Book Review: Madeline Miller’s “The Song of Achilles” – 5/5⭐️

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*SPOILER WARNING!*

(A quick note: TSOA is not a historical book. Yes there is action and a lot of great historical detail, but the main focus is on the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. It’s a love story set in a historical/mythological era.)

“The Song of Achilles”, by Madeline Miller, is the kind of book that lingers well after it’s been read. It is a tragedy, yet knowing this going in did nothing to alleviate the rollercoaster of emotions I felt as I listened to, and then read, this book. (I had to go through it twice before I could sit down to write this review.) This is because Miller utilizes careful poetic language and subtle character development to weave together a tragic love story that also poses the moral question: is a brief life worth honor and glory, or is it better to live a long, obscure life with the one you love?

In TSOA, no word is carelessly used, and almost no paragraph is without a spark of metaphor. It’s rereading the book that helped me realize that sometimes the simplest line or detail can serve to foreshadow the ending. This can also be glimpsed in Patroclus’ frequent references to the past, or to death. The more we progress into the book, the more we know a “death” is coming, without fully comprehending that there will be more than one death, and more than one kind. (SPOILER WARNING: Achilles does die, like his prophecy foretells, but his innocent character dies before he does. It’s this change that leads to his prophecy coming true.) The result of such careful language is a story with a dream-like quality at times, and at others, with the distinct feeling of a long-ass love letter. I am no romantic, but it sucked me into following Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship as it blossomed from friendship, into a life-long partnership. 

I have read that some found the language a bit dense and difficult to understand. It definitely takes some getting used to, but once the story picks up, you stop noticing it.

During my second run through the book, I was able to pick up on a few more nuances in Patroclus’ character, and sometimes wondered if his affection for Achilles warped his thinking. There were a few times where I felt he was too forgiving, and he himself is a self-deprecating character. He constantly reminds the reader about his tarnished background (stained by exile). He feels he is not worthy of the other, and only later on in the book does he begin to take pride in his own accomplishments. Yet, we quickly learn that he is not only kind, but gentle in nature. Two traits that are frowned upon in a society where honor and glory are placed above everything else (even love). 

Achilles himself is boyishly charming and very innocent. He has never known defeat or rejection, and has many traits considered ideal in a “hero”. Speed, strength, charisma, and, well, the looks. Sadly, he was not ready for the world’s cunning.  I think one of the most tragic things about the story (besides the ending) was seeing how the war, and the expectations of others, slowly warped Achilles into someone who became unrecognizable at the end. He allowed the thinking of others to influence his actions, instead of focusing internally like Patroclus did. One wanted to be loved by all, while the other only cared about one person. 

All of this said, one struggle I did have with TSOA is the treatment of women. It might have been historically accurate, but god was it painful to read.  Women in this book are portrayed as items and/or cattle. They are spoils of war, or chess pieces for political agendas. If you are a feminist, be ready to cridge and scream “what the fuck?”  more than once. (I’m sure it was painful for Miller to write!) Even now, I can’t think of one woman who didn’t get f**ked over in the end. 

In all, The Song of Achilles is a multilayered book about love, honor, loss and the choices we make. It’s one hell of an emotional ride, but worth it and then some. If you do decide to give it a chance, let me know! 

Book Thoughts: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (3.5/5)

Hello! I am currently stuck at home recovering from COVID, and so I finally have the time to catch up with a few book reviews I’d planned to upload. (Anyone else feel like 2022 is just an extension of 2021? Like where did the first half of the year go?) The first book I wanted to write on, which I’d started in January, I didn’t actually finish, though I really did try. Swear. That said, this book gave me mixed feelings because I really enjoyed the world building, but could not bring myself to connect with the main (I think) female lead. I’m a very particular reader in that I prefer strong female leads, and don’t often have patience for meandering plots. That said, I have always loved science fiction, and so really wanted to give this one a chance. Read on for more.

****SPOILER WARNING!****

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars. Wonderful world building, but shallow character development. 

In Chambers’ debut book, we join Rosemary Harper as she boards the Wayfarer and meets the crew whose job it is to tunnel wormholes through space. They’re immediately welcoming (except for one, but he’s a prick), and she slowly begins to find her place as the newest member. We see different aspects of each character’s lives as the point of view bounces between the crew. It’s at about the 20% mark when introductions are done. We have a little bit of backstory on each character, and the story begins to really move. However, I noticed that as the story progressed, I still didn’t have a good hold on who, exactly, Rosemary Harper was or even who she wanted to be. 

I feel like we get snippets of her personality, but her character is quickly overshadowed by the rest of the crew. What stuck out were the moments of dramatic tension that could have been used for her character growth. For example, the instance when the Wayfarer is boarded by pirates, and it’s Rosemary’s bit of tucked away knowledge (and language skills) that saves the crew’s bacon. I’m rooting for her here, and looking forward to seeing her in action. Yet, we only get a little bit of this before we’re pulled out of the moment by another POV change, and next thing we know we’re with Captain Ashby as he wakes up in med bay. Pirates gone and the crew pretty much intact. We learn about Rosemary’s actions after the fact, instead of staying with her in that moment. 

In fact, the story begins with Rosemary changing her identity and running away from something. But, it wasn’t until the halfway point of the book that we suddenly learned what, or who, it was. (Her father.) Honestly, at this point, it was a bit anticlimactic as I was frustrated with and unsure of her character and didn’t care anymore. So, when she begins to worry about being kicked off the ship and starts crying in front of Jenks, the comp tech, I’m right there with him and don’t get why she’s breaking down. After all, here’s a girl who faked her identity, boarded a ship of strangers, and took a romp through outer space. That takes guts. 

Perhaps, Rosemary does a bit more growing in the second half of the book. But at this time, I don’t really have the urge to pick it up and continue. Don’t get me wrong, A LOT happens in just the first half, but not enough that mattered to me. This is not to say that this is a bad book, but could be a trait in myself as a reader. This book requires a lot of patience. The meandering/episodic nature of the chapters allows for digestion of a universe that is quite massive and wonderfully exotic. I fell in love with it honestly, and with the colorful, strange crew. I loved Sissix the most, and her kindness towards crewmates and strangers alike. Second came Ohan, their Navigator, and their quiet nature. And, lastly, I really wanted to try eating whatever Dr. Chef was cooking. Even the bugs. 

In all, I do not want to dissuade anyone from giving this book a chance. After all, it’s the first of a whole series. But if you’re like me and you like a bit more immediate action and character development, and you want to know exactly who you’re following into space, you’ll need some patience on this one. 

If you’ve given it a read or are in the process, please share your thoughts!

Journaling Thought: Ending on a Good Note

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I am notorious for data-dumping, or simply ranting, in my journals. Not necessarily a bad thing, but what I did realize recently was that I have forgotten to write down more of the good. Often my journal is the friend I reach for when my emotions are high, when I need to work a problem out and find some kind of clarity. Once I’ve gotten it all down, however, I stop there.

But I invite you to join me in my challenge: let’s try to end on a good note. One highlight or positive that ends the shit-storm of a day we might have had. Something to curb the anxiety we might be working through. Something we’re thankful for, or, an event that made our day not-so-bad. Maybe someone “paid-it-forward” at the drive-thru at Starbucks, or a coworker surprised you with one of her handmade scones. (Seriously, I have a coworker who’s one wicked baker.)

In fact, what’s something good that happened to you today? Let me know in the comments down below!

What’s your life motto?

What life motto do you currently have?

For me, it’s to take things one day at a time. I know that sounds very relaxed, but the reality is that I have anxiety that likes to kick me down a lot. But after going through a particular rough patch a few years ago, medically and emotionally, I had to come to terms with the fact that there were only so many things I could control. But even those little things made all the difference. I learned to give up this false image of control I carried around, and learned to focus on the now.

On today.

This motto particularly helped me get through working through the COVID-19 pandemic as someone who works in healthcare. (In 2020, I was working in hospice, or, end-of-life healthcare.) I built a wall between myself and the landslide of worries and fears that anxiety brings, and focused on my loved ones, and my interests instead. No, I didn’t ignore what was happening around me, but I learned to keep things in their place, I stopped reading (and listening to) the news, and pretty much became selfish with the energy I am given each day.

I would live to know what your personal motto is as well, and how you came about it!

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Keeping things short today because of the holiday (and because I have a paper to finish for my Social Media Campaigns course).

Whenever I think of ghost stories, I immediately flash back to an evening drive back home from Rio Vista over 15 years ago. I was young, still drying off from one last dip in the Sacramento River before departure, stuck in the car with my siblings, parents, and a visiting distant aunt. For some wicked reason, this relative thought a dark drive home was the perfect time to tell us all the story of La Sihuanaba. If you don’t know who she is, well, let me just say she’s La Llorona’s Salvadoran cousin.

La Sihuanaba is a fallen beautiful woman who enchanted a nobleman and caused him to lose his mind. Because of this, she was cursed to forever wander the earth disfigured (sometimes appearing as a skeleton, and sometimes with the face of a horse). She attacks late night strollers, especially men, and is often found near bodies of water.

Safe to say, it was a LONG while before I could look out the car window at night again. Thanks Tía.

JT: Finding the Right Time

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I would be lying if I said that I write consistently every day. I don’t, and I’ve also failed at trying to get up extra early to do a bit of journaling before work. I’m a night owl who has the unfortunate luck of working a normal eight-to-five. That said, for some, writing first thing in the morning does have some benefit. In her The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron encourages artists (of all kinds) to take up a routine of writing morning pages, or, three pages of stream-of-consciousness/data-dump writing. The goal of this is to help clear the mind and prepare it to face the day. Open up the creative channels that might be otherwise blocked by all the worries we carry around.

I tried this way, and realized that as a night owl, evening journaling works best for me. By evening, I feel like I have plenty to say. (I keep a notepad in my bag to write down potential topics, just in case I need help starting.) After I’ve written my two pages (not three, in my case), I find myself in a quieter state. I’ve noticed that I even sleep better.

So, I encourage you to try writing during different times in your day, see which one best fits your schedule and nature. You can try writing three pages, or, like me, two pages back and front.

What time do you feel fits you best?

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If you’d like to connect, please reach out at my contact page, or on instagram (@introvertinflux)!

Just A Note:

What’s something you’ve been meaning to write about, but never got around to? Sometimes, it’s healthy to vent. Get the nasty thoughts in our head out and open up space for the good. Yesterday, I wrote about my frustration with work, with the medical system, with life in general. My grandmother hasn’t been feeling very well, and we’re currently awaiting bloodwork results. I’m scared of what they might find. But, once I got everything down, I realized that maybe I was just letting my anxiety get to me. I sometimes forget to look at the positive when I’m bogged down by a heavy black cloud. So, I encourage you to write down your own black cloud. What’s got you angry, frustrated, scared?

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If you’d like to connect, please reach out at my contact page, or on instagram (@introvertinflux)!

JT: Sometimes It’s Ugly Up There

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Even with more than ten years of practice, I still freeze before the blank page. I still have those moments where I let my inner critic whisper in my ear: do you even have anything good to say? The truth is, no, I don’t. Not always. Putting pen to paper doesn’t mean that you’ll only write down the good moments, or the good thoughts. Sometimes, it’s ugly up there and writing it all down helps us void out the bad blood and pus we’ve been carrying around. But, before reaching the point of healing, we must sharpen a blade, sterilize it, and reopen the wound.

It’s as fun as it sounds.

The good thing is that, once you get the words down, you never have to go back and read them again. Not unless you want to. I’ve got a box of notebooks in my mother’s basement, and I can tell you now that I’ve gone back and read none of them. That’s because the notebooks served their purpose. They helped me process and break free of whatever had been trapping me at the time. And, if you’re worried about someone finding them, you can go one step further and destroy them when you’re done. Light a fire and send all that ugliness away in a cloud of ash and smoke.

Or, you can just use a shredder.

Prompts to consider:

  • What’s something you regret?
  • What words would you say to someone who really hurt you?
  • What are some of your worst fears?
  • Write about the skeletons in your closet.

Well, have a good rest of the week. Let me know if you’ve got any other prompt ideas!

Journaling Thoughts: Getting Started

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To start, you need paper and ink (or graphite). You don’t even need a notebook per se. Some like to use index cards. Some write on scraps of paper they find around the house, or around town, before storing them in a single container. Tyler Knott Gregson, a photographer and poet, uses a typewriter and scraps of paper to compose his poetry. I imagine, the same can be done for journaling.

Now, before you come at me and say, “well, I can write on my phone too”, I’ll say yes, and no. I don’t recommend keeping a journal on a cell phone for a few reasons. The fact that you need to charge it, for one. And, it brings unnecessary distractions. (Tiktok being my poison of choice.) Another is that writing things with your own hands, rather than typing them out, just hits the mind differently. In my case, I remember things better. It forces my mind to slow down, focus. Once I get going, everything else falls away.

I would also suggest keeping whatever you choose small and portable. You want to be able to carry your journal wherever you go, and not feel like you’re lugging around a brick. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I use pocket sized Leuchtturm1917, or A6 notebooks because they fit the bill. I keep mine in my backpack (along with an emergency make-up/touch-up kit, snacks, a bottle of water, keys, and a thousand post-it notes I need to file away).

Also, choose a good (not expensive) pen. I love fountain pens because they’re flow is smoother than ballpoints (here’s looking at you BIC), and it’s more eco-friendly to use something reusable. However, they’re not always practical, so I also carry a few gel pens that allow me to replace the ink refill once it’s run out. I like pens that glide over paper and require the least amount of pressure to write. After all, if it feels like you’re writing on sandpaper, you’re not going to want to write. (The very sensation gives me chills.)

In all, choose whatever suits your lifestyle, and budget. You don’t need to go crazy or spend too much time deliberating on all the options. The point is to make the action of writing easier, portable, and as painless as possible. (The pain comes later.)

But, if you really must, I guess you can use your phone or laptop.    

Introducing: Journaling Thoughts

Hello everyone! Welcome to the start of a series on journaling, called Journaling Thoughts. In it, I will cover a wide range of topics surrounding journaling, from tools of the trade to tips on how to get started. Even a few lessons I learned along the way. Journaling has been one of the most helpful habits I’ve implemented in my life, and I’ve been doing it for over a decade now. Ten years of trying to make sense of the world, and myself.

That said, I still struggle with the practice every day. There’s this constant war between myself and my inner critic. (That villain that likes to plant doubt like others plant carrots in spring.)  You can even call it “journaling anxiety”. But, that’s okay. With time, I’ve learned to win more than a few battles.

When I first started journaling for reals, I was a senior in high school. I wrote in large composition notebooks, filled pages upon pages with thoughts on recent video games, transcribed lines from favorite books, pasted in the wrappers from favorite snacks, and even wrote the occasional entry on how I wanted to leave home and explore somewhere new. Then, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area for college, just before 2010. There, I downsized to A5 size notebooks, where I would paste in old assignments I was proud of, or conversations I had with friends or classmates on Facebook.  (I even pasted in the chat lines from the first time I was ever asked out.) I collected words and instances like a mad person, but, in essence, I was trying to comprehend the world around me. I was compiling everything that seemed a part of me into one place, creating a written collage of my life. And it was only after gathering so much that I realized how little some things mattered, or how important other things were. (Often, I lamented what I had lost.)

Now, I’ve gotten to writing in pocket sized Leuchtturm1917 notebooks. They’re slightly larger than a pocket Moleskine (roughly 3.5 x 6 inches), and have nicer archival quality paper. (Better yet, fountain pen friendly paper.) They fit nicely in any bag, right next to my keys and pepper spray. (Okay, just kidding on the pepper spray.) I rarely paste things in anymore, and I put a bit more thought into what I transcribe.

If I had to narrow it down, I would say that the biggest benefits from journaling have been learning how to distinguish the necessary from the unnecessary. How to value what I have, in the moment, and how to ignore all the background noise. That, and the comfort of knowing I have a safe space to be myself.

If you’ve been thinking of starting a journal, but just haven’t gotten around to it, I encourage you to do so. Even if it’s just one line a day. And even if you already keep one (or three), and still hit certain roadblocks, please share them in the comments section below. What have you learned from your practice, or, what do you hope to learn?

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If you’d like to connect, please reach out at my contact page here!