Book Report: Phosphorescence

Rating: 5 out of 5.

My husband, Lee, heard some people talking about this book on one of his podcasts, so he ordered it for me as a Christmas present. He said it just sounded like something I’d enjoy, and he was right! I’m so glad to have come across Phosphorescence: A Memoir of Finding Joy When Your World Goes Dark, by Julia Baird (2021). I found myself underlining numerous passages and recommending the book to others after just a couple of chapters.

Julia Baird, an Australian journalist who has had her share of darkness thanks to three bouts with cancer, shares with us the things she has done and the beliefs she holds close that have enabled her to hold joy in her life. They may be things I already knew, but I sure enjoyed the way she put them. I guess there’s a bit of confirmation bias in my enjoyment of this book, because the things that make her happy seem to be, in many cases, the same ones I turn to over and over again.

I’ll have to take her word for it that swimming long distances in the ocean before sunrise makes one happy, so I’m substituting working with horses for that one. I love the idea, though, that we all have an inner glow, sometimes literally, and that there’s a phosphorescence in us all.

The book’s a memoir, so we learn a lot about Baird as we read it, as well as about some of the pretty amazing folks she’s gotten to know in her journalism career. But most important is learning how hard she has worked to find the sources of joy in her life and seeing how gracious she is with sharing her innermost thoughts, including her spirituality.

Now, we all know I’m not fond of institutions, particularly religious institutions, and even of institutions that I have been saddled with by virtue of being born the person I am (political systems, business shit, etc.). I don’t think Baird is very fond of them either, especially patriarchal ones, but I ended up loving her religious chapters toward the end, because she lovingly reminded me that there is a version of Christianity that truly is about love, peace, and caring for the weak and powerless. And she talks about how her beliefs fit in with other religious paths, so I didn’t feel like she was out to convert, only to explain.

That was at the end of the book. The beginning, where Baird talks about how being around trees and other plants heightens our happiness and how being around water makes things even better…that’s the part I underlined a lot. Baird also explains why silence is also important (and by that she means absence of human sounds–nature sounds are good). That is making me laugh since I’ve been listening to a guy drilling a hole in my fire pit all day.

I honestly don’t want to tell you all the ways Baird talks about how we can keep ourselves positive in dark times, to encourage you to read this for yourself, but one thing that was important helped me understand my impulse to write out my thoughts, my feelings, and my mundane experiences in a blog. Women’s stories have been hidden by history, or saved in subtle ways like quilts and embroidery. When letter writing became possible, women wrote and wrote, but how much was saved?

Our history and our stories are important too, even if we don’t rule a country or run a company. Each of us humans has a story, and it is good to share them with others. Sure, all we used to have was verbal storytelling, but now that we have access to other ways to share, Baird encourages us all to do so. So I’m going to share my wild and imperfect life right here, and I hope you, too, find a way to bring joy in your life by noticing the small things and sharing them.

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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