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What if you knew that you would live to be 100? Would that change your Here and Now?

Not long ago, I decided that I had reached the half-way point of my life. My parents had both passed away, having barely reached their seventies, and I thought, why should I desire to last any longer? Life at the time seemed much too long already. I had struggled for over thirty years, and in my mind the struggle stretched on beyond me for far longer than I could care to comprehend. In fact, planning to live to 70 was a huge concession: an admission that optimism might actually have a place in my life — I might actually continue to survive the drudgery of life for as long as I had made it thus far. Not that it seemed like such an exciting thing to aspire to, but at least I had a plan that involved having a future to speak of.

Since then, by some mysterious circumstance, my outlook seems to have changed. I find myself happy, most days, and at least capable of avoiding despair on those days that are not so enjoyable. Life begins to have a meaning that I never understood before: simply to live it, perhaps even enjoy it. By whatever miracle my brain has settled into a state of positive vibration, wanting to see and experience and enjoy as much as possible. So this is what chemical balance looks like! So this is what a well-functioning mind can bring to the table. I find myself wanting to create more and more. I want to learn. I want to work more cleverly and come home satisfied in a job well done. I want to spend my leisure time soaking in every sound and every peaceful moment, knowing that they are made of gold and that I can have billions more to glean, if I so choose.

And so I find myself very recently thinking: what if I weren’t at the half-way point? What if I were still somewhere just near the beginning? What if, instead of feeling calloused and jaded, I realized that I have seen so little of what life has to offer? Yes, I would be inviting a greater risk of sorrow and trouble into such a lengthier lifespan, but what if that weren’t a bad thing after all? What if those misfortunes were seen as giving birth to the happy times? I find it difficult to find the words to express what I am coming to realize. And yet: I now feel no urgency to find those explanations, because I could have several more decades to explore this very idea! I could spend a lifetime — a long lifetime — just searching for a way to explain to my young self that a hundred years is not such a bad thing after all.

I could think that I have seen all the good and all the bad that life has to offer, but I would be dreadfully wrong in so many ways. To think of it: I could be just beginning. I could finally decide, at 85 years old, that I am ready to settle down and get married. Or perhaps I will move to France in the year 2045. And perhaps, in just fifteen years, I will decide to return to school and gather more degrees to my name. Maybe I will end up with a career that I had never before dreamed of. Maybe I could read 5,000 books in the course of my lifetime. If I live to 100, I can do just about anything yet. And if I can do anything yet, then I am freed from the burden of trying to control where my life must go in this year, or in this decade. Where do you see yourself in five years? Who is to say? I can try to control that, but it discourages me to worry over it. Now, where do I see myself in 70 years? That is the much more exciting question to ponder! I could be anywhere, and I could be anyone. I could be a different person, one that wouldn’t recognize the self that was so very young but also so very ill in the beginnings of her life. I feel as though I am just being born. I feel young, but without the impatience of the young. I feel fresh, but no longer easily bruised. I feel a hope and a wonder for life that I have never, ever felt before, even in my actual physical childhood. I feel a child again, and yet one just barely precocious enough to know that she has nothing but potential before her. Anything is still possible for me. Happiness, as I have come to find out, is actually possible for me. And who knows: I may find that I have another 100 years of it to enjoy. Because now I know that anything is possible, and now I look forward to it. And now I know that life — even a difficult life — can be an enjoyment. Let’s see where this one takes us.

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In honor of what has recently become my second most prolific year of reading, I present to you: my 1998 book log!

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Edgar_sawtelle-cvr

I can’t remember when exactly I sat down with The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and first began to read. I know it was bitterly cold outside, and very snowy, so it could have been anywhere between Christmas and April. I do know that, when I finally put the book down, months later, I felt a little melancholy, and a little lonely, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to pick up another book for several days. I missed Edgar, and I missed his dogs, and I missed the contemplative and unhurried way in which the moments of his story moved forward with each moment I found to take another look at it.

Sure, this novel has flaws. Seen as a whole in retrospect, I can understand why many people seem to hate the plot contrivances and the frustrations of not having key elements of the story resolved. There’s a lack of closure that seems inconsiderate to the reader, and I suspect that those who are most disappointed in Edgar’s story are the ones who held the highest expectations from the beginning paragraphs. I myself couldn’t quite resolve my conflicted emotions, and I wavered between giving the novel first four stars, then three, then again bumping it back up to four, and subsequently leaving it there even though I have misgivings about my generosity in the matter.

I will say this: parts of this book deserve four stars, no doubt about it. And parts of this book are so meditatively wonderful that I wish they would go on forever. But like all things, good or bad, those parts come to an end. Perhaps that is part of the appeal: to be torn between loving the book and wishing it were just a little bit…better. Ambivalence is a big part of life, after all.

Of course Edgar is the protagonist of the novel, and we grow to trust him and love him even in his darkest moments. But the real star of this novel, in my opinion, is undoubtedly the old soul of Almondine, Edgar’s lifelong canine companion. Almondine has a few brief chapters in which she tells her side of the story, and these stand out to me as the life blood of the entire 562 pages. I’ve never read anthropomorphic literature that was so stirring and, at the same time, so convincing of a creature’s very nature. Almondine’s voice is undoubtedly canine, and touching in a way that perhaps only a dog-lover can appreciate. All I can say is that I was charmed from the moment when Almondine meets Edgar for the first time as a newborn infant fresh from the hospital.

In honor of Almondine’s words (and David Wroblewski’s genius if belated decision to include her unique point of view), I will leave you with some of my very favorite quotes from The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. If you ever have an endlessly snowy winter to get lost in a quiet and meandering tale, I would recommend you give it a look.

p.194, “Places, time, weather–all these drew him up inside of her. Rain, especially, falling past the double doors of the kennel, where he’d waited through so many storms, each drop throwing a dozen replicas into the air as it struck the waterlogged earth. And where the rising and falling water met, something like an expectation formed, a place where he might appear and pass in long strides, silent and gestureless. For she was not without her own selfish desires: to hold things motionless, to measure herself against them and find herself present, to know that she was alive precisely because he needn’t acknowledge her in casual passing; that utter constancy might prevail if she attended the world so carefully. And if not constancy, then only those changes she desired, not those that sapped her, undefined her.”

and Edgar’s thoughts:

p. 457, “Life was a swarm of accidents waiting in the treetops, descending upon any living thing that passed, ready to eat them alive. You swam in the river of chance and coincidence. You clung to the happiest accidents–the rest you let float by.”

And finally, again, the ever-delightful Almondine:

p. 461, “She slowed. The farm danced about her. The apples trees bickered with the wind, clasped limbs in union against it, blackbirds and sparrows and chickadees and owls rimming their crowns. The garden cried out its green infant odor, it’s melange the invention of deer or, now it seemed to her, the other way around. The barn swung her fat shadow across the yard, holding it gently by dark wrists and letting it turn, turn, stretch out in the evening upon the ground but never slip. Faster it all revolved around her when she closed her eyes. Clouds rumbled across heaven and she lay beneath, and in the passage of shadow and yellow sunlight, the house murmured secrets to the truck, the traveler, who listened for only so long before its devout empiricism forced it away in wide-eyed panic to test such ideas among its fellows. The maple tree held the wash up to the light in supplication and received (bright flames) yellow jackets each day, its only reply. The mailbox stood soldierly by the road, capturing a man and releasing him, again and again.”

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Summer Do

I’ve seen a few summer to-do lists floating around in the blogosphere lately, and I thought it’d be a fun idea to make one for myself. After all, this summer isn’t ALL about scraping siding, growing veggies, and settling into my new job right? Right??!?

Hopefully this list will help motivate me to fit some fun and relaxation into my summer:

Summer 2012 TO DO:

1. Watch the sun rise. 

Catching a good sunset is easy enough, but you (or at least I) have to make an exceptional effort to do the opposite. I wonder at what beautiful spot my sunrise watching endeavors will take place…

2. Finish Gone With the Wind.

So far Scarlett O’Hara takes the cake as my least favorite literary heroine of all time. But, I’m only halfway through the book, so there’s still hope for her in the last 400 pages. If I’m not totally miffed by the time I read those famous last lines, I might even deign to watch the movie and see what all the fuss is about.

3. Go blueberry picking.

There’s a fantastic urban blueberry farm that I used to drive past every day on my way to my old job. All winter it has been taunting me with signs advertising promises of summertime pick-your-own blueberries. Since I never got around to planting my own blueberries this spring (sad face), I will be sure to doubly enjoy the fruit of someone else’s labor. 

4. Go swimming. 

Early this year I was fortunate enough to take swimming lessons with my sister. This was a Big Deal for us, because we are approximately 30 years old and had never learned how. There’s no better way to celebrate summer and last winter’s achievements by soaking up some sun and chlorine by the pool. Now if I could just find a pool..

5. Try 10 new recipes.

There’s no excuse, in the season of plenty, not to try my hand at some tasty new recipes. Any suggestions would be more than welcome.

6. Bike to work. 

I have a cool new bike. And I have a helmet. All I need is a bike lock and then I’ll have no excuse.

7. Have a picnic.

This one’s easy. Pack something delicious. Hike/bike/walk somewhere really pleasant. Sit down and enjoy it all! Perhaps that is too easy and I should challenge myself to have a picnic somewhere really unique.

8. Learn a new song on the piano.

It’s been a while since I sat down at the piano. It’s been even longer since I took the time and effort to learn a new song. Something tells me it’s about that time.

9. Throw a party. 

It’s not summer without a backyard festivity or two. Though for me, “party” usually equates with “family gathering,” which is perfectly fine by me. I might even get really crazy and attend a gathering of non-family members. Probably not, but it’s a possibility!

10. Ride an amusement ride.

According to wikipedia, “amusement rides are large mechanical devices that move people to create enjoyment.” I’ve never been a big fan of roller coasters, but that shouldn’t stop me from bringing out my inner thrill-seeker. Perhaps this year’s State Fair will find me squealing on a Tilt-A-Whirl or two. 

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Regardless of whether or not I achieve all my tasks (and achieve in successfully blogging about them), my one hope for the summer is to enjoy myself as much as I possibly can and to make some wonderful memories to help keep me warm when winter comes again. May all your summers be as relaxing, thrilling, productive, and enjoyable as you make it!

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Six books on my to-finish list.

I used to consider myself an avid reader. Sadly, these days I can’t make that claim. I have finished four books so far in 2011. Of this I am happy because that is about three or four more books than I finished in 2010.

I wish I could become an avid reader again. When I was in eighth grade I made a goal of reading 100 books in one year. I made it up to, I think, 87 by the end of the year. Then, miffed that I hadn’t reached my goal, it took me another year to round out those last 13 books.

I did almost nothing but read all through high school. I was the only kid in my class who actually read Bleak House when we were supposed to be reading Bleak House, and I loved it. I couldn’t get enough of the classics, and I’d leave the library with stacks of books whenever I got the chance.

When I got to college I still loved to read, but I had less and less time for it as the years went on. Somewhere along the way I got really, really out of practice.

I blame my lost love of reading not on college, but on the internet. Or, more accurately, on my lack of willpower where internet usage is concerned. As wonderfully informative and enlightening as the internet can be, more often it becomes somewhat of an intellectual black hole for me. I head to a cozy spot, all ready to settle down for a good hour of reading, deciding just to check my email for one minute real quick…not realizing that I’m teetering on the edge of the event horizon of mindlessness. Before I know it, I’ve spent an hour or two reading comments to an article about Miley Cyrus’s new tattoo, and my entire chance to better my world has somehow cruelly slipped out from under me.

So I have decided to wean myself from my internet surfing habits, and devote myself to the pursuit of things I used to love. In order to make the transition, I’ve been remembering just what components make for a successfully avid reading session. Of course, you need a cozy, quiet spot; comfortable clothing; snacks, preferably chewy but not too unhealthy; a good beverage; adequate lighting; a reading buddy if appropriate; a writing utensil for taking notes; and, of course, a good chunk of time.

It’s also important to take into account your reading style. I tend to be a kinesthetic learner, so I may need to walk around while I’m reading, or sit in a rocking chair or on a porch swing. This is also why I have my pen and my snacks handy. The more fidgeting I can direct to other parts of my body, the better I will be able to keep my eyes and my mind focused on the page. I’ve also found that reading out loud can help me to absorb the language and the meaning, so having a private place to read can be important.

I think the biggest thing for me will be, simply, getting back into the habit. It takes a certain mindset to be able to sink so deeply into a narrative that you don’t want to come out of it. That you would rather stay up till 4am than not finish the next chapter, and the next, and the next…I can’t even remember the last time that I was that kind of a reader! But, if I really put my mind and heart into it, and am willing to take the plunge, I think I might, I just might be able to devote myself to becoming a reader again.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a stack of books to attend to, and some websites to avoid.

 

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