As I finished one of the new books that lives on my great-grandmothers’s pie safe in my living room, I prepared to throw away the empty page of stickers I’d been using as a bookmark. The stickers had all been used to seal note cards I’d sent to someone here or there. It originally housed six, round stickers to be exact.
I did a lot of reading this past year, much more than any of my previous adult years. I recently fell back into a habit of reading and I made it somewhat of a priority in 2016. I thought I’d do a quick review of what I read last year. I’ve broken the list down into two parts for your reading pleasure. Here’s some of what I read in 2016:
Sometimes you’re unexpectedly forced to think about the brevity of life. A young acquaintance dies much too soon, you’re faced with the fear of disease, or you read some heart-wrenching story. Most people continue on pondering the fleetingness of life only for a moment. I, however, end up thinking about this stark realization for much, much longer. Sometimes I’d say it even consumes me.
Of course, we all know that “life is short” and we should “enjoy the moment” or “treat every day like it’s your last.” And yet, days come and go with us focused on the monotony of daily life. We get stuck in our routines and forget to look up from our well-traveled paths. We sleep and wake without doing even one thing that’s special during the day. Without telling even one person how wonderful they are. Weeks pass and then months, and next thing you know, years have seemingly flown by and you’re still in the same spot you were the last time you looked up. You’re still taking the same vacations, driving the same routes to work, and talking to the same people. While I understand that not everyone shares my grand sense of adventure, I can’t help but wonder – is this monotony what people want? Is a string of years unchanged or absent of variety what people truly desire?
Whether this be the case of not, when I’m caught in that moment of realizing how truly short life can be, I quickly evaluate my own life. Would I worry about what I’m worried about today if this were the end? What would I do today? Would I spend my day cleaning baseboards or would I paint or read? Would I go to the park for one last walk on my favorite trails? Unfortunately, we don’t usually get to plan this sort of thing. Most of the time we aren’t presented with a syllabus for life that shows us exactly what date on which the final exam will take place. We’re not given a course outline showing the progression of life. Instead, we can only hope that the culmination of our daily activities equal something we’ll be proud of in those last moments. And this is precisely why we’re often told to live in the moment and make the most of it.
Furthermore, I ponder – who would I want around me? Who is most important to me? So often – too often – I let the opinions of mere strangers cause me to worry. So often – too often – I let would I should do interfere with what I want to do. I worry and I make up stories when things happen around me that I don’t understand. If these were my last days, I’d find these things so trivial and unworthy of my attention.
Today, as I finish The Opposite of Loneliness I am forced to think hard about this fleeting life. Marina Keegan’s time here on Earth was so limited. She wrote such impactful things in her short life, not knowing in the slightest that her life would indeed be short. It forces me to think about what I’d do differently if I saw the end was near. And because of those thoughts, I’m forcing myself to do some things differently now. I am choosing to dig deeper when I feel worry. I’m choosing to let only those that really, really matter affect my mood. And I’m choosing to go after the things that I might be “waiting for.” All of these things are easier said than done and without a continual conscious effort, I too, will get caught up in that next email or the next “problem.” Without focus, I’ll get swept away in today’s struggles and today’s issues, forgetting the big picture at hand. Unless I do something extraordinary (which hopefully I will), today won’t even be remembered a year from now.
We all talk about time moving too quickly. One day we’re 15, dreaming about what we’re going to do in life. The next, we’re plucking gray hairs (or in my case letting them grow out) and watching grandchildren play in the yard. However, what if time doesn’t actually move that fast? I also just finished Essentialism and here’s an excerpt that really stood out to me regarding time.
“Recently Anna and I met for lunch in the middle of a busy workday. Usually when we meet for lunch we’re so busy catching each other up on the events of our mornings or planning the activities for the evening that we forget to enjoy the act of having lunch together in the here and now. So this time, as the food arrived, Anna suggested an experiment: we should focus only on the moment. No rehashing our morning meetings, no talking about who would pick up the children from karate or what we’d cook for dinner that night. We should eat slowly and deliberately, fully focused on the present. I was totally game for it.
As I slowly took my first bite something happened. I noticed my breathing. Then without conscious intent I found it slowing. Suddenly, time itself felt as if it was moving slower. Instead of feeling as if my body was in one place and my mind was in five other places, I felt as though both my mind and my body were fully there.
The sensation stayed with me into the afternoon, where I noticed another change. Instead of being interrupted by distracting thoughts, I was able to give my full concentration to my work. Because I was calm and present on the tasks at hand, each one flowed naturally. Instead of my usual state of having my mental energies split and scattered across many competing subjects, my state was one of being focused on the subject that was most important in the present. Getting my work done not only became more effortless but actually gave me joy. In this case, what was good for the mind was also good for the soul.”
These few paragraphs made me ponder whether or not life actually moves as quickly as we feel that it does. Maybe the increasing speed in which time seems to fly as we grow older is simply because of the manner in which we spend our time. When we divide our concentration and energy, time seems to fly by without allowing enough hours in the day. When we’re focused, however, time seems to pass more slowly. When we dedicate our time to what’s most important to us in that moment, we make the most of the time we have – whether it be mere months or an expanse of years.
I have to wonder – what would it look like if we lived each day only focusing on the important stuff and the important people? What if we remained focused and allocated our time only to our highest callings, rather than dividing our days such that we never feel content and time flies right past us without our consent? What would life look like then? Would more people reach the end with satisfaction? Could we live in a way that we’d be content if life was taken from us tomorrow?
I don’t quite know the answers to all of these questions, though I do know that as I ponder the brevity of life over the next several days, I’ll make better decisions. I’ll call attention to how precious my time is and I’ll allocate it as I see fit. Hopefully, I’ll let the trivial circumstances roll right by just as the hours seem to. I’ll be the first to admit that living with this mindset isn’t easy. And it’s far from simple. However, if we want this life that we’re given to really matter, I feel like we simply must treat it’s passing minutes with more care. No more worry over the trivial. No more fretting over what’s next. No more obsessing over how to do it all. My goal is to stop. All of it. I want to CHOOSE how I spend each minute, giving focus only to what truly matters to me. I intend to start small. I hope to be intentional today, and then tomorrow too. I’ll focus on this minute and this hour, until hopefully, I’ve developed a habit of culling and focusing on the big things, the important things. It’s so easy to get distracted, and yet life is SHORT. It’s fleeting and you never, ever know when it’ll be over. You won’t be able to negotiate for more time and you won’t be given a second chance. If we approached every to-do list item, every opportunity, and every relationship with this mindset, how grand could our lives be? I hope to find out, and I hope you will too.
Let’s talk about Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. You may recognize the author from her best-seller Eat Pray Love. Her newest book, Big Magic, has taken the creative world by storm. It’s shown up on practically every must-read list and you’ll see perfectly styled photos of it on almost every creative’s Instagram. With good reason.
I have a tendency to not want to “finish” books that I really love. I hate feeling like its over! I’ll save one chapter or at least several pages so that I don’t have to close the door on the experience. The Nester mentioned this recently and I felt a lot less like a weirdo because of it. Despite my desire to “save” the ending, I finished Big Magic.
If you practice creativity in any sort of way, this is a must-read. Gilbert’s thoughts on how creativity comes to be and how it should be treated are life changing. As I read along, I realized I have been approaching my own creativity in the wrong way. Here are my biggest takeaways from the book:
- Creativity is a gift to us, not to our audience. I realized that, especially with my writing, I always work with the audience in mind. I write such that they can hopefully take something away…be inspired or feel a part of something. Instead, I should be writing for me – writing to process my thoughts or get that big idea out there – not such that my audience is affected.
- Creative living shouldn’t be hard or emotionally challenging. In the book, Gilbert frequently talked about the troubled artist, the martyr that sacrifices their own well-being for their art. She talked about those dark and troubled makers who think they can’t be creative without a life filled with turmoil. Gilbert’s take on creativity is purely the opposite. She said that if creating doesn’t bring your joy, then you should abandon it. I don’t live a “troubled” life, yet I do worry to death over how well I do things. Rather than worrying about the result, the feedback, or the end game. I just need to create, put it out there, and be done.
- “This is a world, not a womb.” Gilbert takes a pretty no-nonsense stance against being susceptible to the criticism of others. She says we’re all entitled to our own opinions and undoubtedly someone’s will be different than ours. Without doubt, someone out there will truly dislike your work. That’s not what matters though. As creative livers, our job is still to create. Our job is not to coddle those who don’t agree or explain our rationalization. We must just simply create. And most importantly, we must do so with the understanding that not everyone will like it and that’s perfectly okay.
- I hold on to the results much too tightly. In the past, I’ve always created with an end game in mind. If I’m writing, it’s with the hopes that it becomes an awesome blog post. If I’m painting, it’s with the intention of having some lovely art to fill a spot on the wall. I seldom create just do stretch my creative limits. By focusing so heavily on the result, I’m missing out on most of the beauty of the process. Since reading this book, I’ve done way more pointless writing and painted several more useless paintings. And that’s wonderful.
If I had to sum it up, this book basically says get over yourself and go make something. Creativity will come and go, and if you’re not willing to nurture it and give it a safe place to live, it’ll go somewhere else. Fear of failure or ridicule is within most of us, and if we’re not careful, we’ll let that fear take over our lives. I wrote a bit about my fear of painting recently and that revelation came from this book.
All in all, I think this book gave me the kick in the ass I needed. It reminded me that nothing has to be perfect. It showed me that I am often afraid of my creativity and that I shouldn’t be. It taught me that inspiration and creativity are magical gifts and that I should pay attention to and nurture those regularly. It was encouraging, real, and uplifting. Actually, I might read it again!
P.S. I took this photo in the bookstore because I read it on my iPad. Which do you prefer – real books or digital? I can’t decide!
Let’s be honest. I should really change the title of this post to, “I’ve read a few things.” As a child, I was a big reader. I loved Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew mysteries, and even RL Stine books. (My fellow almost-thirty-somethings are probably nodding in nostalgia to these book titles.) My mom would take me to the library where I’d check out several books at once, often finishing at least one by the end of that day. Somewhere along the line though, I decided that I “didn’t like to read” and avoided it at all costs for several years.
I think what happened though, was that I had changed. Rather than not liking to read anymore, my tastes were just different. At some point during the last two years when I’ve learned so much, I also learned that it’s not that I don’t like to read. Instead, I just have different preferences now. For example, I’ve learned that at this particular time, I’m not really a fiction kind of gal. As fabulously written as the Hunger Games or Harry Potter stories might have been, I don’t really enjoy having to follow along with a story that I know in the back of my mind is fake. (I completely understand that most will disagree with me here. No problem. As my friend, Amy Poehler says, “Good for you. Not for me.” — See what I did there??)
I realized that I did actually like to read biographies and self-help type books. At first I couldn’t understand this. I “don’t like to read,” remember? Finally, I noticed the issue. I don’t mind reading someone’s story. I also don’t mind reading something that gives me strategies for living a better life or makes me more self-aware. Those things interest me, and I can get behind them. It’s not that I no longer like to read…I just had to focus on reading things that interested me instead of reading mainstream fiction.
Since I’m back on the reading bandwagon, I’ve read a few books. Go ahead…you can clap for me if you’d like. A few of these books have been great ones, so I thought I’d share. I posted about finishing The Nesting Place, my first book to actually finish since I could remember. Here’s a quick look at the other books I’ve read lately. (That even feels weird typing it out.)
If it’s not obvious by the joke above, I’m a pretty big fan of Amy Poehler. When I heard that my dear friend, Amy, was coming out with a book, I knew that I’d have to get back on the reading bandwagon. This is actually what clued me in to the fact that I like biographies. To say that I loved this book, would be an understatement. Maybe it’s because I secretly think Amy and I are friends. Maybe it’s because I laughed out loud while reading on my couch. Maybe it’s because funny is my love language. Whatever the reason, I’ll likely read this one again at some point. If you even remotely like Amy, comedy, or laughing, you should read it.
I highlighted several parts of the book and came away with several “life lessons.” As mentioned above, I’ve taken on “Good for you. Not for me.” as a bit of a personal mantra. When feeling like I “should” do something or be better at something, I think about this line. It’s what prompted some of my thoughts in this post. We don’t have to do everything. Instead, let’s just do what we want to and what we’re good at.
I was also thoroughly impressed with the amount of grace and professionalism with which Amy spoke of her divorce. It wasn’t sugarcoated or romanticized. It was straightforward and honest, yet respectful. Two thumbs up from me for handling an undoubtedly sensitive topic with such poise.
Seriously, go read this book. You’ll thank me later. And if you don’t like it, then you and I probably can’t be friends.
Even though Tina’s book came out before Amy’s, I hadn’t read it. Amy referred to Bossypants throughout her book, so after successfully finishing it, I moved on to this one. It was actually a gift from my sweet cousin. I wouldn’t say that I was quite as engaged as I was through Yes Please, yet it was still an enjoyable read.
My friend Amanda and I have decided that we’re a Tina/Amy duo. She’s Tina and I’m Amy. I’m more likely to burst into a crowd and do something outrageous to get a laugh. I’m going to air on the obnoxious side and demand a bit more attention, much like Amy. Amanda on the other hand, will subtly make a hilarious joke that you didn’t see coming. She’s going to be a bit more reserved and quiet, yet will surprise you with her wit and confidence, much like Tina. I believe this is the reason that she preferred Bossypants and I preferred Yes Please. I also think that this is the reason that the four of us should hang out soon. Call me, Amy!
Regardless of which comedic heroin you prefer, I’d recommend both books. I learned a lot about the comedy industry and the behind-the-scenes of both Tina and Amy’s lives, and I loved that.
This book wins all of the awards in my book. (“In my book”….in a blog post about books…) It’s possible that I loved this book so much because of my own experience in the retail world. I loved Sophia’s no-nonsense writing style and her make-it-happen approach to business. I also felt a connection to her desire to be different and defy the odds. Probably because I love a good from-the-ground-up story, I really enjoyed reading about how she built her business from a small, garage operation to the huge success that it is today. I started this one on the flight to Alaska and finished it before heading back. The timing for this one was perfect, and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s business minded or relates to powerful, determined women.
“Being mean won’t make you cool, being rich won’t make you cool, and having the right clothes, while it may help, won’t make you cool. It’s cool to be kind. It’s cool to be weird. It’s cool to be honest and to be secure with yourself. Cool is the girl at the party who strikes up a conversation with you when she notices you don’t seem to know many people there.” -Sophia Amoruso
There have been a few more books that I’ve started and not finished. I think it’s safe to say that you have to get me invested early on, or I’ll likely not pick it back up once I’ve put it down. I also have to relate somewhat. If I don’t feel somewhat of a connection to the writer, it’s hard for me to keep going. Nonetheless, I’m happy to be back on the book-reading circuit, and I’m thrilled to have learned something else about myself.
What sort of books do you like to read? If you have any biography/documentary types or personal growth options to recommend, I’m all ears! Right now I’m working on Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Wish me luck!
This post is a bit of a combo post. First, I want to bring attention to the fact that I finished my first book in many, many years back in the fall. I honestly can’t remember when the last time was that I actually finished a book that I started. I was probably a little girl. It was probably Babysitters Club or Sweet Valley High. (Not kidding.) I’ve learned a lot about how I feel about reading lately, but we’ll talk more about that later. For now, let’s all celebrate the fact that I actually read a book from start to finish. Feel free to bring me celebratory cupcakes if you’d like.
Now, let’s talk about that book. I’ve been following along with The Nester’s blog lately, and I’ve seen her book mentioned here and there around the internet. Basically, this book is about designing a home that you love around things that you already have or can put together cheaply and easily. It’s not about going in debt to furnish a picture-perfect home and it’s not about following all of the rules.
Instead, The Nester’s motto is, “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.” Honestly, this motto is what drew me to her blog and the book to begin with. We all know that I struggle with perfection. It’s not uncommon for me to just not do something if I don’t feel like I have the time to do it perfectly. This is especially true for decorating our home. I have hundreds and thousands of ideas, but I delay implementing any of them for the fear of finding a better idea or not haven’t enough time to plan it out completely. It’s quite tragic.
When I stumbled upon Myquillyn’s blog, her message struck me. I shouldn’t be waiting on perfection. Instead, I should be creating a home that works for Matthew and I, and I can do so without a perfect plan. There are many beautiful things out there that aren’t perfect. As a matter of fact, I tend to find that the imperfections are what’s most beautiful. Why, then, do I put things off in a quest for perfection when I don’t even want a perfect home?
As I read more of Myquillyn’s posts, I knew that her message was exactly what I needed to hear. I needed someone to coax me into just doing things, both at home and in my life in general. I hesitated to buy the book because I knew I had a terrible track record of not finishing books. I also didn’t want to read a design book that “showed you how to properly mix patterns” or some other surface level design strategy. Finally, I broke down and purchased the book for my iPad and then struggled to put it down again.
After reading the first few pages, I knew that I needed to really hear Myquillyn’s message. I knew that this book was far less about how do decorate and far more about why. After all, I don’t feel like I need help with how to do it. Instead, I needed someone to steer me towards actually doing things instead of waiting for the stars to align in a scenario where I have plenty of time and money and inspiration. The Nesting Place helped to me see all of the scenarios in which I was accidentally waiting for perfection. I was waiting for the perfect moment or the perfect shower curtain, and in reality, I had practically everything that I needed to at least make things beautiful for the time being. If I found a better rug/chair/ottoman/wall hanging later, then that’s fine! I could simply change it later. If you find yourself struggling with decorating your home or if you want some creative ideas for creating something beautiful on the cheap, I highly recommend reading the book.
This brings me to the second part of this post. There’s a section in The Nesting Place dedicated solely to nail holes. I almost shiver as I write this, because the thought of putting an unnecessary nail hole in my freshly painted walls, sends chills down my spine. After all, I paid a pretty penny (I suppose “pretty pennies” are worth more than ugly ones.) to have all of the holes filled and every single surface of this home painted. However, Myquillyn says, “Is there anything less risky in life than creating a one-millimeter hole in a wall that can be filled with your finger and some putty in two seconds?” She goes on to say, “Nail holes are just a part of living in a house. I’d say that a nail hole is the lowest entry-level risk-taking action you could have in life, other than getting no whip on your coffee.”
As crazy as it sounds, this section of the book was a huge turning point for me. I was putting off hanging things on my walls (something that I’ve desperately wanted to do for months) for the fear of putting a nail hole in the wrong place. How silly! That very day, I went and put a hole in the dining room wall. I hung a wreath as part of my Halloween decor…it’s wasn’t even a permanent decor item! As silly as it sounds, this was a huge step for me. I made a decision to not let such a tiny, little obstacle hinder me from having a beautiful home right now.
Each day that passes leads me closer to the day that Matthew and I will move from this home. I made a commitment that I wouldn’t put off decorating this home as I had done with our rent house. However, we’ve now lived here for 5 months and most of the house isn’t decorated as I’d like. Some of this stems from needing lots of new furniture. Some of it is from a lack of time. However, most of my hesitation to decorating has been a fear of missing the mark. It’s from a fear of hanging something in the “wrong” place or purchasing the “wrong” rug. These fears kept me from finishing our last home, and if I’m not careful, I’ll see the same thing happen in this home.
After reading Myquillyn’s book, I realized that most of my hesitation surrounds nail holes. I also realized that nail holes are really such a small issue, both literally and figuratively. The reality is, there’s a large chance that I’ll actually like where I hang something. The other reality is, if I don’t like where it’s hanging, I haven’t made some huge, life-altering mistake. I can simply move it. I can just as simply fill in the nail hole. After finishing this book, I decided to no longer let waiting on perfection be an obstacle for me in creating a home that I love.
How many areas of our life do we approach in a similar manner? I think it’s safe to say that we often let fear of the unknown be an obstacle for us in creating a life that we love. Maybe we don’t go after that promotion for a fear of being told no. Maybe we don’t tell someone how we feel, because we’re scared of how they’ll react. Maybe we don’t put nail holes in freshly painted walls, because we’re afraid that it will be the “wrong” spot. Whatever it is, these little fears can quickly and sneakily be a total road block for us in creating the lives we want. Rather than holding on to fear and the struggle for perfection, let’s tackle life, one little nail hole at a time. Sometimes the risks we need to take are tiny. Sometimes they’re large. Either way, we’ll never know the outcome without first taking the risk.
What is one thing that you can do today to take a step towards the life that you want? Whatever it is, don’t spend too much time thinking about it. Just do it! For me, that means going to out another hole in the wall.