Books read July – December.

July - Dec. books

“The Residence- Inside the Private World of The White House” by Kate Andersen Brower

As a long-time fan of “The West Wing” as well as being intrigued by behind-the-scenes peeks at life, I found this book fascinating.

Covering administrations from the Kennedy’s to the Obama’s, we are given a glimpse into the people who make the White House run so efficiently. They try to blend into the background, but are often on the frontlines of major events in our history from assassinations to 9/11.

We learn which first families were a little stand-offish to who was more relaxed and joked with the staff. We learn how the staff felt about being a part of the White House and what it meant to them and their families.

It is just a fascinating report on a part of our politics and history that is often overlooked.

“another day” a YA novel by David Levithan

I watch his car as it pulls into the parking lot.

Levithan mesmerized me with his first novel about “A” who wakes up in the body of different young adult every day. This novel picks up from there but with a twist. In the first novel “every day,” A inhabits the body of Justin. In doing so, A spends a beautiful day with Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon. For the first time, A can’t leave one of his lives behind him.

“Another Day” picks up with the story of Rhiannon, who had this beautiful day with her boyfriend that was totally out of character for them. He was attentive and sensitive and made her feel truly seen and heard for the first time. The next day, their relationship is back to its usual status of her trying to anticipate his moods and not annoy him in any way.

Then a stranger shows up and tells her that the Justin she spent the day with wasn’t Justin at all.

This is a beautiful story of love and seeing beyond the way we look to deep within to who we actually are.

Sentences I love: “My life changes all the time, but books don’t change. My reading of them changes—I can bring new things to them each time. But the words are familiar words. The world is a place you’ve been before, and it welcomes you back.”

“The Heart Goes Last” a novel by Margaret Atwood

Sleeping in the car is cramped.

Only Atwood could weave together an economic and social collapse, prison, Elvis and Marilyn impersonators and sex robots and come out with a captivating novel that shines a light on society today. Stan and Charmaine are living out of their car after losing their jobs and their house, leaving them vulnerable to gangs and violence. They see a commercial for a community that seems to offer everything they are lacking: financial security, physical safety, food and housing. They sign on to participate in the Positron Project which requires them to live in the prison every other month, sharing their house with their “alternates.” When their lives begin to intersect with their alternates (which is forbidden) they are flung into territory where their safety and lives are put at risk. If something seems top good to be true, there is inevitably a price to pay.

Classic Atwood. Could not put it down.

“Everything I Never Told You” a novel by Celeste Ng

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

What a fantastic first two sentences. They hooked me for sure and led me into the lives of a Chinese American family living in the suburbs of 1970’s Ohio. Lydia is the favored child, the child on which her parents have pinned their unfulfilled hopes and dreams. When Lydia’s body is found in a nearby lake, the equilibrium of the family is dismantled. This is an exquisite exploration of family and all the ways we hide pieces of ourselves from each other while still longing to understand and be understood by those closest to us.

A sentence I love: Those nights, she never fell back asleep again, and the days grew sticky and thick, like syrup.

“The State We’re In” stories by Ann Beattie

The summer school assignment, the fucking fucking summer school third paper of ten, and if you didn’t get at least a C on the first nine, you had to write eleven papers, the fucking teacher wadding up her big fat lips so they looked like a carnation, her lips that she’d use to pout at your inadequacy…

The first sentence continues from there, delving deep into the mind if its teenage protagonist, Jocelyn (around whom the stories center.) She is living with her aunt and uncle for the summer while her mother recuperates. The stories can have a certain edge to them—an edge of dark humor and vulnerability—just as the characters do. These are not stories to be skimmed. These are stories to be read slowly, savored and digested fully.

A sentence I love: On a scale of one to one hundred, she thought she loved him more than an eighty.

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

Once upon a time, there was a man named Jack Gilbert, who was not related to me—unfortunately for me.

Chances are, you’ve already read this. If you are interested in writing or any kind of creativity, this is the book to read. I gobbled it up the first day it came out.

I started underlining sentences, then passages, then realized I’d pretty much end up underlining the entire book so I just sat back and savored all the juicy morsels that seemed to speak to my soul.

Gilbert has a knack for doing that—speaking directly into the hearts and minds of her readers. Or listeners on TED.

Sure, it’s a book about creativity that can be applied to writing, painting or any other artistic endeavor but it can really be applied to living. Living a life fully and beyond fear. Notice she doesn’t claim to teach you how to live without fear. In fact, Gilbert insists that fear is an essential part of the process:

“Fear and creativity shared a womb, they were born at the same time, and they still share some vital organs. This is why we have to be careful of how we handle our fear—because I’ve noticed that when people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process.”

What I love about this book (and Gilbert in general) is how honest she is. She doesn’t sugar-coat the trials and tribulations. What she does is take you by the hand, look into your eyes and tell you that she’s been there, that she is there now and this is how she deals with whatever is standing in her way and she is more than happy to show you the way.

That right there is what I love most about her—her utter generosity in sharing what she has learned about life, about creativity, persistence, trust—all of it.

A sentence I love: You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass.

“Year of Yes- How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and be Your Own Person” by Shonda Rhimes

I’m a liar.

I’m not usually drawn to celebrity memoirs but the title of this and the idea behind it me lured me in. As well as the fact that I just love Shonda Rhimes!

One Thanksgiving, after telling her sister about all the great opportunities she had no intention of accepting and experiencing her sister said, “You say no to everything.”

Those words haunted Rhimes until she finally had admit the truth behind them and decided to say yes to everything for a year.

She takes us through the year, behind the scenes of the yeses, all that she experienced—the good, bad and ugly— as well as hearing about her shows and how much of herself is reflected in the writing of them.

You don’t have to read too far to see that the fast paced dialogue and rhythm of, say a Poppa Pope monologue, comes from Rhimes herself.

I loved hearing about her writing process a bit but mostly I admired how honest she is about her struggles with her weight to social anxiety. And how her year of yes impacted all aspects of her life in ways she never imagined when she first dreamt the idea.

It makes me want to try my own year of yes.

A passage I love:

On Mothers day cards:

“The message is: mothers, you are such wonderful and good people because you make yourselves smaller, because you deny your own needs, because you toil tirelessly in the shadows and no one ever thanks or notices you…this all makes you amazing.

Yuck.

What the hell kind of message is that?

“Better Than before- Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives” by Gretchen Rubin

Better Than before tackles the question: How do we change? One answer—by using habits.

Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project” and “Happier at Home” delves deeply into the psychology and science of why we are able to create habits, and why we aren’t. She helps us discover our tendencies and how they contribute to our habit-creating abilities. She reveals why some things work for others but not for us and helps us discover what exactly will help us create habits that last and enrich our lives. It recently came out in paperback. There is also a journal available to track your habits (something I discovered that I really enjoy!) It’s a great book to start off the new year!

A sentence I love: We can build our habits only on the foundation of our own nature.

 

 

 

Wednesday Writing Prompt.

Woman falling

Image found via Pinterest.

Remember playing those trust games?

Trusting the person or group to catch you as you fell backwards? I remember trying to learn how to do a backwards dive into the pool and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Nothing bad would happen. I’d fall in some water. That’s it. But still. I didn’t allow myself do fall backward. I didn’t trust that I’d be okay.

I love this image. Arms spread wide, blissful face, utter trust in what she is falling into. Falling toward.

We are all about to fall into a new year. How are you doing it? Eyes squeezed tight, fists clenched, not trusting what lies before you? Unwilling to let go of what lies behind you?

I want to fall into 2016 like this woman. On the edge of a huge precipice, bare feet, heart shining, soul bared—trusting, believing, welcoming exactly what waits for me.

Trusting that I’ll be carried by the winds of my own wings into the person I am meant to be.

The Art of Being a Resolutions Junkie

the desire map

I admit it—I’m a New Year’s Resolution junkie.

I love a clean slate. It can be my birthday,the first day of the month or week, the new moon. But the first day of the new year holds a special place in my resolution-craving heart.

I’ve tried all kinds of resolutions. The usual vague lose weight to the specific lose 20 pounds to the very specific lose 1 pound a week. I’ve set intentions instead of goals regarding my writing life, typing them up with a pretty background and hanging it above my desk.

I’ve taken workshops that use hypnosis to help us keep our resolutions. That was incredibly successful. One year I wanted to take my writing to the next level. (Not very specific, I know.) That was the year I participated in the Elephant Journal Apprentice program, stayed on as a volunteer editor, finished my novel-in-stories, and published pieces on line.

This year I am working with Danielle Laporte‘s “The Desire Map.” Instead of resolving to DO things, first I am figuring out how I want to FEEL this year.

Desire tends to get a bad rap in spiritual circles.Wanting something can be seen as coming from ego or from a place of attachment. But really, our entire life is based on desire. Every action we take from the grand to the mundane comes from our desire to feel a certain way—we want to feel good.

Even our so-called bad habits make us feel good in some way—which is why they can be so hard to break.

As a writer, I don’t have a story or character until I know what that character wants. What do they yearn for? What do they desire deeply? Once I know that, I’m on my way to a story.

So, desire is not a bad thing. Getting in touch with how we want to feel, what LaPorte calls our “core desired feeling” is essential. She says, “Small, deliberate actions inspired by your true desires create a life you love.”

I’m well on my way to discovering my core desired feelings for this year. I have over twenty hand-written pages exploring what is and isn’t working in all aspects of my life. Once I find the three or four feelings that deeply resonate with me, then each action or goal I set needs to make me feel that way. It ends up being a way to strain out all that doesn’t serve me. Does saying “yes” to that party make me feel how I want to feel? Does walking around the lake? Starting a website? Taking another client? Having that glass of wine? Each thing I want to do must pass the core desired feeling test.

Along with “The Desire Map” I just read “Better Than Before”
by Gretchen Rubin which is all about habits—why we make them and why we don’t. After reading it I realize that I love to track my progress. Even If I am accountable only to myself, once I see all those “x”‘s or gold stars piling up, I feel motivated. It’s why I drew this chart (see below) on my dry erase board. It’s great book to read to help you identify the best way for you to go about creating new habits that truly nourish you.

writiing chart

So, that’s my approach too New Year’s this year. As always, I approach all of it with a bit of lightness. It’s not life or death. I don’t want to enter the new year with this heavy burden of obligation or expectation.

Instead, I want to enter the new year with a lightness and a gentle framework supporting me that allows me to live the best life  I can, day to day, moment to moment.

How about you? What’s your approach to New Year’s Resolutions? Share in the comments or with a link to your own post on the subject. 

Wednesday Writing Prompt.

glitter hands

Image found on Pinterest.

Each breath she takes from the truest space of her heart brings light. Each word she writes from the darkest space of her soul brings light. Each time she shows up to these spaces, each time she resists the resistance, more light is drawn to her—drawn into her so that she can spill it back out into the world. Light glitters behind her eyes, weaving into the spaces between her ribs, pulsing through each cell, shimmering on her skin. As she lives from her all parts of herself—the dark and light, the strong and the vulnerable, the anger and the peace, the fear and the courage—her most authentic, fierce self shines and glitters its way into the tiny crevices of the world around her.

The Art of Wabi-Sabi.

gold lotus om

One of the challenges of the holidays can be the added pressure of striving for perfection: finding the perfect gift, decorating the perfect tree, cooking the perfect meal, throwing the perfect party.

Today, on this Winter Solstice, is an ideal time to release the idea of perfection. Perfect according to who, anyway? How will you know when you’ve reached perfection? The truth is, you never will. That little voice in your head? That’s its job, so it’s never going to allow you to find perfection since that means it would be irrelevant.

Allow yourself to release the heavy burden of perfection for the lightness of wabi-sabi: a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.

The other day my husband and I were putting the finishing touch on my yoga room—a gold wall decal of an om symbol within a lotus flower. It’s about three feet by two feet so it was a little unruly to work with, trying to get it centered without it sticking too much to the wall, then getting it to stick enough to peel off the backing but leave the gold on the wall.

We encountered tiny air bubbles along the way. My husband dutifully and gently attended to each one, trying to make the surface perfectly smooth. The foil and wall did not cooperate.

wabi-sabi

Finally, I said to just leave it as is—air bubbles and all. They aren’t all that noticeable and when I do notice them they remind me of all the hard work and love he put into creating this sanctuary for me.

In that moment I practiced wabi-sabi and found the beauty beneath the supposed imperfection.

In that moment I released the heaviness of perfection and welcomed in light, joy and peace of the beauty before me.

What can you release? What can you welcome in?

Embrace the Holy Moment

The gold clings to the

softly mottled blue wall

Shimmering, majestic.

Small pockets of air arise

Marring the surface,

Disrupting the flow.

Pressing gently,

attempting to feather

the air out and away.

Searching for a perfectly smooth

Sheen of gold

But they stubbornly return,

again and again.

Finally I surrender,

Instead of erasing them,

I choose to embrace

the beauty of these

So-called imperfections.

Pursuing perfection is fruitless

It leeches joy from the moment.

How much easier life becomes

when we no longer judge the

usefulness and beauty of something

based on such shallow, unknowable standards.

How much easier to

embrace the holy beauty of

The imperfect,

The impermanent,

The incomplete.

How much easier to

embrace the holy beauty

of each moment

As it is.

How much easier to

embrace the holy beauty

of yourself

Just as you are.

Five on Friday.

  1. So intrigued by her approach to writing.
  2. How meditation can change your life.
  3. Good news, but sad that it is news at all.
  4. December can, indeed, be hard.
  5. This “most wonderful time of the year,” can also be kinda stressful. Here are some tips to help cope.

Wednesday Writing Prompt

winter swings

Image found on alice-eve-lithium.tumblr.com

 

{Fiction}

She hadn’t been to a park since it happened. Just couldn’t bring herself to be around all those children, all the moms who don’t seem to realize how lucky they are. Lucky? Does that mean she is unlucky? Does luck have anything to do with it? It’s science. She knows that.

People don’t know what to say to her. Even her own husband has no words. She actually finds that comforting. No words are better than some of the words that have been tossed her way like tiny breadcrumbs designs dot lead her out of her grief. Words like God’s will, not meant to be, try again…

Her husband is asleep in their bed now. She envies him that space he has to retreat. She had trouble sleeping toward the end. Her belly so big, so cumbersome but secretly she loved it. She carried that huge belly proudly. They had tried long enough. She wanted to savor every second…even the crappy uncomfortable ones.

But nothing prepared her for that night. That night she just knew something was wrong. Her belly felt so still. Probably sleeping her husband said. Even the nurse tried to reassure her but then came the ultra sound. And the silence. From the machine. From the technician. From her belly.

She’d known. Even as the doctor delivered the news, part of her felt like at least she’d known, like it was some kind of badge of honor, some secret link to her baby.

Now she can’t sleep for other reasons. Her belly is soft and empty, but her mind is hard and jagged. She crawls out of bed each night, slipping gout into the night, walking the neighborhood, a few random lights still on well after midnight, the occasional car passing her, its lights streaming over her for a brief moment before leaving her in the dark again.

Tonight it has snowed. She can handle the park at night. An empty park. layered in snow is even better. The silence is profound, dense against her ears. She feels the cold seep deep into the canals of each ear, almost painful but she welcomes it. A different kind of pain. The snow crunches beneath her boots. She holds one of the chains of the swing in her bare hand, squeezing gently as the cold metal presses into her skin. She sits in the soft layer of snow on the swing and feels the cold permeate the layer of jeans she pulled on over her pajamas. She kicks her feet out in front of her, leaning back, gripping the linked chains with both hands, pumping more and more, gaining speed and height, flinging her head back, eyes wide open as the world flails around her at odd, sweeping, disorienting angles.