So, I’ve Got Something to Confess…

I’ve been holding on some information for the last few months that I didn’t feel ready to share publicly until the people involved were.

You see, it’s a family thing.

Now, I could make a whole big philosophical essay about the seasons of life, and muse about sappy stuff, but I’ve decided today is not one of those days.

I had to wait until the person involved made it Facebook official, and a few days ago she finally did.

Ready to hear my news?

Okay.

This upcoming February, I will be becoming an aunt for the second time. My brother and my sister-in-law are expecting their second child! They’re having another girl, and while I will not be publicly sharing the name on here, I can reveal that her first and middle initials will be R. M. (my first niece’s initials are R. A., by the way). And my sister-in-law made it Facebook official by posting a picture of the ultrasound on her page.

My sister-in-law’s birthday is on Valentine’s Day, but her due date is towards the end of February, so unless the bambina arrives early, they likely won’t be sharing a birthday.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this pregnancy goes smoothly and the bambina makes a safe arrival!

The Future of Literature is Female

Last night, PBS’s The Great American Read revealed the results of its months-long poll of readers from all over the United States to determine this country’s best-loved novel. To very little surprise from me, the readers selected To Kill a Mockingbird by the late Harper Lee. (Coincidentally, my blogger buddy Mr Knitter has a dog named Harper-Lee, who is an adorable brown-eyed Staffordshire Bull Terrier. No doubt named after the author?) I didn’t expect the Outlander series to finish in second, though! I voted for several books and series on the list, including Mockingbird, 1984, The Hunger Games, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Gone with the Wind.

Before I get into my commentary on today’s post, I’ll list the top ten books and series from this list along with their authors.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee * @
  2. Outlander (series) by Diana Gabaldon * @
  3. Harry Potter (series) by J. K. Rowling *
  4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen * @
  5. The Lord of the Rings (series) by J. R. R. Tolkien
  6. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell * @
  7. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White @
  8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott * @
  9. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
  10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë * @

See all those asterisks (*)? Those were all books written by women. Seven of those top ten books were written by women. And the @ signs indicate books and series that have female characters as lead characters in the books (and I included Charlotte’s Web because the title character is female…just not a human female; Charlotte A. Cavatica is a female barn spider who is just as much a lead character as Wilbur the pig is). Out of those ten, I’ve read Mockingbird, Harry Potter, Gone with the Wind, and Charlotte’s Web; I’ve attempted to read Pride and Prejudice and Little Women, but have never managed to finish them. Twelve of the top 20 books on the list were written by women authors, including Agatha Christie and Ayn Rand. You can see the full list of 100 here.

I was also inspired to get three ebooks from this list (I had previously purchased an Apple gift card to get a couple of novelizations of The Tribe that I plan on reading after I finish watching the entire series; I am currently halfway through Series 2…I still had some funds left over for more ebooks), all by women: The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (which was available for free through Apple Books, presumably because of its age), and The Help by Kathryn Stockett. (I also purchased the ebook of Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, who did not make the list. I’ve previously read The Sound and the Fury.)

I’m amazed at how much Americans these days admire, read, and buy novels and series written by women authors! J. K. Rowling has become one of the best-selling authors of all time, first with the Harry Potter series and now as the woman behind Robert Galbraith and the Cormoran Strike series (kinda like how Nora Roberts writes crime novels as J. D. Robb). Jane Austen is celebrated by women all over the world as the foremother of the modern romance novel two centuries after her lifetime. My current read, Catching Fire, is part of a trilogy written by a woman (Suzanne Collins) whose protagonist is a fiery young woman (Katniss Everdeen). Jodi Picoult and Heather Morris and Celeste Ng are among a crop of recent women authors who’ve made waves on bestseller lists and on the way to writing modern classics. Nora Roberts, Danielle Steele, and Debbie Macomber are all hugely popular these days. And the runner-up from The Great American Read, Diana Gabaldon (the woman behind the Outlander series), has a huge fan following.

In a field where scholarship and criticism was largely focused on works by men for the longest time, it is impressive and a bit interesting that a lot of the highest placing books and series on this list were by women authors! Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged experienced the largest jump in the voting, going from #43 to #20 over the course of the vote. (Speaking of Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead is the next book on my reading list after Catching Fire; The Fountainhead is by far the longest book on my reading list at the moment.) And the plots and genres of those books are just as varied as the authors themselves: Outlander and Gone with the Wind have elements of romance and historical fiction, Anne of Green Gables is celebrated in children’s literature, Harry Potter is child-oriented fantasy, Agatha Christie was the Queen of Mystery Novels, and Ayn Rand dared to challenge the minds and mores of her readers and openly bucked what was considered “politically correct” (in the original sense, not the modern sense) in her homeland of Russia as it descended into the communism of the Soviet Union and she ended up influencing an entire generation of readers and politicians in the United States (regardless of whether you agree with her ideals; I am just talking about her influence as an author).

I’ve talked so much here about women authors and the readers they’ve influenced, but it is also important to note that not all women in the world are as lucky as women in the Western World are. According to ProLiteracy, two-thirds of all illiterate people in the world are women. In many parts of the world where religious conservatism and patriarchal culture are still the norm, women’s education is considered subversive or even outright forbidden. Illiterate women are more likely to live in poverty. Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai was nearly assassinated because she believed all girls deserved the right to an education, and she has since made it her life’s mission to advocate for the education of girls and women all over the world…all while pursuing a university degree at the University of Oxford. Literacy is directly connected to the ability to advance oneself socially and economically. We should be doing everything we can to ensure that all who have the ability to do so can learn how to read and write and be able to provide proper assistance and learning strategies to those who may have difficulties in doing so due to issues like learning disorders like dyslexia. We shouldn’t be letting people fall through the cracks.

Women readers become new women authors. Women readers, no matter the genders of the authors that influence and inspire them, become inspired to create characters and worlds of their own. Women authors can stand on their own and beside the men who are also inspired to write and who’ve inspired women to write. Women authors are not just romance writers: they write political discourse and of fantastical worlds. They write horror stories and thrillers and crime & mystery novels. They write science fiction and dystopian novels and follow in the footsteps of writers like Ursula K. Le Guin. I think the future of literature is definitely female. We celebrate all great books, regardless of the genders of their authors. But it does put a smile on my face to see women authors doing so well and influencing so many readers today.

Are there any female authors who’ve moved or inspired you as a reader or writer? And that question is open to my male readers, too, because you also matter to me as a blogger. Feel free to respond in the comments.

Randomly on a Sunday: 10.21.2018

We’ve just gotten our first cool front of the season, and outside it feels nice for the first time since, maybe, March. Our thermostat indicates that the outside temperature has not broken 80 F today. When you’ve been feeling temperatures of at least 85 almost every day for the last 5 or 6 months, 75 is a welcome break from the heat! We don’t typically start to experience the coldest part of our dry season until December and January.

So, here’s some random stuff that’s been going on lately:

  • I made a cheesecake earlier this week, my first time ever and the first time I’ve ever worked with a recipe involving a bain-marie. It was delicious. I plan on making a pumpkin cheesecake within the next few days; kinda appropriate since Halloween is coming up in a little over a week.
  • My Boston Red Sox are going to the World Series!!!! They’ll be facing the Los Angeles Dodgers in this year’s Fall Classic. I’ll have my fingers crossed for the Sox.
  • I’ve started on a basic scarf (which can be seen in my Instagram feed) that’s more or less just something to keep my hands busy.
  • My back issues came back a few days ago, and I was dealing with unbearable pain and stiffness for the last couple of days. My range of motion is slowly coming back, and my pain is primarily limited to bending now. Last night was the first night since the pain set in that I didn’t have a pillow between my knees while sleeping.
  • I finished Lord of the Flies last week. The first half of the novel was a bit slow for me, but the second half moved much more quickly for me and I was able to get into it more as the action moved along. I ended up listening to the book’s episode of the podcast Literary Disco (which is hosted by Tod Goldberg, Julia Pistell, and actor Rider Strong, best known to Americans as Shawn Hunter from the ’90s sitcom Boy Meets World, but who also happens to have a degree in English and is very well-studied in literature), and I may have to rewatch its episode of Crash Course Literature.
  • My current read is Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, which is Book Two of the Hunger Games trilogy. I’m four chapters into it at this point. I don’t expect to finish this one in a week like I did the first book, but it’s coming along a bit more quickly than most of the other books I’ve read this year.

I hope you all are doing okay today, and I wish you all a good day!

Even in a Hurricane of Frowns

In case you haven’t already heard, Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle yesterday at a very strong Category 4, and the damage up there is looking catastrophic, especially where it made landfall at the coastal town of Mexico Beach.

Some have (rightfully) expressed concern for me in the wake of Hurricane Michael, so I figured I’d write a quick post to let you all know that I’m fine. I’m lucky that we live quite far away from where the hurricane struck. Michael hit the Panhandle region (Northwest Florida), while I live in Central Florida. We weren’t spared effects from Michael’s wrath, as we did experience some squall line storms from Michael’s feeder bands, but thankfully my part of Florida was spared the worst of the storm.

The one casualty on my street related to the storm was a pine tree in a neighbors’s backyard (which was already dead) that was snapped in half by the wind. The top half of the tree landed on a neighbor’s roof, but since the branches of our pine trees are spread out wide instead of conical like a Christmas tree, the falling branches seem to have caused minimal damage to our neighbor’s roof. The bottom half is still standing, and I can see it sticking out over my other neighbor’s roof.

It is going to take a long time for our fellow Floridians in the Panhandle to clean and rebuild, but if anything we are a resilient and tenacious bunch and I send them all the good mojo (I guess you could say it’s a way of sending positive energy) I can.

As for the title? It comes from the Capital Cities song “Safe and Sound”: “You could be my luck / Even in a hurricane of frowns / I know that we’ll be safe and sound.”

The Difference Between Solitude and Loneliness

I’ll admit something: I love being alone, I hate being lonely.

How can two synonyms mean something so different, though?

The way I see it, solitude (the state of being alone) is a choice, while loneliness comes from mismanaged solitude.

I’m a pretty obvious introvert, have been for as long as I can remember. For me, being around people (even my own family members) for too long can leave me feeling exhausted and stressed. I need some time to myself each day to decompress from all the noise and tedium of the day. Some days caring for my mom are more stressful than others, and just ten or fifteen minutes by myself in the evening right after my dad gets up and before he gets ready to go to work are enough for me to get my brain back into a more relaxed state of mind and I can proceed with our usual nighttime routine. Days when I actually have the house to myself are rarer and rarer now, but when it does happen, I actually treasure the solitude that comes with it. When I’m alone, and the noise around me goes silent, I feel at peace. For those brief moments or days when I don’t have to answer to someone else, I feel comfortable in my own skin. When I’m out around others, that comfort goes away, and I start to feel awkward. It’s not as bad around family members, but I’ve always hated that feeling of awkwardness that seems to follow me wherever I go. So, many times when there’s an opportunity for me to spend a little time to myself, I take it. I like those mornings when all I have to do is wake up, feed the dog, put on some coffee, and then drink it while watching some morning programming and/or reading my emails or checking out the morning news online. I like those mornings when my parents decide to go for a ride around the Florida backroads in the Jeep and they let me sleep in. I like being able to experience things alone: opportunities to read while both the dog and I are sitting in the front yard, her enjoying the sun on her fur and me near some shade, preferably in a chair, reading a few pages from whatever book I’m reading; or being able to cook a dish just for myself (not as often these days, but when my parents would vacation and I’d have the house to myself, I’d get adventurous with what I’d cook and try out new recipes or indulge in things that were a little too expensive otherwise for more than one person, like some fish or a cut of steak).

Sometimes I dread the prospect of someday living alone; not so much for the fear of having to defend myself from intruders or people with bad intentions, but more because I fear that I’d be a terrible housekeeper on my own or that my habit of sometimes hoarding things would rear its ugly head. (Thankfully, I have managed to deal with some of my hoarding issues on my own and my own clutter is much smaller now than it was when I was younger.) But I also wonder if living alone would eventually turn into loneliness? Would I eventually crave to have the company of another person in my life (either a roommate or a significant other), at the cost of being able to set my own rules and routines without having to answer to anyone else? And that gives me a little bit of anxiety, too.

Solitude is something that can be managed, nurtured. Even the loneliest of hermits, I think, sometimes have to leave the hermitage and get a sniff of the outside world. Otherwise, that solitude turns into cabin fever, and not a lot of us can handle that without going crazy every once in a while. I like solitude, but I also like going to restaurants on occasion and reveling in the camaraderie with my family (because I’m usually dining out with family) over good food and a friendly atmosphere. I also like to visit my brother and sister-in-law and getting to see my niece as she’s grown from a newborn baby to a very active toddler, and I look forward to seeing her grow even more. I like going on walks with my dog and seeing the trees that fill the area in all their greenery, or even just joining her on the front lawn and reading a good book in the sun.

Loneliness is one of the darkest emotions a human being can feel. We are by nature very social creatures (even if introverts and extroverts choose to socialize in different ways). There was a period of time, about five years ago, where I had cut myself off from the outside world for the most part, where I didn’t use the Internet for about three years or so, beginning in the middle of 2012 (which had been precipitated by some virus hitting our home computer, and it left me very stressed out and anxious, like it was my fault). During that time, which was basically a sabbatical, I missed out on my best friend finding the love of her life, their wedding, and the birth of their son. I missed out on finding out how many of my old friends were doing. I missed out on the Yarn Harlot and her adventures. I missed out on a few Eurovisions, too. During that period where I was cut off, I remember feeling incredibly lonely and sad. I was content to stay away from technology during that time, and it felt nice not being addicted to a screen the whole time. But it also left me feeling incredibly, utterly alone and not in a good way. I felt like I was out of the loop and disconnected from the world and the people in it. And that feeling of disconnection was what was getting to me.

I slowly started coming out of it, when my dad got his laptop and decided to give me his tablet in 2015 (which was an Android that originally belonged to my brother…long story; and yes, that was the tablet that crapped out on me and forced me into a temporary hiatus last year, and oh boy did that feeling of disconnect come back, and quickly). I was very wary about where I went online and was content just lurking and finding out what was going on. I didn’t get my own email address again until January 2017 (many months after talking to my best friend for the first time in about five years), and not long after that was when I joined Ravelry. It took a few days before I made my first posts there, but there I found a community of crafters like me and I started opening up again. Two months later came this blog, which has come to serve as much of a platform for self-expression just as much as it has for tracking my knitting projects. My Tumblr came about in June that year as a way to keep more in touch with my best friend, who is very active on there, and has also become a platform for self-expression. Last October I took a dive into Facebook, although I have opted to keep that particular part of my social media very private and just for people I’ve known personally throughout the years, people who I’ve been longing to reconnect with. And then Instagram the following month, where we chronicle our lives and interests through our camera lenses. It has been a great way to connect with other knitters and crocheters outside of Ravelry, and when I see a project I like, it’s a great way to offer instant feedback to those who create. Or when I see a book pictured that I’ve read or am reading, I can give my input on that particular book. I don’t get many opportunities to go out into the world in person, but technology has allowed the world to come to me. Blogging has introduced me to a very interesting array of people who all share a common passion of letting others into their own little corners of the planet, talking about life or the things they love. For me, knowing that people are genuinely interested in what I have to say makes me feel a little less lonely. So, while I physically spend a lot of my time alone, these days I’m not feeling particularly lonely, whether it’s commenting on a fellow crafter’s handiwork or a fellow blogger’s latest post, or having a dialogue of political discourse or venting with a friend over messenger, or allowing my silly, nerdy side to come out over Tumblr. (In case you are wondering, I am not active on Twitter, for a myriad of reasons that I’ll keep private, but I do lurk on there, reading friends’ Tweets on occasion.) Especially in my last post here, which was admittedly quite a bit of doom and gloom (but doom and gloom that needed release), it felt nice knowing that you all cared about what I was feeling and willing to offer your own thoughts and advice on caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s, and that I truly wasn’t alone in my experience. Technology used in the wrong ways can dumb us down and rob us of our humanity like in Fahrenheit 451, but used wisely, it can connect us in amazing ways that wouldn’t have been possible even thirty, much less a hundred, years ago…and that makes the world a little less lonely.

So, yeah: I love being alone, but I hate being lonely. It takes a lot of work to balance the two, but I feel like I’ve managed to manage my desire for solitude to the point where I am content that it won’t turn into loneliness. Not as long as I find ways to make connections and maintain them.