You know the feeling: you discover a new writer, you devour their work and wonder how can it be that in all your reading you’ve never come across them before. You fight the urge to feel gypped and take comfort in the fact that you’ve seen the light and found a kindred spirit. You finish the book, favorite quotes/passages underlined, and add the book to a shelf of “can’t live without” books.
A few years back when my grandpa passed away I not only lost my last grandparent, but the world lost one cool cat; a man who not only played trombone in the Sooner band, but married his college sweetheart who was, in his words, “the prettiest girl in Norman,” and he had a penchant for saying, “Dear Gussie!” in his measured Midwestern lilt whenever you impressed or shocked him, which delighted me to no end. He was known as a man who had a way with words and he could spin a tale that kept the rapt attention of all his grandkids, especially me.
When the extended Graves family got together to say good-bye to Daniel Maloy Graves II we each took turns sharing a favorite memory. My dad shared several memories, but one in particular made a lasting impression, “He had the best vocabulary and a system to improve it. When he would come across a word he didn’t know, he’d look it up and write down the definition. He would then make a point of using that word in conversation at least three times the next day to commit it to memory. I always admired that.”
Yeah, yeah. I know.
I’m about a decade late to the Dave Eggers party. What can I say? I’ve already explained my extensive “to read” list of books—on my nightstand, the Kindle, the electronic list that grows exponentially and on and on.
Reading “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” is just that. Genius. Eggers’ stream-of-consciousness prose reminds me of “On the Road” and I find myself getting thoroughly absorbed in its pages.This passage made me stop in my tracks, dog ear the bottom right corner, grab a pencil and underline:
“…we’re putting something together that will smash all these misconceptions about us, how it’ll help us all to throw off the shackles of our supposed obligations, our fruitless career tracks, how we will force, at least urge, millions to live more exceptional lives, to [standing up for effect] do extraordinary things, to travel the world, to help people and start things and end things and build things…”
I stopped reading altogether to consider the tug we often feel as we go through our lives. This is a common question that I often find I wrestle with—are we doing what we should be doing with our lives? Is there something bigger, different from the norm, off the beaten path that we should be exploring? Something radically different that we should be doing with our lives if we would only be still and heed the call.
About this time two Mondays ago my brightly lit world went dark.
Super Storm Sandy made her presence known and took away our lights, the Internet and the soft glow of our 42″ flat screen tv. Oh, and lest I forget the necessities: heat, access to money or gasoline and any semblance of fresh produce.
But we survived. We had water, a decent amount of non-perishable food items and candles. Make that oodles of candles (side note: one bag of 100 tea lights will last you 9 days without power and light up to 4 rooms/day. And you’ll still have some leftover to decorate the votive holders stashed around your house. You’re welcome).
Hurricane Sandy has since come and gone. In its wake? An entire coastline is destroyed and small towns are left trying to figure out the extent of the damage. Days are spent cleaning up the reminders of gale force winds that ripped large oaks from their perches, sent debris cascading through neighborhood streets, and toppled telephone and power lines like they were lined up dominoes.
And me? I sit and wait. No power, spotty cell phone reception that allows for the random text message in and out, not to mention the threat of the water contamination and looming shut-off (glad I housed that SIGG bottle of water earlier).
Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places. Introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape.
— Alain de Botton The Art of Travel
The first time I was introduced to Mike Birbiglia, I was sitting on a NJ Transit bound train, listening to This American Life. The episode? First Contact, which delved into first time experiences with unknown beings. Mike’s story had to do with his first kiss and the rite of passage that is making out with girls. Listening to this grown man recount the story of taking Lisa Bizetti to a carnival and the ensuing hilarity that comes with being a 12-year old boy made me laugh. Out loud. On a crowded train during the morning commute to NYC. Simply put, it was brilliant — rife with the awkwardness that only adolescence can offer with a dash of self-deprecating wit that made me an instant fan. Carnival salsa is all I’m going to say – take a listen, you’ll thank me later.