don’t silence your passions

don’t silence your passions

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My energy level has been like the weather lately. 

One day I feel sunny and full of energy and the next day, I feel weighed down by cloudiness and torrential rain.  

It’s probably not that dramatic but I am paying attention to the ebbs and flows of my moods. Not in a way of judging myself but with an awareness of the toll of this suspension time. It does feel as if we are in the center of a suspension bridge, each side is anchored, we are in the middle taking sure steps as well as shaky ones and sometimes a gust of wind or passing traffic gets too close and threatens to send us flying. 

I am realizing when days are stacked with sameness, weariness creeps in. It doesn’t take a monumental shift to create a lift in mood. It can be as simple as doing or seeing something different across the perpetual landscape of your life.

Fridays are pizza night and we each made our own personal pizzas. Caleb was last to take his pizza from the oven to cool and left the house to take care of our neighbors’ cats. He came through the front door a minute later surprising us with the speed of his caretaking.

He said, “Guys, you gotta come see this!”

Carl and I left our chairs and walked down the block in socks and slippers and started to hear guitar music. Neighbors were spread out along the block before ours listening, clapping, and dancing to a mariachi band.   New neighbors were celebrating their marriage, a new home, and workers all over the world. A table was full of party favors of coffee, cupcakes, and small bags of toilet paper rolls and hand sanitizer. Carl and I went back into our house to get our masks and shoes for him. We loved chatting with our new and old neighbors who live so close to us but feel miles away as well. Once we returned to our pizzas, grins dotted our faces and our spirits were buoyed.

I had a similar buoyant feeling when I recently hosted a silent book club* via Zoom.

Have you ever heard of a silent book club?

Silent book clubs turn the traditional book club format upside down.

Silent book clubs gather together for a set time to read silently a book of choice then each member discusses the book they are reading.

I had always thought this idea might avoid some of the potential book club pitfalls but I tucked it away for another time. Until I spotted this article about what silent book club groups were doing in light of the pandemic. ZOOM. I immediately sent the article to my mother and daughters and each one was intrigued and interested.

Two Saturdays ago, I hosted my first silent book club over Zoom. 

There were 6 book lovers in attendance. Each one of us brought a book to read silently for 30 minutes. Some read on their phone, e-reader, or from physical books. We didn’t all know one another so after quick introductions, we held up the books we would be reading.  The genres were varied as were the reason for each selection. 

  • Starting a new book
  • Giving a novel written in verse a second try
  • The next book in a juicy series
  • One of many books currently reading
  • A book almost finished
  • A library book that one day will need to be returned

We set a timer, muted our microphones, and read for half an hour. Our meeting time was during the lunch hour and people were free to munch and sip while reading. After time was up, we talked about our books which garnered additional discussions and questions. We talked about how our reading life had been affected by this stay-at-home time period.  We batted around the question of whether audiobooks count as reading. We gave each other book suggestions. We chatted about how many pages to give a book before setting aside.  We all agreed to meet again soon.

 After the book club was over, I was energized for the rest of the day. There is a kinship created when sharing a passion. This video chat wasn’t about solving a work problem or recounting a litany of the redundancy of a day, it allowed each one of us to step outside the noise of a week, even the quiet of our neighborhoods and cities can feel loud, beautiful at times, but still loud.  We were able to carve a tiny space to welcome a beloved pastime.  There was something uniting about sitting in silence together while doing a loved activity. 

If you are not a book lover, this might seem like the most insane or, as someone in my home may have said, a lame idea. But I think you could gather across screens around any type of passion.

You could knit with someone and discuss your creations.

You could set your screen to show the length of your table and work on puzzles together.

You could gather a bouquet of flowers from your yard and share what blooming, what seeds you plan to plant, what vegetables you dream of harvesting. Or give a virtual tour of your yard.

Have a set of photos printed in advance to put in a photo album and play “show and tell” during the process of documenting life. 

Gather the ingredients, prop up a phone, and make the same recipe together. 

Songwriters share your songs with each other, poets whisper your poems. 

Unfold your easels and paint together. 

Our family watches Survivor together in 3 different locations but we are united in debating whose torch will be snuffed out each week. 

How can you celebrate and share your passions? 

Find one way this week.

*****

 

May you encounter your neighbors this week in meaningful ways.

May you recognize any passion you have silenced during this shuttered away time.

May you seek connection with a fellow lover of what sets your soul ablaze.

May you be gentle and kind to yourself on days when your energy is depleted.

 

*silent book clubs may be an introvert’s dream, however, our group was a mixture of introverts and extroverts and I think it made the perfect combination!

the opposite of speed reading

the opposite of speed reading

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“Everywhere there are doors leading to new spaces and new stories and new secrets to be discovered and everywhere there are books.”
~from The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

There are days when I wonder if Carl knew what he was subjecting himself to when we married.

There are the days when a casual walk through our home is marked by a trail, a gathering of books I am currently reading. Each book blending into the landscape until I scarcely realize the sum.


However, over the last year when my life felt tangled and out of sync from aging, mounting stresses at work and dealing with chronic pain, I reaffirmed my shift to living more simply and slowly. My affection for books didn’t diminish but I grew weary of seeing books scattered everywhere. The physical clutter caused me to feel anxious by the vast quantity of literature surrounding me at all times.


Those who live with me, understand this is a slow process. I am not perfect but I am trying to rein in this habit and retrain my ways. It’s a delicate balance to keep order among the books I own and those retrieved from the library.


Two months ago, I lassoed every stray book and took the weighty assortment to my downstairs workspace. Once assembled, I sorted those books into two piles. One pile represented library books that no longer interested me or were not the right timing and would be returned. The second pile was comprised of books I wanted to read, either my own or library owned. I cleared out a section on one of the shelves above my work table and separated library books from owned books. I attached small post-it notes with due dates along their spines.


Any book entering our home will first be placed on this shelf. From this collection, my reading material will come.


I hadn’t realized the weight I felt from having books, even those I was enjoying, spread throughout my spaces. All these unfinished books seemed akin to feeling indecisive and overwhelmed. My reading attention had become scattered and splintered. I was highly distractible. My digital habit of keeping my computer or phone tabs open morphed into countless bookmark usage. After all, I am surely capable enough to read a book, catch up on Netflix with Carl and text a friend simultaneously.


This year, I am endeavoring to read one book at a time. Well, to be honest, one fiction and one non-fiction book at a time. I have also decided to no longer set goals related to the number of books read in a year. My personality drives me towards speed reading instead of savoring the experience of a great book.

Maybe you haven’t read a book in years and have no concept of my issue.

Have you let magazines spill over the coffee table?


Surely you meant to take out a pen to complete the Sunday crosswords but watching each week’s edition cover the previous one leaves you discouraged.


It could be too many clothes to fit in your closet, so they “decorate” other areas of your home?

Are you afraid to open your inbox because the number of emails, unread or otherwise has reached staggering numbers?

Putting my overflow of books in their place and beyond my line of sight brought freedom. No longer am I letting my books manage me.

A small newly created habit where I scan the shelf, assess which books are due soon, which ones cannot be renewed for extra days and the books which have lost their luster for now. Then weed out books and decide which ones might be next in line. I leave the books in their appointed place unless it is time to bring one upstairs.

Since I am a mood reader with a capital M. My previous routine was to gather an armload of books when deciding on my next read, peruse the first few sentences or pages and whichever one captured my attention was the winner. Now I use the same method, but I don’t sit in my living room chair but before my work table. Nothing comes upstairs unless it is my chosen book, not a hopeful contender.


Like keeping a tidy home, tasks need to be done regularly.

To keep my mind tidy, I must be vigilant to not create piles of any sort.
Tidy up, my friends.

Once you finish, why not take 15 minutes and read a good book?


I am off to practice what I preach as I see a few stray books attempting to create a book stack. But here’s a peek at what I am reading now:

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The Next Right Thing
This book is about making decisions. I preordered it before I knew a big job-related decision was looming. I was completely undone with indecision and didn’t have the attention span to read this book. However, one of the bonuses for preordering was a video and workbook course called Discern and Decide. I spent most of one day and completed the course. A different medium helped connect the dots. Months later I was ready to make the decision to leave my job. There will always be decisions to make, large or small. I am hopeful reading this book will aid me to make my next decisions regarding work. The course is still available for a fee, it was immeasurably helpful to me.

The Starless Sea
I have been waiting for Erin Morgenstern to release a new book after loving The Night Circus more than eight years ago. Her newest book is beautiful inside and out and required restraint to delay reading until I had sufficient time to fully immerse in the richness of her storytelling. I have read the first 25 pages and by the time this post is published, I hope to have spent the weekend between the cover of a captivating book.

*****

I love this quote from James Clear’s most recent 3-2-1 newsletter:

Reading is like a software update for your brain.

Whenever you learn a new concept or idea, the “software” improves. You download new features and fix old bugs.

In this way, reading a good book can give you a new way to view your life experiences. Your past is fixed, but your interpretation of it can change depending on the software you use to analyze it.

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