The Fellowship of the Likes

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I made it! By golly, I made it through!

I won’t say I’ve started reading The Fellowship of the Ring 100 times, but 3 is practically 100. In the grand scheme of things, I mean.

No?

Failing to read a book three times, and then coming back for one more try– that’s a lot of trying. I knew if I could get past those first 100-150 pages, I’d start enjoying myself. I knew that it would be on the fourth time of listening to the Proudfoot heritage that I’d finally absorb enough to persevere.

Finishing The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring made me feel like a hero.

Too far?

And what do I have to say about the experience, you might ask?

There are some books that touch you; they’ll leave a mark on your heart and occupy a lot of space your head. You’ll reread them several times in the beginning. If you’re renting it, the librarian will contemplate just giving it to you already so she can stop seeing your embarrassed face and asking you if you’re interested in a similar book. “Similar, as in not the same book, dear.” Your love for that story will eventually ebb into a slow burn on the fringes of your heart. Another book will steal you in the same way, but when that old favorite is mentioned, the fire will spark yet again. You’ll reread the worn copy and discover it’s both a little better and a little different than you remembered it. A great book will bring you right back to that first time you read it, the first time you loved it. I gasped here. How could I have been fooled there? I think I skimmed this part; I’ve never read that line, surely! My favorite scene’s coming up. Poetry! How did I not see the poetry?! Settle down, Hil; he’s not really dead.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is not and will never be one of those books. Not for me, anyway. I’m sorry I feel that way, but I do.

I read The Catcher in the Rye recently. Guys, I feel even worse about that one.

It takes a lot for me to admit that. Sometimes I feel an enormous pressure to like the things that are universally considered great. (Don’t we all?) One of the biggest lessons of my adult life has been accepting that it’s okay to like what I like and dislike what I don’t. I don’t like kale unless it’s greatly disguised, but you can feed me spinach all day. (Please don’t.) Fresh flowers make me feel good, and I like that they do. I like the smell of puppies, even though I’m pretty sure it’s two steps away from urine. I like to wear makeup, but I don’t like to have to wear makeup. I like to wear pants, but I don’t like to wear them for more than two hours. (Sweat pants are the obvious exception.) I like to hear honest opinions when asked, but I don’t like to be told what to do (even though I might still do it). I don’t like loud bars–so I don’t like bars– but I love late night talks. I love to read, but I do not like The Lord of the Rings books. I do not like a traffic jam. I do not like The Catcher in the Rye, Sam-I-am!

And well, I think all of that is okay. I think I’m okay. More than okay, I say! I’ll quit with the nonsense rhymes. Actually, I’ll quit talking, full stop.

PS Oh, Bridget…

PPS I totally listened to The Fellowship on audiobook. That still counts, right?

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children’s books

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I live for kids’ books. It’s almost a problem. Almost.

If you asked me what my favorite book for adults is, I would have a hard time coming up with something written in the past twenty years. That’s not to say I haven’t read recent fiction, but those stories don’t impact me like children’s books do.

There’s something very unassuming about a kids’ book. Some would say that they operate on fewer levels or that they are more on the nose. Hmm. Well, I would first argue with the “some,” but then I would say that sometimes the most clever, most affective way is to hit something right on the sniffer. Besides, isn’t simplicity wonderful?

“I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.” – L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea  (Oh, Anne Shirley!)

Children’s books are like those sweetest days.

Here’s my list of 7 Children’s Books Every Adult Should Read. (They’re all recent middle grade books.)

Here are three recent picture books that I wanted to put on the list, and then didn’t because I didn’t (I’m thuper thmart).

Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman // Oh, gosh. This book is sweet and lovely. Isn’t that what a picture book is supposed to be?

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce // Heather gave me this book a couple of Christmases ago. I read it out loud, and then cried (in front of everyone). Note to self: destroy Christmas Video 2012.

Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann (author) & Elizabeth Kann // My nieces introduced me to this one. They have impeccable taste.

 

 

libraries: a love-hate relationship

When I was in junior high, I would sometimes walk to the public library after school. I was terribly productive there, and I could avoid the bus by waiting for my mom to finish work. Yes, the bus was that bad, like playing-Nickelback-the-whole-ride-home bad.

The library was a discovery of resources. A whole building full of books?! Why haven’t we been coming here every day? I often think this each time I step into a library.

But the Millers are what you might call… forgetful, and this doesn’t mix well with things like “due dates” and “late fees.”

They pass. We forget. We stay away from the library, avoiding large fees and the librarian’s stink eye. We let time go by. The librarian retires. We go back. We realize (again) how cool libraries are. We check-out. We think we can do it this time.

(Maybe I’m being too harsh with the use of “we” here. I’m sure someone in our family is capable of returning things on time, but I am not that someone.)

Our “this time” fails. It’s a brutal, ugly cycle. In fact, a certain brother can’t even go back to that library anymore. (Something about a $30 fee that’s gaining interest.)

But back on track. In middle school, I was (again) in the discovery stage, and the public library was (again) a magical place.

In this glorious building, I fell in love with a boy: Jehu. He had a scar on his cheek and never apologized for being himself. He was a sailor with tanned skin and blue eyes.

Okay, okay, Jehu is from a book, but not just any book. Jehu is from Jennifer L. Holm’s Boston Jane.

Boston Jane isn’t really about Jehu.

Guess who it’s about? Yes, Jane.

Guess where Jane is from? Yes, Philadelphia. Wait…

Boston Jane is great. Trust me. Here’s why:

e.e. cummings said, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” That’s what Boston Jane is about: finding that courage to be true to yourself.

Convinced? No?

How about this quote that’s actually from Boston Jane: The Claim (last in the trilogy): “This, I thought, was true love. Someone who made you happy without saying a word.”

Awwww. Just read it, okay? Good.

Now, if twitter had existed in middle school, I would have been showing off this Jennifer Holm re-tweet like nobody’s business. But since I’m older, I’ll just SHOW OFF THIS JENNIFER HOLM RE-TWEET LIKE NOBODY’S BUSINESS (in capital letters).

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being brave

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My favorite moment in A Wrinkle In Time is right before Meg Murry leaves to face the nefarious IT and rescue her little brother. Meg, the protagonist, basically spends the entire book being pulled into these massively scary and complicated situations that she doesn’t understand because unlike her five year old brother, Meg isn’t a genius. After finally finding her father, Meg just wants to return to being a child, but she can’t. She is the only one who can rescue her brother, so instead, she has to say goodbye:

“At last she turned to her father. ‘I’m-I’m sorry, Father.’

He took both of her hands in his… ‘Sorry for what, Megatron?’

Tears almost came to her eyes at the gentle use of the old nickname. ‘I wanted you to do it all for me. I wanted everything to be all easy and simple… So I tried to pretend that it was all your fault… because I was scared, and I didn’t want to have to do anything myself-‘

‘But I wanted to do it for you,’ Mr. Murry said. ‘That’s what every parent wants… I won’t let you go, Meg. I am going.’

‘No.’ Mrs. Whatsit’s voice was sterner than Meg had ever heard it. ‘You are going to allow Meg the privilege of accepting this danger. You are a wise man, Mr. Murry. You are going to let her go.’

Mr. Murry sighed. He drew Meg close to him. ‘Little Megaparsec. Don’t be afraid to be afraid. We will try to have courage for you. That is all we can do…'”

We can’t really go back to being kids, and it’s not easy growing up. Meg can’t go back, as much as she wants her dad to take care of her and make it all better.

As much as her dad wants that, too: “That’s what every parent wants.” And it’s the scariest thing I can imagine to allow this kid you hope you didn’t mess up to go out into the world, to send them to stand up against the very real IT. But it’s a privilege to let them leave, to let them be brave.

There are lots of days when I am not brave, and I want to go home.

Sometimes, I want to go to my physical house. Most times, though, I want to go to a home in a different time. I want to go to the very back seat of a white suburban, where my mom can barely hear me over the three siblings laughing beside and in front of me. I want to be forced to sit through Heather’s orchestra concert, and I want to fake being asleep on the way home so my dad will carry me up the stairs. I want Thad to grumble that I’m not rowing hard enough in the canoe. I want Rhett to ban me from his room. I want Mom to pack my lunch and put my drawings on the fridge. I want it to be easy and comfortable. I want it to be exactly as it always was.

But that’s not being brave.

Being brave isn’t something I usually attribute to myself. I don’t claim it, and yet, I can be brave. Moving to California to live by myself was certainly pretty brave. Choosing not to go to law school was brave (I think- we’ll see). Deciding that I was really going to be a writer- that was brave, too.

There’s part of me that will always long to be ten years old again, but I won’t ever be. And I’m excited about being older, about growing up. But I’m nervous, too.

I’m scared about losing people, even myself, to that big IT that never relents.

I’m scared about failing, but I’m not afraid to be afraid any more. I choose to be brave. I choose to face the danger like Meg.

Do you know how she rescues Charles Wallace and defeats IT?

Love. Love makes you brave. Love makes me brave.

obsessed

One could see my life as a series of obsessions: times (varying from a week to several years) when a subject, movie, book, or show consumes me. One could also stop using “one” as a pronoun. One could try.

There’s a fun read by Polly Shulman titled Enthusiasm that speaks to this sort of crazy, following a character as she discovers Jane Austen.

I had a Jane Austen phase, too.

I don’t know if “phase” is the right word. Phase implies an end. Once I’m obsessed with something it never really goes away. The pain is just lessened. The intense heartache I feel in the middle of an obsession is eventually replaced with a dull twang.

Back to Jane Austen. Back to writing letters that began: “To My Future Mr. Darcy.” Back when my children’s names were planned to be “Fitzwilliam” and “Georgiana.” Mom doubts this is not still currently my plan. (Maybe I do, too.)

There have been other author enthusiasms and other book obsessions.

Boston Jane. A little series that made me like cherry pie, and I HATED cherries.

Ella Enchanted. Ella and I both “frell” for Char.

Harry Potter.

John Green could fall into this category as well, but it really all began with the vlogbrothers and not with his books. The land of Nerdfighteria is deep and fathomless, and I’m still a little in there.

There have been movie enthusiasms.

Mom says my very first obsession was with Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken (or as I call it, “Diving Girl”), a movie about a girl who rides a horse into a pool. It inspired me to befriend my imaginary horse named “Wilburt with a ‘T.'” Obviously, this obsession ran over into the period of Anne of Green Gables enthusiasm.

There’s my killer whale stage, aided and instigated by Free Willy. I had a blow up Keiko -Willy’s real name, people- for the pool. I aspired to be a marine biologist. I considered the ways in which I could fill the lake outside our house with saltwater to properly accommodate a whale. Certain recent tragedies of SeaWorld have all but crushed my image of riding an orca (but now that you mention it, said whale would obviously be my best friend and have a super clever name like “Free Hilly.”)

There was the Age of Star Wars, one of my longest obsessions, strongest from ages 8 to 14. Highlights of this obsession include: attendance at Star Wars Celebration, a Queen Amidala Halloween (or maybe two or three), and several Tatooine-themed sleepovers (with only myself).

Does watching Mutliplicity at least once a day for several months count as an obsession? Add Multiplicity then. I’m not proud.

For television there was 7th Heaven, a show I recorded on VHS tape for my sister when she went to medical school. I thought she was probably going crazy without watching. (She wasn’t.)

There was the three months of watching every I Love Lucy episode multiple times. I read both Lucy and Desi’s autobiographies, watched several documentaries and miniseries about them, imagined living at Desilu Ranch, and cried several times over the couple’s failed marriage (and not over the fact that they are both deceased). I was 20.

The Young and The Restless. I blame Mimi (my grandmother) for starting this, and I blame the Nick/Sharon breakup for ending it.

There were the more odd obsessions.

Presidential trivia. In my memory, it was a blast to utilize on family road trips (but I have a sneaky suspicion that I am the only one who remembers it that way).

Crock pot recipes. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say it involves a “crock pot pancake.”

Crocheting. Two Christmases ago I made everyone in my family a scarf. I haven’t crocheted since.

Kristen Wiig’s Target Lady, which just consisted of me using that voice and severely embarrassing myself at actual target check-out counters (because the cashiers didn’t watch SNL?).

When I get into something so heavily, I often get hurt. Please see my fourth grade reading of A Bridge To Terabithia for evidence. **I devoured that book. Ate it up. Then I cried so hysterically that I literally made myself ill.**

Fortunately, I’ve learned to simmer down my tendencies to go bat-crap crazy over something. I do things to protect myself. While reading Divergent over Thanksgiving break, I got pulled in hard, so I looked up the ending when I was halfway through the second book. I know, I know. It was sacrilege, but knowing the end meant I didn’t have to go all in.

Going whole hog insane over something is a very selective process at this point in my life. There are farther stretches between obsessions, and when I do go there, I try to be very intentional about the amount of time I spend thinking about things like roast beef sandwiches. Because when one falls in love, one wants to really mean it (especially in the sandwich arena).

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when the movie is better

It almost NEVER happens, but sometimes the movie is better than the book.  No, I’m not talking about Harry Potter, you crazy people.  Seriously, people who say the Harry Potter movies were better than the books have not read the series.

Anyway, here’s an article. Nay! An exposé in Lydia Mag where I uncover the five exceptions to the film adaptation norm.  It’s shocking! It’s hard-hitting! It’s journalism! It’s… not that big of a deal.

http://www.lydiamag.com/2013/10/five-movie-adaptations-that-are-better.html#more

(My deepest apologies to Dad for my turkey soup comment. It remains one of my favorite dad dishes.)

happy desk, happy life

I know the saying goes, “Happy wife, happy life,” but I’m not a wife.  I’ll just work with what I’ve got: a dog and a desk.  Estelle Getty better be happy. She’s a dog.  I treat her like a person half the time.  Be thankful, Estelle Getty.  My desk on the other hand is often… how should I put it?  In disarray? A pigsty? Good luck spending the next hour looking for the checkbook?  I think all of those are pretty accurate. But not for today. No. Today my desk is clean.  This is important because I’m a little obsessed with writing spaces.

I have two desks, kind of.  I really have one corner desk that is always clean and pristine and gets the perfect amount of light for writing.  Something I’ve learned about writing though: the desk doesn’t matter half as much as the chair.  Therefore, I mainly use my other desk *cough* coffee table *cough*  because I get to sit on very comfortable couch.

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I would love to use my spectacular chair I got for last year’s birthday (thanks, Mom and Dad!), but it’s slightly too large to go near a desk, meaning I’m left with only my lap space.

Why do writing spaces matter?  I’d like to say it’s because I spend so much time there, which I do, writing or not. But I think they matter to me mainly because I’ve romanticized them so much.  I romanticize things.  It’s sort of a problem. What things? British accents and Mickey Mouse ice cream bars and handwritten letters and old cars.  Strike handwritten letters. They’re actually pretty romantic.  But, the point is yes, these writing spaces are just spaces, but they’re also personality reflections and creative inspiration and neat.  I can’t be the only one that thinks they’re cool.  In fact, I know I’m not (because my mom likes them, too).  You know who really got the idea of a writing space? Mr. Roald Dahl.  I love Roald Dahl for many reasons, including whizpopping.

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Roald Dahl wrote in a big, comfy chair with a lap desk, big blanket, thermos of hot chocolate, and sharpened No. 2 pencils.  What a beautiful way to live.  See? Definitely romanticized.

The_Elephant_HouseJ.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter (the first one) at a Edinburgh restaurant, The Elephant House. 1. How cool of a name is “The Elephant House”? Super cool.  2. Writing in a public place everyday sounds… rough.  3. I am so impressed by Rowling’s ability to write an entire book (never mind writing Harry Potter) with her pants on the whole time. Wow.

6a0128760776fb970c0167694c1a26970b-500wiHow could I NOT talk about Jane Austen’s tiniest of tables? And I complain about not having enough room.  How crazy is it that Austen competed six novels on a surface I wouldn’t deem large enough to eat dinner on? Oh, Jane, you’re nothing short of fabulous, even in all of your tiny desk glory.  I’m noticing a British pattern… you know how I feel about the accent.

king-by-jill-krementzStephen King’s room.  If nothing else will sell you, On Writing will make you believe that you have to have a designated, poetically beautiful writing space. Oh, it will also make you realize that you are most likely a very bad writer, but that’s besides the point.  In King’s words: “It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” See? He’s romantic, too.

What I’ve realized (King: “No passive voice!”) through our writing space journey is that the most important writing space has nothing to do with my desk.  It’s that room in my head where I lock everyone else out, especially the fourteen year old who tries to compare me to other people, until I let her come in because I have a fourteen year old character. It’s the place where I figure things out and go new places. It’s the place where I don’t think too much.  I explore.  It’s the place of adventure and fear and frustration.  And most importantly, it’s the place that doesn’t define my life.  It’s the other way around.

I made this post into an article for Lydia: http://www.lydiamag.com/2013/11/where-we-work-study-in-writing-spaces.html#more

Photos via  2, 3, 4, 5, 6