Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Some Thoughts on Spring and New Growth.

What is it about spring that makes me so introspective and self-aware? Maybe I’m always like this and I only notice when the sun starts shining more.

I’ve been walking home when I get the chance (when the weather and other obligations don’t eliminate it as a possibility) and it’s wonderful and refreshing and also sad. The plants are starting to peek out of the earth. On my walk last week I stopped to look at the most delicate purple flowers already blossoming, despite the fact that no other plant life around it was really thriving yet.  It was beautiful and it broke my heart a little.

I think Easter is very conveniently timed during Spring. Is there a more appropriate analogy for Jesus bursting back from death than the beautiful flowers that lay dormant in frozen earth finally bursting forth with dazzling colors? I think not.

But this year the flowers remind me of myself, too. I feel like I’m coming back to life after a winter during which I was struggling to feel normal. This happens to me every year, of course. But it seems a little more pronounced and profound than usual this year. And the flowers remind me of myself even more than that; so delicate and so fragile and still, against all odds, pushing through. When I looked at the little purple flowers it was like I could see myself struggling to grow and change and push against the shape of me. 

Sometimes my heart breaks for myself. Has that ever happened to any of you? Have you ever thought about your poor little broken, shitty self and just felt deeply sorrowful for it? Maybe that’s weird and/or super self-pitying sounding. It doesn’t feel that way though. It doesn’t feel like I’m saying “boo-hoo, feel bad for me!”… it’s more like I can stand outside myself and acknowledge that I’m a person and I’m extremely broken and have some really genuine empathy towards myself. Anyway, I’ve been feeling that profoundly this Spring. Like, “Oh look, you were this weird, sad little grub all winter, but now you’re finally a worm and you’re able to stretch and squirm and someday soon you’ll be a butterfly. That’ll be nice. Let’s stick it out til the butterfly stage, okay?” (Yes, I know that was a ridiculous mixed metaphor and that those three things aren’t ever the same creature, but I don’t care. Let me be me.) And it's nice. It's nice to recognize my own brokenness and allow it, consciously, to exist. It's nice to take a moment and realize that I'm growing and stretching my skin and changing shape and becoming something just slightly better than before.

So yeah, that’s where I am these days.

Unrelated: Keep your eyes peeled over the next few weeks because I finally (!!!!) have some more posts from my road trip queued to publish. Maybe I'll actually get my whole August road trip onto the interwebs! Although...don't hold your breath.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Sunshine and Books.

It's officially been Spring for nearly a month now, but here in Maine it just started feeling like it within the past week or two. Beautiful, sunny days have arrived. Which means occasionally walking home from work, eating ice cream outside without freezing, and things starting to grow from the ground.

For me, Spring also means feeling like a human being again. It always surprises me how much more I feel like doing when the sun wakes me up in the morning and is still up when I get out of work at night. It's like a damn miracle. (Or it's like seasonal depression, you know, whatever.)

The past week of my life has been especially beautiful and lovely. Can I say that? I spent a considerable amount of time last weekend "spring" cleaning (honestly just regular cleaning, but I feel like I finally got my room to the place I wanted it to be for the first time since I moved back to Maine) and then went for a walk on the rail trail with much of my family when it was gloriously sunny last Sunday. I've been trying to walk home from work if it's going to be nice out (shoutout to my sister for driving my car home those days even though driving isn't really her thing- I appreciate you, Britt!) and I even wore my bright yellow shorts out to the patio at the Quarry Tap Room. I love those shorts and I was seriously SO PUMPED to be wearing them, even if I was the only person out in shorts. Who even cares? I wasn't cold so it's fine.

Today I went for a walk in Vaughan Woods (aka the woods behind my house) and it was truly lovely. I watched the water cascade down from the dam, I looked at all the flattened ferns that appeared after the snow melted, I let the sun warm my skin. It was glorious. Days and moments like that always remind me of the line "God bless the daylight / the sugary smell of springtime" from the song "We Looked Like Giants" by Death Cab for Cutie.

Anyway. As some of you may have seen on instagram, it is one of my goals for 2017 to read 50 physical books. My official Goodreads book goal is 104 (right now...I may add to my goal later, depending on my progress), but a lot of my books are consumed in audiobook format. It helps to be able to do laundry or cook or clean my room while I'm "reading" and it allows me to entertain myself a little better during some of my more mindless tasks at the office. But this year I want to consume as many (okay, almost as many) books with my eyeballs as I do with my ears. So I've been working on it. Making terrible progress at this point, but whatever.

I just finished the book "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas. It was incredible. I would like to request that anyone I know read this book. Especially if you are white. And extra especially if you don't understand the Black Lives Matter movement. The premise of the book is that the main character is a teenaged black girl who witnesses her childhood friend get shot and killed by the police. So basically, it's a fictionalized version of every white-cop-kills-unarmed-black-person story you've heard. It's the story of every person who got a "Justice for _____" hashtag. And it is a powerful look at what it means to be privileged in America today. There are also many other topics and issues covered in the book that were eye-opening to me, and probably would be for you, too.

So please, read the book. It's one of the best I've read in a long time, definitely the most worthwhile book I've read this year. If you live near me I would be more than happy to lend you my copy. If not, I have seen it for sale in every book store I've entered recently. Do yourself a favor and buy a copy and read it and then lend it to your friends who want to read it, too.

Happy Spring and happy reading, everyone!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


As most of you probably know, I read a lot of books. For instance, last year I read 154 books (though admittedly only about 36 were physical books that I sat down and read and the others were audio books that I listened to while commuting or working or cooking or cleaning. You know, the joys of multi-tasking!).

I would say that many of the books I read are new books, either simply new to me (a first time read) or actually freshly published. I follow lots of book blogs and libraries on social media, and Goodreads is really good at sending out monthly notices about new books from authors you've read etc, so I am constantly seeing brand new books that look interesting and adding them to my To Read shelf on Goodreads. I've never watched Gilmore Girls all the way through, but I have seen episodes here and there and I remember catching an episode where Rory goes into a tizzy about how many books are published each day and how she'll never be able to read them all. Sometimes I think of that, and it's a sad thought. Even more sad is the fact that I probably won't even get a chance to read all of the books that I've added to that To Read shelf. Let's not talk about it.

It helps that sometime during or after college I gave myself permission to STOP reading books I don't like. Throughout my childhood, I'd follow through and finish every book I started even if it took me ages because they dragged on and didn't keep my attention. As I've gotten older and had less available free time, I've learned that nobody has time to suffer through books they don't like. And, more importantly, if you're wasting time on books you don't like, you're missing out on the possibility for books you love! That said, I admit that I still finish most books I start (also, confession: I have pretty low standards. I'm very easy to please and don't usually even care about bad writing. Soooo...yeah.) and rarely feel the need to put one down. A recent book that I started and just couldn't finish was "The Zookeeper's Wife." I picked up a copy of it years ago and have always wanted to read it- I was sure I would love it. With the movie coming out, I decided now was the time and pulled it off my alphabetized-by-author's-last-name bookshelf only to start reading and decide that I didn't like the book at all. Don't get me wrong; I still think I'll love the story and am totally planning on seeing the movie which I think I will enjoy. But the book was a total drag and I was struggling to read it after 25 pages. I think the author just got too bogged down in portraying the historical accuracy because it's a true story and she had access to pictures and journals and all sorts of primary evidence, and she presented it all in the book, at the expense of my interest. The movie will be able to show all that info rather than telling it all in excruciating detail, and I think I'll enjoy that more.

Anyway, with all the new books there are to read every single day, it can seem a little silly to re-read some. But I do it anyway. For instance, every year or so I like to read "Ella Enchanted." It's pretty much my favorite children's book of all time and I seriously read it like four or five times as a young person before I realized it was a Cinderella retelling (is that an embarrassing thing to admit? my point was just that it's SO well done and doesn't really fit into the cookie-cutter Cinderella format. I think Gail Carson Levine did a fabulous job with it!). I also like to re-read the Harry Potter books every few years because...well, it's self-explanatory, isn't it?

A few other books that I have re-read many times are "Bloomability" by Sharon Creech (she's probably my favorite children's book author, by the way), "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd, and all of Sarah Dessen and Megan McCafferty's books.

Then there's another type of re-reading. The kind where I pick up a book that I read years ago and loved but haven't read since and decide I want to refresh the details. It's happened a few times in recent years. When this happens, I usually find my experience reading the book the second time to be completely different than the first, which I find completely intriguing. An example would be that in high school I picked up a copy of "Mother Night" by Kurt Vonnegut and started reading it out loud to my friends in a British accent just to be a goof, and suddenly found that I was totally into the story and read the entire book over the course of the rest of the day. At the time, I'd never before heard of Kurt Vonnegut, and I absolutely loved "Mother Night" and promptly dove into the rest of his books. In college, I had to read "Mother Night" for a class, which I didn't mind since I considered it my favorite Kurt Vonnegut, but I found the book to be not nearly as beautiful and wholesome as I'd remembered. It was really weird. In five years or so, I'd had so much more exposure to the human condition that I no longer saw the actions of the main character as truly heroic and wonderful. It was more complicated, the character more complicated, than I'd realized upon my first reading at 15 or so. Or maybe I'd understood the complexities and simply not remembered them. I don't know, but while I still liked the book after the second reading, I was surprised by it.

Last weekend I picked up a copy of "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes and decided to read it for the first time in probably almost ten years (I don't remember exactly when I read it, but I know it was in high school). I know that I loved it the first time, and I remember the general premise of the story, but re-reading it has been very different from what I remembered. I think part of that is because a huge part of the book deals with the relationship the main character had with the world around him when he was a special needs child, and since the last time I read it I have personally spent a few years working directly with special needs children- if that wouldn't change my perspective on a story I don't know what would. But I think there's also just the component of being older, of understanding more about human nature, of considering how a character's actions compare with those of people I know in real life and with my own.

What I've learned is that as I live and learn and grow I can have a completely different interpretation of something than I had before. I know, this isn't an earth shattering revelation, but it still kind of baffles me. I think it has to do with the fact that despite being completely self-absorbed, teenagers (or at least me, as a teenager) don't actually understand themselves all that well. And the experience of reading is sort of a meta one, where you learn about yourself through stories and experiences of others. If you don't really know who you are, you might be blown away by a story, but it isn't going to fold into you the same way.

Anyway, that's just something I've been thinking about lately. I'm sure there are other books that I would get more out of if I re-read them now, and I'm sure there are books that I haven't read yet that I will enjoy more greatly if I read as an adult anyway.

Have any of you had a completely different experience with a book upon reading it a second (or third! Or more!) time? If so, what book? Are there books you think are important for me to read in my mid-twenties because I'll be able to relate to and understand them better now that I would have earlier? If so, drop me a comment!