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.

An Experiment in Blogging Everyday.

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If you’ve followed this blog at all the last few years, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been trying something different lately:

Blogging. Every. Day.

I got the idea from Austin Kleon who got the idea from Seth Godin.

I enjoy the structure of needing to write and post something every day.

I found that I was hoarding my blog ideas, saving them for a “better” time. But, as Annie Dillard says:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now.”

This isn’t an attempt to build my platform or increase my blog presence/readership. This is an experiment for me, to explore new ideas, to write daily and send those words out into the world.

I’m not worried about timing my posts to get the most traffic or writing headlines that lure readers in. It’s truly just about writing something every day.

As Seth Godin says,

“Are you able, every day, to say one thing that’s new that you can stand behind?”

As I write something each day, I’ve become a tuning fork to the world around me, always seeking something new to explore here. Something I can articulate and stand behind.

The more I create, the more ideas I have.

The more ideas I have, the more I write.

The more I write, the more I learn to spend it all, every time.

The more I learn to spend it all, the more I learn to trust my creative process.

The more I trust the process, the more I create.

 

The Solace (and Necessity) of Walking.

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I’ve started walking about three to four miles several times a week.

I take my dog, a podcast and head out either through our neighborhood or to the parks nearby. Walking has become my antidote to the constant barrage of awful news. I get outside, into the real world, away from the on-line world that feels like an echo chamber of doom. I step into the sunshine, into the fresh air, see the beautiful sky, the trees and  feel a certain solace.

It reminds me that there is more going on than just what I see in the news or on-line.

So many writers are proponents of walking. Julia Cameron suggests walks as one of the tools for creative recovery.

Brenda Ueland says, “I will tell you what I have learned myself. For me, a long five or six mile walk helps. And one must go alone and every day.”

In his essay “Walking” Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”

Listening to my podcast doesn’t leave me free from all worldly engagements but it does leave me not quite as tethered to them.

It’s not surprising that writers are especially drawn to walks. I think it provides a necessary complement to all the sitting, to the stagnation we can begin to feel in our bodies and our minds.

Walking is helpful to literal digestion but think it also helps me digest emotions, news, idea. I digest what I am reading, what I am writing.

Not only that, but walking seems to stimulate our creative juices. According to a study from Stanford University found that walking led to more creative thinking than sitting did.

If I haven’t convinced you to start a daily walking routine, maybe Austin Kleon can. I love what he says here:

“Almost every single morning, rain or shine, my wife and I load our two sons into a red double stroller (we call it The War Rig) and we take a 3-mile walk around our neighborhood. It’s often painful, sometimes sublime, but it’s always essential to our day. It’s when ideas are born, when we make plans, when we spot suburban wildlife, when we rant about politics, when we exorcise our demons.”

Exorcising my demons is exactly what it feels like. And that is both a solace and a necessity.

Books Read in April

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“A Story Larger Than My Own- Women Writers Look Back on their Lives and Careers.” Edited by Janet Burroway

At difficult times in my writing life, I tell myself certain stories to remind myself of things I mustn’t forget, information which can only be encoded in story form or it won’t get where it’s going.

What do you get when you compile essays and poems by nineteen remarkable women who also happen to be remarkable writers? This gem of collection. Each woman is over sixty and they reflect on their careers as writers, editors, reporters and teachers, offering sage, humorous and hard won advice to writers at any stage of their career.

Some favorite lines:

Jane Smiley on writing her first novel:

“…what I got from it was important—confidence, familiarity, discipline.”

Judith Ortiz Coffer quoting Virgina Woolf:

“A woman writing thinks back through her mothers,” and adds, “forward through her daughters.”

Hilda Raz was asked this question:

“As a poet, are you writing from a place of aging? Or from the place of all you’ve experienced, witnessed, lost, discovered, understood, not understood? Doesn’t this mean that being over sixty or seventy is almost irrelevant?”

What I learned: As I approach fifty, I found myself really drawn in by this collection. I learned that our lives are rich tapestries that we can weave throughout our stories, owning all parts of our lives.

“Steal Like an Artist- 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative” by Austin Kleon

It’s one of my theories that when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.

Okay, confession.

I think this guy is my latest creative crush.

You know, one of those people who just light you up and make you want to go out and create something, anything as long as you’re immersed in the process. I love his ideas, the design of the book, the structure, the graphics and illustrations. I just loved it all.

It’s a small square book that you’ll probably devour in one sitting but one that you’ll turn to again and again for hits of inspiration. He makes you feel not just less isolated but that we are all part of a big crazy tribe of artists.

What I learned: To not take it all so seriously. Creating is fun, yo!

“Show your Work- 10 Ways to share Your Creativity and Get Discovered” by Austin Kleon

I hate talking about self-promotion.

In this digital age of social media and platform building, the process can get a little tedious and perhaps a tad overwhelming. Well, not in the hands of this guy. He makes it all seem like it could actually be (gasp!) fun!

Everything I loved about his first book (see above) I loved in this one. He just makes the whole process of creating and sharing your work so doable.

What I learned: Much of the time I consider social media to be a drain and a distraction (which it totally can be). But now I see it as just another tool to create work, share work allowing me to be part of a larger community of creators.

“The Signature of All Things” a novel by Elizabeth Gilbert

Alma Whittaker, born with the century, slid into our world on the fifth of January, 1800.

Caution: serious gushing ahead.

You’ve been warned.

I admit, when I first heard about this book I was less than intrigued. I mean, a spinster botanist who studies moss? Not exactly my cup of tea. But then it was offered online one day for a crazy low price so I bought it. It sat in my stack of TBR books for several months. My plan was to read it in the spring. You know because of the whole plant theme.

Well. Once I picked it up, I just could not put it down. It’s been a long time since a novel drew me into its world so completely. I alternated between greedily reading through it, needing to know what happened next and slowing way, way down because I didn’t want it to end.

And then.

I got to the passage where the title comes from and I got chills. Seriously. Chills.

The love, passion and devotion that Gilbert poured into her characters, story and research is evident on every page of this delectable novel.

Okay. The gushing has ended.

Except to say that the morning after I finished the book I walked around the house feeling a little melancholy and realized that I missed Alma.

What I learned: That if you love the characters and story, that love shines out through every sentence. And be passionate and meticulous in your research. It makes all the difference.