Note: I write these daily Novembers to the background noise of my kids screaming. These days like to run around chasing each other and scream. It’s some kind of game. Their cries pierce right through my ears. They interrupt my thoughts and halt my words and make my brain feel like mush . I stop them sometimes, and other times I let them do it, because it seems like they enjoy it and they need to get it out of their system.
I am actually behind.
I am behind and I could panic about it but I won’t.
I won’t let the overwhelm overwhelm me.
Let this be my 25th post.
It has no substance.
My brain is mush.
But brains are mush. And it is within that mush that ideas grow.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
I managed to read two books this week because I deleted instagram from my phone. Instagram is highly addictive because it contains all sorts of high quality imagery as well as lets you know via short videos what your friends and ‘influencers’ are up to.
I used to use it for fashion inspiration and also to see what nice pictures my friends took on their out-and-abouts, but now my feed is all full of parenting, education and food ‘inspiration’. I must say I have learnt a lot about how to deal with my toddler by following the relevant experts and experienced mothers.
It helps when you’re isolated and can’t really share experiences with many mothers.
However, it is also a waste of time because you can end up scrolling your feed for 45 WHOLE MINUTES after your bubba has gone to bed and not realise the time.
‘That’s it,’ I said firmly last Monday, ‘THAT IS IT. I’m done with this sodding app.’
And because I suddenly had pockets of time free from scrolling, when I picked up my phone I went to the ‘books’ section to see what I’d left to dwindle.
And I found I had two books in there at 0%.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christie Lefteri, and The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.
I know. Deep and heavy subject matter. But I delved in.
I started with The Beekeeper of Aleppo, purely because it was the first option in my library. It read like a sad, haunting poem. The imagery in this book was beautiful. The story was heartbreaking and you really felt like you were in the characters’ shoes. Christie Lefteri is the daughter of Cypriot refugees, and she was brought up in London. And, speaking as someone with Arab blood, I could very much tell that her portrayal of Syrians, their food and their way of life, even the words they used and how they spoke to each other, was very much through an overly romanticised western lens. This bothered me a little, but the story was so well-written that I was completely hooked throughout. Christie Lefteri did a beautiful job portraying the lives of people who are so often vilified in today’s media, and for that alone she deserves five stars. Most people like the Ibrahim family in this book will certainly not have the happy ending they did, but I think more than anything this story was meant to humanise refugees, and show that if they had any other choice, they would not be making these devastating decisions. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book and it haunted me for days afterwards. The author based this story on a collection of true stories she had heard from the mouths of refugees during her time as a volunteer at several refugee camps.
I then moved on to The Tattooist of Auschwitz. It was written well, certainly, but after Christie Lefteri’s haunting writing, this one felt a little monotonous. Like I was reading a screenplay. Throughout the entire book I never knew how the characters really felt, it was like I was being held at arms length by the author. If you overlook that, and just read the book for the sake of the plot (which is based on a true story), then you begin to really feel the story. And there are parts which are absolutely horrifying and I wish I never read, but know that it was a must to know these things. Because these things are happening again to many people around the world, and they always say ‘We will never forget the holocaust’ but they did forget it. Because humans are still suffering in horrible ways today, at the hands of evil regimes, for their religion! I was hooked on this book, I both dreaded each new page and anticipated it.
Reading two books so close to one another, both of which detail human suffering in such explicit ways makes me grateful, so grateful, that I live in ‘peace’. I have a home that isn’t bombed to a shell, my son is not lying dead in my arms with unseeing eyes. My family are not being gassed in chambers or taken away to evil camps. My siblings are squabbling peacefully and my mother is ranting about my sister’s shoes in the hallway. We are going through hard times, for sure. People are losing their jobs, dying, losing loved ones. But opening my eyes to this sort of suffering makes me realise that sometimes I complain too much, and it’s much better to count one’s blessings.
And delete instagram and read real books.
24 out of my 25 books for 2020. I think I am doing quite well.
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’?
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.
Books and films, in essence, are thoughts. Other people’s thoughts, that you think when you read them. You may take them as an opinion and inherently disagree, but these are still thoughts and ideas, and they add to your trove of thoughts and ideas and influence you. That is all there is to say about that.
I was not worried that The Colour Purple would influence me negatively, because if anything, it is the story of strength and perseverance through the roughest of lives. But I remember reading Alice Walker as a child, and Toni Morrison, and I remember feeling terrified and revolted, and wishing that the BOOK, you know, the symbol of happiness and life and adventure, wasn’t so vicious and dark. I kept trying to pick it up again, hoping this time it wouldn’t be as gruesome, but it was, and I felt violated. Of course, I am not blaming the books. The books are wonderful, and helped to highlight to many unfortunate things in the world, and gave a voice to previously unheard voices. But I was only nine, and I wasn’t allowed to read it but I still did, so I only had myself to blame.
And so, when I read The Colour Purple, I was tentative and afraid. I was worried I would read more terrible things that would leave a nasty taste in my mouth, no matter they were the harsh reality, and still are the harsh reality of so many women around the earth. I don’t want to know that these things can happen, I don’t want to read about them in sordid detail, and hear the literary thoughts of those who inflict them, because these thoughts are the real thoughts that have been thought by real people. People who, if I saw on a day to day basis, I would probably avoid. I would. I think I would. I wouldn’t want to associate with them, because I wouldn’t want to learn what was in such a toxic brain. I wouldn’t want to familiarise myself with those kinds of thoughts. And so, when such thoughts, even when married to GOOD ones, are in my hands, in my living room, on my sofa, I feel violated. I feel obnoxious and worried and disgusted and heartbroken.
I watched the most recent season of Orange is the new Black, and while it was raw and honest and reflective of what is true for so many black people in America, I felt that it was poor. Why do the white people get good endings? Why did the black girl have to be condemned, and the Mexican girl get deported? Life is hopeless if you’re ‘coloured’ in America, this show seems to say. There is no hope for you.
I think that is a shockingly poor message. I think that while reflecting on what really does happen, there should be something to incite some change, too. Some flicker of hope. Something to suggest that there is a way out, that we have to keep fighting, not just give up. Was this show made by white people? This is black, this is white. That is the message I got. And that is how it is.
And reading The Colour Purple, right after watching the last season of Orange is the New Black, opened my eyes wide. Things have only changed in the past hundred or so years in terms of technology and social perception. Things have not changed when it comes to how non-white people are treated in America. But Alice Walker comes out soaring, compared to the makers of OITNB. She screams from the rooftops that all is not lost, that there is hope, that a poor, black woman can overcome her adversaries and succeed. In spite of them, because of them.