March Books

Reading is my refuge – an informational or imaginative rabbit hole to go down to escape from the real world.

So, reading less means life is really good – no rabbit holes necessary – or so bad that even picking up a book is too taxing.

March was the latter.

But, 3 out of 4 of these books were excellent, so quality filled in where quantity lacked.

The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez – Any writer or lover of language ought to enjoy this 2018 winner of the National Book Award. A woman’s best friend and writing mentor dies unexpectedly from suicide, and she inherits his Great Dane. But despite the cover and some write-ups, this book is not about the bond with “man’s best friend” (read Stein’s Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog if you want that). At turns funny (“Your whole house smells of dog, says someone who comes to visit. I say I’ll take care of it. Which I do by never inviting that person to visit again”), sometimes meditative (“What we miss—what we lose and what we mourn—isn’t it this that makes us who, deep down, we truly are. To say nothing of what we wanted in life but never got to have.”), this beautiful book is one I might have to reread to catch the nuances I missed the first time around.

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro – My mother recommended this book to me, as she knows I’m a sucker for a fellow daughter wanting to know more about her history after her dad dies, which is what this memoir chronicles. Like the author, I did an Ancestry DNA test; unlike the author, I did not learn that my dad wasn’t my biological father. Shapiro tries to piece together her past and make peace with what she learns, and I was turning the pages quickly to find out how.

You are a Badass by Jen Sincero – I don’t remember how this book made its way to me, as I’m not a fan of motivational-speaking type books. It’s not a surprise that I wasn’t particularly fond of this one. She’s a grittier Rachel Hollis. Where Hollis encourages you to be the best version of yourself, Sincero encourages you to buy a car you can’t afford as a push to inspire you to make more money. Seriously.

Factfulness by Hans Rosling – How should we make sense of the world today? Rosling’s book lays out ten perspective-skewing inclinations (often polarities) we should challenge to achieve “factfulness,” defined as “the stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.” In case you think the book doesn’t apply to you, he schools you quickly with a quiz about global trends to show you just how wrong your view of the world is. The results are humbling. The book is comforting. If you liked 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, you will like this one, too.

The best of the month:
This is easy, based on your genre of choice.

The Friend for fiction, especially if you like writing.
Inheritance for memoir, especially if you are intrigued by genetics and the moral dilemmas DNA invites.
Factfulness for nonfiction, especially if you’re into world news and global thinking.
Heck, maybe even You are a Badass if you need a (Bad)ass-kicking.

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Who’s on Your Board?

20180716_172758At the Creative Problem Solving Institute I’ve attended for the past two years, one of the tools to inspire new thinking about a challenge is to imagine how someone else would solve it. A set of BrainNoodling cards I purchased promotes this idea; it contains 40 cards featuring different people whose lives and values prompt questions for you to apply to your life, like this one on Mother Teresa.

I’m taking this idea and appointing myself a Board of Directors. (Yes, I know it’s mid-July, and this activity seems better suited for the start of the year, but as someone in education, summer is when I hit the reset button, so July ’18 – July ’19 it is. Plus, this is my board, and I can appoint them when I wish.)

Apparently, this concept of a personal board of directors is not original. Forbes talked about it in February, though theirs is more reality-based than mine. They suggest you pick people you have regular contact with, people who check off different criteria such as one in your field, someone who can introduce you to others, one who will critique you, etc. I think it’s great advice, and maybe someday I will take it.

But for my first Board of Directors, I’ve picked people whose lives can inform and inspire my specific goals for the next 12 months. Though it would be phenomenal if I could, I will not physically meet with them for regular check-ins; out of the 6 people on my board, 3 are dead, and 4 of them wouldn’t even know who I am.

Instead, it’s up to me to remind myself of their purpose and, if all goes well, my board members will guide me with their spirits. In no particular order, here’s who I’ve picked and why:

BoardWEB

P!nk, for her body positivity, down to Earth parenting/marriage views, commitment to artistry and creativity, and for her athleticism.

My dad, for always wanting what’s best for me, for our shared values, for his fatherly wisdom, and for his undying (ha!) support.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for her inclusive concept of feminism, her dedication to her craft, and for her reminders to reject (and not write) the “single story.”

Brené Brown, for her urging to choose courage over comfort, her guidance on bravery and necessary conversations, her love of research, and for her belief in creativity and vulnerability.

Mamie Till, for her strength and ability to channel her grief for good, her faith and devotion to her son, and for championing Civil Rights and challenging the status quo with grace and tenacity.

Donald Murray, for his generosity, his reminders to write a line a day, and for his dedication to his family.

My list of runners-up for future consideration is long, but these are the people who can best challenge me and cheer me on to reach my current goals.

I think this is a worthy exercise, but even if you don’t do it to the extent I am, I’m curious: If you were to appoint your own Board of Directors, who would be on it and why?

Five-Minute Friday: Purpose

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking. I admit I did this one untimed, but I did not edit or over-think.)

Today, I benefited from divine intervention, and I am so grateful.

Rewind a handful of years to when a wonderful therapist told me I ought to check out Brené Brown’s work because I “might find it helpful.” I googled her TedTalk and was crying at my office desk halfway through.

Brown is a lot like me – she’s an academic, a Ph.D. who likes data and frameworks and intellectual understanding, and she explained the root of the majority of my “issues” in one TedTalk when she explained her own breakdown “spiritual awakening.”

Since watching that TedTalk, I have read all of her books and taken some of her online classes. I recommend her work to people all the time, particularly people like me who are recovering perfectionists. Her work has changed my life, and I don’t say that casually. (If you think I am a Type A, over-achieving perfectionist NOW, you have no idea how much worse all that was pre-Brené.)

So imagine my delight when I saw her name listed as one of the keynote speakers at this year’s NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Conference, which I knew I would be attending as part of my job. (Sir Ken Robinson and Susan Cain were two of the other keynote speakers, so NAIS really went all out this year.)

I scanned the program to see if she would be signing books after her talk, and it seemed unlikely. I even “asked her people” on her FB page in case the program had an error (no response). As I was heading to the airport, I grabbed her latest book, and my favorite, Rising Strong, from my shelf just in case.

This conference was good, but I did not enjoy it as much as last year’s. I had some work deadlines I had to meet that coincided with this trip, so I was on my laptop in between sessions and working well past what should have been my bedtime. My plans to get it all done by dinner last night so I could be rested and truly enjoy Brené’s talk today went out the window when I was still working on a presentation at 1:30 this morning (another story for another time).

Sir Ken’s talk this morning perked me up a bit, but I was utterly exhausted by lunch.

Readers, I committed a cardinal conference sin, which I confess to you now – I skipped a session I had planned on attending so I could take a nap. I have never done this before in my history of conference-going.

Brené was scheduled to speak in the ballroom at 3:15, so I headed back to the conference by 2, hoping to beat the crowd and get a front row seat. The side entrance I had planned to take to the ballroom was closed off, so I asked a staff member how to get back to the main one. She took me through the bowels of the convention center while telling me she is a third grade Baltimore teacher on strike given budget cuts, and as she is a relatively new hire, she expects to lose her job. She told her husband it might be time to move.

As she opened some secret door to let me in, I realized the doors were all closed for a reason – the room was not scheduled to open until 2:45. My escort either did not know the rules or saw me as an exception to them, and as a gesture of thanks, I gave her my card and told her if she wanted to move to Cincinnati, let me know. (I have never done this before, either – a day of firsts!)

The front row was reserved for the conference planners, whom I respect (see earlier note about going all out this year), so I took a center aisle seat 2 rows back. With time to kill, I got out my laptop and continued working on the project that kept me up till past 1:30 when I heard a familiar voice.

Brené’s Texas twang.

She had graced the stage for a sound check.

Brené’s work is about courage and vulnerability and showing up. I proved I’ve read and internalized her message by grabbing Rising Strong and a pen from my bag, tossing my laptop aside, along with my wallet and hotel key, and marching up to the stage. She waved me up the stairs.

“I’m being brave,” I said. “Would you sign this please?”20170303_181356

“Absolutely.” She glanced at my nametag.

There’s some monologue here that I can’t quite recall. I’m pretty sure I told her I loved her and that I was so excited to be having this moment. I realized I had my cell phone in my jacket pocket and asked for a picture, for which she graciously posed.

Of course, her talk was amazing and was the shot in the arm I needed to remind myself of the principles she’s written, which need to be practiced regularly, but, you know, I’ve been “busy.”

One of those practices is gratitude.

So, I am thankful that I put my guilt aside and listened to my body and took that nap. Had I not done so, I wouldn’t have arrived back when I did.

I am thankful I20170303_143450 met the staff member who ushered me in when I shouldn’t have been there.

I am thankful I packed my book and that Brené signed it.

I am thankful no one stole my laptop or wallet or hotel key as I was fangirling.

And that staff member’s story is not lost on me; I am thankful for a job that sends me to conferences so I can have divine experiences like these.