Category: Observations about Life


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I’m not old, and I’m not saying I am.  But I really don’t feel my age.  I have friends who are all different ages, including two who are still in their mid-20s.  I really do sometimes forget my age.  And then sometimes I’m reminded, and I have to laugh.

I have a 25-year-old friend who knows EVERYTHING.  He’s smart and makes good arguments.  So good, that I sometimes find myself wanting to believe what he’s saying, even when I know he’s not right.  As I listened to him say something the other day in that arrogant so-sure-I’m-right tone, I realized that I was listening to my 25 year-old-self.

I was really annoying.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m still a know-it-all.  But I’m able to keep my mouth firmly closed and my opinions to myself on occasion.  That’s what happens as you get older, I guess.  You learn that not every pearl of wisdom that enters your head needs to be shared with the world.

And that they’re not all pearls.

A long time ago, I remember reading that Dean Koontz hated some of his early novels and let them go out of print.  That he didn’t want them re-issued because he didn’t like them.  I thought he was crazy!  Why not let your early works be re-published?  If people want to read them, they can’t be bad.

With age comes wisdom.  I get it now.

I look at some of the stuff I wrote in my 20s and cringe.  I wasn’t a bad writer.  In fact, for school papers and stuff like that, I was way above average.  So much so that I thought my fiction writing must be exemplary as well.

It wasn’t.  At all.  Really.

I had an immature writing style, and yes, I have some things published online that I wish I could go back and edit, because they’re not as good as they could be.  But the thing is, that I believe that throughout our lives, we should constantly strive for improvement.  Perfection doesn’t exist, so all any of us can hope to do is be a little better today than we were yesterday.  As long as I’m striving for improvement, my writing will never be as good today as it will be tomorrow, and so on.  I can’t just keep going back and changing what I wrote; when would it end?

I enjoy writing.  Most of the time, it’s fun.  My goal is to keep it fresh and fun, and to write for myself first.  Maybe I won’t like what I wrote in the past; maybe I’ll see all the flaws.  But you know, I don’t think that matters.  Yeah, I was annoying at 25, but I wasn’t boring.  And as well all know, friends, boring is about the worst thing I can imagine being. I have great affection for my 25 year old self (even if I would sort of like to go back and slap her.)

So I’m older and wiser, and in another 10 years, I wonder what I’ll think of what I wrote today.

What I’m Reading

Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout– This book was chosen by a friend, and it’s an interesting premise… a novel told in short stories.  The novel is about Olive Kitteredge, but its sometimes told from other people’s points of view.  Sometimes the story is about someone else, and Olive only plays a small role.  As I read this book, I didn’t always like Olive, but I enjoyed getting a glimpse into different aspects of a complicated person.  It’s definitely worth borrowing.

Watchers by Dean Koontz-I’ve read this book so many times that I’ve lost count.  I discovered it when I was 12, and it’s been by favorite book ever since.  My relationship with this book has changed over the years.  When I was 12, I thought it was as perfect as a book could get, but as I’ve grown older (and maybe wiser), I’ve discovered that’s it’s not as perfect as I thought.  That’s okay; I love it unconditionally.  It’s like an old friend, and a visit with it never fails to cheer me up.  If you’ve never read this book, I absolutely recommend you remedy that ASAP.

Devoted in Death by JD Robb– This is book 41 of the In Death series.  First off, I’m in awe of Nora Roberts (JD Robb is her pseudonym for this series) for being able to write a 41 book series (and counting).  I love the characters, the romance, the crime drama.  It’s always fun and keeps me breathlessly turning pages.  Though all the In Death books are great, this is one of my favorites.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante-  This book came highly recommended by friends in my book club.  They tend to like more literary fiction than I do, but it sounded interesting enough to try.  It took me a long time to get into.  It’s a book about two girls and their relationship from childhood until they’re about 17.  As with many works of more general fiction, I felt like nothing happened for a long time.  The language was beautiful and the characters were interesting, but I did find myself wondering when something interesting would happen.  After awhile though, I did get involved in the story of these girls’ lives, and I really enjoyed it.  I came into it knowing it was a series.  About halfway through, I didn’t think I’d bother with the other books, but now that I finished the first one, I have to read the others.

If you’ve read any of these, what did you think of them?

Version 2I have too many books.

I know, I know.  Can you have too many books?  No, probably not.

But there comes a time when you (I) can’t fit them on the bookshelves anymore and might actually have to buy another house, just for books.  (And I’m exaggerating, but wouldn’t that be awesome?)

A couple of years ago, I made a commitment to only buy books that I wanted to reread.  I read 80-100 books a year, and while many of those are “new” books (as in, new to me), many of them are rereads.  I stuck with that commitment for a year or two.  When I moved, I did really well at reading exclusively on my Kindle.

Now, I like my Kindle.  I like the convenience of it.  I like that it’s light, and that I only need one hand to “turn” a page.  I like that it lays flat so that I can put it down and read hands-free.  I also like having lots of books with me, but not having to carry the physical weight of real books.

However.

I really like highlighting and writing in books.

When I was a kid, I hated that.  Even when we were supposed to highlight, like in books for college, it drove me crazy.  It felt destructive.  Now, I think that books are improved by highlighting and writing.  I love when I go to the used bookstore and find a gem that’s been written in.  It ties me to whoever had that book before me, like that 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, except that I won’t know who had the book before me and I’m not famous.

Anyway.

When I read The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern, I really liked the book, but it jumps around in the timeline, going back and forth.  I read it on my Kindle, and it drove be crazy because it’s not easy to go back and glance at the chapter before to see “when” that one takes place.  I ended up buying the book twice because I want to reread it in physical form.  I feel like I missed things in my first reading because of the issues with timeline.

This is not the only book I’ve purchased twice for this reason.  Some books, I purchase multiple times on purpose.  I have three copies of Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, including one on my Kindle.  Why?  I’ve read this book many, many times.  It’s one of my favorites, and I can pick up a copy, start reading anywhere and pass the time happily.

What about the library? you ask.

Another great question.

I love the library.  Love it.  My favorite use of the library is to read new books, during those times I can’t wait for the paperback.  Dean Koontz and JD Robb come to mind.

I discovered several great book series that way (Matched, Divergent, and The Mortal Instruments come to mind). However, when I realized I wanted to own two out of those three series, I put it off, feeling guilty about making the purchase.

And then one weekend (I’m a moody reader), I suddenly HAD TO read the Divergent series again.  No other book would do.  Because I developed this insatiable craving at night, I ended up purchasing the Kindle version.  Which was great, but I’m still going to purchase the physical book.

I read an article by a man who asked “What’s the point of reading a book that you don’t want to own?”

I don’t have to own every book I read.  I enjoy trashy romance novels at times, and I don’t feel the need to own every one I’ve ever read.  However, I do think there’s something to be said for owning books.  I get sentimental about my books, and I like to be able to browse my own shelves and come up with a book I’ve enjoyed.  Sometimes it’s nice to be able to look on the shelf for something I haven’t read before, and know that it’s there because I thought I’d like it.

So how about you?  Do you like to own your books or borrow them?

FlowersOnLedgeThe death of Alan Rickman got me to thinking about stories, and how important they are, in so many ways, to us all.

Everyone loves a good story, whether it’s one that’s been written down, acted out, or told.  Stories are one of the oldest forms of entertainment.  They’re endlessly flexible, and though the core of them has never changed (good vs. evil, love, etc), the way they are told does reflect the times.  Fiction has a way of holding up a mirror to what’s important in society.

Alan Rickman was a wonderful actor who played a myriad of parts, though he’s perhaps best known for his villains.  His death has led others to speak out about what a wonderful man and friend he was as well, something I didn’t give much thought to before his death.  To me he was Snape, Hans Gruber, the Metatron, the Sherrif of Nottingham, and so many other characters.

That’s the power that stories have.  Stories transport us from our everyday lives, and have the ability to speak truths more profound than if they were plainly stated.  There’s a reason why artists of every kind are important to a society, and why the stories they tell, if told well, overshadow the writer, the actor, the teller.  The tale is what’s important, and if told well, becomes alive.

Pride and Prejudice was first published in 1813.  That’s over 200 years ago.  Yet there have been dozens of movie and TV adaptations of it.  Most recently, a parody novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has been published and will be made into a movie.  The story takes the classic version and adds our currently cultural obsession.  There have been countless adaptations and spinoffs.  The story is timeless, and both Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are characters with lives of their own.  They’re not just names on paper; they’re living, breathing, people.  They’ve lived 200 years, and it’s unlikely that they’ll ever die.

I expect that Harry Potter will be the same way.  In our movie age, though, it’s likely that the books and the movies will always be merged, to an extent.  Who can picture Severus Snape without picturing Alan Rickman?  I can’t.  Will Alan Rickman still be Professor Snape 200 years from now?  Only time will tell, of course, but I’d like to believe that even if the movies are redone decades from now with fresh faces, Alan Rickman will always be the Snape that others are measured against.

There’s nothing I love better than a good story.  I want to be transported to different times and places.  I want to live inside someone else’s head for a little while, see through their eyes.  I love to talk to others about their stories, or the stories they love, or the stories they don’t love, and why.

I don’t want to hear about the weather; I want to hear about how the sun baked your skin, why you use sunblock (or don’t), what you think about vampires, and about whether or not you dance in the rain.

I don’t want to watch you use your cell phone while we’re at dinner; I want to hear about the last really great meal you had, whether or not you think you should have dessert first (because life’s short), whether or not you think that cell phones are secretly used by the government to listen to me talk about the weather, and how you use your phone to stay in touch with the people who are most important to you.

In other words, I’d rather hear you say something absurd than something mundane.  We’re all so in the habit of having safe conversations that we don’t say the really interesting things we’re thinking.  I’m wondering if people even have interesting thoughts anymore, or if cat videos are the current highlight of human insight.

Smile at me.  Say something absurd.  Tell me a story.

 

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Haters Gonna Hate– My thoughts on people meeting negativity with negativity.

I Bet 99% of You Won’t Repost This– This was actually published in 2014, but was my second most popular post of 2015.  Apparently I’m not the only one fed up with the new version of the chain letter.

But What If There Are Bad People– I don’t want to be controlled by fear, and I encourage you to think critically about how you let fear influence your decisions.

J is for Journals–  All about how I love journals but until recently, didn’t really write in them.

Q is for Quotes–  A few of my favorite quotes.

Walking Down Memory Lane– Reading my old diaries and thinking about the lost art of letter writing.

The Horrific, Awful, Rotten Truth About Being Fat– Being fat is not the worst thing a person can be.  Get over it.

I’m Fat… Now What?– How to deal with being body image in a superficial world.

Friday Writing Prompt: Nostalgia– This is apparently a popular post from way back in 2012.  I have no idea why this was popular in 2015… but it was.

I love to write, and I primarily write fiction because that’s what I enjoy reading.  I enjoy reading and writing stories.

Often in writing, we talk about plot driven fiction and character driven fiction.  Plot driven fiction is the type that’s focused on action and lots of stuff happening.  Character driven fiction is more about the characters in the world.

I’m more interested in character driven fiction.  That’s what I like to read, and that’s what I like to write.  I became a therapist because I’m interested in people.  I want to hear their stories and learn why they think and feel the way they do.

When I talk about social issues, it’s because I’m interested in the people having the issues, not the groups.  I care about the story of one homeless man, and the story of the refugee mother.

I’m intensely interested in people, especially those who can’t (or won’t) speak for themselves.  We have a lot of people who don’t have a voice, or who’s voice isn’t heard over the cacophony of social media.

When I write fiction, I write for entertainment first.  But a lot of my characters do struggle with other issues.  I think that the most interesting characters are ones who’ve triumphed over something.

It is really, really easy to believe the worst about someone based on what you assume.  It’s only when you sit down and listen to their stories that they become more sympathetic, and ultimately, more human.

That’s why I talk about social issues sometimes.  I care about the humans who get lost in the crowd.  I don’t want to tell anyone how to think, and I’m fine if people disagree with me.  I just want to offer up a different point of view, speak for the voiceless.

I’m no expert on politics or religion or other social issues.  I am, however, a sympathetic person who is good at caring about others.  I’m a work in progress who wants to be a little better every day.  I’m a writer who loves to be entertained, but also wants to remember that people matter.  Words matter.  If nothing else, try to make yours a little kinder today.

I’ve always been kind of a lazy reader.  I like to read, and I read a lot of books, which often impresses people.

But the fact is that I tend to read the same books over and over.  And over. I like visiting the same worlds and visiting my friends in those worlds repeatedly.  I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that I do this.  After all, the sheer number of words I read makes me a fast reader.  I sometimes discover new things in a book upon multiple readings.

A year or so ago, one of my friends invited me to join an online book club.  The book club chose books I wouldn’t have read on my own.  For instance, I probably wouldn’t have read Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I loved that book.  I’d never heard of Me Before You by JoJo Moyes.  Maybe I would have found it eventually, but without my book club, I wouldn’t have found it nearly as quickly as I did thanks to them.

This year, I found a reading challenge that I joined.  There were 12 categories on the list, and I only did 10 of 12 books.  I just never got around to two of them.

January- A book you’ve been meaning to read- A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
February- A book published this year, Girl on a Train, Paula Hawkins
March- A book in a genre you don’t typically read, The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, A Love Story, Ree Drummond
April- A book from your childhood, The Babysitters Club, Ann M. Martin
May- A book your mom loves, Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
June- A book that was originally written in a different language, The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson
July- A book “everyone” has read but you- I didn’t get to this one
August- A book you chose because of the cover, The Love Book, Rachel Harris
September A book by a favorite author It, by Stephen King
October- A book recommended by someone with great taste, The Seventh Tower series, Garth Nix
November A book you should have read in high school- I didn’t get to this one either
December A book that’s currently on the bestseller list Ready, Player, One, by Ernest Cline

Overall, I think the reading challenge was good, as it got me to read books I’d been putting off that I just hadn’t gotten around to.  I never would have picked up June’s book otherwise, but it was a fun read.

Reading different books gives me a broader view of the world.  It helps me see from other perspectives and think about the world in different ways.  A Prayer for Owen Meany took me a couple weeks to read, and I had to force myself to keep at it, but once I got through it, I felt accomplished.

Research shows that reading also helps improve memory, empathy, and analytical thinking skills.  Reading books with other people gives a sense of community and also generates interesting discussion.  I love talking about books with others, because they always think of things I didn’t, or see the book in a different way.  Reading and talking about books is pretty much my idea of a happy life.

Next year, I’ll be participating in the 2016 Book Riot Reader Challenge.  I’m hoping to stay more organized and finish all the books on the list.

Is anyone else participating in any reading challenges?

Yesterday, I posted my thoughts on the fact that news talks about the worst, focusing specifically on the concerns a lot of people have over bringing in refugees to the US.  The fears seem to focus on two things.  The first is that why should we bring in refugees when we have people (especially veterans) in need who aren’t being helped.  The second issue is that terrorists might pose as refugees to gain access to the US.

I talked about the veteran issue yesterday.  I didn’t cover it comprehensively, but I did have a few points to make.  Mostly they boil down to: if you’re concerned about them, help in any way you can, even if you can’t do much.

Today I’d like to address the second concern, the perhaps we shouldn’t help refugees because some of them might be terrorists.

It’s true.  People who want to harm others will do all sorts of things to reach their goal.  They might lie, posing as a needy population in order to gain access to our country, and perhaps harm us.  People who want to harm others do things like that.

I’m of the opinion that we shouldn’t give into fear.  If someone attempts to harm me or someone I love, I will react and attempt to defend myself.  With deadly force, if needed.

But while I try to be prepared to act in a potential crisis situation, I’m not going to give in to fear.  I’m not going to live as if people mean to harm me.  Crime happens everywhere.  Murders, rapes, robberies.  Accidents do too.  I could be in a car crash later today.  Health crises also happen.  People can die at any time of heart attacks, cancer, strokes.  We’ve had mass shootings and terrorist acts within the US by citizens.  I take reasonable precautions, but I don’t live my life thinking about these things.  If I did, I wouldn’t have much of a life.

My point is that the terrorists who seek to control us are no different than any other bad people.  The fact that they say they’re motivated by religion doesn’t change their behaviors.  They’re bullies.  And we can’t give in to bullies.  Bullies want your fear.  They want you to see their faces everywhere you go.

Most refugees are just people, wanting to live a life free from fear, with their loved ones.  Some of them are selfish, and some of them are selfless.  Some of them are pleasant and polite.  Others are rude and entitled.  In other words, they’re pretty much like people everywhere.  We need to start focusing on the fact that groups are made up of diverse individuals.

A Muslim man in Paris stood blindfolded with a sign asking people to hug him if they were willing to trust him.  And many people did.  People who harm others aren’t motivated by religion or ideologies.  They might say they are, but it’s an excuse.  People who want to harm others are motivated by hate and fear.

Here’s a link to some Syrian refugees who live in the US.  They talk about coming to the US so that they can be safe.

I want to be clear:  I’m not offering an opinion on whether or not we should accept the refugees.  The reason I’m not offering that opinion is the there are a lot of factors to take into account, and I don’t feel that I’ve done enough research on the potential financial and social ramifications to offer an opinion in a public forum.  What I am asking of my readers is to take a critical look at their attitudes and beliefs.  Don’t allow hate and fear to influence decisions.  Let’s talk about facts and make decisions based on logic, not emotion.

It seems like every time we turn around, people are doing awful things to other people.  Terrorists set bombs and kill people.  Police harm people.  Racism happens.  Politicians lie and sling mud.  We see these things in the news, so it seems like this is how people are, that it’s the norm.

Some people put me down because I don’t watch/ read the news regularly.  I don’t keep abreast of current events.  When I try to speak on a subject, I’m accused of not knowing what I’m talking about.

Not watching/ reading the news is a deliberate choice.  Much of what’s reported by large news sites is the worst of the worst about humanity.  No wonder people are suspicious of others.  No wonder people don’t want to help their neighbors.

I saw a meme this morning about people saying that others should help homeless vets before bringing in refugees.  That allowing refugees into the US will also bring terrorists.  The problem with this line of thinking is that our government isn’t doing a lot to help homeless vets.  When we see photos and hear about the problems of homelessness with our veterans, it’s heartbreaking and overwhelming.  People don’t know where to start to help.

A church in Portland opened a small homeless shelter for vets and allows them to bring their dogs.

A program in West Virginia helps veterans pay rent so that they don’t become homeless.

Here’s a news article about a police officer who bought a homeless man shoes.

Here’s an article about a homeless man providing food to other homeless people. 

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”

-Edmund Burke

The other day, I was at a traffic light and was approached by a man who handed me a slip of paper saying that he was soliciting money for a homeless shelter.  It looks legit, and it has a website.  Whether or not it is legit, I usually give people $1 or $2.  Why do I do that?  They could be drug addicts.  They could be running a scam.  They could be whatever.

True.  But what if they’re not?  What if that $1 means they can get a meal or a bottle of water?  What if it means they have bus fare to get to a job interview?

I can afford that dollar.  I never give anything I can’t afford.  Not money, time, energy, love, etc.  So I won’t be upset if I find out it was used for something I don’t approve of.  Even if that person is going to use the money for alcohol or drugs, maybe my giving it to him or her prevents them from breaking into someone’s car later that night.  Maybe it prevents them from stealing a purse.  I don’t know.  I don’t have all the answers.  But I’d rather assume the best about people.

I don’t feel that it’s okay for you to complain unless you’re helping.  That doesn’t mean that you have to be doing big things.  You could give one person a pair of shoes or an apple.  It’s east to say “someone else” should do it.  They should; you’re right.  But they’re not.  And if you aren’t either, then you’re part of the problem.

This has become kind of a long post, and I have more to say, so I’m going to talk about the refugees tomorrow.

I’d love to have a discussion, so please, if you have thoughts on this, leave a comment.

 

I’m writing a story, and in it, bullying is a central plot point.  It’s YA, and my main character is overweight and the target of a few girls.  My critique partner (a young man) said that he thinks my characters are meaner than what would happen in real life, and that when he was in high school, bullying wasn’t that prevalent.

It started to make me wonder if the world has gotten nicer.  I see a lot of encouraging things out there, like the Dove commercials which encourage us to love our bodies the way they are.  On Humans of New York, people rally around anyone who says they were bullied, encouraging them.

And then I saw this article.  It’s about a woman who was picked on by two adult women while she was buying coffee and donuts.  They said disparaging things about her weight and her hair.  It reminded me of the time I was at a buffet, and a friend and I were bickering in a friendly way about my vegetarianism, when a woman said “all the vegetarians I know are fat anyway.”

When I saw that article this morning, I realized that these things are still happening.  They don’t happen to everyone.  They don’t happen all the time.  But they do happen, and for people who are bullied, those incidents matter.  In the same way that every kindness matters, so does every incident of meanness.

It brought something else into focus for me.  I have a few friends who are people of color, and talk about racism.  I have one in particular who’s adamantly on the side that racism happens and that we need to talk about it.  And I have another who’s adamantly on the other side, that the people who’ve been “victims” of racism were doing something wrong.  I’m not here to argue either side, but what it made me realize that just because it didn’t happen to one person doesn’t mean it’s still not happening.  If it happened to one person, we still have a problem.  If it happened to one person who spoke up, how many people did it happen to who stayed silent?

I don’t know what the solution to racism, sexism, body shaming (because it’s not just about being fat… thin people are shamed too!), etc. is.  I just know that we need to keep talking about it.  And the next time someone says that it’s happening, don’t automatically assume that just because you’ve never seen it happen, it’s not true.

We all live in our own little world, but the world is a much bigger and more complicated place than our little piece of it.  If we expect to have any understanding of it, we need to listen to and support one another.  Don’t be silent, and don’t expect others to be silent.  Only by talking about things in the shadows can we shed light on them.

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