A friend gave me a book a while ago with the words: “You need this. Read it.” I thanked her, then put it on the window sill in my office (aka The Graveyard of Random Notes and Lists of Things to be Done), where it continued to live for the next eight or ten weeks. A couple of days ago I finally picked it up. And I must say – she was right. I needed that book and it’s coming at a perfect time as well. Thank you Ilona!
The book in question is “Wishcraft: How to get what you really want” by Barbara Sher. I was sceptical at first. I had a period in my life where I got self-help books by the dozen out of the library and usually didn’t manage to read past the first five pages before I gave up in disgust. They always seemed to be written for other people, not for me. People who cared about career, how to manage a family, how to earn a lot of money. None of which applies to my life. However, Barbara Sher had me by the first page.
Her tone is so warm, so human, so down-to-earth that I immediately felt welcomed. And when I read on and realized that this book is not someone lecturing me on what I ought to have and ought to do to be a valuable member of society, but rather a book written by someone who tells me that everybody has genius inside them and reservoirs of talent and passion, whatever that passion may be! – and then goes on giving me exercise upon exercise for finding out what my passion is and what’s keeping me for living it and how to go about dealing with the things that stand in the way… then, I think, I have found a new friend. That’s what it feels like. Someone who encourages me, shows me my strengths, believes in me.
I think that I already had a pretty good understanding of who I am and what my strengths are and in which direction my passions lie. That’s not to say the exercises weren’t useful to me – far from it, I found it very useful to really sit down with pen and paper and make lists and think things through, but what I mean, is that there hadn’t been any huge surprises (so far).
However, this morning as I was sitting in the weak spring sunshine that came through the living room window, I did get a surprise. The exercise was to list twenty things that bring me joy. No explanations, no qualifications and the only rule was to get to twenty. So I did. I wrote down things like: reading, developing characters, cuddling with the dog, hiking, swimming, sitting in the sun, taking photos, being with friends, … When I’d got to twenty, I looked into the book again and the next part of the exercise was to make a table and to note for each item the answers to questions like: When did I do this last? Is it cheap or expensive? Do I do it alone or with others? Is it indoors or outdoors? Is it intellectual, physical, spiritual? … and to add as many questions as I wanted.
I started doing it, but noticed very soon that the answers were mostly the same. The majority of things I like are cheap to free, outdoors, physical and intellectual or physical and spiritual at the same time (like hiking… for me, that’s both physical and spiritual), it’s done alone, I usually do it spontaneously and it doesn’t require a lot of planning…. and all of them I haven’t done in a quite a while.
And that brought me up short. So apparently there are all these activities that I enjoy and that make me feel good, most of which don’t cost me anything and can be done by myself without a lot of planning – and I’m not doing them??? Wow. Wait a minute. In other words, I’m forgoing a number of sources for happiness and contentment for no discernible reason except that I didn’t think about it or am too lazy to get up from my desk. What an eye-opener.
Needless to say, I’m going to make a conscious effort to include them into my present life. No use putting things off. Tomorrow morning, instead of talking the dog on our usual round, I’ll pack him into the car and drive somewhere new (up the hill on the other side of the valley, I think) and go for a really long walk. I’ll take my camera and instead of thinking of it as a necessary task that has to be performed, I’ll think of it as something that I have chosen voluntarily.
There, Barbara Sher – lesson learned, and I’m only in chapter 3.
If you want, try this exercise. Let us know what you found out. Even better, get the book and do all the other exercises. It’s fun and – who knows? – you might learn something new about yourself.
As befitting a year devoted to courage, I continued the process of unfurling from my self-induced state of reclusion and had a grand day out on Saturday. My youngest sister had to go the airport in the morning to fly back to England and since for unfathomable reasons it’s cheaper and quicker to go by car than by public transport, that’s what we did. I dropped her off and then navigated the car downtown, the town in question being Stuttgart (the capital of Baden-Württemberg, which is a federal state of Germany, the one right down in the south-western corner).
We’d started out from home with blue skies and a rose-and-gold sunrise, but we’d encountered the first snow on the way down already. When I’d parked the car and walked the couple minutes to the centre, I sent my middle sister this picture and text:
I’d forgotten the acute sense of being connected and at the same time gloriously alone that you get when drifting through a big city, but I recaptured it as I tried my way through some new clothes (everything sorely needed, some of it coveted, practically nothing that fit), navigated some shoe stores (same story), ate my way through a variety of international take-away food, listened to street musicians, smiled at the pigeons huddling everywhere to be away from the snow, and looked out for the small human interactions, the gestures, the words, the movements that make a city come alive.
At one point it got really cold and I bought myself a cheap pair of finger-free gloves, choosing, from the rainbow of available colours, the electric-blue ones, which went together awesomely with my choice of nail polish for the weekend, hot pink. The rest of the day, I felt like shoving my hands in front of every stranger’s face and say: “Look! Pretty, isn’t it?” I didn’t. I didn’t take the gloves off again though, not even when I was sitting in a café. I enjoyed too much the feeling of being colourful again. And since you guys are my friends and won’t call the police on me for harassment, I’m gonna shove my hand in front of your faces. Look! Pretty, isn’t it?
I’d toyed with the idea of spending part of the afternoon in one of my favourite museums (an ethnological museum that has the most interesting special exhibitions and is a mine of creative inspiration!), but they closed early, so I didn’t manage. Instead, I spent the time in the two major book shops, feeling calm and happy in a way it’s only possible to feel in the presence of large numbers of books. These are the ones I eventually chose to take home with me:
They are all in the area of contemporary fantasy, which wasn’t planned as such. I pondered the poetry and the crime section just as long and the classics even longer. I was very tempted by a new edition of On the Road, with beautiful photography and set in a clear, stark font, but eventually decided to go for new stories. Now I wonder if there’s a deeper meaning behind my choices. Maybe I long to escape into a magical world as well. (Well, I know I do, I just didn’t know it was this easily translatable into book choices).
I’d also thought about going to the theatre or the opera in the evening, but there was nothing on that particularly interested me and after a whole day of walking and strolling and standing I was pretty tired anyway. Tired, but happy.
Happy because I bought four books whose covers I adore and that I can’t wait to read. Happy because I let myself drift, which is freedom and pleasure in itself. Happy because I smiled at people in cafés and behind counters and people making music and most of them smiled back at me. And happy because I haven’t lost the knack of noticing small, easily-overlooked details in the rushing crowds that make me laugh and think.
Life’s pretty good, all in all.
How was your weekend?
Alright, so I found the perfect way to distract myself from my NaNo panic. After spending ALL day yesterday procrastinating by doing “research” into how to create perfect characters – everything from character charts, questionnaires, articles on character voice and how to write the opposite gender, … – I saw an update on “Princess” Monica’s blog where she raved about GoodReads and I caved in and signed up.
Now, I know you won’t believe this, but I really, honestly had not been a member there before. I hadn’t even checked it out. Yes, you’re allowed to laugh and no, I won’t hold it against you if you shake your head in disbelief and tut-tut disapprovingly. It’s justified.
I had been meaning to check out what it was all about forever, but it always landed at the bottom of the to-do list, plus, I don’t much like hypes and that’s what it felt like. But since I signed up last night, I have already acquired deep circles under my eyes, who in turn have gone red and swollen from staring at the screen so hard. My fingers on my mouse-hand are hurting from clicking on those teensy stars and I have landed myself with a new addiction. Hussa!
I’m also slowly starting to see why so many people are on there. True, so far all I’ve done is set up a basic profile and wreck my brain trying to think of all the books I’ve ever read and enthusiastically clicking ‘Want to Read’ on everything remotely interesting, but I can see that’s it’s a really good way of discovering new things to read. It’s also a really neat and specialized way of exchanging opinions about books and I think I’ll head over and check out the lists now, because I’ve been meaning to start reading some steampunk and I just don’t know where to start. I’m guessing the lists will be helpful there.
What’s your opinion on GoodReads? And what should I definitely try/look out for/experiment with? Any tips?
Beware of reading novels.
You get eaten alive. Your thoughts are not your own. Your dreams are being taken over. Your waking moments are haunted by others’ thoughts. Your language changes. Your outlook changes. Your perception of the world changes. Your priorities most definitely change. (I’ll just finish this one chapter, and then, then I can finally sleep, like I wanted to at the beginning of each of the last five chapters.) You are out of your own control.
And not always, upon finishing a book, are you richer for the experience. Often, a bit of yourself stays in that story. It calls you back and makes you remember long-forgotten passages or characters or pictures from a book you read many years ago and have not thought of since and that you cannot recall and that passage will haunt you for days and weeks like a ghost at the back of your mind and not let go and everything you see will remind you of what you loved and then lost and then forgot and then remembered and lost again – that world that you lived in for a few days and cannot go back to, and you will feel poorer for it.
I just found another way to define what is a good story: a story that makes you cry even though you’ve read it 10+ times already.
Another one: a story that will not allow you to put down your book, no matter if you have all hell break out around you and should be doing a gazillion other things rather than read – even though you’ve already read the book more than once and know exactly what’s going to happen.
And another one: a story that makes the world around you seem less real than the one on the page (yes, even though you’ve read it more than once before).
All these things happen to me whenever I pick up any of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books. Any. No matter how often I’ve read them (and I’ve read them VERY often).
I wish I could tell a story like that. I wish more other people could, as well.
Do you have any stories that fit into these definitions for you? Or do you have any definitions of your own?
Yesterday’s awesomeness appreciation post on Dylan Thomas received a hitherto unknown-on-this-blog amount of interest. Which was really neat and very much appreciated!
It leads me to the idea that maybe a lot of the people who dropped by love literature. Or good writing. Which leads me to the thought that maybe they also love classics. Or maybe they don’t (but that’s okay). Which leads me to the thought of asking for advice: to read classics or not to read classics?
By classics I mean those kind of books that you are supposed to have read to have a good (classical) education. The kind of books that appear in literary canons. I’m ambivalent about reading them. On the one hand, I think they did not become known as classics for nothing. They are probably really good and have great things to say. On the other hand, there are so many books that are also really good but relate so much more to the world I live in. They just haven’t been endorsed by generations of readers yet.
And really, it’s not like I haven’t read anything. I’ve read quite a bit of the English classics, and I’ve read the usual German ones (Goethe, Schiller, and anything else they wanted us to read at school), and some of the international ones, like the Odyssey, and when I think about it, actually I have read quite a lot. But even as I type, I have the likes of Hebel, Storm, Hesse, Kleist, Stifter, … (= all of them are on the ‘should-be-read’ list of German literary canons) staring down at me from the shelf with reproachful bindings. Not to mention all the American and English ones I haven’t read.
So, a question to you guys and girls reading this: should I read them? Or may I indulge my secret desire to re-read one of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books without feeling guilty?
Have you ever been eaten alive? No? Well, I have. Often. Most recently, yesterday.
The culprit is called “The End of Everything” and was written by Megan Abbott.
It’s a slim book, so I started and finished it within 24 hours. As far as the actual reading went. As for the story… The story is still alive in me, gnawing at my heart, insinuating itself into my imagination and taking over my thoughts. Do you ever catch yourself out thinking thoughts that aren’t your own? Or having inner conversations with yourself, only, you’re not talking to yourself? I do. It’s creepy, but somehow I start thinking in the style, in the rythm, in the language of a story that enthralls me. I talk to myself in a way and in words that I normally never would, but that are intrinsic to that story.
That’s what I call being eaten alive. And “The End of Everything” has done that to me.
It’s a beautifully written story of the friendship of two thirteen year old girls who grew up together and shared everything – until one of them disappears and the other one is left to discover that however close they might have been, there were things that her friend did not share with her. Her whole world is changed and nothing is quite like it was before. It’s a crime story, a story of friendship, a story of girls, a story of awakening sexuality, a story of loss and jealousy and love and despair, told through the eyes of a young girl in simple and beautiful language. It’s magnificent.
And I can’t shake off its spell. I had trouble sleeping because I kept re-running scenes in my head (and I never have problems with falling asleep!). I also feel emotionally drained and exhausted, as if I truly went through all the events of this story. You know what? Delete that “as if” – I did go through all these events.
What do we learn from that (again)? Being eaten alive by a story will make you go through experiences that might never otherwise come in your way. You will learn from it. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get your thoughts back to yourself after some days.
Now go off to your nearest library and find that book. And by the way, have you ever been eaten alive?
Pheeeww…. I have just this minute emerged from a 24-hour-reading-sprint. The first time in years that I took up a book, started reading and was finished reading 24 hours later, with six hours of sleep squeezed in between 6am and noon. My mind and imagination are still caught up in the story and somehow I don’t want to wake up, just float in that world and feel a part of it.
The book that has kept me enthralled so much is one I picked up almost randomly in an Oxfam shop and it’s called ‘Rivers of London’, written by Ben Aaronovitch. I’d never heard of either him or the book before, but apparently it was a Sunday Times Bestseller, so I guess it got the following and praise it deserves.
(I took a short break just there in writing this post to check out the author/book website, The Folly. Come on, click on the link, it’s fun!)
I still can’t shake off the imaginary world created in the book – not that I want to. This is what a good story is supposed to do: suck you in, make the world it conjures up believable and real and make it linger in the heads of the people. And leave them wanting more (to quote a line of the main character). And I do want more. There’s a second story revolving around the character cast and tomorrow I’m so going to go to the nearest library (which is only a leisurely ten minute stroll away from my front door, lucky me) to see if they have it. I hope they do.
I won’t write what it’s all about, you can check that our yourselves, e.g. at the relevant amazon site, or the book website linked to above, or just trust me and go and get it, because it’ll have you reading through the night!
But since I’m a nice person, I’ll give you the book blurb anyway… just to save you the trouble of clicking on the links.
My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (as the Filth to everybody else). My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit – we do paperwork so real coppers don’t have to – and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May.
Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluable, and that brought me to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated: nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden . . . and there’s something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair. The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it’s falling to me to bring order out of chaos – or die trying.
…….. well? Does that sound enticing or what? Read it. Really.