In-between thoughts: things I’ve been reading

Thoughts in-between sets at the gym.

I realized today that the only lift that still makes me nervous is the pull-up. Before every set my hands start to sweat and I get tingles. Is it love? Is it nerves? Am I twitterpated or just terrified? Or perhaps a blend of all because I love me some adrenaline?

Well, I did get a tiny rush of nerves in the middle of my workout when I was getting ready to shoulder press 30 lb dumbbells. I got the lift sweats. Pullups and shoulder presses are my favorite lists. I AM SENSING A SELF-DESTRUCTIVE PATTERN.

Anyhoodle, onto in-between things.

I’ve been reading some phenomenal stuff lately, the kind of things (fiction and nonfiction) that you keep thinking about and finding new connections to your own life days and weeks after you finish it. I thought it worth me doing a quick corralling of the best-of on my reading list these days..

1. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, by Charles Taylor. I am only 50 pages in, but his premise that our sense of self and our sense of the good are mutually interdependent, that we can’t ever “escape” the ethical when talking about human identity, is fantastic, profound, and has such exciting potential for exploration and deepening over the next 450 pages. We are all oriented in space and direction towards something, and we as individuals are best understood as a story rather than a static Being, with the Good (or good) is absolutely central to this self-orienting. Taylor is long-winded but very easy to follow and wonderful. I’m strapping in for more juiciness.

2. Waiting For God by Simone Weil. Again, a book I am just cracking open, only 40 pages in. Weil is a fascinating figure in theological history. I am very excited to read the words of someone who was a committed Christian but who was determined from the beginning to remain an outsider from the institution, committed also to live like the underprivileged and suffering that Christianity purports to care about in the name of their God. I am not reading this as a possible inspiration to return to the Christian faith, but rather as an example of someone who felt like I did and made the choice to stay. I love a story of a determined outsider, someone “at home in exile.” I’m also getting some strong Grand Inquisitor vibes thinking of her as an ethical exemplar, for Christians and non-Christians alike. How can we look to someone who embraces and seeks out suffering as an exemplar for the typical human? Our whole psychological orientation is towards security. It’s too much to ask that she be a model for everyone, but that fact doesn’t diminish the value of what she did. I am looking forward to figuring out how to articulate what I think that value is as I read her words and thoughts.

3. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. This is just one of the most aching stories I’ve ever read and I love returning to it. The idea of people facing the consequences of their own cruelty and hate through their child experiencing that cruelty and hate is… Something I can’t really put into words. It makes me feel so, so many things. I also love that the book is written from the perspective of the 8 year old. It’s so simple and beautiful and awful.

4. Quantum effects in the brain from Psychologytoday.com. I still don’t quite understand the whole thing, but it’s talking about the observer effect, or, more precisely, the idea that the wave function of a particle doesn’t collapse until it is measured. For the brain, this means that a whole bunch of not-me bits exist right prior to the moment of one becoming conscious and being added to the ongoing story of “me.” I am sure I am vastly oversimplifying and also bungling this in some way, but it’s absolutely fascinating to think about. I really do contain multitudes.

5. The 2021 IPCC report on climate change is nothing short of tragic and horrifying. I am so sad that today’s humans are utterly and totally failing our most vulnerable, all in the name of power and privilege.

6. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and the Body in Healing Trauma by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. I am astounded by how much our bodies hold and how addressing core traumas is the way to heal so, so many wounds and conditions. Oh man, the addictions and pain we could fix if mental health were taken as seriously as bodily health, or even if it were accepted that mental health is bodily health. I am haunted by the reality that diagnosis determines treatment. It makes sense in a way, but damn. It sure does severely limit what’s possible for so many hurting people.

Ok, off to work out my brain muscle with some reading like I worked out my upper body muscles with chest/back/shoulders today!

Oh yeah, and I’m SUPER sunburned from too much beaching and not enough sunscreening this weekend. My whole face is going to peel off in about 3 days. LOVELY.

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