Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Sometimes I don’t know how any of us go on. Sometimes I fear there’s no way our species will survive our own self-destructive choices. Sometimes I feel so I gut punched by the backward deal of the universe — that if you’re really lucky, you get people in your life to love, and then, over time, they will all either leave you or die — that I am angry at life. Actually, not sometimes. Always. I always feel that way. I don’t always actively think about it, but it’s in there.

At the same time, I am always looking for some gratitude, warmth, or hope. I often have to really search for it, but when I see something that makes me feel joy — even just a tiny odd hardly anything — you’re damn right I applaud it. Way to go, adorable cat on a leash! Thank you, server who brought my hot pizza! Kudos, writers of a TV show that made me laugh! Hallelujah, sunshine after a week of storms! Yay for good hair day, yippee for hot coffee, huzzah for an outfit that puts bounce in my step.

If I can scrape up some evidence of a thing made beautifully or a gesture made kindly, then can believe, for a few seconds, that this world is careful and kind. And if I can believe that, I can believe it is safe to let the people I love walk around out there. It’s my own attempt at foresparkling, seeking out hints of good, even planting them myself, so I can believe there’s more good to come. It might all be superstition, just mental magic, but why not try?

So I say yes for things that offer some pleasure. Yes for people who choose to be friendly. Yes for any glimmer of light through all the darkness. I mean that yes. I need it. Seriously.

Mary Laura Philpott, Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives (Atria Books, April 12, 2022)


Notes: Book Review NY Times: Is it Possible to Body-Block Our Loved Ones from Pain? Alas, No.  The Washington Post: Worry much? You’ll relate to Mary Laura Philpott’s book.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

with our lacks…—we do what we can—we give what we have.” Henry James, “The Middle Years

A writer works with what she lacks as well as what she has. (Watch a dancer adapt a movement to the constraints—the particular length and flexibility—of their limbs. Listen to an actor or singer shift a line’s rhythm to fit their range and timbre.) Assess your lacks to see what use they might be put to. Develop other sources of plenty.

Ask: What do I want desperately to write and how shall I write it? What am I trying not to write? When do my fluencies become clever distractions from what needs writing? How often have I watched with acute irritation a performer’s distractions, hissing silently, “Why don’t you stop making that step, that melody easier than it is? Why don’t you find another way, another technique to get at it? Take the risk that it won’t have the same affect you so admire and covet in some other artist. (That supple arabesque, that quietly sustained high note.) All right. You can’t get that longed-for effect by the same means. Have at it in another way! Can an unexpected tension in the line, a surreptitious harshness in that note make it work?”

Margo Jefferson, Constructing a Nervous System: A Memoir (Pantheon, April 12, 2022)


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

…We are trying to get off the damn treadmill so that we can remember the purpose and dignity that can come from the whole of our life.

So ask yourself this: Who would you be if work was no longer the axis of your life? How would your relationship with your close friends and family change, and what role would you serve within your community at large? Whom would you support, how would you interact with the world, and what would you fight for?

We are so overextended, so anxious, and so conditioned to approach our life as something to squeeze in around work that just asking these questions can feel indulgent. If you really try to answer them, what you’re left with will likely feel silly or far-fetched: like a Hallmark movie of your life, if you got to cast people to play you and the rest of your family who were well rested, filled with energy and intentionality and follow-through. Your mind will try to tell you it’s a fantasy. But it’s supposed to sound amazing, because you need to want it, really yearn for it, to a degree that will motivate you to shift your life in ways that will make the fantasy a reality.

Think back on a time in your life before you regularly worked for pay. Recall, if you can, an expanse of unscheduled time that was, in whatever manner, yours. What did you actually like to do? Not what your parents said you should do, not what you felt as if you should do to fit in, not what you knew would look good on your application for college or a job.

The answer might be spectacularly simple: You liked riding your bike with no destination in mind, making wild experiments in the kitchen, playing around with eyeshadow, writing fan fiction, playing cards with your grandfather, lying on your bed and listening to music, trying on all your clothes and making ridiculous outfits, thrifting, playing Sims for hours, obsessively sorting baseball cards, playing pickup basketball, taking photos of your feet with black-and-white film, going on long drives, learning to sew, catching bugs, skiing, playing in a band, making forts, harmonizing with other people, putting on mini-plays—whatever it was, you did it because you wanted to. Not because it would look interesting if you posted it on social media, or because it somehow optimized your body, or because it would give you better things to talk about at drinks, but because you took pleasure in it.

Once you figure out what that thing is, see if you can recall its contours. Were you in charge? Were there achievable goals or no goals at all? Did you do it alone or with others? Was it something that really felt as if it was yours, not your siblings’? Did it mean regular time spent with someone you liked? Did it involve organizing, creating, practicing, following patterns, or collaborating? See if you can describe, out loud or in writing, what you did and why you loved it. Now see if there’s anything at all that resembles that experience in your life today…

— Charlie Warzel & Anne Helen Petersen, from “How to Care Less About Work” in The Atlantic (December 5, 2021). This has been excerpted from their forthcoming book, Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home.

I Live a Life Like Yours

I started Jan Grue’s new memoir listening to his story on Audible. It’s titled “I Live a Life Like Yours.”

Oh, no Jan. You so do not.

I’m walking listening to his story. Free to take a step, not giving a moment’s consideration to how I keep my balance. And then following this step with another and another and another.

Suffering from Sciatica DK? Put out a bit? YOU are suffering?

Grue was diagnosed as a child with a rare form of spinal atrophy. As Michael J. Fox explains in his book review, “all of the wins in his life are come-from-behind —  a person who is much more than what others see. He discovers that “to be stared at, gawked at, is …to be situated in a narrative that has already been written, and that is told by others.” “The world,” he says, “perceives a body with frail arms, legs locked into certain angles…in a large bulky wheelchair” as not…a whole man…He offers messages of wisdom that will resonate long after you’ve finished the memoir. “At some point or another I stopped thinking about myself as someone who needed repairing.

Dwight Garner is his book review describes “A Life Like Yours” a quietly brilliant book that warms slowly in the hands. And that it does. I, highly recommend the book.

Let me close with a passage from his memoir.


Since an early age, I had known that I had spinal muscular atrophy… I would like to think myself away from my body, away from my injured, worn ankles. But there is no me that exists apart from this body, in some unmarked form. That body would have lived an entirely different sort of life. And yet it haunts me. It casts another kind of shadow. I shut my eyes and go skiing each winter, I run 10K each morning. I dash off to another country at a moment’s notice, grab my carry-on, run out the door and hail a taxi, make my way quickly through the security check and sprint to the gate. I haven’t made arrangements for where I’ll stay when I arrive, I climb into a taxi and simply say: Drive me somewhere I haven’t been before.

I open my eyes.

— Jan Grue, I Live a Life Like Yours: A Memoir. B. L. Crook (Translator). (FSG Originals, August 17, 2021)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Where would you begin?

Where would you end?

— Joyce Maynard, Count the Ways: A Novel (William Morrow (July 13, 2021)


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Compared to the alternate realities that could have happened, how can I want for anything more in this one?

— Gina Frangello, Blow Your House Down: A Story of Family, Feminism, and Treason (Counterpoint, April 6, 2021)

 


Notes: NY Times Editor’s Choice 9 New Books We Recommend This Week (May 13, 2021)

I am always on the edge of what I am doing

“I am always on the edge of what I am doing. I do everything badly, sloppily, to get it over with so that I can get on to the next thing that I will do badly and sloppily so that I can then do nothing – which I do anxiously, distractedly, wondering all the time if there isn’t something else I should be getting on with. … When I’m working, I’m wishing I was doing nothing and when I’m doing nothing I’m wondering if I should be working. I hurry through what I’ve got to do and then, when I’ve got nothing to do, I keep glancing at the clock, wishing it was time to go out. Then, when I’m out, I’m wondering how long it will be before I’m back home.”

—  Geoff Dyer, Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence


Inspired by: I picked up the book after reading “Vivian Gornick: ‘I Couldn’t Finish Michelle Obama’s Becoming‘: (The Guardian, March 26, 2021): “The last book that made me laugh Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer is a brilliant book. For me, the best thing he ever wrote. A little bit of genius, it made me laugh, and laugh, and laugh.”

Saturday Afternoon

What can be better than to get a book out on Saturday afternoon and thrust all mundane considerations away until next week.

—  C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 1. Family Letters, 1905-1931


Quote Source: delta-breezes

I’m only now starting to fully understand is that this is an inside job. It only works if I believe.

But what I’m only now starting to fully understand is that this is an inside job. It only works if I believe. I’ve always been confident, positive, doggedly determined; but doubt is beginning to mitigate my conviction. Who am I to think I can accomplish this, when so many have struggled with similar setbacks; some with Parkinson’s, some with the aftermath of spinal surgery? I may be the only one who has taken on this particular two-headed beast…

I have to learn to walk again; to reclaim my mobility, remaster my motion. I consider this fundamental to my therapy —  for me, it all starts and ends with walking. And I understand that it’s more complicated than that. So many tiny disciplines have to be observed, and neglected muscles and ligaments need to be restored. I’m exhausted by the effort I’ve already put in at Johns Hopkins, and daunted by how much work I still have to do. It’s like being nibbled to death by ducks.

Back in the days of carefree ambling, I would have considered the topic of walking to be rather pedestrian. Now the acts of stepping, strolling, hiking, and perambulating have become an obsession. I watch Esmé gliding through the kitchen, grabbing an apple while opening the fridge door for a coconut water, closing it with a quick shift of her hip and pirouetting out the swinging door at the other end of the room. Down in the lobby, my neighbor and her daughter are quickstepping to catch a taxi. I spy on a man walking with a slight limp, which he counterbalances with a bag of groceries. I secretly watch the way they all move. Easy, breezy, catlike, or with a limp, every one of them is far better at it than me. It may be that the most difficult, miraculous thing we do, physically, is to walk…

It’s tough. With PD and the aftermath of the surgery, something as simple as remaining upright is often sabotaged by a rogue army of misfiring neurons. I try to stay organized. I have memorized a litany of admonitions, not unlike my golfer’s list of swing thoughts: Keep my head centered over my hips; hips over my knees; no hyperextending; stay in line with my feet; eyes forward; shoulders back; chest out; lead with the pelvis. All of this kinetic vigilance can dissolve in a nanosecond of panic, or come apart with some other distraction. A tiny nervous jolt or spasm, and like a house of cards in a sudden gust of wind, the only messages that make it through the debris are: Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Don’t fall

—  Michael J. Fox, No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality (Flatiron Books, November 17, 2020)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

I started listening to this book on Audible during my morning walk last week. I had just completed the introduction and told Self: “This is a book you’ll never forget.

And YOU will likely say, why should I bother. Or as a line from Nestor’s intro says: “But why do I need to learn how to breathe? I’ve been breathing my whole life.”

Exactly what I said.

Now, I can’t get this book out of my head.

Every breath, a gift.


Excerpts from the Introduction:

“90 percent of us—very likely me, you, and almost everyone you know—is breathing incorrectly and that this failure is either causing or aggravating a laundry list of chronic diseases… This work was upending long-held beliefs in Western medical science. Yes, breathing in different patterns really can influence our body weight and overall health. Yes, how we breathe…

This book is a scientific adventure into the lost art and science of breathing. It explores the transformation that occurs inside our bodies every 3.3 seconds, the time it takes the average person to inhale and exhale…

It will take the average reader about 10,000 breaths to read from here to the end of the book. If I’ve done my job correctly, starting now, with every breath you take, you’ll have a deeper understanding of breathing and how best to do it. Twenty times a minute, ten times, through the mouth, nose, tracheostomy, or breathing tube, it’s not all the same. How we breathe really matters…

By your 3,000th breath, you’ll know the basics of restorative breathing…

By your 6,000th breath, you will have moved into the land of serious, conscious breathing…

By your 8,000th breath, you’ll have pushed even deeper into the body to tap, of all things, the nervous system…

By your 10,000th breath, and the close of this book, you and I will know how the air that enters your lungs affects every moment of your life and how to harness it to its full potential until your final breath…

By the law of averages, you will take 670 million breaths in your lifetime. Maybe you’ve already taken half of those. Maybe you’re on breath 669,000,000. Maybe you’d like to take a few million more.”

James Nestor, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art (Riverhead Books, May 26, 2020)


Notes:

T.G.I.F.: Freedom

“I was reading Kierkegaard while waiting to pick up my children from school. I wished I could wave some mother out of her idling vehicle and show her the passage. Reading, however, is a kind of private freedom: out of time, out of place.”

~ Yiyun Li, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life

 


Photo: Elena with Reading

Some days I am very raw, as though my outer layers have been peeled away

Some days I am very raw, as though my outer layers have been peeled away, exposing the new parts of myself to the wind and the sea spray… I feel very sensitive to different consistencies of light. The speed of the wind. The pull of my clothes against my arms. Everything has a texture. I had stopped noticing it. I have a new pleasure in holding objects. A cold, round apple is solid in the palm of my hand. I stroke the smooth, hard squares of Scrabble letters. I run my fingers over the rough wooden surface of the table. I wonder if this is how my mother felt when we came here during those long, brooding summers.

~ Jessica Andrews, Saltwater: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 14, 2020)

I loved it. Recommended for you? Hmmmm. Read a Kindle sample to get a taste.


Notes:

Read: Dear Edward

Just before lunch service, Veronica takes a short break in the front corner of the cabin, next to the kitchen… Wind is what she misses most, up in the sky. The airplane air isn’t as bad as passengers say it is; she never likes when people spout opinions without bothering to gather the facts first. Airplanes take about 50 percent of the air collected in the outtake valves of the passenger compartment and mix it with fresh air from outside. The air is then passed through filters to be sterilized before it’s introduced to the passengers. So the air on the plane is clean, and not worthy of complaint, but still, Veronica can taste the effort in it. Every time she leaves an airport, she appreciates the unpredictability of each inhale. There might be a soft gust of wind, or the smell of popcorn, or the heaviness that precedes a rainstorm. She notices nuances in the air that everyone else is immune to, with the exception of submariners, probably, and astronauts. People for whom the earth is not enough; their freedom is off the ground. Veronica enjoys the unbridled nature of the outside world in small doses, but this is her home. She is the fullest version of herself at thirty thousand feet.

~ Ann Napolitano, Dear Edward: A Novel (The Dial Press, January 6, 2020)

Highly Recommended.


Notes:

Sunday Morning

I want to be a monk because I think that would be a very good use of me, he continued. Does that sound strange? It sounds a bit arrogant, I suppose. I don’t mean to be arrogant. I want to be an implement. Something like a shovel with a beard. If I live with humility and intent, if I do what I do well and gracefully, that is good. Beyond that I cannot go. When I speak to children they will ask me things like, if I do enough good, and other people do good, then the good stacks up, right? and the good eventually beats the bad, right? and I cannot say this is so. I am not very interested in speculation about such things. I was never interested in theology. I think theology is an attempt to make sense of that to which sense does not apply. I cannot explain why I hope that what I do matters; all I can do is do what I do, either well or ill, patiently or not, gracefully or not. And I do find that doing things mindfully, patiently, easefully, makes the task far more interesting. I love to cut the grass here, for I sometimes come to a sort of understanding with the grass, and the hill, and the creatures in the grass, and with my legs and arms and back, a sort of silent conversation in which we all communicate easily and thoroughly. Do you have any idea of what I mean with all this?

~ Brian Doyle, from “Because It’s Hard” in “One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder” (Little, Brown and Company, December 3, 2019)


Notes:

Move it up. Top of your list. Now.

She was, quite simply, a nice lady who’d raised a family and now lived quietly with her cats and grew vegetables. This was both nothing and everything.

~ Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

 

 

Look at you: You are no accident.

Your face: the eyes…the line of your nose; that lickerish mouth, one moment tight with fear, overtaken the next by fountainous laughter … Always faces, tens of thousands across a career, each one made up of countless micro-expressions that register everything; more liminal than a blood test, less decisive than a lumbar puncture, but meaningful all the same…

We are skull-jumpers; there is no limit to our identificatory capacity. Your face, voice, breath continue their unfolding, each now different from the last, changed beyond recognition in the two hours since we first met. Looking: more intimate than any physical examination. The voltage switches once more, symptoms pooling between us, tributaries of some larger untold story…The intensity of neuronal activation is processed through deep limbic structures, and when intensity exceeds a genetically defined threshold it leads to activation of the autonomic nervous system, triggering unconscious automatic changes in cardiovascular and respiratory systems—readying us to fight, to flee, to freeze, to love. We are sensitive; we have no choice. Look at you: You are no accident.

~ A. K. Benjamin, from his new book titled Let Me Not Be Mad: My Story of Unraveling Mind (Dutton, June 11, 2019)


Notes:

Sunday Morning

Why is it any more ennobling for someone to claim to be a person of faith rather than a person of doubt? I like people of doubt. I like people who question what the hell is going on. St. Thomas is my favorite apostle, even if he was wrong. Galileo smelled a rat, and he was right. It doesn’t matter what you believe; it only matters how you behave. Or as it so succinctly says in Christian scripture, “Faith without works is dead.” Believe what you like, but this is what I believe. God, if there is one, speaks and expresses Herself through a group of people who the great becardiganed philosopher Fred Rogers called “helpers.” […]

Helpers are people who try to make life more bearable for those who are suffering. They are people who try to clean up the mess, are tolerant of the weak-minded, and resist those who would exploit others for their pleasure or profit. […]

So if I have a religion it’s in appreciation of helpers, whoever they happen to be at the time. I’ve tried not believing in God, but that’s just as hard as swallowing all of the liturgical mumbo jumbo. I don’t know who or what composed our universe, but I’m not sure that matters anyway. I suspect that any real spiritual peace lies in simply being a decent human being. Or at least trying to be.

~ Craig Ferguson, from “The Helpers” in Riding the Elephant: A Memoir of Altercations, Humiliations, Hallucinations, and Observations (Blue Rider Press; May 7, 2019)


Portrait: AT&T Performance Arts Center

Plook

By 4:30 the following morning, when I got up…a massive zit—or “plook” as they are known in the common parlance of my people—was threatening beneath the skin on the tip of my nose. It was not yet visible to anyone else…

“Yuv goat a plook,” he told me, helpfully, in his urbane Falkirk accent. The mere fact that he had spoken at all was an indication of the magnitude of the problem. Bob was not given to personal remarks.

Ignoring the bustle of the kitchen where my brother and sisters were having breakfast, I headed to the bathroom to see what I was dealing with. I have never encountered anything like it to this day. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop or Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic would be hard pressed to re-create this pus-filled behemoth. Technically it was one plook, but it had three heads. Three creamy peaks that looked as though they could erupt at any moment. The slopes of this organic mountain were greasy and bloodred. It seemed to pulse or throb. It was as if it had a life force all its own. It was a sentient being. A demon plook visiting this realm to consume and destroy. The Cthulhu Spot. Voodoo Acne. Black magic was upon me.

I knew I must not touch the beast, but I couldn’t help myself. My index fingers approached it in the familiar pincer movement and almost before I made contact it burst into a cascade of foul custard, splattering the mirror with its first ejaculation, then oozing like a river of smooth vomit from the end of my nose. Now I was committed; the dam had been broken and I had to see this thing through to the grisly, bitter end. My fingers squeezed tighter and the pressure produced more of the foul lava, mixed now with fresh red blood—runny sunny-side-up egg yolk and ketchup. The pain was excruciating, but I didn’t care. It was that fucker or me. My eyes ran with tears as I milked and squeezed and pressured and wrestled until all its revolting innards lay across the bathroom sink, an abstract postcard of hell.

I felt the momentary satisfaction of besting a formidable and hated enemy, but very quickly the remorse set in. I squeezed the giant red stump on the end of my nose to see if somehow that would remove it, but I was just pouring gasoline on the fire. All that I was doing was creating more swelling. I looked in the mirror at the damage and knew that I could not possibly be seen in public like this. I could not go to school. I would become an outcast, ridiculed, rejected, and despised. There was no way Dawn Harrison could see me in this state. It was too early in our relationship. We hadn’t even started a relationship. Had we been married fifteen years it would have been too early in our relationship. I could not even be seen by my siblings or my parents. My nose, or what was left of it after the Battle of Poisoned Boil, was three times its normal size and the bright vermilion red otherwise seen only on a baboon’s anus. It was an extreme emergency, so I had to do what all resourceful schoolkids do in such situations. Feign diarrhea.

Normally my mother would not have bought such an obvious con to stay off school, but the desperation in my voice sold the swindle, or at least convinced her that I wasn’t just faking. She handed me a glass of water through the door, which I opened sufficiently to let her see my face. “What happened?” she whispered, looking at my nose in awe.

“I squeezed a plook and it kind of went bad.”

~ Craig Ferguson, Riding the Elephant: A Memoir of Altercations, Humiliations, Hallucinations, and Observations (Blue Rider Press; May 7, 2019)

how easy it can be to find your own quiet place

Q: Is the image based on something you saw? How did it come to you?

“More than being based on something I saw, I would say it comes from something I experience often. I was trying to capture the feeling of being immersed in a book to the exclusion of everything around you. I think my love for reading comes more from the need to connect with my inner reality than from the desire to escape the external one. Proust described it perfectly as “that fertile miracle of communication that takes effect in solitude.” …

My first time in New York was in 2010, when I spent three months there, during the winter. My most vivid memories are connected to that first stay. I remember big blue skies, ice-cold feet, hot black coffees, fresh bagels, and huge pizza slices.

The gif was animated by the talented Jose Lorenzo. I often collaborate with him—I love the way he brings my images to life. We didn’t want the image to be too frenetic. For me, it was important to maintain that feeling of peace and timelessness that happens when you’re reading. I also wanted to show how easy it can be to find your own quiet place in the city without having to go far out of your way.”

Anna Pariniin response a question from , on this week’s cover in The New Yorker, which shows a rare moment of calm amid the bustle of a new year.  Parini, who has contributed illustrations to the magazine since 2015, grew up in Milan but is now based in Barcelona. Mouly spoke to Parini about New York’s wintry charms and the process of creating an animated cover image.

(Source: Anna Parini’s “A New Leaf”, The New Yorker, January 7, 2019)

The Cost of Living

To strip the wallpaper off the fairy tale of The Family House in which the comfort and happiness of men and children have been the priority is to find behind it an unthanked, unloved, neglected, exhausted woman. It requires skill, time, dedication and empathy to create a home that everyone enjoys and that functions well. Above all else, it is an act of immense generosity to be the architect of everyone else’s well-being.

~ Deborah Levy, The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography (July 2018)


Book Review of Deborah Levy’s “The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography by Lauren Oyler can be found at The New Republic (July 26, 2018) titled: How to Live and Write Alone. An excerpt from the book review: “Aphorisms that would usually be heavy-handed (“If we cannot at least imagine we are free, we are living a life that is wrong for us”) also breeze past; only later do you realize you’ve been self-helped.”

Here’s another from Levy’s book: “It begins with knowing and not knowing, a glass of milk, rain, a reproach, a door slammed shut, a mother’s sharp tongue, a snail, a wish, bitten fingernails, an open window. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is unbearable. What was ‘it’? I don’t know.

Highly Recommended.

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