A Soul on Fire! Singing, Sushi and Running

This was a great week for me– I gotta tell you!

Yesterday morning on the way to work I was listening to Christian radio and heard the perfect song– “Soul on Fire,” by Third Day. Even better, the lyrics talk about RUNNING!

I felt like God was telling me, “Keep it up, kiddo!” That’s the song I’ll be thinking of as I run.

It was a bit chilly tonight but I put on a stocking cap and a hoodie and I was good to go.

I took two days off running this week, Thursday and Saturday, to give my feet a break. Eleise and I kept to our schedule of three runs, and tonight I did .96 by myself without stopping! I checked my phone at the end of the block and then kept going till I hit 1 mile! And then I walked a bit, and ran to finish my goal of 1.75 miles– I made it 1.81 by the time I got home.

I’m getting mindful of what I’m eating, as well. I had a good lunch with my Dad today after Mass, and later tonight I passed on cheesecake and coffee.

Wednesday night was our choir’s last rehearsal of the summer! I had such a good time and will miss them for the next few months! Our choir director, David, ran threw several songs so that I could get up to speed and they could review. Rehearsals are laid-back and equal parts fun and music education.

The best part of our rehearsals is always at the end, when we stand in a circle, hold hands, and pray for whomever we feel called to with our intentions, be it out loud or just in our hearts. I specifically asked if we could get all of us together after Mass today and take a few quick pictures of us looking all spiffy in our choir robes! This is also the last week we’re wearing them– they’ll be taken to get cleaned and we’ll resume them when it cools off. Although I’ll miss the pride of wearing one, I do admit it’ll be a nice reprieve in the coming heat!

The whole choir (those I’ve met, some are currently not singing right now) wasn’t quite there today, but we got most of the group who have regularly been at rehearsals since I joined. I asked a tall gentleman to take pictures of us and he did! He was kind enough to take several, and I found two I really liked. We are diverse, happy, and coming together to share our joy in the Lord! I was so proud to post it today on Facebook.

And as for the sushi, I declared last night Date Night for myself and my book and went out for sushi! Why not? I got a lot done this week! I wanted to celebrate. I put on a cute outfit, a bit of perfume, and brought a book with me. Between the meal and the words, I had a great time.

Today is just one of those days that I feel grateful, motivated, and healthy.

I’m ready for June!!

On Discipline

I’m getting a lot done lately, and I love the feeling of accomplishment.

Re-organizing and prioritizing.

I’m realizing that as much as I admire minimalists, I’ll never be one of them! Yes, I’m a sap.

A friend just pointed out to me that I’ve invested a lot in my books. Good point! I got rid of the ones I bought but accepted I would never read, or on topics I’ve already absorbed. Let someone else enjoy them. I have more space now. I kept my favorites, including some from childhood. Now I get to buy MORE! Mwahahaha!

I love it! I can’t believe I got rid of probably 85% of my movie collection. But CD’s are harder. They are attached to a time period in your life, memories and emotions. I’ve never used digital music. I have no files on my computer or songs on my iPhone. I am a decidedly old-fashioned lady when it comes to technology. I still love my cassette tapes. I even have a few vinyl records. I don’t listen to music often at home, but always blast it in my car. At home I enjoy silence or watching TV and movies.

Being single, I’ve learned to appreciate quiet. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable.

And I’ve made an executive decision to keep my writing. Some poems and things that aren’t relevant, I’ve shredded. But I have notes and papers I wrote in college. Old newspaper articles. Old school assignments, they are mostly in binders. They are a record of my life. They show how much I’ve grown. What I felt back then.

Those, I’m keeping.

But what I’ve learned through this purging is that when you dispose of useless things, you leave room for something better. Something ELSE that will bring you joy.

If it doesn’t bring you joy, why keep it? Pitch it.

As I de-clutter and purge, I’m feeling more relaxed in my own space.

Can’t complain.

The Comfort of a Good Book

So I just bought “Gone Girl,” (I know, EONS late!) and it’s glorious.

I saw the movie last weekend. I thought it was wonderful but crazy. I didn’t think I’d want to read the book.

It seems like everything I’ve been reading lately has been something with purpose, something non-fiction.

I need to give my mind a break and just let it wander! I love getting lost in someone else’s imagination.

It may seem like a boring hobby– it’s not rock-climbing or knitting or something active or social.

But I’m realizing now just how relaxing reading truly is for me. You’ve always got a friend with a book.

Reading is quiet and solitary, and that’s WHY I like it!

It keeps my mind sharp. It allows me to travel all kinds of places.

It gives me things to talk about! I love when people ask what I’m reading. I wish more people did.

Sometimes I find myself recommending books to people when they’re telling me about their lives, like a prescription. They are usually amused and it’s a good way to connect with them.

I have a talent. I can find a book for anyone, even people who hate reading.

Really, it’s one of the world’s most popular activities! I’ve got good company. 🙂

Nerds are the best, and I’m proud to be a book nerd!

Not the Poems

As I’m clearing out my possessions, my bookshelf is becoming vacant.

I donated three boxes of books to the library last week. It felt good.

I had a fourth box I didn’t bring. And I realized, it can’t go.

Not the poems. I donated several student publications I had collected since college. They were greedily picked over, and the look of delight on the workers’ faces was edifying, I admit. I liked knowing my books will find a new life with these eager readers. I gave them free chapbooks from traveling poets I’ve met. I gave them old student literary journals, a few I was published in myself.

But I’m unpacking that fourth box.

Not Sharon Olds.

Not Diane Wakoski.

Not Robbie Q. Telfer.

Not Meggie C. Royer.

Not Nick Flynn.

Not Sylvia Plath.

Not Robin Metz.

Not Ryan McLellan.

Not Jewel.

Not Neruda.

Not Susan Slaviero.

Not emily rose.

They stay with me. I will re-populate my shelves. But they are the townspeople, I will not evict them.

Falling in Love (Again) with Books

It’s been months since I gave in.

My obsession has always been a harmless one– books.

I made a conscious choice to go out more, interact more with people– to not hole up so much with books. And I’ve done that, and it’s been healing and needed. To stop recording everything compulsively in my journal, to not write so many poems. To forget about fiction.

At a certain point, life is easier if you forget about dreams. I’ve got a steady job, I’m happily rooted in my hometown. I work for a great company, which I’m proud to represent. My boss tells me often I’m doing great, and I can bond easily with my clients and they thank me often for helping them find exactly what they need.

But in other aspects, my life has become so routine that it just hurts. That’s a by-product of becoming a Thirtysomething, I know it’s not a unique predicament. Most of my friends feel that way as well, especially if they’re married with children. Of course, they feel privileged to have the opportunities and stability they’ve achieved– but everyone needs a creative outlet.

Everyone needs to save a little piece of themselves, untouched by obligation or family.

I substituted books for movies. And I’ll always love them! But I can feel myself losing my intelligence– my brain is stagnating. My vocabulary is diminishing. I’ve got to keep myself growing, especially since right now taking classes is not an option and I don’t know if it ever will be again. Most likely, no. I was fortunate to get an undergrad but my schedule and finances have not allowed for me to pursue grad school.

But recently, I dated a man from Chicago, Jonathan. And one of the main things that drew us together was a shared love of literature. However, it turned out we didn’t actually have that much in common. He loved critical essays and philosophy, I dig fiction. He was very sincere, and a writer himself. But he was intellectual, not emotional. It’s rare that I feel insecure when talking about literature or reading in general– that’s always been my getaway. My undergrad is in journalism. But I could tell he was struggling to connect with me and I got tired of missing his references. When he came to my apartment, he noticed a collection of Flannery O’Connor short stories and his eyes glowed. Looking up at me, he said, “This might be the best collection of short stories, EVER!” But I just felt like a fraud, because my friend’s mother loaned it to me since she’s a Catholic author. I hadn’t gotten into it yet. I smiled awkwardly, and thought he tried not to show it, there was clear disappointment.

Everyone’s got books they haven’t read– but it sucks when that’s the one your date zeroes in on with such excitement. Not one other book I had elicited a comment??

On our first date, he drove to Joliet and I took him to a local bookstore– which he loved. And I thought it was sweet that he bought me not one, but TWO books: “Middlesex,” by Jeffrey Eugenides, because I hadn’t read it and he wanted to get something. It didn’t look like my kind of novel but it was such a surprising and promising gesture, I accepted. And then I had wanted to get Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” for myself– a novel I’d been wanting to read for quite awhile, and he surprised me at the check-out counter by getting it for me.

But I tried getting into “Middlesex,” and I just can’t. I may try it again, but it’s not grabbing me. I’m currently reading “The Fault in Our Stars,” WAY late– because I just wanted something simple and emotional. Something that’s not complicated or literary– just a love story, because I liked the movie. And although I’m ambivalent about Augustus Waters, the more I read the more I’m loving Hazel Grace. Reading a book is a lot like a relationship. Everyone has a different reaction to each novel and its characters– but as more is revealed, you fall deeper into the lives of these characters. And it’s their flaws that makes you grateful they exist.

Next, I have something totally different lined up– “Jealousy: The Other Life of Catherine M.,” by Catherine Millet. Because who doesn’t love smut once in a while?

Right now, I’m not a monogamous reader. I’m flirting with several books- and they’re never jealous of the others. Only happy I return.

Last night, I stayed up late reading a book for the first time in months, it seems!

What an indulgence. I loved it so much, I’m doing it again tonight.

John Green and I have a thing, for sure.

But I’ll certainly have a date with Virginia Woolf.

And something curious is happening. My brain is cracking awake.

I’m daring to imagine. I’m beginning to Write again.

I love my friends, and my family is amazing.

But books make me happy. I’m a nerd, but not a snob. They’re legal and cheap.

And the more I read, the more ideas I get to Write.

The Beauty of Solitude: Celebrating My Nerdiness

It’s Friday night a little past 10 p.m., and I’m at home.

I love it!

It’s funny, how much I’ve changed in the last decade.

A ton!

I used to be so hyper-social that I went out constantly. I loved it. I also loved calling people up and talking their ears off.

I always laugh when I remember one phone conversation with a former college friend.

She had told me, “Amee, I need to get off the phone soon.”

About 20 minutes ago. I was still going! No sign of stopping. I could really be a motor-mouth.

She realized I couldn’t be stopped, and just yelled, “I’m hanging up on you!”

I couldn’t stop laughing, because she knew me so well and I couldn’t even be offended by it.

Hey, sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do. I tell that story all the time, because it’s hilarious.

When you’re besties, you have the freedom to do stuff like that without worrying.

The funny thing is, it seems I’ve grown out of this. Now I don’t talk nearly as much.

I more often choose to stay in, especially on weekend nights.

I make plans, not very often. I’ve largely avoided crowded gatherings and parties this year.

I sometimes make exceptions, and often when I do it’s spur-of-the-moment.

Sometimes I feel rested enough, and other times I don’t. Rest is vital to me.

When I was younger, I’d go to parties just because I RSVP’d, whether I felt up to it or not.

Now I’ve realized that you’ve gotta make your own health you’re first priority. And if you have to cancel, people may be disappointed, but they usually understand. I’ve become more of an introvert. I like to read, write, and spend time alone. I can be quite social and also talk to a bunch of people, but not for long periods of time. I get exhausted from all that talking! Then I need some alone time to recharge.

I enjoy my friends, but I don’t need to see them as often. We can sustain our friendships quite well by phone and facebook. A lot of my other friends are nerds like me, so they get it. I love communicating by written word and e-mail, too.

So when I do make plans with people, they know they’re dang special! Because I do it on a choosy basis these days.

And that’s all good with me.

Other writers, religion, and inspiration

I was blocked on my column, so I went to be around other writers.

And it worked.

I wanted to write about faith– such a broad, yet personal, topic. I couldn’t focus. I felt nervous about being vulnerable in a newspaper column, which isn’t about feelings. It’s supposed to be about facts.

But as I sat in the audience at this poetry slam, the theme of religion was constant. I knew I was onto something.

I saw religious tattoos. One poet talked about how he had stopped praying after his mother died. Another joked that he was going to complain about his religion.

And I felt relief.

Religion is hard. There are all these rules telling us what to believe, how to live, dictating how we should feel about ourselves and others. And to follow any religion is a struggle. Why not complain about it? I appreciated that poet’s candor. That makes sense! It’s something we all have dealt with in our lives. We’ve all had to confront it!

Religion is about so much more than the divisiveness that repels so many people. It’s a culture in which you’re raised. It’s an identity, even if you no longer believe the dogma. It’s a lens through which you view the world, and measure yourself. It’s a community of others who want to believe. It’s something to make you angry. It’s something to help you grow. It’s a source of peace.

There were three featured performers at this poetry slam. And I spent $40 to buy one of each of their books, and a CD. One of the books was small, I was fascinated by it.

“It’s like a prayer book,” I said to the poet. “That’s the idea,” he said, smiling.

And I went home, and I knew just what to write.

I e-mailed it in, then went to bed. When I woke up, I called my editor to see if she got it.

She liked it, and said she had meant to e-mail me.

“I can tell you put a lot of work into it,” she said.

And I felt great.

I brought a poem to read, but arrived too late to sign up for the open mic. For the slam you need at least two, if not three– in case there’s a tie-breaker. I didn’t have time to print out that many, I was in a rush to get there after work.

One of the poets read it upon my request though, and that was great. He took it seriously– went off quietly by himself for a few minutes. When he returned, he had a few comments about it. I told him I’d never done the slam before. He said to go for it, and to e-mail him when I did. This was one of the featured performers.

Each one took time to write a personal message in their books that I bought. One of them gave up their chair for me. All were down-to-Earth, and encouraging about my own writing. Their humility inspired me. It makes me want to jump in and slam myself. To write more poems, something new to read next time.

My poetry is largely something I don’t intend to publish, at least not now. But I enjoy reading it aloud.  I love hearing the reaction of a crowd when I’m onstage, having a room quiet and focused as I read it. Or the intimacy of reading it to just one person, especially if they are willing to discuss it with me and enjoy literary analysis. Whether they can offer a simple opinion, constructive criticism or praise, I’m always just so happy that they wanted to listen and indulged me.

Writing is such a lonely occupation. Once in awhile, we need to recharge by connecting with another person about our work.

And those moments make it all worth it.

A Stack o’ Catholicism

This week I was back in the library, feeding my book habit.

I got a bunch of books about Catholicism, because lately I’m wrestling with it.

I had a little time before work, so cracked a book about saints and sipped some iced coffee.

I felt ridiculous, because I had more books than I could ever read before they’re due. I’ve always been like this. As a little girl, I’d always emerge with a towering pile of books. I never could read them all, but I wanted the options. Some I’d skim, others I’d devour.

A woman sitting a few tables behind me approached with a smile.

“I saw your books,” she said. “I’m Catholic.”

Wow! So awesome.

“I am too,” I told her. “Not sure what I think about it lately.”

A little bit shy, I smiled and didn’t know what else to say. She nodded and sat back down.

About 10 minutes later, she came back.

“I’m going to my car,” she said. “I have a couple of books that might be in there on Catholicism, if you want them?”

Astonished, I just smiled and nodded.

She went to retrieve the books, and brought in two for me.

Only THEN did we exchange names.

I check out books while I’m questioning my faith, and connect with a total stranger because of it.

Turns out, she’s liberal too. Wow!

I invite her to sit down, and we chat in the way that only women can when they’ve just met.  She goes to a Catholic church in town I’ve never even heard of, and we talk a little bit about our beliefs. She tells me that she has another book that I just have to read– she’ll bring it for me and leave it at the counter.

And again, I’m amazed.

Forced Library Visitation

I just did something I haven’t done in ages: checked out library books.

I like libraries, because they are quiet and filled with books. But I usually only go to scour the sale carts, or use the computer when mine isn’t working. I’ve learned to just avoid checking out books because I always have late fees– I don’t want to give them back. I also hate checking books out because I like to write in them, interact with the text. I’m all about the marginalia! I want to underline, circle, highlight and have a conversation!

But my budget does not support my book habit– so here I am, humbly.

I’m assembling my own reading lists on topics that interest me: nonfiction only.

Right now, I’m interested in reason– not fantasy.

I enjoy literature and fiction because I find the diction enchanting. I like all the pretty words, the characters.

But now I just want facts. I’m reading to learn.