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Chronicle

“…if he were still alive and I told him now that I wish I could preserve the older memories, erase what they have been replaced by, he would tell me that to be a witness to history is a burden for the chosen.” Yasmine El  Rashidi‘s novel, Chronicle of a Last Summer, is a different sort of coming of age novel. It’s less the coming of age of the narrator and more the coming of age of a country. El Rashidi takes us through three different summers – 1984, 1998, and 2014 – of the narrator’s life growing up in Cairo.

The narrator is a little younger than I am, and it was interesting to see how much the state of the world, even across an ocean, tempered our worldview in very similar ways. Even as small children, we were given quite a bit of responsibility and freedom to explore while the grown ups talked about grown-up things – things we were intentionally kept from knowing. Our childhood was a swirl of independence and oblivion.

In the beginning, I wished I knew more about Egyptian history and politics. I know some of the basics, but I felt like the 6-year-old narrator, left out of the adult conversation. This was one of my favorite aspects of the novel, because it shows how well the author portrayed the mind of the child, drawing the reader into her world and cloaking what was going on around her in exactly the same way she was experiencing.

This first sections was where some of the most beautiful moments with the characters happened. As the novel progressed and the narrator grew older and more aware of what was going on around her, we lost some of the elements that one typically associates with deep characterization. Instead of moments that revealed strengths or weaknesses, personality quirks or depths, these things were replaced with caricatures of each character’s political stance (or lack thereof). This choice stripped the characters of some of their humanity but gave us such musings as “Is the silence of objectivity and being an observer, witness, the same as complicity?” and their subsequent development. While it allowed the richness and complexity of Egypt to shine through, it made it harder for me to maintain interest in the characters themselves.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel, and it has sparked my interest in hearing more of her perspective on her country, which you can hear in this reading here and also in her nonfiction work, The Battle for Egyptwhich chronicles the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

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Friday Five3

Since our last Friday Five, I have been intrigued by people doing things right. Some of them are serious and some less so, but either way, we don’t always hear these stories, so I thought I’d share. Enjoy!

  1. The geniuses at Girlxoxo are my heroes. Here is a master list of reading challenges for the year. Click on that, and come back. Are you back? Did you see?!?!?! I KNOW, RIGHT?!?! This is the best.
  2. I imagine that there are several issues on which Sarah Silverman and I would disagree, but this is absolutely the nicest way I’ve ever heard of handling someone who called you something terrible.
  3. A compilation of writing advice from 27 successful writers.  I particularly enjoy James Altucher’s advice to drink coffee + read and read and read + write and John Avlon’s description of writing for the ear.
  4. Danielle Henderson via Shondaland teaches us how to gym for non-gym people. *raises hand*
  5. How to apologize, the master class. The podcast linked within the article is long-ish (well, not for a podcast, I guess, but I’m having attention span issues today) but worth the listen.

Hope

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One day I hope my skin will be less habitually dry.

Sometimes, I talk to students for a long duration of time. And then I see it. The moment that they realize I will not be able to help them do the thing they need to do and how much that is going to disrupt their lives. They end the conversation abruptly before the tears that fill their eyes betray them by spilling.

Inevitably, I spend the evening and significant portions of the week (month…sometimes year…anxiety is hell) that follows rehashing how it could have gone better and trying to figure out if there was anything I could have done, any miracle I could – even now – pull off to help them recover. Anything to erase the reality and thus the memory of their despair.

We have all been where they are in one way or another. We all know those moments. The one when we realized the person we loved most wasn’t going to be our forever person. The one when we discovered that, no matter how tightly we crunched the numbers, there was no saving the business we had poured our soul (and all our savings) into. The one when we knew that truck absolutely was going to hit us, and there was nothing we could do about it.

I believe that these moments are unavoidable, but more than that, I believe they aren’t the last line of the story. I mean, the intermission that follows these moments might get really long. And that’s okay. Things take as long as they take. But eventually, there is more.

I believe in hope. That is, I desperately need hope.

When I made a plan to dissect my core values this year, I figured hope would be in there somewhere. Maybe in the middle, keeping all the others motivated. Maybe at the end, enjoying its grand finish. But the more I looked over the list I have started, the more I realized that it has to be first.

Everything for me starts with hope.

I’m not what most people would call an optimist. I see details and patterns and wayward caveats too easily to ignore all the things that could go wrong. To disregard them would register in my brain as irresponsible. I can’t shake the idea, though, that for every way something could go awry, there’s at least one way it could go really well (eventually. Sometimes the path to well is paved with awry. So much awry), and I’m addicted to the hunt for it. I don’t always find it, but I want to think that it’s out there. Otherwise what’s the point of anything?

Hope is often unreasonable. I like that about hope. There are many posts this time of year about why we should say no to making New Year’s resolutions. They paint a picture of discouragement and disappointment when those resolutions don’t ever come to pass. But disappointment is not usually my experience. I go into the year suspecting that I will probably not meet every extravagant goal I set (as an example, I mused the other day, “Hey – I could combine my goal of reading Don Quixote with my goal of reading a book in Spanish this year!” Isn’t that precious.). And I suppose I could set simpler, more sensible goals that I would have no problem attaining. Part of that would be gratifying, as I do enjoy checking things off lists. But another part of that is just super dull. At my core, I would rather risk failure than stagnation. I may periodically land at mediocre, but I’m certainly not going to aim for it. I see the potential for better, and that is where my hope leads.

Hope is overwhelming. You may be overwhelmed just reading about it. That’s not an uncommon reaction. I know that my hope is showing when I’m part of a group that is tasked with coming up with one thing we could do better, and the more our excitement builds, the bigger everyone’s eyes get as I calmly and rationally explain that all I want is for us to un-break the world. God help the group if there are more than one of us.

My hope is unruly, lively, persistent, often annoying. But it’s mine.

Core

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Making my dream board/goals collage/etc. was oddly invigorating.

As I briefly mentioned in my 2017 review, I’m not quite done with wild, my one word for 2017.  Experiences of the last two years have left me bruised and skittish, and I think that impeded my courage to step out more than I imagined it would. I had visions of going on hikes and long walks in unfamiliar places by myself, but that didn’t happen. I had plans to be more spontaneous with my time, and what will surprise absolutely no one is that I really don’t like doing that. I’m more cautious than I’ve ever been before, and wild has just barely started to rear its head. I want another year with it.

Being more physically active helped. Running is exhilarating and also exhausting and omg I feel old. But it’s part of my wildness. I can’t be wild in the way I am wild without running, just like I can’t be my kind of wild without dancing. My wild is inherently embodied.

Running isn’t just important in the literal, physical sense, though. I want to run my life better. I don’t rest the way I talk about resting. I don’t eat the way I talk about eating. I don’t give the way I talk about giving. I don’t move the way I talk about moving. I am not as responsible, hopeful, well-read, and about 10,000 other adjectives as I want to be.

Before you jump to my defense, let me assure you that I am not lacking in confidence. I don’t feel bad about these things or about myself (for the most part – everyone has those days). I just see where I want to be, and I know I’m not there yet. I am also rational enough to realize that I won’t magically be there at the end of the year.

But I can get closer to it.

The way I’m doing that this year is by focusing on the traits that are most important to me. I was just going to sail through the year, clinging to wild, and then this post on Chookooloonks’s blog punched me in the gut.

Or, if you will, in the core.

Core is my word for 2018. I will examine what my core values are, and listing what I plan to do to better exhibit those values. Periodically, when I gather enough to say about one of them, I’ll outline it in a post. By the end of the year, I hope to have a list and, if not a whole post, at least brief descriptions of each.

I may end up with three core values. I may end up with twenty (and let’s be real – twenty is more befitting my personality than three). Most likely, I will end up somewhere in the middle.

2018 Resolutions

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THE BEST DAY!!!

New Year’s Day is easily one of my top ten favorite days of the year. Maybe even top five. I love setting new goals or revising old ones. I love – if even for just a day – looking forward and being intentionally cheerful about what the year might bring. I looooove breaking in my new planner – saying my official goodbye and thank you to last year’s calendar with its scuffs and battle scars and breaking out the shiny new one.

My word for the year is “core.” I have a pretty strong sense of what is important to me and what traits I want to cultivate the most, but this year is devoted to saying those things out loud (or at least on the internet). I am going to talk more about this later this week, but by the end of the year, I want to see a marked improvement in how my core values shape my goals, commitments, and strength.

I have listed a lot of goals and dreams for the year in my 52 Lists journal, and I won’t bog you down with all of them. But here are the key ones:

  1. Read 100 books. That’s just two a week with a couple of weeks off. That’s how much I read when I am reading consistently. Reading grounds and calms me. I fall out of the habit when I over-commit to other things that leave me drained and stressed, so ideally this goal will help me do more reading and less stressing this year.
  2. Make some of these books really long ones. Specifically, I want to read Don Quixote, Infinite Jest, and Anna Karenina.
  3. Finish the first draft of Fishbowl. My hard deadline for this is June 15, so the year’s end may even find me in revision mode. But the first step is just to finish.
  4. Finish Epic Meal Planning edits. Possibly even publish?
  5. Continue learning Spanish and read at least one book in Spanish (with minimal dictionary usage) by the end of the year.
  6. Take a solitary writing retreat. Criteria: 1) outside Denton, 2) two days minimum, and 3) no Internet.
  7. Go to a coffee shop or wine bar at least once a month. Write more about coffee shops.
  8. Build up my emergency fund and get back in the habit of paying off credit cards fully every month. I’ve lapsed a little, and I don’t like it.
  9. Financial/health combo goal – actually use my gym membership regularly or cancel it. Paying for something I don’t use is ridiculous. So is being sedentary.
  10. Try at least one new recipe a month. My meal planning is in a rut. I need new ideas. Feel free to post your favorites in the comments section.

What do you want your 2018 to look like?

2017 in Review

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Wild streak

It seemed fitting to end the year of wild with a little heat in my hair.

Other than cosmetically, however, I am not sure how wild the year was. It had its moments. We road-tripped to Virginia and made no real plans for the trip there and back. I ran alone sometimes. I tried new things and spoke out a little more about things that are important to me. I also discovered I’m wilder than I suspected, which is equal parts exciting and scary.

A significant part of the year seemed to be tangled up in trying to balance the wild with safety. This post from my 31 Days series sums up that struggle nicely. Wild is not safe. But wild can be free. It just needs a little room to run. I seem to love (and by “love,” I do mean “thrive in”) the chaos of the wild. I wouldn’t have guessed that.

I’m not through unpacking all of it yet, but that’s okay. The word doesn’t have to end its influence just because the year does.

In other resolution news, I’ve managed to meet at least a little of each one.

  1. Read 100 books. I read 63 books (or, at least, I kept up with 63. A few seem to be missing). I really loved a lot of them. The ones that stand out are Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, Meagan Spooner’s Hunted, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series, and all the Fredrik Backman books.
  2. Learn conversational Spanish. I took a Spanish class at work. We only got to things like simple directions around campus, but it’s a start.
  3. Continue to make my home a place that is welcoming and does not hinder the life I create. My office is a madhouse. Everything that is still unpacked is in there, and it’s a lot. I think I met this goal in a way that I didn’t intend, though. Even though there are pockets of mess all around, I still had people over more often. I meant to keep my home in a way that was not a hindrance to hospitality, but what seems to have happened is that I just decided that it wasn’t going to be a hindrance and lived my life anyway. Acceptable.
  4. Continue to improve my health and well-being. This is another goal that morphed. My health is better. My blood pressure is staying down, and my focus has improved. Anxiety is still afoot, but it is the monster in the back of my mind instead of the one staring me down when I open my eyes, so that’s better. I haven’t lost the weight like I intended, but I haven’t gained either, which is something, considering that I didn’t pay much attention to it at all.
  5. Finish at least one manuscript and publish a 2018 calendar. I did not finish a manuscript. But I worked on one more consistently than I did the previous year, so…progress? I didn’t publish a calendar like I meant to, but I did make my own calendar of coffee pictures (currently hanging in my kitchen, and it’s sooo cute). I think I just needed to prove to myself that the printing of the calendar was the easy part if I would just get the pictures together.
  6. Run a 5K. Running is so much harder now than it was 20 years ago. I think I finally accepted that this year. This is a doable goal; it’s just not a quickly doable goal. I have a vague hope that I will run consistently one day, but this is not that day. And tomorrow’s not that day, either. Don’t hold your breath.
  7. Go on a writing retreat. Yay! I did! I went to Andi’s retreat, and I have to finish my Fishbowl rough draft by the time the 2018 retreat rolls around. I may have to insert some solitary retreats in there this year to get this done.
  8. Get paid for writing in some way. I totally did this. I make enough in writing to cover my grocery budget, and my Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify subscriptions. SEO writing is not my calling, but it’s a writing job, and I am happy to have it.
  9. Continue/establish beloved traditions. My traditions that have stuck are my Advent/Christmas rituals and my Hemingway party, and they’re both the newest ones. It seems like each home has its own traditions. The cooking/baking weekends all happened when I had a great kitchen (and Maggie to help). But parties with lots of people and space for a full-sized Christmas tree? That I can do here. I look forward to seeing what else this space might hold for me this year.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Friday Five2

I spent today shopping for future book club books and completing my meal planning, budget, and writing calendars for January, so I am prepped and ready for the new year. I will complete the obligatory year-in-review post on Sunday, but I’m looking forward to the year ahead. Here are some things that resonate with my 2017 and some things I’m excited about in 2018.

  1. I LOOOOVE this piece by Jess Zimmerman on Catapult on claiming your complexity. This sums up a lot of what I have journaled secretly in this year of wild. I’m still picking apart what to let loose and what to keep, if not hidden, then at least secluded.
  2. My favorite food author this year (and easily top five every other year I’ve been reading her) is Joy Wilson. I haven’t done as much cooking this year as in the past (my kitchen and I haven’t quite meshed yet. We have issues.), but her writing has made me remember that I do love it and will find my groove and get back to it someday. I love her blog. I loved both Over Easy (coffee, breakfast, and cocktails) and Homemade Decadence (soooo many desserts – it almost has me convinced I can make a cake and not screw it up).
  3. Modern Mrs. Darcy has her reading challenge for 2018 posted! Yay!
  4. So does Book Riot! Yay!
  5. And the thing I am looking forward to the most next month? The 24in48 Readathon! Good time to get a jump start on those reading challenges. Sign-ups are open. Let me know if you sign up so we can read together. I mean, not together. Separately in our own houses. But at the same time.

What are you looking forward to in the next month?