Saturday, January 29, 2022

The Great February Reset

Scott D. Parker

Do you know the best thing about February is? No, not the holiday. Valentine’s Day is one of my least favorite holidays on the calendar. It has always felt manufactured, like if the folks who sold flowers, chocolates, and greeting cards all got together and invented a holiday to increase their bottom lines.

Actually, one of the best things about February is the chance to reset on any habits you might have already broken.

I suspect you’ve seen all the historical data that tell us many people stop doing their New Year’s Resolutions sometime around 14-19 January.  That's just two weeks. Typically we think of resolutions like going to the gym or talking a daily walk to help us exercise or stop eating a certain food or abstaining from alcohol.

Those are all well and good, but often, we creatives want to start a habit and, in some ways, that can be more difficult, especially if we’ve fallen by the wayside prior to New Year’s Day.

But here’s the thing: a New Year’s Resolution is not a one-and-done. It’s not like if you fall off the wagon sometime in mid January you have failed for the entire year. Let’s not judge an entire 365-day cycle by the actions of a 14 or so days.

I’m a firm believer that every new month is an opportunity to get back into a habit or reinforce one you started the previous month. I resolved to write a 1,000 words a day in 2022 (or reach 365,000 words for the year). I’m happy to say that my streak is intact, but boy, some of those days were a slog, especially with a day job.

In fact, I battled with myself over just how important a streak like this is. To remind myself of the power of streaks, I need only look at the small calendar on the fridge. I had fallen away from taking vitamins every day so I needed to start that back up again. I did the Jerry Seinfeld thing where I put an X on the calendar for each day I took my vitamins. Eight days into the new year, I forgot. Boom! Busted up my streak and my January has a hole in it. Irritation.

But my writing streak is alive. My writing resolution is alive. I hope your resolutions are alive, too.

If they’re not, dedicate the month of February to creating a new habit. It’s only 28 days long, an even four weeks. Chances are high if you maintain that new habit until 1 March, you’ll be good to go. But if not, then let March be your new start date. Heck, let each Sunday be a start date. Just start. Then continue. The rewards will flow to you.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Dead Girls by Jorge Ibarguengoitia

I was poking through my bookshelves the other day looking for a particular novel, when I came across a book I haven't thought about for a long time but which I remember enjoying.  It's the Mexican novel The Dead Girls (Las Muertas), by Jorge Ibarguengoitia.  I read it years ago, when it came out in the US as part of that great Avon Bard line of Latin American fiction that you could find on bookstore shelves here in the 1970s and 80s.  

First published in Mexico in 1977, the novel is loosely based on a real Mexican murder case.  Two sisters named Delfina and Maria de Jesus Gonzalez, who had run a brothel, were arrested and put on trial in 1964 after the bodies of eighty women, eleven men, and a number of foetuses were found buried on their property.  At their trial, it came out that young women lured to work at the sisters' brothel by ads for housemaids had been killed if they became sick or their looks faded.  Male clients who had lots of money on them were murdered.  One doesn't have to use much imagination to figure out where the foetuses figured in.  The sisters were found guilty and sentenced to forty years each in prison.

Sounds grim, but the novel itself, believe it or not, is a comic one. Blackly comic, but comic nonetheless.  It reduces the number of victims to six, all women, though six is plenty, and it achieves a distance from the horror of the actual events by presenting its narration through police interviews and reports.  The telling is dry and deadpan in a way that becomes a parody of crime reporting, a use of language at once revealing but also inadequate for what is being described.  It's that official, investigative language we've all become so accustomed to hearing, and  Ibarguengoitia uses it to wonderfully disorienting and ambiguous effect.

I won't say much more other than that the individual crimes open up to a society populated by not just murderous madams and their victims, but also by corrupt soldiers and corrupt politicians and reporters of dubious moral fiber, a world rife with rot.  Sound relevant and topical?  Always.

The old Avon Bard line of Latin American fiction ended years ago, so after I put my old copy of The Dead Girls back on my bookshelf, I wondered whether it is still in print in English.  I found out it is -- nice to see -- from Picador Classic, with an introduction by Colm Toibin no less, and it's also available as an e-book.  With true crime a rage like it's never been, this novel based on a true crime, told in a language that in part mocks true crime tale telling, is a worthy read.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Ultimate Home Library

By Claire Booth

A photo in the New York Times this week caught my eye. For obvious reasons.

It’s heaven (to me at least). Books, chairs, wood bookcases, ladders. Ladders!

I’d seen the photo before. It pops up on social media every once in a while. The NYT tracked down its origin. A Johns Hopkins professor and scholar of comparative literature named Richard Macksey owned the books and housed them in that wondrous library—and throughout his house—in Maryland.

When he died, “a SWAT team-like group of librarians and conservators” went through his collection and picked out only 35,000 books to add to university libraries. The rest when up for sale.

So if there are people in your lives who perhaps make noise about you owning too many books, put it in perspective for them by pointing to Dr. Macksey. And then keep right on stocking your own home library. Because let’s face it—you’re never going to match him. But it should would be fun to try.