Books Read in May 2020.

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“An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” a novel by Hank Green

Look, I am aware that you’re here for an epic tale of intrigue and mystery and adventure and near death and actual death but in order to get to that (unless you want to skip to chapter 13—I’m not your boss), you’re going to have to deal with the fact that I, April May, in addition to being one of the most important things that has ever happened to the human race, am also a woman in her twenties who has made some mistakes.

This is one of the most unique stories I have ever read. It starts with giant sculptures popping up in cities across the globe. Enter April May and social media turning her into a celebrity and this odd occurrence into a movement.

I was intrigued by how the story seems to mirror what is happening in our country today, dividing into sides, social media being used as a tool to sow that division. 

A sentence I underlined:

In the end, my brand was me, so whatever I said became something I believed.

“Atomic Habits” by James Clear

On the final day of my sophomore year of high school, I was hit in the face with a baseball bat.

All of my habits, good and bad, useful and not useful have been amplified during this stay home, stay safe order. So, I am looking for motivation. Looking for inspiration. And I came across this on on my bookshelves.

Clear lays out exactly how our brain is trained and how habits are formed. Then gives us step by step actions to take in order to break old habits and create new ones.

A sentence I underlined:

We all deal with setbacks but in the long run, the quality of lives often depends on the quality of our habits. 

“Today will Be Different” a novel by Maria Semple

Because the other way wasn’t working. The waking up just to get the day over with until it was time for bed.

Well, stumbling across this book among my many hundred to-be-read books now seems serendipitous. As I embark on the 77th day of staying home, staying safe, I yearn for today to be different. I yearn for me to be different. To not succumb to the lure of social media, the news, or Netflix. 

Eleanor Flood yearns for today to be different as well. So, we follow her on one particular day, where despite her best intentions to greet it differently, she finds herself sinking into the same patterns and reactions.

Today she has her son who has decided to play sick to get out of school. Today she discovers something extremely unsettling about her husband that sets her on a quest for the truth. And today she encounters people in her life out of their normal context.

Eleanor is quirky and the plot twists and turns as we follow her throughout this day, hoping that it all will, indeed, be different. 

A sentence I underlined: 

My lungs were butterfly wings.

 “Keep Going-10 Ways to Stay Creative In Good Times and Bad” by Austin Kleon

Whether you’re burned out, starting out, starting over, or wildly successful, the question is always the same: How to keep going?

Another book that seems written for these times. I read it when it first came out and felt compelled to read it again as I struggle to find my creative footing during these times. 

My focus is a little limited lately so I appreciate how short and digestible each chapter is. And how each chapter is filled with inspiration and motivation. He really does help us find ways to keep going no matter what is going on in our lives or the world. 

A sentence I underlined:

The only thing we can really control is what we spend our days on.

“Minding the Muse- A handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators” by Priscilla Long

Learning to work is about learning to sink into the work.

I’ve been having a hard time sinking into the work so I picked this up off of my TBR shelves. Each chapter is concise, has a perfect quote to start it and ends with questions to contemplate. It works for whatever creative practice calls to you. It is more about the energy we bring to our work. She offers so many isights into the creative process and makes it all seem not only accessible, but also essential. 

A sentence I underlined: 

Here’s where our habit of discipline is our ally—the discipline to put aside anxiety, to sink into the work, to keep the problem open, to have faith in the process of making art.

“Deep Listening- A Healing Practice to Calm your Body, Clear your Mind, and Open your Heart.” by Jillian Pransky with Jessica Wolf

Deep listening is the process of truly connecting to ourselves and our lives. It is not so much a specific technique as it is an approach to how we receive and respond to ourselves and others.

Another book that feels essential to this time. It is a sequence of practices designed to help us listen deeply to our bodies, our selves and the world around us. It is filled with meditations and yoga poses and journal prompts to help us practice deep listening instead of merely reading about it. 

A sentence I underlined:

Well-being is the ability to stay grounded, relaxed and open to whatever your circumstances are.

Write Every Damn Day- It’s Not Just a Hashtag Anymore.

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I started this board in 2016 to help me write every single day. (I got the idea from Jerry Seinfeld.)

While I had high hopes and high expectations for myself (always true at the start of a new year) I didn’t actually, truly believe that I would be able to write every day for a whole year much less almost 4 years!

But I have.

I wrote through the flu.

Through having my wisdom teeth pulled while I had the flu. That was a fun time!

I wrote on vacation.

I wrote when I was happy.

When I was sad.

Or anxious.’Or depressed.

Or enraged.

I wrote in my journals.

I wrote morning pages.

I wrote blog posts.

I wrote in my novel.

I wrote when I was motivated and when I didn’t want to write at all.

I wrote when I knew exactly what I wanted to write and when I had absolutely no idea what to write.

I wrote in the morning, the afternoon, at night.

I wrote at my desk, at the bookstore, at the coffeeshop, on the beach, on planes, in the car, on my yoga mat, on the deck, in bed.

I wrote alone and with others.

I wrote my way out of stories that had me all tangled up.

I wrote my way into myself.

Now, writing is no longer what I do. It is who I am. Writing is like breathing and reading. Non-negotiable.

#writeeverydamnday is no longer just a hashtag.

It’s an intricate, essential, sacred part of each and every one of my days.

 

 

Enough with Not Enough.

I am always looking for topics to inspire my writing and specifically topics that ask me to inquire deeper into my own writing life. When I came across the Writing Contest: You Are Enough, hosted by the Positive Writer, I knew I had to explore it.

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Typewriter image found via Pinterest. I am enough found via Pinterest. Photos merged using Photos Merge.

Enough. It is a word that has haunted me for years. 

There is an entire advertising and marketing industry designed to make us feel like we don’t have enough, don’t do enough and aren’t (fill-in-the-blank) enough. Thin. Strong. Curvy. Blonde. Rich. Spiritual. 

I have especially felt this tug of not-enoughness in my writing. See, I didn’t go the traditional route, which I used to consider a hindrance but eventually came to see as a strength. I earned an Associate’s Degree in Fashion Illustration right out of high school. No general education courses. No literature classes. Just art.

I worked as a graphic designer for years which allowed me to eventually ease into a freelance career so that I could stay home and raise our two daughters. 

Along the way, I kept up with my own voracious reading and sporadic journaling. At some point I stumbled across a book called “The New Diary” by Tristine Rainier. It opened up a new way of journal writing that was more spontaneous, deeper and even (gasp) fun. I began filling up blank pages with my words.

The next turning point came when I discovered “Writing Down the Bones.” Just the title gave me goosebumps. I picked it up, stroking the image of ink spilling across the cover, already aware on some level that my life was about to change.

I began filling notebooks with what Natalie Goldberg called writing practice. Practice made it easier to approach. I wasn’t “writing.” I was practicing. I continued to practice and read. A lot. My work colleagues were used to seeing me with my nose in a book at lunch, usually a different book every couple of days. A friend finally commented that at this pace I’d soon run out of books to read and would have to start writing my own. Hmmmm… the seed was planted.

Once we were settled in Arizona, writing found me over and over again. I was fortunate enough to attend a week-ling retreat in New Mexico with Natalie Goldberg where I filled 3 notebooks in 7 days. I also discovered a fantastic program through the Phoenix YMCA called “Writer’s Voice.” They offered a “MothersWrite” class. It was a free, ten-week writing class that provided childcare. It was a lifesaver. A sanity saver. It allowed me to keep connected to that tenuous creative part of myself at a time when I felt stretched thin with the demands of motherhood. They also offered various creative writing classes as well as Master-level workshops that required you to submit work in order to be admitted. It took a long time for me to take the step of submitting my work but when I did I was accepted and attended an intense ten-week workshop with Elizabeth Evans and later, a second one with Simon Ortiz. Later I audited a fiction writing class with Melissa Pritchard at ASU. I always felt slightly out of place in these academic since I was usually the only one without any kind of four-year degree backing me up.

Over the years, I’ve considered going back to school to get that degree. Or maybe attend a low residency MFA program that would waive the Bachelor’s Degree. They’re out there. I’ve looked. But with two girls to help put through college, I really couldn’t justify the expense. It’s not like I want to teach at the college level. I want to write. Realistically, all I need is a pen, paper and if I’m lucky, a computer, all of which I have. I’m more envious of the experience of the MFA rather than the physical piece of paper. I salivate at the thought of immersing myself in writing for two years– eating, breathing, talking, dreaming books and writing. But really, my life can’t hold that right now. What it can hold is this: a writing group; occasional workshops; lots and lots of books; and lots and lots of writing.

Yoga has also played an essential role in my writing. As soon as I began to practice yoga, I saw the connection between the two. Both require me to show up, to meet myself where I am and to be present. I now teach 7 yoga classes a week including one I created that combines writing and yoga called “Poses, Pens + Inner Peace.”

Yoga has helped me cultivate a relationship with my mind. With my whole self, not just the shiny parts. It has helped me see beyond the veil of not-enoughness to the deep truth that I am more than enough exactly as I am.

As of today, I have filled dozens upon dozens of notebooks. I have written many short stories and even had a few published. I have a novel-in-stories that is complete and looking for an agent. I am deep into the third draft of another novel. Then there is the YA fantasy trilogy simmering as well as a memoir based on my journey with yoga and writing.

At the age of 54, “enough” has a totally different connotation. It is no longer a word I use to judge and bludgeon myself with. It has become a word that fills me with hope. With a sense of ease and grace.

I write every day. Some days I write more than others. And it is enough.

I show up to the blank page. And it is enough.

I read as much as I can. And it is enough.

I submit my novel and stories and essays. And it is enough.

I have created a life that not only makes space for writing but truly nurtures it. And that is more than enough.

Permission Granted.

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Image found via Pinterest.

Remember being a child and needing to ask for permission for just about everything? To watch a show. Go out with friends. Have a snack. Stay up later. 

We needed permission to keep us safe. To help us learn to make choices that were good for us. And we looked for that permission from our parents, teachers and caregivers.

We looked for that permission outside of ourselves.

Often, we carry that permission-seeking well into our adulthood. I know I have.

I sometimes look to agents and contests to give me permission to be a writer. If that person out there sees something worthwhile in my work, then I must be a writer, right?

Wrong.

I am a writer because I write.

I am a writer because it is how I live in the world

It is how I inhabit this life.

It is how I process this being human.

I don’t need permission to call myself a writer.

I don’t need an agent or a publishing contract to call myself a writer.

I grant myself permission.

What do you need to grant yourself permission to do or be?

Maybe you need permission to :

To speak up.

To rest.

To not finish that book you started. (Seriously, let it go.)

To say no.

To say yes.

To go after a new dream.

To let an old dream go.

To accept an apology you never received.

To extend forgiveness to yourself.

To embrace your body as it is right now.

Whatever you need permission to do or be or say or believe, consider it granted.

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Image found via Pinterest.

(Feel free to share what you are granting permission for in the comments!)

The Day I Fell Back in Love with Writing.

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Writing is my way into the word. It is connection. It connects me to what I think, feel, experience, believe, fear, want. Writing is who I am at the deepest level.

Writing is like breathing. That essential. That integral to my being.

Lately, even though I am showing up to write every day (I am well into my fourth year of this) I’ve lost the joy in writing. The playfulness. I often feel like I am merely showing up to page in order to make the “X” on my dry erase board. The accumulation of these marks has been immensely satisfying and motivating but I am afraid I am giving up something in the process of showing up. Giving up a depth of experience, giving up a certain lightness or playfulness.

Just as I was articulating these feelings, an ad for a workshop called “Fall in Love with Your Writing” appeared in my Facebook feed. (One of the few perks of their invasive algorithms). I didn’t know the writer but I loved the title. And it felt like a gift from the Universe so I wasn’t about to turn it away. 

I joined 16 other writers for an afternoon of writing filled with laughter and tears, getting out of our comfort zones and just filling the page for the sake of filling the page.

I wasn’t trying to add an “X” to my board.

It wasn’t about finishing a scene or a chapter for my WIP.

It was about seducing my writing.

Seducing it back into my life, not out of obligation but out of desire.

Desire to play on the page.

Play with words.

Play with language.

Play with genre.

Desire to explore out of curiosity.

Desire to immerse my self in the process rather than focusing only on the end-product.

I once had an art teacher give me some advice. I had drawn a self-portrait in pencil that was all monotone. He told me to just get in there and create some depth and contrast and he didn’t even care if it turned into one big black hole of a mess. My stomach clenched at that. I couldn’t “ruin” it that way. Could I?

But his advice was perfect. He saw how tightly I clung to not wanting to make a mistake. How I wanted to do it “right” And how that kept me stuck and safe on the outside.

It was the first time I had been given permission to “fail.” 

At the end of this afternoon workshop I once again had permission again to fail. To play. To not play it safe all the time. I felt I had loosened the incredibly tight reins I hold on myself to be productive. 

And true to the title, I fell in love with my writing again.

(Huge, heartfelt thanks to Kristine E. Brickey for gathering us together and giving us the space to play and explore in a safe, supportive environment!)

Owning my Dream.

I REALLY REALLY WANT

My jaw has been clenched a lot lately.

Usually I write it off as stress. But in my Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class last night, I wrote this:

I wonder what I’m trying to hold back by clamping my  mouth shut.

Wow! Such a tiny yet huge shift in perspective. So, today in my Morning Pages I explored that question. I was stunned by what I discovered:

What else? I don’t say how badly I want to be published. I focus on how much I love the process and even if I never published another word I would still write. And that is true. But this is also true:

I REALLY REALLY REALLY WANT TO HAVE MY BOOKS PUBLISHED.

There I said it. I declared it. I owned it. It’s scary because now I can fail by not getting published. It was safer the other way, just dipping my toe into publishing here and there but focusing more on the process. I could hang out in that limbo forever. 

But that is not what I want.

And I am uncomfortable with wants. I’ve usually focused more on needs. Wants felt self-indulgent. Frivolous. Dangerous. Because then not getting what I want feels like a failure. Feels like I am a failure.

No wonder I’ve stayed away from wanting this, from declaring I want this.

But no longer. I want this and I am willing to work my ass off to make it happen.

What dream have you been afraid to own? What goal have you kept your enthusiasm tepid about in case it revealed how badly you truly want it to happen? Share it in the comments.

Want it badly enough to declare it to the Universe.

Onward!

 

 

My Days of Hesitancy are Behind Me.

Days of Hesitancy

My days of hesitancy are behind me.

I recently came across these words while reading “Prayers of Honoring Voice” by the inspiring Pixie Lighthorse. It comes from her prayer, “Honoring Security.”

When I read them them I felt goosebumps multiply up and down my arms. I underlined them. I read them over and over.

My days of hesitancy are behind me.

My days of hesitancy are behind me.

I also just finished reading (and actually doing the work in!) “You Are a Badass” by the awesome Jen Sincero. Her books have been on my radar for a while. I have her book about money and I’ve read part of it. Recently I found that copy, then bought her first and her most recent books.

Books find me when I am ready. I truly believe that. I worked with Sincero’s exercises, even (or especially) the ones that made me uncomfortable or felt a little too “woo-woo.” I worked with affirmations, visualization, beliefs and stories and rewriting them.

Then I read those words: My days of hesitancy are behind me.

It felt like I was in the perfect alignment to receive the power of those words. I was riding the flow of the universe. I was doing the work and this was my gift.

Since then (it’s only been about 3 days) I have sent my novel-in-stories to 4 agents.

4 agents in 3 days.

I haven’t sent my work out to 4 agents ever.

I already received a kind rejection and while I was disappointed my first thought was this:

My agent is out there, we just have’t found each other yet.

And I finally, actually, truly believe that.

My days of hesitancy are truly behind me.

The Practice of Curiosity.

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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.

Surrounding Myself with Inspiration.

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The Celtic Goddess Boann is the most recent addition to my writing space. She is the Goddess of Inspiration and Creativity.

Judith Shaw writes, “In the same way that flowing waters clear debris in its path, Boann clears your mind of mental debris and negativity. She helps open your soul to receive divine inspiration. Call on Boann when seeking your own creative voice, an open door to spiritual insight and our connection to source.”

I love that!

My writing space cloaks me in inspiration from the colors (poppy and robin’s egg blue) to all of the books lining my shelves, from artwork and quotes to the view out the window.

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I’ve created a writing nest, a writing cocoon. I finally prefer to write here than out  in public. I light a candle (something sweet in the winter and fall, a fresh scent in spring and summer), sit at my desk that is nestled between two bookshelves with a view into our front yard, pop in earplugs, open a notebook or laptop and dive in.

The objects, words and images that surround me in this space were chosen specifically because they spoke to me. They challenge me to show up daily, to find my voice, to connect with my source.

 

My Love Affair with Writing Prompts.

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I love writing prompts.

I taught myself how to write using them. It started with prompts from Tristine Rainier’s book,”The New Diary” then I found Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” and began filling notebook after notebook with writing practice.

I knew I had to write and not just read about how to write to, you know, actually be a writer. Prompts got me writing. They bypassed the the censor and let me just get directly to the writing. I didn’t have to think up what to write about.

Prompts are a springboard that let me dive into the deep end instead of lingering at the edge, dipping my toe in as I try to decide what exactly to write every single time I sit down to the blank page.

When I began writing fiction, I still used prompts only I wrote them from the POV of my characters. Sometimes nothing came of them except that I got words on a page (always a good thing). But often some new, crucial information was revealed about the character or plot. Those days felt magical.

This story published on literary mama.com began as an exercise in a class from a prompt using a photograph of a chair by the side of a house.

My finished novel-in-stories began as prompt from this black and white photo by Mary Ellen Mark:

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Image found via NPR.

 

It’s not that I imagine the characters look like the girls in this photo. The energy between them, the juxtaposition of tween girls in a kiddie pool and the cigarette just intrigued me and led me to explore (for years) that energy that first sparked something in me.

While photographs work really for me (I keep a board on Pinterest) I’m also drawn to other types of prompts as well. Contributions to Post Secret can provide rich material. And I have written through every prompt in Judy Reeves’ “Writer’s book of Days” several times. I once wrote a short story based on something I overheard a man say on a cell phone while at the airport.

Prompts allow me to get back to that playfulness of writing that I had when I first started out. They allow me to get out of my head and into my subconscious where all the juicy things wait.

But mostly they just get me writing no matter what my mood or energy or anxieties. For that reason, prompts are priceless.