books + reading · reading

Inspired & Encouraged #ThankYouLouisePenny #mind #spirit

During the fall of 2017, Hillary Rodham Clinton was interviewed on my favorite podcast, Call Your Girlfriend.  She was featured on a bunch of podcasts right around that time; it was soon after her book, What Happened, was released.  It was bittersweet, listening to these interviews; HRC may be a complicated and flawed individual (aren’t we all?), but there’s no doubt in my mind that she would be a more competent leader than our current president.

However – that’s not why I’m mentioning HRC today.  The real reason she’s on my mind is that, in that September 2017 interview on CYG, she became one of my Reliable Book Recommenders.

I’ve blogged about this previously, but to restate: not everyone in your life is a Reliable Book Recommender.  I have amazing friends – best friends – who are readers, and have a lot in common with me, and yet are UNRELIABLE Book Recommenders.  Our taste in books just does not match up.

During the CYG interview, HRC mentioned being a fan of the Elena Ferrante novels, which I loooooved.  Moments later, she mentioned a different writer, someone I’d never heard of before: Louise Penny, a Canadian author who (according to HRC) had famously authored the Chief Inspector Gamache murder mystery series.

Now, since HRC had endorsed the Ferrante novels, I knew we had at least some overlap in our reading tastes.  And I adore mystery novels – well-written ones, that is.  So I requested Louise Penny’s first novel, Still Life, from the Baltimore County Public Library.

Image result for louise penny still life

It’s five months later, and I recently finished the 13th book in the series.  OH MY GOSH I LOVE THESE BOOKS SO MUCH. Each book contains a murder mystery, but there’s a group of characters – Chief Inspector Gamache and his family, his second-in-command Jean Guy Beauvoir; and a small circle of friends who live in a quaint village in the Quebec countryside called Three Pines – that are present throughout the series.  The murder mystery is usually interesting and compelling, but I find that I’m more intrigued by the staple characters than I am by the mystery Gamache is solving. Each character has a compelling back story, personality, and personal journey, and I really love spending time in Three Pines. When I finished Book 13, I was worried that it might be the last in the series; luckily, I started following Louise Penny on Facebook, and learned that Book 14 should be released sometime during 2018!

One of the reasons I have Louise Penny’s books on my mind is that I learned a little about her story.  She started writing full-time in her late thirties, and her first novel was published in her forties. I find this an inspiring, not depressing, timeline.  And, as I’m thinking more and more about working on a longer piece of fiction writing, I am very much in need of inspiring timelines!

As I sped through the Louise Penny books, I realized that if I want to write what I myself love, then I should write a series of mystery novels. I actually realized this as I was contemplating how sad I’d be if Book 13 were the last book in the series; I had the thought that if I really wanted another mystery series PRONTO, then I should write it myself. I’ve been giving it a try, but the idea of writing a good mystery is really intimidating! I mean, how do you come up with something that’s so clever that you can confound and perplex your readers? How do you DO that?! It seems even more egotistical than regular fiction writing. (My Inner Critic voice often says snarky things to me like, “Who the hell would want to read anything YOU wrote?”)

One of the things I am most excited about is that idea of creating a cast of characters that I can revisit again and again throughout a series. It means I don’t have to resolve everything in one book.  I think that will also help with my instinct to tie everything up with a bow at the end of a story or novel; if I know I’m writing a series, it can be more of a slow burn.

SO EXCITED. SO INSPIRED. SO ENCOURAGED.

18881917_1453112811399041_513769807426278089_n

books + reading · reading · snapshots

SNAPSHOT #mind #soul

There are, once again, a million mini blog posts floating around in my brain and in my draft folder.  So, without further adieu, a list of random things I’m grateful for:

  • The mystery novels of Louise Penny.  SO FREAKING GOOD.  I started them in the fall (recommended by Hillary Rodham Clinton herself, who is so far a Reliable Book Recommender), and I read all thirteen by the beginning of 2018.  Plus, she announced recently that another book will come out this year.  Yay!
  • This quote from W. Kamau Bell’s book : “Being in my twenties was not helpful for my comedy development because I had nothing going on to talk about.  It wasn’t until I got to my thirties that I had real material.”  I have a constant voice in my head whispering that it’s too late to be a writer.  SHUT UP VOICE KAMAU SAYS NOW IS THE PERFECT TIME.
  • Finding time to meditate.  I’ve been working hard to remember to make time to meditate, and I’ve been doing pretty well.  This was one of my New Year’s Resolutions, and it’s really important to me that I keep it; I’ve been coming to terms with the knowledge that I’m a pretty anxious person, and I believe me26904349_1050168465122347_6526983749737775596_nditation will help me to calm my mind during those paralyzing anxious moments. I’m hoping that a little bit of discipline – sticking with a routine of meditating every day – will help me to increase my overall joy.
  • Rediscovering Buddhism.  I read Buddhism Plain and Simple, by Steve Hagen, about 15 years ago; that was my first introduction to Buddhism, and I loved it.  Now I’m reading another Hagen book, Buddhism Is Not What You Think, and I’ve really been enjoying it. I’m thinking about making a habit out of always having a spiritual book close by; sometimes just reading a few pages out of a book about meditation is enough to help me calm my mind.

Enough for now.  These posts are kind of a dumping ground for random thoughts, but my mind clears up after I write them, so – worth it.

books + reading · writing

On Writing #mind #heart

Why have I never read On Writing by Stephen King before now?stephen_king_on_writing

It’s phenomenal.  I picked it up at my local used bookstore, Ukazoo, a few months ago.  It’s the perfect read as NaNoWriMo 2017 approaches.  I’ve been alternately reading it and listening to the audiobook all week.

It’s good timing – picking up this book at this moment.

This week has been pretty excellent.  It’s been a reprieve from the chaos and the angst that have been plaguing me.  I did not obsessively look for jobs, evaluate career options, or reflect on my professional purpose.

It was a relief.  To have a day that was not dominated by obsessive seeking.

I’m not sure what’s been different.  Tee and I had a long talk on Saturday about my job hunting, which gave me some clarity.  The exact visualization of “what I want” keeps changing.  But just for today – it feels really good to set job hunting aside, to accept what I’m currently doing, and to start getting excited again about writing.  Which is what I wanted to do most in the world when I was ten years old.

Here are my takeaways (some paraphrased) from On Writing:

-Write for you.  Then REWRITE for others, taking out everything that’s not the story. (“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”)

-“Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why yimages (1)ou cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.”

-“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

“Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill,one of the prime reasons you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.”

images (2)

-“If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

-“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

-“Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

This was way too many quotes.  I restrained myself or there would be way more.

books + reading · reading

#soul #mind

Usually I read fiction and I write nonfiction.  This has been my pattern for several years.

Lately, this has flipped.  I’m devouring nonfiction – memoirs, books about writing – and busily writing short stories whenever I get the chance.

I love the feeling I get when I have a good idea for a short story.  I get a little obsessed – but in a good way, not a oh my gosh what am I going to do with my wild precious life way.

No short story ideas are consuming my mind currently, however, so I’m taking the opportunity to do a little writing about myself.

I learned how to crochet when I was 20 years old.  I’d just started a year with AmeriCorps, and a few of my fellow Corps members were volunteering for a local charity, crocheting or knitting hats or baby blankets for children and families in need.  A friend taught me, and then everyone in my family got a scarf for Christmas.

I still crochet, almost 15 years later.  I’m not much more advanced than I was back then; most of the things I create are square.  I’ve been working on a baby blanket on and off for the past year.  I make a little progress every Monday morning, when I have a standing meeting with some good friends to drink coffee and share.

There’s a thing that happens when you’re crocheting.  Yarn gets tangled.  Even if you’re really careful – yarn gets tangled.  And it doesn’t just get a little tangled, at least not in my world.  It somehow comes to life and enters into a passionate samba that results in yarn criss-crossing back and forth through my crochet bag, on the floor, around the legs of the table holding my coffee, and then weaving back together into a giant, unmistakable, unavoidable knot.

I’m accustomed to these knots.  When I notice them, I sit patiently and untangle a little at a time.  I don’t rush; if I start to notice that I’m not making progress, I tear the yarn, remove the knot, and tie the two new ends together, and continue crocheting.

Every once in a while, a friend will notice me calmly untangling, tugging, pulling, and they will explode with frustration for (or perhaps at?) me.  “How do you do that?” they ask, bewildered.  “I would lose my mind.”

The first time I heard this, I paused.  I lose my mind a MINIMUM of five times monthly.  And that is generous.  I would say, more honestly, that I sometimes lose my mind every single day.  

But this particular issue – tangled yarn – does not make me lose my mind.  Clearly I have reached enlightenment, even if it’s just in this one uber-specific area of living.

But usually, in my life, I’m more like that friend.  I rip and I tear at the tangled yarn.  I spend days agonizing over how the damn yarn got tangled in the first place, and beating myself for allowing the tangling to occur.

This week, however, something has shifted.  I have the same ‘problems’ I had last week.  But I’m not trying to mentally wrestle them into submission.  I’m patiently and calmly untangling threads with little stress or worry.

 

Nothing has changed but my attitude and my approach.  And I’m incredibly grateful for the mental reprieve.

blogging · books + reading · snapshots · writing

SNAPSHOT #mind #soul #spirit

The pretext of my blogging is that I write about balance – about ways that I nourish my heart, my soul, my mind, my body, and my spirit.

Every once in a while, I find myself with a scattering of thoughts I want to share, and I include a snapshot – just a little list of ways that I’m nourishing each aspect of self.  These lists help me to feel grounded and less scattered.  They’re also a good reminder of what I am nourishing and what I’m neglecting.

Here’s today’s snapshot:

-I am on a crazy Book Binge right now!  It started with Glennon Doyle’s two books, followed by Roxane Gay’s Hunger (incredible), and then Before The Fall by Noah Hawley (so good).  I just finished one of my Book Of The Month Club books, The Love Interest, and have moved on to No One Knows by J. T. Ellison.  #mind

-In early June, I spent several days my commute listening to Brene Brown’s latest CD, Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice.  She is amazing.  The CD is amazing.  My number one takeaway was this: you have to recognize when something – a conflict, a resentment – has you hooked.  You have to make a note when something has gotten under your skin, and get curious about it.  #mind #soul

-I am trying something new: posting a quote-slash-picture on my heartsoulmindbody Facebook page every day.  I really don’t know why I decided to do this, but I’m enjoying it.  It’s almost like a little daily check-in or prayer; the quote reveals itself when the time is right, and I put it out in the universe.  I have maybe three followers on the heartsoulmindbody Facebook page (you can follow here if you want), so it’s not really about connecting or publicizing.  It’s just a little message from me to the universe, or from the universe to me.  #soul

-I wrote a story!  It’s been a really long time since I finished a short story, and I have felt wonderful ever since the idea for their story popped into my head.  It is flawed and needs editing, and it will never be perfect.  But I wrote it, and I’m so, so grateful.  #mind #soul

books + reading · reading

My Ideal Bookshelf #heart #mind

My sister has been working on a really fun project – commissioning a painting of her favorite books from http://www.idealbookshelf.com.

Of course, this got me thinking about my ideal bookshelf, and I realized that I haven’t yet listed my all-time favorite books on heartsoulmindbody.  WHAT IF SOMEONE WANTS TO SURPRISE ME WITH A PAINTING OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS?  Where 63b18e7dc58e89f264592c3cfeb82912would they get my list?!

Anyway – ahem.  In no particular order:

The Gifts Of Imperfection – Brene Brown

Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed

Animal Dreams – Barbara Kingsolver

Animal Vegetable Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver

Boomsday – Christopher Buckley

Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer

The Witch Of Portobello – Paolo Coelho

Ishmael – Daniel Quinn

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling

Anne Of The Island – L.M. Montgomery

The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

Seven Types Of Ambiguity – Elliot Perlman

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Lisa See

The Brooklyn Follies – Paul Auster616573e4317d6dbe1d5e253550f53c13

My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante

Bird By Bird – Anne Lamott

The Baron In The Trees – Italo Calvino

The Unbearable Lightness Of Being – Milan Kundera

Writing Down The Bones – Natalie Goldberg

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues – Tom Robbins

Buddhism Plain And Simple – Steve Hagen

The thing is – when one of my favorite bookstores, Ukazoo Books, closed down temporarily (they’re reopening soon!), I went on a supportive shopping spree and bought a lot of my favorite titles.  So – I may not ever need a painting like my sister has.  🙂  Time will tell.

balance · books + reading

Grace Not Perfection #minibookreviews #mind #soul #takeaways

I discovered this sweet little book called Grace Not Perfection by Emily Ley.  The title was an instant draw for me.

tumblr_nkqbihnilr1sbz37go1_500

Such an inspiring sentiment.  When I started reading the book. I initially thought it wasn’t for me – the author is Christian and makes many references to God’s grace and the Bible, which isn’t usually my jam.  However, I kept returning to it, and eventually was able to replace “God” with “the universe” and enjoy the messages of the book without getting caught up with qualms about religion.

Overall, it wasn’t my favorite read – but it really made me think, and that’s always a good thing.  Here are my takeaways:

Use Sunday as a day to plan for the week – meals, activities, appointments, etc. Set everything in order and plan for the week ahead.

-Have a retreat area in your home that is a haven of sweet inspiration and relaxation.

-Identify areas of you life where you’re holding tightly to the reins.  Think through the worst scenario if you let go or loosened the reins a little.

-Perspective is everything .  Try to refocus your lens when you feel you’re not in the flow.

-Routines keep you from stressing. Having a (flexible) plan in place helps you to not feel stressed along the way.

-A purpose was written on your heart when you were born.  Find it.  Devote your life to it.

-Simplify.  Make room in your heart, home, and life for the universe to speak more clearly to you.

images