My Big Magic

big magicA few years ago I was cleaning out my file drawers. I use “file” here loosely because the drawers are an odd collection of miscellaneous ephemera: ticket stubs, campground maps, prayer cards, receipts ($12.97 at Meijer, and I saved this?!), and unopened mortgage offers. I’d just slogged my way through some serious upheaval and organizing is my go-to ritual. If I can’t put my life to rights, I can certainly put my papers in order.

At the bottom of one of the drawers I found a folder with a few stories I had written nearly thirty years ago. In another life I’d have been a writer, but I pursued a more practical path instead. I had kids to feed, a mortgage to pay, and ain’t nobody got time for make believe. Part of the fallout of these last hard years was that I had to put off retirement and pay the bills. I was the breadwinner once again–but a heartsick and weary one.

The stories reminded me of what could have been, I was mired in the misery (self-inflicted, mind you) of the wouldas and the shouldas, and I just wanted to forget the dreams. I flipped through the typed pages. Wondered if they should stay or go. And threw them in the trash.

As I did, I remember having some strange sense that those stories could never really be trashed. “They’re out in the universe somewhere–living on in some other dimension. I only set them free.” Maybe I’d done enough to just write them; maybe keeping them wasn’t the point.

So imagine my surprise when I read Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic last weekend and she confirmed my intuition. Ideas, says Gilbert, are “an energetic life form … ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will.” Ideas will tap us on the shoulder, knock impatiently on our hearts–waiting, waiting for us to give them welcome. Whenever we create (whether it’s story or quilting or painting or dancing) we embody those ideas and they come to make their home with us.

Now am I sorry I tossed those poor stories out? Of course. I think they know that I did so from a very sad place. But I also think they forgive me. Their brothers and sisters–story sprites!–come sit next to me and whisper sweet nothings in my ear.

And we are all of us happy to be alive.

Love Warrior: review

Love Warrior
Glennon Doyle Melton
Flatiron Books

“The journey is learning that pain, like love, is simply something to surrender to. It’s a holy space we can enter with people only if we promise not to tidy up … the courage to surrender comes from knowing that the love and pain will almost kill us, but not quite.”

love warrioI dragged my feet reading Glennon Doyle Melton’s latest book Love Warrior, even going so far as to skip over the title on my last two book orders because I was “in the mood for fiction”. (Hah! Can you say “ostrich”?!) Even though I’d watched Melton on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. Even though I loved her podcast on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons. Even though my very own therapist had recommended it.

Because who wants to read about a marriage that failed and then didn’t when your own can be like a ride on the Blue Streak? But read it I did, and I survived. In fact, after I finished it, I went back and re-read the end, marking up pages that need some more reflection.

Love Warrior is that good.

The first seven chapters bring us to the Big Divide in Melton’s marriage, the thing that made Melton a Warrior. She reveals that she became bulimic when only a tween and struggled with alcohol addiction in college and after until she got sober. The catalyst that brought her twenty-something-year-old self to recovery was a little blue line on a pregnancy test. Not sure what part her boyfriend would play in their future, Melton was certain she would have this baby. A whirlwind engagement and wedding followed and the two played their roles as faithfully as they knew how. Eventually, Melton wrote about the messiness of family and relationships on her popular blog Momastery and also in her first book Carry On, Warrior.

Three kids and a cross country move later the bottom fell out of the world she tried so carefully to create: Melton discovered her husband had a series of affairs throughout their entire marriage. She was done. It was over. There are no do-overs in the face of such betrayal.

And so what started as Melton’s own personal quest for wholeness without her husband became the very glue that patched them back together*. Melton is brutally honest, insistent. Women have for too long separated themselves from their breath, their bodies, their Life’s Work; we end up an empty shell that serves neither our families or our own happiness. Coming back into our own skin and embracing even our pain is the only way to save ourselves.

And when she recognizes the Grace that had been extended to her, she realizes it is her great privilege to extend it to her husband.

Glennon Doyle Melton has given women committed to faith and family a much-needed treatise for a new kind of feminism, one with fewer ties to politics and more to the spiritual.

“Love, Pain, Life: I am not afraid. I was born to do this,” writes Melton on the final page. Them’s fightin’ words, Love Warriors.


* The  after-afterword to Melton’s story is one about which, I’m sure, she’ll write. You can find it on her August 1st blog post, and even more of her story on her Facebook page.

It was me all along (review)

It Was Me All Along (Blogging for Books)
Andie Mitchell
Clarkson Potter

Food.

It’s memories of family–weekday meals of tuna casserole or Sundays at Grandma’s with her special golumpki. It’s theIt was me all along comfort of ice cream after a bad break-up or chocolate chip cookies after an trying day at work. Food is the Saturday night entertainment of a new restaurant, the brats and beer at a baseball game. It’s Christmas and Easter and the dinner you request Mom make for your birthday  every year.

For those of us in the U.S. it’s rarely just a means of sustenance.

Andie Mitchell recounts how the emotional weight food carries played out in her own life. For Andie food was synonymous with family and happiness until her father started drinking heavily when she was seven. After his death food lost its place in her family life … but she still craved the taste of love and comfort and home. She found herself eating compulsively. Boxes of Little Debbies in a sitting. Cartons of ice cream. Super-sized drive-thru snacks. Like so many of us she also found herself on an unpredictable diet mood swing–watching and counting calories one minute, drowning her sorrows in Oreos the next.

Her story of recovery is one we know well, but usually fail to follow: moderation, exercise, portion control. That Andie lost weight after she followed her passion into a satisfying career should surprise no one. She found that when she was truly Herself, relationships, as well as her clothes, no longer fit.

Andie’s story resonated with me. I’ve gained and lost the same twenty pounds for a decade now. I admire anyone like Andie who has the discipline to lose half their body weight. Her relationship with food is more balanced now.

But what will stick with me after reading this weight loss memoir is the title. It is me all along.

Because in the end, a few pounds more or less is not going to be the deciding factor when it comes to happiness or contentment. In the end, all we’ve got is ourselves–and loving the little girl inside might just be more important than whether or not the woman on the outside is a size 4 … or a 14.

Book clubs: the good, the bad, and the ugly

In a perfect world my book club reads fascinating contemporary works (but never the best sellers) with a few classics thrown in to make sure we’re well-rounded and culturally literate. Leaders rotate–everyone takes a turn–and prepare diligently: a review shared, a YouTube video discovered, an NPR interview served up. We are astute. Serious. Profound, even.

But in real life … not so much. (And this is one of those timea when reality trumps fantasy.)

The only book club I’ve been part of is one I was asked to organize several years ago for some teaching friends I work with. We set some ground rules (if you don’t read, you don’t share; everyone takes a turn leading; we agree on books together) and met once a month, give or take. We called ourselves Chicks on Books, maybe because it sounded snappy?! Here are the books we read over the year-and-a-half we were together:
+ Columbine by David Cullen
+ Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
+ Full Dark No Stars by Steven King
+ Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler
+ The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
+ Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhonda Jansen
The Immortal Life of Harriet Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Little Bee by Chris Cleave

book clubsHeavy on non-fiction, but that was fine by me–I need encouragement to read something other than fiction. The books sparked wonderful conversation, of course. As you can probably guess, teachers can talk about Columbine for days. Add a book to the mix and we’re set. And we deal almost daily with helicopter moms which are a subcategory of Tiger Mothers, after all. The author of Mennonite is a professor at a private college in our back yard, and so we were able to hear her speak at a local library branch. (Always, always go hear the author speak when you have the chance.) And more than a few of us had families who put the “fun” in dysfunctional (Not!) so between our own childhoods and those of our students, we had more than enough fuel to discuss The Glass Castle.

And like many book clubs, our was not averse to adding a little vino into the mix. Conversation was never an issue–in fact, we had to exercise self-discipline to ensure we talked about the book for at least forty-five minutes so we didn’t talk shop. Our tangents were wonderful, though. Just what I encourage my own students to be open to–reading isn’t about plot lines, conflict, and metaphor; it’s about letting a work touch our souls and inspire us.

So why was our little book club so short-lived? (I’ve heard of some book clubs that go on for decades …) I’m not sure. Some of it was family–half the members had young children. Some of it was plain ol’ time–during the school year we teachers find it difficult to do much more than eat, sleep, grade, repeat. When we first skipped a month, a couple members asked me, “When are we going to meet again?” And my reply would be, “Whenever someone organizes it!” I didn’t want to be the one to run the show and thought if the group was meaningful, someone would keep it going.

But after another missed month, the idea of planning book club again slowly fizzled out–kind of like a book whose pages we stop turning because it’s just not engaging. Or because it’s not what we expected? Or maybe we just got too busy and put it aside. Maybe I should be grateful that we got several chapters in.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll pick up the book club again someday and give it another go.


Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-aug-2016

 

For every action … : Consequence (review)

Consequence
Eric Fair
Henry Holt

I first heard writer Eric Fair on NPR’s Fresh Air  recounting his time in Iraq as a private consequence: a memoircontractor providing security at Abu Ghraib and later for the NSA in Bagdad. As an intelligence analyst his job was often to interrogate detainees and it’s clear from his experiences the cliches about war true–that war is hell, that there is never a good war.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the conflict in the Middle East, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of Fair’s revelations. But Consequence: A Memoir is his story–one man’s perspective on Iraq and how he comes to terms with his actions.

The tours covered in the memoir weren’t his first forays into security. After high school, Fair served with the U.S.Army and studied Arabic in language school. After his tour, he worked as a police officer before a heart condition sidelined him. It was that inability to serve in law enforcement that drove Fair to seek out a private contracting firm so he could continue as a security officer in Iraq.

If we believe his account (and I have no reason to disbelieve him), our wars today are managed by both the military and private contractors. In Fair’s experience, the lines of command were often unclear and it was sometimes easy for military commanders to look the other way and let contractors do the dirty work. As an interrogator, Fair used sleep deprivation and forced standing as tactics–and he sees no line separating the terms enhanced interrogation and torture. And although he didn’t personally witness any of the publicized atrocities at Abu Ghraib, Fair was not the least bit surprised.

Fair lives in the shadow of what he experienced in Iraq. He fights his own personal demons now, accepting the anger, shame, and guilt as the consequence of his actions in Iraq.

It turns out there’s more than one way to be imprisoned.