Books Read in July

July books

“The Borrower” a novel by Rebecca Makkai

I might be the villain of this story. Even now it’s hard to tell.

That dilemma, right in that first sentence, sets the theme and tone of this delightful and thought-provoking novel.

Lucy Hull, a children’s librarian in a small Missouri town believes in the power of books, in the power they have to save us. She struggle with the idea if she herself can actually save anybody, but she tries. She tries to save Ian, assuming that he needs saving based on what she’s seen of the 10-year-old who visits the library regularly, ready to devour any book Lucy put in his hands, even ones that he must sneak past his evangelical mother.

When Ian shows up at the library asking Lucy to take him away, she believes this is her chance to make a difference. To save him. That idealism falters regularly throughout their cross country road trip. As she learns more about the boy, as secrets abut her Russian father are revealed, Lucy questions her motives at each new turn. Who exactly is she trying to save–Ian or herself? And is either one even possible?

A delightful read for anyone but especially those of us who know that books can indeed change, if not save us.

A Sentence I Love:

He thought he was in trouble. Or maybe he thought the hand of God was about to reach down and smite me, and he wanted to look like we’d never met.

The Journal Keeper, A Memoir by Phyllis Theroux

In 1972, after our third and last child was born, we moved from a small frame house in Washington, D.C., into a gigantic frame house farther toward the edge of town.

I’ve picked this book off my shelves several times and this time it really resonated with me. I read all the way through, noticing that it’s been underlined. And they are all sentences that I would’ve underlined myself. Apparently I have read it all the way through before and was meat to do so again.

Finding it while I was healing from a back sprain for almost a month felt right. Theroux details all aspects of her over the course of six years. No detail is too small or mundane. she hits on loneliness, old age, family, if, death, relationships, illness, children, dating, writing, teaching. She invites us into her whole life.

Her careful mining of hr life and her days and her keen observation made me feel the same way about my own days, especially as I was leading much of my days from bed. She helped me see my life from a new perspective—slowed down and close up.

Sentences I Love:

This morning I awoke with a prayer: “Help me to have the courage to finish what I have begun and to begin what I want to finish.”

Looking at a friend who has had a face lift is like reading a book with half the pages ripped out.

On reading the first few pages of “To Kill A Mockingbird”: Her instinct for knowing what she can leave out may not be teachable, but the beginning of her book is a place to start.

“Summerlong” a novel by Dean Bakopoulos

In the hay gold dusk of late spring, Don Lowry takes his usual walk through town and out to the fields beyond it.

It’s a brutally hot summer in a small midwestern town. Don and Claire Lowry find themselves drifting—or perhaps being pulled—from the safety of their marriage. As their marriage is tested in ways they never fathomed they are each forced to confront the reality of their relationship, their family and their life together and apart.

I heard an interview with him on NPR and immediately ordered the book. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. I was mesmerized by the characters and their stories. I felt like I was trapped in that heatwave with them, a little dazed and unable to look away.

Sultriness oozes off the pages. Perfect summer read: smart, funny, thoughtful and sexy all served in some damn fine writing. What more could you ask for?

A Sentence I Love:

I confess: I was so caught up in reading that I didn’t take time to underline my faves. But this book is filled with great sentences. Here are a couple I found just from briefly scanning some pages:

Among the things mothers don’t do: they don’t leave the house first in the morning, without explanation. Fathers can do this.

Whatever strangeness he is about to confess will only trigger something inside her and she isn’t sure what—would she confess?

“Bark” stories by Lorrie Moore

Ira had been divorced six months and still couldn’t get his wedding ring off.

Lorrie Moore is a master of the short story. This most recent collection shows a writer at the top of her game. She dissects the anatomy of being human in eight dark, funny, touching stories. In “Debarking” the ominousness of divorce is set against the ominousness of 9-11. In “The Juniper Tree” teacher is visited by the ghost of her deceased friend who makes an odd request of her.

Each story is its own contained world that fits within the confines of the pages but you just know that there is so much more beyond the pages, things we don’t need to know but that inform what we do know.

A Sentence I Love:

The bridesmaids were in pastels: one the light peach of baby aspirin; one the seafood green of low-dose clonazepam; the other the pale daffodil of the next lowest dose of clonazepam.

“Among the Ten Thousand Things” a novel by Julia Pierpont

There were things you learned early, growing up in the city, and there were things you learned late, or not at all.

Things are learned swiftly in this debut novel. We learn that Jack Shanley has been having an affair. How do we learn this? The woman sends over a box of their love letters, correspondence and sexts. But instead of ending up in his wife, Deb’s, hands, the box ends up in the precarious hands of their eleven-yet-old daughter, Kay.

Kay doesn’t completely understand everything she reads, but she understands enough. My heart broke for her. She eventually shows the box to older brother who immediately shows it to their mother who them confronts her husband.

And then we’re off.

Looking at her author photo, it’s hard to imagine that Pierpont is old enough to bring such depth and complexity to a story based around an affair. But this story is anything but typical. Pierpont even bravely throws a flash forward into the middle of the book and it totally works. It adds another layer to the story that is already richly layered.

It’s a wonderful book to just sink into for the summer and I am eagerly awaiting her next one.

A Sentence I Love:

New year. Snowflakes looked like skeletons of something else.

Do you Believe in the Magic of a Blue Moon?

Photo via Pinterest

Photo via Pinterest

Maybe you believe in the the alignment of the planets; maybe you don’t.

Maybe you think astrology is ridiculous at best, dangerous at worst; maybe you don’t.

Maybe you believe in the powerful energy of a full moon, especially a Blue Moon; maybe you don’t.

Me? I choose to believe.

If there’s the possibility of magic in the air I’m gonna choose to believe in that magic.

Tonight’s Blue Moon has been written up all over the internets this week. Check out this one, and here, and here. Read what you want, take what you will.

There are many ways to celebrate the Blue Moon: rituals, bonfires, ocean ceremonies. You can just stand under the moonlight in your own backyard or view it through your window. A ritual that comes from your heart and rings true for you is best. Make it simple or complex.

To me, it’s just about my intention, honoring that intention with an awareness of the vision of the moon and its energy.

This Blue Moon feels like a space to continue my month-long process of digging deep and shedding whatever it is that is weighing me down, holding me back—beliefs, thoughts, habits. Just letting them go in order to open up space for my authentic self to shine.

I wrote in my journal about it this morning. I may write a few more things on pieces of paper and burn them later tonight as I am bathed in the light of this full moon.

The point is, to keep it real. Make it have meaning for you.

At the very least, you get a magnificent view of the moon; at best you allow that energy to sweep through you, carrying away whatever it is that is holding you back.

Either way, it’s win/win.

Meditation as Bicep Curls?

I’ve resisted a regular, sustained meditation practice for years. Even when, at a retreat with Natalie Goldberg, and she pretty much guaranteed that meditating would help my writing, I still blew it off.

Even after becoming a yoga teacher, I blew it off.

Sure, I’d show up for a few days, weeks, even months but then I’d miss a day, then another and another.

I think I’ve always had this picture of how meditation should look and the way my wild mind flitted all over the place like a hummingbird on speed did not fit that picture.

In short, I felt like I failed every time I sat down.

Of course, I knew that bringing my mind back to my breath or mantra was the practice. But mostly I knew that in my head. Part of me still felt like I should get past that stage, that it was a hoop I had to jump through.

Being laid up these last few weeks, I’ve had plenty of time to meditate. And I have. Daily.

Along the way, I stumbled across this video, which I just love. First, it’s animated and takes some of the heavy seriousness out of meditation. Second, one phrase in particular has stayed with me. That each time we bring our awareness back to the present, it’s like a bicep curl for our mind.

See, the thing that I feared was failing is exactly the thing needed to strengthen my practice, my mind, my awareness.

It’s so liberating.

I no longer fight my thoughts. Each time I notice my attention has strayed, I bring it back to my breath or mantra, knowing that that moment, that moment of starting over is the whole point.

It’s not failure.

It’s the practice.

I Confess: I Binge-Watched “Younger.”

Younger

I admit it. I was prepared to hate, or at least be offended by TV Land’s original series, “Younger.”

The premise sounds like something that I, as a feminist, should loathe. Sutton Foster plays Liza Miller, a recently divorced 40-year-old looking for a job in publishing—a career she had enjoyed before taking time off to raise her daughter who is now in India for her first year of college. After going on  dozen interviews where her age trumped her qualifications or abilities, she took advice from her best friend (played by Debi Mazar) to just say she is 26.

Sure, Foster looks great for 40. Like really great. But 26? The thing you have to buy into in order to enjoy the show is what her friend tells her—that people want to believe what they are told.

So, after a mini-makeover which involved some highlights, make-up and a new wardrobe found at vintage shops, Liza lands a publishing job an assistant to a woman who resents all the 20-something girls who work for and with her. She becomes friends with an actual 26-old junior editor played by Hillary Duff. (Seriously, wasn’t she just playing lizzie Maguire?)

After allowing myself to believe that she could pass for 26, the next thing that hooked me was that they had a Joyce Carol Oates storyline happening.

Joyce Carol Oates!

So, there’s the whole book publishing, writing, author thing going on which I love. But the more I watched, the more I felt that this wasn’t just some fluffy, misogynistic crap. Sure, some of it is fluff, it is a half-hour sit-com. But they address the differences between the generations in a funny yet thoughtful manner long with the reality of aging, especially for women. And it’s given me a different view into the lives of the 20-somethings, which, as the mom of a 20-something, I appreciate.

Since Darren Star of “Sex and the City” fame is behind the creation and production of this show, it focuses on the relationship between women. There is sex and relationship angst, of course, but at its heart (and it does have heart) “Younger” is a show about women and how we can lift each other up or not. And what a loss for all when we don’t.

The Adventure of Turning 50.

Turning 50 TTB

When I turned 40, my husband and I went on a cruise to Jamaica with two other couples. My kids were 11 and eight, we had moved across the country, and I was helping my sister deal with the death of her young husband—I was being pulled in many directions. The idea of getting away from it all was very appealing. Getting away from it all in the middle of the ocean with lots of food and drinks and people was even more appealing.

Turning 50 though, that wasn’t the case. Instead of being pulled in all different directions, my kids are in the midst of going off in their own directions as they prepare to leave for college in August. I no longer felt the need to get away from it all.

I needed to pull into my self. I need to find that self to hold onto once they are gone.

So, I began searching on-line for something to do, somewhere to go by myself. I looked at retreats, white water rafting trips, yoga and meditation hikes, hot air balloon rides, parachuting, renting a small writer’s apartment in Paris.

I was obviously looking to challenge myself in some way. Shake things up, but nothing came up that was on the day of my birthday. Definitely nothing that I was willing to pay that kind of money for with two kids in college.

I let it go. It wasn’t meant to be.

Then…

(Finish reading the entire piece here.)

Expecting vs. Accepting.

Image: GotCredit / Flickr

Image: GotCredit / Flickr

Since I hurt my low back three weeks ago, then again 10 days later, I keep expecting to wake up, leap out of bed, pain free.

Sadly, that is not how it works.At least not for me.

And it’s got me thinking about what I expect versus what is reality.

I didn’t expect to pull my low back going up into shoulder stand at the end of my practice. I had to accept that that is indeed what happened. Wondering why and wishing I had just skipped that pose or that practice was not helpful. At all.

After a particularly emotional day where I cried and wrote pages upon pages, releasing years of pent up emotion, I expected to wake up pain free.

I had to accept that the healing process was going to go at its own pace. I felt a little better, sure, but there was absolutely no leaping out of bed.

After receiving a Bowen therapy treatment where I cried out of the blue then just as quickly stopped, I expected the pain to be gone with whatever it was that I had released.

I had to accept that it will probably not just disappear in one fell swoop.

I’ve had to accept that I need to rest. To ask for help. To relieve help. To slow way, way down.

Mostly, I’ve hd to accept that this happened for a reason and even if I do everything “right” it will take as long as it takes to heal.

Books Read in June

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“The Last Days of California” a novel by Mary Miller

It was Wednesday and we hadn’t even made it to Texas yet.

It’s a coming-of-age novel set on the precipice of the Second Coming. Fifteen-year-old Jess is on the road with her mother, rebellious sister and a father on a mission to save as many souls as possible before the rapture. As the trip goes on, Jess begins losing enthusiasm for their cause. Is she losing her faith as well? Dealing with all the angst that goes with being a teenager, Jess meets strangers along the way that open up her secluded world, often making her own family seem like strangers, if not herself at times.

A beautifully humane, funny and dark exploration of the complexities of family, faith, sexuality and growing up in modern times.

Favorite sentences:

My father drove faster and faster, the land so barren it was easy to imagine the world had already ended and we hadn’t heard,

I didn’t know how I could want things so badly while making it impossible to ever get them.

“One Step Too Far” a novel by Tina Seskis

The heat is like another person to push past as I make my way along the platform.

Emily Coleman seems to have it all—a happy marriage, beautiful family and home, a successful career as a lawyer. So what would make her leave it all behind, assume a new identity and disappear into the depths of London?

Told in alternating chapters of the present story and flashbacks, it is slowly revealed what exactly made her run away from a so-called perfect life.

“What Comes Next and How to Like It” a memoir by Abigail Thomas

I have time to kill while waiting for the sun to dry, and I’m mulling over the story I spent year swriting and failed to turn into anything, trying not to be depressed.

I swear, I’d read a grocery list if Abigail Thomas wrote it. Her writing is sparse, but deep, funny and heartbreaking. She gives herself no place to hide in these short chapters (some only a few sentences) and an entire life is revealed as the pieces are stitched together. Just a beautifully breathtaking exploration of her days, her past, her future, her life.

Some favorite sentences:

On sleeping in bed with her dogs: I feel like the ruler of a small, rumpled country.

I have learned to love the inside of my own head.

After a date she had great time with: I didn’t call him back: I did not spend any time wondering what I’d done wrong, or what I could or should have done differently,whether I was too old or too fat or ask too many questions. I am who I am and it has taken me a long time to get here,

The Shame of Pain.

Image. Sarah via Flickr

Image: Sarah via Flickr

I was going to start this post with this sentence:

I hurt my back.

But that feels like I am blaming myself. Which I was when it first happened 15 days ago. How could I have let this happen? What did I do wrong? How stupid of me.

I didn’t tell many people. When I realized that I hadn’t posted about this at all on social media, I had to ask myself why.

The answer?

At first it was that I was embarrassed. Here I am, a yoga teacher, and something happened to my back going into shoulder stand. But as I dug deeper, it felt more like shame. Shame that I had let this happen. Shame that I was bedridden. Shame that I was letting my students down. My fellow teachers down. Shame that I felt I was letting my family down by not being able to care for them.

Brené Brown says that guilt is I did something bad. Shame is that I AM bad.

Big difference.

Shame is slimy. And heavy. And I couldn’t understand why it was slithering around me now. So, I dug deeper. After all, being in bed gives one much time to ponder.

I have been a stay-at-home mom for almost 22 years. Over the years I’ve brought in varying amounts of money through writing, teaching writing, teaching yoga and graphic design. Since it’s always been extra money, I realized that I place much of my “value” on being able to take care of my family, take care of the house, take care of all the logistics of our daily lives.

Being unable to do my normal routine left me feeling like my value was suffering. Ridiculous, I know. Truly, my logical, conscious brain knows that. But I’m dealing with that sneaky subconscious part of my brain.

And I am dealing with it. Confronting its lies, the stories it weaves all designed to make me feel small and less than.

I’ve been using this time to write in my journal, meditate, practice self-Reiki and EFT and I am churning up a lot of stuff, stuff I will continue to post about as I process it all.

For now, I know that I am not to blame for what happened. That it doesn’t make me less than. I didn’t cause the pain. I am experiencing the pain. It happened for a reason. It’s got me doing some deep inner work.

I feel like I am peeling back and shedding layers and layers of crap.

I feel light.

I feel aligned.

I feel present to it all:

      The pain.

      The moment.

      My feelings.

      My life.