National Poetry Month: The Journey

Once upon a time, many years ago now, there was a guy that wooed me and won my heart through poetry. He knew what I’ve known, that poetry is the language of the soul. Former poet laureate, Billy Collins, wrote that “Poetry can and should be an important part of our daily lives. Poems can inspire and make us think about what it means to be a member of the human race.”

April is National Poetry Month. A whole month dedicated to poetry. For the next thirty days, I’ll be posting some of the poetry that has molded me and shaped me.

I start out with my favorite poem. While it’s difficult to narrow down my favorite book, I know what my favorite poem is right away. It’s “The Journey” by Mary Oliver. I read it in O magazine and was immediately struck by how much it resembled what I had gone through, was going through and probably would go through again. Every day we go on journeys and sometimes the biggest journey is getting out of bed and putting on pants. Mary Oliver’s poem inspires me and reminds me that I need to listen to that tiny voice in my head that tells me it’ll be okay and to trust that tiny, whispering voice.

I’ve posted this poem many times in many places. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

“The Journey” — Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life that you could save.


Book Club Bust

After ten odd years, we’ve finally reached a point where my book club met but only one person actually finished reading the book. It was a book club bust.

This month we attempted to read The House Of The Spirits by Isabel Allende. It’s a magical realism book and by all descriptions it should be a book I could get into. Unfortunately, I found The House Of The Spirits to be uninspiring. The book is what my mom would call “slow and draggy”. Each time I tried to read it I was bored to tears. I usually try to finish the book club selection but this time I wasn’t able to finish. I even tried the audio version and I couldn’t get into it. At least I wasn’t the only one. The only person of the nine of us gathered that finished was Donna. She really loved it and she’s convinced me not to totally give up on the book.

While I didn’t read the book club selection, I did read other books. My connection group finally finished reading The Book Of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu. It’s one of those books that will stick with me.

Mainly I’ve been reading graphic novels. They count towards my reading goal and they’re light reading but substantial reading. The Wicked + The Divine is a series about gods and goddesses reincarnated every ninety years. The Fade Out was a crime noir book set in Hollywood during the McCarthy era. Paper Girls is a great series that heavily reminds me of Netflix’s Stranger Things

I’ve also read some plays. Picasso At The Lapin Agile about an imaginary meeting between Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso and Between Riverside And Crazy which was set in NYC and was about lots of different issues.

I might not have been able to finish The House Of The Spirits but at least I read a few books in March.

Ave atque vale

From Encyclopedia Of An Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Profound: There appears to be a string of seemingly profound messages that have grabbed me along the way. The messages may differ in form—aphorism, quote, song lyric—but what they all have in common is that each promoted an embracing view of life; each elicited an immediate yes! feeling in me, which I in turn felt impelled to share with others; each ultimately lost its juice; and each new crush made me feel embarrassed that its simplistic predecessor had actually felt so deep. I believe the first up in the parade was a charm necklace I received when I was about thirteen. It read live love laugh. I liked the cadence, the three one-syllable L words, but mostly the terse, wise command. What more is there? I thought. Live, love, laugh—that’s it. The next one I can remember presented itself to me when I was twenty, during a summer internship at the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather in New York. I was doing grunt work in the research department. I cannot recall the specifics, but what is vivid is this: There was a passage in a packet I was given, no more than a paragraph or two in length, which jumped out at me and aroused a feeling of This is what life’s about, we have to tell people, this is the perfect thing to base an advertising campaign around! I highlighted it, attached an empathic note, and then placed it on my boss’s chair. I was sure that I had saved the day, that I had unearthed some incredibly valuable insight that would have numerous reverberations around the office. When it went unmentioned for a day, then two, then a week, I came to terms with my miscalculation, and felt red-faced and small, tricked by my own naive, impressionable self. And it goes on. Mid-twenties I was infatuated with Kierkegaard’s “Life must be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards.” Age twenty-eight, doing freelance copywriting for Adidas. Listening to the Indigo Girls’ song Watershed. With sudden clarity, I was positive that the chorus was anthem material, and I was jazzed by the idea of imparting this message via a running-shoe commercial. When you’re learning to face the path at your pace every choice is worth your while. My grandiose mission was squelched by a polite Okay, uh-huh. And today, at this market on my existential grid, my philosophical and spiritual capacities intersect in such a way that I am a prime target for—and unabashedly moved by—this Pueblo verse: Hold on to what is good, even if it is a handful of earth. Hold on to what you believe, even if it is a tree which stands alone. Hold on to what you must do, even if it is a long way from here.

I first read those words and encountered this book in 2005. Encyclopedia Of An Ordinary Life is set up like an encyclopedia of all things Amy Krouse Rosenthal. As someone who admires creativity and is always looking for inventive ways to convey a story, I was immediately impressed by what she had done and a little jealous that I hadn’t done it first. By the time I got to the book’s intermission, right before the end of I’s but not quite before the J’s, I was hooked. By the time I got to the entry for profound I knew two things: that Encyclopedia Of An Ordinary Life was one of those profound moments that Amy Krouse Rosenthal had written about and that the book would secure a place in my top 10 list of all-time favorite reads.

Sometimes an author that is unknown to me will write a book and the Powers That Be will make sure that the book finds its way to me, that I’ll read the book and that what I read will become life changing and, sometimes, life saving. Encyclopedia Of An Ordinary Life came to me at the right time and at the right moment. I was a year away from turning thirty and feeling bad that my life hadn’t turned out the way I had intended. I was working at a library and attending classes but still trying to figure out what to do with my life. I was caught up in the shallowness of life, judging myself and my life based upon the strategic placement of my MySpace top 8 and the amount of comments I had received per day. I had an empty hole in my soul because I wasn’t being appreciative of my life. I was so worried about what other people thought about me and trying to live up to the expectations I thought society and the ubiquitous them had for me. Amy Krouse Rosenthal changed my outlook.

Encyclopedia Of An Ordinary Life celebrates the little things, the every day moments that make up a well lived life. The book made me pause and remember and reflect on all the good that was in my life. I was so focused on the larger picture I had forgotten all about the fine details that keep the gears turning. I was almost but not quite at the milestone birthday of three zero but, after reading Encyclopedia Of An Ordinary Life, I somehow knew it would be okay. This book, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, gave me the encouragement to know I could have an ordinary life and still have that life be meaningful. I’ll forever be grateful and that’s why I’m more than a little sad this afternoon. “Why so glum, chum?” you might ask. Well, it’s because Amy Krouse Rosenthal has left the building. The news came down through the publishing world that she had lost her battle with cancer. 

Ave atque vale, Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Thank you for your work and thank you for the inspiration. I hope that you find peace in the next life.

Reading Roundup

My book club met tonight. It’s hard to believe that the dream Ali and I had of starting a book club at the library we both once worked at is still a reality a decade later. I’ve read some great, meh and not so great books in February so I figured I’d do a roundup.

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy was the book we discussed tonight. I felt this book was pretty meh. I liked it but I’ll probably forget most of it a year from now. It’s set in Detroit but it didn’t feel right. I know it’s nitpicky but the author seems to have written about the suburbs without actaully visiting the suburbs. She writes about Ferndale and it’s a town I’m well acquainted with and her description seems off to me.

I really enjoyed the way the author handled the dynamics of a large family. My dad is the oldest of 7. My mom is the oldest of 9. I know large families. The thing is I wanted more. The book intersects the beginnings of Francis and Viola’s relationship with the stories about 3 of their 13 children. The thing is I wanted more. I wanted more Francis and Viola. Why did Viola stay? What was it like moving from the South to the North where you knew no one but your husband? 

I did like the theme of a house being symbolic of a family. My family has the same problem. My brother and nephew just returned from a trip to Virginia to fix up the homestead. No one lives there so there are days where I wonder why we bother on the upkeep on my grandmother’s house. But, like the Turner house on Yarrow Street, the house at the end of Lazarus Branch represents home even though it’s empty.

I received an advance reading copy for The Leavers by Lisa Ko. I receive the majority of my ARC’s from NetGalley so shout out to them. Lisa Ko won the Pen/Bellwether Prize and I know why. The Leavers is unlike anything I’ve ever read and I have read a lot in my 40 years. From identity issues to immigration, this book is breathtaking. I haven’t had truly page turner read in ages but this book had me up at night eager to see what would happen to the main character next. The book goes on sale in May. It’s one to watch out for because the timing for this story is right. I’m saying it now but I predict great buzz for The Leavers.

Choose Your Own Adulthood by Hal Runkel is another ARC that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. First, as a child of the 80’s and teen of the 90’s, I loved the format of this book. If you can’t tell by the title, Hal Runkel has written a choose your own adventure style handbook for those graduating high school and setting off to college. Even though the book is geared towards recent graduates, I found it to be helpful as I navigate the midlife crisis I’m in. The book goes in sale in late March. It’ll be a great gift for all those spring graduations.

And, side note, I’m really impressed with the eclectic catalog of Greenleaf Book Group. They’re the publishers behind this book but they’re also the publishers behind Exposure by Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals. Exposure is a book about the adult entertainment industry told in a positive light that I still rave about. 

Another ARC read is Transphobia by J. Wallace Skeleton. It is a kid’s non-fiction book dealing with transgender issues. As a “gender transcender” I feel the book would be a good gateway into a discussion about what it means to be trans*. Goodness knows it’s a discussion that we should be having with everyone so misinformation isn’t spread. My only red flag would be the inclusion of the word “transsexual”. Gender and sexuality are two separate things so using a word like transsexual confuses people when you try and make the distinction between gender and sexuality or, as my friend puts it, the difference between hearts and parts. And, as much as I’m thankful to live in a border state because I’m able to watch CBC Windsor 9, I was still thrown when Canadian trans people were mentioned rather than United States trans people. That’s my “American” bias kicking up but it might be off putting to a kid in, say Iowa, who might pick this book up.

I’m a progressive liberal so I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking when I requested an ARC of The Deplorables Guide To Making America Great Again by Todd Starnes. I think I had a notion that the book would help me find common ground with conservatives but each chapter had me more heated than the last. I can’t honestly review the book and be objective. 

I’m glad I requested Get It Together, Delilah by Erin Gough after attempting to read the Todd Starnes book. The book is good but not great. I read a lot so parts of it were predictable. It’s a sweet coming of age book about a young lesbian crushing on the sexy flamenco dancer next door while trying to keep her family restaurant running while juggling everything else. It’s an Australian import that will be making its American debut in April.  The last book I can remember reading that had a young lesbian POV was The Miseducation Of Cameron Post so it’s about time there was another book with a teen lesbian protagonist.

I read ARC’s of two upcoming memoirs this month. It’s difficult for me to review memoirs because I don’t want to come across as judging a person’s life story even if that’s exactly what I’m doing. 

The Skin Above My Knee was requested after a late night boredom enduced round of let’s request randomness. Now that I’m thinking about it, that’s probably how I requested the Todd Starnes book. At first you’ll pick it up and ask yourself why even bother. Marcia Butler isn’t a well known name. She’s an oboe player. She doesn’t even play for a famous orchestra. She’s a freelancer that goes wherever her oboe takes her. Then you start to read and you become hooked. It’s a record because I read two page turners this month. You get about midthrough and you start to question everything you thought you knew about memoirs. Who would have thought that the life of a fucking oboe player would be so interesting? The book was released yesterday so do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

I didn’t get as excited about the second memoir and I’ll take the blame. I requested The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy thinking that Ariel Winter had wrote a memoir about her emancipation from her parents. I mixed up my Ariels so I was left disappointed with Ariel Levy. After speed racing through the remarkable The Skin Above My Knee, the languid pacing of The Rules Do Not Apply left me bored. There are too many books on my Kindle and in the to be read pile next to my bed to suffer through uninteresting memoirs. I left Ariel Levy in South Africa as she’s trying to score an interview. I doubt I’ll return.

I was asked to be a beta reader for a book tentatively titled The Boatswain’s Mate. I don’t know if it’ll ever get published but I hope it sees the light of day. It’s a great love story about a young dude assigned to a naval ship during the Reagan Years.

Right now I’m juggling 3 books. I’m almost finished with The Book Of Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu and his daughter. I’m reading it as part of my connection group. We discuss a chapter per week and we discussed chapter 6 earlier today so there are only a few chapters left.

Because I’ve started journaling again after a long absence I wanted to see how other people do it. Andy Cohen has a most entertaining diary inspired by Andy Warhol. The Andy Cohen Diaries goes deep into the shallowness that surrounds Hollywood. I’m loving it and I’m almost done.

Lastly, I’m reading an ARC of the new Elizabeth Kostava due to be published in April. I figure I’ll do a reading roundup towards the end of each month so I’ll write about it then.