Healing

Ta-Nehisi Coates looks at the past for a better future

The Water Dancer, a novel with qualities of historical fiction and magical realism by Ta-Nehisi Coates, had been on my Books To Read list for a while. When I finally got to it (I listened to the audiobook) I thought it was brilliant.

The novel is a story about family and freedom told in the context of slavery, referred to in the story as “the task.” People who are enslaved as those who “are tasked.”

The main character, Hiram, is both the property and the son of Howell Walker, the man whom he calls “Father.” Hiram works as servant to his brother, Maynard.

Hiram is smart and a gifted storyteller with an extraordinary memory. He remembers everything he sees and hears. But he cannot bring forth the full and clear memory he most desires, that of his mother. She is the “Water Dancer” and was sold away from him when he was about 5. 

He discovers he has another power called conduction and eventually works in the Underground Railroad with the woman known as Moses.  

Hiram’s experiences help him gain perspective and understanding. He witnesses family, belonging, obligation, freedom, justice, and love in action.

The Water Dancer is a great book and I was eager to explore more of the author’s work.

A letter to his son

Between the World and Me is a narrative to his teenage son after the news that police officers will not face charges for the death of a black man in their custody.

The author imparts his hopes and dreams for his son. He speaks of the challenge he will face to protect his body in a society that proves again and again it does not value his body. 

The author shares his own experience growing up in the rough streets of Baltimore and of attending Howard University. Of broadening his perspective as he traveled the country and to Europe. 

The author’s deep desire to protect his son comes through clearly. Also clear is his realization all parents must accept, that his child will have to find his own way.   

A case for righting past wrongs

His article, “The Case for Reparations,” was published in The Atlantic magazine in its June 2014 issue.

It’s a long essay that addresses systemic racism, from slavery to Jim Crow to redlining housing practices and unjust incarceration. Coates makes a compelling case for reaparations in order for America to end the pain of racial divisions. He does not propose exactly what amount or form of “reparations” would be adequate, but he does address bill H.R. 40, Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. 

The author says of the Commission: 

Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.  

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, accessed on theatlantic.com 6/11/2020.

Impacting future leaders

The final Ta-Nehisi Coates item is his guest lecture to the West Point Corps of Cadets in 2017. 

Whether you agree with him a hundred-percent or not, Ta-Nehisi Coates is a deep thinker. His ideas provoke thought and consideration on difficult subjects, like justice, race, American history, and leadership. 

I highly recommend you read or listen to his work. At the very least, he will give you something to think about.

Go to Ta-Nehisicoates.com to learn more.

End of Your Life Book Club

Book recommendation: End of Your Life Book Club

This is a book recommendation for The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. (I listened to the audiobook version read by Jeff Harding.) 

Last December, I was looking for something good to read and found this title on my running list of books someone has recommended, either somone I know or some other source, like a magazine or newspaper.

I didn’t remember what the book was about or who had recommended it, but the audiobook was available on Libby so I decided to check it out.

A 2-person book club?

The book is the story is of a mother and son, both readers, who start their 2-person book club when the mother is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. They will spend many hours in conversation as he accompanies her to doctor appointments and chemo treatments and agree to read the same book so they can talk about it.

Judging from the title alone, it seems like the story would be gloomy and sad, but I didn’t find it so at all. 

Here are a few things I loved about it:

I love that the core of the book is conversations between a mother, Mary Ann Schwalbe, and her son, Will Schwalbe, the author of the book.

Through the long hours of chemo treatments with his mom he gets to know her like he never had before. He learns about her younger years and life choices, and what shaped her into the woman who became his mother. 

Through these conversation the reader learns about this extraordinary, smart, humble, and compassionate woman. She believed she had a responsibility to help people if she could. And even though she knew she couldn’t do everything, she knew she could do something. And so she did. Alot, including working with refugee families in Afghanistan and work tirelessly to build a library there. 

And, oh yes, books

As you might have guessed, The End of Your Life Book Club is about books, how reading can change your life. It’s about how stories relate the shared human experience. 

I’m grateful for the opportunity to sit in on this 2-person club. And I’m grateful for a chance to meet someone like Mary Ann Schwalbe. Her legacy lives on through this story.

If you’re looking for a good read, I recommend it. 

End of Your Life Book Club is available in audiobook, ebook, and print. I encourage you to look for it at your local library and Libby.

For more information about the Libby app, read Want to read more books? Maybe Libby can help.

Read more books

Want to read more books? Maybe Libby can help.

If it’s been a while since you read a book or just think it’s time for you to make the time to read more, allow me to introduce you to Libby.

“What’s Libby?” you ask. 

Read more books with Libby
This is the Libby App

Libby is a free app where you can borrow ebooks and digital audiobooks from your public library. You can stream books with Wi-Fi or mobile data, or download them for offline use and read anytime, anywhere. All you need to get started is a library card. 

https://help.libbyapp.com/6144.htm accessed 1/27/2020

If you want to read more books, Libby may be able help. You can stream or download magazines, ebooks and audiobooks in a wide range of subjects and genres.

Screen shot of The Dutch House Audiobook

I’m currently enjoying the audiobook “The Dutch House” by Ann Patchett, read by Tom Hanks. The book is beautifully written and I’m toward the end of it now. (I have a feeling I know what’s going to happen, but we’ll see.) Tom Hanks is a great narrator, though I admit, at times he sounds just like Woody from Toy Story : ) 

With Libby, you can read ebooks anytime, anywhere on your phone or tablet and listen to audiobooks while driving or cooking dinner.

To get started with Libby. 

1. Get a library card from your local library. 

2. Download the Libby app on your mobile device. 

3. Link your library card to Libby. 

4. Find a book or audiobook on the app.

5. Start listening/reading.

While I use Libby a lot these days, I’m finding it important to keep reading print books as well.

For these reasons:

1. I have to hold a book in my hands and focus on the text. That means no multi-tasking. 

2. I give the writer my full attention. It’s only courteous if you think about it. He or she is talking to me!

3. It forces me to practice reading the words on the page, instead of skimming the text, a bad habit I’ve developed by skimming headlines online.

Take a look. It’s in a book.

If you really want to read more but haven’t gotten started, Libby can help you “turn the page” toward a more robust reading life.

For more information about Libby, availability, and how to get started, go to LibbyHelp

Think listening to an audiobook is cheating? Sometimes it kind of feels that way to me too, but this article in Discover magazine offers an interesting insight to reading vs. listening: Audiobooks or Reading? To our brains, it doesn’t matter

Have you been thinking about reading more? Do you have a book you’ve been dying to read? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Photo by Mark Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

A small victory outside my comfort zone

I had a Book Signing at the Barnes and Noble store in Corpus Christi a few weeks ago and it was a big deal for me for a couple of reasons.

First, it was my 1st ever Barnes and Noble event and, to me, brick and mortar stores are still really important. (See my post 4 Ways in person shopping is good for your health). There’s nothing like talking to other people who love books. (Somehow I hadn’t realized what a major book-nerd I am!)

Second, I would be among strangers. I was not in my hometown and my friends and family wouldn’t be there. I would be talking to people I’d just met. Except for my husband, Mark, who patiently sat and listened to me read from my book  : ) I’d be meeting all new people.

Here are my top 5 takeaways:

Opportunity lies past your comfort zone.

Maybe it helped that my husband was with me and I knew I’d have at least one person in the audience. I loved being there and seeing my book among a bunch of other books. It didn’t matter that I was in the Cookbook section and near the toys and games.

It was a great reminder about why I write and what that’s all about.

I sold 2 books (yay!) and the 2 women who bought them could relate to my novel’s plot for different reasons. It was a really great reminder that even though my story’s not for everyone, it’s for some people. I have to get out of my own way and just tell the story. Then I have to work to help people find it.

Practice, practice, practice.

Only 3 people stopped at my table and I was there 2 hours, so I read from my book and did a Q & A session. That’s right, my husband asked me questions like, “How do you come up with names for the characters of your book?” and “Do you know what’s going to happen when you write? Do you know how your story will end?” I used a small sound system and read random chapters of my book, which was great practice for my audiobook recording.

Here’s the thing that’s really interesting about that: My husband, Mark, knows this story, A Song for Jessica, and my process better than anyone else. But he asked questions he was genuinely curious about.

I learned that it’s very different to know something in my head and another thing entirely to talk about them. Speaking to an audience of one was very good practice.

Nothing’s wasted.

A writer commented on Twitter the other day about coming across a story she’d written years ago and had never developed but then fell in love with it again. And she said, “Nothing’s ever wasted.” That’s kind of how I feel about the Q & A and reading to my husband.

Everyone has a story.

When I first decided to self-publish my book and started learning about marketing, one of the people I follow said, get out of your office and meet people. She said authors tend to do great online and in ads and marketing, but we struggle to get in front of people. I’ve been the opposite. I love meeting and talking to people, even if they don’t want to buy my book. I’m always amazed by the compelling and fascinating stories of regular people and the choices that determine outcomes. I’m reminded that I’m still writing mine.

A small victory

When it seems like you’re not making much progress and your efforts feel pointless, remember that small victories can be hugely satisfying.

And bear in mind:

  • Opportunity lies past your comfort zone.
  • Practice is good.
  • It’s okay if your work isn’t for everyone.
  • Nothing’s wasted.
  • Everyone has a story.

Thanks to Jessica and the Barnes and Noble Corpus Christi staff for welcoming me to their beautiful store. I’m grateful for the opportunity. 

Woman facing sunrise published on strong-woman.com

Book Review – Life Reimagined The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife

I was browsing the books at a local book festival when I came across Babara Bradley Hagerty’s book released in March 2016 entitled Life Reimagined The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife.

Life Reimagined Cover published on strong-woman.com
Life Reimagined

Being in my early 50s and having some midlife awakenings of my own, the title intrigued me. Written as part memoir, part feature story, part scientific study, Hagerty focuses primarily on the mental, physical, social, and emotional experience of people at midlife and beyond. She interviews scientists who’ve studied aging and people who are maneuvering through the challenges of midlife.  The questions about this life-stage are numerous, but here’s a sample: Is there such a thing as a midlife crisis? What determines if a person will thrive at midlife and beyond or simply survive? Is Alzheimer’s preventable? What about dementia? How can one make the most out of this stage of life?

She addresses all that and so much more, including resiliency, purpose, “generativity”, attitude, midlife marriage and friendship, altruism, and work. In all of these areas, she interweaves her own experience, the experiences of others, and the research. This intermingling makes the text flow easily and never sounds like a news report or clinical research paper.

Older couple romantic published on strong-woman.com
Romance is important at any age.

One note about the content –

The book has many, many footnotes, nearly 60 pages of very small print. They often include elaborations that offer additional perspective on the subject being discussed. Even with those details in the footnotes, the book is 378 pages. Lengthy, but loaded with memorable stories, characters and conclusions about midlife and well worth the read.

Takeaways

I had lots of takeaways, but the most memorable one touches on a topic that I blog about regularly: exercise. Specifically, exercise and mental acuity.

In the section “How to Build a Younger Brain”, the author spoke to Kirk Erickson, researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, who found that brain training and other mental exercises “help people preserve their cognitive abilities” but when he started conducting exercise studies, “He realized that nothing will keep you as mentally acute as raising your heart rate a few times a week. Nothing.” Exercise is good for your brain, from preserving brain tissue to improving memory. (p. 203)

runningpulsegraphic
“…nothing will keep you as mentally acute as raising your heart rate a few times a week. Nothing.”

Fork in the road

Midlife feels like a fork in a road, but at this fork, I feel a little more urgency. After all, I’m not getting any younger. What if I wind up in the weeds?

I liked Life Reimagined because it explores midlife from lots of angles and tells stories about what others have done, how it’s worked out for them, and what researchers have learned about how to continue to be happy and healthy for all your days.

Woman facing sunrise published on strong-woman.com
Consider the possibilities.

Bette Davis once said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” In the end, it’s for each of us to decide our path and, by the Grace of God, live life to its fullest. Midlife is a good time to re-examine what that means.

Have you read any good books lately? Please share in the comments.

Book cover published on strong-woman.com

Book Review: ‘The War of Art’

At a recent work training, a few of my peers and I chit-chatted about various things and we started talking about what we’d really like to do with our lives – what we want to do when we grow up. We each talked about our aspirations and dreams we’ll pursue some day. But when?

How does a person get from the desire to do something to going for it and just doing it? To taking a leap of faith and getting out there?

War of Art CoverSteven Pressfield’s The War of Art answers those questions and serves as a call to action, starting with the section entitled, “The Unlived Life”. He writes, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”

Pressfield’s book is a non-fiction manual of sorts in which he calls each of us to do what it is we have been called to do, for which we have God-given gifts, and it is our responsibility to use them: write the music; paint the scene; write the work; start the business; improve your health, spirituality, education, etc.

What I love about the book is that he explains his theories with stories, interpretations of other works of art, and personal anecdotes. He also develops a cast of characters in this work of nonfiction: Resistance, the muse, and the person who will bring forth the work (artist, genius, entrepreneur, etc.) and identifies the conflict between them. He writes, “Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.”

Pressfield presents his ideas in a deeply spiritual way so that the reader is left with the understanding and knowledge that whatever calling, gift, talent, inclination to a higher calling we have is not of our choosing. He calls it “genius, in the Latin sense of ‘soul’ or ‘animating spirit’. It is a gift that requires action from a human being to express it, to make it real.

The beauty of this book is that it describes Resistance with the knowledge of experience. He’s identified it, totally called it out for us. Like any formidable foe, Resistance has many devices, disguises, forces that work for it. He knows Resistance because he’s seen it. When I heard his description of Resistance, I knew that I’d seen it too and, in fact, see it every day.

The War of Art is philosophy, psychology, analysis, how to guide, and a little autobiography. Pressfield presents his discovery in an effort to enlighten us all to do our work, to know all about Resistance in all its forms and to get busy anyway.

If you’ve ever wondered why you do what you know isn’t good for you instead of doing what you know is good for you or if you’ve ever procrastinated, caved to peer pressure, talked yourself out of an awesome idea, or been paralyzed with fear that prevents you from getting started, The War of Art will help you battle Resistance so that you can begin living your “unlived life”.