Books Read in March + April.

March books

“The Water Cure” a novel by Sophie MacKintosh

Once we had a father, but our father dies without us noticing.

I could not put this book down. The feminist dystopian novel, mesmerizing and chilling is told through such exquisite writing. The mood is dreams-like but the three sisters, Grace, Lia and Sky are living a disturbing reality of their father’s creation. They live on an isolated island designed to protect them from the outside world where masculinity is literally toxic to women or is the island designed to keep them trapped there? 

Their father, King, the patriarch and protector, goes to get supplies and doesn’t return. Their mother steps in to fill the void. Soon, their supposedly idyllic world is invaded when two strange men and a boy wash up on shore. King is the only men the girls have ever known. They are intrigued, repelled, angered and confused by their presence. 

It’s a thorough exploration of the different worlds that men and women inhabit, the power of female desire and what happens when they clash.

I especially loved the structure of the book, how certain chapters are told in the plural second person through the eyes of Grace, Lia and Sky as if they are one entity. The language MacKintosh uses is beautiful and so many sentences just made me gasp in admiration.

A passage I love:

Llews puts the lid of the piano down without comment, pushes the stool back. There is a fluidity to his movements, despite his size, that tells me he has never had to justify his existence, has never had to fold himself into a hidden thing, and I wonder what that must be like, to know that your body is irreproachable.

“The Art of Hearing Heartbeats” a novel by Jan-Philipp Sendker

The old man’s eyes struck me first.

I love when a friend recommends a book outside of my usual genre. This one sat on my shelf for a long time. I do have quite the TBR stack. When I was returning another book she had given me I decided I may as well give this one back, feeling bad that I’d had it for so long without reading it. But then I glanced at the first few pages and decided to just put my other books aside and read it.Good decision. It is a lovely story that follows Julia to Burma on a quest to discover what happened to her father. It is part mystery, but mostly it is a story of love and connection and the human spirit. 

It’s good to step outside your reading comfort zone. In fact, I think it is essential and will try to so more often.

A line I loved:

This girl moved  with a grace Su Kyi had never before seen. As if her oddly formed feet had given her a different, heightened sense of her limbs and movements.

“The Fifth Risk” by Michael Lewis

Chris Christie noticed a piece in the New York Times—that’s how it all started.

Lewis is a genius at going behind the scenes of what could appear to be boring topics and making them fascinating. This book takes a deep dive into the heart of government. Not just the sexy stories that get all the media attention but the nuts and bolts and people who run the many departments that make up our government.

What inspired me was the dedication that the people who work in the government exhibit. They are there to serve, regardless of party. As Obama’s term came to a close, all the different departments prepared detailed binders of information that the next administration could use. They didn’t have to agree with the policies but the information would be helpful as they transitioned from one administration to the next. What happened instead is…well, is the point of this book. It’s a book every American should read just to understand how our government works. And how it doesn’t work. It’s a book that should be discussed within the media so that we can all see how our government is being broken from the inside.

Some lines that stood out:

“…fifth risk: the risk a society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions.” 

“If your ambition is to maximize short-term gain without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing the cost. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems. There is an upside to ignorance, and a downside to knowledge. Knowledge makes life messier. It makes it a bit more difficult for a person who wishes to shrink the world to a worldview.” 

“My biggest concern is the misuse of science to support policies.” 

“Broken Things” a YA novel by Lauren Oliver

Five years ago, when I had just turned thirteen, I killed my best friend.

How can you not read on from that first line? Weaving together then and now with pieces of a novel they became obsessed with called, “The Way Into Lovelorn,” we learn about the summer that everything changed for three barely teenage girls. It felt like it might have been inspired by the Slender Man story but if it was, Oliver took it in her own original direction. I had a hard time putting it down as I kept turning the pages to see how it all fit together.

A line I loved:

Words would be less frightening if you could swallow them again, chew them and digest them into nothingness.

“A Happier Hour” a memoir by Rebecca Weller

A blaze of sunlight snuck its way through a gap in the blinds, drilling directly into my eyelids, punishing me.

 I started this in the late afternoon and stayed up until 1:30 in the morning to finish it.

Though I am not writing much about this myself, I am currently exploring not drinking for 60 days. I’m attempting to redefine my relationship to drinking. Reading her story was fascinating. While I don’t drink as much, I could absolutely relate to the amount  of energy expended around drinking. How much? Should I or shouldn’t I? What’s one ore glass? And on and on.

Being able to read her story made me feel less alone. Isn’t that what all reading does? She inspired me to stay the course, to create a toolkit, to be as honest with myself as she was with the world in writing this book in the first place. 

It reminded me yet again of the power of sharing our stories, how we can lift each other up, support and inspire each other when we are authentically ourselves.

A line I could relate to: 

Waking up without a hangover—or heart full of regret—felt utterly delicious, and the thought of not having to deal with another one for three whole months was sublime.

“Era of Ignition- Coming of Age in a Time f Rage and Revolution” by Amber Tamblyn

On the bar in front of me, a tea candle meekly flickered at the end of its wick as I sat next to my husband and wondered how I was going to tell him what I had to tell him.

Back before the 2018 mid-terms, I put out a call to women who lived near me to read Rebecca Traister’s new book, “Good and Mad.” I had a huge response. Women were angry. Women were fired up and wanted to be around other women who felt the same way. Then the mid-terms came and went and a new wave of progressive women came into office and there was hope again. And that hope quelled some of the anger. I tried to put a meeting on the calendar but only one person could make it so I put it off. And we haven’t rescheduled it since then.

Reading Tamblyn’s book now reminds of all the work we still have to do. That we don’t have the luxury of feeling relief that things might be beginning to turn around. That we have the responsibility to stay engaged, to stay angry, to stay fired up and let that energy move into action.

She does an amazing job of weaving her personal story with the larger narrative of feminism and inter-sectionality. She is using her voice and her platform to inform us, to motivate us, to support those who don’t have her kind of reach and voice and power. 

A necessary read for this time of rage and revolution. 

A line that resonated:

“But if ignorance can be a learned behavior, then so too can illumination, and it is within each of us to teach someone willing to grow, and to put our defenses down and receive the same gift in return.”

And you must read the letter she wrote to her daughter.

Taking Care of Me: It’s not just a hashtag.

Sabbatical image

Image found via Pinterest.

I have chosen to take a yoga teaching sabbatical over the month of May. My youngest daughter graduates from college in the beginning of the month then we leave for our 16-day European adventure four days later then my niece graduates from high school at the end of the month.

I thought about just getting subs for the days I needed but then this idea of having a month off from teaching began to percolate.

At first, I brushed it away. All my usual fear-based thoughts clawed their way to the surface:

You can’t afford that.

Why should you get to take a whole month off?

Who do you think you are?

I am quite familiar with this chorus. It’s the Chorus of Unworthiness. All these voices that pop up to remind me that I am not worthy of money or time or attention or love or (fill in the blank). We all have these voices. They are often labeled the Inner Critic, Inner Judge, Inner Bitch, Inner Mean Girl.

Luckily, I am also quite familiar with recognizing these voices when they appear. Recognizing them as stories and seeing through them. See past them and into the fear behind them and into the truth that lies beyond the words. 

Twenty years ago. I studied with Natalie Goldberg for a week. She spoke about resistance. Resistance to writing, to meditating. She said that resistance is the Guardian at the Gate. Every time we stand up to it and get past it to write or meditate (or whatever it is that we are resisting) we gain power. We prove our mettle. We prove how much this matters to us. 

I see this Chorus of Unworthiness in the same way. Each time I stand up to them, each time I do the thing they don’t want me to do, say the thing they don’t want me to say, dream the dream they think is too audacious, I prove my mettle. I embrace my worthiness.

So, I am standing up to those voices yet again and claiming the month of May as my own. 

It will be a month of adventure and milestones. 

A month of being a student rather than teacher. 

It will be a month of exquisite self-care. The sabbatical itself is an act of exquisite self-care. I’ve given a workshop on self-care and often talk about it in my classes. Now, I am walking my walking.

I am taking care of me because I am worth it. Because I, as much as anyone, deserve my own love and affection. And taking care of me is not just a hashtag—it’s a way of life.

A Work-in-Progress.

Me splatterJPG

This blog is having an identity crisis.

I had changed it to focus on writing at the beginning of the year then promptly lost interest. Not in writing, but in only writing about writing.

While writing is a huge part of my life, it’s not all of my life. And all of my life actually feeds into my writing. I began considering starting another blog for yoga then it reminded me of “The Golden Notebook” by Doris Lessing and I didn’t want to fragment my life like that.

So, here I am. Another incarnation of this space. I want to gather all the pieces of myself here and offer them as a way to connect with my readers. I’m not totally sure what that will look like yet but I am trying to figure it out.

In the meantime, I am totally okay with being a work -in-progress, here, on my mat, on the page and in my life.

Books Read in January + February.

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“Rapt-Attention and the Focused Life” by Winifred Gallagher

Far more than you may realize, your experience, your world, and even your self are the creations of what you focus on.

This was the perfect book to enter the new year with. It’s not a self-help book. It doesn’t offer a step-by-step process to harness your attention. What it does is explore the meaning of attention and focus on our lives. How it shapes us, our relationship, our health, our happiness. I love any information about how the brain works and there is definitely some of that. Our brains are fascinating. But what I came away with was that the quality of our lives is determined by what we do—and don’t—pay attention to.

The epigraph sums it up beautifully:

“My experience is what I agree to attend to.” ~ William James

I underlined so many things but here are a couple that stand out:

As the expression paying attention suggests, when you focus, you’re spending limited cognitive currency that should be invested wisely, because the stares are high.

By helping you to focus on some things and filter out others, attention distills the universe into your universe. 

“How to Not Always Be Working- a toolkit for creativity and radical self-care” by Marlee Grace

Here is a book, a workbook, a guide, an ode to not knowing.

If you are looking for some grace in your life, space to explore, play, be and create, then this delightful book is for you. It reads like a love letter or creative manifesto. She offers exercises but they are gentle nudges towards creating balance in our lives, guiding us into how to not always be working as the title says. As she writes, “this book is for anyone who is looking to show up to their life, this one true journey of being alive.”

A sentence I love:

 This book is not about self-care for the self, but  self-care for the collective and liberation from the obsession fo work.

“Insomnia” by Marina Benjamin

Sometimes the rattle of a clapper sounds over your bed.

Anyone who has struggled with insomnia will deeply understand this book. For those lucky enough to have never experienced it (are there such people) they will still deeply understand what it is like.

It’s a graceful meditation on being awake in the dark hours, on the mysterious world of sleep where we spend such a large part of our lives and on a long-time marriage.

While she explores her own relationship to sleep and insomnia she also weaves in so many other lovely pieces from philosophy to literature that it reads like a beautiful mosaic, each piece better informing the whole. 

A sentence I love:

At the velvet end of my insomniac life I am a heavy-foot ghost, moving from one room to another, weary, leaden—there, but also not there.

“The Dreamers” a novel by Karen Thompson Walker

At first, they blame the air.

I devoured this book in less than three days and I have to say, I think it is one of my most favorite books ever.

The story itself is so intriguing: a mysterious sleeping illness spreads across a campus then out into the small California town of Santa Lora. We see what happens when fear spreads just as fast as this unknown illness. The writing, the sentences are just beautiful. If I underlined every sentence I wish I had written, the whole book would be underlined.

I love how the novel explores time and memory, sleep and dreams, while being anchored in the lives of these characters. Reading it felt like I was entering a dream state with them. 

Simple beautiful and stunning.

A sentence I love:

While Rebecca sleeps, and while the nurses change in and out of their suits, and while, outside, the soldiers go on and off shift, and while the world watches the continuing coverage of the Santa Lora sickness, the small developments of one minute human being go on unfolding at a perfectly predictable rate, like the intricate ticking of the most delicate clock on earth. 

“You Are a Badass-How to Stop Doubting your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” by Jen Sincero

I used to think quotes like this were a bunch of crap.

If you are looking for a supportive kick-in-the butt, check out Jen Sincero. 

If you’re feeling stuck in your any aspect of your life, read this book.

If you know you are not living up to your potential, read this book.

I was feeling all of those things and now I feel like I am a badass!

For once, I actually did the exercises and uncovered and rewrote some deeply held beliefs that were holding me back. As I wrote in another blog post, once I did that I felt aligned with the flow of the Universe and that has totally shifted how I show up to my life, how I view my writing and the publishing process.

I underlined a lot but here are couple of gems:

So often, we pretend we’ve made a decision, when what we’ve really done is signed up to try until it gets too uncomfortable.

You playing small simply withholds your gifts from the people who were meant to receive them, including you.

Your faith in The Universe must be stronger than your fear of not getting what you want.

“Lightworker-Understand your Sacred Role as Healer, Guide and Being of Light” by Sahvanna Arienta

In order to understand your lightworker soul, we have to begin with where you come from—Source. Source is an all-knowing, all-powerful entity that dwells in every crevasse of the universe.

I hadn’t really heard the term “Lightworker’ before, or if I had I didn’t give it much energy. But in my roles as writer and yoga teacher, I often write about my intention to be a light in the world, to bring light into the world through my words, through my classes and invite my students to shine their own light. The world just needs more light.

This book was a lovely exploration of what that means. She writes, “It is the Lightworkers’ mission to lend their light energy to a planet heavy with fear and negativity.” And they aren’t just gurus or well-known spiritual teachers. She writes, “They are musicians, shopkeepers, accountants, stay-at-home moms, and people you pass on the street. They share their gifts by speaking out for those who have no voice, and they create glorious works of art that beautify our planet, or write music that elevates our spirits.”

I got a glimpse into the different planes of the universe which will also help me as I write my YA Fantasy trilogy. I learned how important it is to protect and ground my my own energy. I’ve just become more aware of the energy I bring into a space.

A sentence that resonated:

It (Source Energy) is what connects every single thing in the entire universe with every single other thing in the entire universe—from huge things such as solar systems right down to the tiniest atom.

“Inheritance- A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love” by Dani Shapiro

When I was a girl I would sneak down the hall late at night once my parents were asleep.

This book has been on my radar since Shapiro announced its impending publication. She is one of those writers that I would read her grocery list. 

I could not put this book down. It took me maybe 2 days to finish. The story itself is fascinating. She and her husband, almost on a lark, send their saliva into a genealogy service as so many of us do these days, hoping to learn a bit more about their families’ origins. What starts out as a lark soon becomes a shattering discovery when it is revealed that her father is not actually her biological father.

If you’ve read any of her other books, you know that both of her parents died a long time ago so they are not available now to question, to find out exactly what the hell is going on. Shapiro is left to her own devices to unravel the mystery of her paternity and the agonizing question of how much her parents actually knew. Had they been lying to her her entire life or had they been lied to as well?

As always, Shapiro explores her life with an honest yet tender gaze and heart. We feel her pain, her confusion, experiencing the ups and downs as she experienced them as she searches for some semblance of the truth. 

If you look at an index of the books she’s written, it almost seems as if this story was thrumming beneath the surface of her life for years. They all tend to point toward secrecy, history, discovery, this yearning to know and tragedy:

Playing with Fire

Fugitive Blue

Picturing the Wreck

Slow Motion: A True Story

Family History: A Novel

Black & White

Devotion: A Memoir

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life

Hourglass

Can’t recommend this book enough.

A sentence I love:

I now understand it as shock: the sense of my own body as foreign, delicate, fractured, and the world at once hostile and implacable in its anonymity.

“The Crossroads of Should and Must- Find and Follow your Passion” by Elle Luna

It was a Tuesday, around 7 AM, when I clicked “publish” on an essay on medium.com titled “The Crossroads of Should & Must.”

The response to that essay was swift and wide-reaching. Clearly, she had hit a nerve.

That nerve led her to write a book based on that essay. It is a delightful book filled with hand-written texts and whimsical illustrations. She shares her own experiences and encourages the reader to explore what is holding them back from following their passion. 

It reminds me a bit of Sark and Mari Andrew but with her own point of view. She really leaves you wondering if you are living a life of should or must.

A question I love:

How long will you wait to honor who you are?

“The Largesse of the Sea Maiden” stories by Denis Johnson

After dinner, nobody went home right away.

Finished shortly before his death, this last collection is just as haunting and moving as his previous work. I remember reading “Jesus” Son” and just being mesmerized by his ability to draw us into the dark corners of life. He does the same here, but there seems to be a certain angle of light in these stories. They aren’t sweet and sappy by any means. No, they still have an edge, a darkness but with humor and the possibility, no matter how small, of hope that beats within the heart of being human.

A passage I love:

I’m writing letters to each one of you lucky winners who has a hook in my heart. Every time your heart beat I can feel a little jerk, just a little something. Whether you like it or not, that’s love.