Happy Wednesday. This one is about noticing patterns of spiritual openness, which has been an unexpected gift in the bleakness of January xohttps://segullah.org/daily-special/perceiving/
Ye olde January fugue has descended on me, much like a murky/gloomy inversion (which also literally descended on the valley today, blech). I went from 60 miles per hour post-holidays to <5 mph, and that’s caffeinated. Yikes. I’m stunned at the audacity of winter, and it’s ability to stomp all over my emotional state. *shakes fist at winter*
I went to the temple twice in the last three days, along with the majority of Utahns, apparently. It was like temple Disneyland. Except without toddlers. And with whispering, not happy screaming. But no churros. I’m not going to get into how I felt about the changes in the temple ceremony itself, other than to say I HAVE FELT AN ARRAY OF EMOTIONS. All of them, basically. I’m processing them.
As I sat next to my mom, I felt my dad’s presence in the session we attended today. I don’t mean that in a general sense. I mean, I specifically felt his presence with me for a few moments in time. I inwardly asked, “Dad, is that you?” And there was a corresponding swelling/burning/fullness which (to me) confirmed it. This isn’t something I’ve experienced with him before. But I’m paying attention now. I’m listening, more with a neutral, day-dreamy openness, which seems to be the only way I ever get any answers or experience anything spiritual.
Then my mom and I went temple dress shopping at QNoor, since my current temple attire had a sad early-aughts Deseret Book vibe, and my mom’s outfit required excessive ironing (are you kidding me? Nope. Temple clothes spend much of their lives squashed in bags and should look effortlessly crisp after being wadded up in a tote). We ended up buying matching dresses which are soft and adorable (just like us, hahaha). We also ate cheeseburgers and my mom told me that she felt like a weight was lifted from her.
I came home and KonMari-ed my closet. You know what sparks joy in me? Having a tidyness guru’s permission to donate all the clothes I spent money on that don’t fit well or aren’t comfortable or just remind me of bad times I was forced to tackle and restrain Jack so he wouldn’t beat up his brothers. Some things just have to go, and it’s better when they do. My closet is so organized now. I want to sit on my bathroom floor and gaze at it. Do you see what January has done to me? Yeesh.
All of this is to say, I won today. January didn’t.
Shall we chat about books?
My reading speed slowed considerably during the end of last semester and the holidays, but I did finish a few books, which I will discuss in no particular order.
The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah
Hannah also wrote The Nightingale, a hugely successful World War II-era novel set in France, and a book which possibly every book club in America at one point read. This book is quite different, yet told in the same forthright manner as The Nightingale. It’s set in the 1970’s and features a family living off the grid outside Homer, Alaska. While the unforgiving Alaskan landscape could provide ample tension for the story, it is merely a player in the story of a mentally-unstable, alcoholic, and severely abusive father to the book’s teenage main character, Lenora, known as Leni. The relentlessness of her family’s turmoil made this a difficult, yet engaging story of living amid danger–both within and without one’s home. Survival is a major theme of this tale.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
This is Morton’s first novel in several years, and while I really don’t like the trope-y title, it was a pretty good read. As she always does, Morton weaves her story with many characters residing in various time periods, who are all connected by a big old English country house. I feel that all her books should be made into films, mostly so I can SEE FOR MYSELF these houses. I love old architecture and period pieces and drama. The end. The level of character/time period weaving in this book is next-level and was a tad confusing for me, at times. I would have benefited from an outline of characters as an appendix. It’s that complex. The story resembles her other books in that she follows mostly female characters who face loss, poverty, and various freak accidents which shift the course of their lives toward tragedy. I mean, she’s not going to win awards for this, but its quality is leaps above the 2.5 Hallmark Christmas movies I watched last month.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
This is the first book in the much heralded Broken Earth fantasy series. I just kept hearing about these books, so I took a giant leap and purchased them en masse. This can be a tragic move if one ends up not being a fan. It is a genius move if it turns out you’re sucked in and MUST read them all, ASAP. I’ve finished the first book and have this to say:
- It’s creative. This is post-apocalyptic in the sense that it isn’t humans destroying each other, but it’s the earth actually making life physically pretty uninhabitable with the advent of “seasons,” which create centuries of ash and severe seismic activity.
- Jemisin is a skilled writer, maintaining suspense and exposing depth in the characters. Did I like the characters a whole lot? No. Did I read until the end? Yes.
- And yet….I wasn’t in love with it. I kind of had to force myself to sit down and consume it in chunks. I’m not sure if I will finish the series. I just don’t know if I care THAT much. Also, it’s January. And bleak. And I need really engaging/chipper/colorful stories. The moral of this review is: don’t buy the entire series up front, mkay. FYI, this book contains salty language/some sexuality.
The Half-Drowned King and The Sea Queen by Linnea Hartsuyker
I’m apparently a weirdo because books about ninth century Vikings are my thing. These are the first two books in a trilogy which are kinda brutal (Vikings, remember), but also really humanizing to these warring characters. These books remind me of The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell, which have been made into a series which has been on Netflix, of late. That story was set in England, though. These books take place mostly in Norway and enchant me in an otherworldly kind of way. Don’t ask me why I like stories about medieval warrior culture. I just do. And in a similar vein, there’s:
Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young
This one is YA, and I LOVED IT. It’s so exciting and beautifully written. It draws liberally from Norse mythology and brings all other parts of Viking life (in addition to raiding and fighting) to life. I found this one randomly at the library and was like, “THIS IS THE BEST KIND OF BOOK WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE I’M GOING TO PUT MY LIFE ON HOLD WHILE I INHALE THIS WHOLE THING.” But again, I’ve learned that not everyone loves what I love, and you may not dig it.
What are the zippiest/best/funniest/most engaging books you have recently read?
My mom said something in passing recently that has stuck with me. I don’t remember her exact words, but the effect was this: Life isn’t always what we want.
It just isn’t. Sometimes it’s rosy; often it’s raw.
It’s an obvious, yet profound sentiment which I have been mulling over through the holidays and now into the new year, including when:
• I talked to a friend whose mental health is currently not optimal. It’s actually oceans away from optimal. Her ongoing strenuous struggle is something I really can’t comprehend. It’s so hard and it’s so much. Did she choose this? Is her life unfolding as she hoped? (Answer: no) Or is she doing the only thing she can do, which is to bravely accept the challenges she’s been given? It’s a humbling thing to see the magnitude of a friend’s pain.
• I listened to another friend talk about some major parenting challenges–the kind that aren’t entirely foreign to me. Of course, I can’t fully understand her experience, but the vast unsolveable-ness of her family’s challenges resonates with the way my life has unfolded over the last fourteen years. Do any of us actually sign up for this massive emotional restructuring? Or is it simply the nature of mortality to get in deeply over our heads? And what do we do with the lessons we learn in the midst of this pain? Do they harden and embitter us? Or do we cull wisdom and empathy from them? (I realize there aren’t easy answers to these rhetorical questions, but I’m asking them anyway.)
• I learned about Sensory Processing Disorder. I thought I knew everything about special needs parenting, which is a stupid thing to think because the universe can hear you and then it laughs. I didn’t envision this part of raising my youngest boy. Something that’s emerged from this process is a sense of empowerment for both me and the seven-year-old. We understand it better. We can manage it (mostly). We are agents acting intentionally, rather than pawns or victims of circumstance. This is a big gift.
• I read an essay by a fellow Segullah writer who said her spirit thrives when she pursues the things she wants, as well as the things she needs. This rings true in my experience, because we’re all so focused on meeting our basic needs that it’s easy to get caught up in surviving, basically. Where’s the joy in subsistence living? My parenting life has been an exercise in learning to look beyond the daily struggle to identify that which is satisfying, sustaining, renewing. There’s enough hardscrabble plodding forward already. We need more moments of spiritual sustenance. This is how we manage weathering the hard things. And I am here to emphasize that WE ALL HAVE HARD THINGS.
I don’t make new year’s resolutions. Every year with Jack, my word for the year was “survive,” and that’s no joke. It was all I was focused on.
If I had a word to strive for this year, it might be “incandescence,” or the quality of being incandescent—light-filled. That’s my goal.
I finished reading the Gospels in the New Testament today and felt a big infusion of light from hearing about Jesus’s mortal sojourn in quadruplicate.
I felt lighter after texting with a new friend, whose son happens to be housemates with my son. We are at different points in the journey out of the abyss that severe disabilities punched into our lives. We understand each other.
I feel emotionally lighter when I do my PT-prescribed exercises. Movement as medicine, as they say.
I’ve also been noticing the winter light. I’m seeing how the skies have wispy pink clouds in the morning at school drop-off. I notice the blue sky more. I especially like the indigo mountain skyline at dusk, this time of year. There’s less light in January, but it’s pretty stunning in its transient way.
Lightness of being, people. I’m hunting for it in all the places.