Five Things I Can't Live Without [NOOK Book]


On paper, Nora's life looks perfect. She's moving in with her boyfriend Dan, she has a stable job and a great group of friends. But she's stuck in what she refers to as "meta-life," the plight of overthinking and secondguessing to the point of self-sabotage. One day at work, Nora decides to thwart her meta-life by following her instincts. In what feels like a moment of revelation, she quits her job. Immediately, her meta-life goes into overdrive: What on earth was she thinking--and what is she going to do now? ...
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Five Things I Can't Live Without

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On paper, Nora's life looks perfect. She's moving in with her boyfriend Dan, she has a stable job and a great group of friends. But she's stuck in what she refers to as "meta-life," the plight of overthinking and secondguessing to the point of self-sabotage. One day at work, Nora decides to thwart her meta-life by following her instincts. In what feels like a moment of revelation, she quits her job. Immediately, her meta-life goes into overdrive: What on earth was she thinking--and what is she going to do now? Fortunately, when a friend asks Nora to rewrite her Internet dating profile, she realizes that not only is she good at it, but she really enjoys it. Billing herself as a Cyrano de Bergerac for the lovelorn, Nora finally begins to find professional success. But soon, Nora's meta-life has latched onto the question she's asked so many clients: What are the five things she can't live without? Is her flourishing business one of them? Is Dan? With each new client and each step she takes in her own relationship, she must confront her biggest demon--her self-sabotaging "meta-life." But will she be able to slay it forever?
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Editorial Reviews

People magazine
Neurotics will relate: An overanalyzing almost-30-old retools her career and her relationship.
Kirkus Reviews
Slightly neurotic young woman impulsively quits her day job to freelance as a "profile writer" for singles using online dating sites. With a devoted boyfriend, great friends and a meaningful job at an animal shelter writing pithy bios for dogs in need of adoption, Nora Bishop should be more at ease in her life. But, on the cusp of turning 30, she is far from settled. Nora frets over everything, second guessing and analyzing even the most mundane daily decisions in what she has come to call her "meta-life." Her chattering mind will just not let her be, making her sudden decision to resign from the shelter especially surprising, even if she was never that into animals. Nursing a vague ambition to be a writer, she helps a friend polish her online profile so that it better reflects her personality, inadvertently stumbling into a new gig rewriting online personal ads for the unlucky-in-love. With an ability to highlight the best qualities of all her clients, she quickly finds modest success, along with the belief that she is actually making a positive difference in people's lives. However, in spite of an easygoing schedule that leaves her time to enjoy the Bay Area, Nora bores quickly. She starts to worry about the relationship with her laid-back computer programmer sweetie Dan, wondering if he really is the one. When she finds herself attracted to a hunky client, she realizes she might have a problem with commitment. She resists temptation, but her subsequent confession to Dan forces her to consider her motivations. This leads to a heated confrontation with the controlling mother who just might have made Nora nuts, along with a last-ditch attempt to make things right with Dan. This modestdebut from trained therapist Shumas isn't big on laughs, but it does offer a deep understanding of human nature. Topical coming-of-age story with a bright, humane heroine.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446197557
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 7/13/2007
  • Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,107,011
  • File size: 302 KB

Meet the Author

HOLLY SHUMAS lives in Berkeley,

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Read an Excerpt

Five Things I Can't Live Without

By Holly Shumas


Copyright © 2007 Holly Shumas
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-446-69906-8

Chapter One


Age: 29

Height: 5'6"

Weight: 130 lbs

Occupation: Animal biographer

About me: Under construction

About you: Under construction

Last book I read: Can Love Last?: The Fate of Romance Over Time

Biggest turn-on: Under construction

Biggest turnoff: Under construction

Five things I can't live without: Under construction

Most embarrassing moment: The window incident

Here's when I knew it had gone too far.

My kitchen window was stuck, and I was trying to open it. No mental gymnastics required, just simple physical action. There I was, starting to sweat with the effort, and the normal reaction would be, Wow, this is harder to open than I thought, possibly accompanied by some annoyance. Maybe the normal person would have been dimly aware that it smelled ever so faintly like cat turds because it was an unusually hot day and the litter box was sitting directly under the kitchen window-a spot that had been chosen because, in theory, that window opens while the living room "windows" are just floor-to-ceiling panes of glass. And the normal person might even go so far as to think what a glaring design flaw that is in an otherwise pretty decent apartment. What the normal person wouldn't do is what I did. Which was to think all those things, plus:

Why is everything always so hard? Why can't anything just open for me? Maybe this window is the symbol, and this is the key moment in my life. Maybe this is who I am and who I'll always be: some neurotic twenty-nine-year-old woman living with a roommate and her roommate's obese cat, not even having what it takes to commit to a cat of her own, or what it takes to open a window.

But that's not true. I won't always be twenty-nine. And in two weeks, I'll be living with Dan. Poor Dan. He doesn't deserve this crap, all the crap involved in living with me, living with me while I live in my head.

Oh, man! That's what this is! This is me, living in my head right now. Stop it! Sometimes a window is just a window. Stop it! Why can't I just perform a simple physical action without stepping outside of myself and wondering about it all?

Stop asking yourself questions!

All the while, as I careened from irritation to despair to rage, I was tugging at the window. It must have been the adrenaline from my anger that made the window suddenly yield. The cooling breeze rushed in and I thought, Well, that should feel nice.

I slumped to the kitchen floor just as the phone rang.

"Hey, you." It was Dan.

"Hey," I said, slightly dazed from the physical and mental exertion that had just taken place.

"You sound funny. What's going on?"

"I'd feel silly if I told you." I felt silly anyway. "What's going on with you?"

"I just got a lead on some moving boxes. This obsessive guy I work with actually breaks down and stores all his moving boxes in his garage, and he said he'll loan them to us." I noted how upbeat Dan sounded. He's one of those people who enjoys the little things, doesn't sweat the small stuff, etc.

"Meaning we have to return them?" I said. Yes, I generally do sweat the small stuff, sometimes quite literally. I wiped the back of my hand across my forehead.

"Yeah. And we can't write on them, either. You know how normally you write in Magic Marker, 'kitchen' or 'bedroom'? Well, we need to work with the existing writing. If it says 'bedroom' on it, that's where you're packing your socks."

"Okay," I said. "Cool!" I realized I was overcompensating; no one sounds that enthusiastic about used moving boxes. On loan.

"Nora, what's wrong?" Dan's voice was somehow warm and expressionless at once. He was remarkable that way. Even-keeled, that's what my mother had said when I first told her about him. She'd said it approvingly. She thought I needed someone like that "to balance me out," like my stepfather, Ed, does for her. It infuriated me because I suspected she was right.

"I went to open the window, and it wouldn't open, and while I was trying to open it, the whole time, I was thinking and thinking and thinking, analyzing and analyzing, and-" It all came out in one angsty, humiliating rush.

"Nora," he broke in firmly, "you're doing it again."

"It" meant leading my meta-life. Meta-life is the opposite of living in the moment. It's the syndrome of simultaneously having an experience and being an observer commenting on and questioning the experience. By observing something, you change it, sometimes for the better, but in my experience, usually for the worse. You know you're in the meta-life when you're critiquing an experience while you're having it ("This is fun but it would be more fun if ..."), trying to talk yourself into happiness because you should feel it ("It's a beautiful day, and all I really need to be happy are fresh air and sunshine"), or worrying that you're not getting any closer to the Big Important Things ("Sure, this is a great date, but what are the odds this guy would ever marry someone like me?").

"I know," I responded miserably. "I know I'm doing it again. That's the worst part. I know, and I do it anyway."

"What could you possibly be thinking while opening a window except 'arghhh'?"

"Oh, you'd be amazed."

"Try me."

"No," I said, shoring my resolve. "I'm not going to talk about it. I'm going to get on with my day."

Dan gives me semiregular interventions, which are much appreciated. The only problem is, he thinks of me as having discreet episodes of meta-life, when, in fact, it's more like meta-life is the norm with discreet episodes of being fully, wonderfully, unthinkingly present. Maybe I should correct his perception, but I don't want to scare him off.

I completely adore Dan, but we've only been together six months, and I've been around long enough to know that you just never know. We're still in the flush of it all, though moving in together wasn't even a decision born of that flush. It was born of my roommate Fara asking me to move out so her boyfriend could move in. Dan and I had one of those "Well, you're over here so much anyway ..." conversations, and after the decision was made, we were both lying there, looking up at the ceiling, trying not to let on to each other how freaked out we were at the prospect, and we sealed the deal with some perfunctory sex.

Speaking of my freak-outs, lately they're coming hard and fast. It's probably the stress of being only nine months from thirty. Now, I'm fairly certain that once I actually turn thirty, it'll be fine. But the approach-well, that's something else entirely. It lends a whole other level to my self-evaluation process, and believe me, what I don't need is another level.

It's worth noting that I'm not actually worried about my diminishing fertility, and I'm nowhere near ready for a husband or kids. But it's hard to resist feeling on edge when everyone takes it as a given that thirty will inspire panic, when well-meaning friends have started asking "how I'm doing with that whole turning thirty thing" and my friends who have rounded the corner pat my hand reassuringly and say, apropos of nothing, "Thirty is actually really great."

Okay, so it's not all cultural anxiety. I've got more than my share of personal anxiety. Turning thirty puts me in mind of something one of my ex-boyfriends once said while he was trying to pass a minivan illegally on a two-lane highway across a solid yellow line: "Life is about jockeying for position." Asshole context aside, it's true. Before I'm actually ready for marriage and kids, I need to get in position. Certain things need to be lined up: the great relationship, the satisfying career, the level of success that will allow me to, say, cut back to part-time while still maintaining the fantastic lifestyle to which I will have become accustomed. So on one hand, I've got the run-of-the-mill, pervasive, irrational, culturally driven backseat-borderline panic, and on the other, I've got the fact that for me, personally, turning thirty is about having a secure place in the world, the beginnings of a nest. Meta-life means all I see are a bunch of twigs.

That night, I made a vow. I pledged to go a full twenty-four hours without self-investigation, starting first thing the following morning. I swore I'd be vigilant about not getting too much into my own head, and planned to internally yell "Stop!" every time I felt myself waxing self-referential. What this would accomplish, I wasn't yet sure, but it felt significant.

It definitely lent a pleasant clarity of purpose at the outset of my day. I read on the train, as always, but every time I found my mind wandering to a moment of self-congratulation about how well my plan was proceeding, I did my silent yell and returned to my place. I smiled at strangers instead of averting my eyes. I felt freer somehow.

When I arrived at work, it was 7:30 am. I worked on Market Street, San Francisco's main drag. At one end, there's a farmers' market, the beautiful Ferry Building, picturesque views of the bay, and some of the world's greatest shopping. I worked at the other, nonprofit end, at an animal rescue shelter wedged between a furniture rental store and a fast-food joint.

My desk was right inside the door, since in addition to my other duties I got to play receptionist. My official job title, though, was coordinator. I could coordinate anything; really, you'd be amazed. I'd become a master of organization over the past two and a half years. The place ran nearly exclusively on donations, so there were fund-raisers to be coordinated and volunteer drives to be coordinated, and then once we had the volunteers, well, they had to be coordinated, too. I didn't coordinate the animals themselves, thankfully. I did observe them at the beginning of their tenure because I wrote the descriptions of each animal that were posted weekly on our Web site to be viewed by potential owners. I also interviewed staff about the animals, particularly the dogs, to find out how they behaved on walks, interacted with children, responded to commands, etc. I'd saved all the dog and cat bios I'd ever written as clippings for the portfolio I meant to have someday.

As I was stowing my purse, Denise came toward me with Norman on a leash, about to go for their morning constitutional. Norman was one of our long-term residents. We were overrun with pit bulls, and unfortunately Norman-who had reportedly developed a rather sweet personality in his time with us-had a mean little face that rendered him pretty unadoptable. Our animal rescue actually did the bulk of its rescuing of dogs and cats from other shelters that were about to euthanize them. That meant we didn't always get the most appealing animals, and if they're not adopted, they're lifers with us.

"Hi, Nora!" Denise said brightly.

"Hi, Denise." I smiled at her, and down at Norman. I very rarely petted the dogs, or walked them, but I did smile down at them fairly regularly, especially when they're on the leash of someone I like as much as I like Denise.

Denise was twenty-three and started working at the shelter right out of college. She'd been with her boyfriend since they were both fourteen, and they lived happily together in a studio apartment with four miniature schnauzers named after members of the band Phish. She's earnest and guileless and sometimes just talking to her made me feel clean.

"What time did you get here?" I asked her.

"I came in at six." She absentmindedly scratched at her bare leg. She's a runner, and wore athletic shorts practically every day. "I've been worried about Norman. I wanted to get in some quality time with him." Norman yanked on the leash and she calmed him with a head tilt. She has a gift.

I, on the other hand, have no gift. Growing up we never had any pets, and I'm not all that comfortable with animals. That hadn't changed much by working at the animal rescue, since I tended to keep my distance. One Saturday a month, I had to get closer because every staff person took a turn at mobile outreach. Every weekend, our van parked in front of PetSmart and staff tried to entice people into taking home an animal in addition to the one they came to buy food for. So once a month, I was out there smiling at strangers and trying to talk up the charms of some dog whose mange we had just cured.

When I first got my coordinator job through a friend, I thought it would be just a few months before an opportunity materialized in publishing or journalism or advertising or some other writerly industry (i.e., someplace I might actually belong). Sometimes it was hard being at the shelter among the true believers. I worked with wonderful people who loved animals in that selfless way that we all wish another human would love us. They managed to love the ugliest, snarliest of mutts, and they didn't seem to mind being underpaid and overworked in the name of the cause in which they so fervently believed. They saw the good in every animal and so, incredibly enough, their sales pitch from that van came straight from the heart. About half the time I was around them, I felt like the worst person alive.

As Denise and I chatted, Estella sashayed by, looking far too hot for nonprofit work. She graced me with a smile. I said hi. She must be a dancer, I thought enviously for the tenth time since I'd met her.

Tricia was racing around, as usual. She got her smile at me out of the way, then said, "Maggie's looking for you."

"Do you know what she needs?" I asked.

"She just said to come by when you get a minute. By the way, do you have those flyers done?"

"Oh, yeah. They're on my desk. Let me just check in with Maggie, and then I'll get them for you." I excused myself and headed for Maggie's office.

Maggie was the director and cofounder of the rescue. She's about fifty and has the kind of soft, lineless face that makes you wonder why you know immediately that she's fifty. She's soft all over, and I don't think I've ever seen her in anything but a tunic and broomstick skirt.

"Hi, Maggie." I poked my head in her office. "Tricia said you wanted to talk to me."

"I do. Come in, and shut the door." Maggie generally radiates acceptance, and that made her facial expression confusing to me. On another person, it would clearly telegraph disapproval, but since it was Maggie, that seemed so impossible that I was suffering cognitive dissonance.

"Nora, I have something to ask you. It's not easy for me." And I could see that it wasn't. She wasn't used to having to do anything but praise her hardworking, committed staff.

I didn't feel worried; I just felt sorry that I had put her in that position. I nodded encouragingly.

"I have to ask you this. Nora, are you happy here?"

I paused. "Sometimes." I briefly gazed into the middle distance, then reiterated, "Yes, that would be the best answer. Sometimes."

Maggie nodded slowly. "That's comforting for me. Because I have to say that when I read one of the dog bios, I thought otherwise." She picked up a paper from her desk. "That dog bio is 'One-Eyed Frank.'" She locked her eyes with mine. "Do you remember writing this?"

"I think so. I just wrote it last week." I racked my brain, trying to think if there had been anything unusual about it. I couldn't come up with anything.

"So you remember it clearly?"

"Well, I wrote it pretty quickly. I was under deadline, I had other bios to finish-" I stopped. "I guess I don't remember it that clearly."

She began to read. "'One-Eyed Frank, age eight, is not a treat for the eyes (no pun intended), but for the soul. He can be prickly, he can be ornery, he should not be in a home with children. But he has grit, he has fortitude, and he has a will to live that has taken him from the mean streets of Oakland to our very own hallowed halls, and I, for one, am glad we have him. You will be, too.'" She carefully replaced the paper on her desk. "Were you mocking One-Eyed Frank, Nora?"

I had been under deadline, that was true. It was late, I wanted to get home, I was scheduled to work the van that weekend, and somehow I just dashed off the sentences, uploaded to the Web site, and left. But Maggie was right. The bio dripped with contempt.

"No, no," I protested, stricken. "I wouldn't do that!" But I had.

Maggie, though, looked instantly relieved, her worldview mercifully unaltered. "I didn't think you would. But have you been getting enough sleep? Maybe we work you too hard."

"I'm fine," I said dejectedly. I knew that if I pushed just so, Maggie would lessen my workload, relieve me of some of my duties, perhaps even take them onto her already heaping plate, and after my behavior, that would feel absolutely seedy.

As I left Maggie's office, I thought how nothing stinks quite like realizing that the more beatific a setting, the less you belong there.


Excerpted from Five Things I Can't Live Without by Holly Shumas Copyright © 2007 by Holly Shumas. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 14 of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 22, 2010

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    Passes The Time

    Not a bad distraction.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2010

    Made me laugh out loud.

    This book was so fun to read. The author is very funny
    and I love the adventure that her mind took her on.

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  • Posted July 1, 2009

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    Not the best book but it wasn't bad

    the book dragged a little. It's a good read if you have nothing to do.

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