Birthday Reflection #5: Energy Over Age.

Birthday reflection #5

I love this quote from this amazing woman!

Age not energy dictates the quality of my life.

After our 16-day trip through Europe, my daughter pointed out that I probably couldn’t have done this five or six years ago, which coincides perfectly with when I committed to a yoga practice.

Since then, my practice has helped me to heal from and come back stronger than ever after hurting my low back. It has given me strength in my body but also in my mind and spirit.

Before yoga, when I would be away from home, I’d often find myself having anxiety attacks in the middle of the night. I was worried about that on our trip. I had one, but barely. I think it was mostly due to sheer exhaustion by that point but I slept a solid 10 hours , took it easy the next day, kept up with my writing, meditation and yoga and was fine.

My energy comes from within.

It comes from living my yoga off the mat, practicing all eight limbs.

It comes from taking care of my body and listening to it.

It comes from stoking the light within me and using it to help others find their own light.

It comes from being true to myself.

It comes from, as Liz Gilbert says, embracing the glorious mess that I am.

glorious mess

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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.

The Practice of Curiosity.

stay curious

Image found via Pinterest.

I wonder…

Those two small yet powerful words help me to break through creative blocks, fear and stagnation.

I often forget them when I am in the midst any of those those three things or some combination of them.

But when I remember, they are the key that sets me free.

When faced with an impending empty nest I found myself thinking, ” I wonder if I should take Yoga Teacher Training.”

My class, “Poses, Pens + Inner Peace” came into being when I wondered how writing and yoga intersected and wondered how they could nourish each other.

When I hit a block in my work-in-progress, any “I wonder’ will get the pen moving. What is written may not stay in but that is not the point of curiosity. The point is to generate some movement.

Fear equals stagnation.

Stagnation begets stagnation.

Curiosity is light. It doesn’t come in hot demanding that I change and DO something, fix it, fix everything now.

No, curiosity invites me to sit down and play.

No pressure to fix something.

No pressure to fix everything with my next action.

It just asks me to wonder.

To ask what if.

And that gentle invitation is all I need to step out of fear, out of stagnation and back into the cycle of creative energy.

Curiosity only does one thing

Image found via Pinterest.

Tracking Fear.

Be Brave

Image found via Pinterest.

When I was little, my fears were tangible things: tornados, house fire, being kidnapped, snakes. These things never happened but I was aware of them and knew that they frightened me.

As an adult, fear is a much more nebulous thing. Sure, I still have concrete fears but it’s the subconscious fears that trip me up. If you’ve ever taken any kind of therapy, read any self-help or spiritual book, you’ve probably heard that most of our challenges come from fear. Most negative emotions can be traced back to fear. Angry? Dig deeper to find what you’re afraid of and using anger to mask. Procrastinating? Pause and try to unearth what fear lies beneath the procrastination.

Our human brains are wired for fear. Our survival depends on it. Fear alerts us to the danger around us, triggering our fight or flight response. These days our fight or flight can be triggered due to the content state of stress we are under.

This is where yoga and writing come in for me. They allow me to track fear. They keep me grounded in the present where everything is okay. Yoga allows me to stay present to exactly what is happening in my body and in my mind. Writing allows me to stay present to what I’m really thinking and feeling beneath the surface.

Both yoga and writing do not permit me to hide. They require me to dive deep and that is where I discover the fear that is holding me back. Once I am aware of it, I can release it.

Once that happens my life expands. And I expand to fill it.

Fear Compass.

Fear compass

“Fear compass.” I heard this term on NPR this morning and it reverberated through my whole being like a tuning fork.

It got me thinking not only about fear as a compass, but any strong emotion. They all reveal something.

Envy reveals what I desire for myself.

Anger reveals where a boundary has been breached.

Fear reveals what is important to me.

Liz Gilbert’s suggestion to live life with curiosity rather than fear also resonates with me. Wonder becomes a door into and through fear.

I wonder if this agent is a good fit for my novel, instead of only focusing on if they will like it.

I wonder what happens in this next scene, instead of being paralyzed into writing nothing because I have no idea.

I wonder if I could be a yoga teacher, instead of letting anxiety about my looming empty nest crush me.

Wondering if I could combine writing with yoga led me to find my authentic voice and create a sacred space for students to find theirs.

So, it seems that fear points me in the direction of curiosity, leading me to live a creative life in awe of the wonder around and within me.

Where does fear point you?

 

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.

big-magic

“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.

the-underground-railroad

“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.