It’s very earnest, but damn, does it need an editor. Compelling story—I wanted to keep reading—but the technical problems outweighed the interest factor.
Anne’s audiobooks, which she narrates herself, are always comforting. This one’s not for everyone, but I enjoyed it. Good way to start the new year.
Yesterday afternoon my family and I took a drive around Sussex County, NJ, where we live. Lots of scenery—bare trees covering low and high mountains, farms with horses eating hay and drinking from a pond, a half-frozen reservoir where we stopped for a bit to stretch our legs at the edge of the mildly choppy water. And in the middle of nowhere, some construction company or other with a signboard out front that read:
The first rule of 2021
Don’t talk about 2020
Which made me laugh quite a lot. I love Fight Club, and I love random sayings on business signboards. And I even kind of love “2020 was so awful” jokes. Because it was awful in many ways, almost comically so at times. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any shittier, a new low reared its ugly head. Nothing was too rock bottom for 2020. You gotta at least admire its commitment to sucking so bad.
Of course, there has been the pandemic, and that’s no joke; in my house, it’s a constant source of anxiety and fear and sadness. We don’t go out much, and we rarely let anyone into our home, and it’s been that way since March 2020, when my job sent me to work at home for three weeks that has turned into eight months and counting. My nine-year-old son (well, he’ll be ten in a few days) hasn’t seen another child in person in that long either, except from afar on occasion as we take our walks around the neighborhood. We are essentially hermits. In my mind, it beats the alternative.
But to be honest, being at home so much has been pretty good for me. Despite all the misery in the world, I have managed to carve out a little bright spot for myself—which I feel bad saying, because how dare I feel good when so many others are suffering? I still watch CNN and doom scroll Twitter and take in all the stress-inducing news of the world; I’m not oblivious to what’s happening. And I definitely feel the horror and futility of what’s going on outside while I’m holed up in my cozy little house. Still. In 2020, I managed to feel a glimmer of something I hadn’t felt for a long, long time: happiness.
If you know me, you know my mental health is not always stable. There are bad times and times that are better, but in recent years it’s been mostly difficult. My mindset has become so negative; I expect everything to go wrong and worry endlessly about everything going wrong and spiral downward when something does go wrong (though what I anticipate—everything going wrong—never actually happens). And in the last year, somehow, I have managed to escape this vicious cycle. I have felt contentment; I have felt true joy. Mostly in the mundane moments of life: walking around the rooms of my house, which we moved into only a year and a half ago. Watching what we call “sad shows” (our favorites are Hoarders and My 600-lb. Life) on TV every night after dinner with my husband and son. Looking out the kitchen window while making coffee, hoping to see some of our resident deer family meandering through the woods. Maybe it is because of the state of the world these days, but I’ve found myself feeling so grateful for ordinary things. I don’t want to take any of it for granted.
A large part of this happiness, I know, has come from working at home. I am an anxious introvert, so not being in a crowded office with an open floor plan for 45+ hours per week has been a nice change. Some people complain about video calls and chat apps, but I could (and do) happily run my team of six copyeditors completely virtually. And I could do it indefinitely. I also don’t miss the hour-plus commute to the office. Morning traffic on Route 80 is as close to literal Hell as I ever hope to get. I’m saving miles on my car and the cost of gas; I can sleep an hour and a half later in the morning than when I was commuting. I get more time with my family. Even my job gets more out of me—I often spend the time I’d otherwise be driving home on my laptop. It’s really a win all around. And it’s taken a lot of constant, heavy weight off of my shoulders. Is it any wonder I’m feeling metaphorically lighter?
But as Vicky asked me during one of the college-roommate Zoom calls she mentioned in her top 100 list, what am I doing with all this good mood? Well, unfortunately, a whole lot of nothing. I’ve come to appreciate laziness in a way I never have before. Sitting around and doing nothing has always made me feel incredibly anxious—I always had to be doing something, usually working. If I wasn’t producing something in some way, I considered my time wasted. Now, I am quite content to watch TV and nap on the sofa every Saturday afternoon. In a way it’s good—I am really learning how to relax. In a way not, because I am getting nothing done. Nothing creative, anyway. I have sewing and crocheting projects I could be working on, blog posts I could be writing, bookbinding to do, a novel outline to flesh out. I’m doing none of it. And let’s not even talk about all the reading I’m not doing. I listen to an audiobook every once in a while when I’m cooking or loading the dishwasher, but even those I’m having trouble finishing.
At least, that’s how it was in 2020. But I’m ready for this sluggishness to come to an end in the coming year. If I have to be confined to my home, I want to come out of it at the end with something more to show than how many bad reality shows I binge watched. I need to work on that book outline. I have got to finish that blanket I started a year ago. And I definitely need to keep up with my Goodreads Reading Challenge (I won’t even mention how pitifully I did on it last year). In fact I have a long list of resolutions for 2021, some of which pertain to the topics of this blog, some that don’t. But all of them revolve around one thing: I need to do more. So that is going to be my word for the coming year: more. Whereas last year I might spend an hour once or twice a month writing, in 2021 I will make it a regular semi-weekly practice (I’d like to say daily, but I’m also trying to be realistic). Last year, I used the excuse that I worked so much as a reason to do nothing but veg out in my time off. This year, I will continue my commitment to my work and spend my free time pursuing other accomplishments. I will do more. Less time snoozing on the sofa, more time creating in my office/craft room. I know I have more to give to this world than working and sleeping. This is the year I will prove that to myself.
Just as good as The Hate U Give. Audiobook bonus: narrator Bahni Turpin rapping. #25wordbookreviews (link)
Nothing new; some of them are a reach (start a gratitude jar? Really?). Might be better to read weekly rather than straight through like me. #25wordbookreviews
PS – here’s a link to it if this review didn’t completely turn you off.
Her mother died of cancer. So did mine. That’s where our similarities end, so it was hard for me to relate. Great poetic writing, though. #25wordbookreviews
One of my favorite poets has died.
Here is her obituary in the NY Times.
And here is my favorite poem by her–possibly my favorite poem, period:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
On my radar this week:
Started the audiobook of Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Partially because I want to start off the year with something thoughtful, partly because I have a grudge against Brene Brown that I feel like I have to get rid of. I don’t know why. Anyway, I’m having some trouble focusing on it–I had to start the introduction over, and I keep having to go back a few minutes to relisten to what I just heard–but I’m hoping it will grow on me because seriously, I need to learn how to be more vulnerable and do some greatly daring things in my life.
What I really want to be reading:
I was planning to start this one on New Year’s Eve, but then the family party I went to ended up being interesting enough that I didn’t have to hide behind my Kindle. It would be a third reread for me in about as many years, but what can I say. It’s one of my favorite YA books. I’m trying to branch out from YA–hence the Brene Brown–but I have a feeling I’ll go back to it for this one soon.
Started but not likely to finish:
The premise sounded good, but it just hasn’t grabbed me. Sorry, universe. Might try it again later in the year, when I don’t have the pressure of “it’s the new year, you must read good, important books!” hanging over my head. I’m not the only one who feels that way, right?
It’s 1991, and I’m lying on my bed in my dorm room. I’m a freshman in college, and it’s the first time I’ve been on my own, away from my close but incredibly dysfunctional family. I’m making friends, sort of, but I don’t feel like I entirely click with my housemates. I’m shy. I’m overweight and nerdy. I tell myself I’m too different from everyone else. More serious, more play-by-the rules. I go to all my classes, do all my homework, study ahead of time for all my tests. I stay in my room listening to music on my headphones and reading while others are partying—loudly—in the room next door. I am not used to being social with people I don’t know, and truth be told, I don’t allow myself to fit in. It’s easier just to remain my little self-imposed bubble.
On the walls next to my bed, I have a variety of posters displaying my obsessions at the time—Depeche Mode and Thelma and Louise, pictures of Dracula-era Gary Oldman ripped out of magazines. And right next to where I lay my head on my pillow is a newspaper clipping of an article about my favorite author at the time: Peter Hedges. There’s even a photo of him. He’s the first writer I’ve ever hung a picture of on my wall. He’s not particularly good looking; I’m so inexperienced with boys, I don’t even have a type yet, but if I did, he wouldn’t be it. But to me he is magical. First, because we almost share a last name: mine is Hedge, just one letter away. Second, because he wrote the book I’m currently obsessed with, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
Why do I love this book so much? When I look back on it now, I’m not exactly sure. The story isn’t mind-blowing: Twenty-four-year-old Gilbert Grape lives in a small town in Iowa with his developmentally disabled brother, his two sisters, and his morbidly obese mother who never leaves the house, much less her favorite chair in the living room. He works at a grocery store. And truth be told, he’s kind of abhorrent. He’s having an affair with an older married woman. He falls in love with a fifteen-year-old girl. And within the first couple of pages of the book, he refers to his brother as “a retard” and his mom as “a porker.” Did these things bother me back in 1991? I don’t remember exactly, but I’m guessing no, because I was literally in love with this character and this book. I couldn’t relate to Gilbert in many ways, but the dysfunctional family? The sense of aimlessness of his life? His yearning for something more, something better? These aspects truly spoke to me. I was in college; I had some direction. But deep down I had no idea what I was doing. I went with the flow, kind of drifting from one thing to the next, keeping myself afloat on other people’s expectations. I had hopes, I had dreams, but at the same time I felt like nothing would ever change. Because I was afraid of change. That was the way I had been raised, and I had yet to break out of that familial mold.
I’m (much) older now, and though I haven’t read What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in a good twenty-five years or so, I still own the copy I read and reread back when I was in college. Because it meant that much to me. I plan to reread it this year; taking another look at my old favorites is one of my reading goals for 2019. At my current advanced age, though, I don’t know if I would get as much out of it as I used to. I have a feeling I’d find Gilbert kind of annoying, to be honest. But I’m going to give it a try anyway, to see if I can bring back a little of that magic it used to make me feel.