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 🙂
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?
Life lessons from Francis and Rumi…
Break down your walls:
Sow love, instead of hatred;
Seek to heal, instead of hurt;
Instill faith, rather than doubt;
Foster hope in times of despair;
Call on the light when the darkness threatens;
Channel joy in times of sadness.
Look for ways to comfort others,
Understand that we’re all different, and in great need of love. We’re dying to be accepted as we are, and to be loved without judgement. Open yourself to that grace.
Giving (and forgiving) is how we receive.
Be the love.
Be the love.
Be the love.
What you seek is seeking you.
This business of having a crush sucks. I’m tired of it. When will it go away? It’s been months now since we met. We’re getting to be friends. He brings out my bright side. I want to stop being so attracted to him. I will myself to, but it’s not going away. The more I talk with him, the more comfortable he is with me, the more I like him. He was flirty when we met, because that’s his regular behavior with women. He’s no longer flirty with me, and I struggle with that. Is it because he knows I hate it, and wants me to be comfortable? Is it because he’s comfortable, and doesn’t feel like pretending? Is it, as I suspect, that he’s never seen me as anything other than one of the guys? If I had half a brain, I’d just ask. But I’ll never ask. It would break my heart to find out anything, good or bad. I will concentrate on revealing nothing. There is no way through from here. He’s just a handsome dead end.
Lots going on right now, even though life on the face of things is quite quiet. It feels like the winds of chaos are beginning to pick up a little speed, and I sense that luck is in my favor. I’m not quite sure just yet what it is I’m supposed to be doing, but I think that the best choice is to buckle down, turn inward, and gather my strength for the jump, whenever I feel it coming. It won’t be long.
I want to publish this year. The thought occurred to me out of spite, more than anything. But my spite is so short-lived and soft. No one would ever guess that half of my reason for doing anything is just because other people piss me off, and I use the irritation as a catalyst to get shit done. It’s tough to explain – basically, I really dislike conflict or hurting anyone (or even displeasing anyone, really), so when people make me sad or angry, I just pick a project to work on until I feel better. It’s the truly bad part of being a perfectionist. I’m weighted down with the expectations for which I’ve blamed others all my life. I have to constantly remind myself that no one really cares, and I’m giving everyone much more power than they actually are entitled to.
In this case, though, I really do want to just go ahead and be a published writer. You know, more than blogs and articles. I’m tired of knowing down to my core that I’m a creative, but having nothing of substance to my name. Life is short. I could die tomorrow. Spiritually, I can’t afford to keep living in fear. I need to write this book. Who knows, maybe there’s some way to even use it as a stepping stone to get funded to write more.
Speaking of writing, obviously I’m doing that a bit more now. I don’t want to jinx myself, but my thoughts are flowing slightly faster lately. The panic and sadness that was gripping my brain seems to have eased up a bit. Also, I’ve been inspired as of late. My curiosity has been piqued by several people who live wild, colorful lives. I want to be like them. I want to live bigger. I want to be outside of my own head for once.
I’m starting to identify my unique selling points. They’re very odd, but they’re all mine. I mean, surely someone else has to be interested in some of the same things I am, right? Death and ghosts and 60’s music and earrings and whiskey and cats and WWII history and magick and pilgrimage and travel and St. Francis and faerie tales (real ones)…
I can’t afford to get too discouraged. I’ve made some steps in the right direction this year. Sure, the debt feels like it’s crushing my brain, and it’s hard to focus when I know that I’ve got $40 left to get me through the next week and a half. But I’ve got a fridge full of groceries. I have two semi-valuable things to sell in a hurry if I simply must have money before next payday. I get fed for free at work every day that I’m there, and all of my bills are paid up. I’ve done a good deed. I’ve seen a smile in a loved one’s eyes. I’ve given hugs. I’ve loved a neighborhood stray. My braces are working, and my teeth are starting to look nice again. I have ideas for simple things to sell. I have ideas for complex things to write. I’m a lot less heartbroken than I was even a few months ago. I am not afraid of a solo adventure. I am hopeful that all the things that are me will make me worthy of great love from myself, and the friendship of others. I trust that I can dance and sing, and people will join in my celebration. Somewhere out there is a lantern, hanging in the fog, heading in my general direction, waiting to be discovered. But you can’t focus on other fires when you need to stoke your own.
I’m unpacking the bullshit, and leaving it behind. It might be just one piece at a time, but I’m getting there.
A few weeks ago, I started writing about love. I mean, that’s obviously not true if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time. I’ve written a lot about love. And pain. And depression. And self-loathing. Weirdly enough, at some point, all of those things intertwine. If I had to guess, I’d say that in my very early childhood, I somehow learned that achievement was the key to being loved, and it sent me down the shit-strewn pathway that is perfectionism, inevitable failure, chronic procrastination, anxiety, depression, inability to effectively communicate my needs to others, and look, here we are! Woohoo! Awesome, gotta love psychology – here’s a primer on perfectionism and anxiety disorders, if you’re interested.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was talking about love. Or specifically, the second of two lessons that I’ve gleaned in my 36 odd (and I do mean “odd”) years here on Planet Whatsitsname. If you want to see Lesson #1, it’s not here. Go to this other place.
Whew, now that we’re rid of that guy (cheeky bastard, trying to read ahead!), let’s get on with things…
Lesson #2: Autonomy
This one is otherwise known as “Am I my lover’s keeper?” The answer, in case you’re wondering, is a resounding NO.
My friend’s mom has this wonderful saying, and I know that I’ve probably recounted it here before, but I’m going to do it again (#sorrynotsorry). She says that your partner shouldn’t be the meat and potatoes of your life. Instead, they should be the strawberries and cream. In a relationship, it’s our job to make life sweet for our partners, while we learn to be our own “meat and potatoes” – to create a life that sustains and nurtures ourselves.
In other words, your lover can’t be your everything, and you shouldn’t be your lover’s everything. That’s an extremely unhealthy way of living. As good as it may feel to lean on each other, that’s not a sustainable, long term solution. If you’re not leaning equally on each other (which presents its own unique struggle), one of you is weighing the other down. In either of these situations, your structural integrity WILL fail in the end. It’s only a matter of time.
For those of us who love to nurture, who just want to be helpful and kind, it is natural to want to give everything we have to make our loved ones happy, healthy, and whole. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the best for those around you. But people who give freely of themselves can lose track, and be taken advantage of by trusted loved ones. When we instinctively give, give, give, we attract people who instinctively accept, accept, accept (and in the most negative situation, those who take, take, take). It’s easy to feel fulfilled by the joy of being a kind person and doing good things for the people we love, but that won’t keep the emotional lights on forever. Codependency might not be malicious. It feels like love. It feels like symbiosis. But it’s not – it’s parasitism, and it makes both of you even weaker. The partner who never learned to take care of their own needs (be they physical, emotional, psychological, etc.) is never going to learn if there’s no impetus to change. Meanwhile, the partner who rejoices in offering too much care is most likely neglecting their own needs and deficiencies.
I know now that the only way forward is to create a language of reciprocal joy with my partner. Of course I want to share in the story of their life. I want to know when the day goes wrong, and when it goes right. I want to be there to lend a hand when I’m needed – that’s what partners do, after all. But I am not there to carry all that weight for the long haul. And it’s not their job to carry mine. It’s my job to be a grown up and learn how to shoulder my burdens when I can, when to graciously accept a little relief, and how to recognize when it’s my turn to take on some extra weight. Mostly, though, it’s about walking side-by-side, enjoying whatever the path brings our way. It’s about bringing sweetness to a difficult day when we can, but also not being daunted when we can’t. In the end, we are not our lovers’ keepers. Which leads me to an unexpected third lesson…
Lesson #3: Love isn’t an external process.
It’s an internal alchemy. It isn’t more valid because you have someone to share it with, will it towards, or spend it on. Love doesn’t require a physical object to exist, and I suspect that once love is sparked, no matter the catalyst, there will always be an ember held safe in your heart, willing itself back into full flame. We can easily be our own sweetness, if we just let ourselves remember how.
I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole tonight (as is my wont once I decide I just NEED to hear a song), and somehow got from Joan Armatrading’s “Drop the Pilot” all the way to a video commemorating June and Johnny Cash’s epic coupledom. (OK, I’ll tell you how I got there – it involved The Cowsills, Joni Mitchell, The Grass Roots, and Seals and Crofts…yeah, no, it makes no sense unless you’re me, lol.)
Anyway, I guess I’m just thinking about love vs. codependency, and new relationships when the old ones can’t be so easily pushed aside, for any given number of reasons. I don’t know that I have any solid wisdom to impart here. But I’m trying something very new (for me) lately, and that’s just trying my best not to worry, not to push myself, and to let things unfold as they see fit. In the last 12 years, I’ve learned numerous lessons, but lately, two of them are pushing themselves to the forefront. I’m trying to listen, learn, and avoid duplicating the pain.
Lesson #1: Saying “I love you.”
I’ve dated a lot of people. It might surprise some of you, since I’ve been in long-term relationships for pretty much as long as the Internet has been a serious thing, but before 2006, my longest relationship was three months. I made up my mind quickly, and moved on if things weren’t right. I never told people that I loved them, or talked about a future together, mostly because I was smart enough at 20 to understand that there was a lot of future left, and the odds of making a lasting connection with a guy my age were extremely low. I took every day as it came, and life was pretty good. There were a couple of heartbreaks, but overall, it felt like I was succeeding at the dating thing.
Then I met the guy I assumed I was going to marry, and stopped dating other people for eight years. It might as well have been a marriage, just no paperwork. But it was unhealthy, and eventually I LOST MY EVER-LOVING MIND. Well, that’s the face value…in reality, the people closest to me could see me cracking years before I gleefully blew the whole thing to smithereens.
Here’s the thing – I could have told you in 2006 that there was a problem, even if I couldn’t have given you a name for it. I knew there was a problem as soon as he told me that he loved me, and I thought, “I love (*insert Universe-sized pause here as the non-math person does complicated calculations…*) your family.” I didn’t say that, of course. I said “I love you, too.” But the split second between his declaration of love and my return of the sentiment stretches an eon in my brain. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him, or that I didn’t think I loved him at that moment. That’s not it at all. I did love him. It’s just that when I thought about being with him, it was in conjunction with his family – and his family held more weight in my heart. We had a good run, and I can do the coulda/woulda/shoulda thing all day long, but in the end, it was really super wrong for both of us. I mean, it was a pretty epic mistake, in retrospect. He wanted a different kind of life, and I let myself disappear under the weight of his ideas.
The thing is, in that split second after he told me he loved me, I knew that my understanding of love was somehow flawed. I knew that I was going with “solid” instead of “amazing,” because I was worn down by “amazing” turning to “shit” within a month or two. He had all of the rare ingredients that I’d been told I should look for: he was attractive, dependable, and responsible. And his family – I really did fall in love with them. They kept me going for a few more years than I should have endured, if you want to know the truth. I miss his parents so much. I cherished being taken in by a group of rowdy New York Italians, of having someone’s dad keep my special brand of coffee stocked in the house “just in case,” of having an aunt pull me aside to ask for a recipe (still a high point in my life, if you want to be honest), of hearing all of the family stories, and feeling like I could live on forever, with this kind of close-knit family. I’d never wanted children, but all of a sudden, I thought how nice it would be to give my mother-in-law a grandchild to pamper. In other words, my life shifted to accommodate everyone but myself. Classic INFJ.
In the end, as things were drawing to a close, I started to find that my mouth didn’t want to make the shapes required to spit out “I love you.” I was unsure at the beginning, but at the end, I KNEW. I kept waiting for it to pass, to figure out how to reboot it somehow, but it withered and died. And you know why? Because in eight years, we had never really talked. We’d been saying things to each other, but we were never speaking the same language. Here’s what I have learned in years since, about what I was saying, and how I should teach people to interpret my words and my actions. “I love you” isn’t about romantic love, though it celebrates it. It’s not about sex, though it acknowledges it and revels in sharing a healthy physicality. “I love you” is about seeing the person in front of you for who they are, and celebrating that flame for having the courage to flicker. It’s not about wanting them to be better or do better, or envisioning who they could be, or who you could be when you’re with them. It’s about seeing the space between you, and realizing the steps you each take to bridge it, fling open the doors, and welcome the other into your weirdness, every damn day. Loving is easy, but building a relationship where you can love and be loved, that’s a daily commitment, requiring constant renewal.
Right now, love for me feels like that moment of zen when you take a breath and soak in your physical surroundings and state of being, and take note of the person’s presence in your sphere, and think, “Oh, this is good. I could do this more.” If you can meditate in the presence of the person you love – if you can trust enough to breathe freely and look how you look and think how you think and never ever worry how they might have misinterpreted you – and if you can appreciate all the same things about them in that moment – then saying I love you is right for now, and you will never regret saying it, even when now is no longer.
Lately I’ve been getting out of my comfort zone a little bit – and realizing that what I thought was outside of my comfort zone is actually far inside my comfort zone, as long as I’m accompanied by the right people. The difficult part is finding the line between being open to change and connection, and feeling overly emotionally vulnerable. Classic INFJ issues.
The one thing that this is teaching me is that I want so much more for my life than I’ve been allowing myself to have. I deserve so much more. I owe myself more. I just don’t know how to get there. I know that there are walls I still need to scale, but I can’t see them. It feels like the walls are moving around, but it’s probably more like when you’re lost in the woods, and it feels like everything’s moving around on you, when in reality it’s just that your perception is completely askew.
Anyway, the only way to move forward is with deep breaths and clear intent. The only person who can get me there is me. I refuse to be preemptively sad or anxious over imaginary failings. I am OK. I will be better than OK. I need to keep in mind that when things are scary, it’s because I’m taking the risks that I should have always been taking. I am safe. I am whole. I am fully capable of walking this tightrope, with or without a partner in crime. I will thrive. I deserve nothing less.
I don’t know if you know this about me, but I have zero chill. Well, except for that it’s the opposite. “Chill” in the vernacular sense means “relaxed and cool” but my version of not calm is frozen. Does this mean I am so chill that it’s come back around?
I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve, exactly – I know those people, and they freak me out – but I do find myself overthinking things to the point of nervous breakdown. Left to my own devices, I’ll dig myself a hole and fill it full of alternate realities. My stomach churns. My heart feels compressed. My vision starts getting dark at the edges. I need to breathe. I can still smile and participate. You’d never know that inside my head, I’m a freezer-burned Hungry Man meal, two years past expiration. It’s a shame, really. I love Salisbury steak day.
I’d like to say that I’m learning something, but aside from being unable to pull a full breath, the biggest lesson so far is that I’m scared, I’m uncomfortable, and I’m not really built for temporary. I need trust, and I need to be trusted. I need to know things. I don’t like blind spots or dark corners. I don’t care if there are sharp edges, or spiders, or clowns. I just need to know about them.