Things no one has ever said to me

  • “I love how adventurous you are and that you delight in trying new things.”
  • “You never interrupt people when they speak; you are such a polite conversationalist.”
  • “It’s nice that you’re so unpretentious about books.”
  • “You like dogs? I had no idea.”

Little ways to eclipse anxiety

I am a profoundly anxious person. I am easily ruined if my routine is disturbed, easily consumed by the various worries I collect.

Guion goads me to release my anxieties, and I want to, more than I can say. But I will always be an anxious person at heart. I will never be the kind of woman who would let her dog run around off leash or walk on a slimy riverbed barefoot or trust her own instinct with directions or cook without following a recipe. Sadly. (She sounds like a nice woman, and I’m sure I’d love to be her friend and envy her personal freedom.) Rather, I am the kind of woman who makes compulsive lists so that she can cross things off; who schedules free time in hourly increments; who takes excessive notes in any lecture; who remembers obligations, appointments, and debts with nigh sacred devotion.

But. To bend my will and to step out of this anxious frame, I have discovered that there are small things I can do in a day to improve my mental state and ward off anxiety.

If I begin to feel the creeping fingers of anxiety, I like to

  • Clean the kitchen, paying special attention to polishing the counters and cleaning the floor
  • Make the bed
  • Write a letter
  • Finish a book
  • Start a book
  • Take the dogs on a walk
  • Examine my plants in the front yard and clear out weeds
  • Look at flowers, tend to my orchids
  • Mentally recite the scripture I still remember
  • Make a list
  • Throw things away
  • Recall Japanese words and phrases
  • Take notes on a good book, even if I will never look at said notes again
  • Mow the lawn

These things have been perpetual antidotes, soothing balms. I am not ashamed to say that I rely on such simple actions to restore me to equilibrium.

Life improvements

Captive swallowtail. #butterfly
Swallowtail, mistakenly trapped in our sunroom. Looks like he wounded his wing, too.

It’s the little things, you know?

  • A dark & stormy with Guion before dinner.
  • Buying a big cup with a straw to force myself to drink more water at work. Goofy, right? But apparently it has these deep psychological powers.
  • A pre-dinner or post-dinner walk around the neighborhood.
  • Saying no to things I just don’t want to do.
  • Reading again.
  • A new lamp in the living room.
  • Taking a few minutes every day to train the dog or to reinforce old behaviors.
  • Eating dinner at the kitchen table, face to face, to talk about life, to read and discuss Mark (with good ol’ William Barclay).
  • Opening the curtains in our room every day, for the sake of the schefflera.
  • Keeping a training log for the dog.
  • Hair, do what you will.
  • Actually using the expensive pens I was hoarding. Hoarding for what purpose?
  • A cup of tea in the morning, even if it’s hot outside.
  • NOT looking at my new iPhone.
  • Actively unfollowing people on Facebook. Guys, this is the best. It has made Facebook so much more bearable.

What little things have improved your life lately?

Stuff Guion is good at


As we near our second anniversary (!), I’ve been thinking about how fun it has been to be married to this dude. Here’s a list of stuff Guion is good at:

  • Smiling.
  • Making great beer and great music.
  • Dreaming big.
  • Not complaining when Pyrrha wakes him up to go out at 3 a.m.
  • Fixing stuff when it breaks.
  • Reading my mind.
  • Cheerfully taking care of all the little mundane, sundry errands and household tasks.
  • Remembering to pay bills.
  • Singing. Guys, he wakes up in the morning singing. No other human does that. No other human is that internally happy.
  • Having the best name that no one can pronounce.
  • Making friends.
  • Being THE calmest. About everything.
  • Defusing fights.
  • Hanging out with babies.
  • Finding something to appreciate in things that I would deem “low-brow” or “stupid.”
  • Telling stories.
  • Encouraging me to try new things.
  • Improvising marinades and sauces in the kitchen.
  • … and many other things that I can’t include here, because grandparents read this blog sometimes.

Guion! Man! You are the best.

Things I know

Colorful hiragana practice. Source: Pinmarklet

This is a companion list to my recent post, Things I Should Know. These are the few things that I do know and could plausibly teach someone.

This list is simple proof that the bulk of my knowledge is almost entirely useless.

I could teach someone…

  • How to identify most AKC-recognized dog breeds.
  • Hiragana and katakana.
  • How to use apostrophes.
  • How to train a dog seven or eight basic commands.
  • Calligraphy.
  • How to fold a paper crane.
  • Why you should always spay or neuter your pets.
  • Fundamental Japanese verbs.
  • The names of most flowers and ordinary songbirds.
  • How to French braid.
  • Basic HTML and CSS.
  • About Virginia Woolf’s life and work.
  • Rapid alphabetization.
  • How to read and correctly interpret a dog’s body language.
  • The commandments of maintaining naturally curly hair.
  • How to incorporate lists into every part of your life.

As you proved with your earlier helpful and enlightening comments, you’re smart people. What basic things could you teach someone? Do share.

Top 10 Books of 2010: #7


#7: ULYSSES, James Joyce

For the next few weeks, I’ll be thinking back through the books I read in 2010 and ranking my favorites in a top 10 list. Today… (cue Jaws music) meet number 7: The Greatest Novel of All Time, Apparently, James Joyce’s Ulysses.

I know, I know. Of all the books I read this year Ulysses only got ranked number 7. Number 7!? This is mainly because I’m not nearly smart enough to understand it. And because I’m not Irish or Catholic and have perilously little memory of The Odyssey and all the Latin I learned in middle school. But I did read it. I think the better verb phrase there is “labor through it,” but it was remarkable, as everyone says it is.

I am not going to presume to give you an intelligent review of this behemoth of literature. Rather, I am going to give you a list: a brief collection of thoughts on the least “brief” novel probably ever written. So, here we go.

EDITION I READ: A beautiful hardback Modern Library edition, which I just happened to find for a mere $10 at The Bookstore on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. Naturally, I haven’t read Ulysses in another edition, but I loved this one. The margins are wide and the references are complete and easy to find. Recommended.

ESSENTIAL COMPANION: Unless you happen to be a modernist scholar, or a true Catholic Dubliner fluent in Latin and Greek mythology, I’m going to presume to say that you might need a little help with the allusions. I certainly did. Which is why I absolutely relied on this marvelous book, Allusions in Ulysses (which, I’d like to note, was published by UNC Press, where I enjoyed a year as an intern). It is a perfect and clear line-by-line guide to the entire novel and it saved me lots of frustration along the way. I feel that Joyce, like his difficult modernist counterparts, is more deeply and fully enjoyed if you actually understand what he’s saying. Weldon Thornton’s Allusions in Ulysses will help you do just that.

FAVORITE CHAPTER: Part II, episode 4, Calypso. We first meet Leopold Bloom as he makes breakfast for his wife, Molly, while she languishes in bed. It’s a funny, domestic chapter, and yet very sexy, too.

READING ALOUD: I highly recommend reading difficult portions of the novel out loud. If you can find a place where this will not cause you undue awkwardness, by all means, read this book to yourself. I can guarantee that your comprehension will be aided tremendously. I know mine was. I recall reading it aloud to myself and Guion as we drove to Southern Pines for a party, and I can still remember what I read because it was that much easier to understand.

MOLLY’S SOLILOQUY. Insulted that I keep talking about strategies for comprehension? OK. Fine. Just take a gander at the famous, oft-quoted Molly’s Soliloquy from the novel, written in its entirety here. Got all that? Good.

WORKSHOPPING ULYSSES. I think I used this in a Snax post, but I’m going to use it again because it’s hilarious: A McSweeney’s writer imagines the comments that James Joyce would have received from his imagined MFA workshop. Especially hilarious once you’ve actually read it, but still, worth it.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT, AND WHY I’LL READ IT AGAIN: I think reading Ulysses extends beyond the “shoulds” that are tossed out by the literary elite and our diligent English professors. I think we read it because Joyce changed the landscape of the novel forever with this book. He started a conversation that is still happening today: What is a novel? Why do novels matter? And do they still matter? For those reasons, I’m looking forward to returning to Ulysses in a few years.

I’m behind

So. I found this list today during lunch. Someone was crazy enough to type it up. I’ve seen the book before, and flipped through it rather nonchalantly, only a touch overwhelmed.

But then I decided to actually look at it, and so during lunch, I marked what I have read. I was a little depressed. I’ve only read 169 on this list. 169! I don’t know if anyone could actually read this entire list before they died, though. Maybe not even that lady who reads 365 books in a year. (But she makes me tired just thinking about her. Even though I envy her leisure.)

The chronological dispersion of my reading is somewhat skewed, as Guion pointed out. I’ve only read three books from the 21st century on this list. Yet I’ve read nearly 60 from the 1800s.  I guess that’s how it goes when you’re an English major.

At the same time, however, I feel rather content with my own reading list (see above). I made it myself, it interests me, and I don’t feel pressured to read 1,001 books right away. In fact, the one thing that I resent somewhat about this list is, first, its Anglo-American bias (although Haruki Murakami is on there quite a few times, and the Russians, of course), and second, its predilection to just include the entire bibliography of one author. I feel like they didn’t really think about these choices, they just said, “Oh, yeah, put everything Philip Roth ever wrote on here. And Bellow, too.”

In other news, my brilliant husband is also starting a side business! We’re such darling entrepreneurs. Are you in need of matchless guitar lessons from a true master? If so, you’re in luck, because Guitar with Guion just launched. Check it out.

Happy weekend, hey?