My Guilt Trips over Books

The guilt… oh, the overwhelming guilt I feel when I place a book on the back burner and don’t get back to it for weeks or months at a time. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I feel awful.

I think it would be safe to say that I have always been an avid reader. In high school, when a novel was assigned to us for a book report, a presentation or a test, I would usually devour the book cover to cover on the Sunday, to ensure the information remained closely in my subconscious for the coming week.

It wasn’t that I was procrastinating, but with my brain processing so much new material from all of my classes, it was the most efficient way for me to ensure I was prepared to answer questions about the story.

The pace at which I learned to read (and to retain) became a wonderful life skill not only for my personal reading pleasure but also for my career, where I often needed to process great amounts of information to generate reports, recommendations, solutions or combinations of all three.

If I had to express a preference, I like to read at a more casual, relaxed pace, where I can truly savour every word, especially when the author’s masterpiece is a tour-de-force in brilliant writing. Savouring a book on a rainy or snowy Sunday, in my favourite chair, sipping a wonderful cup of tea, with the cat snoring next to me is paradise on earth. Still, there are times when regardless of how quickly or how slowly I may start a book, the words just don’t seem to sink in. Why is that?

Over the years, I became aware of the difference between a “light read” and a “heavy read” and how that affects the appropriate timing for introducing a book in one’s life.

During stressful times at work, heavy reads just would not sink in. In most cases, a light read was all that my brain could handle. Still, there were some abundantly stressful times when light reads were a challenge too, as you could likely see glimmers of “no vacancy” signs in my eyes.

When my headspace was heavily cluttered for one reason or another, a story with too many characters or too many intricate details would lose me easily.
A story that seemed to escape editorial quality control might have also thrown me off.

I recall a book that spent so much time setting up the story that I found myself distracted, constantly wondering to myself if this story was ever going to get going. I had to put it on the back burner with the goal of returning to it when time and patience were in generous supply.

When I put a book aside, I actually feel worse when I pick up a different book and am able to read it cover to cover over a weekend. I hope that there is no jealousy among books.

To this point, I have never parted with a book that I put on hold. I just park them with a strong resolve to return to them when the timing is better.

In those moments, I feel awful. But is my guilt justified?

I realize the effort, the blood, sweat, sometimes tears, and the piece of oneself that an artist instills in every work of art. Out of respect for the authors, I truly wish that I could devour every book in a couple of days. That is likely why my empathy runs as deeply as it does if, for whatever reason, a book just doesn’t click with me right away.

I try to reason with myself that personally, as an artist, I realize that not every piece I write is a home run for everyone, and I am OK with that.

I also accept that readers sometimes need to be in a certain frame of mind to welcome a story into their world. I see it in myself that when I am highly curious and tuned in, no amount of distraction can keep me from a book. But that curiosity has its own ebb and flow, and that is the way life goes.

In recognizing these factors and circumstances, I try not to let the respect and admiration I feel for an artist bubble over into a painful, self-inflicted guilt trip.

I hope that other artists see things the same way and won’t begrudge me if I have to step away from their work of art until the ideal mindset comes along, to truly savour every word and to love the experience along the way. To me, that is the best time to be consuming art and to be left with a wonderfully positive and lasting impression.

The beauty is that in retirement, not only have I been able to enjoy more time for reading, but I have been going back to some of the books that I paused along the way and have been reading them with great enthusiasm. The best part is that I finished them, and some of them, surprisingly quickly.

I think it would be fair to say that as readers, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves if a book won’t sink in when our lives are at the height of challenge or adversity. To me, it now seems perfectly natural to put it aside until the brain has the capacity to easily absorb a story and to appreciate it at its fullest value.

Isn’t that the point of a good book?

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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The Writer’s Studio

I have always envied artists when they made reference to their “studio”.

When a recording artist referred to “time in the studio”, it always inspired me as that special place where the magic of creativity happened. It was the incubator where ideas were hatched and where new sounds were created. It was the place where the collective creativity of songwriters, producers, engineers, musicians and singers culminated in the birth of new musical material.

Similarly, when seeing visual artists working in their studio, it struck me as a sacred place that gave them a chance to play, to experiment and to work in their chosen medium, to translate vision, imagination and creativity into physical form.

It didn’t matter whether actors, photographers or fashion designers mentioned “studio”, the word itself was to me like an incantation invoking the spirit of the creative masters of the centuries. The term “studio” always gave me palpitations.

But I have often asked myself, “Do writers have studios too?”

Why shouldn’t they?

While on the one hand, I could refer to my writing room as an “office”, I just concluded a 33 year administrative career, working in offices. To me, the term office doesn’t necessarily associate itself to a space for deep creativity, but that’s just me and my baggage talking. Continue reading

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Post-Lockdown: What to Wear?

When I was recently out running socially distanced, masked, heavily hand sanitized errands, I was delighted when a store clerk asked, “Well aren’t we dressed up for shopping. Special occasion?”

I wasn’t fishing for a compliment, but thanks to Covid-19 and so many months of only going out for essential errands, I hadn’t received a compliment on an outfit in ages. What a thrill!

But in a senior’s moment, I had to take a look down to remind myself of what I was wearing. Everything was as I remembered it: a plain black t-shirt, plain black jeans, a jean jacket and a favourite pair of Chelsea boots.

I admit that I did give it about 15 seconds of thought when I chose the pieces, but it wasn’t so much in an effort to make a fashion statement as it was more of a strategic move to prevent the accidental mixing of a dark navy blue t-shirt with black jeans. One never knows when the fashion police might be lurking.

I replied jokingly (but deep down, quite seriously), “After being in lockdown for so long, it’s just such a thrill to be wearing clothes again instead of sweats. Going out for any reason is a special occasion!” Continue reading

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Rediscovering the Joy of Cooking

By the time I moved into my first apartment, I can’t say I was ever really daunted by the prospect of cooking for myself. Armed with a variety of secret family recipes and a natural curiosity to explore more exotic food options, I think I had the right mindset to experiment in the kitchen and to discover new favourites.

At that time, as an entry-level employee, without huge responsibilities on my shoulders, I had free time and headspace to play in my first kitchen. I clipped and collected recipes from newspapers, magazines and even the TV Guide, and I slowly built up a repertoire of favourite recipes.

However, in 2005, developing an intolerance to wheat products was a serious game changer as I pretty much had to toss out my recipe book and start over. Regrettably, switching out regular flour for gluten-free flour was not a recipe for success. It’s not always that simple.

Fortunately, at that point, I still had the energy, time and headspace to “play with my food” to rebuild the repertoire.

However, it was around 2012 that I started to feel a certain ambivalence toward the kitchen. Whether it was the faster pace at the office, my increasing level of responsibility, my increasing level of stress or just an overall fatigue about cooking for myself, my interest in experimenting with recipes was on the decline.

By that time, I had developed a pretty decent repertoire of gluten-free recipes that froze well. That way, I didn’t have to cook for myself (or repeat the same meals) every day. As long as these go-to recipes continued to perform well, I didn’t need to stress myself out in trying new recipes that may or may not work.

During my limited vacation time, after enjoying some time to rest and to decompress, I felt glimmers of interest in putting new recipes to the test. With varying degrees of success, I was able to slowly add to the repertoire. Continue reading

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Exciting Field Trips… To The Dump

Who knew that a field trip to the dump could be such a source of serendipitous, joyful moments?

When I lived in the city, over the span of my 55 years, I think you can count on one hand the number of times that I visited a landfill site. Frankly, most of them would have been in my childhood days.

Over sixteen short months of enjoying rural life, I have already surpassed that number and I honestly don’t see an end in sight. Not only is it a great convenience to have a landfill site ten minutes away, but for the purposes of maintaining a country property, I am seeing how proximity is an asset (… but not so close that you can smell it).

It’s not that we produce huge amounts of garbage or anything. We are very much into sorting our recyclables and using our compost bin religiously. With those tools, we are able to keep our weekly output to well under one garbage bag per week.

For our overages above and beyond our two bag weekly limit, blame Mother Nature!

Between weeding and pruning the garden, dead branches falling off the mature trees and black walnuts littering the yard (for which neither we, nor our nearby petting zoo, have any use), we sometimes accumulate full yard waste bags at an astonishing rate.

We also know that the best defence in keeping rodents away from the house, is to not store yard waste for lengthy periods. Any accumulation of branches, sticks and garden waste is attractive shelter or nesting material in the eyes of squirrels, chipmunks and other small wildlife. The key is to haul the excess to the dump as soon as possible. Continue reading

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The Joy of a Comfy Hammock

Just a few years ago, I experienced an important first in my life: the first time I enjoyed a moment of serenity, relaxing in a comfortable hammock.

This happened pre-Covid-19 closures, of course, while visiting a friend’s cottage.

The minute I laid eyes on it, I felt a little rush of adrenaline accompanied by a sense of wonder deep inside. I had never been in a hammock before and in fact, “relaxing in a hammock” was on my bucket list.

I confess, my bucket list isn’t filled with thrill-seeking sports or activities to draw out extreme emotions. After a busy career that drew out my extrovert energy on a daily basis, my dream activities are much more subtle and quietly introspective in nature. Peace and calm, as I experience now in my home in the country, is very much in line with these dreams.

Whenever I noticed a hammock making a cameo appearance on a TV show or in a movie, it always seemed to be in an ideal setting, on a perfect day, when the character was enjoying a quiet, easy-going moment. Deep down, I longed for more times like that.

I asked the hostess if I could give her beautiful hammock a try, to which she graciously confirmed that I could.

It was one of those rope-style ones that looked like a fishing net. I knew I had to be ever so cautious in getting into it as I knew my coordination (or lack thereof) sometimes translated into an accident waiting to happen. If I didn’t do this carefully, I could easily end up going through, around or under the netting, to the great amusement of the other guests. Continue reading

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City Boy Discovers Chainsaw

A few years ago, if someone had told me, “Someday you will own a chainsaw”, I would have politely recommended that they seek help from a medical professional, as there was no way that this city boy would ever own a chainsaw.

Never say never.

Here we are… living in the country and I now own a chainsaw… not out of frivolity, but out of necessity.

I have to admit it, I really enjoy using the chainsaw (but just to clarify, not in a horror movie kind of way).

We are most fortunate to be living on a beautiful tree-lined lot, surrounded by many mature trees. However, it doesn’t take a violent storm to generate an assortment of fallen twigs and branches across our lawn. A gentle breeze is all it takes, which is pretty much a daily event.

Last year, I wrote about how living in the country had become a nonstop game of “Pick-up sticks”. Every day, I was outside picking up branches and sticks. It wasn’t a complaint, as I was enjoying the fresh air and sunshine while doing it, it was just an observation. However, it was something that I had never experienced while living in my condo in the city. The most cleanup I ever had to do there was picking up garbage produced by my fellow humans or unscooped doggie waste, but never branches.

Here, in the country, the big question is what to do with the branches, when you don’t own a wood stove or fireplace. Letting them accumulate is not an option, as these make great shelters for rodents who may opt later to move up the property ladder and sneak into the house. Disposing of the branches is the only option, but the sanitation department will not take them as-is. The branches need to be broken down.

With the number of branches we have to process on a regular basis, pruning shears and hand saws just won’t cut it, please forgive the pun. Continue reading

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Farewell, My Beloved Office Chair

I think it would be fair to say that in retirement, I dearly miss my colleagues. After working together for so many years, of course I miss our day-to-day interactions, working together to solve the problems of the universe. In doing so, we shared many memorable moments and even some funny times too that will be the source of many fun walks down memory lane in the future.

But there is another component of the office that also tugs at my heartstrings… I would like to introduce you to my beloved office chair.

It may be a sad sight but this chair has seen me through hundreds of work emergencies, interactions with clients, operational policy decisions, corporate reorganizations, and masterpieces of corporate writing. Through it all, it has been faithfully there, providing support and comfort through great times and challenging times.

I don’t know exactly how old it is, but when the pandemic forced us to work from home, it was indeed showing its age despite the fact that it fit me like a glove in all the right places. The last time I saw it, it looked worse than in the picture, as some of the stuffing was now escaping through the open fabric.

Nonetheless, this chair was like magic. If I ever had a twinge in my lower back, it acted like my own personal chiropractor. After sitting in it for 30-45 minutes, I would get up and hear a “clickity-click” in my back, and minor issues seemed to vanish.

For someone whose office was generally neat and tidy, the state of this chair stuck out like a sore thumb.

Back in the pre-Covid 19 days, passersby were known to stop, point and whisper. When they did, I just whispered to the chair, “It’s OK, people just don’t understand. You are great you just the way that you are!”

On several occasions, management had generously offered to swap it out for another one, but I politely declined their offer to replace it. The problem was that this specific model was discontinued and finding a substitute was no easy task. Continue reading

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Country Roads, Dirty Car

When making the decision to move to the country, there really isn’t a reference manual of things to consider before taking the plunge… except perhaps Erma Bombeck’s classic, “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank” (which, by the way, it really is!)

Just the same, I took the plunge into rural life in good faith, knowing I would learn or figure things out as I went along.

But had there been such a handbook, I am certain that there would have been a whole chapter warning Type A people like me to forget about keeping an immaculately clean car. Even if you do succeed in cleaning your car, it probably won’t stay that way for very long.

That’s just the way it is… or at least that is what I have experienced over the last year.

I’ve never been one to ever have a cluttered car, and that part hasn’t changed. But I always tried to keep the interior as clean as possible. And when Covid-19 first hit, my car was sanitized so frequently, you could have performed surgery in there.

All that changed when I moved to a rural address, where gravel roads are pretty common for getting around the community. And given that we live on a gravel road, I tried and tried, but there is no way that the car can tip-toe its way through the dust and dirt to get to our house. Continue reading

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Overcoming My Fear of Pie Crust

For years, I avoided it.

The few times I experienced it were beyond stressful.

When I was forced to switch to a gluten-free diet, it became the impossible dream.

I am referring to pie crust… specifically, making pie crust.

Pie crust was one of those life skills that I just never seemed to pick up.

Back in the pre-gluten-free days, I did give it my best shot on a few occasions trying to make normal pie crust. I would get all the ingredients ready and clear off plenty of counter space for the rolling process. But somewhere along the way, I never really got the feel for it.

To me, it seemed that there was such a narrow window of opportunity to bring pie dough across the finish line. The dough couldn’t be too wet. The dough couldn’t be too dry. And you couldn’t roll it for too long or else risk overworking the dough, resulting in a crust the texture of cardboard.

These three factors, combined with my uninspiring results, were enough to keep me away for months at a time.

Rolling the dough was the part that challenged every ounce of patience within me.

The dough would stick to the rolling pin, the counter, my utensils and my hands… everything except the pie plate to which it was supposedly destined.

I would try a light sprinkling of flour on the counter and on the rolling pin to prevent the dough from sticking, but by the time I had something resembling a fully rolled out pie shell (if I got to that point at all), it seemed like the entire kitchen was covered in a light dusting of flour.

My pies would not be complete without a side order of anger, anxiety and high blood pressure. Continue reading

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