Thoughts from an Old Me

New year, new me!

NO.

New year, same old me.

On New Years Eve, Evan and I observe the (German?) tradition of leaving coins outside throughout the night to symbolize leaving your troubles behind.  Bringing the coins inside on New Years Day symbolizes bringing money and happiness into your home throughout the year.  Four years ago, when we first observed this tradition, I had just left my job as a teacher and took an 80% pay cut so that I wasn’t crying on my way home from work everyday and giving myself a stomach ulcer.  I had also just moved to Pittsburgh, so I was feeling the burden of an empty wallet.

It would have been nice if my coins on the back porch had multiplied overnight. Obviously, they did not.

But observing this tradition this year, I realized that every year I’ve observed this tradition, I’ve received a nice raise or moved on to a higher paying job.

If I was a superstitious person…I’m not a superstitious person.

For four years, I have fought for happiness, meaning, balance, truth, love, purpose, and health. I have FOUGHT – struggled, cried, fallen, risen – but I have consistently gotten closer to my goals. I have learned to regret nothing, appreciate everything, learn from failure, work hard for and absorb success, and most of all, to always feel blessed because I am blessed. My life is nothing like what I thought it would be like ten years ago, five years ago…heck, even two years ago. But it’s my life and I love it and that’s what matters.

If I was superstitious, I’d forget about all of my hard work.  I’d forget the struggle.  I’d forget the pain, fear, anxiety, doubt, self-hatred, etc.  I’d reinvent myself as a whole new person because I wouldn’t want to remember that struggle.  But in forgetting the bad, I’d also lose all the joy, success, love, and hope I’ve experienced.

So I don’t want a new year, new me.  I like the old me.  It’s gotten me here, and I really like here.  I have a wonderful job in a field that challenges me and gives me purpose.  I’m engaged to be married to a wonderful man who loves me (I really don’t know why), cooks for me (and even cleans up!), doesn’t put the toilet seat down but really does have the best intentions, and has let me figure out who I really am and how to get there without wavering in his support.  I am blessed with two parents who have always given me the best advice, let me make mistakes, let me figure out how to fix the mistake, and been there when I really couldn’t dig myself out of the hole of mistakes I had created.  And myriad friends, acquaintances, etc. who always have my back and know how to keep me sane.

I have a seriously beautiful life, and it’s all because I’ve struggled and fought on.

We get so caught up in trying to reinvent ourselves.  We are a future-oriented society, and that’s great, but sometimes you have to see your past to see how bright your present has become.

As you embark on a new journey in this new year (new decade, yikes!), keep your old self, but make it better.  Make your resolutions, your goals, your intentions – whatever you prefer.  Change your habits, change your life, but don’t forget how you got here in the first place.  Even if your “here” isn’t great, it still matters.  From here, you can go anywhere.

Cheers!

-Kelly

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

The Pagemaster

As a kid, I never watched Maurice Hunt's "The Pagemaster." In fact, I had never even heard of it until recently, when I started working at B&N. My coworkers were shocked at my lack of knowledge or opinion on the movie. With a cast of characters to nerd-out and die for – Macaulay Culkin, Christopher Lloyd, Patrick Stewart (just to name a few) – and a plot that features BOOKS! Glorious BOOKS!, I was ashamed of myself. Why hadn't I seen this movie, or at least known that it existed?

So, I watched it.

Some of the magic was there.

Some.

Most of the time, though, I was irritated by the coloring and the weird coloring changes that happened throughout. Maybe I was a little jaded because I'm not a kid anymore, or perhaps it was because I stumbled across a drinking game before even viewing the film. (There's nothing like a drinking game to call out a movie's flaws and quirks). I will say that I was perfectly sober throughout the viewing – though maybe I would have liked it more with a bit of rum in me. The pirate scenes would have been more fun at least!

Even though I wasn't thrilled with the film, I did find myself wanting more at the end of it. It was too short – the stories too abundant and the time spent on each was far too short.

Unfortunately, there were no major epiphanies.

But there were some really cool parts:
1. The painting
2. Christopher Lloyd as the dejected Mr. Dewey
3. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scene – FTW!
4. The story arc
A. A reluctant hero
B. A mentor
C. A journey of trials with friends to help along the way
D. The belly of the beast (literally!) where the reluctant hero comes into his own
E. A return to a slightly changed status quo

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It was quirky, overdone, and perfect for relaxing at the end of a stressful day. I'll probably never watch it again, but at least now, I can say I have. Though my co-workers won't appreciate my review of "lack-luster," I can, at least, and in my own defense, mention that I was "not a kid" when I first viewed it.

Book Slump

I have been in a bit of a book slump as of late, but I am slowly clawing my way out of the rubble.

This is how it happened:
1. I discovered the freedom of creating a DNF shelf on Goodreads.
2. I DNF'd my first book. (more on this is a bit)
3. I felt this heady sense of power and shameless awe.
4. I moved on to the next book.
5. Two chapters in, I became bored.
6. I put down the book.
7. Repeat steps 5 & 6 a few times.
8. I wanted to DNF the books.
9. I didn't.
10. I became stuck.

So how did I get out?

I read something completely different than what I normally read, Simon Fitzmaurice's memoir, It's Not Yet Dark. (You can see my blog post on this stunningly honest and powerful book below.)

You see, I created a world of power and a world without purpose all at once when I created that DNF shelf. I empowered myself to make the decision to quit reading a book and never go back, when I've always vowed to at least come back to it and begin it again after a bit. But the book I was reading, The Bronte Plot, by Katherine Reay, was just so not my thing. It was slow, plodding, and overly detailed, and it was killing my soul. I hate to dis an author's work, and I would never discourage someone from reading The Bronte Plot, but it just wasn't for me. And so, it prompted me to create the anomalous DNF shelf.

It was a thrill.

But it killed my momentum. Up until that point, I hadn't had a "bad" book all year – really since the Autumn of 2016. And deciding to give up on a book that was a…challenge, hurt my since of pride…I think.

It also gave me a cop-out. And that was perhaps the biggest failing of my short-lived DNF shelf. When I became bored with a book, I would just tell myself, "You don't have to be a book martyr anymore. Just DNF it. Don't say you're going to go back to it. You don't have time for that. Just DNF it." Well, that didn't sit quite right with me, and I'd refuse, but I'd also refuse to put it down and save it for later.

It just so happens that one of the books I was reading, but not completely in love with, was recommended by a co-worker – a very important co-worker – and I felt I had to read it. But it wasn't right for me. What really unsettled me, though, was that I normally would have devoured the book, so I kept reading, and I kept hating it.

I literally built up a resentment towards this book. Does that make sense? Do I need help?

I didn't want to pick it up, or look at it. I just wanted to DNF it, but I couldn't, because I knew I would normally have liked the book.

SO I QUIT READING.

WHAT?!?

It was only for a couple of days, but still. It felt like an eternity in Hell.

The DNF shelf was a horrible idea.

Empowering in the moment, but destructive and momentum-killing in the long run.

Let this serve as a warning.

-Kelly

Review – It’s Not Yet Dark

It's Not Yet Dark, a memoir by Irishman Simon Fitzmaurice, is at once simple and stunning. Fitzmaurice's voice shines through the text, uninhibited by complicated language or metaphor. He tells it like it is. He tells what he feels, has experienced, and dreams of one day accomplishing.

A young film-writer, Fitzmaurice was diagnosed with ALS in 2008 and given just four years to live. Before the four years were up, he was nearly completely paralyzed and had suffered from respiratory failure. In Ireland, that's typically speech for "dead-man." As Fitzmaurice writes, there's generally very little choice in the matter of life and death for a person with ALS in Ireland. It's a death sentence – and the health network there prepares the unfortunate person for their unfortunate demise. It's actually a fluke the Fitzmaurice was put on a ventilator in the hospital when his lungs failed. Given life, he fought for it, and went home weeks later, weakened, but breathing with an at-home ventilator.

It's now 2017, and for Fitzmaurice, it is not yet dark. He uses computer technology to write and communicate by movements produced by his eyes – one of the few parts of his body still functioning. He has labored against all odds and has come out on the other side, battered and changed, but still successful. Since being diagnosed, he and his wife have had a set of twins, and he has written a film for the Sundance Film Festival.

This man is unstoppable.

His memoir is funny, enlightening, sometimes macabre, and always honest. He puts challenge into perspective, always choosing life and love. One of my favorite quotes, "Hope is a way of living. We often think we are entitled to a long and fruitful Coca-Cola life. But life is a privilege, not a right. I feel privileged to be alive. That's hope" (p. 92) shows the essence of this memoir. Even though Fitzmaurice has experienced fear, regret, self-loathing, and sheer terror, he has accepted the challenge of living with ALS.

I would recommend this book to anyone. Anyone.

This memoir was previously published in Ireland to widespread acclaim, and was just published in the US by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on August 1, 2017.

Choosing the Challenge

When a written phrase resonates with you, your whole body electrifies: your mind sharpens, your eyes widen, your back gets a little straighter and you sit up in your chair. For the most part, literature resonates with me. But tonight, something Jens Voigt says in his autobiography, Shut Up Legs!, really made me tune in to what he was saying.

Jens Voigt is a retired professional cyclist. I first heard his name while watching Le Tour. He has an enigmatic personality – funny, bright, very sure of himself but not egotistical, and tough (in a you-can't-break-me kind of way). While reading his book, I can hear his German accent, picture his smirky smile, and apply a lot of what he has to say about his career and cycling to my own life.

In chapter 6, "Cycling's Big Time," (I don't have pages because I'm reading on my e-reader), he writes, "The money is a nice by-product. It's a nice bonus. But what really counts is proving to yourself that you have what it takes. At least that was what mattered to me." Of course, Jens is writing about his first, big pro contract with Team GAN. He could have stayed in his native Germany, on a smaller team that ran smaller races…FOR MORE MONEY…but would have been "mad and miserable" if he did not take the contract in France. Jens chose the challenge because it would make him happier, better, stronger.

This is what I would like everyone to understand: YOU HAVE TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU. Don't worry about the money. Do what will make you happy. Everything else will work out in the end. You don't have to be famous for this to apply. Nor do you have to be a professional athlete.

If you follow my blog, you know that I used to teach and gave up that career because I, myself, was "mad and miserable." I chose instead to become a bookseller. (Books also feature in Shut Up Legs!, much to my pleasure.) I don't make near as much money, but I spend my days doing something that I whole-heartedly love. I come home feeling empowered rather than embittered. That is what matters.

You only have one life…Live it. Love it. Be happy with it.

Choose to be challenged.

Thank you, Jens, for your sparkling words of wisdom. Always attack.

-Kelly

The Luster of Lost Things by Sophie Chen Keller

The first novel from writer Sophie Chen Keller, The Luster of Lost Things reads like a fluid fairy tale, a homage to the people of New York, and a coming of age story that will delight readers everywhere. There is so much to love in Keller's debut from Putnam, a division of Penguin Random House. Due to hit bookstores on August 8, 2017, The Luster of Lost Things will be a delicious way to end the summer.

The narrative follows young Walter Lavender, Jr., who has lost much, but is a prodigy of finding. Nearly mute, he uses his silence to observe the world around him, picking out details, and gently climbing his way into the hearts of those he meets and the readers who follow his journey. At home, at first, in his mother's bakery, The Lavenders, Walter exists in a world of magic – vol at vent mice skip in the display case, jumping double Dutch with strings of licorice, while glazed chocolate cake reveals, in the mirror of its icing, the best traits about the eater, and marzipan dragons puff smoke in their sleep. The bakery is warm and safe, providing a net as Walter rushes off to help the desperate of the city find what they have lost.

When the Book that keeps The Lavenders in business suddenly goes missing, Walter finds himself on a hero's journey to find his own lost possessions. With the landlord threatening to close down the bakery, Walter skips school and finds the world of New York open to him as he follows the trail of the Book…and establishes important truths about the city he inhabits, the people who inhabit it with him, and most importantly, himself.

The Luster of Lost Things contains a multitude of truths about humanity. The fear of the unknown is prevalent throughout the ups and downs, literal highs and lows, but there is also that pervasive comfort of home. Walter knows what he is looking for, living for, and fighting for.

It is impossible, however, for me to rate this book. The beginning is eloquent, the end, enthusiastic and lustrous. But the middle , Walter's journey into the unknown, seems formulaic and just slightly lack-luster (forgive the pun). This is, in part, my own fault. I have continually researched Joseph Campbell's theory of the hero's journey, and I might have looked at Walter as a hero on a journey – thus creating the formula myself. That is the beauty, however, of Keller's debut. The Luster of Lost Things follows a pattern we all know; it encompasses a story we can all relate to.

As a bookseller, and as a reader, I would recommend this book in a heartbeat. It's eloquence, poise, and adventure offers something for everyone. It is a little bit of magic in an ordinary world, and that is all it takes to make something merely ordinary, simply magical. I greatly enjoyed this sumptuous read.

Oh July!

July is always a crazy time of year. Even when I was teaching, and had summers off, July was a time for summer community theater, high school marching band parade season, and many other teacher-y things like conferences, lesson planning, etc. On top of that, I was completing a Master's, challenging myself to read more…and most importantly, diligently following Le Tour de France. Yes, I'm a TDF junkie. In fact, cycling in July overtakes the top spot. You might shun me for saying it, but yes, it's more important than reading. Shhh….

Working 40 hours a week, taking care of a house, cooking meals (thank goodness for Evan who does most of the cooking as long as I do the grocery shopping), looking after a crazy mutt, and continuing a rigorous reading journey, this July has been particularly wearying.

But, as I'm watching some of my favorite ever riders pedal toward des Champs-Elysees in Paris, I can't help but feel sad that the Tour is over. It's been an incredible year: just three Americans started the race and all three will finish in Paris, Chris Froome will take his fourth ever maillot jaune (yellow jersey, best time, first place) and this third consecutive win in the Tour. Tommy Voeckler, a favorite since I began watching the Tour regularly, is celebrating his final ride in the 104th edition of this particular grand tour. It's been a crazy ride – though not as crazy as Froome's run (literal run) up Mont Ventoux last year. I'll miss Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin, along with Bob Roll and Christian Vande Velde commentating on the racing, the riders, and even the whimsical landscapes and crazed fans.

I hope to one day get to France to follow the Tour in person. It's one of the few things I can say is actually on my bucket list.

In the meantime, though, I'll continue to watch from the comfort of my air-conditioned living room and read voraciously during the commercials.

As the riders drink champagne today, and pose for pictures with their teammates and friends on the bike, I'll celebrate with my own glass of wine and enjoy the ride into the finish.

Cheers!

I’m BAAACCCKKKK!!

And more annoying than ever! I’m writing this on my brand new keyboard, that will actually connect to my iPad, so I don’t have to worry about pictures, computers, importing, finding my laptop, etc. Huzzah!

A LOT has been going on. Most notably, I’ve discovered me. I am happy. I no longer question (or at least, I no longer question my decision to quit teaching. I quit because I didn’t like it. I was searching for fulfillment, and it just didn’t do it for me. I feel fulfilled doing what I’m doing now. I’m going somewhere. I’m advancing. I’m learning something that is significantly out of my comfort zone – like numbers, and accounting. I’m learning about business, something I’d never thought about pursuing, but it’s opening up new gates for me. It’s lovely.

I’m also trying gardening. I have little patience, but I’m happy with what’s happening…though my garden very badly needs weeded. Stupid crab grass!!! BUT here’s some beauty for you today:

IMG_4970I’ve also been reading…and reading…and reading. I’ve been reading books I KNOW I’ll like, and books that I DON’T KNOW IF I WILL LIKE. Why? Because life is short and I want to read everything. And because my reading is kinda sorta all over the place, I’ve been having one of my best reading years ever. I also learned that it’s okay to put down a book and say that you’re never going back to it because it was just that bad. It was exhilarating to create a DNF shelf on Goodreads. It was thrilling!

So, even though it’s been a minute, I’ve still been thinking about this blog. I’m making a pact with myself to post at least two times a week, and post about whatever makes me tick – whether it’s the book I’m currently reading, a random thought, the book I loved or hated, my writing (which I need to do way more of), something I’m passionate about, or a commentary on a podcast, interview, blog post, etc. that I recently listened to.

I need to continue to open up my life, and I’m hoping this blog will help me do it. I’m doing this for myself and not for the likes, the follows, or the comments, even though I do care about what you have to say. Comment away!

An Introvert’s Conundrum

I have, for a very long time, always described myself as an introvert. I dislike large groups of people, gravitate to corners at parties and restaurants, need significant alone time after a gathering, and often make plans only to abandon them at the last second due to anxiety and a desire for a good book, movie, or (the beautiful, wonderful, best but worst thing ever) Netflix.

But, if forced into a situation, or on the rare occasion that I actually willing submit, I find myself greatly enjoying the experience. I just have to jump in. I’ve found that I’m unlikely to start a conversation with someone and that I’m horrible at small talk, but if someone starts a conversation with me and lands on one of the myriad topics I’m passionate about, I will happily talk to a perfect stranger, most of the time nameless because introductions stress me out and I tend to blank out, for minutes and even an hour.

Why?

Is it simply because I’m passionate, or is it something else?

Let me give an example. 


On Sunday, Evan and I went for an easy hike with Venture Outdoors, a Pittsburgh organization whose aim is to show of the Pittsburgh area’s outdoor possibilities and get people outside in a safe environment. I love this organization. We traversed a few of the many acres of Schenley Park, right at the edge of Oakland and Pitt’s main campus. 


There were approximately 15 people in our group, all chatty, and for the first 20 minutes, I spoke to only Evan, and briefly with one of the guides who attempted some small talk. I hate small talk.

Convinced that no good conversation was going to come from this trip, I made my way to the front of the group so that I wouldn’t feel bad about, or obligated to make, small talk. Jeesh. It was at the front of the group, however, that the trip leader brought up a puppy she was going to adopt. And from there, an hour passed in happy conversation with the leader and another hiker about dogs and their idiosyncrasies. 

Dogs are great.

But that’s not the point here.

Is this normal? Is this caused by my introverted-ness? Am I selfish? What is it?

Maybe it’s a combination of all of these factors. 

In some ways, I do feel that small talk is a waste of valuable time. Many would say that it’s better than nothing or being bored, but I say it’s a barrier to thought. I love being in my own head. I think up lots of wonderful, crazy, thought-provoking questions and ideas. My favorite, why is color so important, or, what makes humans believe that they can mete out justice and punishment with accuracy and authority? (Thanks Albert Camus.) This selfishness could also be caused by my personality…I’m an introvert. Period. I don’t know how else to put that.

The point is, I had a lovely hike with some great conversation and discussion. I also had a wonderful book club meeting that evening where some truly deep discussions were held about life and happiness and choices.

I was anxious about going to both events. Standoff-ish and quiet at first, and then chatty and fulfilled during and after both. The day after, I was super protective of my “me-time” as I wound down from the excitement.

And already, even though in the back of my mind I know I’ll enjoy it, I’m already dreading my next outing and book club meeting next month.

Help!?

A Commentary on Our Society – A Man Called Ove by Frederick Backman

Genre: literary fiction

Themes/Motifs: death, grief, loving, living, hope, change, forgiveness 

Similar Media: Up

Tone: hopeful

I read this book at the beginning of 2017, and believe me, I started the year off right. A Man Called Ove is about a grumpy man, jaded and forgotten by society, who wants to die.  His life has no purpose at just 59 years old. But all that changes when a young, somewhat incompetent family moves in next door. They turn his world upside down.

It’s a cute story.

But it contains a huge commentary on society.

When the book begins, Ove is just 59 years old, has lost his wife, and has been thrown out of his job because his bosses believe he needs to rest. He’s only 59!! He has so much more life to live. He’s strong and capable and intelligent. He has common sense and knows how to get stuff done. But to society, he’s a washed-up old man, incapable of performing in a growing and evolving world. 

What does that say? 

It says we have no respect for the aging, blue collar worker. It says that handiwork is no longer necessary because the new age deals only with technology and the digital world. How wrong that is.

Our schools no longer teach many of the necessary tools for life and survival – cooking, sewing on a button, how to change a flat tire, how to pay bills, budget, or complete taxes. In Ove’s case, his next door neighbors don’t know how to back up a trailer, fix a broken window or radiator…Parvaneh doesn’t even know how to drive, even though she’s a mother of two with a third on the way.

If we don’t know how to do these things, how do we survive? 

We cannot de-value the fundamentals and expect our world to progress. We need to know how to survive in order to live and grow and change, just as we need to know how to spell and compose a sentence before we can write an essay…but that basic isn’t something we teach anymore either.

There’s been a huge push for bigger and better things, but we can’t have bigger and better without the smaller, basic, necessary pieces of the puzzle.

So many will say that A Man Called Ove is a cute book, but it’s so much more than that.