A day early this week in order to leave space for technology free Thanksgivings for all of us. A quick rundown of what I’ve read in the past month in books, and also online articles that intrigued me in some fashion.
A light month for me—I spent a lot of time writing but also mostly because I started and didn’t finish three books that just weren’t holding my interest (those are not mentioned here). Incidentally, none of these are recent publications except the novel and memoir I’m still reading.
The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, Thomas Lynch (memoir/essays) I absolutely loved this guy’s take on so many things. I think there’s a lot of good insight to be had from someone who deals so regularly and closely with death. I need to re-read some of these again.
“Fall” from Seasons at Eagle Pond, Donald Hall (essay; there is one for each season, but I just read “Fall” for now) So lovely. He’s relatively new to me (just this past year), but I’m increasingly a fan of his.
Getting a Life, Helen Simpson (short stories; note: it was originally published in the UK under a different title, Hey Yeah Right Get a Life) I liked many of these stories. Such sharp, relatable wit about women and domestic life.
Around the House and in the Garden, Dominique Browning (essays) My heart swelled with many passages. A book about divorce in the context of the home, tending a garden, and raising a family. I will come back to this one again. Can I share a passage with you? It was after she stumbled upon an old photo of her son when he was seven:
I told a friend about this bit of accidental tourism into my past, and he counseled me to stop looking back. But it isn’t that I wanted to live in the past; that seems a dry and dusty path to wander. I don’t believe in the past perfect, and don’t yearn to return to any particular moment. One of the benefits of growing older, it seems, is a greater comfort with the simple present. It is from that vantage point that we find beauty in the accumulation of details. “Live in the layers,/Not on the litter” writes poet Stanley Kunitz. His desk overlooks a compost heap in his garden. The layering takes a long time; just as true of people as of things. For the past is what we have made of our lives, and to have a past—and to learn from it, honor it, and celebrate it—is a great luxury.
(still reading) The Mountain Story, Lori Lansens (fiction)
(still reading) Like Life, Lorrie Moore (short stories)
(just started) Dear Mr. You, Mary-Louise Parker (memoir in letters)
From Fusion News, a piece about how the beloved Richard Scarry books have been updated to be more progressive and inclusive.
On BuzzFeed Books, an insider’s view from the great Lincoln Michel about what it takes to get published in a lit mag.
NPR’s the salt has a take on why eating out alone is not necessarily the worst.thing.ever (I like eating out alone but many of my friends unequivocally do not).
Thank you, BookRiot, for this fun list of famous authors’ Myers-Briggs Types (I’m an INTJ, every single time).
Check out this one from the Stranger about what happens when scientists and poets study together. I loved the idea so much.
From The Atlantic about the rash of teenage suicides in Silicon Valley. It will break your heart, but I also hope we will now all talk more openly about teenage suicide, depression, and anxiety. Please also read this equally important follow up response from members of that community.
This one might appeal to writers in particular. It’s hard, I think, to stay certain that any writing we do means anything, has any worth beyond frivolity, when things are happening like the fatal terrorism in Paris, Beiruit, Mali, Iraq, Nigeria . . . an endless list. So if you feel that way, please read this from National Geographic. I think it is completely on point about why it is still OK, necessary perhaps, to keep writing.
From NYMag’s The Science of Us, a piece about the science of longtime couples who die in temporal proximity.
Lastly, a good note to end on. I love sunsets, as any of my Instagram followers must know by now. Have you seen this? I definitely will rely on windows and my eyes more than an app, but this Slate piece about some new sunset forecasting technology definitely got me excited.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. We got another day, perhaps the most important thing to be thankful for.
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
If you ask me how to fall out of orbit, I will tell you this.
So much of life is lived in orbit. We circle around the same people and places. They warm us like a wide beam of summer sun. Seemingly steadfast relationships and seats saved at the table become the center of our revolutions. Years spiral by with their seasons and holidays and anniversaries. The gravity of routine pulls us in and keeps us moving along comfortable trajectories. Security etches an ellipse onto our heart. All is quiet except the infrasonic hum of complacency and contentedness.
And then something hits. Hard. A devastating bang. The placid surface shatters into a million jagged pieces.
A pink slip. An illness. A traitor. A revocation of love. A last breath.
You did not authorize the collision. You didn’t see it coming. You are suddenly thrust in a new direction.
For a moment, maybe many, you spin out of control. Free fall ensues. Dazed and daunted, you are unsure where to land.
What now? Where to?
You want to stop and also ask why, but sometimes there’s no satisfactory answer.
It’s best to right yourself. Grab onto outstretched hands and whisper into listening ears. Steady your gaze upon some distant fixed horizon or the hindsight of proven resilience. Look for the paths and patterns that remain.
The slant of morning light that stretches across the yellowed pine floor.
Orion and Cassiopeia dancing overhead in the ink of night.
The clink of the toothbrush when it falls just so in your cup.
The cool tap of the silver locket that soon warms against your breastbone.
Streetlights that blink on while twilight tiptoes around you.
The squeal of the window that always sticks on humid mornings.
The sweet salty taste of tiny pools of butter melted on toast.
Unwrapping the vernal gift of bare branch to bud to blossom.
Screaming kettles of water and the silent saunter of minty steam from your porcelain cup.
The hug of a favorite sweater pulled over tight shoulders.
With time, a mortar of equilibrium will start to settle in the cracks, slowly shifting from slurry to solid. The density of trust and stability is reborn and gains new momentum. Revolutions swing wide around a new center and grow more familiar.
With tentative hope, a new orbit begins.
Writer’s note: Inspiration hits in odd ways, right? You never know where the spark of a new essay, post, or story will strike. This week’s IYAMH was most certainly inspired by two things happening in our house right now: my husband’s layoff at work about a month ago, and my daughter’s current passion for space/astronomy. As I was writing this, I wondered whether I was writing it more for myself this time rather than as future advice for my daughter like I’ve been thus far with this series. Perhaps. Definitely perhaps.
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
If you ask me how I sometimes glimpse the future, I will tell you this.
It seems as though we are no longer allowed to have specific notions or dreams about our children’s futures other than the broad strokes of good health and happiness. We are discouraged from being too hopeful, too precise when envisioning end results. No assumptions, no pigeonholes. No expectation of history repeating itself. No living vicariously through our own unfulfilled wishes.
I understand this. I do. I fully assent to giving you this freedom you most certainly deserve. To do otherwise would be utterly unfair. Yet I admit that I do not always do it with ease. I get ahead of myself and start down paths that are not mine to travel. My thoughts trespass into distant fates and futures that belong to someone other than me.
These are the frictions inherent with being the mother of a girl. I want things both ways. In the end, adverse truths must coexist.
But if I was allowed one indulgence, just one, it would be love. I hope you find love. Maybe you won’t ever get married. I’d be content with that, so long as you were. As much as it has brought me joy, I know marriage as an institution is not the be all and end all of everything, especially not happiness.
Except I’m a woman who has built love around this very frame. I admit that it informs my view.
A taut white canvas tent stood at the ready, tethered deep into the ground. The mid-July sun inched down the nape of my neck and eased behind sturdy mountains, the twilight air cooling in its wake. Fields of crimson poppy colored the periphery around gentle hills of green grass. A storybook ending was about to unfold in panoramic fashion.
I brought a hand to my eyes to shield my view. And perhaps also my heart.
I cautiously peered through slightly open fingers, like I always do when glimpsing what’s ahead and yet to be.
I stood there and wondered. I simply, silently wondered about you.
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
Last Thursday of the month, so that means a quick rundown of what I’ve read in the past month both in books, and also online articles that intrigued me in some fashion.
How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature, Scott D. Sampson (nonfiction/parenting) [skimmed only—I wasn’t learning anything new, to be honest; there are others I’ve already read in this genre in years past]
Lillian on Life, Alison Jean Lester (fiction) [one of my two favorites this month]
The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, Jessica Lahey (nonfiction/parenting) [really well done—some solid advice in here]
A Year By the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman, Joan Anderson (memoir) [my other favorite this month; that passage above had me thinking for a while]
The Turner House, Angela Flournoy (fiction) [incidentally, this first novel is a 2015 National Book Awards Finalist, and Flournoy is also one of this year’s 5 Under 35 Honorees of the National Book Foundation—it is so easy to see why; compelling read]
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert (motivational)
I Was Thinking . . . , Peter A. Gilbert (essays) [any book that has essays mentioning Steve Martin, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and a love of reading will get a gold star from me]
(still reading) Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World, Linda Hirshman (nonfiction)
(still reading) The Undertaker: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, Thomas Lynch (memoir) [oh my, this one is so good]
This Kirkus Reviews piece about Diana Nyad’s new book Find A Way just might get me to read the book.
Glamour reminds us why apologies in person might be better than by text.
I’m a ways off from an empty nest, but this Cognoscenti essay slayed me nonetheless.
Some fantastic tips/reminders from Tremr if you are submitting work to lit mags (or thinking about it).
Ever wonder what happens in those “write an essay to win a B&B contests”? Then read this piece from NYT.
I’m a huge Virginia Lee Burton fan. This New Yorker piece reminds me why.
I’ll read any article that discusses the choice that some women (like me) make to keep the name they were born with despite getting married. This Guardian piece offers a new twist on that topic.
I have very passionate thoughts about this one in particular and the language we use when talking to children. Thank you, NYT Motherlode, for writing this one.
Tell me what books or compelling articles you’ve come across in October. I’d love to know!
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
If you ask me how to listen to silence, I will tell you this.
Silence is more than a lack of ambient noise. It is an act.
To decipher the unnerving quiet of silence, listen very closely. Interpreting the void is not always easy.
Your ears might get hurt. And maybe your heart.
Sometimes it is a deafening defiance. A hand well played when someone does not want to scrimmage anymore, especially if the game gets dirty or the rules are too rigid. It is a resounding no to the options presented, an out loud unwillingness to respond to the demands of another. Doors slam. People walk away. New terms get created by words gone unsaid.
It might be the deliberate distance carved out of the bedrock of trust and vulnerability, the windless divide more expansive than you’d like. It takes shape in different ways; slowly by pick axe, swiftly by excavator. Discourse is difficult across such a wide chasm, especially when someone you care about or want to know better is on the other side, back turned, fingers in ears.
Or perhaps it is a trick. Watch what happens when you wait a beat or two before you respond or ask the next question. Too much silence can be uncomfortable. We are all prone to fill the void. People start to slip up. They divulge more than they wanted to. Too much information is revealed. Latent bias and flimsy arguments will scream out if you let the meter run. Ugly sides come out from dark corners. Raw feelings buried deep claw their way up to the surface. Some call this the truth.
But there’s also this: the sweet silence of contentment.
It is not timid or meek. It roars. The vibrations beat in measure with your heart. The harmony of peace joins in with the melody of joy.
When do you hear it? Listen during long car rides with someone you love. Listen while you watch a sunset together. Listen while you putter around the house within arm’s reach of each other. Listen while you cut vegetables in tandem. Listen while you wait for your server to bring your dinner to the table. Listen as the hours tick by, wordlessly.
Your first instinct might be that you’ve run out of things to talk about, that common ground has vanished. You fear there is nothing there anymore. You question whether the bond is breaking and twisting apart. Is this the sound of an unraveling?
It is worrisome at first, yes. But that’s not what you’re hearing.
What you hear is sotto voce euphoria. It is the polishing of stones you’ve collected together over the years. It is the heart armor being surrendered and placed softly on the table. It is the vivid glow of true colors blazing before you. It is the expansive horizon to wander with one’s own thoughts, some of them telepathically shared with a knowing glance.
It is the permission to just be present and know it is sufficient.
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
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