So Marie Kondo opens a shop …

… and shit hits the fan – in quite opposite directions.
Die-hard fans and design aficionados appreciate the forthcoming sparks of joy they expect from ordering a $200 tea container or a $75 tuning fork with rose quartz – things every home obviously needs to have. Haters meanwhile have a field day; Twitter and Instagram are abuzz with hilarious comments regarding Kondo’s new business venture.

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“She is never without a crystal” – Marie probably is on rather intimate terms with Airport security personnel … 

I get it. The woman who preaches freedom from all clutter and empty surfaces now sells stuff no one needs at quite hefty prices. Marie Kondo is this cute little Japanese lady who likes to jump around whenever she sees boxes of clutter on Netflix. She has already sold us three books when one would have been enough (who really needs The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying up or Spark Joy when The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up contains all the main information?)  – and will try to sell you two more, one children’s book on friendship (Kiki & Jax – the Life-Changing Magic of Friendship) and one on organizing your workspace/workplace (Joy at Work – The Life-Changing Magic of Organizing your Working Life) – in 2020. I’m not sure I want someone who sends her socks on vacation every time she puts them in the drawer explain to me how I should streamline my workflow. Imagine explaining to your boss that you won’t be able to make it to the afternoon meeting because it may take a while to thank every individual key on your keyboard for its excellent service today … Well, at least we are already used to Marie writing books. And it’s not the first time someone uses the same ‘story’ over and over again to make more money (just look at Allen Carr’s “Easy Way” books).

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Brace yourself, there are new books on the way.

But a shop? Consumer capitalism tells us that this is OF COURSE the next thing in line. People not only want to read about and implement the KonMari method, they want to live KonMari. And what does ‘living KonMari’ mean? Buying it, of course. That’s also what all the fuzz regarding ‘Hygge’ is about. People in Denmark aren’t just happy because they live in a world full of cozy blankets and lovely interpersonal relations, they also live in a country that provides government welfare, a high wage level, and what Americans like to call ‘free health care’ –  long story short: when you can afford to lose your job or get sick, you can also sell cheap shit like scented candles and polyester blankets under the label ‘hygge’ – and apart from the label this concept does not necessarily include anyone or anything from Denmark at all.

Same goes for Marie. The goods she sells are elegant, well-designed, and nice to look at. She opened her own online store and did not start a partnership with Walmart or H&M to sell tons of junk but instead offers high-quality design items. Of course a tea container also serves a certain purpose; more so than a computer brush or a flower bouquet tote, at least in my personal opinion. Still, nothing in Marie’s shop is important OR something we may not already have (EXCEPT for the computer brush, maybe?). But hey, no one has to buy it. There are people out there buying overpriced stuff from a mediocre blond actress who made an empire out of selling shit no one needs – and I’m not just talking about Goop for that matter. So why should Marie, with her well-thought-out concept of sparking joy not at least try? No one has to watch her show. No one has to buy her books. No one has to feed the money monster.

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Groceries and other things one could carry around in a tote will vanish into thin air the moment they come in contact with this Flower Bouquet ONLY Tote …

Also, while we’re at it, what about all those influencers who promote slow fashion, conscious living/consumerism, and minimalism and still regularly present new stuff? Yes they get free samples from mainly independent companies and small labels that are more often than not worth mentioning and promoting BUT what is slow, conscious or minimalist about presenting new skin care, clothes, bags or the like every other week on Instagram? We are all trying our best to live up to the ideals we cherish, but this might not be as easy or consistent as we would like it to be. Life is full of inconsistencies and gray areas. Is it possible to withdraw from classic consumer capitalism in a way of not constantly wanting new things and being content with what one already has? I guess so. I hope so. I’m sure as hell trying my best. Because I don’t want to KonMari my shit every few years. But I fail quite frequently and there’s much room for improvement.

I’m still following slow/fair fashion, minimalist, eco friendly influencers on Instagram – in some instances the same ones who lost their rather self-righteous shit about Marie Kondo’s shop … whilst promoting new stuff they ‘received for free’ even though they are on a shopping ban right now or so (oh my, what a coincidence!). Because I like their posts, need my daily dose of procrastination, and it’s actually just 4 or 5 people so their ‘influence’ is manageable … 😀

BTW: there’s an interesting article on VICE regarding Marie’s new shop; the NYT too writes about the dubious nature of the backlash Marie is receiving for her new online store. As I said: gray areas everywhere …

Reading Marie Kondo and so much more … “The life-changing magic of tidying up”

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Being the aspiring minimalist that I am, I only got the ebook version of Marie’s masterpiece.

My oh my – the world is my oyster and I am allergic to seafood … I have to change. Or: I have to change something.

Over the last few years and months I’ve read tons of books about ADHD, anxiety disorders and mindfulness. One thing I’ve learned is that I can focus and work better in a clean and organized environment. Moreover, I’ve learned that I should streamline as much as possible – what to cook and eat, what to wear, what music to listen to when working/writing/feeling blue, what to read … – and eliminate unnecessary choices so as to save time and energy.  I’m also practicing my own version of mindfulness, using the App Insight timer for meditation and following advices from authors like Ruby Wax and Mark Williams, Matt Haig and Aaron Gillies (to name just a few).

Streamlining mundane tasks and eliminating choices goes hand in hand with decluttering, at least in my little corner of this world. I’ve already started decluttering and discarding months (years?) ago, and though I read Francine Jay’s The Joy of Less early on, in the beginning I didn’t have a system regarding how and what to discard. I just knew I had too much and I wanted to change that. For further inspiration I read Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye Things as well as a German book by Lina Jachmann, Einfach leben. Finally, somewhere along the way to ADHD-reducing minimalism I encountered Marie Kondo and let me tell you: I was not impressed.

Marie and me: no love at first sight

To be more precise: the first time I read The life-changing magic of tidying up I was rather disappointed and a bit irritated. Because when Marie Kondo explained that

The socks and stockings stored in your drawer are essentially on holiday. They take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe, enduring pressure and friction to protect your precious feet. The time they spend in your drawer is their only chance to rest.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this. I felt terribly sorry for my socks which was NOT helpful for someone like me who tends to a) feel guilty for pretty much everything (thanks gran!) and b) anthropomorphize A LOT of things which makes discarding stuff even more difficult. But apart from that all these sparks of joy she was talking about did not resonate with me. Therefore I decided that Kondo was not for me and put it aside. Several months later I discovered the wonderful and hilarious podcast By the book in which the hosts Kristen and Jolenta did an episode on Marie Kondo and her bestseller. Listening to it I realized that I may have missed some important points and decided to give her another chance. I even watched an episode of Mario Kondo’s show on Netflix –and finally I saw the light … once I saw this tiny lady jumping through pure chaos while staying happy-go-lucky I finally understood why she was taking her socks on a lovely little holiday every time she puts them in a drawer. She lives in her very own little world, all tidy and organized and full of joy, which seemes strange but wonderful. I decided to give her book another go.

Oh the (sparks of) joy!

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The ebook from a different angle – taking photos of a ‘real’ book is a bit more inspiring …

The second time around it worked MUCH better! I ignored the cheesy bits and adapted Marie’s plan to my needs. After all, I live in a medium-sized European apartment and not a Japanese single flat; it was also not the first time I started a decluttering tour de force, so I focused on my weak spots and paid less attention to those areas that are already well organized.

Following Marie’s plan I started with my clothing. I imagined I would be left with a few T-shirts, some pants and two skirts but it was actually not THAT bad (or good). Since I’ve applied the ‘one in, one out’ rule long before Kondo-ing the shit out of my stuff, looking for the sparks of joy in my drawers and closet was not as fulfilling as I had imagined it to be. I had already discarded a lot of clothes, shoes, and bags before so this time around it was mainly about the spark of joy and nothing more. Still even the second time around it took me more than one round to eliminate all the items that didn’t spark enough joy. I guess I overlooked some less sparkier items and mistook them for great bearers of joy, love, peace, and happiness.
I still have a hard time figuring out what the spark says about my bags and backpacks – I’m not that much into fashion and shoes but I do love me a good handbag (or backpack for that matter). So I decided to disagree with Marie in that life-changing can be seen as a relative term and also describes a “life-long” process of figuring out which bag to keep and which to let go of. After all everything in life is a process, so why hurry?

A few weeks after the big closet decluttering bash I kondo-ed my books. This was a bit easier as I discovered quite quickly whether there was a spark or not. ‘Professional’ books (mainly academic books) did not offer the option of joyous sparks – Foucault very probably wouldn’t give a shit about his potential on the spark-of-joy-o-meter and that’s fine with me – so they were out of bounds. Regarding most of my other books I realized that I have very ‘sparkly’ bookshelves and still prefer books over pretty much everything else – even bags.

Books were the last category I’ve Kondo-ed thus far. I got a list somewhere which tells me exactly what I should declutter next (bathroom items, maybe?) but my main concern was clothes and books. Since I got these done I feel no urgency to tackle any other category soon. I’m not a fan of relying solely on digitalized photos and documents, so while I like to have a digital backup ’somewhere’ (beware of the ADHD brain’s ‘somewhere’), I don’t intend to throw away all my photos or important documents just because Marie or any other minimalist say so.
Furthermore, for me decluttering and discarding has a calming and cathartic effect so I’m in no hurry to empty our apartment in record speed. To me a certain form of decluttering, discarding, and rearranging is a life-long process that changes the way I myself and my life (our life) changes. So while I appreciate Marie’s efficiency, I see no reason to emulate her. I still stick to my ‘one in, one out’-rule, not with books but with everything else, and I apply Marie’s spark joy approach whenever I’m not sure if I should keep or toss a certain item. Both methods are very useful and give me good results.

However, decluttering is not my main issue anymore. I progressed to a more urgent problem I’ve developed over the last couple of months: digital thrifting.
I invest hours in searching for the right piece only to wait several more days or weeks until the price drops so I can finally make my bid. I get a sort of adrenalin rush when days and weeks of observing an offer finally pay off. On a bad day checking my apps and wishlists is the perfect diversion and also leads me to believe that I’m achieving something even though all I actually do is planning to accumulate stuff I don’t need. What was a nice little pasttime became a nasty habit. While in the past I would have had a few beers to drown a shitty day or smoked more ciggies than I should to calm my nerves, I now found a different crutch to help me calm down when I feel a bit blue – cheaper than drinking or smoking, but only slightly healthier. Also totally irritating for someone who is actually all about REDUCING the stuff she owns …. 

But that’s a different story.

Reading: too many books at once …

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Right now I’m reading about 5 books at the same time – different books for different moods, different mindsets, different levels of mental capacity. As you may have guessed this does not work out very well, meaning it does not look like I’m about to finish a single one of those books anytime soon – apart from Mari Kondo’s The life-changing magic of tidying up since I’ve already read that once and am absolutely eager to progress further with my decluttering/discarding project, hoping that her “spark joy” approach to discarding and keeping stuff will help me on my journey. But apart from that it will  be pure reading chaos for several more weeks or even months to come.

Well hello old friend – ADD and me

So why am I reading so many books when I know that this is usually not the smartest way to reduce my tbr-pile? Mainly because my ADD seems to be escalating right now and since I don’t take any medication I have to find alternative ways and mechanisms to cope with this situation. But don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with “oh my, I’m such a poor little unicorn suffering from *younameit* so I can’t handle my life”, oh no – I’m fine the way I am, with all the things going on, I’m just not the most efficient and calm person right now. And sometimes I’m annoying myself so much that I have to whine about it a little bit.

6 books and counting … 

Anyway, so there are 6 books going on – not included are the papers and books I’m working on right now in regards to my dissertation (yes, once again back on track, the never-ending saga continues) – as stated before, that’s a bit much. The largest of them all (see photo) is a collection of short stories regarding female detectives (yay for the feminist agenda in every way!) – it is a 900 pages+ volume with a small font and VERY thin paper, so I’m not sure if I will finish it in this lifetime BUT I’m quite sure I will not finish it if proceeding like that. Still, with short stories it’s much easier to put the book away and return to it than it is with a novel like I capture the castle. Additionally I rediscovered my Kindle again – this happens about every 6 months, because in the end the Kindle is just a book too, so it can be forgotten for some time only to be picked up again once I remember that it contains true treasures.

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I forgot this one the first time around … mea culpa!

So with switching from two to ‘just’ one job – a feeling of stability and structure I hadn’t had in ages – the world is my playground right now, and while I’m already in the process of picking up my academic endeavors where I left off months ago, I still feel a bit overwhelmed by leading such a stable and structured life – and having so much time on my hands. This may be one reason why I can’t focus on one or two books right now, and it may also be the main reason my ADD-brain feels like exploding. I’m not actually bad or worse, I’m just a bit hysteric. Since I learned to tackle my issues when shit hits the fan and there’s a lot going on, I now have to strengthen my ADD muscles in regards to organizing myself and developing habits when my days are rather structured and relatively calm in regard to my job.

What now?

Anyway, as I said before, one of the books I’m reading right now is Mari Kondo. Over the last two years I’ve discovered that the idea of minimalism is not just a convenient trend in a (Western) world that is increasingly overwhelmed by itself BUT also works wonders for my ADD – less stuff, less clutter, less dramalamadingdong. Still, while I’m really enthusiastic about getting rid of my stuff, I also know I have to equip myself the best way possible for discussions with my inner post-war grandchild** (“I don’t need THIS now BUT I COULD use it SOMEDAY and I got it from *insert name of dead relative here* so I’m not sure I can be such a heartless bitch and really throw it away, can’t we find some place to store it until we can use it SOMEDAY??”) and that’s why I’m reading Kondo. May her “spark joy” approach work wonders …

So, what is the conclusion of this rather messy post?
I will finish Mari Kondo’s book.
I will proceed with my academic reading ‘plan’.
I will add the occasional short-story from the female detectives book for the next 30 years until a) I can’t decipher the small print any longer or b) the thin pages eventually pulverize.
I will read some more, maybe quitting one book while taking up another. You know the story.

It will get better, quieter, more organized (again) eventually. It always does.

 

 

** “Let’s keep this, we might need it someday” was my grandpa’s guiding principle and something I was brought up with – I still have a hard time acknowledging the fact that his and granny’s way of ‘keeping stuff just in case’ does not work for me.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions … again

 

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So over the course of the last few weeks I again and again promised myself to simply stop most of my shopping, regardless of it being second-hand items or books or else. And it didn’t work. For one reason or the other I always found an excuse to shop, to buy new things, to spent money on stuff I did not need. Because I really got enough stuff already, all over the place …
Anyway, on Monday there will not only start a new week, but also a new month, and this time I really want this to work – a GRAND shopping detox. In order for this to work I have to find out WHY I shop until I drop, or. What am I falling for time and time again?
Bliss. Distraction. Relief.
In addition to the job I already got, I started a new job a few weeks ago. I’m still stressed, not so much by the work itself, at least most of the time, but by all the relational issues going on, finding out how the people – my colleagues – work, how they interact, how I should interact with them and, of course, also how I will cope with both jobs – so there is still a lot going on even though my initial fears dissipated. I still haven’t found time to establish a routine to get back into the never-ending drama that is my dissertation, and at times I’m so fidgety that I can’t even focus on reading though I have a really good book in the works right now.

So there we go, reaching for the iPad to look what has happened on my favourite shopping apps (mot of them second-hand shopping platforms) and the like; looking what I could get from Amazon that I’ve wanted to get for days, weeks, months YEARS but couldn’t or wouldn’t afford – ya know. And who would have thought it could take about three hours to find an adequate bento box to transport my lunch in?
Have you ever realized how many things you have to keep in mind when choosing the right, eco-friendly lunch box – on Amazon (of all places)? TONS. Which can take up HOURS of your valuable lifetime.
Not that I have nothing better to do — rather I’m not capable of doing or working on the more important things right now, so I go on a sort of compensation shopping spree. Eco-friendly, second-hand or the like, but still. Amassing stuff, again.

So, what could I do instead when feeling exhausted and intellectually drained but not wanting to waste money and energy on things I do not need (books are an exception – of course)? Reading, obviously. In the end reading is also a sort of training, and the more regularly I start to read — no matter how distracted I feel and would just LOVE to find out if there are any new second-hand Sandqvist backpacks available — the better it gets with time, meaning there will be less distraction, more joy and focus and therefore, in the end, less stuff.
Doing some research would be great too; since I have been “out” of my project for another four months or so, I again have a lot of catching up to do — the afternoons sans my second job would be rather perfect for doing exactly this so that I could not only slowly catch up again but finally also restart … again.
Also while we’re at it, how about some self-care? More sport and regular training sessions, no matter if at home or at the gym – I got some excellent equipment at home, and if I feel like that wouldn’t be enough, I can still hit the gym; furthermore, a bit of meditation, some yoga, relaxing a bit – doesn’t this sound just wonderful and stuff-less?
And, not to forget, some DIY works wonders at times. Instead of buying stuff – no matter if second-hand or not – why not take up sewing a bit more regularly? I could have sewn a whole new wardrobe in the hours I spent bargain hunting online in the last few weeks …

So, let the games begin. May the will to change grant me the strength to do so … even on the worst of days …

The Renaissance of the Bullet Journal

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Being all over the place is nothing new for me, as most of you will know by now. Apart from some serious ADHD doing a lot of freelance work (mainly writing and editing) as well as (still) organizing a dissertation may add even more pressure to my already overwhelmed mind. Furthermore, I have so many ideas in my head, ideas for texts, stories, what to read, which book to blog about, what to sew, and a lot more, that I mostly forget them and have neither the time nor the place to take a note… As stated before, I don’t use my cellphone for everything all the time because hey, there’s nothing better than wanting some down time and fortunately not remembering where you put your (silent) phone – this is pretty much heaven for me, so I’m most definitely the wrong person when it comes to productivity apps and the like. I need a calendar. I need a notebook. And I could really need a personal assistant, but unfortunately I can’t afford one. Also, I’m much to introvert to want to share my life and all that’s in it with someone outside my head… So instead I decided to give the bullet journal another go, after a rather half-hearted test of the concept two years ago (you may find some gibberish about it here).

After not succeeding last time I tried to adapt the concept for my needs, I decided to go in 200%, meaning I even bought a new notebook dedicated to the renaissance of the bullet journal in my life. The first time around I used an old notebook I bought years ago, which did not provide the best hardware and left me feeling rather underwhelmed by the results I got from my various layouts and doodles (a lot of ghosting, and also just plain paper, which in hindsight is not the best choice for a bujo – I now use one with dots). This time I bought a dotted Moleskine with roughly 200ish pages. Though I got some ghosting there too, it still provides a much better hardware for keeping and actually using the bullet journal …

My main goal this time around was to bring everything together in one place – not 15 different notebooks for different topics, but one notebook for everything, from my schedule to my to-do lists, my calendar, my diary and my various list for books I want to get/read, stuff to cook, ideas for my blogs and the like. Apart from all the notes for my thesis – my thesis notebook is not full and finished at this point – it seems to work this time around, at least it has for the last two months (yeah I know, what a milestone, two months and counting …). I even started to do some serious doodling and coloring, though this is light-years away from all those sophisticated and beautiful bujo spreads one sees on Instagram and Pinterest. But that’s ok, I like doodling around a bit, even trying my hand at some sort of hand lettering (or rather my interpretation of it) just because it’s fun. I got something called “daily recap”, which I use when I include some journaling in my bujo, so I won’t need an additional diary anymore. And once my thesis-notebook is full, I will include all my notes for my thesis project in my bujo, too. The big idea behind all this is to confine my chaotic state of mind and thought to one single notebook at a time so that I have one place to turn to to find my ideas, concepts, plans, memories, lists, and much more. I got a vintage label maker to put the dates of  the specific journal on the spine once it’s full, so I won’t get lost in various notebooks. So for now, it seems like a pretty good idea, and it feels like it’s a good way to tackle my ADHD state of mind…

bujocoveraugust.jpgAt least in theory. August is my third month with this new system of mine, I started my current bujo in early June. For the last three months I tried some layouts, seeing what works for me and what not, what is ok to design and draw and what is simply too arduous to do every month. I still experiment with some stuff – trying to keep a gratitude log has not worked that well overall, though I think it’s useful and important for someone like me; the spending log too has not worked out as planned, but I guess some things need time to get used to, so I will continue to include one in my monthly layouts for some time to come. I feel great with some other things – using the bujo as a diary and a work notebook makes a lot of things easier and motivates me to write much more in general.

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So much for the second try. Right now I’m still very enthusiastic about it all, and I hope it stays that way (I probably wrote that the first time around too). I long for some method to ease my mind and help me stay (get?!) more organized – not using any medication, there are days I can literally see my thoughts popping up and then slowly pulling back again, only to disappear in some sort of dark corner where I won’t find them again any time soon – the trivial and simple ones as well as the important and interesting ones. And when this happens I don’t have the time (or nerve) to look for just the right notebook to jot this special thought down – it’s at times challenging enough to find the one-for-all bujo in time to not lose the thought or idea. Maybe it works this time around. I dream of shelves filled with my bujos of the past few years while I stand next to it, all happy and organized and oh so polished.
Yeah well, one can dream …

FYI: if you want to find out more about why a bujo can be really great for ADHD minds, you may watch this very interesting and funny video –wonderguy found it for me and it helped me find a good concept for my current bujo. Enjoy 🙂

Reading: “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer

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This will be quite a different reading report compared to the ones before; first, Foer’s book is a factual report of how animals, or rather ‘livestock’ is treated in the US and most certainly in a lot of other parts in this world; furthermore, this is not just about reading a book, this is about acting on it: stop eating meat. However, this does not imply everyone who reads this book has to do so, too. This is not the Allen Carr of carnivores, this is a well researched and written report about what eating meat and animal products does to us and our planet, and, most importantly, to all the more or less living creatures we eat.

European readers (like me) may calm their souls by telling themselves that Foer is mainly describing the situation in the US and there are significant differences between the US and the EU. This is indeed so, especially regarding the use of growth hormones and genetically engineered food/crops; this, however, does not mean that the EU is a safe haven for Wilbur (or Charlotte, for that matter). So the fact that Foer focuses on meat production and consumption in his home country should not encourage non-US readers to think what he describes does not apply to European (or international) meat production, for example regarding poultry and battery farms. It’s not like lovely purple Milka cows are caressed to death until they end as tasty steaks on our plate in every other part of the world except the US.

I have never eaten that much meat, mainly because I hate cooking and meat requires a certain amount of proficiency to taste good; I didn’t want to waste money on ruining perfectly fine food, so I’ve mainly stuck to vegetables, rice, pasta, and the like to fuel my body with the energy it needs. Therefore, the decision to quit eating meat after reading Eating Animals was not as much of a challenge as when I decided to quit smoking. Reading that a huge part of what’s wrong with the system Foer describes is the (American) system itself — the bigger the better, the Walmartization of their world — makes me sad and angry at the same time … this complete and utter disregard for nature, the world we live in, and the creatures this planet could support if they were worthy of support and protection.
But I digress; even though discussing economical aspects of animal rights will lead to political issues most of the times, I’m focusing on the US in this context because a) Foer focuses on it, and hey, this post is about his book, at least somehow, and b) I know the US much better than China or Russia (thanks to work, life, and family) and it’s easier to argue about stuff you know than stuff you’ve never even heard of. And while it is definitely not fair to focus my criticism on only one side/country/system, again, this post (and all my ranting) refers to the things I read in Foer’s book, in which Chinese planned economy only plays a very marginal role…so to speak. So bear with me while I try to reach a sane conclusion on why reading a book results in changing my diet.

On a scientific, factual level, no one really matters. People invented religions to overcome this flaw of evolution, but still: we are a random mix of genes and cells (people with a medical background would use better terms to describe this …) and that’s it. But on an idealist, personal level, every one of us matters in various ways — for example if you choose to stop eating meat, become vegan, only eat meat from small producers (you may even know personally), start living plastic-free, give up your Nespresso for something less evil and more sustainable, or stop shopping at Primark, H&M, and the like — there are many different ways we can matter if we want to. And if we don’t want to take certain responsibilities and even begin to matter, we most certainly will not read a book like Foer’s Eating Animals.

Dammit, I just hope this post isn’t too damn self-righteous and moralizing. I’ve been reading about sustainability, fair fashion, green living, and vegetarianism for quite a while now and all my interest and accumulated knowledge up to this date obviously climaxed in this post right here. I mean well and I hope this is evident … because the road to hell is paved with good intentions and to hell we’ll go no matter what, so it might as well be sustainable and peaceful, without being bothered by something online.

Reading: “Don’t skip out on me” by Willy Vlautin

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Horace was alone in the city and he realized that being alone in the city was worse than being alone on the ranch. Because when he was alone on the ranch he had the dream of the city, the dream of what he would become in the city. But now he was there and he was still alone. He was just himself in another place.

‘But I don’t care anymore, Mr. Reese. Every night I’m here, I hope I get run over or stabbed or shot or thrown in prison. That’s how I feel.’
‘I’d be tired too, if I were you,’ the old man said. ‘It’s hard to hate yourself every single day, and it’s hard to try and be something you’re not. Both of those take their toll.’

Have I ever before mentioned my love for Willy Vlautin? One of best authors I’ve read in the last few years? One of my favorite authors ever? Have I not? Shame on me.

So, I love Vlautin’s books. He creates unique characters with very special voices, stories, issues, that affect me deeply, remind me of someone (myself at times), let me explore unknown perspectives and lives and introduces new ways of looking at familiar issues to me—all this in his very own, unique way of telling a story. My first Vlautin was Motel Life, followed by Northline. I highly recommend reading both books if you want to enjoy Vlautin’s full ouvre, the early Vlautin, so to say. Northline also comes (at least it did back then when I ordered the book) with a wonderful soundtrack, a musical gem that is one of my main “work soundtracks” next to Cliff Martinez’ Solaris. Moreover, there’s The Free, another masterpiece by Vlautin. Oh my, you see, mine won’t be a sober, impartial “review”…

We are following the story of Horace Hopper, who wants to become a Mexican boxer, even though he does not have any Mexican roots, but is a half Paiute Indian. He also strongly dislikes Mexican food and doesn’t speak Spanish, still he thinks that the identity of a Mexican boxer is what suits him most. Left behind by his mother when he was eight, he grew up with his grandmother, who tried her best but as the saying goes: the road to hell is paved with good intentions… In his teens he started working as a ranch hand on the Reece ranch, where he found a home with the elderly Mr. and Mrs. Reece, supporting them when Mr. Reece’s health and body fail him and giving Mrs. Reece a new reason to live and a purpose in life, which she lost bit by bit after their daughters left the ranch to pursuit their life and luck elsewhere. Mr. and Mrs. Reece are worried about Horace and his plans, wanting him to stay and one day take over the ranch since to them he seems like their own son. But Horace has to prove that he is worth something, that he is worthy of love and attention and respect, even though his mother left him and his father never cared about him. So he will be Hector Hidalgo, and Hector will become a successful boxer, thereby letting everyone know WHO he is and how great he is—even though he is not what he pretends to be. Sounds a bit unhealthy? Like you want to give Horace a hug, tell him he is a great person just the way he is and he shouldn’t waste a present life full of appreciation and love for who he is to let himself be haunted by a past he will never be able to change, no matter who and what he pretends to be? Well, Horace is 21 and he wouldn’t listen to you anyway, as he doesn’t listen to Mr. Reece, and so we are forced to watch another wonderful human being fight the demons of his past.

Reading the quote at the beginning of this post, once again Vlautin’s story reminds me of someone: me. When I was 17, I moved back to the city after having to live with my family on the countryside for two years (I HATED the countryside, still do); I had a lot of shitty teenage drama going on, as we all had at that age, and it’s nothing compared to what Horace is going through BUT I too can remember the moment when I realized that by simply moving back to the city, being on my own and responsible for myself, nothing changed or magically got better; I didn’t become this perfect little butterfly I wanted to be, I was still me, with all my insecurities, fat ass, and shitty thoughts, just somewhere else. This hit me really hard, and I can still remember my desperation when I realized that there was more to improving your overall situation than just moving somewhere or doing something different; it took me quite a few years and gallons of alcohol to find the courage to face the issues that really mattered…
So I do understand Horace, I understand his desperation, his feeling lost and overwhelmed
, not knowing where to go, what to do, whom to turn to. Because Horace feels alone, to him the only person he trusted to turn his luck around, to bring him success, was Hector Hidalgo, and as the story proceeds, Hector (for reasons I won’t mention at this point because you will find out for yourself) might not be so reliable after all. Learning to rely on other people and trust them picking you up and supporting you no matter what you do is hard, and sometimes it comes late in life …

Writing this post took 4 days and several attempts until I thought it’s at least halfway expressing what goes through my head (and heart) everytime I think about Horace and his story. It’s hard for me to write about this book because it was such an intense reading experience. It always is with Vlautin, but this one brought me to tears at the end (though mind you, I cried reading Stoner too, so this can happen from time to time…). Writing about books I like seems much easier than writing about books I love. Anyway, go and meet Horace—don’t skip out on me.

SPOILER ALERT: I will close this post with a quotation of the beautiful and poetic ending of Vlautin’s novel; though it does not give away much, decide for yourself if you want to read it or not…

Mr. Reese rolled him over and pulled him from the bag as tears leaked down his face. He held him in his arms and rocked him back and forth, and the night went along.