When it comes to a life, does size matter?
Before we begin
Would you describe your life as big, small, or something in-between? What makes a life big or small? When it comes to a life, does size matter?
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Big Life, Small Life
About ten years ago, I listened to a writer read from her memoir. At one point she wrote: “I have a big life.” I don’t know why, but that sparked in me a small ember of confusion laced with affront. Since then I’ve been sensitive to the idea that a life might be super-sized like one of those barrels of popcorn from the movie theater (do these still exist?) or simply “regular” which, in the movie theater universe means tiny, easier to hold, fewer calories, but not much less expensive. I have no idea what it means in the universe that I’m in right now with you as you read these words.
Why am I raising it today? Because I came across this quote from Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail and it got me wondering all over again about how to think about a life, my life in particular. The length is not the issue, it seems. It’s what goes on inside it.
“Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life - well, valuable, but small - and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?” - Nora Ephron, You’ve Got Mail
A life can be full, it can be busy, it can be quiet, it can be magical, stimulating, or dull. Some lives are lived entirely in a single room, others are lived in multiple countries across the globe. Who is to say whether the life of a cloistered nun or a prisoner is “smaller” than the life of a celebrity like Christina Augilera who described her life as big in a recent interview for Allure Magazine? Who is doing the measuring? And if it is us, measuring our own lives, then what are we using for a tape measure?
I have questions but no answers. Let’s talk about this in the comments or however you’d like to discuss it. I love the comments section in Spark because I always pick up on something I’d have missed otherwise. So, tell me, if someone were packing your life into a suitcase would they need a giant steamer trunk on wheels or a paper bag carrying nothing but a toothbrush? Are there books you’ve read that have enlarged your life or made it feel smaller?
Books Big And Small
I started a very big book this week: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It is a beautiful read that weaves poetic language, science, and the story of our earth as understood by the Potawatomi nation of Native people of which she is a member. Five chapters in, I am beginning to understand how little I understand about the earth that feeds me. I am hopeful because her primary message is not about the futility of saving our planet but the ways in which we can still heal each other.
Braiding Sweetgrass, I’m realizing, is a banquet. Each chapter must be read slowly, savored, and considered. There is no racing through this book and because this week contained a few not-so-great distractions and surprises, I could not focus in the way I wanted. Instead, I turned to Jackson Brodie, the lead character in Kate Atkinson’s series of books about this complicated former cop and private investigator. I’ve read and loved Atkinson’s other novels, but had never indulged in her Brodie books. I started with the first one Case Histories and it hit the spot. I devoured it and now I am flummoxed by my desire to read the next and the next rather than return to Braiding Sweetgrass. I am feeling guilty about this. Atkinson is an exciting writer who can do magical thought-provoking things with character, structure, and simply the use of a verb in the right place as in:
“She was stranded in her forties.” - Kate Atkinson, Case Histories
Finally, I’ve reached for the very tiny Pocket Pema Chödrön every night before bed and this is how I know I’m in need. I’m in need of that thing called “grace” we talked about a while back. It’s been a week of ups and downs that have challenged me emotionally, mentally, and physically. I have read the short reminders about “Have No Expectations, Just Be Kind” and “Do No Harm” over and over again. It’s helping.
In other news….
A while back, I mentioned that our dog, Lily, had cancer and that it had been successfully treated. Turns out the tumor was more stubborn than we thought and this week we started her on stronger chemo in the hopes that this will solve it. I suspect that making this decision prodded me to reflect once again on big lives and small lives and, yes, the value we ascribe to them. Lily doesn’t really know or care. She just lives the life she has.
How to tame a book stack…
When I saw this on David Abram’s Facebook page this week, I had to share it. This arrangement gives whole new meaning to the organization of book stacks. The photo, however, is only the tip of the book iceberg according to David: “The books you see here are only 1/100th of the book collection scattered across the two floors of the house and into the outdoor shed. It used to be 1/1000th of the collection before I donated the bulk of the books to a local organization's library.” Read below for the breakdown of this TBR organization.
I refreshed the office bookshelf yesterday and I feel so much better.
1. All the shelves (there are more throughout the house, of course, but these are the ones most often “under my eye”)
2. Left bottom quadrant: The Books I’m Currently Reading (not pictured: two ebooks on various devices); above that, the On-Deck Lineup of Next Reads (the first eight—except for “Man Underground”—on the right are for the Montana Book Company Reading Challenge, as is “Detransition, Baby” by Torrey Peters ).
3. Left top quadrant: The Green Room for the On-Deck To-Be-Read team, with one shelf dedicated to “short books.” The occupants of these shelves rotate in and out on a monthly basis. Some residents have been here for far too long and they are clamoring to be read, banging their utensils on tin plates, grabbing the bars of their cell and howling. I certainly won't get to ALL of them on these shelves this year, but I'll make a dent.
4. & 5. The right side shelves: My Modern Library collection has a new home. It’s nice to have these classics at my elbow, in the corner of my eye.
Another way to tame that stack
Kit G. found this on Pinterest and shared it. She also found books made into knife holders. If you get creative with book storage and recycling, share your work!
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That’s it for this week. Let me know how you are and what you’re thinking about. And of course, always let me know what you’re reading. If there’s an idea, book, or question you’d like to see in an upcoming issue of Spark, let us know!
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Ciao for now!
P.S. And now, your moment of Zen…Finding a lift at TJ’s
“This has been my moment of Zen for weeks now. My little $3.99 purchases of baby’s breath and wax flowers from Trader Joe’s along with some candles lift my spirits.” - Miki K., SoCal
Calling for Your Contribution to A Moment of Zen
What is YOUR moment of Zen? Send me your photos, a video, a drawing, a song, a poem, or anything with a visual that moved you, thrilled you, calmed you. Or just cracked you up. This feature is wide open for your own personal interpretation.
Come on, go through your photos, your memories or just keep your eyes and ears to the ground and then share. Send your photos/links, etc. to me by replying to this email or simply by sending to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The main guidelines are probably already obvious: don’t hurt anyone -- don’t send anything that violates the privacy of someone you love or even someone you hate, don’t send anything divisive, or aimed at disparaging others. Our Zen moments are to help us connect, to bond, to learn, to wonder, to share -- to escape the world for a little bit and return refreshed.
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And remember,If you like what you see or it resonates with you, please share Spark with a friend and take a minute to click the heart ❤️ below - it helps more folks to find us!