Moving Through Fear on my Mat.

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I’ve decided to stop being afraid of hurting my back.

See, I hurt it almost two years ago. Two. Years.

I hurt it so bad that I ended up on my bedroom floor in child’s pose, unable to move and my daughters had to call an ambulance.

It was humiliating.

It was frightening.

I lost faith in my body.

Ever since then, I have been afraid of hurting my back again. I’ve babied it. I’ve taken it easy, doing gentle yoga, and soft, somatic stretches.

But I haven’t really pushed myself.

Once in a while I do, but the moment I feel the least little twinge I back off again.

I haven’t hurt it that bad since then, but I have “tweaked” it and the fear of hurting it like I did the first time lingers.

Then I read an essay by Elizabeth Gilbert in the February issue of “O” magazine where she reflects on a knee injury. How it plagued her for over 13 years ever since her marriage had ended. When she finally got tired of being held back by that pain she asked what it needed She really wanted know. She heard it say it wants to run fast. To move. For her to stop using it as an excuse to hold herself back.

Oh.

Wow.

That’s exactly what I do.

I hold myself back for fear of hurting my back again.

I don’t take  challenging yoga classes.

I’m afraid of saying yes to fun excursions for fear that walking too much or moving in an unexpected way will tweak my back.

But then I realized that the more I baby my back, the weaker it is getting.

The weaker it is getting, the more chance I have of hurting it again.

So, I’ve decided to stop being afraid of hurting it.

I’ve decided to move it. Use it. Strengthen it.

I’ve started taking yoga classes again. Ones that challenge me. That force me to use muscles I’ve ignored for two years.

I’ve decided to say yes to things instead of no for fear it might be uncomfortable.  I ‘m 51, not 91. And even at 91 I want to be saying yes more than no. I want to be like Tao Porchon-Lynch when I’m in my nineties. Hell, I want to have her sprit and vitality now!

Each vinyasa, each lunge, each time I step my foot through between my hands I am moving through that fear. With each breath I am releasing it, making room room for trust, making room for what is happening in my body in this moment not some imaginary moment in my head.

Fear is just a thought.

Fear comes from not being present to this moment where I am fine, where my back is fine.

So, I’m saying yes again to each moment. I’m meditating daily. (104 days in a row so far.) I’m moving, playing, bending, stretching, strengthening and learning to trust my body again.

I’m learning to go toward my fear, befriending it, embracing it.

I’m literally moving through it.

And I’m finding tremendous strength and freedom on the other side.

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#AMonthofFaves 2016 ~ Popular Books Worth the Hype

As I glanced back through my blog to refresh my memory of books read this year, I see that it’s been a rather slim year of reading for me. And that is actually okay. I tend to hide behind books, rather than doing my own creative work, but think I have written more than I read this year. Here a few a few that survived the hype for me:

a-little-life

“A Little Life” a novel by Hanya Yanagihara

This title kept popping up so I finally succumbed and bought it. It didn’t disappoint.Totally worth the awkwardness of holding 720 pages. It’s a hefty book about the messy, complicated, tenacious bonds of male friendship.

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

I’ve probably read this three times since it was published. It’s a kick in the pants and a balm for my creative soul that i will return to again and again.

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“The Underground Railroad” a novel by Colson Whitehead

Well, Oprah was right to choose this for her book club. In this brilliant novel, the underground railroad is not a mere metaphor. It is a literal train that runs underground,  helping to free slaves, specifically Cora and Caesar. Their story is mesmerizing while shining a light on the brutal history we all share.

 

Books Read in March + April.

March April books

“The Great Spring- Writing, Zen, and This Zigzag Life” by Natalie Goldberg

People come up to me and say, “I love your book.”

I read this one slowly, savoring the words, thoughts, energy of a teacher who had started me on this writing path all those 30 years ago with her first book, “Writing Down the Bones.” She cracked open my mind through the idea of writing practice. I filled notebook after notebook with my practice. Writing became the way I connected to the raw, uncensored deep and still yet chaotic part of myself.

Reading this book, all these years after Bones, it felt like all that practice had distilled into her very marrow, into her cells. Her writing, her observations, her breath and energy rose off the page to meet me at this moment in my life, on my path. At times I felt overcome with emotion, like she was touching a part of me.

She hasn’t changed in that she remains rooted and committed to the practices of writing and Zen. What’s changed with me is that I now have a regular meditation practice, something I resisted even after studying with her at the Mabel Dodge Luhan house where she practically guaranteed that meditation was the secret to writing.

Now, I know she is right. Both practices ground me in the present moment. Both allow me access to observing my mind, riding the wild waves and combing the still waters.

Some of my favorite sentences:

“I had written intensely all that morning, leaning over the notebook, deep in relation with my mind.”

“The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.”

“Crash Course- Essays from where Writing and Life Collide” by Robin Black

The only person in my home who thinks about words more than I do is my younger daughter.

I adore Robin Black. As my oldest daughter would say, I consider her my spirit animal. She writes the kind of stories filled with depth and characters that resonate deep within my bones— the kind of stories that I can only hope to write myself.

These essays give us a glimpse into her life—her life as a wife, mother,daughter, friend and her life as a writer. A woman just trying to lay down word after word in hopes of making sense of what is inside of her.

She’s not afraid to delve into the messy parts of life. In fact, that is where she shines.

I wish I could land on one chapter that I loved the most but the beauty of this book is that they all merge together to create a moving portrait of a writing life.

I underlined SO many sentence but here are a few.

Sentences I love:

“But perhaps more critically it means being able to survive rejection from oneself, to weather the huge number of failed attempts and dashed hopes, the daily sense that one is not actually good enough to do what one wants so desperately  to do.”

“I possess: this hunger to comprehend the complexity of human behavior, to look beneath what might be dismissed as only hurtful, to discover what may neutralize simple dispositions of blame, to convey this to the world, if only to convince myself.”

“…my interests were so entirely rooted in people’s emotional interiors.”

And from the acknowledgements…

“They taught me, through example and with lots of laughs, what kind of writer I want to be —not what I want to write, but who I want to be while I write.”

“The Chronology of Water” by Lidia Yuknavitch

“The day my daughter was still born, after I held the future pick and rose-lipped in my shivering arms, lifeless tender, covering her face in tears and kisses, after they handed my dead girl to my sister who kissed her, then to my first husband who kissed her, then to my mother who could not bear to hold her,then out of the hospital room door, tiny lifeless swaddled thing, the nurse gave me tranquilizers and a soap and sponge.”

This book. What can I say about this book? Book seems too small of a word. So does story. So does memoir. It is her heart, her blood, her tears, her pain, her determination to be fully present to what happened to her, to where she got to where she is laid bare on the page.

Bare. Raw. Intense. Real. Honest. Naked.

True.

I’ve never read a memoir that reads more true than this one. She never hides. From anything, least of all herself.

I had tears in my eyes by the second page and I rarely cry over books.

I read the whole book with a pen in my hand, wanting to capture the magic she creates with words but getting too caught up in the words to remember to make  a mark.

This is a book I will return to again and again.

Sentences I love:

“Little tragedies are difficult to keep straight.”

“Everything collected in my memory curls like water around events in my life.”

“In my throat I swallowed language.”

“We laughed the laugh of women untethered, finally, from their origins.”

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

Once upon a time, there was a man name Jack Gilbert, who was not related to me—unfortunately for me.

I read this for a second time after choosing it for our book club at the yoga studio where I reach. I devoured it the first time, so looked forward to reading it through again, savoring her words, savoring her ideas, savoring her perspective on life,on art,on creativity.

And what perspectives they are.

In the middle of reading it for the second time, I had the privilege of attending a workshop with her, an opportunity to explore the ideas put forth in the book. It unlocked the ideas in a way that merely reading them didn’t afford. Really connecting with her pillars of creativity.

What I love about her is, despite her huge success with “Eat, Pray, Love” she remains humble and in service to the art, to the process of writing, of creating.

Sentences I love:

“My intention was to spend my entire life in communion with writing, period.”

“Because this is how it feels to lead the faithful creative life: You try and try and try, and nothing works. But you keep trying, and you keep seeking, and then sometimes, in the least expected place and time, it finally happens.”

 

 

 

Books read July – December.

July - Dec. books

“The Residence- Inside the Private World of The White House” by Kate Andersen Brower

As a long-time fan of “The West Wing” as well as being intrigued by behind-the-scenes peeks at life, I found this book fascinating.

Covering administrations from the Kennedy’s to the Obama’s, we are given a glimpse into the people who make the White House run so efficiently. They try to blend into the background, but are often on the frontlines of major events in our history from assassinations to 9/11.

We learn which first families were a little stand-offish to who was more relaxed and joked with the staff. We learn how the staff felt about being a part of the White House and what it meant to them and their families.

It is just a fascinating report on a part of our politics and history that is often overlooked.

“another day” a YA novel by David Levithan

I watch his car as it pulls into the parking lot.

Levithan mesmerized me with his first novel about “A” who wakes up in the body of different young adult every day. This novel picks up from there but with a twist. In the first novel “every day,” A inhabits the body of Justin. In doing so, A spends a beautiful day with Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon. For the first time, A can’t leave one of his lives behind him.

“Another Day” picks up with the story of Rhiannon, who had this beautiful day with her boyfriend that was totally out of character for them. He was attentive and sensitive and made her feel truly seen and heard for the first time. The next day, their relationship is back to its usual status of her trying to anticipate his moods and not annoy him in any way.

Then a stranger shows up and tells her that the Justin she spent the day with wasn’t Justin at all.

This is a beautiful story of love and seeing beyond the way we look to deep within to who we actually are.

Sentences I love: “My life changes all the time, but books don’t change. My reading of them changes—I can bring new things to them each time. But the words are familiar words. The world is a place you’ve been before, and it welcomes you back.”

“The Heart Goes Last” a novel by Margaret Atwood

Sleeping in the car is cramped.

Only Atwood could weave together an economic and social collapse, prison, Elvis and Marilyn impersonators and sex robots and come out with a captivating novel that shines a light on society today. Stan and Charmaine are living out of their car after losing their jobs and their house, leaving them vulnerable to gangs and violence. They see a commercial for a community that seems to offer everything they are lacking: financial security, physical safety, food and housing. They sign on to participate in the Positron Project which requires them to live in the prison every other month, sharing their house with their “alternates.” When their lives begin to intersect with their alternates (which is forbidden) they are flung into territory where their safety and lives are put at risk. If something seems top good to be true, there is inevitably a price to pay.

Classic Atwood. Could not put it down.

“Everything I Never Told You” a novel by Celeste Ng

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

What a fantastic first two sentences. They hooked me for sure and led me into the lives of a Chinese American family living in the suburbs of 1970’s Ohio. Lydia is the favored child, the child on which her parents have pinned their unfulfilled hopes and dreams. When Lydia’s body is found in a nearby lake, the equilibrium of the family is dismantled. This is an exquisite exploration of family and all the ways we hide pieces of ourselves from each other while still longing to understand and be understood by those closest to us.

A sentence I love: Those nights, she never fell back asleep again, and the days grew sticky and thick, like syrup.

“The State We’re In” stories by Ann Beattie

The summer school assignment, the fucking fucking summer school third paper of ten, and if you didn’t get at least a C on the first nine, you had to write eleven papers, the fucking teacher wadding up her big fat lips so they looked like a carnation, her lips that she’d use to pout at your inadequacy…

The first sentence continues from there, delving deep into the mind if its teenage protagonist, Jocelyn (around whom the stories center.) She is living with her aunt and uncle for the summer while her mother recuperates. The stories can have a certain edge to them—an edge of dark humor and vulnerability—just as the characters do. These are not stories to be skimmed. These are stories to be read slowly, savored and digested fully.

A sentence I love: On a scale of one to one hundred, she thought she loved him more than an eighty.

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

Once upon a time, there was a man named Jack Gilbert, who was not related to me—unfortunately for me.

Chances are, you’ve already read this. If you are interested in writing or any kind of creativity, this is the book to read. I gobbled it up the first day it came out.

I started underlining sentences, then passages, then realized I’d pretty much end up underlining the entire book so I just sat back and savored all the juicy morsels that seemed to speak to my soul.

Gilbert has a knack for doing that—speaking directly into the hearts and minds of her readers. Or listeners on TED.

Sure, it’s a book about creativity that can be applied to writing, painting or any other artistic endeavor but it can really be applied to living. Living a life fully and beyond fear. Notice she doesn’t claim to teach you how to live without fear. In fact, Gilbert insists that fear is an essential part of the process:

“Fear and creativity shared a womb, they were born at the same time, and they still share some vital organs. This is why we have to be careful of how we handle our fear—because I’ve noticed that when people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process.”

What I love about this book (and Gilbert in general) is how honest she is. She doesn’t sugar-coat the trials and tribulations. What she does is take you by the hand, look into your eyes and tell you that she’s been there, that she is there now and this is how she deals with whatever is standing in her way and she is more than happy to show you the way.

That right there is what I love most about her—her utter generosity in sharing what she has learned about life, about creativity, persistence, trust—all of it.

A sentence I love: You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass.

“Year of Yes- How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and be Your Own Person” by Shonda Rhimes

I’m a liar.

I’m not usually drawn to celebrity memoirs but the title of this and the idea behind it me lured me in. As well as the fact that I just love Shonda Rhimes!

One Thanksgiving, after telling her sister about all the great opportunities she had no intention of accepting and experiencing her sister said, “You say no to everything.”

Those words haunted Rhimes until she finally had admit the truth behind them and decided to say yes to everything for a year.

She takes us through the year, behind the scenes of the yeses, all that she experienced—the good, bad and ugly— as well as hearing about her shows and how much of herself is reflected in the writing of them.

You don’t have to read too far to see that the fast paced dialogue and rhythm of, say a Poppa Pope monologue, comes from Rhimes herself.

I loved hearing about her writing process a bit but mostly I admired how honest she is about her struggles with her weight to social anxiety. And how her year of yes impacted all aspects of her life in ways she never imagined when she first dreamt the idea.

It makes me want to try my own year of yes.

A passage I love:

On Mothers day cards:

“The message is: mothers, you are such wonderful and good people because you make yourselves smaller, because you deny your own needs, because you toil tirelessly in the shadows and no one ever thanks or notices you…this all makes you amazing.

Yuck.

What the hell kind of message is that?

“Better Than before- Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives” by Gretchen Rubin

Better Than before tackles the question: How do we change? One answer—by using habits.

Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project” and “Happier at Home” delves deeply into the psychology and science of why we are able to create habits, and why we aren’t. She helps us discover our tendencies and how they contribute to our habit-creating abilities. She reveals why some things work for others but not for us and helps us discover what exactly will help us create habits that last and enrich our lives. It recently came out in paperback. There is also a journal available to track your habits (something I discovered that I really enjoy!) It’s a great book to start off the new year!

A sentence I love: We can build our habits only on the foundation of our own nature.

 

 

 

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.

Five on Friday

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1. My latest on elephant journal.

2. A great interview with Elizabeth Gilbert.

3. This is sad and true. Reminds me of this piece I wrote.

4. Can’t wait to read Robin Black’s new novel. Loved her story collection.

5. By walking around the neighborhood block you can walk yourself out of a creative block.