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Hope, According to the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu

15 Feb



I’ve talked about the struggle for hope and peace in the current world climate on this blog. I’ve talked about it so, so minimally to how I’ve thought about it. I worry that therapy for the rest of my life will focus on how to cope with these times, how to forgive so, so many people.

Oh I’m bad at forgiving.

The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, however, they know. Well, I suppose they know most everything–they are calm, centered, peaceful people. But they especially know this. The Dalai Lama is a refugee in exile from his own country. Desmond Tutu lived through the South African apartheid. These men know on a level I never will.

And so I turn to them.

Every morning I wake up and read a chapter in The Book of Joy, the book the two of them contributed to. This morning’s reading was so powerful, so timely that I thought maybe it would take years off of my therapy forgiveness if I could just grasp it, just internalize it. I started to compose texts to all my friends full of quotes and thoughts when I realized other people might want this insight too. I might need to reread this insight every day.

So here we are.

Some insight:

Desmond Tutu on difficult world times

What can you do to help change that situation? You might now be able to do a great deal, but start where you are and do what you can where you are. And yes, be appalled. It would be awful if we looked on all of that horrendousness and we said, ah, it doesn’t really matter. It’s so wonderful that we can be distressed. That’s part of the greatness of who we are–that you are distressed about someone who is not family in any conventional way. And yet you feel distressed, equally. It’s incredible just how compassionate and generous people cane.

Desmond Tutu on the world getting better

Yes, we do have setbacks, but you must keep everything in perspective. The world is getting better. Think about the rights of women or how slavery was considered morally justified a few hundred years ago. It takes time. We are growing and learning how to be compassionate, how to be caring, how to be human.

Also related

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” Theodore Parker

The Dalai Lama on empathy and forgiveness 

During my meditation, I actually visualized some of those Chinese local authorities and did one of our practices, called tangled, literally meaning ‘giving and taking.’ I tried to take on their fear, anger, suspicion, and to give them my love, my forgiveness. Of course, this would have nonphysical effect on the ground. It would not change the situation. But you see, mentally it was very, very helpful to keep a calm mind. It was a good opportunity to practice forgiveness and compassion. So I think that every person has the same sort of opportunity, this same capacity.

(I need this I need this I need this.)

Desmond Tutu on the nobility of people

It is also good to recognize–speaking from our struggle against apartheid–how incredibly noble people are. You know human beings are basically good. You know that’s where we have to start. That everything else is an aberration. Anything that swerves away from that is the exception–even when now and again they can be very frustrating. People are remarkably, remarkably, remarkably good, incredible in their generosity.

The Dalai Lama on watching the news

When we look at the news, we must keep this more holistic view. Yes, this or that terrible thing has happened. No doubt, there are very negative things, but at the same time there are many more positive things happening in our world. We musth ave a sense of proportion and a wider perspective. Then we will not feel despair when we see these sad things.

Desmond Tutu on optimism v. hope

Hope is quite different from optimism, which is more superficial indelible to become pessimism when the circumstances change. Hope is something much deeper…I say to people that I’m not an optimist, because that, in a sense is something that depends on feelings more than actual reality. We feel optimistic, or we feel pessimistic. Now, hope is different in that it is based not on the ephemerality of feelings button the firm ground of conviction. I believe with a steadfast faith that there can never be a situation that is utterly, totally hopeless. Hope is deeper, and very, very close to unshakable. It’s in the pit of your tummy. It’s not in your head. It’s all in here.

Despair can come from deep grief, but it can also be a defense against the risks of bitter disappointment and shattering heartbreak. Resignation and cynicism easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hpe. To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that , in time, the storm will pass.

To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that , in time, the storm will pass.


Kristan Higgins And Romance Novels

14 Feb



The very long, very hot summer I lived in Arizona, I interned for a women’s website. Every morning as part of the internship, I scrolled through news for the day, reading articles and seeing how things were done. One day I came across an article about a romance writer named Kristan Higgins.

Here, I found it for you.

Look at me, providing props and links and things!

The article discussed Kristan’s latest book and how she loves to write “strong female characters.” Remember when that was a catchphrase? Before we all moved on to just saying “human beings?” I don’t know if we’re there yet, but I hope we are. I think we’re getting there.

Well, actually 2016…


I was intrigued enough by the article that I checked out the book. I swallowed it whole and then made it a mission to read every single Kristan Higgins book available in the city of Tempe. At the time, she had published about a dozen romance novels, all with very similar themes. The lead was “strong” and had her career and life together–except for her love life! She lived in a tiny New England town (often her hometown). She loved animals, particularly dogs. Lots of local flavor and charm. Humor! Awkwardness! Love! Always love, with a handsome, flawed, wonderful, wonderful man.

I was hooked.

Kristan’s first-ever book was set in the town on Cape Cod where Rob’s family has a home. I found out that Kristan’s family also has a home there.

It was a sign!

Kristan’s favorite book of all time is Gone with the Wind. In fact, that’s a whole plot for one of her characters, this love of romance and Scarlett O’Hara.

Another sign!

I gobbled Kristan’s books up and then started reading her back blogs. That’s when you know it’s serious, when I’m 2009 deep reading about her firefighter husband. For of course Kristan married a firefighter (McIrish) and lives in her Connecticut hometown, a town with a great ice cream stand.

For of course.

Eventually I got through everything Kristan had offered the world and put her next book on preorder. I then decided I should email her.

I had never done something like this, reach out to an author I love. Write a goopy fan letter telling them they had changed my world and oh hi, you can write back but only if you want giggle giggle. But this was big. Kristan had brought some air conditioning into a very oppressively overheated time in my life and I wanted to truly thank her.

And so I wrote a goopy fan letter.

Giggle giggle.

She responded!

Within a week!

She responded within a week and said, “So great to hear from another woman ruined by Rhett Butler!”

I knew then what I had always known. Kristan was a soul mate, one of the true good people on this oppressively overheated earth. She and I, if only we lived in the same town, would be best friends. We’d shop for shoes and talk writing and in some other universe she was living a version of my life.

The version of my life had I been born in Connecticut. Had I married that firefighter (I never met.)

I still pre-order Kristan’s books every six months. She produces two a year like clockwork and when they show up in my Amazon Prime box I smile a bit and clear the night.

Kristan is Arizona’s air conditioned gift to me.

I’ll take her.

I Am, I Am, I Am. Still.

18 Jan


I thought I would swim out until I was too tired to swim back. As I paddled on, my heartbeat boomed like a dull motor in my ears.

I am I am I am.


Behind the coffin and the flowers and the face of the minister and the faces of the mourners, I saw the rolling lawns of our town cemetery, knee-deep in snow now, with the tombstones rising out of it like smokeless chimneys.

There would be a black, six-foot-deep gap hacked in the hard ground. That shadow would marry this shadow, and the peculiar, yellowish soil of our locality seal the wound in the whiteness, and yet another snowfall erase the traces of newness in Joan’s grave.

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.

I am, I am, I am.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar



My hands smell of warm tar. I want to go back to the house and up to the bathroom and scrub and scrub, with the harsh soap and the pumice, to get every trace of this smell off my skin. The smell makes me feel sick.

But also I am hungry. This is monstrous, but nevertheless it’s true. Death makes me hungry. Maybe it’s because I’ve been emptied or maybe it’s the body’s way of seeing to it that I remain alive, continue to repeat its bedrock prayer: I am, I am. I am, still.

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale



I searched the internet to read articles about Plath’s influence on Atwood, particularly this specific idea–the prayer of our heart and our bodies, the prayer of being alive as “I am, I am, I am.”

I haven’t found anything.

There is simply no way these specific words were a coincidence, though. Plath is too well-known, this phrase her battle cry. Atwood is too smart, her words too carefully chosen.

This was one woman nodding to another, through the pages of important literature.

I once ran into a girl at Kinkos with an “I am I am I am” tattoo and it took all I had not to propose best friendship. I own an “I am I am I am” necklace. The phrase hangs in my bathroom.

These particular six words mean a lot to me and so, in the dark hours of the night as I finished The Handmaid’s Tale and read this paragraph I gasped.

I am alive.

Just like Plath and Atwood, like Esther and Offred.

I am I am I am.


And to that I add a new word,


The Best Books of 2016

1 Jan


The Five Stars

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinthi

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of  the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Stitches by Anne Lamott

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

The Neapolitan Novels 2-4 by Elena Ferrante


The Four Stars

Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Bettyville by George Hodgkin

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

El Deafo by Cece Bell

The Best Man by Richard Peck

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

Ghost by Jason Reynolds


The Ones I’ve been Thinking About Ever Since

Dietland by Sarai Walker

Shrill by Lindy West

American Housewives by Helen Ellis

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender


The Ones I Read in a Day


The Earth, my Butt and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler

The Bunker Diary (*Warning this is an extremely intense book)by Kevin Brooks

I Woke Up Dead At the Mall by Judy Sheehan

Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen

I am Princess X by Cherie Priest

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

Graphic Novels You Oughta Know

24 Oct


In this, the Year of our Lord 2016, I, Jillian Denning, got into graphic novels.

We never thought this day would come. We, the collective we, the people who care so deeply about my reading habits. (Me.)

I don’t know why I hadn’t read a graphic novel before this year. I had just kind of dismissed the genre as superhero comics I didn’t care much about and sexual manga storylines I really didn’t care much about.

And guess what? I read some superhero comics and didn’t care for them after all, just as I suspected!

This was, after all, the year of the graphic novel.

I tried every genre.

I read the classics. Sandman. Watchmen. I tried popular ones and standalone novels and series and super heroines and and and.

And I’m here to tell you that I really love graphic novels.

And I think you will too.

And, and, and.

Here’s where you should start. If you have taste like me.

(Which I assume you do, or that you’re related to me if you read this blog.) (Hi mom!)

1. El Deafo by Cece Bell


The first graphic novel I read, recommended by the lovely Bailey. It’s a graphic novel memoir, which turns out is my peanut butter and jelly. Based on her childhood, Cece Bell talks about growing up hearing impaired and what it was like having a phonic ear. Something about graphic novel memoirs really hits home. Being able to draw your feelings adds a level that I really, really like.

2. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast


The ultimate in the graphic novel memoir. Roz Chast draws for the New Yorker and this book was nominated for the National Book Award. I LOVED it and I have so little in common with Roz, who is caring for her aging parents. I am not a middle-aged cartoonist and my parents aren’t hoarders and yet I was HERE. You will be too.

3. Maus by Art Spiegelman


A classic in the graphic novel genre, it tells the story of Art Spiegleman’s father’s experience during the Holocaust. Maybe you read it in school? I hear people read it in school.

4. Here by Richard McGuire


An interesting one because there are practically no words, just pictures of this one room in this one house throughout time. It jumps to the past, future and present and explores how humans remain constant. How we lose things and gain things, fall in love and have our hearts broken and we are all the same, at the end. We are all human.

5. Smile (and Sisters) by Raina Telgemeier


Raina is a complete master of graphic novels and everything I’ve read of hers is flawless. Read Smile, you, you, anyone of all ages. Yes you. It’s the story of her dental work in middle school and you will relate and yes, it’s another graphic novel memoir.

6. Anything by Lucy Knisley

Someone called Lucy the Lena Dunham of comics. Is that because they are similar ages and write about themselves? Probably. I didn’t particularly find their humor or selves all that similar, but I did and do love Lucy.


She writes little travelogues and bits about her life. She loves Harry Potter (and made this incredible graphic SumHarry which I’m getting printed for my wall.) I also have a crush on her husband and their relationship. I liked her Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride best, I think. I just like her, really.

7. Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson


A sweet Newbery Honor book (see, graphic novels are all the buzz) about a girl who takes up Roller Derby right when she’s losing her best friend. I hope it’s a series. I hope it’s a movie. I hope you hope this too.

8. Fun Home by Alison Bechel


From the creator of the Bechdel test herself! Now a Tony-nominated Broadway musical! But really, Fun Home is kind of THE book in the graphic novel memoir genre. She’s cited by my dear Lucy Knisley many times. It wasn’t my favorite I read, but it deserves a place here, because what if it’s your favorite and I deprived you of that?

9. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang


A National Book Award finalist and favorite on YA lists, American Born Chinese tells three interlacing stories about what it’s like to be a Chinese American. There’s this twist that made me go whoa and probably will make you go whoa whoa too.


Also comics!

Let’s talk about comics. No exclamation.

The difference between graphic novels and comics is that comics are serialized and come out regularly. Sometimes they are then combined into graphic novels you can pick up. But Superman? That’s a comic. A graphic novel memoir? That’s a…graphic novel.

Anyway. I am a person now who follows two comics. I read the editions and wonder what will happen and when I can get the next one. I am invested in characters and plotlines and part of me worries. Like what if this goes on forever? How long can I follow? Is this a til-death-do-us-part thing?

The musings of anxious comic reader.

1. Saga by Brian Vaughan


Star Wars meets Romeo and Juliet. A sweeping love story against the backdrop of an intergalactic war with so many twists sometimes I wonder what the brain (Brian Vaughaun) behind this all is like. It’s also one of those banned books that we celebrated a few weeks ago, so get on that.

2. Giant Days by John Allison


The story of three best friends in their first year college in the UK. I’m a sucker for female friendship stories and England so this was bound to get me excited, but it’s also witty and charming and fun. Let us not underestimate fun.

And now, I’ll leave you with a picture from Lucy Knisley’s Relish and the hope that you’ll join me on this graphic novel journey of mine.




Jeanette Winterson

13 Apr




Jeanette Winterson is…

Poetic.  Thoughtful.  Sly.

I’ve been trying to come up with words for her, this author so unlike any other I’ve read.  She’s brutally honest.  That’s one thing.  She says without hesitation, “There are people who could never commit a murder.  I am not one of those people.  It is better to know it.  Better to know who you are and what lies in you, what you could do, might do, under extreme provocation.”

Just says it.  In nonfiction.

Most of us cover up our ugly parts with the slightest gauze of fiction.  We tiptoe around ourselves and our realities.  Not Jeanette.

She also doesn’t follow any form.  She talks about how she doesn’t outline or try for conventional structures in her writing.  That doesn’t work for her.  She just writes as she writes, whatever that may be.  Sometimes that leads to long stretches where I can’t remember who she’s talking about and if it’s worth reading, and then sometimes BOOM.  10 pages of poetry all at once.  I’m struggling to take it all in, write it all down, wondering what just happened.

Jeanette is unpredictable.  Striving.  Yearning? Are those the same?  She had such a twisted childhood that she’s spent the majority of her life trying to untangle it all.  Trying to figure out what happiness might mean in general, what happiness might mean to her.

I suppose therein lies her relatability.  Most of us didn’t grow up with the mother from Carrie, but all of us have scars and triumphs and hopes and dreams and good and bad from our childhoods.  All of us continue to be affected by our pasts, shaped and molded and stronger.

Jeanette had THE past.  She grew up with an unstable, cruel, fanatical mother.  She writes about it with honesty and clarity and a lot of hurt, still.  A lot of wondering.

Jeanette couldn’t help the cards she was dealt.  She couldn’t help the mother who adopted her or the circumstances of her childhood.  She could help her future.  She could help what she did with it.

And what she did with it was write.

I’ve now read several things but Jeanette, but Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal is her best.  It’s not hiding behind that gauze, it’s simply telling the truth.


Some quotes for you.

A whole honey bunches of oats quotes for you:


On Love  

Love. The difficult word. Where everything starts, where we always return. Love. Love’s lack. The possibility of love.

Listen, we are human beings.  Listen, we are inclined to love.  Love is there, but we need to be taught how.  We want to stand upright, we want to walk, but someone needs to hold our hand and balance us a bit and guide us a bit, and scoop us up when we fall.Listen, we fall.  Love is there but we have to learn it–and its shapes and its possibilities.  I taught myself to stand on my own two feet, but I could not teach myself how to love.We have a capacity for language.  We have a capacity for love.  We need other people to release those capacities.

It is never too late to learn to love. But it is frightening.

Why is the measure for love loss?

On life and living

Living with life is very hard.  Mostly we do our best to stifle life–to be tame or to be wanton.  To be tranquilized or raging.  Extremes have the same effect; they insulate us from the intensity of life. And extremes–whether of dullness or fury–successfully prevent feeling. It takes courage to feel the feeling–and not trade it on the feelings-exchange, or even transfer it altogether to another person. I understood that feelings were difficult for me although I was overwhelmed by them.


On doing/not doing the sensible thing

I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small.  For the life-changing things, you must risk it. And here is the shock–when you risk it, when you do the right thing, when you arrive at the borders of common sense and cross into unknown territory, leaving behind you all the familiar smells and lights, then you do not experience great joy and huge energy. You are unhappy. Things get worse. It is a time of mourning. Loss. Fear. We bullet ourselves through with questions.  And then we feel shot and wounded. And then all the cowards come out and say, “See, I told you so.” In fact, they told you nothing.

 On poetry

Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines.  What they heal is the rupture reality makes on imagination.  I had been damaged and a very important part of me had been destroyed–that was my reality, the facts of my life; but on the other side of the facts was who I could be, how I could feel, and as long as I had words for that, images for that, stories for that, then I wasn’t lost.

When people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that if shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy.  A tough life needs a tough language–and that is what poetry is.  That is what literature offers–a language powerful enough to say how it is.  It isn’t a hiding place.  It is a finding place.

 On second, and third, and fourth chances

I know now, after fifty years, that the finding/losing, forgetting/remembering, leaving/returning, never stops.  The whole of life is about another chance, and while we are alive, till the very end, there is always another chance.

On happiness

I am short, so I like the little guy/underdog stories, but they are not straightforwardly about one size versus another.  Think about, say, Jack and the Beanstalk, which is basically a big ugly stupid giant and a smart little Jack who is fast on his feet.  OK, but the unstable element is the beanstalk, which starts as a bean and grows into a huge tree-like thing that Jack climbs to reach the castle.  This bridge between two worlds is unpredictable and very surprising.  And later, when the giant tries to climb after Jack, the beanstalk has to be chopped down pronto.  This suggests to me that the pursuit of happiness, which we may as well call life, is full of surprising temporary elements–we get somewhere we couldn’t go otherwise and we profit from the trip, but we can’t stay there, it isn’t our world, and we shouldn’t let that world come crashing down into the one we can inhabit.  The beanstalk has to be chopped down.  But the large-scale riches from the ‘other world’ can be brought into ours, just as Jack makes off with the singing harp and the golden hen. Whatever we ‘win’ will accommodate itself to our size and form–just as the miniature princesses and the frog princes all assume the true form necessary for their coming life, and ours. Size does matter.

As I try and understand how life works–and why some people cope better than others with adversity– I come back to something to do with saying yes to life, which is love of life, however inadequate and love for the self, however found.  Not in the me-first way that is the opposite of life and love, but with a salmon-like determination to swim upstream, however choppy upstream is, because this is your stream…Which brings me back to happiness, and a quick look at the word. Our primary meaning now is the feeling of pleasure and contentment; a buzz, a destinies, the tummy upwards feel of good and right and relaxed and alive…you know…But earlier meanings build in the hap–in Middle English, that is ‘happy’, in Old English, ‘gehapp’–the chance or fortune, good or bad, that falls to you.  Hap is your lot in life, the hand you are given to play. How you meet your ‘hap’ will determine whether or not you can be ‘happy.’ What the Americans, in their constitution, call ‘the right to the pursuit of happiness’ (please note, not ‘the right to happiness’), is the right to swim upstream, salmon-wise.

Pursuing happiness, and I did, and I still do, is not at all the same as being happy–which I think is fleeting, dependent on circumstances, and a bit bovine.

If the sun is shining, stand in it– yes, yes, yes.  Happy times are great, but happy times pass–they have to–because time passes.

What you are pursuing is meaning–a meaningful life.  There’s the hap–the fate, the draw that is yours, and it isn’t fixed, but changing the course of the stream, or dealing new cards, whatever metaphor you want to use–that’s going to take a lot of energy.  There are times when it will go so wrong that you will barely be alive, and times when you realize being barely alive, on your own terms, is better than living a bloated half-life on someone else’s terms.

The pursuit isn’t all or nothing –it’s all AND nothing.  Like all Quest Stories.


March Books 4 U My Lovers

20 Mar


More books!

Always more books!

For when you want to read something in one giant gulp, something that will change how you think about death and change how you think about living


When you want to fall in love with a married philosopher neurosurgeon writer

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

(It has 5 stars on Amazon with over 1,800 reviews.  This is not an accident.)

When you want to write quote after quote after freaking quote about happiness down, to read a memoir that addresses so much of the meaty stuff of life.  When you want to know what it’s like to grow up with the mother from Carrie.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

Speaking of!


I’m shin-deep in the Stephen King audiobook world, and I tell you what.  This one was the first one that I would drive around just to listen to.  This was the first one I had to read, HAD TO KNOW.  Ooh I liked this one.

It’s interesting to me when someone’s first book is the book I like best.  Like Nick Hornby.  Is the first book the most raw? Most truthful?  Is that the story they wanted to tell most?

For laughter, relatability, and more laughter:

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

PS: You can be my friend on Goodreads, if you think our relationship is at that point.  I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but oh gosh.  Yes. I’ve never felt this way before.

January Books And Who Should Read Them

16 Feb


Here are some books that I read in January and who should read them!

(The ones that weren’t duds, because why would I do that to you?)

For your friend with very, very dark humor who likes to watch Black Mirror and somehow lives on a diet of cynicsm and bacon:

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

To your friend who never wears a bra and does wear beanies:

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

For when you have a free afternoon and the sun is shining and you want to burst through some beautiful prose is no time at all:

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

For your friend who likes law/The Constitution/Tumblr/women’s rights/her/himself:

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik 

When you’re looking to throw out your scale and take up a church in Calabasas (two things I tried–and failed–to do after reading this book):

Strong Looks Better Naked by Khloe Kardashian

For the person in your circle who likes to think about life and why it all matters:

Stitches by Anne Lamott

When you want to read a quick thriller because BJ Novak recommended it and because the writer is from Cape Cod and made her main character from Nantucket:

You by Caroline Kepnes

For the commute, in between subway stops or buses, when you want to gather quick inspiration for the rest of the day:

Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed

For every human in America and not just because it won the National Book Award:

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates 

When you want to talk to your friends about whether or not you can positive think your way to $100,000 by next month and why you’re now afraid your skepticism will mean you’ll never get it even though you don’t believe it. Or do you?:

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

For something to make you sob and sob and sob:

A Monster Calls

For the best book you’ll read this month:

Fates and Furies, duh.


Happy reading, chiclets!

I don’t know, I tried the nickname thing and it didn’t work so I won’t try it again.  I will look into ordering chiclets online, though.

Fates And Furies

19 Jan


 Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is the story of a marriage.  I suppose you could call it a love story.  I would, actually. I’ve seen people talk about it as a brutal evisceration of marriage, anther Gone Girl.  But that wasn’t what it was to me at all.

Fates and Furies is the story of two supremely flawed individuals, or in other words, two human beings, who love each other and commit to each other when they are very young.  It is a story of a marriage and two lives and the things keep from the people we love.

Do we ever really know the people we love? It asks.

One of my favorite quotes from the story reads:

He knew her, the things he didn’t know about her would sink an ocean liner; he knew her.

Isn’t that how it works? We can never truly know what it’s like to be another human being.  We all keep our secrets, even from those we love–sometimes intentionally, sometimes inadvertently.  There are elements of being human and alive and flawed and unique that are impossible to fully express.

There are elements of being human and alive and flawed and unique that we choose not to express.

And so we go through our days.  We continue to love.

We don’t know them.  We know them.

My goodness. I want to write better, more.  I want to be able to see people as Lauren Groff does. I want to capture a moment, a real moment.  Just one.

I want to read it again.


It was mathematical, marriage. Not, as one might expect, additional. It was exponential… In they’d come, integers; out they came, squared.

The noble feel the same strong feelings as the rest of us; the difference is in how they choose to act.

Marriage is made of lies. Kind ones, mostly. Omissions. If you give voice to the things you think every day about your spouse, you’d crush them to paste.

His eagerness, his deep kindness, these were benefits of his privilege. This peaceful sleep of being born male and rich and white and American and at this prosperous time, when the wars were happening far from home. This boy, told from the first moment he was born that he could do what he wanted. All he needed was to try. Mess up over and over, and everyone would wait until he got it right.

Her love for him was new and her love for herself was old. And she was all she’d had for so very, very long.

Life was conical in shape, the past broadening beyond the sharp point of the lived moment. The more life you had, the more the base expanded, so that the wounds and trains that were nearly imperceptible when they happened, stretched like tiny dots on a balloon slowly blown up. A speck on the slender child grows into a gross deformity in the adult, inescapable, ragged at the edges.

Perhaps I’ve been wrong. Perhaps the mother had watched her daughter fail and fail and didn’t move to help out of something unfathomable, something Mathilde struggled to understand, a thing that was like an immense kind of love.

Mathilde’s heart was a bitter one, vengeful and quick. [True.]
Mathilde’s heart was a kind one. [True.]

2015 In Books And Words

2 Jan

The tradition continues.  Here are some of my favorite words I read/listened to/interacted with last year:


Out of my thoughts!  You are part of my existence, part of myself.  You have been in every line I have ever read, since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then.  You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since–on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the lights, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets.  You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with.  The stones of which the strongest London buildings are made, are not more real, or more impossible to be displaced by your hands, than your presence and influence have been to me, there and everywhere, and will be.  Estella, to the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but remain part of my character, part of the little good in me, part of the evil.  But in this separation I associate you only with the good, and I will faithfully hold you to that always, for you must have done me far more good than harm, let me feel now what sharp distress I may.  O God bless you, God forgive you!

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations



Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World



It all comes back.  Perhaps it is difficult to see the value in having one’s self back in that kind of mood, but I do see it; I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.  Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4am of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.  We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.  We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.  I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.

Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem


You’re not destined or chosen, I wish I could tell you that you were if that would make it easier, but it’s not true. You’re in the right place at the right time, and you care enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that’s enough.

Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus


Cold men destroy women. They woo them with something personable that they bring out for show, something annexed to their souls like a fake greenhouse, lead you in, and you think you see life and vitality and sun and greenness, and then when you love them, they lead you out into their real soul, a drafty, cavernous, empty ballroom, inexorably arched and vaulted and mocking you with its echoes–you hear all you have sacrificed, all you have given, landing with a loud clunk. They lock the greenhouse and you are as tiny as a figure in an architect’s drawing, a faceless splotch, a blur of stick limbs abandoned in some voluminous desert of stone.

Lorrie Moore, Self Help



One can get obsessions about people who give and then take away. Then what the lover doesn’t have he seeks for obsessively until the seeking becomes a replacement for the loved object and us more satisfying still.

Merle Shain, Some Men Are More Perfect Than Others

The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be ton forget being right or wrong aboutb people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that–well, lucky you.

Philip Roth, American Pastoral


Nothing is promised, no matter what spirituality you believe in. I guess that’s how faith works. You believe despite every reason you shouldn’t. You believe even when it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do. You believe because you want to. You make that choice. I am finally starting to understand faith after so many years of having none.

Roxane Gay



I have always rejected timelessness. In fashion, the idea of purchasing something I can wear forever feels odd. Not because I don’t think I should want to wear something forever, but because the character, quirk, charm and reminiscence of owning a print that is so indicative of one season, one moment in your life, is just like owning a tangible memory. Why pass that up?

Leandra Medine, Man Repeller

What are you willing to fight for, even if the odds are stacked against you, even if you’ll most likely lose? In answering that, you’ll find what’s really important to you. You’ll define not just your dreams, but the essence of who you are.

Wendy Davis, Lenny Letter


Few books make the reader as happy as “Emma,” because few depict so well the joy of being understood, the way Mr. Knightley understands Emma Woodhouse. For all of Austen’s heroines, it is this sense of being truly seen, of marrying a man who loves them as they really are, that is the great reward. The institution of marriage, like the novel itself, has changed greatly since Austen’s time; but as long as human beings long for this kind of mutual recognition and understanding, “Emma” will live.

Adam Kirsch, “What Do Jane Austen’s Novels Have To Tell Us About Love and Life Today?” The New York Times

Living with the absence of someone we love is like living in front of a mountain from which a person–a speck in the distance, on some distant ridge–is perpetually waving.

In youth we wave back to the figure on the cliff.

Simon Van Booy, The Secret Lives of People in Love


She’d say, “I’ll get you, Jack, in another lifetime…and you’ll be very happy”

“What?” I’d yell to joke, “me running up the eternal halls of Karma tryina get away from you hey?”

“It’ll take you eternities to get rid of me,” she adds sadly,

which makes me jealous,

I want her to say I’ll never get rid of her.

I wanta be chased for eternity till I catch her.

Jack Kerouac, Big Sur



You are midwife to yourself and you’ll give birth to yourself over and over in dark rooms, alone.

Caitlin Moran, How to Build a Girl

One of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.

Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem



You cannot murder interns, but other than that they are the same as mules. You can rob then, abuse them, debase them. There are no limits. When a man agrees to be an intern, he is saying, “I am no longer human being with rights, I am like dog or money. Use me for labor until my body breaks and then consume all of my meats.”

Simon Rich, Spoiled Brats


Isn’t it sad, growing up? You start off thinking you can kill all the baddies and save the world. Then you get a little bit older, and you realize that some of the world’s badness is inside you, that maybe you’re a part of it. And then you get a little bit older still, and a bit more comfortable, and you start wondering whether that badness you’ve seen in yourself is really all that bad at all. You start talking about ten percent.

Chris Cleave, Little Bee


That’s the thing about the internet: it doesn’t simply help us find the best thing out there; it has helped to produce the idea that there is a best thing, and if we search hard enough, we can find it.

Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance

Because real love, once blossomed, never disappears. It may get lost with a piece of paper, or transform into art, books or children, or trigger another couple’s union while failing to cement your own. But it’s always there, lying in wait for a ray of sun, pushing through thawing soil, insisting upon its rightful existence in our hearts and on earth.

Deborah Copaken, The New York Times Modern Love “When Cupid is a Prying Journalist” 


A creative life is an amplified life.  It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.  Living in this manner–continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you–is a fine art, in and of itself.

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic


We choose to love people who cannot love us back to teach ourselves that we are, in fact, worthy of being loved back. We choose these people because they represent the parts of us that we don’t love – why else would we waste our time on people who don’t return our affection? We choose to love these people because they are the only ones with whom we share an intimate connection deep enough that it can awaken and illuminate the darkest corners of ourselves, and they are the only ones who can leave and let us do what we are here to do: resolve and actualize and heal them on our own.

Brianna West, Soul Anatomy