For the Love of Books

Books are a uniquely portable magic.
-Stephen King

I am a voracious consumer of books, both fiction and nonfiction. My parents taught me to read at an early age, before I even started school. I was the kid in fourth grade that got in trouble for reading a book in her lap instead of listening to the teacher’s lecture.

Many readers indulge as a form of escapism, but the primary reason for my indulgence is different. Reading broadens my horizon in regards to lives of other people, varying perspectives, and worlds different from my own. I think about them in comparison to my own reality, and it helps me to make sense out of the chaos of life. Books lead me to think about my own story and the story of those around me.

There have been phases of my life where I have been less of a reader than others, but since finishing graduate school last year, I have revived reading as a regular indulgence. This left me with an overwhelming thirst for a connection with others who share in the love of books, and thus, I joined a local book club.

It was terrifying showing up at the house of a complete stranger to converse with other complete strangers, but it was the book that fueled me forward. I knew the small talk would end once the book discussion began, and that’s when my nervousness disappeared. The conversation was stimulating and thought provoking, and I was hooked. It feels so satisfying to connect with people over this common interest, and now I am beginning to connect with them on a level that extends beyond our readership.

Not only has this love of books brought me together with new people with different ideas and perspectives, it has expanded my exposure to literature. Each month we read a book in a different genre, which is opening to me different reading experiences and thus different way of seeing the world and harnessing my imagination. It also recently introduced me to Book Riot, which is a source of all things bookish including news of the publishing world, new releases, and book reviews and recommendations. I anxiously await every new podcast episode.

In celebration of my revived love of books and reading, here are some of my favorite reads so far this year:

Earth
The Secret Wisdom of the Earth
– After tragedy strikes, a boy moves with his mom to live with his grandfather in the Kentucky Appalachians. The boy finds solace in his relationship with his wise and rugged grandfather and with his new best friend as they explore the woods. When the town becomes divided over mountain blasting, a camping trip into to the wilderness becomes a fight for survival. It’s gritty and poignant. It’s also the author’s debut, and I can’t wait to read his next book!

 

Lucky
Luckiest Girl Alive – A young woman determined to have it all and close to making it happen is forced to take a hard look at her life when she agrees to participate in a documentary about tragic events that took place when she was in high school. I agree with comparisons to the eerie, dark tone of Gone Girl. It is very well written and kept me deeply engaged to the end.

 

Mice
Of Mice and Men (Classic) – Two drifters find work at a California ranch with dreams of one day having their own piece of land, but difficult situations arrive that force them to face the harshness of reality. It’s a short, simple story but it hit me hard. I had to take some time to absorb the ending before I could start another book. It’s not a fun-filled happy book, but it’s an important one and is an example of one that is perfectly written.

 

War
Girl at War – A young girl and her family in Croatia are struck by tragedy at the start of the Yugoslavian civil war in the early 90s. Ten years later the girl decides to return to her homeland and face her past. This book taught me a lot about the war of which I was very unfamiliar. It’s a smart book that shows you it’s possible to bridge the gap between all the lives we have lived to remind us of who we are.

 

Single
All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation (Nonfiction) – A well written and researched book that explores gender roles of women in America and how they have shifted through the decades to now. She incorporates everything from census and statistical data to interviews of every-day women. It’s a thorough and interesting commentary.

 

Liars
We Were Liars (Young Adult) – A group of four friends spend carefree summers together on a family island until one of them has an accident and loses part of her memory. This is a story about friendship, loss, and facing your demons. The bad ratings on Goodreads describe the book as tedious and pretentious, but I found something honest and beautiful in this coming-of-age story. I did listen to the audiobook and loved the narrator, so that likely improved my experience. I cried twice.

 

What are your favorite books so far this year? What are you reading next?

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My Corner

I pride myself on being an independent person, a self-sufficient problem solver. But I have realized that sometimes life is simply better when you have someone around to share in life’s trials and tribulations.

I am very much a do-it-yourself kind of girl. I have never been good at asking for help. Maybe my independent nature was ingrained by my upbringing as an only child, but for as long as I can remember I’ve believed I should be able to do everything on my own and that asking for assistance or advice is a sign of weakness. I never want to inconvenience anyone, and when someone does end up helping me out with something, I feel a weight of obligation on my shoulders to return the favor tenfold.

Fortunately I have people in my life that ignore this. They support me and give me advice and go out of their way to help me when I truly need it, usually asking nothing in return. Sometimes my husband doesn’t even give me a choice in the matter. I try to remember to classic-vintage-boxing-ring-corner-closeup-old-surrounded-ropes-spotlit-spotlight-isolated-dark-49083551embrace the extra support and helping hands, and I have found that life can be so much easier when you have people in your corner to help you face what’s in front of you.

Last week, after a difficult doctor appointment, I returned to my car in the hospital’s parking garage only to have it sputter and die. My gaslight had come on during my drive to my appointment, and then I had parked on a sideways incline in the parking garage, preventing enough gas from reaching my engine to get my car going.

I weighed my options. It was 100 degrees outside, the closest gas station was two miles away, and I was in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood. My energy for taking on the world was a bit depleted at that moment, so I decided to swallow my pride.

When I called my mom, she and my grandpa asked me where I was and hopped in the car, immediately coming to my rescue. There was no guilt trip, no groans or complaints of inconvenience, no comments on my idiocy. When they arrived, as my grandpa poured gas into my tank, he shared with me one of his own stories about running out of gas in the middle of nowhere with his wife and kids in the car. He refused the extra money I tried to give him, accepting only what the gas had cost him.

The gratitude I felt filled me to the rim. It was such a relief to know that there was someone close-by to help me when I truly needed it. Rather than internally obsessing over how I should have just handled the situation myself without inconveniencing others, I thanked my mom and grandpa, hugging them both before I graciously started my car and headed home.

A couple of days later, I experienced the roughest two days at work since I started my job six months ago. I was a ball of anxiety, worrying and fretting about my future, my career, my value, my decisions, all the while trying not to care so much and wondering why I did.

I couldn’t get my head straight, so I emailed my best friend. She gave me excellent advice, telling me to leave it all at the office, have a few drinks, and have a fun weekend. Then she would give me all the advice I needed, if I still needed any once I took a break to relax.

That night my husband took me out for margaritas and talked me through everything, letting me vent, explain, bounce ideas off of him, and him listening and collaborating with me.

Allowing myself to lean on my best friend and husband and to “be weak” for a bit, openly expressing my struggles and insecurities, and asking for advice and feedback was a relief. Afterwards I could see the situation so much more clearly, and I didn’t feel so alone and isolated.

I am learning not to be so hard on myself when I find myself wanting the help of others. We all need someone sometimes, and I am so thankful that when I do, someone is there. Life happens. It’s nice to have people in your corner when it does.

Under the Glow

Nature shows us her power to destroy, to create violent and rapid change, altering the landscape however she wants. What she leaves behind sometimes reveals to us the power she also has to make anything beautiful.

After terrible flooding in the southern plains last year, the receding waters left behind previously hidden rock formations, their textures and colors now bold under the glow of the sun.

IMG_7549

In response to the Daily Post photo challenge
Details

Whole

“Love is not about two halves making a whole. You need to be whole on your own.”
– My Mom

I got my first boyfriend when I was in kindergarten. He could run faster than anyone in our grade, and his dad worked at the zoo. Needless to say he was quite a catch.  We held hands at lunch, and I told my mom I was in love.

Through the years I teetered between serious relationships and the casual dating life of a single girl.  My mom’s words had rung clear and true in my mind, and I maintained a strong level of independence throughout it all. I never looked to anyone else to define or fulfill me as a person. I experienced deep connections and intimacy that tempted me to change course, but instead I always stayed true to myself.

Until I didn’t.

I landed in a relationship that was hard, really hard. In my determination to make it work, I sacrificed and gave away too much of myself. Despite my mom’s wisdom and my intention to follow it, I ended up immersed so completely in someone else that I had begun to disappear.

I had enough sense of self to finally leave the relationship behind, but being single again and looking in the mirror, I barely recognized myself. So much of me was missing, so I started rebuilding. I focused on finding the missing pieces and put my self and my life back together.

The experience allowed me to see what the right kind of love and relationship should look like, and while putting the pieces back together, I met K. He gave me the space, time, and support I needed to focus on myself while we got to know each other. He understood the importance of being and feeling like a whole person.

K. and I are married now, and I still take time for myself and focus on fulfilling the important aspects of my life both with and without my husband. No matter what happens, I know that I can stand on my own. I know who I am and I rely only on myself for fulfillment and happiness.

Love is not about two halves making a whole. It is not about completing each other. It is about two people coming together to intertwine and share their lives together. You have to be whole on your own.

Version 2

In response to the Discover Challenge:
A Piece of Advice

Imposter

I am not who everyone thinks I am. And it’s only a matter of time before someone finds out.

When my manager told me she is expanding our department and hiring new people, I had a thought that maybe she was planning to fire me.  Maybe she had realized I’m not as good at my job as she previously thought and was hiring my replacement.

Last week I returned to work from vacation to find that my manager submitted my name for an award. Her submission said:

“Although I should be used to it by now as she is so consistent, Jamie is constantly surprising me by how she kicks every project up a notch and follows through with a countless number of requests and projects, completing them better than I would have myself. Jamie, not everyone could be able to handle as much as you do, especially with such poise and high levels of success. Thank you for all you do!”

I read it a few times to make sure I was reading it correctly. My internal reaction was:

blog“Does she really believe this about me? My contribution is small, and my work is by no means amazing. If she really knew my work processes and took a closer look at what I’ve produced thus far, I’d probably be in trouble instead of being nominated for an award.”

My immediate reaction was to discredit the kind and complimentary words from my manager about myself and my work ethic. I began trying to reason away the award nomination in my head because what I read could not be the truth.

Does any of this sound familiar? This is Imposter Syndrome.

I first discovered the concept via author Brene Brown. Imposter Syndrome is feeling like a fraud.  You believe others see you as being better than you truly are, and you think that eventually people will find out and realize you are a fraud.

I experience this in both my professional and personal life. Realizing this is a phenomenon that many other people experience left me feeling less alone. During an office book club meeting, I mentioned Imposter Syndrome and everyone perked up, unfamiliar with the term. I explained the meaning and immediately saw the change in their faces. A few people spoke up. “I experience that every day.” “I thought that was just me.”

Imposter Syndrome sounds ludicrous logically, but it’s very real. Recent research suggests that both women and men struggle with this and that people from all walks of life are susceptible. Neil Gaiman, Maya Angelou, and Tina Fey have all opened up publicly about their own fears of “being found out.”

In learning about all of this, I realized I can tackle these thoughts and turn them around. There are a variety of tactics you can use to manage your feelings of being a fraud, but here is what helps me:

  • I remind myself that every day I aim to be the best person that I can be, and I am enough.
  • I remember that people are entitled to their own opinions. If my manager truly believes that I am doing great work, why discredit her? She is smart enough to make her own judgment.
  • I think about all of the compliments I have received in my profession and personal life. Not all of them can be wrong about me, so I aim to internalize those compliments and own my successes.
  • I remind myself to stop comparing myself to others.
  • I remind myself that it is the Imposter Syndrome talking, and I silence the fear-based, self-deprecating thoughts. They are not the real me.

All of this is easier said than done, of course. I am still reacting to the imposter thoughts rather than getting in front of them and heading them off at the pass, but I am making progress.

Do you experience Imposter Syndrome? How do you cope with and manage these thoughts?

 

Photo via VisualHunt.com