Books Read in May.

May 2017 Books

“Marlena” a novel by Julie Buntin

Tell me what you can’t forget and I’ll tell you who you are.

Some say that we never forget our first great love. I believe we never forget our first great friendship. That friend that shines a light into our darkness and casts a shadow on our light. The friendship is deep, quick, complicated. That’s how it is between fifteen-year-old Cat and seventeen-year-old, pill-popping, seen-too-much-life-already Marlena. Cat moves with her mother and older brother to a rural town in northern Michigan. The setting itself is exquisitely wrought, becoming an accomplice to the friendship. Cat’s mother is newly divorced, her father unavailable, her brother postponing college to help out financially and emotionally. Marlena is a perfect distraction. Cat is drawn into her life, her secrets, her pain as Marlena initiates her into her first everything: kiss, drink, pill. Within a year, Marlena is found dead in the woods nearby, drowned in a mere six inches of icy water. The story weaves the past and the present, moving back and forth between Michigan and New York as adult Cat receives a call from the past, whisking her back into the summer that changed everything. This is a gorgeous story of the complications of teenage female friendship, addiction, lust, boredom and searching for something to hold onto in the midst of things falling apart.

A sentence I love:

She’s leaning into my face, her cheeks iridescent as if recently wiped clean of tears, her mouth against my chin, finding my lips, and the her tongue, something un-cooked and too wet about it, something silly, and just as I begin to formulate a word for what is happening, kissing, she disintegrates into laughter, breathing it into me until it bubbles from her throat and overflows. like her laugh is my creation. And a smell, like scratching a branch with your nail until its green flesh shows, the residue left behind on your fingers.

“American War” a novel by Omar El Akkad

When I was young, I collected postcards. 

A second American Civil War breaks out in 2076. In our current incredibly polarized country, this isn’t hard to imagine. Reading this rich, complex novel we don’t need to imagine it, we only need to drop into the near distant future he has painted for us. In this world, war is not some abstract entity but a specific atrocity that impacts the daily life of Sarat Chestnut and her family. Woven with historical documents, letters and oral history to give a full picture of how we got to civil war again and what was happening behind the scenes, “American War” often read less like a novel and more like an inevitable reality. Stunning.

As an added incentive to check this novel out, my husband rarely reads fiction. Well, he picked this up on our vacation and finished it in in less than 72 hours.

A sentence I love: 

Why was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else’s home?

She’d learned recently that solid land was not the natural skin of the world, only a kind of parasitic condition that surfaced and receded in million-year cycles. the natural skin of the world was water, and all water on earth was connected.

“The Universe Has Your Back- Transform Fear to Faith” by Gabrielle Bernstein

In the spring of 2015, I had a meltdown in a yoga class.

I chose this book for the book club I lead at our yoga studio. I had one week to read it when I finally picked it up. It turns out it was perfect (divine) timing. My low back started given me problems last Sunday. Seemingly out of the blue. I had no choice but to slow down. Way, way down. In doing so, I gave this book much more attention than I normally would have. I was able to really absorb what she was saying as well as write out the prompts and even do many of the meditations. So, because my back went out-ish, I was able to dive deep into her words. And they have had a profound effect on me. The main gift I took away was how prayer and co-creating with the Universe is a dance that can happen all day long, in any situation. I guess I usually think of prayer as a bookend to my days, not something to call on throughout the day as needed.

Even the title spoke to me. The Universe has my BACK. It’s not just all on me to figure out what is happening, to fix it, to heal it. My back has become this metaphor for fear and how I become so tentative in my life for fear of hurting it. And then, just when I was finally feeling free of that fear, it went out for no discernible reason. Transforming fear into faith was exactly what I needed to explore.

I underlined, starred and wrote in the margins of almost every single page. So much to take in, so much to explore. Seriously life-changing for me.

A sentence I love: 

As a spiritual activist, I believe that the greatest power we have to combat the terror of these times is our power to live in love. Love casts out all fear.

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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The Practice of Exploring the New.

Mistakes

Image via Celestine Chua/ Flickr

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” ~ Dan Millman

The new! It can be exciting. It can be challenging. It can lift us out of our comfort zone. It can be all three at once.

The one thing it will always do is allow for change.

As we start this new year, full of hope and promises to ourselves, of all the ways we want to change, maybe the best thing we can to is open ourselves to the new every chance we get.

I remember the first time I realized how resistant I was to new things. I was visiting Chicago and decided to check out a yoga studio. As the time got closer for me to leave the hotel, all these reasons why I shouldn’t go popped up:

It’s too cold. (It was February.)

It’s too windy. (It’s Chicago.)

I can practice in the room.

I can practice in the fitness center.

Finally, I ignored all the voices, mapped my walking route on my phone and set off, yoga mat slung over my shoulder. Halfway there I actually had the thought: “Wait, I won’t know where to put my shoes once I get there.”

Seriously. As if that was a reason to turn around.

As if I couldn’t easily find out where to put my shoes once I got there.

That’s when I realized: I find new things very uncomfortable. They’re new, after all, so chances are good that I won’t know the answers to certain questions or exactly where to go or how to do it.

New is unknown.

Unknown is uncomfortable.

Known is very comfortable. Even when it’s boring. Even when it’s not nourishing. At least I know what to expect.

If I try something new I might make a mistake.

This year, if I want to change anything at all about my life, if I want to enrich it in any way, I have to be open to new things.

What is that one definition of crazy? Doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.

Yeah, no thanks.

This year I am making a concerted effort to do new things.

This morning, I took the smallest step by opening up the yoga studio in the opposite direction as I normally do. One very small, micro step. It felt a little odd since I wasn’t just going on auto-pilot.

But that one small step led to others. I invited my students to choose a different space on the floor to lay their mat. We tried a new breathing technique—Bee Breath. I had them face in the opposite direction for savasana.

These are all tiny, almost inconsequential things—except they aren’t. Each one made space for slowing down, for a new perspective.

And slowing down and looking at things from a fresh perspective allows space for change.

So think about your daily life. What are some small new things you can try?

Rearrange the furniture in a room of your house. That always bring fresh energy to the space.

Try a different route to or from work and say good-bye to driving on auto-pilot.

Stop at a different coffee shop.

Or bring your own coffee. 

Or try tea instead of the usual coffee.

Try walking through your town as if you are a tourist. What is different?

Get up earlier or go to bed earlier. Or later.

If you normally write at home, go to a cafe. Or home, if you normally write out.

If you are stuck creatively, purposely set out to make mistakes. Write the worst opening sentence. Create a cardboard character. Create a painting with so many colors that it all dulls into a muddy brown. 

Creating something is better than creating nothing.

Here’s my wish for you via the always amazing Neil Gaiman:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”