Blasts From the Pasts

Most people have at least one box filled with kept remnants from their past. A lot of mine is in a brown moving box that says “Mary’s Stuff” on it, and for whatever reason my mom gave it to me out of the blue the other day. Maybe she was spring cleaning, or maybe just trying to downsize on 4 kids worth of crap in her house, especially considering that we’re all fully grown. Anyway, the box was in my hands now and last week during the indoor weather, I started rummaging.

I don’t consider myself a pack rat at all, but I also don’t know any actual pack-rats who do… But for whatever reason, starting in 6th grade…I started saving notes passed between me and friends, boyfriends, siblings, all of it. I kept them in a K-swiss shoebox. And this ridiculously faded, clumsily folded note that said “Mary” in terrible handwriting was one of the first I saw in the box, and as I started unfolding it immediately I knew what it was: A note from my 6th grade love, Kyle B.

Dear Mary...

Dear Mary,

Hi!! This is the “big surprise.” Well all I wanted to know is will you go out with me? Don’t worry about saying no, I don’t care. Well I do care, but, well uuhhmmmm You know what I mean. 

Ms. Snifferjohn is a loser.

I like The Land Before Time it is like my favorite movie. Besides about a million others but that’s not the point.

Love,
Kyle B (Baseball Cursive signature)

*To begin, Ms. Snifferjohn was our substitute teacher and her actual name was Ms. Schneiderjohn but Kyle had nicknames for all the teachers. Especially subs.

The truth is Kyle had been my on-again off-again boyfriend since Kindergarten. It was all completely a matter of semantics. We were best friends and every now and then the title would change, and that was it. I liked him because he was weird and hilarious and made fun of everything. In 6th grade we finally hit first base and held hands at the roller rink. As we skated hand in hand to the cascading neon lights and what I can only imagine to be Jewel or Sarah Mclachlan or Chumbawamba playing, my best friend Brittny skated up to us with urgency. “You’re doing it wrong! Your fingers are so supposed to cross!” We were holding hands the old school way; the way you do when walking a child across the street. We fixed our technique and skated a few laps and then I don’t know what–got a sugar high from sour straws and Dr. Pepper probably.

The next thing I found was my retainer box from 7th grade with my retainer still in it. And yes, I tried it on. You have to!  It only half fit. I never wore that thing, and lied to the orthodontist at every appointment. “Wearing it day and night?” “All the time!” Altogether I probably wore it 10 solid hours. But I didn’t get bad feedback from the doc so I felt OK about it. The best part? It’s a translucent baby blue retainer with a little earth icon in the middle and two little rainbows. I make terrible decisions under pressure.

One of my favorite finds? These pictures of my mom. I never see myself in my family even though people tell me we look alike. But when I saw one of these pictures, for a split second I glimpsed my face in my moms. Finally I could see it–I have her exact chin, the shape of her mouth, her nose and her “good-sized” head and big thick hair. Of course she is incredibly more glamorous and I love how youthful and in love she looks in these. (She was, this was a few months before marrying my dad) But it finally clicked. I am that woman’s daughter.

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Next is a signed post-card from Dominique Moceanu. She was my second favorite gymnast after Shannon Miller. But I’m pretty sure she divorced her parents after they tried to take her money or something, right? Anyway, still got the card.

Then came a lot of stuff from high school, which only solidified my memory of how excessively terrible high school actually was. For example, take this note from my friend Meghan.

My grandma died. So how's things with Tyler?
My grandma died two days ago. So how are things with Tyler?

Can you believe it? This poor girls grandma died and all we talk about is my going to lunch with Tyler. I found about 6 other notes on this very topic. Then came notes about whether we had gone on a date yet and then whether or not we’d kissed. Reading the notes brought back my exact feelings from those four years; that I took none of it seriously. The boys..the scene..class..any of it. I tried. I wanted to be cool and sometimes I succeeded, but mostly I felt lost and everything felt really forced. I was so glad when it was over. That’s the best part about high school. There’s a true end to it. Soon it all fits in a box that you get to make fun of later.

Next is an essay test from my AP Literature class where we had to use  principles from Machiavelli’s The Prince to analyze characters and events from Shakespeare’s Richard III. I remember nothing from either of these, but I scored a high B on the test which for me and for the class, was very good. This must have been my last empirical display of effort on my part that year, because by the end I’d basically given up. I actually ended up failing Literature! And really for no good reason. I stopped caring and also I just sort of hated school. I guess that’s why I kept the test. To prove I was literate. (All evidence to the contrary given the content of some of these notes)

It’s funny that I write about these little treasures from the past today, because I also just found out that today is my dads birthday. He would have been…old, I don’t know. But I found old pictures of him and us together and it’s always good to see those and to remember. So many years go by and your life changes in so many ways. New memories stack on top of old ones and pretty soon you’re having to struggle to remember the sound of their voice and the things that used to be fresh. I don’t feel sad looking at them– I like to see proof of our happiness when he was around. I ache more out of a fear that I’m forgetting him. But maybe by him just being a dad, I’ll never really forget. He’s in me, and in all of us. Each member of the family carries a part of him with their own memories and I guess that’s the stuff that lives on longer than the person.

It also had me wondering if I’ll have a daughter one day who will look through her box of childhood leftovers. Maybe she’ll too see a photo of me and realize our connection. Maybe she’ll read this blog and wonder about my sanity. More likely? I’ll read this blog in 15 years and think OMG I was so stupid! Maybe that’s just how it works. You get older and grow and laugh at your old ways. Life has been hard but it’s been incredible too, and I guess I’m glad I’ll have these words to look back on–remember these years I was sick with nothing to do, but document my days of doing a lot of nothing.

Health, Happiness, Childhood in a Box

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10 Books You Should Read With Me

Going to the bookstore is one of my favorite mid-day activities. I’ve been under the weather lately so it was nice to get out and see real life. I felt like Bell from Beauty and the Beast in that library singing. Sadly there’s no ladders at Barnes and Noble but it was enjoyable nonetheless. I left with my next TEN books to submerge in for however long it takes. I’m watching ice-skating and that Olympic music they play when they cut to the commercials is so inspiring it makes me feel like I could become the president. Which is even more reason to read. So here’s the list! Cue the music.

1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? -Maria Semple

I remember picking this book up and flipping through it at my last bookstore outing and for some reason didn’t end up buying it. When I spotted those big black fly-type eyes on the cover I grabbed it immediately before I could back out. Shameful fact: I really love this books cover and that played a big part. I know the cardinal rule, but it’s also sustained positive reviews for a very long while, and Jonathan Franzen loved it and so in the pile it went. Mostly though, I loved the cover.

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Ding Ding

2. Dance Dance Dance -Haruki Murakami

So the Wind-Up Bird Chronicles was one of my favorite and most adventurous reads last year and discovering the many other “Masterpiece Novels” he’s authored I was way excited to dive into another one. I like that his books keep your imagination and consciousness running. I’ve got high hopes. I know it will be good.

3. Why Sh*t Happens (The Science of a Really Bad Day) -Peter J Bentley

I liked the title. And the subtitle. Also it was on the bargain rack. It’s probably stupid.

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Ugh, birdshit

4.Oneness With All Life -Eckhart Tolle

This is a bite-sized version of A New Earth, which I’ve read and re-read and loved. But I forget the teachings often. I go back and reread passages that I’ve felt I’ve never read before. I think it’s one of those that stay on your bed stand for life and by the time you die the entire book is highlighted. Anyway this smaller dosed version is made of “inspirational selections” to be read maybe one or two pages per day and to reflect on. Think of it more as a daily meditation. Since it’s so easy to forget the big stuff, I like to have something in the morning or before sleep that gets my head right. It’ll go on the nightstand.

 

5. The Illuminaries -Eleanor Catton

Do you ever feel like the Universe is talking to you? Well this book came up three times in three days and I took it as a sign that I gotta get in on it. It’s also a gargantuan read (over 800 pages) so it will be my friend for a long time. Or enemy.

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Also I have no idea what it’s about.

6. Proof of Heaven -Mary Curran Hackett

I’m unfamiliar with this author but crudely, I fell for the optimism implied in the title. Even though it’s a novel among hundreds of actual accounts of Heaven, the back summary drew me in as well as the first two pages and I was like “Cool, I’m IN!” and now that I’m reflecting on that I really hope I didn’t say it out loud because that happens sometimes. Anyway, this is not to be confused with Proof of Heaven the memoir by a neurologist who died, went to heaven, and returned. I’ve heard really good things and watched his account in interviews. Pretty amazing stuff. That read is next in this Heavenly genre. (Mom, you said you have it. Give it to me!) But this one was on the bargain rack. Girls gotta eat.

7. Born Under a Lucky Moon -Dana Precious

Complete blind buy. Liked the cover. Like the summary. And the price. It’s Olympic Season so I’m really going for things.

8. The Almost Moon -Alice Sebold

Moons are so #trendy! I hadn’t heard of this one either but it was a #1 National Bestseller and the author also wrote The Lovely Bones which I read long ago and really loved. And it was on the bargain rack. OK you know what? I’ll just tell you when it wasn’t. 

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9. The Four Agreements -Don Miguel Ruiz

I have been hearing about this book for a long time now. It was published in 1997 but stayed on The New York Times Bestseller list for 7 years and sold 4 million copies. The premise of the book is simple but beautiful– in lieu of agreements and rigid beliefs we try to adhere to but often end up limiting our happiness, Ruiz suggests a personal code of conduct he calls The Four Agreements. Wanna hear em? Sure you do.

  1. Be Impeccable With Your Word.
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally.
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions.
  4. Always Do Your Best.

I don’t really love “gimmicks” for life type of books, but this one seems much deeper and substantial while sustaining its worth for years. Furthermore, it just sounds like a refreshing and happy way to live. Can you imagine never taking anything personally? Sounds awesome. I want to know more, so it’s going on the night stand. And it was FULL PRICE!

10. The Leftovers -Tom Perrotta

OK yes it was on the bargain rack again and no I’ve never heard of it or the author. But it’s a post-apocalyptic thriller type of novel which I don’t read often (like never) and I wanted to mix it up. I threw it in the bag because while the subject matter is dark, it’s also wrough with dark humor (my other best friend). It follows the survivors in the wake of the “Sudden Departure” as they try to go on with life keeping normalcy in mind but, you know, people are missing and the world is all messy. In my small confined life, it felt good to take a risk.

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artwork via NYT book review

Health, Happiness, and 10 New Friends.

Join me won’t you?

Some Posthumous Advice

A friend sent this to me recently and I really loved it.  There’s something relieving and freeing about it and I think we could all use a laugh. Read it, you’ll smile.

Written by Caitlin Moran,
Published in The Times of London

My Posthumous Advice For My Daughter

My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to get out – I’ve thought about writing her one of those “Now I’m Dead, Here’s My Letter Of Advice For You To Consult As You Continue Your Now Motherless Life” letters. Here’s the first draft. Might tweak it a bit later. When I’ve had another fag.

“Dear Lizzie. Hello, it’s Mummy. I’m dead. Sorry about that. I hope the funeral was good – did Daddy play Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen when my coffin went into the cremator? I hope everyone sang along and did air guitar, as I stipulated. And wore the stick-on Freddie Mercury moustaches, as I ordered in the ‘My Funeral Plan’ document that’s been pinned on the fridge since 2008, when I had that extremely self-pitying cold.

“Look – here are a couple of things I’ve learnt on the way that you might find useful in the coming years. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start. Also, I’ve left you loads of life-insurance money – so go hog wild on eBay on those second-hand vintage dresses you like. You have always looked beautiful in them. You have always looked beautiful.

“The main thing is just to try to be nice. You already are – so lovely I burst, darling – and so I want you to hang on to that and never let it go. Keep slowly turning it up, like a dimmer switch, whenever you can. Just resolve to shine, constantly and steadily, like a warm lamp in the corner, and people will want to move towards you in order to feel happy, and to read things more clearly. You will be bright and constant in a world of dark and flux, and this will save you the anxiety of other, ultimately less satisfying things like ‘being cool’, ‘being more successful than everyone else’ and ‘being very thin’.

“Second, always remember that, nine times out of ten, you probably aren’t having a full-on nervous breakdown – you just need a cup of tea and a biscuit. You’d be amazed how easily and repeatedly you can confuse the two. Get a big biscuit tin.

“Three – always pick up worms off the pavement and put them on the grass. They’re having a bad day, and they’re good for… the earth or something (ask Daddy more about this; am a bit sketchy).

“Four: choose your friends because you feel most like yourself around them, because the jokes are easy and you feel like you’re in your best outfit when you’re with them, even though you’re just in a T-shirt. Never love someone whom you think you need to mend – or who makes you feel like you should be mended. There are boys out there who look for shining girls; they will stand next to you and say quiet things in your ear that only you can hear and that will slowly drain the joy out of your heart. The books about vampires are true, baby. Drive a stake through their hearts and run away.

“Stay at peace with your body. While it’s healthy, never think of it as a problem or a failure. Pat your legs occasionally and thank them for being able to run. Put your hands on your belly and enjoy how soft and warm you are – marvel over the world turning over within, the brilliant meat clockwork, as I did when you were inside me and I dreamt of you every night.

“Whenever you can’t think of something to say in a conversation, ask people questions instead. Even if you’re next to a man who collects pre-Seventies screws and bolts, you will probably never have another opportunity to find out so much about pre-Seventies screws and bolts, and you never know when it will be useful.

“This segues into the next tip: life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLING EXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES. However awful, you can get through any experience if you imagine yourself, in the future, telling your friends about it as they scream, with increasing disbelief, ‘NO! NO!’ Even when Jesus was on the cross, I bet He was thinking, ‘When I rise in three days, the disciples aren’t going to believe this when I tell them about it.’

“Babyiest, see as many sunrises and sunsets as you can. Run across roads to smell fat roses. Always believe you can change the world – even if it’s only a tiny bit, because every tiny bit needed someone who changed it. Think of yourself as a silver rocket – use loud music as your fuel; books like maps and co-ordinates for how to get there. Host extravagantly, love constantly, dance in comfortable shoes, talk to Daddy and Nancy about me every day and never, ever start smoking. It’s like buying a fun baby dragon that will grow and eventually burn down your f***ing house.

“Love, Mummy.”

You can see the original post on Caitlin’s blog at Brouhaha

Thank you Giselle for the read! And congrats to my sister Amelie, who is a new mother today. It’s a good day.

Health Happiness Moms

The Great Indoors

I’ve spent most of this last week in bed, or in and out of sleep on respective furniture that I turn into a bed. But mostly in bed. During crash periods I have a lot of time to sit around and think and do nothing. And while “doing nothing” sounds a little worthless and at least a little depressing, I’ve gotten pretty good at feeling bad. That is, I’ve found ways not to succumb to complete boredom while spending my days and nights in the supine position. But I have to be decisive and proactive when it comes to mental stimulation. It’s easy to do nothing and think nothing and waste away hours watching cats on the internet. I’ve done a lot of that too.

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Currently I’m reading “Further Away”– a book of essays by author Jonathan Franzen. It was given to me by my brother Nick, who wrote on the note inside to add it to our virtual book club. Nick and I don’t live in the same city and considering how poorly I keep in social contact even with people I care most about, we don’t talk so often. But we have similar taste in things and it’s true that I trust any literature from him will be enjoyable. Like the others this one doesn’t disappoint. I gave him the book “Why Does the Universe Exist?” and said it might be a good starter for the club. Nick is a full-time professor of architecture with multiple side projects and is a husband and father. I’ll be impressed if he has the time to finish it. I have nothing but time but in retrospect, I can think of at least three books in the last year I’ve simply left unfinished with less than 100 pages left. For whatever reason– It might be a commitment problem on my end. Because oddly enough I enjoyed the books I left undone. (Except 50 Shades of Grey. I just couldn’t do that one, even from a humorous standpoint. It was just so bad.) At any rate, I like that we’re trying. I know I need to read more and it is truly one thing, a gift even, that I can do whether or not I’m sick. I could read for hours and feel somehow refreshed at the end. TV and the internet are bottomless. I could be dead tired but watch more, click more, disengage more. It’s far too easy to fall in and at the end I never feel great. I’m like where am I? What time is it? How long have I been watching Tosh.0? I don’t know how many times I’ve watched the Kardashians and rolled my eyes thinking to myself that it’s the stupidest show on TV. And yet when it shows up on the guide, I almost unconsciously go straight to the channel. It’s like mindless auto-pilot in the way of my brain. I think it’s their hair that keeps me coming back. It’s just so pretty.

Speaking of the Kardashians, did you see the photo of baby North West? I think she’s cute. Wait, why do I know what their baby looks like? Because if you watched TV or were on the internet yesterday, it was everywhere. As well as mass hysteria about Ben Affleck becoming Batman. Maybe that says something about the places where I get information. But it also says something about the things that gain momentum and attention and a dialogue. Meanwhile, my state is sinking. I don’t totally understand the nature of a sinkhole. Except that I’m pretty sure it’s unnatural.  And it’s a problem when entire trees are being swallowed whole. Something about salt domes? But why take the more effort-requiring time to find out when I could just look at a tumblr that makes fun of what Kanye’s baby looks like? It’s so easy to just lay back and look at what’s easy to look at and make fun of what’s easy to make fun of. But it’s not very wise for someone like me to do too much of that. I constantly have to remind myself to be careful with how I spend my time. I truly have a lot of it.

Anyway, maybe by the next post I’ll be much more knowledgeable about sinkholes. Or I’ll have a lot more photos of baby Nori. Anyway, I’ll continue my quest to be at least a half-way informed citizen and spend my horizontal time wisely. I love being outside but on weeks like this one, I’ve mostly been inside which can be wearing too. But don’t get me wrong, I’ll still watch internet cat videos because come on, that stuff is funny. And laughter is important. And if we spent all our days indulging in bad news we could succumb to despondency and boredom just as much as if we watched TV and internet videos nonstop. It’s all a balance and I’m always in search of the middle. So far, 29 has been just fine.

Health, Happiness, and Wouldn’t You Think Sinkhole Would Be Two Words? Me too.

Tired Writer Fighter.

It’s raining. And whenever it rains it feels easier to write. So I’m forcing myself to sit down, because lately, the words haven’t come as easy. I have this recurring nightmare type of thing, although it doesn’t come at night–it’s more a dull anxiety beyond the curtain in my brain- that one day I’ll wake up, and have nothing left to say. Nothing left to write. None of my ideas will be new. Whatever creative juices that used to run through me will have all run dry and I’ll be sitting there, blank pages in front of me, and have nothing. left. to say. Luckily, that day is not today. I have some stuff to say I guess.

The funny thing about my little recurring nightmare, is that ironically, the only way to avoid it is to keep on writing. The longer I go without doing it, the harder it becomes. Sometimes I cringe at what I’ve written, and I’ve deleted entire pages of text that just didn’t seem to “do it” for me. But this is my art form and I care about it. It isn’t really a hobby I do on the side anymore. It is my principal work for now and once you’ve come to care this much about what you do, you really have to nurture it or it will fade. Like a marriage of sorts, or any relationship at that. The interesting part of it is that continuing to produce only gives way to more creativity and newer ideas. Not the other way around. It’s not some finite jar you reach the bottom of. My nightmare is possible I suppose, but more likely from me having abandoned the work, not from literally running out of ideas.  If the universe is infinite than it’s true, our ideas can’t run dry.

I have to remind myself pretty regularly that whether the words come easy or hard, to just keep going. If you give in, well then what kind of a writer are you? I think beyond your final product, being an artist is in the way you live and in how much you give of yourself. Not just when inspiration comes but also when it doesn’t. There is debate in the literary world on whether or not writers block actually exists. I can say that without a doubt, there are times when it’s easy and times when it’s alarmingly difficult, but I think the point is that you just keep plugging away. It was Picasso who said that inspiration exists, but it has to find you working first. You can reject entire pages later if you need to, and there’s no harm in discerning good work from bad work even if a great majority of it is bad. It’s nothing you can hurry or fake or force. You just have to keep working humbly and the right words always find their way out. Think of Michelangelo sculpting his masterpieces like David. He said it was his job to carve away the excess, chip away at everything that wasn’t David until David emerged.

I know that the worst I can do now is let a gift pass me by. In stillness I know that being capable of writing is not something I own but something that was given to me. And I feel that by not putting it to use is letting someone down somewhere. I fight lethargy. I fight distraction. I fight excuses. It’s been a while since I’ve really sat down and put my words to use. And I have to remind myself everyday that very easily I can let all this slip by me. It takes commitment and participation on my end and sometimes I actually have to talk to myself out loud and force myself to move things through me. I do this because it’s not about me. It’s about something bigger and longer-lasting than me. And I don’t know what that is yet. But I know I have to keep at it. And I guess on this rainy Thursday, I am being reminded in more ways than one to keep going. Keep writing. And someday the pieces of it all will begin to make sense. Carl Jung said the details of his life would only make sense in the context of the centuries. Maybe that’s the ticket.

Health, Happiness, Work.

How to Hang On.

I came across these words in the middle of the night last week when I was really sick and couldn’t sleep. I was feeling scared and anxious–of what I wasn’t exactly sure, but there was some sort of doom over my head and I didn’t know how to relieve it. This passage helped. Today my mom read to me the same excerpt out loud while discussing life and love and hardship. I figure twice in seven days is enough of a sign for me to pay attention to the words, so I thought I would share them here as well. They are written by the mystic Joseph Cambpell.

The loss of a love and the pain of a broken relationship is an overload of projection. That’s all it is. In youth, your whole life is this wonderful dream that “This is It”: this relationship is the fulfillment of my fantasy and I can’t imagine life otherwise. No argument can quell this feeling of total projection, of everything in the other one. I guess we can all recall an episode of an adolescent relationship that seemed to be the all-in-all and then went to pieces for some reason.

When a relationship breaks off, it takes a person a little while to settle and find a new commitment. It’s after the breakoff, when there is no new commitment and life has been divested of all of its potentials, that this painful reaction takes place. For some people this is a dangerous period.

The psyche knows how to heal, but it hurts. Sometimes the healing hurts more than the initial injury, but if you can survive it, you’ll be stronger, because you’ve found a larger base. Every commitment is a narrowing and when that commitment fails, you have to get back to a larger base and have the strength to hold to it.

Nietzsche was the one who did the job for me. At a certain moment in his life, the idea came to him of what he called “the love of your fate.” Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens you say, “This is what I need.” It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment – not discouragement – you will find the strength is there. Any disaster you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege! This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow.

Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true. Nothing that can happen to you is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.

The dark night of the soul
comes just before revelation.

When everything is lost,
and all seems darkness,
then comes the new life
and all that is needed.

Health, Happiness, Hang On.

Book Review: Gone Girl

I’ve been on a non-fiction kick for a while now. But in Barnes and Noble the other day, I saw this black book..a simple cover with what appeared to be loose lines across the dust cover. On closer examination I saw that it was hair, wrapped around the book spine with wisps across the front. I don’t know what made me pick it up other than the fact that I am completely guilty of judging a book by its cover and  I do it all the time. (Books. I’m talking books.) Like usual, I read the back, then I read the flap, and then the first few sentences of chapter 1. It was enough. I went for it. I didn’t let my typical indecisive nature get the best of me even though I’ve never been one for murder mysteries or suspense thrillers. It also then struck me I’ve never actually read a murder mystery or suspense thriller–they’ve just never really appealed to me. But I’m trying to challenge my uniformed notions about things. Something about this one grabbed me, so I grabbed it back.

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I don’t know exactly how to do a review of literary suspense without giving things away, and there are so many things I could give away. Muah hah hah. But don’t worry I won’t. That’d be irresponsible so I won’t go far into detail. All I know is I took Monty to the park, sat on a towel in the sun and began reading. And even though I’m in sunny California, I could feel some kind of anxiousness growing in me, a glimmer of discomfort. It felt like it had gotten cloudy, like it was about to storm and I should go indoors. But reading the book indoors didn’t make me feel any more secure. It also didn’t stop me from reading every chance I had. I couldn’t put it down. Half of this book was read at 2 am with one eye open, because I was so tired that when both eyes were open I saw double. With one eye closed I could keep reading without double vision and without falling asleep. I was so exhausted night after night and I love sleep. I’m really good at it. But I needed to know what happened to Amy Dunne. She went missing on her and her husbands 5th wedding anniversary; not quite a “poof, gone” type of thing, but close. A strange trail of evidence and clues leftover, leaving me and most of the book characters scratching their heads. All but one.

The story is told through two voices; Nick Dunne, the husband, and via the missing Amy Dunne’s journal entries where we learn about their life together: how they met, their losses, and their recent move from New York City to the midwest along the Mississippi River. Both characters resonated quickly with me. I’ve had similar conversations and conflicts in my relationships, and I knew a lot of the feelings Amy Dunne was describing. But I also knew I was going to be thrown off simply because I was barely half way through the book and yet Amy had been missing 7 days, the cops had their killer, and something about Nick Dunne’s story felt wrong, and yet I wanted to believe him. Sometimes. And then I’d change my mind. It’s pretty classic in the “Crime rocks a small town” type of setup; the community gathering for support, the good cop/bad cop routine, press conferences with Amy’s parents in tears, and t-shirts and flyers with a pretty, missing wife on them. It’s all reminiscent of those stories we see on the news; Lacy Peterson, Natalie Holloway. The ones that sort of dominate our TV’s for a while, make Nancy Grace’s vains pop out, and then, kind of like Amy Dunne…leave, unresolved. Come to think of it, I need to google what happened in the cases of those women, because I only remember the sudden onslaught of news and anger and finger pointing, but I don’t actually remember hearing how it ends. America loves a pretty, missing woman. And the book touches on this phenomena too.

The most interesting part of the story for me is that the reader is no longer what we normally are in cases like this; the spectators. The jury. We’re used to seeing the stories on TV, seeing the pictures, hearing the accusations, and we often makes up our minds quickly about who’s at fault and who to feel sorry for. This time, we’re on the other end. We get to hear how police go about business like this. How reporters and the media can shift the people’s minds over night, if not faster. (It’s like being on the inside of a presidential campaign, I imagine.) We also get to hear the advice and rules a lawyer will give you when a country of strangers has their minds made up. The lawyer was my favorite character. I could see and hear him perfectly. I’ve seen commercials with this man, to a T. You probably have, too.

I finished the book about an hour ago. I have to say, I’m glad it’s over. I was getting tired. Not tired of the book, but tired from staying up so late every night trying to finish it. And a little tired from the unnerving nature of the story. I’d been talking about the book to my sister since I was only a few pages in. I tried to finish it before she left on a business trip this morning so she’d have something to read, and I really tried. I almost made it. But I didn’t. I told her to just buy her own copy at the airport. “It’s worth it.”  I don’t know how I feel about the ending. I just know I’m ready to go back to the park with Monty and actually enjoy the sun this time. There was something about reading that story amid green grass and perfect weather that didn’t add up. It’s like playing Radiohead at brunch. It just doesn’t match. I wouldn’t call getting lost in this book particularly pleasurable in the normal sense. It was uncomfortable at times, upsetting, unsettling. But so good, so well written, utterly surprising and disturbingly real. I don’t know how author Gillian Flynn did it, but props to her, because it rocked me, and a few million other readers. It got under my skin and stayed there, and probably will for a while. As uncomfortable as it could be, it was really fun to read, fun to think about it even when I was doing other things. It kept me coming back for more more more and I kept wondering how how HOW in the hell it would end. I’d assembled at least 10 potential conclusions; none of them were right. I admit though I rarely get these things right. I only know it made me fear women and it made me fear men. It is a work of fiction, but the parts that stick have delivered something very true, very real. I get the feeling that even when I sleep tonight, finally able to shut both of my eyes at a normal hour, this book will still be swirling around in there. (Amy Dunne is also a restless sleeper!) It’s that good. It sticks. Even after it’s…gone. Get it? Yeah, you get it.

Health, Happiness, Gone Girl.

*P.S. Rumor has it Hollywood bought the rights to this story. Read it before they kill it!

Is Happiness a Choice? A Book That Challenged All My Notions, and Won.

I think my favorite present to both give and receive is a book. And not an e-book, not a kindle or a tablet thingamajiggy. A real, tangible book with pages to flip through and words that you underline and notes in the margin that you come back to later. There is something necessarily palpable about a book for me. Maybe I just really like turning pages, but I don’t think I’ll ever make the switch to electronic literature. I know it costs us trees, but I kind of feel like a tree would be happy to be a book. If only trees could talk. OK, anyway, I received a book from my mom for my birthday, and I’ve been lost in it for the last 4 days. I kept telling myself I needed to write, but my urge to read was stronger. I had to finish it before I could do anything else. I think it may be one of the most important books I’ve read as of yet.

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“The Untethered Soul” is written by Michael Singer and I’d never heard of it or him until I began reading. The book is 181 pages but is densely written and covers everything from consciousness to identity to happiness to God to death to Christianity to the Tao. I really don’t know how he combined all of these topics so succinctly and covered them with such perfect simplicity, but he did, and it all made perfect sense. Every word. Sometimes I’d read a paragraph over and over, not because I didn’t understand, but because it felt so good to read the words. It was like light would suddenly pour in the room, and with each page (each TANGIBLE page) I felt more clarity, maybe even more happiness. At least more awareness of it. There is such a wide variety of topics he covers and methods associated with them, but he ties them all together seamlessly to teach one huge and vital lesson; to know yourself, and to find bliss. It will be difficult to summarize the whole thing up on just one page..this may need to be a two parter. So I’ll just cover a few topics that really captured me.To begin with, you can’t fix the world. You can’t fix other people, and you shouldn’t try. But you can become the purist and most open version of your Self, and that is your gift to the world. You will be the most successful and biggest help to humanity by knowing yourself truly, and waking up–becoming conscious. So long as you are unconscious, reacting to external factors, hiding behind fears and anxieties, letting that voice in your head dictate important matters, you cannot be of help to the world. You are stuck in your mind, and so you can’t go any further or higher up than that. Not until you wake up.

Like Tolle, Singer writes pretty extensively about how to answer the question “Who am I?” …a question I constantly ponder but feel my answer always comes up short. I am Mary Gelpi. Well no, that’s a label given to me by my parents. Take it away and I’m still here. Who am I? Who is the Self? It was more poignant and enlightening to hear him explain who we are not. Some we’ve been over before. Ready? You are not your thoughts. You are not your emotions. You are not the things that happened to you. You are not a gender role. You’re not even your personality. And here’s the big one: You are not that voice in your head. In fact the journey to discovering your self (which is who you are) involves the attempt to eliminate that voice. In other words: telling it to SHUT. UP. And in the meantime if you can’t get it to, DON’T LISTEN TO IT. For the love of GOD don’t listen to it. Think how many times that voice in your head has been wrong…a lot. But we continue to reach out to it for advice and guidance as though it were an intelligent shrink. It’s not, it’s noise. Just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about voices plural in your head. That’s another disorder altogether and we don’t have time for it. I’m talking about the voice in your head that is constantly chattering. If you stop reading this right now and look around the room, just wait a few seconds and listen. It will begin talking. About anything. Stupid things. Funny things. Memories. To -Do lists. It’s noise. It’s a lot of noise that isn’t really propelling you in any direction on your mission. This attempt was among the original purposes of things like meditation and yoga. It wasn’t to pray or to exercise–it was to find inner stillness, the center. The center is where “You” reside. Behind the chatter, judgments, and noise is your soul or spirit, or whatever you’re comfortable calling it. It’s quiet there. It’s the part that doesn’t die. It’s the center of your consciousness, or what Zukav called The Seat of the Soul. (Also, another awesome book) So this is how the book begins; with the search for the self and a map of where to go to find it. Once you’re able to pull back the curtains on all the things that don’t define you, you begin to feel and hear the real you. Your higher self. Perhaps he puts it most accurately with this definition: the simple awareness of being aware. Or..You are not the thinking mid; you are aware of the thinking mind. 

“When you contemplate the nature of Self, you are meditating. That is why meditation is the highest state. It is the return to the root of your being, the simple awareness of being aware. Once you become conscious of the consciousness itself, you attain a totally different state. You are now aware of who you are. You have become an awakened being. It’s really just the most natural thing in the world. Here I am. Here I always was. It’s like you have been on the couch watching TV, but you were so totally immersed in the show that you forgot where you were. Someone shook you, and now you’re back to the awareness that you’re sitting on the couch watching TV. Nothing else changed. You simply stopped projecting your sense of self onto that particular object of consciousness. You woke up. That is spirituality. That is the nature of Self. That is who you are.”

 There was one chapter that I re-read a few times, because it really challenged my notion of happiness. It asked this question, which I find myself constantly asking: Is happiness a choice? I have always believed that we are susceptible to our circumstances, therefore happiness isn’t really a choice because we aren’t in control. We can’t help it when bad things happen. But Singer absolutely disagreed with that, and I’m pretty sure he beat me. Just because we aren’t in total control doesn’t mean our happiness isn’t in our hands. If our happiness isn’t up to us, who is it up to? Other people? Circumstance? Conditions? No wonder we’re not happy! You can’t rely on anything or anyone else to cause your experience of happiness. It is entirely up to you. If you make the commitment to be happy, it is to be unconditionally happy. But, that means acceptance of the present. That means erasing your version of what you think your life needs to look like in order for you to be happy. That’s something a lot of people don’t want to give up.

I know what you’re thinking: What if my family dies in a plane crash? What if a bird shits on my head on the way to work? I can’t help that! Of course there will be challenging events in your life, you already know that or may have already experienced them. It doesn’t mean you don’t grieve appropriately and process the hard times. But it also doesn’t mean that you stop, that you can’t be happy again and continue to live a  beautiful life. (Just ask my mom, she was widowed twice, but has once again found happiness.) That’s part of the commitment. You have to accept what happens in the present, deal with it accordingly, and release. Keep going. There’s no hanging on to the past allowed. It will never change by you clinging. There’s no cringing about tomorrow allowed either. You’ll deal with tomorrow when tomorrow comes. And think about it. Does you reacting and getting upset and yelling change the fact that a bird shit on your head? No, it doesn’t. Clearly our reactions are not only silly, they’re unintelligent. They serve no purpose. They’re just noise.

Your definitions of desirable and undesirable, good and bad, all come about because you have defined how things need to be in order for you to be okay. We all know we’re doing this, but nobody questions it. We think we’re supposed to figure out how life should be, and then make it that way. Only someone who looks deeper, and questions why we need the events of life to be a particular way, will question this assumption. How did we come up with the notion that life is not okay just the way it is, or that it won’t be okay the way it will be? Who said that the way life naturally unfolds is not all right?

This is still a challenging notion for me to process, but I know it’s right. This is not to say that making unconditional happiness your mission is easy–it isn’t. It’s probably the hardest work you’ll do. But I’ve decided to take this mission on. I certainly have the time, don’t I? Maybe we all do. But we fill it up with a lot of stuff. A lot of Kardashians and O’Reilly Factor and arguments and anger and work and chaos and noise. I think it’s time to slow down. Time to go IN, not out, and find that little nook where our soul is, and try to please it. What more important work could there be? Chopra says that this is a recreational universe and that we were meant to have fun here. We weren’t meant to suffer! So I think it’s time to play. Today is August 22nd. It’s my dad’s death day. Death birthday? I wonder if they celebrate the day you die in Heaven the way we celebrate birthdays here. Anyway, my dad was one of the happiest people I knew, and that’s what everyone else had to say about him–How positive and kind he was. This book reminded me of him and his constant disposition of joy, happiness, and love. I’m going to start my work toward consciousness and inner peace with him in mind and this book as a guide, or at least a solid starting place. I highly recommend The Untethered Soul if you’ve been searching for a deeper purpose or listening for a higher calling and need a little help getting started. This is a really good road map to begin with.

My favorite line from the book: It is actually possible to never have another problem for the rest of your life. 

Health, Happiness, and Real, Tangible Books.

*My favorite underlined phrases from the book. :)

What it means to live spiritually is to not participate in this struggle. It means that the events that happen in the moment belong to the moment. They don’t belong to you.

The only way to inner freedom is through the one that watches the self. 

It’s bad enough that your happiness is conditional upon your own behavior. When you start making it conditional upon other people’s behavior, you’re in serious trouble. 

It is not life’s events that are causing problems or stress. It is your resistance to life’s events that are causing problems or stress. 

If you want to understand stress, begin by realizing that you carry around with you your own set of preconceived notions of how things should be. 

Imagine if you used relationships to get to know other people, rather than to satisfy what is blocked inside of you. 

When a person is dealing with their own fears, anxieties, and desires, how much energy is left for dealing with what’s actually happening?

The truth is, everything will be okay as soon as you are okay with everything. And that’s the only time everything will be okay.