” If you told yourself that the goal is to write the great American novel, you might never begin. But you would be far more likely to begin if you told yourself to write one hundred words a day.”
In the summer I always go through a non-fiction phase. I’m easy to spot at the beach: amidst a crowd of tan-hungry, light readers holding paperbacks adorned in bright illustrations and catchy titles, I’m the one holding a book with someone’s face on it and a one-word serious heading to top the cake. And I don’t budge from under the umbrella.
So this summer, I let my teeth sink into Arianna Huffington’s Thrive, which had me nodding at various points while reading it. In fact, I ended up underlining so many bits from the book that it ended up becoming a central part of my conversations with friends as I’d whip out my Kindle to quote this and that. The premise of the book is simple: Huffington questions our present-day definition of success — it can’t just be measured in terms of money and power. She claims that there is a need for a third metric for success, which consists of four pillars: well being, wisdom, wonder and giving. She divides the book accordingly and dives into each of those sections and explores the extent of contribution each makes to making individuals more fulfilled and able to succeed.
Being connected in a shallow way to the entire world can prevent us from being deeply connected to those closest to us — including ourselves.
– From Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive”
She peppers the book with great quotes from artists, philosophers, poets and many more and substantiates many of her points with her own experience and with established literature. As such, each of the four sections is broken down to smaller sub-sections that are frequently broken up by interspersed quotes that link to the writing. Though I found most of the quotes great, this kind of disjointed reading made for an awkward reading experience; I often felt like I was reading a series of articles stringed together rather than a cohesive whole.
Huffington goes into great length in discussing technology and our dependence on technology, and in fact extols technological detox — a point that reverberated well with me. Paradoxically though she claims that sometimes the help we need to get away from technology comes from technology, and proceeds to give a list of top apps that help remind us to disconnect an X amount of time per day. This kind of digested, watered down writing, of lists and quotes only helped draw my attention to the fact that this is a format familiar to me from extended online reading. I expect a bit more from a book; if I’ve picked it up to read, it doesn’t have to be broken down into smaller bytes to get a point across. I can handle it, thanks.
Ours is a generation bloated with information and starved for wisdom.
– From Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive”
Despite these minor quirks, the book is quite reflective in its tone, and this is what I liked best because it also invites the reader to self-reflect. The anecdotal stories help to ring truth to her points and illuminates a more personal Huffington, whose name has almost become a metonymy for success. The stories also make what she’s saying easily relatable to any reader. There is much to digest in this short book, and a great list of follow-up reading provided in the extensive bibliography, and this is purposeful. “Whatever you entry point is — embrace it” she writes in the epilogue. And if there’s one thing certain, it’s that everyone can find an entry point in this book. If anything, it will provide you with great quotable material and an involuntary self-evaluation that may or may not end up changing how you live your life.
I like to be as excruciatingly thorough as possible in pretty much everything I do. So of course, when we got our puppy, I spent the better part of my free time obsessing on how to master the daunting task of proper training. The internet was an easy ally in this case: I surfed the endless forums for training, became Cesar Millan’s ultimate fangirl and obsessed over a book I read in a day, bought when I brought the puppy home. How can anyone resist a book called “The Perfect Puppy”?
You could say I have a problem. I won’t judge you.
Before I knew it, dog training lingo started making its stealthy way into my conversation: positive reinforcement, crate training, off cues, sit, stay. I accidentally talked to my 1 year-old-godson in this vocabulary, but luckily no one heard me. My sister fell prey to the same thing; she recently got a dog too, and found herself clicking her tongue at colleagues, friends and myself whenever she wanted to reprimand or hurry things up. It was hilarious, but also sad. We were imaginary queens of dog training, but pathetic examples of defeat, because behind the lingo lay the futile attempts at getting it right, while getting it wrong almost 90% of the time.
You see, all these experts make it seem like it’s a piece of cake. They say: Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a dog. They don’t say: Sucker! Welcome to a life of shit and puddles! They say: Follow these three steps. They don’t say: Haha! GOTCHA! They say: Repetition is key . The don’t say: Repetition is pointless.
Sure, I’m a cynic, but I remember as I was breezing through the book I kept thinking, “Yeah, this is so manageable, I can so do this.” When confronted with failure I tend to either get angry or get angry. And I got angry, but most importantly persistent. Sit, was a relatively easy command, everything after that has been near impossible. I’ve been trying to teach Teddy the cue for “off” which he understands under controlled conditions, but not when we are out on a walk. As a result he has swallowed many a plastic bag, cigarette butts and other unnamed disgusting things that I sometimes feel disinclined to pull from his mouth, even if I always end up attempting it.
And to make things more challenging, he’s growing by the second. My greatest fear is that I’ll wake up one morning and see him towering over me. It’s like he’s devoured that Alice in Wonderland cookie on one of our walks, which could make sense since it reads Don’t eat me. The forbidden fruit is always more delicious even for the illiterate. Recently, I discovered the hard way just how tall he’s become in the past month. In the limited time I had for my lunch break, I left Teddy in the living room and migrated to the study to do some research on short film documentaries. I discovered this gem of depressing creativity, and 2 minutes into it I realized that Oden was actually the dog. It wasn’t long before the mandatory close up shot for the euthanasia scene, and that’s just when I paused it, all teary eyed and sad because I didn’t want the dog to die its inevitable death. It made me feel lucky for my own little fella, and I went to the living room to play with him in a genuine sense of gratitude. As I tried to move past his hyperactivity, I noticed in the far distance a familiar object: my pair of sunglasses doubling for a dog toy. The little rascal got them off the kitchen counter! He was now tall enough to reach pretty much anything. I resorted to my book, which advised teaching the off cue. A no-brainer, right? Too bad it doesn’t work.
So three months after that fateful meeting at the vet, I find myself pretty convinced that I’m not raising the perfect puppy at all. He’s destroyed a pair of Camper boots, a handmade fridge magnet made by my friend G— made by an Icelandic pine cone she got on vacation, the couch, a journal and countless pairs of trousers. When I take him out for the 5:30 a.m. walk in my hole filled leggings and disheveled hair I think to myself, What has become of me? But then when we come back home and he sits patiently for his food eyeing me with the expectation, I melt. I guess they call it puppy love for a reason.
You may or may not know I’m from Cyprus.
You may or may not have become aware of the economic crisis that’s hit the island hard.
And because I may or may not have money to spend on new books, I’ve decided to make a comprehensive list of books I have on my shelves that I have yet to read, as a form of inspiration. For once, I’m happy that I have so much pending material. A list is provided below for those interested in any of the covers. I shall be posting my progress here, as a means of encouragement. You can see the current book I’m reading on my Goodreads page (see widget on sidebar).
P.S.: I know! I can’t believe I’ve amassed so much unread material either. Am I the only who does this?
I’m an easy person to please. Give me stationery and a good book with your personalized message and I’m a happy camper. As I’m writing this, I have four journals waiting to be used, all of them presents from friends; I’m looking at a fresh letter set along with a patterned sticky tape set waiting to be put to use; I’ve got a set of sharpened pencils waiting to spoil pages with my thoughtless rumbling.
And yet something has changed. I like all of these things, but feel disconnected from them. And I have had a lifetime of absolute fidelity to writing, reading, recording this or that insignificant detail. I have my thoughts on paper from the age of 8 — a shelf full of journals that pin down my naive childhood, my tempered adolescence, my youthful adultness. I have successfully made it here, to almost 30 so that I can come to an unforeseeable halt?
And it’s not just the writing, it’s the reading too. After a lukewarm start to the New Year, I’ve managed to read about four books that have neither excited nor inspired me. I’ve even resorted to audiobooks, which only occurred to me as a feasible idea after reading this somewhat inspiring, if not impossibly ambitious, article. I’m currently reading Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, which I’m finding atrociously boring, two-dimensional and stale. I also own in audiobook (don’t ask why), and have been trudging my way through it for the past three weeks despite reading at home and listening to it on my way to and from work. If nothing else, at least I’ve discovered that I’m definitely not an audiobook person.
So recently, in the hopes of regaining some form of inspiration to jumpstart my imagination, I have began transcribing my diary entries, from that very first journal. It dates back to January 1992 and I could not feel more far removed from myself as I do now. I have decided to share the first entry with you (translated from Greek):
6 January 1992, Monday
Tomorrow we’re going back to school. Oh! What bad luck. And we are so used to sleeping at midnight whereas now we will have to sleep at 9 p.m. Unfortunately we have to go to school. But then again, I will see my friends.
Maybe this will get me out of the rut. Oh and this blog, which I hope to revive slowly. Your encouragement is a welcome delight.
I told you I was easy to please.
Yesterday, after a day of trying to get to grips with the idea that I wasn’t going to have a pet after all, I called the vet to settle the bill for her treatment. He charged us less than I had anticipated, and I appreciated this a lot. We arranged for me to stop by on Tuesday to pay the balance.
As luck would have it, my boyfriend got off work earlier than usual, which happens once every — no, wait, that never happens. And so when I came home we decided to pay a visit to the vet after all. I was set on asking him to keep a look out for me for any potential puppies and let me know. He recommended a local organization’s website that he worked with, and I added that to my list of potential dog resources. By that point, I had realized that the chances of putting myself through that process of selection were very very slim. So bill settled, we left the clinic just as a young couple with their 4-year-old daughter walked in. I felt sad, but not as devastated as I had initially suspected.
As we were getting in the car, the vet comes out and calls us in. “There’s something here that I think will interest you,” he said laconically.
And we walked in to this:
It was a male puppy that had wandered into this family’s yard, but they couldn’t keep it because they already had a labrador. They figured their vet might have an idea as to what to do with it, and here comes our cue. It was too fluffy and hairy for my taste. It was a little boy and I’ve only ever had girls. It was absolutely not what I imagined I would ever want, but I fell in love with him in an instant. It was as though that serendipitous meeting was meant to happen. We both readily accepted him into our arms and into our home.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I present you Teddy Mercury. In this episode, Teddy Mercury meets a ball for the first time. Stay tuned for more adventures!
Let me tell you about that time when I had a puppy for four days.
On Tuesday after a very fruitful talk with my best friend, I came home quite determined to find myself a puppy.
You see, for the past 2 years, at least, I’ve been trying to convince my significant other to adopt a puppy with me. I grew up with dogs in our household — loving little creatures that made coming home an extra special treat. But coming home to an empty nest just made the whole living on your own a bit of a bore. My efforts were relentless: we’d visited the dog shelter together, we’d liked the same dog and on a hopeful whim I had bought a leash for my imaginary dog-to-be. Nothing ever came of these visits; the red leather dog leash filled up the cupboard for all things undefined with a quiet sense of defeatism. At first, stubborn as I am, I refused to give up. I would go through periods of timid acceptance before I relapsed into dog obsession mode and became quite an insufferable person to be around. My significant other, would not give in. He wanted to be ready and I gradually came to believe the one indisputable fact: we’d never be ready.
But then on Tuesday, I came home and with a few clicks and scrolls, I came across Argos Animal Sanctuary and on their Facebook page was a little face I couldn’t resist. It was love at first sight. It was the dog I had been dreaming of. It was at that moment that I knew that this was going to be my dog. That night, I told my boyfriend that we would have a new addition to the household and then I showed him the picture. He smiled in agreement and I thought, what else could this be but divine intervention? My dream was finally coming true — until I found out that there was another person interested in adopting this little cutie. I must admit, I was a little worried, but deep down I knew that if I was meant to have her — as I felt that I was — I would see her at the sanctuary and I would take her away with me for our much-awaited happily-ever-after.
On Wednesday right after work, my mom and I drove to the sanctuary with the effervescent joy of teenagers. We were excited, yet anxious. Would we find her? Would she be there? When we asked for her, we were taken to the puppies area and surely enough, there she was. Tiny and fragile, yet absolutely gorgeous. I signed the papers and yes, we were now the proud adopted parents of the sweetest pup any owner could want. In the car, she looked at us with big, sad eyes, ever so expressive. She was quiet and docile and a little car sick. I pinned it down to the stress of being in a new place.
After I gave her a bath, I snapped the above photo — still thinking that surely this is some kind of half-dream. She was much the little explorer — following me from room to room, patiently waiting for me on my heel, before moving on along side me. She was hungry for love, but she was quite on edge. She refused to eat, but she did drink a little water. It astonished me that she hardly ever sat down — she was always on her feet, evaluating the situation. It wasn’t until I finally took to the couch, that she made an attempt to join in by putting her tiny paws on my resting feet. I set her down on her own cushion next to me and sat down next to her, helping her lay down to rest. It wasn’t long before I gave in and put her on my lap, where she fell asleep as I petted her. It was a moment I held on to dearly, in the days that followed. Even my boyfriend indulged in this loving exchange, as she migrated to his lap, as though I’d warned her about winning him over. Our unit of two was being reconfigured.
But then, on that night, she kept throwing up and had severe diarrhea. It was clear that this was not good news. I took her to the vet that had given her the first vaccine, with the impression that he could have known something more about her history, but this proved to be a big mistake. After a superficial examination, he pronounced her sick with gastroenteritis and prescribed a bunch of medication that it was clear would do no good since she couldn’t eat. And his parting words, “I hope she makes it”, confirmed what I suspected. He had destined her to her death.
In the car, on the way home, she was so lethargic, that I thought she might die before we got home. It pained me to leave her alone for the two hours I had to work that afternoon, but what worried me more was the fear of coming home to a lifeless body. As soon as I got of work, I came back for her and took her to another vet, to get a second opinion. I found her mischievously on the couch like a princess, and put her in arms for that last trip from home. The other vet was very good with her, and after a blood test and an ultrasound it was determined that she had parvo, and that the odds were against her. But I just couldn’t give up on her — I wanted to do everything I could for her. After all, wasn’t it fate that I had picked her? Wasn’t it destiny that she would be given a second chance by receiving proper medical care? Hooked on IV and strong medication, the poor little one stayed in the clinic, trying to fight a losing battle. But she was not fighting alone: i stopped by daily, mom dropped by unannounced, my sister, best bud and boyfriend came along to enliven her. We all wanted to breathe life into her life through love. And she was looking better — there was some meat on bones. But the IV fluids can fool you. I refused to give up on her and I refused to stop being hopeful. I was convinced that I would will that virus out of her.
But then on this Sunday morning, the vet called me. I was wide awake, but still in bed, and I was daydreaming about Sunday walks we’d take together on the beach once she got better. I thought he was calling to let me know that I could go and visit her — ever the Ms. Glass-is-half-full. But instead, he awkwardly mouthed down the line: “I have some bad news”.
You see, I really wanted a dog, but not just any dog. And so when I saw her cute little photo I felt that she had sort of chosen me. And maybe she had. They called her Molly at the shelter, but that was clearly a misnomer. She was a precious little thing. Her name was Ruby.
Recently I’ve taken on the role of espresso queen. I must say that I’m failing at all of my imaginary duties including managing to make the aforementioned coffee with even nominal success. But true to my nature, I refuse to let up, give in, raise the white flag or quite plainly to revert back to dear old poisonous Nescafé.
My coffee snobbishness set in on a cool Saturday morning when we visited two of our friends for brunch. I’ve been on a no-milk-whatsoever diet for the better part of this year, so at the absence of a milk substitute, I opted for a water diluted espresso, what I later discovered in my utter naivety is called a luongo. I was worried that drinking it would be a true struggle, mostly in my attempt to hide its underlying bitterness.
I knew as much from an early college mishap that happened to me days into my arrival on campus in a middle-of-nowhere town, PA. This was long before Starbucks was a language we spoke fluently on the island, so naturally all of the hot beverages sounded excitingly foreign to my tongue; so much so, that I made a pact to try each drink individually before deciding on my personal favorite (a thorough experiment, I’m sure you’d agree). Propped behing a long, patient line of caffeine-starved students, I eyed caramel macchiatos, chai lattes, cappuccinos — unable to name them at the time, of course. As I neared the register, I still hadn’t made up my mind on what to order, so under pressure to play my one-act role as customer I stated that I’d like an espresso. I kept hearing this word everywhere. I waited for a good five minutes and watched as my peers walked off with deliciously decadent calorific drinks before my own drink was called up. To my complete surprise (but surely, not to your own dear urbane readers) I was handed a tiny cup of scalding espresso. So great was my shock and embarrassment — mostly to myself, because I had higher, taller, expectations for my drink — that I sipped a bit to prove that this is what I had wanted all along. Naturally, no one was paying me much mind. The bitterness hit me like a brick to the head, and I proceeded to dispensing buckets of sugar in the tiny container, going through the motions of a person who knows what she’s doing with her coffee. As I carried my espresso steadily in my hand, I walked out of the building, found the nearest waste basket and trashed it. There was no way I would ever drink that shit ever again. Promptly after that experience, I settled on the Chai Latte as my staple.
But on that Saturday morning, when I asked if it would be too strong, my friend M— decried the myth that espresso is bitter. “Good espresso should never be bitter,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. Yeah right, I thought. As I was served my coffee, I hesitantly took a first sip, only to realize, to my complete astonishment that it was quite certainly the best coffee I had ever drunk. So rich, so smooth, so easy to down in a gulp, were it not for its hot temperature. I was a changed person.
Soon after, on my birthday to be precise, I went to a local shop to buy filter coffee and on a whim decided to buy an espresso kettle. Completely clueless on how one decides on a good kettle, I went by my aesthetic instinct: a blue that matched my kitchen. As I pulled out my wallet to pay, the man behind the counter offered to treat me to an espresso. Feeling like quite the connoisseur, I indulged, though memories of the earlier incident burned fresh on my palate. Still, I summoned the courage to drink it in almost a shot, completely on the go, Italian-style, before I got my paper bag and left. It was bitter; thank God I had spearmint gum.
The very next morning I decided to try out my skills at espresso making. How difficult is it, you ask. It’s a lot more than I had anticipated. For starters, the first hiccup to my coffee was the very fact that I had bought a much larger kettle than necessary. This resulted in a total of six cups of espresso, even when I was the only one drinking. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but after the whole packet of coffee I bought ran out in a week, I started being thrifty with the measurements. And here appears the next problem: I could never get the water quantity and the coffee quantity just right: it was either too weak or too bitter, and the amount of coffee I made was always at least for three or four cups. My boyfriend started drinking shots of espresso, convincing himself that it’s good coffee after all; I started putting two or three shots in my morning Americano. At some point weeks after this frantic, nonsensical denial, he turned to me and said, “This tastes like shit.” I could only concur.
About two weeks ago, I managed to get a smaller kettle and you’d think that my espresso worries have been assuaged. Far from it I’m now faced with a new daunting challenge: half the times I make my espresso, it tastes strongly of soap. No matter how much I rinse it, the taste won’t easily go away. The first time it happened, appalled, I rinsed it down the drain and brewed another coffee in the six-cup kettle. The second time it happened, I drank about a fifth of it before quitting. The third time it happened, I downed half my latte. Naturally, there’s a part of me (the more rational me) wondering: Is this the price I have to pay to convince myself that I’m drinking good coffee? Isn’t it about time I whip out the old Nescafé and enjoy a frappé like a decent human being in need of a caffeine fix?
You won’t often find me admitting to be in the wrong, but I think it’s high-time I face the music. My problem is that I always set the bar too high. Some of you may think that this is surely a good trait: after all, what’s wrong with a little aspiration? And better yet, how great is it when that unachievable task you set on your list is conquered and quite determinedly crossed off your list?
It’s not that great, really. Ask any perfectionist. Any high goal achieved will automatically mean that the next time, the goal should be even higher. The adrenaline of a challenge is unparalleled, the threat of defeat such an ulcer-inducing experience, the fervor of achievement only a punch-drunk second. I fall for it again and again and again.
I first realized this in December. I greeted the 12 days of Christmas with utter anti-consumerist spite and had decided to do something more personal and genuine for our long list of friends for Christmas 2010 (last year). I ended up baking a series of cookies and treats, boxing them up with personalized gingerbread men and adding Dutch stamps and twine in an attempt at a faux-parcel. It was a great surprise for everyone, but mostly for myself, for pulling off 12 boxes filled with at least 5 different baked goods by yours truly. This year, I knew that if anything, I had to exceed expectations, if not meet them. The overachiever in me wanted to go all out, convinced that I couldn’t bake the same goods. What complete shame to deliver the same box of goodies a year later? I scavenged for recipes that would impress, I drafted ideas for a theme, in fact, I spent entirely too much time on something that didn’t really merit it. Testament to this was our friends’ response: 1 second appraisal of box, before ripping it open to begin devouring contents. Who cared about presentation? Who stopped to think, Boy I’ve eaten this before…
No one. And that’s normal. Now I know this.
And though I recognize my over-ambition as, perhaps, my biggest flaw, I can’t help but feel disappointed at myself whenever I underperform by my standards. Take the summer, for instance. Come this glorious season of smelly armpits and drones of mosquitoes, I make a list of goals I wish to see through by the end of my two month vacation (the perks of teaching, I’m afraid). And on my list, around the top, float the same words year in, year out: Read a lot of books. I assume that this is on the list of most ordinary people in the summer, with the possible omission of the words “a lot of” for obvious reasons. Now, the problem this year, is that sometime in December again, I decided to join the online book community Goodreads, which eagerly prompted me to set a reading goal for 2012. At that point I had just received an order by Amazon for 15 books and I was overjoyed and optimistic at my reading capabilities during the year. So I decided to set the goal to what I considered an acceptable, if not essential, target of 50 books in the year. During the two-week Christmas vacation, I read four books and I was in such a high spirit that I thought I had regained my peace of mind and my fast reading pace. That number dwindled to a staggering three books until the next vacation, Easter, during which I managed to trudge through a mere 130 pages of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. What an embarrassment.
To think, that in college, I read at least 25 books per semester and that’s not counting the ones I devoured for pleasure. At the back of my mind, this was my most productive reading time, I assume, and for that I hold on to it with a competitive ardor that even intimidates me on some days. You see, in all honesty, a part of me knows that it doesn’t really matter how many books I read this summer. In fact, I’m doing quite well, I’ve managed to go through 5 books in the last month. But yet another, more empirical side of me, seeks the quantitative data with strong desire to hold it up as a trophy of achievement, so I can look back at my former younger self who is quite surely disappointed at my sluggish reading. And even when I’m trying to not think of anything, there’s still that parenthetical reminder on Goodreads that furtively informs me: “Congratulations! You’ve read 13 books out of 50. (At your current pace you’re 18 books behind).”
It’s a castigation of sorts. It inflames my inner pride. It makes me the wrong kind of reader, too. Immersing myself in a book has nothing to do with numbers, after all. It’s about striking that connection, getting lost, even momentarily, from lists and personal insecurities and entering a world that I’m sure I value more now, in my 29-year-old worrisome head, that I did as a 20-something student.