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The Secret Teachings of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner

I’m including The Secret Teachings of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner on my booklist this year, even though it got a hard skim after the first few chapters, which only occur after a lengthly “Note to Reader,” Introduction, and then Prologue. Finally, the reader gets to “Section One: Nature.”

The book promises to be split into two parts: the first half “Systole” and the second half “Diastole.” Systole promises to be the more linear, factual, mathematical half and diastole the more creative and emotional half of the book. However, the tone and approach is nearly identical in each “half.”

The approach is a rambling mix of pot smoker, metaphysical, mystical philosophy popular in the ’60s. It’s a meaningful and worthwhile philosophy, but it’s definitely a type. The writing is fragmented, made worse by constant quotes by the likes of Thoreau, which constantly disrupts the flow of the text.

My deepest disappointment is that the book promises to explore the emotional and creative teachings of plants, and that concept is completely intriguing and compelling to me. I would love to read that book! Unfortunately, this book does not deliver on it’s promise.

Idiot by Laura Clery

Ok, I have very mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, some of this author’s work is genuinely funny, and she has some genuinely crazy and frightening stories resulting from her addiction. On the other hand, there aren’t many laughs in the book, and the entire experience is somewhat cliche.

The story is one we have all heard. Attractive broken person heads off to Hollywood to make it big (in no small part because there is absolutely nothing else they could possibly succeed at). Person spirals into a chaotic and frightening world of addiction, “success” slipping in and out of grasp, until finally, after a decade or two in the business, some modicum of success is achieved and a tell-all book is written.

Clery’s comedy is more slapstick than is my taste. A lot of it is also pretty contrived. A central part of her work involves fat shaming to a degree. Her accent is imprecise. I find myself searching for her authentic voice, but it constantly oscillates between suburban Chicago housewife, valley girl, vapid model, and British.

In this book, the narrator is unreliable. She writes that her husband was divorcing when they met. But, fails to mention the wife when recapping her husband’s bio. She reveals herself making stupid choices, then she demonstrates awareness of stupid choices, but she also seem unaware of some of her toxic habits as well: borrowing money, codependency, and requiring caretakers, even in current presumably healthy state. She unselfconsciously mentions how lame it is that she can’t make a new friend group within a two month time period. Staying home alone for a few days is a rock bottom lameness that sends her spiraling. I think it would be funnier if she acknowledged her own neediness and superficiality. I want to believe that there’s a lot more complexity to this person, and maybe it was just an issue of editing.

And yet! For a book that was most definitely dictated into one of those little handheld tiny recorders, and then pieced together by a beleaguered ghostwriter, the stories are gripping, and the attitude works. Positive affirmations, eating lots of raw fruits and veggies, meditating, being tall and thin and beautiful, marrying a successful man, living in a temperate climate, attending AA, trying, and persisting actually is a recipe for inspiration and success! I’m glad I read it.

Idiot: Life Stories from the Creator of Help Helen Smash

2020 year in review

I’m not sure what to say about 2020. It was quite a year. I’m an introvert, and I had a baby, and so I was prepped to do a lot of staying home and laying low and not really interacting with the public all that much. Then of course the pandemic put all of that into overdrive.

On one hand, it was a really lovely year. I felt like a pioneer. I made sourdough bread and took care of my babies. I felt capable, and it was exactly what I wanted to do.

Except that I would’ve liked to spend more time with human people. I would’ve liked to have had more help with the babies, so that there wasn’t always so much pressure around work, and timing, and getting naps just exactly right for a Zoom meeting, and working at odd times and late into the night because that’s when I could.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we were told to go easy on each other and to be accommodating to each other. At first it seemed like I wouldn’t need this same accommodation, but over time, I came to realize that I did. Even if you weren’t directly impacted by a Covid case, there was an unexpected cascading effect, so that most of us were impacted in one way or another.

In addition to a national/global crisis, 2020 was personally tough for most people I know. My life was no exception. Weirdly challenging things kept happening in 2020. There were literal floods and pestilence, and my heating system broke in, like, six different ways at six different times last winter. Although we never fully had to go without, I had to ration milk for my toddler because of food shortages, something I had never even thought about before in my life.

It’s not over yet, but the vaccine is in sight. I now know people who have received it. As that number increases, I think things will slowly start to feel normal again (though the fallout will last for years). I hope I look back on this year fondly and with gratitude. It’s no exaggeration to say that having to drop a baby off at daycare has been one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, and so I am grateful that I’ve been able to spend so much of my kids’ infancy with them and caring for them.

Having them home while working took a toll though. I think I juggled it all, but it was exhausting, and I am but a wisp of the person I used to be. I hope that in time, I can recover and that I can come out of this experience without debilitating germaphobia or food hoarding habits. Time will tell.