bullet journal, Christmas, Goals, Life, life hacks, new year, New Year resolutions, planning, religion, self-help

Twelfth night

“I say there is no darkness but ignorance.” (Shakespeare, Twelfth Night).

As Twelfth Night is upon us, as we prepare for the Epiphany and the ‘coming’ of the Wise Men, it is good to consider wisdom as an antidote to ignorance.

Traditionally, on Twelfth Night one put away their Christmas tree – or risk bad luck for the rest of the year.

Twelfth Night and remembering the Magi seem to me to be good moments to pause. Gone is the flurry of Christmas, the festivity of New Years, the lazy hedonism of early January in summer (or winter, if you do not live in the Southern hemisphere!). Often we are back at work, dusting off our goals and plans for 2018.

Twelfth Night affords us time to reflect on these goals and dreams. What is it, really, that we want 2018 to bring? And how will that look, in our every day lives?

I like to think in terms of ‘more of‘ and ‘less of‘.

Things I want to do more of, and things I want to do less of.

No pressure but wisdom drawn from reflecting on the year that was, and life thus far. As Pope John Paul II noted: ‘Who does not feel the need for a “star” to guide him on his earthly journey? Individuals and nations both feel the need’. 

We look for the star, the wisdom to make right choices in our life in this new year.

The wisdom highlights virtue and reflection. Taking time each week to reflect in faith, and hope, and love. What is it that I want to do more of? What is it that I want to do less of?

And writing these down or noting them in an app or on your phone. Though writing down such goals has been shown to be most effective.

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My current bujo planner.

Followed by reflection. What can I do this week to make this more of and less of a reality? How did it go last week? What are the hihglights of the week, the things I am grateful for, and what will that look like next week?

Stephen Covey called this sharpening the saw. Whether it is undertaken on a weekly or  fortnightly or quarterly basis, Twelfth Night is a good time to begin.

To take a step with reflection. That way lies wisdom. Who knows where, in the end, this step to reflect may take you in 2018?

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” (The Lord of the Rings)

 

 

 

authors, book reviews, Books, Christmas, Life

An almost Christmas sampler: Books of 2017

If you are like me, you read. A lot. Constantly. You have books going at home, on your phone when caught (horror!) without a paper book. Books at work, for work. Articles saved to devour, later. Fiction and non-fiction, for study, for self, for work, for the liturgical year, for intellectual and personal improvement, for escape, for story telling, for philosophy and theology wrapped in narrative,  for book club. Bits and bobs of books floating in your head, because you read a line or a page and move on.

But some books stand out. You remember them, not necessarily because they were good or bad but because something touched that frozen sea within you.

These are some of the  (many) books I read in 2017:

The Dry by Jane Harper: Australian outback. Drought. And an almost colourless main character, detective Aaron Falk. I think it is often hard for a woman author to write a male, and for a male to write a woman. I think Aaron Falk is a simplistic character in a complex story, simply because it was easier for Harper to write a male that way. The story intrigues, however, in spite of  this, and in spite of the author’s obsession with weight – every character is a few kilos over ‘ideal weight’ or thin and at ‘ideal weight’. Can we describe characters without weight? It would be interesting to try. Nevertheless, the book intrigued me enough to make me read Harper’s second novel Force of Nature. I think she grew into her writing in this novel. It tries less ostentatiously to be Australian; it just is. A mystery with a good twist, set in the Australian bush.

The Strike series by Robert Galbraith (yes, the pen-name of J. K. Rowling): I wanted to see what Rowling was like, post Hary Potter.  I wanted to read what has been described as good, old-fashioned detective novels. I think you get hints that this book was written by Rowling – the detail of the world and the curiousity of the characters, for example. I was surprised, however, by the sexist description of women – those pert. high breasts... It may be that Rowling felt this was expected in a detective novel, ostensibly written by a man, with a male detective as the focal point. But what an opportunity missed, to write of women without describing breasts or legs or sexually pleasing looks? Overall, I liked the novels. I enjoyed the plots and the literary inclusions. I am a bit worried that book four, however, will feel compelled to weave romance into the plot. I don’t read detective stories for romance. Actually, I don’t read romance. I guess that says something about me. Good or bad.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: I tried to avoid this book. I hate the celebration of quirky characters that you know, like Ove from A Man Called Ove (a book I read this year by Fredrik Backman, for book club), have hearts of gold under problem exteriors,  in the narrative, but who, in real life, would be bloody annoying. And harsh. And mean. I think, too, that, in contrast to what these novels write, we are more than our pasts and our childhood, even our difficult childhoods (ask me how I know). But I stray. I gave in to this novel, it kept following me everywhere. And though the story and characters were a little contrived, I think Honeyman ( like Backman) is a good storyteller. And I love stories. The stories of who we are and why we are. The stories of different people, communities,  and experiences. The stories of  being human. While I gave this book away ( I keep less and less of my books) I loved it. In the end. Though I saw the ‘mother’ twist coming a mile off…..

download       The Scandal by Frederik Backman (published in the U.S. as Beartown): I mentioned  Swedish writer Backman above. I loved this book. ( You are surprised to hear me say I loved a book, right? After my commentary above. But I did like the books above. Truly. It was just a qualified like). Backman can write characters. He forms plot. He shows us different viewpoints. He tells a really good story ( I cried in Britt-Marie was Here, and smiled in My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologies). A topical story, of a community that struggles , of women and violence, of small town life as it is and not as we wish to see it through rose coloured glasses. Yes, I’ve lived in small, struggling towns.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin : This mught just be my favourite book of the year. Written from several different perspectives it is laugh out loud funny. It is Jewish humour as only someone who grew up in an American Jewish family could write. Yet, the humour reflects an edge, an important story  – why is that when women have affairs with married men, with  a married U.S. Senator in this case , why is it that the women are called sluts and whores and are slut-shamed? Even by other women; by other women who stand up as feminists but still blame the ‘mistress’. Indeed. This issue is so topical, and Zevin tells the story with humour and different voices. A really good read.

God is No Thing by Rupert Shortt : A non-fiction book of essays. Philisophical discussion of God. Theological discussion on scriptural interpretation and the effect of culture and context. Yet easy to pick up, and put down; read one essay at a time if you like. I’m keeping this book.

I Could Do Anything , If Only I Knew What It Was by Barbara Sher: While this is a self-help book, a positivist breezy book, it does contain nuggets of good common sense, even life-changing nuggets of ideas and concepts. It helped me recognise that I am not a careerist, pursuing one career, but a scanner, scanning and experiencing many different things, in  my life  and in my profession and work. And that is okay. I just need to keep reminding myself of that fact (and I need to earn more….). In a rut, both professionally and personally? Read this book. In sections. Not all at once. It is too much positivism to stomach all at once.

Finally, above all, remember why it is that we who are readers read. It just may be because:

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.” – Ernest Hemingway

Christmas, Life, new year, New Year resolutions, Women, word for the year

It’s not a word for the year. Or even a new year resolution.

white_t_shirt_by_alymunibari-d3fw9adDoing that word for a year thing seems so stale for me now. So old me.

But  to see the new year in without a promise or hope  hurts. It’s like putting a big, fat red cross on 2017 before the poor thing even properly starts.

What to do? It’s a dilemma….

Then, today, I put on my new white t-shirt. Ethically made. Simple. Clean. Clear cut lines. No adornment.

And I remember that I love white shirts. Especially white t-shirts.

Yeah, they show every dirt or stain. But -zap!- a soak in napisan and out they come, pristine. Almost.

They give a sense of a fresh start. Of Youth and of Summer. New promises, as yet unbroken. Even the many times washed white t-shirt. That looks good but not perfect. Like life, really. Promise of more with hints of that which has gone before.

I’m going to buy another new white t-shirt today. It’s like a promise to myself. Of newness and goodness and hope. To try, and to try again.

White t-shirts are a gift to the world.

In the end I find that it’s not that I need a word for the year. Or even a resolution.

What I need is a new white t-shirt (or two or three..). A symbol of hope and promise.

It’s my new New Year thing.

Catholicism, Christmas, family, Life, religion, Women

Not the Brady Bunch

The end of the year.

The Feast of the Holy Family.

I should see their love. I know it is there. Image result for the holy family

But instead I see how often others hold up the Holy Family as an idealised model. As a tool with which to bludgeon others, to make others fit into a mould, a mould into which probably even the Holy Family did not fit.

Those of us who have grow up in different families can be made to feel inferior. I know I did. So I searched for normal. Only to find that normal did not, in fact, mean a Brady Bunch perfect family.

Those of us who have lived in horrible, gut-wrenching, nit-picking, cutting-wrists relationships also know different. We know that the false image of perfection in family life is a razor sharp picture that stabs us as we try, vainly, to snip at ourselves here and there on a path of reconstruction. A reconstruction that can never be achieved. Never.

Because the feast of the Holy Family is an icon. An icon that has been used by some to make family life what they want it to be. Like re-runs of I Love Lucy or Eight is Not Enough. Romanticised reminiscing of family life.

The Holy Family, itself, however, is not an icon. The Family were people.Are people. Jesus, Mary His Mother, Joseph her Spouse. Even in holiness they had their idiosyncrasies, I am sure. Even in holiness they lived rather than acted out scenes for others to copy.

Perhaps it is the living that counts on this feast day. So that, while I am tempted to cringe at the blows and hits of others who manipulate the feast, I can remember that life is lived. In a family and with others.

Living and praying. Trying and failing. Grace and grins. Anger and sorrow. As Thomas Merton reflected, life is lived  – who we are, truly, right deep inside, before God.

‘For me to be a saint means to be myself.’ Thomas Merton, The Seven-Storey Mountain

‘The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them’ Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island.

 

Books, Christmas, Life, Movies

A booky Christmas

For those of us who love books, reading and writing, a Christmas without books would be unthinkable.

While others make lists of food and cards and Things To Do I make mental lists of books to read over the break. The Christmas break. The no work break ( who am I kidding??).

I keep wanting to add more and more and more books but I am trying to learn realistic time management – you know, where you actually plan for what is possible and not for superhuman, Wonder Woman Leonie who can cram 48 hours into 24. Or so she thinks.

These are currently on my booky Christmas want-to-read list:

  1. No Holly for Miss Quinn by Miss Read. An oldie but a nevertheless an easy to read, feel-good Christmas story by that quintessential British author, Miss Read. Miss Quinn enjoys her singleness but has become a trifle smug. One Christmas jolts her from such smugness.
  2.  The Twenty Four Days of Christmas by Madeleine L’engle. What can I say? This children’s book inspired me many years ago. As a young teen reader, I knew what sort of mother I wanted to be, one day. I learned, through literature, of  Christmas traditions. This shaped my mothering and my Christmases. I have to re-read it.
  3. The Conscience Pudding by E. Nesbit. Another classic and another children’s book. The Christmas after the death of their mother, the Constable children (Five Children and It) want to give away their Christmas. As is usual for the children, their endeavours end in situation comedy scenes.
  4. The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton. The sequel to the book much loved by me and many others – The Twelve Storey Mountain (or Elected Silence) – and a book I have wanted to read for  long time. I found an original 1953 edition in a library. Treasuring his own story of conversion while looking at contemplation in my own life.
  5. Selected Writings of Dorothy Day. Dorothy Day may just be one of my modern day heroes. Her story of abortion, affairs, picking men who would not love her back and then, her love for her daughter, her life as a single parent, her love of Christ and her love-hate relationship with the Church, her writing of peace and compassion, especially for the poor and forgotten, the influence of Kropotkin and St Therese – these are the stuff of narrative lived in an authentic life.
  6. Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. Parenting, relationship, movies, told from a father and son point of view.
  7. Bridget Jones’ Baby by Helen Fielding. This is my fluff reading. What can I say? Bridget makes me laugh! I love, too, how the baby becomes the donor in Bridget’s life – very Joseph Campbell.
  8. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. A modern re-telling of The Tempest, set not on an island but in a Canadian prison. What Shakespeare buff could resist?
  9. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. I am a big Nick Hornby fan. I love his style of writing, the semi-autobiographical tone. I love his movies. The movie of this book, with a very young Colin Firth, is a story of family and community,  of love and despair, and  with the usual Hornby character who doesn’t quite fit in (cue story of my life). I love the movie and look forward to the book – a cheap, market find book for me.
  10.  All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. My book club book. It is not yet in my library but I Have to read it for book club. I am scared – will it make me cry?
  11. The 48 Hour Startup by Fraser Doherty. Yes. I am always wanting to start a book business. But I am reading this more like fiction than as a how-to book. The best way to read is through the lens of narrative.

So that is my booky Christmas. I have a smattering of unfinished books lying around, which are my pick up now and then books. Perhaps I will list them in another post.  But for now these are my Christmas books. Will I read them all? Probably not – but then, there is January and reading on the train to work!