Books Read in March + April.

books read in march and april

“An American Marriage” a novel by Tayari Jones

There are two kinds of people in the word, those who leave home, and those who don’t.

This is Oprah’s latest book club selection, but it was on my radar long before that. I will read anything Tayari Jones writes. (And I keep waiting/hoping for her to write a book on the writing process.) 

It takes a lot these days to draw me into another world. I desperately need it, but it takes a lot of to pull me away from the constant drama that is our current reality. But this novel did just that. And I gratefully fell into it. Not only is it a beautiful, complex exploration of marriage but also of race in America. 

The chapters alternate points of view and are filled with letters between the two, letters that break your heart as you see their marriage steadily frayed by circumstances beyond their control.

As I neared the end, I did not know who or what I was rooting for. Jones did such a masterful job of keeping every character real and flawed. There was no bad guy or good guy. Just human beings with their messy,complicated hearts doing the best they knew how to do.

Without giving anything away, when I got to the end I closed the book and thought, “That is exactly how this story needed to end.” Not that it was expected or cliche. Far from it. It just felt inevitable and right.

A sentence I underlined:

“When she gives a song, it isn’t entertaining; rather, it sounds like she is telling secrets that are not hers to reveal.”

“Big Love- The Power of Living with a Wide-Open Heart” by Scott Stabile

I was fourteen when my parents were shot and killed in their Detroit fruit market.

The first sentence sets up this brave exploration of pain and how one traumatic event impacts a life. Stabile does not shy away from the tragedy that shaped his young life, nor the aspects of his personality that need to be healed. It is his utter honesty that ties the book together. You don’t walk away with a tidy list of things to do in order to love with a wide-open heart. Instead, you are invited to look at your own life, at the events that have shaped you, at how your are behaving now, today, in this moment and bring a wide-open hearted compassion to everyone involved.

A sentence I underlined:

It’s impossible to communicate with love and clarity when we’re filled with judgement.

“The Body is Not an Apology- The Poser of Radical Self-Love” by Sonya ReneeTaylor

Let me answer a couple of questions right away before you dig too deeply into this book and are left feeling bamboozled and hoodwinked.

This disclaimer was the perfect way to start this book. It is not the usual self-help book guiding you on a journey to body acceptance, body love. It is more of a call to arms. She is calling for a revolution on every level: in each individual body, in our relationships, our communities, our governments. In calling for radical self-love, Taylor is asking us to get real with ourselves, with our bodies, with the body shame we are immersed in, the body terrorism that haunts us. 

Don’t pick up this book if you are looking for a gentle voice, coaxing you to love your thighs or belly. 

Don’t pick this book up if you are looking for easy answers to the body shame you’ve been carrying for decades.

Do pick up this book if you want to wake up to all the ways we have been indoctrinated into body shame, all the ways we perpetuate body shame and oppression.

Do pick up this book if you want to be transformed on a deep, sacred, level.

Do pick up this book if you are ready to embody radical self-love.

A sentence I underlined:

Radical self-love demands that we see ourselves and others in the fullness of our complexities and intersections and that we work to create space for those intersections.

“Barbara the Slut and Other People” stories by Lauren Holmes

In Mexico City the customs light lit up green, which was lucky because I had fifty pairs of underwear with tags on them in my suitcase.

How could I not buy this book when that is the first sentence that greets me? And every story had that same kind of edgy first line that just drew me in. 

These stories are poignant yet laugh-out-loud funny at times. They explore the tangles of our emotional and physical lives as the characters navigate relationships with others and themselves.

A woman learns that she prefers the company of her dog to the foreign guy she was having a fling with who has somehow set up camp in her apartment. A woman who graduated law school decides to sell sex toys instead of practicing law.

Each story is fearless and precise. A voice to watch for sure. 

A sentence I underlined:

 My mom and I were going to stop to break up with my boyfriend on our way to Emerald Isle, but the muffler fell off my car right before we got to the exit we needed to take to Raleigh, and my mom said we couldn’t stop anymore. 

“Half Wild” stories by Robin Mac Arthur

“You want to jump in the creek?” my mother asks.

The title of this collection is perfect. Each story and the collection itself feels like they are half wild—the settings as well as the emotional terrain.

Each story seems to linger at the edge between the wilderness and populated areas, between the wild space of the hearts of the characters and the lives they are actually living.

So many sentences took my breath away. I longed to linger in the wilderness of each story. An amazing debut collection.

A paragraph I underlined:

What is it about fields? The way they make all directions viable. The way they give houses, porches, voices perspective. The way the word itself—fields—makes you capable of heading toward that porch with its smoke and laughter, or toward the woods, where you could quietly and, without a sound, start walking.

“The Possibilities” a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings

I pretend that I’m not from here.

I’ve been a huge fan of Hemmings long before her novel,”The Descendants’” was made into a movie starring George Clooney and  Shailene Woodley. I used to devour her blog, “How to Party with an infant” when I had infants myself. 

Her latest novel is another dive into the complex emotional terrain we are all called on to navigate at some point in our lives. This time, Sarah St. John is reeling from the death of her 22-year-old son, Cully, from an avalanche.

They live in a resort ski town in Colorado where she hosts a TV show for the guests of a resort, giving them tips on where to go, what to do, where to eat. But after her son’s death, it seems pointless.  

When a strange girl shows up at her home, with a secret related to her son, it turns everyone’s lives inside out.

Hemmings explores the rocky terrain of grief with honesty and compassion. It feels real, not like what somebody thinks it might be like to lose a child, but how it actually is.

Set against a backdrop of a town whose soul purpose is to entertain and provide and escape from reality while the tourists visit, Sarah and her family and friends are immersed in the complicated reality of their own lives.

A passage I underlined:

We all look around at the well-dressed people of the surrounding rooms. Everything harkens back to a time when people had the same problems yet used a different language.

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Befriending my Body…Finally.

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I’ve battled my body for as long as I can remember.

There are entries in my diary from high school where I admit to “cheating” and eating a Hostess apple pie or some Oreos. Reader, I wasn’t heavy. At all. I look back at pictures from that time and can’t imagine what I was thinking.

I can clearly recall two times in my life when I felt happy with my body. Two times. I am 52. Once was on my wedding day. I loved my dress. It fit perfectly and was exactly what I had it mind. Another time was in a beautiful one-piece swimsuit I ordered from Calvin Klein and I put it on and felt great. And it wasn’t it looks great for a bathing suit. Nope. I felt amazing in it.

But those two times that I can recall are like grains of salt in an ocean of judgment, berating, disdain, shame and loathing I’ve felt for my body throughout my life.

Recently, I’ve lost almost 22 pounds. And I feel great. I feel like I am befriending my body for the first time ever. But I had to ask myself this hard question: Am I befriending my body now because I’ve lost weight? Is my compassion contingent on that? I sat with that one and finally came to this conclusion: I believe I am losing weight because I am finally loving my body.

Let me explain.

When I hurt my back two years ago I did a lot of soul-searching. I felt betrayed by my body. I cried, a lot. I wrote, a lot. And what emerged was that my body felt betrayed by me. Betrayed by my lack of compassion, my insistence on numbers on scales and clothing tags revealing my worth, hiding behind sugary treats and big glasses of wine, moving to burn calories rather than moving because it feels good.

It’s been a long journey over these last two years. Physical therapy, Bowen Therapy, Cranial Sacral, Shamanism, journaling, yoga, walking, meditation. Lots of tools that basically all led to me finally listening to my body. Really hearing what it needed rather than thinking I knew what was best.

I moved carefully and mindfully back into my yoga practice. I began starting each day with 5-10 minutes of meditation while in Constructive Rest Pose then moving into my PT exercises and other  gentle yoga moves that my body seems to love.

Next, I became a vegan again around my birthday. I had tried it a few years ago and it didn’t last long. I think I came at it from a distorted angle, looking for yet another quick fix that would solve my weight loss issue. This time I tried it to help my body heal. To fight inflammation, to ease the pain in my joints. I also became more aware of the impact my choices have on animals and the environment. Plus, my oldest daughter went vegan as well and she has been huge support in staying the course. Nowhere on my list this time was losing weight.

Eating vegan feels right in my body. I feel lighter, clearer. I have more energy, less aches and pains.

Finally, I had a physical in September. My weight was the highest it has been since I was post-pregnancy. I do not take any medications for cholesterol or blood pressure and I want to keep it that way. So, I started thinking about an approach to losing the extra weight, not an easy task at 52 and in the middle of menopause.

I decided to track my calories. I loaded Spark People onto my phone and was soon astonished at what constituted a serving versus what I had been eating. I didn’t become obsessed with it. I tracked my calories for most meals but still went out occasionally (though I eat out less often because the vegan options are so limited) and slowly I began to see results. The pounds began to drop and my back began to feel even better and mysterious aches began to dissipate. Because I am eating less sugar and foods that feel “noisy” in my body, I have more time to write, to do yoga, to read, to meditate. There’s a stillness at my core that has probably always been there but I wasn’t connected to it. Now I am.

Every change I have made has come from a place of love. A place of tender yet fierce compassion for my body, for what it needs.

At 52, I can finally trust that I am truly befriending my body.

The Practice of Contentment.

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

It’s about female body image.

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

taryn-brumfitt-before-and-after

Image found via Pinterest.

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

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

Not one thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lao-tzu-contentment

 

The Art of Belonging.

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You belong.

Those two words are plastered all over the gym I recently joined. I see them on every piece of equipment. They swim up at me through a haze of sweat and heavy breath as I push through the cardio cycle of the treadmill or elliptical or bike. I know it’s a marketing ploy. It’s their hook. Everybody is welcome there, not just lunks.

But still.

There’s something about those two little words that tug at me.

You belong.

Doesn’t the root of most unhappiness come down to a feeling of not belonging? We feel different. Outside. Other. And we try to hide the shame of being different behind wine, cigarettes, food shopping, social media, drugs, TV. Whatever will momentarily numb the discomfort of not belonging.

You belong.

I do?

It’s a question the whispers at the edge of my consciousness, tinged with hope rather than disdain.

I belong.

My yoga practice helps me feel like I belong in my body.

Meditation helps me feel I belong in this moment, just as I am.

Writing helps me feel I belong to the world within and around me as I struggle with words and stories that reveal what I care most about at any given moment.

So, as I climb imaginary hills and bike imaginary distances, I appreciate seeing the words “You belong” gazing up at me, a simple yet powerful reminder that I belong in this body, in this moment, with heart thumping and sweat dripping, breathing hard and fast in this one body that belongs to me and me to it.

 

You Belong ~ Kim Haas

You belong in this skin with its freckles and lines and scars.

You belong in this body—the body you are in now, not when you are ten pounds lighter or the one from ten years ago but this body right now in all its glorious imperfect beauty.

You belong in this life with the family you were born into whether it is fractured or whole, nurturing or absent. You chose them for a reason, so you belong.

You belong wherever you stand at any given moment on this earth.

You belong to this family of humans, all desperate to belong, to find their place out in the world when the real belonging takes place deep inside each of us.

You belong to the Universe of stardust and moonlight.

To the ebb and flow of the tides.

To brother crow and sister snake.

You don’t have to prove you belong. The fact that you are here is the proof.

You, dear one, belong here, now, just as you are.

 

The More I Befriend my Writing…

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Today is the 130th day of 2016.

I have written every one of those days.

Some days I have half-assed it, just barely showing up enough to call it writing.

But most days I. Show. Up.

I write. I edit. I revise. I re-imagine scenes to make them deeper, more real. I haul out the words and stories buried in my body, in my psyche, ones that are weighing me down, holding me back.

Today, as I rolled out of a 30-minute meditation, trying to stay in that soft space, I picked up my notebook and pen, watching the pink ink spill across the page and I realized that writing is no longer just something I show up for. It’s not longer just a red “x” I make on my board.

Writing has become my soft place to land everyday—even when what I am writing is hard and jagged.

Writing is no longer (well, more often) this “other” that I battle, compare, belittle and judge.

I have finally befriended my writing and it has befriended me.

It reminds of this:

befriending

And here is the fascinating thing:

The more I befriend my writing, the more I am befriending my body—the more I befriend my whole self.

The more real I am on the page, the more I let it all out, the more compassion I seem to generate for myself and all the parts I used to deem as broken or unacceptable or unlovable.

My youngest daughter (19 years old) recently attended my Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class which combines some writing with yoga. The topic of that “inner mean girl” voice came up. Later at dinner, I asked E.if she experienced that voice.

She shrugged and said, “Nah…my voice petty much says ‘You do you, Girl!'”

As her mom, I loved hearing that.

,As a woman I loved hearing that.

As a writer, I realize that is exactly what my writing says to me:

“You do you, Girl. I got your back.”