That’s what’s so gorgeous about humanity. It doesn’t matter how bleak our daily lives are, we still fight for the light. I think that’s our divinity. We lean into love, even in the most hideous circumstances. We manage to hope.”

– Mary Karr, from The Paris Review‘s The Art of Memoir No. 1

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29 x 29: 5-12

While this blog languishes, the 29 x 29 Project flourishes. I made great strides in reading in May and June. This is more like the pace I was hoping to adopt as a regular thing in setting up this challenge for myself.

Also? I’m done with those pre-formatted reviews. Over it. They seemed smart to me at first, to have a template to work with so I didn’t have to think too much. But after the first few, I kind of dreaded sitting down to write one (hence some of the cricket chirps around here). So here’s just a few thoughts on the books I’ve read in the last few months. No spoilers, I promise.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith

I felt like the narrative plodded along pretty slowly at first. Smith builds a pretty strong foundation out of Francie’s (the protagonist) childhood, pouring great detail into her neighborhood and the penny-pinching that defined her days. It works to set you firmly within the setting, and the constant notation of the cost is tedious but does help recreate within you the mindset of the characters you’re reading about. Ultimately, Francie was endearing enough to  win me over with her infectious hope and ambition. If I had read this 6 or so years ago, I probably would have related better and loved it more. 

Swamplandia – Karen Russell

There were  a lot of good things about this one: great imagery; charming characters; a well-balanced tone that’s light enough to sweep you along but holds enough weight to keep you steady. Swamplandia falls in the category of magical realism, and Russell plays that well with myths and ghost stories that feel right at home in the swamp. I wanted to love it, and many times I did, but the pacing dragged around midway and I found myself slogging through it. Still, worth the read.

1Q84 – Haruki Murakami

I was nervous upon starting this because it’s pretty massive and, even though I felt like I read huge chunks at a time, I seldom felt like I was making progress. But I really liked it. Most of the criticisms are true–it’s often repetitive, sometimes the writing (especially dialogue and inner monologues) is weak and/or cheesy, and it feels a bit stretched out. But it’s compelling and easy enough to settle into the world–to get caught up in the little mysteries and work with the characters to put the pieces together. I’ll definitely be reading more Murakami in the future.

Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse

I don’t know why I hadn’t read this sooner. It’s a good, easy read with just enough weight to give you something to mull over. It didn’t really present me with new ideas, but reinforced and refined my thoughts on unity and balance and purpose.  I think this one and my response to it is best summed up by a quote:
“Slowly this blossomed in him, was shining back at him from Vasudeva’s old, childlike face: harmony, knowledge of the eternal perfection of the world, smiling, oneness.”

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’d read this before several years ago. I remembered the gist of it, but with the movie coming out and everyone making a big fuss over the book again, I thought I’d give it another go. I’d originally not understood why everyone was so enamored with it, and I still don’t really. I mean, it’s good, duh. But I still think most people are drawn to it because the setting is glitzy and the characters are wasted half the time. It’s a fantasy world most people wish they could escape to–adults who seem to do whatever they want in their easy lives. Of course, it ends in stark realism, and that’s kind of the point. The literary snob in me wants to say that most people like it because they miss the point, but that seems pretty harsh, no?

No One is Here Except All of Us – Ramona Ausubel

I love this book. It’s probably the best thing I’ve read in a long while. The narrative finds a sweet spot between fantasy and reality; the prose is gorgeous without being heavy-handed. Each line is carefully crafted. Writing like this is extremely difficult–so easy to lose your reader among the flowers and flourishes of poetic prose, but Ausubel is  truly masterful in her balance. It approaches a topic that has been covered countless times in a surprisingly unique narrative, one that is the best mix of comedy, romance, tragedy, and heroism.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

To be fair, there’s probably no way this one could have met my expectations for it. I’d read an essay by Cheryl Strayed several years ago; it was one of those reading experiences that stays with you long after you’ve moved on to the next piece. Her words were raw and honest. As a reader I was in awe; as I writer I wondered if I’d ever be able to put myself out there so completely as she had. I realize now that a book-length work simply can’t sustain powerful writing like that–you’d be exhausted by the weighty drama of every page. So, if I’m being realistic, Wild was good and inspiring and heartfelt. It just wasn’t the masterpiece I was hoping for.

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

This was probably my quickest read. I soared through it in about five days. Which speaks to its readability but not really to its quality. Which it had is spades until about halfway through. It’s not that it turned dull at that point, I just felt like the writing dropped in quality. Or maybe I didn’t like the way the plot worked out. Characters that were initially interesting turned a little flat. And the ending was mildly infuriating, though I guess that’s part of the fun of this type of book.

everything changes

I’m one of those people who operates in waves of enthusiasm. One month, I can. not. stop. blogging. The next, I’m taking pictures of everything. The next, I’m reading essays in every spare minute. It’s why every blog I’ve maintained has lain dormant for months at a time. It’s why our house rotates between cluttered and clean. It’s why one week we eat carefully planned meals, and the next we eat pizza and sandwiches. It’s not the most effective approach to goals and interests, and it’s an impulse I’m always trying to tame.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with being goal-less. It’s a odd idea for me–someone who has written in this very space about how much I love goals, goal setting, goal achieving, and goal systems. But goal setting, by it’s very nature, emphasizes a certain dissatisfaction with the present; it puts you in a position where you’re always striving for the future. And that element of the goal-centered life has always been a little unsettling for me. After reading a post on Zen Habits that echoed that idea and enumerated the benefits of being goal-less, I decided to give it a try.

So for the month of June, I have no goals. Instead, I’m narrowing down what matters to me. I’m filtering out the fluff, filling up my time with meaningful pursuits–activities that pass the time and leave me with something more than spent minutes. This means I’m reading more, I’m retooling my to-dos, I’m refocusing here on The Lucy Show. I’m trying to be more involved in what truly gets me instead of just picking up anything that catches my eye.

I realize that, in a way, these are goals. But there’s no real marker. There is no “read 5 books to get back on track with 29 x 29;” or “write 6 blog posts in the next 2 weeks.” There is only “remember what matters; forget what doesn’t.”

I guess, more than anything, I’m trying to understand how I work. I always thought structure was my best friend. If I write out this specific list with these specific goals and all the specific steps to take towards said goals, then I will end up where I want to be, and I will be the person I want to be doing the things I want to be doing. And that still makes sense to me. But I’m starting to question if it’s what’s right for me.

Because I fall off the wagon a lot. Most months, I achieve about 50% of my goals. To me, that’s not bad. It’s easy to see it as “50% more than I might have achieved otherwise.” But that view also discounts everything else I might have accomplished that wasn’t on my list of goals. Sure, I know I did it. And I never really beat myself up over missed goals, especially when I know I my priorities shifted and I accomplished other as-yet-unnamed goals. But that’s what makes me think the most that this goal-free approach may, in fact, be better for me. Instead of allowing myself to accommodate new priorities as they arise by squishing them in among preset goals, why not just provide open space for them to emerge where they will?

What I’ve noticed the most this month is that, for the first time in a while, I feel like I have some stretching space. I had never consciously felt burdened by my goals–I only recognized them as a centering force, something to give me focus and keep me on track. And I’m not convinced that firmer hand isn’t more useful for me than this free-form, open-ended approach. But I’m comfortable for now. That’s enough.

worth a listen: The Crash Reel on RadioWest

crashreel
If you follow extreme sports/snowboarding at all you’re probably at least somewhat familiar with Kevin Pearce. Prior to this year, all I knew was that he was an American snowboarder who’d had a serious injury at some point. I think I picked up on this while watching some of the Winter X Games in 2011 where many snowboarders were using equipment plastered with “I Ride for Kevin” stickers. I didn’t really think too much about it at the time, or even afterwards, until Kevin’s story came up on an episode of RadioWest back in January.

January is the month of the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, where RadioWest is based, and the host, Doug Fabrizio, was doing profiles of some of the films that were being shown. One of these profiles was of the film The Crash Reel, which tells the story of Kevin’s rise as a pro snowboarder, the catastrophic effects of his traumatic brain injury (TBI), and the challenges he and and his family faced (and still struggle with) during his ongoing recovery.  The podcast is primarily an interview with the director of The Crash Reel and it’s star, Kevin Pearce. And it’s damn good. Doug is solid, as always, at leading the conversation down an interesting path; Kevin is endearing and thoughtful and not at all what you expect from a  pro snowboarder; Lucy Walker (the director) is insightful and passionate.

I had the chance to see a screening of The Crash Reel at this year’s True/False Film Festival here in Columbia; it lived up to and surpassed the expectations I had based on the interview. It deals with truth and fantasy and tragedy and the most committed love. It is thrilling and funny, heart-wrenching and disturbing, and, maybe above all else, it leaves you with something almost tangible that you can turn over and over in your thoughts.

You can listen to the podcast on RadioWest’s website here  (the interview was actually just rebroadcast a couple weeks ago) or subscribe in iTunes. And you can go to thecrashreel.com for a clip of the film, a list of screenings (minimal for now, but hopefully it will reach wider audiences soon), and info on Kevin’s TBI awareness campaign.

*I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts. Because I love to learn. Because it’s a medium unlike any other. And, mostly, because there are so many good stories being told through audio. Worth a Listen is my way of sharing things I’ve found that struck me as particularly thoughtful, or funny, or moving, or just…worth a listen. If you’ve heard something recently that’s sticking with you, please share!*

4/29: Their Eyes Were Watching God

eyes watching godBook #4:Their Eyes Were Watching God
by: Zora Neale Hurston

One sentence review: Their Eyes Were Watching God tells an inspiring story of a woman striving towards happiness, independence, and self-fulfillment during a time when women, especially black women, were often denied those things, but the be prepared to spend some time on the dialogue.

Once more, with feeling: It’s taken a few days, but Their Eyes Were Watching God is finally sinking in for me. Because the dialogue is written in a Southern dialect, I found it was best taken in chunks, a chapter here and there, leaving some time to process in between. Each line of speech really has to be read, and understood, then almost re-understood within the context of the novel.

When I closed the book, I was feeling unimpressed and glad to be done. But as I’ve given it some time to settle, I’m appreciating it more. The main character, Janie, is solid good. Over the course of the book, she learns about herself, about her needs and values and desires. She grows from a somewhat timid, obliging child into a strong-willed, self-sufficient woman–a feminist role-model to be sure.

I’d recommend Their Eyes Were Watching God to lovers of Southern lit, feminist lit, and anyone looking for either a strong female role-model or an authentic love story.

“Writing truths (‘messy truths,’ as the novelist Justin Torres recently said) goes a long way toward getting the reader to ‘feel’ something, and specifically: less alone, less different, less damaged, less strange.”

-from “Mind Over Matter” by Liz Colville, via Thought Catalog

February goals: progress (or lack thereof)

February’s not quite over yet but I can already say it hasn’t been a great month goal-wise for me. I think I saw this coming from the start, though. Many of my goals are extensions of January’s goals–do more yoga, knit more scarves, keep up with this blog, etc. And I worried about that a little, knowing I didn’t feel the same inspiration that comes with fresh new goals. But I went ahead with them because they were all things I wanted to do.

But that’s what I’m learning about goals. I can’t just set some around stuff I know I want to do; if I want to really succeed, to really achieve, I have to set ones around the stuff that I want to do right now. That sounds a little…self-satisfying, but, because most of my goals are nonessential, if I don’t reach them, nothing happens. There’s really no external force motivating me to reach the goals I set for myself. It’s almost entirely internally driven. So if I’m not totally stoked for them from the start, I’m just setting myself up for failure.

So here’s to digging a little deeper for March; to thinking on these goals on a little more; to new projects with new energy; to pinpointing what’s driving me right now and focusing my energies there. Here’s to the real beauty of monthly goals: a second chance every 30(ish) days.