Monday, January 23, 2012

two more days...

This is my second trip with the iPad and it's become obvious that I need to learn how to upload pictures with it. This time I can't blame the crappy wifi. It's a very convenient way to travel. No question about it. A slim and very ingenious computer alternative that literally fits in your purse. But that's just it: it's not a straightforward computer and there is some learning to be done. And apparently I have not quite done it yet.

(Adding it on my to-do list for when I get back)

Meanwhile... Paris is glorious. It always is. How can it not be?

I will not be spending my last day here tinkering with the old tablet. While there are crepes to be devoured, coffees to be savored on sidewalks, all that French awesomeness to be internalized, but more importantly, all those "soldes" to check out.

Did I mention that the sales are in their second markdown: everything is now at 50% or less.

What am I still doing here? I gotts to go.

A suivre (to be continued)....

Monday, January 16, 2012

1001 books you must read before you die

Last week, I took a little departure from reality: I unplugged (to a certain extent), decompressed, and reorganized. It was a much needed break after an incredibly happening year for me and my little family. Lots of firsts which necessitated lots of changes, most, thankfully, for the better. As grateful as I was (still am) for them, I was understandably overwhelmed enough to seek a little respite so I could catch my breath. Overflowing is probably an adequate description of my cranial status at the time. I'm not quite sure that the break helped though... see exhibit A below.

Peripherally registering the tragic sinking of a cruise ship, the escalating (almost unbridled) expansion of the Department of Defense in its futile attempt to rule spread freedom in the world, the disgraceful display of election-spending that tries to pass itself off as democracy in action, and the stagnating, almost paralyzed state of the economy, I switched my gaze from macro to micro, tangible little things in my little life, over which I still seem to have some control. After the obligatory cleaning and purging (and haranguing my little family to do the same), it finally rested on the book that I was given for my birthday a few weeks ago:

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Thoughts of one's own mortality are not usually undertaken with glee. Especially on one's birthday. So the sneaky way-- which Peter Boxall chose to arm-twist me to begin reading the literary masterpieces that he highlights and showcases -- aside (ah the pressure... what if I die halfway through the list, wouldn't that suck?), I reluctantly must confess that perhaps a little persuading was necessary in getting me to allot the requisite time to delve into this worthy exercise.

Okay, so there are some great books out there, most of which I have not read (and many of the ones I have were not read of my own volition, owing chiefly to the mandatory reading requirements of my thorough French education). Now what?

I don't want to die having missed out on the most impressive and groundbreaking literature of human mankind (okay, largely Western Civilization, if you want to get specific). Damn you Boxall, you hit a nerve!

Boxell's book is organized by eras, chronologically, starting with the pre-1700s, which features books such as Aesop's Fables, Ovid's Metamorphosis, and Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's Don Quixote; and after proper due to the 1700s, the 1800s, and 1900s, ends in the 2000s, with Salman Rushdie's Fury, Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated, and (the last entry) Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.  Left to my own devices, a head-first dive into another one of my (frequent) descents into madness is all but imminent.

Presenting, Exhibit A:

Do I read them chronologically? 
Assuming that I give myself a good enough pace to tackle this massive undertaking in a relatively short time (short enough to finish it before my latent Alzheimer's develops into full-blown dementia), do I start at the beginning, with the pre-1700s books, you know, how they were written? There is something to be said about following the progress of the written word through the ages, appreciating man's steady progress to literary sophistication, right?

Do I read them in reverse chronological order?
Let's face it, old stuff is, well, old. Dated, archaic, no longer applicable. If the reasoning is that practice makes perfect, that man definitely got better through time, then why bother with the half-ass stuff, albeit the best of its contemporaries?

Establish some sort of pecking order then jump through the different eras in a rule-governed manner?
Why be tied to the old-to-new or new-to-old order? How about alternating? Say, pick one book from the pre-1700s, the next one from the 1700s, then, sequentially through the eras until current times? Or vice versa? So that I am not either stuck in the present or stuck in the past? I did warn you about the insanity, didn't I? You thought I was being facetious? Well, haha! the joke's on you!

Fuck rules and just randomly select the next reading material?
This might be a big problem for me: Every part of my being resists chucking methodical reasoning of a linear nature to replace it with the unknown. Perhaps I could have a random number generator choose page numbers (or book numbers) for me (of course that would entail entering the data one by one and don't think that I'm not OCD enough to do it!) I could maybe flip at random pages and just read whatever I land on? (that would be sort of cheating because I know that the book is in chronological order so I would more or less determine based on my flip which part I will read: too shallow and I'm go back in time to the "enlightened" ages, too deep and I get back to the present, see what I mean?)

Let practical matters decide?
I recently vowed to never again buy a printed book if it is available in digital version. My Kindle (or Kindle app on my iPad) is the best invention for de-cluttering my life that has EVER been invented, umm, so far that is (alongside my handy-dandy ScanSnap S1500, my trusty scanner, turner of my paperwork-junk into organized folders in my computer). Should I then just read whatever is available in eBook or Kindle format first then move on (maybe) to the available-only-in-printed format books? Even then, how do I decide which to read first? Price? Size? Alphabetical? (Argh!)

Fuck Peter Boxall, who is he anyway and what gives him the right to torture me with his evil book?
What gives him the credentials to authoritatively decide what is and isn't a worthy read? Can you really judge art objectively? And why 1001 books, how did he decide that that was the magical number? Was it a wink and a nod to Elf Layla wa Laylah (One Thousand and One Nights) featured on p.28? I just had an interesting conversation over the weekend with someone who introduced me to the work of the Italian psychiatrist Luigi Morelli, who questions the very idea of torment that we inflict upon ourselves in the name of musts and shoulds in our lives. Am I a slave to obligation of my own doing? Why must I care about these arguably arbitrarily-decided 1001 titles? 5 centuries of work, and only 1001 books made the cut, come on, does that even make sense?

As you can see, this can go on and on until grey matter starts oozing out through my scalp in utter protest.
Help me out will ya? Tell me, what would you do?

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Addendum: Since posting this, I was told about an excel spreadsheet,  floating about on the interwebs, that lets you mark off the titles as you read them, giving you some interesting statistics (how many left, percentage read). Here's the addy for a free basic download, or more sophisticated versions, which require some payment.

In case you are interested in my stats, at first glance (owing to my deteriorating memory), I was able to ascertain only having read, for sure, 54 of the 1001 books, which puts me at 5.39% completion. Some of these books I have read back in the 6th grade (i.e. Les Trois Mousquetaires), and some I am not entirely sure if I have read the book or seen the movie. I'll post an update as soon as I get to the bottom of this. 

If you care to share, I would be very curious as to what kind of stats you get...

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Addendum to the addendum: Denise was right, there are several editions to the book. And this download doesn't match mine. But since I've just decided that anything I have not read in this century shouldn't qualify, the point is moot...I'll be starting from scratch anyway. Stay tuned for updates!

Monday, January 9, 2012

straight to voicemail

"You have reached Monday Morning Musings.

We are not available at this moment.

It's one of those Mondays where the thought of repeating the same things we did last week, and the week before that, and the week before that, all over again, is kind of depressing.

We will be back right after we are done taking our mental health day vacation.

We don't know what we will be doing but it will not be the laundry or the cleaning or the cooking or the writing.

Or maybe it will (who are we kidding?)

Your call is very important to us, so please be sure to leave a message after the beep.


Monday, January 2, 2012

today is a new day

Since yesterday, all my conversations have included at least one discussion about the obsequious trend of making new year resolutions.

Photo credit:

I don't make new year resolutions. Not that I am perfect (not even close) and don't have a few areas that can benefit from the collective impetus to start fresh and change some nasty habits. But the arbitrary deadline to start on January 1st is just like geographical friendships: here today because of proximity, gone tomorrow when that proximity is removed. Maybe not quite tomorrow, maybe in a week. One month, tops!

If I were the resolution-making kind though, I probably would declare this the year of simplicity... I know I could use some of it in my life. In our collective human race to accumulate more and more, we seem to have all succumbed to the weird phenomenon of hoarding. Don't shake your head and say it ain't so in your life, you do hoard too, something, anything. You may call it collecting, or sampling, or even emergency storing, I call it hoarding, accumulating, grabbing and not letting go, irrationally that is. Don't get me wrong, I am not putting down having a hobby... I'm just suggesting that when it starts taking over your whole house or your whole life, to the detriment of other valid alternatives, you may indeed have yourself a little problem. I sure do.

My idea of simplicity is not just about material things, though that's the biggest chunk of it, readily visible and easily diagnosable. Mine goes a little farther to encompass the other exceedingly crowded spaces like my brain, or my life. Here's what I propose for streamlining the clutter in my house, in my thoughts, and in my life.

Clutter be gone. 

  • Go through closets, drawers, garages, cupboards: throw away/donate/recycle/gift anything that you haven't touched, used, sniffed, ate, or worn for the last two years.
  • Set aside small boxes of stuff that have emotional value that you would never get rid of, in an ORGANIZED fashion. Label them, put them away, like time capsules to be revisited every few years or decades.
  • Scan everything paperwork related. If it doesn't fit in the scanner, take a picture or a video of it and save it digitally. It takes a lot less space and it will still be there in case your hoarding instincts are reawakened by your reminiscing needs.
  • For every new item you purchase, discard one similar item to keep your volume of stuff the same (a shoe for a shoe, a xmas ornament for a xmas ornament, etc.)
  • Revisit all closets, drawers, garages, cupboards every six months and repeat.

Negative thoughts be gone. 

Negative self talk is bad. It has a nasty way of insinuating itself in every aspect of your thoughts, it feeds the pity-party that we seem to be so fond of, but it actually spreads like germs to the good thoughts and taints them. How can one get rid of the negative? Just like everything else, by concentrating on the positive. 
  • Sort through your thoughts and organize them: it's just like the clutter on your desk or in your attic, the good thoughts tend to get dusty and encumbered by the sheer mass of all the other less-productive ones. So make yourself a folder (a digital one in your computer) and start files, with categories, then dump your thoughts as they occur into the appropriate files.
  • Purge your negative thoughts in those pages and let them have it! Curse, yell, cry. Then let go. Eventually, you can delete them and just like that poof! they will be ALL gone.
  • Now move on to the good thoughts, the bucket lists, the dreams. Prioritize and make small to-do lists, achievable ones with a few items at a time. Spread them out over weeks, or months. When you're done, go back to the master list and keep yourself busy making these ideas happen instead of have them just sit there and fester in your crowded brain.

Negative people be gone. 

This is a toughie because people are less disposable than shoes or thoughts.

The main idea for me this year will be "it's not me, it's you". I recently started streamlining "friendships" that I have been dragging along in my life with a misguided sense of loyalty, just because we happen to have gone to the same school or had our daughters in the same ballet class. If you don't fit in my life by way of your judgmental thinking, ungrateful stance, illogical habits, or inconsiderate attitude, it's not me who is the problem. I don't have to adjust to you for you to fit in my life, it's you who has to adjust to me and mine. 

Therefore, if you don't fit, I must acquit. 

I have done this before, this is not a new prospect. But somehow I've always found myself going back over my brave decision of "good riddens to bad rubbish" and proceeded to second guess the shit outta myself (see negative thoughts above). Because, you see, despite my best intentions, I have always treated it as "it's not you, it me". I have beaten myself up over and over again for having been maybe too harsh or maybe even wrong. But look at that, one little switcharoo makes all the difference in the world! Bye-bye old friend, you will not be missed. 

I think I may have just found my mantra for 2012. It's not me, it's YOU! I do like the sound of that!

Oh and one last thing? Every DAY is a new day. No need to wait for a whole year to start something new. 

What about you? What will you be changing this year?