Book Tag: Reading Habits

I found this book tag on a blog I also recently discovered, Read by Court  and thought it looked like a fun list of questions to answer. If you are new to my blog allow me to warn you: “brevity is the soul of wit” is a bit of wisdom I have a hard time actually using, but I’ll try to keep my answers short!

Do you have a special place at home for reading?

Dare I confess: I do a LOT of reading in the bath tub. Not really because it’s my special place to read but because in a house full of boys, I am most likely to be left alone in the bathroom. But tub reading is a life-long habit for me. When we built our house my mom suggested putting a light over the tub because she knew of my proclivity and I’m grateful for that bit of advice all the time! I also read in bed, in the front room, or at the kitchen table. In the summer I like to read outside on the lawn chair.

Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Yes! In theory I love bookmarks and I actually own many, but I will use whatever is near. Often it is little bits of scrapbooking something-or-other acting as a bookmark. I also have piles of images I’ve cut out of Folio book catalogs that I use for bookmarks.

Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop at a chapter/or certain amount of pages?

I can just stop reading. I learned this skill when I became a mom.

Do you eat or drink whilst reading?

Is it even reading if you don’t start with a snack? One of my favorite things when I was pregnant is that my belly allowed me to combine three things I love: I’d get in the tub with a bowl of ice cream and a book. I’d nestle the bowl between breasts & belly, hold my book with one hand and the spoon with the other. Eating, bathing, reading all at once!

Multitasking: music or tv whilst reading?

I don’t require silence when I’m reading, so if someone’s watching TV or listening to music it doesn’t bother me at all. But if I’m alone I would turn it all off.

One book at a time or several at once?

I usually have one novel I’m reading in physical form and one I’m listening to on audio. And I am always working on a poetry book or essay collection.

Reading at home or everywhere?

I wish I felt comfortable reading anywhere. Like, wouldn’t it be great if I were at a party and feeling my usual awkward-and-unskilled-at-mingling self, and I could just find a corner somewhere and read? But I think that is generally socially unacceptable. I did sometimes bring my book to family parties at my in-laws’ house, and since they were both readers I don’t think it bothered them, but it did bug Kendell. I do always bring a book (or three) with me on trips.

Reading out loud or silently in your head?

One of the things I loved when I was a teacher was reading out loud to my classes. And I loved reading to my kids. But if I’m reading for myself, I read silently.

Do you read ahead or skip pages?

If I start to read ahead it’s usually a sign that I’m not enjoying the book. The only book I’ve actively skipped pages in was The Martian, where I mostly skimmed the science-y stuff. Also I have been known to read the last pages of books.

Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?

I’m not really OBSESSIVE about keeping the books I own in perfect condition, but I also try to not purposefully damage them either. Is a book simply a story-delivery mechanism, or does it hold value as an object? It depends, for me, on many things. Like, if I’m reading a hardback book I’ll generally take off the slipcover. But I also feel like the books I own are records unto themselves, meaning the process of reading it is part of the book itself, and incidental “damage” is proof of that book’s existence inside of my life, so I actually LIKE if it looks like a book’s been read.

 

Do you write in your books?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. I annotate and underline. When I finish a book I often write the date on the back flyleaf and my thoughts. Or if it’s a book in a series I make a list of what I think is important to remember for the next one. If there’s a story about where I got the book I’ll write that somewhere (“I bought this at a used bookshop on Charing Cross Road” for example). Many of my books also have random notes in them, like “eye doctor, 9:30a.m.” and if the book in question went on a trip with me, I write that too and also try to leave some trip-related memento in its pages. And, yes, to answer the unspoken question: I do dog ear my books. (But not the library’s!) Not to mark my page, but to identify pages I want to return to.

When do you find yourself reading?

I don’t have a set reading time, so just whenever I have some free moments. If I’m eating alone for whatever reason I will usually read then.

What is your best setting to read in?

Just somewhere comfy. I believe that books and quilts, like books and snacks, go together, so I like a quilt around if it’s possible.

What do you do first, read or watch?

I have actually grown more and more reluctant to watch movie adaptations of books I LOVE. (Like, people who know me assume I must adore the TV adaption of The Handmaid’s Tale, as it is my favorite novel, but, no. I don’t need more story than was included in the book and I’m actually kind of irritated it became a TV show.) It just so rarely happens that the movie version actually jives with the images I have created in my own head that I have started avoiding them. But if it is a book I am only sort-of interested in, I will see that movie only after I read the book.

What format do you prefer: e-book, audiobook, or physical book?

I really don’t like e-books. I like the book in my hand if I’m using my eyes. I have read a few e-books on my phone but I don’t own a Kindle. I do have a growing affection for audio books though. I listen to them while I am quilting, cooking dinner, cleaning around the house, or working in the garden. Also on long runs when I am training for races. I mostly listen to fantasy novels. Also, if I want to read a sequel to a book I don’t remember as well as I would like, I will listen to the audio of the earlier book before starting the new one.

Do you have a unique habit when you read?

I don’t know if it is unique, but I tend to find myself twirling my hair while I’m reading.

Do book series have to match?

If I’m buying the series then yes, I would prefer they match. If I’m reading the library copy I don’t care. Honestly, though, I rarely buy series. I do have my own copies of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and The Time Quartet, and I bought a lot of YA series when my Bigs were teenagers, but generally I don’t have enough shelf space for all the series.

How do you decide if you’ll read the library copy or buy your own? (I added this question because the previous questions made me think along these lines.)

If I think I’ll read a book more than once, I will buy it. I tend to buy more poetry, essay, and short story collections than fiction. I will always buy Margaret Atwood’s newest books. If I want to have a relationship with the book itself, rather than only reading the story, I buy it. I also really like it when a friend borrows a book I own.

If you read this far, now you know all about my reading habits!


How Fiction Can Save the World (aka: Welcome to my TED Talk)

Back when the dufus was in charge of the country, one of the qualities that made me despair was his lack of interest in books. Anything remotely literary seemed invisible to him (and thus his budgets which attempted to defund libraries and museums). He often said things like “I don't have time for books” and he didn't read things like memos or briefings or of course not newspapers.

Much as I despise starting any blog post with any reference to the orange dictator, this one must begin there because his disparaging view of books—and my disgust and annoyance at a president who doesn’t read—forced me to think about my relationship with books. Specifically fiction, because that is what I read the most. I asked myself the question: Is it really so bad? Does it matter if the leader of the free world doesn’t read, or am I only bothered because books and reading matter so much to me

Yes: my perspective is skewed toward favoring people who read. This is because I am a life-long reader and have always found solace and happiness in books. But of course I have also learned, over the course of a lifetime, that people are different. People can not love reading and still be good people. (One example: my husband. Another: my youngest son.) However, there is a difference between everyday people and the person who is elected to be the president of the United States. A different skill set is required.

Is being a bibliophile one of them?

And more specifically: fiction. The books he talks about having read are almost never fiction (aside from All Quiet on the Western Front) but "books about China" or whatever he was being grilled on. 

Does the president need to love fiction?

I could point you towards dozens of scientific studies about the impact of reading fiction on our brain and our behavior (here is just one)  but my reasons are more personal (and so admittedly more subjective).

I believe that fiction can save the world.

Hear me out.

Fiction saves the world

When you are a fiction reader, you are often immersed in a psyche other than your own. Through story you get to experience other human experiences. I will never be an orphan who must move from India to England, or the daughter of a Baptist minister who is dragged to the Congo by her parents or a teenager living in Toronto forced as a teenager to befriend the girl who bullied her in elementary school. But each of these stories have left an impression on me. They've taught me something about what it means to be human in this world, something I could never have learned otherwise in my average, everyday life.

In a sense, the word for this is compassion. But it is something bigger than that. It's not only that I felt awful for the experiences Adah goes through in the Congo. It's that I learned something from her about the way it sometimes seems impossible to put yourself into the world, but sometimes you must anyway. In one way, this validates my life view. In another way, it challenges it. It forces me to be braver than I might be otherwise.

Reading fiction helps you understand that your experiences are not the entire range of human experiences. In fact, there are many billion different things that can happen to a person, far more than any one person can ever understand. And in those experiences is knowledge. Understanding this helps me decenter myself. My reality and wounds, my struggles and successes, are only one out of a myriad possible outcomes of a life.

How would understanding that influence the president? It might help him to understand that the whole world doesn't exist just so that he can exist. The world—the United States—an individual community in one of those states—even just within one house: the president's importance isn't because of who he (will we ever be able to write "he or she"???) is but because of how he can improve humanity. His story is only one of the stories and there is an infinity of other experiences to be had. So maybe it's not really compassion so much as it is humility. 

And what if we all had a little bit more fiction-induced humility? Perhaps then we would understand our role on this earth at this time. Our one small life hardly matters, except for the good we can do in small ways. Sometimes "saving the world" just looks like a five-dollar bill given to a homeless person, but if we all knew our importance—both small and yet infinitely powerful within the realm of our smallness—we might all save the world just by acting as individuals.

I am not a gay man, a transgender woman, a Jewish or Muslim or Protestant or atheist person, but reading novels through those lenses has helped me catch a glimpse of what those perspectives are like. I have never been to China, India, Brazil, the Andes, any part of Africa, but I have come to know tiny bits of those places (and many more) through novels. I will never be a biologist or an astronaut, a midwife or a stockbroker, but characters who are have taken up places in my heart. I don't get to walk in Middle Earth or Narnia or on the surface of Mars, but I can create those landscapes in my imagination and then find parallels for them here on earth. 

If I have learned that my American, white, middle-class, spiritual-but-not-religious way of looking at the world is not the only way, then I have also learned that my answers aren't the only answers. I have learned that despite differences in age, identity, nationality, race, religion, gender, and all the other markers we think make us who we are, we are all people. We all love, hurt, desire, worry, strive, succeed, fail, start over. We love our families and our friends and our homes and our landscapes. We all want to be loved.

What if the president understood that? What if he had learned that America isn’t the center of the universe, that his wealthy white male perspective is not the “normal” that everyone else deviates from? How much good might he have done to help other countries if he weren’t so obsessed with putting America on top?

What if he learned through fiction the power of imagination? The enormous expanse of possibility once we look beyond ourselves?

What if he learned about beauty and other beautiful things: courage, loss, perseverance, forgiveness...

The fact is, the United States had a president who not only didn’t read, but was illiterate in the true grace and elegance of the world, which isn’t found in gold toilets, glitzy race cars, and enormous fancy properties. He failed to save the world. He failed to save anything, but left only destruction and ugliness behind. Is that only because he doesn’t read fiction? Of course not.  But would reading have changed him (and thus the world) for the better? Absolutely.

But the rest of us? The billions of people alive right now? We can read. Fiction, yes. And poetry and essays and histories and political ideas and memoirs and the history of salt if you want. Reading is a form of learning, and the compassion, humility, empathy, imagination, understanding, and a myriad other forms of knowledge we gain from it help us become better people. They will help us each perform a billion different small acts of world improvement that, put together, might just save the world.


Friday Library Stories

Fridays are my long days at the library, and yesterday I worked an extra hour. That really shouldn't feel that difficult but man, nine hours felt long even in a space I love.
 
As the day progressed, though, I found myself paying attention to the good vibes I was feeling. Someone thanked me sincerely for helping him print his document. A cute little girl in a black Friends t-shirt waved at me and said "I love the liberry!" The morning light through the east windows was perfect.
 
Despite it being a long day, it was also full of lovely little moments, so I thought I'd jot them down.
 
I helped a patron who needed some copies. He had one of those open and energetic vibes, and he told me several stories about his life adventures. He looked nothing like them, but reminded me so much of my dad and his brothers. They were always ready with a story to tell, and told it with the assumption that A---you knew exactly who they were talking about and B---they were the most interesting stories ever. (Quiet often they were!) And they could always talk about art. This gentleman had that same spunk & spirit &  innate storytelling vibe. I enjoyed his stories and I enjoyed feeling that connection to my dad.
 
I helped another patron find a book in Spanish...in Spanish! My Spanish is definitely not the greatest but when I manage to help someone in the language they understand best it makes me feel accomplished and somehow more...welcoming, I guess.
 
Our library tarantula, Libby, is a little bit anti-social and spends a lot of time in her burrow. She was out today though (I think she likes Fridays because when I see her out it is almost always on a Friday). Whenever she's actually out, if there are kids downstairs I'll let them know. One little girl was looking in the terrarium while her mom used the computer, so I walked over to point her out. When she spotted her—a little bit behind a leaf—she grabbed my hand and squeezed because, as she said, "I've never gotten to actually really see her in real life yet!" So cute!
 
An old family friend—she has known me since I was four—came into the library today and we had a really lovely chat. She told me that she always checks my staff displays and takes home at least one. A few months ago she took The Awakening and she told me it gave her so much to think about in relation to her decisions within the church. As I feel like every LDS woman in Utah County should read it simply for that reason, this made me feel super validated. Also I just really love it when people tell me they like my suggestions!
 
Another patron this afternoon asked me what the name of the statue by the reference desk is, so I told her  the name ("Incoming") and the story of the piece. In another life I'd like to be a museum docent, please. Preferably in Italy. I love talking about art (even if my knowledge is limited) because I LOVE art!
 
I survived my long day by just paying attention to the little good moments!

Yesterday I did something I haven’t done in more than a year: I met people at a restaurant. I’ve been looking forward to this for two weeks, since my friend, sister, and I planned it.

Just lunch.

Just talking with people I love.

But after so long of not seeing anyone or doing anything, it was…

well, I don’t really have a word for how it felt.

Amy chris becky 5 1 2021

I was seeing faces. I was hearing their voices, learning new stories. Laughing. Tearing up. All over a meal.

We admired bracelets. We brought gifts. We exchanged books. We showed each other photos.

We were together, and I was renewed. Enlivened. Happy in a specific way that involves being loved by someone who has known you for a long time, who knows the shorthand for all the stories, who you can be yourself with. Who you absolutely adore and who has saved you more times than she knows.

But after we finished, after we’d hugged and said our goodbyes, I slowly filled up with…sadness.

Not a darkness, really. Nothing sharp. Just a gentle, persistent ache. And when I got home, I curled up in bed, had a long cry, and took a nap.

❦❦❦

I am an introvert. And, throughout my adult life, I’ve had some experiences that have brought me to a choice of withdrawing. I love and value my friends, the real ones, but I have a hard time with casual friendships. In most social situations, I keep my shields up.

I’ve made this little world for myself, where I have my family and my close friends, my running and hiking, my flowers. I spend most of my time writing, crafting, quilting, or reading. Part of my shield is telling myself I don’t need people. I am happy in my own miniscule universe.

But deep down I know: I do need people. Even if I don’t need a whole squad like others have, I need my people. To see and be seen, to tell stories and to listen to them.

I think the sadness came from knowing how long I just put my head down and didn’t have any interactions like yesterday. I survived and I was fine and I could continue surviving and being fine. But I also didn’t have that specific happiness of being with people I love. So the sadness is kind of a retroactive one, I think. For the hugs we didn’t give each other, for all the days we didn’t see anyone else’s face.  For all the times we could’ve used a living, breathing person across the table from us, listening or speaking, but we couldn’t.

For the way we all carried on on our own.

❦❦❦

There will be other days. There will be more lunches. We will go shopping or hiking or to the bookstore with our friends. But the blank spaces of last year: we cannot get those experiences back. And we are changed. Some relationships won’t ever be the same. We lost many things during the pandemic in addition to the actual lives that are gone.

Those lost things require—deserve—to be acknowledged and mourned for.


What I Learned from My Blog Challenge

Back in March, I stumbled across Effy Wild's  blog challenge. The goal was to blog once a day in April. There is also a Facebook group where you can post links to your blog, as well as find and read other people's blogs. The rule was to post a comment on three blogs every time you added a link to your blog, but I confess: I often went to more than three!
 
Writing
I knew going into this challenge that I wouldn't blog every day. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes I don't have a clear emotional space, for many different reasons. Not that I require blissful silence and a happy heart to write, but some days things happen that put me in a state where writing is difficult. But since I knew that I wouldn't blog every day, I didn't get discouraged on days I missed. I just picked it up the next day (or the day after that).
 
My goal was to reestablish my habit of writing. I know that blogging is a thing that's far past its heyday, but I never totally stopped. Mostly, before this challenge, I've blogged only about books, with occasional political, religious, or social rants thrown in. I wanted to go deeper than that, to have the experience again of sitting down with the goal to write something, to shape it and edit it and give it some breathing space. To work with words on a regular basis.
 
I feel like I began to accomplish my goal (which is really about reconnecting to my writerly self, in an attempt to figure out who I want to be as I get closer to the empty-nest phase of life), and that I learned some things, so I thought I'd share them here, mostly so I can remember, but also so I can use what I learned to keep moving forward in my writing journey.
 
1. I like having an audience. I understand it was part of the challenge, but holy cow: getting comments consistently on my posts was awesome. It made the world feel smaller, in a friendly way. Being heard is pretty amazing.
 
How I can use that: I have been thinking for awhile now that I need to find a writing group. Honestly, I have no idea how to do that, and probably it will continue to be unlikely until COVID is more under control, but I am putting this out into the Universe: I want to find some like-minded people to share my writing with.
 
2.  Blogging takes time. Many mornings I started the day with a warm cuppa and writing my blog post. I'd look up and the beverage was gone (or gone cold) and an hour had passed.
 
Often this would make me feel a bit anxious. One of my current struggles is feeling like I have worth and that I contribute. This comes from the huge imbalance between what I make working as a librarian and what my husband makes working in tech world. Let's face it: librarian is not a high-paying career. I can only work at my job because my husband's job supports us. Logically I know that I contribute, but emotionally? Emotionally, lately, I cannot feel that. Which is tied up in being at this place where I only have one teenager, and while of course I still take care of him, there is far less active mothering to be done. If I'm not contributing much to the family finances, and if I'm not, you know, housewifing or mothering, then...it feels like I'm adding nothing. So often, after writing and posting, I'd clean the bathrooms or do some laundry or start planning dinner, just so I could feel like I had done something measurable.
 
How I can use that: In reality, this is a new iteration of the same feeling. I've always understood that being financially successful as a writer is even more elusive than being critically successful. It doesn't help that I'm married to a person who sees money as a huge proof of a person's value. I have always wanted to be a writer but I haven't ever, really, had the confidence to pursue it with my whole heart. I mean, if I don't feel like I am a person of value within my family, how can I feel like my writing work would be embraced by anyone who isn't required, by marriage or genetics, to love it?
 
I just...I just want to find the mental courage to say "fuck it." (sorry for the language.) To not care about what other people think of me, and to pursue my dream without guilt.
 
Guilt is holding me back. Perhaps exploring that will help me to cast it off.
 
3.  Blogging and writing are different. I mean, clearly: blogging is a form of writing. But it is easy satisfaction. You write your blog post, you polish it up a bit, you try to find a photo that works. You click "POST" and voila: your words are out into the world. No one but me determines what is "publishable." 
 
This blog post is the 1682nd one I've written since fall of 2005. With varying degrees of success, I try to keep my blog posts around 1000-1200 words. If an average-length novel has 100,000 words, I've written roughly 15 novels. 1.5 million words.
 
But only on my blog.
 
Early on in my blogging journey, a commenter told me that a writing professor she was taking a class from told her that blogging can become an excuse for not actually writing. I thought blogging would be a stepping stone to other writing opportunities, and I know for some people it is. For me, it hasn't.
 
How I can use that: do the work. Do the work, which is hard. Face rejection. Find places to submit. Sit with the discomfort of whatever story I want to tell—the goddess locked in the mountain, the baby in the cave, the three-voice story about motherhood, the LDS vampire, the zombie story that is really about fire—rather than giving up and never finishing.
 
Do the work.
 
Does that mean I will stop blogging? I don't think so. However, I do think when I have an idea for something to write about, I need to pause and ask myself: what do I want to do with this idea? Do I want to share it right now in a social media setting? Or do I want to be more ambitious? I think there is room for both. 

Book Review: Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

How childish grown men could be, in a way women never were, not in Maddie's experience. Sullen and grumpy, still playing by the sandlot rules, obsessed with fairness and stature. Of course women cared about stature, too, but they learned early to surrender any idea that life was a series of fair exchanges. A girl discovered almost in the cradle that things would never be fair.
 
Every year, I try to read at least one book that is outside my usual choices. I am not devoted to any one specific genre; when someone asks me what my favorite kind of book is, I usually answer "the well-written kind." I'll read in any genre of fiction, really, so long as the writing style works for me, and honestly: there are fewer books in some genres that fulfill my "I love this writing!" need. Often, the goal of much genre fiction is  to meet the requirements of the genre, which are less about writing style and more about plot. 
 
(I rewrote that last paragraph several times because I don't want to sound pedantic or uppity. One of the things I've learned well and truly as a librarian is that there are types of books for everyone, and you get to decide what works for you. I just have a specific taste that works for me.)
 
So, just to keep myself a more well-rounded reader and librarian, I often try to hustle up a mainstream genre book that doesn't drive me bonkers. I like doing this because I've found many books I ended up really loving. I still am not a fan of meets-all-the-checkboxes genre fiction, but if the book breaks the rules a bit, I'm happy. (For example, I don't love most romances but The Time Traveler's Wife, a very romantic book, is one of my favorite novels.)
 
Lady in the lakeLady in the Lake by Laura Lippman was my recent attempt at genre fiction. The reviews made it seem like a mystery/thriller/historical fiction combo. I don't love mystery series that have the same detective figuring out cases, but I do enjoy a mystery that explores something more than just "who done it." The Booklist review, which says the book includes " a Greek chorus–like assembly of voices, some fictional, some historical (including former Baltimore Oriole Paul Blair and Violet Wilson Whyte, the first black person to be appointed to the city's police force), who add texture to the portrayal of the city's racial politics," sold me. (I thought it would be like an adult version of Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind them All, as one of the voices is the murdered women's.)
 
It tells the story of Maddie Schwartz, who at 37 decides to divorce her husband, leave her big house in the Baltimore suburbs, and explore who she really wants to be. She gets a job at a newspaper, working as a sort of assistant, and discovers she likes the world of newspapers, even if getting any sort of recognition, as a woman in the 1960s, is difficult. She becomes a little bit obsessed with discovering, and hopefully reporting on, who murdered a young Black woman, Cleo Sherwood, whose body was found in a lake. 
 
I think it's important to remember, when considering my response, that I chose this book because it seemed like it would fit my genre-but-not-too-genre expectations. I'm just not really sure how to label Lady in the Lake. It wasn't super thrilling in the sense that I was never on the edge of my seat, heart pounding, worried that a character was about to die. And as for the mystery, the way it is solved eventually has nothing to do with Maddie, other than that it helps her finally start to be seen as a reporter. There is a twist at the end that I didn't see coming, but it was explained so swiftly that I didn't really get to fall inside it, if that makes sense.
 
That said, I did enjoy this novel. The mystery and the thriller-ness really are the backstory; really, the story is about Maddie trying to figure out what type of person she is, now that she is divorced.  She bumps into the social restrictions of her gender, religion, and status, and has to figure out what is worth trying to push over and what she has to live with. How does she negotiate the world in her divorcee status, especially since her son really wants nothing to do with her, so in a sense she is also not a mother? What does she like, what does she not want to engage in, how does she want to be within her newly-made freedom? She is a very different type of woman than I am, the kind of beautiful woman who knows how to flirt and how to use her beauty to get men to do what she wants, but her struggles with her self-identity are something I deeply, deeply relate to.
 
And Booklist got it right for me. That chorus of Greek voices, which are interspersed with the chapters telling Maddie's story, made this a book that didn't just tell the story, it played with how the story was told, and I loved that.
 
I'm actually not sure if this book even meets my "read some decent genre fiction" goal. It's more literary that most mysteries, but not really literary. And I felt like the ending just sort of...petered out. I'm glad I read it, but I'm not sure it will stick with me as other books have. 

Scrapbook Cull: What I've Learned So Far

About a week ago, Kendell and I somehow came to the decision that we should switch rooms. He’d move into the smaller, darker bedroom for his office and I’d get the brighter, bigger room for my crafty space. We’d previously thought my current table/bookshelf setup wouldn’t fit in that room (which is bigger but only has three walls because the fourth has a built-in bookshelf). I’m not 100% sure what sparked our conversation, but it got to a point where I said “well, it must be nice to be hanging out in here with all this light,” which is funny because Kendell likes a darker room than I do. We started measuring and figured out that yep, we could make it work.

Thus engendering this mess:

Craft room reorg

I decided that I only want to move what I am actually going to use. (You can read more of how I am choosing what to keep on THIS POST.) Kendell thought this would just take a couple of days but, alas, no. I am seriously pondering every piece of paper and package of stickers. I’ve got eight different give-this-to-this-person piles going. I’ve thrown away dried-out rub-on packages (I honestly don’t think I will ever buy a rub-on again because they definitely have a shelf life, which makes me wonder how long they will actually stay rubbed on to layouts), alphabet stickers with so few random letters left I couldn’t spell anything at all, many duplicate photos, and several half-finished mini albums I’d made for scrapbooking assignments (in the long-ago days when I had scrapbooking assignments).

I started by cleaning off my main table and then going around the room clockwise so I ended up with my closet full of product drawers. I have most of my supplies organized by color, the rest by theme. Five days later, I am almost through with that closet (about six drawers to go). I intend on finishing the drawers tomorrow and then I will start actually moving stuff from one room to another. 

This is not the first time I’ve gotten rid of scrapbooking supplies or moved my crafty space. (I’ve actually had my stuff set up in each of our bedrooms at different times since we’ve lived in this house; my favorite room is the one I’m returning to because all of the kids slept there as babies, at one point or another, and it makes me happy to be in the same space their baby breaths lived.) So I know it can be a learning process, and I wanted to write down a few things I have learned so far.

  1. There are supplies I buy a lot of but use rarely. Namely, black foam alphas, white foam alphas, and anything green. Even though I set myself the goal of getting rid of stuff I don’t actually use, I kept most of these because I still know how I will use them, and it isn’t on imaginary layouts I might never get to create, but on specific topics I just haven’t done much. (This also applies to the baby boy drawer...I have very, very slowly scrapbooked Kaleb’s baby year. Not because I don’t want to, or don’t enjoy baby pages, but because I love them so much that if I hurry up and do them all, I won’t have any left to make. Please note the contrast between not wanting to “hurry up” and Kaleb’s age...he’s almost 16.)
  2. There are some photos I’m a little bit afraid to scrapbook. Not the topics themselves, but the photos. Namely: pictures from hiking and pictures from southern Utah. When the photos are of gorgeous places, what products do you use so as to add rather than detract from the gorgeousness of the location? (This is why I have all of those unused green products, by the way. Because they’d be great—I think!—with hiking photos.) Also, travel in general. I’ve done some awesome trips over the past decade but have made almost zero layouts about any of them. 
  3. I had supplies grouped in awkward ways that made it harder to find things. One drawer with travel andbeach and summer was overwhelming to find anything in. (And only in my mind do birthday, Easter, and sports supplies go in the same drawer!) So I eliminated some categories and combined others and came up with new categories. Which means I’ve also gathered travel memorabilia and notes from random spots and put them all in the travel drawer with the travel supplies. I also have a drawer of hiking supplies, which I didn’t think I could do as not many manufacturers actually make many hiking-themed supplies, aside from a random hiking boot here and there. But I guess I’ve accumulated what has been made.
  4. My scrapbooking approach must change as my life changes. I’ve mostly caught up with Christmas layouts, for example, so I really do not need the massive amount of Christmas supplies I’ve accumulated. Same with Halloween. I still have a ton of untold stories about my kids, but if I stopped scrapbooking tomorrow, they would all have a lot of tidbits of their life recorded. I think it is OK if I also scrap more about myself at this point. (While still telling their stories as well.)
  5. It is impossible to discard any Basic Grey supply. I’ve tried. I just put them back. So pretty, so unique, and now completely irreplaceable. (RIP Basic Grey)

As I have gone through this process—which I am calling a cull rather than a purge because it feels more positive—I have had some self-castigation. I’ve definitely overspent. (Don’t tell my husband I said that. I will deny it to my dying day.) But I’ve also remembered some really cool stuff I have and should USE.

I’m excited to see how my new space comes together and to start scrapbooking (and quilting! but that’s a different post) with my supplies that feel enlivened by the reduction.


Book Review: The Once and Future Witches (but this is not really a book review)

"she thinks of the ways people make for themselves when there are none, the impossible things they render possible."

Once upon a time there were four sisters.

TOnce and future witcheshis is not a book review, not really. I mean—it is about a book, The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow, which is the story of three sisters, Beatrice, Agnes, and James Eastwood. It is a mix of fairy tale and witch tale and historical fiction. Set on the eastern seaboard—a fantastical Massachusetts near the end of the 19th century as women fight for their voting rights—the plot combines the suffragette movement with witchcraft. I could write about the writing, about the skill with which the story is told, about how I loved being immersed in this world and so I read it slowly, picking it up and putting it down so as to stretch out the time I had with the sisters in the story.

I loved the book. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in history, women’s power, or just a damn fine story, well-told.

But I also had to put it down often because it was rubbing on some of my sore spots.

Once upon a time there were four sisters.

That was my identity growing up: one of the four Allman sisters. As long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to books about sisters. It was one of the reasons I loved Little Women so much: four sisters taking care of each other. However. I don’t think I could put it into words then, but now I can see more clearly that while we were four sisters, growing up in the same house, we weren’t united like the March sisters. We fought a lot, both with each other and for our mom’s approval, and when I think about myself as a child, I see myself alone. People near me, but not truly connected. In the same house but neither truly seeing my sisters nor being seen by them.

Once upon a time, there were four sisters, but not really.

It is hard to tell the stories of our fracturing. Because even if they couldn’t see me and I couldn’t see them, we still made bonds. They were based on memories from childhood, and then on being mothers ourselves, and on the shared histories of family parties. Conflict grew uglier, because of stories that aren’t mine to tell, and for a long time while we still had the four of us, there were really only three of us sisters making connections.

Once upon a time there were three sisters and a shadow fourth.

The three of us seemed close. We travelled together. We asked for advice. We spent time with each other. We tried to take care of our mother when she got sick, to varying levels of her approval. When she died, we took care of her possessions.

But life had other stories to tell us. We had to learn, as Juniper and Amaranth and Belladonna do, that the damage which tears the most is the sort done to you by someone you love and trust. June tells a fairytale story about their story, "In stories, things come in threes: riddles and chances, wrongs and wishes." She then lists the three points, the turns in the story that changed everything. If I told you them I would spoil the book for you, so I won't, but it doesn't matter because I think she gets it wrong. The real start of the story, and the one that they go back to over and over, is the first damage, the first breaking, the first time they betrayed each other. That the betrayal happened because of their abusive father's actions matters, of course. But really—in the novel, in life—there are two points, not three: the way they break each other, the way they repair each other.

Right now my sister relationship is broken. As before, the story bent because ugly words were strewn and secrets were spoken, because of the way one damage sparks more and more destruction. Because there is no spell that can undo any of it. 

So reading the stories of Belladonna, Amaranth, and Juniper (these are their “mother names,” middle names that are somewhat secret) kind of broke my heart a little. Because they were fractured too, their relationship made complicated by the actions of abusive men. They had to learn to trust each other again. They had to learn that sometimes the decision one sister makes feels like betrayal to another, while it was really that the sister needed to save herself because this time no one else could. They had to learn all over again how to talk, what to accept, not to judge.

As the story progresses they learn these things. Partly they learn them through magic, which their grandmother bound them with. Partly they learn by seeing what happens when they are together. Partly through having one common enemy. Partly by discovering their individual wounds grew smaller in the largess of their connectedness.

I don’t have a magical binding from my grandmother. I don’t know how to make new connections. I don’t know how to fix things—actually, what I know is that it isn’t my problem to fix. My issue is learning to deal with having fewer connections than I used to. So when the Eastwood sisters figured things out between them and started repairing their relationship, I teared up. When Bella writes that magic will continue because it will be passed from mother to daughter, from sister to sister, from aunt to niece, I put the book down. When you are a sister you are also an aunt, and I am learning how small my role really is in my nieces’ lives, and consequentially in their daughters’. I might have magic to pass but it doesn’t matter if no one is there to receive it. And I can still pass it to my own daughter, but the web of Sisters and Daughters that is built in the book tore me. I thought I had that but I don’t.

Once upon a time there were…

I don’t know how to name this place that we are at right now. Once upon a time I can be with one sister, and then at a different once upon a time I can be with the other sister, but never the three shall meet. Never the four. I cannot blame anyone as I love them all and I understand the hurting on all sides.

Once upon a time there was a...

“Never” is maybe too long of a word, and perhaps like the Eastwood sisters the story will turn again, toward healing. But I’m not sure what kind of sacrifice would have to be burned at that pyre.

Once upon a time there was a middle-aged woman who couldn’t fix her sisters.

Once upon a time there was a woman who loved her sisters.

Once upon a time there was a woman who had to rely on broken magic, and eventually, after many days of journeying, she began to learn that broken magic is all anyone has.

Once upon a time a woman learned she had to heal herself.


My Favorite Flavor of Truffles and Other Random Bits

One of the scrapbookers who inspires me, Heba Alsabai, has a series on her Youtube channel called "Me, Myself, and I," where she makes a scrapbook that is completely about her stories, using a list of 31 prompts. I'm all in on women realizing it's important to tell our own stories. When you first start it can feel like it's conceited or weird but really, if you don't tell your stories, no one else will. There are so many things I wish I knew about my mom and my grandmothers. It is a sort of void in my psyche, honestly. And maybe there won't be a granddaughter or great granddaughter (or grandson for that matter!) who has my same need for stories about her ancestors, but if there is, I want to fill it.

In thinking about Heba's prompt list, which you can see HERE, and my own process of telling my stories, I am inspired to tell some stories I hadn't thought of. Maybe on a scrapbook layout, maybe on my blog. And since all this thinking happened around my birthday, I decided I'd do a list. Just some random bits and pieces about me right now, just for fun, like I used to do with my kids around their birthdays. Some of the prompts are from Heba’s list, some are my own ideas, but the spark came from listening to her on the Scrap Gals podcast.

Me right now, as I’m writing this post. Home from my long shift at the library. Home from getting my second Covid vaccination. I have blisters on my forearms, hamstring, and finger from spot removal at the dermatologist and another bandaid on my neck from a mole scraping. I’m wearing my newest t-shirt, which I bought from Stately Type. I couldn’t resist it because that is the old logo from Lake Powell, from the 80s, when we went to Powell every summer. It made me miss my dad.

Amy selfie 4 23 2021

My favorite donut: a chocolate old-fashioned from Daylight Donuts. Almost any old-fashioned donut, really, but the Daylight ones are the. best.!

Silly things I say are my love languages: getting cards in the mail, sending cards in the mail, photographs, baking.

My actual love language: None of the five love languages in Gary Chapman's book really feel like mine. Like, I love getting gifts but I don't need them to feel loved, and none of the rest fit me either. My love language is, I think, being seen and appreciated for who I am. I don't know for sure if that is unique to me or if, when you boil it down, that's everyone's basic need. 

Something I miss: The Exponent II Facebook group. It kind of imploded over issues of intersectionality. It was the perfect place for me because it's far less intense on vitriol than other post-Mo spaces are. I don't want to be angry and hateful while I work through this process (although I understand the anger and the hatred) and I miss having a place I could engage in discussion with people who understood and didn't judge me. 

Something everyone seems to care about except me: The British royals. Just don't care about the lives, even the actual struggles, of these powerful, wealthy people. Not when the vast majority of the world is also struggling, but without the wealth and power.

Something contradictory about me: I love poetry but I cannot stand novels in verse. 

Something random that makes me happy: getting packages in the mail.

Thoughts about what I am reading right now: I'm about 75% through The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow. I LOVE the story, the characters, the setting, the time period, the main conflict. But, a story based on three sisters who don't understand each other has hit too close to home so I delve in and then I have to scurry out again...

Thoughts about the audio book I am listening to right now: Recollections of my Non-Existence be Rebecca Solnit. I LOVE AND ADORE everything Rebecca Solnit writes. A favorite quote from this book, which is a memoir about the experience of being a woman in contemporary America:

"I remember once looking at the Pacific Ocean, to which I often reverted in trouble, and thinking 'everything was my mother but my mother.' Books were my mother, coastlines, running water and landscapes, trees and the flight of birds, zazen and zendos, quiet and cellos, reading and writing, bookstores and familiar views and routines, the changing evening sky, cooking and baking, walking and discovering, rhythms and blues, friends and interior spaces and all forms of kindness, of which there has been more and more as time goes by."

However, I don't love her actual voice reading the audio, which in turn makes me not love my own opinion because I love her writing so much...

What my friendships look like right now: Lots of messaging. After getting my second COVID-19 vaccination today and so in a few more days (OK, 2 weeks) I'll feel safer about meeting up with friends. But probably will still want to be outside with them. But I can't wait to do something in person with Wendy, Julie, Chris, Becky, Cindy and many others!

A song I love: When I upgraded my phone this winter, my music app stopped playing WMA files. I have yet to figure out a different app (please note that YES I am that old-fashioned person who listens to music she actually owns, rather than via streaming service) so right now I just shuffle all the songs on my phone and it's playing music I have forgotten about. (Don't you think "shuffle" should be fairly random? And yet, it isn't. I think it circles through the same 100 songs or so, and ignores the other 357 tracks.) A few in particular: "Never Stop" by Echo and the Bunnymen, "When the Stars Go Blue" by The Corrs and Bono, "Nothing's Wrong" by Echosmith, and "I Found Out" by The Head and the Heart.

Books I currently have checked out from the library: The Once and Future Witches • We Run the Tides • The Lady in the Lake (I am actually halfway through this, but I put it down to read OAFW, but then I haven't picked it up again) • On the Way Out, Turn Off the Light: Poems • The Witch's Heart • The Charmed Wife • Kate in Waiting • The Dictionary of Lost Words.

Books on the hold shelf waiting for me to bring home and add to my pile of library books: The Nine Lives of Rose NapolitanoSharks in the Time of Saviors

Something my husband and I argue about: How many books I have checked out and scattered around the house.

What I am making right now: Four baby quilts in various stages. I can feel them tugging at me, wishing to be finished, but right now I am in the middle of moving into a different room for my crafty space so they will have to wait. One baby is five months old now...is that too old for me to give it to her? 

Something I've recently finished: This layout with some pretty bad cell phone pics from 2013:

Layout nathan at the library 4 23 2021
(clearly inspired by Shimelle!)

and this hot pad, which I made for Haley's birthday:

Succulents hotpad

(I am still fairly new at doing paper piecing. This was REALLY fun to put together but involved some seam ripping as paper piecing requires you to think backward and my brain is still learning the tricks.)

Something I need to buy: A pair of shoes with stiff soles that I can wear to work. I'm currently wearing my hiking boots to work to support my healing toes but I don't think I won't need such support for awhile.

Something I have too many of: Shoes I can no longer wear. I've actually never been a "pointy-toe high heels" kind of girl. I like thick stacked heels and open toes, but I do have a few pair of high heels I just won't put on my feet again after my surgery. 

Something I'm finding ironic: red-hued politicians who simultaneously ban books and decry the "cancellation" of Dr. Seuss.

My current favorite treat: latte truffles from Lindt

A suggestion for better writing that I clearly can’t follow: Brevity is the soul of wit.

Tell me something random about you right now!


An Emotion I Don't Know the Word For: on Time and Daughters Growing

When my kids were newborns, I cried a lot. I would look at them, their tiny toes and perfect skin, their unscarred-by-the-world innocent smiles, and cry. I loved the experience of mothering my babies, and I knew it would be fleeting, that the tininess and the gentleness would end. I wanted to hold on to them, to make them stay forever small, but at the same time I wanted to know them, to speak to them, to listen to the story of their day, to bake them their favorite cake.

1995 haley newborn with amy 4x6

I was so happy in those sweet, blissful moments, even with the diapers and the spit up and the exhaustion. The clean-baby smell, the long hours spent just rocking or holding a tiny human, singing Yaz songs to them quietly in my awful voice. I loved them so much and I wanted to protect them and I knew I couldn’t, not fully, not completely, because they were here to grow up and become a part of the world, the world that would need them but also sometimes harm them. I knew they would have their hearts broken and be betrayed, that they would have illnesses and broken bones and all sorts of struggles. I knew that life, no matter how good, also holds difficulties. We can’t be human without them and yet I wanted to keep them away from every type of pain and damage.

My mom told me it was just hormones and I would stop crying eventually.

And sort of, I did. I learned that there is joy in all of the phases of parenting. It’s never the same as that first rush of newborn love, but that is just fine. There are a million different types of love you are blessed to feel as a mom.

But even as I loved each phase, I still, in the moment of it, was deeply aware that it wouldn’t last. This joy—the magic of her reading her first words out loud, his absolute bliss the first time he ran across the beach toward the ocean, the pride infusing his whole body as he managed to ride his bike without wobbling, his concentrated admiration of an orange flower as he struggled to balance in the green grass. At each good moment I still felt the tug, that same sorrow right in the middle of happiness.

I don’t know if there is a word for this feeling: The awareness, while in the middle of happiness, that the happiness itself is ephemeral, so that part of the happiness is always a deep sadness over its ending.

I don’t know if everyone feels that, even.

But it is a feeling I have had ever since they first put my daughter Haley into my arms.

20210228_125758 haley amy porch 4x6

Yesterday was Haley’s 26th birthday. We got an email from our health insurance company letting us know that a life event had happened to change our policy: she aged out.

And I confess: It made me cry. That same kind of crying that I did when she was a newborn, barely seven pounds, and I was terrified I would do everything wrong but I knew I loved her too much to ever make any mistakes and I would do whatever it took to protect her all her life.

All her life. Pediatrician visits and immunizations. Broken bones. Eye doctor and the dentist. The dermatologist for her plantar warts. Stitches. Physical therapy for her shin splints. All the way up to adult medical needs: I’ve taken care of that, taken care of her in those ways, for every day of her life.

And now she’s on her own.

The feeling is the same, but my understanding of it is different. When they were newborns, the feeling was about them being newborns. Now they are adults, the feeling is about them being newborns and toddlers and schoolkids and teenagers and who they are right now. The feeling is about knowing the feeling will never go away and that I wouldn't want it to.

Right in the midst of birthday happiness, of taking the day to think about all of the things she has accomplished and the good things that are happening in her life, I was reminded there is no holding on to any moment. Time just keeps passing. All we have is now, and now is infinitely precious because in a second it will be replaced by another now.