A Book I Love. #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I feature a book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

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I love short stories. I love reading them, I love writing them. Doing both is how I taught myself to write. When I first saw this week’s title seven years ago I knew I had to buy it.

It is “If I loved you, I would tell you this” by Robin Black. The title alone grabbed me but then the writing. Oh, the writing and the characters and their stories. Well, I knew immediately that it would be placed on my Permanent Bookshelf. They are exactly the kinds of stores I long to write—honest explorations of what it means to be human.

Ron Carlson once said that literary fiction is about the complications of the human heart. That’s what these stores explore with such grace and depth.

Today happens to be the 7-year anniversary of this book’s publication. I’ve read everything she’s written since including the novel “Life Drawing” and a collection of essays on writing and life, “Crash Course.” Honestly, I’d read her grocery list. And once I learned that she was 48 when her first story collection was published, my writer crush was solidified. As a writer approaching 52, I yearn for role models of women who didn’t give up, who started late, who set their voice loose into the world. Robin Black is absolutely that role model for me. My writing bucket list includes taking a writing workshop with her.

(As a bonus, there’s a great conversation between Black and Karen Russell at the end of the book.)

A sentence I underlined: Every once in a while. though, that softening patina an extra glass of Chianti can give, that velvet cloth it lays over every jagged edge, evokes a kind of humble gratitude in me.

Observations on Being Without Power.

 

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Image found via Pinterest.

Our state recently experienced an historic power outage due to winds of up to 60 miles per hour. My house was without power for over 72 hours. Here are a few things I observed.

Of course there is the initial annoyance. No power (and no generator) meant no lights, no heat, no water, no refrigerator. At first, it wasn’t that bad. It almost felt like a reprieve from normal life. But soon, it got old. I went to the bookstore for the afternoon to get warm and charge my phone and laptop. That night, my husband and I drank some wine and played a few games of Cribbage by candlelight. Sweet, fun and a little romantic. But waking up to a really cold house the next morning, the reprieve glow had worn off. I went to the gym to work out and take a shower. My daughter and I tried to find a place to get warm and charge our phones but every place was full. So, we got food to go and went to the yoga studio where I teach. No classes in the middle of the day so we had it to ourselves: warmth, wifi, outlets to charge. All in all, a pretty nice afternoon especially since I wrote over 2000 words on my current WIP.

That night we stayed in hotel where my husband had a business meeting. Perfect timing. Enjoyed a warm bed and a hot tub. Woke up to news that the power was back. Yay! On my way home, my daughter called to say the power was NOT back on. Boo!

I began to notice how easily swayed my mood was by things completely out of my control. I found myself getting incredibly irritated when the DTE app hadn’t updated the repair status and that irritation began to spill out all over the place. It made me wonder how often I let my mood be influenced by things out of my control. How often did I let irritations pile up and feed off each other until I was just miserable to be around for myself and others?

Each time I walked into a room, I hit the light switch. Every. Single. time. It made me realize how ingrained our habits are. It made me wonder what else I do just out of habit, basically on auto-pilot?

As the irritation began to build I realized that I was just waiting to get the power back. Just waiting. Filling time until everything was back to normal That’s what drinking the wine was about the first night. Let’s make this a little less uncomfortable and make the time pass a little easier. I wonder how often I did that, bypassing what was uncomfortable, waiting for things to happen that I want to happen.

As offers to use friends’ refrigerators or freezers to save our food, or their house for warmth or an invitation to sleep in their spare room came in, I found how awkward I felt when offered such gifts. I have no problem at all offering such gifts to others, but receiving is not easy for me. Even when it was my best friend in the whole world. She had me come down to her home for the day where she made me a fresh salad, had bought my favorite tea and crackers. I said, “My gosh you are spoiling me.” She said with a lot of passion that somebody should spoil me, that I deserve it. That I take care of everyone else all the time and the sometimes I needed to be taken care of myself. I heard the words, and I tried to receive them with an open heart but I could feel myself closing up against them. How often do I refuse to ask for help or feel guilty when accepting it?

Finally, being powerless felt like a huge, neon metaphor for how I’ve felt since the election. Certain things are just out of my control no matter how many calls I make, marches I attend, petitions I sign, meetings I go to, postcards I send.

So, with so many things out of my control, what is within my control? Always my response. Always. I chose to get irritated by the power being out. I chose to check the app twenty-five times a days, hoping to see an update. I chose to drink several large glasses of wine to escape the situation in front of me. But I also chose to seek out warmth. To continue my meditation practice even if just for two minutes. I chose to continue showing up to my current WIP, making progress despite what was going around me. Chose to notice when it felt uncomfortable accepting offers of help. I chose to accept the help anyway, learning to get comfortable with it.

Now that the lights are back on, I hope to stay aware of what is in my power, and what is not. To stay awake to my habits instead of sleepwalking through my days. To be grateful for help when it is offered and brave enough to ask when I need it, believing that I am deserving of it. To be grateful for all that I have that I blindly take for granted as I easily flip on a light switch to light up a room or turn on the faucet to receive water or open the refrigerator full of fresh food.

Just like Dorothy, the power is always within us.

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Image found via Pinterest.

 

The Practice of Contentment.

I saw the documentary “Embrace” recently. To say that it changed my life is not an exaggeration.

It’s about female body image.

It started when Taryn Brumfitt posted before and after pix on Facebook and they went viral, not because of how stunning her transformation was (though it was) but because of how real it was.

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Image found via Pinterest.

It went viral because she went against the norm. The before pic “should’ve” been the after and the after the before. She received thousands of responses. Some hateful and nasty because some people are just hateful and nasty. But most were beautiful and vulnerable and most were grateful to see somebody embracing their real body rather than shunning it and they wanted to know how they could do the same.

So, Taryn embarked on a journey and documented it to see how women around the world view their bodies. It was illuminating and heartbreaking. A word often uttered when asked to describe their body was “disgusting.” Not one woman liked one thing about her body.

Not one thing.

I don’t remember the first time I realized my body wasn’t good enough. I do remember a friend telling me to stop doing the locomotion in her basement because each time I hopped it felt like an elephant shaking the floor. I was twelve.

I remember a boy in the stands at a high school basketball game where I was a cheerleader calling me “thunder thighs.”

I remember pouring over issues of “Seventeen” yearning for the long, straight blonde hair that I saw. The thin thighs, slender calves and ankles.

I remember never feeling quite comfortable in my skin. Not only because of being bombarded constantly by media telling me that I needed to change my body but also because I think a part of me believed that it would be “conceited” to think I was enough just as I am. That I would be full of myself.

Since I’ve been practicing yoga, I’ve become much more comfortable in my own skin. I’ve grown to accept the way my body and energy fluctuate day to day, month to month, year to year. Because I try to practice yoga as a way of life, I’ve learned to practice santosha or contentment. It’s not about being happy all the time but being content in each moment as it arises, not needing to change it or fix it or resist it.

When it comes to my 51-year-old body, santosha is a blessing. It helps me to not merely accept my body (which I think implies that it is less than and I am just settling) but to embrace my body exactly as it is day to day, moment to moment.

Some days I feel strong and confident and head off my mat after a sweaty vinyasa ready to kick ass. Other days I curl up on the couch  and that’s it. Santosha allows me to ride the waves of hormones as my body shifts, my mood meanders and my ability to sleep suddenly falls off a cliff.

Santosha allows me to feel content no matter what is happening in my body, to my body and around my body. It allows me to recognize that, contrary to decades of false beliefs and advertising saturation, I am not essentially lacking. It allows me to embrace and rejoice in all that I do, all that I am.

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#MonthofFaves2016 ~ Challenges {The Year End Updates on Reading Challenges, Personal Goals, Resolutions}

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How did you do? Are you going to do more challenges next year?

I started the year with my own personal reading challenge—read five of my own books before I could buy or borrow a new one. It lasted maybe two months. Good intention to read my own damn books, poor follow through.

I ended the year with two other challenges. #MonthofFaves2016 has definitely revived my blog. I feel more connected to it again and I found strategies that will help in the new year which include writing and saving drafts of posts on the weekend to then post during the week. And using the weekend to visit other blogs and connect there.

Two Instagram challenges revived that platform as well. I did a personal Gratitude Challenge for the month of November and I am finishing the year with the “winterwondergram Book Challenge. It’s been been fun creating photos and meeting people this way.

All year I have doing my own version of “Don’t break the Chain.” I filled my dry erase board with 365 boxes and marked an “X” in one for each day that I wrote. I have yet to break the chain. Yay, me! I plan on continuing it into the new year, perhaps making myself a little more accountable by needing to produce 500 words on my current WIP to earn the “X” during the week.

For meditation, I use Insight Timer and it keeps track of the amount of days in a row that I meditate. It is incredibly motivating plus I get to see the thousands of others meditating with me around the world.

Challenges work for me. I like to see the days add up. I like to see the progress. I like to feel the changes manifest as I remain consistent and motivated.

Check out the challenge here. 

 

 

#AMonthofFaves201 ~ Reading Outside My Comfort Zone

Surprise Find(s) This Year.

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So, here’s the thing I am realizing—I don’t often venture out of my reading comfort zone. I like the literary stories that I like, the authors I like, the inspiring spiritual stories I like, the memoirs I like, the books about writing that I like.

in 2017, I am going to expand my reading. I am going to venture out of the bubble of my comfort zone. Try genres I usually shy away from (maybe sci-fi, paranormal romance, historical non-fiction, classics) and find authors that aren’t on my amazon suggested list. It’s so easy to become isolated within the things we like, within a community that agrees with everything we believe. Now, more than ever, it is critical that we move beyond those spaces. Books are meant to crack open our world, expand our views but only if we let them, only if we invite them into our lives.

This coming year I am going to do just that.

Check out the challenge here. 

#MonthofFaves2016 ~ #WeekendReading {Picking Favorites} 

Let’s support each other by sharing your favorite post, book, or something else, mentioned on other #AMonthofFaves participant blogs.

~ Tamara of Traveling with T really piqued my interest with her reflection of “All is Not Forgotten” by Wendy Walker.

~ Love the inspiring changes Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves made this year! And I love the graphic in her header:)

~ I really like how Akilah of The Englishist gave herself specific categories of diverse books to read this winter. It’s making me want to get out of my reading comfort zone!

~ Kailana of The Written World motioned using a bullet journal as one of her favorite things. I have pinned some things on bullet journals but have yet to implement them. Maybe that will change in 2017…

~ I absolutely relate to Kristen’s (of We Be Reading) desire to seek solace and joy in books when we are in a difficult and challenging emotional space.

Check out the challenge here. 

#AMonthofFaves2016 ~ 5 Fave “New to Me” Author Discoveries or Audiobook Narrations This Year

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Here are 5 new-to-me authors I discovered this year. Loved each and every one of them!

“A Little Life” a novel by Hanya Yanagihara

Made me rethink what I think I know about male friendship.

“Imagine This—Creating the Work You Love” by Maxine Clair

Made me rethink how I go about my own creative work.

“The Chronology of Water” by Lidia Yuknavitch

Made me rethink what a memoir could be and what writing can do.

“The Empathy Exams” essays by Leslie Jamison

Made me rethink the role of empathy in my life.

“Blackout—Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget” by Sarah Hepola

Made me rethink how much I drink and why.

#AMonthofFaves2016 ~ 5 Books on My Winter Reading List 

Which books are your must read this winter?

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I don’t usually make a list of books I intend to read. It’s more intuitive for me, picking up what calls to me or maybe something I see on-line or in the bookstore.

But here is a tentative plan for my winter reading (and I totally reserve the right to change my mind at any time!):

I chose 5 different genres: novel, short stories, spiritual, memoir, writing craft/process

~ “The Exquisite Risk- Daring to Live an Authentic Life” by Mark Nepo (I chose this for the book club I lead at our yoga studio.)

~ “Thrill Me- Essays on Fiction” by Benjamin Percy (I love his storytelling and his incredible work ethic.)

~ “Half Wild” stories by Robin MacArthur ( a back cover blurb compared her to Annie Proulx, Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor so how could I not buy it?)

~ “Love Warrior” a memoir by Glennon Doyle Melton (I fell a little in love with her after “Carry On, Warrior” and following her blog.)

~ “The Book of Strange New Things” a novel by Michael Faber (Can’t have a winter reading list that doesn’t include at least one big, juicy novel. The flap copy calls it a “monumental, genre-defying novel more than ten years in the making.)

What’s on your winter reading list?

Check out the challenge here. 

 

#MonthofFaves2016 ~ The Most Unique, Weird or Most Memorable Book(s) Read This Year

Not necessarily your favorite book because it could be memorable for how bad or how much you liked or disliked the characters.

Two books stand out as most memorable.

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~ “A Little Life” a novel by Hanya Yanagihara

I love how it portrayed a deep, abiding men complicated friendship between men. Read my reflection here.

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~ “The Chronology of Water” by Lidia Yuknavitch

This memoir blew me away from the first sentence. She does something truly unique with the theme of water and how she uses time. It cracked open what I thought writing could do, what it could be. After I read it, I signed up for a 6-week, on-line writing class with her and one of the pieces that came from that class will be published on The Manifest-Station on December 22. You can read my reflection here.

Check out the challenge here. 

#AMonthofFaves2016 ~ This Is How We Read

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I don’t exactly have a reading routine or structure. I read whenever I can. I read in the morning before my own writing to “keep good sentences in my ears” as Jane Kenyon advised. I like to try and read poetry before I begin writing, even reading it out loud to get beautiful language in the air around me.

I read:

~ in the middle of the day in my cozy nook by the fireplace, usually with a cup of tea and my favorite blanket. Our dog, Izzy, is usually nearby.

~ at night before bed.

~ in bed in the morning if I don’t have to leap right up and start my day.

I bring a book with me, always. You never know when there will be a pocket of time, but if there is, you can bet I’ll have a book.

Genres tend to be pretty balanced between novel/short stories, memoirs, writing inspiration (I read less craft books these days since I feel I learn my craft best by writing myself rather than reading about it) and spiritual or yoga books.

I tend to have several book going at once, usually from each of the genres mentioned above so there is always something ready to dip into no matter my mood.

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When somebody tells me that they don’t have time to read, I’m sure I must have a ridiculous blank look on my face. Not have time to read? What does that even mean? It’s like saying you don’t have time to breathe. I’ve been a reader all my life. I remember sinking into the backseat of our Oldsmobile station wagon, driving up-north to the cottage with a stack of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books next to me that I had gotten for Christmas. I didn’t even care how long the drive was. Like Rory Gilmore, I take a book with me everywhere. All of my daily use purse are big enough top hold a book.

Annie Dillard’s quote above pretty much sums it up for me. Reading isn’t just something I do, it is large part of who I am.

Check out the challenge here.