Life Glows On

The first book I finished reading in 2022 is Claire Cook’s nonfiction book Life Glows On: Reconnecting With Your Creativity to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life.

It’s a book about acknowledging all the ways we express ourselves creatively. It’s also about acknowledging the need for, and the benefits of, dedicating time and energy to a creative project.

I love Ms. Cook’s definition of creativity:

“Creativity is the box of crayons we use to tell our story, and in telling our story we figure out who we are.” 

And I love this recommendation:

“Every day, do one good thing. And after that, give yourself permission to do one creative thing for yourself.” 

Then there’s this bit of motivation:

“Being creative is about touching hearts. It’s about finding our own heart. It’s about tapping into our past and remembering the unique experiences and insights that make us who we are. It’s about flipping our adversity and challenges and experiences into a point of view, a vision, a style, a voice. It’s about standing strong in our authenticity and individuality and distinctiveness.”

I also enjoyed this paragraph about one of the benefits of getting older:

“Because the coolest thing about getting older is that we really can just be whoever the hell we want to be. If we’re lucky, we’ve stopped caring so much about pleasing the rest of the world. Nobody can tell us who we are. Or who we aren’t.”

The #22in22 Initiative

Since this is my first post in 2022, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you about the #22in22 Initiative started by Zibby Books.

Here’s what you need to know:

The idea behind #22in22 is to visit 22 bookstores in 2022. Physically visit (if you’re able) twenty-two bookstores. This can be twenty-two different bookstores, or maybe you just visit your top three bookstores multiple times this year.

Your visits are a way to support bookstores and books. And by extension, you’re supporting authors and booksellers and everyone who works to get books on shelves.

You can sign up at https://www.22in22.net (it’s super easy), and each time you visit a bookstore, return to the website to log your visits. There are different incentives you can earn along the way. But really you’re doing it for yourself (because a visit to a bookstore is a great way to spend part of a day) and the larger book community.

The #22in22 Initiative started on Small Business Saturday, so I got a head start and have logged two visits so far:

Village Well Books and Coffee

and

My local Barnes and Noble

Let’s get reading!!! 

Here’s to a healthy, safe, peaceful, book-filled new year!

What Doesn’t Kill You

Once in a while you come across a book and you suddenly have this urge to buy cartons and cartons of this book, plant yourself on a busy corner, and pass them out to everyone who walks by.

This is how I feel about Tessa Miller’s What Doesn’t Kill You: A Life with Chronic Illness – Lessons from a Body in Revolt.

While our chronic illnesses and experiences are vastly different, the book is so very relatable. The bottom line is everyone living with a chronic illness and everyone who knows someone living with a chronic illness, should read this book. 

I don’t remember how I first learned about this book. But I do know that this is one of the few books I have bought sight unseen. I bought it based on what I read about it. I bought it because I had a desire to read something by someone who “gets it.”

And Tessa Miller gets it:

“I needed a book written by someone who exists in that foggy space between the common cold and terminal cancer, where illness doesn’t go away but won’t kill you. I needed someone who lives every single day with illness to tell me that 1) I wasn’t alone and 2) my life was going to change in unexpected, difficult, and surprisingly beautiful ways.”

“I didn’t know then that my life had changed forever. That I’d be able to divide my experiences into before I got sick and after I got sick.”

“I became a professional patient, and a good one. I learned that bodies can be inexplicably resilient and curiously fragile. I would never get better, and that would change everything: the way I think about my body, my health, my relationships, my work, and my life. When things get rough, people like to say, ‘this too shall pass.’ But what happens when ‘this’ never goes away?”

“And they shouldn’t doubt the level of pain you’re in just because you’re not writhing around on the floor; chronic illness patients learn to live with a shocking amount of physical discomfort and often go about it looking natural.”

“But grieving yourself when you’re diagnosed with a chronic illness is different. The emotions might be similar to those felt when mourning a loved one—anger, sadness, numbness, disconnection from reality —but the process of ‘moving on’ is more complicated. Whereas the loss of a loved one has a sense of finality, the loss of self from chronic illness can feel never-ending.”

“See, chronically ill people grieve two versions of ourselves: the people we were before we got sick and the future, healthy versions that don’t exist (or, at least, look much different from what we’d imagined). There’s no guidebook for this kind of ongoing self-loss. No Hallmark card that says, ‘Sorry you’ll never be yourself again.’ “

“Your body and your brain are not two separate entities. They’re a partnership. What happens to your body affects your brain, and what happens to your brain affects your body. Taking care of your brain’s health should be no less of a priority than taking care of your body.”

“ ‘God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,’ as the saying goes. But that isn’t the way it works at all. Some people have more suffering, and some have less, and there’s no rhyme or reason why. Bad stuff happens to good people with no other explanation than it just happens. Little babies die suddenly and horrible old billionaires live to see 105 and decent people get sick forever. Shit will never make sense.”

“And despite what the writing of a memoir signals, I don’t love to talk about myself IRL; the page makes me appear much braver than I am. But despite the fear, I keep sharing my stories through writing because that’s how humans connect and stay alive. Stories give us empathy. They make us strong. They offer perspective.”

5 Awesome Books and Movies (and the Food That Goes With Them)

“With any luck, you’re all enjoying your respective winter breaks. This happens to be the perfect time to read a book, watch a movie, and even enjoy a related snack. (Don’t forget to talk to your kids about the book and movie; compare and contrast the two versions of the story.)

The paragraph above is taken from my recently published essay, 5 Awesome Books and Movies (and the Food That Goes With Them) to Enjoy During Your Kids’ Winter Break. This was a fun list to write and brought me back to my teaching days. 

Click here to read the essay in its entirety at Moms Don’t Have Time to Write and let me know if you have any favorite book, movie, and snack combinations!

Happy Holidays!

An Unlikely Ballerina

I admit to not knowing a whole lot about Misty Copeland. But after watching the segment of “Dear…” on Apple TV+, which profiled Ms. Copeland, I wanted to learn more. 

Recently I read her memoir Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina and was left in awe of her talent, her spirit, her poise.

I’ve never read ballet described quite this way:

“Ballets are just stylized versions of these seemingly basic movements on a grand scale. If the basic strength and elegance of a barre class is like slipping on a little black dress, the challenge of dancing a full three-act ballet is like learning to accessorize for any occasion.” 

Though we may appear to be vastly different, there were also several passages I read that made me feel as if Ms. Copeland was writing about a younger version of myself.

“I was a nervous child. And my unease, coupled with a perpetual quest for perfection, made my life much harder than it needed to be.
“I think I was born worried. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t feel some kind of anxiety, especially in school, and my panic would begin from the moment I woke up, fretting that I would be late to homeroom, until I came back home in the early evening. I was just nervous about life, period. I felt awkward, as if I didn’t fit in anywhere, and I lived in constant fear of letting my mother down, or my teachers, or myself.”

“When I was a little girl, I lived in terror of being judged, of letting others down. I was the people pleaser.”

I really thought the only thing Misty Copeland and I would have in common was the fact we both grew up in Southern California. Reading her book made me realize there’s more to it than that. 

And this is one of the reasons why I read as much as I do. This powerful feeling of connection and understanding.

A Love Letter

If you could only write one letter to express your love to someone, who would you write it to?

For me, it’s easy to answer – my son, Ryan.

And I’m pleased to say the love letter I wrote to Ryan was included in the anthology A Love Letter (or Poem) To …

Here is the book’s blurb:

Love in its many varieties, expressed in letters and poems from 202 writers worldwide, written to the object or objects of their affection, adoration, romantic passion, esteem and fantasy. Letters and poems to wives, to husbands, to children, to parents, to grandparents, to boyfriends, to girlfriends, to pets, to literary and film idols, and more. This is a book for anyone who loves love.

Just a reminder – the holidays are coming up fast. This anthology could be the gift for the person in your life who loves love.

Singing Out Loud Helps Ease My Chronic Pain (At the Risk of Embarrassing My Son)

“Little does Ryan know that when I drive to school to pick him up, I’m usually rocking out. If I can’t find a good song on the radio (I like the spontaneity), I’ll play one of our mixed CDs. Ryan says the fact that our car plays CDs and doesn’t have an auxiliary jack for my phone makes it old – another faux pas.”

The paragraph above is taken from my most recently published personal essay, “Singing Out Loud Helps Ease My Chronic Pain (At the Risk of Embarrassing My Son)” which was published at Moms Don’t Have Time to Write.

Click here to read the entire essay.

Cancer and Fishnet Stockings

As I continue working on my own memoir-in-essays, I find myself reading more memoirs. Partly because I’m curious about other people’s lives. But also because I’m curious to see how other writers did it. How did they structure their memoirs? What does their table of contents look like? Does their book include photos?

I discovered Cancer and Fishnet Stockings: How Humor Helped Me Survive a Life-Threatening Disease, the Loss of My Favorite Nail Polish… and Other Calamities by Maryann Grau when our family spent a few days in Cambria (one of our most favorite places, along California’s Central Coast). The book was for sale in one of the shops in town, and when the cashier told me it was written by a local author, I knew I had to buy it.

While reading the book, it’s impossible to miss Ms. Grau’s positive outlook and spunk. 

Here are a few gems:

A few of the patients aimed weak smiles in my direction. My heart ached for them and their predicament, as though I wasn’t facing initiation into the same club. The question Why me? flashed through my mind followed immediately with the obvious answer …Why not me?” 

Thinking back on the past hour of excruciating pain, I was reminded of an Ayn Rand quote I had read many years ago in her novel Atlas Shrugged. In discussing emotions, Rand begins with the premise that ‘joy is not the absence of pain.’ I understood and accepted the concept immediately, but never was it more self-evident to me until now. To not feel pain, physical or emotional, is a good thing, but it is a neutral feeling at best. Joy comes when you awake to find yourself wrapped in the arms of someone you love.”

Just a little more than a year after the operation, and I sometimes think, my cancer may be back. The thought hits me hard. Not the cancer itself – the revelation that I used the word my. The acceptance of it, the familiarity with it, the ownership of that dreaded disease by referring to it as ‘my cancer.’
Don’t we hold things that belong to us as good, desirable, worthy, or even cherished? Does the word ‘my’ presuppose that the things that belong to us are good for us; things like my home, my career, my garden, my child, my love? Shouldn’t cancer belong in the category used to describe words that distance themselves from us, like ‘that thief, that scoundrel, that crummy movie, that poison, that killer disease’?

And from her last chapter, where she offers “words of wisdom”:

“Every one of us will face death…eventually. But why help it along by standing still? Instead, learn something new to keep your mind active, to grow intellectually.

Keep moving! Especially outdoors. That’s where most of life happens.”

“Let others help you. If you’re stubbornly independent like I am, get over it!

“Indulge in your favorite things.”

5 Ways to Ensure Your Kids Don’t Forget Everything They Learned in School While On Winter Break

It’s mid-November. Which means there are weeks, mere weeks, until kids will be home on winter break (for weeks!). For many families, it can be an uphill battle to get the kids to do anything academic, anything that even hints at school.

Which means you need to get creative and disguise it as fun!

I’m pleased to share that Moms Don’t Have Time to Write has recently published my article 5 Ways to Ensure Your Kids Don’t Forget Everything They Learned in School While On Winter Break.

To read it, and maybe become inspired to try multiplication volleyball, click here.

How’s My Health?

(I may be in pain, but it’s fall, and a star-shaped leaf in my yard makes me smile)

The other day my next door neighbor asked, “How are you? How’s your health?”

I really wasn’t sure how to answer her. The short answer, and what I told her, is “Okay,” because I am okay-enough. I’m getting things done on my to-do list, keeping up with all my obligations, meeting all my writing deadlines, making dinner each night. 

But the truth is it’s been a rough couple of weeks.

And sometimes I’m not so sure I really am “okay.”

The pain has been pretty intense. The other night when my mom and I were chatting on the phone, she asked me if I had done something that might have contributed to the bad pain day I was having. (I think she meant something like take a long walk or gardened for an extended period of time.)

I told her the truth. “I woke up.” 

I woke up with bad pain. It stayed all day. Totally out of my control.

I’m also awaiting test results which is never an easy situation to be in. On the one hand, I never want doctors to find something new – which in my head means something scary, something bad. But on the other hand, if something did show up, maybe it would alter my treatment plan which would then maybe lessen my pain. Maybe it would give doctors an answer, so I wouldn’t have to hear, “We don’t know why…”

I received my booster for the covid vaccine. Which leaves me feeling oh-so-grateful to the researchers and scientists and medical professionals who made that possible. (And I feel badly, because I forgot to bring the nurse a snack. Each time our family has gone in for  a covid vaccination shot, we’ve given the nurse a snack – a granola bar or bag of chocolate-covered almonds. It was a small way of saying “thank you,” and “we appreciate you.” But I forgot the snack at home on that Friday morning for the kind nurse who gave me my booster and chatted with me about books.) 

And I almost fell. Twice in one week. Both times at night. Both times in my son’s bedroom – once before we read and once after we had read. I kind of flopped onto my son’s bed the first time and grabbed onto my husband’s arm the second time. But the incidents left me feeling shaken and scared.

So how am I? How’s my health? 

It could be worse. 

But it certainly could be better.