These Precious Days

These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett is one of those books that, while you’re reading, you stop and marvel at what you have just read. Not just the idea, but the way the idea was expressed. 

These Precious Days: Essays is one of those books you think about after you’ve finished reading it.

Though I admit, I struggled a bit in the beginning. Many of the essays seemed disjointed, and I couldn’t quite figure out how they fit together into one essay collection. I kept looking for the common thread, and it wasn’t until I was finished reading, that I realized I may have been looking too hard. 

“These precious days” — the phrase itself. Our days are precious. Whether it’s a chore day, a run-errands day, a have-coffee-with-a-friend day, all our days are precious. And sometimes, those days, my days, do feel disjointed.

Let me share with you some of the gems I marked as I read this book:

“The things we buy and buy and buy are like a thick coat of Vaseline smeared on glass: we can see some shapes out there, light and dark, but in our constant craving for what we may still want, we miss too many of life’s details.”

“I was an introverted kid, and not a strong reader. My grandmother had a stock of mass-market ‘Peanuts’ books she’d bought off a drugstore spinner. Titles like You’ve Had It, Charlie Brown and All This and Snoopy, Too were exactly my speed. I memorized those books. I found Snoopy in Paradise the way another kid might have found God.
Influence is a combination of circumstance and luck: what we are shown and what we stumble upon in those brief years when our hearts and minds are fully open.”

“Did I become a novelist because I was a loser kid who wanted to be more like the cartoon dog I admired, the confident dog I associated with the happiest days of my otherwise haphazard youth? Or did I have some nascent sense that I would be a writer, and so gravitated towards Snoopy, the dog-novelist? It’s hard to know how influence works. One thing I’m sure of is that through Snoopy, Charles Schulz raised the value of imagination, not just for me but for everyone who read him.”

“How I came not to care about other people’s opinions is something of a mystery even to me. I was born with a compass. It was the luck of my draw. This compass has been incalculably beneficial for writing —for everything, really— and for that reason I take very good care of it. How do you take care of your internal compass? You don’t listen to anyone who tells you to do something as consequential as having a child. Think about that one for a second.”

“I’d been afraid the stories of my youth would be as bad as my youthful poetry. I’d been afraid I’d somehow been given a life I hadn’t deserved, but that’s ridiculous. We don’t deserve anything — not the suffering and not the golden light. It just comes.”

“When I went to graduate school, hoping to be a writer, I had no idea that owning a bookstore was one of my career options. But I believe I’ve done more good on behalf of culture by opening Parnassus than I have writing novels. I’ve made a place in my community where everyone is welcome. We have story time and poetry readings and demonstrations from cookbooks. I’ve interviewed more authors than you could even imagine. Many of them sleep at my house. I promote the books I love tirelessly, because a book can so easily get lost in the mad shuffle of the world and it needs someone with a loud voice to hold it up and praise it. I am that person.”

“Where books are concerned, covers are what we have to go on. We might be familiar with the author’s name or like the title, but absent that information, it’s the jacket design — the size and shape of the font, the color, the image or absence of image — that makes us stop at the new releases table of our local independent bookstore and pick up one novel instead of another. Book covers should entice readers the way roses entice bees — like their survival depends on it.”

“In the twenty-six years that Karl and I had been together, I’d never had the experience of coming home to dinner being made. It was a minor footnote considering everything I got from Karl, but still, the warmth of it, the love, to walk in the door after a long two days and see that someone had imagined that I might be hungry knocked me sideways. This was what marriage must look like from the other side.”

Brighter By the Day

I’m a big fan of Robin Roberts and her books.  

In case you missed it, you can click here to read my blog post about her book From the Heart: Eight Rules to Live By

And you can click here to read my blog post about her other book Everybody’s Got Something

Which means I went ahead and ordered her most recent book Brighter By the Day: Waking Up to New Hopes and Dreams without even having seen the book in person.

I was not disappointed. My copy is full of sticky notes and many passages are marked with my highlighter. This book is really such a gift. And while we’re at it, Robin Roberts is really such a gift. 

It’s the way Ms. Roberts writes, as if she’s sitting down giving you a pep talk. Here are just a few gems to share with you:

“Yet here’s what I believe: Optimism is a muscle that grows stronger with use.”

“I’d like to pass on to you the gem my parents once gave me: You already have everything you need to forge a new path for yourself. I know you’re fierce, because it takes chutzpah to consider a new course. And I’m betting that you’ve got hope that tomorrow can be better, ‘cause otherwise, you probably wouldn’t have picked up this little tome.” 

“Confidence isn’t the absence of fear; it’s the presence of mind to move through the trembling.” 

“During my dual showdowns with cancer, I brought my gratitude A game. I knew I had just two plays: I could allow the illness to destroy and define me, to permanently cripple my spirit. Or I could embrace the experience as a rebirth, as a butterfly struggling against the walls of its cocoon, and getting stronger as it does.” 

“People often see the glass as half-empty or half-full. I simply see the glass.” 

“Do you want it more than you fear it? It’s what I now ask myself whenever trepidation makes a house call.” 

“We may not ever fully comprehend why catastrophe has befallen us, and that’s okay. Our job isn’t to comprehend it. It’s to redeem it for good.”

“My village — not an absence of fear — got me through the most harrowing two ordeals of my life-time. That is why I know this: Strength, the real kind, isn’t about braving the behemoths on our own. It’s about being willing to receive — to embrace the help, hope, and healing others want to give us. Vulnerability is the gateway to fortitude. An ever-deepening intimacy with those we love is the enduring treasure.”

“When I’m dealing with a situation I think is all-important, I put it through a litmus test: In a year or two, will this matter? Often it won’t, even in a few months. That awareness changes my perspective and re-anchors me in the present.”

“That’s part of what it means to be brighter by the day: to be mindful of every breath we’re given. Don’t rob yourself of that treasure.”

Giannis

“How’s the book?”

“It’s good,” I said as I held it up and showed it to the barista. He had just brought out my blended mocha and set it down on the table for me.

“It’s about Giannis, the basketball player,” I said.

“Oh, basketball,” he said it with a bit of a question in his voice.

It might not seem like a book I would pick up. Especially if you checked out my Goodreads record and saw the last book I read was Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date.

I try to alternate, reading fiction and nonfiction. And when it comes to nonfiction, I enjoy reading memoirs and biographies. Because I believe everyone has a story. The specifics may vary, but in those specifics you tend to find the universal.

So now I’m reading Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP by Mirin Fader. (In case you don’t know, Giannis Antetokounmpo plays for the Milwaukee Bucks. In 2021, they won the NBA Championship.)

On the surface, Giannis and I don’t have much in common. 

But that’s okay. That’s more than okay. That’s why books are so valuable. They give us the chance to take a peek at someone else’s life. To realize the many ways we are similar. To acknowledge that what you see on the surface is rarely the full story.

My family and I are basketball fans. While we always root for our Los Angeles Clippers, we are admirers of the game and those that play with heart and soul. 

Players like Giannis. 

The Book of Hope

How do you explain “hope”?

In The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams with Gail Hudson, Dr. Goodall describes hope as “what enables us to keep going in the face of adversity. It is what we desire to happen, but we must be prepared to work hard to make it so.”

This book was written during the pandemic, a time when it sometimes felt like all we could do was hope; hope to stay healthy, hope to stay safe, hope for a vaccine. 

This is a powerful book with a powerful message, and this week I’m sharing some of my favorite passages.

“You won’t be active unless you hope that your action is going to do some good. So you need hope to get you going, but then by taking action, you generate more hope. It’s a circular thing.”

From Douglas Abrams, “I was surprised to learn that hope is quite different from wishing or fantasizing. Hope leads to future success in a way that wishful thinking does not. While both involve thinking about the future with rich imagery, only hope sparks us to take action directed toward the hoped-for goal.”

“The trouble is that not enough people are taking action,” Douglas Abrams said. “You say more people are aware of the problems we face — so why aren’t more trying to do something about it?”

“It’s mostly because people are so overwhelmed by the magnitude of our folly that they feel helpless,” Jane Goodall replied. “They sink into apathy and despair, lose hope, and so do nothing. We must find ways to help people understand that each one of us has a role to play, no matter how small. Every day we make some impact on the planet. And the cumulative effect of millions of small ethical actions will truly make a difference. That’s the message I take around the world.”

“Jane’s stories affirmed that when we feel we can make a difference, and we’re given the means to do so, positive outcomes can happen that in turn allow hope to prevail. It was a powerful example of what the research had found contributes to hope: clear and inspiring goals, realistic ways to realize those goals, a belief that one can achieve those goals, and the social support to continue in the face of adversity.”

“From talking with Jane and doing my own research, I was starting to see that hope is an innate survival trait that seems to exist in every child’s head and heart; but even so, it needs to be encouraged and cultivated. If it is, hope can take root, even in the grimmest of situations…” from Mr. Abrams.

“Well, I always knew I had a gift for writing,” Jane added. “From an early age I was writing — stories, essays, poems. But I never thought I had a gift for speaking. It wasn’t until I was forced to make that first speech, and found that people were listening, and heard their applause at the end, that I realized I must have done okay. I think many people have gifts that they don’t know about because nothing forces them to use them.”

“That when the trials of life come, you’ll be given the strength to cope with them, day by day. So often I’ve thought at the start of a dreaded day — having to defend my Ph.D. thesis, giving a talk to an intimidating audience, or even just going to the dentist! — ‘Well, of course, I shall get through this because I have to. I will find the strength. And, anyway, by this time tomorrow it will be over’.”

Readers – I wrote this blog post before the horrific school shooting in Texas. I wrote this blog and now am re-reading it with a broken heart. Hope — it’s more than just wanting things to change. I hope my son will grow up reading about gun violence in history books, as something that used to happen, not reading about it in the newspaper because gun violence remains a current event. Hope involves action. For me, now, that takes the form of voting. Continuing to Vote in Every Single Election. And I hope my readers feel the same way.

Life Glows On

The first book I finished reading in 2022 is Claire Cook’s nonfiction book Life Glows On: Reconnecting With Your Creativity to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life.

It’s a book about acknowledging all the ways we express ourselves creatively. It’s also about acknowledging the need for, and the benefits of, dedicating time and energy to a creative project.

I love Ms. Cook’s definition of creativity:

“Creativity is the box of crayons we use to tell our story, and in telling our story we figure out who we are.” 

And I love this recommendation:

“Every day, do one good thing. And after that, give yourself permission to do one creative thing for yourself.” 

Then there’s this bit of motivation:

“Being creative is about touching hearts. It’s about finding our own heart. It’s about tapping into our past and remembering the unique experiences and insights that make us who we are. It’s about flipping our adversity and challenges and experiences into a point of view, a vision, a style, a voice. It’s about standing strong in our authenticity and individuality and distinctiveness.”

I also enjoyed this paragraph about one of the benefits of getting older:

“Because the coolest thing about getting older is that we really can just be whoever the hell we want to be. If we’re lucky, we’ve stopped caring so much about pleasing the rest of the world. Nobody can tell us who we are. Or who we aren’t.”

What Now?

What Now? is Ann Patchett’s book-length essay which is based on a commencement speech she gave at Sarah Lawrence College. 

This is one of those small gift books that are commonly given to graduates.

I’m certainly not graduating.

So, you may be wondering, why did I read this book?

Because I’m curious. Because I try to read a variety of books. Because somehow this book had made it onto my ever-growing “want-to-read” list, and because oftentimes, I do ask myself, “What now?”.

Here are a few of my favorite parts that I’d like to share with you:

“It was for me the start of a lesson that I never stop having to learn: to pay attention to the things I’ll probably never need to know, to listen carefully to the people who look as if they have nothing to teach me, to see school as something that goes on everywhere, all the time, not just in libraries but in parking lots, in airports, in trees.”

“I stare at blank pieces of paper and paragraphs and single sentences and a buzzing computer screen. Hours and hours of my day are spent with my eyes glazed over, thinking, waiting, trying to figure things out. The muse is a sweet idea, like the tooth fairy. The muse supposedly comes down like lighting and fills your fingers with the necessary voltage to type up something brilliant. But nobody ever made a living depending on a muse. The rest of us have to go out and find our inspiration, write and rewrite, stare and stare and stare until we know which way to turn.”

“It turns out that most positions in life, even the big ones, aren’t really so much about leadership. Being successful, and certainly being happy, comes from honing your skills in working with other people. For the most part we travel in groups – you’re ahead of somebody for a while, then somebody’s ahead of you, a lot of people are beside you all the way.” 

“The secret is finding the balance between going out to get what you want and being open to the thing that actually winds up coming your way. What now is not just a panic-stricken question tossed out into a dark unknown. What now can also be our joy. It is a declaration of possibility, of promise, of chance. It acknowledges that our future is open, that we may well do more than anyone expected of us, that at every point in our development we are still striving to grow. There’s a time in our lives when we all crave the answers. It seems terrifying not to know what’s coming next. But there is another time, a better time, when we see our lives as a series of choices, and What now represents our excitement and our future, the very vitality of life. It’s up to you to choose a life that will keep expanding.”