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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Ditching my Usual MO.

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I’ve been having a hard time settling back into my life after 16 days in Europe, my month-long sabbatical from teaching yoga and just being out of my routine.

The daily barrage of horrifying news hasn’t helped..

The gloomy weather hasn’t helped.

What did help?

Writing. Writing always helps. It doesn’t solve every problem immediately but it definitely shifts my energy.

Yoga. Yoga grounds me in my body, in the moment where everything is okay no matter what my head is thinking. In this moment right here I am okay. Yoga reminds me of that over and over.

Meditating. I resist it but it always ends of being of benefit. Just finding that stillness. Or just observing  my mind being yanked around in twelve different directions. It always helps. Always. In all ways.

Feeling crappy. Yep. You read that right. If I am feeling crappy for whatever reason, I need to feel crappy. I can’t immediately go to the thing that will erase that crappy feeling. It’s there for a reason.

Friday night I had zero intention of going to the Summer Solstice ceremony at my studio. I was home alone most of the day. I cleaned the house which felt good. But I kept having this wanting to crawl out of my skin feeling. When I was finally able to pin down what I was feeling it was this: in flux, stuck and like I was unraveling.

Now, a lot of the time I would avoid those feelings. I would drink some wine, eat some chocolate, binge watch Netflix, mindlessly scroll through social media. None of those things help. In fact, they all make it worse.

Somehow, some part of me convinced me to go the ceremony. So, I dragged myself there. I actually felt like I was hauling a hundred pound duffel bag behind me, but I got in the car and I drove there.

There is something magical about being in community. Being in a sacred circle. My whole body just sighed with relief. This was where I was supposed to be.

Now, I’ve attended several of these ceremonies that include journal prompts which I love. I thought I had discovered all I had to discover about this resistance I feel in my writing. No, not the writing itself, but the getting the writing out into the world. How I sabotage myself just when I get in the groove of submitting my work.

I’m not going to go into the specific details but let’s just say I had not discovered everything I needed to know. I discovered something new. Something that had been there this whole time, just staring me in the face but I hadn’t seen it. I thought my resistance was about one thing and it turns out there was this whole other piece I hadn’t even considered. When I saw it I was stunned. But, of course, it made perfect sense.

And that piece I discovered? I also discovered that it was not mine to carry.

So, I let it  go.

I burned it in the ceremony.

I released it.

And I left that ceremony feeling a hundred pounds lighter.

If I had gone into my usual MO for dealing  with feeling crappy I would have missed this.

If I had ignored that voice inside me, nudging me to go to the ceremony when it was the last thing I wanted to do, I would have missed this.

We never know what small movement forward will make a huge impact.

Listen.

Make that move, no matter how small.

Be stunned at what you may discover.

Doing What I Love.

Do what you love

Image found via Pinterest.

I remember sitting on the front porch with a stack of new books on graphic design that had just arrived in the mail and I was so excited. My best friend remarked that she couldn’t imagine being excited over a pile of books from her profession (lab tech at the time.)

I realize how lucky I am to spend my work time and free time doing what I love. Graphic design has slowly dropped out of the picture but has been replaced with writing and yoga. My shelves are lined with books on both and it doesn’t feel like work or homework to read them. I am excited to dive deeper into both practices

“Practice” is the key word. Even though I teach yoga and even though I am trying to be published and generate income from my writing, the fact is that both are practices that sustain and nourish me day to day, year to year. So, anything that takes me deeper into them, leads me deeper into myself, into the heart of who I am.

Now, I am well aware that I have a luxury that many do not. I do not have to support myself with my incomes. It helps for sure, but it helps provide the wants of our life, not the needs. Not only am I aware of that fact, I am incredibly grateful.

Both writing and yoga have become such seamless facets of my daily life that it is no longer a choice of whether I will practice or not.  After writing every day for the last 3 1/2 years, I simply show up to the page. And over time, my whole life has become my yoga practice.

It is what I do.

It is who I am.

Five on Friday.

Each Friday I try to share five links that made me think, inspired me or I just found entertaining throughout the week.

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  1. Do you know your writing purpose? Read this to see why you should.
  2. Deep breathing helps not only on your mat. It helps you as a writer, as a human.
  3. I love reading about projects of committing to something creative daily for a year.
  4. Why you should resolve to read more fiction this year
  5. 39 fiction books to add to your TBR list..

Tools of Illumination.

illuminatd path

Image found via Pinterest.

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

Yes.

Exactly.

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

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

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

Through yoga and writing my path forward is illuminated.

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

Notebook Love.

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I love notebooks/journals.

I keep so many going at once:

  • one for morning pages
  • one for each WIP which is currently 3
  • one for writing practice
  • one for writing books I am working with like “The Writer’s Portable Mentor”
  • one for the Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class that I teach since I also write along with my students
  • one for yoga workshops
  • one for capturing themes & ideas for yoga classes I teach
  • a mini-notebook that fits in my purse

I figure the more opportunities I offer myself to write, the greater the possibility that I will actually write.

And it appears to be working.

“Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.” ~ Jack London

Settling my Mind.

mind is like water

Image found via Pinterest.

I admit it…I’ve been phoning in my meditation lately.

I’ve been combining it with Constructive Rest Pose, laying on my back with a strap tied around my legs to keep them from splaying open. But when I lay on my back, my mind drifts. I plan my yoga classes for the day, going through sequences in my head. Then because my mind is like that meme where all the browser tabs are open, it’s off and running.

Why did I say that?

What’s for dinner?

That was a weird dream last night.

Why hasn’t she texted me back? She must be mad at me.

What’s the weather?

Can I go for a walk?

I should cancel my gym membership. I hate the gym.

But it comes in handy when we lose power and I can shower there.

Yeah, the ONE time that happened.

My mind is exhausting.

Lately, I’ve gone back to meditating at the end of my yoga practice, sitting up on my cushion, spine tall, body supported. And, I have to admit, it is different.

Of course my mind wanders. That’s what it does. But I am able to notice it quicker and come back to my breath. Back to the moment.

This traditional sitting posture connects me to the power of meditation, the power of the present moment.

I try to fit in a meditation at some point in my yoga classes and I tell my students that my mind often feels like a snow globe when it is all shook up. Meditation allows it to settle until there is some clarity. And I can finally glimpse the quiet and stillness that is always there.

 

 

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.

The Practice of Practice.

practice

Image found via Pinterest.

Practice. It’s a word I used to hate. I didn’t want to have to practice an instrument or a sport. I just wanted to do things when I wanted to do them. And do them well.

Then I came across “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg where she introduced me to the concept of writing practice. Practice? I never considered needing to practice writing. You either wrote or you didn’t. It wasn’t like needing to practice the piano by doing scales everyday.

Except that it is exactly like that. Writers need to practice their craft just like a musician or athlete does. It keeps our fingers, heart and mind limber. Practice keeps the words flowing because there is no pressure to produce the perfect sentence or paragraph or scene. Writer’s block occurs when we think the writing needs to come out perfect. But practice implies, even relies on the concept of imperfection. Because we are practicing we are already admitting that we don’t know how to do something as well as we’d like to. Thus, we practice.

Once I committed to a yoga and meditation practice, the word took on another layer of meaning. In this context, practice implies a certain sacred intention. There is still the freedom to show up without needing to be perfect, but there is also this sense of a ritual that nourishes my soul. It carries an intention to stay present.

These days, my writing practice combines both. I show up to the page each day, free to write the worst crap in the world because it’s just practice, but I also come to the page with a deep reverence for this practice that connects me to my light and dark, my body and mind, my heart and soul. It connects me to this moment.

These days, my art is my practice and my practice is my art.

Finding Alignment On and Off my Mat.

I am aligned

Image found via Pinterest.

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.