The Journey to Quiet

I feel I owe you a good post, what with pulling that “subscribe to my blog” move on Sunday. (Thank you for indulging me via FB, Twitter, etc. ) I feel the need to make good, to write meaningfully, to go deep and reveal an insight excavated there.

I’m just having a little trouble doing it.

It’s the voice in my head, you see, the voice that offers a running commentary on the endless To Do list that is my life. Review the lease. Send a card to Jean. Mark the raised bed plantings. Mail the graduation present to Joe. Prep for the logo meeting. Renew Audible. Decide on studio lighting. Migrate the Google Reader feed. Schedule lunch with Staci. Respond to new business lead. (FIND the new business lead now buried in 2,215 emails in my inbox.) Sort inbox to find the other hundred emails to which I owe responses. Find that note about that app that manages your inbox for you.

It’s unsettling, this commentary, this unsatisfied, insatiable voice. It knows me well, feeding on the one thought that, when I am not diligent, overtakes all:

I don’t have time. If I just had more time. Why is there never enough time?

(I have written about this before. We can safely consider it a “recurring” theme.)


A few years ago, in a race to get from one meeting to the next, I wheeled into a parking lot and ran for the door of an already in-progress board meeting. I made my way to an empty chair beside my friend Mike—a highly respected banker with whom I had served on several boards—and went about the business of sitting, parking my purse under the table and retrieving a notebook and pen from my disorganized and impossible to find anything under the best of circumstances briefcase. (Okay, it’s not a briefcase, it’s a backpack, but that’s another story.)

In a halfhearted attempt at an apology excuse, I leaned toward Mike, who was sitting serenely with—by the way—nothing but the agenda in front of him. I whispered:

Good Lord I never have enough time.

He turned to me, smiled ever-so-gently and said:

Cathy. You have all the time there is.


I am 18 pages into The Untethered Soul, a book recommended to me by my soulmate cousin Meg on that life-changing trip to Misty Valley a few weeks ago. The book opens with Chapter 1: The Voice Inside Your Head.

In case you haven’t noticed, you have a mental dialogue going on inside your head that never stops. It just keeps going and going. Have you ever wondered why it talks in there? How does it decide what to say and when to say it? How much of what it says turns out to be true? How much of what it says is even important? And if right now you are hearing, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I don’t have any voice inside my head!” —that’s the voice we’re talking about.

This is going to be an interesting journey, I think, this trip inside my head to deal with the voice.

How I look forward to the peace and quiet there on the other side.




Bookish: from The Light Between Oceans


As she sank to her knees on the grass and sobbed, the memory of a conversation with Frank floated into her awareness.

But how? How can you just get over these things, darling? she’d asked him. You’ve had so much strife, but you’re always happy. How do you do it?

I choose to, he said. I can leave myself to rot in the past, spend my time hating people for what happened, like my father did, or I can forgive and forget.

But it’s not that easy.

He smiled that Frank smile. Oh but my treasure. It is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, everyday. You have to keep remembering all the bad things.

He laughed, pretending to wipe sweat from his brow.

I would have to make a list—a very, very long list—and make sure that I hated the people on it the right amount. That I did a very proper job of hating, too. Very Teutonic. No.

His voice became sober.

We always have a choice. All of us.


from The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman

(Yes, another debut novel.)


Rows and Rows

This is not the post I sat down to write.

The truth is I got sidetracked when I went to the bookshelf to reference something from one of my favorites.

Happiness Project, where are you?

I scanned the titles, and I have to tell you I had a bit of a moment. What a miracle it is, I thought, that those shelves don’t just collapse from the wonderfulness of it all. 

Okay, okay. There might be one or two I could remove from the lineup.

We’ve spent many a contented hour together, those books and I, whispering grand secrets, living braver lives, wandering worlds foreign to me. What journeys we have taken.

How quiet they are now. Sitting there, waiting.


Day 25: The Surprise of Remarkable Book, Stumbled-Upon

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

He had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.

30 Days of Joy

Rules of Civility

I began listening to this audiobook just yesterday during my morning commute. While it is way too early for such pronouncements, Rules of Civility is a story so beautifully told—so elegant, so effortless—it may well be The Novel, perfected.

I want to be there in New York with Katey and Eve in 1937. First, this:

That New Year’s, we started the evening with a plan of stretching three dollars as far as it would go. We weren’t going to bother ourselves with boys. More than a few had had their chance with us in 1937, and we had no intention of squandering the last hours of the year on latecomers. We were going to perch in this low-rent bar where the music was taken seriously enough that two good-looking girls wouldn’t be bothered and where the gin was cheap enough that we could each have one martini an hour. We intended to smoke a little more than polite society allowed. And once midnight had passed without ceremony, we were going to a Ukrainian diner on Second Avenue where the late night special was coffee, eggs, and toast for fifteen cents.

But a little after nine-thirty, we drank eleven o’clock’s gin. And at ten, we drank the eggs and toast. We had four nickels between us and we hadn’t had a bite to eat. It was time to start improvising.

And then they meet the handsome young banker, Tinker Grey, and head out into the night.

Powdered with snow, Washington Square looked as lovely as it could. The snow had dusted every tree and gate. The once tony brownstones that on summer days now lowered their gaze in misery were lost for the moment in sentimental memories. At No. 25, a curtain on the second floor was drawn back and the ghost of Edith Wharton looked out with shy envy. Sweet, insightful, unsexed, she watched the three of us pass wondering when the love that she had so artfully imagined would work up the courage to rap on her door. When would it present itself at an inconvenient hour, insist upon being admitted, brush past the butler and rush up the Puritan staircase urgently calling her name?

I am lost to this book already, aching to dive in and swim there a while among its perfect sentences. There is so much to savor.

Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. A first novel by this principal at an investment firm in New York whose only other published work is a short story cycle, published in 1989. Wow.


Beaching it

You remember how much I hate to pack, right? It has been more than 10 years since I’ve taken a beach vacation*, and this time it was easy. A couple of bathing suits, a cover-up, a long strapless beach dress, a few pairs of shorts. And this:

It is going to be a good week, I think.

Further proof? I woke up at the beach this morning and found this cuteness beside my bed:

my niece, Angela, trying to be patient

She and I love to make sand castles. Remember? And so, I must sign off.

OBX, Day One

* 1) longer than a weekend 2) staying in a beach house 3) planning to spend every day on the beach

Friday Love 7.27.12

a little roundup of things that inspired me this week

The Age of Miracles
There is so much we take for granted in our lives, minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day. Perhaps the most significant is that no matter how heavy a burden we carry, tomorrow the sun will rise on a new day. But what would happen if suddenly that were not true? What if the most basic of all acceptances—that the earth rotates on its axis every 24 hours—were altered?

It’s the premise of the most engrossing book I’ve read in a long time, The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. The book places the coming-of-age story of 11-year-old Julia against the backdrop of an inexplicable slowing of the earth’s rotation. The result is a world in which nothing is predictable, everything is unbalanced.

I love the story’s open:

We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it.

We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath the skin. We were distracted back then by weather and war. We had no interest in the turning of the earth. Bombs continued to explode on the streets of distant countries. Hurricans came and went. Summer ended. A new school year began. The clocks ticked as usual. Seconds beaded into minutes. Minutes grew into hours. And there was nothing to suggest that those hours, too, weren’t still pooling into days, each the same fixed length known to every human being.

But there were those who would later claim to have recognized the disaster before the rest of us did. These were the night workers, the graveyard shifters, the stockers of shelves, and the loaders of ships, the drivers of big-rig trucks, or else they were the bearers of different burdens: the sleepless and the troubled and the sick. These people were accustomed to waiting out the nights. Through bloodshot eyes, a few did detect a certain persistence of darkness on the mornings leading up to the news, but each mistook it for the private misperception of a lonely, rattled mind.

On the sixth of October, the experts went public. This, of course, is the day we all remember. There’d been a change, they said, a slowing, and that’s what we called it from then on: the slowing.

I am not a science fiction fan, so to speak. And this is not science fiction. It’s a story about a regular family, set in our familiar world, amid circumstances that feel terrifyingly possible.

(And let me note this is Karen Thompson Walker’s first novel. Doesn’t that make it even more remarkable? Why are so many of my favorite books debut novels? Fascinating.)

Happy weekend. Happy reading!

Friday Loves 7.13.12

a little roundup of things that inspired me this week

In addition to the loss of our beloved Eagle/Nest/Tree this week, I am mourning the death of Nora Ephron. For years she has been one of those famous people in the orbit of my life with whom I secretly pretend to have a personal relationship. It’s as if we just had lunch and once again discussed my obsession with finding exactly the right doctor to take care of those little (HA!) scowl lines between my eyebrows.

Oh for goodness sake, Nora says to me over Arugula Salad with Watermelon and a Balsamic Reduction*. Just get the injections so you can MOVE ON to think about something important. Like what you’re going to do about the stuff that requires surgery.

Oh my dear, honest, funny Nora.

Do put her on your list. Anything. All of it. Brilliant.

1. I Feel Bad About My Neck, by Nora Ephron
Every essay in this collection is classic. I have had the book for years (thank you, Suzann) and also love the audiobook version. Read by Nora herself, it is a joy to hear those smart, witty, brutally honest stories delivered in her voice. You will laugh out loud, I promise.

2. Sleepless in Seattle (Available via Instant Streaming on Netflix. Bonus.)
Of course you have already seen this Nora Ephron film so many times you have every line memorized. Me, too. And still I gathered a group of friends for a girls’ movie night and watched it again, complete with oil-popped popcorn and a vast selection of movie candy. Yes, there were raisinets. We ranged in age from 12 to 53 and I swear, watching it together was a brand new experience. Love.

movie night with the girls

3. Julie and Julia
As much as I love movies, I’ve never been a movie-buyer. In all these years I have only purchased four:
Out of Africa (my favorite movie of all times)
Mama Mia!
Julie and Julia

This weekend, I plan another viewing of Julie and Julia. It is a film (like Mama Mia!) that just makes me happy.

4. And I haven’t even mentioned my favorite of Nora’s films, When Harry Met Sally.

5. *An actual recipe for Watermelon and Arugula Salad, from the fantastic blog of party planner Camille Styles. This post has 10 great summer salads, and I plan to try them all.

I will miss you, my dear friend Nora. I will miss our imaginary lunches, and our walks through the park, and the long telephone conversations during which we discussed Very Important Things. I will miss seeing you across the room at a swanky cocktail party and rushing over to tell you about the great book I am reading, the one you must buy on the way home.

And let me say this one final thing, the big lesson I shall take with me as I make my way through a crazy world that seems to be getting crazier by the minute. You were right about this, too:

Real life never lets you down. Why would anyone write fiction when what actually happens is so amazing?

xxoo to you, my dear, dear friend