March wrap-up + the need for silence

Here we are in the beginning of April. Sure, spring technically comes in March, but April really shows the sun coming up earlier and going to bed later, like it’s too excited for the day to sleep any longer than necessary. Like it’s coming out of hibernation. I share the sentiment.

In March, we hit milestone: a year since COVID-19 joined our lexicon as an everyday word, since debates and discussions of the CDC and mask-wearing protocols and virtual school inserted themselves as dinner-table talk. Maybe also as breakfast- and lunch-table talk. Coupled with that milestone and the end of winter, my mind has been busy lately. And when my mind is busy, I need more silence.

Sometimes that looks paradoxical – it looks like more TV watching, less thinking. Or more thinking and less ambient noise. Or just working around the house without any music on (super unlike me). A result of needing more headspace has been reading fewer books.

This month I read a mix of a space opera, magical realism/kind-of fantasy, and meditation/poetry. While my attitude towards reading (or the books I read?) was kind of slump-y, I’m happy that I mixed up my genres.

Reading mountains of pages has seemed like a luxury throughout The Time of the Global Pandemic and the winter therein. It was easy to cozy up to books when it was cold outside. When more clothes and blankets and pillows were needed. When hot coffee or tea is protection from After a long day of virtual learning and working from home, it was easy to transition into a different headspace.

However, with the world (or at least Northern Hemisphere) opening up both seasonally and physically, it seems I should be doing something different than hibernating. Let me change that: could, not should. I could be doing something different.

Obviously books have a place. It’s a hobby I have really enjoyed and actually have found quite necessary. But tending the lawn and spring cleaning the house and purging the unnecessary also has a place that sometimes is just as important.

To be honest, I have dreaded this moment I’ve arrived at. The end of quarantine (or relative end… the end of strict quarantine), the end of a forced hibernation and hunkering-down. The beginning of more socialization and activities and meetings and…. well, there it is. The end of un-busy-ness.

The time and space created by a global health crisis is beginning to fly away, and I’m grasping on to it desperately, pleading with the world to not let it go. There is a place for shorter commutes and more time at home. There is a place for less aimless socializing and more intentional relationships. There is a place for less multitasking and more focused, high-quality work ethic.

While I’m navigating this difficult transition, I’ve allowed myself some space. For me, that looks like getting up earlier and going to bed later. That means letting go of control of some household tasks that I’ve held in my heart of pride for too long. That looks like ambivalence for committing to new activities, or restarting old ones. That means drinking in the stories I read, and taking time to curate the words I write. That looks like letting my brain rest, either with more running or sitting on the patio watching the birds or playing Nintendo or simply watching TV, accompanied by no other activities. Productivity is no longer my end goal.

I wasn’t quite sure how I would get here, but as they say, Necessity is the mother of invention, and where does invention start but in our own lives?

Philosophy and space kittens (spoilers below for A Desolation Called Peace)

In January, I read A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. I actually really enjoyed it. (In fact, my new fave fantasy/sci-fi subgenre might be space operas…) So far, the sequel in the duology, A Desolation Called Peace, has delivered. March has been a significantly slower month as far as reading goes. Something’s happening in my body – i”m coming out of hibernation, out of winter. I also have had more than a few nights where I just had to go to bed early because of fatigue or a headache, or both. Nevertheless, I persist with my reading goals and habits.

A Desolation Called Peace starts out with Ambassador Mahit Dzmare on Lsel Station. She has two imagos of Yskandr – one she was given before being assigned to the empire Teixcalaan in the first place, and one that she and her Teixcalannli companions retrieved from the body is Yskadr himself which she had implanted in her brainstem by way of shady back-alley neurosurgery. Now the Councillor wants her to download the imagos… and Mahit could be in serious trouble.


I want to extrapolate some quotes that I find particularly interesting and applicable to… well… life.

“Don’t trust anyone who makes you feel good without knowing why they want you to feel that way.” (page 41)

That is a good reminder in case you’re wondering if someone is trying to emotionally manipulate you. After working in schools for the better portion of my teaching career, I can tell you that kids see right through that shit. But unfortunately, many adults have ulterior motives for making other people feel good or wanted or accepted.

“The body didn’t care about the size of the promise, only the size of the cut.” (page 77)

I kind of interpret this to mean that we don’t quite realize the promises or oaths we swear until we’re burned by them. Sometimes you have to be “cut” or burned to learn to not make promises you can’t keep.

“What better way to draw a monstrous thing to its death than to use its functions against itself?” (page 83)

Yes, we can use our enemies’ strengths and weaknesses against them. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

“Trust is not an endlessly renewable resource.” (page 167)

For sure. I think trust can be long-suffering, but it can be used up and unable to revive.

“Cost-benefit analysis was antithetical to sleeping.” (page 174)

Ahh yes. Make a pros and cons list they said. It will tell you what you need to do, they said. Until you get zero sleep because you’re perseverating and probably worrying.

“Imagination created biases.” (page 174)

YES. Imagination can be great, but it can lead to pie-in-the-sky expectations. And then when real life hits, all the expectations come crumbling down.


Besides these quotes, the book is just good. The plot is moving forward, there’s great character development, and, as the title claimed, there are space kittens. I’m not much of a cat person, but this excites me. I’ll be back with more about A Desolation Called Peace after I’ve finished it, hopefully soon!

November TBR Update

Looks at calendar. Um, what? It’s the middle of November already? A little unbelievable if you ask me.

So far this month, I’ve read three books, two of which I had planned on reading and one that I kind of planned on reading, but then actually did, thanks to the library’s grab-and-go curbside service. And another shout-out to now teaching virtually again, at least for a few weeks. This means I have at least an extra hour in my day, which consequently lends itself to more coffee and reading time in the morning.

If you remember from my November TBR post a couple weeks ago, I mentioned The Dragon Waiting. I tackled that one first because next week I will be discussing it in the award-winning fantasy/sci-fi book club and I wanted to be sure I read it. This coming weekend or early next week I will probably review it a bit and write down some notes.

It was a tough but enjoyable read. The first thing I thought of when it opened to one of the main characters, Hywel, is that 1) I don’t know much about Welsh language and culture and 2) Beowulf. Since we’re discussing it in book club next week, I don’t want to say too much here. But overall I really liked the writing style and flow of the book. The dialog was tough to follow.

My second read was Season of Storms, one of the installments of the Witcher books. I loved this one. It was actually perfect coming right after a heavier, denser fantasy book. I have already had a good introduction to the world of the Witcher through first the TV show and then a few of the books. Geralt and Dandelion are true-to-form and I found myself actually laughing out loud. Mostly it felt like I was riding alongside Geralt as he went from here to there, but there were a couple plot arcs (is that a phrase?) through the book. It’s not billed as a novel, but with the way the stories resolve themselves, I would personally say that it is. Next in that series is Blood of Elves.

The book I just finished tonight was not on my original November TBR. Because the weather is getting cold here and I was already in Europe in The Dragon Waiting, it made me think of a book I loved as a tween called And Both Were Young by one of my all-time favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle. Last year or the year before I did a re-read of some of her books – A Wrinkle in Time, Many Waters, A Wind in the Door.

And Both Were Young is a really good coming-of-age story set in a boarding school in the Swiss Mountains. There’s all the vibes of a cozy winter story – snowfall, talk of skiing, wool, fireplaces, hot cocoa. Beyond that though, I remember why I loved the story so much. The main character Philippa, or “Flip,” comes to a boarding school as a tall, gangly, slightly socially awkward girl who through about the course of a semester learns to make friends, let things go, and also creates a relationship with what I’m assuming as her first boyfriend, Paul. She’s also very introverted and contemplative, which besides being tall, I can relate to.

The book is set right after World War II, so there is a lot of discussion of other students losing parents and family members, and dealing with the after effects of war. In fact, the book discusses a lot of perspectives of grief, and it’s a way that the characters, both students and faculty, bond with each other. While it’s a very fast and digestible read, it was just as great as I remember.

Today I received on request from the library An Ember in the Ashes, which is a YA fantasy book that’s been on my TBR for quite awhile. I might go ahead and dig into that. All in all, I’d say it’s been a successful month.

Books have souls

I had convinced myself that I really loved reading. That I was a voracious bookworm, just itching at every chance to read whatever book had a sad-looking folded up bookmark in the pages. I convinced myself that dog-earing a page in a book was a travesty, and that turning the page not from the bottom corner was senseless mutilation.

I realized only a few years ago that I’d convinced myself of lots of lies about books. I was in love with the idea of reading, curling up on the couch with a blanket and beverage, and just getting lost in the pages. I saw myself in a sunlit room encapsulated by smartly stocked bookshelves with books just waiting to jump off the shelves and land in my lap.

How deceived I was.

The problem was that I lacked an internal motivation to read. Sure, it looked great when I logged “Read” on my Goodreads (one of the best apps in my opinion, btw). Wow, I started a book that was at least 300 pages on December 20 and finished it on December 22? Go me. You love to read.

Wrong.

It wasn’t until I was reading some wisdom from writer Rosie Leizrowice that I realized what my internal motivation could be. Forgive me because even after perusing some of her essays I cannot find the exact quote, but she wrote something about how we take a piece of each book we read with us. Books form us, they color the world we see. And I say, the reason we’re drawn to books is because the story has us as the star.

Once I realized that and started to believe it, I really got down with some books on my couch. Over my winter break I read no fewer than 4 books. Four books in 12 days for me is no small feat. That means, folks, that I actually had to be focused on something for a lot period of time. Something that I had to make come alive in my head, put a voice to.

Once I realized that my squirrelly mind could be occupied by a book long after I finished it, I began (again) to like to read. Now that I understand that my life can be informed and transformed by what I read, it’s interesting to me (again). And dare I, the nonfiction lover of all time, say that I even see a purpose in reading fiction.

To be truthful, I did have a bit of external motivation for my little tryst over winter break. I wanted a damn coffee mug from the library for completing the winter challenge. Committing to the challenge hearkened back to summers spent riding my bike to and from the library to check out books, most of which I actually wanted nothing to do with, and fill up lines on a piece of paper for a small prize.

Still in the dead of winter, I sit on my couch with my blanket and (new!) mug, actually reading because I want to. Imagine.