F*ck Being Average.

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I’ve always considered myself a fairly average person.

I was a good student all through school and even made it into the Honor Society in high school but I wasn’t at the top of the class. I was average smart.

At the end of art school, I won Best Overall Portfolio and was stunned. I think others were as well. There was another student who illustrated the textures of fabric so convincingly that you wanted to touch them. We all assumed she would win. But I did. Did I take that to mean that I was finally above average?

Nope. I told myself it was a fluke. I didn’t allow myself to enjoy or embrace the win.

That average feeling has carried over into other aspects of my life. Average graphic designer. Average writer. Average body. Average life.

Not the worst, not the best.

When I saw the phrase “fuck mediocrity” today as part of my journal prompts, I thought I had no strong feelings about it either way. I felt meh about it. But as I started writing, I realized I have some very strong feelings about it. It is a rallying cry to rebel against norms. At first glance, I would say that is not me at all. If anything, I am an extreme rule follower and always have been.

I’ve always been a follower, not a leader. Always wanted to blend in, not stand out.

But when I look back on many of my life choices, I see that I did not follow the average path.

Instead of getting a liberal arts education at a 4-year university, I chose to get an Associate’s degree in Fashion Illustration at a for-profit art school in Center City Philadelphia, graduating two years earlier than most of my high school classmates did.

I was a stay-at-home mom while raising our daughters when that was not the most common choice. We had to make some sacrifices to make it work but we did it. And seeing what amazing women our daughters are, it was totally worth it. I did some freelance graphic design work over the years, but my main job was being a mom.

Another way that I strayed from the pack, is that I don’t consider my self Christian. I believe in God, in the Universe, in a Higher Self, in Divine Goodness. I believe Jesus was a man we can learn from. But I don’t go to church. I’ve explored many over the years, from trailing friends to theirs as a kid to dedicating our babies in a Unitarian Universalist church. But I am just not comfortable within organized religion. I chose what felt right tot me and trusted that. I try to live a good life, being kind, healing myself and letting all of that ripple out into the world around me.

Being a writer is not a common vocational choice. And being a writer without Bachelor’s degree much less the lauded MFA is extremely uncommon. But I haven’t let that stop me. It may have slowed me down. Kept me from taking my writing seriously  for awhile but I hung in there. I have studied with so many amazing writers over the years, I read constantly, write every day. I have basically been living my own self-designed MFA program. Now I have a novel-in-stories that I am submitting to agents, finishing up another draft fo a novel, and have a YA fantasy trilogy and memoir waiting in the wings.

Another way I’ve bucked the norm is that even though my husband and I both come from divorce, we have been married for 32 years! We’ve worked hard and as we slide into the permanently empty nest and his retirement is on the horizon, we find that not only do we still love each other, we still like each other.

I did my 200-YTT just as my girls were getting ready to leave for college. That is a very common occurrence these days. But I created my own space within our community by combining yoga with writing. The class faltered for a couple of years. I even let it go for a year or two but then I kept being drawn back to it. I really believed that there was a place for it. So, I rebranded it, got a slot on the schedule and tried again. It struggled but I kept showing up with my passion for these two practices that changed my life even if there was only one student. My trust and perseverance paid off and now I consider that class a bedrock of our community. Five used to be the maximum number of students who showed up, now that is usually the minimum. And I see the growth and healing and support and light generated each and every week. It has exceeded what I imagined it could be.

I’ve always thought of myself as someone who plays it safe, doesn’t take risks but looking back I see that isn’t true at all. At pivotal moments I followed my heart and gut, stepping off the beaten path and onto my own, creating a life that is far above average, far beyond mediocre.

Creating a life far richer and vibrant than I ever dreamed.

 

I Say I Don’t Diet, but…

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Image found via Pinterest.

I say I don’t diet anymore. But deep down, I still do.

I may say I am just trying to eat healthy. Have more energy. Balance my body. But deep down what I m really hoping for is to lose weight.

I may say I am making peace with my body just as it is but a part of me is still hoping the weight will melt off and I will just land at this “perfect” number and all will be well.

I may say that I am just listening to my body and eating intuitively but, really I want my intuitive eating to result in weight loss.

I recently learned a lot about Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga. I went into it thinking I am interested in this thousand year-old practice that aligns with my yoga practice and I just want to feel good in my body.

But, really, I want to lose weight.

How much? I don’t know. I’ve stopped stepping on a scale because I hate feeling like a stupid number is dictating my mood for the rest of the day.

This week has really triggered me. I hate following rules around food, even if they are ultimately good for me.

I really hated tracking food which I did with Spark People and even though it worked it made me so irritable and annoyed and obsessed with every morsel that went in my mouth. So I stopped.

But.

Part of me still kind of, sort of gauges what amount of calories I am putting in my mouth at any given time.

Part of me still tries to do this intermittent fasting thing that is so popular right now. And it becomes a game to see how long I can go without eating which seems like a slippery slope to an eating disorder to me.

I mean, just eat when I am fucking hungry.

So, with Ayurveda, I am finding myself obsessed once again with food rules. Eat this but not with that. Don’t eat this. Eat at this time of day but not at this time of day. Don’t drink water with meals, Sip hot water. No fruit with other foods.

I am just so entangled in the societal conditioning of what a woman’s body should look like and I can’t seem to untangle myself from it. It’s been with me since I can remember. Since a guy yelled out the car window when I was in sixth grade and I felt good about myself cuz some random perv thought a 12-year-old deserved to be cat-called. Since some high school asshat called me Thunder Thighs in my cheerleading uniform and I felt ashamed of my body.

I mean, commenting on a person’s body in any way is just so intrusive. I have stopped commenting on people’s weight loss. (If you’ve lost weight and I haven’t said anything, this is why.) I mean, it is none of my business what you do to your body. I wouldn’t comment if you gained weight, why should I assert my opinion if you lost some?

So, I am just putting this out there, (feeling incredibly vulnerable doing so) in case others are dealing with the same thing. Which I am pretty sure is a majority of women if you go by the size of the diet industry and the section of diet books at the bookstore.

I am putting it out there without any real solutions. It’s still an on-going process for me. I remember thinking that by the time I hit 50 I wanted to be done with this body image/food thing. Done, done done.

Ha!

I am 54 and still dealing with it.

But I think being aware of it is half the battle. Just like in meditation, the goal isn’t to not think, it’s not to be controlled by thoughts.

With this, I just don’t want my every waking thought to be about food and my body. So, I am using affirmations (which I normally stay away from) to help begin to rewire my brain. Create some new neural pathways.

Thanks to Amie McNee I am learning to soothe and mother myself on the page when these feelings take over. It is helping.

Writing this is helping.

Being honest is helping.

I hope this helps you in some way if you need it.

 

 

Opposite of Stuck.

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I can’t tell you how often I have felt stuck over the last few decades.

I have so many books with the words “stuck” or “unstuck” in the title.

Stuck in my body.

Stuck in judging my body.

Stuck in believing I am not worthy.

Not enough.

Stuck in the rut of zero motivation.

Stuck in fear.

You name it, I have probably been stuck in it.

I’ve been clearing out bookshelves lately as my husband gets ready for his annual pilgrimage to Arizona, hauling books to one of my favorite bookstores to trade in for me. When I come across some of those titles now I feel…nothing. Not angst. Not shame. Mostly gratitude that I had them when I needed them and gratitude that I no longer need them.

I no longer feel stuck. 

And I owe that to my two main practices: writing and yoga. 

They both allow me to flow which is the opposite of stuck. 

I flow in my body on my mat and, hopefully, off my mat as well. 

I meditate and allow the thoughts to flow  past. Well, not always, but it’s a process. It’s a practice.

I still struggle with societal conditioning on how my body should look but I am no longer stuck in that morass. The minute I notice it happening, it’s a win for me.

I flow on the page. Again, not always. But those words and thoughts and stories and beliefs find their way out of my head and onto the page where they are no longer stuck.

These practices keep me grounded in the present. I can see now how I was often stuck in the past or projecting into the future. 

I didn’t start yoga or writing to unstuck myself. Or maybe I did. Maybe a part of me, that wise self knew exactly what she was doing.

All I know is that even if I do feel stuck these says, it is a passing thing. I notice it, feel it, and am able to move through it.

And for that I am oh so grateful.

Books Read in December.

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“Now You Love Me” fiction by Liesel Litzenberger

After I saw the man who could bend spoons with his eyes, everything just fell into place.

When I picked this book off of my TBR shelf, I had no idea that it was set in Michigan, nor that it seems to be a novel-in-stories. I live in Michigan and am drawn to that genre, so much so that I wrote one myself, so I was immediately smitten.

Nine-year-old Annie tells the story of her sweet yet odd family consisting of herself, her younger brother Gus and their beautiful mother, Paige. Her father is gone and Annie knows he is not coming back. Her mother is trying hard to keep them emotionally afloat but she struggles with that herself. When she starts dating Shepherd, Annie isn’t sure if it’s the best tithing or the worst thing for her mother and their family.

The relationships are tangled as families are. Each story stands on its own but they each work together to reveal the arc of a family and a young girl trying to find their footing in a complicated world.

A sentence I underlined:

Seeing our house like that, from the outside and in secret, felt like a mistake, like opening a door and accidentally catching someone changing their clothes.

“Where to Begin” by Cleo Wade

This is for you. And me. And us. We are the builders who are building a world that has never been built before. 

As soon as I read this I knew I had to read this book. Because it feels so true. The world is shifting. We are building a new world and it is experiencing tremendous growing pains that often leave me wanting to dive under the covers and hide indefinitely.

But Cleo Wade offers wisdom, insights and truths that make me want to go back out into the world and be the difference I want to see.

I say it’s must read for these times.

A sentence I underlined:

 We just have to be brave enough to care.

“Tell Me More-Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say” by Kelly Corrigan

There was no real reason for it to fall apart that morning. And in fact, it didn’t. I did. 

Some things are hard to say. We all know this. It’s why we don’t say them. Corrigan explores the 12 things she finds hardest to say and gives us all permission to find the courage to say them in our own lives. She shares pieces of her life with us as well pieces of her heart.

A sentence I underlined:

Maybe being wrong is not the same as being bad, I thought, not a sign that your insides were rotten.

“Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.

Wildlife and Wild Women are both endangered species.

This book, this book, this book! I don’t even know where to begin.

I bought it when it first came out in 1992. I was 27. I tried to read it. I wanted to read it. but I kept putting it down.

I picked it up again in my 30’s. Same thing. Then again in my 40’s. And sometime around there I must’ve decided the book just wasn’t for me and I got rid of it.

Then I hit my 50’s and out of the blue I knew I had to read it. 

But I had gotten rid of it. So I bought another copy. I dipped in and out of it then I decided to make it the winter read for the book club I facilitate at the yoga studio I teach at.

Once I really committed to reading it, something deep within me stirred.

After each chapter I thought, “Well, the book is worth it for this chapter alone.” Then I’d get to the next one and the next one and think the same thing. 

I underlined, starred, circled so many things on so many pages.

It just deeply deeply resonated with me.

But I wasn’t ready for it when I first bought it at 27.

At 54 I was ready.

More than ready.

The first thing I underlined on the first page:

It’s not by accident that the pristine wilderness of our planet disappears as the understanding of our own inner wild nature fades. 

Write Every Damn Day- It’s Not Just a Hashtag Anymore.

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I started this board in 2016 to help me write every single day. (I got the idea from Jerry Seinfeld.)

While I had high hopes and high expectations for myself (always true at the start of a new year) I didn’t actually, truly believe that I would be able to write every day for a whole year much less almost 4 years!

But I have.

I wrote through the flu.

Through having my wisdom teeth pulled while I had the flu. That was a fun time!

I wrote on vacation.

I wrote when I was happy.

When I was sad.

Or anxious.’Or depressed.

Or enraged.

I wrote in my journals.

I wrote morning pages.

I wrote blog posts.

I wrote in my novel.

I wrote when I was motivated and when I didn’t want to write at all.

I wrote when I knew exactly what I wanted to write and when I had absolutely no idea what to write.

I wrote in the morning, the afternoon, at night.

I wrote at my desk, at the bookstore, at the coffeeshop, on the beach, on planes, in the car, on my yoga mat, on the deck, in bed.

I wrote alone and with others.

I wrote my way out of stories that had me all tangled up.

I wrote my way into myself.

Now, writing is no longer what I do. It is who I am. Writing is like breathing and reading. Non-negotiable.

#writeeverydamnday is no longer just a hashtag.

It’s an intricate, essential, sacred part of each and every one of my days.

 

 

Enough with Not Enough.

I am always looking for topics to inspire my writing and specifically topics that ask me to inquire deeper into my own writing life. When I came across the Writing Contest: You Are Enough, hosted by the Positive Writer, I knew I had to explore it.

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Typewriter image found via Pinterest. I am enough found via Pinterest. Photos merged using Photos Merge.

Enough. It is a word that has haunted me for years. 

There is an entire advertising and marketing industry designed to make us feel like we don’t have enough, don’t do enough and aren’t (fill-in-the-blank) enough. Thin. Strong. Curvy. Blonde. Rich. Spiritual. 

I have especially felt this tug of not-enoughness in my writing. See, I didn’t go the traditional route, which I used to consider a hindrance but eventually came to see as a strength. I earned an Associate’s Degree in Fashion Illustration right out of high school. No general education courses. No literature classes. Just art.

I worked as a graphic designer for years which allowed me to eventually ease into a freelance career so that I could stay home and raise our two daughters. 

Along the way, I kept up with my own voracious reading and sporadic journaling. At some point I stumbled across a book called “The New Diary” by Tristine Rainier. It opened up a new way of journal writing that was more spontaneous, deeper and even (gasp) fun. I began filling up blank pages with my words.

The next turning point came when I discovered “Writing Down the Bones.” Just the title gave me goosebumps. I picked it up, stroking the image of ink spilling across the cover, already aware on some level that my life was about to change.

I began filling notebooks with what Natalie Goldberg called writing practice. Practice made it easier to approach. I wasn’t “writing.” I was practicing. I continued to practice and read. A lot. My work colleagues were used to seeing me with my nose in a book at lunch, usually a different book every couple of days. A friend finally commented that at this pace I’d soon run out of books to read and would have to start writing my own. Hmmmm… the seed was planted.

Once we were settled in Arizona, writing found me over and over again. I was fortunate enough to attend a week-ling retreat in New Mexico with Natalie Goldberg where I filled 3 notebooks in 7 days. I also discovered a fantastic program through the Phoenix YMCA called “Writer’s Voice.” They offered a “MothersWrite” class. It was a free, ten-week writing class that provided childcare. It was a lifesaver. A sanity saver. It allowed me to keep connected to that tenuous creative part of myself at a time when I felt stretched thin with the demands of motherhood. They also offered various creative writing classes as well as Master-level workshops that required you to submit work in order to be admitted. It took a long time for me to take the step of submitting my work but when I did I was accepted and attended an intense ten-week workshop with Elizabeth Evans and later, a second one with Simon Ortiz. Later I audited a fiction writing class with Melissa Pritchard at ASU. I always felt slightly out of place in these academic since I was usually the only one without any kind of four-year degree backing me up.

Over the years, I’ve considered going back to school to get that degree. Or maybe attend a low residency MFA program that would waive the Bachelor’s Degree. They’re out there. I’ve looked. But with two girls to help put through college, I really couldn’t justify the expense. It’s not like I want to teach at the college level. I want to write. Realistically, all I need is a pen, paper and if I’m lucky, a computer, all of which I have. I’m more envious of the experience of the MFA rather than the physical piece of paper. I salivate at the thought of immersing myself in writing for two years– eating, breathing, talking, dreaming books and writing. But really, my life can’t hold that right now. What it can hold is this: a writing group; occasional workshops; lots and lots of books; and lots and lots of writing.

Yoga has also played an essential role in my writing. As soon as I began to practice yoga, I saw the connection between the two. Both require me to show up, to meet myself where I am and to be present. I now teach 7 yoga classes a week including one I created that combines writing and yoga called “Poses, Pens + Inner Peace.”

Yoga has helped me cultivate a relationship with my mind. With my whole self, not just the shiny parts. It has helped me see beyond the veil of not-enoughness to the deep truth that I am more than enough exactly as I am.

As of today, I have filled dozens upon dozens of notebooks. I have written many short stories and even had a few published. I have a novel-in-stories that is complete and looking for an agent. I am deep into the third draft of another novel. Then there is the YA fantasy trilogy simmering as well as a memoir based on my journey with yoga and writing.

At the age of 54, “enough” has a totally different connotation. It is no longer a word I use to judge and bludgeon myself with. It has become a word that fills me with hope. With a sense of ease and grace.

I write every day. Some days I write more than others. And it is enough.

I show up to the blank page. And it is enough.

I read as much as I can. And it is enough.

I submit my novel and stories and essays. And it is enough.

I have created a life that not only makes space for writing but truly nurtures it. And that is more than enough.

Permission Granted.

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Image found via Pinterest.

Remember being a child and needing to ask for permission for just about everything? To watch a show. Go out with friends. Have a snack. Stay up later. 

We needed permission to keep us safe. To help us learn to make choices that were good for us. And we looked for that permission from our parents, teachers and caregivers.

We looked for that permission outside of ourselves.

Often, we carry that permission-seeking well into our adulthood. I know I have.

I sometimes look to agents and contests to give me permission to be a writer. If that person out there sees something worthwhile in my work, then I must be a writer, right?

Wrong.

I am a writer because I write.

I am a writer because it is how I live in the world

It is how I inhabit this life.

It is how I process this being human.

I don’t need permission to call myself a writer.

I don’t need an agent or a publishing contract to call myself a writer.

I grant myself permission.

What do you need to grant yourself permission to do or be?

Maybe you need permission to :

To speak up.

To rest.

To not finish that book you started. (Seriously, let it go.)

To say no.

To say yes.

To go after a new dream.

To let an old dream go.

To accept an apology you never received.

To extend forgiveness to yourself.

To embrace your body as it is right now.

Whatever you need permission to do or be or say or believe, consider it granted.

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Image found via Pinterest.

(Feel free to share what you are granting permission for in the comments!)

100 Observations After 100 Days of Sobriety.

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  1. I sleep better. 
  2. Not perfect, but definitely better.
  3. It’s easier to fall asleep, I stay asleep and wake up refreshed.
  4. I have more energy.
  5. I am more focused.
  6. I read more.
  7. I have dreams that I drink and I am so disappointed in myself in the dream. 
  8. Then I wake up relieved that it was just a dream.
  9. I am glad that I decided to share my story. 
  10. It has allowed other women to reach out to me for support.
  11. My skin looks better. 
  12. Actually, it looks to me like it is glowing.
  13. I am getting more comfortable being uncomfortable.
  14. I feel all my feelings.
  15. I am finding new ways to decompress after a long day:
  16. Tea.
  17. Meditation.
  18. Guided body scan.
  19. Play with my pups.
  20. Reading.
  21. I binged on sugar when I first stopped drinking. 
  22. That has leveled out.
  23. I also binged on social media at first. 
  24. Still working on that one.
  25. I find it easier to make other heathy choices.
  26. I am easy on myself when I don’t.
  27. That’s a surprising development. 
  28. This newfound compassion for myself.This tenderness.
  29. I didn’t go out often at first. 
  30. I am slowly making my way back out into the social world.
  31. I am saving money. 
  32. Like probably $50 a month.
  33. I go out to eat less so I am saving money there as well.
  34. And when I do go out, the bill isn’t bloated with booze.
  35. Everyone has been supportive so far.
  36. No awkward questions about why I’m doing it or suggesting that I don’t have a problem or attempts to peer-pressure me into having just one drink.
  37. I do notice that some people feel compelled to justify when and how much they do drink. 
  38. I listen but I am not judging. 
  39. I am doing this for me. 
  40. Your path is your path.
  41. My dreams are more vivid and involved, often spooling out like novels or movies.
  42. My digestion is smooth.
  43. I no longer say things drunk that I wouldn’t say sober.
  44. If it can’t be said sober, it doesn’t need to be said at all.
  45. No hangovers!
  46. No shame.
  47. I collect sober celebrities.
  48. They keep me company on this journey.
  49. And they remind me that I am in good company.
  50. Demi Moore.
  51. Mackelmore.
  52. Jennifer Hudson.
  53. Jennifer Lopez
  54. Bradley Cooper.
  55. Brad Pitt
  56. Among many, many others.
  57. There is no longer this haze shrouding my vision.
  58. I see clearly who I am.
  59. And who I want to be.
  60. I feel like I am living my life on purpose.
  61. Not sure how this is related but I no longer buy a bunch of stuff.
  62. I am buying less books.
  63. Less clothes.
  64. Less stuff to clutter up my life.
  65. I go to Target and actually stick to my list.
  66. Maybe I am not longer trying fill myself up.
  67. Maybe I no longer see myself as broken.
  68. In need of fixing.
  69. Maybe I am finally able to embrace all parts of myself.
  70. No longer numbing to parts I don’t like.
  71. No longer trying to not feel what I am, indeed, feeling.
  72. I listen more intently.
  73. To myself.
  74. To those around me.
  75. To my body.
  76. To my intuition.
  77. I have space in my life to do the things that I always say I want/need to do:
  78. Meditate.
  79. Yoga.
  80. Writ.
  81. Read.
  82. Walk.
  83. I am clenching my jaw less.
  84. I don’t feel guilty when I feel the need to have a jammie day.
  85. I am starting to cook more.
  86. To be honest, that is probably partly due to the season change, too.
  87. I still have the urge to drink.
  88. Out of habit.
  89. After a long day.
  90. Out for a nice dinner.
  91. While cooking dinner.
  92. I no longer tell myself that I’ll probably drink again at some point so why not now?
  93. I have fun without drinking.
  94. Even if people around me drink.
  95. Summer was a test that I passed:
  96. Patios, birthday, Anniversary, Art Fairs. 4th of July without booze.
  97. I am experiencing more:
  98. Clarity.
  99. Grace.
  100. Ease.

Books Read in September.

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“Future Home of the Living God” a novel by Louise Erdrich

When I tell you the my white name is Cedar Hawk Songmaker and that I am the adopted child of Minneapolis liberals, and that when I went looking for my Ojibwe parents and found that I was born Mary Potts I hid the knowledge, maybe you’ll understand. Or not.

Continuing my dystopian fascination, Erdrich leads us into a future where evolution has stopped. Pregnancy and childbearing become matters of state security and concern. 

Cedar is four months pregnant when the world begins to dissolve. She is on a journey to bring her child into the world, to find her birth family all while navigating  a new society where pregnant women become a commodity.

Fiercely moving and original, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. 

A sentence that gave me chills:

The first thing that happens at the end of the world is the we don’t know what is happening.

A sentence I love:

Perhaps we function as neurons ourselves, interconnecting thoughts in the giant mind of God.

“Sober Curious” by Ruby Warrington

When I first got Sober Curious, one persistent question kept blinking into view, like a lighthouse on a stormy night:

Would life be better without alcohol?

That same question blinks at me.

Warrington coined the term “sober curious” which I like. It allows someone like me who has not hit a dark rock bottom to find a space in which to begin to question my drinking. To rethink the role it plays in my life, own my health, in my body. 

She weaves her own sober curious journey with research and interviews, laying out a possible path for each of us to find on our own. No judgment.

She is honest, funny, engaging and invites us on this path she has lit for us, but always encouraging us to find our own way. This is what works for her and she is generous in sharing it with the world.

A sentence that makes so much sense:

Thinking back to Marc Lewis’s theory that all human behavior stems from our desire to seek out pleasure or to avoid pain, it seems obvious that our specific FOMA (fear of missing alcohol) triggers will be individual for each of us, even if they are rooted in the same basic needs.

“Ursula K. LeGuin- Conversations on Writing” by Ursula K. LeGuin with David Naimon

The interviewers I fear most are the ones who’ve read what the publisher’s PR people say about your book, along with some handy pull quotes.

Divided into 3 parts with passages of her own writing interspersed, Naimon discusses Fiction, Poetry and Non-fiction with LeGuin. The title is accurate in describing them as conversations rather that interviews. Luckily, Naimon is not the kind of interviewer she fears most. Each conversation ends up being a dance between two intelligent people about literature and its role in society.

I am ashamed to say I have read very little of her but that will be changing. She has a fascinating mind and is not afraid to say what needs to be said. 

One of my favorite pieces was “On Serious Literature” in which she responds to a review of a Michael Chabon book and it is clear that the reviewer is not a fan of so-called genre fiction. The lesson? It was never a good idea to piss off LeGuin.

A passage I love:

Science describes accurately from outside, poetry describes accurately from inside. Since explicates, poetry implicates. Both celebrate what they describe. We need languages of both science and poetry to save us from merely stocking endless “information” that fails to inform our ignorance or our irresponsibility.

“I Remember” by Joe Brainard

I remember the first time I got a letter that said “After Five Days Return To” on the envelope, and I thought that after I had kept the letter for five days I was supposed to return it to the sender.

Those two little words create a life. 

Those two little words were the first writing prompt I used. It opened a flood of words and images and memories that I then spilled onto the page. It is a prompt i still use to this day, along with the opposite: I don’t remember. 

When Dani Shapiro recommended this book, I immediately went on-line and found it. 

It’s truly amazing how an entire life can be revealed through memories. What we choose to remember, what we don’t. How one memory leads to the next. 

I can’t tell you how many times I read his words and thought, “Me, too!” like this one:

I remember milkmen. Postmen. Guest towels. “Welcome” mats. Avon ladies. 

This is an original book that reads like a path of memories laid out like breadcrumbs to reveal this particular human soul that is both universal and deeply personal sometimes humorous, sometimes deeply moving. Just like life.

A sentence I love:

I remember trying not to look lonely in restaurants alone.

“Awakening the Spine” by Vanda Scaravelli

This is not really a yoga book, nor is it a book on how to do the asanas.

This is a beautifully written and designed book that feeds both the eyes, the body and spirit. 

I can already feel how I carry my differently, or how it carries me. I feel like I am much more aware of my spine and how it moves. So, yes, reading this book helped me to awaken my spine. 

A sentence I love:

You have to learn how to listen to your body, going with it and not against it, avoiding all effort or strain and centering your attention on that very delicate point, the back of the wist (where the spine moves in two opposite directions).

“The Pursuit of Alice Thrift” a novel by Elinor Lipman

You may have seen us in “Vows” in the New York Times: me, alone smoking a cigarette and contemplating my crossed ankles, and a larger blurry shot of us, postceremony, ducking and squinting through a hail of birdseed.

I pulled this gem out of my stacks and am so glad I did. I don’t remember laughing out loud while reading a novel in a long, long time. 

Alice Thrift is a surgical intern, very smart but also very awkwardly social. In fact, at one point her own mother wonders if she might be on the spectrum. 

The life of an intern, doesn’t leave much room for romance but that doesn’t stop Ray Russo, fudge salesman and extreme extrovert, from pursuing her. 

Filled with memorable characters, this novel was hard to put down.

A sentence that made me laugh out loud:

Finding Ray’s chin hooked on her shoulder while asleep:

Didn’t heads belong on pillows? Hadn’t beds evolved to queen-and king-sized so that body integrity could be maintained during sleep?

“Her Body and Other Parties” stories by Carmen Maria Machado

(If you read this story out loud, please use the following voices:)

I don’t even know where to start with this remarkable collection of stories. They are mesmerizing, startling, lush and stake out new territory in this genre.

I began each story as if carefully opening a precious gift, never quite sure what I would find inside. I discovered worlds that (and I have to quote the back jacket) “blithely demolish the borders between psychological realism and science fiction.” A mysterious green ribbon around a woman neck tempts her husband. An inventory of lovers is revealed in the wake of a world catastrophe. Smack in the middle is this enthralling yet disturbing rendition of “Law and Order: SVU.”

Reading this collection as a writer reminded me to go where the characters take you, allow the writing to twist and turn and writhe on the page. And, most importantly, don’t be afraid to take risks.

A description of a baby that I loved:

She smells clean, but chemical. And behind it, an edge of milk, bodily and sour, like something tipped askance.

A description of being put under anesthesia:

As they put me to sleep, my mouth fills with the dust of the moon.

A description of autumn that took my breath away:

And then, autumn, the first autumn, our first autumn, the first squash dish, the sweaters, the burning smell of the space heater, never leaving the heavy blankets, the scent of smoke that reminds me of being a Girl Scout and being twelve and camping with girls who hate me. The leaves catch fire, color burning away green like a disease. More rain, another carpet of leaves, yellow as dandelions, red as pomegranate skin, orange as carrot peels. There are strange evenings when the sun sets but it rains anyway, and the sky is gold and peach and also gray and purple like a bruise. Every morning, a fine mist coats the grove. Some nights, a bloody harvest moon rises over the horizon and stains the clouds like an alien sunrise. 

Connection is Medicine.

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Image found via Pinterest.

Medicine.

Medicine used to equal a cure or a fix or something to ease symptoms of pain.

It used to be so simple. I could take a pill and I would be better. I never questioned what better meant or looked like or felt like.

Usually it meant that the pain or discomfort would go away. But I never questioned where it went. Even more curious, I never questioned where it came from.

I used to think that medicine only came in the form of pills or surgery.

Now I am learning that anything that brings me back into awareness, back into balance is medicine.

Yoga.

Meditating.

Breathing.

Walking.

Moving.

Writing.

Sex.

Crying.

Laughter.

Deep conversations with friends.

Random encounters with strangers.

It is all medicine.

Connection is medicine.

We now know that social isolation can be as detrimental to our health as smoking cigarettes. Forming these deep bonds of love and friendship weave a tapestry of support through our lives.

Finding ways to connect is essential, and not only with others.

We need to connect with our bodies in a loving, compassionate way.

Connect with our hearts. What are we feeling? What do we need?

We need to connect with the Earth, our home.

We need to connect with that which is larger than ourselves. Something that allows us to feel a purpose for being here, in this body, at this time.

Purpose of Being, not Doing.

Who or what do we turn to when despair slugs through our veins? When sadness permeates our bones?

Feeling like we are merely here to do things then die is not medicine.

It is why I write, why I draw cards for guidance. Why I go outside in nature. Why I eat whole, fresh foods. Why I have lovingly built a tribe of amazing women.

It’s why I have stopped drinking. Drinking broke or frayed my ability to connect. It changed how I thought, changed who I was and so any connections I thought I was making were based on a lie.

So, now I know. Connection is medicine.

We are surrounded by opportunities to connect or isolate.

Connect or separate.

It’s all medicine.

Every word.

Every thought.

Every belief.

Every action.

Every choice.

We can ask if this choice will heal or harm. Then move toward the healing.

(Thank you to Bryonie Wise for the inspiration.)