Field Notes, vol 6
For years now, my niece and I have been playing a game, in which we build a story with sentences that have to alternately begin with fortunately or unfortunately. I rather feel as if parts of my life have taken up such a plot, so I will describe them accordingly. Fortunately, after a two year process, the government has declared me legally disabled. Unfortunately, I am not eligible for disability pay as I haven’t worked full time long enough. Fortunately, I am eligible for a different kind of support. Unfortunately, this kind comes with different rules than the ones I thought I’d have to follow, and the new rules mean the death of some long-cherished dreams. Fortunately, I have other, smaller but still cherished, dreams. Unfortunately, it will take a lot of effort and a bit of luck to achieve them. Fortunately, I have incredible family and friends who will help me.
And that’s the end of the story so far. As you can imagine, this has been a season of changes for me. Consequently, I’ve needed a lot of quiet spaces for my mind to ponder over and my soul to reconcile with them. Instead of reading, I’ve been drawn to tasks that keep my body busy while leaving room for those inner spaces. I’ve been cooking, baking, thrifting, knitting, rearranging furniture, spring cleaning and sorting, walking, Thistle-ing, photographing, and daydreaming all the while. That’s not to say I haven’t been reading at all, simply that less of my time and energy have been devoted to books than usual. I’ve also been a bit fussy about books lately: in fact, after starting and stopping four different ones last week for various reasons, I finally gave up and turned to Jane Austen. She was just what I needed. In fact, of the three novels I’ve read this month, two have been rereads: Sense and Sensibility and Yaba Badoe’s True Murder, a wonderfully atmospheric book set in a British boarding school and featuring a Ghanaian main character. I first read it in December of last year, after buying a used copy since it hasn’t been published in the US yet (I think it cost me perhaps $4, including shipping from the UK), and I couldn’t resist revisiting it. I know I’ve said this before, but one of the greatest joys I find in rereading is that I’ve already loved the book, so I can completely relax, knowing it won’t let me down. Of course, this rule becomes less true the longer it’s been since my first read of the book, but as only a couple of months had passed I was certainly safe! Funnily enough, my current fiction read is also a reread (Women Without Men, a strange little Iranian novella I first read in 2005 or 2006 and that has stayed with me ever since). Clearly, my brain has enough to process with real-life plots and is shying away from fictional surprises!
I’m happy to read new-to-me nonfiction though, and in fact I find myself eyeing the nonfiction I have out from the library with more interest than the fiction! Two of the nonfiction books I’ve read this month were stunningly excellent, although completely different. A Good Horse Has No Color by Nancy Marie Brown is personal nonfiction, focusing on Brown’s relationship with Iceland and especially on a trip she took there with the goal of finding two Icelandic horses to bring home with her. Help Me to Find My People by Heather Andrea Williams, on the other hand, is a piece of academic nonfiction (Williams is a professor and the book was published by a university press) examining the emotional ramifications of broken slave families in the US, both pre-Civil War and post-Civil War when the newly freed people tried to find family members without any clear idea where they’d even been sold. Both were just exquisitely written, and I can’t wait to delve more into them. Sadly, Compulsive Acts by Elias Aboujaoude disappointed me: Aboujaoude is a psychiatrist specialising in obsessive behaviors (OCD, addictions, etc.), but I just didn’t care for him (as he came across in the book) or his writing style. Definitely not another Olive Sacks or Atul Gawande! Luckily, that one seems to be the exception rather than the rule for this month’s nonfiction reading, since I’m in the middle of two more wonderful books: The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James (a historical look at Haiti and its revolution first written in 1938 and recommended to me by Kinna) and Findings by Kathleen Jamie (a newly published essay collection I heard about from Litlove).
This is probably likely to continue to be a slower reading month. I find myself, well, cocooning: drawing my attention and focus more inward as I prepare to dramatically reshape. Let’s hope it’s turns out to be not quite as dramatic as what caterpillars go through!