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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

The Opposite of a Bucket List

You know what a Bucket List is: that list of the things you feel you absolutely must do before you die.

By definition, that would have to be one heavy list. First of all, it ends with your death, and second, there’s probably stuff on it like sky diving (Nanci can cross that off hers) and start a literacy program and reconcile with that icky family member you’ve been avoiding for the past fifty years.

Well, I’m tired of the pressure. Life is hard enough without having a giant existential To Do list, so I’ve decided to rebel.

I’ve decided to start a “F*** It” List.

On this list, I will itemize all the things I’m going to not do, ever. So far this is what is on it:

  • play piano
  • speak Spanish
  • look young
  • read the classics
  • have beautiful nails
  • care about how I look naked from the back

I’m having so much fun with this list. Every time I add something, my shoulders relax, like I just had a good massage, or therapy.

This list is becoming increasingly useful for another reason. I was cleaning out my inbox the other day, and there was a stack of recipes I’m planning to try. Except I found myself thinking F*** It. And I threw them in the trash.

It felt so good that I figured I’m on to something.

Here are two things people (starting with my Mom) have always said about me:

You work too hard.

You worry too much.

Not anymore, girlfriends! Because I have discovered the F*** It List.

Ahhhhhh.

Go ahead, try it. But first, tell us, what would you put on your very own F*** It List?

Kindle readers can contact me at Lmspreen@gmail.com.

Leave a comment

30 Comments

  1. Libbye A. Morris

     /  November 18, 2011

    How liberating! I, too, think you’re on to something. At the top of my list would be worrying what other people think of me. I’ve done that all my life, and I’m tired of it!

    Reply
  2. Oh boy, I am getting off this computer, grabbing a cup of tea and starting on my list…….see you in a couple of weeks ;)

    Reply
  3. I love this idea, although I have to admit if someone comes out with an adult bike that has big training wheels, I will happily jump aboard. And I have a fantasy of hiring someone to carry me up to Machu Picchu. But other things, like finishing Anna Karenina or understanding (or caring about) sports, fagheddabaoudit.

    Reply
  4. Oh, heck yeah! I’m with Laura …. I’m going after another cup of coffee and starting that list right now! Thanks, Lynne! For such a fabulous idea! … First off the list …. thinking that at 61 I have to keep pushing myself like I did at 41 or even 51 … to be happy .. I’m finding CONTENTMENT …. accepting life for what it is, both good and bad, and knowing that everything is all right! Just as it SHOULD be … including me and my place in this world … so … YEAH!!
    F*** it!

    Reply
  5. You guys are awesome! I love your energy. And I’m so glad you love this idea!! Really think I’m on to something.

    Re the bike, my sweetie and I bought a couple of bikes (big cruisers with soft seats and 5 gears) a few years ago. I was surprised at how shaky we were at first, but you know what? Our balance improved and now we just glide thought the neighborhood early before most people are up. Sweet! He has a horn on his, and I have a traditional bicycle bell. I also use mine for actual exercise: I wear my sneakers and walk it downhill to add minutes to the ride. We feel free, like kids again. I heartily recommend it. But if you don’t want to, F*** It!

    Reply
  6. Sue

     /  November 18, 2011

    Love this!!!….. I also have lists like this precipitated by life changing events like my divorce or selling my home and moving to a condo. Some highlights for me… I never have to eat Mexican again, never have to rake the leaves again etc. Enjoy creating your own it’s very liberating!

    Reply
  7. Haha! Sue! Great “I never have to again” lists!

    Reply
  8. Here’s a couple of my F-Its…. start a running program, feel like I have to be available to everyone for anything they want me to do. YES!!!! Quoth the raven…..

    Reply
  9. Lynne ,this is a brilliant idea and,I agree, so liberating. Come to think of it,I’m pretty much living life on my own terms since I retired(Yay!) but I will keep it in mind the next time i feel obligated about something. So refreshing!!

    Reply
  10. Wow, Lynne, you better patent this “F*** it list”, it’s too clever not to.

    I have a tiny bucket list, but it usually ends with “when I save up enough money”, but now I’m saying F*** the money!

    Curious about one item on your list though, you don’t care about how you look naked from the back? HOW ‘BOUT THE FRONT GIRLFRIEND? LOL

    Reply
    • Cuz I can always distract him with a smile or drape something in front of me all casual-like, as if it’s not hiding my scars, jello-pot, etc. !!

      Reply
  11. Good answer – always thinking. :>

    Reply
  12. Lynne,
    This is a hilarious and fabulous idea! As women, we get so caught up in trying to do everything and please everyone that we forget to breath and just be. Health problems already forced me to cut back to all but essentials– first to go on my F*** list was ironing and cooking.

    Reply
  13. Trish

     /  November 19, 2011

    I’ve been heading that direction in small ways. When I was younger, I was up on every trend, news story, etc. and as I’ve gotten older, feel more pressure to stay relevant. But I’ve realized, I’m just not that interested in half the stuff out there! So much is tedious, annoying, ridiculous. Who cares about Hollywood gossip, gadgets I’ll never buy, Tv shows I’ll never watch, books I’ll never read, etc. So, F*** it! Next up, saying F*** it to the aging process…

    Reply
  14. I just obsessed over sending out a “perfect” book proposal, clicked submit, and then saw this pop up on Twitter. OMG, I laughed out loud! Shared it on my FB page. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Victoria, you are so welcome. My mom always says, “Life’s too short.” It’s her catchphrase for just about everything. Meaning, life’s too short to worry if you got all the commas in the right place. But good luck anyway!

      Reply
  15. I totally love this! As an overworked writer pimp, I am absolutely endorsing the F*** It list!

    Reply
    • Hey, Jeanne, we’re all overworked pimps of some kind, so at least you have company. And thank God for the F*** It List – in a hundred years we’ll all be dead so a lot of it really doesn’t matter. May as well dance, right?

      Reply
  16. Corinne

     /  November 19, 2011

    Love it love it love it!!!!

    Reply
  17. Lynne, I have a rolling list of Should’s that I consign to my Opposite of a Bucket List on a daily basis. (Some Should’s keep jumping back out, but I figure if I toss them in that bucket often enough, they’ll eventually stay put!) Love this idea. Posted it on my blog tonight. :-)

    Reply
  18. Oh wow…my brain went into shock while I was reading this, making up a crazy, wonderful NOT-to-do list. Don’t do laundry anymore. No more cleaning the bathrooms or litter box. And windows…forget it!

    I had to put a stop to it though because those are on the HAVE-to-do list, not the bucket list. Too bad…

    Now I just have to wrap my mind around this lovely thought and start my list. My brain is still in shock, so it might take a day or two. A NOT-to-do list… Fantastic idea! :)

    Reply
  19. What a wonderful idea, Lynne — you’re so clever to come up with it! First on my F***It list is making a conscious effort to slow down a bit. I’ve always been a “hurrier,” rushing from one task to another and deriving extreme pleasure when I can wrap up something, tie it with a bow, and set it on a shelf. But hurrying distracts me to the extent that I’m not cognizant of what I’m doing (usually two things — or more!) at once, and then I wind up injuring myself (paper cuts, silly falls, etc.)

    Reply
  20. Now you are talking! People have always told me that I work and worry too much also. After my heart attack this year, that had to stop. My list is not written but it is in my head. Actually, I am enjoying this new way of life. It sure is less stressful. Hey, it is even fun at times. Thanks for writing about your list. Maybe I will write mine on paper too.

    Reply
  21. Excellent! I do have a bucket list but also have an anti-bucket list on my blog as there is so much stuff I see on lists that I don’t care to do. I have to say, the title of your list has sooo much more attitude. :)

    Reply
  22. Way to go! I love a f*** it list! I’m never gonna…
    * clean my house
    * learn to bake
    * be skinny
    * color my hair
    oooh … this is fun…

    Reply
  23. Yesterday, before I read this post, I offered something for free on a Freecycle list.
    I used to do “interpretive Eastern Dance” just for fun. (Belly-dancing without the strict rules of motion) I had purchased a little “kit”: CD, DVD, stick on belly jewel, finger cymbals… but I never got around to using it, and surgical scars and new plumbing means those outfits won’t work anymore anyway… I hadn’t thought of a To Don’t List before, but that’s perfect for getting rid of the excess accumulation of stuff that I’ve collected over the years. If I say, I have to get rid of this, I resist. But if I say F*&* it, whoa! a whole ‘nother feeling. Thanks Lynne!

    Carol

    Reply
  24. Melanie

     /  January 3, 2012

    Trying to explain myself or justify what I say or do. If you don’t get it or it doesn’t work for you . . . . F##k it! =) Ahh, feels good.

    Reply
  1. 3 Things I Liked This Week – Yes, No and Pumpkin Whimsy | The Big Life Project

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  • Lynne Spreen

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  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

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  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

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  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

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