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.

Advertisements

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!

23519314_10211883569899412_130845463492168277_n

“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.

20638971_10211197385265225_3118902645806382534_n

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.

22406430_10211679528198497_7089351987740914861_n

 

We Belong to Each Other.

6da5e3a3dee84e0f91e4c34d15a7660e

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. 

 

The Practice of Curiosity.

stay curious

Image found via Pinterest.

I wonder…

Those two small yet powerful words help me to break through creative blocks, fear and stagnation.

I often forget them when I am in the midst any of those those three things or some combination of them.

But when I remember, they are the key that sets me free.

When faced with an impending empty nest I found myself thinking, ” I wonder if I should take Yoga Teacher Training.”

My class, “Poses, Pens + Inner Peace” came into being when I wondered how writing and yoga intersected and wondered how they could nourish each other.

When I hit a block in my work-in-progress, any “I wonder’ will get the pen moving. What is written may not stay in but that is not the point of curiosity. The point is to generate some movement.

Fear equals stagnation.

Stagnation begets stagnation.

Curiosity is light. It doesn’t come in hot demanding that I change and DO something, fix it, fix everything now.

No, curiosity invites me to sit down and play.

No pressure to fix something.

No pressure to fix everything with my next action.

It just asks me to wonder.

To ask what if.

And that gentle invitation is all I need to step out of fear, out of stagnation and back into the cycle of creative energy.

Curiosity only does one thing

Image found via Pinterest.

A Letter from Risk.

risk

Image found via Pinterest.

I am not here to take over your life.

I am not here to destroy our life.

I am here  to dance with you into the deep heart of your life.

Each risk you take is a success, no matter the end result.

Each risk expands your heart, expands your mind, expands your life.

Dance with me rather than standing at odds.

Dancing is fluid. It is playful. It invites curiosity and wonder.

Don’t bring such a heaviness to me. 

Let me be light.

Let me light your path.

A path of possibilities.

Let my light bring clarity .

Let that clarity be your light, the light that you shine out into the world.

 

Tools of Illumination.

illuminatd path

Image found via Pinterest.

I heard Dani Shapiro on a podcast this morning and she said that writing is a tool for illumination.

Yes.

Exactly.

And so is yoga which is why they work so well together. One illuminates the other.

Yoga shines a light into the dark, heavy corners of my body where I’ve stored rage and shame and grief. I move and breathe and unlock those old emotions, those old stories, releasing them.

Writing shines a light into my heart, into my psyche. I write my way into what matters, into what I am thinking or feeling on any given day at any given moment.

Through yoga and writing my path forward is illuminated.

I am illuminated and able to shine my light out into the world.

What Happens Next.

show up

Image found via Pinterest.

Although I am still showing up to write every day, lately I have been stuck on one particular chapter.

Sure, I still open my laptop, read what I have and manage to squeeze out a few more sentences. But when I close the laptop I still have no idea what happens next so I have no idea where to start the next day.

But the next days arrives and I open my work-in-progress and eke out a sentence or two. I close it, satisfied that I am living up to my goal of writing something each day, disappointed that it feels like such a lame, extremely low bar effort.

This went on for a couple of weeks.

Then today, I take myself to the bookstore, snag my favorite table by the window, get my venti iced soy chai, open my laptop, pop in my earplugs, and set Freedom for a ninety- minute session and start to write.

Reader, by the end of the session, I finished that chapter. And I am set up perfectly for the next chapter.

I am stuck in the messy, bogged down middle of my novel. I can’t imagine it ever being done. But I show up each day anyway. Each word, no matter how few or how lame they may seem, leads me forward.

And that is why I continue to show up, day after day, even when—no, especially when— I have no idea what happens next.  Because showing up daily has taught me to trust that eventually I will write my way into exactly what happens next.