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Herein lies the annual archiving of the books that occupied me this year. I’m breaking this down into multiple posts to make it easier on all of us.
If you like Amy Schumer’s comedy and you want a good laugh, then you should go watch Amy Schumer’s comedy instead of reading this book. If you are curious about the person behind the clown, it is worth reading. It’s written in the style of a personal diary – loosely organized thoughts about her family, her life, her loves, her stuffed animals, and her years of work behind her “overnight” success. She includes excerpts from a diary she kept in her early twenties with retrospective commentary. It made me want to dig out the Winnie the Pooh journal I kept in my teens to remind myself what I was thinking back then. As a whole, the book has a vibe of raw honesty that people rarely reveal to each other.
“The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.”
I paid too much for this book at the airport newsstand because it said “monster” on the cover. It was October 31 and I needed a way to mark the holiday that would be otherwise consumed by travel. I crammed myself into a little airplane seat with my monster book and read it cover-to-cover. This book had me crying all across the sky on Halloween.
“…and sometimes witches merit saving. Quite often, actually. You’d be surprised.”
Silberman has provided the most comprehensive historical perspective on autism that I’ve read in my 16 years of studying autism and working with folks on the spectrum. He also delves into the wide range of controversies, treatments, and organizations associated with autism. It’s a work that honors the varieties of human intelligence.
From a retirement home in San Francisco, an octogenarian recounts the events that shaped her life to her young Moldovan employee. Her recollections span from her immigration from Poland to the events leading up to her marriage and beyond. In the telling I learned a lot I didn’t know about the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII – and that was just the backdrop for a short episode in the narrative.
It’s hard to say what I admire most about Isabel Allende’s novels: Her settings are as nuanced as her characters. She makes history live and breathe on the page. She also guards her characters’ secrets well. You have to get to know them and love them before you gain their confidence.
5. Another Day
This was the much-anticipated sequel to Everyday [Reviewed Here], the fascinating story of a bodiless teen who wakes up in a different person’s body every day. Unfortunately, Another Day sucked and I am kinda (irrationally) mad at David Levithan right now. It was the same story, same events, same characters as before, but it was told by the boring character’s point of view instead of the awesome one’s. Ugh – Why do that? Maybe because it was written more for commercial reasons than for artistic ones.
A friend wanted to read this book together, so we did. Drawing heavily from research in positive psychology, Cabane offers practical exercises to sharpen listening and speaking skills and to increase one’s general likeability. The practices and advice were reminiscent of the principles from yoga teacher training, though Cabane couched them in the language of the corporate and academic world.
TV journalist Dan Harris attributes meditation to making him happier and generally less of an ass. In his self-help/memoir hybrid he shares the experiences, ideas, and research to explain the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind the type of happy that meditation provides.
8. Leaving Time
A psychic and a detective reluctantly join teenager Jenna Metcalf’s search for her missing mother, Alice. The search centers around the elephant sanctuary where Alice worked as a scientist. As the story weaves back and forth from past to present, the author explores mother-daughter bonds, memory, and grief in both humans and elephants. The ending had a crazy turn that I did not see coming.
“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart and all they can do is stare blankly.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald
An interesting look at how technology changes the way we think. I posted thoughts this one HERE.
We show up,
burn brightly in the moment,
hold nothing back,
and when the moment is over,
when our work is done,
we step back,
and we let go.
-Rolfe Gates, Meditations from the Mat
Beneath those flames
the charred remains
of four years of work.
Therein the ash and smoke
lie thousands of hours of
The fire ate them all
with no regard
for the size or shape of the ideas.
I stood and fed the greedy tongues
as they hissed and sputtered,
devouring it all indiscriminately–
the fire and I whispering
all of your names
on the wind.
And within the course of a week life went abruptly from this
The morning could hardly be described as “dawning.” It emerged warm, dark, and drizzly. The garden was a fragrant sauna and the ducks were quacking their delight over it all. Star-shaped mushrooms had sprung up delicate, translucent, and otherworldly. I picked rain-washed basil, then stole time to tie it off and hang it over the doorways. The fragrant leaves dangle low enough to anoint El-D’s forehead as he passes through each threshold. He shall be thoroughly seasoned in the next four weeks as the bundles dry. The whole house smells good enough to eat.
The fall semester has begun. With loins girded I returned to the fray. It’s my fourth year of this. There are two thousand and two hundred children on the roster. By mid-morning I was surrounded on all sides by two-year-olds. Things were going surprisingly well all things considered. Right before lunch screaming and tears erupted when a little one objected to my intrusion. Tensions were mounting on all sides. This human, just under three feet tall, had me near defeated when my friend and colleague snatched up a nearby puppet and launched into the most wildly entertaining impromptu song and puppet show I have ever witnessed. Devoid of all adult-like dignity, her performance was so brilliant and hysterical it stopped the two year old in his tracks mid-wail. Victory! It was the sort of inspired moment, so vivid and well-lived, that makes the heart unbelievably glad.
I had a magical woodland fairy moment last night.
I stepped into the back yard at dusk, my mind all a-flutter with at least 15 different undone things on my daily ToDo List. I don’t remember why I was headed out back…the ducks were fed, so what could I possibly have had to do out there at nightfall? What I do remember is looking down at the ground and being so lost in a swirl of thoughts that I was seeing, yet not seeing. Then suddenly I lifted my gaze and my attention snapped back into the living, breathing world as a family of deer – two adults and two babies – came bounding out of the treeline and into the little meadow on the other side of the pond. I stopped in my tracks and they in theirs as we all stood looking dumbfounded at each other by this chance encounter. After an eternity or maybe a few seconds, the adults sauntered on through the clearing on their spindly legs and the two babies frolicked, literally frolicked, on as if the word had been invented just for them and they had to show everyone what it meant. It was so ridiculous and adorable, I could hardly stand it.
Prior to all that I was having “one of those days.” I had an afternoon class to teach and I had spent all morning- from 6 a.m. ’til noon – preparing for it, and when it was nearing time to leave, I did a final mirror check and realized I had glitter all over my face. My attempt to brush it off succeeded only in adding considerably more sparkle and smearing it around, for the glitter was all over my hand as well. Apparently one of my little friends had overturned a jar of glitter in a drawer I had been digging around in for supplies. Another glance in the mirror revealed little chocolate polka dots all along the backside of my skirt. I had sat in my own chocolate chip cookie crumbs. On my race to the kitchen to check the time (there was none left) I stepped on a tailless lizard that Yip had been torturing in the living room. It was on its back – still somehow alive and waving its front lizard foot at me as if trying to tell me there was no time left for either of us. “Go on, go on…” his little gesture seemed to be saying.
So I did.
And I taught my class sparkling like a Stephany Meyers vampire, smelling of chocolate, with lizard blood on my shoes. I wonder what this will do to my teaching evals.
December is half over and I have had too little farmy fun to show for it.
My work life this semester was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. For starters there were over 800 preschoolers involved. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. I stopped counting at the beginning of November when we were at 786. Add to that my little afternoon friends who I visit, the usual weekly yoga classes, and a new teaching gig: a university course called “Piyo.” When I was asked to apply for the job I had no idea what “Piyo” was or how univeristy physical education courses worked as I had never taken any as a student. Piyo turned out to be a blend of Pilates and yoga, and I invented the curriculum as I went. After chaotic mornings with preschoolers, Piyo was my saving grace. The course turned out to be the most fun and authentic teaching experience I’ve ever had. I got to completely nerd-out on anatomy and delve deeply into somatic learning. And while I have taught several college courses, I have never before taught one barefoot. After teaching the course barefoot all semester, I’ve come to the conclusion that shoes change everything about the teaching experience. Shoes make your feet all claustrophobic and rob you of sensation and connection to the environment. They make you teach like “I’m somebody wearing shoes”…which is to say all formal and like you have somewhere else to go or like you’re going to step on something disgusting or dangerous. Who knew? Anyway, it was just awesome to not have desks, to kick off shoes, to cut the lights and learn cool stuff. The students, freshmen and juniors, were the youngest college students I’ve ever taught and they were unexpectedly fabulous. They were an interesting, smart, fun, diverse, and engaged group that gave me much hope for the future. It was such great experience.
Today I finished grading, posted grades, and completed an article review. Tomorrow I meet the last of the preschoolers for 2013, write recommendation letters, and then I’m free from university obligations for this year and I intend to get back to farmy fun and hopefully experience some goaty goodness.
Author: Sheryl Sandberg
Synopsis: Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, gives women career advice. She also discusses the problems women face in getting leadership roles and how to overcome them.
Why I Read It: Someone at a convention raved about the book during a talk.
Full Disclosure: My opinions may be biased by my dislike of her employer. I don’t do Facebook; the whole phenomenon seems at best a waste of mental resources, and at worst a dismaying invasion of privacy. All that said, I read the book because Sandberg is an accomplished woman writing on a topic, women in leadership, which is interesting and relevant being that I’m a woman and all.
Highlights: It was a quick, easy, well-organized read. Every chapter is concentrated into its one sentence essence (so tidy!!), which made the content memorable. There were a couple of these that stood out:
- Don’t Leave before You Leave, in which she discusses the problem of being focused on some future event rather than on your present job, and
- It’s a Jungle Gym Not a Ladder, in which she discusses the trajectory of a career and how it’s ok to move laterally and all around instead of constantly climbing up, up, up. I appreciate the playfulness of this metaphor.
Lowlights: I had a hard time relating to Sandberg. First off, I am drawn to work that is academic and not corporate. My fields are already dominated by women. I’ve been mentored by women, promoted by women. Likewise, I teach women and promote them. As a result, sometimes the issues she wrote about seemed remote. Secondly, her writing style was safe and overly-processed….a little too polished.
Recommended to: 1.) Men – every last one of you should read it. 2.) Working women with children. 3.) Ambitious women just beginning their careers.
“It’s not about biology, but about consciousness”
If you want to learn more here’s a Ted Talk she gave on the topic.
I made the mistake of reading the alumni publication from my alma mater this week. Does anyone else read these things? Well, if you’re in recovery from a type A personality, like me, then you probably shouldn’t. It featured all these fabulous people making important and amazing contributions to the world. Artists, writers, researchers, engineers – they were all beautiful with their hair and their families, smiling. They were all busy doing stuff.
The whole thing sent me reeling into an existential crisis.
“What am I busy doing?” I wondered.
Then I remembered…
Would you be willing to trade part of your anatomy for the priviledge of going to school?
For Kakenya Ntaiya, this was not a hypothetical question. It was her reality. She tells her astounding story in the Ted talk below.
Just the expressions written on the faces of those children, before and after, tell the story. I replayed that footage again and again.
It made me deeply grateful for the myriad of choices available to me, for the brave women who laid the groundwork for such freedom, and for the presence of strong women in my life — my family, my friends, my professional mentors.
Yesterday was Labor Day. It was a day to reflect on the work we do in this world and the impact it has on others. It was an opportunity to consider how we are supported and sustained by the labor of others.
Today I am thankful to get back to the work.
This post was my submissions for Kozo Hattori’s Monthly Peace Challenge for September: “Let’s inundate the internet with a peace collage of powerful words and images.”
What a difference a year makes.
Last year I began taking steps to turn my work life into my life’s work. This was a subtle, but powerful and life-changing shift in perspective that was inspired by a number of awesome books I’d been reading and by a yoga teacher training course that totally rocked my world.
While I enjoyed my work – professoring – my work life itself had become a major ordeal. Just getting to work seemed an epic struggle fraught with peril.
No doubt that peril was made greater by the crazy woman behind the wheel weilding a camera.
Really not my brightest moments on display there, folks. 😀
On a good day it took 2.5 hours just to get to work. As you can see, there were many not-so-good days. That commute was quite a drain on the resources (time, money, fossil fuels, etc.). When I look back at those pictures I wonder: What was I thinking??
I think my logic was something like, If I’m working hard and struggling, I must be doing something worthwhile, right?
Hm…not necessarily so, sayeth my gurus.
One tells me repeatedly: “Keep the pose. Relax the grip. Take the struggle out of it. Good, now go apply that off the mat.”
It all gets easier when you learn how to relax.
My commute to work looks a lot different these days….
It’s about a one minute walk.
I can make the commute stretch to about 15 or 20 minutes on a good day.