Archive for December, 2008

My New Years’s Resolutions are a break from the past — instead of resolutions that I’ll fall out of by February and feel guilty for all year, these are designed to be nice and compassionate with myself, and focus on cultivating this I already like about myself and do regularly.


1. Take another stab at the book-a-week thing. It was a good challenge and I think that, especially working in a bookstore, I stand a fair chance. Besides, “failing” at this resolution is still a success.

2. Keep pushing myself to eat more fresh produce — it’s difficult when I’m working, but I feel like I could do a few dinners a week. If nothing else, get some veggies into that pasta.

3. Be more alert to when I need to take care of myself physically — getting more sleep! — and emotionally — allowing myself introvert time. 2009 is going to be the year of compassion compassion compassion.

4. Devote January to completing languishing knitting projects. After that, all bets are off — I need to remember that knitting is something for me, and feeling guilty over how many half-completed pairs of socks I have isn’t doing me any favors. That having been said, I would like more complete pairs of socks.

5. I would really like to get into bookmaking this year.

I think that’s it? I guess it would be good to floss, too…

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My latest book obsession:

I love love love this book — and it makes me love books even more. I’ve tried a few “instant books” and I’m looking forward to serious book-making.

You can get it from Purgatory Pie Press: http://www.purgatorypiepress.com/
(Oh my god, want want want that date book!)
Or get it from your — you got it — local independent bookstore.

I like that this book emphasizes the importance of just being creative (much like Lynda Barry’s What It Is), and breaks down the line between art and knowledge production, as the best books are wont to do. The instructions are clear and make you really really want to sit down and just make books.

This is probably the last book I’ll finish reading before 2008 ends (you know, tomorrow), and I’m glad it’s such a good one. I’ve been sitting in bed at night reading it. Mmmmm coptic binding.

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Great Books 2008

Why, hello.

My one big resolution this year — beyond flossing, which always fails, but I figure one month of flossing before failing is better than nothing — was to read one book a week. I was doing really well for a long time, until summer rolled around. Between travel and moving, I fell a little behind. I’m on number 45 right now, give or take.

I’m tempted to feel like I failed at my goal. And then I think, “Wait. I read something like 45 books this year. That’s pretty impressive — especially when I’ve met many people who don’t remember the last book they read.” That’s the kind of resolution I like: a resolution where even failure means success.

So, here’s my list of books I read this year. Stars indicate ones I especially enjoyed. I intend over the next few days to go through the ones I really enjoyed, as a means of recommending them to all y’all. Some of these are standards I never had a chance to read. There are some books I started reading and never got very far in for various reasons — those are not on the list.

Without further ado, my books of 2008:

1. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
2. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
3. Fahrenheit 451*, Ray Bradbury
4. The Book Thief*, Marcus Zusak
5. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
6. Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
7. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
8. The Marvelous Land of Oz, L. Frank Baum
9. East of Eden***, John Steinbeck
10. The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
11. Cannery Row, John Steinbeck
12. Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer
13. Map of Ireland, Stephanie Grant
14. The Road*, Cormac McCarthy
15. Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee
16. Maus I, Art Spiegelman
17. Maus II, Art Spiegelman
18.You Grow Girl, Gayla Trail
19. The Omnivore’s Dilemma*, Michael Pollan
20. Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks
21. In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan
22. Persepolis I, Marjane Satrapi
23. Persepolis II, Marjane Satrapi
24. No one belongs here more than you, Miranda July
25. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami
26. Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction*, ed. Sabrina Chapadjiev
27. Travels With Charley, John Steinbeck
28. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Michael Chabon
29. The Jew in the Lotus, Rodger Kamenetz
30. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
31. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
32. Animal Vegetable Miracle*, Barbara Kingsolver
33. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Helen Fielding
34. Knitting for Good, Betsy Greer
35. Super Natural Cooking*, Heidi Swanson
36. Time Traveler’s Wife*, Audrey Niffenegger
37. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close*, Jonathan Safran Foer
38. Flower Confidential, Amy Stewart
39. What It Is*, Lynda Barry
40. Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue
41. When the Past is Present* (right now), David Richo
42. Passionate Marriage* (right now), David Schnarch
43. Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris
44. Living Dead in Dallas (right now), Charlaine Harris
45. The Maytrees (right now), Annie Dillard

Don’t know how I ended up in four books right now. Oh right. I’ve been working on the two non-fiction for a while and the vampire one is too creepy to read at night. Anyway! Look them up. Also, if you do decide to purchase, please check out your local independent bookstore. Hooray!

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I just finished reading Lynda Barry’s What It Is. I like it. I like the way it’s making me think.


What It Is is part mediation, part story, part art book, part instruction manual. Using verbal narrative, illustration, and collage, it moves through the author’s journey as a creative person. She meanders through the meaning of things — image, creating, writing, expression — and how her relationship with creativity has transpired.

What really got to me was the book’s focus on being a creative person creating for someone else, caught in questions of “Is it good? Do I suck?” I found these questions all too relatable, remembering those moments when I stopped singing out loud, stopped drawing because I wasn’t one of the best artists in the class, or, conversely, kept playing music because I was “good enough.” Creating for me — and I think for most people — is rarely a self-focused activity; rather, it ends up being about feedback, approval, and status.


Barry moves, at the end of What It Is, to a kind of guidebook geared towards getting the reader to write and create. The focus is not on an end point, but rather on writing as a way of relating experiences and images. I especially like her recommendation to just keep writing without judgment, and keep the pen moving, even if that means just writing the alphabet. The emphasis on here is on writing as a creative act, rather than a thinking act.

That got me thinking about my own relationship with creativity. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of embroidery — something about fabric and thread appeals to me as a medium for altering my physical environment. Everything I embroider, though, is someone else’s pattern (although I really love them). There’s wiggle room in figuring out colors and stitches, but even them I’m always looking elsewhere, researching “how to use embroidery stitches.”


Somewhere between second grade and now, my creative process stopped being about having fun, and became about what others would think. It stopped being a personal creative exercise and became recognition-based. It shows up in little ways, like only singing really loud when I’m alone (definitely not in front of my opera singer boyfriend), or feeling like I need a recipe to cook, or a pattern so that I can knit or embroider.

Here’s my question: When did I stop trusting myself? When did creating stop being about me — that feeling of doing something awesome in the moment — and become about feedback and doing things “right”? I’m tempted to ask what it would mean to trust myself again, but I’m going to go even further: What would it feel like to trust my creative impulses? To just sit down with a tea towel and embroider all purple circles if I felt like it, or pick up my flute and just make some sounds, or trust my writing enough to actually do it and send it to people I love?


I’ve come to the conclusion that my relationship with creativity isn’t going to go anywhere until I start trusting myself again, and insisting that I deserve to take joy in my creative process and that that pleasure is its purpose. I think that’s going to mean loving myself enough to give myself permission to not judge what I’m doing, and give myself the gift of letting go of that internalized critical voice. And I’m not talking love as in self-esteem “Yay, you’re great.” I’m talking about, hey, it would feel really good to take a half hour to just drink a cup of tea, write and doodle, so ok, ready set go.

So, thanks Lynda Barry! I’m looking forward to the journey I’m embarking on with myself.

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If I’m not mistaken, the one resolution I made for myself this year was to read a book a week, or a total of 52 books for the year.

Right now — December 7, 2008 — I’m on my 39th book.

This means I can either:
1. Fail at my single resolution
2. Read 13 books by the end of the month

I’m biting the bullet, because at least I can say I tried.

Suggestions? I like fiction, especially East of Eden and Beloved — poetic or dreamlike narratives, nostalgia, familial lines, connection, attention to unnoticed people and detail…

And, I guess I should add, ones that can be read in, oh, two or three days.

Copper boom!

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Mischief is afoot in the form of some secret embroidery.


Stay tuned for further developments. Hopefully one of those developments will be the continuing improvement of my French knots…

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Here’s a little logic exercise for you.

A. If it’s Noro and sparkly, then hell yes.
B. It’s Noro Aurora.
C. It’s sparkly.
D. On sale at the yarn store

Therefore: Hell yes.

Premise D wasn’t necessary, but sure was the deciding factor.

Behold the Multidirectional Scarf, knit in Noro Aurora on size 5 needles. I don’t think I’m capable of not loving this scarf.

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