Books Read in May 2020.

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“An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” a novel by Hank Green

Look, I am aware that you’re here for an epic tale of intrigue and mystery and adventure and near death and actual death but in order to get to that (unless you want to skip to chapter 13—I’m not your boss), you’re going to have to deal with the fact that I, April May, in addition to being one of the most important things that has ever happened to the human race, am also a woman in her twenties who has made some mistakes.

This is one of the most unique stories I have ever read. It starts with giant sculptures popping up in cities across the globe. Enter April May and social media turning her into a celebrity and this odd occurrence into a movement.

I was intrigued by how the story seems to mirror what is happening in our country today, dividing into sides, social media being used as a tool to sow that division. 

A sentence I underlined:

In the end, my brand was me, so whatever I said became something I believed.

“Atomic Habits” by James Clear

On the final day of my sophomore year of high school, I was hit in the face with a baseball bat.

All of my habits, good and bad, useful and not useful have been amplified during this stay home, stay safe order. So, I am looking for motivation. Looking for inspiration. And I came across this on on my bookshelves.

Clear lays out exactly how our brain is trained and how habits are formed. Then gives us step by step actions to take in order to break old habits and create new ones.

A sentence I underlined:

We all deal with setbacks but in the long run, the quality of lives often depends on the quality of our habits. 

“Today will Be Different” a novel by Maria Semple

Because the other way wasn’t working. The waking up just to get the day over with until it was time for bed.

Well, stumbling across this book among my many hundred to-be-read books now seems serendipitous. As I embark on the 77th day of staying home, staying safe, I yearn for today to be different. I yearn for me to be different. To not succumb to the lure of social media, the news, or Netflix. 

Eleanor Flood yearns for today to be different as well. So, we follow her on one particular day, where despite her best intentions to greet it differently, she finds herself sinking into the same patterns and reactions.

Today she has her son who has decided to play sick to get out of school. Today she discovers something extremely unsettling about her husband that sets her on a quest for the truth. And today she encounters people in her life out of their normal context.

Eleanor is quirky and the plot twists and turns as we follow her throughout this day, hoping that it all will, indeed, be different. 

A sentence I underlined: 

My lungs were butterfly wings.

 “Keep Going-10 Ways to Stay Creative In Good Times and Bad” by Austin Kleon

Whether you’re burned out, starting out, starting over, or wildly successful, the question is always the same: How to keep going?

Another book that seems written for these times. I read it when it first came out and felt compelled to read it again as I struggle to find my creative footing during these times. 

My focus is a little limited lately so I appreciate how short and digestible each chapter is. And how each chapter is filled with inspiration and motivation. He really does help us find ways to keep going no matter what is going on in our lives or the world. 

A sentence I underlined:

The only thing we can really control is what we spend our days on.

“Minding the Muse- A handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators” by Priscilla Long

Learning to work is about learning to sink into the work.

I’ve been having a hard time sinking into the work so I picked this up off of my TBR shelves. Each chapter is concise, has a perfect quote to start it and ends with questions to contemplate. It works for whatever creative practice calls to you. It is more about the energy we bring to our work. She offers so many isights into the creative process and makes it all seem not only accessible, but also essential. 

A sentence I underlined: 

Here’s where our habit of discipline is our ally—the discipline to put aside anxiety, to sink into the work, to keep the problem open, to have faith in the process of making art.

“Deep Listening- A Healing Practice to Calm your Body, Clear your Mind, and Open your Heart.” by Jillian Pransky with Jessica Wolf

Deep listening is the process of truly connecting to ourselves and our lives. It is not so much a specific technique as it is an approach to how we receive and respond to ourselves and others.

Another book that feels essential to this time. It is a sequence of practices designed to help us listen deeply to our bodies, our selves and the world around us. It is filled with meditations and yoga poses and journal prompts to help us practice deep listening instead of merely reading about it. 

A sentence I underlined:

Well-being is the ability to stay grounded, relaxed and open to whatever your circumstances are.

Writing as Prayer.

(This is inspired by the Mindful Writing Challenge with Nadia Colburn. The prompt comes from a poem by Mary Oliver. It also came out of a prompt from Poses, Pens + Inner Peace.)

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Image found via Pinterest.

Writing is prayer. It is my prayer.

My way of paying attention. Paying attention to the stack of books and notebooks teetering next to me in the living while the dog sleeps on the couch, her lip caught in her tiny teeth. Paying attention to the the empty mason jar with just a residue of sweet creamy chai lingering at the bottom. To the sliding glass door that is open to the deck, in letting fresh air, the song of birds and the whine of highway traffic drift in through the mesh screen.

Paying attention is a kind of prayer. I’ve became acutely aware of what I am paying attention to during this time. Some days I only pay attention to the losses: lives, health, jobs, health insurance, events, security.

I pay attention to the grief. To the despair. And that’s okay. They need tending, too.

To pay attention is to tend with my energy. To tend is to pray.

Writing is my prayer. It is sacred. It connects my body, mind and heart. It connects me to wisdom. To something that is greater than myself.

Writing is how I pay attention and prayer is paying attention.

To this moment.

This breath.

To this feeling.

This thought.

Writing is my prayer. My path inward and my path out. Out of confusion, out of my own tiny life and into the larger life that surrounds me.

Writing is a way in. To the center. To the stillness. To the white hot chaos of being human, especially during this time of such upheaval and uncertainty.

Writing is my prayer. Not a child’s prayer of asking for things like a Christmas list, but a way of honoring my life. My body. My time. The people in my life. Life itself. Honoring the fact of my existence.

Each word is a statement of here I am .

I am here.

I exist.

I am.

I.

Am.

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Books Read in April.

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“Cozy- The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World” by Isabel Gillies

It makes sense that I was drawn to this book in the middle of a pandemic and being forced to stay at home. I am all about coziness. Cozy clothes. Cozy spaces to read in front of my cozy fire with a cozy cup of tea. 

Gillies takes us through a journey of coziness as we live our daily lives. We journey from ourselves to our homes to nature and technology to traveling to facing difficult challenges. 

In the end, coziness comes from a deep sense of self.

A passage I love:

Cozy is an attitude, not a thing—a shortcut to bringing the most essential parts of ourselves with us wherever we go. Once you put your finger on what makes you feel solid, supported, and calm, you can arrange yourself in a world that can be cold, awkward, dangerous, inauthentic, and unpredictable. 

“Station Eleven” a novel by Emily St. John Mandel

The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.

I’ve had this book in my to-be-read stacks for a while. I am obsessed with dystopian literature. Not sure that choosing to read this particular novel about a flu pandemic that devastates the world population was the best choice but once I started it, I couldn’t put it down.

It is so beautifully written and the structure that moves back and forth in time was perfect. We see life before, during and after the pandemic, and some of the scenes felt way too close to what we are currently experiencing. The story itself is mesmerizing and the writing, lyrical. I even teared up at the ending. 

The sentence that made me teary:

If there are again towns with streetlights, if there are symphonies and newspapers, then what else might this awakening world contain?

“Know My Name” a memoir by Chanel Miller

The fact that I spelled subpoena, subpoenas, may suggest I am not qualified to tell this story.

To be honest, this book wasn’t really on my radar. I thought it would be heart-breaking, enraging and I wondered what the quality of the writing would be.

Well, it was heart-breaking. It was enraging. And the writing was phenomenal. 

This post from Glennon Doyle made me run out and buy it.:

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Everything she says it spot on.

I admit, that I will often skim passages in books. But with this one I felt compelled, even obligated to read every word. To honor her with my devoted attention. To honor her story. To honor every word she put onto the page. 

Every single person should read this.

Reading it now, in the midst of this crisis was interesting. While it is not the same AT ALL, her resilience was inspiring. Her story hopeful.

Chanel and her story and her writing are all lights in the darkness.

This sentence felt like a punch in the gut:

The judge had given Brock something that would never be extended to me: empathy. My pain was never more valuable that his potential. 

“Big Magic-Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert

Q: What is creativity”

A: The relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.

So, even though I have 593 books in my home that I haven’t yet read, (Yes, I counted them this week cuz quarantine.) I picked up this gem to read for at least the third or fourth time.

I was listening to Liz give a TedTalk about the current pandemic and the challenges presented by sheltering -in-place and I found so much solace in her words. So I decided to find even more solace in this book again. Her vision of creativity and inspiration is both pragmatic and filled with magic which I love. I picked it up  because I’ve been feeling anything but creative and inspired these days. 

I found myself nodding at the many sentences and passages I had underlined previously and underling new ones that speak to me now.

It was so worth the re-read. I felt thoroughly restored and rejuvenated after closing the pages. 

A new line I underlined:

Work with all your heart, because—I promise—if you show up for your work day after day, you just might get lucky enough some random morning to burst right into bloom.

And this:

We are all just beginners here, and we shall all die beginners.

“This Is Not Your City” stories by Caitlin Horrocks

It is July and we are a miraculous age.

I heard about this amazing writer several years ago at a writing retreat when the instructor praised her as the most talented student he’d ever had. So, I immediately bought her book. Sadly, it got lost in my many many many piles of TBR books.

I recently read her current novel and was blown away by the story and her writing and I remembered having her story collection. So, I searched my shelves and found it. 

It did not disappoint. As a reader, I was hooked by every story which is unusual for me. There is often at least one story that I skim. Not so in this case. 

As a writer, this collection felt like a masterclass in writing short stories. But not the kind that seem like they are workshopped and born out strictly of an MFA program. They are born out her experience and imagination, each story a world rich with detail and complex characters.

Reading this book has me itching to return writing short stories again.

A passage I love:

Then I realized that the pain doesn’t travel so much anymore as live there. It’s settled on in, it’s farming her bones, and it doesn’t need to travel because it’s never going anywhere. 

“You Are a Badass Everyday” by Jen Sincero

It always surprises me when people say, “I’m not a creative person.”

I was looking for something easy to read. Easily digestible. My focus can be shaky these days. As I perused my shelves I landed on this one. Since I’d read her other two books I opened it up. Yep, this would do. The chapters were short and sweet. As I read, I could see it was a reminder of some of the more important lessons in her other two books. It was just what I needed. A reminder to stay present, to be myself, to stay motivated and overcome challenges but to also lighten up and find joy. 

This was a good reminder:

Motivation, commitment, focus—these are a muscles that, like any muscle, required strengthening. 

Why Write Now?

(This is from a prompt on the 27 Wildest Days writing challenge by Laurie Wagner which is from a beautiful new poem by Jane Hirshfield.)

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Today when I could do nothing what do I do? I reach for my pen and journal. I breathe deep, put pen to paper, heart to hand and I write. Not for something or someone. It’s not a record of what it’s like for me to live in this time. At least, that is not why I do it. It may be that, but it is not my intention.

So, when I could do nothing, why do I still write?

Why write when a pandemic is sweeping across the globe, gathering bodies and souls in its wake?

Why write when our financial future and security have been pulled out from under us?

Why write when I can’t see my students in person and can only connect occasionally through screens and technology?

When I can’t hug my friends but only see a grid of their beautiful faces on my computer?

When I send my husband out for groceries in gloves and a mask, praying that he doesn’t bring that invisible bug into our home.

When I could do anything or nothing, I still choose to write because it it is who I am. It is how I know who I am. How I discover who I am, who I was and who I want to be. And in times like this, it is essential that we have clarity around that vision of ourselves.

I write through this crisis and into it because I know of no other way to understand or connect with myself and that which is beyond myself. Moving deeply into my Self and far beyond my Self feels essential right now.

So I write.

I write in my journal.

I write from prompts and fragments of poems.

I write scenes for my YA fantasy that drops me into another world.

I write about and into the boredom.

The monotony.

The confusion.

The clarity.

The anxiety.

The calm.

The losses.

The gifts.

The grief.

The gratitude.

I write about and into all of it.

Today when I could do nothing, when I could do anything, one of the things I choose to do is write. You see, writing is essential to me. It is what nourishes me and during this time of great challenge it’s essential that we nourish ourselves.

Today when I could do nothing I make a cup of hot chai, drape myself in a cozy blanket and curl up in front of the fire with my journal open. All that white space waiting for me. No expectations. No judgments. Just space for me to be exactly who I am in this moment.

And this is why I choose to write today when I could do nothing, when I could do anything.

 

Am I Really Meant to Publish my Novels?

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I am constantly in awe at the synchronicity of the Universe.

I had this fleeting thought earlier today that maybe I wasn’t meant to publish my novels because of all the rejections I am piling up and because I find it so much easier to write here or on Instagram than to hunker down and work on my novel.

Then I opened up The Journal Compendium and saw this quote from Julia Cameron:

What you really want to do, is what you are really meant to do.

Whoa!!

I felt immediate relief reading those words. This sense of spaciousness. Of potential. Of permission to pursue what I really want even though I haven’t followed the common path, even though I am 54…so many more “even thoughs” are silenced, or at least soothed by these words.

Then I began to Mother myself:

Of course it’s easier to write for your blog or on Instagram. It’s just a moment moving through you. It’s who you are right now. You write it. You release it. You move on.

Writing a novel lives in whole other galaxy. It’s its own entity that requires constant care, attention and nourishment for a very long time. And chances are you will change during that timeframe, so who you were when you began writing it is not who you are at the end.

So, yes, it’s more difficult. It doesn’t mean you aren’t meant to publish your novels. There are readers out there who will deeply resonate with your stories.. You have already heard from them over the years. Your words touch people’s heart. 

There is an agent out there who is the perfect fit for you, who is your ideal reader and will champion you and your books as you both make your way out into the wider world.

Just keep sending your work out. Don’t take the rejections personally.

Just keep writing.

Just keep doing what you are doing.

Believe in yourself like I do, like your friends do, like anyone who has read and resonated with your stories does.

The answer to the title of this blog?

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Image found via Pinterest.

Now, I’m off to work on my novel.

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.

 

 

#NaNoWriMo2019 Results.

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My goal was to finish this draft of my current novel.

I didn’t meet that goal. But I am totally okay with that because I learned a lot while trying to reach it:

  1. Consistently showing up really churns up the story in my mind. I find myself having breakthroughs and ideas even while I am not actively writing.
  2. Forward momentum is what gets a draft done. I found myself hitting the same place I keep getting stuck which is the soggy middle and I forced myself to just keep plowing ahead,
  3. Showing up day after day brought clarity to a story that felt incredibly murky. I was up to over 113K words and ended up at just over 62K and that was perfect. I saw what was dead weight, I cut strands of the story that no longer fit and I have a clearer vision of where the story is headed. I don’t know the exact ending but I know and trust that I am headed in the right direction.
  4. I trust myself as a writer. I trust my process more, no longer questioning the fallow times, knowing that my creative energy needs to ebb and flow for balance, to recharge. I trust my writing chops. I learn more and more with every sentence, every scene, every chapter I write about character, setting, dialogue, plot, motivation.

So, while I didn’t meet my goal, I am still celebrating.

I am celebrating all the progress I did make.

I am celebrating my tenacity to stick with a project over the long haul even though nobody, and I mean nobody is expecting anything from me. This motivation is all internal and that is huge for me.

I am celebrating that I can see me easily finishing this draft by the new year.

I am celebrating myself as a writer.

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.

Day 14 ~ #NaNoWriMo2019

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Image found via Pinterest.

I find myself getting mired in the murky middle of this draft. Again.

I am going back through it, taking notes on each chapter, seeing where the story is at, where it needs to go. Noting when something is a repeat. Filling in with new chapters.

But I find myself avoiding my novel. The enthusiasm to finish it this month has waned,

This morning I realized why.

I am editing when I need to just be writing.

Writing it through to the end. Not caring if I change tense or repeat a scene or throw a whole new story arc into the mix.

I can fix all of those things. But only after I have a full next draft done.

So, that is what I am doing now. Just writing the damn thing through to the end no matter how messy or imperfect or incoherent or poorly written it is.

I can fix messy and imperfect and incoherent and poorly written.

I can’t fix not written at all.

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Image found via Pinterest.

Day 12 ~ #NaNoWriMo2019

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I haven’t been posting every day but I have been writing every day. There’s only been one day where I wrote but didn’t work on this novel. I’ll take it.

Learning a few things about myself and my writing as I get deeper into finishing this draft:

• I desperately need to learn the different between lay and lie (I had a cheat sheet at one point but I’ve lost it.)

• I also need to learn the difference between effect and affect.

• I need to write as early in the day as possible. My focus fades fast the more I get into my day.

• I am learning to write good enough for now. Good enough for this draft, this scene. Good enough to be able to come back and fix it up in the next draft.

• I am learning to use placeholders. Just put a random name in of a person or song or singer or street that I can then figure out later (with FIX IT in all caps after it). Don’t let “research” be an excuse to stop writing.

• I work best in 30-45 minute increments. Then I need to get up and do something for 15 minutes to get the energy flowing: yoga, browse the bookstore, play with the dogs or do some light household task.

• Accountability is key for me. I know that nobody really cares if I finish this draft or not, but since I declared that I would, I feel pressure to honor that.

• Planning for the next day is really helpful. I like to know when and where I plan to write and have little assignments ready to get me started.

• Mostly, I am learning to be my own personal cheerleader instead of constantly judging and criticizing my efforts. I mean, I am writing a novel! Another one, actually. Not many people do that. It is a huge deal. A huge commitment. It is helping me let go of the I-am-lazy story I tell myself and replace it with I-am-a-badass-writer-devoted-to-her-craft story.

If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, what are you learning about yourself? Your writing? Your process? I would love to hear!