If We Were Having Coffee // All Good News

Hello dear readers! Happy Sunday, welcome, and thank you for stopping by for a bit of caffeine and catching up.

It’s late, again, I know, and this time I have no excuses. I slept in after a late night out with friends. When I woke up I realized I was out of milk for the coffee and drinking it straight up was too much. I had to settle for tea and headaches all day. So, I was lazy and I what little energy I had I felt like spending on cleaning the house and cooking. I made a pear German pancake for breakfast and chicken sausage and creamy polenta for dinner.

But I missed chatting with you and felt I couldn’t go to bed before I had told you all my good news. So, pull up a chair and fill up a cup. Let’s talk about last week!

“I like coffee because it gives me the illusion that I might be awake.”

— Lewis Black

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that Tuesday’s doctor’s visit and colonoscopy ended with the good news I have been waiting to hear for over a year: no visible signs of inflammation! The new medicine is working and, for now, my ulcerative colitis is under control and I might actually b in remission. Of course, I still don’t feel as well as I’d like but I think that is down to diet, lack of exercise, anxiety and lingering low-level depression, all as usual.

So, now that the weight and worry have been lifted off my chest I can start to focus on these smaller issues. I’m planning to look into medications for my anxiety and to start at least jogging again in the morning. I’m looking closely at the keto diet which more than a few of my friends have started but which I am highly skeptical of. I want to lose a few pounds, just 10 to get me back into some of the clothes that no longer fit me.

I want to take the next step toward feeling like myself again. I want to figure out what my new normal is and enjoy it for a while, while I can.

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that I AM AN AUNT AGAIN! My brother’s girlfriend gave birth to a very adorable and very BIG baby boy just after midnight on Friday. Sadly, he was breech and mom had to have a c-section which was a bit distressing and then we found out yesterday he is jaundice and will need phototherapy and a few more days in the hospital. Nothing much to worry about, and nothing this family hasn’t seen before, but definitely a real bummer.

I had hoped this joyous event would do more to bring my family together after all we’ve been through these past few months. Some progress was made but I wonder if we might have taken more steps back than we had forward. I feel like I’m walking a tightrope between the warring sides and hoping not to step too far either way. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and I certainly don’t want anyone angry with me.

For now, I’m letting everyone know that I am here for them all and I am fighting to keep the lines of communication open wherever I can. What I’m not doing is fighting anyone’s battles for them or deciding based on hearsay who is right and wrong and whose feelings and actions are valid or understandable. I practicing accepting every person’s emotions and perspective as important and worthy of the space it takes to process.

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that the work week didn’t go quite as expected. All the work I had hoped to get done fell through and was rescheduled to the coming week. Now I have twice the work to worry about but I just keep thinking about how proud I’ll be of myself when I get it done and I try to remember that after it’s over I’ll have a worry-free week waiting for me on the other side.

Fall break is coming up and even though I still have to work I won’t have to go out on the bus and 90% of my coworkers will be at home leaving the building nice and quiet. I can not wait!

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that last week I went back to using an analog editorial calendar and I already feel so much more motivated, organized, and inspired.

I’ve decided that going forward I am going to split my time between writing here, sending pitches, and working on some personal projects. I’ve been spending too much time in front of the TV lately and not enough time with a good book or pen and paper. I’m trading one episode a night of whatever show I’m currently binge watching for 500 words before bed. That’s the compromise I’ve made with myself.

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that this weekend was one of the best I’ve had in a long time. Yesterday (Saturday) was “penny admission fee for Colorado residents” at the Denver Museum of Contemporary art. They had a museum-wide new exhibit up I’ve been wanting to check out called “Fieldwork” by artist Tara Donovan. Her work wasn’t like anything I’ve ever seen before. I love how she takes everyday materials, stuff I use and handle all the time, and makes these huge otherworldly pieces out of them. I was in awe!

We went with another gay couple we work with and who we’ve grown close to over the years. They’re so much like us, and still different enough that we feel energized and inspired after hanging out with them. They infuse us with new perspectives and remind us that we are still young and there is still so much life to explore and enjoy.

After the museum I showed them my favorite lunch place and after stuffing our faces we all went home to recoup for dinner and a haunted house that evening.

We drank too much at dinner, or maybe just enough, and had a blast at the haunted house. We have plans for a movie party in a couple of weeks and a Halloween party at the end of the month. I’m trying to get as much socializing in before the holiday season stress and all the time I’ll have to spend with family.

***

If we were having coffee I would say it’s very late and very soon I will have to go to bed if I want to have any hope of getting a decent start to the week. If I can get Monday right I have a real chance.

I hope you had a productive week. I hope your weekend was relaxing. I hope you learned something new, surprised yourself, and that you found something to be proud of. If you didn’t, if things didn’t go your way or if the world is asking more of you than you can find to give, I hope the next week will treat you better.

Until next time.

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a virtual cup of coffee.

Written for the #WeekendCoffeeShare link-up hosted by Eclectic Alli

Photo by Goran Ivos on Unsplash

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If We Were Having Coffee // All I Am Willing to Do

Hello dear readers! Happy Sunday, welcome, and thank you for stopping by for a bit of caffeine and catching up.

It’s late, I know, but I kind of had a lot going on today. I didn’t sleep well last night. I had too much on my mind, and I am still getting over this weird sinus/nasal infection. It took too long to find my way out of bed and when I did I was moving too slow to have or hold any meaningful conversation.

Even with coffee, I was barely able to get ready for my brother and his girlfriend’s baby shower. Afterward, I stumbled through the grocery store getting only the barest essentials for the week ahead. Since then, and for the duration of this conversation I’m sure, I’ve been and will be laid up on the couch. I’ll do my best to stay awake but I beg your forgiveness in advance if I just can’t.

So pull up a chair—it’s best you stay off the couch and sit well away to avoid catching this nasty bug—and fill up a cup and pass me the tissues, please. Let’s talk about last week!

“Coffee makes us severe, and grave, and philosophical.”

— Jonathan Swift, 1722

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that the baby shower was very sweet and I am so excited to meet my new nephew, I only wish my family were in a better place right now. I hate to be so vague—it’s a lot to get into and most of it isn’t my story or my place to tell—but I will say that today, or rather, sometime in the middle of the night after laying wide awake with worry running through possibilities and scenarios while staring at the ceiling, I found clarity.

What is best for me is to stay out of it. For one thing, when it was me feeling left out and wrongly judged no one came to my rescue. For another, I can’t know who is right and wrong, who said what or started this or that fight. It’s best to keep quiet, for now, rather than look like a fool or make anything worse. The truth is I just can’t go on fighting and enabling and putting my own mental well-being in jeopardy for those who have yet to learn how to put their feelings aside and handle other humans with compassion and understanding.

All I can do, all I am willing to do, for the time being, is to reiterate wherever I am asked for advice that the best course of action is to make your true feelings known and then to give one another space and respect enough to process. I advise forgiving as much as possible the mistakes and the shortcomings of those who have never known better and showing each other how to love by example.

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that I cannot believe I am still trying to get over this awful sinus/nasal infection. Nearly everyone else at my job, including my girlfriend, was able to shake it in a matter of days. I’m well over a week now and still stuffy and fatigued.

To make matters worse I can no longer tolerate the cold medicine. Apparently whatever they put in those pills wreaks havoc on the digestive system and by the end of the week, I was in excruciating pain and bleeding. I panicked and thought I was heading back to the gastro specialists and looking at a medication change or worse, another round of steroids. Luckily, the symptoms subsided after I stopped taking the meds. Unfortunately, that means I’ve had little relief aside from what nasal spray and allergy medicine can provide.

On top of my cold, and my pain, and my day off, I had double the work when I returned. I had, before the cold, scheduled twice the work I normally do in an effort to get ahead of my team, and myself. I know that once the weather starts to cool and especially once the snow starts to blow I’ll be in no mood to do any more than I have to. So, I had the whole week booked, and next week, and the following week too. By then, by the end of October at the latest, it should be smooth sailing to the end of the school year. I’ll just have my route and routine training of newbies.

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that on Friday night I was feeling a little down and figured a bit of book shopping might cheer me up. I also remembered I had a little bit of Barnes & Noble money left on an old birthday gift card sitting in my inbox. So, I got The Collected Poems of Emily Dickenson, The Iliad by Homer, and The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. I had hoped for One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez but somehow, they were out. Oh well, maybe next time.

I did manage to finally finish Antigone by Sophocles, the first of the Three Theban Plays, and I’ve started the second, Oedipus the King. I’m hoping to finish it a little faster. I had no trouble understanding, and I was—am— sufficiently interested, I’m just too tired.

Part of it is the cold, sure, but some of it is just plain old chronic illness and it’s affecting more than reading. I can’t write and I can’t seem to get organized or to make any progress on this house. It’s falling apart around me and all I can do is lay on the couch and watch while it happens. Doesn’t seem like those iron supplements the doctor put me on are working all that well…

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that it’s gotten dark out and dinner has come and gone. The coffee mugs have turned to wine glasses and there is a full plate of decadent figs, goat cheese, and honey. It’s time for all our favorite shows and the laundry still needs folding. I think it’s time for me to go.

I hope you had a good week and you managed to steer clear of any nasty cooties floating around. I hope you found some time for you and that the next week will be better than the last in all the ways you need it to be.

Take care of yourself.

Until next time.

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a virtual cup of coffee.

Written for the #WeekendCoffeeShare link-up hosted by Eclectic Alli

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

If We Were Having Coffee // It’s Going Around

Hello dear readers! Happy Sunday, welcome, and thank you for stopping by for a bit of caffeine and catching up.

I’m moving slowly this morning, so slow that I’ve only just realized that it’s already afternoon! I must have lost track of time while I was reading and, I’ll admit, nodding off on the couch a bit. In my defense I was up early, cleaning and cooking breakfast for my sick fiance, then I took a shower and spent some time pampering myself with face masks and all the while, I felt more and more run down and cruddy.

My nose is stuffy and I’ve been sneezing, and now, my throat hurts.  I think I’ve finally caught that nasty cold that’s been going around. I probably ought to go rest properly now, but I wanted to take a moment to catch up with you over a cup or two of cold brew.

“Coffee is a way of stealing time which should by rights belong to your older self.”

— Terry Pratchett

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that my week was actually pretty boring. Work has been taking up a lot more of my time than it used to, but that’s my fault. I saw what my check can look like when I make work my first priority. It felt so good to contribute a little extra to our shared pot and to be able to buy a few more things that it’s created a sort of addiction in me. I’ve been working as much as I can, within reason of course, and that has left little time for writing. I’m sure it’s only a phase and I’ll be back to regular posting soon. My time is worth a lot more to me than what they’re paying per hour and anyway as soon as the weather gets cooler I know I won’t have the energy or the positive attitude required to keep up the pace.

When I wasn’t t work I was home taking care of my lady. She caught the aforementioned nasty cold first and has been knocked entirely on her ass by it. As if that weren’t bad enough some old aches and pains are resurfacing from an accident she was in last year. I’m more than a little worried about her. She’s had an impossible workload this year, and now this? It’s hard not to be able to fix it all, but I can cook a few more dinners a week, handle a few more errands, and do my best to be supportive.

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that I’ve been feeling cruddy since Friday afternoon but I was hoping the sniffles and the icky feeling was just a case of bad allergies. I should have known it was more. My girlfriend thought the same thing too before she got so sick she had to miss a day and a half of work.

Now I just hope the worst of it won’t be too bad and won’t last too long. I don’t want to miss any work but more than that I don’t want my immune system getting over excited and put me into another ulcerative colitis flare. I’ve been well for over four months now and I was looking forward to another year or two before this disease reared its ugly head again.

But, there’s no way to know what will happen and fretting will only make matters worse and guarantee the outcome I’m trying to avoid. I just have to focus on taking care of myself this week. That means lots of medicine, fluids, and rest….while I can. I was feeling overly optimistic last week and may have overscheduled myself at work and it’s too late to take it back. I’ll have to push through.

Wish me luck.

***

If we were having coffee would tell you that what free time I had last week was spent reading. I’d finally finished The Scarlet Letter and wanting another quick high of accomplishment I decided to pick up Romeo and Juliet next.

I read it in four days and absolutely loved it! The 1996 movie version—Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes (both, in my opinion, outacted by John Leguizamo as Tybalt and Harold Perrineau as Mercutio)—will always have a special place in my heart but reading it for myself made the story so much more intriguing.

I look forward to writing a review here but I’ll say now I’ve always believed that Romeo and Juliet wasn’t the sappy love story it’s long been judged to be. It’s actually pretty disturbing on every level. I think it’s meant to convey the exact opposite message everyone seems to think it does.

I wanted to read another drama but thought I should take a break from Shakespeare for a book or two. I have a copy of Sophocles’s The Three Theban Plays I won from Macrolit so I’m giving that a try. I have high hopes considering even the introduction was riveting. I am still reading On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche but felt a little overwhelmed by it so I’m taking a short break. I’ll get back to mentally arguing with the famous existentialist sometime midweek.

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that all this sneezing and nose blowing is sapping my energy and the cold medicine isn’t mixing very well with all this coffee I’ve been drinking. I think it’s time I go lay down and try to get a little rest before dinner is done.

I hope you had a productive week. I hope you made progress or at least learned something you can use to improve in the coming week. I hope you found time for you this weekend and you were able to recover from whatever’s been weighing on you lately. I hope Monday will find you with renewed strength. Most of all, I hope you won’t catch this miserable nasty cold going around too. Take care of yourself, okay?

Until next time.

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a virtual cup of coffee.

Written for the #WeekendCoffeeShare link-up hosted by Eclectic Alli

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

If We Were Having Coffee // Good News and Troubling Warnings

Hello dear readers! Happy Sunday, welcome, and thank you for stopping by for a bit of caffeine and catching up.

I’m in a strange mood today. I should be tired. I didn’t sleep well last night and I’m not feeling all that great, but somehow I’m full of motivation and positivity. I’m using my time well, alternating between writing while watching old episodes of ER and cleaning during the commercials. The more I write and the more I clean, the better I feel, and the more I feel like I can do. It feels good to feel good.

It hot out today so we’re keeping indoors and, as usual, I have plenty of cold brew and ice to keep us cool. So, pull up a chair and fill up a cup. Let’s talk about last week.

“I just want to drink coffee from the safety of the porch; watching the rain fall in bounds across the soft green grass. I want you beside me, and we don’t have to say a word. I want to spend the morning just staring into the earth drinking itself under a clouded sky, and finally know my place in it all.”

— Schuyler Peck, We Don’t Have to Say A Word

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that last week I had my yearly check in with my GI to discuss how well controlled my ulcerative colitis is and what the next steps are.

There was mostly good news but some troubling warnings too. The good news is it looks like I am doing well enough that we can stay the course. I’ve been dealing with some joint pain and fatigue but I’ve been able to work, go out to dinner and have drinks with friends, go hiking, write, and feel happy and hopeful more days than I don’t. I’ve got a life back again soon, for now, there will be no new medications. We’ll just make small adjustments to the dosage and frequency of the infusions as needed. And! If I continue to do well I can wean off the horse pills I have to take every morning too!

I did a slew of lab tests and for the most part results are coming in within standard ranges, but my iron levels are low and I’m being put on iron supplements as well as calcium and vitamin d. I actually do eat a lot of iron-rich foods already so I’m guessing it’s all the damage that has been done to my colon. I can’t absorb anything efficiently and I’m prone to anemia now. Not only that, but I was told to begin getting regular skin checks. I’m more likely to get skin cancer now too.

Since the visit, I haven’t been feeling all that well. I never do after doctor’s visits though. I think I worry about them a lot and that triggers my gut and my immune response and nearly every time I end up back in a flare. I’m thinking of taking up meditating again to try to head it off.

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that it probably isn’t all the doctor’s appointment making me anxious and sick. My family is going through some hard times right now. I can’t say much about it. It’s not my story to tell, you know? I will say that we’re feeling very fractured and I’m unsure where I stand in all of this. I’m unsure what to do as trying to fix it might only exacerbate the issue but being too hands-off may give the impression that I don’t care and create bitterness.

It’s a delicate balance and much of it will come down to accepting that when we set out to make choices in our lives that are best for us, we risk upsetting others and in the end we may have to accept that whether or not that anger is deserved or not we cannot force people to talk to us, to work things out, to see it our way, or to forgive. It sucks and I am hurt that so many are being hurt and that things may not ever be like they were, but I’m hopeful and willing to help in any way I can.

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that I was saddened to hear of John McCain’s passing last night, but I’ve been reluctant to join others on social media in posting about it.

My feelings about him—as a politician and a war hero—are complicated. He was a Republican, a conservative, a warmonger and no friend to the LGBTQ community, women, immigrants, or people of color. He was part of a system that dehumanized the already downtrodden and even in death I cannot unknow that.

Still, there were times I felt that I could respect his principles. No, I would not label him “good” or “compassionate” but his presence at least seemed to mitigate the horrors happening in Washington, and will be missed. He seemed to have some kind of moral code and he seemed to stick to it. He was not an opportunist at the very least and I do think there was good that ran through him.

My heart goes out to his family. I know there must have been pain and heartache in his last days on Earth and I know that he has left a hole in their lives. I hope they will find peace.

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that work wise the week was relatively stress-free. I got a lot accomplished in the office and the kids were well-behaved on the bus. I’m working a lot of hours and normally that would put me in an irritable state but I’m happy to earn the extra money right now.

I did get to check out the new building my training team and I will be moving into this fall. I was anxious about the move but after seeing all the space well have, the kitchen space, the bathrooms, and the real live office we get with a door and everything! I think it’s going to be great, not just because we get to have our own quiet space away from the rest of the staff but because our team will get to be all in one place and we’ll no longer have to compromise or cut back on our work because we have to share space and resources.

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that I am so far behind on my reading goal for the year that I have given up all hope of meeting it. After a lot of fighting myself, feeling guilty, giving up, and trying again and again, I’ve decided to let go of my yearly goal and focus on daily reading goals instead. I start with 30 minutes of reading a day, and I shoot for another 30 minutes (or however long I can get) before bed. This week I met that goal every single day and I don’t think I’ll ever go back.

When I am trying to read 30+ books before the end of the year I power through every one I pick up. I’m not able to really take in what I am reading or consider the art of the writing beyond the plot. When I’m just worried about those 30 minutes I take what I read during that time very seriously. I study it. I underline interesting phrases and I take notes in the margins. I form opinions. I have a conversation with the author.

For that past month or so I’ve been reading On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche. This is my second attempt. It’s a short book but it’s packed quite efficiently with a lot of information. When I was trying to power through it I couldn’t understand it and I felt bad about how long it was taking me. This time I’m taking it slow and this time I not only understand it a whole lot better, but I am fascinated! I don’t agree with everything Nietzsche has to say, but he writes it well that’s for damn sure.

I look forward to writing a review when I’m done!

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that my stomach is growling at me and I can hear the washing machine beeping. I’ve got a lot to do today, around the house and just for me. It’s time I got up and moving about, I might even get out for a walk today when it cools down of course.

I hope you had a good week. I hope you learned something, made progress, and managed your stress levels in healthy ways. I hope you found time for you this weekend. I hope you saw the sun and the people you love.

Until next time.

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a virtual cup of coffee.

Written for the #WeekendCoffeeShare link-up hosted by Eclectic Alli

Photo by Andrew Welch on Unsplash

What I Learned from // The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

“Dr. Armonson stitched up her wrist wounds. Within five minutes of the transfusion he declared her out of danger. Chucking her under the chin, he said, “What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.”

And it was then Cecilia gave orally what was to be her only form of suicide note, and a useless one at that, because she was going to live: “Obviously, Doctor,” she said, “you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.”

― Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

In his debut novel, The Virgin Suicides Jeffrey Eugenides tells the story of the beautiful, strange, and mysterious Lisbon sisters. The girls Cecilia (13), Lux (14), Bonnie (15), Mary (16), and Therese (17) live in Nowhere, Suburbia—AKA Grosse Pointe, Michigan—in the 70s under the ever watchful eye of their mother and the timid parenting of their father. We watch them through the eyes and memories of the neighborhood boys who have become, and will forever be, obsessed with them.

Through carefully cataloged bits of evidence and eyewitness interviews, the boys present us with what they know. They know a lot, but it turns out it isn’t enough to have saved the sisters and certainly not enough to explain why they did it. Suicide may seem a grim topic for a novel about teenagers and love, but Eugenides gives us enough distance from the trauma to see what his characters cannot.

The book was a dream to read, but it’s taken me a long while to wrap my head around what exactly Eugenides was trying to tell me. The style is unique, written from the perspective of the boys years later, still obsessed with their investigation into the lives of these three young women. Their ordered presentation of evidence and testimony drew me in, and I became just as obsesses with the Lisbon girls as they were, but what I learned is that this story is not about the Lisbon girls.

“We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together. We knew that the girls were our twins, that we all existed in space like animals with identical skins, and that they knew everything about us though we couldn’t fathom them at all.”

― Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides is the story of boys growing into men who know that women aren’t mysteries to solve or beautiful objects to pursue and possess, they are people. They have dreams and needs, and they experience emotional pain. They are complex, cunning, and sexual. They are no more mysterious than any man is too another man. Look at them, at us, as human beings, and you will see.

I suppose most boys have little reason to consider the growth and development of young girls. There is no reason to care whether a girl’s inner world is as rich and lively as their own, but maybe that should change. Maybe it already has, but thinking back on my own experience of teenage boys much more recently than the 70s I find many reasons to doubt that. Some boys loved me, wanted me, and who were very sweet in their efforts to show me that, but I never felt truly seen by them.

These boys also learn that even when you love someone, if you can’t see them as whole human beings you can’t even begin to save them.That kind of love is, at best, useless, and at worst, self-serving and harmful. This is the way men often love women and how parents often love their children. It comes from thinking that your experience of a person is all there is to a person. It comes from never considering that women and children (and gays, and transgender people, and people of color, and elderly people, and disabled people) are more than one-dimensional and that the solutions they seek may be complicated.

The system failed them, the school, the neighborhood, their parents, and ultimately the boys who loved them too but it was all a metaphor for the many people, men, and women, young and old, are failed by the people who love them and the systems mean to save them too. The Virgin Suicides is about our collective aversion to dealing with issues of mental illness and abuse.

“They said nothing and our parents said nothing, so we sensed how ancient they were, how accustomed to trauma, depressions, and wars. We realized that the version of the world they rendered for us was not the world they really believed in, and for all their caretaking and bitching about crabgrass they didn’t give a damn about lawns.”

― Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

We would rather pretend it doesn’t happen and hope it goes away, and when we can’t do that, we resort to empty gestures and shallow, often selfish acknowledgment. When that doesn’t work, we try anger. We shame and blame and force the ugliness away from us so we can pretend again.

And suicide isn’t the only issue we would rather not face. Poverty, sexism, isolation, religion, humans are always finding new ways to avoid what hurts, embarrasses, or confuses. We find more and more mundane and pointless things to focus on to leave as little time left to consider life’s unanswerable questions. We let people who can’t conform slip through the cracks because it’s easier that way but what we can’t see is the devastation under the thin and shining lie.

The truth is we can’t ever escape the ugly parts of ourselves and our lives. I would bet each of us has our own catalog of evidence and eyewitness accounts of every pain we lived through. We carry it with us wherever we go. Maybe it’s time we presented it too and admitted we know nothing at all.

“What lingered after them was not life, which always overcomes natural death, but the most trivial list of mundane facts: a clock ticking on a wall, a room dim at noon, and the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself.

― Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

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Featured photo via Pixabay

What I Learned from // Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway, written by Virginia Woolf and published in 1925, is the story of just one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a high society woman living in London in the 1920s as she prepares to host a party at her home that evening.

We also follow the very troubled Septimus Smith, a World War I veteran who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or “shell shock” as it was referred to back then. He comes back from the war paranoid and hallucinating trying to make sense of the loss of his friend Evans and his current feelings and memories of the war and his place in the world now.

“She had the perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very, dangerous to live even one day.”

― Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway is a strange book. Written almost entirely from inside the minds of the characters in a “stream of consciousness” style follows their thoughts and observations on the past, present, and future of their lives and loved ones. It took me a long time to finish it despite its small size because that “stream of consciousness” style made it hard to get and keep my bearings. Once I did though I understood why Woolf might have chosen it.

Themes of relationships, time, religion, mental illness, existence, feminism and even sexuality are mulled over by not just Clarissa and Septimus but of all the characters around them. We learn quickly that the inner lives of these people are much richer and more interesting than their outside worlds.

I don’t claim to know what the moral of Mrs. Dalloway is, but what I learned was that your whole life is lived inside of you every day. Your thoughts are where you exist but we are so wrapped up in what’s going on outside us we never even realize it.

You remember things. You think about who you love and who you hate. You think about who you wish you were and who you are now. You wonder about other people and other places. You learn things and teach things. You’re happy, you’re sad, you’re angry. You see yourself as a child and wonder what you might look like when you get old. You wonder when do you will die, and if it will hurt, and who will remember you.

“It is a thousand pities never to say what one feels.”

― Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

But these thoughts occur only inside of our own heads and language is a poor medium for expressing them or even describing how they come to us. So, we are isolated and perpetually misunderstood. It is impossible for a person to know another person fully. THis leads to much of our sadness and suffering. To do better, to understand and to be understood, we have to start practicing sharing your thoughts, and even before you can do that, you have to start paying attention to your thoughts, and then you have to make a point of asking people about their own.

I had no idea the novel was created from two short stories titled, “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street” and “The Prime Minister,” the latter of which was unfinished. That might explain the abruptness of the ending, which is my one and only critique of the book. It felt like there was so much left to explain, not of the story, but of what it all meant. Still, I finished the book feeling once again that all the praise received for the book and for the author herself was well deserved.

I highly recommend you read it if you never have. It’s different, but if you went into it with an understanding of the style, you might have a better time of it than I did. When you do, be sure to let me know what you think!

“Well, I’ve had my fun; I’ve had it, he thought, looking up at the swinging baskets of pale geraniums. And it was smashed to atoms—his fun, for it was half made up, as he knew very well; invented, this escapade with the girl; made up, as one makes up the better part of life, he thought—making onself up; making her up; creating an exquisite amusement, and something more. But odd it was, and quite true; all this one could never share—it smashed to atoms.”

― Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

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P.S. If you have been a long time follower of Zen and Pi you may remember my older book review posts were titled “Short and Sweet Reviews,” but let’s be honest, most of the books I read have already been reviewed hundreds of times over and my short and sweet opinion won’t mean much to many. 

So, instead, I want to start sharing what I have learned from each, hence, the name change. I read to acquire wisdom and a new way of seeing the world and so, that should be what I share, not my crappy fifth-grade quality “review.” I’m excited about this new direction and look forward to reviewing more books soon, and I hope you will learn something too.

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Check out my other reviews on my “Am Reading” page or keep up with my progress on Goodreads.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Virginia Woolf on the Path from Reading to Writing

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from renowned English writer Virginia Woolf.

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Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen on January 25th, 1882 in Kensington, London. She was educated by her parents in their literate and well-connected household.

Her parents had each been married previously and been widowed, and, consequently, the household contained the children of three marriages. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was a notable historian, author, critic, and mountaineer. He was a founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, a work that would influence Woolf’s later experimental biographies.

The sudden death of her mother in 1895, when Virginia was 13, and that of her half-sister Stella two years later, led to the first of Virginia’s several nervous breakdowns. After her mother and half-sister, she quickly lost her surrogate mother, Stella Duckworth, as well as her cherished brother Thoby, when he was in his mid-20s. She was, however, able to take courses of study (some at degree level) in Ancient Greek, Latin, German and history at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London between 1897 and 1901. This brought her into contact with some of the early reformers of women’s higher education

Her most famous works include the novels Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando, and the book-length essay A Room of One’s Own, with its famous dictum, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Woolf suffered from severe bouts of mental illness throughout her life, thought to have been what is now termed bipolar disorder. She spent three short periods in 1910, 1912 and 1913 at Burley House, which is described as “a private nursing home for women with nervous disorder.” Though this instability often affected her social life, her literary productivity continued with few breaks throughout her life.

Woolf committed suicide by drowning in 1941 at the age of 59.

“For once the disease of reading has laid upon the system it weakens so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing.”

― Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Every since I can remember I have loved books. I learned to read early and easily, and my comprehension levels were always well advanced for my age. Books felt to me what watching TV must feel like to other people. I was transported right into the action, the emotion, into whole different worlds with different ways of thinking and doing things. I felt most alive, most like I was becoming future myself when I was reading.

During my 6th grade year, I volunteered to work in my school for part of my lunch period. It was so quiet in there, and it smelled like books rather than sweaty kids like the rest of the building. My job was to put the returned books back on the right shelves, but most of the time I just walked the rows and ran my hands over the worn spines. I flipped through the ones with dragons or spaceships on the front and scoffed at the ones about cheerleaders and love.

The ones I took home I could never put down. I read in the dark after my mother insisted we go to be until she grew tired of trying to force me and asked that I only keep to my room and keep quiet.

My father and his father loved reading too, and I often stole books with subject matters much too advanced for me from their collections.

I loved reading so much, and then I became a teenager, and between the depression and trying to be cool, I forgot all about reading. Then I became an adult and life got too busy for books. At first, I was busy falling in love and making a home. Then I was busy fighting for love and always working harder to build a better and better home. And no matter what there never seemed to be enough time for love and home and work and friends and sleep and reading.

Things have changed. Reading has come back to me. I realized that I had let something I loved go and I wasn’t at all happier for it. I realized I wanted something for myself. I remembered how good it felt to learn things and see the world in new ways. I remembered how reading made me feel more like myself all those years ago. So, I went looking for my old friend, my first love, and I found that she had been waiting for me all along to return. We picked up right where we left off, and we’ve been going strong ever since.

I’ve also come back to writing, another old love from my childhood. I’ve come a long way since those old angsty journals, and I want to go further still, and I know that in order to get there I can never take reading or writing for granted again. I have to make them a priority in my life along with love and home and work and friends and sleep. With them, never behind. Not when I can find the time, but when I make the time!

I wish I had learned this lesson a long time ago. If I had spent more time with books than I may be a better writer now, or at least a better person. But I am still grateful for the time I had, without having experienced the magic of words being worked on me I would never have craved such power myself, to wield over other minds and time itself.

I am grateful that books never leave you entirely and that reading is a patient and understanding friend who will let you leave and return as often as you wish. I have come back to my first love and friend, and I found that our passion for one another never really waned. I had only been a stupid human who forgot what life was really about, doing what makes you happy.

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Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

See also: Short and Sweet Reviews // Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

Featured image via George Charles Beresford [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons