Books Read in September + October.

Sept. Oct. books

“Vox” a novel by Christina Dalcher

If anyone told me I could bring down the president, and the Pure Movement, and that incompetent little shit Morgan LeBron in a week’s time, I wouldn’t believe them. But I wouldn’t argue. I wouldn’t say a thing.

Just like watching “The Handmaid’s Tale,” reading this book scared the crap out of me. I read it with equal parts fascination and horror. 

America is now governed by a far-right Christian idealogue whispering in the president’s ear about the role of women and how they need to know their place and be quiet. Nothing new, right? Only now, the ideas have taken hold and are being  advanced in the most insidious ways possible.

Women are removed from the workforce and replaced with men.

Adultery and same sex relationships invite cruel and unusual punishment.

Far right Christian theology is taught in schools.

And, most insdious of all, females are given a mere 100 words a day to use.

100 words. Total.

They are given word counters to wear on their wrists and if they go over the limit they receive increasingly strong shocks.

Cameras are everywhere so even sign language or non-verbal signals of any kind are abusing the rules.

They aren’t allowed access to the internet, books, pen and paper, the mail. Everything must go through the male of the house.

Dalcher created a world based in reality. I saw echoes of what we are currently living through and it chilled me to the bone.

It was a very hard read but also, an incredibly necessary one.

A sentence that made me gasp in recognition:  “…you can’t protest what you don’t see coming.”

“The Slippery Year- A Meditation on Happily Ever After” a memoir by Melanie Gideon

One day when I was sitting in the carpool line waiting to pick my son up from school, it occurred to me that I had been sleepwalking through my life.”

I am in the process of reading books that have been on my shelf for years. Pretty sure this one called to me back when my daughters were younger and that first sentence grabbed me. When I look back at videos of that time, I see this vacant almost stepford-wife look in my eyes. Back then, while I desperately tried to enjoy every moment, mostly I was just trying to back it through each day.

Now my daughters are about to graduate college. My youngest leaves for a semester abroad this week. I am in a whole other phase of life but parts of this book still resonated with me. Each year feels slippery to me. Each years slips away and I find myself standing there dazed, trying to find my footing. By the time I get used to a particular phase of being a mom or a family, it changes.

I no longer feel like I am sleepwalking through my life. Yoga and writing have changed that. Instead, I am awake to everything, which can be a challenge.

Gideon rises to that challenge as she examines her life, her family and marriage as well as her thoughts and actions even when they don’t reflect her in the most shining light. But that’s what being awake is all about: shining a light into the darkness of ourselves, bringing it out of the shadows so we can live from a space of awareness rather than sleepwalk  through our lives.

A sentence on marriage that really resonated: This is what happens when you’ve been together for nearly twenty years. You become strangers and then you recognize each other and then you become strangers again and you repeat this pattern this loop this skein over and over again.

“Waking Up in Winter- In Search of What Really Matters at Midlife” by Cheryl Richardson 

I woke up to a cool breeze drifting through the bedroom window.

September is  month of transitions. Transitioning into fall, back into a routine, back to school. Midlfe is a transition I am currently examining, exploring, living it so I am drawn to books that do the same.

I love that Richardson was inspired by the journals of May Sarton. I discovered her back in my thirties but I think now may be a good time to read her again.

Richardson sets out on year of discovery as she dives into her life by writing in a journal, trying to get beneath the surface of things, finding depth where life feels shallow, discovering who she is and what she wants at this midpoint of her life. 

I absolutely relate to this. It makes me want to keep a similar journal, one that isn’t morning pages or writing practice but a space to meander and really explore my life as I navigate this latest transition.

Sentences that resonated: 

Autumn will soon give way to winter, the perfect time to hole up and explore the inner world.

I’ve never been motivated to do more by feeling less than, I’ve never been inspired to reach higher by putting myself in the one-down position. I’ve never ever done my best after berating myself for not being good enough.

Today has been a tender day.

“Journal of a Solitude-The intimate diary of a year in the life of a creative woman” by May Sarton

Begin here. It is raining.

So, after being inspired by the previous book, I picked up this one to reread. I don’t often reread books anymore because so many books, not nearly enough time. But this one was worth it.

I first read it when I was in my thirties, now I am in my fifties. Not quite as old as Sarton was when she wrote it, but definitely in a totally different stage of my own life.

Some passages that I underlined then still resonated but so many new ones emerged that didn’t resonate at all 20 year ago.

One big thing  I noticed is that the last time I read it I completely related to her struggles with her temper. It’ s a big theme in this book and back then it was something I struggled with as well. Now, at 53, I no longer struggle with it. Oh, I get angry for sure but it never feels out of my control. I never feel this shame afterward like I used to. It might be age but I really think it is yoga. Living my yoga both on and off the mat has had the biggest impact on me.

I love how she is so connected to nature and the weather and the seasons–it becomes almost another character in her journal, in her life. It makes me want to create that same awareness in my own life.

A sentence that still resonates: 

I have written every poem, every novel, for the same purpose—to find out what I think, to know where I stand.

A sentence that resonates now:

The ash has lost its leaves and when I went out to get the mail and stopped to look up at it, I reduced to think that soon everything here will be honed down to structure.

P.S. After reading the next book I stumbled across this passage that perfect captures how I felt upon rereading this book: 

“When we revisit a book we’ve read before, we see how life has woken us up to understand passages that previously went over our heads. The book itself highlights the gap between who I am and who I used to be.”

“I’d Rather Be Reading-The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life” by Anne Bogel

“Can you recommend a good book?”

I couldn’t fall asleep the other night so I picked up this new little book to read until I got sleepy. Big mistake. I stayed up until two in the morning getting more than half way through. And yes, I get the irony of staying up late reading a book about reading books.

I identified with pretty much every word: finding sanctuary in libraries and bookstores, recommending books, not reading the books people have loaned to me, rereading books and connecting with them in a new way, the joy and soothing quality of organizing my book shelves, my fascination with the acknowledgments in books, crossing the line from being told what to read by parents and teachers to finding the books I want to read.

I could go on and on but I’ll just say that if you love books, then read this one.

A passage I love (and explains perfectly why I’ve been keeping this reading log for so many years):

“We are readers. Books grace our shelves and fill our homes with beauty; they dwell in our minds and occupy our thoughts. Books prompt us to spend pleasant hours alone and connect us with fellow readers. They invite us to escape into their pages for an afternoon, and they inspire us to reimagine our lives. Good reading journals provide glimpses of how we’ve spent our days, and they tell the story of our lives.”

“Miss Portland” novel by David Ebenbach

Zoe knew what other people didn’t: she knew that life wasn’t perfectible.

I discovered this awesome writer and human when he graciously reached out to let me know how much he enjoyed reading a story of mine he found at literarymama.com. He’s a generous writer who seeks to connect and support the creative community around him.

This novel is a beautiful journey into the depths of Zoe Tussler, a character I won’t soon forget. Always seeking something, some key that will turn things around for her, Zoe moves her life to Portland, Maine where she sill be near Gordy but insists she didn’t move for him.

She hopes to follow through on their plan to open a mindfulness center but when Gordy doesn’t seem to be moving in that direction, Zoe tries to round up a few clients on her own, hoping to build some momentum that will finally propel her into being the person she desperately longs to be. 

Always feeling out of place, Zoe attempts to find her place there in Portland where people seem to keep to themselves, and she tries to find her place within Gordy’s life.

Exploring from deep inside the experience of mental illness, I found myself deeply connected to her internal dialogue and her internal struggles while rooting for her to find a peace within herself.

A sentence I loved: 

Late at night, Zoe would keep the main lights off in her room so that her roommate, who was a generally exasperated woman from Missouri somewhere, could sleep, and Zoe would turn on a little clip-on book light and huddle over one of her books from this religion class she was taking, or over her spiral-bound journal, writing so intensely that the force of the ball-point pen grooved many pages underneath the one she was writing on, like her ideas were already creating ripples in the universe.

“Inadvertent” by Karl Ove Knausguaard

The question of why I write sounds simple, but simple is treacherous, for now I have been sitting here in front of my desk in southern Sweden for three days without making any headway.

Part of the “Why Write”series, Knausguaard explores exactly that but it’s not a linear trail from point A to Point B. Instead, he takes us on a journey from the inside out, circling in and zooming back out as he wrestles with this question of why he writes. What propels him to put marks on a page? What is his intention? It’s a beautifully complex exploration that takes us deep into his psyche, as well as deep into literature and reading and ultimately what is the purpose of stories at all.

A sentence I love:

To read is to be the citizen of another country, in a parallel realm which every book is a door to.

“Good and Mad-The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger” by Rebecca Traister

The contemporary reemergence of women’s rage as a mass impulse comes after decades of feminist deep freeze.

I found this book in the middle of the Kavanaugh hearings when my own rage was reaching its peak. (Though, I think that every week and it only gets bigger and deeper and stronger.) I tossed out an invite to local women who might want to read it and gather at some point to discuss and almost every single one was in. 

Women’s rage is a thing, people. A thing to take seriously. A thing to dismiss at your own peril.

Traister is a brilliant researcher and writer. She not only lays out all the reasons we currently have to be angry but she maps out the history of our rage and how it has changed the course of history. From suffragettes who chained themselves to the White House to Rosa Parks. She thoughtfully examines the ways that white women have let down women of color over the decades and why that can’t happen now. She explores the double standard that we saw on full display at the hearings where men are revered for their righteous anger while women are held in contempt if they allow their anger to leak out at all.

Reading this book was infuriating, enlightening and empowering.

A must read. For everyone.

I underlined and starred and stuck post-it notes and scrawled WTF?! in the margins of so many pages so here is just one passage I will share:

This is one of anger’s most important roles: it is a mode of connection, a way for women to find each other and realize that their struggles and their frustrations are shared, that they are not alone, not crazy. If they are quiet, they will remain isolated. But if they howl in rage. someone else who shares their fury will hear them, might start howling along. This is, of course, partly why those who oppress women work to stifle their anger.

“Made by May” a novel by Laura Catherine Brown

Unfortunately, we are unable to consider you as adoptive parents on our register at this time. 

After the heaviness of Traister’s book, I needed to escape and this novel (that came on radar via David Ebenbach) did just the trick. I took it on vacation with me (a highly coveted role for my books) and fell into the world of Mary and Ann and their search for connection with each other and the world.

Because of a medical condition, Ann is unable to conceive, because of other reasons, they are unable to adopt. Her mother, Mary, a hippie, pagan, sensual woman steps forward to offer the ultimate gift. She will be a surrogate for Ann and Joel. Together they all enter the ethical minefield of surrogacy, parenthood and technology all swirled within the world of Goddesses and crystals and tarot cards and magic.

It’s a beautiful story of finding your path, straying off of it, finding a new path and connecting with what you most deeply desire and those you love.

A description I love:

The house appeared uninhabited, its raw wood exposed like naked skin beneath flecks of peeling paint. A torn sofa commanded half the porch. Dead plants drooped in pots suspended from the porch eaves, as if someone had once made an effort.

“Almost Everything-Notes on Hope” by Anne Lamott

l am stockpiling antibiotics for the apocalypse, even as I await the blossoming of paper whites on the windowsill in the kitchen.

Anne Lamott is one of those writers who if she wrote a grocery list, I’d want to read it. She has been getting me through challenging times since I first discovered her book “Operating Instructions” when my children were little and she helped me feel a little less crazy when I read that not every moment of motherhood is a Hallmark moment. 

She continues to soothe my battered soul today with this new book on hope. I went to see her in Ann Arbor and she is just what I needed. Her presence, her wisdom, her truth, her humor lifted me briefly out the stew of perpetual angst I’ve found myself in for the last two years.

Reading her words is like sitting down with a dear, tough friend who knows exactly how to talk you off whatever ledge you find yourself on. She never sugarcoats it, but still manages to find the bloom of hope in even the bleakest of times.

Must-read for these times.

The best description of God I’ve ever come across:

“We are talking about a higher power, a power that might be called Not Me, a kindness, a patience, a hope, which is everywhere, even in our annoying, self-centered, fraudulent selves.”

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Simply Sunday.

In a mindful effort to find and share beauty in the world, I intend to post something each Sunday that moves me, that reminds me of the beauty, compassion, joy and love that exist in the world. 

 

Her talent, joy and passion are inspiring! That smile lights up her face and my heart. And I love how she teaches other children because she believes talent is meant to be shared.

1,026 Days in a Row.

1026 days

Image found via Pinterest.

Today marks the 1,026 day in a row that I have written.

I’m kind of bummed that I missed the 1000th day but this is still something to acknowledge and commemorate.

See, I still carry the belief that I am lazy, that I don’t work hard enough, that I don’t follow through enough. But the fact that I have written something every single day for 1,026 days in a row seems to disprove that belief. But beliefs aren’t grounded in facts. They are built on feelings, on those stories we hold in our bones.

When I was first starting out in my twenties, I could not bring myself to say that I am a writer. I didn’t have a degree in english or journalism or communications. I didn’t even have a Bachelor’s degree, much less the much lauded MFA. I had an Associate’s in Fashion Illustration. I also had a love of books and a desire to explore the world through language. I jumped into that yearning and proceeded to fill notebook after notebook with writing practice. I went to classes, attended week-long writing retreats, formed writing groups, even taught writing workshops to moms with young children. Still, I hesitated to call myself a writer.

I’m not sure when that changed. But it did. Not completely. I still take a breath before I say the words, waiting for the inevitable question of where can I find your books? I can list the places I’ve been published. I can declare that I have one completed novel and that I am looking for an agent. That I am halfway through novel number two as well as into writing a YA fantasy trilogy. These are all facts. But they aren’t what matters.

Now, that I am in my fifties, what matters is that  I know that writing is no longer something I do, it’s not even a label or title I need to claim.

It’s who I am.

Channeling our Tears of Rage.

Vital Voice

I’ve cried more in the last month than I have in the last year.

I thought it was all about the changing dynamics of our family as my youngest went off to study in England for a semester and my oldest graduating in December. And sure, it was probably part of that.

But mostly it was rage.

I don’t do well with anger much less rage.

I was never taught how to be angry. What to do when I felt angry. I really wasn’t allowed to be angry. Instead, I was taught to be quiet, to be nice, to smile even when I did’t feel like it.

I get it. Another person’s anger is uncomfortable. And it’s really uncomfortable when it is directed at you.

I took a risk when my daughters were young by allowing them to be angry. Allowing them to give voice to that anger even when—especially when—it was directed at me. Some saw it as them being disrespectful or talking back or being brats. I had to let those judgments go and do what I knew was best for our daughters.

The risk paid off. They are incredibly confident, bold, compassionate women unafraid to claim their space in the world, unafraid to speak up to authority figures in order to defend themselves, they don’t look for their worth in boys or men They have taken on active roles in leaderships, inclusivity and social change.

The tears I have been shedding and the tears I hear from friends  and women across social media have been shedding are about rage. Rage that peaked while watching the Kavanaugh hearing. Rage that a woman who was sexually assaulted absolutely had to keep a tight lid on her emotions for fear of being dismissed as being too emotional, not credible. Then watching a man step onto the stage in all his righteous anger completely comfortable spewing his venom and tears, confident that it would be seen as a strength and not a weakness.

The women who confronted Senator Flake in the elevator gave voice to our rage and we saw how that voice made difference.

Yes, I shed tears while watching the hearing, but don’t mistake those tears for sadness or softness or vulnerability. See those tears for what they truly are: rage at the systemic misogyny still rampant within all levels of our culture. Rebecca Traister says:

“Most of the time, female anger is discouraged, repressed, ignored, swallowed. Or transformed into something more palatable, and less recognizable as fury — something like tears. When women are truly livid, they often weep.

Maybe we cry when we’re furious in part because we feel a kind of grief at all the things we want to say or yell that we know we can’t. Maybe we’re just sad about the very same things that we’re angry about.”

That rings true to me.

When I cry or hear about women crying during this incredible difficult time I don’t see weakness. I see power.

I see women channeling their rage into signs carried at marches.

I see women channeling their rage into running for office across the country in unprecedented numbers.

Into sending letters and making calls to their representatives to let them know exactly what they are angry about.

Into donating their time and money to candidates who support them, who see them, who hear them.

I see women using their voices.

I recently bought this sweatshirt at Target that declares in bold red letters:

I AM A VITAL VOICE.

It’s a reminder that not only do I have a voice, I AM my voice. When others attempt to diminish my voice, they attempt to diminish me.

I see women no longer willing to be diminished.

Our tears will be seen.

Our rage will be heard.

Our voices will bring the change our anger is telling us is desperately needed.

Books Read in July + August.

Books read in July + August

“Middlesex” a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

This book has been on my shelf for years and when I decided to choose a big juicy novel for the book club I facilitate at the yoga studio where I teach, this what I chose. And what an excellent choice it was.

It is a writer’s book because of the beautiful language and stunning sentences. It is a reader’s book because of the story than spans generations.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, “Middlesex” tells the story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of her Greek-American family. The story takes us from a tiny village in Asia Minor to Detroit during the Prohibition then into the race riots of the 1970’s. Behind the scenes of all that, Calliope knows she is not like the other girls but it takes unraveling a deep family secret to discover why and discover who she truly is meant to be on her journey from Calliope to Cal.

It goes so far beyond a coming-age-story and immerses us in an epic tale of belonging versus not belonging and finding our place in the word whether in a new county, in tumulus cultural times, in our own family or within our own body.

Breathtaking.  A feast for the heart, for the mind, for the imagination.

A sentence I love: From an early age they knew what little value the world placed in books, and so didn’t waste their time with them. Whereas I, even now, persist in believing that these black marks on white paper bear the greatest significance, that if I keep writing I might be able to catch the rainbow of consciousness in a jar.

“Days of Awe” stories by A.M. Homes

She is on the phone. He can see her reflection in the bathroom mirror, the headset wrapped around her ear as if she were an air-traffic controller or a Secret service Agent.

Homes is a master of the short story, leading us to what we think is one world but we end up in a totally unexpected place. A sense of unease that Americans are feeling runs through many of the stories. In one, a man is lured into running for president while shopping with his family in a bog box store with his family. The title story centers around  a conference on genocide and two old friends meet there and meet themselves in the process.

Each story feels like several stories, what’s happening on the surface and the layers of what is happening beneath the surface. The stories made me laugh, cringe and shimmer with a certain recognition of the human condition that I was able to briefly touch while immersed in her worlds.

A passage I love: The view is limitless, all of Los Angeles spread out below. She takes off her shoes and dips her toes in—hot. The heat is like a physical lozenge, a sedative. There is no edge—she has no body, there are no boundaries; she, the water, and the air are all one.

Coming Home to Writing Practice.

writing practice

I entered this writing path through the writing practice Natalie Goldberg teaches. Practicing writing the same way an athlete practices her sport, the same way a pianist practices scales. Showing up to the page, grabbing a prompt and just writing for ten minutes without stopping, without crossing anything out.

The end product didn’t matter. The process of showing up and writing and connecting with the wilderness of my own heart and mind is what mattered.

Then I decided I needed to be more disciplined. I needed to produce more. More stories, blog posts, novels. And I let writing practice slip away, not counting it as “real” writing.

This summer I joined an on-line writing class hosted by the luminous Bryonie Wise called “Human is What We Are.” Honestly, I was hesitant. I have committed time and money to so many on-line classes over the years and I rarely finish them. My enthusiasm wanes then my connection to the group fades and I’m off on my own again.

This time has been different. First, I am intimately familiar with writing practice. Slipping back into it has been soothing and inspiring. It has been reconnecting with an old friend who really knows me, who sees all of me.

Second, Bryonie makes is all so accessible: writing, creativity, life. She gives us permission to meet ourselves where we are. She assures us that there is no wrong way to do this. That there is no such thing as being behind. We are where we are.

Third, summer has been the perfect time for this kind of loose but supportive structure. Ten minutes a day for ten days then we have a break to let everything germinate, let it settle and find its way into our bones.

My own notebook is more than half-filled. I have three separate pages filled with prompts that will draw me back to the page long after our third and final session ends. Coming back to writing practice has illuminated my creative process, allowing me to find inspiration everywhere.

It has reminded me of why I write at all: to come back home to myself which allows me to connect more deeply with the world around me.

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

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“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t remember the first book I ever read.

I can’t remember that moment when the strange black marks on a page turned into words, which turned into images which turned into stories I could see in my mind.

I do remember that Library Day was my favorite day of the week in elementary school. I checked out the same series of books over and over about three Swedish sisters named Flicka, Ricka and Dicka.

At some point I gravitated to “Gone with the Winds’ but the librarian steered me away, deeming me too young to read it.

I remember receiving Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books for Christmas and being so happy we had the 4-hour drive up north so that I could lose myself in them.

I went through an Agatha Christie phase and a Taylor Caldwell phase spurred on my older cousin who was also a bookworm. I went through a phase of devouring romance novels in a single sitting.

I now have six bookshelves bulging with books, both read and to-be-read. The ratio is getting to be about 50/50. Don’t judge. There are worse habits I could have than loving books and having way more than I can possibly read in this lifetime.

I try to read widely and diversely: different genres, authors of varying ages, ethnicities, gender.

Not surprisingly, before I was a writer, I was a reader. A huge, avid reader. Every single report card mentions my love of words.

As a writer, I am even more of a reader, if that is even possible. I still read for the reasons I used to: to escape, to immerse myself in other lives, other cultures, other worlds. To see life through the lens of another. But I also read with this other layer of attention, of curiosity, of wonder. How did they structure the book, the story? Why did they choose to use that point of view? How did they write such a beautiful sentence that took my breath away?

I may not remember exactly when I learned to read or what my first book was. I definitely don’t remember all of the books I’ve consumed over the years, and “consume’ is the perfect word. Each book is absorbed into who I am, helping to mold me into who I am becoming.

As Emerson so eloquently states, they have made me.

Happy National Book Lovers Day!! What are some of your favorite books? Book memories? Writers? Please feel free to share in the comments.

Saying Yes.

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While I am not a huge fan of most reality TV, I have on occasion watched it, including “Say Yes to the Dress.” I understand the sentiment of wanting to find the so-called perfect dress for your so-called perfect day. But something about the show just rubs me the wrong way. It’s the way it emphasizes the importance of having a wedding over the work of being married.  That one day is just a tiny pebble in a huge mountain terrain.

Today my husband and I are celebrating our thirtieth wedding anniversary.

Thirty. Years.

I often can’t even believe it. I was only 21 when we met. Married at 23. I was so young. So naive about what being married meant. At 14, I had watched my parents’ marriage end, seemingly out of nowhere. Obviously, it wasn’t out of nowhere, but they had kept the unraveling away from us and I was a typical self-absorbed teen so my radar was mostly focused on my own little world of friends and school. 

Because it felt like their divorce came out nowhere, I entered my own marriage with this nagging belief tugging at me: that my marriage would inevitably end at some point. Finally, (about 14 years into my own marriage) during a session, my therapist said something to this effect: “I don’t know how you did it, but you managed to find the right person for you at a very young age. That’s not why you’re here.”

I felt such a huge relief wash through me. I knew that she was not a psychic and I knew her observation didn’t guarantee marital stability but having a professional give me permission to let that nagging worry go was freeing.

Many friends look at our marriage and marvel at how we do it. Like we have a secret that we won’t share. I honestly don’t know exactly how and why we work.

I do know that he has always supported me in anything I have wanted to do whether it was insisting that I use the bonus he had just received to go to a writing retreat while he stayed home for a week with our two young daughters or encouraging me to become a yoga teacher, reassuring me that we could indeed afford it. 

I do know that we both encourage each other to have lives of our own, understanding that we can’t be everything to each other. We’ve taken separate vacations so he can do car stuff and I can go with girlfriends or attend writing and yoga retreats.

I do know that he always has my back. That the welfare of me and our daughters is always his priority.

I do know that he lets SO many things just roll off his back like when I am cranky or afraid and take it out on him.

I do know that I try to show him that same support and acceptance that he shows me.

I do know that he makes me want to be a better version of myself.

I do know that instead of saying yes to an extravagant dress, we said yes to our marriage.

And we continue to say yes to our marriage, to our family and to each other every single day.

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We Belong to Each Other.

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Image found via Pinterest.

Sacred celebration* is essential, especially amidst the ruins.

Yes, there is pain.

Yes, there is grief.

Yes, there is rage and despair.

But look around. Who is there with you? Who is helping you keep your head above water? Who is treading water next to you, far from the safety of shore, out in the deep end of life?

The deep end is where life gets juicy. The shallow end is known. It is comfortable. But when you push off and wade or dive or plunge into the deep end, that’s when you grow. That’s when you become who you are meant to be.

And when you look around, eyes wide open you’ll see that you belong to everyone and everyone belongs to you.

We belong to each other.

We belong to the earth.

We belong to our ancestors.

We belong.

We are each other.

Our hearts belong to each other.

So, the sacred celebration happens each time we recognize this essential truth.

I hold you in my heart.

You hold me in yours.

And I am grateful.

* Inspired by the prayer written by Thomas Banyacya Sr.

Books Read in May + June.

May + June Books

“This Messy Magnificent Life” by Geneen Roth

From the beginning, I was always more anxious than the average bear.

Once again, Roth dives deep into the brilliant muck of her own life and struggles to offer us a blueprint on how to do the same for ourselves. 

Yes, she talks explores women and body image but it goes so much deeper than that. She shares stories from her own life and those fo her students, guiding us out of the gotta-get-more mentality and into the peace of being enough in our messy, magnificent lives.

A sentence I underlined (and starred):

I’ve tried versions of not fixing myself before, but always with the secret hope that not fixing myself would fix me.

“You Think It, I’ll Say It” stories by Curtis Sittenfeld

Nell andHenry always said that they would wait until marriage was legal for everyone in America, and now this is the case—it’s August 2015—but earlier in the week Henry eloped with his graduate student Bridget.

That’s a hell of a first sentence! So much packed into it and it drops us right into the heart of who this couple tried to be and who they actually are now.

Each story seems to explore that edge between the image projected versus what is really going on inside whether it’s a woman fanatazising the downfall of an old friend who had become a lifestyle guru to a woman on her honeymoon who runs into a nemesis from high school.

Sittendfeld weaves in the poetics of the times but as background, also like white noise that adds texture to the stories, to the characters who will stay with you long after you put the book down.

A sentence I love:

Being in touch with her offered a cushioning to my days, an antidote to the tedium and indignity of being a person, the lack of accountability of my adulthood; it gave me stamina with Bonnie and willpower with Therese.

“The Rules of Inheritance” a memoir by Claire Bidwell Smith

My father’s voice is tinny through the phone line. I am in the booth at the bottom of the stairs in Howland dorm. It is my freshman year of college.

A student loaned me her copy before class one day. I started reading it as the rest of my students gathered and before class even started I already had tears in my eyes. 

This memoir is one of the most honest explorations of grief that I have ever read.

At fourteen, both of her parents are diagnosed with cancer within months of each other. By the time she is in her twenties, both of them have died.

The book is structured within the framework of the five stages of grief. She also moves through time in a very fluid way that I imagine mimics grief itself.

She made the deliberate decision not to use quotation marks throughout and it works. It is a constant reminder that these are memories. The lack of punctuated conversations reminds us over and over that they are gone.

Her sentences are stunning.

The story is powerful.

It wasn’t my book but if it was, I probably would’ve underlined something on every single page.

Some sentences I loved: 

“We kiss for the first time, there in the kitchen, and Ill always remember it for many reasons. One of them is because, for the first time in a long time nothing about the kiss serves to fill a void.”

“We agreed that I would move my things out this week. We parted ways at the door and there was a wildness between us, something frightening and alive, fluttering like a bird.”

“She turns her head to me now and runs a hand down my cheek. I’ve adored being your mother, Claire. Sometimes I think it’s the only thing I did right with my life.

She is crying now. I can tell by the way her voice has gone tighter. I still can’t bring myself to look at her.

We’ll get through. Okay, sweetie? I promise.

I finally look up at her and nod the tiniest nod. She turns on her side, pulling me into her like a comma, and we lie like that for a long time.”

“If We Had Known” a novel by Elise Juska

It was an unseasonably hot late summer day in Maine when Maggie’s daughter read about the shooting.

A mass shooting at a local mall rocks a small college town. It reads like a common national headline. Juska takes us behind the headlines, into the stories of the people left behind. Those that survived, those that knew the shooter, those that wonder if they could’ve—or should’ve—done something to prevent the tragedy. 

Maggie is a professor and divorced mom getting ready to send her only child off to college when the shooting happens. Through the internet and social media speculations run rampant , linking the shooter to an essay he wrote for Maggie in a class she had him in years earlier. Did she miss something in his writing, something dark that hinted at the crime he would later commit?

The novel explores these questions as well as the territory of this mother-daughter relationship in such gripping prose that it was hard to put down and hard to forget once I finally did put it down.

A sentence I love:

Her head hurt on contact, a small flowering of pain in her temple.

“Her” a memoir by Christa Parravani

I used be an identical twin. I was Cara Parravani’s twin.

Those first two sentences are at the heart of this exquisite memoir. After an act of brutality sends her twin down a dark path of depression and drugs, leading to her early death, Christa is left behind to try and remember who she is without her twin. To try and remember how she even is able to exist without her counterpart to balance out her existence in the world.

It is a haunting story that moves beyond  loss and grief, diving deep into the complicated heart of being an identical twin and how they can both lose and find themselves in each other. 

A passage I love:

All of our stories and hurts were now mine alone. I’d grown so used to stories being shared that without Cara it was as if neither of our lives had ever happened. With her death, my history had been erased.

“Silence in the Age of Noise” by Erling Kagge

Whenever I am unable to walk, climb or sail away from the world, I have learned to shut it out.

I finished this beautiful book in less than twelve hours. I started it before I went to bed then finished it upon waking. It opened me up to the possibility of cultivating silence within my life, not letting all the constant noise of the world in. Each page has plenty of white space for my eyes to rest and photos throughout that float in the center of the page, providing yet another resting space for my mind.

Kagge is a Norwegian explorer who has completed the Three Poles Challenge on foot—the North Pole, the South Pole, and the summit of Mount Everest. Using those experiences he then travels inward to explore the realm of silence in our lives. The book is filled with grace and wisdom and after closing the final page I found myself seeking out more moments of silence, becoming more aware of the noise I invite in on a daily basis.

A sentence I love:

Silence is about rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring us joy.

“Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home” a memoir by Natalie Goldberg

I travel all the way to Kitada, Japan, to Taizoin Temple, near the Sea of Japan, to find the ashes of my Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi.

Those of you who have been following my blog will no doubt know of my special connection to Natalie Goldberg. I’ve often written about how her book, “Writing Down the Bones” first set me on this writing path. How the first time I gave myself persuasion to be a writer was when I attended her week-long retreat in Taos, New Mexico.

I have read every single book she has written at least once, often more than once. When I saw that she had a new memoir out I immediate checked my local bookstore, saw that they had it in stock, got in my car and bought it. Once again, I finished it in less than twelve hours. 

Since I have read all of her books, i noticed that this particular one seemed to emerge from a deeper, richer place. It comes from her years of writing practice, of Zen practice, of painting practice and this time, from her practice of being with her illness. Being in a body that has cancer. Being within a medical system that she fights against. Being in a relationship where they are both fighting cancer.

It’s a memoir that explores the practice of living. Of being present to all of it not just the shiny pieces we share on social media. It reminded me of the beauty and necessity of writing practice. The practice of relating to my world, to my self, my body, my mind word by word, moment by moment.

After reading the final sentence, I lay the book on my heart, resting my hand on the cover and I could feel my heartbeat reverberate up through the pages, through the words, tears filled my eyes and I silently thanked Natalie over and over, for setting me on this writing path, for giving me the tools to connect with my wild mind, heart + life, for always showing us the way through her own writing straight into the white hot messy center of our living and dying.

A sentence I love:

But I came in direct contact with the groundless disaster—I could not hold on to my old life; I could not manage or form a new life.