#AMonthofFaves 2016 ~ Popular Books Worth the Hype

As I glanced back through my blog to refresh my memory of books read this year, I see that it’s been a rather slim year of reading for me. And that is actually okay. I tend to hide behind books, rather than doing my own creative work, but think I have written more than I read this year. Here a few a few that survived the hype for me:

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“A Little Life” a novel by Hanya Yanagihara

This title kept popping up so I finally succumbed and bought it. It didn’t disappoint.Totally worth the awkwardness of holding 720 pages. It’s a hefty book about the messy, complicated, tenacious bonds of male friendship.

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“Big Magic- Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert

I’ve probably read this three times since it was published. It’s a kick in the pants and a balm for my creative soul that i will return to again and again.

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“The Underground Railroad” a novel by Colson Whitehead

Well, Oprah was right to choose this for her book club. In this brilliant novel, the underground railroad is not a mere metaphor. It is a literal train that runs underground,  helping to free slaves, specifically Cora and Caesar. Their story is mesmerizing while shining a light on the brutal history we all share.

 

#AMonthofFaves2016~ These are a Few of my Favorite Things

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things #AMonthofFaves2016 – eg. to eat, drink, wear, smell, see, do, enjoy, best thing I bought, most used gift received etc, favorite concert, outdoor activity, place visited, most squee worthy moment of the year, biggest change.

So…2016. It’s been called the dumpster fire of years. With good reason. And it’s easy to settle into a permanent state of angst but forward momentum is needed. In that spirit, I am reviving my blog by participating in this challenge that I saw via Andi of Estella’s Revenge.

Favorite home improvement: My writing space! We (and by “we,” I mean my husband and my best friend), ripped up the cat-pee smelling carpet and laid this beautiful dark wood laminate. I got a couple of new, comfortable chairs, displayed the old typewriter my husband got for my birthday and it feels like a whole new space. So much energy and potential. I just breathe easier the minute I step across the threshold.

my-writing-space

Favorite squee worthy moment of the year: My BFF since we were 14 moved to the area! We haven’t lived in the same state in over 20 years. Now, she’s only 30 minutes away. We hang out on random weeknights and have dinner together, go the movies, yoga, the park. She loves to play and go do fun things which will be great for me when my default is to just hibernate.

Favorite item of clothing: This fun, comfortable cardigan from Dry Goods. It is so me!

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Favorite new TV show: “This Is Us.” The characters are so rich, the unique structure enriches the stories and it is just real. I cry almost every week, so it basically replaced “Parenthood.”

This Is Us - Season 1

Favorite drink: Mimosas because we only have them on special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas morning and that means my girls are home! Win/win!

mimosas

Favorite thing I bought: This super cute, super versatile skirt from “The Happy Woman” in Sutton’s bay. The snaps allow it be any size you need it to be. The waistband and skirt are both reversible so it has 4 different looks. Plus it comes with a little purse that is perfect for my phone. Looks great with black tights and boots.I just love it!

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Favorite book I read this year: “The Chronology of Water.” Hands down. It changed what I believe writing can be, what it can do. Read my reflection here.

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Favorite meme:‘Nuff said.

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The Masks We Wear.

 

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Image found via Pinterest.

I don’t remember the first time it happened.

But I’m sure I was young when I first donned that mask that would allow me to be accepted, liked, loved.

Maybe when I pretended not to be upset.

Or laughed at a joke that I actually found offensive.

When I said, “Nothing” to the question, “What’s wrong?”

Or when I somebody asked how I was and I said, “Fine” when really I was trembling with sadness, shame or rage on the inside.

We learn at a young age to mold our outsides to be acceptable to those we love most, to those who don’t even know us at all.

I did it just the other day when my best friend of 37 years came over so we could go to dinner and a movie. I’d just gotten home from teaching, the house was a mess because I just didn’t feel like cleaning. But I did this brisk 30-minute clean before she arrived.Why? She is the last person who would judge me for anything much less having a messy house. I was judging me.

And there it is.

I judge myself harshly and then feel compelled to pretend I am other than who I am.

Yoga has helped with this. Not just the poses. We all know that the poses are the very tip of the yoga iceberg. The more I practice, the more I show up to my mat just as I am on any given day and do what I can do on any given day, the more I am peeling away those layers of masks.

Some days I just need Child’s Pose and Savasana. That’s it. I’m done.

Other days I need to sweat and move and build strength.

The biggest revelation is that one day is not better than the other. They are just days. Days when I show up to my mat. And when I show up to my mat, I show up to myself.

No matter what I do when I show up to my practice, whether it’s Child’s Pose or Warrior or Crow, I am shifting energy. Energy that has gotten stagnant and stuck in my body. When I come out of a pose that has gotten to be too much, I am honoring who I am, not trying to prove I am something I’m not. Same when I pass on going deeper into a pose just because the teacher suggests it.

Yoga has been about learning to trust myself. Trust my body. Trust what I feel. Trust what I need. Trust what I believe. Trust in the Universe.

And when I deeply trust who I am, there’s no need to wear a mask.

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NoTrumpVote Dedication.

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I dedicate my NoTrumpVote to my daughters, 22 and 19 and my two nieces, 15 and 6. Because it’s horrifying that we live in a culture where a man serves three months in prison for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster since it might derail his promising swim career. Because women are blamed for getting raped due to the amount of alcohol they consumed but men are excused by the amount they had. Because women who use their voices are shut down by men calling them cunts and threatening to rape them, reminding us that that is the only part of our bodies worth any value. Because women are literally valued less than men in 2016, making 77 cents on the dollar. Because a man who brags about sexual assault and getting away with it because of his celebrity chills me to the bone. Because what kind of policies would he enact or disable as president when he views women as lips to kiss, tits to ogle, pussies to grab? I don’t want to find out. Our power is in our voice, our voice is in our votes. Use both this election.

Thank you to Julianna Baggott for creating this space for hope in such a perilous time.


#DedicateYourNoTrumpVote

The Art of Belonging.

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You belong.

Those two words are plastered all over the gym I recently joined. I see them on every piece of equipment. They swim up at me through a haze of sweat and heavy breath as I push through the cardio cycle of the treadmill or elliptical or bike. I know it’s a marketing ploy. It’s their hook. Everybody is welcome there, not just lunks.

But still.

There’s something about those two little words that tug at me.

You belong.

Doesn’t the root of most unhappiness come down to a feeling of not belonging? We feel different. Outside. Other. And we try to hide the shame of being different behind wine, cigarettes, food shopping, social media, drugs, TV. Whatever will momentarily numb the discomfort of not belonging.

You belong.

I do?

It’s a question the whispers at the edge of my consciousness, tinged with hope rather than disdain.

I belong.

My yoga practice helps me feel like I belong in my body.

Meditation helps me feel I belong in this moment, just as I am.

Writing helps me feel I belong to the world within and around me as I struggle with words and stories that reveal what I care most about at any given moment.

So, as I climb imaginary hills and bike imaginary distances, I appreciate seeing the words “You belong” gazing up at me, a simple yet powerful reminder that I belong in this body, in this moment, with heart thumping and sweat dripping, breathing hard and fast in this one body that belongs to me and me to it.

 

You Belong ~ Kim Haas

You belong in this skin with its freckles and lines and scars.

You belong in this body—the body you are in now, not when you are ten pounds lighter or the one from ten years ago but this body right now in all its glorious imperfect beauty.

You belong in this life with the family you were born into whether it is fractured or whole, nurturing or absent. You chose them for a reason, so you belong.

You belong wherever you stand at any given moment on this earth.

You belong to this family of humans, all desperate to belong, to find their place out in the world when the real belonging takes place deep inside each of us.

You belong to the Universe of stardust and moonlight.

To the ebb and flow of the tides.

To brother crow and sister snake.

You don’t have to prove you belong. The fact that you are here is the proof.

You, dear one, belong here, now, just as you are.

 

Books Read in July + August.

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“Gonzo Girl” a novel by Cheryl Della Pietra

Everybody is laughing except for me.

Walter Reade is the infamous writer (based on Hunter S. Thompson) looking for yet another assistant to “help” him finish his next project. Recent college grad, Alley Russo, is just desperate enough to take the unpaid internship as nanny/babysitter/word coaxer/drug and alcohol enabler.

Hoping that if she hangs in long enough to get the job done, she will have the chance to help her own book see the light of day. Reade may be too far gone to help and perhaps much too dangerous.

It’s a great page-turner that explores creativity and what we are willing to do get our own art out into the world.

A sentence I love: Seizures in real life are like nothing out of the movies. They are much more awkward and far less violent.

“Blackout—Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget” by Sarah Hepola

I’m in Paris on a magazine assignment, which is exactly as great as it sounds.

In the tradition of Caroline Knapp’s, “Drinking : A Love Story,” Hepola gives us an unflinching account of her path into drinking and, eventually, out.

She plums the depths of her addiction in a matter-of-fact, I’m-no-longing-hiding-my-shit kind of way. And she doesn’t hide anything from the reader or herself. But it’s not meant to shock us. There’s a desperate sincerity behind her story. She doesn’t look away so we, as readers, don’t either.

As described on the back jacket copy, each morning after a blackout, she became a detective trying to piece together a missing chunk of her life. The whole book feels like she is detective, trying to piece together how she got there, figuring out when enough was enough and, finally, her long haul back from the edge into sobriety.

A sentence I love: Writing required hush and sharpness of vision. Drinking was roar and blur.

“How To Be Here” by Rob Bell

I once had an idea for a book.

Reading anything by Rob Bell always wakes up my soul. And makes me want to stay awake. Makes me want to be here now, every moment of my life.

Do you think that being creative means being an artist? A writer? A musician? Rob Bell is here to tell you different. He says, “All work is creative work because all work is participating in the ongoing creation of the world.”

He explores the concept of the Japanese word “ikigai.” It is “the sense you have when you wake up that this day matters, that there are new experiences to be had, that you have work to do, a contribution to make.”

He explores the importance of craft, no matter what your work is. The act of taking that first step. Of facing the blank page, whatever than may mean to you.

His writing feels effortless, easily accessible and speaks right to my heart. He connects me to my heart, to my self in this moment. If your spirit needs a pep talk, then Rob is the guy for you.

A sentence I love:

Success says, What more can I get?

Craft says, Can you believe I get to do this?

“Carry On, Warrior- The Power of Embracing your Messy, Beautiful Life” by Glennon Doyle Melton

A few years ago, strange things started happening to me at church.

This book read like I was sitting down with a dear friend, a friend who knows all of me—all the messy parts I try to hide from everyone including myself— well, she not only sees those parts, she embraces me more fully because of them. And in doing so, she makes me want to embrace all of me too. It’s quite a gift she has.

She reminds me of the badass Christianity of Anne Lamott along with the honest, wisdom-seeking of Liz Gilbert but Glennon is uniquely her own person. She brings her own voice, humor, compassion and utterly quirky and endearing authenticity to every page.

With her utter honesty she encourages the reader to be honest with herself and those around her as well. Touching on everything from marriage to parenthood, church to work, compassion to grief, these essays will make you laugh and cry and left me eager to go live my life out loud.

A sentence I love: When you write your truth, it is a love offering to the world because it helps us feel braver and less alone.

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Okay. So, I didn’t realize that this was a play when I bought it. It jarred me, even annoyed me a little. I was ready to just sink into the Harry Potter world again through prose. Once I got over that little disappointment and found a rhythm to read the play in, I was able to proceed. Granted, a little cautiously, but I proceeded. It felt good to visit these old friends. See them grown up and raising children of their own. I enjoyed visiting the wizarding world again. The story was fine. It just felt a little thin and I’m not sure if that’s because of the plot or because of the genre of it being a play. Without the expanse of a novel to roam through the minds of the characters and their lives and world, it felt a little like skim milk when what I was craving was rich, heavy cream.

“The Seventh Book of Wonders” by Julianna Baggott

This is how the story goes: I was born dead—or so my mother was told.

I LOVED this story! It captivated me from the first sentence and the fact that it was about a writer and had a secret book woven in throughout only added to my captivation. Baggott is a storyteller in the best way, layering in complex characters with a plot that makes you want to keep turning the page, all with a beautiful gift for language. In fact, I underlined many sentences that I loved but I can’t share them since I let my best friend borrow it. You’ll just have to pick it up for yourself and see what I mean. And you should pick it up. As soon as possible.

The Beauty of Seasons.

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Found via Pinterest.

It’s September 1. Windows are open, A/C is off (for now). I hear the rustle of leaves as some begin making their descent back into the earth. Facebook is filled with photos of kids going back to school. The wide open space of summer is winding down as we get ready to begin the turning inward that fall and winter bring.

Fall is my favorite. I like it more than January 1 for clean slates and hunkering down to create and accomplish the life I dream of having. No matter how old I get, I will always ride this back-to-school energy. I stock up on notebooks and pens. This year, I bought an awesome new planner (undated) that I am starting to use today. If I was going to create my own planner this would be it. It’s the perfect balance of goal setting and dreaming, of intentions and accountability.

After getting our girls back up to school, I went through and cleared out the house. Threw away over-stuffed files, old clothes. Went through the junk drawers, the fridge and freezer. Everything has a home in my home now and my life is so much easier.

As part of stepping lightly into a more structured routine, I signed up for an on-line writing course that starts on Monday. I am finishing up revisions to my novel-in-stories and revising my agent query letter (which seems to be harder to write than the novel!) My other WIP is waiting patiently in the wings, ready for me to dive back into that world.

I have my yoga and meditation practice to both ground and uplift me—two things I desperately need in this heated political climate.

When I lived in Arizona, I loved the weather, the blue skies, the palm trees, having a beautiful in-ground pool in our backyard oasis. But. Once I moved back to the midwest, I realized how much I missed the change off seasons. I missed it on every level—physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically. The changing of the seasons stirs something within me, something primal and deeply rooted. They mimic the ebb and flow of my energy, my creativity. There’s the whole cycle-of-life that mirrors our physical selves as well as our emotional selves. I naturally tend to look outward at spring and revel in the warmth and wide open days of summer, then I naturally yearn to start retreating in the fall, stoking the home fires of my creativity, of my soul as we head into winter where the cycle begins all over again.

I’ve already seen a few leaves tinged red at the edges. The sun is setting earlier. And I am ready for the change of seasons. The change of energy and focus. How about you?

 

Books Read in May + June.

May June books

“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.