Book Review: The Glass Castle

Book Review #18 – The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)

***

The Glass Castle, a memoir, shares Jeannette Wall’s experience growing up with her parents. Her parents who in many basic ways flat out refused to care for their children. Refused to get or keep jobs, refused to get or keep food, refused to get or keep clothes. Her whole childhood is on the move, from one dump of a house to the next, until they buy a place in West Virginia with no heat or running water. Where all the kids poop into a bucket that someone buries in the backyard. Where there are so many leaks, kids put tarps up over their bed. Where there is no food and the kids eat out of the cafeteria trashcan. Walls manages to portray all of this, and also all of the love and nourishment that did exist inside the house. Eventually, the three older children moved to NYC and had successful careers (Walls herself went to Barnard and became a writer). The book raises a lot of questions about family ties, burdens, and obligations — what do we owe to our children? What do children of misguided (and abusive) but loving parents, owe them? What do siblings of such trauma owe to each other?

Book Review: Dear Ijeawele

Book Review #17 – Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

***

I hesitated over whether to review this book. I wasn’t sure if it was a book. It’s an adapted email from a friend classified by Wikipedia as “an epistolary form manifesto” whatever that needs. It is 15 suggestions on how to raise a daughter with feminist values. It’s a book meant to engaged deeply with but having no children and no book club, I struggled to do so. I wished I could convene a women’s group and meet each week to discuss one of the lessons.

Book Review: Goodbye, Things

Book Review #16 – Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism (Fumio Sasaki)

*

This is a dumb book. Basically a list of how/why you should become a minimalist which is fine but examples include a globetrotter who doesn’t seem to carry any clothes in his backpack (I am so confused by how this works. What underwear does he wear while his other pair is drying…?) and the author, himself, who uses the same dish cloth to dry his hands, wash his body and…dry his dishes. Yeesh.

 

Monthly Review: April

Here is my monthly review for April. If you want to read March’s, check it out here.

1. What went well this month?

  • Relaxation. I really enjoyed having time off this month from formal, standing, and scheduled activities. It was a real pleasure to be home most nights and get to choose an activity to do — whether that was social or not.
  • Morning pages. I re-started these in April and they have been a great way to kick-start my day and add in some brainstorming and reflection.

2. What didn’t go so well this month?

  • Over-training. I pushed really hard at the gym and it caused like five days of physical and emotional exhaustion. It wasn’t really worth it.
  • Obsessing over fertility. Anxieties about fertility were in the back (or often front) of my mind probably at least once an hour this month. Just a constant cycling. I know I am prone to getting really obsessive over health-related things and research and find all sorts of home remedies to “problems” until I am taking like 10 different pills a day.

3. What did I work on last month and how did it go?

  • Nothing really. I had wanted to take a month off from productive goals. I mostly did that. Mid-April, I really over-trained myself at the gym and had a full week where I basically just sat around, ate what I wanted, and watched TV. That was nourishing for me at the time and I naturally entered a phase with a little more drive.

4. What am I working toward?

  • New office routines. My company of 8 years is changing offices. This is really bittersweet for me and I frankly have some anxiety around what the new space will look like. At the same time, it is a terrific new start to some of the routines I want to put in place like…
    • Limiting the times of day when I can use the internet for fun/personal browning/news reading/etc.
    • Having a list of focus activities for myself I can work on if work is slow (e.g. taking courses, learning Japanese, etc.)
    • Being a little healthier — maybe taking two walking breaks a day instead of one long one, standing more, eating in the kitchen instead of just at my desk.
  • Self-compassion. The more I emphasize this, the better my quality of life is. Acknowledging what my mood is, accepting that, and then seeing what care I need from myself or from others, goes a long way towards helping my life not be totally dominated by my emotional state.

Morning Pages

Have you ever done morning pages? A few summers ago, I worked my way through The Artist’s Way (a terrific book, by the way). I honestly can’t remember that much of what I learned, but one thing really stuck with me: morning pages.

Morning pages are meant to be written first thing in the morning, before your brain has gotten overwhelmed by the world and is overly analytical. They are three pages, stream of consciousness. You are not allowed to edit and you are not allowed to read back.

The point is to push your mind into a space it might not enter naturally. For me, the first 300 words come very easily. I write about where I am, my mood at that moment. But then there is always a period of push…what else is on my mind? What’s really going on? That’s where the morning pages provide a lot of their value. By pushing to three pages, you start to understand patterns of your mind. Are there things that come up again and again as parts of your life that you are unhappy with? Are there dreams and desires you mention frequently?

I have done morning pages on and off now for a number of years, and I always find the periods when I do them are some of my best, because I feel very aware of my state, myself, my desires.

More on Building Community

In Part I, I wrote about my experience with local community and how much value it has added to my life. In Part II, I wrote about my experience creating a lady web. In Part III, I want to dive into more of the practicalities of creating a drop-in community.

I have noticed, for myself, the hardest part of building community comes in the gray zone period. I label this period as after you have the initial honeymoon where you are like — wow, I just met someone great with fab friend potential — and the intimate we can hang out with no real plans phase.

My friendship sweet spot is definitely in the let’s hang out with no plans phase. Loose plans are fine – going to the beach, going for a walk – but what I most enjoy from friendship is intimacy. I love having long and juice conversations, I love gossiping, I love talking about my relationships, my life, asking for advice, giving advice, problem solving, etc. It’s the fine details that make me feel like my friends are full people who I completely appreciate.

Recently, I read some statistic that said the more number of hours you spend with someone, the closer you consider yourself to be to them. This makes a lot of intuitive sense, partly because you probably are not choosing to spend long hours with someone you don’t like or don’t want to get to know (outside of work). But when you are in the gray zone, spending these hours isn’t necessarily fun. Instead it feels like work. Because it is work. You are literally putting effort and emotional labor into building a new relationship.

So what are my tips for drop-in community:

  • Initiate the relationship. I have never had an issue being the friend who makes plans even if the “balance” is off. If you like someone, and want them to be your friend, but are waiting for them to invite you to one event for every time you invite them somewhere, you will never be friends. If you like someone, act like it and invite them someplace.
  • Spend the hours. Data driven per the reference above. Sometimes, you just need literal time to push through the gray zone. If you like someone and feel a spark, but sometimes the conversation is stilted, just look at it as an investment in your future friendship. Or get drunk for a fast-track to friendzone.
  • Don’t compare. Never, ever, ever compare someone you just met to a friend you have had since you were 13. It doesn’t compare, it won’t compare, and comparing it will ruin all of your potential friendships.
  • Find fun. A lot of people feel lonely and look to new friendships as an obligation. But if you aren’t finding fun things you can do with that person, and you aren’t having fun with that person, it probably won’t work out. Try a bunch of activities that you find fun and see if anything works well with the new relationship.

Book Review: Sour Heart

Book Review #15 –  Sour Heart (Jenny Zhang)  

*****

This is a brilliant book. A collection of short stories with some interwoven threads, it is a raw and honest look at immigrant life. The broad theme of the book is the first and second generation immigrant experience in NYC. It goes so deep into the challenges and the hopes of moving to a new country during an era where there wasn’t technology to keep connections with the old world and the new. Almost disgusting at points in terms of how explicit it was, it is unflinching and is the best encapsulation of the immigrant experience I have ever read.