After years of trying to read one book a week each week of the year, I FINALLY met my goal in 2019. Fifty-two books in 52 weeks was made slightly less difficult this year by reading a lot of ghost stories. Not exactly high-brow reading, but definitely the theme of the year, from Day 1. Click here the entire 2019 Reading List. Below is a brief synopsis of my favorite picks. Hope it helps you find something to read in 2020!
I started reading three series that I really liked this year:
- The Matchmaker Mysteries, by Elise Sax – part of the “cosy mysteries” genre, combining mystery, a touch of paranormal, and a healthy heap of sexual tension. I like the protagonist, Gladie Burger, a disaster-prone would-be matchmaker who comes from a line of women who have a natural psychic ability to find perfect love matches. She’s getting better at making matches, but it turns out her real talent is for stumbling across murders and sniffing out murderers. A believably imperfect-but-still-perfect love interest and a great cast of weird townspeople make for fun reads.
- Afterlife Adventures, by Jordaina Sydney Robinson – another “cosy mysteries” series, I very much gravitated towards Bridget Sway, the main character, and found the author’s take on what happens in the afterlife to be truly original and fun. These are also easy, entertaining mystery stories, involving a cast of characters that just can’t help but get tangled up in trouble. I particularly love Bridget’s growth into being a better (dead) person, and learning about friendship, loyalty, and love along the way.
- Echo, by Kent Wayne – holy shit have these messed with my mind. Definitely nothing like the above two series; these sci-fi books are heavy, dense, laden with references to various other sci-fi properties, historical characters, and religious/spiritual approaches. Descriptive fight scenes, deep introspection, and a Matrix-like time/space bending felt like they were rewiring my brain, in a way. I’m still finishing up Book IV right now, since it takes me a while to let the concepts melt in – this makes me love it even more. You can read Chapter 1 for free on the author’s website by clicking the link above.
I also read two stand-alone works of fiction that really did it for me:
- Hollow Kingdom, by Kira Jane Buxton – by far my favorite book of the year, for multiple reasons. I love animals much more than people, and have always contemplated how good it will be for nature to take itself back after humans go too far and kill ourselves off. This book runs with that concept, telling the story of the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, as experienced by a domesticated crow. It’s funny, insightful, poignant, and I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially if you enjoyed World War Z (book, not movie, which was absolute crap), or follow The Daily James on Instagram.
- Sourdough, by Robin Sloan – I love baking, but haven’t tried bread yet. It’s always intimidated me; bread is everywhere, easily found, cheaply made, and a stunning disappointment when done poorly. I’m picky as shit about bread, and I simply can’t stand the fact that I could mess up something I love so much. This book made me want to try it, anyway. It’s a fictional tale of a lonely, workaholic woman who struggles to make personal connections, and pours herself into her work to compensate. I can 100% relate. One day, she eats a REALLY good sandwich, and that begins a story that ultimately leads to a journey in baking, friendship, and an overall passion for living. I love that the author goes out of his way to describe the near-mystical properties of the sourdough starter the the protagonist is gifted; thinking of it as a live thing, to be cared for and cherished, made me more excited about making my own sourdough soon.
The best non-fiction book of the year was Coming Clean: A Memoir, by Kimberly Rae Miller. It’s the true story of growing up in a hoarder house, with two loving, but troubled, parents, and how it can affect life into adulthood. It really hit home for me, as a child of a hoarder. The author’s story was much more extreme than mine, but some of the psychological effects were very familiar, especially a drive towards perfectionism and an overwhelming urge to purge the entire house of belongings in times of stress and mental clutter. I particularly appreciated the fact that the author obviously loves and respects her parents, and accepts them as whole people, with their strengths and faults making a whole picture. It was a story of figuring out who you are, under all the layers of literal and metaphorical junk.
I also read a lot of things that I wouldn’t exactly consider “quality” but that I did enjoy thoroughly. As you can see from the above chart, the majority of the books that I read this year were about supernatural stuff, mostly about ghosts. A number of those books were from a series of non-fictional collections of ghost stories from around America, as told by the people who experienced them. You can find the same stories on the website Ghosts of America, but I find the site really unattractive and difficult to use. The books are poorly edited, mostly taken straight from the site, pasted into the document, then sold as an e-book, but that’s just fine by me. They’re on Kindle Unlimited (read: free with membership) and I much prefer to read them on my Kindle (and get to put another notch in my reading list once finished).
Every year I keep track of what I read, and every year is so wildly different. Who knows that next year will bring? I’m hoping to read more non-fiction, and to do some serious research into death doulas, end-of-life planning, and successful business/managerial concepts. Also looking forward to listening to more audio books, if I can find things on Audible that suit my mood. I’m sure I’ll read plenty of junk along the way, too. Fingers crossed, anyway 🙂
It didn’t rain on the day of the funeral, which was unexpected. Rather, it was a crisp, cool day with a brisk breeze. The sky was still laden with clouds, but the sun peeked through from time to time. It was a perfectly acceptable day, all in all, despite the giant hole in the ground, my father’s body in a box, and the social demands of a hundred or so gawking well-wishers.
My mother had insisted I bring a windbreaker, but I refused, and we bickered as we prepared to leave the house. I had driven up from Louisiana with only a light sweater in tow. I packed hastily, and managed to forget that spring in New Orleans and spring in North Carolina are two completely different seasons.
She had a coat for me, but it was three sizes too large, and looked terrible with my black fit-and-flare dress. I refused to put on another layer, because my outfit was perfect for a funeral, and I wanted to look my best as I met with family and friends. He deserved well-dressed representation. It was a way to prove to the world that he’d done a satisfactory job raising his only child. I would be proof of his good works, if only through my refusal to wear an unattractive piece of outerwear. In the end, I took the coat to assuage her, but left it in the car.
We took separate cars, and on the drive to the cemetery, I turned the stereo up and sang along to Donovan’s “Atlantis.” He owned the record as a teenager, and when I stole his records in high school, he sagely advised me to give that particular tune a listen. We talked a lot about ancient legends when I was a girl, and the song has always made me feel close to him. I needed to know he was with me still, that peculiar, stubborn, restless old man. The Spotify channel was on shuffle, and the next song to play was “Trude” – a song I remembered rocking out to 15 years ago or more. I’d forgotten the name, and had been looking for it ever since. It was my sign that he really was there. He gave me a song, and I sang along to it at top volume as I whipped my rental car into the driveway behind his hearse.
The funeral was. People were there. Hands were shaken, stories were shared, hugs were given. I endured the “Oh, how you’ve grown!” and “What do you do now?” and “Are you still in New Orleans?” with what I felt was great patience and restraint. He taught me that. My mother, of course, was late. She didn’t want to be there, she hates funerals, and she wasn’t afraid to let the general populace know her true feelings on the matter. She doesn’t like black, so she wore a navy suit and black sneakers. She received unfortunate news regarding my father’s estate (or lack thereof) before arriving, and had he been alive, he would have been quite amused at her indignation. In a stage whisper upon her arrival, she angrily told me that she was going to pee on his grave. It was the highlight of the event, as far as I was concerned. I sat next to my paternal grandmother, my Nana. I couldn’t cry. The priest was ancient, and lost his place several times. Afterwards, I talked with my cousins, all grown up and lovely. I felt lucky to be with them. We noticed that he was buried directly across from the only guy in town with whom he’d always had beef. That seemed appropriate, since it was April 1st. Our family shares a love of schadenfreude, and we snickered there between their graves.
Then we went to lunch, my mother, my maternal grandmother, and my uncle by friendship, my father’s best friend. So funny, the four of us sharing tater tots and cheeseburgers, a wheel missing its spoke. It was a nice lunch, though, all things considered.
The next day, the rain fell in sheets, and the temperature dropped another ten degrees. I was unprepared, but stoic. He taught me that, too. We had somewhere to go, though I can’t remember where that was anymore, and my mother needed help taking things out to the car. I’d brought three pairs of shoes with me from the Deep South – black cloth heels, scuffed up black TOMS shoes with no tread, and black flip flops. None were appropriate, but after some deliberation, it seemed that the flip flops were the smartest choice for the weather.
At the front of a house stands a wooden ramp. It was built for my father by a charitable organization in the year following his amputation. The structure is sturdy and adequate for its purpose, but it takes up a large swath of the front yard, eliminating access to the house’s front steps. There’s no choice but to use the ramp to enter the house, but the organization failed to add traction to the ramp. In short, it’s good enough for a wheelchair, and dangerous for pedestrians. I expressed this concern to my mother the first time I encountered it years ago, and then again upon arrival this trip. By now, the wood had grown slightly slimy from falling leaves and other debris, making it even worse. She brushed me off as being dramatic.
Walking out of the house in the rain, noting my flip flops, the standing water, and the already slippery ramp surface, I held on to the railing and walked very cautiously. Even so, I fell. I was shocked, and angry. Despite my precaution, I’d failed. Even worse, I told her that it could happen, and it did! Bruised and shaken, I got up and went to the car, then came back up the ramp and into the house. I told my mother that I’d just fallen on the ramp. We should take it down. She’s going to fall one day, and no one will be there to help! She looked at me like I was a lunatic, and walked away to finish whatever she had been doing.
I shook off my irritation, grabbed a second load to go to the car, and walked back outdoors again. This time I went even more slowly, holding fast to the railing, one firm step after another. But at the same place in the ramp, I completely lost control. It felt like the ground was being pulled out from under me. No matter what I did to hold on, this was not something I could stop. But still, I clutched that railing for dear life. My feet flew in front of me, my arm scraped down the wooden railing, and I landed square on my tailbone, the jolt shocking the breath out of me. My raincoat hood slipped down, and there I sat, in a puddle of water, arm bruised and bleeding, chilled to the bone, all the things I’d been carrying flung across hell’s half acre, down the ramp and into the yard.
And so I screamed into the rain. God fucking damn it. Fuck this. Fuck you. You stupid piece of shit ramp and this stupid fucking yard and this goddamn rain and all of this fucking shit go to hell and…
Then I sat there. I sat there until I was soaked through and shivering, and I wailed into the storm at the top of my lungs. Eventually, the front door opened, and my mother was beside me, checking me over like I was a Little once again. She told me she was sorry, so sorry, and she didn’t want me to hurt, and she’d do anything to make sure I was OK. That she was talking about more than a fall went unspoken.
So I got back up, and together we gathered all of the things I’d dropped, and took them to the car together. On the way back, I took the ramp barefoot. She walked with surety in the same ugly black sneakers she’d worn the day before.
Later, she blamed my falls on my shoes, which sounds logical, but isn’t true. I live in a rainy town, and walk around in those flip flops regularly. That ramp is dangerous. It’s going to hurt someone. It already has. But even now, I don’t have the strength to argue. That was his job, and now his time has passed. We have to let the world tilt as it will, and spill us across hell’s half acre if that’s what it wants to do. It doesn’t do a soul good to hold on too hard. I have to learn to let go.
I had a dream last night that I met a guy who wasn’t at all my physical type, but was really funny and clever and kind. He was in charge of planning campaign events for a low-level political character, like a county sheriff or judge. The candidate wasn’t getting reelected, and so this event weekend was the last in the guy’s current career. But he was plucky, and very sure that he’d find his next campaign in a week or two, so now was the time to let his hair down and enjoy the party. The party in question was at a hotel, but I don’t think I had anything to do with the event or the property – I was just there by accident, and stayed because I felt drawn to the events of the evening. He was tall, with dark, curly hair. He was overweight, and was a little too hairy and sweaty for me. He had a bulbous nose, and expressive eyes that crinkled at the corners. He was in his mid-40’s, I thought. Maybe he was younger, but looked older because of the extra weight. He was also magnanimous, bubbly, genuine, and concerned with my comfort. Right in that moment, he wanted to take me out on the town, and I decided to just roll with it and see what happened. I felt like I’d become his right hand person, and it would change our worlds. Who knows why I dream what I do?
I had an interesting dream last night. I dreamt of a word in Danish, a language that I do not speak and of which I have no real knowledge. What’s more interesting is that the word made absolute sense in the context of the dream (though I didn’t know it at the time).
First, a small background of waking life: I work as an event planner at a hotel, and we often provide catering for events. We have a head chef at the hotel, and though we’re not exactly friends, I do respect him as a colleague. He’s quiet and focused, which comes across as stern and commanding in the professional environment. He’s got a good sense of humor hidden just under the surface, though, and like most kitchen professionals, he loves to feed people. You can’t go wrong with that combination.
All this being said, I don’t really think about Chef when I’m not standing in his kitchen or working on a menu for a client. That’s the first weird thing about the dream – that he was actually in it.
I’m eating dinner at a fancy restaurant. There are eight seats, but only seven guests. The host, my old boss, disinvited one of the intended attendees at the last minute. It’s very like her, so I’m not at all surprised.
Champagne is served. The label is beautiful – yellow and pink, with gold foil accents, illustrated in an Art Nouveau style. The name on the label is HAVARI, in all capital letters, in black, with the second “A” in gold foil. The wine is crisp, and tastes of pears. I’ve never had anything like it, and I love it.
The meal ends. Chef appears, in his whites, wearing a fancy chef’s hat (he never wears a hat like that in waking life). He pours more champagne for everyone, taking time to discuss the unique pear flavor a little more with me. I am concerned I won’t remember the name of the wine, so he turns the bottle towards me to let me read it again: HAVARI. I need to remember HAVARI, I remind myself.
The scene changes. We’ve been told there’s a terrible storm on the way, and Chef is concerned about his family. The dinner party has dispersed, and I’ve gone home with Chef so that he can collect his wife and children. (I think in waking life, he only has the one child, but in the dream there were more.)
Chef’s house is on the edge of a body of water, with a solid wall of windows that look out onto a pier that juts out into the waves. I am in the house, watching the pier. Chef and his family have already left for safety, and I am relieved for them. I didn’t see them go, but there’s a feeling that he has gathered them to him like a mother hen, protecting her brood. I know that because of his instinct to stay calm and remain together, all are safe from harm.
I watch the storm outside grow wild, standing witness as the waves batter the pier. The sky and the water are the same color; it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends, especially with the waves so intense, and spray filling the air. The pier stands strong at first, then starts to shimmy, and finally is washed away as the pilings give way and collapse from the relentless power of the water.
At no point am I afraid. I am safe in the house, and the storm doesn’t seem to belong to me. I am just here to witness it.
I woke up with two distinct thoughts:
- Chef will have his foundation washed out from under him, but as long as he gathers his family to him when crisis comes, all will be OK in the end.
I got dressed and left for work. On the way, I wondered if I should tell Chef about my dream, or if he’d think I was crazy. Besides, how did I know that this was really a dream about him, and not just another vivid dream? But at some point in the morning, it struck me that I should Google the word “havari” to see what it was. I didn’t expect anything; in fact, I thought that it would help prove that this was all just jumbled bullshit from my subconscious, and let me move on with my day.
Now here’s the weird part – lately I’ve been contemplating Norse magick, specifically the practice of seidr, or weaving the lines of fate. I’ve been feeling a soul stirring for some time. The hows and whys are a whole other blog post, and I don’t have the energy for that right now. Let it be enough for now to say that when I found out that “havari” means “accident” or “emergency” in Danish, I realized I was being given a message to pass on.
Just because I knew the basic message doesn’t mean I knew the meaning, though. Maybe the lesson is for Chef in the distant future, when he has more than one child. Maybe it’s more of a metaphor than it already appeared to be. Maybe it was actually meant for me, and I misinterpreted it (though I strongly doubt this, for some reason).
I asked Chef for a minute of his time, told him the dream, and explained that I felt that I was supposed to tell him not to lose faith when things go awry. I told him to hold his family close. Even if the dream means nothing, I hope the thought of love still gives him strength if and when a dark time comes.
Being Chef, he was customarily quiet and thoughtful when I gave him all of this information – but when I finished, he assured me that he’d never leave me behind in a storm – and that he did have a wall of windows in his house. I was too weirded out to ask if he lived on a lake.
Here’s a thing I bet you thought I’d never say – 2018 was a pretty good year for me. (If you’re having trouble breathing right now, I totally get you. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this weird piece of information, so please, take your time and soak it in however you can.)
I mean, if there were a heat map of the most uttered thoughts of my year, I’m pretty sure it would be a toss-up between “WTF, dude?” and “I don’t have time for this shit.”
I cried A LOT. I spent an unreasonable amount of time feeling hopeless about the future, and scared to make a move (any move), and also worried that all I’d ever feel is sorry and scared. Those moments aren’t completely over. I’m pretty anxious, and coming to terms with the fact that my current “treatment” plan of avoidance isn’t really going to cut it. That’s OK. I can work on that. I don’t have to be the best – I just have to keep working towards it in my own way.
But I also found pockets of bravery, when and where I least expected them. I was resourceful and kind, and I allowed myself to trust others to treat me as well as I try to treat them. Last year, I spent my birthday crying alone in my apartment. This year I had a birthday party with actual friends who love me in attendance. Last year, I spent NYE (you guessed it) crying alone in my apartment. Last night, I just went out with the resolve to trust myself and follow my own beat. Guess who had an amazing night doing EXACTLY what she wanted to do? I wore a cute outfit, got glittered up, had sushi, hung out with friends, visited my favorite bar, BOTH of my favorite poboy shops, and signed up for karaoke (even if I had to leave before it was my turn to sing). I even got a New Year’s kiss. It was a lovely way to ring in a big, bold new year.
Somehow (maybe multiple somehows), I was kick-started back to life this year. Here are some of the weirdest things that stand out to me as highlights of the year:
- Finally figured out how to tell people they’re hurting me and kick them out of my life if needs be. (I’m looking at this as finally figuring out how to use my life preserver.)
- 360-degree view of Fourth of July fireworks from the rooftop of a shed on top of a building.
- Scoring a ticket to Burning Man (but not getting to go, sadly).
- Going on a 14-hour long first date.
- Being a nude art model.
- A summer of breakfasts in bed.
- 8-hour long conversation about Fela Kuti album covers.
- Becoming friends with a tree (Yes, this is ongoing. No, I am not on drugs.)
- Spending a whole day and a half with some of my best friends and not a single working cell phone between us. So much laughter. So much love.
- Flying to Austin to attend a psychedelic rock festival. Getting asked by some dude in the crowd if the hand symbol flashed by Golden Dawn Arkestra was meant to represent the Illuminati or a vagina. Pretending to be confused that they weren’t the same thing.
- Finding my own neighborhood haunts, places where everyone knows me and my preferences, and are usually happy to see me walk in. Knowing that I have a standing date at Tiki’s, and the catfish benedict at Who Dat will always make me swoon with happiness on a solo brunch date.
- Reconnecting with friends. Rediscovering that I have people who REALLY love me, whom I can trust with my thoughts.
- Starting to wear color and costumes again.
- After 5+ years of gaining weight, suddenly dropping 25 lbs. with no activity, effort, or plan. I think it’s because I’m happy.
- Collecting crystals.
- Collecting cicadas from the neutral ground.
- Selling my television, once and for all.
- Making not one, but two, perfect green bean casseroles – one vegan and entirely homemade from scratch, the second with cobbled together ingredients purchased at Walgreens at noon on Christmas Day (Funyuns, y’all).
- Really listening to my own needs and wants, and doing my best to attend to those desires first, even when it makes me anxious not to anticipate and preemptively carry out everyone else’s wants and needs around me.
- Learning how to keep my own flame stoked. Realizing that no one else will.
- Expanding my comfort zone with solo adventuring. Finding ways to be brave and make new friends along the way.
There’s so much more to learn. I’m not even close to thinking that I’ve got this shit figured out. But I made strides this year, and I intend to keep it going.
Oh yeah – that reminds me. If you don’t already, please follow me over on my other blog to find out what I’m doing in 2019 – I’m going to be posting on The Bold Life more frequently as a tool to help me transition into whatever magical psychedelic snow leopard creature I’m becoming.
The following was written a year ago, in December 2017, and has been sitting in my drafts folder ever since. In the celebration of my spiritual and emotional progression in 2018, I think it’s important to post this. I have no lingering memory of the Reiki session recounted in my post, save for having done it and feeling better in the days to follow. It’s interesting how simple measures of the past can continue to reverberate in our present lives.
“I don’t have the energy to write anything of elegance; please accept my apologies. My head feels empty. It’s a relief, and I plan to take full advantage of this mental silence by falling into a deep sleep five minutes from now. It occurs to me that this is how Dumbledore must feel, just after extracting memories and dropping them into the pensieve.
Tonight I visited a Reiki healer for a complimentary session, just to get to know her and find out more about the process. I’m going to work with her to balance my chakras. If you know me, you’ll know that half of my brain just went “Yay for hippie dippy woo woo!” and the other half went “Why not just set your money on fire, for all the good it’s going to do?” I’m putting the negativity to bed for the evening, though. I’m feeling far too calm and happy to let the fear take over tonight.
After meeting with the healer for a chat about my life and thoughts, I laid down on her table, closed my eyes, and started to concentrate on my breath. She observed my energy. Once, I started to laugh – I felt like I was being tickled, but not physically. It felt like it was inside, dancing across my liver. I was compelled to chuckle. Later, I started to sob uncontrollably. I remembered a friend, and couldn’t stop remembering him. I was surprised that this particular friend would be the only person I could think of, and grieve for.
After that part of the session was over, we talked, and she told me what she’d found. The laughter happened when she was taking a look at my Sacral chakra – tied to my inner child. The deep grief happened when she was examining my Heart chakra – tied, of course, to love. Every time I’ve lied and told people that I didn’t fall in love with him has only served to hurt me. It does no one good to hear my feelings, but I shouldn’t keep lying to myself, at least. It occurs to me now that there aren’t enough words in English for love, loving, falling in love, being in love. What is the word for falling in deeply in love with someone’s manner, expression, spirit? Not with the man, himself, but rather something older that lives within him, maybe? Is there a word for adoring someone like your long-lost brother, and knowing that coming to terms with that is only accepting that he has been ripped from you time and time again?
There are no words, and the only ones I can find sound insane and obsessive, when there’s really nothing further from the truth. If I were to write a fictional history, we were brothers in the trenches during WWI, and he died in No Man’s Land while I watched, helpless. He was my baby daughter, run down by a carriage in the streets of Rome. He was my older brother, murdered in the Cultural Revolution for knowing how to play Western music on his violin. I was his grandmother, cold and stiff in her bed one morning, eyes still glazed over with the shock of passing.”
This was written in the wake of a particularly painful breakup, during a period when I was feeling so heartbroken that I had trouble getting out of bed every day. My entire life was off-balance, and in the midst of the turmoil, the emotional toll of other old relationships started getting dredged up to the surface. Two years before, I’d met a friend while taking a spiritual pilgrimage through Spain. Nothing about our meeting seemed to be of chance, and we connected immediately. It felt like I had grown a brother overnight, and it broke my heart to be separated at the end of the journey. The Reiki session brought those realizations up to the surface and evidently helped me deal with them, as I still keep in touch with my friend, but am no longer feeling bereaved regarding the physical distance between us.