I’m a sucker for self help books. I admit it. Mostly because I don’t think anyone can read just one and magically fix their life. I think personal growth is something we work on our whole lives, and reading books with new ideas, processes, or tools are helpful reminders to focus our time and energy where we most want to.
So if you’re a self help junkie like myself, or you know someone who is, here are the latest ones I’ve read and recommend.
Self Help Books Worth Buzzing About
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day
By Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
I checked this book out from the library and admittedly did not pick it up until it was almost due, and there were holds on it, so I couldn’t renew it. The irony of the fact I had to speed read a book about making time is not lost on me.
Still, this book was a great read with easily digestible sections intermixed with drawings and chart examples. The authors come from technology backgrounds at Google and YouTube. While they both enjoy and appreciate technology, they recognized that it was stealing much of their time away from family and other life goals. They offered practical ways to cut back on screen time and refocus your energy.
What I learned: By implementing some of their tactics, I reduced my mindless scrolling on my phone and how I use my social media by 40%. As someone who earned her nickname of “Wi-fi” from her spouse, I know my husband was impressed with this change.
Recommended for: people looking to reduce or better manage screen time in their lives, tech gurus, business minds
The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness
By Paula Poundstone
More of an experimental memoir than a self help book, Poundstone’s book chronicles her attempts at getting fit, organized, and learning new skills. Bonus selling point: while listening to the audiobook in the breakroom, one of our library volunteers listened in while washing some toys and both of us were laughing out loud.
Candid about her moderate celebrity status, Poundstone shares real troubles and issues that are identifiable to many. Her self deprecating humor is laugh out loud at moments, and poignant at others.
What I learned: Have a sense of humor about self help. Poundstone takes both martial arts and dance classes and sees strengths and weaknesses in her abilities with both, but that doesn’t prevent her from finding happiness in the trying.
Recommended for: humor fans, humor writers, parents, anyone looking for some motivation and courage to try new experiences/skills
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
By Charles Duhigg
This book was one of my favorite reads of the year, and I probably annoyed a lot of people talking about it. Ha!
With examples covering everything from employee culture to drastic lifestyle changes, tragic accidents to court cases, Duhigg explains how habits play a key role in our lives. The book doesn’t view habits as good or bad, but they can certainly play to our successes or vices. And when you understand how habits work, you have more awareness of how to change them.
What I learned: Many of the examples shared were jaw dropping upon breakdown, especially how habits play a role in our marketing culture. Being aware of that, I felt I had more mindfulness around spending habits and company culture. I also understood what elements I needed to play if I wanted to change habits, and I reduced my fast food intake and diet using them.
Recommended for: goal setters, knowledge seekers, marketers, business minds, managers, those in customer service, teachers, coaches, mentors
An older read, but still very relevant. Tracy’s book emphasizes starting your day with the tasks that are the largest or most productive, the “frogs”. Many of us fall into productivity traps like checking emails, and we don’t get around to the larger projects we need to address in a timely fashion. Tackling the most crucial to do’s first ensure increased productivity and fulfillment.
What I learned: Eat That Frog is a short read and includes enough tips and tricks to help you re-channel your focus to make it worthwhile. While the tips didn’t seem new or unexpected, I found it to be a good reminder for anyone with procrastination problems, like myself.
Recommended for: procrastinators, office workers, writers, business minds, anyone interested in productivity boosters
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
By Eckhart Tolle
If you’ve wondered what “living in the now” means, this book explains that. Broken into definitions, explanations, examples, and questions and answers, Tolle illustrates the power of the mind to live in the present. He discusses aspects of ego, listening, subconscious, and more.
What I learned: I’ll be honest, I struggled with this read. There were parts that made me think and I did some journaling around this topic. However, this book is not for everyone, and I admittedly wandered while listening because some of the ideas are very intellectual and I am not well practiced in “the now.” But don’t let me stop you, give it a try.
Recommended for: spiritual seekers, meditation lovers, those with an interest in self awareness
With chapters broken up by the lies Hollis told herself, she goes on to portray how she challenged her own negative thinking and moved past it. Women will find Hollis’ book very identifiable as we all battle “trying to have it all.”
Hollis keeps it real, though. She does not pretend to have all the answers or have everything figured out. She advocates for therapy, faith, and family/friend support that keep her on the right track, and admits she’s still working on things. Written like a great coffee chat with your girlfriend, Hollis is honest, open, and at times very funny.
What I learned: We all spend more time in our own heads than in anyone else’s, so why not make that a pleasant place to be and stop beating yourself up. Get help where you need it, and take control back to follow your dreams.
Recommended for: entrepreneurs, parents, couples, self help book junkies, lifestyle readers, feminists
Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life
By Gary John Bishop
Here’s the self help book for people who think they don’t like self help books. With no nonsense callouts, and a dash of humor too, Bishop provides the steps you need to take to, well, unfuck yourself.
Bishop points out the realistic fact that we’re all going to die someday, and you don’t want to get there and discover you have regrets about things you had the power to change. Offering tips to help you through the mental homework, this book asks you to consider both what you’re willing and what you’re unwilling (which can be just as important) to do.
What I learned: This book focuses on the stories we tell ourselves, so part of Bishop’s plan is for us to understand where our own stories come from. By knowing why we think the way do, we can prepare for the struggles that we’ll face in trying to change it, making that change more lasting.
Recommend for: anyone, but especially those facing transitions in their lives
Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment
By August McLaughlin
Combining personal tribulations with a wealth of science to back it up, McLaughlin has created a guide for every woman. Finally, a no shame space for discussing sexual health that advocates whatever path works for you.
From the basic to the advanced, this book is written as if you’re talking with your girlfriends, but full of medically accurate information and body positive / sex positive language.
What I learned: Many women are raised to feel shame about their bodies and their sexuality. McLaughlin’s book is a welcome and much needed addition to the bookshelf. And as a former reproductive health advocate, I wish I’d had this book to refer to students and share with the women I encountered in classes.
Recommended for: all persons who identify as female, people with questions about their sexuality, fans of body positivity/sex positivity, feminists, those who work in healthcare/teach sex ed
Own Your Glow is a beautiful combination of storytelling, self help guidance, journal prompts, and practices. Song lists and inspiring quotes are also sprinkled in.
Whether it’s overcoming hardships, dealing with change, or finding the courage to pursue your dreams, Thomas writes to the reader as if she’s a personal coach and mentor for each.
What I learned: I loved Thomas’ journal prompts to ponder the lessons more fully. The book is full of self love and self care practices. It is a total confidence boosting read.
Recommended for: women in need of a pep talk, journal writers, mothers, entrepreneurs
Those are the self help books I’ve read so far this year.
What titles are on your must read list?
Like so many women right now, this past week has made me feel a full cup’s worth of anxiety and two tablespoons of crushing grief. Then mix that with a blender powered by my rage with the patriarchy, and you have a slight understanding of where I’m at right now.
Today, I shared my first post on Facebook about my feelings regarding the Kavanaugh hearing and how triggering it has been. For most of the week, I simply didn’t know what to say. So I said nothing. But now, it turns out, I have a lot I want to say. So, if you clicked on this post, settle in, cause I’m about to whip up a batch of bitch biscuits.
When I posted my comment on Facebook, I was immediately flooded by likes and comments from friends and family saying they were sorry I had to go through what I did, that they had my back, and they sent their love and hugs. That’s fine, and thank you to those who did so, I know your intentions were well meant and supportive. But the thing is, I didn’t need that. Because I know, I’m one of the lucky ones.
The attacks against Dr. Blasey Ford have shown exactly how rampant misogyny, toxic masculinity, and capitalistic, white patriarchy are in our country. Somehow, we have failed our women and our men. We have put the pressure and blame to prove innocence on the victims instead of the perpetrator. We ask women to consider the life of the man, while no one is considering her own. We have bullied women using every physical judgement we can think of, and call their successes ladder climbing and power grabs. We’ve called them too emotional and stone cold bitches. We have made it nearly impossible for men to show hurt, anger, or frustration in healthy ways. We blame alcohol and clothing, instead of people. We’ve ignored our (white) privilege and don’t know how to handle guilt. We think giving others equality means we lose something. We have lost the ability to say sorry, and not for the things we’re sad we may not get, but for the grief we caused another.
Well, I take issue with all of that. And if I can do anything with my voice, or my words, my hope would be to help men understand what it’s like to be a woman in America right now.
In my facebook post, I shared for the first time ever that I was sexually assaulted. I never reported the incident, and I did not tell a soul until now. I chose not to share the details of that experience. And here’s why.
When reports like Trump’s pussy-grabbing comments, or cases like the Kavanaugh hearing make the news, it causes survivors to relive their trauma. I remember what happened, how uncomfortable and alone I felt. How angry and violated. When it happens to another woman, we relive our own experience(s) all over again.
Some women chose to share their stories. Some even shared in painful detail. And some have remained silent still. All of these responses are right, justified, and acceptable. We should never force someone to speak out when they’re not ready or unable. Speaking for myself, I felt a lot of pressure to share my survivor story. Ultimately, I’m not ready or willing to talk about the details. And frankly, it’s none of your business.
But like you, I’m guilty of that macabre, nosy interest in wanting to know what happened. Our brains are wired to categorize. We want to know the details so we can decide how bad was it? To some extent, we all ask what was she wearing? had s(he) been drinking? did she explicitly say no? was this at a party? could it have been a misunderstanding?
And that, right there, is why most women don’t come forward. I didn’t, and still don’t, want to be looked at differently. I don’t want to be ranked on some undefinable tier of bad things that happen to a person. And yet, had so many others before me not spoken up, I may not have had the courage to write what I’m writing right now.
The thing is, I am one of the lucky ones. And I’m also sickened I have to say that. Because I wouldn’t call my experiences lucky. I just personally know so many women who have faced worse.
I said I wanted you to understand how it feels to be a woman in America in right now. I am not going to lay out the gory details of my assault. Instead, I want to illustrate for you the series of events and experiences I’ve had that are benign. The times where I wasn’t physically hurt, but rather simply encountered men who were “doing the same job as me,” “didn’t mean anything by it,” “just trying to get a date,” “just looking.” You know the ones… they’re always “just joking.”
What It Feels Like to be a Woman in America
When I was in high school, I was active in forensics, drama, and show choir. The students all changed in the same green room, and it was not uncommon for the boys to talk openly about all the girls’ breasts, judging and ranking them in size. I was repeatedly told, “Jessi’s breasts are so small, they’re concave!” I was only 15 at the time.
On moving day at my university, there was an apartment building across from the dorm I lived in. They routinely waved a banner that read “She’s been calling you Daddy for 18 years, now it’s our turn.” When I was president of the Women’s Studies Student Association, I hung group flyers around campus that read “I’m a Feminist! Now what?” on them, and someone scribbled “Suck my dick!” One of our biggest campaigns was educating women about date rape and buying drink test kits so women could know whether their drink had been roofied or not.
When I first started my professional career after college, I quickly rose into management. All managers were responsible for coaching their team members, and I repeatedly noticed both my bosses holding myself and fellow female managers to a much higher standard then the men were kept. If one thing went wrong, I was reamed out and expected to make a sales plan or coaching plan to address it. But when my male counterparts regularly lost their coaching binder “somewhere on the floor,” a document with employee names and metrics on it, it became a longstanding joke that the whole office took part in.
Wanting to draw attention to a fundraiser I was doing at work, I posted about a bra fitting event that supported Susan G. Komen for the Cure on my Facebook page. One of my uncles commented that he’d “be available to help bra fit if needed.”
I was out solo hiking on a popular marsh trail when a man on a bicycle approached me and asked me to go back to his house with him. I said no thank you, and he proceeded to drive around me, continuing to ask me to go with him, becoming more agitated and pushy in his demands, and preventing me from walking down the trail. Thankfully, some other pedestrians distracted him and I took off running into the woods, where he couldn’t get through on his bike, and I hid in the woods and waited for him to leave.
I joined an improv troupe for adults that contained three men and three women. One man in the group repeatedly made all his scenes sexual in nature, berating the woman, and mock beating her at times. Once he physically hurt a female cast member for real in front of an audience. He created scenes where characters set up as siblings were supposed to make out. And before one of our performances, he randomly whispered a detail about a fear I had, but hadn’t ever talked to him about. He’d read it on my blog (which I hadn’t shown him). It sounded like a threat. This man was repeatedly talked to by our director and asked to change his ways. He did not. He was asked to leave the group. Then, I ran into him once more while working, and he spent the entire time leaning over the service counter so far his face was less than a foot from mine.
A few months after starting my new job at the library, I was shelving books and helping a female patron when I noticed a male patron aiming his phone at me. I suspected he had photographed me, and was right, as I saw the camera setting on his phone when he lowered it. He continued to try to snap pictures while I was at the desk. I had emailed security and called, and got confirmation via our security cameras that the man had been taking pictures of me. He had also been doing so at our main location to another staff member and been asked to leave the library. Instead, he just came to our south branch, where I was working. I was instructed to call the police, and they arrested him outside the building. I had to make a statement, wherein I was not warned that my information would be available to the trespasser who was also breaking parole. The police said they could not verify that all the images had been deleted because if they went into the cloud, there was no way to get them out. I spent several hours writing a letter to his parole officer and talking with him on the phone, where he told me “I don’t want to tell you whether to worry or not, but this individual has a very violent history.”
To continue this latest story, I had to lead a ghost tour that very night after the incident. Normally, that is something I love, but waiting in a park under a lonely street light for strangers to come up to you was unsettling to say the least that evening. When I returned to work, my manager and the security officer gave me the option to have an escort to my car when my shift ended. I told them I would let them know. I never asked for the escort, but the security officer belatedly followed me out after dark on that shift, and I was terrified it was a stranger til I got to my car and my headlights flashed on him.
A male friend was staying at our house and asked about a space heater for the guest room as the one in it wasn’t working. I told him he could take the one from the living room. He said “Ok, I’ll ask Joe.” (my husband) I turned to him and shouted “I live here too!” He said he “didn’t mean it like that” and that I was “being silly.”
Now let’s add in the COUNTLESS times that I’m called honey, sweetie, and darling while I’m working. That I’m told to smile. That men try to stare down my shirt, at my chest, or at my butt NO MATTER WHAT I’m wearing. That they throw sexual innuendos into casual conversation cause I work in customer service and can’t say “Get the fuck out!”
Congrats to you if you read this far. You’re probably exhausted. I know I am. Have another biscuit.
I am so fucking exhausted by men. If you read all this, if you really let it sink in, tell me you don’t see now why women don’t report their assaults. Tell me you don’t understand why we’re scared of you, why we feel belittled and undermined in so many places and ways. Why it makes us claw against even one another to get ahead? Why does it have to be your daughter, your sister, or your mother for you to care? What about me? What about your neighbor? What about the women of color in our country that are cooking their biscuits over a goddamn dumpster fire of systemic issues?
Please. Just know that women are hurting right now. Whether they even realize it or not. Don’t start challenging me with “Not All Men” crap. I know it’s not all men. But I bet you can do better. We all can. If you’re asking yourself “how’s a guy supposed to even TALK to a lady now?” I think you need to take a hard look at your place in the system. Don’t tell us we can’t take a joke. Maybe you’re not that funny. And the thing is, we didn’t ask you to be.
How you feeling right now? That’s ok.
Share or don’t share. Take care of yourself. It’s tough out there right now.
Ok, y’all know I love me a good writers conference. After I left a career in corporate sales to be a writer, I made attending writers conferences part of my ongoing education goal. I’ve attended at least one a year since 2012.
Well, this year something magical happened. I GOT INTO THE ERMA BOMBECK WRITERS WORKSHOP!
ERMA BOMBECK, FOLKS! ONE OF THE FOREMOTHERS OF FUNNY!
The Erma conference happens every two years, and the last two times I tried to get in, it sold out. No joke, this conference sells out faster every year, like in four hours or less.
So this year, I marked my calendar, I had my morning off, I was holding my credit card in hand with my laptop and my phone ready to GO!
And then, I flew to Dayton, Ohio and proudly wore my newbie sticker that said “Erma Virgin”. Yes, that is what they gave us. Be still my humor-loving, former Catholic heart.
I’ve been to some stellar conferences and always left inspired, but there was energy like you can’t imagine at this conference. (In fact, the organizers said this was the highest rated conference to date!) I got my schedule, planned out where I was going to go, and then immediately threw that out the window, tried something new, made great friends, and gave it all my best!
ERMAgawd, here’s why you should go!
Taking risks leads to opportunities and learning lessons.
You all know I like to say yes to new experiences, but being the newbie here, I was admittedly nervous.
A fair amount of the workshop focused on stand up comedy with the hilarious Wendy Liebman. Wendy’s been a stand up comedian for over 30 years. She’s performed on Carson, Letterman, Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, and been a finalist on America’s Got Talent.
It seemed like everyone was talking about the stand up classes. Everyone I met was trying stand up or working on their bits. But I had no intention of going. I’m not a stand up, so that’s not for me.
You guys all know I went, right? LOL
I had planned what workshops I was going to attend the night before they started, and that was the last time I looked at that list. If the stand up classes were getting all the buzz, then I decided to go and see what I could learn from them. After all, I like working in different formats because it teaches you new things about your writing.
After the first class listening to people tell jokes, my gears just started rolling and I spent that night coming up with some material. So the next day, I got up with a bunch of other brave, risk-taking people and did a minute of stand up. And I got laughs! Good ones! That is a very good feeling. One that I’m interested and willing to try again! All because of a risk.
A risk, and the ever delightful and supportive Wendy Liebman, who just happened to be on the same flight to Chicago as me, and who gave me wonderful feedback and encouragement while sitting at our departure gate despite the fact that it wasn’t even 6am yet. Bless you, you’re so kind and charming, and I’m eternally grateful.
Find the Funny
The other classes I attended were about finding the funny, whether it’s using it to add heart or get through hard times. Or even just on Twitter.
One of my favorite workshops was with Lauretta Hannon, author of The Cracker Queen. She had a lot of great tips on being comfortable with writing your story, even the dark parts, while being ok with yourself in the process. I can’t wait to read her book after she shared some examples of how to use humor to write about the tough stuff, and also where to let the dark moments speak for themselves, because we know not everything we go through will be funny.
Both Lauretta and T. Faye Griffin, another presenter, reiterated that making people laugh is a gift. Some of the best writers out there have the ability to make you feel something or learn something, but do so through humor, and that is a very special skill.
It’s kind of mesmerizing to me how many different ways there are to be funny. You can do stand up, you can tell a story, you can caption a photo, you can come up with a punchy headline, you can tweet just to name a few. If there was one takeaway from this conference, it is that “funny” is all around us, and we have the skill to shape it.
I’m so grateful for this opportunity. The crowd at Erma is one of the most supportive I’ve ever seen, which is appreciated because I took one other risk while I was at the conference and signed up for Pitchapalooza, “the American Idol of books”.
In a room of roughly 100 people, I put my name in a hat that probably had at least 60 of those people’s names in it. Only 12 were chosen and I was one of them. I got to pitch my book for one minute to a panel of judges and get feedback on my pitch.
I swear I thought the audience would hear my heart beating through the microphone, but I had practiced my pitch beforehand and gave it my all. I didn’t win the contest. (Way to go, Liz Dubelman, who did win! She was the first person to say hi to me at the conference, so I have a soft spot for her as a human being. Thanks!) I got really positive feedback and simple tweaks to improve my pitch, and was even complimented on my performance! And that’s a win in my book!
So there you have it, taking risks and finding the funny is what Erma is all about. I’m so glad I could attend and so grateful to the conference organizers, presenters, the keynotes (btw, I hope I wasn’t the only one who noticed all the female keynotes got standing ovations), and my fellow attendees. I’m still riding the highs and energized by all of you!
What are you currently learning about your writing right now?
What’s inspiring you?
Since today is April Fool’s Day, here’s a little tale from the vault of dad stories. You remember my dad, right? He’s the one who gave me free butt soap as a gift one time!
This is my dad.
Note* He is not a real pirate.
Well, several years ago, NOT on April Fool’s Day, my dad went to the bank and needed a check made for something. I don’t remember the exact details, but the bank was going to charge him money to get this check from his own account. Being the hardworking, farm-raised, former Navy man he was, my dad was not about to pay extra for this check from his bank account.
After going back and forth with the bank teller, my dad grew so angry he decided to CLOSE his account and take his banking business elsewhere.
Dad: “Close my accounts!”
Bank Teller: “All of them?”
Dad: “ALL OF THEM!”
Meanwhile, a week or so later, I went to the same bank at a branch in my town and asked to do a fund transfer from my savings to my checking account.
The bank teller stared at the screen. She tells me she needs a manager to look something over.
You know where this is going, don’t you?
So, the manager comes over and looks at the computer screen.
Manager: “It appears your account has been closed.”
This is the part of the story where the manager escorts me to a tiny desk in a corner, AWAY FROM THE PUBLIC so when they tell me my account has been hacked or something, I DON’T SCARE AWAY ALL THE PEOPLE.
I worked in retail for six years; I know EXACTLY what that tiny desk in the corner is for.
So now, I’ve been passed onto Man With a Mustache to sleuth out what happened to my entire savings account.
Mustache Man: “It appears your account has been closed.”
Me: “CLOSED? Who closed it? I didn’t close it. All my money was in there! Where is MY MONEY?”
Mustache Man: *scrolling through my account information* “Do you know a…Jerry Witkins?”
Me: *speaking between clenched teeth* “I need to call my father.”
I ring up dear old dad who greets me like he’s Mrs. Doubtfire.
Me: “Did you recently come into a large sum of money, Pops?”
Dad, in all sincerity: “Say, now that you mention it, I did actually find some extra cash.”
Me: “BECAUSE YOU STOLE IT FROM MY ACCOUNT!!!”
Dad explains to me about his trip to the same bank in his town and how he demanded to close his accounts. What he didn’t realize, and the bank teller didn’t explain to him, is that as co-signer for my savings account which my parents started for me as a child, he closed out MY account along with his.
And here’s the kicker, while he had no recollection of the sum of money in this “extra mystery account,” he figured it was one he’d started a long time ago and told the teller, “Yep, close it!”
Me: “You put that money back!”
Dad: “I’ll think about it.”
Me: “You march back into that back, tell the teller what you did, and put my money back!”
Dad did return my savings, and we had a good little laugh about it…much later. But because the bank had closed my account, I had to get a new account and new number. I wasn’t too upset though. This time, there would be NO co-signer.
Happy April Fool’s Day, everybody!
Tell me your best prank story, planned or otherwise!
What makes you feel most beautiful? I have a hunch it has nothing to do with what we’re constantly being advertised. Never in my thirty-two years have I, or any of my female friends, said “You know, mascara makes me feel the most beautiful ever,” or “This smooth glide tampon makes me feel so freaking beautiful I can’t handle myself!” Damn, I wish I heard that sentence more often. Most of the time, we’re taught periods are a pain (and they definitely can be), but we’re not taught they make us beautiful.
I’m not knocking makeup or modern conveniences. I enjoy both of them too. There’s a place for them, sure. But what really makes you feel the most beautiful? When I think about that question, the answer has little to do with my body.
Author, blogger, and podcaster, August McLaughlin, is hosting her annual Beauty of a Woman Blogfest. She’s asking women all over the world to talk about what beauty means to them. And since she’s also the fab creator of GirlBoner, (“Where Good Girls Go For Sexual Empowerment”), some bloggers are writing about sexuality too.
I’ve been a participant in both categories over the years. If you want to check out one of my past posts, I recommend Heavy Petting is a No No: Sex Education for the Saint of Heart. 😉
This year, I wanted to talk about beauty as a woman in her thirties. At a time when your body starts changing (like, not bouncing back in ways it once did), it can be a mind shift to still feel beautiful in a world that emphasizes outer beauty and youthfulness so highly. My body changed, and so did my style.
There are some things that remain constant, though. That will always make me feel truly beautiful and empowered in my own skin.
10 (Unusual) Things That Make Me Feel Beautiful
1. Learning something new.
Is there anything quite like the joy of learning something new? There’s that moment when you’ve really put time and energy and sometimes expense into understanding something that didn’t come naturally, and then…it finally clicks!
Damn, that’s a gorgeous moment.
2. Reading books out loud.
What can I say? Words are my love language.
3. Making art for the fun of it.
I believe adults don’t PLAY enough. When’s the last time you picked up your ol’ Crayola 64 pack (dating myself there) and just colored? Or used a paintbrush? Or even doodled? I’m not “an artiste,” but playing around is therapeutic and relaxing for me when I remember to leave judgment at the door.
4. A damn fine blazer.
I’m a sucker for a power suit. Alas, I rarely get to wear them anymore. But why not give yourself a Try Day Challenge and write about it? I did.
A friend of mine coined the term “wonderfully uncomfortable” and it has forever stuck with me. Traveling somewhere outside your comfort zone is a great opportunity to meet new people, hear new stories, and gain a bigger picture of the world. I always leave feeling grateful and humble afterwards. Aren’t those beautiful, genuine emotions?
6. Going for a walk.
Cool breezes on your skin, your feet pounding the pavement or hiking the trail. I never get clarity like I do when I’m on a solo hike.
7. Genuine, consensual touch.
You know people who are huggers? Like good huggers, not creepy uncle huggers? There’s something beautiful and comforting about being with someone who just knows when to give you a hug or reach for your hand. Science even supports that hugging longer has positive effects on the endorphins in the brain! I value a good hug from a friend or loved one.
Who doesn’t appreciate when someone finally notices how damn hard you work?! You go, grrrl! I see you!
9. Eating dessert for breakfast.
Because I’m an adult. Because I can. Because I’m worth it.
10. Not buying into all the ageist, objectified patriarchal bullshit.
Cause ain’t no one got time for that!
What makes YOU feel truly beautiful?
*This post is part of The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest VII! To read more entries, and potentially win a fun prize, visit the fest page on August’s McLaughlin’s site between today and 11pm PST March 9th.
“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.”
— Max de Pree
I’ve been selecting a book to read each month from A Year of Reading, a nifty little guide that provides five options every month based on a theme. The books included are diverse in author and in genre, so I’m challenging myself to read more out of the box. Now, I’m a fairly eclectic reader anyway, but this challenge helps me to read more books by authors of color, and in different formats than I would normally pick up. January’s The Principles of Uncertainty for example, is mostly artwork, such as paintings and photography, with written musings along the way.
February featured comedian, Aziz Ansari, and his take on Modern Romance.
March was a particular favorite read of mine on the topic of justice with Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.
Playing catch up, this month’s review features the theme from April: Creative Spirit.
Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo
I am at my core, a lover of memoir. I am in awe of fiction writers as I personally find it difficult to write fiction. I often think the truth is stranger than fiction and many of the craziest scenes or details in fiction books come from truth. For example, in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, there’s a bit about a dead hippo the ringmaster keeps parading about during the circus, pretending the hippo is swimming in its tank. The hippo was in formaldehyde, and Gruen learned about the trick from a past employee of a real, traveling circus.
What Harjo has done with her memoir, Crazy Brave, is phenomenal, and as A Year of Reading suggests, it should be read aloud.
A well recognized poet, Harjo’s memoir encompasses story, lyric, and poem.
Overview from Goodreads:
In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary.
I’m discovering more and more lyric novels lately. Books that tell a story, but do so partially, or completely, in poetry format. Rising authors like Jason Reynolds are doing so, using spoken word to communicate his tale. And in my own neck of the woods, artist and author Mai Chao shared the story of her Hmoob parents fleeing the Secret War, living in a refugee camp, and immigrating to America, in her beautiful lyric novel, Gathering Fireflies.
Harjo’s work is partially written in verse, and part traditional storytelling. It is beautifully oriented around directions (north, south, east, west), and place (her home of Oklahoma).
This book was a decadent treat for the wordsmith in me. Harjo’s writing comes from a place of loss, misdirection, and unknowing followed by the grace of time, perspective, and truth. In her own words:
“A story matrix connects all of us.
There are rules, processes, and circles of responsibility in this world. And the story begins exactly where it is supposed to begin. We cannot skip any part.”
― Joy Harjo,
I recommend Crazy Brave for any artists out there. Harjo’s story, and her work, is utmost about resilience, and it inspired me. And for bookworms, if you haven’t yet checked out a lyric novel or memoir, consider this a jewel of an introduction to the craft.
It really should be read aloud.
Have you ever checked out a lyric piece of work?
What did you think of the genre?
What other books for artists, or on creativity, do you recommend?
I just got back from a fabulous week at the Write by the Lake writers retreat in Madison, Wisconsin. If you’re searching for conferences to attend next year, I highly recommend this program. I’ve gone the last three years. They offer a dozen different course options that provide intense study into a specific genre or practice for the week. Courses are for all levels from introductory to those with a full manuscript looking for a masterclass.
This year, I swayed from my usual path of nonfiction and opted for the course on picture book writing.
Here’s what I learned:
My instructor, Georgia Beaverson, had us do a writing prompt on the first day. We had to write down our first memory. The second day we rewrote that memory from another person’s point of view. She then made us edit our wordcount down by HALF (oh, the agony).
She said we could also try reworking the piece into different tenses, illustrating that a story can be told in many different ways, by different people, and sometimes reworking it can lead to great discoveries.
I’ve been working on my memoir for the last several years, and I’ve reworked some of my essays to be performed for adult storytelling. (I highly recommend taking a storytelling class if you have one in your area. I took one two years ago and it was wonderful!) What I learned by doing so was that moving around and utilizing the space I could tell in, I imagined new ways of describing the action or character emotions in my writing. Performing the scene helped me write a stronger scene.
In the picture book writing class, I adapted one of my essays to be told as a children’s picture book. The audience was entirely different, since I’d previously written and performed for adults. In this instance, I played up sounds, using onomatopoeia, stronger verbs, and I limited description where illustrations could play a role.
Using the same plotline, I now had three different ways of telling/performing the story.
Ohmygawd! Justin Timberlake was right all along!
The more you write, the better writer you become, and practicing different kinds of writing tools, genres, and craft elements are key. I was amazed at how each exercise in storytelling, whether on paper or a stage, shaped me as a writer. It was fun, challenging for sure, but rewarding across the board.
Sometimes when we’re stuck, we aren’t sure how to gain that forward momentum again. Whether or not you choose to pursue a different genre or space for your story, trying out different exercises can offer up different questions to make you think, explore, and get that creative blood pumping again.
Things You Can Try:
- Work with a critique group that has multiple genres – How will their feedback strengthen your writing? (Ex. Will listening to poetry help you improve your word choice and descriptions? Will the romance author help you write funnier characters or scenes?)
- Adapt your story into different formats (written, spoken, illustrated) – You may discover something new, or gain confidence in an area you previously felt uncomfortable in.
- Just play – Are you stuck on a scene? Is the writing starting to bore even you? Move around, make yourself do the actions! Try drawing it, what’s the action you want to portray? You don’t have to show this to anyone else, but practicing in new ways can help get you past writer’s block.
- Change the POV.
- Change the tense of the story.
- Change the audience you’re writing for.
- Read different genres. Listen to people tell stories. Note what draws you in.
How can you rewrite and/or adapt your stories
to learn something new about them?
Got an example?
Share your favorite way to practice writing.