First up today: me making a pretty typical me mistake. Next: a book that’s totally vibing with the view out my window right now and that I loved, plus one chock-full-of-weird-reading-experience—so skip down to that if that’s what you’re here for!
Conceded that it was a long list. But I want to do—and be—a lot of things. I want to speak other languages fluently, to be able to draw the things I see and imagine, to stay connected with my people, to move flexibly through the world with my well-trained dog by my side. So I had this list. Of small things I could do every day to move toward those goals. Small!
It was, however, kind of a lot of small things. And it wasn’t instead of other things. It was, of course, in addition to.
And it wasn’t exactly too much. Technically I have time to add small movements in the direction of all of those goals to every day and still also write, spend time with my family, podcast, read, sleep, hike, exercise. I really do. There’s a lot of time in a day. Technically. Like, if you do the math.
And I’m good at small steps toward big goals. I’m even good at doing things that me-now isn’t super hyped about for me-later’s benefit. I have read all the books. I know how to bundle a less-fun task with one you want to do, to “not break the chain”, to insert a new habit attached to an old one. And I know the slogans! What you do every day is who you are. You have to do a thing to be a thing.
Still. It started to get pretty annoying to get to the end of a day when I did practice Spanish, do yoga and pop in a short dog-training session (and you know, work and all the other stuff), only to remember I still hadn’t practiced French, or sat down to draw, or checked in with a friend. I mean, they’d only take a few minutes, right? Everyone has a few minutes! I had a few minutes! And I they were things I wanted to do and have done only… maybe not exactly right then…
You’d think I’d know better than this by now, right?
Onward to February, in which … weekly goals, I guess. Honestly, I’m trying to figure that out. Because I haven’t stopped wanting to add these things to my life. And I truly I AM better at doing things I do every day. But this is Too. Many. Things.
How do you manage to actually do things that you don’t do daily?
Winter this year has been a seemingly endless streak of days with the sunlight filtered out by clouds, of white and brown and gray, a landscape with no blue in the sky and no light to bring out the red of the barns. Even the cars around here are covered in a layer of dirt obscuring the paint. It’s like living in an old photograph.
Small World, a story of two divorced sisters moving in together to see if they can salvage their own version of family while finally understanding the family they were raised in, fits that vibe perfectly. It’s not a big story—but it’s a story about big things, about moments in life when it seems like the sun will never come back and yet things are not-so-bad and shouldn’t you be-grateful? It’s about being funny and gritty and finding little bits of joy, both real and petty, about putting one foot in front of the other and not knowing if anything will ever change.
It will encourage you to reexamine the myths of your life and your childhood, of who you are to other people and why, of who you think you were supposed to be and what shaped those thoughts. And it’s a nice, meaty meal of a book that will stick with you and warm you after you turn the last page.
In case you can’t tell, I loved it.
The thing about Jane Smiley: I admire her. She’s on my list (with Anna Quindlen and Ann Patchett and Alice Hoffman and a few others) of writers whose careers inspire me, because they explore and experiment and aren’t caught in their genres and yet stay readable and commercial. I don’t have to love everything they do to love them.
So I grabbed two copies of A Dangerous Business, one for me and one for my mom. Mini book club! Our results were mixed. A Dangerous Business could be summed up as a cozy mystery… in an Edgar Allen Poe style. Set in a brothel in 1850’s Monterey. Which you won’t be surprised to hear makes for an unusual reading experience. We both found it hard to connect to the protagonist—but I think that was intentional, because the protagonist was figuring out how to connect to herself. We both liked how the book stayed relatively light… not really threatening or stressful to read—but that was also a little odd, given the whole brothel-in-the-1850’s thing.
It’s a really nice brothel. Not fancy, but nice. Cozy. And just the fact that I’m saying that sums up many of the book’s strangenesses. I’m glad I read it. I just don’t know what, mentally, to DO with it. Should YOU read it? It’s not long. It is fun—although the writing isn’t in what we think of as a “fun” style, and maybe that’s part of the weirdness. But overall, sure. Give it a go. (Amusingly, this has a similar the sun-never-shines-but-the-weather-isn’t-exactly-bad vibe.)
The current #amreading:
FICTION: Babel—this book and me, we are on a break. I haven’t decided whether to keep going. Passing, by Nella Larsen. I’m actually in between on novels right now; not sure what I’ll start tonight. My options are in the Substack chat if you’re into that kind of thing.
NON-FICTION: I’ve reduced last week’s long list to Attention Span by Gloria Mark and The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman and added The Real Work: On the Mystery of Mastery by Adam Gopnik which I started before but forgot about. I’m still kinda vaguely reading the others but not ACTIVELY.
FINISHED: The Reunion by Kayla Olson. Thumbs up. Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade. Also Thumbs up. The Wilderwomen by Ruth Emmie Lang. I loved a lot of this and definitely finished it. Great characters, good writing. In the end, for me, I like a more definitive ending, and I think I have mixed feelings about the paranormal-but-not-magic-or-ghosts-or-or-aliens genre—which includes, for example, Kevin Wilson. I kind of like the whole there are more things under the sun than in your philosophy idea, but in practice (or at least, in books) I seem to prefer ghosts, witches and aliens.
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KJ, you've hit the nail on the head. You are trying to accomplish TOO MANY small projects. French AND Spanish? Pick one. When you become fluent, then you can tackle the other one. Also, three times a week is a habit. I didn't say that. Time expert Laura Vanderkam did. So maybe you try to paint (connect with yourself) or reach out to a friend (connect with your people) on a given day.
As for Jane Smiley, Yes, she's a heralded writer. But I HATED A Thousand Acres. Even watched the movie to make sure I hated it and, surprise, I still did. So she is off my list. It's okay. There are plenty of others on that list, including Anna Quindlen. And Barbara Kingsolver.
Good luck! Happy reading and habit-ing!
I know.... I’m B1 in Spanish for sure. Maybe B2. But I want to do ALL THE THINGS. I’m slowing. I swear. And thanks for the reminder about 3x a week. I should know that!