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: 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: 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

This Is Not About Kittens (Okay, Maybe A Little)

I may not always know what to say, but I continue to daydream and trust that words will come. Writing makes me look closer at things. It leads me to ponder things more deeply and to consider them from different perspectives.

Sometimes when I’m stuck on what to write, I tell the person closest to me about it. Giving voice to the obstacle sometimes helps me to work through it. My husband K in an effort to be supportive offers ideas, which usually consist of recent experiences that he and I had together. His latest suggestion involved kittens.

We recently went to look at a house going up for sale. It was a major fixer-upper but had great character. As we explored the big backyard, a strange noise floated up above the wind in the trees and rung in my ears. I froze, listening hard, and there the sound came again. Kittens!

I followed the high-pitched mewing to a stone fountain broken into pieces and IMG_0566overturned in a bed of monkey grass. There I found him – a tiny gray kitten, the giver-away of the hiding spot. I picked him up and snuggled him close to me as K scooped up his three siblings. They were so small and sweet yet fierce with their sharp claws in permanent protrusion from their soft padded kitten feet.

When we first ventured into the backyard, K and I saw a couple of adult cats watching us cautiously before jumping the fence and taking off. One of those was likely the mama of these kittens. Their place of refuge was a good one, complete with multiple hiding spots and cover from sun and rain. They ran to each other and huddled together as we placed them back where we found them, confident that their mom would return.

I thought about the kittens all that night and the next day. I tried not to worry, trusting that the mama cat would do her best because that’s the nature of things. Still, K and I brought over some kitten food. We quietly crept into the yard, anticipating listening for the sounds of mewing, but the stone fountain and monkey grass were empty. We searched the yard and called for the kittens but to no avail. Mama cat did her job and moved them to a new place, a safer place. We set out the food anyway just in case and silently wished the kittens well.

I appreciated K’s suggestion to write about this experience, but I decided against it. What was the moral of the story? What was the point? Yet I continued to think about it, to replay the events in my head, and as I did, the seeds of those thoughts began to grow and spark questions in my mind.

Those questions sparked conversations between K and I – philosophical conversations, and from there I have continued to ponder and question a plethora of beliefs and ideas, reconsidering my perspective on certain things I have thought to be true, all because I found some stray kittens and thought about the experience more deeply than usual.

I realized that finding those kittens and reflecting on the story gave me insight. I did not know it at the time, but it was an experience that for a few minutes caused me to be present and thankful.  From that experience I was able to appreciate the small moments that make me see and feel something outside my normal realm and routine. It distracted me from myself and presented something new and wonderful. From there I could reflect on writing, on what I wanted to say.

This is why I don’t simply give up when I don’t know what to say when I write.  Writing has made me more conscientious of my world. I realized that I don’t write so much as to make an impact as to influence. I write because the act influences me. It makes me a better person, and it has given me a better and happier life.

Book Review: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

“The law of probability combined with the law of large numbers states that to beat the odds, sometimes you have to repeat an event an increasing number of times in order to get you to the outcome you desire. The more you do, the closer you get. Or… basically, sometimes you just have to keep going.”

Ed is a software company mogul accused of insider trading, suspended from work, and OnePlusOnewho is avoiding facing his family. Jess is a single mom working two jobs and struggling to provide for her daughter Tanzie, stepson Nicky, and giant dog Norman. When Tanzie, a child highly gifted in math, has a chance to compete in an elite math competition and potentially win enough money to secure a place at a respected private school, Jess will do what it takes to make it happen. Her world collides with Ed’s through a few chance encounters, and Ed suddenly finds himself invested in helping Jess and her kids (and Norman) make it to the math competition, which is just a road trip away. Shenanigans ensue, secrets are revealed, and bonds are forged and strengthened.

Jojo Moyes is a talented writer who creates interesting and memorable characters. This book is no different. Although for me it didn’t quite have the emotional impact as some of her other books, this one is still a rollercoaster ride as the characters struggle to overcome personal challenges. None of them are perfect, and that’s what makes them so relatable yet also unique.

I’m a sucker for the dog in any story, especially a lovable one like Norman who plays a part in the family dynamics and in the plot. I love Jess’s supermom character. Her desperation to provide sometimes propels her forward without thinking her decisions all the way through, but her heart is always in the right place. She is the guiding force for her kids Tanzie and Nicky and is an easy character to root for, even when she’s kicking in the side of someone else’s car. Ed, who is much more selfish, is less likable, but he grew on me through redemptive interactions with Jess and her family. All of the characters learn, grow, and change, which makes for a satisfying read.

This book explores the concepts of family support systems, unconditional love, honesty, and forgiveness. The bullying plot line is a hard and frustrating one, as it should be, but it emphasizes the important themes of leaning to be true to oneself, regardless of the opinions of others. It’s a great story complete with fun, laughs, tears, and drama, and it’s another great book by Jojo Moyes.

4 out of 5 stars

The Unseen World by Liz Moore: A Book Review

“Only humans can hurt one another, Ada thought; only humans falter and betray one another with a stunning, fearsome frequency… She would fail other people throughout her life, inevitably, even those she loved best.” 

Ada’s father David is the most important thing to her. For thirteen years David has beenUnseenWorld her teacher, her best friend, her guide. Ada’s life has revolved entirely around him and his work in his computer science lab, so when David begins to forget things and disappear for hours at a time, Ada’s world as she knows it rapidly changes. As David’s mind disintegrates, Ada must navigate the coming years without him. Life grows more complicated as she moves in with her father’s long time friend, and evidence surfaces that David may not be the person she thinks he is.

I think the experience of admiring and idolizing a parent and then gradually realizing that parents are fallible human beings is something to which everyone can relate.   The reverence with which Ada views her father is so powerful that it’s easy to feel the confusion, frustration, and protectiveness that Ada feels when her father’s health begins to decline.  The relationship between father and daughter is the foundation of the story, and the author does a wonderful job of portraying some of the complexities of that relationship.

The characters are clearly written and consistent, their actions aligning with their personalities so the interpersonal dynamics work well and were convincing. The last third of the book felt a less cohesive for me during the jumps in time back and forth to Ada’s adulthood. I didn’t connect as strongly to the older Ada as I did to the younger one, but perhaps that that’s because we spend less time with her in her adulthood than in her youth.

Still, I liked this book much more than I anticipated. The pacing was consistent through most of the book, and the cryptology as well as the mystery surrounding David’s history and eccentricity kept me interested. As the beginning of the story unfolded, I had so many questions about Ada and her upbringing. I felt like I was slowly turning these small corners, each one revealing another piece of the puzzle, which kept me wanting to keep going along with Ada as things began to unravel.

4 out of 5 stars

 

The Art of Choosing “Good” Books

A friend recently messaged me with a question. He had grown frustrated with reading because he found that most of the books he was picking up weren’t fulfilling or satisfying. Even if he managed to read one all the way through to the end, he was left wanting. He messaged me and asked, “How do you pick out good books?”

It’s a valid question. Picking a good book can be harder than it seems. After all, “good book” is a relative term. It all depends on our personal preferences and on what we believe qualifies a book as worthy of that classification. The truth is that there is no guarantee the next book we read will live up to our expectations, but we can improve our odds by refining our choices and being open to possibility.

Whether you’re an avid reader or are just getting started, here are a few tips on choosing a “good” book to read next.

Think about what you like (and don’t like).
What aspects of your recent reads have been unsatisfying? What are you craving that you aren’t getting? Do you like historical fiction or thrillers or family dramas? Do you prefer fast-paced plots or stories with lots of description? Knowing what you like or what you do not like will make it easier to choose books that you’ll have an enjoyable experience reading. It will also make it easier for you to request recommendations if you can share your preferences with others.

If you haven’t figured out yet what you do and don’t like, don’t worry! The more you read, the closer you’ll get to that answer. Plus, it means you have a wider variety of books to choose from, more so than those who are set in their reading ways. In the meantime, think about what sounds interesting and go with it.

Be honest about your reading mood.  
Maybe you already have a bunch of books lined up to read, but none of them are hitting the mark for you. Are you choosing books that align with your reading mood? Are you reading a serious novel when you’d rather read something lighthearted?

For me, deciphering what I’m interested in reading from book to book is challenging. Sometimes I have to take a break between books to think about what I’m really in the mood to read next. Otherwise, I risk reading something that doesn’t keep my full attention, and I miss out on a good experience.

If you feel like reading something dark and somber, do it! If you’re in the mood for a cozy mystery, go for it! Don’t force yourself to read something that you aren’t committed to fully. Think about it and be honest with yourself about your reading mood, and you’ll enjoy your “good” book choices much more.

Browse at the bookstore.  
Have you been reading only e-books or listening to audiobooks? Maybe you are too removed from the books you are reading and simply need to feel more engaged. Hold the books in your hands. Read the synopses. Admire the creative covers. What speaks to you? Make a connection with the next book you are going to read.

Browsing the endless shelves of books can be daunting, which is why I love going to Barnes and Noble and browsing the display tables. The selections are based on things like “New in Paperback,” “New and Noteworthy Fiction,” and “Recommended Reading.” I discover all sorts of great books of all different genres at those tables. There is also a section reserved for bestsellers, and though there is still no guarantee, a bestseller is a solid indicator that lots of other people anticipate this book to be a “good” one.

Get recommendations from the pros.  
Are you looking for something specific and having a tough time finding it? Maybe you read a really amazing book and you’ve struggled to read anything since then that compares. I struggled to find good books that aligned with what I like to read until I started listening to the Book Riot podcasts. “Get Booked” is a book recommendation podcast based on questions submitted by listeners. “All the Books,” which is about weekly new releases, is another good one. Now my list of books to read has around 200 titles! The show runners read most of the books they recommend and thus suggest only the ones they think are “good.”

Also, if you haven’t already, join Goodreads.com. The network of readers there is vast. You can read user reviews and find out the most popular books on the site. You can also input your reading preferences and the site will give you book recommendations based on your favorites!

Ask friends and family for suggestions.  
If you aren’t sure what you like or are simply stuck in a reading rut, ask your friends and family for suggestions. In my experience readers love to give book recommendations, myself included. Tell them about what you liked and didn’t like about your recent reading choices. Find out what books they like and why or ask if they have any favorite authors. Be open to their suggestions, and if any of the books sound interesting, give them a try!

There are so many “good,” great, amazing books out there! Thinking about what you like, seeking out recommendations, and choosing books with subject matter and genres that truly capture your attention are the keys to ensuring a more exciting and fulfilling reading experience.

Happy reading!