Books read in May + June.

May June 2019 books

“Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One” a novel by Raphaelle Giordano

The raindrops crashing against my windshield grew louder and louder.

I picked this up in the English section at a bookstore in Italy while waiting for our train. It seems to be hybrid of a novel and self-help.

Camille, a seemingly happy woman, begins to realize she is not as genuinely happy as she thinks she should be despite her roles as wife, mother, daughter and employee.

A chance encounter leads her to an intriguing man, Claude who offers to help her through the process of “routineology.” He gives her specific tasks and assignments designed to help her become who she truly is.

It’s a charming, feel-good story that makes you consider if perhaps you might also benefit from working with a routineologist. And if you don’t have access to one, the book comes with a glossary of the steps Camille took.

“Best American Short Stories 2017” edited by Meg Wolitzer

Rarely do I sit down and read these editions straight through. Normally, it’s a book I dip in and out of but since I was on vacation I read it all the way through. Well, all but one. And that is also rare. Not all short stories are my cup of tea. I find it often depends on the editor and apparently, Meg Wolitzer and I enjoy the same kind of stories and writing.

I was really excited to see that 50% were written by women. I’ll be even more excited when that stat is no longer on my radar.

Reading these stories drops me into the center of many different worlds, which felt appropriate as I travelled from country to country.

It reignited my love of reading and writing short stories. I’d find myself beginning to narrate my own experience as if writing a story.

I love how each story is a lesson in structure, in voice, in character. 

We encounter a widower trying to raise their son in the age of social media; a person with both a boyfriend and girlfriend; a woman who hooks up with a Famous Actor.

Each story thrums with urgency.

A line that made me laugh out loud:

First sex is like being in a stranger’s kitchen, trying all the drawers, looking for a spoon.

“Crudo” a novel by Olivia Laing

Kathy, by which I mean I, was getting married.

Set against the backdrop of the Trump presidency, Kathy leads us through her external  and inner worlds in the days leading up to her wedding.

The voice is electric, which makes  sense since Kathy is also a writer. But how to make art in the face of racism and being tweeted into a nuclear war not to mention that the planet is dying? Why bother making a life-long commitment to someone when the world could end with a tweet? And is the Kathy of this novel actually meant to be Kathy Acker?

Laid out in real time, we get up close and personal into the inner workings of Kathy’s mind and heart.

A line that chillingly reflects our times:

Numbness mattered, it was what the Nazis did, make people feel like things were moving too fast to stop and though unpleasant and eventually terrifying and appalling and were probably impossible to do anything about. 

“Girl Logic {the genius and the absurdity}” by Iliza Shlesinger

Women are not crazy. We are not crazy. We are conflicted. Crazy implies an impartiality to our thoughts when in actuality, we ar processing so many dichotomic thoughts that we get frustrated.

I discovered Iliza Shlesinger when friends told me I had to watch “Elder Millenial” on Netflix. I’ve watched it at least 4 times since then and I recommend it all the time. She is fucking hilarious but in a a way that is incredibly smart and observant. 

Her book is no different. Sure, it is funny but her advice and her observations and what she is learning along the way all really resonate.

She exposes that voice in our heads, what she calls “Girl Logic” and we think, oh… it’s not just me. She talks about what it is like for her to be a female in comedy, how she gets treated differently (sometimes shitty) just for being a female who had the nerve to beat a bunch of men in “Last Comic Standing.” She tells how she has learned to stand up for herself and that we teach people how to treat us. She explores dating in the age of social media and texting. Her lens may be Hollywood and the comedy circuit but her observations relate to any field and to any woman at any age.

A line that lands on something I STILL struggle with:

Evaluating your worth based on the opinions of others is a dangerous trap. The perpetual juggling act of trying to process everyone else’s assumptions about you—assumptions that are often incorrect—is as exhausting as it is useless.”

“Waisted” a novel by Randy Susan Meyers

Everyone hated a fat woman, but none more than she hated herself.

I have to admit, this was a tough read. Excellent read, but tough. It brought to the surface all the ways I have betrayed my body since I was old enough to realize I had one and that it “should” look a certain way. Meyers takes the question, “How far will women go to lose weight?” and creates an entire world from that premise. And it is not pretty. It is honest and unflinching as she explores not only weight and body image but also race and marriage and parenthood and friendship. She peels back the layers of the relationship women have with their bodies and how it is influenced by family and media and society. 

It is hard to read but equally hard to look away or put down.

I encourage all women, and men to read this.

It may be fiction but it is based in our reality.

A sentence that hit home:

Fat women look more naked than normal-weighted women.

Clothes made the woman. Naked made the shame.

“The Beautiful No and Other Tales of Trial, Transcendence, and Transformation” by Sheri Salata

So, this is my story.

Salata worked for years as a producer for the Oprah show. It was a dream job. But at some point she realized she wasn’t living her dream life. 

I used to devour every single self-help/self-improvement book that came out, desperate to find the answers to questions I wasn’t even sure I was asking.These days I am more discerning about what I allow into my energy and mind. I rely on intuition and as soon as I read about this book, I knew I was meant to read it.

I was right.

What I love is that she doesn’t spoon-feed you a set of rules to follow just because they worked for her. She shares her journey, the ups, the downs the in-betweens and what she learned and you take what resonates. I appreciate that.

One thing that truly resonated with me was her discovery that mid-life depends on your attitude. Is it downhill form here? Or is a chance to rediscover who you are now? That it’s never too late to begin again, to dream a new dream, to dream a new you into existence. She is clear that it is not easy. It’s not all wishful, magical thinking, that  changing your inner narrative is key. 

I am almost 54 (the age she warns us that women drop off the radar of marketing companies, becoming invisible) and though I have been writing for over 30 years, I still don’t have a book published. Part of me believes I have wasted my time, that it is too late. Now I am thinking what if it took me this long to write raw, true stories that resonate deeply not only within me but others? What if I am meant to struggle with my doubts and fears and procrastination so that I can share them with others? What if I am meant to be the writer I dream of being starting now, not back when I was in my twenties and barely had a self much less a voice to write from?

Thank you, Sheri for sharing your story and giving me to the courage to reimagine and reinvent mine.

And reading about Nate and Jeremiah’s wedding brought me to tears.

A sentence I needed to read:

Miracles were shifts in perception.

Not three hours earlier I had written how the cynical part of me was getting loud as I read a book about money and the author shared her so-called “miracle” stories of manifesting the exact amount she needed when it seemed impossible to do so.

“On Being Human- A Memoir of Waking Up, Living Hard, and Listening Hard” by Jennifer Pastiloff

When I finally got out the tools to build what I thought I needed to get the life I wanted, I realized that what I needed was within. But first, I had to rebuild everything. Once I did that, I would be on my way to a different kind of living.

Jen Pastiloff popped up on my radar when I first started teaching yoga and just knew that I needed to combine it with writing. I knew that these two practices would deeply enhance each other. I googled “writing and yoga” and found her! I haven’t had the chance to attend one of her workshops but it is definitely on my to-do list. I subscribed to her newsletter “The Manifest-station” and eventually had a piece published there.

Once I heard that she was writing a book, I marked it in my calendar once the pub date was announced and bought it the day it was released. I pretty much devoured it in a couple of days. 

If you follow her on social media, you know that she is all about being real and her book is no different. I imagine that when I finally meet her in person, it will be like I’ve already met her through her words.

In her workshops, women are encouraged to be vulnerable and she doesn’t ask anything of others that she is willing to do herself. She dives deep into her story and shares all of it, not just the shiny trinkets: her father’s death, grief, hearing loss, body shame and eating disorders. She shares her journey. And it is a journey. She transforms her life by beginning to listen hard to others but also to herself. Yoga helps her do that, so does writing, and just showing up to her life exactly as she is in any given moment. Her raw, messy, beautiful realness encourages us to show up to our own lives exactly as we are.

Some sentences I underlined:

Before we are molecules, we are memory.

I began my apprenticeship to the art of unknowing, a skill that would take all my life to unravel.

In my workshops, I talk about how unbelievably hard it is to break patterns. How we can’t beat ourselves up when we struggle. We all struggle. Always. It’s part of being human.

“City of Girls” a novel by Elizabeth Gilbert

I received a letter from his daughter the other day.

This was the perfect summer read: a delightful romp that allowed me to escape into another world. I am always amazed and impressed by the amount of research Gilbert does for her novels. The immersion into the world she creates feels seamless to me. And the themes of women’s pursuit of pleasure and their sexuality, freedom of choice and how men are held to a completely different standard mirror issues the we are confronting today.

If you are looking for an escape this summer, I highly recommend this book! And if you want a listen inside the process fo writing it and how it was juxtaposed against an almost unbearably loss in Gilbert’s life, please listen to her interview on the “Good Life Project” podcast.

A line I loved:

At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” Vivian mused. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.”

“Lush” a memoir by Kerry Cohen

I wasn’t a drunk until I was.

Cohen examines her life, her self and her drinking in this relatable and incredibly honest memoir. She realized in her forties that she had a drinking problem, using alcohol to blur the edges of a life she wasn’t entirely happy with or present for. She noticed that she was not the only one struggling with this. That many, many women her age drank on a regular basis, drank to feel joy, to ease stress, to bond with friends, to escape the monotony of their lives.

She wrestles with her own demons chapter by chapter, letting us know we are not alone as we struggle with our own. 

A line that resonated:

Shame is like hammered metal inside you. It lodges there, sealed forever.

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Still Squaring Off with my Not-Enougness.

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Image found via Pinterest.

I am extraordinarily hard on myself.

I don’t always see it, but when I finally do I am stunned at how I talk to myself and what I expect from myself. Sometimes it’s just a frustration with myself but other times it spirals into something a little darker and I wonder why I am alway trying to fix myself instead of just living my life and is this what I am meant to be doing and I start questioning everything and if I am struggling this much then how can I possibly teach? And it just spirals out from there.

Here is what I wrote a few minutes ago:

Just spent an hour trying to figure out a structure for my days. As Annie Dillard says a routine is a net for catching days and I need to catch my days. They seem to slip through my fingers without any effort on my part. And that is the problem. Zero effort on my part. I need to step up, step in, lean in to my life, into my days. I can’t keep sitting on the sidelines pretending to be doing the work and then be upset when nothing happens. For so many years…like SOOOOO many years, I have felt like I’ve been dipping my toe into the shallow end of my life. Just hanging out there, waiting for the water to feel good instead of just taking the plunge. Diving in, diving deep, no matter what the water feels like, no matter how deep the water is, no matter if I can no longer see the shore. I seriously cannot believe I am still struggling with this bullshit. 

Luckily, a wise, compassionate part of me stepped up and stepped in:

Okay. Stop. Breathe. It’s time for some perspective. Let’s see what you have accomplished. You are a 200 RYT who teaches 7-8 classes a week and you have built a strong, supportive community within your classes. You made and saved enough money to take an amazing 16-day trip to Europe with your daughters. You have managed to write something every single day for over three years. That’s not nothing. You have submitted your work more in the last four month than you have in the last 4 years. Sure, you’ve lost some momentum in the last few months but let’s take stock of what has been going on. Your best friend had open heart surgery and you helped her through it. You’ve been preparing for this trip. You took a month-long sabbatical. You took the trip and now you are back and experiencing some reentry pains. Let that happen. Take a breath. Don’t jump on the what a lazy-ass, terrible-human-you are bandwagon. That’s a bunch of bullshit. This path you’ve been on, it’s not easy but you have stayed on it. You are creating this life for yourself. Maybe these lessons are the lessons you are meant to share, not because you have conquered them but because you keep persisting through them. You don’t let them stop you. You do not have to be perfect. You have to be real. That’s it. That’s all anybody wants from you: your family, friends, students, readers. They just want you to be real. And this struggle you are dealing with, that’s part of being real. So share it. Don’t wait until you have it all figured out. That may never happen. Just jump in from where you are now. That is all that is necessary. Breathe and take it all one step at a time. What are you doing in this moment. Are you showing up? Yes. You are. Here you are, typing, writing when nobody cares or is expecting you to. Doing it for yourself and not for an agent or an editor takes grit. And you have that. I just with you could see it.

img_9558.jpgOkay, so here I am taking a breath and sharing the not pretty parts of myself. The parts that struggle with my not-enoughness. Not doing enough, not being enough. I am not sharing this to get praise or validation. I did that for myself. I am doing it to be real. To share all the parts not just the shiny, photoshopped, pretty-filtered pieces of my life. 

May it be of benefit.

How I Spend my Days.

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Image found via Pinterest.

I have written something every day for the last 1,222 days.

I have meditated every day for the last 311 days.

Why to I keep track of these activities? It started as  a way to motivate myself to do the things I ket saying I wanted to do but somehow kept putting off doing. Taking a cue from Jerry Seinfeld, I created a yearly chart on a dry erase board and marked an “X” in each box every day I wrote. Seeing that chain of x’s created enough momentum that I didn’t want to break the chain.

Same with meditation. I use an app that keeps track of my sessions. It’s so encouraging and empowering to see the days add up.

As the days add up, I notice a shift. A shift in how I relate to myself, to the world, to my writing, to my thoughts.

As the days add up, I realize I am no longer longing to live the life I want to live, I am actually living it. As Annie Dillard says:

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Image found via Pinterest.

Tools of Illumination.

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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.

Restaurants: Please Offer more than Salad and Fries for Vegans.

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Dear Restaurants,

How hard is it to put at least one vegan option on your menu?

But it can’t be the sad, vegan, last option of a salad and fries.

Or a salmon salad without the salmon and you still charge me the same price.

I mean, you all jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon when only one percent of our population has legit celiac disease.

The are 3.2 percent of Americans who are vegan. There’s a need there.

There’s a market share to be had.

There are restaurants I no longer frequent because there are no options for me.

You don’t have to go as far as Ale Mary’s and provide an entire vegan option menu but, wow, that’d be great! I’m happy that the martini bar I love to go to in the summer to sit on their patio now offers a Beyond Burger.

All I’m asking is that you be a tad more inclusive.

It’s good for our health.

It’s good for the environment.

It’ll be good for your business.

 

Things I’m Done Apologizing For.

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I’m done apologizing:

  1. For my house that may never pass a white glove test. I have better things to do with my time.
  2. Before I speak up. My opinions don’t need to be prefaced by an apology.
  3. For saying no when I want to say no.
  4. For saying yes when I want to say yes.
  5. When I need help.
  6. For my political passion. If it bothers you, unfollow me.
  7. For sending food or drinks back at a restaurant.
  8. For claiming space in public whether it’s on an airplane and I actually use the armrest or just walking down the street and not contorting my body to stay out of everybody’s way.
  9. For setting boundaries.
  10. My feelings.
  11. For being my messy, beautifully imperfect self.

 

The Mindful Practice of Morning Pages.

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Image found here.

There are many reasons to write Morning Pages.

Lately, I find that they are a great tool for practicing mindfulness. My focus is not as laser sharp as I want it to be these days, to say the least. Pretty sure I’ve rewired my brain to look for the next shiny thing on Twitter or Facebook which is not the best result for a writer.

In meditation, my mind wanders over and over again. The practice is noticing when that happens and coming back to my breath or body or mantra or sounds. Writing morning pages I feel the impulse to lift my pen over and over again before I get to the end of my three, handwritten pages. When I lift my pen, my mind drifts. When my mind drifts it is oh so easy and tempting to reach for my phone or click on a tab on my laptop.

When I feel that impulse I just keep the pen moving In fact, I actually write, “just keep writing.” I feel the ink flowing across the surface. I hear the sound of the pen scratching against the paper. I see the trail of pink left behind. At this point, the words don’t even matter.

What matters is staying present.

What matters is not letting my hand lift, not letting my mind wander. Not checking my phone.

What matters is rewiring my brain to stay on the page, to stay in the moment.

As with meditation, keeping my hand moving, connecting to all the senses as I write leads me gently into that “serene encounter with reality.”

“Tully” is the Perfect Movie for Mother’s Day.

Warning: If you haven’g seen “Tully yet, A) Go see it. B) Spoilers ahead so read this after you’ve seen it.

Tully

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I took myself to the movies yesterday morning. I slipped into the theater for the 10:10 showing of “Tully” reminding me of how I used to go to the movies as stress relief when my daughter were little.

The movie swept me further back to that time of my life. The lack of sleep, the isolation, the monotony, the joy, the boredom. That feeling of every nerve being on edge from being pulled in ninety different directions throughout the day.

Marlo (played by Charlize Theron) is about to give birth to their third child. She is already stretched thin and her son Jonah, labeled “atypical” by doctors and “quirky” by teachers, is both a blessing and a challenge. After Mia’s birth, Marlo finally breaks down and gets the night nanny that her brother offered. Tully, the nanny, says she is there to care for her and helps her not only with the new baby, but also bakes Minion cupcakes for her son to take into class, gets the spark back into her sex life with her husband Ron and just generally brings the spark back into Marlo.

As Marlo comes back to life, I found myself crying. I remember those times so well. When I watch videos of myself back then, there is always this empty look in my eyes. I call it my Stepford-wife look. Part of it is being self-conscious and uncomfortable being filmed.

But it was more than that. The occasional movie couldn’t offset all the energy I gave to motherhood. My own spark was so faint back then. So when I saw Marlo reviving hers, I cried. I wished I had my own Tully back then. Then I thought that we should all be our own Tully. Be that inner voice guiding us back to ourselves.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what Tully was. There was no nanny, just a piece of herself that Marlo conjured up to remind her of who she was. Tully was her maiden name. Tully was her.

At first, I thought I didn’t even see it coming just like in “Sixth Sense.” But obviously I did. I sensed it without quite understanding the turn the movie was about to take.

I didn’t feel tricked or manipulated. It was exactly how it needed to be.

It’s the perfect message for woman and girls everywhere, whether they are moms or not, to take care of ourselves.

To put our needs first sometimes.

To listen to what we need.

To let that inner voice guide us back to our spark, to fan that spark, no matter how dim and faint it may be, so that we have a light to shine onto our families and out into the world.

Dancing with the Blahs.

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I woke up feeling meh this morning.

Nothing tragic. Nothing terrible. Just meh. Blah.

Now, much of the time I give in to that feeling. Give in to the physical, mental, emotional and energetic inertia by hunkering down on the couch with Netflix and my phone and hours later, (surprise surprise!) I feel ten times worse.

I want to be clear. This is not depression. This is just a normal ebb and flow of energy, of emotions. Today, instead of giving in to it I chose to dance with it.

I got on my mat and did a gentle practice just moving in a way that felt good, not to achieve anything other than being present in my body.

Then I meditated for 15 minutes.

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Then I took my dog over to the park where we walked around the lake for an hour, more moving of the body and connecting with this beautiful world that often doesn’t feel beautiful when I view it from the incredibly myopic view from my phone.

Then I brought myself here to the bookstore, one of my happy places where I can browse and write and dream and be out in the world without really having to talk to anyone.

After all that I am feeling much less meh. Much less blah.

I am feeling content.

Finding Alignment On and Off my Mat.

I am aligned

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Alignment is an important aspect of our yoga practice. It keeps us physically safe and supported in a pose. Proper alignment keeps us from exerting unnecessary effort.

Practicing physical alignment on my mat reminds me to find spiritual and energetic alignment off my mat.

I am having one of those off days. I can’t find things I need and am getting very easily irritated. I feel off balance and need to ask myself where exactly I am out of alignment just as when I check in with my own body in a pose or that of my students.

I haven’t stepped into my yoga room in about three days. This is so unlike me. I usually get onto my mat at least once a day, if not more. I’ve been busy and wanting to hang out with my daughter who is home from college so I’ve been staying up later which means I am sleeping in later which means I haven’t made time to practice.

Just as a tiny imbalance in the hips or spine can create misalignment throughout the body, not attending to my personal yoga practice sends ripples throughout the rest of my life.

Alignment happens when I can hear my inner voice. If it’s cluttered with crap because I haven’t been taking the time to meditate or have been merely phoning it in (which I have been doing) then I feel out of flow with myself, with my life, with the Universe.

I am in alignment when I make time to care for myself.

I am in alignment when I notice that I am out of alignment and pinpoint where I strayed, with compassion, not judgment.

I am in alignment when I really show up to my yoga practice, when I fully show up to my meditation practice.

Basically, I am in alignment when I show up fully to each moment just as it is, just as I am.