Category Archives: Reading

A Little Bit of Reading, Writing, and Some Art

For a week (or more) now, spending time each day working on art, writing, or reading, so I guess that’s really what I added to my mix for the month of June, instead of yoga or weightlifting. Since, I’m quitting social media in July, I figure I’ll have plenty of time to add in more of these creative joys in my life, and I should easily be able to fit in weightlifting twice a week. I’d still like to do yoga, too. 

Does anyone reading this know anything about an evening or bedtime yoga practice that might help me wind down after work, so I can fall asleep at a reasonable time? Is anyone reading this? Hello? I mostly read about people doing morning yoga, but I suppose a quick google search would take me to some evening practices.

Reading.

I’ve been very slowly working my way through the A Wrinkle in Time Trilogy by Madeleine L’Engle. Since I just had to use the interwebs to figure out how to spell her name, I learned that it’s really a quintet! Why didn’t anyone tell me?! I’ve been working my way through that when I am not compulsively switching between FB, Twitter, and IG before I try to go to bed. Funny thing: the nights when I read I fall asleep faster and sleep better. I enjoy the books, but they sometimes remind me of a podcast I’m listening to called Tanis. If you like fiction, Tanis and Rabbits are both good podcasts to invest in. They are mind-bendy and weird. The way the books remind me of the podcasts is there is some repetition, and it’s difficult to figure out just which clues you might need to retain for later and which minutiae you can just flush once you’ve read or heard it. All are enjoyable, just more work than I thought they’d be. Ha.

I’m also reading the book I mentioned the last time I wrote. I’m enjoying pulling quotes and savory points to think on from The Book of Joy. One example is this bit of wisdom from Tutu: “[I]f you are setting out to be joyful you are not going to end up being joyful. You’re going to find yourself turned in on yourself. It’s like a flower. You open, you blossom, really because of other people. And I think some suffering, maybe even intense suffering, is a necessary ingredient for life, certainly for developing compassion” (43). I, by no means, have experienced “intense suffering” in the same way as others, but the Dalai Lama offers an interesting perspective on that in the book as well. He basically says that we need to stop comparing our suffering and move toward recognizing that our suffering is part of a sea of global suffering, in which we can feel compassion for those around us through our mutual suffering, though our suffering is different from each other.

Writing.

I’ve written here twice now in less than a week, and previously I hadn’t written here for several months. I’m just happy that I can exercise my brain and my hands and make coherent thoughts. I find that I’m working toward writing more spiritually, because I am trying to move my life toward filtering things more spiritually on a daily basis. I hope my writing reflects what I am trying to do with every day practice. I hope it’s more mindful, more kind, and more centered.

A friend of mine asked me about how Frantz Fanon would feel about a status I posted on FB the other day. I had to admit that I haven’t read any theory for so long, I couldn’t remember what Fanon even says. So, here I am, working in retail, not really thinking about literary theory, being challenged by my friend to say something smart. I confessed to her that I hadn’t thought that way in about three years, and that I’d have to have her send me a PDF of an article or a book title, so I can check out a book, to reread before I can even try to answer her question. That’s pretty sad for me, since thinking theoretically is my jam and usually comes fairly easily for me. Writing theoretically has never been easy for me, but thinking that way is my lifeblood. I’m happy to say, that I am working on reading toward, and writing toward a response to her question.

We’ll see how this works out.

Art.

Which is really digital drawing at this point. And some photo work.

I’ve gone back to the basics. Like, you know, middle school art class, where you had to do contour line drawings of your hands, simple objects, and your face in a mirror. Where you had to draw 19,000 white 3D geometric shapes and shade them based on where the light was positioned and where their shadows ended up sulking across the desk. Where you combined colors in layers use to see what they would do.

Only I am doing it all digitally. And it’s a very steep learning curve. My hands looks like collections of lines, instead of hands, my colors have all turned brown, and my shapes look very 2D with a white side and a grey side and a black blob of a shadow sticking out like a blowing scarf from the base. 

Peace

But this is what success looks like. Failing forward. Trying again. Making a group of lines that somewhat resemble a hand-shaped thing. Making a new shade of brown. Making a sphere that looks like maybe you might be able to pick up one side of it from the page. And practice. Practice. Practice.

Beauty. Peace. Grace. Love.

All of these things take time. All of them are important.

September (FALL/AUTUMN) is Here, and I Couldn’t Be More Excited

Pushups for Veterans

I was challenged by friend Shon Byrum, the Mayor of Winchester, Indiana, to a Facebook challenge. I don’t typically partake in Facebook challenges, because I fail to see how they do any good, since they focus on some effort that neither raises money for, nor provides a solution to, whatever problem the challenge is supposedly addressing. This challenge, though, raises awareness about a problem that I think is particularly important.

Why is it that so many of our honorable veterans come home, only to end their lives shortly thereafter?

For the particular challenge Shon invited me to do, the acceptor of the challenge is required to do 22 pushups for 22 days in honor, or memory, of the approximately 22 veterans per day who commit suicide because of PTSD or another mental illness. I’ve done two days worth of pushups, and I’ve challenged two other people to the same challenge, which is a part of it. They are then requires to pass the challenge on, so awareness is spread via the viral nature of social media.

Starting tomorrow, I’m raising the bar on this challenge for myself. I’m putting 50¢ in a fund toward a veteran’s charity that helps with mental health care services for members of the military who are returning from war. By the end of the challenge, if my math is right, which it may not be, I’ll be donating a total of $220 to help our veterans who’ve been damaged by the effects of war. I haven’t yet decided which charity I will chose, but I’m doing research. I’m leaning toward The Soldier’s Project; my only hesitation is that their help is only available in limited parts of the country.

Starting tomorrow, I’m also going to include a different link to a different charity each day in my post. I’d love it my friends and family would also make small donations to those charities in honor of this challenge. Then, I think, I’d feel like I’m doing more than just raising awareness of a problem, but I’d also be helping to provide a solution to the problem as well.

Goals

Running: I’m doing it, and I’m enjoying it more, so I guess that’s progress. I’ve also started swimming again. Merideth and I started with a four day a week pact, but four days is a bit daunting along with running, too, so I am shooting for three days a week from here until the end of October.

Compassion: I’m struggling right now to articulate my spiritual beliefs. On the one hand, I do so love the Jesus, but on the other hand, the things I love about Jesus feel more Buddhist to me than anything, so I am reading a lot about people who have a similar struggle that I do. And there are many of us.

I’ve slipped bit on the vegan front, and I even ate a bit of meat when I was in Texas for training for work. I regretted it immediately. I wanted to breathe the life back into the cow, but I couldn’t, so I just cried instead. Into my hotel pillow. How sad.

Looking back, I’ve lumped a bunch of things into this category of compassion and the one that doesn’t seem to fit is meditation. But it does. I mentioned the other day that meditation has helped me more in my adult life than prayer has, that isn’t really true, I suppose, except that meditation is helping me become friends with myself in a new way. By focusing on my very existence—my breath—  I’m able to recognize my absolute physical impermanence, and through prayer while running, I’m able to contemplate how to use my newfound settledness, inner-peace, or contentment to love in a new way. (I’m sorry if this seems a bit scattered or not really well articulated, but I’m trying to find a way to describe some feelings that are utterly foreign to me.)

To focus my meditation, I’ve been using a mala that I made from a bunch of beads I’ve had since college, but today I ordered a new mala made of jade. Because I use beads when I pray, I find to be especially helpful—but in very different ways—to use beads when I meditate. Meditating each day for nearly a month now has helped me to empathize with people more easily, to pause and give space in conversation, to not have to talk as much, to be able to listen more, and to be able to have unbridled compassion and love.

It’s really beautiful.

Social Media and Creativity: I came back onto Facebook, because I missed some of my friends. I’m learning to balance it and my other activities, so that I am not consumed with comparison (Facebook envy), anger, and an irrational need for feedback and approval. I haven’t done any art, and I’ve done little writing. I have done quite a bit of listening to Podcasts, which are feeding my imagination and making me think differently about the world in which we live. And I’m still reading quite a bit, so I’ll call this successful for now.

Finances: I’m paying things down. Slowly but surely. Not as fast as I wanted, but it’s happening.

Pay It Forward: I’ll be in Canada during the classes for the sexual assault advocacy, and now that I really think about it, there are probably other volunteer opportunities that will suit me better, ones that won’t cause me personal distress. I’m open to suggestions of things people might see me doing, so if you think of anything, I’d be happy to hear about it.

Fall and Autumny Things

Most people know that fall is my favorite season of the four. The air is crisp, the trees are filled with color, and everything looks and feels like it might just curl up and take a nap. Fall is filled with apple cider, hot chocolate, bonfires, and pumpkins; all of which make me extremely happy. I get to have impromptu coffee and writing time with fine people like Ico, and the drive to work doesn’t feel so bad with bright red and yellow trees guiding the way. Essentially, everything is more amazing in the fall.

The two most exciting things for me this fall are that my friends Julie and Alan are coming to visit this weekend and we’re going to an apple orchard/pumpkin farm, and then a couple of weeks later, I get to vacation in Canada with my beautiful wife and my amazing little brother. What’s most awesome about our vacation is that we’ll also get to spend time with Merideth, Josh, and T-Bean in New York.

The end. 

Basically, my life feels like it is on an upswing. I’m working hard to help this be a new way of life for me,

  • one in which I have a balance between setting goals and achieving them, or not.
  • one in which I have personal health, and a healthy way of interacting with other.
  • one in which I am serious, and also feel free.
  • one in which I respect those around me, but I also respect myself.

Peace. Grace.

Writing and Art; Cranes; 70.3; Eating Vegetables

I spent this past weekend with my friend Sarah A. Chavez while she was up here in the Cities for AWP 2015, and I sort of hung around the conference wishing I’d have spent the money for admission to it. I was thankful I was able to attend so many offsite events, since the readings are really the best part anyway. Sarah and I met and had breakfast with our friend Ahyicodae (Ico), who lives up here, and with whom I get the pleasure to have writing and workshop days now that we’ve made that connection. For me, these connections are the writing equivalent of my artistic connections with Lyn and Tish.

I get all fired up and excited about writing and art when I am around other people who are passionate about being creative, so once again the creative fire is lit under my smoldering and lackadaisical behind. I’m not making excuses, but it’s easy for me to become complacent about art and writing (they are a lot of work!) when I am not making art, not talking about art, and not feeling inspired. I am blessed to have many, many creative friends, both writers and artists. I am blessed to continually meet folks (like Nell, who was one of the first non-work people I met up here) who make the world more beautiful through their creativity.

I know I am flash-in-the-pan and have almost zero stick-to-it-ive-ness (what a word!), but I wrote a rough draft of a poem today and I started a short creative nonfiction piece this morning as well. I have the ideas for some artwork, and I know I just need to do it. The theme I am currently stuck on, and I blame the liturgical calendar and where I am in my life, is resurrection, rebirth, and reconciliation. I feel like I’ve died and come back to life, like a cliche little phoenix.

*

Here’s part of the CNF piece I started this morning: “Whenever I wash the dishes, I always look out the window toward the Mississippi River, which is about two blocks west of our house. Sometimes if I strain, I can hear the barges pushing their freight, and sometimes if I pay close attention, I can see interesting water fowl low in flight as they land or take off from the water, even though I can’t really see the river. Today I was standing by the back window in front of the sink washing the dishes from last night’s culinary success while thinking about everything I wanted to accomplish today. I noticed a hawk and a couple of other birds flying in an odd pattern over the neighbor’s house. I wondered why the birds were behaving so sporadically and scoured the ground for the neighbor’s dog, which sometimes runs along the street in front of their house. No dog. I traced the flight pattern up into the sky and was humbled by what was making the local birds behave so strangely. The sky was marked with the unmistakable giant white bodies and long, black-tipped wings of the whooping crane, a cast of about 50 of them in fact. My day became glorious in that minute of awe, and I continue to thank God that I am still here and that I am so blessed.

*

The thing I am struggling with the most in my life right now is the desire and energy to train for this half-marathon in June and the 70.3 in July. Neither race is going to be pretty. In fact, I think they are going to be very, very ugly. More factually, I think I’ll be lucky to finish them both. I am having a difficult time with running. I have the desire. I can remember what it felt like to be able to run 9 miles at a stretch with virtually no difficulty and no soreness the next day. I can remember what it was like to run 15 miles on a Saturday, being sore the next day, but not dying from it. My body wants to be there again, but with everything is so psychological. My mind says, “Remember how bad your legs and feet hurt after work and standing for 8 hours at a time. You can’t run after that. You need to go home and put your feet up and watch 97 hours of Murder, She Wrote. You don’t need to write or do art or run or swim or do anything but be a slug. You’ve earned it by working so hard.” I’m trying to focus my meditation and prayer, now that Lent is over, on positive self-talk in regards to triathlon-related and creativity-related pursuits. Today, I am going for a three-mile walk. Tomorrow, I am going for a swim and run. My goal is to never turn on the TV or open a book until I’ve accomplished my goals for the day. That sort of relaxing is my reward. I don’t read for a living anymore.

*

I’ve been vegetarian again for two weeks now. Psychologically, I feel 100% better. I always forget how clear my mind becomes when my life isn’t held in a balance based on killing creatures for sustenance. Physically, I feel about the same. My body is still store from work, and I still think I need to just lay about (see above). I think it’s worth being a kind-hearted eater to not have dreams about dying animals, and I think it’s worth it to be adventurous in the kitchen again. We’d gotten in the rut of eating the same five or six meals over and over again, but we’re shaking it up a bit these past few days. Yesterday, I made my first batch of saag paneer, and it was delightful and filling. And, I am mostly past a point in my life where I am willing to do pretty much anything to lose weight. I’m not. I’m more interested in living a consistent ethic of life, and a life lived well and not on the backs of innocents.

*

Now I am off to buy a cheap table to use for my printmaking lair upstairs in the attic.

Vegetarianism, Stress, Grace

I’m avoiding cleaning the house by watching Animal Cops Houston and Pitbulls & Parolees, and I am sitting here bawling like a baby. This might be PMS, but it’s more than likely a response to something I’ve been feeling for a while.

I have reached a point, yet again, in my life where I am finding it difficult to morally and ethically justify eating animals. The paleo diet I was following, where I ate meat with a side of meat, sickens me to think about now. Will I miss the chicken wings? Yes. Will I still eat them occasionally? Likely. Will this be something I reconsider in a couple of years, a couple of months, a couple of weeks? Maybe.

I consider myself prolife in all regards, and I am leaning more and more toward the fact that I need that to include animal lives in that prolife consideration. I desire a consistent ethic in companies I support, friends I make, places I work, and religious institutions I belong to, so it makes sense that I would hold myself to the same standards. I love my cats and my dogs, I am in awe and wonder of wild animals, so it makes zero sense that I eat animals.

I’m trying to get back to a place of peace in my life, to reduce my stress, which has been astronomical for about two years. While I do think that eating more protein has helped me, I also don’t think that ingesting the violence of our current farming practices and ingesting the violence of death has helped me to be a better person. Call me a hippie, but I just can’t get past the fact that a sentient, living, breathing being has to die to feed me. This facet of meat eating has never really stopped bothering me. I have dreams about animals chasing me, and they have never gone away.

On the day after Easter, on baseball’s opening day, I am going back to being vegetarian. This does not mean I’ll start eating a bunch of wheat, soy, corn, or other things that have been genetically modified, but this should mean that our grocery bill will go down a bit, since beans, rice, and vegetables are generally less expensive than meat. I’m not going to be vegan, so I will still use organic dairy and eggs, as I have been. Does the treatment of dairy cattle and chickens bother me? Yes, but I need to take this slow.

I’ve had a good portion of stress in my life in the past two years. I’m not whining about this, but I have noticed that the stress is taking a toll on my body. My body simply feels inflamed. My entire body. My brain feels foggy, my lungs are congested, and my joints are achy, and I think it’s because of stress, so I’m not trying to add more stress by making yet another drastic change in my life.

I’m in a good place right now. My new Caribou is less stressful, because we have more people working at a time. Since I am working my way up to manager, I can even pay my bills. I’m finally getting used to our new house and our new geographical location. I’m making some friends up here, and I am maintaining my friendships with folks in Indiana. I’m adjusting after about six months of the extreme stress of moving 10.5 hours away from where I’d lived for 40 years and changing careers from a professional job where I made $48000 a year to a food service job making $8 an hour. The transition was rough, but now I am through it, and I am ready to take back control of my body (through diet), my mind (through reading), and my spirit (through prayer and meditation).

I’m still training for the Muncie 70.3, though it’s been pretty hit or miss recently, and I am training for Sour Grapes and Big Shoulders. I’ve learned that it’s rough to be on my feet for six. seven, or eight hours a day at work and then still train, but I keep working on it. I’m working on giving myself grace for the times I don’t train. And I keep giving myself grace for being in a weird head space for the past year or so.

Oatmeal Pancakes. Social Media. Kindle.

Today I didn’t wake up until 8AM, and I decided that I was going to take this day off as easy as possible, until I go to the gym later this afternoon.My workout today will not be an easy one, so I needed all the rest I could get. I’m basically doing everything there is to do at the gym, which I know is not the best course of action, but I am doing it anyway, because I have the day off, so I can spend as long as I want there working out. I’m swimming, biking, running, and lifting. Dumb? Yes. Oh, well. It’s not like I do that every day, but I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow.

EDIT: Just in the course of writing this and eating my breakfast, I’ve decided to go run outside on a paved trail I’ve been meaning to try out. I’ll take advantage of the unseasonable warmth. Then I’ll just go lift and probably swim. I’ll save biking for tomorrow. Or, maybe even, I’ll go run around the island at Fort Snelling. Such choices.

*

One of my favorite meals is breakfast, but I have no money to go out for a big lavish feast, so I decided to make myself some pancakes. Not just any pancake would suffice, of course, because I always need special pancakes. I used a basic pancake recipe, but made it gluten-free. Oh, and I added everything I love: bananas, oats, coconut, nutmeg, cinnamon, and maple syrup. I was going to add some protein powder, too, but the only flavors I have are chocolate and strawberry, which I didn’t think would taste very good with everything else. Maybe the chocolate, but then all I’d taste is chocolate, and I want to taste the bananas, oats, and coconut.

I also brewed up some of our special holiday gift coffee from Caribou Coffee. The name of this particular blend/roast is ¡Ay Caramba!, and it’s a Mexican coffee with subtle cocoa hints. Delicious with pancakes no doubt.

I just flipped the first batch of four little pancakes, and they were slightly darker than I’d like them to be, but the batter is pretty thick, so there weren’t any little bubbles forming. Thick batter is the problem with hearty pancakes. Thick batter is also the pleasure of hearty pancakes.

As I anticipated, these pancakes were amazing and they paired well with the coffee. One thing I do have to say about Caribou is that our roastmasters are pretty fantastic, even though they are obsessed with light roasting things. I seriously can’t wait for the Ethiopian coffee that’s coming out in February. Ethiopian coffees are my favorites, and I am confident that our roastmasters won’t fuck it up when it comes to getting the best taste out of them. It’s really nice to work for a company where people pay attention to details like that. And, I’m happy to know that all of our beans are Rainforest Alliance Certified.

*

I have a new love. Her name is Kindle Fire. Seriously, when my parents bought them for my brother and me for Christmas, I was a little taken aback. I love books. I love their pages. I love their ink. I love their smell. I love their feel. I would certainly never let anything come between me and my books, let alone this electronic thing.

Love is fickle. Love is so very fickle. And I’ve fallen for my Kindle.

Now I love the ability to read a book anywhere, anytime, on my phone, or on my Kindle. I am no longer that geeky girl who carries a book everywhere with her (or am I?). When I was younger, I stuffed books everywhere, sometimes even carrying them outright and bold, standing in line at the theater with my family reading a book, walking through the grocery store shopping with my mom and my brother reading a book, lying next to the pool reading a book, basically doing anything anytime reading a book. Needless to say, I was so popular. I was never ashamed of my love of reading. In fact, I sore of wore my oddities as a badge, but I always knew I was slightly out of step with the other kids around me.

The beauty of the Kindle is I can be reading anytime and it just looks like I am any one of any other mindless drones on my phone. Only while others play games or use social media, I’m secretly reading literature! I finally fit in (not so much)!

Seriously, though, I do love this thing. I have already read two books on the Kindle, and I’ve only been using it for a week. I love the Kindle Unlimited possibility, that for $10 a month I can read unlimited books. Are they books I’d normally read? Mostly no, but there are some really good ones, maybe just older ones, like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, in the unlimited library. And any book is a good book, I suppose, with the exception of the Twilight Series and Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ve found that there are very few books that are bad enough for me to stop reading.

I’ve also learned that in the realm of the literary, at least, I can have more than one lover. I can love my Kindle Fire, and I can love my print books. I will tell you that there will be no Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, or Margaret Atwood on the Kindle, unless, of course, I also own them in print. Those three women deserve real pages to be turned, real ink to be seen, and a real cover to be caressed. And, dare I say, simple realness to be savored with every sense.

And that’s that.