TBR List Declutter, Issue 33


I’ve been reading Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other (which is on my TBR—TBR List Declutter success story!). The book shows many of the ways that technology connects us with a speed and breadth that hasn’t been possible before while also highlighting how we can use this technology in ways that diminish the importance of deep, real connection, both with others and with ourselves.

Interacting on my cell phone, via voice or text, e-mail or social media, I can choose to sideline anyone at any time for any reason. In some ways, this is helpful. I can screen out distractions if I choose to, connect on my terms, and address issues on my own timeline. This can help me cope with the overwhelming volume of information and sparkly things coming at me through my various devices, but it also reduces the need to compromise for my relationships. When I connect on my own terms, I’m not necessarily thinking about the needs of the other person. This way of connecting encourages me to reframe my relationships in terms of my own convenience, which takes away from the give-and-take that relationships require to grow in depth and meaning.

This way of connecting also encourages me to label people as “worth my time” and “not worth my time,” as “toxic” or “sunshine,” when in reality, we’re all a little of each at any given moment. Experiencing both the good and the bad of another person is part of how we grow a relationship, or at least it has been. When I can turn this off and on, I worry that it keeps everyone at an emotional distance. I “connect” online through likes and brief comments and photos, but often this doesn’t feel like connection. It feels like sitting alone looking at a screen.

I’m not giving up my phone or other devices, but I don’t want to use them mindlessly. I want to be aware of how my use of technology affects my connections with other people, and how easy it is for introverted, somewhat socially anxious me to hide behind. I want it to help facilitate connection—real, socially messy connection, not just connection through likes and comments on my curated social media profiles—rather than keeping others at a convenient, comfortable distance.

The Robert Frost poem “A Time to Talk” illustrates for me an agrarian version of the way that I sometimes prioritize to-dos over real-time connection even when those to-dos can actually wait. I’m more often finishing a blog post than I am doing whatever Frost is doing with those hills, but the basic idea is the same. I want to do better about walking up to the wall to connect with my friends rather than just shouting across the field.

A Time to Talk

By Robert Frost

When a friend calls to me from the road

And slows his horse to a meaning walk,

I don’t stand still and look around

On all the hills I haven’t hoed

And shout from where I am, What is it?

No, not as there is a time to talk.

I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground

Blade-end up and five feet tall,

And plod: I go up the stone wall

For a friendly visit.

Visual Interest:


Playa de San Lorenzo, Gijón, Spain


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


Titles 371-390:

Read More

TBR List Declutter, Issue 32


San Diego is big. The city is very spread out, and while public transit here is either nonexistent or dramatically inadequate, the highways are pretty impressive. They have lots of lanes to choose from and are quite efficient, much of the time.

Although many people I’ve talked to back in Massachusetts gasp when I talk about highways with a dozen or more lanes, I actually really like I-5. At the widest part of the highway (I’ve seen it listed as 20-22 lanes, but I haven’t counted), there’s an “I-5 local bypass” where I don’t even have to get on the highway proper if I’m going just an exit or two down the road. And when I do have to get on the highway, the on-ramps are long. In Massachusetts, I white-knuckled my way onto the highway, praying that someone would let me merge, but here, I use the ramp to accelerate to cruising speed and integrate myself into the flow of traffic, mostly seamlessly.

And while there are some crazy, weave-in-and-out-for-no-apparent-reason drivers and lots of people pass on the right, which unnerves me, the vibe overall is pretty laid-back. I’m still learning my way around, and at times I’m in the wrong lane or something and make a quick change that’s not entirely cool. In fact, I am at times a menace on the road, a scatterbrained driver with two kids talking about warrior cats in the backseat and “más rock…en español!” on the radio who can’t decide which lane she needs to be in to get on I-5 southbound. I know it’s only a matter of time, but so far, I have not been honked at (although my spouse has). I’ve not been given the finger (that I can tell; car windows are tinted pretty dark here). I’ve not been aggressively tailgated in retaliation for some perceived slight. People just let me be an idiot and wave me along in situations in which, had our roles been reversed, I would have totally flipped them the bird.

It seems I’ll have to learn how to be a chill driver after the intensity of Massachusetts roadways. I only hope San Diego highways stay forgiving and don’t take on the characteristics of their sisters in LA and in the SF East Bay (at least as I experienced those highways nearly a decade ago; I apologize if these areas have experienced a change for the compassionate on their interstates and I’ve maligned them unfairly).

Tangent to the tangent: While we were driving in León, Spain, my husband screwed up exiting one of the million roundabouts and accidentally cut off another car. The driver laid on his horn and zoomed up around us into the bike lane to honk some more and tell us off. I’m not sure of the English translation of his hand gestures or the words he was yelling, but I think I got the gist. Given how pissed he was at us, I half expected to see him pointing a gun at us. I wasn’t even aware that I had that fear about my fellow drivers until that moment. But then I realized that we were in Europe and while he might try to kill us in some other manner, the risk of him shooting us was much lower than it would be in the U.S. Yay, Europe!

Visual Interest:


A fellow hiker along the trail in Saguaro National Park East. (Maybe a carpenter ant (Camponotus ocreatus)).

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


Titles 351-370:

Read More

TBR List Declutter, Issue 31


“Why does San Diego have to be so sunny all the time?” asked my son. “I wish it would rain more.”

My son is lover of the cold. He dances when it snows, revels in ice, has the sense to avoid coming in out of the rain.

He is having difficulty adjusting to life in Southern California.

I, however, am having less difficulty. Part of it is that I lived in San Diego as a child, for six of my first ten years, in two three-year increments. San Diego is stored in my memory as “normal.” Canyons and cliffs and dry air and constantly moderate temperatures are my baseline. It’s still an adjustment, but I have to remember it’s more of an adjustment for my children.

“I think when I grow up I won’t move at all,” said my son. “Moving seems like a lot of work.”

I forget that the influences in my children’s lives are different than those from my own childhood, and therefore their thoughts and feelings will differ from my thoughts and feelings about the same subjects. A boy who can only remember living in New England might not have the same sense of “home” in Southern California as I do.

My son is clearly a different person than I am. I feel humbled to be reminded of that.

Visual Interest:

From Fordyce Bath House, which was made into Hot Springs National Park’s museum and visitor’s center:

This is the skylight from the men’s bathing area of the spa.

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


Titles 331-350:

Read More

TBR List Declutter, Issue 30

I’ve been lifting in weight rooms since I was fourteen, mostly in college fitness centers. Most of these weight rooms have had ample benches and multiple sets of weights, and most times I’ve had no problem having a bench to myself and accessing the weights that I needed. Even if I got there and all of the benches were in use, I felt comfortable approaching someone and asking to work in (take turns lifting during while each of us rested between sets) and even asking someone to spot me if it was a day when my spouse wasn’t there. This is what I expect when I go to a weight room.

There’s a fitness center in the apartment complex where we’re staying until we find more permanent housing (or whatever passes for “permanent” for someone who’s moved twenty-three times). Usually I work out with free weights at home, but there are some limitations to that set-up (e.g., no bench, no good way to work my lats, only five-pound increments), so while we have access to a fitness center I’m hoping to make some progress I haven’t been able to make lifting at home.

This apartment complex fitness center has weights, but one couldn’t really call it a weight room. There are only two flat benches, one set of dumbbells, and no barbells. Around the perimeter of about a third of the room are resistance machines and the rest of the space is devoted to high-tech cardio machines (and I won’t even go into how I feel about the idea of running on a treadmill when we live in a place with perhaps the most perfect weather in the world).

Maybe due to a sense of scarcity around free weights, people are a little more possessive with their lifting accoutrements.

The men working out seem to be more aware of the weight room etiquette I expect, or at least they’re accommodating when a 5-foot-tall woman asks to use the twenties sitting by their feet while they’re between sets. But I find that the women are a different story.

This morning when I arrived at the gym there was a man using one of the benches and a woman standing next to a bench doing squats. It was chest and triceps day, so I definitely needed a bench. Since the woman doing squats wasn’t actively using the bench, I approached her (her name was Heather*. I know because it was painted in script on her plastic straw cup).

“Are you using this bench?” I asked.

Heather looked at me unsmiling and said, “Fine, go ahead,” and started to pick up her weights.

Now, maybe I was just sensing brusqueness that wasn’t there, but she seemed put-out to me.

“We can work in—take turns—if you need the bench,” I offered, but she was already moving, head down, to the area behind the benches where she continued her lower-body workout. By the time she needed a bench, the man using the other bench was done, and we both had a bench to use. So, it worked out, but she refused to make eye contact with me the rest of the time.

The interaction left me confused. I can’t figure out if I read the situation wrong or if it was just her personality. Maybe it was a difference in expectations for shared equipment or a difference in culture between a college gym and an apartment complex fitness center, or maybe she was intimidated by my upper arms, which I can’t really hold against my sides anymore because they’re so muscular. If I really wanted to know if it was a culture/etiquette thing, I would try to engage fellow lifters in conversation to get a sense for general expectations, but knowing myself, it’s more likely that I’ll just try to lift during a time when no one else is there.

Enough of the weight-lifting tangent. On to the visual interest, another sunset, this one while we were at the playground:


I assume that I will eventually cease to notice San Diego sunsets, or at least cease to be breathless at their beauty, but for now, I remain short of breath every evening.

Where were we?

  • Tangent – check!
  • Visual Interest – check!
  • Books – Ah, yes. That’s the point of this whole thing. On to the next twenty titles!

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

Titles 311-330:

Read More

TBR List Declutter, Issue 29

Welcome to another twenty-title TBR List Declutter blitz!

As promised in Issue 28, here’s some visual interest. This is a pill bug we befriended on our way home from the playground:


I fear that the feeling of friendship might have been a little one-sided. Also, I can’t look at a rolled-up pill bug without wondering what it would be like to crunch the little fellow between my molars. To date, I haven’t attempted to find out for real, but the wondering persists.

Speaking if wondering, if you find yourself wondering what this is all about, check out the introductory post.

Titles 291-310:

Read More

TBR List Declutter, Issue 28

Hi, there! How’s it going?

Things are great here, although “here” has changed recently. A couple of times, actually. It’s been exciting and tiring and kind of disorienting.

But now that things are settling a little bit, it’s back to decluttering my TBR!

I’m going to try to zoom through the declutter by doing 20 titles per post for a while. Perhaps I’ll include a little non-book-cover visual interest to mix things up a bit. Like this, from the passenger seat of my car in San Diego, California:


Now, on to the books!

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

Titles 271-290(!):

Read More

TBR List Declutter, Issue 27

Craziness is afoot later this month, so during this relatively less hectic time I’m trying to squeeze in some TBR list decluttering for posting during the crunch. Let’s see how I do.

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

Read More

TBR List Declutter, Issue 26

We’ve had our first snow of the year, a good 4-5 inches on the ground and the trees and the rooftops. My children were outside shoveling the driveway with their dad and playing in the snow. They came in laughing and rosy-cheeked. I sat with a cat on my lap and read and ate popcorn and Spanish chocolate and drank La Croix and occasionally looked up to enjoy the snowy outdoors through double-paned glass.

I’m not usually so Scrooge-like about the first snow of the season, but the disinterest does give me an excuse to sit down and go through a few more titles on my TBR. So, silver lining!

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

Read More

TBR List Declutter, Issue 25

This issue of the TBR List Declutter is a bit delayed. I thought I’d gotten wifi at all of the places we were staying on vacation, but it turns out I didn’t. And in coffee shops in León, Spain, no one seemed to be working at tablets or laptops—they were all drinking coffee and eating gratis pastries and talking animatedly to one another (we-ird)—which left me feeling too self-conscious to post from there.

If you want to know the truth, I don’t really feel bad about missing my arbitrary weekly schedule for my TBR List Declutter. I was in Spain, goshdarnit, and it’s difficult to feel bad about anything in Spain, except for the fact that I was exhausted trying to understand and speak Spanish for ten days and traffic circles always make me cry, but in the face of castles and mountains that belong on postcards and cathedrals that also belong on postcards and beautiful, freezing beaches (postcards) and tapas for Thanksgiving (Instagram), I’m certainly not going to feel bad about not posting about books I don’t want to read.

Okay fine, I do want to read some of them. Don’t mind me; I’m just in a whiny mood because of the jet lag. (I know: boo-hoo, no one twisted your arm to go to Spain, did they? No, they didn’t, but that doesn’t make me any less tired.)

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

Read More

TBR List Declutter Week 24

Well, it’s Thanksgiving in the United States, but I’m not celebrating it as I usually do. I’m not going to tell you how I’m celebrating it because I’m writing this three weeks ago, and I’m not sure yet how I’m celebrating it. I’ll have to leave you in suspense until a future post. My eight-year-old would call that a cliffhanger.

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

Titles 231-240: Read More