Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
[Reposting an old favorite. Read and enjoy!] Original post date: October 2013
Months and months and months ago, I was having a conversation with my friend Jen about how short Mitch Albom’s novels are. “I don’t know how he manages to put so much emotion into so little space,” she said, and I agreed, awed—and maybe just a smidgen jealous.
The day after that conversation, I had an interesting discussion about Ray Bradbury with a coworker, what with it being the anniversary of his death at the time. I noted how my favorite book of his (okay, the only one I’d read so far) was Fahrenheit 451. When I looked up the book later, I was shocked to discover that it, too, was well under the 200-page mark.
So, I got to thinking—just how many other classics/bestsellers have also managed to keep their masterpieces so short, yet imbued each page, each line, each word with so much life?
The list I developed—albeit far from complete—was kind of surprising when I took a step back to review.
Note: the page numbers listed below are based on copies of books that I have in normal print.
(All books are available on Amazon.com. Go check them out!)
Imagine a future where firemen create fires instead of dousing them; where literature is outlawed and shunned for full-scale entertainment systems; and where the superficial is celebrated and the knowledgable is literally chased out of society. That, pretty much, is Fahrenheit 451. It’s a truly cerebral literary piece that, when I reread it as an adult, had me wonder just how Mr. Bradbury managed to get me so worked up over the stupidity that could possibly occur in the world, and the hope he left in its ruined entrails. Good stuff.
First of all, the title itself is brilliant. (Okay, brief fangirling over.) Seriously, what title better sums up just what its story is about? (Okay, now it’s really over.) We enter the book knowing full well that a man has been murdered. For the rest of the book, we listen to accounts throughout town as nearly everyone claims they could have stopped the murder—but they didn’t. Was it through malice? Not really—and that’s where the brilliancy of the story lies. No one could have done it better.
Five People You Meet In Heaven (By Mitch Albom)
Book Length: 192 pages
This man has literally made a career of writing novels approximately 200 pages and still maintaining the integrity and reality of the human spirit. In this story, a despondent, aging man gives his life to save a little girl and, in doing so, embarks upon a journey where several personal “landmarks” lead him through the choices he made and how he indeed made a difference. It’s not many books that make me tear up and treat each page turn like a commercial break.
Night (by Elie Wiesel)
Book Length: 109 pages
I’ve only read this book once, and that was over 15 years ago in high school. That was all I needed. In this true account of Mr. Wiesel’s horrid confinement in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, every event stayed with me and to this day makes me cringe. From the image of a prisoner so hungry, he risks crawling towards an unguarded pot of stew while bombs fall around him; to the hanging of a man so small, he is forced into a squirming, desperate, prolonged death; it all remains fresh in my mind. It’s a haunting, amazing work that I highly encourage everyone to read at least once.
The Time Machine (by H.G. Wells)
Book Length: 125 pages
Consider the franchise behind this book. Consider the movies, the action figures, the spinoffs, the TV shows, the third-party sequels, the scientific concepts, the everything that resulted from this book—and look at that book length again. Remove this book from the equation of the world, and you remove an entire universe of imagination. Though a simple enough plot—a man recounts at a present-day dinner party about how he traveled through time to spy into the evolution of the human race—it continues to spark conversations as the decades pass. Score two for scifi.
The End of Eternity (by Isaac Asimov)
Book Length: 191 pages
What the hey—score three for scifi.
Isaac Asimov may not be as universally well-known as H.G. Wells in terms of a household name, but he is no less influential. If you watched Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Bicentennial Man, or I, Robot, you are viewing the art of Dr. Asimov, one of Mr. Well’s direct successors as the next-generation Father of Science Fiction. (Okay, the fangirl is back all the way.)
In The End of Eternity, a “Time Keeper” from the future discovers that his existence and the existence of the world in which he lives may just be what has destroyed the potential of what could have truly occurred in the past. He even has time to fall in love during this plight. A wallop of work in under 200 pages, and a wonderful way to end this list.
For One More Day (By Mitch Albom)
Book Length: 208 pages
A man gets one more chance to see his departed mother while reevaluating the importance of their relationship. Very poignant, very heart-ripping. I might have cried again.
The Great Gatsby (By F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Book Length: 208 pages
A “modern-day” tragedy detailing that, just because you have everything you wanted in life, it doesn’t mean you’re happy. Also a tragedy detailing that, just because you get money, it doesn’t mean you can get everything you want. “Great” Gatsby, indeed.
Heart of Darkness (By Joseph Conrad)
Book Length: 96 pages
Warning: Ending Spoiler!
I know, I know. Why didn’t I include this book up in the “under 200 pages” list? Well, it’s quite simple: I hate this book. I’ve read it two and a half times, and it still doesn’t make any more sense than it did in high school. It’s a book about going out into a jungle to find an important man who moans “The horror. The horror!” as he dies, only pages after you find him. I got that—but unfortunately, that’s all I got.
To those who love this book, I applaud you and encourage you to place it at the top of your list. Unfortunately, while this didn’t even peak at 100 sheets, it may as well have surpassed 400, for all the work it took me to make it through.
I’m sorry…I’m a bad classics lover.
Are there any books under 200 that you have loved and didn’t see on the list? If so, please feel free to share below!
HOWEVER…a few days ago, I came across a vlogger that I used to watch religiously circa 2010-2013. Her name is Whitney, but she goes by the user name Naptural85. Basically, for those who don’t know her, she did what was initially deemed near impossible, especially for an African American woman.
She grew non-chemically altered (aka natural) curly/coily hair from a few inches to all the way down her back.
With over 1 million subscribers on YouTube and appearances on multiple high-level media circuits, she is not someone to simply shake your hair at.
African American (and curly/tightly coiled hair in general) hair has several variables that count against its ability to keep and maintain length, strength, and moisture:
The amount of sebum/natural oil coverage it gains, from root to tip (imagine natural scalp oils easily sliding down straight hair vs. navigating the curly hair pattern. Yeeeaahhh…).
Its tendency to curl around and through itself (aka knot) and break at each fragile bend.
I could go on and on about the history of growing tightly coiled hair and the struggles that African American women have worked through the decades to conform their hair to societal norms of beauty and acceptance…
Buuuuut, I will save that rant for another post. 😇
Naptural85: Type 4a Hair Guru
As I was saying before–a few days ago, I chanced upon one of Naptural85’s latest hair posts. I’d stopped watching her videos regularly years ago; however, since this post was so recent (posted in August), I was curious to see what she had to say about the latest 2019 hair-growing practices that she was sticking to and what continued to give her the best results as far as healthy, enviable hair growth.
Let’s take a listen below, shall we?
Video Tips Summary…
Clarify your hair and scalp regularly (mainly, your scalp) to keep your follicles open and healthy.
Keep your hair moisturized from roots to curly ends. Drink enough water, and spritz and seal your hair to keep moisture locked within each strand.
Trim your hair on a regular basis. If it’s knotting a lot, it’s definitely time for a trim.
Style gently, style lovingly. Don’t go tight!
Use protective styles.
Recognize the power (and pain points) of your shrinkage. Stretch to avoid breakage.
Choose healthy hair products–no matter where you go.
More water, less sugar.
Get that blood pumpin’! Exercise, massage–the works!
Got it? Spiffy.
One thing that I will say about Naptural85’s hair videos is that, while she has tested the occasional trend and gimmick just to see if the hype is real, her actual focus on growing her hair and keeping it healthy has never been hokie. She has never been afraid to pioneer her own methods, especially when the wave of natural hair-styling wagons originally rode through in the mid- to late 2000s.
Not only that, but she’s consistently posted her progress from her TWA (teeny weeny or tiny widdle afro) to what it is now. She is literally walking proof that a black woman with short 4a hair can, with patience, dedication, and determination, grow long, healthy hair.
Back to Reality
However, I have to be honest with myself. Her hair length was actually very close to mine when I big-chopped in 2009/2010ish. I was, perhaps, a few months behind her. I watched her videos, kept my hair clean, bought shea butter to seal, the works.
Her growth took off. Mine did not–at least, not to that extent.
Was part of the equation something else? Genetics, perhaps? Nutrition? Environment? Stress levels?
Abso-freakin-lutely. The list of impactful variables knows no ends!
But that is one reason why I “gave up” on a near-fanatical desire for long hair. I had to stop comparing my length with someone else’s. I also had to stop equating hair length to personal quality and beauty.
For example, my older sister’s hair is the 3b/3c hair type. Since her big chop to remove the chemical relaxer from her straight hair about four or five years ago, she can now simply put leave-in conditioner on her hair, then Eco Style gel, then let it air dry–and that’s it.
Her hair will behave from that single wash for up to three weeks. Not only that, but when stretched, it is well down her back.
My scalp is a sensitive mess and demands washing/clarifying twice a week. My curl pattern is so 4a, it’s astounding. My hair and/or scalp loathes nearly every popular natural ingredient out there:
Seriously. I could not be kidding less about this list. If I use products with any of these ingredients, it has to be low on the list of ingredients or mixed with a heck of a lot of other stuff.
Am I complaining?
Actually…not so much anymore.
Instead of turning haircare into a chore, I turned it into an adventure–which is what most African American women have done. It’s also why you’ll often read about a black woman’s natural hair “journey.” If we want our hair to look good, we’ll never not be able to think about it.
What Prompted My Re-Growth Revival
I’ve been going through some various levels of…”events” over the last year. Things were changing at a speed and a debilitating level that I did not expect. I felt like I’d lost control over a lot of elements. My health, my life–and many relationships.
I needed to know I could control something. I needed to know I could change something, make something different so that, as the world around me warped, I wasn’t remaining static.
Due to time and energy and wellness (or rather, lack thereof), I grew lax on my hair care. Then, I became bored.
Then, I got everything else with it, to the point that I just didn’t want to–and couldn’t–deal with it.
This is circa April of this year, before the first cut:
And this is after it:
And yes…I did say “first cut.”
Now, don’t get wrong–I adored this cut. Like, a lot. I’d needed some kind of change at the time and really wanted to look in the mirror to see a different side of myself.
That…and it was a hot spring. I wanted the hair off my neck.
However, when I sent the above pic to my family–you know, for the fun shock value of it all–the response I got was lack-luster.
What’s the change?
I don’t see anything different.
It’s not really that dramatic, is it?
And…of course…we all know what happens when we (i.e. I) get egged on (or, in my case, ineffective responses from our families).
BACK into the bathroom I went–along with the grumblings:
“Oh, nothing’s changed, huh? I’ll show them. I’ll show them all!”
…I might have gone a smidgen extreme.
I’ve adored having my hair short again. Wash day is faster, styling is more convenient, and it’s kinda fun to have strangers marveling over the fact that my natural curl pattern is literally the size of a pen spring.
But…I do miss the fun of having more hair.
It wasn’t easy to take care of, but…it was a fun hobby. And when I was putting all the necessary work into it–I saw my own level of results.
Once I’m able to return to regular life, I’ll add a few of my favorite DIY hair recipes that have remained tried and true for the last 10 years. Items like the good ol’ fashioned mud wash, the mango-cupuacu butter sealant, and my morning apple cider vinegar-cayenne pepper-MSM-raw honey drink.
And so, with a decade of knowledge behind me, a set of fairly well-proven tools and practices, and a refreshed Naptural85 video to “reinforce” that my techniques are/were on the right track 😛, it’s time to reembark on my Natural Hair Re-Growing Epic Journey….Extravaganza.
Disclaimer: This blog post addresses heavier mental health topics than usual, including discussions of depression and self-harm. I am not a psychiatrist or a mental health specialist. I’m writing purely from an emotional standpoint–and because I just want to send out love and hope to anyone who happens to read this.
I apologize if this falls into an incoherent rant–but I don’t know, at this moment, how else to share.
But I am one human being–and it shatters me to know how many people I love are hurting in one way or another.
In May and June of this year alone, I learned that two people whom I admired and cared about took their lives. As recently as this week, I learned that more people that I care about are suffering from heavy mental issues.
It seems as if in the last few years, a terrifying epidemic continues to grow and spread on a global scale. The more and more I turn around, the more I learn that nearly everyone I know has had someone that they lost to suicide. It shocks me to see how…regular self harm has become, and that we as a culture are not pushing mental health–and the education of mental health–to a higher precedence in improving the varying levels the human condition.
It’s not just the education of outsiders’ behavior towards those with mental illness. It’s also the education of those who are struggling with mental illness themselves.
Mental illness is probably one of the cruelest illnesses of the present day. It is not a new illness (goodness knows it manifests itself under different names for centuries), but in a time where information about it is more prevalent and available to the masses than ever, many of us still try to fool ourselves into thinking we don’t have any problems. It does not manifest itself in a way that can be immediately recognized, let alone treated.
If we can stand, walk, drive, smile in the public eye–we are fine, and we should keep going. We have families to raise, children to support, parents to care for, lives to live. If there is nothing wrong physiologically, then there is no need to worry any of our loved ones.
Or worse–even if we told someone how poorly we feel, we wouldn’t be taken seriously. Because, after all, we “look okay.” We “sound” okay.
The longer the illness lays untreated, the darker and more warped the thoughts within our minds become.
You’re not sick. You’re just faking it to get some sympathy, or pity, or attention.
What are you complaining about? Nothing’s really wrong with you.
You’re not the only one with problems. Stop being selfish and think about someone else for a change.
You’re whining about nothing. No one cares.
The cruelest part about mental illness is what it makes you think about yourself–absolutely nothing.
But you are absolutely everything.
I won’t say any more cruel points.
I wrote this post, because I wanted it to be a proverbial hand reaching out for those who are struggling with the depths of their own mental illness.
I can tell you right now—whatever your mental illness is trying to feed you, it’s not true.
If you feel lost or disenchanted or alone, left behind–you are not. Beyond the darkness that is the illness, you have people who are holding you tightly, begging you to stay, begging you to fight against the cruel isolation that the illness can cause.
It is one of the toughest battles you will ever engage in, and it is a battle that you will have to fight every second of your life.
Please don’t let the negativity win.
Fight. Please fight. Fight against every cruel thought that tells you you are worthless and/or alone.
The illness would have you keep your eyes shut so that you can’t see the people in your life who love you dearly, who are reaching out to you.
The ones who invite you to lunch every day, even when you say no over and over.
The ones who stay on the phone with you at night, not saying a word, just so you can fall asleep.
The ones who text you silly memes just so you have something you have to reply to, and they know you are still there.
The ones who wave you over to their table, even if you just sit silently with the group.
The moment when you can open your eyes, you will see them right there, standing in front of you, smiling.
And you will realize that they’ve been there all along. They were just lovingly, patiently, happily waiting for you to see them again.
It hurts to know that I can’t stretch myself rice-paper thin and spread myself across everyone I love, shielding them from the cruelties of the outside world–and the darkness in their inner worlds.
I can’t be everything to everyone. I wish I could be. The whole nature of being human is to find the balance of taking care of yourself and caring for others.
No one can be “everything” to anyone. Nor should anyone try.
But I never want the people I love so much to not know how much I love them, and how I wish I could hold them all, always.
Depression is a cruel, selfish illness. It creates words and images to seduce its victims into thinking that every negative thought passing through their minds is the truth.
Here is the truth.
You are a life.
You are a beautiful, breathing life.
You take a breath, and therein is the proof that you exist for a reason.
You have skills and talent, and there are people who are excited and looking forward to seeing you remember just how much you enjoy engaging in those talents.
Mental illness would make you believe that those people and those talents don’t exist. It is wrong.
I wish there was a quick fix. I wish there was a way to make tomorrow the cure to mental illness, where today would be the last time the feelings of loss and hopelessness ever wash over you.
Crawling out of the darkness may be the hardest thing you ever do.
But you can. I believe in you. So many people believe in you.
Please, fight. Keep fighting. Don’t let mental illness win.
“It’s okay,” I told myself as I drove down the interstate through an unforgiving, almost mockingly spontaneous downpour. “It’s alright. You’ve trained for this for the last six months. You can do this.”
It was time for my mother’s birthday barbecue party, in which all extended family members–dozens of them–would be attending. My mother had announced to me since the Christmas holiday how excited she was for this cookout.
“I’m inviting all of our family,” she gushed. “You’ll need to come early, B, to help out. Do you have the date down? Did you write it down? …Write it down, B, so you don’t forget.” The beautiful, warming lilt in her tone belied the loving, threatening edge of her order.
For the last two of my mother’s birthday parties, my depression and social anxiety had conspired against me and overtaken any sense of…well, common sense I had. Overstimulated, feeling out of place, shaken, and frightened by the crowd of strangers (aka, extended family)…I’d hidden in a closet and fallen into a vegetative state for over four hours.
Yeah…not my shiniest moments.
Since that last party (and many much-needed therapy sessions), I vowed to myself that I would not so much as notice a closet or isolated space at her next party. It was part of my 2019 resolution to focus on the needs of the people that I love, not myself. And this party was about my mother, as it always was, should have been, and should be.
Of course, that didn’t mean my chest didn’t seize up every time someone mentioned the party.
For various reasons, I would be arriving at my mother’s party during its peak hours. I knew that, if I wanted to a) enjoy myself, and b) remain consistently visible throughout the party, I couldn’t arrive without a plan. And so, using my overactive imagination and a sexy spy hook theme song on my Google Play Music library (not sponsored), I established the following objectives to maneuver through this super-extroverted party while appearing social, positive, and engaged.
1. Arrive with FULL Expectations
ONE WEEK BEFORE:
“Ohhh,” my mother had drawled over the phone, pondering on what she knew would freak me out, “it’s just gonna a few people. No more than immediate family, maybe a few cousins.”
“Uh huh.” Sitting in my SUV as I drove into the parking lot of my weekly voice over class, I had allowed myself to imagine the multiple half-circle of chairs under tents, the stacks upon stacks of ribs and chicken awaiting their turns on the smoking grills, and the hours of introductions as I was passed across first cousins, second cousins, third cousins, and many more.
One tactic that has helped me deal with social situations is being honest with myself on how many people will be attending. As an introvert, I prefer smaller crowds of people that I know intimately. Since I still struggle with anxiety, I am thrown when I am spontaneously placed in front larger groups than I anticipated, or people who I have no idea of their identity.
Are they family? Are they in-laws?
Are they part of the family/friend side that we “like”?
Are they…different like me? Can I trust them to accept my weird, random self without blinking at me or blowing me off?
Or, is it simply the generic meet-n-greet with a handshake, a smile, a couple of small-talk inquiries (“You come from out of town? The weather’s been crazy, amiright??”), and a customary awkward pause before I say, “Well, nice to meet ya!” before moving on to do it all over again?
I know. I could be in worse situations. We all could.
But if we don’t like certain situations, we don’t like certain situations. We will all be in situations that will make us uncomfortable. All we can do is be aware and mentally prepare as best we can.
2. Establish Your “Core Team”
If you’re going to a party where you know at least one or two people who will also be there, you can establish these people as your core team. This core team will serve as your party anchors to whom you can temporarily latch onto to regain your mental bearings after a particularly awkward or stressful situation.
Here is what’s important. Your core team must be people whom you can trust not to be cruel or condescending should you get overwhelmed and even give up halfway through the party.
I’ve been around guys I considered dating who laughed at me when strangers entered the room, and I’d nervously backed up to adjust to the change.
I’ve even had close family members roll their eyes at me when I was struggling to recover from a panic attack in public.
These…are NOT core team people.
My core team at my mother’s party consisted of my mother, my two sisters and my nephew, who were also attending the party. They are all very aware of my social anxiety issues, including my social “incidents” from my mother’s previous parties. Despite my past behavior, they’d never belittled me or made me feel any less. They projected nothing but love and support, even as they’d opened the closet door and asked me, gently, if I was doing okay.
These…are absolutely core team people.
3. Focus on Your Target: Be a Social Bee, Not a Butterfly
One thing that I have observed with some of my more social friends is that they don’t actually speak with the same people for extended amounts of time. Instead, they flutter from cluster to cluster, asking how everyone is doing and rotating at regular intervals to make sure they’ve greeted everyone equally.
Yep. I’m not there yet. Too many faces, not enough time for intimate exchanges.
What I am learning to do is get a layout of the party, find a single target within certain areas of the room, and aim for those.
The technique is not to force yourself to speak to everyone, but to engage with enough people to make yourself seen. In my case, my aunts and couple of cousins to whom I was closer to were littered throughout the yard. These were family members I’ve been familiar with, yet hadn’t seen for years. Thefore, it was the perfect opportunity to set targets through what would otherwise be…walking through a horde…of…strangers.
Thus established, I drifted over to each member and greeted them warmly while passing a friendly smile to the group with which they were engaged. Introductions were made; I gave a shy smile and a few comments. Whenever I felt a little nervous, I returned to face my “target” as a reminder that I wasn’t alone.
4. Find A Job to Stay Busy
Idleness isn’t just in the devil’s workshop; it’s also part of an anxious person’s nightmare. For me, standing somewhere in the middle of crowds, doing nothing, makes me feel like I should either be talking to someone, or doing something. I’m not a big “bend over my smartphone” kinda gal–or rather, I try not to be. I like to feel needed and productive.
What better way to do that (and to reduce the nerves of facing simplistic chitchat) than to get assigned a job?
I was lucky that at the cookout, my immediate family was hosting. That meant that, as soon as I parked my SUV in my mother’s yard and climbed out, I was put to work.
“Go send this chicken up to your cousin at the grill,” my mother barked, loading my arms with aluminum pans of raw poultry. Like a soldier hurrying to help support the flag, I rushed up the hill to where a pair of deluxe grills were mounted.
“Is your mother doing hot dogs, too?” my cousin asked, with one hand waving the grilling tongs majestically over the slabs of ribs smoking over the coals.
“I’m not sure; I’ll go check!” Down the hill I raced, tossing smiles at people I passed.
“Hot dogs? In the fridge. Take two packs!” Off I went, from kitchen to grill and back again.
Having a job can help give purpose and direction as well as keep your thoughts from being too preoccupied on the excessive surrounding stimuli.
Not only that, but watching some random person run wildly back and forth with supplies can be a very entertaining sight for the party-goers.
And I might be an anxiety-prone introvert–but I am also a performer, dagnabbit.
5. Remember Your Post-Event Life–aka Life After Party
The trouble with social anxiety is that it makes you all encompassed on the moment causing the anxiety. The only thing that fills your thoughts is how many people there are, and are you able to make it through, and man, you are so tired and why won’t everyone just shut up for a second.
But remember: as overwhelming as this moment is, it’s not the only moment. Once the party is over, you have–well–the rest of your life to relax from this exhausting moment.
Me? I had a full week of relaxing and playing with my immediate family–my mom, et all–to look forward to. It had been six months since I’d seen any of them, and I–I missed them.
I wanted to show them the new improv games I’d learned in my 8 weeks at the Village Theater. I wanted to test out my new voices I’d honed from my intensive voice acting course. I wanted to hear about their lives, their relationships, their highs, their lows. I wanted to reconnect again, find my bearings amongst them all.
If I had to make it through a few hours of heavy interaction with strangers just to get to the more intimate rest of the week, I would.