Continuing the home tour: daughter’s room

I’d better show you the rest of my house updates (from last summer) before it becomes summer again! This is my daughter’s room BEFORE.  Pink walls, double bed,

When she saw how paint transformed the rest of the house, she really wanted to paint her own room.  I used that as motivation for her to seriously clean up in there.  We ended up doing a bit more than painting… she is 8 now, not really wanting the babyish decor and definitely wanting to make it her own.

We had so much fun transforming it! Here’s our Pinterest board.

First we painted her dresser glossy white and added some multi-colored knobs (Etsy). 

Next, the walls became purple.  Her colors are aqua, lavender, and hot pink.

We spray painted these (Bed Bath & Beyond) jewelry racks.

And on to the ceiling fan.  We took it apart… that took a good hour! I spray painted the blades with a primer and the hardware with aqua paint.

SG helped paint the blades lavender.

Cute! You can see that in the meantime we added drapes…

The next project was searching for a loft bed.  She got that idea in her head and it stayed for quite awhile, so we thought we were safe getting her one.  We used it as motivation for sleeping all night in her bed.  

This was what we had in mind… we bought the bed from Rosenberry Rooms and I bought 2 toy chests and had seat and back cushions made to size.  Of course, when they arrived, the idea was a no go.  I measured wrong and got stuck with very expensive cushions.  We were also going to put these cubbies down there too.

It was so exciting when the bed got delivered!!!

Actually, it was in many parts and was quite a to-do putting it together.

She chose her bedding from Pottery Barn Teen.

And the spin chair…

Ta da! We read stories under there every night.

This is the new light fixture in her bathroom:

And I had to buy this to reach her bed to tuck her in at night!We still have to hang some things up on her walls but she loves it and it looks very nice.

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Making choices

That’s it! I have finally had it with my schedule.  Today I went to a morning spiritual group meeting where I hadn’t had enough time beforehand to prepare and do the reading and so I didn’t get from it what I could have.  From there I had to rush to a sisterhood board meeting, squeezing in time beforehand to make sure I had enough copies of my agenda, minutes, budget, fliers for programs, and anything else we’d be discussing.  After that, I ran home to send out a reminder for a program happening later in the week, let in a landscaper and handyman, and had a quick bite to eat.  Then I picked up SG early to head to a Passover program at a retirement home that I was coordinating.  Finally, home again to help with homework and let in the babysitter before I returned to temple for our evening program on home renovation tips.  Did I have time to relax and catch up on anything? Nope.  Did I get to the store, pick up those library books, fit in that trip to the bank, etc? Alas, no. Did I end the day with a new, long to-do list? Yes. And I’d missed email exchanges on other projects and programs, and on and on.

Most of you see a consistent theme here with me: I am running all over the place in my commitments, not able to catch up or breathe, and still not able to fit in art time.  I’m not meeting friends for lunch.  I’m barely pausing long enough to appreciate where I am! I’m collapsing into bed soon after putting SG to bed, not getting time to reflect on the day or have some quiet time.

So what do I need to do to slow down the crazy train? What hard choices can I make to still get all the good feelings from the volunteer work and shape my days to be more purposeful and satisfying?

I have been tracking my time, examining what I am spending time on, and I have, thus far, not been able to find much to let go of.  I also realize that I’m reluctant to let go of some of my obligations because of what if’s.  What if I resign from some boards and I lose the sense of reward I get from participating there? Or I lose contact with people I like knowing? I love being involved in each thing!

I can see that one aspect of my commitments can be changed by adding people and resources to take away some of the burden.  I spend quite a bit of time on the computer lately, designing fliers, creating newsletters, making things happen for programs through all the behind-the-scenes arrangements.  I’m doing many very large projects and that’s the main reason I’ve lost my sense of calm and space in a day.

I don’t really enjoy rushing around, not getting to cross everything off my to-do list, not being able to catch up on emails and phone calls.  Yes, there’s been home construction projects to manage and lots going on. But it’s time to make some choices about how much I let in and what gets pushed back to others or just does not happen.

So the ideal: enough space in a day to get a few mundane tasks done as well as exercise first thing in the morning, do some reading and writing, and add in a couple hours in the art studio.  I like being able to say I accomplished a few main things and had a day slow enough to sit for awhile and daydream, sit in nature in the backyard, or read a little.

Another way to trick my brain in to letting go of some things is to tell myself that there will be time later in life for those things.  I don’t need to be on that board right now, but in 20 years, I’ll be much better able to help them.

So do I plow through the May scheduled events and then begin this during the summer? Or can I start to reshape some things now? Stay tuned.  🙂

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February reading and catching up

Hi friends! Happy spring! I’m just back from a week of Spring Break travel, first to Florida to visit family and then up the road to Austin, TX.  I am so happy to have Sweet Girl back to school – I write to you today with the house to myself.  The windows are open and I have a view of the neighbor’s wisteria hanging over our fence.  The pool’s water feature is on, giving me a soothing sound.  Mo, my sweet kitty, is sitting at my feet.  He was not very happy that I was away for so long and has a lot to tell me today.

Our house construction is nearly complete.  The garage and office/man-cave above is finished.  The pool needs 2 final city inspections and some tweaking with the nozzles, heat, pump, etc, which will be happening over the next couple of weeks.  Our landscaping is hopefully happening this week.  We got some grass in one area and that made a large difference.  I’ll do a photo post for you on each project just for fun.

Let me know how you have been lately!

Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books by Michael Dirda

Besides getting a new list of recommended reading from this collection of essays on his literary life, I found a fellow lover of “books about books.” I think of books as my friends and keep the ones that made a big difference to me.

“Books don’t just furnish a room. A personal library is a reflection of who you are and who you want to be, of what you value and what you desire, of how much you know and how much more you’d like to know.” and “Digital texts are all well and good, but books on shelves are a presence in your life. As such, they become a part of your day-to-day existence, reminding you, chastising you, calling to you.”

My favorite quotation is that feeling of giddiness that I also sometimes get at bookstores after finding some true gems: “What I most cherish is that inexplicable feeling of buoyant youthfulness that overtakes me as I wander among the tables and shelves… After a couple of hours I’ll feel grotty and tired and very happy. At the checkout, I’ll spring for a coffee and a pastry…” I recommend this one only if you enjoy academic literature or rare book collecting.  I might have read it for the cover photo, but don’t you do that!

Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner

I love historical fiction! This is an excellent story and very well-written.  I enjoyed watching Gabrielle, aka Coco, go from being a poor orphan seamstress to the head of a fashion empire.  Her motto was “less is more” and she continually acted in opposition to the current fashion of the times, most especially freeing women from the corset.   She started with a few simple hats.  By 1916, with 300 employees on her payroll, she began to consider herself a success, appearing in magazines around the world.  “Simplicity,” she said, “is true elegance.  A women is closest to being naked when she is well dressed.  Her clothing should be seen only after she herself is.”

I felt let in on a little secret when I learned how her perfume’s interlinked C’s were a way for her to honor the love of her life, who she lost too soon.  Coco was about far more than her styles.  She went through two world wars with relisience.  Learning about her primary relationships made a lasting impression on me.  Highly recommend.

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild

Though Hochschild had an understanding of the liberal left, she had gaps about the right, and, as a sociologist, she was interested in putting herself in their shoes.  She sets out on a journey from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into Louisiana bayou country—a stronghold of the conservative right. As she gets to know people who strongly oppose many of the ideas she famously champions, Hochschild nevertheless finds common ground and quickly warms to the people she meets.  I enjoyed hearing about people who I will never meet and understanding how they think about their life priorities.

Hochschild examines over a 5-year period how industry, state government, the church and the press affected local views about pollution, health, schooling, and poverty.  She brilliantly portrays the hopes, fears, and anxiety of these Tea Party LA residents.  The bottom line, when asked about the loss of life and homes because of the local chemical plants? “Pollution is the sacrifice we make for capitalism.”

“We, on both sides, wrongly imagine that empathy with the ‘other’ side brings an end to clearheaded analysis when, in truth, it’s on the other side of that bridge that the most important analysis can begin… Our polarization, and the increasing reality that we simply don’t know each other, makes it too easy to settle for dislike and contempt…  As the political divide widens and opinions harden, the stakes have grown vastly higher… I was trying to enter the state of mind in which criticisms of the over-reliance on oil or the harmful side effects of fracking would seem misdirected, in which other things loomed more important.”

When the big oil companies were looking for places in LA to put their plants, they looked for the “least resistant personality profile: high school education or below, longtime residents of small towns in the South or Midwest, Conservative, Republican, Catholic, involved in mining, farming, ranching (‘nature exploitive occupations’). …Those who resisted the oil industry fit a very different profile — young college educated, urban, liberal, strongly interested in social issue, and believers in good government.”

It’s interesting to me the different viewpoints of living in a small, rural community, with huge value on family and faith.  “The blue-collar way of life and the honor attached to a  rooted self and pride in endurance” in huge contrast to the liberal upper-middle class viewing “community as insularity and closed-mindedness rather than as a source of belonging and honor.” The place to point the blame, to them, is the federal government.  When they have been “waiting in line for the American Dream” for a long time, only to see so many groups of people cut in line, they have felt downtrodden.  It is interesting to compare what they think is happening to actual statistics (one example is that these individuals interviewed believe that 40% of the country is on welfare when in fact it is more like 1 or 2%). In their ideal world, government would not take from the rich and give to the poor.  It would do some minimal tasks like national defense and highways, but otherwise would be nonexistent.

Obviously, the scene had been set for Trump’s rise long before he thought about running…

I couldn’t finish this one because I just couldn’t get into it.  The writer’s husband, a lover of nature, convinces Doreen, a self-proclaimed princess, to spend a year in an RV. I read about half of it and enjoyed that much, but I felt the writer was rambling without much point.

“He remarked that it was a throwback to a simpler time, when people depended on each other for entertainment, rather than technology. I wondered which is simpler, really: relying on radio, Internet, and TV for social glue or on ourselves and each other, on our own imaginations and talents to delight and ultimately bind us together. I had been so focused on the change in lifestyle thrust on me by this trip, that I didn’t even consider it might actually be causing changes in me.”

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe

This one was excellent.  I love the idea of connecting moral lessons to novels.  Schwalbe writes here about the power of books to shape our lives.  I’m positive many of you will identify with these quotes:

“I’m not the same reader when I finish a book as I was when I started. Brains are tangles of pathways, and reading creates new ones. Every book changes your life. So I like to ask: How is this book changing mine?”

“Reading is the best way I know to learn how to examine your life. By comparing what you’ve done to what others have done, and your thoughts and theories and feelings to those of others, you learn about yourself and the world around you. Perhaps that is why reading is one of the few things you do alone that can make you feel less alone; it’s a solitary activity that connects you to others.”

“I’m on a search—and have been, I now realize, all my life—to find books to help me make sense of the world, to help me become a better person, to help me get my head around the big questions that I have and answer some of the small ones while I’m at it.”

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Dear Lady Jane: do not take me for granted!

Listen girl.  I love you, but I need you to think about some things.

#1. You might feel like you are little, but you have a lot of power.  If you treat someone well, they feel good; if you treat somebody not as well, they might not feel as good.   You have a lot of control over what comes out of your mouth.  I want you to realize that everything you do has an impact on someone else.  You are very blessed to have a Mommy who does not yell very often.  So don’t you go yelling at me.  That is why I was very upset with you this morning.  I am not so enlightened that I can listen to whining and yelling and respond like Mother Teresa.  I can get stuck in instinctual reaction too.  Maybe I didn’t yell, but you sure noticed when I stopped answering you or speaking to you.  New rule: you are not allowed to treat people like how you did this morning.  I am not your employee. (And I hope you wouldn’t treat an employee that way either.)

#2. You are not helpless.  A little baby has to have everything done for them, but when you are 8 years old, you don’t have to have everything done for you.  Things like buying you clothes and food, you still need help with, but things like getting dressed or eating is all you.  If you need help with those things, it’s as if someone is doing you a favor.  You have to ask nicely and then when they do help you, you have to be appreciative and say “Thank you. I really appreciate your help.” It’s not just a given.  You can’t just sit in your room and shout and whine and growl, “Hey! Help me! Come ON!” That’s not how it works. Think of it as if you are requesting someone to do something for you so you have to ask nicely.  Even if they are the person who knows you best in the whole entire world.  Do you see me ordering Daddy around? Nope. I ask for his help courteously and politely.  Even though we vowed to love and care for each other 15 years ago, I don’t go expecting anything and we appreciate each thing the other does.  Similarly, just because I brought you into this world does not mean I have to cut the crusts off your peanut butter sandwiches.  🙂

#3. We have a way that you and I have worked out as our morning routine.  You don’t like it when we deviate from our routine, like if I don’t wake you up at the right time or I don’t give you your milk first thing, you get really upset, right? I also feel that way.  I expect you to get dressed and not be mean! So when you deviate from that, I also don’t know what to do.  I’m sort of thinking, “Woah, where did this person come from?”

I am tired… I just woke up for you and am making lunch for you. I am taking care of you and it’s like I am doing you a favor.  You could be like that boy we see who gets himself dressed and walks himself to school. Everything I do I hope you’ll be appreciative of.  Just like when you make me a card, I appreciate that because you didn’t have to do that.  Think of it like this: “I don’t expect Mommy to do anything for me, so anything she does (on top of nothing) is bonus for me and thank you so much!”

And that should be true for everybody… your teachers coming to school to give you new skills and knowledge… thank you so much! I guarantee they are doing much more than their job description and I know they don’t get paid very much.  Someone coming to your birthday party or someone going out of their way to do something for you… thank you so much! Try to think of it as if every single thing that happens is bonus because you’re fine without any of it.

You can handle these things.  We are together as a family and we will always take care of each other, but you’re fine on your own too.  You’re awesome all my yourself. You still need some help because you’re 8, not 28, and we are here to help you.  But I need you to think of all the things you are capable of on your own, and everything else is “awesome… thank you so much.”

#4. Many of the things I volunteer to do outside of being your mom are still related to being your mom.  Things like being the Brownie troop leader is something I am doing because I want you to be in Girl Scouts and learn responsibility, how to be a good friend, and how to take care of the earth.  Being the cookie mom is also for you as well as the entire troop. Why do you think I would offer to stare at these Excel charts and make sense of all the sales numbers? It is important to me that you girls learn business skills, confidence, and customer relations.  I play guitar at religious school because I want you to learn the songs and I want everyone to have the opportunity to learn the prayers.

I volunteer at your school because I want it to be a good environment for you.  I chair the book fair because I want there to be new books in the library for you and all of the other kids.  I wouldn’t just pick a random school and go lead their book fair! It’s is all in relation to you.  Yes, I enjoy all these activities as well and yes, I do get satisfaction from doing a good job, but primarily I am doing them because of you.

When you are not appreciative of the countless hours and personal effort that I spend on these activities, I take it personally because I feel that you are not appreciating that fact that I am doing them partially for YOU.  When you misbehave or don’t listen to rules at a Brownie meeting or can’t walk to your religious school class with everyone else, I think about throwing in the towel and not helping.  I don’t think you mean for that to happen.

Change your tune if you want to make it to 9…

Do you understand, sweet girl? Please try to think outside of yourself. I realize that is difficult to do, especially when you don’t have more life experience.  We will work on this together.  I will probably start being annoying about this now as I try to point out these things more and more often. Please try not to roll your eyes.

I love you,

Mommy xoxo

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Where on earth…

… have you been??? I know, I know, and I’m sorry.  Some things have had to give, you know? I am thinking through a great many things the past couple of weeks.


On doing too much: In my small Mussar learning group, we discussed equanimity last week.  Mussar’s definition is along the lines of having peace of mind, something I’ve long strived for and that my dad always says is important.  Imagine the image of being atop a surfboard, but not being tossed this way and that.  You can ride the waves calmly, moving with the water but not being thrown off balance.  You have a sense of safety and wisdom that things will work out for you no matter what.  Trust, faith, order… equanimity is interwoven with those.  It’s like having the perspective to observe your life impartially as you live it.

So I started recording in little notes (admittedly, using my phone’s microphone function in Notes because I was driving… always rushing) exactly which moments I felt I was lacking in equanimity.  Turns out that Notes function can hold A LOT! I will spare you the rambling, but what I learned, besides that I want much less of the panicky feeling of rushing from one thing to the next, always behind, is that I have equanimity and calmness when there is space in my schedule.  However, I have set up my days to where that rarely happens.

One problem is being reactive rather than proactive.  When I set a few tasks and appointments and go about getting them done, all is well.  I have time for that phone call or sure, I can stop and chat for a few minutes.  Most days, I am rushing from one place to another with much to do. “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date! Oh my, oh gee, I’m late you see. I’m late. I’m late. I’m late!” That is a terrible feeling to carry around all the time.

So. What to do about it?

That’s one angle.  Looking at all my responsibilities and commitments and seeing what I can let slide for now.

Another angle (speaking of being proactive) is to think about what it is I want to fill my time with.  I need to take some steps back (or up… for larger perspective) and look at my highest values and begin from there.  Why exactly am I serving on this board?  What is it I care about so much that I am doing these tasks or taking on this responsibility? Is it still valuable to me? What if I could wander off the road a little and add in some gloriously free art time? Ah, now we’re talking.

So that’s what I’m pondering.  Well, sort of.  Really I am rushing from one meeting to another and to the store and the school and the girl scout cookie cupboard and the library and the well, everything… trying to save the world. But eventually, I’m going to burn out and then what?  Sounds to me like it’s self-care time, right? I must be doing ok if I can at least recognize that lack of balance. 🙂

How do you do it all? (I know, I know. You don’t. I still can’t admit that!) Do you think it is a function of time and perspective? With life comes the wisdom to know your limits? I’m curious.

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January book (and life) report

Apologies for not posting on Monday.  I was wiped out from a weekend with multiple events! January was a whirlwind for me… I had several programs for our temple sisterhood that I put together, a board meeting to lead, Girl Scout cookie sales to organize, some evening meetings, plus the usual life events.  Our house construction is nearing it’s end, thank goodness.  It will be soooooo nice to not have people around outside every day. We are doing some final things on the garage apartment like the plumbing, a/c, and pouring a new driveway.  The pool has been on hold until the other was out of the way, but now we’re getting started with that again.  We pour the plaster next week.

Also, I’ve finally had it with myself and how I feel heavy and sluggish so I’m exercising every day and eating healthy.  I got a Fitbit so I can get in a certain number of steps every day, and I like how it prompts me to get up and move around every hour.  I’ve enjoyed walking around the neighborhood and looking at all the new construction. I’m back to using the Lose It app for calorie counting.  15 days in, I’ve lost 6 pounds.  Lots to go but I feel excited about it. Rarely am I hungry since I’m munching on fruit and veggies and eating a huge salad every day.

I hope all of you are hanging in there.  The country has been absolutely upside down, it seems.  Threats to things I have always taken for granted happen at least once a day.  I just this past weekend went to a group meeting for a new chapter of The Sisterhood of Salaam  Shalom, a group of Muslim and Jewish women who want to form friendships and fight intolerance and hatred.  That was beautiful and refreshing.

Houston is hosting the Super Bowl and all I can think of is this.  I have heard the rodeo we have in March is also a huge problem.  I am looking into helping raise funds for one of the projects that houses and cares for escaped victims.

Ok off for school pickup, dance class, and bath time…

Do share your latest news and what you’re reading!

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis

Lewis writes in his introduction that it is thanks to these two Israeli psychologists (Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky) that much of his work has occurred.  Their focus was on the ways ideas develop and the different ways the mind can make mistakes, jump to conclusions, and pre-judge situations. Their use of algorithms to make better predictions for success started the field of  behavioral economics.

This book was a bit rough at first for me.  You’ve got biographies of both of them, often from the fully developed point-of-view of yet another person.  You’ve got the science behind their work.  You’ve got stories that at first don’t seem to belong at all.  How it all comes together in the end is amazing.

Both men were geniuses, but Lewis writes that their brilliant work would not have come about had they not collaborated.  It’s the case here that these two are far more than one plus one.  But they were almost complete opposites!

“The students who once wondered why the two brightest stars of Hebrew University kept their distance from each other now wondered how two so radically different personalities could find common ground, much less become soul mates… It was as if you had dropped a white mouse into a cage with a python and come back later and found the mouse talking and the python curled in the corner, rapt.”

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

This story is basically the generations-long after effects of a christening gone wrong.  A chance encounter changes two families’ lives and we follow several relationships over time.  Patchett definitely knows how to develop characters that remain in your mind long after you’re finished reading.  The number of characters, however, is slightly off-putting to me.  Also, I think we are somehow observing all the scenes rather than being right there in them, if that makes sense.  Still, a good story.

“People are scared of the wrong things,” Fix said, his eyes closed. “Cops are scared of the wrong things. We go around thinking that what’s going to get us is waiting on the other side of the door: it’s outside, it’s in the closet, but it isn’t like that. What happened to Lomer, that’s the anomaly. For the vast majority of the people on this planet, the thing that’s going to kill them is already on the inside.”

The Improbability of Love: A Novel by Hannah Rothschild

This is the story of how one painting, considered to be “the greatest, the most moving, and the most thrilling representation of love,” lost for years and unknowingly found by Annie in a junk shop, changed lives.   We read from so many points-of-view (even the painting’s!) that it can get confusing, but Rothschild ties it all together beautifully.  There’s love, a passion for cooking, buried pasts. I thought it a great read.

“That all changed when he met Annie. His life, once an orderly, monotonous and pleasant series of tuneful single notes exploded into a cacophony of riotous, unpredictable chords. Sunshine flooded into dark, unknown corners of his being. He had become utterly daft, light-headed and open-hearted. He smiled at strangers, sang in lifts, danced down corridors. He heard melodies as if for the first time; saw colours afresh. Every tiny task became effortless—he ran down streets and bounced up stairs. Some inexplicable film had been lifted from his eyes, allowing Jesse to see the world from a familiar but altogether surprising viewpoint. Everything became heightened, acute and affecting. His painting was utterly transformed: muted tones and careful composition gave way to extravagant bursts of colour and wild flights of fantasy as his brushes flew with brio and élan across canvases. Occasionally the breath escaped from his lungs with such force that he had to hold on to something solid to stop the ground from giving way. He knew with absolute, undeniable certainty that he and Annie were meant to be together.”

Mothering Sunday: A Romance by Graham Swift

This is a quick read… most of the plot happens in one day in 1924 as a servant girl and a gentleman neighbor soon to be married to someone else have their final tryst in their years-long relationship.  The story unfolds as Jane recalls it years later and we learn of her self-discovery because of that day.

“Can a mirror keep a print? Can you look into a mirror and see someone else? Can you step through a mirror and be someone else?  The grandfather clock chimed two o’clock.  She had not known he was already dead.”

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

This is one of the books that are helping me understand the recent election results.  It was fascinating to hear about what life is like for white, working class people in parts of the country.  It is simply one person’s experience living in the culture of Appalachia and explaining his own experience as a blue collar worker who turned his life around in the Marines and later went to Yale Law School.  Mainly due to his grandmother, he learned to expect more from life.  Highly recommend.

“I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children. I want people to understand the American Dream as my family and I encountered it. I want people to understand how upward mobility really feels. And I want people to understand something I learned only recently: that for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us… It was Greater Appalachia’s political reorientation from Democrat to Republican that redefined American politics after Nixon. And it is in Greater Appalachia where the fortunes of working-class whites seem dimmest. From low social mobility to poverty to divorce and drug addiction, my home is a hub of misery.”

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin

I’ll always read a book about a bookstore! This one was charming, I thought.  A widowed book store owner finds a 2-year-old girl in his store, abandoned, and raises her as his own.  The characters and the story are excellent.

“The words you can’t find, you borrow. We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone. My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart. We are not quite novels. The analogy he is looking for is almost there. We are not quite short stories. At this point, his life is seeming closest to that. In the end, we are collected works.”

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