In February I made some great progress toward my goal of reading 20 books in 2014, finishing 3 books.
“Daring Greatly”, by Brené Brown
This book had been causing a logjam in my reading list, as nonfiction tends to do to me since I want to read it as critically (slowly) as possible in hopes of retaining the information. One morning in February I decided I was going to go to the gym and walk on the treadmill and read this book until I was finished, which ended up taking about an hour.
The title of the book comes from this quote:
When I’m scared of doing something, or scared of doing it perfectly, I try to remember this quote and tell myself, hey, at least I’m doing it.
A lot of this books centers on what causes people to feel shame and how they cope with it. One way she mentions is something I know I do–withdrawing and keeping secrets. I tend to get really quiet and clam up when I’m not happy about something in my life. I try to fight this urge because I almost always feel better when I’m open about what’s worrying me, so it’s not my burden to bear alone. Brown says shame thrives on secret keeping; there’s science behind 12 step saying “you’re only as sick as your secrets”.
Shame resilience is about moving from shame to empathy – the real antidote to shame. For instance, instead of being harshly critical of how you behaved in a situation, have empathy for yourself. Talk to yourself the way you’d talk to others. Practice courage and reach out and tell someone who has earned the right to hear it. Own the story–you can write the ending.
There’s a whole chapter about parenting that I nearly skipped but I’m glad I ended up reading it. I was a kid once, and her observations on children and how they learn behaviors were interesting. One thing that resonated with me is “kids often can’t tell the difference between doing a bad thing and being a bad person”. This is how I thought, and maybe I still do think this way at times. In school I thought of my classmates in two groups. There were the “good” kids who followed the rules, listened quietly to instructions, and never got reprimanded for anything. Then there were the “bad” kids who were loud, sometimes got into fights, received detentions/suspensions, and always acted out when we had substitutes. I did everything in my power to make sure I was a “good” kid, and the two times I got detentions I was horribly embarrassed.
In spelling we’d have to write that week’s list of 20 words 5 times every day until Friday, when we’d be tested on the words. This was tedious and boring and I didn’t want to do it. Mrs. Taylor offered a way out of it–take the pre-test on Monday and if you scored 100% you didn’t have to write the words the rest of the week or take the test Friday. A handful of kids attempted the test on Mondays, myself included. I’d generally prepare the weekend before, taking time to memorize the words at home, sometimes with my mom’s help, but for whatever reason one Monday I was not prepared for this test. Not doing well was not an option for me, so instead I made the choice to write the words on a small piece of paper and hide it in my hand. This was a pretty bold move considering we were sitting in a small circle with Mrs. Taylor at the front of the class. As Mrs. Taylor read the words I sensed her leaning in, getting closer to me with each word. I was scared and wanted to get rid of the paper but didn’t know how. At some point Mrs. Taylor saw the paper in my hand, took it from me, and said “we don’t do that.” I was mortified. My grades were not a concern; I was humiliated that the smart kids just witnessed this happen to me. I have no memory of what Mrs. Taylor may have said to me later, but my punishment was one detention.
We had a homework assignment due, and Mrs. Dirks made it clear that anyone who did not turn it in would receive a detention. I’m not sure if I forgot to do it or intentionally didn’t do it, thinking I’d have time in class, but I showed up to class without it done. Mrs. Dirks began collecting homework immediately. I stalled by telling her I couldn’t find it, and made a big show of pretending to look for it. While I “looked for it”, I was frantically trying to start and finish it in secret, writing it in my desk where she couldn’t see it. Unfortunately I couldn’t finish by the time she was done collecting everyone else’s assignment, so she was obligated to give me a detention.
My feelings in these situations went way beyond simply realizing I made a mistake–I felt like I was a bad person, marked with a scarlet D. This book helped me realize I can own these stories and not let them define me. Talking about painful things gives the shame less power.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”, by Maria Semple
I found out about this book from the book a day calendar my mom got me, which is wonderful but also causing a logjam in my reading list, as nearly every page turns out to be a book I’m interested in. I haven’t ripped off the pages since last Tuesday in an attempt to avoid distractions from what I’m currently reading. (Such problems!) Anyway, I have February 4th to thank for this wonderful book.
I devoured this book. The story is told through a series of emails from various characters that you’re not sure why you have access to, with interjections from the daughter, Bee, as she gives her perspective of the events that unfolded. She’s trying to figure out where her mother went and why she disappeared. Everyone in this book has problems, and watching the characters (eventually) use empathy to connect to each other was heart warming. What really got my turning pages was the idea of taking a trip to Antarctica (which I didn’t realize people could do), wondering if Bee would ever find her mother, and wondering what events happened in her mother’s life to make her so disgusted and frightened by people. As much conflict takes place in this book, it has a very hopeful tone overall, which I loved.
“Divergent”, by Veronica Roth
This is book 1 of a trilogy I’ve wanted to read for a while. It reminds me of The Hunger Games trilogy in that the main character is a female teenager put into various situations where she’s forced to call upon strength she didn’t realize she had. I’m a big fan of books where the protagonist is a female, and not one who’s waiting for a man to “save” her.
The book takes place in a futuristic version of Chicago where much of the city is destroyed. Citizens are divided into factions (groups of like minded people) based on personality traits revealed in an aptitude test they’re forced to take when they’re 16. Beatrice’s test reveals her to be Divergent, meaning she has traits that would make her a fit for three of the factions. For reasons unknown to Beatrice, the test administrator tells her she must keep that secret. Beatrice has to decide whether to remain in the Abnegation faction with her family or make the choice to join one of the other two factions she has an aptitude for. This decision and the things that happen to her after it made the book a very quick read for me. I’m currently reading the second installment of the trilogy, Insurgent. It’s good as well but not drawing me in as much as the first book did.
These three books mean I’m up to four for the year, on target to reach my goal of twenty.