July Books

Oh, July – that glorious month of vacation when I can catch up on my reading and surround myself with new worlds, words, and ideas. Lucky for me, there wasn’t a bad book in this month’s batch.

July Books

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – In many ways, my brother-in-law is the male version of me, so when he recommends a book, I almost always like it. Case in point with this one, which looks at how we can change habits and use them to our advantage, whether individually, organizationally, or societally. I had not heard of the way he broke it down before, and it made much sense.

Quantum Wellness by Kathy Freston – I organized a Wellness Challenge this month for other women, and this book came up in my research. Freston focuses more on food (and advocates veganism) than I would have liked from a book on overall wellness, but her general message of balance between mind-body-spirit and what she calls the 4 quadrants (regular, relate, rejuvenate, and reach) was solid.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield – Recommended to me at the Creative Problem Solving Institute, this slim book addresses resistance creative people face. Pressfield (former Marine and author of The Legend of Bagger Vance) doesn’t offer anything ground-breaking, but it’s an easy and sometimes funny read/tough-love-kick-in-the-pants.

The Windfall: A Novel by Diksha Basu – This book made many “Best Of” lists when it came out in 2017 and has been dubbed the Indian version of Crazy Rich Asians (which I have not read so cannot speak to). It was warm, funny, and a bit more literary than your typical feel-good beach read.

Tampa by Alissa Nutting – I do not know to whom I would recommend this book, which tells the story of Celeste, a pedophilic female middle school teacher determined to seduce one of her 8th grade students. Frankly, some of the passages read like not-so-soft porn, and the only reason I stuck with it was to hopefully see Celeste’s downfall. From a writing perspective, Nutting successfully conveys the mind of a sociopath, which makes this a very difficult read, not for the faint of heart.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling – I have been an English teacher for 20 years and an avid reader for far longer. Until this July 11, I had never read Harry Potter. At first, it was because the timing of the first book didn’t work out for my life, and then there was a “What’s the point now?” mentality with each successive book and movie. Eventually, it became a shocking/ironic/fun fact. But. I am an avid reader. I am an English teacher. At some point, not having read a single book in one of the best-selling series of all time is more ignorant than ironic. My tipping point was how often it was referenced in a writing class I took at the Creative Problem Solving Institute. So, I read it. Now, I “get” it.

Glitter and Glue: A Memoir by Kelly Corrigan – Having loved her book Tell Me More (from May), I want to hear more from Corrigan. This memoir about her complicated relationship with her mother (who tells her that her father is the glitter, but she is the glue) was artfully done. Really, it’s not even about her mother, but rather what Corrigan comes to understand about mothers, including hers, from her brief stint as a nanny for a family that recently lost their mother. It’s a love letter to mothers that made me cry.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb – How to describe this gem about a therapist who goes through a bad breakup and then has to seek out her own therapist? It’s funny, it’s insightful, and it offers a fascinating look at the ethics and evolution of therapy. The book has already made many “Best of 2019” lists, and it’s being made into a tv series with Eva Longoria. I can’t wait to watch!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling – Clearly, I couldn’t just read the first book and stop. Dobby? So sweet. And who hasn’t met a version of Gilderoy Lockhart? Book 2 was even better than the first. But most of you probably know that.

The Caregiver by Samuel Park – This book received a lot of press with its release in late 2018 because it is Park’s final book; he died of stomach cancer at 41 right after finishing. The story moves between current day Mara, the caregiver of a childless divorcee dying of stomach cancer in California, and the childhood Mara, the caregiver of herself while her actress single mother tries to make ends meet in Rio be Janeiro by getting involved in some shady operations. Mara’s understanding of her mother unfolds throughout the story, and I wanted to read more of Park’s work when I finished, which makes his death even sadder.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling – Oh, I see! The story, and this fantasy world, gets more complex as the series continues. Sirius Black goes from Harry’s greatest threat to his biggest hope and then greatest act of selflessness in 435 pages. I’m still along for the ride.

Thank You for Being Such a Pain: Spiritual Guidance for Dealing with Difficult People by Mark I. Rosen – This is the third book I read this month mentioned by a fellow Creative Problem Solving Institute attendee. The underlying belief Rosen expounds is the difficult people are in our lives to teach us something, and he brings in various spiritual traditions to support this argument. But, regardless of your faith background (or lack thereof – and Rosen acknowledges this could be the case), what makes this book valuable are the practical exercises Rosen provides in each chapter. I highly recommend the book if difficult people take up too much of your headspace.

The best of July:
I cannot possibly pick!

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Five-Minute Friday: Abandon

(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.)

Abandon.

There was a post going around on Facebook attributed to Pope Francis, suggesting what Catholics give up for Lent. Not the typical vices like alcohol, swearing, or sweets, but giving up negative mindsets, harsh words, etc.

What thinking, and resulting language, do I need to give up?

Last night, I had a new learning related to this idea.

Our son is a Type 1 Diabetic, and when he was first diagnosed, I tried to find books, tv shows, or movies with diabetic characters (for him or for me).

The search was dismal.

There’s Stacey in Ann Martin’s The Baby-sitter’s Club series, but other than her, just about every time a character has diabetes, it relates to a negative plot twist (often the death of said character, as was the case of the wife who died in Memento, or Julia Roberts’s character in Steel Magnolias).

I lamented this discovery to my husband, who at that point had written a book. He vowed that the next book he wrote would have a diabetic character that kids like Owen could relate to.

Fast forward to that book’s completed draft. Brendan (husband) gave a copy to one of the nurse educators at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for feedback on the medical aspects mentioned in the book.

One of her comments gave us serious pause: a few paragraphs ago, I referred to Owen as a “Type 1 Diabetic,” yet this phrasing bothers the diabetic community, as the preferred language is “a child with diabetes” (or some such variation).

I understand the logic, as it aligns with the terminology we use in education. A child is not “a dyslexic” but rather has dyslexia. The diagnosis is not the person; it is what the person lives with.

I get it.

And yet.

I have always referred to my father as “a diabetic,” not someone who had diabetes. As far as I can remember, I learned this language from him, who referred to himself the same way (if he mentioned his diagnosis at all, which was rare).

Maybe this is the problem. I have been operating under terminology from the 1960s, when my dad was diagnosed. And, from an English teacher standpoint, economy of language matters to me. Why use 4 words (“a child with diabetes”) when you can communicate the same idea in 2 (“a diabetic”)?

Times have changed, though, and, actually, it’s not the same idea, which was the nurse’s point.

Brendan and I discussed the nurse educator’s note. Brendan was going to change the wording. I disagreed.

“I see the politically correct language she’s promoting, and I get why,” I said, “but if the book is written in the first person from a teenaged diabetic’s point of view, is that really how the character thinks of himself?”

He pondered my point, and I might have convinced him. But I had an idea, one that I thought would confirm my point of view.

“Why don’t you write that sentence both ways – the original way and the way the nurse suggested, and let Owen decide?”

Brendan gave Owen the two passages, and at first Owen said they were the same.

Brendan said, “No, there’s one slight difference. Which one is what you would say? One is the way a nurse said it should be, and one is the way I wrote it.”

For the record: Owen is not a diabetic. He is a child with Type 1 Diabetes.

Abandon any ideas or words to the contrary.

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.