“Furiously Happy- A Funny Book About Horrible Things” by Jenny Lawson
This is where I was going to put a simple Mary Oliver quote but instead I decided to replace it with the idea I had for the cover of this book because I’m pretty sure it’ll never get accepted and I don’t want it to go to waste.
A funny book about a lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression? Yep. And only Jenny Lawson could pull it off.
As I read this book, each page either made me laugh out loud or cringe a little or left a little ding in my heart—sometimes all three at once.
If you haven’t discovered Jenny Lawson via her on-line presence as “The Bloggess” (and why haven’t you?) go, right now and check her out. Unless you’re easily offended. Or don’t like edgy, dark humor. But if you do, and if you appreciate a woman who is funny AF and is able to laugh at herself and plunder the depths of her mental illness for all to see then check out her blog and definitely check out this book.
A sentence I love: It’s as if risotto doesn’t know if it’s mashed potatoes or rice so it just decided to be both. But badly.
“Crash Course—essays from where writing and life collide” by Robin Black
The only person in my home who thinks about words more than I do is my younger daughter.
This is probably one of my favorite books on writing. And that is saying a lot. I used to devour writing books in lieu of, you, know, actually writing. The books that really resonate with me are the ones less about craft and more about—well the subtitle of this collection—that space where writing and life collide.
Black covers everything from ADHD to home improvements, from rejections to queries. She writes from her own life and shares a deep, behind-the-scenes look at how her life has impacted her writing and how writing impacts her life.
My favorite essay (if I had to choose just 1!) may be the advice on how (not) to query where she ignored all of the advice on how you should write a query and basically just wrote from her own charming, real self.
Reading these essays felt like I was sitting down over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with a mentor who really gets me and who only wants me to succeed in the space where my own life and writing collide. And for that I thank her.
A sentence I love: I hunt for the points of inaction that my characters might themselves later regret, those decisions that might inspire in them the rich fictions of which we are all such gifted authors when we are sorry to have chosen the safer, less active of two possible paths.
“I Don’t Want to, I Don’t Feel Like It—How Resistance Controls your life and What to Do About It” by Cheri Huber & Ashwini Narayanan
There’s an impulse:
–I want to lose weight, eat better, join the gym.
Aaahh…resistance. That relentless puppy nipping at our heels constantly. This is the first book to not only explain the origins of resistance but what to do to bypass it and live the kind of life you want to live, be the kind of person you want to be.
It’s written in a casual font that helps you to slow down and really read each sentence. There are even simple, hand-drawn illustration throughout. There’s a lot of repletion but it is needed. It’s needed because our Ego doesn’t want us to understand how to bypass it. Ego wants us to stay exactly as we are, as it is.
I love that there are fifteen 2-day exercises to complete at the end to help us implement the tools rather than merely read about them.
A sentence I love: We cannot have the life we want if we are unable to drop the conversation and be present to life as it is.
“The Empathy Exams” essays by Leslie Jamison
My job title is medical actor, which means I play sick.
This eclectic collection of essays explore the idea, role and expression of empathy in our lives. Jamison mines her personal life for spaces where she learned empathy, displayed or encountered it as well as the times it alluded her.
We are given access to her time as a medical actor, pretending to be a patient with a script memorized so medical students could practice on her. They got points for showing empathy. Which led her to wonder what exactly empathy was and how was it expressed. The mere fact that the med student is given points for it takes away from the sincerity of the expression.
She explores her travels outside the country as well her personal health crises and injuries. In the last essay (my favorite) she explores the idea of women and pain, feminine wounds weaving in everything from Dracula to Carrie, from anorexia to cutting.
I led a book group on this and the discussion was fascinating. The feeling that Jamison failed to display the very empathy she was attempting to explore by viewing herself so closely and mining others’ struggles came across as the antithesis of empathy. I find it a fine line writers must straddle when writing from personal experiences. When does it cross the line into navel-gazing? I felt she balanced it all, risking alienating some (as in my book club) by delving deep into her own pain in order to illuminate how we can feel the pain of others.
A sentence I love: [On anorexia] Not just at the familiarity of these metaphors—bone as hieroglyph, clavicle as cry—but at the way they risk performing the same valorization they claim to refute: ascribing eloquence to the starving body, a kind of lyric grace.
Of the same family, yet not.
Cousins are like separate constellations within the same universe.
My cousin, Richie, is part of his own constellation now. He died on Thursday.
I consider him my closest cousin. We were a year apart. We grew up together, spending holidays and summers together. He was like a big brother to me—teasing me, teaching me to stand up for myself. We leg wrestled. We fought. We played. We hung out. We grew up, grew apart.
My family moved away when I was 12, but Richie and I reconnected when I was 18 or 19. He was in the Navy and got stationed in Philadelphia where I was going to art school. We started hanging out, getting to know each other again. He’d tell me about his friends but if they showed any interest in me, he’d get all big brother protective, telling them to leave his cousin alone. I remember he found graham crackers in my apartment and wasn’t surprised. He said that I had always loved them. I was touched that he remembered this small thing about me and it hit me that I missed having somebody around who had known me for so long.
After Philly, we lost touch. The occasional phone call, the family reunion here and there. I saw him twice in the last year. Once was happy and the other so sad. He came to my home for my daughter’s grad party. Then I went to his son’s funeral.
Milestones in two lives that had intertwined yet went their separate ways.
He is gone, yet not. Just as he remembered I liked graham crackers, I remember things about him like how he loved to cook. His wife, children, sisters, parents, cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and friends—all of us who knew him will remember him. And will make sure that his sweet, sweet grandchildren know who he was.
Good-bye, cousin. May you find peace in this new constellation you are part of.
Today is the 130th day of 2016.
I have written every one of those days.
Some days I have half-assed it, just barely showing up enough to call it writing.
But most days I. Show. Up.
I write. I edit. I revise. I re-imagine scenes to make them deeper, more real. I haul out the words and stories buried in my body, in my psyche, ones that are weighing me down, holding me back.
Today, as I rolled out of a 30-minute meditation, trying to stay in that soft space, I picked up my notebook and pen, watching the pink ink spill across the page and I realized that writing is no longer just something I show up for. It’s not longer just a red “x” I make on my board.
Writing has become my soft place to land everyday—even when what I am writing is hard and jagged.
Writing is no longer (well, more often) this “other” that I battle, compare, belittle and judge.
I have finally befriended my writing and it has befriended me.
It reminds of this:
And here is the fascinating thing:
The more I befriend my writing, the more I am befriending my body—the more I befriend my whole self.
The more real I am on the page, the more I let it all out, the more compassion I seem to generate for myself and all the parts I used to deem as broken or unacceptable or unlovable.
My youngest daughter (19 years old) recently attended my Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class which combines some writing with yoga. The topic of that “inner mean girl” voice came up. Later at dinner, I asked E.if she experienced that voice.
She shrugged and said, “Nah…my voice petty much says ‘You do you, Girl!'”
As her mom, I loved hearing that.
,As a woman I loved hearing that.
As a writer, I realize that is exactly what my writing says to me:
“You do you, Girl. I got your back.”
“The Great Spring- Writing, Zen, and This Zigzag Life” by Natalie Goldberg
People come up to me and say, “I love your book.”
I read this one slowly, savoring the words, thoughts, energy of a teacher who had started me on this writing path all those 30 years ago with her first book, “Writing Down the Bones.” She cracked open my mind through the idea of writing practice. I filled notebook after notebook with my practice. Writing became the way I connected to the raw, uncensored deep and still yet chaotic part of myself.
Reading this book, all these years after Bones, it felt like all that practice had distilled into her very marrow, into her cells. Her writing, her observations, her breath and energy rose off the page to meet me at this moment in my life, on my path. At times I felt overcome with emotion, like she was touching a part of me.
She hasn’t changed in that she remains rooted and committed to the practices of writing and Zen. What’s changed with me is that I now have a regular meditation practice, something I resisted even after studying with her at the Mabel Dodge Luhan house where she practically guaranteed that meditation was the secret to writing.
Now, I know she is right. Both practices ground me in the present moment. Both allow me access to observing my mind, riding the wild waves and combing the still waters.
Some of my favorite sentences:
“I had written intensely all that morning, leaning over the notebook, deep in relation with my mind.”
“The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.”
“Crash Course- Essays from where Writing and Life Collide” by Robin Black
The only person in my home who thinks about words more than I do is my younger daughter.
I adore Robin Black. As my oldest daughter would say, I consider her my spirit animal. She writes the kind of stories filled with depth and characters that resonate deep within my bones— the kind of stories that I can only hope to write myself.
These essays give us a glimpse into her life—her life as a wife, mother,daughter, friend and her life as a writer. A woman just trying to lay down word after word in hopes of making sense of what is inside of her.
She’s not afraid to delve into the messy parts of life. In fact, that is where she shines.
I wish I could land on one chapter that I loved the most but the beauty of this book is that they all merge together to create a moving portrait of a writing life.
I underlined SO many sentence but here are a few.
Sentences I love:
“But perhaps more critically it means being able to survive rejection from oneself, to weather the huge number of failed attempts and dashed hopes, the daily sense that one is not actually good enough to do what one wants so desperately to do.”
“I possess: this hunger to comprehend the complexity of human behavior, to look beneath what might be dismissed as only hurtful, to discover what may neutralize simple dispositions of blame, to convey this to the world, if only to convince myself.”
“…my interests were so entirely rooted in people’s emotional interiors.”
And from the acknowledgements…
“They taught me, through example and with lots of laughs, what kind of writer I want to be —not what I want to write, but who I want to be while I write.”
“The Chronology of Water” by Lidia Yuknavitch
“The day my daughter was still born, after I held the future pick and rose-lipped in my shivering arms, lifeless tender, covering her face in tears and kisses, after they handed my dead girl to my sister who kissed her, then to my first husband who kissed her, then to my mother who could not bear to hold her,then out of the hospital room door, tiny lifeless swaddled thing, the nurse gave me tranquilizers and a soap and sponge.”
This book. What can I say about this book? Book seems too small of a word. So does story. So does memoir. It is her heart, her blood, her tears, her pain, her determination to be fully present to what happened to her, to where she got to where she is laid bare on the page.
Bare. Raw. Intense. Real. Honest. Naked.
I’ve never read a memoir that reads more true than this one. She never hides. From anything, least of all herself.
I had tears in my eyes by the second page and I rarely cry over books.
I read the whole book with a pen in my hand, wanting to capture the magic she creates with words but getting too caught up in the words to remember to make a mark.
This is a book I will return to again and again.
Sentences I love:
“Little tragedies are difficult to keep straight.”
“Everything collected in my memory curls like water around events in my life.”
“In my throat I swallowed language.”
“We laughed the laugh of women untethered, finally, from their origins.”
“Big Magic- Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert
Once upon a time, there was a man name Jack Gilbert, who was not related to me—unfortunately for me.
I read this for a second time after choosing it for our book club at the yoga studio where I reach. I devoured it the first time, so looked forward to reading it through again, savoring her words, savoring her ideas, savoring her perspective on life,on art,on creativity.
And what perspectives they are.
In the middle of reading it for the second time, I had the privilege of attending a workshop with her, an opportunity to explore the ideas put forth in the book. It unlocked the ideas in a way that merely reading them didn’t afford. Really connecting with her pillars of creativity.
What I love about her is, despite her huge success with “Eat, Pray, Love” she remains humble and in service to the art, to the process of writing, of creating.
Sentences I love:
“My intention was to spend my entire life in communion with writing, period.”
“Because this is how it feels to lead the faithful creative life: You try and try and try, and nothing works. But you keep trying, and you keep seeking, and then sometimes, in the least expected place and time, it finally happens.”
I’ve never been good at being alone.
Never been comfortable with silence. Which explains why I resisted meditation for so long. Even when one of my favorite writers/teachers highly recommended it for writers, coming just shy of touting it as the magic key, I still refused to sit with myself in silence.
When I first went away to art school, I arrived before my roommate. I had the apartment to myself for almost a week and I didn’t know a soul. I didn’t have a TV. This was well before personal computers, much less iPhones. I didn’t have a stereo. I think I did have a cassette player with earphones. And books. And myself.
Those few days were excruciating. I remember sitting on the couch in view of the apartment across from me where I saw other students, hoping, praying they would notice me, take pity on me and invite me over.
When I was a young mother, I craved time alone, even if just in the bathroom. When I was lucky enough to get any time to myself, I almost always squandered much of it in front of the TV. Or I’d call family or friends and talk to them. Anything to fill up the silence. Anything to avoid being alone with myself.
Now, my daughters are both away at college. This week my husband is out of town so it just me and the dog and cat. And the silence.
As I sit in my cozy reading/writing nook in the living room I hear the tapping of these keys, the gurgling hum of the washing, the clock ticking over the mantel and the muted thrum of highway traffic. That’s it. No TV or radio or music to fill the silence.
No barriers between me and myself.
I no longer resist silence or being alone. I embrace it.
What changed? Me. I don’t know when exactly it happened but it’s been since I started practicing yoga, since I finished my YTT. Yoga has allowed me to dive deep and figure out who I am, how I feel and to, you know, actually feel those feelings.
I think I was afraid of feeling too much so I avoided being alone, avoided creating space where feelings could surface.
I am no longer uncomfortable being alone. It no longer feels lonely. It wasn’t because I didn’t like myself. I didn’t know myself. And I am not always comfortable with being alone or with silence. Sometimes I still get that feeling of wanting to crawl out of my skin. Of wanting to fill in the gaps of silence that press on me.
The difference now is that I allow myself to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable.
And that is something that has definitely emerged from my yoga practice. I find my edge in poses that aren’t comfortable but I stay there, I breathe, I feel my body, I note my resistance and choose to stay.
Staying there when I want to flee is where the growth happens. It’s like a muscle that I push to its limit and it grows stronger. That space of hanging in past resistance helps in my writing as well.
So, as I find myself sitting in the utter quiet of my home, I note the butterflies in my belly, I note my shallow breath and the urge to turn the TV on. But I don’t.
I choose to embrace the silence.
And in embracing the silence I am embracing myself , exactly who I am in this moment. I wish eighteen-year-old me had known this. But she was young. She didn’t know or appreciate the beauty of all of who she was.
That’s okay. We know now.
As part of an on-line program, Spring Equinox 30 Days Back to You, I did a full two-hour vipassana meditation this morning. It is a practice of seeing ourselves clearly, of staying present to exactly what is happening in the moment, gradually purifying the mind and getting rid of attachments which are the root of suffering.
Where to start? At the beginning I suppose.
First up was the question of where to do it. I thought I should do it in my yoga room. Then this morning I decided I would sit in my nook in the living room. It didn’t look like I pictured it “should” in my mind—me sitting on my mat, in my yoga room, spine straight. But I decided I needed to make it as doable as possible. This chair is comfortable, it is cozy, I had the house to myself so I wouldn’t be interrupted. It made me wonder how often I tend to sabotage myself before I even begin by not making what I want to do as doable or accessible as possible.
Lately, I’ve been meditating and practicing self-reiki in bed as soon as I wake up. I used to think I “should” be doing it on my mat, after I practice. But this works for me. I wake up and before I do anything else, I do some reiki. I am still in that soft space after just waking, this keeps me there then it leads me straight into a sweet meditative space.
When I first read that I was going to have to meditate for two hours by first reaction was,”NO FUCKING WAY!”
But I was also intrigued.
I thought it would be so hard, so tedious. I thought it would be painful physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
But I also thought it could really interesting.
I went into it without expectations. I deliberately didn’t read about others’ experience with it before I experienced it myself.
I got my cozy blanket, a glass of water, lit a candle, put my phone on airplane mode so I wouldn’t be disturbed, set the timer and just did it.
At first it was loud in my head. It felt like “Inside Out” in there. I had the rebel dressed in black muttering, “This is bullshit.”
There was one wringing her hands worried that we weren’t doing this right at all.
Another desperately taking notes so we could write about this afterward.
Another patrolling with a ruler in her hand, enumerating all the ways this was an utter waste of time.
The first time I checked the timer only 15 minutes had passed.
I shared the space with my dog, Izzy. She slept on the couch then at some point got up and moved to the recliner closer to me. I thought, her whole life is a vipassana meditation. She is always just in the moment, doing what she is doing. I tried to be more like her.
I was acutely aware of my body and the shapes it made. The places where my body connected with the chair, that line or veil between the two seeming to dissipate.
I was hyper aware of my face and neck.
I heard the clock above the mantel ticking away, the hum of the refrigerator, the creaks and groans of the house, distant traffic, a siren.
Odd images would flash behind my eyes. It felt like I was watching a movie.
It felt like that limbo between wakefulness and sleep though I never teetered over the edge into sleep.
The next time I looked I had 37 minutes left.
Then only six.
Then the timer dinged and I came back.
And it felt like coming back.
From where, I’m not sure. A journey of some sort. A deep inner journey.
I don’t remember a lot of the details. I am stunned that two hours went by.
I am surprised that it wasn’t more of a struggle. I’m surprised that I was able to just allow my mind to go where it went and didn’t engage with it. I felt like an observer. A curious, compassionate observer.
I stopped struggling to remember everything that I experienced and just allowed myself to experience it.
Just allowed myself to be.
Just allowed myself to see my Self more clearly.