golems, crematories, ghosts, oh my!

I read a lot of wonderful books this month.

I know what you’re thinking. “Mary Chase, how do you have time to read? Aren’t you in grad school? Don’t you have things to read for grad school? Why would you do this? How can you read this much? What’s wrong with you? Why are you writing this? Shouldn’t you be studying?” 

A few things:

  1. Reading is an important part of my self-care, and I find it very enjoyable. It’s totally okay if you don’t like to read. I’m not going to make you, or think ill of you if you don’t.
  2. I read very quickly. Thanks, mom!
  3. Depending on the size of the book I read, I can finish a book in a week  by reading 30-50 pages a day. I know that sounds like a lot, but depending on what I read, it goes by very fast.
  4. Related, read books you want to read. If you don’t enjoy reading, and you pick up a book that feels daunting and you don’t want to read it…you will never enjoy reading. Read something that appeals to you, and don’t worry if other people give you a hard time about it (remember our good buddy Dr. Seuss, although I’m pretty sure this wasn’t actually his quote: those who mind don’t matter, those who matter don’t mind). I have no intentions of reading Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s not my cup of tea. But just because I/anyone else doesn’t like it/doesn’t think it’s good/whatever, does not mean you shouldn’t read it and enjoy it, if it’s something you would like to read. And you shouldn’t feel bad about liking any book you like. Contrarians ruin everything.
  5. Audiobooks rule. And yes, it counts.
  6. I read many of these during the first part of the month, during my winter break.
  7. Yeah, I’m in grad school and I just basically read 12 hours a day. And it works for me.
  8. I’ll always be studying.

Now that’s settled, and without further ado, here are the books I read this month:

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman*
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders*
The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs
Lord of the Flies by William Golding^

Audiobook* 
Re-read^

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Aren’t they lovely? Pardon my dusty coffee table. And don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker: 5/5

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I. Love. This. Book.

Aunt Carolyn (Christopher’s aunt) gave this book to me for Christmas this year, and I loved every moment of reading it. The Golem and the Jinni is a story about a Golem (in Jewish legend, a clay figure brought to life by magic) and a Jinni (in Arabian and Muslim mythology, supernatural fire sprits that take the form of animals and humans, and can possess humans as well) who try to fit in as immigrants to America in New York City in 1899. This story was such a magnificent adventure. Much of the book is focused on building a gorgeous world, combining American history, Jewish folklore, and Arabian mythology. The cultural aspects are so beautifully woven into the narrative — a lovely reminder that our nation is comprised of immigrants. The Golem and the Jinni is historical fiction, fantasy, and magical realism. Be ready to absolutely devour the last 80 pages. It’s definitely one of those books that you finish, and immediately regret finishing the book because you’re not ready to leave the world or the characters. Fortunately, a sequel is coming out this year called The Iron Season. *squeals with delight*

A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio: 3.5/5

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This delightful memoir was our book club’s January selection. Mirna Valerio is an ultra marathoner, and writes the awesome Fat Girl Running blog. She shares details of her life, how she became a runner, why she runs, and shares insight to the runner’s world. This was really fun to talk about with our book club, because we have many runners in the group (including my husband, who ran his first marathon last year, and my good friend Michael, who has ran more races than I can count and recently traveled to Greece to run the Athens marathon). We were all very empowered to run; to conquer physical feats (such as trail running), to do the things we thought we could not do because of stigmas or stereotypes. Because we have bodies that can.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn: 4.5/5

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My sister-in-law, Meredith, is 2/2 for suggesting books that I will like, that I in turn stay up until ungodly hours of the night reading. The first was The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah — our family was on vacation, and I purchased the book per her recommendation and promptly stayed up until 2:30am reading it. It’s incredible. She and my mom are in a category of their own: I know I will love whatever they suggest I read. No questions asked.

Meredith gave me a copy of The Alice Network for Christmas this year (she read it during The Nightingale vacation) and I couldn’t stop reading. I devoured this book. It’s the story of Eve and Charlotte (known as Charlie), two women who cross paths as Charlie tries to find her cousin two years after the end of World War II. The story is told in flashbacks to World War I, where we discover Eve’s past as a spy for the Allies and a member of The Alice Network (that’s all I’ll say, go read it). It’s a lovely work of historical fiction and compulsively readable.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty: 5/5

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I’m not sure where to begin. I absolutely loved this book. As soon as I finished it, my first thought was, “I have to read this again.” Caitlin Doughty is the host of Ask a Mortician and now one of my personal heroes. Her videos are hinged on death education — to quell death anxiety and stigma around death and loss, combat our cultural (for the U.S., anyway) fear of death and dying, and share though warmth and humor, how to deal with the ultimate concern (Yalom, 1980). I’ve written that a lot lately, so I thought I should cite it in my blog.

I read this book for both personal and professional interest. As many of you know, I am pursuing my PhD in Counselor Education and Practice, and death anxiety is on my research agenda. I’ll share more about that later.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is Doughty’s memoir of her year working as a crematory operator for a funeral home in San Fransisco. The lessons are heartfelt, told with warmth, humor and without inhibition. I cannot recommend this one enough. I’d like to make it a class requirement one day for counselors in training.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty: 5/5

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My sister Jayme gave both of Doughty’s books to me for Christmas this year (my family knows me well) and I devoured this one as soon as I finished Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. From Here to Eternity is a beautiful book. In each chapter, Doughty shares various accounts of cultural death rituals from all over the world. It really shines a light on our Americanized fear of death/dying/dead bodies, especially learning how so many different cultures deal with grief by spending time with dead bodies. This one is a bit more structured and informational than her memoir, but equally as readable and fascinating. I loved it.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins: 4.5/5

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This was, without a doubt, the weirdest book I have ever read in my life, and unlike any book I have read before. The Library at Mount Char is wildly original, bizarre, terrifying, and hilarious. It’s fantasy/science fiction/horror/dystopia and I can’t compare it to anything. I don’t really know how to write this blurb about it. I will say this was one of Victoria Schwab’s (author of my new favorite fantasy series, Shades of Magic) “just trust me” recommendations. I adore Schwab’s work – in fact, I’ll probably write a post dedicated to her books – so I trusted the recommendation she provided on a guest post with NPR. It took me about 100 pages to get into the story — it’s just so bizarre — but once I was 100 pages in, I couldn’t put it down. Also, Scott Hawkins lives in Atlanta, which I think is really cool. It’s a good city.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman: 5/5

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The Rules of Magic was my first audiobook of the year, and it was just fantastic. It’s read by Marin Ireland, and I was sad to finish. I did not want it to end. It’s about the lives of Frances and Jet, the aunts in Practical Magic (side note: I love Practical Magic, and I had no idea it was a book first. The Rules of Magic is the prequel). This book is truly magical — Ireland reads the glorious world Hoffman built, and spans decades. It’s a story of love, grief, family, and the importance of being true to who you are.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: 5/5

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Lincoln in the Bardo is right up there with The Library at Mount Char when it comes to the category of “weird books that I loved.” I listened to this book, and it is hands-down the best audiobook I’ve ever experienced. If you listen to any books this year, make sure this one is on your list. I’ll probably read the book one day, but listening to the cast of voices (166 total, led by Nick Offerman and David Sedaris) with Saunders’ strange, albeit beautiful storytelling was just incredible. I felt like I was listening to a Greek Chorus tell a Civil War ghost story. Lincoln in the Bardo is a story about heart-wrenching grief and love, told with bursts of humor and fascinating accounts of history. It checks all my boxes, and I will be listening to it again with Christopher on our next road trip.

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs: 4.5/5

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Last year, I read Paul Kalanithi’s incredible memoir When Breath Becomes Air, in which he accounts his final days and the journey of having terminal cancer at age 37. His wife wrote the epilogue after his death. I came across The Bright Hour after discovering that Kalanithi’s widow Lucy is now dating Riggs’ widower John. Nina Riggs died of metastatic breast cancer at age 39. She is a direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and shares her family history, skill with words, gut-punching humor and profoundly human reflections in this memoir.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding: 4/5

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For my last book of January 2018, I decided to re-read something I read in high school. It’s been 13 years since I first read Lord of the Flies, and I enjoyed reading my copy from freshman year. I’ve changed a great deal about many things in the past 13 years, but not one bit when it comes to reading and taking notes. Highlighters, notes to myself in the margins. My copy looks like I could have made those notes yesterday, rather than 13 years ago. And in a purple pen, no less (What can I say? I’m very on-brand when it comes to purple). It was fun reading alongside 14-year-old Mary Chase.

The book itself is the same dark, dismal story I remembered with profound symbolism. One thing that struck me on this second go-round was a particular character’s death (at the risk of spoiling anything, it was not the one with the glasses that we all remember from high school). I don’t remember feeling gutted by this character’s death in high school. When I re-read it, it really stuck with me.

Most of the books I read this month have to do with death. This isn’t surprising, mainly because death is part of my research and the work I do in graduate school. But I also recently had an experience with death — my wonderful Aunt Ellen died on December 18, 2017, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. I’ll write more about her this year as well. Reading is also a part of how I grieve.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and I’d be delighted to know if you have read any of these books and/or will read any of these books in the future.

Cheers,

Mary Chase

 

an update, two years later

In clearing away the cobwebs and dust from my blog, I discovered that my domain name expired. If you go to marychasemize.com now, the Internet will take you to what looks like an online store for Patagonia in another language. At least it’s not porn.

So, henceforth and forevermore, my blog is http://www.marychasebreedlovemize.com. I’m actually quite pleased to include my full name, and I solemnly swear to stay on top of securing this domain, lest a North Face retailer endeavor to take it away.

It’s been well over two years since I shared a blog post, which I find both disappointing and understandable. My last blog post was an update of my first week of graduate school — a Master of Science degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Georgia State University.

To say many things have happened since that time would be an understatement.

In this brand new year with this brand new domain, I want to get back to blogging. I have stories to tell, and I hope you will join me.

one week down

*clears throat*

Hello? Is anyone there?

I’ve missed you.  Though I promised to write more in 2015, I have neglected my wonderful little corner of the Internet that is my blog. The hiatus was good. But I’m back feeling incredibly inspired to write and share what’s going on in my life. So get comfortable. Go make yourself a cup of tea or coffee or any beverage of choice. Grab your dog if you have one, snuggle up, and allow me to steal a few moments of your day with my words and ramblings. I hope you enjoy them.

This past Monday, I began the adventure of pursuing my Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Georgia State University. Actually, I take that back — I began my adventure of pursing my Master’s degree last Saturday, in the middle of a heavily-wooded section of metro Atlanta, dangling by a string on a high ropes course.

I have expected this course of study to be life-changing. I figured I have been well-groomed for it: in the past year, I took the trip of a lifetime to New Zealand and took part in some serious soul-searching. I quit a good-paying job that made me unhappy. I stepped out of my comfort zone — predictability, stability, routine — and relied on the Providence of God to lead me where I am today. (And let me tell you: if you like routine and control and stability as much as me, this was not a walk in the park). But in the midst of my fears and doubts, I was — and still am– continually astounded by how well my needs were met; when I decided to pursue a career as a counselor, I felt as though every obstacle that could hinder my progress was obliterated. I felt like the path ahead of me was well lit and clear; all I had to do was walk.

What I did not expect in this life-changing course of study was how quickly I would deal with some of my worst fears.

Fun Fact: I’m afraid of heights when I don’t feel secure. I feel safe on a rollercoaster, but not on a Ferris Wheel. I’ve been trying to make sense of it myself for years. 

As it turns out, I do not feel very safe in a harness dangling from a wire while 4 or 5 stories above solid ground.

But this was the beginning of my graduate school journey. I spent the day getting to know my fellow cohort and professors in the context of a ropes course. Communication, trust, and camaraderie were established quickly.  And through their encouragement and my own personal will power, rendered from the depths of my soul and not without some real fear and anxiety, I finished the high ropes — complete with two zip lines to the ground that turned out to be AWESOME. I’ll zip line all day long.

On the first day of class, I didn’t walk in to strange faces. I felt an immediate bond with the people around me.  I’m so grateful to be learning alongside such wonderful people — people who will be my professional colleagues and friends.

My classes are interesting, challenging and wonderful. My professors are brilliant, and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to learn from them.

A few people in the program have told me the first semester is an emotional upheaval — and I experienced a taste of that on Thursday in one of my classes. During our very first lecture, I was moved to tears by the candor and encouragement of my professor.

This semester, I will learn how to become a helper.
I will immerse myself in techniques and skills.
I will discuss, in depth, some of my worst fears — like losing the people I love.
I will learn how the human body can heal after unspeakable pain and tragedy.
I will read more than I’ve ever read before.  

And I will never be the same.

 

 

graduate school

I’m doing that thing again. I hate it. I let dozens of ideas for blog posts buzz around in my head while I write and re-write and think and think and think and not actually post in my blog for six months. But on the bright side, half of 2015 is left to enjoy and pickup those resolutions that slip away. I’m only saying that because my last blog post was somewhat focused around resolutions.

I’m pleased to say that I will be attending graduate school at Georgia State University in August. I was accepted to the Master’s program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and I am absolutely beyond excited/thrilled/deliriously happy. It’s incredible how things fall into place when you’re doing what you are meant to do. I feel like I’m pursuing my life’s calling — not just acknowledging it.

 

 

excitement

I’ve got to break this habit of creating 24 rounds of drafts before publishing a post. I spend weeks thinking about what I want to write on my blog. I put a lot of thought into it.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to stop putting thought into things I write. I don’t want to cease putting thought into anything I do. But this needs to feel a little less formal – at least on my end. It feels scripted. Life is not scripted.

So here I am, September 5, 2014. Two days away from traveling to Boston for my first work-related trip. 19 days away from my mother’s birthday. 62 days away from hopping on a plane to New Zealand for three weeks.

If you had told me five years ago that I’d be where I am in this moment, I would have laughed in your face.

In the past week, I’ve had three specific moments of excitement that were so overwhelming — so consuming — that I almost burst into tears.

1. This trip of a lifetime to New Zealand is getting real. Two months from Sunday, I’ll be flying across the world to spend three weeks traveling throughout the entire country. Flights are booked. Itineraries are complete. My Trip It account says “Everything looks good!”

I planned this entire trip by myself. I didn’t go through a travel agency or planner. Ask me how that worked out on December 1 – but right now, I feel good. I feel like we’ve covered all the bases. I’m a logistical nerd, so planning this extensive trip felt more like a game than a chore. I loved it. I’m actually kind of sad the planning is over.

2. On October 24, I will get to see The Phantom of the Opera at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know I’m obsessed with musicals. Ob-sessed. And Phantom has been on my bucket list since I was 13. I was listening to the Overture on the way home from work this week, and got choked up with excitement. Who am I.

3. Idina Menzel is releasing a holiday album. With that bit of news, I leave you to have a wonderful weekend.

atlanta: my first year

My peaceful Sleep Cycle alarm brought me from a crazy dream about flying back to reality around 6:00 this morning. I dressed quickly, kissed my husband and my dog goodbye, and left my cool Midtown apartment for the semi-dark, warm Atlanta morning. I walked a block to the coffee shop across from the place Christopher proposed to me, got a soy chai tea latte, and nostalgically waited near the infamous “arc” for the Atlantic Station shuttle. Lorde’s “400 Lux” lulled in my head while I gazed at the tall, shiny skyline that I now call home.

My heels clack on the concrete floor of the Arts Center MARTA Station. I smile dismissively at a group of Jehovah’s witnesses and walk down the moving escalator to the north bound red line train. Several stops and a bus later, I’m at work.

My name is Mary Chase Breedlove Mize, and I’m a city girl.

I may be laying it on thick with the narrative, but I’ve come a long way from my West Tennessee roots.

A few weeks ago marked one year of living in Atlanta. And since the world now thrives on the likes of BuzzFeed, here’s a list of 4 things I’ve learned while living in Atlanta.

4. People from Atlanta aren’t exaggerating when they talk about the traffic problem.
Traffic in Atlanta is horrendous. Highway 64 in Fayette County is a dream compared to the last three miles of my daily commute. The interstates here are crazy. Atlanta, for the most part, is a driving city. Over 6 million people live here. I live about 30 miles from where I work. I drive in the “opposite” direction of normal rush hour traffic flow since I live inside the perimeter and work outside of it – and there have been plenty of days when my commute home was 2 hours. I also often wonder what would happen if people drove less selfishly and with more common sense.

The silver lining, however, is enjoying the traffic in other places where the interstates aren’t gridlocked on a regular basis.

3. I’m surrounded by people who look, act, think, and believe differently than me (and I love it).
Atlanta is crazy diverse. It’s a city of homeless people and billionaires. Over 60 languages are spoken in 1.1 square mile of Clarkston, a suburb of Atlanta. I grew up in a small town. To put this in perspective, it was a big deal when a black student went to my high school. College, of course, brought it’s own diversity, but I was still in a bubble of sorts — I was around more people who were like me than people who were different from me. There’s a freedom that comes with the diversity of Atlanta. I can’t quite explain it.

2. I’m thankful for my hometown.
I can’t put into words how grateful I am for progressive parents who raised me to treat everyone–regardless of gender, age, or religion–the way Jesus would treat them. I love so many things about my small hometown. I miss walking into the courthouse and knowing all the clerks. I miss the quiet farmland surrounding my house and the smell of honeysuckle on summer nights. I’m grateful I can call Fayette County my hometown.

But for now, in this season of life, I don’t think I could go back to living in a rural community. I love the city. I love walking to places like the grocery store and the movie theater. I love Piedmont Park. I love the food. I love the concerts. I love it here.

1. People from Atlanta don’t call it “the ATL” or “Hotlanta.”
They just don’t. That’s for outsiders.

 

transition

If you want a summer to go by quickly, get married and move to another state. I spent three summers working camp all over the country, and I thought those passed quickly.

A part of me is in total disbelief at the fact that I am currently sitting in my apartment in Atlanta, Georgia, beside my HUSBAND, drinking a homemade latte and eavesdropping on Wednesday night children’s church plans. Sometimes I wonder if May 18, 2013 really happened. I still can’t believe I drive in Atlanta traffic almost everyday without hesitation. Maybe this is a dream.

For those reading along who may not know who I am or what I’m talking about, I’m a newlywed and a new citizen of Atlanta. I love writing and I am passionate about sharing my thoughts and forming them into carefully-crafted words. Writing, to me, is the most genuine reflection of myself.  For four years, I’ve kept a blog similar to this one– www.marychasebreedlove.wordpress.com. It contains four years of college experiences, camp stories, opinion columns, and a variety of other posts. Since I’ve officially started a new chapter of my life, I thought a new blog would be fitting. Plus, I have a new last name now.

I hope you will enjoy the ideas and experiences I share, and I hope I can make you laugh, give you inspiration, and/or some food for thought.

 

 

MC