So, yes, I am a week late on my “what I read last month” blog. Maybe two? I do write these things down, honest, but I think we can safely say that normality is a little lacking around here.
I mean, my organisational skills are also lacking, but we’ll just blame the lot on Covid-19. Works for me.
And it’s true that many things have changed. Day-to-day, there’s not a lot of difference in my life – I never went out much anyway, and if I can get away with shopping less often than once a week, I’ll do it. But everything feels different. Yes, I’m lucky enough to be somewhere I can still run or walk without getting near anyone else, and I have plenty to keep me busy, but … But.
But everything still feels unsettled. Strange. As much as I’ve managed to wean myself off refreshing the news page on my phone every five minutes, I’m still consuming a lot more news than I normally would. I worry more, about family on the other side of the world and friends who are vulnerable and just in a general, unfocused way about everyone else.
Nothing’s quite right.
And my normal escapism – reading fun MG books, or switching off with a Janet Evanovich novel, or simply writing – isn’t working. Which makes things seem feel even more strange.
I think that, just as everything feels off somehow – in small ways as well as dramatic ones – our usual self-care options are a little off too, in the sense that they may not fit anymore. Which is frustrating and frightening, and can make us feel things are even more off-kilter than they already are. What do we do when our comfort blanket’s gone scratchy?
Well, we have to find another one. And that’s okay. Maybe we wore that original one out. Maybe it just needs to be put away for the summer and a lighter one fetched from the cupboard. Maybe we’ll use it again in a few weeks or months, when the not-right-ness is down to being over-social rather than watching the world change in front of us. I don’t know.
I just know that we all need to be looking after ourselves, and that includes finding out what’s going to comfort and soothe us when our old, trusted methods don’t. Which means a little experimenting and exploration. It means putting our phones down and turning off our laptops if they’re making us feel more lost than connected. It means letting go of old habits that aren’t serving us (like my sitting in the bath watching Kitchen Nightmares. Diverting, but unhelpful). It means listening to ourselves and the endless rush of our thoughts and emotions, and asking what we need. What’s going to make that rush slow. What’s going to keep us safe.
It doesn’t mean burying ourselves in work or a panic to be productive just because we keep seeing memes about Shakespeare writing King Lear while quarantined due to the plague. I mean, good on him, and if being productive is what helps you, go to it. But don’t feel that if you don’t it’s somehow a failure.
It doesn’t mean becoming a home-cooking legend, or running a marathon on your balcony, or learning a new language, or doing a 30-day fitness challenge – unless these things speak to you. Unless they quiet your thoughts, and fill your heart, and allow you to get a better grip on the strangeness that’s taken over our daily life.
Only you can decide what will work for you, what will help and heal. Look after yourselves.
(this may help)
As for me, I’m reading more non-fiction than fiction, and still watching Heroes, which is consistent in annoying me with the over-acting and over-dramatic-ness (if that’s not a word, it should be) and plot holes, but I find it oddly soothing. I’m running more, and trying a little meditation (which I’m really bad at). I’m also playing a lot of late 90’s/early 2000’s pop-punk, because it makes me happy, and have been doing some dance workouts, which I’m spectacularly bad at but which do make me giggle.
And, yes, I’m eating my bodyweight in Dark Chocolate Digestives, when I can get them.
Lovely people, how are you coping in these odd times? Are your normal methods of escapism and self-care working? If not, what have you been trying instead?
Aaand that was a really long intro to this month’s reading! So I’ll pop the video below and my usual baked goods ratings below that. Enjoy!
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams. I was not in the right mood for this, I realise now. I was still using my old methods of escapism reading to help manage my feelings, and it wasn’t working. So I may have enjoyed this more at a different point. It’s still inventive and fun, but I kept forgetting what had happened in the previous chapter, and I actually don’t think I could tell you much of what happened even now. Four cookies because I think less would be a bit unfair.
“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”
Moth Busters, Margaret Lashley. Another book I probably wasn’t in the right frame of mind for, but it was an entertaining read. An aspiring PI (currently running her late father’s garage) gets caught up in cryptozoology/a murder mystery. Some of the plot points were a bit strange, but the MC was a fairly good character. Three cookies and some iced tea (it being Florida).
“We believe what we decide to believe, against all known intelligence to the contrary.”
― Margaret Lashley, Moth Busters
Reflections: On the Magic of Writing, Diana Wynne Jones. This is a beautiful collection of essays, articles and speeches written throughout her life for various publications and events. They cover everything from school visits and book tours to her writing process and thoughts on writing for children as opposed to adults. It’s friendly, well-written, and just a very lovely read. Five cookies and a large comforting cup of tea.
“I found myself thinking as I wrote, “These poor adults are never going to understand this; I must explain it to them twice more and then remind them again later in different terms.” Now this is something I never have to think when I write for younger readers. Children are used to making an effort to understand.”
― Diana Wynne Jones, Two Kinds of Writing? (From Reflections: On the Magic of Writing)
The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown. This was an interesting, if slightly uncomfortable read, as I was able to see myself in a lot of the examples of people not living a wholehearted life, and not always embracing vulnerability (although, as any creative knows, we do plenty of it with our art). Some of the advice on how to manage shame and how to differentiate it from guilt was excellent, while other sections didn’t really work for me. It’s easy to read and not at all jargon-y, so four cookies and a large cuppa.
“Here’s what is truly at the heart of wholeheartedness: Worthy now, not if, not when, we’re worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”
Daring Greatly, Brene Brown. I’m part-way through this at the moment, and it’s a good follow-on from The Gifts of Imperfection. It builds on the concepts of how to live a wholehearted life, so it feels more like it’s part of the same book than a stand-alone, I guess. I have the same sense of connecting to certain concepts but not to others, and it’s another easy read. Four cookies.
Edit: Since doing the vid and writing this, I’ve put down Daring Greatly. I don’t think I’ll pick it up again, but who knows? It felt like too much of a re-tread of The Gifts of Imperfection, and I was connecting to it less and less. So minus a cookie for that.
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a defensive move. It’s the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.”
― Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
And that was it for this month – well, other than some DNFs. And a lot of news stories. And advice columns. I don’t know why I’ve suddenly started reading advice columns. I also don’t know why I’m still watching Heroes, though, so there we go.
What have you been reading, lovely people? Have you been reading, or has it not been that sort of month for you? Let me know what you’ve been doing, and how you’re looking after yourselves, below!
And hey – fancy a free short story? There’s a brand new one going out in the newsletter next week, so make sure you’re signed up below if you’re not already!
brene rown, diana wynne jones, douglas adams, march reading, margaret lashley, videos
Thanks to your blog post the other day, I’ve been watching British stand-up comedians on YouTube. Some of the routines are really stupid, but they make me laugh and I don’t have to think.
Beyond that, I’ve gone back to some of my classic writing books. When you can’t write, read about writing.
Not having to think is a glorious thing at the moment. I’m glad you found some comedians that you like! I’ve shifted from watching Heroes to watching Benidorm since I wrote that post, and, well. It doesn’t get much more not-thinking than that …
And yes on writing books! I need to get back to them. A little dose of Ray Bradbury is probably just what’s needed.
I must say I haven’t been so keen on fiction and have turned to well-thumbed travel books. If you can’t go out, you can dream. My current read is Eric Newby’s “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush” which has wonderful descriptions and some good humorous episodes to keep the tale going. I shall probably go on to read a memoir or 2 about moving to another country, such as Victoria Twead’s tales of Spain (Chickens, Mules and two old Fools is a good start).
Oh, I like that plan! I do like a well-written, funny travel book. I’m a big fan of Bill Bryson for those, but I also love (going way back here!) Gerald Durrell’s. In fact, now I think of it, a return to Corfu may be just what’s needed…
Also, I love the title “Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools” – that’s brilliant!
I recommend the Hitchhikers’ Guide audiobooks read by Douglas Adams, if you can find them. He’s a wonderful reader and much easier to “get” the books when you listen rather than read. But you’re also right that they don’t make a whole lot of sense, so you do have to be in a mood to suspend belief. 😀
Oh, I bet they’re brilliant! I’ve still not been able to get into audiobooks. I can just about concentrate on a podcast when driving (not that there’s much of that going on), but anything more and I just tune out. I did really like them when I was younger, and they’re still a lot of fun, but it just didn’t do it for me this time. I do think it’s my mindset at the moment though – I’m still trying to work out what I actually want to read.