Trying to Judge Not

I judge others, sometimes quickly and harshly. As my time and experiences in this world have expanded, my cynicism towards and judgment of others have as well. I realized recently that my judgment and the anger and frustration I sometimes feel as a result was holding me back and hindering me from being the person I needed to be, and I had to let it go to move forward.

A couple of weeks ago I stood in the kitchen, my arms crossed with a scowl on my face, in full judgment mode. I was irritated and trying to wrap my head around the situation K was presenting to me. Our friends had decided to give up their dog Juno after five years, and they planned to take her to the shelter, simply because she had become an inconvenience.

IMG_0708This dog is timid, quiet, mild-mannered, well behaved, listens, is house trained, and gets along with anyone. She is a dream dog! Her shy personality in conjunction with her age and large size would work against her in the shelter, not to mention her physical characteristics indicate that she is likely a mix of multiple breeds associated with aggressive behavior. There was no way we could sleep at night while this sweet dog sat in a cold, dark cage cowering at the shelter, alone and heartbroken.

So I was angry. I was angry that someone would do this, that people I know would do this. I was angry that they could so easily shirk their responsibilities and cast their dog aside without any accountability. I was angry when I learned that the dog was flea-infested and hadn’t been to the vet in years. I was angry that they were making their problem our problem. We already have three dogs of our own!

But this was the reality of the situation. I had to move on from my judgment and anger in order to show feelings of love and acceptance when K picked up the dog and brought her to our house. Dogs are sensitive to human feelings and behavior. The last thing this dog needed was to feel like she is just another problem. I wanted her to feel safe and comfortable and welcome. I also did not want this situation to drive a permanent wedge between our friends and us. I realized that my judgmental attitude had left no room for empathy, and as hard as it was, I tried to see the situation from the other side in an effort to be more understanding and forgiving.

Many people are not responsible pet owners. I have had my own learning experiences as IMG_0744a pet owner and I understand the challenges. Many people do not form bonds with their pets the way others do, the way I do. This doesn’t make them bad people.

The lifestyle of our friends is very different from my own and is one to which I cannot relate. Much has changed for them over the past five years, many of those changes leading to added stress and overwhelming obstacles and obligations that I know would be difficult for anyone. I would like to think that I would continue to care for and nurture my dogs no matter what happens in my life, but I suppose I cannot be sure until something truly challenges that value. I hope something like that never happens.

Despite my disagreement with their overall care of Juno, our friends did call K and I before opting for the shelter, and we are grateful for that. We have had Juno for just over a week now. She is still adjusting, but she plays with our other dogs and likes to run around the yard. I think she’s homesick and maybe a little sad, but we try to mitigate that will lots of love and attention, and of course, treats.

K and I are thankful that we have the means to provide a home for Juno to keep her out of the shelter. We hope to find her a new home soon where she can live out the rest of her years with a loving family who will love and cherish her. In the meantime this is her home, and we dote on her as much as we can.

I know that I make mistakes. We all do. We all face situations in our lives that are hard and in which we make less than ideal decisions. We can judge each other for our actions, but those judgments reflect back on us as well, often in the form of anger and frustration. Letting go of those feelings allowed me to move past my judgment, keep my friendship intact, and focus on the more important tasks of making a positive difference, showing kindness, and providing a home for Juno.

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Getting Past a Rough Start

Do you ever wish you had a rewind button? Do you ever wish you could simply go back to the beginning of your day, to the moment you first opened your eyes, and start over? In the absence of a magical button, I recently faced this dilemma and I realized something: wishing only makes it harder.

Last week I had one of those mornings. Mondays are notoriously hard, but Sunday night I felt prepared to start my week and fell asleep without any concerns. Suddenly, my alarm clock was going off all too soon! I barely remembered silencing it before I fell back asleep, only to have hear my husband’s alarm go off a short time later. Already I was running late.

As I pulled myself out of bed, I went through the routine of my morning in my head and silently cursed myself for oversleeping. It was going to cost me. I was not going to have enough time to do everything I needed to do. Or was I? I tried to pick up the pace but eventually found myself standing in the living room immobilized. I was dressed for my morning workout, but it dawned on me that I didn’t have the time nor the focus to workout at that point given how much I was fretting. In that moment, I felt a wave of regret.

My morning workout is what really wakes me up. It’s the source of my energy that fuels me and rockets me through the day, at least until lunchtime. It’s what gives me the endorphin boost I need to keep moving. Not having the time to workout immediately put me in a sour mood. I thought about how the morning and possibly the rest of the day was shot. I immediately wished I could start over, and the fact that I couldn’t made me feel frustrated and trapped and then angry.

While anger may be helpful in some situations, it was not helpful to me in that moment as I locked myself in a pessimistic mindset. It started to overflow into my attitude towards my husband and the day’s outlook as my irritation escalated. I didn’t want to feel angry at the very start of my day and my week, especially over something so ludicrous! So why be angry then? I asked myself that question, and then I decided to let go.

Rather than holding on to my irritation at myself and at the day for already not turning out the way I had planned, I decided to let go and give myself a break. Rather than being angry, I decided to take it easy on myself and take my time through the rest of the day. There were no lives at stake. There was no reason to foster such negative thoughts and emotions. So I just let it go. I stopped making such a big deal out of it, and in that moment, I felt free and relaxed.

Yes, I still wished that my morning had gone more smoothly, but turning my thoughts around towards positive acceptance set the tone for the rest of my day. At work, my team meeting started with friction and a misunderstanding, but again I decided not to let the frustration and the wish that I had conducted the situation differently affect my overall attitude and the rest of my day. I made note of the experience, what I’d do differently next time, and then moved forward. After all, that’s the only direction we can go. We might as well go with intention.

When things aren’t going our way, we can wallow in pity and frustration that there is no magical rewind button, or we can accept the situation and move consciously though it, perhaps even learning something along the way or resolving a way to avoid similar situations in the future. We can sink into the negativity and let it define us, or we can recognize it, see it for what it is, and just roll our eyes at the setback as we move on. Accepting and even embracing a rough start to the day or a rough day as a whole is the best way for us to take control and move on with our lives in the most positive way.

Book Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

“A fast didn’t go fast; it was the slowest thing there was. Fast meant a door shut fast, firmly. A fastness, a fortress. To fast was to hold fast to emptiness, to say no and no and no again.”

4.5 out of 5 stars 

TheWonderAn English nurse, Lib, travels to a small town in Ireland for a two-week job. She learns up on arrival that she was not hired to be a caretaker but to simply be an observer of an 11-year old girl, Anna. Anna’s family claims that Anna has not eaten for four months and is instead sustained by divine will or influence. The Catholic priest and a local committee have sanctioned a 24-hour watch to find out the truth. Lib is confident that she will discover evidence of a hoax before the end of the two weeks, but she soon realizes once the watch begins that this puzzle is more difficult to solve that she anticipated.

I devoured this book. It was so intriguing that I struggled to step away from it even for a little bit as I wanted to keep pushing through the story to get to the bottom of the mystery. When I first started reading it I thought I was going to get bored. I mean, how complex could this story really get? I never got bored. It is a mystery that kept unraveling, and when I thought the protagonist had figured most of it out, the story would unravel even more and lead to more questions. I found myself asking questions alongside of Lib’s inner dialogue as she worked through all the possibilities and tried to consider all the angles.

The Irish history and landscape painted a vivid backdrop, and the insight into Irish Catholicism and the culture of the time made the story even more intriguing. I felt emotionally invested in Anna’s situation and felt anxious about the actions or lack thereof from all the adults around her. I gasped aloud in frustration more than once and felt genuinely concerned about how this story was going to end. The book also made me very hungry. 🙂

 

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

“Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether. Elusive, difficult to hold on to. But not much is needed.” 

Caraval is a wonderous place of magic. Scarlett has always dreamed of going, but her Caravalcruel father will never allow it. When she receives tickets to Caraval as a gift from the infamous Caraval Master Legend himself, Scarlett and her sister Tella run away to attend the show with the help of a handsome sailor. Shortly after their arrival however, Legend kidnaps Tella, and Scarlett soon learns that Tella’s disappearance is part of the Caraval game, and whoever finds her first wins. With the help of the mysterious sailor and other characters of intrigue along the way, Scarlett embarks on a dangerous adventure into the heart of Caraval to find and save her sister.

I am not a big fan of young adult novels (yet I somehow keep reading them), so my expectations of this book were somewhat low simply based on the genre, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I really enjoyed this reading experience. Yes, the protagonist is frustrating in her naïveté at times, but I understand that’s part of her figuring things out and growing as a person in the YA experience. Despite that, I loved this book and could not put it down! It is captivating and imaginative and kept me wondering and guessing at every twist and turn as to what would happen next.

Marketers have heavily compared this book to Night Circus, and there is a little bit of truth in that, mostly in the sense that there is magic and mystery and secrets. There are also complicated relationships, both romantic and familial, but the premise is not so much a competition between star-crossed lovers but rather a race against time for a girl to find her sister as part of an elaborate game.

The descriptions in this book of the many sights, sounds, and characters conjured fantastical images in my mind. I loved imagining all of the costumes and dresses specifically. The story is visually very interesting, and I can easily see this book made into a movie.

The story is magical, creative, dark, and even a little racy via the dark allure of some characters and some passionate romantic scenes as well. There are endless twists and turns that play out in a magical world so you can never be sure what is real and what is true. It is a fun and exciting read that kept me guessing and wondering to the very end.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Book Review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

“We wear clothes, and speak, and create civilizations, and believe we are more than wolves. But inside us there is a word we cannot pronounce and that is who we are.” 

The setting is war-torn Chechnya in 2004. Explosions and disappearances are a way of life. After watching the Russian feds arrest his friend and set his house on fire, Akhmed is relieved to find his friend’s 8-year old daughter Havaa hiding in the woods and knows he must take her to a safe place. Sonya, a talented and overworked surgeon who is Constellationhaunted by the disappearance of her sister, agrees to take in Havaa in exchange for Akhmed’s help at the hospital. Meanwhile, someone is still looking for Havaa.

The heart of the plot takes place over only 5 days, but the whole story unfolds through various character perspectives and flashbacks throughout the previous ten years. At first the setting distracted me from everything else. I knew next to nothing about the Chechen wars and paused in between chapters to do some research and get a better understanding of the history. I was shocked to learn how much of the historical context of the novel is true, but it helped me grasp what the characters were facing and trying to endure.

The book gracefully dives head first into the strength and resilience that people are capable of when duty and dignity calls for it while highlighting the lasting effects of traumatic experience.  The story comes full circle, intertwining together the fates of the characters, materializing meaning in unexpected ways. While there is some hopeful resolution, there also remains a sense of emptiness and loss, which solidifies the book’s powerful impact.

In this book war is life. It’s a haunting story that transported me to a place I’m thankful I’ve never actually been, but it’s important to have exposure to perspectives and experiences different from your own to see what the world for others can be like. This book provided that for me, and it still left me hopeful.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Book Review: The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

“They’ll wait until I’m asleep – or nearly asleep – to strike. That’s how they do it; they blur the line between reality and nightmare. They give me bad dreams, and then they make them come true.” 

Twelve contestants compete in a new survivalist reality TV show, one that is rumored to LastOnehave unprecedented reach and special effects. As the contestants compete in teams as well as individually, they begin to understand the lengths to which the show producers will go. After the solo challenge begins, catastrophe strikes, and the contestant we know as Zoo struggles to decide what is reality TV and what is true reality.

Two words: dramatic irony. Dramatic irony exists when the reader knows things that the characters inside the story do not know. This book is dramatic irony to the extreme. Through most of the book, the reader has highly important information about which the protagonist is in the dark. For me personally, I struggle with dramatic irony. I prefer to learn information at the same time as the characters so that I’m embarking on their journeys with them. Knowing things that the characters don’t is a major source of anxiety and frustration for me as part of the reading experience, and it is not a style that I particularly enjoy. It was a hard book for me to endure.

That said, this book is still great. Aside from my own struggles with dramatic irony, this story is interesting, entertaining, and does a great job of exploring the psychological aspects of human nature and behavior under duress. It’s dark and captivating and attention grabbing. I really liked the varying reality TV personalities. Their characters and actions were consistent with a reality TV setup, and the insight into editing and production manipulation was on point (speaking as someone who worked in reality TV production). Zoo’s internal dialogue felt repetitive and a little long at times, but I like the juxtaposition of her solo journey with that of the reality show plot and how they unfolded together.

If you like dark books laden with suspense, unease, and exasperation, this book is for you. The agony of the anticipation lasts all the way to very last page. It’s an intense read that is very well written and grabs ahold of you from the start.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Book Review: American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

“The only thing with less character than Chardonnay is wainscoting.” 

A Manhattan housewife lures in and befriends the doormen at her building, but her motive is not what you think. A woman provides a “relocation” service for pageant girls. A writer stands her ground while competing on a reality TV show. From book club secrets to life advice from cats, this collection of twelve stories is darkly comedic yet also steeped in truth.

AmericanHousewifeThe book satirizes the dark side of the feminine mind and the interplay of catty and manipulative relationships. It also emphasizes the strength and intelligence of the female characters as well, ringing the bell of truth at times. I found myself smiling and shaking my head, relating to them and laughing in part at the silliness of myself. I chuckled aloud a few times but then felt slightly disturbed at other times. The characters are witty, sassy, and sinister.

The title led me to think that all of the stories are related to the lives of women who do not work, but that is not the case. Some are housewives, some are writers, and some are undefined, creating a wider range of topics and themes. Also, not all of the stories are plot based. Some of them are written as simple advice or commentary, and I think the piece called Take It From Cats is the best.

However, I much prefer the plot driven stories. My favorites are Dumpster Diving with the Stars, Dead Doormen, and My Novel Is Brought to You By the Good People at Tampax. I loved the incessant and ludicrous procrastination of the character in the last story!

The stories are strange and creative and all very different.  It is a great collection that has something for everyone.

3.5 out of 5 stars