At this time last year, I’d wake up to thunder and lightning in the middle of the night and feel my butthole clench because I knew the tornado sirens weren’t too far off; I’d think “god fucking dammit not again” and haul myself out of bed, locating my phone, laptop, and cats (the most expensive/precious things I own) to get ready to go down to the basement. While my logical brain knew that there was little chance of a tornado flattening my 100-year-old brick building, the brain that actually lived in my apartment understood that the windows, which hadn’t been repaired or replaced in at least 40 years, as well as the plaster that had been crumbling down since before I moved in with nary a landlord to care about actually fixing anything, were probably not in the best shape to endure a mega-storm. Also I lived in the ghetto, and when power goes out in the ghetto, the electric company isn’t too concerned about getting it back on. Poor people can live in the dark, right? It’s their punishment.
This summer, I wake up to thunder and lightning in the middle of the night and feel thankful. Well, sort of. First I get up and look out the window to make sure it’s actual rain instead of heat-related light and noise, and then I turn on channel 5 (because in the event of weather, I don’t trust anyone but the local NBC affiliate for whatever reason) to make sure there aren’t any tornado warnings afoot. And then I go back to bed, content in the knowledge that my yard will stop kicking up dust for maybe one whole day, and thankful that the world has been able to stave off a drought apocalypse for just a little while longer.
But now the sun is coming out, and while I suppose a lot of people prefer that, I’m kind of in the mood for a rainy Saturday. I like rain. I like clouds. I like shade. I like all three of these happening on a weekend, because they give me an excuse to half-assedly clean the house and sit around with the books I’ve been neglecting to read lately. I’m talking about the books I bought a long time ago and still haven’t gotten around to finishing, namely Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” Denis Johnson’s “Already Dead” and the “Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers.” I made a dent in all of them but stopped for one reason or another (probably picking up another book too soon) and would like to get going again, if for no other reason than to prevent me from buying anything else while I’m saving for a move.
I did buy something recently, though. One of my regular podcasts is Literary Disco, recommended to me by Stephanie probably mostly because the kid who played Shawn Hunter on Boy Meets World is one of the hosts. (Also books, of course.) In my opinion, the best host is Tod Goldberg, who’s not only funny but also doesn’t put on airs about Moby Dick, which I’ve said before is one big snooze and nothing that anyone should pretend to have read/enjoyed just because it’s a classic.*
Literary Disco recommended a book called “Tiny Beautiful Things,” a collection of editions of the Dear Sugar advice column from TheRumpus.net. Dear Sugar was mostly written by Cheryl Strayed and is a different sort of advice column in that it didn’t come from a right-leaning, traditional values-espousing, major newspaper-employed ghostwriter columnist whose primary goal is not to offend too many people. Which is not to say that Dear Sugar is offensive. It’s not at all, but Sugar’s advice is more of the honest, direct, and still compassionate variety instead of just something that gets churned out every day for the Lifestyles section of the paper.
We’ve already discussed how I’m generally a defective human being who doesn’t cry much, so although I’m apparently in the minority because nothing in “Tiny Beautiful Things” has made me cry yet, on an emotional level, I appreciate Sugar’s approach to extremely sad, uncomfortable, and sometimes brutal situations, and I am impressed by her ability to find the most relatable position and use it to exercise extreme empathy with those who are seeking help. Some of the passages I’ve already highlighted:
“She understands that attention is the first and final act of love, and that the ultimate dwindling resource in the human arrangement isn’t cheap oil or potable water or even common sense, but mercy.”
To a man who can’t decide if he should say “I love you” or not to the woman he actually loves:
“Don’t be strategic or coy. Strategic and coy are for jackasses. Be brave. Be authentic. Practice saying the word “love” to the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will. We’re all going to die, Johnny. Hit the iron bell like it’s dinnertime.”
To a self-admittedly ugly man who wants someone to love him but is afraid it will never happen:
“You don’t need these people. By stepping aside, they’ve done you a favor. Because what you’ve got left after the fools have departed are the old souls and the true hearts. Those are the uber-cool sparkle rocket mind-blowers we’re after. These are the people worthy of your love.”
About a friend who chose to stop living a life dictated by the experience of being raped three times:
“I could allow myself to be influenced by three men who screwed me against my will or I could allow myself to be influenced by van Gogh. I chose van Gogh.”
To a woman who asked if she should invite her drunk, angry father to her wedding (part of which is extremely relevant to me and the decisions I’ve made to –without regret — cut certain people out of my life) :
“But as you are surely aware, forgiveness doesn’t mean you let the forgiven stomp all over you once again. Forgiveness means you’ve found a way forward that acknowledges harm done and hurt caused without letting either your anger or your pain rule your life or define your relationship with the one who did you wrong … But love doesn’t make a mean drunk not a mean drunk or a narcissist not a narcissist or a jackass not a jackass.”
To a man who isn’t sure if he should have children:
“What is a good life? Write “good life” and list everything that you associate with a good life, then rank that list in order of importance. Have the most meaningful things in your life come to you as a result of ease or struggle? What scares you about sacrifice? What scares you about not sacrificing? … We’ll only know that whatever our sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
*Future recurring topic on this blog: “Unpopular Opinions,” the first installment of which will focus on my unpopular opinion that in most cases, David Foster Wallace and David Cross are (or were, in DFW’s case) insufferable whiny bastards. Stay tuned and get ready to hate me (more so)!