It’s Thursday. And This is What I’m Reading.

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Oh. You know. Just hugging a tree with a sign on it. Because BOOKS. Photo cred to J. Forman, whom when I shrieked, “STOP!” immediately backed up the car so I could get this shot.

I wish I had a record of all the books I’ve ever read. Like.every.single.book. Only a million times or so have I finished a book, closed it slowly after rereading the last page a few more times…and sighed. I didn’t want it to end. I wanted more. I wanted to know more, feel more, experience more. I wanted to step inside the book and somehow be part of it for just a little longer. And probably another million times I have closed a book and promptly cried myself to sleep, overcome with the emotion it stirred inside my soul. (I know. Super fun, right?)

Books have always been a steady companion to me. Gimme books over people any day of the week and twice on Sundays. More times than I care to count, I have sat down with a book to escape my life and thought, ‘I will just sit here. And be in this book. And read.’  And you know what? It helped. And okay, I get that it’s not always the BEST solution to life’s problems. But it’s not crack, either. Right? So there’s that.

Books have given me answers to questions I didn’t know I was asking. They’ve been my teacher and I have been their starving student. They’ve whispered to my heart and soul and helped me process things I was not even aware of. The world is so much bigger than what we get to experience in our Ground Hog Day lives. There are infinite thoughts I never would’ve thought. Feelings I never would’ve felt. Worlds I never would’ve imagined or understood. Perspectives this suburban-middle class-white girl never would’ve seen nor shifted- had I not first read them someplace else.

Books change my life every single day.

And so Real Life. Truthfully. will now have a weekly feature called,

“This is What I’m Reading”

I want it to inspire you to do a little more reading in your own life.

And then I hope you’ll tell me what YOU’RE reading.

{And also, now I will have a book catalogue.

Even though it’s about 35 years later than I would’ve liked.)

You guys. It doesn’t matter so much WHAT you’re reading– as long as you Just. Read. (I’m sort of lying- because I hate crappy, poorly written, sub par fiction. But. Still. If that’s your jam, keep reading.)

And besides, reading makes you smarter. And smarter is always better.

Next Thursday on This is What I’m Reading:

Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, by Sara Miles

The Un-Fun Truth about Self-Discipline

F4J38849-2I didn’t write a blog post last week.  Or finish one, anyway. I started 3 or 4 different posts that felt totally inspired when I first got into them. But somehow, I lost interest and they suddenly they didn’t seem so great after all.  Whatever the case, I skipped a week.  And even though I was a little disappointed, I totally cut myself some slack. (Super generous and sweet of me, right?) But the days have passed quickly and here it is, next week already, and I still didn’t have anything prepared; Just several unfinished posts…waiting. Undone. Incomplete. But this week, it doesn’t feel like NBD. This week it feels lazy. It feels like too much time wasted scrolling through Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. And Pinterest. (Ohhhh. Pinterest. How I love thee. Hashtag TIMESUCK. GIANT. HUGE. TIME SUCK. But Please. Never leave me.)

There’s an un-fun truth here that won’t leave me alone: In my life, writing needs to be a daily discipline. Just like working out. Just like eating well. Just like making time for reading or meditation, or anything else that requires brain power, body power, will power, or focus. It’s a discipline. And generally speaking, we tend to resist things that are even loosely connected to discipline. Or maybe it’s just me. I tend to resist things that are even loosely connected to discipline.


 

self-dis·ci·pline
noun
the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.
synonyms: self-control; restraint, self-restraint, self-command; willpower, purposefulness, strong-mindedness, resolve, moral fiber; doggedness, persistence, determination, grit

By very definition, self-discipline sorta sucks. I mean. Ugh.

Self-discipline equates with hard. It requires something of us. It costs us something– time, energy, pleasure, sleep, relaxation. And yet, the hard is what leads to greatness. The hard is what separates the men from the boys. The badasses from the wimps. The accomplished from the unaccomplished. Catch me at the wrong time and I’m likely to say, “Who cares?” But the truth is, I do. I tell my girls all the time: We can do hard things. If it was easy, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

 

“If it was easy, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

 

If I want to grow as a writer, increase my readership and finish the books I’ve started writing, I need to discipline myself. If I want to grow as a runner, I need to discipline myself. If I want to be healthy and fit, If I want to eat clean, If I want to feel good, If I want to be the best mom I can be, I need to discipline myself. Even when I don’t feel like it. Even when it’s not convenient. Even when the hot flash of inspiration has passed. Even when my social media is all lit up with stuff more exciting than…this.  There are always plenty of good reasons to cut myself some slack, with “I deserve it” being my favorite and most used line. Ever.  Discipline for anything is hard. It hurts. It’s a conquering of the lesser part of ourselves with the better part of ourselves. 

Here’s the un-fun truth. As much as I love social media. And reading. And doing crafty Pinteresty things. And shopping. And candy corn. And beer. Lots of candy corn and beer, too much of any of these things will keep me from reaching my goals, no matter how good and deserving they feel at the time. And if ever there were passing pleasures, all of these things rank right up there. Do I really want to sacrifice (insert important goal here) for candy and Pinterest? Um. Some days I do. But not mostly. Really. Not mostly.

Somewhere along the way, our brains started firing backwards about what it truly means to be good to ourselves. Why does my brain equate both physical and mental junk food with indulgence and pleasure, yet link hard work and successful, meaningful results (that I truly want to achieve) with deprivation? Self- discipline is a gift we give ourselves so that the things we want most are not over shadowed by the things we want now.

We all sort of know there are no shortcuts to greatness. We just wish it weren’t true. (If there are, I swear on everything holy I will find them for us and pin them. Trust me. They’ll be on my “Shortcuts to Greatness” board)  Author Jim Rohn has said, “Suffer the pain of discipline or suffer the pain of regret” and “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” And really, who could disagree with such clearly inspirational statements that sort of make me feel crappy ? Not this girl. And so here I sit,  with a beer and a bowl of candy corn beside me, about to press “Publish” on this bad boy and recommit myself to the process of self-discipline. Because after all, I deserve it.

 

 

The Fault in Our Stars and Everything That’s Right With my Heart

I’m right in the middle of reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and it is achingly beautiful and tragic and painful and funny and everything in between. Every single time I pick up this damn book there is a lump in my throat and tears well in my eyes. It undoes me. It presses a bruise inside my heart. But like a million books before this one, I wallow in it and I drink it in like a person who is dying of thirst because somehow the pain resonates. I keep reading and I almost weirdly enjoy that emotional tidal wave that threatens. This morning as I snuck in another 10 minutes of reading with my coffee and pumpernickel toast and egg whites, I had the most personally profound thought: All of these tears–these frequent tears– these tears that so closely associate with pain and loss and heartbreak–do not mean I’m broken, as I have always suspected. As I have been led to believe. As I have been told. And that I have been ashamed of. They mean I’m human. And I feel. And I have a big, warm, sometimes complicated heart . And this is not a fault. It is actually quite a beautiful thing.

Like the rest of the human race, I have known tragedy. I have known heartbreak and heartache. I have known my own personal suffering and therefore tears come easily. But I have long said to myself, and more so recently, that this was some sort of indication of my brokenness. A defect of sorts. And I have been told this, as well. And while there may be some partial truth to this- that there are broken parts of me, isn’t this also the human condition? I don’t believe this makes me unique or special in any way–but I have now come to realize-neither does it make me defective.

And in fact, could it perhaps actually be a gift? Not like in a cliche way that makes you want to slap someone who refers to suffering as gift– but could this fragile, tender-to-the-touch heart of mine be a gift for myself and the people whose paths I cross, instead of a burden to bear? Because it means when I say I feel your pain, I really do. Because sometimes I can’t help cry when a friend is crying. Because compassion and kindness and empathy are important-and it hurts when they’re not extended generously and often and without judgement or measure.

And though I do feel life deeply and cry easily, I also laugh easily. And a lot. And did I say easily and a lot? Despite the fact that one of my favorite things to do is be by myself with a book that is undoing my heart and mind (I know, I know…I sound like a real party in a box), I’m actually a truly happy and optimistic person. Is it possible that the heartache makes the happiness easier to recognize and perhaps that much sweeter? “So this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.” (John Chbosky) But I do know this: I’m okay with it.