Books Read in July + August.

Books read in July + August

“Middlesex” a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

This book has been on my shelf for years and when I decided to choose a big juicy novel for the book club I facilitate at the yoga studio where I teach, this what I chose. And what an excellent choice it was.

It is a writer’s book because of the beautiful language and stunning sentences. It is a reader’s book because of the story than spans generations.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, “Middlesex” tells the story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of her Greek-American family. The story takes us from a tiny village in Asia Minor to Detroit during the Prohibition then into the race riots of the 1970’s. Behind the scenes of all that, Calliope knows she is not like the other girls but it takes unraveling a deep family secret to discover why and discover who she truly is meant to be on her journey from Calliope to Cal.

It goes so far beyond a coming-age-story and immerses us in an epic tale of belonging versus not belonging and finding our place in the word whether in a new county, in tumulus cultural times, in our own family or within our own body.

Breathtaking.  A feast for the heart, for the mind, for the imagination.

A sentence I love: From an early age they knew what little value the world placed in books, and so didn’t waste their time with them. Whereas I, even now, persist in believing that these black marks on white paper bear the greatest significance, that if I keep writing I might be able to catch the rainbow of consciousness in a jar.

“Days of Awe” stories by A.M. Homes

She is on the phone. He can see her reflection in the bathroom mirror, the headset wrapped around her ear as if she were an air-traffic controller or a Secret service Agent.

Homes is a master of the short story, leading us to what we think is one world but we end up in a totally unexpected place. A sense of unease that Americans are feeling runs through many of the stories. In one, a man is lured into running for president while shopping with his family in a bog box store with his family. The title story centers around  a conference on genocide and two old friends meet there and meet themselves in the process.

Each story feels like several stories, what’s happening on the surface and the layers of what is happening beneath the surface. The stories made me laugh, cringe and shimmer with a certain recognition of the human condition that I was able to briefly touch while immersed in her worlds.

A passage I love: The view is limitless, all of Los Angeles spread out below. She takes off her shoes and dips her toes in—hot. The heat is like a physical lozenge, a sedative. There is no edge—she has no body, there are no boundaries; she, the water, and the air are all one.

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Happy National Book Lovers Day!

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“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t remember the first book I ever read.

I can’t remember that moment when the strange black marks on a page turned into words, which turned into images which turned into stories I could see in my mind.

I do remember that Library Day was my favorite day of the week in elementary school. I checked out the same series of books over and over about three Swedish sisters named Flicka, Ricka and Dicka.

At some point I gravitated to “Gone with the Winds’ but the librarian steered me away, deeming me too young to read it.

I remember receiving Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books for Christmas and being so happy we had the 4-hour drive up north so that I could lose myself in them.

I went through an Agatha Christie phase and a Taylor Caldwell phase spurred on my older cousin who was also a bookworm. I went through a phase of devouring romance novels in a single sitting.

I now have six bookshelves bulging with books, both read and to-be-read. The ratio is getting to be about 50/50. Don’t judge. There are worse habits I could have than loving books and having way more than I can possibly read in this lifetime.

I try to read widely and diversely: different genres, authors of varying ages, ethnicities, gender.

Not surprisingly, before I was a writer, I was a reader. A huge, avid reader. Every single report card mentions my love of words.

As a writer, I am even more of a reader, if that is even possible. I still read for the reasons I used to: to escape, to immerse myself in other lives, other cultures, other worlds. To see life through the lens of another. But I also read with this other layer of attention, of curiosity, of wonder. How did they structure the book, the story? Why did they choose to use that point of view? How did they write such a beautiful sentence that took my breath away?

I may not remember exactly when I learned to read or what my first book was. I definitely don’t remember all of the books I’ve consumed over the years, and “consume’ is the perfect word. Each book is absorbed into who I am, helping to mold me into who I am becoming.

As Emerson so eloquently states, they have made me.

Happy National Book Lovers Day!! What are some of your favorite books? Book memories? Writers? Please feel free to share in the comments.

Books Read in May + June.

May + June Books

“This Messy Magnificent Life” by Geneen Roth

From the beginning, I was always more anxious than the average bear.

Once again, Roth dives deep into the brilliant muck of her own life and struggles to offer us a blueprint on how to do the same for ourselves. 

Yes, she talks explores women and body image but it goes so much deeper than that. She shares stories from her own life and those fo her students, guiding us out of the gotta-get-more mentality and into the peace of being enough in our messy, magnificent lives.

A sentence I underlined (and starred):

I’ve tried versions of not fixing myself before, but always with the secret hope that not fixing myself would fix me.

“You Think It, I’ll Say It” stories by Curtis Sittenfeld

Nell andHenry always said that they would wait until marriage was legal for everyone in America, and now this is the case—it’s August 2015—but earlier in the week Henry eloped with his graduate student Bridget.

That’s a hell of a first sentence! So much packed into it and it drops us right into the heart of who this couple tried to be and who they actually are now.

Each story seems to explore that edge between the image projected versus what is really going on inside whether it’s a woman fanatazising the downfall of an old friend who had become a lifestyle guru to a woman on her honeymoon who runs into a nemesis from high school.

Sittendfeld weaves in the poetics of the times but as background, also like white noise that adds texture to the stories, to the characters who will stay with you long after you put the book down.

A sentence I love:

Being in touch with her offered a cushioning to my days, an antidote to the tedium and indignity of being a person, the lack of accountability of my adulthood; it gave me stamina with Bonnie and willpower with Therese.

“The Rules of Inheritance” a memoir by Claire Bidwell Smith

My father’s voice is tinny through the phone line. I am in the booth at the bottom of the stairs in Howland dorm. It is my freshman year of college.

A student loaned me her copy before class one day. I started reading it as the rest of my students gathered and before class even started I already had tears in my eyes. 

This memoir is one of the most honest explorations of grief that I have ever read.

At fourteen, both of her parents are diagnosed with cancer within months of each other. By the time she is in her twenties, both of them have died.

The book is structured within the framework of the five stages of grief. She also moves through time in a very fluid way that I imagine mimics grief itself.

She made the deliberate decision not to use quotation marks throughout and it works. It is a constant reminder that these are memories. The lack of punctuated conversations reminds us over and over that they are gone.

Her sentences are stunning.

The story is powerful.

It wasn’t my book but if it was, I probably would’ve underlined something on every single page.

Some sentences I loved: 

“We kiss for the first time, there in the kitchen, and Ill always remember it for many reasons. One of them is because, for the first time in a long time nothing about the kiss serves to fill a void.”

“We agreed that I would move my things out this week. We parted ways at the door and there was a wildness between us, something frightening and alive, fluttering like a bird.”

“She turns her head to me now and runs a hand down my cheek. I’ve adored being your mother, Claire. Sometimes I think it’s the only thing I did right with my life.

She is crying now. I can tell by the way her voice has gone tighter. I still can’t bring myself to look at her.

We’ll get through. Okay, sweetie? I promise.

I finally look up at her and nod the tiniest nod. She turns on her side, pulling me into her like a comma, and we lie like that for a long time.”

“If We Had Known” a novel by Elise Juska

It was an unseasonably hot late summer day in Maine when Maggie’s daughter read about the shooting.

A mass shooting at a local mall rocks a small college town. It reads like a common national headline. Juska takes us behind the headlines, into the stories of the people left behind. Those that survived, those that knew the shooter, those that wonder if they could’ve—or should’ve—done something to prevent the tragedy. 

Maggie is a professor and divorced mom getting ready to send her only child off to college when the shooting happens. Through the internet and social media speculations run rampant , linking the shooter to an essay he wrote for Maggie in a class she had him in years earlier. Did she miss something in his writing, something dark that hinted at the crime he would later commit?

The novel explores these questions as well as the territory of this mother-daughter relationship in such gripping prose that it was hard to put down and hard to forget once I finally did put it down.

A sentence I love:

Her head hurt on contact, a small flowering of pain in her temple.

“Her” a memoir by Christa Parravani

I used be an identical twin. I was Cara Parravani’s twin.

Those first two sentences are at the heart of this exquisite memoir. After an act of brutality sends her twin down a dark path of depression and drugs, leading to her early death, Christa is left behind to try and remember who she is without her twin. To try and remember how she even is able to exist without her counterpart to balance out her existence in the world.

It is a haunting story that moves beyond  loss and grief, diving deep into the complicated heart of being an identical twin and how they can both lose and find themselves in each other. 

A passage I love:

All of our stories and hurts were now mine alone. I’d grown so used to stories being shared that without Cara it was as if neither of our lives had ever happened. With her death, my history had been erased.

“Silence in the Age of Noise” by Erling Kagge

Whenever I am unable to walk, climb or sail away from the world, I have learned to shut it out.

I finished this beautiful book in less than twelve hours. I started it before I went to bed then finished it upon waking. It opened me up to the possibility of cultivating silence within my life, not letting all the constant noise of the world in. Each page has plenty of white space for my eyes to rest and photos throughout that float in the center of the page, providing yet another resting space for my mind.

Kagge is a Norwegian explorer who has completed the Three Poles Challenge on foot—the North Pole, the South Pole, and the summit of Mount Everest. Using those experiences he then travels inward to explore the realm of silence in our lives. The book is filled with grace and wisdom and after closing the final page I found myself seeking out more moments of silence, becoming more aware of the noise I invite in on a daily basis.

A sentence I love:

Silence is about rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring us joy.

“Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home” a memoir by Natalie Goldberg

I travel all the way to Kitada, Japan, to Taizoin Temple, near the Sea of Japan, to find the ashes of my Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi.

Those of you who have been following my blog will no doubt know of my special connection to Natalie Goldberg. I’ve often written about how her book, “Writing Down the Bones” first set me on this writing path. How the first time I gave myself persuasion to be a writer was when I attended her week-long retreat in Taos, New Mexico.

I have read every single book she has written at least once, often more than once. When I saw that she had a new memoir out I immediate checked my local bookstore, saw that they had it in stock, got in my car and bought it. Once again, I finished it in less than twelve hours. 

Since I have read all of her books, i noticed that this particular one seemed to emerge from a deeper, richer place. It comes from her years of writing practice, of Zen practice, of painting practice and this time, from her practice of being with her illness. Being in a body that has cancer. Being within a medical system that she fights against. Being in a relationship where they are both fighting cancer.

It’s a memoir that explores the practice of living. Of being present to all of it not just the shiny pieces we share on social media. It reminded me of the beauty and necessity of writing practice. The practice of relating to my world, to my self, my body, my mind word by word, moment by moment.

After reading the final sentence, I lay the book on my heart, resting my hand on the cover and I could feel my heartbeat reverberate up through the pages, through the words, tears filled my eyes and I silently thanked Natalie over and over, for setting me on this writing path, for giving me the tools to connect with my wild mind, heart + life, for always showing us the way through her own writing straight into the white hot messy center of our living and dying.

A sentence I love:

But I came in direct contact with the groundless disaster—I could not hold on to my old life; I could not manage or form a new life. 

 

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.

A Love Letter to Indie Bookstores.

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Image found here.

“Consumers control the marketplace by deciding where to spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”

~ Ann Patchett, bestselling author and co-owner of Parnassus Books

Dear Indie Bookstores,

Thank you.

Thank you for your love of books, of stories, of community.

Thank you for standing strong in the face of e-books and on-line selling.

Thank you for your passion.

That you for knowing the difference between fiction and non-fiction. (I’ve been to chain stores where this was not the case.)

Thank you for not only knowing what book I am trying to describe but offering another book I might like as well.

Thank you for being a third place for us to gather, allowing neighborhoods to thrive.

I love how you support writers, how you give them a platform to connect with their readers.

I love how you respect your customers by knowing us, knowing books and knowing the communities you are part of.

I love how when I walk into an indie bookstore anywhere in the world, my soul feels like it has come home.

 

A Book I Love. ~ #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I am going to feature a book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

Writing and Being

“Writing and Being- Taking Back Our Lives Through the Power of Language” by G. Lynn Nelson

I discovered this little gem at my favorite bookstore, Changing Hands, in Tempe, Arizona. And it was at the original location on Mill Ave. If I remember correctly, Nelson gave a writing workshop there that I took.

I was just embarking on this writing path and hungry for any guides along the way whether they were in the form of novels that I loved, books on writing that got me to actually write or teachers that opened their minds and hearts to their students. Nelson did just that in person and in his book.

As I glance through the book now, a couple of decades later, I find myself still drawn to his voice, to his compassionate guidance along the writing path. I see check marks along the exercises that I did, his soft but steady presence encouraging me to explore, shed, remember, collect small joys.

I haven’t picked this book up in years, yet it has survived many, many bookshelf purges. There’s a reason. I will be diving back into this one, exploring it now from a new vantage point, no longer a beginner desperate for guidance but a writer confident in her devotion to the craft and ready to open her beginner’s mind to deeply explore the interior life and speak from her heart.

Sadly, I just learned that Nelson died in 2014. He shined a light out into the world and encouraged us all to sit with our darkness so that we could share our light as well. 

Books Read in January + February.

Jan. Feb. books

“The Year of Less- How I stopped shopping, gave away my belongings, and discovered life is worth more than anything you can buy in a store” by Cait Flanders

The idea was born on a trail, as many of mine seem to be.

I’m a sucker for writers that take on a challenge and write about it. It inspires me to take on my own challenges of adding things into my life or taking them away. It’s always a lesson in mindfulness.

After pulling herself out of $30K in credit card debt, Flanders found herself slipping back into old patterns. To break the pattern, she decided to set herself a new challenge: she wouldn’t shop for an entire year.

She made rules as to what was allowed on the shopping ban and what definitely was not. She found she had to adjust the rules along the way but they provided a necessary structure. While I was inspired by how much she was able to save and the changes she made in her life, it fascinated me how it impacted her relationships. Just as when somebody is on a diet or choosing to be sober, choosing to not spend money triggered interesting reactions. Like offering a sober person beer, some people tempted her with shopping. Or she found that a lot of her social life revolved around buying things just as much of our social life revolves around food and drink. What happens when you step out of the normal activities that bond people? And she was dealing with both: a shopping ban and continuing her sobriety.

A sentence that really resonated with me:

“But there were really only two categories I could see: the stuff I used, and the stuff I wanted the ideal version of myself to use…There were books I thought smart Cait should read, clothes I thought professional Cait would wear, projects I thought creative Cait could tackle…I would do it all one day, and become a better person one day.”

“Behold the Dreamers” a novel by Imbolo Mbue

He’d never been asked to wear a suit to a job interview.

This timely novel takes us deep into the lives a family desperate to stay in America, to live the life they have always dreamed of, a life not possible in their home country.

Jende Jonga lands a dream job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Jende is making money, he carries a briefcase, wears a suit. He drives Clark and his wife Cindy and son Mighty wherever they need to go on any given day. His wife, Neni, is able to go to school to pursue her dream of becoming a pharmacist. Then the financial crisis hits and things begin to fall apart quickly. Cracks within the Edwards’ marriage begin to show as do cracks within the marriage of Jenge and Neni, everyone desperate for things to stay as they have been even as it all is shifting beneath their feet. It’s a beautiful, compassionate glimpse into lives of immigrants dreaming of a better life, the obstacles to realizing that dream and what they are willing to do to achieve it.

A line I love:

“They would lose the opportunity to grow up in a magnificent land of uninhibited dreamers. They would lose the chance to be awed and inspired by amazing things happening in the country, incredible inventions and accomplishments by men an women who look like them.”

“My Friend Fear- Finding Magic in the Unknown” by Meera Lee Patel

Like everyone, I came into this world without fear.

That first sentence just grabbed me. We aren’t born with fear, we learn fear. So that must mean that we can unlearn it. This beautiful book is filled with Patel’s personal exploration of how fear has manifested in her life alongside her lovely watercolor drawings and questions that demand reflection. It provided an insightful conversation at the yoga studio book club I facilitate and it is a book I will return to again and again as I learn how to unlearn fear and make it my friend.

A line I love:

“I thought about bodies another imperfections and why we carry them around as unforgivable symbols of who we really are.”

“Bluets” by Maggie Nelson

  1. Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen love with a color.

Describing this slender yet powerful volume as a lyrical essay or prose poetry does not do it justice. Nelson uses the color blue as a prism though which to reflect on everything from philosophy to saints, desire to religion, physical pain to soul pain with the thread of lost love woven throughout connecting and illuminating the whole. Beautifully explored, beautifully written.

A sentence I love:

“I am writing all this down in blue ink, so as to remember that all words, not just some, are written in water.”

“A Selfie as Big as the Ritz” stories by Lara Williams

And so it begins. You graduate university.

The women that populate these stories are searching for something: love, desire, companionship and ultimately, to be seen. Several stories use the second person POV reminding me of Ann Beattie but Williams’ voice and perspective are fresh and unique, as are each of these quirky yet deeply moving stories.

A sentence I love that made me laugh out loud:

“He sniffs the bell and turns from you, slowly, hopping onto the bed and sitting down, with a calculation you cannily describe as sociopathic.”

The Artist’s Way: Weeks 1-4

Vision Board 2018

My Vision Board, 2018

My plan had been to post at the end of each week about my current Artist’s Way journey. Then I got the flu. And had my wisdom teeth out. And an inner ear thing that made it difficult to stay upright for any length of time. But I have stayed connected to the process. Today I will post a recap of the last 4 weeks and from here on will post weekly. That’s my plan anyway… (fingers crossed!)

Week 1 • Recovering a Sense of Safety

I had an epiphany this week while doing one of the tasks: List three old enemies of your creative self-worth. I have done this task numerous times over the years. And have even explored this particular enemy before but this time I discovered something new.

If you grew up in Michigan, you might be familiar with a TV show featuring “Oopsy the Clown.” He did a segment where children could draw pictures, send them in and he would feature them on his show. Well, I did that. I drew my picture in crayons of Oopsy standing between tow big trees, mailed it in and it was featured on TV. I was practically famous! I remember kneeling on the floor in front of the TV eagerly waiting for him to show my drawing. He did. My family was all around me. Oopsy showed the picture, said my name and age and then described the picture this way: “Well, here’s a picture of Oopsy standing between…two big ice cream cones.” What? Not ice cream cones! Trees! You are standing between two big tees! I just wanted the floor to open up and swallow me whole. As I explored this experience I wrote, “I had followed through on something and I was humiliated.” Ding, ding, ding. One of my challenges is following through. Finishing stories, novels, sending them out, following up with agent queries, sending them out to more agents. So, it hit me. A part of me is afraid that if I follow through I will be humiliated. It doesn’t feel safe to follow through with my art.

Week 2 • Recovering a Sense of Identity

No big epiphanies this week. Just a steady showing up to myself, to my inner artist, to my writing. I struggle with Artist’s Dates. Not sure why. I’ve struggle with them every single time I have done The Artist’s Way. I have no problem being alone or doing things alone so I don’t know what is going on. I did a Zentangle while sitting in front of the fire for this week’s Artist’s Date. I didn’t end up liking it and felt really distracted as I did it which is the exact opposite of what is suppose to happen. Supposed? Hmmm…that’s always a red flag. Maybe I have too many expectations about what Artist’s Dates should be, how they should feel, what they should produce. Maybe it’s not about producing anything but just being.

Week 3 • Recovering a Sense of Power

I enjoyed the detective work this week. Excavating my childhood for who I was then, what I enjoyed doing, what kind of person I was then. I remembered that I wasn’t afraid to try new creative activities: pottery, making tissue paper flowers, collaging vases, weaving, creating an “aquarium” out of an old shoe box with paper fish dangling from strings. I read a lot. Every report card from elementary school mentions my love of reading, my love of books. Library day was my favorite day of the week and I was always exploring shelves that were years above my age.

A little bit of synchronicity I observed: In the detective work I wrote about loving to play with Spirograph. Then I was in my writing room and looking for something in the closet when I found a brand new Spirograph I had bought at a toy store several years ago but never opened! So that was my Artist’s Date. Unfortunately, the wheels didn’t work well, the teeth didn’t stay connected so the pen kept slipping making it a rather frustrating experience.

Week 4 • Recovering a Sense of Integrity

So, I didn’t get a chance to read this chapter on Sunday. I checked in with my TAW online group and saw all the commotion about Reading Deprivation week. Ugh…I knew it was coming,I just thought it was the seventh week. I was not prepared for it. And I rebelled. I outlined all the reasons why I couldn’t not read this week. I still had to finish the book for the book club I facilitate at our yoga studio thais weekend. And besides, I wasn’t reading a lot anyway these days, not as much as I usually did. And this book isn’t up to date. It should be a social media/iPhone/technology deprivation week. That’s what I really needed help with. So, I went ahead and read on Monday but it just felt off. Partly because I am a rule follower. Mostly because I heard how lame my excuses sounded. And they were definitely excuses. If I have learned anything these last six years of delving deep into my yoga practice, it is that I most need what I most resist. So, I gave in. Fine. No reading this week. I didn’t even finish the book for our book club. Instead of reading here are some of the things I did:

~  I stayed on top of writing handwritten welcome notes to students new to my yoga classes

~ Wrote a letter to my sweet 7-year-old niece who had sent me a postcard earlier this month

~ Created a vision board for this year (this was my Artist’s Date)

~ I have acquired a stack of a lovely magazine called “Flow” that always has several fun projects or activities throughout each issue that I never seem to do. Well, this week I started doing them

~ Instead of reading at night I found some yoga nidra meditations on Insight Timer and listened to them which helped me fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply

~ Instead of eating my breakfast this morning in front of the TV or at my desk watching Youtube, I sat at the dining room table and had a mindful meal: giving thanks for the food, no distractions, chewing food slowly, placing fork down between bites

As always, I benefitted from not reading. But I have to admit I was really cranky about it at first. I’m sure the weird energy of the full moon this week didn’t help. Not reading allowed me to stay a little more introspective, a little more connected to myself so I didn’t go to my usual easy buttons to check out like too much sugar and/or wine.

As we come to the end of the first third of the process I can feel a subtle inner shifting. I feel energized with tons of ideas for essays, my novel, themes for yoga classes, yoga sequences. I am just feeling more engaged on so many levels.

Books Read in November + December.

“Deep Work- Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport

In the Swiss canton of St. Gallen, near the northern banks of Lake Zurich, is a village named Bollingen.

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This book popped up on my radar via Ben Percy just as my own attention was feeling frayed into nothingness. And I am really hard on myself about this. I feel like I should be able to just say no to social media. Just not check it. When I see another writer who I really admire and who appears to have an incredible work ethic struggling with the same kind of thing, I was intrigued enough to get the book.

Weaving together science, cultural criticism and actionable steps to take today, Newport makes a strong case for finding ways to drop deeply into your work whether it is writing, coding or gardening. He defines “deep work” as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. He makes the case that work that emerges from this state is more valuable thus making you more valuable to your company, clients, the world.

At times, his advice seems a bit stringent but it works for him. The point is to get us to be able to drop into our work, have the time to mull and experiment and just be present without being pulled in a million different directions by others, by technology, by our own impulses.

Since finishing this book, I took the step of taking Twitter off my phone. A small step for sure but with huge benefits. I am not drawn into the 24/7 drama that sends me spinning off into a turmoil of rage or despair. I feel calmer, more focused, two thing that will help me sink into deep work.

A line I love:

The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.

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“Braving the Wilderness- The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to stand Alone” by Brené Brown

When I start writing, I inevitably feel myself swallowed by fear.

I chose this for the book club I facilitate at our yoga studio not knowing that much of the book was born out of the extreme division our country is facing. At first I was a little nervous about selecting this, about bringing politics into the space. But it was a perfect choice, a necessary and timely read for everyone.

Brown says, “It’s about breaking down the walls, abandoning our idealogical bunkers, and living from our wild heart rather that our weary heart.”

My own heart lit up at that. Yes! Exactly. My heart and soul have felt battered and incredibly weary over this past year. And it is so easy to stay in my tribe of like-minded, liberal leaning people who agree with everything I say, everything I post. But there’s a whole other world out there. A whole other part of the country that voted for this man, wanting something from him that they felt they couldn’t get any other way.

Brown guides us through her research and stories about belonging, not belonging, the need to belong, the need to stand alone out in the wilderness of our truth.

A line I love:

No matter how separated we are by what we think and believe, we are part of the same spiritual story.

And this:

True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.

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“When Women Were Birds- Fifty-four Variation on Voice” by Terry Tempest Williams

I am fifty-four years old, the age my mother was when she died.

This book had been on my radar for years. Recently, it began popping up a lot. Friends would talk about it, recommend it to me, I’d stumble across it on-line. One day I was writing in my journal about voice, using voice as a theme for my Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class that I teach when I saw that the subtitle of the book was “Fifty-four Variations on Voice.” Okay, okay, I got the not so subtle hint. I needed to read this book. So I ordered it, it arrived and I read it in two days.

I fell in love with every page, every word.

I read with a pen in my hand underling those sentences that made my skin tingle. Honestly I could have just underlined every single sentence.

I m still processing what I read and I will most definitely read it again. For now let me leave you with the blurb by Susan Salter Reynolds:

“Williams is the kind of writer who makes a reader feel [her] voice might also, one day, be heard….She cancels out isolation: Connections are woven as you sit in your chair reading—between you and the place you live, between you and other readers, you and the writer. Without knowing how it happened, your sense of home is deepened.”

That last line especially resonates with me. My sense of home has been deepened—home as the house I live in, the place I inhabit, the place in time, my body as home, community as home, writing as home.

I love the structure of the book, how one section echoes the one before it but takes you to a completely different and unexpected place. How she made the bold choice to have empty pages within her book. How lists are woven through the prose.

The writing, the story is simply stunning.

Some lines I love:

My mother’s voice is a lullaby in my cells.

Word by word, the language o women so often begins with a whisper.

She exposed the truth of what every  woman knows: to find our sovereign voice often requires a betrayal.

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“Little Fires Everywhere” a novelty Celeste Ng

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

The pace of this novel doesn’t slow down from that first line as we become enmeshed in the lives of the Richardson family and their new tenants, Mia and Pearl Warren. Mia is the anti-Shaker Heights. the city is a well planned, well thought out suburb of Cleveland, everything is orderly and rules are essential to the success of the town and the residents. Mia Warren is a n artist who doesn’t plan, her life is a pieced together to give her enough money and time to create her art. Her presence shakes the stars quo and the people of Shaker Heights up as alliances are made and broken and secrets come to light.

A passage I love:

She had never seen an adult cry like that, with such an animal sound. Recklessly. As if there were nothing more to be lost.

How about you? Why have you been reading lately?

Books Read in September + October.

Sept Oct books read

“My Name is Lucy Barton” a novel by Elizabeth Strout

There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks.

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Lucy Barton goes in to have her appendix out—a rather routine procedure that turns out to be anything but routine. Complications lead her to be in the hospital for nine weeks. During that time, her estranged mother comes to visit, staying at her bedside, at times almost feeling like an apparition from Lucy’s past as they both pull up stories of people and places from their fragmented yet shared history. Below the surface of their conversations lays a thread of tension that has been present throughout Lucy’s life. The more they talk to, at and around each other the more that tension flashes to the surface before disappearing into the depths of time once again. This novel reminded me of Dani Shapiro’s memoir, “Hourglass.” They both explore time and the passage of time in such a beautiful way, the way it informs our lives and how we move through it together and, ultimately, alone.

A sentence I love: “Maybe it was the darkness with only the pale crack of light that came through the door, the constellation of the magnificent Chrysler Building right beyond us, that allowed us to speak in ways we never had.”

“Hunger- A Memoir of (My) Body” by Roxane Gay

Every body has a story and a history.

From the first sentence, Roxane Gay takes on through the intimate story and history of her body, as she sees it, as she looks back on it, as she experienced it and as she continues to experience it.

While her life could decidedly be broken in half after a horrific act of violence between before and after, Gay spirals her story back and forth through time, edging closer to something then backing away again, the way we often do with our own history.

This is a powerful, vulnerable and incredibly honest look at one woman’s relationship with her body, how she inhabits it, how she doesn’t, how she moves through space, how she doesn’t and how people and society at large respond to her and how they don’t.

A sentence I love: “I live in a contradictory space where I should try to take up space but not too much of it, and not in the wrong way, where the wrong way is any way where my body is concerned.”

“We All Looked Up” a YA novel by Tommy Wallbach

“It’s not the end of the world,” Stacy said.

It’s not, at least not at this particular teenage angsty moment  that Peter is turning over in his mind. But the meteor that they soon learn is headed toward earth could possibly be the literal end of the world. President Obama went on television and told them as much. He said they had about two months left. Two months? To do what? There was no way to prepare for such an event. Nowhere to hide, no where to be safe. So what do you do? Go on living your mundane life, going to school, doing homework, studying for tests? To what end? If there is no future to work toward, how do you spend your time? These are questions that a group of high school students must wrestle with not only theoretically, but in reality. Each chapter tells a different point of view until they weave together to reveal a story of what we do in the face of death, something we do at some level every single day, but how do things change, how do people change when it no longer is some vague prospect way off in a very distant future but is coming at you within the space of two months?

A sentence I love: “Every other human quality was hidden easily enough—intelligence, talent, selfishness, even madness—but beauty would not be concealed.”

“Turtles All the way Down” a YA novel by John Green

At the time I first realized I might be fictional, my weekdays were spent at a publicly funded institution on the north side of Indianapolis called White River High School.

Turtles+All+The+Way+Down+transparentPart love story, friend story, mystery as well as a deep exploration of what it means to grieve, to lose, to deal with mental illness, John Green weaves these all together in my favorite book of his to date.

Aza struggles with anxiety. Because much of the struggle is on the inside even her Best and Most Fearless Friend Daisy has trouble comprehending the depth of Aza’s pain.

When a billionaire goes missing and a hundred-thousand dollar reward is offered for info leading to his return, Aza and Daisy jump into the mystery unaware of what exactly they are getting themselves into.

Green gets into the psyche of today’s teens with his usual grace and the way he allows us access to Aza’a mind as it continually spirals out of her control is something that will stay with me for a long, long time.

A sentence I love: “I wanted to tell her that I was getting better, because that was supposed to be the narrative of illness: It was a hurdle you jumped over, or a battle you won. Illness is a story told in the past tense.”

“Teaching People, Not Poses- 12 Principles for Teaching Yoga with Integrity” by Jay Fields

As for many people, my yoga teacher training changed my life.

This slim volume packs a lot of wisdom for the new or seasoned teacher. Each principle is followed by suggestions on how to actually use the advice she gives. I felt like I walked away with tools I could use to be more grounded in integrity as a teacher and also as a complicated human with my own set of flaws and gifts and challenges.

A sentence I love: “It’s about playing your part to help create a world full of people who have the courage and the spirit to set aside fear and to live in alignment with their deepest, truest most full self.”