One of my intentions for 2018 is to read one book per month. I enthusiastically began January with a crisp, new book: Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner. The cover is aesthetically pleasing, coffee table material. The stories inside make it, "Oh man, please read it but no, you can't have my copy" material. I found Erin's words so relatable that I devoured it early on in the month, feeling simultaneously heartbroken and refreshed when I turned the last page. To be honest, I've struggled to stick to a new book for February due to the large shoes Chasing Slow left to be filled.
If you don't know who Erin Loechner is, that's okay. But you should change that. I actually learned about her fairly recently myself. (I'm sorry, Erin, I wish I had known about you sooner; we are kindred spirits, I think.) According to the bio on the back of her book, Erin is a former art director/stylist whose work has been featured in many acclaimed publications. She also had her own HGTV.com web series that left her with millions of fans. This is what her book blurb says about her, but I know her best through the honest peeks into the life of a real, lovely, flawed human shared in Chasing Slow and on her blog, Design for Mankind.
I want to share with you some pieces of Erin's book that resonated with me. You couldn't really call it a book review. I'm not going to summarize or give a synopsis or discuss the book as a whole. I'm going to share what personally stays with me after closing the back cover, which is probably very different than what would stay with you. Here is some reflection on what stuck with me and why:
Keep an eye on it
The brain tumor - a glioma - is inoperable, and we are meant to keep an eye on it. It occurs to me that this is the silliest medical advice I have yet heard: to keep an eye on it...as if we didn't already have both eyes on it, as if it weren't a song on repeat, as if it weren't a catch in our throats, as if it weren't raining in our hearts.
Erin's husband has this brain tumor. This constant presence that demands attention despite its current somewhat neutral state of being. I read this, and I felt a connection. I don't have a brain tumor, and for this I am grateful. But I know what it is like to have an unseen part of me that I cannot understand. I know what it feels like to be told to "Just live your life, and keep an eye on it" in similar words, more or less. I have an undiagnosed, no-name condition affecting my immune system internally which in turn affects my skin externally. Even when I'm at my best, when my skin isn't itching to the point that I want to crawl right out of it, I feel its presence somewhere deep inside. As Erin said, it's that song on repeat, raining in my heart. The story of this "condition", I'll call it, is a longer one for another day, or not at all. I don't bring it up to receive pity. It's actually much better at the moment. I share this to explain why this piece of Erin's and her husband's story fits within my own: they don't forget this quiet presence, but they live no different than if it weren't there. They may keep an eye on it, but they keep their mind on the beautiful life in front of them.
Throughout my journey with this "condition", I have found it hard to keep my mind on anything other than this invisible thing that pits my body against me. But Erin and her husband's story in Chasing Slow reminded me how much more goes into our lives than one single circumstance. We are all of the bits and pieces, the good and the bad. One frustrating, maybe even devastating circumstance does not undo all of these other lovely and true things about our lives. Erin gently reminds me of this throughout this book, as she repeats the constant reminder to "keep an eye on it" while still living her life and traveling her path the whole time.
I could surrender the fight with others. I could cast aside the comparison and resentment in friendships, the expectations and scorecards in marriage. But could I cast these aside in myself?
Erin mentions several times throughout her book, the concept of being one person on-screen and this imperfect human in real life. "The Nicest Girl Online" and the hypocritical girl in the mirror. She addresses our perfectly curated Instagram squares and the clean, white corner of our life we choose to show. And then she turns around and bares herself fully as she admits to yelling at her daughter about bananas, as she describes the pink ring of mold around her bathroom sink. I, too, have a pink ring of mold around my bathroom sink. I don't have a daughter to yell at, but I have a husband that takes a lot more than he deserves. If you skim through my Instagram, you will see pictures of my art and my home, maybe a book I'm enjoying or even my husband and I smiling at the camera. You won't see a picture of our brows furrowed after a fight or the corner of my house with all of the dirty clothes (or are they clean?) or the drawing I just crumpled up because it wasn't good enough. I feel like a fake, the woman behind the curtain pretending to be a wizard of living simply and drawing clean, perfect lines every time. But are these little digital squares not a piece of me, too? Why do I compare my online self to the tired girl with layers of dry shampoo? They are one in the same. Sharing the good does not make me an imposter, and having a bad day does not make me one either. Erin's vulnerability and transparency throughout her book reminded me that every human has more detailed facets that make up their "self" than what we are immediately shown. I am one of these complex people simply hoping to be the truest version of myself daily, and so are you. It's a beautiful thing, really.
Here is the secret to subtraction. It doesn't matter what you remove. What matters is that you stop adding it back.
This is one of my favorite quotes from the book. I feel like I am constantly simplifying. I clean out my closet to lighten my heart and my laundry load, and then I must have a new dress for that one wedding next month, and I probably need some shoes to match. I cut out activities to allow more time for my art and myself and my husband, and suddenly I'm saying "yes" to something else for this week. Add that to the to-do list. I'm constantly working to remove the worries from my mind, to manage my anxiety, but then I add a new worry to it because this one is justified. Nothing is actually subtracted when you're going to add it again; don't trick yourself by adding it back in a different form. You aren't lowering your blood sugar by replacing Oreos with the Whole Foods brand of chocolate sandwich cookie, I know they taste good and the packaging is fancier. This is why slow living is a chase. As you are pursuing a simplified life, you are constantly surrounded by shiny new things to add to your journey. As soon as you start adding things, you've got to speed up. There's a lot more urgency to get where you are going when your hands are full.
Writing this, I am reminded of a quote by Corrie Ten Boom: Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.
Erin's stories of encouragement, advice, and experience ultimately left me with this: The more you try to carry, the tighter you have to hold on and the harder it is to enjoy a leisurely pace. What of worth can you add when your arms are so full?
Slow down, set down all of that "stuff" you're holding onto, and pick up this book.
A final, honest quote from Chasing Slow.
The thing about love is that time shifts it into new shapes, like water on a rock. The thing about love is that everything else is sand...When I think of love I think of compatibility and sacrifice, of commitment and service. Of give-and-take. But only part of this is true.
Love is not a game of take. Love is only a game of give.
I get this wrong daily, I think.