To be blessed.

Ahh. Hello. Little blog of mine.

It’s been a while. Two months, I think.

March promised me so much on her blossom scented breath but you know, April has proved to be more frilly and flowery than my favourite month. No showers, just sunshine. Pink blossom in powder puffs adorning trees and soft sweet apple blossom scattering itself through my window like dainty fairies. Love love love.

I did not write the things I intended to write. I barely treaded water, to be honest.

I caught the coronavirus, I travelled with my kids, I worked until I fell asleep at my keyboard – not once but several times – and I watched things while I folded laundry or tidied toys or folded laundry or washed dishes. Or folded laundry. Bloody hate folding laundry but when I think that I catch myself by the arm. I say, ‘Dear, dear dear dear. Don’t you forget the blessing of clothes to cover your back and a washing machine in which to wash them. So help me God.’

I added the ‘so help me God’ because people in books say that and it sounds like a strict admonishment.

My son started nursery for the first time in both our lives. I cried tears after I left him and there was a hole in my heart and a sad emptiness in my home – he is only gone 5 hours a day but it feels eternal. Two days a week only, and he loves it. He asks to go to school on days we don’t go, and he doesn’t want to leave when I go to pick him up. A great sign, right? I hope so. I do hope so.

I watched Bridgerton, yes I did, and I enjoyed the frivolity of it all. I did indeed. I watched Wild Wild Country and I marvelled at people’s hope and search for the truth, even if it ends in futility. We are so good for hoping, aren’t we. Us humans.

I read a wonderful book called ‘Talking to Strangers’ and it’s all about how we perceive others, and it touches on the wrongs in the systems that run the countries where most violence, crime and racism occur. The author seems to think it boils down to how we approach and talk to strangers. How we cannot decipher each other at all, how the truths we grew up believing about others, were in fact not truths at all. Fascinating stuff.

I read another book called ‘Beauty Sick’, and how the obsession with appearance is a disease in Western society. I really resonated with that. I believe most women would. When I discussed it with my husband he had a different opinion and it infuriated me and turned me into a little spitfire. He told me he didn’t want to talk to me anymore as I was being rude.

I went to think about it for a bit and decided he was correct, and I didn’t need to lash out at him because his opinion was .. INCORRECT. I should have just listened and pointed out the discrepancies in his arguments. Glaringly obvious to me but he is of a different ilk. Cut. Tribe.

He is, as Aunty Caroline would say, he is a ‘Man.’ Capital ‘M’. That’s all there is to say on the matter.

Brain Rules

This year I promised last year’s me that I would read 30 books (5 books more than my 25 book challenge last year!). I completed 26 books last year so I thought I would up my challenge a little bit. Just a small margin, haha!

One condition with these books, though, is that they have to be less fictional. My TBR (to-be-read) pile increasingly contains non fiction books about parenting, child brain development and other things I found an interest in but never pursued (such as the strange story of Typhoid Mary!), and I thought this year I really ought to buckle down and really the read things I have saved for later.

So it’s the end of January and I have completed one book so far. It’s called ‘Brain Rules for Baby’ by John Medina.

It was a wonderful book, full of scientific research about the best practices to follow in order to raise happy, healthy and most importantly, emotionally regulated children.

John Medina (who is a father of two) never writes in a way that makes you feel bad for not doing something. His tone is cheery, upbeat and optimistic. There is always something you can do, as long as you do it! Big or small.

One of the biggest things I took away from this book was the need for children to play, and to have a social circle. I won’t go into anymore detail as I am currently with my children (they are having breakfast and I am typing this out quickly while they make a colossal mess everywhere!) – but I loved reading this book. I learnt a great deal, and I am going to be using it as a reference point over the years to come. It made me feel energised and full of ideas for play and connectivity as my children grow.

My Tottering TBR

This is part of Diana from Myths of the Mirror‘s writing challenge for January. Check it out here!

My TBR

My TBR is tottering over me. She has claws, and stern eyebrows, drawn tightly towards each other.

Some would call it a monobrow.

She wears tweed, and always looks so very cross.

Brown clothes, brown hair, whisked back into a knot.

Oh the tightest knot you ever saw.

My TBR is tall.

So tall that her shadow looms over my shoulder whenever I deign to do something she doesn’t approve of. Which, come to think of it, is EVERYTHING.

I wonder what makes her so mean?

How (not) to Disappear

I was browsing through Goodreads when I came across a title called ‘How Not to Disappear’, about a road trip across the UK. It looked really interesting. Aunt with dementia, pregnant teen, family secrets.

So I went to get it as an ebook.

When I bought and downloaded it and began to read, I realised the book I was reading was not about a road trip. It was about a teen girl who witnessed a murder.

Huh?

It was based in the UK and so I carried on thinking, ok, maybe she will get pregnant later and travel across the UK with her aunt Gloria.

Only that never happened.

There was no aunt called Gloria.

And the description on the front of the book said ‘bestselling thriller’.

Is travelling across the UK supposed to be thrilling? If so can one teach me how to make it so because so far I’ve only ever had very mundane road trips!

Anyway, halfway through this thriller – and I was really beginning to thoroughly enjoy it – I checked the cover of the book and smacked my forehead.

It was called ‘How to Disappear’

Not ‘How NOT to disappear’.

Still, it’s a fantastic book and keeping me on the edge of my seat.

Have you ever read one book thinking you were reading another?

Education

I am nearly finished reading this booked called ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover. Oh my goodness. I CAN’T put it down. It’s a memoir that certainly needed to be written. You know how some 20-somethings write ‘memoirs’ and you’re just reading it thinking, ok first, did this person ever read anything apart from the back of a jam jar? And secondly, this person did not live life yet, and the life they lived already is so mundane that they really should not have written about it.

But, like, teenagers buy this book by the millions because it’s a famous YouTuber that they love.

Yes, this book is NOT like those books. Sure, Tara Westover is relatively young, but her life is so strange and odd and powerful, and the way she writes is so intense and gripping, that I have to read it every second I get, and when I am not reading it I am thinking about it.

It’s all about how she was brought up in the isolated mountains of Idaho as a Mormon, with an extreme father. She never set foot in a school and her family thought the Medical Establishment was part of the Illuminati and the Government were evil and wanted to control everybody. She barely learnt anything ‘academic’, but her life was filled with roughness, injury, thinking on the spot and extreme resourcefulness. In spite of, or perhaps because of this, she managed to succeed at exams to get her into a good university, which then allowed her to get a very prestigious scholarship into Cambridge University.

The story is gripping, detailing, among other things, the horrific injuries she, her siblings and parents obtained from reckless and ruthless actions (driving through snowstorms with no seats in the car and enduring severe accidents, climbing into dumping baskets in a junkyard, setting themselves on fire ‘accidentally’) without medical intervention, just recovery at home at the hands of their herbal expert mother. I cannot get it out of my head.

Above all, this story inspires me so much. That a person who had never studied or read anything apart from the Bible and Book of Mormon could then go and write the ‘best essays seen in 30 years of teaching’ (Cambridge senior profession proclamation) SHOWS me that sometimes what we pin as of ultimate importance, perhaps is just not that important. Maybe training kids from an early age to think the academic thoughts others have had before them and which have been refined for their brains is the wrong way to go about it? Maybe you ought to let children be as free as possible, and think as much of their own individual thoughts as possible, in order to create great thinkers within them?

Tara Westover describes her childhood as ‘loveless’, she was abused physically by her older brother, and felt that all her siblings and her mother suffered at the hands of her bipolar lunatic father. Yet at the same time she was given experiences that very few other children have. She worked in a junkyard with her father at age ten and learnt so many things which she applied in her later years studying at college, things which were not academic in the slightest but gave her a high advantage over others who had been trained for this sort of education their whole lives.

One of the main things to take away from this book is that the author suffered crippling depression from the aftermath of what she endured as a child. She became ostracised from her family for daring to speak up about the physical and verbal abuse she received from her older brother, but she still weathered through it and got a PhD, achieved her goals, and above all, did not let her experiences mould her. She decided to take control and mould herself. That is what is inspiring about Tara Westover.

If you love reading about lives that are out of the ordinary, and minds filled with the richness of learning, both physical and mental, and experiences which are painful and horrific but also very true, and which shaped a life in such an interesting way, then this book is certainly for you.

It’s for sure for me. It’s made me even more determined to get a Master’s degree, something I have been wanting for a while but have been dubious about following through with.

Fancy Yourself a Writer?

Writing a book is an incredibly hard thing. I fancy myself a writer but I have never properly finished writing a book. Sure, I’ve written drafts, but it’s a mammoth task turning a draft into something that flows with the smooth syrupy confidence of authentic maple syrup over some self-assured pancakes.

I have read plenty of books and judged them mercilessly. Some books feel cheap to me and I can SEE the potential in them, the words leap out in broken shatters, begging to be re-strung, imploring the author to please re-dress them, as they tumble about their pages in clumsy clusters. Some books just need a good editor.

Then there are other books that lift my feet right off the ground. I find myself amazed and defeated all at once. I find myself nursing an ache that won’t go away. How do people put pen to paper and release such magnificent things? Worlds and vivid imagery and passionate characters with all the dimensions of a kaleidoscope.

As an example, I was reading Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and when I reached the end I felt despair when I realised that he had attempted to dumb his novel down, since it was written by his heroine, Briony. I opened the first page of Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’ and was floored by the ushering in of a leaden August sky by a biting wind that blew out July. The life in their words seethe and sizzle on the faded pages on which they were printed. And I don’t know how. 

So yes. Writing a book is a very difficult thing. And I am sure the people who wrote the ‘badly written’ books must have thought that their books were ‘well written’, else they would be ashamed to have them out in the world. So, that begs the question, HOW do you know your writing is ‘good enough’?

 

On Reading and Narrating

I am reading a book now called Mrs Bridge.

It is written quite simply, with simple events and simple people. So far. Chapters are 3/4 of a page long, and deal with the simple people doing simple things. Except there appears to be an underlying shift under all the simplicity. A coiled snake, waiting to spring. It is a far cry from the previous book I was reading, in the manner of its writing. Less of the explosion, more mature. No feelings. Well, barely any. And always concealed under decorum.

You may be wondering how I am now managing to read whilst also navigating busy days with an ever-moving, ever-learning 6 month old (7 months on Sunday).

Well, I now read arduously during his ridiculously short naps. 40 minutes is all he has. I no longer rush about doing chores or beautifying myself. I am done with that. Chores accumulate the minute I have finished choring them, and I am just fat now. So until I lose this baby fat I really am not going to bother shoving myself uncomfortably into nice clothes and feeling depressed that they don’t fit me like they did pre-baby. I am just going to wear my leggings and my hoodies and feel comfortable, and lie on my sofa reading until the baby wakes up, when the cycle of shallow breaths (from me. Need to learn how to breathe deep more often) and nonstop exhaustion starts again.

How do people with more than one kid do it? Am I just so selfish?

I also strap baby in his pram, stick my headphones on and walk for two or three hours, listening to audiobooks. The weather is lovely for that now. It is September, and the August wasps are waning. There are so many Painted Ladies adorning flowers and fluttering here and there, landing on the top of the pram more than once. Blackberries drop lusciously from pregnant wild bushes, and their juice is just so sweet on the tongue. It is a lovely season, this season of late summer. Things are lush, there is no heavy sticky haze of heat, and the wind is fresh.

So I get my reading in, and the baby stares out at nature, smiles and gurgles at me, attempts to grab things, and eventually falls asleep, tired out by all the colour and stimulation.

And for me?

Well, it is a break from chores and baby entertainment.

We read so many books together everyday, sing songs, play games, and I try to talk to him as much as I can, narrating EVERYTHING. Right, i am putting your sock on. Oh stop wriggling your feet, naughty boy. That’s it. There. Both socks on. They had better stay on else you’ll get cold toes! Oh look it is raining outside. Shall we try to touch it. That’s it. No, don’t touch the muddy windowsill that Mummy hasn’t cleaned since before you were born (true story). Ok. Shall we read this book? No? You want to put it in your mouth. Alright. Can Mummy drink a cup of tea now? Look at this toy. How it rattles.

I am sick of my own damn voice I tell you. And sometimes I just want to be silent.

And I am quite isolated and know that lately, in society, a lot of new mums are, whereas they weren’t before. It is just how we live now. And I just can’t help thinking how bad that is for mental health, and how it might negatively impact the good I am trying to impart to my son.

 

The Thorn Birds

A peado priest falls in love with a little girl.

No, I am joking. He doesn’t. He only ‘falls in love’ with her when she develops a pair of … I can’t think of a dignified name for those things.

No that is too vulgar. Anyway that really isn’t the entirety of the story, but I think it caused sensation when it was published because that is what stood out the most.

That isn’t what this book was about. I read the last sentence today.

And we still do it. Still we do it.

Do what?

Put thorns in our breasts, that’s what.

This book touched me beyond my brain cells. It touched somewhere deep inside my cranium, some would call it a soul. It prodded it and then it simpered like an evil waif, and vanished, leaving me looking down at a new hole. A bit surprised, actually. I didn’t think it would affect me this way.

Somebody once told me that once you have read or seen something, it is a thought in your brain. It belongs to you. You cannot un-think it.

When a writer writes so well that you feel like you are one with the characters, feeling things they feel, even though you have never felt these things… you have bent to the will of the pen. You have never felt those things? Oh, but you have. You’ve felt an echo of them. And now, you know.

I didn’t like all of the characters, but I liked them immensely.

This book didn’t sear me because of its plot, or its characters. Its plot was devastating, to be sure, and its characters deeply twisted and vastly, enormously human. But this book had a soul of its own. It is life, itself.

Sure, it was life from the perspective of one individual brain, but it seethed into being, it spluttered, it gasped, it breathed.

I really wish I didn’t read it, because I can’t un-think it.

But I am glad I did.

301

A Pain

Nursing a heartache for the last four days. A strange heartache. A growing pain, if you will.

You see, I was introduced to Margaret Mitchell’s South America, and travelled through the pages of Gone with the Wind, dragged along by a headstrong, selfish, vain, villainess who forced me against my will to hate her and sympathise with her in equal measure.

I certainly will not write a review, for I am sure there are countless reviews out there, loving and hating Gone with the Wind and analysing it to the ends of the earth and back. I feel sad that there is so much analysis of it out there, because I felt privy to something rich and private and entirely soul-wrecking, that I wish it belonged to me alone.

I felt sucked into a very real world, taken on a roller coaster of emotions so intense that I could barely focus on my work, and then spluttered out at the end with not a damned care. I felt like crawling away into a hole and licking my wounds, the same way Scarlett did at the end of the book. I felt cheated, but also as though I was given a marvellous gift. I felt angry, but also enlightened, as though a window of thought which had never occurred to me had just opened before my eyes.

And this is why I say I am having growing pains.

You see, the world has shifted a little. Old hatreds and prejudices have moved sideways, giving way to new understandings. I certainly don’t take the political happenings of the book as pure fact, but it certainly gave me an insight into what was fact for a large number of people. It made me think, so to speak, from the perspective of ‘the enemy’. The slave owner. The people who were so morally amiss in my dictionary. They are no longer like that. They are now humans. Humans who err, who have arrogance, and love, and humility, and confusion, and hatred, just like all the other humans who do.

The way the world is currently, is because of systems which humans, who are essentially all the same, follow. People fought each other in plenty of wars, and ultimately, it really did not matter what they were fighting for, because there was error and evil on both sides, as well as innocence and good.

And that is why I have been nursing a heartache.

I feel like I have been blind for so long, and now my eyes have been opened.

I feel like I will no longer look at things at face value, because, underlying everything, is years and years worth of prejudice and heritage and taught attitudes.

I will no longer rely solely on my taught attitudes to make judgements on people and cultures around me.

I will ask, why, first.

I will try to understand the world in which I live, because in order to move forward with people, in harmony, one must understand them.

Gone with the Wind was heartbreaking because nobody understood each other. It was a personification, in a way, of a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, because of stubbornness and greed. And, if you think about it, that is why all wars are fought.

If only people understood each other.

My heart hurts because I have had a stark realisation that they never will. I can, you can, WE can, but the collective won’t.

 

Rilla of Ingleside

I have heartache, dearest reader.

A heartache borne of the most insipid of things. It’s tragic, really. So painful. The world is so bleak and old, yet so young and fresh.

A long time ago, when I was a wee mite of eight years old, I acquainted myself with Anne Shirely. She lit my life, I assure you. She was eclectic and electric, and her mind soared through mine, influencing everything I touched and saw after that.

Just everything.

I only had the first three books growing up, and the sixth. And oh, how fitting, really. No pain or fear or sorrow touched my soul, the literary world remained quite tame.

Now, I am 23 years old, and have tripped back to old Prince Edward Island, only Anne is older and she has a budding family. Today, I finished reading the last proper book in the Anne of Green Gables series, ‘Rilla of Ingleside.’

I am left feeling bereft. Almost in grief, and it is so stupid, because it isn’t even real, and real life is so much more than this. So why do I feel this way?

You see, in the later ‘Anne’ books, the Anne Shirely we know and love so dearly recedes further and further away from us. In fact, she has already receded by the end of Anne of the Island. Going into Anne of Windy Poplars, we have her in epistolary form, and it isn’t quite tangible because she spends all her time talking about other people. People who aren’t the old, loved Avonlea people, at that! In Anne’s House of Dreams, it is much the same way. Anne starts a new life with Gilbert but we actually learn far more about those around them, than we do about Anne and Gilbert. It’s sad, but Montgomery seems to have drifted away from them. I don’t feel like we had a proper goodbye.

Anne’s House of Dreams introduces us, in so many words, to the first sore loss suffered by Anne. Her first born child dies mere hours after birth, and little ‘Joyce’ is buried in the garden of her ‘House of Dreams’. Montgomery skirts ever so delicately around the subject, dressing it with literary frills, most likely due to the impropriety of uttering such things aloud.

But, in Rilla of Ingleside, it is much worse. Oh, so much worse. Anne is a mother, and we barely ever hear from her except a reaction here, a comment there, an illness over thataway and a reproachful look or two. We learn Marilla Cuthbert has died, but not how or when. We learn Mrs Rachel Lynde has made a throw for the spare room bed, but never hear a single peep from the respected lady. In fact, we’ve heard neither a peep or pipe from neither of the two ladies since Anne’s House of Dreams, and even then they barely said two sentenced. As for the prolific, bursting-with-character Davy, why, he went off and married and had kids and that, reader, seemed to be that! This book is about Rilla Blythe, the youngest of the Blythe children, during the First World War.

This book is about growth and pain. This book is about the blooming of life, and the suddenness of death. This is about anticipation and terror, about love and suffering and patience and, well yes, laughter. Plenty of it. The same spirit of Anne of Green Gables, the same odd characters, but tinged now, tinged with the burnt brush of life. Singed and papery, ready to crumble at any moment.

The older I grow, the more my mind expands, the more I am aware of the sheer finiteness of life. The definite end, looming in sight. The pain, just around the corner. The sheer love, enveloping everything. The yearning hunger that is humanity, always reaching, always wanting, always crying out for more. But can we handle more? So much love, yet so much pain.

Rilla of Ingleside brought all that to the forefront in the most raw way possible.

You see, Anne has always been in my heart. Her children have always been in my heart. I dreamed their lives were so wonderful, and they are, they are such fantastic people, one can very well see why Montgomery wanted to escape her grim life and lose herself amongst her almost-perfect characters.

And because Anne has always been in my heart, her joys and pains are my joys and pains. Her children, in some strange way, feel like mine. Rilla’s siblings, feel like mine.

Walter Blythe (oh it hurts) feels like my brother, my son, my lost beautiful soul following the call of the piper, part of the dead army, fighting for the freedom of his loved ones.

Why, when he isn’t real?! When none of them are real?!WHY? And why does it hurt so much to say goodbye?