaning! trying to cross the divide and really see another person, and let them see me). I do believe those things, and I do believe meaning resides in them. But I’ve always done them in the presence of someone else, or with them, so there was talking and sharing the experience. I’d see the birds and then have a conversation about them, and the cycle of things, how the martins will be coming back soon and last year they had so many babies. I’d take a walk with my husband and we’d talk about whatever we talked about, and I’d adore the trees and the blue sky and the way little yellow-flowered weeds pushed through the bricks.

Perhaps I am kind of hollow right now, hollowed out by all the loss. That makes sense, and I am OK with that. Perhaps I’m just stunned by having to find an entirely new way to live, at 54. That makes sense, and I’m mostly OK with that. But the feeling of hollowness is awful, really. Empty, hollow, a shell, a ghost. I so enjoyed watching and listening to George Saunders read, and I had long periods of forgetting myself entirely and just being in the moment. And then I got in my car alone, drove home alone, and didn’t have someone to tell all about it, to talk about the genius of his voice, the uniqueness of his perspective.

I don’t know. I don’t have a neat ending for this, and I’m not down or depressed, I’m just trying to figure out this whole thing. I know I will, and I know I won’t always feel hollow, but there’s a lot to think about.

Happy Wednesday, y’all.

good thing of the day; the pleasures of taste: bright joyous orange juice, dark silky coffee, seedy chewy bread, toasted. Those tastes and textures, so much pleasure.

Friday collection of goodies

So this morning I’m off to get my hair cut, and then I have back-to-back calls for work. It’s a busy day, and I have a very busy weekend ahead. I’ve once again collected a whole bunch of open tabs that I can’t seem to close — “I’ll read them later,” but later hasn’t come, so I’ll stash them here and maybe you’ll like one or two, too!


All day he works at his cousin’s mill,

so when he gets home at night, he always sits at this one window,

sees one time of day, twilight.

There should be more time like this, to sit and dream.

It’s as his cousin says:

Living— living takes you away from sitting.

In the window, not the world but a squared-off landscape

representing the world. The seasons change,

each visible only a few hours a day.

Green things followed by golden things followed by whiteness—

abstractions from which come intense pleasures,

like the figs on the table.

At dusk, the sun goes down in a haze of red fire between two poplars.

It goes down late in summer—sometimes it’s hard to stay awake.

Then everything falls away.

The world for a little longer

is something to see, then only something to hear,

crickets, cicadas.

Or to smell sometimes, aroma of lemon trees, of orange trees.

Then sleep takes this away also.

But it’s easy to give things up like this, experimentally,

for a matter of hours.

I open my fingers—

I let everything go.

Visual world, language,

rustling of leaves in the night,

smell of high grass, of woodsmoke.

I let it go, then I light the candle.

~ from Louise Glück A Village Life (Ferrar, Straus and  Giroux, 2009)

  • And finally, here is an absolutely lovely video of a beautiful, beautiful song, Mad World:

Happy Friday, everyone! I have such a busy weekend of things to do, fun things, a bit of work, a lovely lovely weekend. I hope it’s the same for you!

good thing of the day: It’s raining! And the promise of a new start that a hair cut brings, small but (potentially, anyway) uplifting.