I’m going to preface this book review by stating outright that I am not very good at writing book reviews. But I want to get better, so I’m practicing.
When my hold on “Luster” appeared yesterday morning, I almost put it off, but I’m glad that I didn’t because I devoured it in just two sittings! I enjoyed falling into the twentysomething malaise of Edie, the protagonist, although I hated everyone around her as they consistently wallpapered over her personality with their own needs and desires. But that was intentional, of course, because the author is a magnificent writer. The prose was surprising and beautiful and so, so funny, although not in the ways I expected. I could say more about how deft a treatment of racism and classism this was, but I want you to read it already.
The big news this month is KITTENS. Meet Criminy and Crivens, whom FunkyPlaid and I adopted in mid-November from Cat Adoption Team.
These stray tabby brothers were expertly fostered, so it took them no time at all to adjust to their new home with us. At their fourth-month veterinary check-in this month, they had nearly tripled in weight!
Their foster names were Walnut and Chestnut, and they had two more siblings we never got to meet: Cashew, who was adopted right before them, and Almond, who is a bit of a mystery to us. We’re both sad and relieved by this missed connection: we can’t imagine only adopting two after meeting the whole family.
It had been decades since either of us had raised a kitten, and we’ve never raised two at once, so to write “it has been a learning experience” is both an understatement and sounds way less fun than we’ve been having. Crivens and Criminy are a delight as a brotherly-bonded unit and as individuals with very distinct personalities starting to emerge.
Mostly they are babies. And so everything is brand-new and therefore exciting. Sure, the things we have acquired for them like the cat tree, play tunnel, and window seat are pretty good, but they much prefer hoodie strings! Bathtub! Kitchen counters! Worn socks! The inside of the grandfather clock (sigh). Christmas tree! And each other. They really, really, really love each other. As I write this, they are play-fighting on their cat tree, and Criminy is attempting to fit Crivens’ entire head into his mouth. Sideways. It’s the best.
As expected, the joy these two bring doesn’t change the nature of my grief over losing Zen, but caring for our new family members has been a more productive focus of my energy. I still miss Zen every day; I imagine I always will. The pain is less acute, most days, more like a lingering bruise I forget about long enough to whack it good and hard with a careless motion.
I thought I might participate in Holidailies this year, and I was off to an okay start, but finally embraced the fact that I am just enough of a contrarian to resent the forced structure of daily challenges. Even my past Project 365 challenges were arduous to maintain. It wasn’t the pressure to create that sapped my enthusiasm, but rather the pressure to create within timed constraints. I never seemed to have enough time to do all the things.
And then I read Cal Newport’s book “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” and realization after realization crashed over me. It wasn’t about time, but about focus. In my desperate attempt to avoid FOMO – the fear of missing out – I have thrown myself into every new online service and group I discover, only to run out of energy to participate. It’s a basic math problem: a finite amount of energy divided among an increasing number of groups results in decreasing amounts of focus paid to each group. In plainer terms: I’m not participating in any one thing well because I’m too busy participating in everything badly.
Newport suggests a digital declutter to make participation more intentional. I had already turned off notifications from social media apps on my phone, but this week I decided to delete everything except Micro.blog and only check the rest once a week from my home computer. I’ll ask the people who only message me via these apps to email, text, or call (😱) instead if they need to reach me urgently. It will be a big adjustment but one I am eager to make.
I took notes on “Digital Minimalism” but opted not to share those notes or review the book publicly – a choice that I am telling myself is 100% okay to make so I can spend my time on other things I find more rewarding – but someone I know through Micro.blog posted his review and reference notes for “Digital Minimalism”. And if you use Firefox (which I recommend) here’s a plug for the Library Extension add-on which checks your local library’s holdings while you’re browsing books and e-books online.
Other things that happened this month:
It’s the end of the year (and the end of the decade, depending on who you ask), and although I am no longer so naïve to think that everything changes once the calendar page turns, I still savor the anticipation packed into the last few days of the year. Today I’ll crack open my new Passion Planner and try to capture some of that excitement. May your new year contain kindness, good health, camaraderie, and peace. And kittens.
Book two of 2019: Golden State, by Ben H. Winters. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 📚 Fascinating novel about a near-future society’s attempt to eradicate lying from human nature. A must-read if you are at all concerned by the battle over truth and fiction currently playing out in the world.
I’m quite behind with Holidailies this year, so I’m going to catch up with one long post of pieces parts instead of trying to make, uh, eleven separate things. OK with you? Good, let’s go!
Every December starts out snail-slogging through the first week and then all of a sudden Christmas is next week wait what? Oops.
I won my Goodreads reading challenge of 25 books a bit ahead of schedule, but so many of those were short or re-reads that it didn’t feel like a real win. I’m about to re-read another book, too; I finally saw the trailer for the “Good Omens” series and I am beyond excited.
It is difficult to be annoyed by evening commute traffic while laughing at the latest episode of Paul F. Tompkins’ podcast, “Spontaneanation”.
The song “Level Up” by Vienna Teng has been running through my head lately. The song is excellent, but the video … well, it levels it up.
And then my uncle sent me a link to her exquisite “Ain’t No Sunshine / Lose Yourself” cover/mashup and though I thought I could not love her any more I became one giant goosebump when I listened to this.
It’s the season of giving, so here is one of the cutest kitten photos I have ever seen.
Have you heard of “binge boxes”? They’re boxes of 3-6 DVDs grouped around a theme or actor that you can check out from your local library! My favorite that I’ve seen: “A Box of Rocks” – all films starring The Rock.
Speaking of libraries, I love seeing positive tweets and posts about them on social media … but the best way to support your local library is to show up and use it. If you don’t know how to get started with your local library, or even where it is, leave a comment on this post and I will help you. I mean it!
Thus concludes the grand old Holidailies catch-up. I’ll try for another post tomorrow.
Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: rain and wind and rain.
I am currently reading “Alice Isn’t Dead” by Joseph Fink and “Limetown” by Cote Smith, two novels which are based on dramatic fiction podcasts I like. And recently I saw a trailer for “Homecoming” which is a TV show based on a dramatic fiction podcast I like.
I listen to a lot of podcasts due to the length of my commute, and now I’m struggling to keep up with the add-on media to my favorite podcasts.
Truly, it’s a great problem to have.
Listen to the fiction podcasts mentioned above, plus some others I like:
Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: “Slow Down” by Ural Thomas and the Pain.
I am accidentally reading five books at a time again.
This Week was also Birthday Week, which ended up wonderful after a rough start. On Tuesday evening, the snow and ice came back to make things interesting. Our neighborhood saw a few inches of snow, and the roads iced up overnight, so I was back to the bus commute on Wednesday morning.
But the week ended with an extended birthday celebration involving sushi dinner, well-wishes and gifts, two brunches, Star Wars, model trains, and reading books by the fire on a rainy evening. It was just what I wanted.
Due to the inclement weather and lots of meetings, I didn’t make much progress on my work projects. I did, however, make lots of progress on fretting over how much progress I wasn’t making on my work projects. I also gave my task list several meaningful glances.
We are done, so done, with Season 3 of “Outlander” and jumped right into Season 7 of “Homeland”. I find myself wishing that the series had ended with Season 3.
We finally saw “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and I enjoyed that mess quite a bit, especially how it added nuance to most of the main characters. It tried to add nuance to Kylo Ren, it really did, but there isn’t much to do about that pathetic man-child. At least we got Emo Kylo Ren out of it.
Kimbra’s new single, “Version of Me”, dropped this week. I love it!
Our friend Mike came over and we played “Ex Libris”, a game about being gnomish librarians collecting magical texts, and if that sounds like that game is right up my Diagon Alley, that’s because it absolutely is.
One of my birthday presents from FunkyPlaid was Scrabble Typography, which I am eager to play!
Related: I no longer attempt to play Scrabble, Words With Friends, or any word-building games online. I’m miserable at keeping up with asynchronous multiplayer games, especially multiple ones at the same time. So if I have ever accepted your invitation to play, made it three rounds, and disappeared … that’s why.
I did start playing a puzzle adventure game on my iPad called “Rusty Lake Paradise” which is unsettling and strange and very good so far.
The best thing I read online this week was “The Problem with the ‘What Else?’ Mindset” by Jocelyn K. Glei because of this quote:
You could witness the most precious moment of someone’s life, or read a news story about a horrifying and terribly sad event, or complete one of the most impressive accomplishments of your creative career… And somehow it’s never enough.
I love going to Powell’s, especially for the moment when I’ve found a few books and I curl up in a corner somewhere to pore over my choices, to turn them over in my hands and see how they feel as orbiting objects in my small universe. This time it was a well-loved used copy of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” and a well-liked used copy of Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things”.
I don’t remember reading “In Cold Blood” although I find it impossible to have existed this long as a reader and writer without doing so. I definitely haven’t read “The God of Small Things” before now, but became curious after my mom sent me a sampling of Roy’s prose in a text message:
”The sky was thick with TV. If you wore special glasses you could see them spinning through the sky among the bats and homing birds—blondes, wars, famines, football, food shows, coups d'état, hairstyles stiff with hair spray. Designer pectorals. Gliding towards Ayemenem like skydivers. Making patterns in the sky. Wheels. Windmills. Flowers blooming and unblooming.”
Impossible to resist, as impossible as the corner of Powell’s in the Blue Room, near the local ‘zines, where all that potential and possibility rests on its haunches, ready to launch.
[caption id=“attachment_97132” align=“aligncenter” width=“2448”] Powell’s Bookstore, Portland, Oregon[/caption]
That was quite a week, wasn’t it? Someone’s been busy. All I did was go to work, get a haircut, and try not to lose my damned mind over every New York Times app notification. Even my trusty Lamy 2000 fell apart.
At least Zen has had a great week. In between “spa treatments” (read: subcutaneous fluids) she’s been hand-fed baby food and otherwise fussed over pretty much non-stop.
For every task I completed, I added three more to my to-do list. And next week begins with catalog upgrades, which means downtime, which means falling even further behind. January: snowed under on both metaphorical and literal levels.
FunkyPlaid and I watched an episode of Daredevil, but were too bored to continue. We moved on to Black Mirror, which is terrific but probably not the best thing to be watching at the moment.
Aurally, it’s mostly movie soundtracks and Jelly Roll Morton for me.
Noodler’s Ottoman Azure: deep sapphire blue with plenty of shading for capturing the nuances of melancholy.
Featured photo: the sign we put up in our yard.
Hello from the midst of another Portland ice-pocalypse! FunkyPlaid and I have a fire going in the fireplace and still have power, but the sidewalks and roads are covered with ice. Now that I have somewhat recovered from last year’s Project 365, I thought I’d attempt this weekly review again.
To combat the winter doldrums, I’ve restarted my daily mood tracking with Exist, which also integrates data from various other services I use to find trends and correlations. Some of the correlations will be obvious – like a better mood on weekends – but I am looking forward to the less obvious ones.
One of the services that Exist integrates is RescueTime, which I use to track how I’m using my computer time. It tells me that I have been 65% productive, which is a 10.2% increase from last week. (That is an overall productivity score, not only during work hours, so it also includes how much faffing off I do online during nights and weekends. This is intentional.)
Three big deadlines hit all at once, which means that I spent too long in my office and felt pretty disconnected from my team. When I got home each night after work, I was too drained to do anything useful. But somehow I managed to begin a new short story draft!
I finished reading Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt which is a gorgeous novel. It perfectly captures that free-fall of a passionate love affair and all the ennui-ridden rumination that accompanies it. I’m looking forward to watching Carol now that I have read the source material.
I started reading You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life because that seems like a good plan for 2017.
This week I have been listening to a lot of Real Jazz on SiriusXM. I also listened to the La La Land soundtrack a couple of times and finally listened to the newest Dinosaur Jr. album, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not. Hearing Dinosaur Jr. again prompted me to once again attempt to reconstruct one of the best mixtapes I have ever received. (Adam, if you’re reading this, that mixtape haunts my dreams.)
FunkyPlaid and I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and enjoyed it quite a bit. We also finished watching Westworld, which was ultimately a disappointment. I loved the first few episodes, at least. Then we started watching Luke Cage which I like so much more than Jessica Jones!
[ more tweets & retweets, etc. ._.-. this section will be better in the future ]
I gave Rohrer & Klingner’s Verdigris another go, but it is too dark for me. I’m still enamored with the cool greenish-grey of De Atramentis Charles Dickens. Maybe I should look for an ice-blue to go with all of this wintry weather … recommendations?
Thank goodness for the sanity that books and tea provide.
Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: Zen’s peaceful snoring.
I’m thankful that this is a shorter workweek. It has been a difficult one to be in public service. And then Leonard Cohen died. What a year 2016 has been, and it’s not even over.
I read Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” for the first time about twenty years ago and I re-read it every few years. It may seem like an odd choice for a “comfort read” considering how bleak the story is. But it’s got this quote, which I appreciated today.
Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: the kettle on the boil.
I won a Goodreads giveaway for Connie Willis’ new novel, “Crosstalk”. Can’t wait to dig in!
Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: Zen yowl at me, “Time for bed!”
I love it when my library requests come in on a Friday, especially this Friday with the threat of power outages looming. No power necessary for these babies!
So far, I only got stuck in a little bit of storm, walking home from my bus stop. I was surprised by how much some of the streets in my neighborhood have already flooded. But I have enough food and supplies to last me through the weekend so don’t worry about me!
Writing from: my study in stormy Portland, Oregon. Listening to: rain, rain, rain.
I worked the late shift tonight, so I drove FunkyPlaid’s swank car to and fro, which cut my commute time by two-thirds plus I got to belt out ‘80s tunes. Not bad at all.
I’m savoring a bedtime cuppa while perusing a few different ebooks that I had requested that are all available at once. I downloaded but never got into Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus” so I’ll switch to M.L. Stedman’s “The Light Between Oceans” for now. And then I wanted to re-read Octavia Butler’s “Kindred” and there’s the new essay collection by Mary Oliver, “Upstream” … ah, books.
Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: “Mirror Lake” by Angus MacRae.
I suppose it was due to happen: I had a low-health day today, and spent part of it resting and reading Manuel Gonzales’ “The Regional Office Is Under Attack!” I picked it up at the library because Kelly Link blurbed it, and her stories are some of my favorites.
I was not misled. This book is so much fun, and also heartbreaking, and also weird. Pretty much exactly the type of story I want to write.
Writing from: my study in Portland. Listening to: the last of “Prison Break”. That final season was a slog. I am now officially skeptical about the reboot.
Books on management and productivity tend to leave me cold, but so far I am enjoying Victor Lipman’s “The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World”, especially the following sentence:
The core qualities of the Type B manager -- including calmness, thoughtfulness, and patience -- are qualities that people find easy to work with.
What about the absurd sense of humor and off-kilter fashion sense? I hope the author doesn’t forget those.
Tell me about your favorite manager.
Writing from: my study. Listening to: “Looped” by Kiasmos.
Every few months I do that thing where I attempt to restrict myself to reading only one book at a time and that lasts exactly four seconds because I work in a library.
I’m pretty jazzed about my currently-reading pile right now, which has plenty of interesting non-fiction plus two novels I am very excited about: “Forest of Memory” by Mary Robinette Kowal and “The Giant Smugglers” by Matt Solomon and Chris Pauls.
Writing from: my study. Listening to: FunkyPlaid puttering about. Yes, FunkyPlaid came home today!
Howdy, strangers! I forgot (again) how quickly these pile up when I run out of energy before I can post them each day. I will have to figure out another schedule. But here are some glimpses of the past week or so, plus a throwback photo my mom sent because last Wednesday I fell asleep before remembering to take a picture.
[gallery ids=“93849,93851,93853,93854,93855,93856,93857,93858,93859” type=“rectangular”]
Pretty much every workday starts out great and ends up with me being the tiredest person to ever tire. Weekends are spent catching up, and by “catching up” I mean “sitting quietly and not talking for hours at a time.” Ah, introversion.
Getting into better physical shape will help with the exhaustion, at least, so I will have to start psyching myself up to work out in the evenings because I don’t see myself waking up at 5am to do it. I mean, I can see myself waking up at 5am. Then I can see myself gleefully flinging the alarm clock across the room and sleeping another 12 hours.
Now I’m off to read “Broken Monsters” by Lauren Beukes which is super-creepy and not at all appropriate bedtime reading. Walking on the wild side over here. Try and keep up.
Writing from: my messy study. Listening to: “Slip” by Elliot Moss.
We visited my new workplace today and I took a shelfie featuring one of my favorite authors.
Books, books, books. Sometimes I get so excited about my currently-reading shelf that I have to share it!
Not pictured are two ebooks in progress, Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton and Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. (Psst, this is your friendly reminder that your local public library also lends ebooks!)
Tell me about what you’re reading right now.
Writing from: my study. Listening to “Mood Indigo” by Ella Fitzgerald.
After running errands downtown, FunkyPlaid and I went to Powell’s City of Books simply because we could. Now that we live only a short drive away, it will be difficult not to end up there.
Jorge Luis Borges’ quotation comes to mind:
O, of course I bought a book: a used copy of Samuel R. Delany’s “Dhalgren”, a groovy mass-market paperback edition from 1978.
I’ve received a few other books as gifts over the past couple of weeks, but I am saving them for their own posts. (Cheating? Maybe.)
Writing from: my makeshift study in the dining-room. Listening to: “Happy Idiot” by TV on the Radio.
“Snow!” screamed the child in the street. I glanced out at our garden and saw the wet flakes glopping down. They wouldn’t stick. They didn’t last. Magical all the same.
I’ve fancied myself a minimalist before, although you wouldn’t know it for all the things I have accumulated, spread out across continents. Objects loom larger in memory, just like the they do in the mirror’s warning, pulsing with intention: a small leather notebook in a basement, a grandfather clock in a storage unit, a doll-house in an attic.
Some books reached escape velocity today, trajectories burning off into used bookstores. My face was wet before the snow began; I had sold off my children to the perennially unimpressed. So they’re no longer mine, and not yet someone else’s. Frozen above, puddles below, and something magical and misunderstood in between.
Writing from: a drowsy lounge in Edinburgh. Listening to: “The Glass Shelter and the View” by Seas of Years.
Yesterday I culled 57 books from my personal library. I’m deep in the throes of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying” and applying her principles as best I can. Kondo writes that she keeps only about 30 books in her collection at any one time, but later on in the book she says that “you need to create your own tidying method with your own standards.” So my own standards include a few more than 30 books, but not the ridiculous number I’ve been hoarding for years.
I brought a number of unread books to Scotland because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get them through the public library system. That happened to be good judgement on my part … if I had made more time for reading and if I hadn’t accumulated any additional volumes. 2016 will be a year of catching up on my to-read pile.
FunkyPlaid furrowed his brow and made unhappy noises at the burgeoning stacks of books I will sell or donate, but he too is working on winnowing before our migration. Maybe not his books, though. That might be a step too far.
Tell me about a book you own that you’d never, ever give away.
“If I waited for perfection, I’d never write a word.” –Margaret Atwood
Often I want to say something important in the perfect way, so I keep putting it off until I figure out the perfect way. If the perfect way never occurs to me, I never say the important thing.
The point is to say the thing because there will never be a perfect way. (Thanks, Ms. Atwood.)
So here’s the thing: in January, we are leaving Scotland to move back to the States. After getting our bearings in the San Francisco Bay Area we will likely end up in Portland, Oregon.
I have approximately thirty-seven different feelings about this move. On the whole, I think it will be the best thing for us. But Scotland has been home for four years, and there is so much I love about it, hence my wish for perfection in relating the news.
But it is better to say the thing. We’ll go from here.
FunkyPlaid will be in the States to navigate the store through the holiday season again, so I will have one last solo Christmas in Edinburgh. It will be more bittersweet this time than ever, but I am determined not to spend all of it feeling sorry for myself (or packing, even though there will be plenty of that). Plus, my favourite shark will be visiting for part of December, and I can’t wait to show her around this wonderful place.
I fear there will be no more JDB1745 updates until life evens out sometime early next year. However, FunkyPlaid’s thesis is complete! His viva voce (thesis defense) isn’t until January, though, so no calling him Doc Plaid yet.
Sunday is my last day of work at the weekend gig. Tough to believe that it has already been two years! Time to polish up the CV and start the Stateside job-hunt. Know of any wonderful libraries in the Portland area who are looking for an enthusiastic tech-loving librarian?
Amidst all of the other craziness I decided to attempt NaNoWriMo again this year. It might seem like terrible timing but considering how my mental health improves when I make time to write every day, this will be good for me. I’ve been whipping my writing muscles into shape by participating in daily “dashes” with a group in Second Life called Virtual Writers. My current pace is about 1,000 words per hour. Since my goal is 1,667 words per day during November that means almost two hours of daily writing. I’m excited.
Speaking of getting into shape, it is time for another running challenge! I’m going for a sub-30:00 in the Great Winter Run, my last race in Edinburgh. The course is once around Arthur’s Seat, and it is a great way to start the year.
The “Hamilton” musical soundtrack has been on endless repeat this month. Not much else.
I started listening to the Tanis podcast because it is produced by the same folks who do The Black Tapes Podcast, and that season is now over. I am glad there is something spooky and weird to tide me over, but I am not yet sold on Tanis. I’ll keep listening, though.
FunkyPlaid got me hooked on Dungeon Boss, a battle game with cute retro graphics.
“Homeland” and “Les Revenants” and “Downton Abbey” have all started up again now. Before they did, FunkyPlaid and I started watching “Utopia” (UK version) which is all kinds of thought-provoking and disturbing so I hesitate to call it enjoyable.
I had the huge privilege of seeing my mom in a play called “The Cheek” in Tourmakeady, Ireland – where the play was set! It was a great production and my mom gave a stunning performance. I hope to have some photos of Ireland to share soon, if I can ever stop playing Dungeon Boss.
Photo credit: Autumn arrived at my home in Second Life. I sure do love fall foliage, even the kind on virtual trees.