the fault in our stars

Of course I should have foreseen that it would take someone else’s writing to make me write again, as I am that type of writer.  A word, a phrase, an idea and metaphor and an entire body of work of someone else’s helps me to rediscover my own genius (I use this term loosely).

And so it was, or is, with The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.   The book is technically in the “teen” genre (or so says the baby blue sticker imposed on it by our town’s library) and was apropos recommended to me by my teenaged daughter #1.  This book is teen literature in the same way that the Harry Potter series is kid’s literature, meaning that it is and it isn’t only for the targeted younger reader, as its messages and themes are perhaps equally relatable when taken beyond face value as an adult.  And that is part of the insidious beauty of this book;  as an adult reader you have little expectation of greatness when picking up a teen book.  The main character is a funny, intelligent and irreverent teen, who happens to have a terminal illness, which she has thus far managed to dodge with one  miracle fictitious drug intervention.  The irony is that as adult readers, we can be unarmed by the insight into life and life’s mysteries offered by a teenage girl, who by identity and number of years walking the earth, has experienced so much less life than you, but also so much more given her inevitable (like us all) but accelerated (unlike most of us) march to the end of life.

The main character’s star-crossed lover has also looked death in the eye, but has beaten his cancer, at least for now.  He understands the tenuous dance between life and death, fear and love and all the lies between, and they become each others confidants in a world that is so real yet unreal for them.

There are so many single words, short phrases, clever literal and liturgical references in this book that make the writing brief, yet beautiful and poignant.  Some of the lines that struck me the most:

-A fear of oblivion and a recommendation to ignore it

-the late afternoon light heavenly in its hurtfulness

-there was no through (as in friends helping me through my cancer)

-incessantly reminding your lungs to be lungs (and at one point reminding them “to get their shit together”)

– the only solution was to unmake the world to make it black and silent and uninhabited again, in the beginning when there was the Word.

-the world went on as it does, without my full participation.

-some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom.  And in freedom, most people find sin.

-that feeling of excitement and gratitude about just being able to marvel at it all

-if only my memory would compromise

-some infinities are bigger than other infinities

-I thought being an adult meant knowing what you believe, but that has not been my experience.

-I  believe the universe wants to be noticed.  I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.

-so much depends on this observer of the universe {my side note, which quantum physics has proven at a sub-atomic level}

-I owed a debt to the universe that only my attention could repay, and also that I owed a debt to everybody who didn’t get to be a person anymore and everyone who hadn’t gotten to be a person yet.

 

I was unarmed by the voice of a teenager inflicted with a terminal cancer, who can not breathe- the one vital life force we can most easily take for granted.  We can all take in her sermon-of-sorts because we aren’t expecting it, and we haven’t already steeled ourselves to the fact that it’s coming.

The book was made into a movie.  Who should play the lead male character was decided by a social media vote.  This is where I start to lose my visceral connection to this book.

My daughter asked if I wanted to see the trailer when I was about 1/5 of the way through the book.  “Absolutely not,” I said, “I want to picture the characters as I picture them, not by how and who they were cast.”  “Yah,” she said “I kind of wish I’d finished the book before I saw the trailer.”

I’m struck by the vast expanse between the star-crossed lovers with the remitted cancer and slow terminal illness, while my own teenaged daughter’s greatest current medical malady is acne, which I am gently reminded of while crying through the conclusion of the book, when her dermatologist’s office calls me to refill her prescription. And I thank my lucky stars that that’s the extent of her needed medical intervention.

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What did I do today? (and confusing the Davids)

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When I have the time, I spend my day like a gatherer, a gatherer of information-some of which will hopefully ferment with enough experience to become actual wisdom.  Since I can not totally neglect my mother, homeowner, wife, volunteer and paid work duties for too long, my knowledge gathering days are also interspersed with other more (immediately) practical task days as well.  I find that at the end of either of these types of days, I can’t really list of what I have done in detail.  It all becomes part of some vague balancing of doing and being that is my life, but to try to retell it makes it seem dull and meaningless.  To me, that is far from the truth of it.  It’s kind of like why I feel like I am not a good story-teller or joke teller.  I can usually remember the beginning and the end/punchline/lesson, but the details in between get lost, and those are generally the meat, the buildup, of the story or joke.

I’ve talked to other mothers about the peculiar insignificance of our daily tasks.  Many days are primarily composed of what approximates 40, five-minute tasks.   Each task, while requiring completion, in and of itself is insignificant and should not be committed to memory.  None of the tasks requires rocket-science brain power,  just time.  But the math is clear, 200 minutes (5X40), or 3.3 hours of stuff that can only be described as… stuff.  Stuff:  put a few dishes in dishwasher, pick dirty socks up off couch, make a pediatrician appt., follow-up on school book fair info, pay club fees for soccer season, follow-up on confusing email about trip to the museum that I’m chaperoning, look for recipe for dinner tonight, send work related email, confirm carpool arrangements for tomorrow… you get the gist.  These are interspersed with a few other more time-consuming and significant tasks (that sometimes come from a hastily scratched, ever running, daily to-do list), and the bulk of my “kids are at school” hours are filled.

Looking at the “task days” as compared to my “information gathering days,” some ironic similarities and discrepancies surface.  Info gathering generally starts out with a specific purpose, something I have happened upon or thought about prior, that I want to follow-up or do more research on.  Today as an example.  Recently I listened to a “This American Life”  episode on NPR with Ira Glass.  While I’ve probably listened to the show before, it hadn’t really been notable to me until this recent listen.  Now of course I can’t remember what that specific episode was about (here’s the part where I’ve forgotten some relevant details which would make my story a good one), but it led me to look up the show online and listen to many of the excerpts from past shows that were played during the 500th show review highlights.  As part of that, I happened upon one of Ira’s highlights, which was an episode about Americans living in Paris and included Ira touring around with David Sedaris.  Except for some reason, as I was starting the episode, I got it into my head that it was David Foster Wallace that Ira was talking with.  And this led to a huge “does not compute” warning in my brain.  I have read works from both DS and DFW and liked them for entirely different reasons, combine this with having listened to DFW’s Kenyon College commencement speech a few years back, and I was thoroughly and utterly confused.  Here’s what’s running through my head… “DFW’s voice is much higher than I remember it and he’s much gayer than I would have thought…he’s much more odd too…his persona does not match his writing at all, I would have expected more of a quieter, intellectual type person.”   And then I had to go to bed, as it was too late for me to be up anyway.

Over several days I kept trying to reconcile the gap between who I thought DFW was, and who he seemed to be in this interview.  Today I vowed to look into it, as something just wasn’t right.  And sure enough, after a few google searches, the mystery was solved. I’d had the wrong David in my head.  This process then rekindled my admiration of all things DFW, and I watched several interviews that were done with him before his untimely death in 2008.  Somehow in that process (again, not sure of the details here) I ended up on a tangent of reading things about and from Leo Tolstoy, quotes from his “Calendar of Wisdom,” and vowed to myself that once I finish slogging through his “The Kingdom of God is Within You”  (and it is a slog, while there are some gems in the text, you have to get through a lot of other less interesting, more preachy stuff, to find them), I will read his “War and Peace” once and for all.  (I’m not sure how I got through high school and college without ever having that book as required reading.)   Which then somehow led me to looking at some excerpts from Susan Sontag’s published diaries “As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh.”

Through some mystical process, much of this fabulous knowledge then somehow osmosisly (not a real word) disperses into what is already in my consciousness and congeals itself into my broad philosophies of life.  However, to go back and try to pick out individual quotes, philosophies, beliefs to share with others is next to impossible.  It’s there, but just not as a separate, identifiable entity.  I could not tell you specific sources for individual threads of knowledge and belief, rather I could (only in writing) give you the bibliography of all that’s contributed to my philosophy of life.   However, this bibliography does not actually exist, so perhaps I should add to to my running to do list, to be completed on a task day.

Which then would actually bring this blog post full circle.

Something to write

Photo on 2013-09-17 at 22.05I feel like I have to write something, anything. I have no idea where I am going with this post (which is unusual for me) but I can only hide from the fact that I have a neglected blog for so long.  I can only pretend that all of the ideas that keep materializing out of seemingly nowhere in my mind do not deserve to be voiced in print for so long.  So,  begrudgingly and ironically I am sitting down to write, today, now.  I could keep making excuses about how an unplanned 4 day hiatus from school (just a small natural disaster to blame) has left me with my 3 children at home and no time to write, but hey, this is my life and much of what happens in it, for better and worse, is unplanned.  The irony comes from the fact that in the not so recent past, I finished reading the book The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield.  While the gems that come from this book are too numerous to mention, one piece stuck with me, and I have been trying my hardest to deny it.  “There’s a secret that real writer’s know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard.  What’s hard is sitting down to write.  What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”   I could write the book on resistance (no pun intended).  Resistance is a good friend of mine, we go way, way back.  But what keeps playing over in my head, for months now, is that if you want to be a writer, you have to actually write.  Not a novel concept (wow I am funny today).  Yet some part of me, apparently the part of me that doesn’t think that I can/should/am good enough etc. to be a “real” writer, keeps winning out over the part of me that desperately wants to and needs to write.

For all of us that is the easier road, at least in the short run, to let the resistance win.  It has all the rational arguments, it has all the ammunition of why you will fail at what you want to do, it will not hesitate to tell you how childish and silly you are to think that you can be something or someone different than who you are today.  But if you’re lucky, that meek little voice inside you that’s telling you to be different, to start something new (or restart something from your past) will be persistent, will bounce back from the continual bullying blows of resistance, and one day will force you to be who you were meant to be. Having at least written something today, I’m starting a path towards evening the score with my own resistance.

 

haven’t been feelin’ it…

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.” Ernest Hemingway

“There is an enormous distance between thinking and the act of writing.” Eric Hoffer

“I also noticed, as the months went by, how myths and legends came floating into my mind. It was some time before I realized that the myths dovetailed into a pattern, that they were telling a coherent story.”
Eric Hoffer

I haven’t been here (my blog) in a while. I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve been trying not to beat myself up about not posting anything. Aside from some poetry that hasn’t felt relevant (or ready) to post here, I haven’t been writing much, and I guess that for the moment I am OK with that. I have been reading and thinking (two of my favorite activities) and have picked up some handy quotes in the interim, which I have posted above.

It seems that while living my life provides the material for my writing, that living also gets in the way of my writing. Fully living causes me to switch from observing life, to really being deeply engaged in life, which feels important to do (at least every once in a while). While I have been in a transition of sorts for several years now (could be my own little mid-life crisis), it seems that just recently my husband may have entered some transitions of his own too. And that’s a lot of transition for one household to handle, thus fueling my need to really be engaged in the living of my life/our lives currently.

I’ve been having a bit of a paradigm shift along with all of this, due to the reading I’ve been doing, a new church we’ve been attending and the realization that my assumptions about some of my husband’s motivations in life may have been way off the mark.

More on all of this I am sure will follow, when the writing compels me more than the living.

lessons from a girl scout cookie overdose

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I have a dining room full of girl scout cookies right now. My business-minded seven-year old is thriving under the prospect of selling all 90 boxes, counting the money she has collected and the boxes she has left to sell, and wondering about what event her troop will spend the money on. It’s been a good lesson in business, counting, collection, customer service and goal setting for her. However, it has not been so good for my waistline. You see, I like to eat sweet things, especially cookies. I always have. Despite having the experience of being sick from eating too many girl scout cookies (thin mints) as a child, I still indulge (though to this day I will not eat chocolate and mint together, in any form). So I stay away from the thin mints, but not the other kinds.

Yesterday, I started my day off with quite a few cookies right after breakfast, and continued a downhill slide into sugar oblivion until the early afternoon. Later in the day I wasn’t feeling so good. I even took a nap on the couch in the afternoon, causing my daughters to wonder aloud “what’s wrong with mom?” Aside from the physical ill effects of eating too much sugar, I was also beating myself up mentally. There have been times in my life when I have struggled with emotional and compulsive eating of sugary foods, but I had thought that I was beyond that.  A few years ago I read the book Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth (which I highly recommend if your relationship with food is not as healthy as it could be). After reading the book, I took a hard look at my relationship with food, especially sweets. I also have done some inquiry as to how the status of my relationships affects my want of sugar.

In the past I would have characterized my overindulgence in sugary foods as a way to run away from emotions that were hard for me to process; I don’t think that was the case yesterday. It was more like revisiting an old habit, in the form of an almost out-of-body experience of not truly living in myself. For each round of cookie eating, I wasn’t really tasting them that much beyond the first cookie, but I was still eating. I wasn’t inhabiting my body and really experiencing the cookies, which would have caused me to eat much slower. Instead it was a mindless rush of sugar ingestion with a certain numbness to it, after which I felt worse than when I’d started, leaving me with the question of “why did I just do that to myself?” The overindulgence seemed to be a way to revisit some old feelings of self-criticism and self-contempt; and I didn’t really like what I found there. I was left feeling empty and not whole. That feeling stuck with me until I went to bed last night.

One of the beautiful things about life is that today is a new day, a new start. And I’m back to feeling whole and loving myself with all my faults. I had one cookie this morning, and stopped at that. And thanks to yesterday, we have that many fewer cookies for which to solicit purchases from our neighbors and friends.