I’ve gotten a lot of questions about whether the effects of the retreat I went on in September “lasted.” It was an expensive trip, and for me to opt out of my entire life for a full week required about as much insane hoop-jumping as you can imagine…but if I had to do it all over again, the answer to “would I?” is “absolutely.”
I’m not meditating every day anymore. I’m not using all of the “tools” that they gave me (although I am using some). But there was one very fundamental takeaway I got from the retreat, and it’s one that appears to have taken root.
I give myself space now.
When I wake up in the morning, I turn off my alarm and leave my phone where it is; I also leave it in the car while walking to drop off and pick up my kids every morning. This might sound like a small thing, but it’s very big to me.
I remember that those things that feel like emergencies – an email yet to be returned, a project not yet completed – rarely are. I remember that some things – most things, really – can wait.
And I read. I used to spend the hours between my kids’ bedtime and my own scrolling scrolling scrolling, clicking from Buzzfeed headline to Politico article to videos of cats Doing Things. And now, when night falls, the phone goes where it belongs – out of my hand – and is replaced by a book. I read, and read, and read, and when I finally fall asleep it’s not because my eyes simply can’t bear the light for one more moment, but because my mind has, at last, slowed down, to the point where it can rest.
Here’s what I’ve been reading.
This book, which intertwines the true stories of (surprise!) three women living very different lives, is the rare read that’s gets you thinking in that “I AM LEARNING MASSIVE ETERNAL TRUTHS” way without feeling the least bit preachy. The stories follow the sexual and emotional journeys of a suburban mother married to a man who refuses to kiss her, a polyamorous New England restaurant owner, and a North Dakotan high school student having an affair with her much-older teacher. The author, Lisa Taddeo, embedded herself in these women’s lives for eight years, making the book an honest-to-goodness journalistic masterpiece, and the result is an intimate portrait of the different ways women use (and are used by) their sexuality. The stories can be problematic in terms of the conclusions they reach about culpability and shame, but you know what’s problematic? Our own conclusions about these very same matters, and the book does nothing but tell these women’s truths. It’s voyeuristic, raw, and compelling, and I couldn’t put it down.
I listened to this book on Audible on the recommendation of a friend – and while I don’t typically enjoy audiobooks as much as I do *real* ones, in this case, I have to recommend doing the same. The woman who recorded it is just so wonderful. The story follows a family raising four sons and one child, their youngest, who has started to express a desire to transition from his birth gender. So it’s a story about a family wrestling with how best to protect their child from a world that they fear will hurt her without making her feel that who she is, is a thing that must be hidden – but it’s really, very simply, about family: All those daily struggles that parents go through when they are trying to be all the things to their partners and children and careers that they hope to be. It’s sweeping and epic and lovely.
Oh god, just read it. Check out this post of mine, and you’ll see the impact this book had on me – one of my favorite reads of all time.
I’m about to voice a very unpopular opinion, given just how massive of a hit this book was (and continues to be):
Where the Crawdads Sing tells the story of a Nell-type character, Kya, who’s been abandoned by her family and is growing up alone in the marshlands of rural North Carolina, intertwined with flash-forwards to the investigation surrounding the murder of the town’s Golden Child, a former football superstar named Chase Andrews. It’s great for the beach (or, given the season, for curling up by the fire), but I just found it a little bit YA for my taste; the language was sometimes silly and overdramatic, and the whole forbidden love element…I dunno. The realist in me couldn’t stop pinging. But it’s nice for an escapist, light read.
I love Stephen King. I hated this book. I read through to the end because it’s short, but if it had been any more involved I would have given up. It’s sort of like a poor man’s take on Thinner – a vastly superior King book with an almost identical plot involving a man growing inexplicably slimmer, no matter how much he eats. There’s also some heavy-handed plotline about a gay couple and the narrator coming to terms with the insidiousness of his bias against the LGBTQ community, and none of it makes very much sense. I have no idea who thought this book needed to be written, or why.
Another strong contender for My Favorite Book Lately, this one was recommended to me by my therapist…and then I went ahead and recommended it to everyone I know. It’s the autobiography of a single mom (and therapist!) going through a breakup and career upheaval while also tending to her own patients, and it’s insightful, funny, heartbreaking…all the things. I found myself running off to find pens so I could underline parts of the book for future reference; instagramming quotes from it; calling friends and reading them passages. All of these are things that I do not ordinarily (thank goodness) do.
I’m halfway through this one – recommended to me by pretty much all of you when I asked for book suggestions – and I think I may have a crush on Ronan Farrow. I was leery of it at first because a) I think we’re all a bit oversaturated on politics at the moment, and b) I figured it was just a longer version of Farrow’s New Yorker story – the one that exposed Harvey Weinstein’s decades of predation – but it’s basically a true crime spy thriller. So f-ing good.