How are You?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Do you ever feel like you just want to give everyone a hug? Maybe sit down with them as an individual and just listen to them?

This was not the blog post I was planning to write tonight. I sat down to write about change -- and that post is coming -- but as I went to begin, my attention was diverted to a show on PBS called "Journey to Recovery," described by the network as "An examination of the opioid epidemic." The show is set in Kentucky, but it talked about counties that are very close to mine. (It was KET (Kentucky) and not PBY (West Virginia); here in Huntington we get PBS out of both states.)

According to the CDC West Virginia has the highest rate of death due to drug overdose. And there has been story after story after story about Huntington basically being the "epicenter of opioid epidemic" in the United States.

I have never written about drug use or overdose or anything like that, and there are several reasons for that, namely:

  1. I don't know much about it; I'm not an expert
  2. I don't want people who do not live in Huntington or who have never been here to think we're a drug-ravaged hell-hole (excuse my language) because we are not
  3. There's been so much written on the topic already that I'm not sure what I could add
However, as I mentioned, my attention was caught by the documentary I am currently watching on PBS. Something hit me as I watched, so I decided that, instead of writing about what I sat down to write about tonight, I wanted to share my thoughts on what I'm watching.

Two of the first interviews in the documentary were with a young man and a young woman, unrelated, but both had lost a parent to an opioid overdose. (The young woman lost her mother, and the young man lost his father.) Although the two teens would go on to detail their lives watching parents struggle with, and ultimately die of addiction, they both started by saying basically the same thing -- 

My mom loved me. I know she loved me.
My dad was a great dad. I loved him. 

Two teens, two children, who had watched their parents become addicted, steal money from their families, be strung out  -- The girl details having to pick her mother up off the floor and try to get her into bed many times after she'd passed out from drugs on the floor. Her father was in Afghanistan at the time. She also details how she would never, ever spend the night away from home, for fear her mother would die. One day, she finally decided to spend the night with a cousin. Her mother died that night. --  wanted to begin their parts in this documentary by telling anyone who would watch that they thought their parents were good parents and that they know their parents loved them.

Not that I haven't thought about this before, but it just really hit me tonight that people who are addicted to drugs and/or die of drug overdoses belong to someone. They all do. They are someone's mother or brother or cousin or son. Once upon a time they were just little babies in someone's arms. Somewhere along the line, something -- an accident, a mistake -- happened to them and put them on the path to addiction. Something in their hearts hurt so badly that they felt that drugs were all they had. 

In the September Issue of Vogue I just read, there was an interview with Oprah Winfrey. I know people have a lot of opinions about Oprah, and I'm not even sure how I feel about her as well, but she said something in this interview that struck me and that I really agree with:

"There's not a human being alive who doesn't want -- in any conversation, encounter, experience with another human being -- to feel like they matter. And you can resolve any issue if you could just get to what it is that they want -- they want to be heard. And they want to know that what they said to you meant something. Most people go their entire lives and nobody ever really wants the answer to 'How are you? Tell me about yourself.'" 

Isn't that the truth? Don't we all just want someone to listen to us?

I recently told Joe, because I just recently realized it myself, that I am already far less tired this year than I was last because I have someone to listen to me. I have Joe. He listens to me every night. I don't have to carry burdens alone in my heart because someone hears me. (This is not meant to make any of my friends or family members feel bad; I know you also hear me!) 

How often do we go through life -- and I'm pointing the finger at myself here -- saying, "How are you?" to people but not really meaning it, just hoping they'll say, "Fine" so we can move on with our shopping or get to why we started a conversation with them to begin with. I know I do it all the time. 

I wonder if we could just sit down with each other individually -- everyone on earth -- and just LISTEN to each other, how much better off we might be. How many kids may no longer lose parents to addiction. I know hugs and listening won't solve the addiction problem, but I believe our hearts heal when we can unburden them to someone who REALLY hears us. 

So I'll tell you this: I am going to work on truly asking people how they are doing, and not expecting/hoping them to say fine. I need to figure out a new question to ask that's not "How are you?" because we are so programmed to answering, "Fine" whether we are or not. I am going to try to do a much better job of truly listening to people and not trying to rush on to the next thing. Because every time someone talks to us about anything, they are sharing a part of their heart or their brain with us, and -- wow. How humbling is that? I have friends and loved ones who have seriously struggled with something this past year or who are currently struggling -- one beloved friend got some heartbreaking news today -- and I bet if you asked her or any of these people, it helps when others listen. 

Below is a preview of the documentary that I watched. It's a quick 3 minutes, but the first 30 seconds will be enough to get you. 

I love you, friends. 

Self-Help ... Books: Summer 2017 Edition

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

If Summer 2016 was The Summer We Read Austen (as if my whole life is not Austen), then Summer 2017 would most accurately be called More Alive and Less Lonely. Yes, I stole this title from a book of essays by Jonathan Lethem (more on this book at the end of this post). I saw it on the "new books" shelf at my adopted library Sharon Forks, and, although I don't read a lot of nonfiction, I couldn't help but pick it up because, upon reading the title, I thought to myself YES. Yes, that's it. "Anna, why do you love books?" "Because they make me feel more alive and less lonely."

Once again, I've decided to share the beauty of books this summer by compiling in a blog post some of the things I found and was inspired by. I hope you find something beautiful here as well. (I read fewer books this summer than last, but I think -- and told Joe -- it's because he's so cute and fun.)


Those imaginary people, to whom she gave their most beautiful ideal existence, survive to speak for her, now that she herself is gone.

Read Jane's novels. They're there to speak for her: love stories, yes, though not always happy ones, but also the productions of an extraordinary mind, in an extraordinary age. Read them again.

- Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly

He understands that they want him to be special. It's important to people that he be special, because we need special things in our lives. We want to believe that magic is still possible.

- Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that there lay within me an invincible summer. 

... we all know that you can't judge a book by its cover. You'd miss out on some very good books that way, all those Penguin classics with the orange covers for starters because they all look alike ...

The great surprise of the adult world had been that no one really knew what they were doing, and especially not the people who exuded impenetrable confidence.

- Invincible Summer by Alice Adams

Hello, frozen burrito, old friend. How I've missed ignoring your suggestion that I cook you on high for three minutes, flip you over, and cook you on high for three minutes again. 

Humiliation: what a salve for pain. Someone should just bottle Embarrassment, sell it next to the Advil, make a fortune.

... libraries were like doctors: it was time to see a specialist. 

In the past forty-eight hours, Victor had developed the swagger of someone who had no idea what he was doing but who had made a real commitment to doing it. 

It was a relaxing love, a love in his blood that was nowhere and everywhere at once.

- The Clasp by Sloane Crosley

Later, she'd be a girl you'd want to hang out with for an entire story, a girl you could love.

Hunter used to know what she meant about being in the wrong place; he used to understand how you just needed to be held util the feeling passed. He didn't have the right words for it any more than she did, but sometimes he called himself misshelved. 

That's the worst part of a book ... when you know nothing new can happen.

... certain lines of certain books ... he reread like prayers. 

I'd ask if you ever couldn't find the right words to say. I'd ask if you ever wanted a do-over. I'd ask, If you could go back and change something you said -- something that would make everything different afterward -- what would it be? 

... that's what all heroes are like -- so gung-ho about the saving that they don't always think about what it might take. 

... memory being a tricky thing that sometimes filled in gaps with exactly what you needed and sometimes what you feared ... 

... it seemed to me like cheating that the writers tricks looked like magic but now i think id rather have a story lie to me without my knowing it than have to keep sitting through explanations of how the tricks r done. sometimes you just dont want to know ur being tricked. [sic -- the speaker is a high school-age girl writing an email]

i get ur point about how people cant save each other for real. but I still think we need stories that tell us we can. just so we wont stop trying. 

... hugging a book to his chest as if there's safety inside it.

-  How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson

"I don't know a thing about wine."
"You don't have to unless it's your job. You just have to know if you like it."

- Restoring Grace by Katie Fforde

Austen, I realized, had not been writing about everyday things because she couldn't think of anything else to talk about. She had been writing about them because she wanted to show how important they really are. All that trivia hadn't been marking time until she got to the point. It was the point. 

Those small, "trivial," everyday things, the things that happen hour by hour to the people in our lives: what your nephew said, what your friend heard, what your neighbor did. That, she was telling us, is what the fabric of our years really consists of. That is what life is really about.

I was a regular person after all. Which means, I was a person.

You don't 'fix' your mistakes, Austen was telling me, as if they somehow existed outside you, and you can't prevent them from happening, either. You aren't born perfect and only need to develop the self-confidence and self-esteem with which to express your wondrous perfection. You are born with a whole novel's worth of errors ahead of you.

Feelings are also the primary way we know about novels -- which, after all, are training grounds for responding to the world, imaginative sanctuaries in which to hone and test our ethical judgments and choices. 

The job of a teacher, I now understood, is neither to affirm your students' notions nor to fill them with your own. The job is to free them from both. 

Adults are boring, Austen seemed to feel -- or at least, they all too often let themselves become so.

... the wonderful thing about life, if you live it right, is that it keeps taking you by surprise.

Austen is saying that it's important to spend time with extraordinary people.

Histories tell us what happened, but novels can teach us something even more important: what might happen.

... no one, before they do it, can imagine what it's like to fall in love. We can never reach the end of what's inside us, never know the limit of our own potential.

She knew that our stories are what make us human, and that listening to someone else's stories -- entering into their feelings, validating their experiences -- is the highest way of acknowledging their humanity, the sweetest form of usefulness.

People's stories are the most personal thing they have, and paying attention to those stories is just about the most important thing you can do for them.

For her, I saw, love is not something that happens to you, suddenly or otherwise; it's something you have to prepare yourself for. ... For Austen, before you can fall in love with someone else, you have to come to know yourself. In other words, you have to grow up. Love isn't going to magically transform you, make you into a better or even a different person ... it can only work with what you already are.

You never know the moment that you fall in love, in Austen's vision; you only discover you already have.

True love takes you by surprise, Austen was telling us, and if it's really worth something, it continues to take you by surprise. The last thing that loves should do ... is agree about everything and share all of each other's tastes. True love, for Austen, means a never-ending clash of opinions and perspectives. If your lover's already  just like you, then neither one of you has anywhere to go. Their character matters not only because you're going to have to live with it, but because it's going to shape the person you become. 

The essential requirement for love, in Austen's view -- before the work, before the courage -- is simply to possess a loving heart. And not everyone, she thought, is born with one of those.

Had she married Tom or Harris, she might have been happy, she might have been rich, she might have been a mother, she might have even been long-lived herself. She might have been all of these things -- but we would not have been who we are, and she would not have been Jane Austen. 

- A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz

All the stories, he thinks to himself, the world is full of stories.

- I Found You by Lisa Jewell

... but instead she was just ... herself. No, not even herself, because really, somewhere inside, she was someone else entirely. She just couldn't seem to let the person she was on the inside, out. 

Love songs fueled the music charts, but it was friends who were so often more deserving of the phrase. 

Maybe there are two kinds of change. One is the kind that involves transitioning toward something new. And the other is more like peeling away your own layers to find what has always been at your core. 

- Every Wild Heart by Meg Donohue

In any era, we get the Batman we deserve. 

... and if you want to tell me that I'm yelling at kids to get off my lawn, my only defense is that I've been wanting them off my lawn since I was a kid. In other words, I know it wasn't better before. But it's certainly worse now. 

- More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers by Jonathan Lethem

And, finally, exactly what this post is about:

I followed the higher principle of pleasure, tried to end where I'd started: with writing I loved and wanted to recommend to someone else. That is to say, you. 

More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers by Jonathan Lethem

I think because I was outside of my normal reading environment this summer (shoutout to the Cabell County Public Library), I made the mistake of not taking pictures of or writing down the quotes I liked from some of the books I read this summer. Oh well, I guess that means I'll have to reread them at some point! Also, some books might be great but don't really have a quotable quote. So on those two notes, here's a list of books I read this summer and liked, not listed above. I won't subject you to the ones I didn't like, although you might like them I guess! For more info, follow me on Litsy at annawhoismagic

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
First Comes Love by Emily Giffin
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (I think I liked it better than her follow up, The Woman in Cabin 10
The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda
The Dry by Jane Harper
The Bones of You by Debbie Howells
The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

The Place(s) I Belong.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

At the beginning of the summer, on my first solo trip to the Walmart in Georgia, I ran into someone from West Virginia. Today, on what will probably be my last trip to the Walmart in Georgia, I ran into someone who wants to go to West Virginia.

The cashier who checked the birth date on my license today said, "Oh West Virginia!"

"Yes!" I replied.

"It is really beautiful there."

"Oh yes, it is. Very beautiful. I love it there."

"I've never been there, but I know two people who are from there, and they tell me how beautiful it is. I hope to go someday."

This exchange really made me smile. I'm very much caught between two worlds right now: my life in West Virginia, where my friends, family, and school are, and Georgia, where Joe is. It's a hard place to be in. But after I spoke to this woman today, I realized -- how lucky I am to have two places I want to be so badly. I am lucky to have West Virginia, my home, the place I was born, the place I became a teacher, the place that raised me. I am also so lucky to have Georgia, where Joe is, where Asha is, where sunshine and warmth are, where my future is.

How many people are so lucky to have all that love stretching from West Virginia to Georgia? (Via Michigan, where Joe's from, the place he loves and calls home, the place that raised him.)

So, although leaving here will be heartbreaking in so many ways (more on that, I'm sure), I am choosing to be joyful that I am returning to a place that I love so much. I am joyful that I have a place to return to.

This is a picture of West Virginia I took back in April on my evening flight from West Virginia to Georgia to visit Joe for Easter. (What would turn out to be the trip during which we got engaged.)

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