Being Alone

The second half of this piece began as a writing prompt in my adult class: “Write about something that can be good and bad at the same time.” I wrote the rest of it a little while ago, but thought it might be relevant to some folks right now. I hope you all enjoy your alone time and also reach out to others. Both make us human. 

 

I tell my students that I like going to movies alone. The joys are simple to encapsulate: no one to take the popcorn from me, the air conditioning in summer, the ease of arriving on time instead of rushing, the freedom to sit where I want without negotiating the Treaty of Versailles.

palace theatre signage
Photo by Ross on Pexels.com

It’s more than that, however; it is keeping my eyes trained on the screen the whole time, without scanning my boyfriend’s face for enjoyment after each joke. After all, I probably picked the movie and I am a loud laugher, and I don’t want to be embarrassed if he’s not having a good time. I’ll flick my head from The Rock to my boyfriend and back a few times before I think maybe I am being anoying, and then I start thinking about that.

When I am alone, I get to be engrossed in story — and that’s what this is all really about. Stories are made for our minds to embrace internally. We gather stories into our arms, bring them in from the cold, check for bruises. We cry with them. Yes, I have cried alone in a movie theater. It’s dark, and with a few seats between me and anyone else, it feels safe. And at the end of it, when the lights come up, I don’t have to be alone. So it feels easier to stop crying.

Stories are meant to be shared, but they’re also meant to be felt and lived alone.

Maybe that is the difference between when I like being alone and when I don’t. What story am I experiencing? Am I in a narrative, or just in my own whirling thoughts?

The band Joseph has a song called “In My Head.” It tells the story of a first date through the lens of an anxious woman’s internal monologue. Before the date even starts, she is playing out how it will go, everything her date will say, how she will mess it all up. And the imaginary future in her head gets in the way of enjoying the actual story happening around her. It’s a #relatable song, and it’s poignant for the impossibility it presents: we can’t get out of our heads. We have to be in our feelings, in our futures, and in the moment at the same time.

Listen to “In My Head” here

That’s why being alone can be magical. I get to experience all my feelings and think all my thoughts without ever having to say them out loud. I can decide as the wind blows to follow it; I can drive side streets without explaining what I’m curious about.

But being alone means I don’t hear my voice as much. Being alone makes me want to hear someone else answering my questions, even if it’s just to say “no.” When I’m alone it’s too quiet sometimes, like nothing is moving, like everything is stuck in its place, cemented in its spot.

I love quiet sometimes. I like to be almost alone in a library or a bookstore, not completely abandoned but rather, being in a place that was built for silence. A place that leaves space for breathing. When I’m on my own with books or a piano or the lavender scent in my shower, I don’t have to move fast or work hard or prove myself. I get the space to spread myself out a little bit.

Being alone doesn’t always make me relaxed. Sometimes it makes me feel like time is moving too fast and leaving me behind. Like how I’ve felt for the past few years, that I am behind the times, not having a house or a partner or a baby. I get all swirled up in my head instead of just living along the timeline as it happens.

Of course, sometimes when I’m on my own I can convince myself that I don’t need to be on anyone’s timeline but my own. But I can also convince myself never to leave the house and never to pursue those goals that I do want. Without anyone telling me what I am supposed to want, you’d think I could listen to myself more, but it turns out I’m a little intimidating too, even on my own.

Then more time passes, and more silence, and I am not sure where to go.

Maybe the best alone time is when I’m writing (although I also like being with other people when I write). I think when I sit with myself and write, I listen to my own voice, and create a space for story. It’s like opening the door and inviting myself in.

 

Thanks for reading. Check out my recent and upcoming publications on my about page, connect with me on twitter @MsPaceWrites, or consider supporting my writing on Ko-Fi.

Friday Reading Rainbow

FICTION – BLACK AUTHORS EDITION

Focusing my reading this spring on black authors because 1) Black Lives Matter, 2) the African-American literary tradition is incredibly rich and fertile, and I’ve been neglecting the deep reading I began with my Toni Morrison class in college and with other favorite authors since, and 3) I like having a ‘theme’ to my reading each season, because it’s cool to see how books pair together and resonate with each other.

Right now, I’m enveloped in the wonderfully told story of The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy. To steal the words of NPR’s reviewer, which are featured on the front cover: “Flournoy’s knockout debut is one of those books that should, by rights, be described as the Great American Novel.” I agree. She is the heir to Toni Morrison and Lorraine Hansberry, an expert on the black family and this particular family and this lost, broken city (Detroit) that still has so much life in it. It’s a ghost story and a family saga and a bunch of love stories, too. Here’s an excerpt for you to enjoy:

Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do. Men and women assign value to brick and mortar, link their identities to mortgages paid on time. On frigid winter nights, young mothers walk their fussy babies from room to room, learning where the rooms catch drafts and where the floorboards creak. In the warm damp of summer, fathers sit on porches, sometimes worried and often tired but comforted by the fact that a roof is up there providing shelter. Children smudge up walls with dirty handprints, find nooks to hide their particular treasure, or hide themselves if need be. We live and die in houses, dream of getting back to houses, take great care in considering who will inherit the houses when we’re gone. Cha-Cha knew his family was no different. The house on Yarrow Street was their sedentary mascot, its crumbling facade the Turner coat of arms. But it disintegrated by the hour. Mold in the basement, asbestos hiding in the walls, a garage stolen. He understood these things pointed to abandonment. He knew he should walk away from the place, let it become one more blasted-out house in a city plagued by them. but what to do with the house and what to do about his mother’s sickness were problems to which Cha-Cha possessed no simple solution. In both cases, his impulse leaned toward preservation, but at what cost?

The next books on my list:

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

Americanah – Chimamanda Adichie

Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward

The Farming of Bones – Edwidge Danticat

If Sons, Then Heirs – Lorene Cary

Jam on the Vine – LaShonda Katrice Barnett

 

close up photo of purple lilac flowers
Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.com

NONFICTION – QUEER WOMXN EDITION

“Why I Take All My Dates to Olive Garden” by Kristin Arnett.

Kristin Arnett is a lesbian twitter queen and Floridian author. In this hilarious essay, she explains why she takes first dates to Olive Garden: “to chill out and avoid the problems in my life.”

Two people eating means you get three sticks total. I like to think Olive Garden did that on purpose, so that you’re forced to break bread with your date. You must share with each other, touch hands. It’s all very romantic, if romance is deciding who gets to take the bigger share of the carbs. Also, if I eat my first breadstick quick enough, I can pick up the second one before my date even notices it’s missing.

 

“Periodic #2”  by Franny Choi over at Palette Poetry

I continue to be in love with this monthly column from Franny Choi, which this time I read a bit late (in time for my own “monthly column”)

 

“Mattress Shopping” by Em Rowene in Honey and Lime. 

I’m not even going to say anything about this one, because it is so surprising and gorgeous that I want you to discover it for yourself.

 

As always, I’d love to hear what you’re reading this week! 

 

Friday Reading Rainbow

Hello all, sorry I skipped a week! I have been super busy with lots of professional development, playing and singing in a couple of concerts, and the nascent literary magazine at school (as well as, you know, my job!). To those of you new to the blog, I like to share what I’ve been reading and I am always looking for what YOU are reading and enjoying! Leave me a comment below.

nature bird red wildlife
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Here’s what I’ve been reading the past two weeks:

Poetry

Last week read Part III of Ada Limon’s beautiful Bright Dead Things, and this week, Part IV. I like reading poetry slowly, one or two poems at a time and savoring them. Since I’m currently teaching my poetry class and I’m on a mission from the gods to teach every student to read and write poetry, I’m seeking back-up in Why Poetry, by Matthew Zapruder. I keep finding things that I deeply agree with, but haven’t put into words of my own yet. For example, he suggests that a poem is not an image that just sits pristinely on a page, but a process, an action from beginning to end. By reading poetry, we follow the writer’s action of thought, but since we are different people, we do our own action with a little difference.

Here are some particularly good poems by Limon:

“Midnight, Talking about our Exes,” which you can read on The Jet Fuel Review Blog

“State Bird” here in The New Yorker

I keep trying to read more and more and more poetry. On my coffee table right now is a copy of The American Poetry Review with the genius Jericho Brown on the cover (you can order individual copies here). I’ll share my favorites next week.

 

Fiction

A little while ago I wrote about comfort books (What books are your comfort food? ), and last weekend I indulged in two wonderful little chocolate mousse books.

Joy in the Morning is one of the Jeeves books, featuring two examples of thwarted love: Boko Fittleworth and Nobby want to marry but need the approval of the prickly Lord Worplesdon, while the serious Florence Craye thinks Bertie loves her and scorns the eager gentleman-turned-country-policeman, D’Arcy Cheeswright (aka “Stilton”). Obviously hilarity ensues and Jeeves must sort out everyone’s problems.

I consider P.G. Wodehouse to be one of the funniest writers to ever grace the world. You have to be a sort of anglophile and a sort of nerd to appreciate him, especially because so much of the draw is his clever use of language. But I think even if you don’t get all the jokes, the dynamic between Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves has appeal for all readers.

Then, because I recommended it to a student, I re-read The Silent Gondoliers, by William Goldman, who wrote The Princess Bride. Here’s my review from Goodreads:

“When someone special happens, he tends to rub off on people….”

Luigi is a gondolier with a terrible voice, back in the days when gondoliers were the best singers in the world. His dream of singing with all his heart on the Grand Canal of Venice eludes him through his life of troubles… until the day of the Killer Storm…..

William Goldman, author of The Princess Bride, spins this absorbing yarn with tremendously colloquial joy. Absolutely enchanting. Please, good people, take an hour or two to read this book.

Next on my to-be-read shelf is The Winter People, by Jennifer McMahon. It promises dark and mysterious ghost stories!

 

Nonfiction

It was fortuitous to find this gorgeous example of a creative nonfiction essay using synthesis right when I’m teaching my AP kids how to do their synthesis essay! We will be reading this together and looking for the intertwined elements: reading, writing, wolves, and honest work.
How Barry Lopez Got Me Through a Backcountry Winter, by Bryce Andrews

It fell to me to go with the government trapper when he came to hunt them. We waited at dusk on top of a hill. He had his rifle and I my treasonous thoughts. . . .

We sat on the ground under a juniper that had been browsed bare to the height of four feet. The sky darkened. Stars showed. The government hunter was patient. He had a night-vision scope on his rifle and a reputation to uphold.

And, in a completely different vein, I am looking forward to this column every month now: Franny Choi, “Periodic #1”.

 

 

What are you reading? Tell me in the comments! 

 

Reading Rainbow: Saturday morning edition

Let me tell you about Saturday mornings. I treasure them.

pancakes with strawberry blueberries and maple syrup
Photo by Sydney Troxell on Pexels.com

Friday nights are usually the nights when I get the most rest; unlike many of my millenial compatriots, I’m a teacher, and Friday nights are when I’m most tired. They’re usually reserved for rest, recuperation, Indiana Jones movies on Netflix, and sometimes catching up on writing, especially if I’ve neglected my journal that week.

This means that Saturday mornings I am dreamy and sleepy after a long snooze, and I’m HUNGRY. Let me also tell you this: one of my seniors was quizzing his younger cousin, playing the “you don’t know Ms. Pace as well as I do – ha!” game, and the younger student reported: “Well, I remember you telling our class that on Saturday mornings you make your own big breakfast, you drink lots of coffee, and you  just READ.”

Dear readers, he’s correct. Saturday mornings are excellent for catching up on magazine reading, or looking through my favorite blogs, or reading poetry. Or for traversing more pages of whatever novel I’m reading. I rarely have as much focus to just read as I do on those mornings where I can push off all the to-do’s until later in the day. Mornings in my P.J.s can be lazy, but they’re also exciting, because I get to switch my attention (even if just for half a day) away from my work at school and towards myself, the care and keeping of my brain, and my reading and writing life.

So here are some things to entice you for your Saturday morning reading. 🌞

Poetry

A little cleverness here: The Quick Brown Fox, A Memoir, by Alex Boyd. (Little Dog Poetry) 

And beauty here: 3 poems by Roberta Williams  (I like “Drought Years” the best). (Little Dog Poetry)

And reality here: 2 poems by Amanda Laughtland (Dying Dahlia Review) 

Fiction

Currently reading: River of Stars, by Vanessa Hua

Next on my list:

20190224_140027
My to-read-next shelf

 

 

Friday Reading Rainbow

Friday Reading Rainbow

With an early dismissal snow day this week and then the onset of an icky cold, it was a good week for reading by windows and watching the sky and the snow. I still feel just a little pull over losing my long-ago ability to read for hours and get lost in a book, but I treasure the moments when that feeling comes back, even if for a little bit. I find that if I can zone in on reading (especially fiction), it’s like a massage for my brain. After I read for a while, I find I’m more able to do other things that require my thoughts: creative work, planning, teaching tasks. It also curbs my anxiety and keeps me from being irritable. I know if I don’t read for a couple days, my mental health deteriorates and I’m not on my game. Reading is essential to my life.

fir leaves covered in snow
Photo by kendall hoopes on Pexels.com

Here’s what I’m reading this week:

Poetry

Honey & Lime Lit Mag just put out their first issue, and the layout online is oh-so-lovely. I’m enjoying dipping into the poems one at a time. Read the issue here: Into the Haunting

In honor of Valentine’s Day: three great love poems:

i carry your heart with me (I carry it in – e. e. cummings

Love Is Not All – Edna St. Vincent Millay

I Am Not Yours  – Sara Teasdale

Fiction

A River of Stars

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org
What an incredible rush of storytelling this book throws from the very first page. Scarlett is pregnant and alone and in America, financed by the rich father of her baby boy, who wants her to bring the baby home to him after having achieved the prize of American citizenship. But Scarlett is feisty and just as likely to punch you in the face as talk sweetly to you, and when she finds out the truth of her pregnancy, she does not stick to the plan. I am excited to follow the rest of this story and watch Scarlett fight for her independence and her life.    Shop your local indie bookstore

 

And I’d like to add a note here in defense of longer, slower reads. It seems that all the book blogs I check out have people reading four and five books a week; my reading friends (especially those who read YA) tell me that if a book is really good, they almost always finish it in one sitting. As reading is my sport, I sometimes feel pressured by this, as if I’m not reading enough, or maybe I’m just reading too slow. But I am a proponent of the long, slow read. I love living with a book for weeks or even months (like the 9 weeks I took to read Anna Karenina), coming back to it for a few pages at a time, digesting the richness or its language and savoring the story. I find long books, especially historical fiction, provide me with a deeper connection with their setting- I feel like I am living there for a while, getting to know the blueprints of the hallways. This describes my relationship with Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell books. I read the first one, Wolf Hall, from November 20th to January 15th (thanks, goodreads, for helping me keep track), and I interspersed it with other, shorter reads. But I got to experience the slow, careful burn that Thomas Cromwell the character creates as he winds his way through Tudor court intrigue. Now as I step through the hallways of Bring Up the Bodies, the second book, I find myself actually turning back 60 pages at a time to reread and catch all the nuance of dramatic Boleyns and scheming Seymours. I’ve been reading this book since January 27 and I might take till the end of the month to finish it. And that is a wonderful thing.

 

What are you reading? Tell me in the comments!