I’m so stupid-lazy, and I always have been. Oh, I get a LOT done, it’s not that kind of laziness, it’s the idiotic kind. Every single day I’m stupid-lazy like this:

lazyI keep a blanket folded at the foot of my bed; I sleep with four pillows (two for my head, and one turned longways on both sides of the bed to drape my leg over). In the winter, I keep the temperature very low in the house overnight so I inevitably pull up the blanket. So when it’s time to make the bed, my stupid-laziness emerges. Instead of tossing the four pillows onto the chair — which is RIGHT THERE — I fuss and struggle to make the bed with them all in place. I’ll pull out the longways ones and toss them at the top, and fold the blanket back to the foot of the bed, but then it’s this ridiculous tucking-struggle to get the sheet underneath the pillows, and the duvet. Why??? Why don’t I just move the pillows? Every morning I am so annoyed at the whole process, so why do I keep doing it? Stupid-lazy, that’s why.

When I was a kid, for some unknown-to-me-now reason I did not want to take my nightly bath. I’d run the tub full of water and then the stupid-laziness would appear. I’d sit on the toilet with my feet propped on the edge of the tub in case my mother peeked under the door (known to happen). I’d stand in the water and then tromp my wet feet on the bathmat. I’d get my hands wet and then put them all over the towel so it would be damp and appear to be used. Even then, I’d think it would just be so much easier to take the bath.

This is such a bewildering thing. Surely you never do stupid-lazy things. Right?

every day. every. single. day.

oh how I love my cozy bed
oh how I love my cozy bed

Do you make your bed every day? I do, without fail. Ordinarily, like 99.9% of the time I’m here in Austin, I make it either right after I get up, while the water is coming to a boil for my French press coffee routine, OR after I finish drinking my coffee, when I’m getting dressed. That remaining 0.1% of the time I still make it, it’s just later in the day. Even if something bizarre happens and it’s still unmade at 8pm (I think that happened once), I still make it all the way, throw pillows and all. I sleep so much better if I arrive at a bed that’s made up—even if it’s just been made up for an hour—so I get to pull back the covers and crawl in to everything smooth and cool. Once I just got in my messy, unmade bed (can’t remember why now) and it didn’t feel as good. It’s about the pleasure of it, that sensory joy of feet finding the tucked-in bottom where it’s so cool, of pillows stacked up ready to be tucked around me and arranged under my head. Gosh I love that moment.

Every single day I brush my teeth morning (after I finish my coffee) and at night before bed, and at night — every night — I floss and use a really strong mouthwash. It isn’t that I just have great dental habits, it’s that I cannot bear to go to the dentist. Oh, I need to go . . . I just can’t. I haven’t been since 2005. Ten years. It’s a lot of money and I am so terrified. If a dentist would knock me out the moment I walked through the door and I wouldn’t be brought back to consciousness until all possible pain was over, I’d definitely go. So instead I just take extra extra good care of my teeth. My husband, on the other hand, isn’t as intent on doing all the things I do because he goes to the dentist all the time and has his teeth cleaned every 6 months (maybe 3, seems like he’s always going to get them cleaned).

Every single night before I go to bed I take a few minutes to tidy my home and put away whatever I’ve left out. It takes me just a few minutes (I live alone, obv), and I even enjoy the tucking-away of it all. When everything else is done, I turn on the television for company while I put away my clothes and shoes and jewelry. I’ve really come to enjoy doing that for some strange reason.

Every single morning I go through my beloved coffee routine. Without fail. If I’ve come home from a trip really late and wake up to find/remember that I’d run out of coffee beans, I will slap on some clothes and go to the market to buy beans before I do anything else. I like it when it’s cold weather when that happens because a coat covers a multitude of undergarments-not-put-on. If you know what I mean.

Every single day I read a lot. Most days I read a lot because it’s my job. And every day I read a book I want to read. Every single day I write something of my own. Every single day.

Every single day I do not plug in the landline phone. I love not doing that.

How about you? What do you do every. single. day? What feels wrong and undone if you don’t do it? It’s not at all about what you “should” be doing, but more about what you do for your own quirky reasons.

better than ever

See the twinkle? This is at Millay's home, and he was tickled pink to be there.
See the twinkle in his eye? This is at Millay’s home, and he was tickled pink to be there.

I have a great friend in my monthly poetry group named George. First of all, George is the most knowledgeable person about poetry I have ever met. Ever. And he can recite huge swaths at the drop of a hat. He’s older than me, I don’t know his age, but man I enjoy his ability to do that kind of recitation. Last year he took a road trip vacation to Steepletop, Edna St Vincent Millay’s home in Maine. That’s what he did for his vacation. So George is definitely 100% my kind of guy. And his eyes twinkle and he’s very funny in a sly way that you might miss if you aren’t paying attention. (And he does yoga! There doesn’t seem to be much of anything you might randomly mention that George doesn’t do.)

Every month when I see him and ask how he’s doing, he answers, “Better than ever!” I hadn’t noticed the pattern; last month in my delight at his answer, I commented on it and he said it’s always his answer, and it puzzles people. Once a grocery store clerk said, “I wish could say that,” so George told her to stop what she was doing, immediately, and look at him. Then he said, “OK, repeat after me. Better.” “Better.” “Than.” “Than.” “Ever.” “Ever.” With his characteristic twinkly smile, he then said, “Now you know how to say it!” He said that it’s an important way he helps himself feel good, and when he gives into the various troubles of aging, and dwells on them, he does not feel very good at all and starts going downhill. So “better than ever!” is not just a verbal trick, a magic mantra, it’s a way of orienting himself to this day of his life. His shoulder might ache, but hey — today he is better than ever.

That aspect of George resonates with me, although I don’t say that phrase. What I do say, though, is “wonderful.” Oh, this is wonderful, that’s wonderful, you are wonderful, the day is wonderful, my sandwich is wonderful, that ice water is wonderful, YogaGlo is wonderful, my friends are wonderful (or gorgeous, or beautiful, or amazing, or magnificent). A lifetime ago, when I was getting to know the members of the very large family I married into — and before I realized that ‘wonderful’ is my most characteristic word — I was talking to one of my husband’s brothers, and after a while he leaned down, frowned a little bit, and said, “Really, Lori? Is it wonderful? Is everything wonderful? ‘It’s just wunnerful!’” And then he cackled. I still am not entirely sure if he was making fun of me, but I think he was.

This occurred to me as I was re-reading my last post about my. . .well, ok, I’ll say it. . .wonderful week. (But it was!) I saw what any editor would identify as the gross overuse of those words. Gross overuse. Anyone can see that, come on, it’s egregious. For heaven’s sake. Bad writing, leaning hard toward purple.

But here’s the deal, and I just mean this from the bottom of my heart. My friends truly are beautiful, and brilliant, and amazing, and wonderful, and gorgeous. My daughters truly are all those things, and magnificent, and loving. The sky really is wonderful. The things I mentioned really were extraordinary. I think I share the impulse with George, and I think it is probably why we are happy people. I don’t know if George has always been this way, but I have always been this way. My former brother-in-law commented on that when I was 21 years old and I’m still unconsciously at it.

So maybe it’s not your automatic way of being in the world, and maybe you 100% love the way you are in the world and so good on ya! Maybe you enjoy a bit of a grump (my husband in NY has a daily need to mope) now and then, and that’s just fine. I do too. But I think that if you just pause for a second and notice that sky, you’d see that it’s wonderful. There it is, just doing its thing, putting on a dramatic, ever-changing show for you, and you’re probably not noticing it. And then I think you’ll feel a little spike of happy. I think if you paused for a minute and really tasted your food and thought about it — wow (oops, another of my oft-used words, wow), that salad is really wonderful, so fresh and crunchy, and the pepitas just make it all work, and blue cheese ohmygod, it’s really wonderful — another little spike of happy. Really see your friend when you’re talking to her, just really see her and you’ll see that she is super wonderful. Magnificent. There she is, being herself in your life. Wow.

Those teenagers danced all the way across the bridge going over the highway. Maybe it was that wonderful sky.
Those teenagers danced all the way across the bridge going over the highway. Maybe it was that wonderful sky.

But really — just pause for a second. LOOK AT THAT SKY! Is it not wonderful? (Also: George is wonderful, and so are you.) Right on.

What’s YOUR deal?

always the explainer
always the explainer

Actually, I have a couple of deals at least: I feel like I have to explain myself constantly, and I’m still too much a pleaser. That second one is still pretty hard for me, but I’ve made some headway on the first.

Here’s a great example. And it’s silly, as most of them are. Before I left for New York, I gave myself a manicure. My fingernails were long-ish and shaped nicely, and I painted them red. I love red fingernails. When my nails are long-ish enough, my hands look nice. But when they’re trimmed short, my fingers look stubby. My nailbeds are short and sit out at the tips of my fingers instead of being long and well into that last bit of the finger. I was a little worried about the manicure lasting for the 12 days I’m here in New York, but meh, whatever, it’d be fine.

Then two nights ago I was lifting a piece of furniture and my hands kind of slipped and came up, dragging against the edge of the table, and 7 of my fingernails just broke. Some broke so much that I had to cut them down to their shortest length. Since so many had to be trimmed that short, I just trimmed them all that short. And they still have the red polish on them. NOT NICE LOOKING. (Of course I could have dashed out to the drugstore on the corner and bought polish remover but I didn’t want to venture out onto the icy streets.)

So I see my hands with the very short red nails and grimace a little. Ugh, that red, just highlighting the stubbiness of my short-bed nails. Yesterday I went to meet my friend Traci for lunch, and ordinarily I would’ve explained myself right off the bat. See, I had this accident, I know it’s kind of awful looking, look at this, blah blah blah.  Instead, I didn’t. I didn’t explain my unattractive nails, I didn’t tell the story, I didn’t say a word about it. And probably she didn’t notice them! Our lunch was our usual thing, filled with talking and laughing and catching up with each other’s lives.

When I took the lentil salad to book club a couple of weeks ago, and had not been able to find radicchio, I didn’t explain it. I just shared the salad and we all ate the potluck meal and laughed and had a good time.

I’m still a Level 1 non-explainer, because I think about it and make myself not explain. But I can feel that I’m leveling up, and will soon be a Level 2 non-explainer: I’ll think about it but it won’t be any kind of struggle to keep quiet. Level 3 for the win — not even thinking about it.

I realized that I constantly explained myself because I imagined that others were judging me in all the various ways. But they probably aren’t! They’re probably not even noticing or giving any of this a second thought — in fact, they’re probably thinking about their own things. By bringing it up and into the conversation, am the one who makes it a thing. That would be me, not them. It’s been kind of remarkable letting this go, actually.

I'M TRYING!! (Is that OK?)
I’M TRYING!! (Is that OK?)

Next up: finding my way to being a Level 1 non-pleaser. If you had to figure that one out and have any tips for me I’d love to hear them.

stealing from The Believer

believerDo you read The Believer? It’s a magazine from the McSweeneys outfit in California, and it’s very smart. I used to subscribe but found I never had time to read (much like The New Yorker and the NYRB that arrive steadily and sit in tumbling dusty stacks waiting for me….). Anyway, they put some material online for free, including a fantastic series with writers, called “How Writers Read.” So I thought I’d steal their questions and give you my own answers, and hope to stimulate — and perhaps learn — yours!

1) We’ve all had “writer’s block,” but do you ever get reader’s block? If so, do you “downgrade” and read something “easy” or just not read at all?

I absolutely do get reader’s block, for a couple of reasons. Most often I get it when I’ve read something so singular and perfect that nothing else will possibly do. I got it after I read Moby Dick for the first time. What else could measure up? What else could stand near it for the beauty of language, for the magnitude of the themes, for the sheer wonder of it? Nothing. I tried this I tried that, and finally I just had to wait it out. The other time I get reader’s block is when I get pretty severely depressed, but then I can’t do anything, it’s not just about reading. I hospitalized myself the last time I was suicidally depressed, and I would open books and stare at the words, but couldn’t care about the sentences. I tried everything, all my favorites, and just couldn’t care enough to read.

But for both of those sources, the answer is the same. I have found that if I read Vonnegut or Anne Lamott, I can usually find my way back to reading. Vonnegut is best for the first version, and Lamott is best for the second, but somehow those two writers can lead me back.

2) What genre do you read most—fiction, nonfiction, poetry? Do you mostly read in the genre that you write in? How is your reading experience different when reading outside your genre?

For the last 12 years, since I finished graduate school, I read almost exclusively literary fiction and very good poetry. A nonfiction title slips in if it’s on one of my pet themes (Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande, is a good example). Otherwise I just do not read other genres. When I was younger, I read literary fiction exclusively until one day I kind of had enough and only wanted to read nonfiction. So I did that for several years, pretty exclusively. Then in graduate school I read mostly in my discipline, but definitely found time to read good novels. And Shakespeare, lots of Shakespeare. When I was (avoiding) writing my qualifying paper, I memorized the first act of Hamlet. Many grad students clean their apartments to avoid writing, but I had kids to do that for me. 🙂 (I kid.)

3) Where and when do you usually read? In bed? On the train?

In New York, I had 45 minute subway commutes in the morning and evening and I got a lot of reading done then. Now, sitting at home all day without a commute, and reading for work, my reading time comes at night in bed. Often in the middle of the night, on my Kindle. Not the most interesting question….

4) Do you ever read for “guilty pleasure”?

NO! I don’t even get that idea. Although sometimes the act of reading is the guilty pleasure, when I ‘should’ be doing something else. But reading something that would be considered a ‘guilty pleasure’ — something others might think is junk? I guess that’s the idea? Like Peeps are my guilty pleasure? No. First, my reading time is too insufficient already and my TBR list is way too long to spend any time reading junk; second, I read a lot of junk for work; and third, I just don’t like those genres. It’s nothing against them, I just don’t like them. Just as I don’t like chocolate covered cherries, but there’s nothing wrong with them.

5) Do you read YA? Do you read genre fiction?

Surprisingly (to me), some of the best books I’ve read in the last few years were YA! The Book Thief, for instance, and that leaves me so confused about what it means to be a YA book. That one was about death in Germany during the Holocaust, for heaven’s sake. But I guess the main characters were teenagers, so that’s why it has the designation. I have nothing inherent against genre fiction — sci fi, detective novels/mysteries, romance, horror — but they just aren’t for me. Unless they are, unless one does something very different, very big. I never read vampire novels, never wanted to, until a client wrote an amazing one and that knocked my socks off.

6) Do you gravitate toward shorter books or longer books?

Longer, definitely, but not longer than they need to be. And not long just to be long. I can’t turn off my editor’s mind, so when books are longer than they need to be, it distracts me and I wonder why the editor didn’t take care of that. But the ones I have loved most tended to be long, and a short book will make me raise an eyebrow and wonder about it.

7) When you finish a book, how long do you wait before you start another one?

This is actually the question that caught my attention more than any of the others. Immediately! When I’m at the ~2/3rd mark in a book I’m starting to figure out which book will be next. Usually when I read the last word I go to the home page of my kindle and just open the next book. The exception is one of those far-too-rare books that makes me unable to read anything else. But even with a book I adore, I go immediately to the next. I just assumed all readers were like this.

8) Do you read multiple books at once?

Kind of, kind of not. And it depends on the power of the one I’m primarily reading. I have several books ‘going,’ but the ones that are ‘going’ hit a slump for one reason or another and I think I want to finish them so I keep them in the ‘currently reading’ pile. But I really just read one until it’s done, otherwise.

9) Do you read with a pencil, i.e., do you take notes, either in the margins or elsewhere? Does it matter whether you’re reading with intent to review?

If I had time to read during waking hours, I would be reading with a pen in my hand. Since I read in the middle of the night, on my kindle, all my highlights and notes are done with those tools. But I do leave a lot of notes in my kindle books, in addition to the highlights, and since Amazon collects them, I periodically open that web page and read my notes, or copy them and print them out. When I have an opportunity to read a ‘real’ book in the daytime, I keep my beautiful moleskine next to me, and read with a pen in my hand. That’s the best reading, as far as I’m concerned. I write marginalia, and for longer thoughts and questions I put those in my moleskine. I’m always reading with intent to review, but in my own small potatoes way, on my blog or in Goodreads.

And this is my own question, stimulated by a passing comment on this blog that produced answers from others that surprised me. 10) Why do you read?

I read to have my soul enlarged. That’s the clunkiest way to say it, and I don’t know exactly what I mean by soul, and that sounds hokey, but I think it communicates what I mean. I read to be moved and enlarged, to be immersed in a version or vision or experience of life that takes me beyond my chair and makes me understand something, feel something, learn something about life or others or myself. I wouldn’t say I read for ‘fun.’ I don’t read to escape, although it sounds like that’s what I’m saying. I read for beautiful language, I read for language that articulates something I’d never found a way to articulate (or that I didn’t realize I knew/felt until it was articulated for me). I read to have my own inner monologue STOPPED.

Are you different from me on any of these questions?

gettin on a jag

obsessionWhen I was a kid, I saw an ad in a magazine for sets of books and records so I saved my money until I could buy one of the 12-book sets I most wanted in hardback: four books by Hemingway, four by Faulkner, and four by Fitzgerald. (It must be four each, because that’s what I still have, though maybe I lost some over the years in my dozens of moves.) So thrilled to have these books, to own them, I sat down and read them straight through. All four by Hemingway, back to back. All four by Fitzgerald, back to back. Ditto Faulkner.

I don’t recommend this as a strategy. Even right after finishing — but definitely all these years later — I can’t remember which was which. Now which one was the Hemingway where the guy died under the bridge, in the mud, in the arms of a woman? (hmmm, um, all of them? Bad example.) Which was the one where the rich young couple wandered through the city after a night of debauchery? (um, any Fitzgerald, now that I think about it.) Which Faulkner was the one where I had to keep reading the same sentence over and over and over trying to parse its meaning — oh yeah. All of them. Those are bad examples.

This seems to be a reading strategy I pursue, but then again it’s the same strategy I pursue on a lot of fronts. Find something I love and then do it to death. When I finish reading a book I’ve loved, I want to read every single thing that author wrote. After I read The Woman Warrior (well, after I read it three times in a row and felt ready to move on a tiny bit), I read all of Maxine Hong Kingston’s books. I definitely learned her voice, and could spot a Kingston book if I found a page separated from a typewritten manuscript stuck between bricks. Hey, that’s Maxine Hong Kingston. But they’re all of a piece for me now, and that’s good and bad. But don’t you do that too — if you’re surprised and delighted by a new writer, you just want more of her or him? Finding a good writer is so hard, if you find one sure bet probably others will follow there.

For about nine months when we lived in Fredericksburg, VA (and my kids’ll back me up on this) I got really stuck on Aretha Franklin’s “Til You Come Back to Me”:

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Did you know you can wear out a CD? YOU CAN. I played that one song on repeat for nine months — never the song that came after, never the song that came before, no other song, ever. For nine months. It finally got to the point where that song wouldn’t play, it just skipped and did that digital stutter. I just couldn’t stop. It was so great! (I see this is a slightly different argument — instead of playing all of her songs I just got stuck on one.) To this day, when I hear that song my kids are little, the air on my skin is humid and hot, we’re in the rusty old Buick with the sagging headliner, Jerry is off somewhere — Alaska, Panama, Canada — and it’s just me and my little kids bouncing kisses off the moon every night. That song holds every feeling, every moment, every longing, every happiness and bit of sorrow and delivers them back to me on request, in full.

I apparently have a high tolerance for repeaters, as my sweet little Kiki used to say. Every single workday for decades, his lunch was an apple and a container of yogurt — the same exact kind of yogurt, probably. That’s how he articulated that habit, and it’s a phrase that stuck with me. I guess one might call it obsession; it’s really not at all about laziness, or an unwillingness to try new things. It’s not even about the fear of disappointment, as you might think — what if I don’t like a sandwich as much as my apple and yogurt, then I’d have a bad lunch! Nope, it isn’t that. I think it’s about soaking up all the pleasure in a thing, squeezing out every little bit, eating it up until it’s gone. And then finding the next thing.

This morning I read the “By the Book” column in the NYTimes, and Amy Tan described doing what I do — wanting to read all the books by an author if she likes one — and so here we are. A lot of words to say what she said in thirteen. So me.

Happy Sunday y’all. Hope it’s a beautiful one….xo