The Help(less)

Take a moment now to experience what it might be like to claim full responsibility of your life. For just a moment, imagine that if you are unlucky in love, it is because on some level (usually unconscious) you are committed to being unlucky in love.
Excerpt from Attracting Genuine Love by Gay Hendricks

There is no separation between us and God; we are divine expressions of the creative principle on this level of existence. There can be no real lack or scarcity; there is nothing we have to try to achieve or attract, we contain the potential for everything within us.
Excerpt from Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain

I admit that sometimes I get suckered into the self-help section of any book store I wander into. I can’t help it–I’m broken, and these books attract broken people. I’m in my early twenties and my life is like a row of boxes, all with questions marks and frowny faces in them. Imagine, if you will: A box marked ‘Career’. It is a question mark. A box marked ‘Social Life’ is a smiley face with a question mark for a mouth. 😕 The relationship box is a sure and steady frown. 😦

I have read a few self-help books, and I have flipped through hundreds more. I spent one memorable winter with Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain in my bag every day. I would review it each night, take notes, dog ear pages, journal about it. It was also the winter I started therapy for the first time in my life, but that came after, once the winter was beginning to break and so was I.

By creatively visualizing, I was making one final reach for life. I didn’t think that closing my eyes for twenty minutes a day and thinking about my future happiness could actually make that happiness magic itself to me; I just thought it couldn’t hurt, especially considering I was desperate and more or less friendless and alone in a frigidly cold college town. Most weeks my only social interaction would be my Sunday night telephone call with my mother, after which I would usually sit on my dorm room floor and cry.

The things I was unhappy about then are only slightly improved: I still have fewer friends than I’d like, I am still heartbroken, but in a way I can live with. When I was using Creative Visualization as a bible in my cold lonely dorm room, I used to do the visualization practice on my rug, or while I was waiting for tea water to boil. I would close my eyes and imagine my future life. I imagined an apartment with brightly colored walls, (for some reason) a yellow teapot, a sense of freedom, and a boyfriend who was maybe not perfect but perfect for me. We had cats. I had a cute job somewhere and I didn’t feel like the odd-friend, the friend who doesn’t fit into anybody’s friend group, the friend people don’t mind seeing every few months but will never fit into anybody’s daily life. I imagined love as a circle, and I imagined myself in the center of the circle, knowing full well my entire problem was that feeling on the outside of it always felt like a permanent fixture of my personality.

I don’t really visualize anymore, and maybe that is why none of that stuff has actualized for me, but I am a much more optimistic person now. Not to say I am an optimistic person. I’m just more so. It’s basically like saying, about a empty dirt lot with a new flower patch, ‘There’s a lot more life here now.’ It’s just a couple of flowers, but nothing is always more all-consuming than something.

Sometimes I think about the saddest parts of my life and I wonder why I am still sad, but less sad. I know it’s probably the therapy, or the fact that when you get out of your teenage years, your brain grows just that little bit more to stop you from being so fucking crazy. But my heart says: It was Creative Visualization.

My theory is there are two phases of heartbreak. The first is when the hurt/betrayal is fresh. You cry in the shower, you hurt yourself because the hurt is so frantic inside your poor little body. But, in a strange way, there is more hope there, because you expect things to get better for you. Your hurt feels very cinematic. ‘This is act three,’ you think. ‘In the final act, my Dear One appears and kisses me on top of a building somewhere while music plays.’ Phase two is hopeless, mundane, years-old heartbreak,  the kind that comes after you have picked yourself up, brushed yourself off, stopped the bleeding–and you look around, and there is still no one to kiss you. This phase can last a Very Long Time, in my calculation, and you will probably have an OkCupid account that does nothing for you, because you do not want to be The Heartbroken One forever. But sometimes you are.

That is when you find yourself reading books like Attracting Genuine Love. The book is actually quite similar to Creative Visualization. There are exercises in each chapter, designed to help you realize how, exactly, you are sabotaging yourself in love. Then it has you think up all the things you need in a partner, think about all the jerks who have hurt you in your life and what character traits they had that you want to Permanently Avoid. The funniest exercise is when the doc wants you to tell the people in your life that you are now committed to attracting genuine love. Like, “Hi, friends. Just so you all now, I’m attracting genuine love right now. It’s gonna happen.” There is something so hopeful and sad about that, and about all of these exercises, like finding love is similar to learning a skill or getting a job. If you try really hard, you make it happen.

I always sort of believed that love only comes to you when you’re not looking for it. Therefore, I reasoned, I would never find love, because no matter how hard I tried I never left the house without hoping somebody would fall in love with me out there. My heart just would not quit it. It’s comforting to think that maybe if I keep a journal with my every love intention, the universe will offer up some babe on a platter, but that doesn’t seem right, either. (That’s not to say I am not currently keeping an Attracting Genuine Love journal right now, as I attempt the exercises–I am. Like I said, I’m a sucker.)

After Attracting Genuine Love, I read Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. Maybe not everyone will agree with me, but despite it’s literary merit, I classify Tiny Beautiful Things as a self-help book. For those of you that don’t know, Dear Sugar is an advice column that Cheryl Strayed wrote for the Rumpus.net. I don’t mean to disparage the column or Tiny Beautiful Things by calling it self-help. I think this book is a true treasure. I cried many times reading it. It is the sort of book, if you are a sensitive sap like me, that will rip open some of your skin and repeatedly touch nerves. (And if you do not suffer self-indulgent sensitivity and navel gazing easily, you will very likely be very annoyed.) It made me want to be a better person, and more importantly–it gave me the hope that I could, that, as Sugar said, “What’s important is that you make the leap. Jump high and hard with intention and heart.” It’s not about exercises, it’s about “reaching”, trying over and over again like a crazy person with a crazy faith that you are a person meant for happiness and love. Even if you’ve never had real proof of that. Tiny Beautiful Things is what I was looking for in Creative Visualization and every other self-help book I’ve flipped through. I wanted that comfort.

So maybe I’m done with self-help books, but I can tell you that Tiny Beautiful Things is a great read, especially if you have had heavy stuff you’ve have to live through recently. Also, I just wanted to let you all know that I am currently in the process of attracting genuine love. It’s gonna happen.

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Review: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

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I first started reading David Sedaris’s books because I was a huge Strangers with Candy fan (he is Queen Amy Sedaris’s brother) but I soon became just a big as a fan of his writing. I think what I’ve always loved about David Sedaris’s essays was the recognition I felt in them. I don’t always need to relate to stories to enjoy  them, but sometimes it helps, and the overly big, lower middle class setting is one I can relate to.  And then there is the sense of absurdity that Sedaris sees in everything. Sometimes when I am reading one of his essays I think, “Yes! It is like that! It is silly in exactly that way!” That’s the mark of a perfect essay, I think.

Anyway, I think this might be my favorite collection of essays from David Sedaris yet, although that may be because I read most of his books when I was a teenager. Maybe the older I get, the better I like him, but this book was very, very good. It was funny, of course, but it was also moving, and sad. It was everything that a good book should be and it’s the first book I read in a while that I was sad to finish.

I’ll end this too-short review with my favorite quote from the collection, without context, because why I think it’s sort of better that way:

“No one on our street had reason to hate my mother. It was likely someone just road testing his new curse word–a little late too, as our end of the block had discovered it months earlier. ‘It means ‘female dog,’ I’d explain to my sisters, ‘but it also means “a woman who’s crabby and won’t let you be yourself.'”

Now go read it! Bye y’all!

Bye Bye 2013: A Wrap of Last Year’s Failed Resolutions, This Year’s Soon-To-Be Failed Resolution, and a Review of My Boyfriend Who Happens to Be A Kindle

At the end of 2012, I started this blog. I made a post about organizing my book shelves, making a commitment to reading, and I announced my ‘Goodreads challenge’ for the year, which was substantially bigger than year’s previous. Usually I read about 45-60 books a year, and in 2012 I wanted to read 70. It wasn’t completely crazy; back when I was younger I’m sure I read about 100 books a year, but books were lighter then, I was less addicted to the internet, and I just had more passion for it. I guess a lot of that goal had to do with the fact that I really wanted to get that passion for reading back. That’s why although I failed pretty badly at the Goodreads challenge in 2013, and I didn’t update this blog very much, I don’t feel disappointed in myself. (Well, not too much.)

I read 49 books in 2013. Towards Autumn, I changed my goal from 70 books to my standard 50 books, because I was in a great big slump, and I didn’t want my non-achievable goal to drive me away from reading any further. I started reading a bit more towards the end of the year, but it was such a weird time in my life, filled with a lot of business and exhaustion, so I ended up a book short of 50. And that’s okay. I read a lot of good books in 2013. I read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, and The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Euginides, Persepolis, The Casual Vacancy, and, probably the best book I read in 2013: Cat Daddy by Jackson Galaxy. Seriously.

I read a lot of great stuff, and most importantly, I overcame a reading slump and started 2014 with a new lease on reading! And a Kindle. Mostly I have the Kindle to thank. I got a mine for Christmas from my awesome mother, who is also a Kindle devotee. On one hand, I feel bad, because I think Amazon does a lot of harm to the book community of the world, and also I think the Goodreads app on the Kindle is pretty useless and I still resent Amazon for taking over my favorite book website; on the other had, I fucking love my Kindle. I’ve read three books so far on it: Fifty Shades of Grey, an embarrassing self-help book about finding love, and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris, which I loved. (Expect a review soon.) I love the great range of books I can read with a Kindle, without leaving the house or even buying an ebook (something I still feel is not quite worth the money)–most libraries have e-books now, which is the main factor that made me decide it was time to get an ereader. I also love that I can read articles more comfortably than on my computer screen. I use the app Instapaper, which is great. I can save an article at any time and it’ll download on the app so I can read it later. So not only am I reading more books, I’m reading more articles, so it’s awesome! (My new favorite thing is to read a think piece or two before bed. Shh.)

I have some resolutions for this blog in 2014. I set my Goodreads challenge number this year to 70 books, again, and I think I can do it. Mostly I just want to be reviewing the books I read more often. I think I should be reviewing each book I read, either on Goodreads or on this blog. I’d like to write longer, more thought out reviews on this blog, whereas books I only have a few thoughts about (such as the frustrating Fifty Shades of Grey), I can review on Goodreads. Even now as I type this resolution out, I am behind on this, but here’s to overwhelmingly hard to achieve goals.

As always, you can follow me on tumblr and goodreads. See you there!