The wonderful Leigh Kramer does a monthly ‘what I’m into’ post, and I thought that was a fab idea! So I’m linking up with her, and do take a while to look round her blog- she’s one of the nicest people in the blogosphere.
Living life in an ME relapse
July was characterised by a nice holiday, and ongoing poor health. For me, being in ‘remission’ means that my health is stable, or slightly improving, and though I am still housebound and limited in my energy, we at least know how to plan. We know that I can write or have a friend round for a visit in a day; we know that three afternoons a week I can watch my gorgeous boy play while I recline; we know that I can sit up at meal times, as long as I’m in bed the rest of the time. Then, in the middle of May, I had a relapse. I woke up and I was in agonising pain; my legs would not walk and I couldn’t concentrate on anything. Three days later, the worst of it was over, but my energy levels had been badly depleted.
Being in an ME relapse is like being on ‘emergency rations’, and we never quite know how long it’s going to last. We make our emergency plans for a week; I cancel friends, eat my meals in bed. Then at the end of the week I am no better, so we make our plans for the next week. It has been like that for three months.
I am still trying to write my book on how it feels to have ME, (which seems to be turning into memoir). This may mean that over the next few months my writing (and reading of other blogs) is a little more sporadic while I try to get my head around what I can do and not do. (I’m way behind on email – and thank you cards, and all sorts). Bear with me?
Murray won Wimbledon!! I am a terrible tennis player, but have always loved watching Wimbledon, and this was a very special game to watch. I really thought this was his time to win, and I’m delighted that he did. My little one knows Andy Murray’s name and that he “WON THE WHOLE THING!”, and he can play an excellent game of invisible tennis.
I have been reading fewer blogs, and more books. Here is a sample of what I have read recently. (Be not alarmed: many of these I started ages ago and just happened to finish this month. I don’t usually read this much!)
Books on writing
A path to publishing – Ed Cyzewski. I always enjoy Ed’s writing, and this book is an excellent guide on how to get published. It has insightful tips (for example, how to find an agent and publisher, particularly in the Christian world). What I most appreciated was his tone: he is humble and gently encouraging. So many books of this type can make you feel that you have failed before you have even started. If you are writing a non-fiction book, this is my number one recommendation as a guide to the industry. See it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
When women were birds – Terry Tempest Williams. This is not, strictly speaking, a book on writing, but a memoir of writing and grief and ecology and gentle feminism, all intertwined. The book starts with this premise: the author’s mother is dying, and is leaving all her private journals to her daughter, on the condition that she doesn’t read them until after her death. After her mother dies, the author opens the first journal. It is blank. All the journals are blank. The book explores the different possibilities for the mystery of the blank journals, and more generally, why women are silent. I found the writing beautiful, and the exploration of silence, and the power of writing or withholding our story was fascinating. This is probably a book that I will return to and re-read and give to other writer-friends.
Here are some quotes:
“We all have our secrets. I hold mine. To withhold words is power. But to share our words with others, openly and honestly, is also power.”
“These handwritten words in the pages of my journal confirm that from an early age I have experience each encounter in my life twice: once in the world, and one again on the page.”
“Earth receives ten tons of dust from outer space. Not only do we take in the world with each breath, we are inhaling the universe. We are made of stardust.”
“Mother died on January 16, 1987. We buried her beneath blankets of snow and the burn of frostbite. There is a melancholia to white that accompanies the blinding white of winter. Sorrow has a voice. It is the cold scream of silence turned inward.”
Falling through the world – Rachel Clarke. This is a short, young-adult-style novel about a girl who falls ill with ME. I don’t really like Young Adult novels, so I skimmed quickly past the introduction chapters which build up an impression of a happy school girl who suddenly falls ill and doesn’t recover. Paradoxically, the parts of the book where there is no action and the girl is bedbound and unable to talk were the most compelling and engaging for me. This book has stuck in my head as a useful book to explain how parents and doctors fail to understand the illness, and treat it instead as ‘school phobia’ or a somatisation disorder. See it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
And the mountains echoed – Khaled Housseini. This was good, but not as emotionally engaging (or heart-wrenching) as his previous two. The narrative follows a loose story told through the eyes of different characters, and explores themes of disability and dependence, as well as loss of identity and parenting. There were some really thought-provoking passages. I’m not sure I’d re-read it, but it’s still worth getting for some good-quality summer reading. See it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy. Okay – I started this two years ago, and have been reading it on my Kindle. I confess, this is the first Russian literature I have read, despite my literary credentials. And I must further confess: it did not make me want to read any more Russian literature. There were moments of brilliance, such as the description of Levin working in the fields as though he were a peasant, and a gripping horse race. But it was about 500 pages too long, it had ponderous and pointless ramblings about Russian politics, none of which seemed to have any bearing on the characters’ lives, and it seemed to run out of steam about half way through. Tell me that War and Peace is better?? See it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
Levels of Life – Julian Barnes. I love Julian Barnes’ novels: The Sense of an Ending (which won the Booker Prize) was so cleanly and exquisitely written, I think it may remain as a classic in decades to come, and History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters is one of my favourite books of all time. This was the first non-fiction (memoir) I had read by him. It is in three parts, and the first two were a little dull. I am telling you this to emphasise how extraordinarily good the third part is, and that if you were only to read his third part, it would be worth every penny. The first two parts are on the history of hot air ballooning, which is then taken as a metaphor for love; falling from a height is grief. The third part is a meditation on grief, and how it feels to fall from that height and lose someone you love. It is as all good memoir should be: intensely personal, and as a result, universally true. Here are some quotes:
“So how do you feel? As if you have dropped from a height of several hundred feet, conscious all the time, have landed feet first in a rose bed with an impact that has driven you in up to the knees, and whose shock has cause your internal organs to rupture and burst forth from your body. That is what it feels like, and why should it look any different? No wonder some want to swerve away to a safer topic of conversation. And perhaps they are not avoiding death, and her; they are avoiding you.”
“The question of suicide arrives early, and quite logically.”
On the saying, ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’: “I have long considered this epigram particularly specious. There are many things that fail to kill us but weaken us for ever. Ask anyone who deals with victims of torture.”
“Grief reconfigures time, its length, its texture, its function: one day means no more than the next, so why have they been picked out and given separate names? It also reconfigures space. You have entered a new geography, mapped by a new cartography.”
I ended up highlighting almost the entire third section. I think it an outstanding book on grief, perhaps the equivalent of CS Lewis’ ‘A Grief Observed’ for atheists. See it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
The Cloister Walk – Kathleen Norris. This is a beautifully-written memoir of the experience of becoming a Benedictine oblate. Some of the chapters are better than others (which made me wish it could have been shorter), but the ones that are excellent are so good that it is well worth reading. I think I may have held my breath the whole way through her chapter on Jeremiah as prophet and poet. I loved her thoughts on celibacy and how she reclaimed some of the lives of female saints back from merely the ‘pure virgin’. It felt like a gentle meditative walk through a monastery. I love her writing and will be getting more of her books. See it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
Wild Goslings – ed. Brandy Walker. Some of my favourite writers: Alice Buckley, Abby Norman, Elora Nicole, Beth Morey – and more contributed to this book, and I was delighted to get a free review copy. It poses the question: How do you teach your children to relate to God in an authentic way, without turning it into rules and regulations? What I love about this book is that it is not so much a ‘how to’ but a collection of beautifully-written personal accounts and suggestions around this whole theme. It encourages a kind of ‘wild spirituality’ that is full of risk and reward, rather than the ‘safe’ moralising that it is so easy to fall into as a Christian parent. There are a variety of topics and authors, and they come from different points of the Christian spectrum, so you are bound to find things you really relate to (as well as things you disagree with!) I read it in one sitting, and it was a really easy read. It is short, despite its high page count – this is because it is beautifully designed, with each graphic complementing the different chapters. It is the most beautifully designed ebook I have ever seen. See it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
Inspired by Kathleen Norris, I have been venturing ever-so-gently into New Monasticism (though I am not sure if I really know what that means; I am just making it up). Anyway, I thought I would revisit the Taize chants that we used to listen to as a family. The recordings of the original Taize chants were just a bit old and fuzzy for me, so I was on the hunt for more recently recorded ones. I found two.
Taize Chant – Margaret Rizza et al. This one is more faithful to the original; it has a repetitious melodic chant, with instruments providing the variation. Musicians may find the tuning is just a little out in places, but it feels worshipful, so that is to be forgiven. See it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
Bless the Lord – Reading choir. (for some unfathomable reason, it is marked as on Amazon as having explicit lyrics – it doesn’t!) This one is more choral than the previous one, and has more soloists singing over the base chant, so has more variety in it. I like them both. See it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
And here are some more choral works on the psalms. Basically, I am loving hearing scripture sung over me in a meditative way at the moment. Anyone else got recommendations of this ilk?
Hymn Project Volume 2 – Chelsea Moon with the Franz Brothers. Oh my! This album is totally saving me at the moment. I am always on the hunt for worship music that doesn’t sound ‘Christian-y’. Recommended by the lovely Alice Buckley, who has impeccable taste, this is traditional hymns with a contemporary, Bluegrass twist. It’s Nashville does hymns. I listened to their version of ‘I stand amazed’ – they’d put the verse into the minor key, and it had a haunting, Nancy Sinatra vibe to it. I was utterly sold. It’s fab. I may have to buy Volume 1 as well. See it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
Phew! That’s it! I have been really grateful for the stunningly talented writers who have helped me think through this whole Christianity and Creativity series this July.
Over to you:
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