Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Book review: No One Is Here Except All of Us

I've raved about my library system before, and this post is going to do it again. While I usually go to a particular library to pick up or drop off most of my books, I can't really go there if I don't have either a plan or a hold already there. That location is very steeped in horror, LDS fiction, and romances, three genres of books that rarely go home with me. If I need a book and don't have a plan, I will go to a different branch that always seems much farther away, but it really isn't. I can usually browse the stacks and come up with something that is good.

I had once such visit to the library a few weeks ago. And while I usually consult the computer for suggestions or go on Amazon to find reviews, I did none of that. I just wandered through the shelves and pulled books out at random. I can still remember the spine of No One is Here Except All of Us as it sat on the shelf: it was aching for me to read it.

No One is a World War II novel. A very small and isolated village reads the latest newspaper one night in 1939 during the Sabbath service. The inevitability of war is starting to seep into their consciousness and it terrifies them. Suddenly, an airplane flies over their village and drops what may have been a bomb (it is never clear what it was) very near the village. Right afterwards, the river that circles their land floods (which seems like an alarming amount of catastrophic events to happen in an evening!) When the floodwaters recede, they find fish and a piano and all sorts of flotsam and jetsam, mostly importantly a woman who was had very recently lost her entire family to Nazi soldiers, and was only saved from death herself by the sudden flood. The village panics, and decide that they aren't going to go along with the narrative that the world, but are going to isolate themselves and start over. They will have no history, no link to the outside world, no before, only a future.

At the heart of the story is Lena, a young girl with parents and a brother and a sister. It was her and the stranger's idea to begin again, and so she is often called on to help to create the parameters of the new world. They decide that most people will stay with their families, but a few swap wives or husbands. Watching the village have the first days in the new world parallels Genesis: God separating the day from the night, the firmament from the waters.

(if you are prone to reading this book and don't want to be spoiled, you can stop here.)

Lena's journey is not an easy one. Again and again she finds herself starting over. She finds herself traded away to her uncle and his wife. Later, after a bizarre few months of life with her new parents/uncle and aunt, she is married. Life is good to Lena and her husband Igor and they have two young boys when the war finally finds the village, and Igor is captured by soldiers and taken away. Lena and her children leave the village to try and find Igor, but she never finds him in her travels, but manages to lose both her children - one to death, another to a farmer and his wife who offer to trade their travel papers for her eldest son. It's brutal and sad and heartbreaking watching Lena lose everything over and over.

My favorite thing about the book was the writing. It was slow and beautiful. It's very unspecific about the passage of time and the details of life. But the relationships - Lena with her first family, Lena with her uncle and aunt, Lena and the stranger, Lena and Igor, Lena and her oldest son Solomon: oh, they are beautiful. And sad. And real. I also loved the lists. They are always sending one another lists, and the lists are the love letters, which seems like a very strange thing before this book but now seems very beautiful. A list of very specific words that mean specific things in a relationship can say more than a paragraph or even an essay, if the right person writes them and the correct person reads them.

Here is one example: "Perl - this is how I love you - as she hold the worn piece of paper in her trembling hands - dog, pillow, mask, cabbage, kiss shovel. Perl imagined each item as a creature at her feet, an army her daughter had summoned to look after her. I almost remember who you are, the note read. 'I almost remember who I am too,' Perl said..." Just reading it again makes me want to sob!

This is such a different type of war novel. While I as the reader knew the atrocities that were going on, the villagers had no idea. Lena has only a vague idea of the war as she encounters people on her journey. She doesn't know that millions of Jews just like her are dead, or are finding themselves in the same position as her: alone in the world, no home to return to because everyone is dead, no plan or safety to flee to. So in this way, it's just like every other war novel. Because it really does not matter at all if you know the details - the number who were killed or how the Americans and Russians and Brits defeated the Nazis and the Fascists or where the concentration camps were or how Hitler killed himself. The only thing that matters is that real people who loved and lived and worked and had lives were subjected to war, which always makes everyone lose.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sunday night thoughts

One of the afternoons when we were in San Diego last month, Ben and I went to the beach at high tide. It was the first time I can ever remember being there at the exact time of high tide. We were playing out in the waves like we always did, but it was crazy. The waves were deeper and they came so much faster than we were used to. After diving into a wave, it was necessary to come up as soon as possible and get sure footing and look to see what was coming. The few times we didn't do this we were knocked off balance, or went under without meaning to. It was a lot of hard work, and I got tired really soon.

I've thought a lot about the ebb and flow of life in the past years. When I taught Sunday School a few years ago, I would talk about it with our class. I always thought that the hard times in my life were when the water was ebbing: I felt thin, I felt bereft, I felt that I was far away and that life was in slow motion. But that day on the beach when the waves came one after another and I had to be so diligent (diving, getting my feet under me, coming up, looking out for the next wave) I realized that for now, the hard time is a flow. The waves are fast and I can't always see what is coming or understand what to do with it once I see it.

Here are a couple of the waves that are coming at me.

Church these days - it's hard. I'm in a loop right now where I'm really ok with everything to do with God and Jesus, but my testimony of other things is struggling. There are things I can't say "I know" about anymore. But I'm okay with that.

I remember a few months ago I was talking with a friend who is in my ward who has gone through a lot of hard things, and now she is a lot less active than she used to be. She said one of the hardest things about being at church in her new life is how fragile people treat her, as if at the slightest word or look will cause her to leave the church forever.

I loved that she told me that. It helped me to realize that in my own current struggle, I don't want to be treated like I am fragile. I also don't want to act fragile in my struggle. I want to boldly admit that I don't know all that I used to know. But I want to say just as boldly that I still want God in my life and I vehemently want to believe that I'm still loved by Him and even think that he probably understands me a little and even knew that I would feel this way and struggle like this. I want to feel worthy of that love and I want to declare to the wonderful young women that I work with (and the older women too, and the boys, and well, everyone!) that they are worthy too.

I'm not going anywhere. I'm not leaving or wanting to leave. But I'm also not the same person I used to be. It's been hard but rewarding to go through this time. I have more empathy for others who struggle. I'm more likely to voice my doubts in a meeting than I used to be, even if I worry that my comment will make me look "less faithful" than I would have wanted to appear in the past. It's a process.

Anxiety. Remember when Harry Potter went into Gringotts Bank at the end of Deathly Hallows and how he had Griphook on his back, whispering what to do to get past the Goblin security? Well, I feel like my anxiety is like Griphook, except it's only him under the invisibility cloak. People can see me, and some people can see Griphook, but most just feel him on my back and wonder what is making my shoulders so tense and my walk so unsure and unsteady. (hmm, I started this post out with a wave analogy. I'm easily distracted!)

I go through times when I don't think about it at all, and others when it's all I ever think about. I have a lot more days that are good, which is a big relief. But some moments I feel like I will never stop over thinking every tiny body sensation, or analyzing everything I do to see if it's a connection to it. I've made some good connections lately - I've realized how much my emotions are tied to how long it's been since I've eaten, and that staying really hydrated is a must. Which are two good things to know regardless of whether I'm anxious or not. I need to take care of my body and know what it needs so that it can take care of me. I'm also trying to not be so hard on myself when I am anxious or just having a hard time. I want to get to a place where I accept that it is part of my life, a part that I didn't really want or ask for, but that I can live with.

Those are two of the biggest waves I'm paying attention too. There are others but I'm not wanting to go into much else tonight. I'm actually in a pretty damn good place even with these things. I'm liking who I am and feeling that even if I don't have all the answers, I can do this.

Are you watching the waves come in? Are you in ebb or flow when the tough times start?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Summer 2016, as told in pictures

With everyone back to school, it seems like a good time to document our summer.


After our lovely winter snow shoeing adventures, I decided we needed to also spend some time in the mountains in the summer. We went on a few hikes together - not as many as I'd have liked to do, and we only officially finished a few, but it was fun going to new places in our beautiful mountains. Places we hiked: Desolation Trail, Ferguson Canyon, The Living Room, and Yellow Fork.

Random stuff

At the first of the summer, we had some really fun repairs (stove, garage door, and drier.) While it was fun to take apart our new-ish drier and replace some parts, I could have lived without it.

I spent most Thursday evenings running with two friends from young women. 

For my birthday, I signed up for a class with Brene Brown and Oprah. It's based on one of Brene Brown's books, The Gifts of Imperfection. One of the first assignments was to make "permission tags," an assignment where I gave myself permission to do things I normally wouldn't think I could do. I guess I need a lot of permission, as this was my page.


As last year's vacation was pretty lame, we decided to go back to San Diego for this year's trip. We stopped off in Las Vegas for a night. It was fun to travel with older kids - Shane and I were able to leave them in the condo and go out for the evening. We ate dinner at a restaurant in Caesars Palace right by the fountain that is inspired by the Trevi Fountain in Rome. It was a really fun time. I must have a lot of my dad in me, because I really get excited to go to Las Vegas. I like to get dressed up and roam a bit in the evening.

Me and Ben playing in the pool while we waited for our room to be ready. There is a unique feeling to a pool in the middle of the desert. It reminds me of being a kid.

Mmm. I can still taste the delicious spaghetti with meatballs I had while sitting here. It came as close as I've ever tasted to being like pasta in Italy.

We were super happy to be back in San Diego. We sat by the pool, visited the ocean, toured Old Town and ate delicious Mexican food, rented paddle boards on the bay (which may just be a little bit of heaven on earth!), ran on the beach, took a yoga class on the bay, watched the fireworks at Sea World every night from our room, and enjoyed ourselves, all while trying to keep one 11 year old who never stops moving entertained. Man, take me back there!!

I found these little signs - two on my morning runs, and one while eating dinner. I thought they accurately portrayed the past year for me.

The words below say "Poseidon Riding Hippokampus with Dolphin." Amen.

Ben tried out for a competition soccer team. We've really enjoyed watching him play soccer. He played in two tournaments and his season starts in September.

Thomas ran with the cross country team most summer mornings. He's had 3 cross country meets so far - one intersquad and two other actual meets. He's starting to like running more.

I couldn't resist getting the new Harry Potter book. Review will be forthcoming. But: I cried at least once.

Not pictured: 4th of July swim party at my sister's house, hanging pictures at my mom's house, Bee's game with Shane's work, Thomas going to youth conference, paddle boarding on vacation, reading SDBBE books, niece's and nephew's baby showers, Ben and Kaleb bonding at the trampoline place, mother-in-law's neck surgery, and more that I'm sure that I've forgotten.

How was your summer?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Book review: The Nest

My library system (which I love dearly and for so many reasons!) has a “Lucky Day” program that can help you score a new, popular title that would normally require a months-long hold wait and go home with it that day. I’ve gotten a couple of books this way, but the 7 day limit with no holds or renewals sort of cramps my style – I generally won’t have enough time to finish. (I really enjoyed the 2 or three essays I finished from last Lucky book – Neil Gaiman’s View from the Cheap Seats, which I read on a very hectic day in June. I didn’t come close to finishing the book, but they provided just the respite I needed for a day that I may eventually blog about. Maybe I should check out more essay collections?

During last week’s epic pre-birthday library visit, I found an available copy of The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. It had been on my hold list forever and so I was a bit excited to take it home. From the first page, I was hooked. It tells the story of four siblings, Leo, Jack, Beatrice, and Melody who are all eagerly awaiting a sizable inheritance (the “Nest”) that will finally be theirs in just a few months. When Leo, the oldest brother, has a terrible accident that decimates the Nest, the other siblings freak out. They had all made financial choices that would have been erased once they inherited, but all that is now in jeopardy.

I thought this was a smart, funny, thoughtful book. The sibling interaction was very interesting to me; I saw parts of myself and my own 3 siblings in each of them. I was particularly interested in the youngest, Melody, who’s a bit of an anxious control freak. Her frenetic overthinking and planning and worrying – well, I can’t imagine why that would seem familiar to me. Near the end, she has this moment as she turns 40 and she realizes that what used to work just doesn’t anymore, and she has to start letting go of things held too firmly, of control over her husband and twin daughters, of perceptions of her relationships with her siblings, and her definition of what it means to be a successful parent. I really loved Melody on the entire novel, and I was cheering her on with her new direction and realization of her place in the world and her family as the novel ended.

I don’t know that this book is for everyone. But the writing was great, the subject matter was refreshing, and, best of all, the length was perfect, since I finished it in the allotted 7 days, and so I might not even incur fines for it. Lucky day indeed.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Hallelujah - I'm 41!

I'm 41. Good riddance to 40.

The past year - gah, I've been a mess. I may still be, but just being past the year in which I was 40 is a giant relief. 

In the late evening last night, I went to the library. After an enjoyable 20 minutes of texting with Amy in library-desperation of finding a book, I walked out into a beautiful sunset. I sat on a bench and took a picture and I realized: it's over. I don't have to be 40 anymore. The sky and the birds and the trees and the twilight all over made me so happy and relieved. 

There haven't been many moments of sheer joy. There have been way too many filled with other emotions (that just writing about feels me with dread.) I know that an age really doesn't matter, but the 365 days that began on July 4, 2015 were all tied in to the idea of turning 40 and feeling betrayed by my body and my mind and everything about myself that I thought I knew. 

I went to bed feeling happy. I woke up feeling happy. My birthday has been really great and it all seems so simple and unexpected. I wish I could have felt on my 40th birthday what I feel today. But I was a different person then and I guess I needed to go through this past year to know what it can be like.

At 41 -

I'm more willing be authentic.

I'm more willing to say my feelings.

I'm able to understand my feelings.

I'm able to control my reactions. Maybe not perfectly every time, but I'm much less reactionary.

I'm less willing to believe everything I think.

I'm trying hard not to spend so much time in my head.

I realize that not making a choice is making a choice, so I'd rather just decide and move on.

I'm trying to not worry about what others think.

I've been thinking about the Harry Potter quote from Deathly Hallows, when Harry is asks Dumbledore "Is this real, or is it just happening in my head?" And how Dumbledore says, "Well of course it's happening in your head, but that doesn't make it any less real." (I'm paraphrasing!) It's sort of been playing out daily for me in two ways: real things seem less so, and my thoughts seem immeasurably real and giant (and, honestly: frightening!) But I'm ready to believe more in the things I can taste and see and smell and feel and that are real and stop living in the imagined future and reimagined past.

41. I'm only 1 day into it, but I'm so happy it's here.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

I'd rather....

- spend the day at the beach than the zoo.

- lie to you if I think the truth will hurt you.

- change the subject or focus if I don't agree with what you are saying than have to debate my point.

- drink a Coke than a Pepsi.

- stifle a creative endeavor if I think it's not going to be perfect or as good as the ideal in my head, or as good as someone else could do it.

- have a conversation about what is really happening in your life than make small talk about the weather or what I ate for lunch.

- know your what favorite book is than your favorite shoe designer.

- apologize to you than hear you apologize to me.

- go to the library than the bookstore (but I still really like the bookstore.)

- buy lunch than make one.

- sit by myself in church.

 - read a novel than a memoir.

- wear flip flops. Always.

- wear a cute skirt than a pair of work pants.

- not tell you how I really feel, because I don't feel like my point of view will stand up in the light of yours.

- have a cat than a dog.

- hike uphill than down.

- be warm than cold.

- wear a full-zip jacket to a quarter zip or hoodie.

- have thumb holes.

- drive myself so that I can use the fastest route.

- help you than ask you to help me.

- not worry anymore what others are thinking about me.

- have the knowledge I've gained over the past year. But it would have been nice to have learned it in an easier way.

- drink a rootbeer freeze than a milkshake.

- be authentic to myself.

- spend time making memories with my loved ones.

- be there for you than let you be there for me.

- cook dinner rather than do the dishes.

- eat pancakes or waffles than eat french toast.

- run than walk.

What would you rather?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Brené Brown: an author review, of sorts.

I've always been a huge believer in a book finding you at just the right time. Usually for me, said book is fiction, with a character whose struggles mirror my own in some way, or a setting that feels so familiar it's like being home. I'm not much into non-fiction; I've enjoyed a few (Terry Tempest William's Refuge and John Krakauer's Into Thin Air come to mind, both read with my book group), but usually about a third of way through non-fiction books, especially when they deal with self-help, I tune out and lose interest.

Enter Brené Brown. I first heard about her when a friend posted her TED talk on shame and vulnerability on Facebook. Listening to that talk was so enlightening - I can still remember the little explosions going off in my brain as I identified with her wise words on shame. I always remembered how that TED talk made me feel, but I didn't take it any further.

Then a few weeks ago I had a thought in the shower (because doesn't all wisdom flow from the time you spend in the shower? I saw a meme that said a fraction of our time in the shower is spent cleaning ourselves, and the majority is spent evaluating our life. So true!) about my tendency to ruminate. Since my anxiety blew up last summer, a lot of my rumination time is spent either suppressing or magnifying my heightened emotions about driving to work. I vacillate between the two on almost a minute by minute basis on the days I go to work. Or, if it's not the drive to work, it's my feelings about a person or a situation that makes me feel vulnerable in some way. I realized that if I'm going to live with anxiety, I need to find a way to let it be in my life but not the focus of my life. And to start that journey, I need to learn to get out of my head.

One of the suggested books about rumination and worry was by Brené Brown. I can't tell you which one, because my search resulted in my reserving several of her books and audio books at the library. I started reading the first one that came available as a hold - I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't). (I also picked up Rising Strong, but old habits required me to read ITIWJM, because it was written earlier, and I wouldn't want to "spoil" the series by reading the last book first!) After the Introduction, I realized that it would never do to just read the library copy - I wanted to write all over the book immediately. By page 44, I was sending pics of favorite passages to Amy, and on page 76 (which I read while on a flight to Spokane for Bloomsday - a moment I think I will remember my whole life), I had a revelation about my life and how I use shame and vulnerability against myself that forever changed me. Making a mental note to buy the book as soon as I got the chance, I got out the journal I'd brought along with me on the plane and started writing. I saw the shame that has hampered my adult life with such a clarity and the source that started its terrible trajectory in such a clear-eyed way that I knew I'd never be able to go back. I'm different, altered, changed - whatever synonym a thesaurus can come up with - I'm that.

Shame has been my go-to place for so long that I cannot remember a time when it hasn't been my companion. I don't know what happened or didn't happen to make that be my reality. Brown's distinction of how guilt and shame are different - guilt is the feeling that something you have done is bad, shame is the feeling that what you are is bad - was especially helpful, because I've never wanted to call what I feel shame - I've always blamed it on guilt. But my interior landscape has always told me that I'm fundamentally bad. And as a result, I've spent my whole life trying unsuccessfully to argue with that landscape. (Putting that sentence out there makes me feel so vulnerable - I want to delete it. But allowing myself to be vulnerable and not sell the image that "I'm perfect!" is what will help me to start to alter my landscape, which I want to do with all of my heart and soul.)

I now have my own marked up copy of ITIWJM. I just finished it this morning. I've also been reading in tandem a library copy of The Gifts of Imperfection (another one I need to buy - I might as well start my own library of Brown's books.) Reading them together helped to explain and clarify questions I had about ITIWJM - many of the ideas carry over into The Gifts, reinforcing some of the harder concepts for me to apply.

Like Brené Brown says in the book, reading just one book on shame isn't going to solve my issues with shame and vulnerability. But I'm better armed to change my landscape because of the following:

  • I have knowledge of what to call the emotions I feel that cause me to want to control situations.
  • I can be better prepared for the situations that lead me to anguish over others' feelings about me.
  • I can better process and maybe understand the feelings that start debates in my head that tell me without mincing any words just how terrible I am and why. Maybe I can even head off these thoughts before they start.
  • I can identify what my shame triggers are and which screens I use internally and externally to throw others off of the scent of my vulnerability.
  • I can be more helpful to others when they are showing me their vulnerability. My go-to mode in these situation is to try to head off their pain and tell them that what they are saying isn't true because I don't want them to experience pain. A favorite quote - "can we be with her in her shame? Or do we feel the need to make it better or redirect the conversation? If we are willing to be open and present, we are willing to practice compassion." And also, "Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals." (that last quote is quoted in the book -  it was said by Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist nun. Love, love that quote and I want to strive to use it in my life.)

If you see or talk to me in real life and I start spouting off these newfound truths, forgive me. Or maybe you can sit with me in my vulnerability and then let me sit with you. Or maybe I won't remember what I've learned and I'll try to fix you - forgive me again. If I get angry and go off on you about things that happened in the past or situations that I make me vulnerable because they show me an part of myself that I don't like - forgive me, I'm trying to change my old patters of shame screens and identities that I want to avoid. If you catch me quiet and scatter-brained because I've gotten stuck in my head again, forgive me and ask me what I'm feeling shameful about and then let me be vulnerable with you. If you respond in a way that doesn't address my vulnerability, I'll try (maybe unsuccessfully) to forgive you and realize that you are doing your best. If I give you a copy of a book to read or send you quotes I like - forgive me; just know I love you and want to share something that felt authentic in me and I sent it to you in the chance that it will feel authentic to you.

I'm planning to finish The Gifts of Imperfection and move on to Rising Strong.

Have you read any of these books? Is it just me? Do I sound completely crazy-pants? I'd love to have your comments.<3 br="">