TBR List Declutter, Issue 47

Tangent: Duplicity, or Junior High: You Can Check Out, but You Can Never Leave

The other day I hosted an event at my house. One of those who attended brought a friend who was visiting from out of town. They were the first to arrive, so after we made our introductions, I sat down with them to chat. Watching this person’s body language, (turning away from me and towards the other person), vocal volume and direction, and conversational content (inside jokes with the other person), it soon became clear that, although the out-of-town friend seemed willing to include me, this person didn’t want me to be part of the conversation.

This confused me, and I pondered the situation after I’d politely excused myself to try to find something to do in the kitchen. This person is someone I see at least weekly, and at those meetings, we speak comfortably to one another. We joke and share stories, and I think of this person as a friend. Perhaps not a “bosom friend” as Anne Shirley would say, but a friend I’d invite to my house for snacks and conversation. It didn’t make sense to me that this person would want to talk with me while our children played at the park, but not when sitting in front of me in my living room.

Along these same lines, there have been a couple of occasions with another not-bosom friend here in which I mentioned or asked about something this person had posted on Facebook, and they mumbled and turned away. Their reaction was so confusing to me that I went back to Facebook when I got home and made sure that I’d friended the right person. I guess I can’t be entirely sure, but they looked alike, and they had the same name and the same children, so I feel fairly confident this was the same person. So why would they act in a manner that suggested I had the wrong person?

It’s like these two individuals are entirely different people in different contexts. My spouse relates it to a need to appear “cool,” and maybe it’s as simple as that. If being cool is the most important thing, then it makes sense to act differently depending on whom you’re with and what you think they would see as cool.

And now I read over that paragraph and the word “cool” seems so 1980’s, so junior-high that I just feel blah about the whole situation. If this really is the case, making friends here may well be more difficult than I’d anticipated. Because not only am I not cool (or at least not intentionally cool, which, of course, makes me cool), I am deeply suspicious of “cool.” I did enough trying to fit in and especially trying to fit in with the cooler kids during my school years to know that when I try to chameleon my way through social situations, I behave in ways that don’t make me proud of myself.

So I’ve adopted a “what you see is what you get” way of being.

I do my best to listen more than I talk and when I do talk, both to say what I mean and to mean what I say. I try to be who I am in every situation, which I hope is kind or at least not unnecessarily rude, tactless, or offensive, because often when I’m being myself, it’s honest, but it’s not pretty.

I don’t wear makeup, I don’t shave, I don’t wear Spanks, I get my hair cut once a year, and it’s been almost a decade since my last professional “mani-pedi” and even then I only got clear polish. Not that you can’t be honest and do these things, just that if I did them, I wouldn’t be honest. On me, those things are an act, and since I want to engage with the world from a place of honesty and openness, I avoid doing them.

As a result, I am not good at cultivating an image. I try to write the way I talk, and I try to be the same person on social media I am in real life. And most of my friends are—or seem to be—the same way.

Is this a California thing? My spouse certainly thinks so, and much of the evidence I’ve gathered seems to point in that direction, but there’s other evidence that doesn’t support that hypothesis but rather suggests that while a particular culture might support more duplicity or chameleon-like behavior, it exists everywhere. And besides, the two people I mentioned above aren’t from California, and for all intents and purposes, I am.

Is it a “stages of life” thing? Is mid-life a reflection of middle school?

And because I’m the common element in these situations, I can’t ignore the possibility that it’s me. Maybe my insistence on talking with people who don’t want to talk with me forces them to be rude and/or evasive to get me to leave them alone. That’s not a pleasant possibility, but it’s a possibility.

Whatever it is, I’m going to keep on doing my best to be who I am—and hopefully the best of who I am—in all situations, both when people are looking and when they’re not.

Visual Interest:

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Moreton Bay Fig Tree, Balboa Park, San Diego, California

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

Books:

Titles 651-670:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 46

Tangent: Music Theory

At the park the other day, my son called to me from the swings.

“Hey, Mom! What song is this? NAH-na-NAH-na-NAH-na-na-na-NAH!”

“I think that’s ‘Für Elise,'” I said.

“Oh, right! I always get that one mixed up with ‘Iron Man,'” he said, referring to the song by Black Sabbath.

“You always get ‘Für Elise’ mixed up with ‘Iron Man’?” I asked, confused.

“Yes,” he said. “They sound the same.”

After more questioning, a little brow-furrowing, and then consulting his sister on some music theory, we figured out the culprit: minor seconds.

My spouse asserts that ours is the only house in the U.S. where the similarity between these two songs has ever been or, indeed, could ever be noticed. I’m skeptical about that claim, but either way I’m indebted to my son for linking Beethoven and Ozzy Osbourne like this for me.

And now you are, too.

I’ve shared the songs at the end of this post so you can hear for yourself.

 

Visual Interest:

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My son’s favorite musicians (by “Iron Man” he means Black Sabbath). Photo included with his permission.

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

Books:

Titles 631-650:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 45

Tangent: TBR Envy

The other day I clicked on the profile of a Goodreads reviewer whose reviews I see with some frequency and discovered that they have more than 3,000 books on their “read” shelf, but nothing at all on their “to-read” shelf.

What an alien concept to me.

Does this person have no TBR at all, or do they have one somewhere besides Goodreads?

Either way, the idea of an empty “to-read” shelf on Goodreads is very appealing. Well, technically I have twelve “to-read” shelves and one “want to read” shelf, so in my case, thirteen empty to-read shelves would be appealing.

Along with the thirteen to-read shelves, I also keep a spreadsheet TBR, and I have a LibraryThing account, which is kind of like Goodreads except that it’s not as pretty or easy to use and using it doesn’t help line Jeff Bezos’ pockets.

But what if I took the TBR offline entirely? I could keep it in my bullet journal. Migrating it to a new book every six months might encourage me to keep the list to a manageable size. Or maybe it would just encourage me to try a travel journal style bujo.

I already have a separate Cavalcade of Classics journal. Right now it’s just for notes and quotes from the books as I read them, but I could easily add a TBR at the beginning of the notebook rather than tracking the titles online.

But then I wouldn’t have the satisfaction of moving titles on Goodreads from “to-read” to “read.”

Pros and cons.

A TBR change might be worth mulling, if only for the exercise of exploring my assumptions about how to organize books/titles. And as an excuse to ask reviewers about their empty TBR shelves.

My question for you: How do you manage your TBR?

Visual Interest:

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You can’t convince me that this sticker placement isn’t intentional.

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

Books:

Titles 611-630:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 44

Tangent:

No tangent today. This post is all business. And I can’t think of a tangent that interests me enough to write about it. See “Visual Interest” for a tangential photo of a flowering yucca.

Visual Interest:

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Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

Books:

Titles 591-610:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 43

Tangent: Attachment Parenting

My daughter is considering residential camps for this summer. She’s done day camps since she was five years old, but sleep-away camp is uncharted territory for us, and we’re all kind of feeling our way around with this one.

When we were expectant parents, my spouse and I made a conscious decision to embrace attachment parenting. There are a lot of different ideas attached to attachment parenting, but for us it meant ensuring that our daughter had a primary attachment figure in her life (I tacitly accepted the unspoken nomination to the position). Her father and I would both do our best to anticipate our daughter’s needs and either meet those needs or be there to support her if we couldn’t (or chose not to) meet them (i.e., it’s not our job to stop her from crying, but it is our job to be there with her while she does). As best we could, we viewed our family as a unit, an integrated whole greater than the sum of its disparate but complementary parts. The goal was and is balance, respect, and a base of support from which our daughter—and later our son, as well—can feel confident moving into adult life.

The data aren’t all in yet, but so far it seems to be working as advertised. When they were little-little kids, they would toddle away from me and do their own thing for a bit, but they always looked back to make sure I was there, always came back for that physical reassurance of my presence before venturing out again. As they’ve grown, it seems like our relationship has continued to be a variation on this theme. They test out their confidence, and I stay attentive to determine when they need a nudge, when they need reassurance, when they need a hug, and when they just need me to stay our of their way. I’m there to listen to their questions and sometimes to answer but mostly to ask questions back. And when they don’t need me, I’m still there, off-stage, but always ready.

Sleep-away camp feels like part of this progression, but it also seems different, more like a leap than a step. In my discomfort, I’m finding it necessary to be careful what I say. It’s important to me that I help my daughter identify her fears and find the answers she needs to feel comfortable—or comfortable enough—without projecting my own fears onto her. It’s important that I reflect back her feelings, not tell her my own. My experiences with sleeping away from home, whether positive or negative, are irrelevant to her experience. Moreover, my experience of her going to sleep-away camp for the first time is for me to work through, not something in which I should involve her. I am the one who supports; she is the one supported, and even then only to the degree that she needs/wants to be.

And there’s the dance: knowing when to step in and when to wait in the wings and watch her live out her experience. I hope I’m up to the challenge. I expect there’s much more of this sort of thing to come.

Visual Interest:

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Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

Books:

Titles 571-590:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 42

Tangent: Social Media Prune

The title of this tangent is inspired by (stolen from) a recent podcast by Katy Bowman (episode #101: Social Media is (Still) Shaping Your Body), but I’ve been thinking about making a change in how I engage with social media for a long time.

There are a few things driving this desire:

  1. Social media helps me keep in touch with friends and family, but I am unsatisfied by the nature of these relationships as they exist online. I want to find a deeper alternative.
  2. Social media doesn’t always bring out the best in me. I find my pulse racing just as I read comments, and I break into a sweat when I consider commenting myself. Assuming positive intent is one of my goals (yes, my Happiness Project goals are still alive in my today-life. I should probably blog about that sometime), but I tend to assume the worst intent when I read comments. It doesn’t help that I feel like I need to guard against being taken in by Russian bots.
  3. My phone is affecting me physically. There are a couple of little things—weird eyesight stuff, pain in my fingers—that get better when I move away from my phone. Social media isn’t the only thing I do on my phone, but it’s the least important (with the possible exception of some of the podcast listening I do). If I’m looking for a way to spend less time on my phone, scrapping the least important things i do on my phone would probably be a good start.

I don’t really have that many social media accounts. I got rid of Twitter several years ago, and I’m on LinkedIn and Nextdoor.com, but while they’re technically social media, they don’t demand the same level of maintenance that Facebook and Twitter do. I guess a blog is a form of social media, but it doesn’t feel like a problem to me. If it takes over, I take a break.

That leaves my two biggest social media vehicles: Facebook and Instagram.

Instagram I’m not sure about, but Facebook is a constant struggle for me. I am almost certainly giving Facebook more than I’m getting from it, but there are still positives I’m afraid of losing by dropping Facebook entirely. For example, there is a local homeschool group that only exists on Facebook. Okay, it also exists in the real world, but all real-world activities are scheduled through the Facebook group, and I wouldn’t know about these if I weren’t on Facebook. And I have friends who have almost entirely replaced e-mail with Facebook messenger. If I scrap Facebook, I cut off myself—and my children—from these ways of communicating, something that’s particularly concerning as recent transplants. Will my children miss out on social opportunities because their mother can’t engage with social media in a healthy manner?

I don’t know how to reconcile my need for connection with my need to separate from social media. In the short-term, I’m planning a social media fast for either July or August (my spouse doesn’t believe I’ll actually do it. He might be right, but I’m still planning it). There are fewer homeschool activities planned for the summer months, so hopefully a summer break won’t cut my children and me off from too many opportunities to meet potential friends. Maybe a month or two off will help me reevaluate both what I give and what I get from social media and maybe even yield some insights about how to meet our needs for connection outside of the social media framework.

So, my question for you: How do you meet your needs for making and maintaining connections, particularly outside of social media?

Visual Interest:

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Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

Books:

Titles 551-570:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 41

Tangent: The Best Defense

My cat, Owen, turned eighteen this past February. He’s starting to look like a bit bony and a little scruffy, he sleeps even more than he used to, and sometimes I’m sure either his eyesight or his reasoning power aren’t what they once were. But he also plays enthusiastically with the laser pointer and wakes us up by racing up and down the hallway at 2:30am, sounding a lot like a tiny horse on our wood floors. He’s elderly, but he’s spry, and even veterinarians are surprised when I tell them Owen’s age.

At his age, Owen has had a lot of adventures. He’s lived in four different states and ten different houses, he’s traveled cross-country by car thrice, and he’s been both a sidekick and an only cat. San Diego, with its ample sunshine and mild temperatures must have seemed to him an ideal setting for a quiet retirement.

Until he met Fluff Face.

Fluff Face is a big Maine Coon that, from our perspective, belongs to one of our neighbors. From Fluff Face’s perspective, however, it’s the neighborhood that belongs to him.

For the first month we lived in this house, we saw Fluff Face lounging on driveways, skulking around bushes, strutting atop fences. My children tried a few times to befriend him, even giving him the name “Fluff Face,” but he preferred to keep to himself.

During the same time, Owen got into the habit of walking around our new house, yowling mournfully. It was an awful, deep-throated sound, different than the noises we’d heard from him before. He would yowl late at night or in the early morning, wandering through each room. He would also yowl while eating his canned food in the late afternoon. Most times I could call to him, “Owen, you’re okay, buddy!” and he would respond with a plaintive meow and then go lie down to sleep. We couldn’t figure it out. Was he in pain? Did he miss the old house? Had he just lost his marbles?

Then the other evening we heard a awful caterwauling coming from outside. I found Owen with his tail puffed out, staring through the glass patio doors into the darkness and making a kind of coughing sound. I turned on the patio light, and right on the other side of the glass sat Fluff Face, growling and hissing at Owen.

Owen’s wandering and strange behavior suddenly made a lot more sense. He was trying to defend his territory against this external threat. Thank goodness he’s long-neutered and did so by yowling rather than by spraying. Knock on wood, of course.

After that, we’ve let our formerly indoor-only cat out on supervised visits into our fenced backyard. We make sure neither Fluff Face nor rattlesnakes are out there beforehand, but then we let Owen mosey out so he can sniff every inch of the perimeter, sit on the cement edge of the flower bed staring regally into the middle distance, and then fall asleep in the sunshine.

It must be a good defense. Since Owen started going outside Fluff Face hasn’t been back. My spouse and I have also been squirting Fluff Face with vinegar water every time we see him in the yard, but I’m sure it’s Owen’s diligent defending that’s keeping our yard safe from Fluff Face.

Visual Interest:

 

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Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

Books:

Titles 531-550:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 40

Tangent: Friends and Flatterers

During lunch, my children and I have been listening to Stephen West’s “Philosophize This!” podcast. Recently we heard about Plutarch’s distinction between friends and flatterers. A friend, Plutarch (via Stephen West) says, is someone who will tell you the truth even if it’s not something you want to hear. They bank on the relationship being strong enough to stand up to the challenge of pissing you off because that’s what friendship is: a relationship that can withstand the challenge of honesty.

A flatterer, on the other hand, is someone who agrees with you no matter what to give the illusion of friendship. This is someone for whom the genuine strength of the relationship is less important than what they can get out of the relationship, be it emotional validation, financial gain, or just not being fired from the president’s Cabinet.

Plutarch suggests that you can tell if someone is a friend or a flatterer by testing the relationship. This rings true to me. All of the people I consider friends are people to whom I’ve made strident and/or boneheaded comments. They call me on it, we work through it, and our friendship is stronger for the challenge. At least it is from my side of things, but you’d have to ask them to know if they agree.

But isn’t there something between “friend” and “flatterer,” some stage of acquaintance that might or might not become either friendship or flattery? If so, how does one tell when a relationship has become a friendship or not?

Is brutal honesty from the outset a valid and efficient method of screening potential friends, or could it sabotage a nascent friendship that might have weathered the test after a foundation of mutual respect had been established? Not that it’s good to prevaricate, but maybe there’s a time in the development of a friendship when diplomacy is necessary just to get the relationship over the first hurdle. But then, how would you know you’ve gotten past that first hurdle without testing it?

Visual Interest:

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Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

Books:

Titles 511-530:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 39

Tangent: Physical Education

None of us had any clue what field handball was, and my children had never taken a P.E. class before, yet here we were on a sunny San Diego winter afternoon on a field in the bottom of a bowl made of hills all around.

We approached a woman holding a clipboard, clearly the person in charge. She greeted us marked the boxes on her sign-in form next to my children’s names.

“You’ll be in this group,” she said to my son. He looked up at me for assurance. I smiled and gave him a little nod. He turned and walked over to the group she’d indicated with a sweep of her hand.

The woman-in-charge looked at my daughter and hesitated. “The older kids are over there,” and she pointed at a group of teenage boys warming up across the field. “But if you feel more comfortable over here with the younger—”

“I’ll go over with the bigger kids,” my daughter said closing the gap between us and the group of boys before the facilitator could finish her sentence.

I set myself down at a nearby picnic table, took a deep breath, and tried not to think about the P.E. classes of my childhood: the time I complained, shaking with fear and indignation, to the principal about the gym teacher’s blatant sexism; always being chosen last for teams (it was always me and Anthony Wong, the two shortest kids in class); a classmate growling in my face until I dropped the basketball that had somehow found its way into my hands; the time two of the biggest boys ganged up during circle soccer and kicked the ball into the solar plexus of each of the smallest students, leaving us sucking air on the periphery while the student teacher leading the class looked on, oblivious. Or at least I choose to believe she was oblivious.

Now I looked on as my long-limbed nearly-thirteen-year-old jumped into the group of boys. She ran hard, chasing after the ball, and when she got it, ran harder still, evading the boys on her way to the goal. She wasn’t particularly skilled, but she was enthusiastic, fearless in a way I never expected from the girl who had hung back during soccer games, watching the other players in the scrum.

It reminded me of how she cowed the boys in physics class, asking and answering questions faster than any of them.

It reminded me of the disorientation I felt while holding her when she was a baby and watching her move her hand and for the first time recognizing that she was a being separate from me, moving through the world with my comfort and support but with her own will.

At the end of class she and her brother ran to me, red-cheeked and breathless, talking over one another while reaching for their water bottles. “I wish the class would never end!” my son exclaimed while my daughter proclaimed that it was the “best class ever!”

We walked to the car, my children strategizing for next week’s class, and me smiling at their joy and their strength and their headstrong individualism.

P.E. was a success.

Visual Interest:

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Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

Books:

Titles 491-510:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 38

Tangent: On Letter-Writing

For the past year, I’ve been exchanging letters with a prison inmate through the letter-writing ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Church of the Larger Fellowship. Because of the circumstances, this is necessarily a pen-and-paper conversation, and for reasons of privacy, it’s one that takes place via a kind of postal game of telephone, my letters going from me to the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston to the prison, and with the return letters taking the opposite route. In the end, though, the letters get through, and we are each holding a piece of paper that the other held in their own hands.

In the meantime, I am connected via social media to friends and relatives who live thousands of miles away from me. We share an emotional closeness, a closeness born of shared blood, shared experiences, and shared friendship, but we rarely connect in the real world.

This prison pen-pal and I share conversation, but we don’t share friendship, and yet by virtue of the paper we pass from one pair of hands to another, we have more of a tangible, physical-world connection than I have with some of the people I love most in the world. When it comes to that, I share more physical closeness with the realtor I shook hands with at the last open house I attended or the person I sat next to the last time I rode on a plane than I do with most of the people to whom I feel closest.

This physical connection is a small thing, but it feels significant to me. Through my various screens, I get information about the people who are most important in my life, but I don’t get the tangible, concrete connection I crave. To close this gap, I’m trying to connect with those I love in the same way I connect with a person from whom I am separated by cinderblock and razor wire.

I’m making a list of about a dozen people to whom I want to write a letter, and I’m setting aside time a few mornings a week to put pen to paper, lick an envelope, and drop a note in the mail, instead of refreshing e-mail, Facebook, and Instagram, e-mail, Facebook, and Instagram, and around and around again in the search for something tangible. I’ll send these letters out and see what happens.

I might be following a false trail, but if it works the way I hope it will, maybe I can regain some of that feeling of connection by putting a paper I touched and onto which I put the words I’d like to say in person into the hands of someone I love.

Visual Interest:

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Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

Books:

Titles 471-490:

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