I’m back – and thank you

Interior with Girl Reading – Carl Vilhelm Holsøe (source)

I was not very comfortable with real-life social situations when I was growing up. I was shy, even withdrawn, and deeply sensitive. The aggressive, outward-oriented demands of school were often too much for me, so I retreated into the world of books. That was where I could engage with and learn from people, events, and experiences that explored the full range of what it means to be human. And I gained so much from my reading, so much wisdom and comfort and beauty.

But obviously, as wonderful as the world of books may be, it’s not real life. So as I grew up I tried to enter into that life more fully, to engage in real relationships and to attempt to unfold myself. This was not easy, and much confusion and hurt ensued along the way. As I didn’t have any personal guidance to help me, I didn’t know what to do with this suffering, and so I pushed it down and tried to move on.

Now, in midlife, some of that buried confusion and pain has risen to the surface demanding to be dealt with — leading me to take a break from blogging for the past several weeks while I sort things out. But the book blogging community has been much on my mind during this time, because here is one place that I’ve found the social circle I missed in childhood. And feeling held by such circles is what has given me the strength to take up the challenges facing me in my real-life relationships right now.

Though we may not share much about our personal lives, I feel that through our shared love of reading we are connected in a very vital and essential way. We understand things non-readers may have a hard time relating to. We know what it’s like to identify with and feel compassion for someone we’ve never met, who only exists as words on a page. And we know that releasing those words into life is one of the most exciting, most fulfilling acts of co-creation imaginable. We’ve felt the thrill of reading our way into the deeper levels of things, and we’re not content to merely stay on the surface.

And so it’s not just the warmth and acceptance of this particular community that has helped me, but the particular activity we’re engaged in. It helps me to know you’re there, when I want to delve into the meaning of life and am met with “Oh no, we can’t do that — it’s too scary, too unsettling, too unpredictable.” It helps me to remember how each of us, when confronted with a seemingly impenetrable screen of black lines on a page, has patiently persisted and unraveled its secrets. And how rewarding that journey has been.

It amazes me that when I posted that I was going to take a break from this blog, twenty-three of you responded with good wishes and encouragement. Twenty-three friends I didn’t have five years ago! And that’s on top of many other readers who very likely sent the good wishes even though they didn’t comment.

I know it didn’t cost you much effort to do that, and you might think I’m making a big deal about nothing. But it isn’t nothing to me. And I just want to say thank you.

I intend to get back to posting again in the next weeks, though I’m not sure quite where life will take me or what direction this blog will go in. Whatever happens, I’ll be sure to keep you informed.

What’s saving my life this winter

I discovered this link-up (hosted by Modern Mrs. Darcy) via Wendy’s post at Falconer’s Library. What a great topic to explore in this difficult month – here’s what rolled off the top of my head.

1. Poetry – After a long hiatus, I’ve been feeling inspired to write poetry lately. Probably nothing that’s ready for public viewing, but just a way for me to experience creative flow and release the intuitive side of my brain. I’ve been amazed what comes out when I stop censoring myself, and want to give myself permission to make this a regular part of my life.

Along with writing poetry, reading poetry has also been an inspiration and a comfort. I have a beautiful volume of Rumi that I’ve been slowly going through, and I also have a volume of poems for each day of Lent that I’m looking forward to starting.

2. People to talk to – In the midst of a recent crisis, I reached out to some people I didn’t usually talk to about personal things, talked to people I was already close to about subjects I hadn’t previously felt able to go into, and  I also made a conscious relationship with a spiritual director to acknowledge that I need help in articulating and managing my inner life. Without these people who are willing to listen to my babblings with open hearts, I would be lost.

I also include in this category you, my blog readers, who provide an audience for my “talk” about books, which are such an important part of my life. I need you, and thank you!

3. Walking – Another way I deal with stress is to walk a lot. I’m lucky I have such a beautiful, peaceful environment to explore right from my front door.

4. Snowplows – That said, without the intrepid crews who keep our streets clear in a snowy, icy New Hampshire winter I’d be pretty stuck, whether on foot or by car.

5. Sheepskin hats and mittens – Useful for preventing frostbite and pneumonia.

6. Chocolate – Years ago I gave up chocolate to try to stave off migraine headaches, but more recently I decided life is not worth living without it (especially when visiting my husband’s family in Switzerland). Sometimes I just need some kind of hit.

7. My work – Working with adults with so called “special needs” keeps me grounded in what is really important: caring for and connecting to one another. Every day I am inspired and humbled by their courage, their capacity for love and joy, and their determination. If they can keep going, with all that they have to deal with in their lives, so can I.

What’s keeping you going at the moment? Please share in the comments!

Name Calling (a personal post)

Please note: This is not a post about books. I don’t usually do purely personal posts here, but I feel a need to get something off my chest, and this is one place where I can attempt to express myself. I appreciate your listening, if you choose to do so.

Caspar David Friedrich: Woman in the morning sun

I am a Christian.

It’s a loaded word these days, and I don’t use it very often, because I don’t want people to get the wrong idea. I don’t want them to think that I require certain behaviors or beliefs or opinions from them, or that I imagine they need saving, or that I’m going to start speaking in tongues and singing Kum-Ba-Yah. So I walk my path in silence, and keep my head down, and don’t speak up.

But now, in this time when so much is being revealed, I feel a need to say what this statement means to me. It means this and only this: there was a time when I was thrown into an abyss, an emptiness, where I had nothing. All outer supports had left me, and I was confronted with myself, my real self, stripped of all illusions. I saw it, naked, ugly, and diseased, and I hated it. And yet, without it, I would have nothing at all. To go on, I would have to bear it.

And there, in this place, I felt a being, a presence. This presence did not swoop in like a Superman dressed in red, white, and blue, and “save” me. He (she? it?) waited until I perceived my naked self and said, of my own free will, “Yes, I will bear this.” Only then did he make himself known, saying (though there were no words in this place, you understand), “I will bear this with you.”

Then I could go on. Then I knew that all along, this being had watched me with surpassing care and yet refused to exert control over me. I knew, too, that this being would never leave or abandon me, as long as I did not abandon myself.

This was not just a gift, but a responsibility. I was responsible to take up the burden that only I could choose, for otherwise a part of creation would remain forever unfulfilled.

I’m not a very good Christian. I would say that along the path of following this being and being worthy of his (her? its?) promise I’ve taken approximately one-half of a step. My response was more or less “Oh, now I feel better, I can go back to my life the way it was.” Certainly I appreciated the support, and was grateful, and said so when it occurred to me and was convenient. But I didn’t quite get that in answer to that all-out, no-holds-barred, overwhelming declaration of love I might want to give something of the same nature in return – not to him, but to my fellow human beings, my fellow sufferers.

Now, that has to change. Personal comfort is not enough any more. I need to reach out, to speak out, to be more and do more. I need to communicate with those who understand me, and those who don’t. I need to find common ground where no ground seems to exist.

Alexei Jawlensky, Large Meditation: Lord! Commit!

Where do we find this ground? Not in the outer trappings of sameness and commonality, I believe. Although I personally feel supported by the rituals and stories of Christianity, and find them a good way to prepare for and comprehend the experience I had, I see no reason why someone who grew up within another tradition, or no tradition at all, would not be able to have the same shattering encounter, though they might speak of it in different words and clothe it in different pictures.

In fact, insofar as I am a Christian, I am Jewish and Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist and atheist and agnostic and not sure what I am and not interested in religion at all.

Insofar as I am a Christian, I am Democrat and Republican and moderate and extremist and fundamentalist and libertarian and socialist and conservative and progressive and indifferent.

I am white and black and brown and yellow and pink and red and blue and purple. I am rich and poor and gay and straight and male and female and everything in between. I am Frederick Douglass and David Duke and Eleanor Roosevelt and Harriet Tubman and Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. I am Martin Luther King, Jr. and Richard Nixon and Abraham Lincoln and Charles Lindbergh and Christa McAuliffe and Elvis and Marilyn Monroe and Walt Disney and Steve Jobs and all the people who live out their lives without leaving a single mark on the world.

I am Hitler and Goering and Himmler, and I am the nameless dead. I am a pacifist and a murderer and an innocent bystander. I am pro-life and pro-choice and in favor of the death penalty and against killing under any circumstances. I am about to open fire on a school full of children, and I am ready to die to protect them.

I am a winner and a loser and this has made me angry and triumphant and sad and hopeful and despairing and confused and bored and inspired and baffled and glad and sorry and gleeful and forlorn.

If I cannot encompass all these contradictions and many more, then how can I claim a share of the love that encompasses all?

I’m not very good at being all these things at the same time, and that’s why I’m not a very good Christian. To get there, I still have to go through the eye of the needle, which is my puny, inadequate self. In spite of what I’ve experienced and what I know waits on the other side, I’m still afraid. I still fear that such an overwhelming experience will wipe me out, will make me into Nothing.

Sometimes I wish we could have a new name for those of us who have had this encounter, with the emptiness and the love, and who want to find a way through the Nothing. I think the old name is getting in the way, is preventing me from finding my people, and I need them. We all need each other, in this time of uncovering. Not to be a mass, or a mob, or a group soul, but to know we are united by our common perception of a being (or a presence or a principle, if you prefer) that has, purely out of love, left us free to choose to be ourselves.

Karl Isakson, The Raising of Lazarus

I’ve always had trouble with those Gospel passages about names. “Hallowed be thy name.” “Believe in my name.” What does this mean? A holy puff of air? Believe in an assemblage of syllables?

Of course, it’s what’s behind the earthly name that is meant, not the sounds that change from tongue to tongue and that can become corrupted by misunderstanding. But what and who is in that place behind the words? What name can I call, when I want to identify the one I follow?

“Jesus” (healer) and “Christ” (the anointed one) are the Greek translations of the names given to him by the people who had waited many long years to be healed and led by him. They are good names, as long as we use them in that sense. But they also lend themselves to limitation, to imagining that only a certain privileged group is worthy of being touched by and belonging to him.

He spoke of himself, sometimes, as “the Son of Man,” a name that has no such limits. He came to show us our future, what the human being can become — any and every human being, not just one group or nation or race or creed or religion. His name is hidden in our name, in the many who may become, mysteriously, one.

In the name of the being whose only aim is for us to become free, if you have even the faintest inkling of or interest in what I’m saying, if you didn’t stop reading this post after the fourth word, talk to me. How do you keep going when the sea rises up to overwhelm you and the powers of the heavens are shaken? Where do you find the strength that enables you to endure, to live, to learn?

What is your name?

Armchair BEA: Introduction

ArmchairBEA-LogoExampleThis week, many lucky bloggers are heading to Book Expo America, held in Chicago this year. Those of us who can’t make it to this bookish mecca get to share a conference from our favorite armchairs, with discussions, giveaways, updates from the real BEA, and more.

Today is the day to introduce ourselves, so here are the answers to some of the questions posed by the organizers.

What is the name you prefer to use?
I use my real first name, Lory. I prefer it if it’s spelled correctly (with a “y”), but I’ll forgive you if you mess up. Maybe. 😉

How long have you been a book blogger?
I started blogging in January of 2014, so almost two and a half years now.

Have you participated in ABEA before?
ABEA was one of the first events I participated in when I started blogging and it really helped me  to connect to the book blogging community. This will be my third year.

LieTreeDo you have a favorite book? If you cannot choose a favorite book of all time, pick your favorite book today – just this second. Remember that favorites are allowed to change if something affects you deeply enough.
I’m going to pick my favorite book from last month, which was clearly The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. In my review I wrote that I loved it “for the interesting things Hardinge does with ideas and relationships and history and myth…With so many ingredients that are very much to my taste, the result was a delicious treat for me.” And for you too, I hope!

If you could recommend one other book blogger, who would it be and why?
Ergh, this is hard. I follow so many great blogs and don’t want anyone to feel left out. But I’m going to somewhat randomly choose one who is not on my blogroll: Charlene of Bookish Whimsy. Charlene runs a fun challenge/ongoing series where she’s watching and reviewing the top movie musicals, and I always enjoy reading her thoughts. She’s also a Jane Eyre fanatic with really interesting posts on that topic, and was an enthusiastic participant in Brooding About the Brontes along with me. She’s in England at the moment, which makes me so jealous, but I’m looking forward to hearing about her adventures when she gets back!

Bookshelf2How do you arrange your bookshelves? Is there a rhyme or reason? Or not at all? (#ABEAShelfie)
I arrange my books by size, format (paperback/hardcover) and subject. This shelf by my desk, for example, has most of my nonfiction and reference books, with one shelf for music, and fairy tales and some miscellaneous fiction in the middle. Plus some boxes of wool and my knitting magazine collection.

What book are you most excited for on your TBR? What are you most intimidated by?
I’m excited to read more books for my Reading New England Challengenext month for my nonfiction focus I plan to read New England Bound, a new book that explores how the institution of slavery was woven into the origins of our nation, in the north as well as the south.

I’m a bit intimidated/scared by the subject of The Sixth Extinction. I don’t really want to read about how we’re driving ourselves to the brink of extinction, but I still think it’s important to know so I’m really determined to read the book this year.

What is the most interesting thing that you have learned through your reading this year so far?
From How To Be A Tudor by Ruth Goodman I learned that our customary order of serving dishes at the table (appetizer, main course, salad, dessert) is based on pre-Enlightenment theories about the stomach — you needed to give it certain foods in a certain order to keep it warm but not too hot. It’s fascinating how many outdated beliefs persist in our culture!