Life Goals: 13,000 Books

Hello, hello, my friends! How are you?

I’m doing well. I have a birthday coming up soon, so I’ve been reflecting on life more than usual. I’ve been thinking a lot about what inspires me. One recent and great inspiration is the author Alan Bradley and about a month ago I finished reading his Flavia de Luce series. I read all 10 books over several weeks, one right after another, transported to the 1950s and soaking in the mysteries. Flavia, a brilliant 11-year-old amateur scientist and sleuth, is growing up quite unsupervised in a ramshackle manor in a quaint English village (for the most part — there’s a short-lived stint at a Canadian boarding school for one of the books). I can’t imagine anyone not being smitten with this indomitable, spunky tween. Spending time with Flavia, the eccentric cast of characters, and the smart plot twists became a comforting nighttime ritual. I was bereft when I completed the last book. To prolong the magic of the Alan Bradley world, I even read the stand alone short story and his memoir

Mr. Bradley published the first Flavia de Luce novel when he was 70-years-old in 2009. He’s now in his early 80s, and after a rigorous publishing schedule of at least one book a year that lasted over a decade, he seems to be taking a bit of a break right now. His books are so clever and wise and witty! I’ve watched quite a few interviews with him, and he’s as charming as his books– there’s so much I love about him. I mean, how cool is it that he published his first novel at 70??? It’s never too late. I made that little sketch up there while thinking about Flavia — I should have included a test tube and a piece of bread toasting over a laboratory bunsen burner. Or her trusty bicycle, Gladys.

In his interviews, he mentions that his inner 11-year-old is alive and well in the here and now — I feel the same way. A staggering factoid he dropped during one interview was that he has roughly 13,000 books in his library. 13,000! He didn’t say that he actually read all of them, but I suspect he’s read a mind-blowing number of books since it sounds like he was a very early and insatiable reader. Having a sizable home library has been a life goal of mine ever since I visited a friend back when I was in my twenties. My friend was subletting a house from a professor on sabbatical leave, and my jaw dropped when I saw the beautiful library with floor to ceiling bookshelves. The requisite comfy leather armchair and reading lamp nestled in the corner of the room. I could just picture myself sitting in that chair, lost in one of the hundreds of books. Right then and there, I decided that one day I would have a home library just like it. The dream hasn’t materialized yet, but I know it’s happening.

I don’t think I’ve ever shared on the ole blog here that a few years ago, I started tracking the number of books I read. For the last three years I’ve read at least 100 books per year, though you’ll have to take this number with a grain of salt since I do include picture books in the total tally. Picture books totally count in my opinion! So far I’ve read 65 books in 2022 (of which about 10 are picture books). I would say that the average page count per novel or non-fiction book is about 275 pages. It’s been enormously enriching to be reading a lot again. Reading has always been, and remains, my favorite activity in the world. I feel so lucky that I get to make books as well.

Mr. Bradley appears to be enjoying his life as an author immensely. As someone who can easily get angsty, that inspires me to no end. I have a tendency to obsessively research authors after I read their books and out of all the writers I’ve “studied” (aka stalked), Alan Bradley seems far and away the most delighted and delightful, at least to me. I admire his humility and his wit and I absolutely love that he dedicates every one of his books to his wife, Shirley, whom he clearly adores. Plus, his book acknowledgements are so sweet and interestingly specific, often with shoutouts to booksellers.

I too have rigorously published an average of 1 book a year for the last 7 years, though my book sales are quite modest compared to Mr. Bradley’s mega-hits. Still, I’m honored that this is my career and hey, I’m only 50 (almost 51!). There’s plenty of time for honing my craft(s). I have three more books coming out in August, which I’ll talk a lot more about next month. And I may have some other exciting news to share soon too! Fingers crossed.

Alright, that’s it for now. I’m looking forward to quiet celebrations, lots of reading, writing, painting, sewing and the like. The usual. I’ll be back next month with fun stuff!

 

Coffee date + The gifts of a decade

Hello. How are you? I really want to know. As I sat down to type this month’s blog post, I wasn’t sure if I had anything of interest to offer up. Not that I do normally, but I’ve rarely let that stop me from prattling about. This morning I was thinking about how I started this blog 10 years ago, and for the last decade it’s been a rather one-sided conversation, hasn’t it? I wish that we could have a chat. Let’s imagine that we’re meeting up at one of my favorite coffee shops and we’ve settled in with our beverage of choice, masks temporarily set aside as we sip our drinks.

We can start our social jaunt by talking about the every day things: how’s the family, what are your spring break/summer plans, what’s up with the new or old job, have you heard from so-and-so. What books have you read? Watched any good shows lately? Are you crafting anything?

And perhaps we’ll meander into the not-so-ordinary vistas: the plan to leave life as you know it and embark on a new adventure, the BIG birthday celebration, a strange and wonderful serendipitous event.

We may even quietly enter the dark alleys: the worries, the disappointments, the heartaches. A tear or two may escape from the corner of our eyes as we confide about an unwell family member, a financial burden, a failed project that cost our pride and more.

And then we’ll somberly take some more sips, see that our cups are empty and our time together is nearly up.

We can’t leave on a low note, so we’ll dash to the open fields of possibilities and share dreams and tentative yet sparkly goals. Something to look forward to, something to cherish.

We’ll hug and promise to do this again, then go our merry ways. 

This is pretty much how all of my coffee dates are. I love them. 

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As I said, it’s been 10 years of blogging and in the early days I was very ill. I don’t talk about it very often, but I have Graves disease and in March 2012 I was in the thick of it. According to my endocrinologist, my hormones were so out of whack that I could have easily died. Luckily, by July of that same year when I actually launched my first post, I had recovered a good bit. I would type up a blog post, but then would have to curl up to sleep for the umpteenth time of the day. I had so little energy, caught every cold and flu floating in the air and lived with constant anxiety. The most confounding part was that as my hormone levels spiked I aged at an alarming rate and looked at least twenty years older in a matter of weeks. It’s disorienting to suddenly go from a youthful 40 to a haggard senior citizen clearly on her deathbed.

A decade later, I can say that I’m healthy as a horse — well, most days, anyway. Somehow, the aging has reversed itself too, so I appear the actual chronological age that I am (perhaps even slightly younger, given my Asian genes). I made many, many changes to improve my health, but my immune system seems to be permanently compromised so I do have to be extra careful about stress and lifestyle choices. 

What an enormous boon to have had these extra years! I’ve done my best not to waste them and have done a lot. Lots of time with loved ones, lots of books (both the reading and the making of), lots of sewing, lots of writing and painting. Long walks and yoga, too. I have loved my life to the fullest and will continue to do so. We are never guaranteed another moment. Sure, I forget this truism all the time, but when things get difficult, I remember those hazy days of malaise and appreciate the extraordinariness of being here, now. Have I told you? I don’t fear death. I’ve been given so much, especially in the last few years and though I’d like to stick around until I’m a doddering octogenarian (beyond that I may be too much of a burden to K), I’m open to whatever happens. I have an inkling that death isn’t the end of everything. Be that as it may, I hope that I’ll be around next month for the aimless April blog missive, and in the meantime maybe I’ll have some actual coffee dates with some of you!

Quieting

I’ve become very good at ratcheting down the pace. I was using my phone to record a video a couple of weeks ago and when I played the video back, I discovered that I had accidentally hit the “Slo-Mo” button while filming. My life feels like it’s in perpetual slo-mo these days. I call it “quieting.” It’s kind of nice. I’ve even been tiptoeing into the ultimate quieting activity: knitting.

When I was a striving bundle of youth, I constantly sought out excitement and novelty. World travel! New jobs! Torrid romances! Actually, no, I was not so good at finding torrid romances. Valentine’s Day was a bane of my existence, and I often greeted it solo and yearning.

I’m halfway through my 50th year on this globe, and I’m fully ensconced in an almost obsessive dedication to doing exactly the same thing every day. I’ve always been a creature of habit (who isn’t?), but I’m taking it to new heights.

Every morning, I take a long walk. Then I paint and write purely for myself. Then I walk to a coffee shop and work on my latest book or whatever project happens to be on my to-do list for a few hours. Right now it’s dreaded tax paperwork. Then I head back home to eat a late lunch, give the cat a snack and take care of admin stuff or sew or knit. Then I do yoga and cook dinner and chat with my family. Then I tidy up, get ready for bed, and read (I’m currently devouring The Inheritance Games series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes — how does an associate professor with little kids pump out so many books??). 

I do have the occasional business meeting or social gathering or class to teach, and weekends don’t usually involve any work, but for the most part the above routine is what I adhere to day in and day out. It’s not glamorous or exciting — in fact, from the outside looking in, it probably seems extremely mundane and repetitive. I have to tell you, though, my days feel very “loamy” (a reviewer described The Inheritance Games with that word and I love it). Full of rich potential, ready to sprout and bloom ideas.

Lately, I’ve lost the yen to check Instagram, which seems to contribute to the sustained peace and quietude I’ve been experiencing. This dearth of desire to stay on top of digital connection is possibly career suicide for someone who wants to create books and many things for the big wide world, but I’m trusting my intuition that right now is a time to thoroughly inhabit this routinized schedule, to cultivate my fertile inner world. I feel like I’m channeling Cal Newport, he of the the Deep Work and anti social media proponent. I’m a big fan.

I will emerge from my social media hibernation eventually —  I have three books coming out this fall, and they’re not going to promote themselves. Until then, I’m savoring this insulated loaminess.

On a side note: The Secret Valentine Exchange will have to be laid to rest because shipping costs are skyrocketing. For example, I was recently quoted $150 to send an item to Australia. The shipping cost was 10 times the value of the item itself! Though I’m sad about that I do have something up my sleeve for Valentine’s Day that I’ve been working on for a while. More on that soon.

So, it’s been a slo-mo start to 2022 for me and I like it. How about you? How was your January? I hope all is well and that you’re all staying safe!

P.S. The image is part of a PDF I created for a Basic Sashiko Stitching class that I’ll be teaching on the Making App on February 18th at noon. It’s a laid back, easy class that I really enjoy teaching!

Uncomfortable

Happy Halloween, my friends! If it’s a thing in your area, are you dressing up and/or trick-or-treating? That very abstract inky image right above is actually my living room wall when sunshine suddenly burst through the clouds and cast a murky, Halloween-y shadow pattern. Although I want to get more into the spirit of things, my Hallow’s Eve zest has been distracted by surreal events happening throughout the month. I’ve been very, very uncomfortable. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone, as it were, and am feeling like I’m wearing an existential costume a lot these days.

Part of it was flying out to California to film for Creativebug. So fun! So not in my wheelhouse! The image you see above was from the production set — I taught a bunch of sewing classes and they will be available through their site in a couple of months. More on that later.

Part of it was trying to update this ole blog of mine. Technology has always been challenging for me, and I kept messing up the website so I ended up reverting to the old blog format for the interim. I was also trying to revamp my email subscription system and botched that up too. If you are subscribed, you will probably get a number of annoying emails from me telling you that you’ll need to confirm your subscription. I apologize in advance! I haven’t given up yet and will continue to work on updating everything.

A little part of it was learning how to use various inks in my art supply stash in an unofficial attempt to join Inktober (apparently there’s some sort of copyright scandal associated with it so people don’t call it Inktober anymore? Not sure). I’ve been painting tiny sketches every day and posting them on Instagram. I realized how comfortable I’ve gotten with watercolors and gouache, and it was surprisingly challenging to adapt to the slightly different nature of inks. I also have an absurd amount of art supplies and had no idea that I had so many different types of inks. My favorite were these three: fuyu-syogun Iroshizuku by Pilot (a deep, deep indigo blue color), Yasutomo Sumi ink, and though not technically an ink, Dr Ph Martin’s Hydrus Fine Art liquid watercolor in carbon black is wonderful.

But all of these aspects have been good. I felt weirdly satisfied that I stuck through the discomfort of filming, failing at technology and understanding new paint mediums — I can’t say that the end results are exactly what I had in mind, but I feel less intimidated now. I’ll take it.

Alright. I am, as always, working  on meeting deadlines and will be back next month with some holiday goodies for you. Take good care, my lovely friends!

 

And time ambles on…

Hello, hello! How are you?

I’ve been taking an Instagram break for the last month, so I’ve been feeling extra disconnected from the online world. As I’ve stayed offline as much as possible, we’ve packed other activities into July. It’s been good. Better than good, really, and much, much needed. We’ve been spending time with family and friends. Traveled. I’ve read so many books. Wrapped up quite a few deadlines. A couple of days ago, I read this thoughtful post by Rebecca Green, an illustrator/artist that I respect a lot, about taking Instagram breaks and I’m determined to remove myself more from social media in the future — in fact, I think I’ll continue to stay mostly off of Instagram for August as well. My mental health has definitely improved over the last month, and I’d like to cultivate this well-being some more.

Anyway. Today is K’s 15th birthday!!!! Can you believe it? I can’t. I made that photo book you see up there back in 2010. K was 4 in the picture, and she’d just gotten her face painted with a crown and pink unicorn at her birthday party that we held at the neighborhood park. She was so, so delighted.

And here she is a few weeks ago, on our Michigan trip. She’s undeniably a young woman, and a very lovely one at that. She’s actually sitting right next to me right now, telling me to “write some heartfelt stuff.” Hmmm…that’s hard to do on command. How can I possibly express how much this girl means to me? She’s the baby I’ve always wanted, the one I was lucky enough to give birth to. “You were meant to be my daughter,” I tell her. M and I both feel that way. I’ve heard her ask, “But what if you got someone else?” M always responds, “I would have sent that kid right back and demanded my rightful child.” Never mind that it doesn’t make any logical sense, the sentiment is what’s key here.

Alright, I’m off to prepare for this special bday!! Hope all is well with you, friends.