My First Book Group

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Yesterday was the first meeting of the new book group. We discussed Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. A dozen people showed up.  The discussion was (surprisingly) fabulous. I didn’t know what to expect, having never been in a book group before, but I was pretty flabbergasted by how deeply and carefully these people read this book. I already knew most of the people from yoga, but I now feel I know them on a whole new level. It’s very cool.

One man said that he wanted to join the group primarily because he’s an avid reader, but also because he lives in a pretty isolated place and needs to “get off the mountain and be with people.”

My heart melted when he said that.

Made me think that book groups aren’t just about books.

The best part for me was being witness to, and part of, a big rollicking discussion. Haven’t had that experience since college, and even in college it didn’t happen as often as I would have liked.

This particular book wasn’t my favorite, but the majority of the group really liked it and made a great case for it, so much so, in fact, that I thought I might go back and re-read at least parts.

But …I won’t.

That’s because I’m already deeply into A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami, which is the next book. Here, for the record, is my review of Lincoln In The Bardo:

Dear Lincoln In The Bardo,

It’s not you, it’s me. I’m the one who’s messed up and blind. You didn’t do anything wrong. You were great, in fact. Everything you said, and the way you said it, was beautiful and true and I loved that about you. All my friends liked you, too. You were creative and complex. I just couldn’t up-level to your world.

You and I, it seems, have very different minds, and not only that, our minds seem to want to play in different sand boxes. I really need a lot of light and a considerable amount of humor; you were a tad bit heavy, and a little too dark for me.

Even when you yourself made fun of your dark side, and could even laugh at it, I wasn’t amused. It was too much of a stretch. I had to try too hard. (You were kinda exhausting.)

So while I learned a lot from you, and don’t regret getting to know you, we’ll never make it as a couple. We just want different things.

I’ll let you hang out in my “Finished” pile for a while, but I can foresee the day when you’ll just take up too much shelf space and I’ll have to donate you to the library.

But at least that way, if I ever change my mind, I’ll know where you live.

Fondly,

Kath

 

My Rules for a Book Group

Year 2018 standing on library shelf

Last night was the first meeting of the book group.

At this first meeting, I felt I needed to leverage my power as Group Instigator and Generous Benefactor Of Meeting Space, to impose a vision, my vision, of how this should roll.

Without being too overbearing, but, I hope, making it clear that my continuing membership is contingent on adherence to these principles, this is what I hoped I got across:

1. I don’t want to read anything I’ve already read. And I don’t think anybody else should either. This means we have to pick something nobody has already read.  Even if you say you could happily re-read something, I don’t think you should. Unless it’s something you read in your callow youth and didn’t really get when you first read it.

2. I will never bring cupcakes. Or wine. Or snacks. Ever. However if you want to bring snacks, knock yourself out. Surprise us.

3. I want to talk about ideas. I have heard of Book Groups who get together and never talk about the book. I don’t want that.  There’s nothing wrong with socializing. I love it. But I want a Book Group to meet another need: a need for intellectual stim and an interesting discussion of ideas.

4. I want to to talk to people who’ve recently read a book. When we’re both still reeling from a book, our convo about it is going to be fresh, and alive, and relevant, and exciting. But if you’re still reeling, and I read it two years ago, this isn’t going to be as much fun. I’ve gone stale and you’re fresh from the oven. That’s why book groups are so fun. We’re all still fresh.

Ten people showed up last night. A whole bunch more contacted me wanting to be kept in the loop.

We picked Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders as our first book.

Here were the other contenders:

(someday when I have more time, I’ll link to all these, but today is NOT the day.)

The Odyssey

The Name of the Wind

No is Not Enough

Sing Unburied Sing

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics

The Great Alone

Strangers In Their Own Land

White Rose, Black Forest

The Power Within

The Woman In The Window

Guns, Germs and Steel

Stiff

Thinking Fast and Slow

Sapiens

Putting Your Passion Into Print

All The Light We Cannot See

A Wild Sheep Chase

The Witch of Portobello

The History of Love

A Discovery of Witches

Our first meeting to talk about this book is scheduled for March 11th at 4:30 in the MSY Lounge. Plan an hour and a half. If you’re interested, and local, come.

Digital De-Clutter Update: Week 1

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The good news: Instead of trolling Facebook, I’m reading Homer.

The bad news: I’m still sneaking into news feeds.

But here’s the thing: Instead of wallowing and rolling in that dirt for hours, I’m now getting in and out as fast as possible so I don’t get “caught” hanging out in there.

And as nuts as that sounds, and as nuts as it is, it’s working.

I’m getting back at least 2 or 3 hours a day to do stuff I can really control. And that feels incredible. Two to three hours a day. Think about it.

Plus, my mind doesn’t feel all polluted with garbage I can’t control. It feels clearer to work on things I can control.

(See above reference to Homer.)

My Findings So Far

1. Facebook and Instagram are not addicting for me. I can check in once a day for 10 minutes or so, and get off. No problem. I could go a few weeks without missing either.

2. My addiction is news. First, online news in the form of the Times and the Post. Then, Twitter. I am really jonesin’ for both.

At the end of this experiment I am going to fall back into the arms of both of these bad-boys, for sure. I know it.

But I think what I’m learning now, is that my problem isn’t news, it’s when I consume the news.

My peak hours of cognitive productivity are from 10 to 2, so if I give any of those hours to news reading, I’m giving my best hours away.

If that’s prime time, I definitely shouldn’t let news in there anymore. So now I know: News and coffee first thing are a no-no.

Somebody in yoga told me she reads all her news feeds at night before bed. That would be okay, except for the small matter of sleep. I would never get any if I did that.

I remember my father read the newspaper, in his chair, before dinner. But I don’t have that kind of a life. It can’t be during primetime, and it can’t be too late at night.

Something I have to work out.

In the 2 to 3 hours a day I was able to save by not reading news, I read The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. A-mazing.

I also read another novel, not as good, but decent, called The Yoga of Max’s Discontent by Karan Bajaj.

Now I’m sailing into The Odyssey, a new translation, and the first translation by a woman.

This feels good and right. The struggle is still real, though, I cannot lie. Proof? I bought the Wolff book. It’s a book, right??

How I Spent my Self-Designed Summer

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I freakin’ nailed it. Best summer in a very long time. When I heard the drums of Autumn (the marching band practicing), I was not the slightest bit queasy.
So, if you’ll remember, my problem going into summer was this: Since time seems to speed up in the summer (and I love summer so much and never want it to end) how could I slow it down?
My strategy consisted of:
Mindful Mondays (which included:)
*Intermittent fast
*Severe limits on screen time
*Double meditation time
Plus:
Champagne Thursdays
Photo-A-Day
and
Read fiction
And it worked. It totally worked. I am astonished that it took so little to make me so happy. I noticed the wildflowers (and took pictures of many of them).
I paid attention to my rhythms, especially hunger and satiety (intermittent fasting was great for that). I scheduled time for self-indulgence (Champagne on the deck every  Thursday after yoga, and long afternoons spent reading novels in the hammock).
Now all my needs for relaxation and rejuvenation and fun have been met in spades and I am going into this next season feeling generous and ready to take on new projects and challenges.
Now, what to do about Fall and Winter? Could I do the same thing? Could I design those seasons too, and make it so they don’t seem to drag and feel so dreary? Is there anything I could do, any rituals I could perform to prevent Fall and Winter from killing this nice summer fire?
I do know that all my deepest thinking and reading and creating happen in the fall and winter, and I do love and appreciate the deep interiority of winter, but I also hate not feeling sparkly and energetic a lot of the time, particularly in January and February. If there were only more daylight hours to play in, or at least more bright sunlight in those days, that would help a lot.
But the reality is that I’m not going to move from the cloud belt of northern PA this winter, so I need a…I almost said “survival plan” but what I actually need is a “sur-thrival plan.” Survival isn’t the issue. The issue is how to thrive, and flourish, and appreciate, and get important work done, and nurture relationships, and have a whole lot of fun doing it?
I’m wondering if there’s a way to blend fun and sparkle into introspection and interiority?
I’m challenging myself to come up with a plan. Stay tuned.
Do YOU do anything specific to ease the transition from summer to fall?  Do you have any habits or rituals or ways of motivating yourself? Tell me in the comments. I’d really, really appreciate it.

The Novelty of Reading Novels Has Worn Off

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First novel: Depressed woman locks herself up with hawk. (H is for Hawk)

Second novel: Blind girl and her father flee Nazis carrying a diamond. (All The Light We Cannot See)

Third novel: Fat boy tries to lose his virginity during the bloody reign of Trujillo in Dominican Republic. (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)

Fourth (and current) novel: 2 guys try to defeat Hitler and get rich writing comic books. (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay)

Literature-wise, it’s been quite the summer. I went into this novel-reading project in an effort to escape time, and it’s worked.  But..

I’m not happy.

Of all my strategies to slow down time this summer, this has been the hardest and, psychologically, the most uncomfortable.

It’s not been hard to read. Hell no. It’s been easy to dive in and and become immersed. It’s been easy to succumb to the captivating artistry of first-class storytellers, to live for long stretches in their  virtual worlds. It’s been easy to while away weeks of afternoons in the hammock, swaying to the mind-music of literary virtuosos. It’s been pure heaven in a lot of ways. It’s reminded me of the Nancy Drew summers of my youth..

And it’s not been hard psychologically because all these novels have been a bit on the gloomy side. No. It’s really not that.

It’s totally because of me, and the the way I am.

I can’t seem to drown out the voice in my head that says that this novel-reading time might be better spent reading about neurobiology, and about what motivates people, and how to achieve mastery, and how to get into flow, and how (maybe) technology can take us there, or (maybe) not.

I keep staring at this pile of books that’s been accumulating on my shelf for the last 6 months or so.

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These are the kinds of books that I attack with a pen in a my hand and an open notebook at my elbow.

These are the books that I scribble in, underline, and argue with. These are the books whose ideas I try to articulate and practice in my notebook to see if I’ve really understood them. These are the books that help me with the stuff I wonder about in the shower, and when I’m driving, or planning a yoga class. These are the books that completely jazz me.

In comparison, novel reading feels like polishing off a pint of gelato with a spoon while binge-watching Orange is the The New Black. So,so gooooood. So deliciously fun.

But now?

Now I feel it’s time to steam up some broccoli and brown rice.

So today I made a decision. I am going to finish Kavalier and Clay, and for the remainder of July, dig into this non-fiction pile. I’ll return to novels when I go to the beach later this summer, and then again when I have to fly to the West Coast.

It was a good plan, this reading project. Time has definitely slowed down in a very good way.

 

Who Cares?

“Who cares?”

“So what?”

These are the questions that have derailed me every time I got to the point where I was ready to put my work out there. I’d read my stuff and get the sinking feeling that it was all bullshit. “Who the hell cares? So what?” I’d ask myself.

And then I’d quit.

Knowing this was my MO, I had to create some kind of strategy to de-fang these questions so they wouldn’t poison my progress this time.

I thought of the Simon Sinek TED talk my friend Anthony David Adams turned me on to a while ago, and I watched it again, and then ordered the book.

Start With Why is my “warm-up read” these mornings.

To read is to prime the pump, to tune my ear to word-music, to align my mind with how ideas look in print-space. After an hour of reading, I am ready for the pen or the keyboard.

Sinek says to start with “Why?” Why are you writing? Why do you do anything? He says people don’t care what you do, or how you do it. People care WHY you do it.

If you can articulate your WHY, you will attract the people who believe what you believe, and these are your people. They’re your readers if you’re a writer; they’re your customers if you’re in business. These are your allies, your tribe, the people you influence, help, support, and care about.

I got to my Space Chair by 9 and worked on this question doggedly with the pen.

What is my Why?

Answer: To help. This, first and foremost.

I have felt the nauseating indecision of not knowing where to direct my energy.

I have waited for someone to call my name, to anoint me, to identify my vocation for me, which was a complete and utter mistake.

I believed I wasted precious time doing crappy jobs. (There is no such thing as wasted time, and even crappy jobs show us the way.)

Then I found a better way, a different strategy. And it worked for me, and I think it might work for other people, too. It’s not complicated. It’s not earth-shatteringly original, but it’s fun, and interesting, and it will result in increased self-knowledge, if nothing else.

During today’s scribble I discovered that it is easier to describe my WHY when it comes to teaching yoga than it is for writing. But I also learned that the writing and the yoga teaching are intimately linked.

It turns out I do everything for the same WHY. My vehicles may change, but my WHY is always the same: to help.

Sanibel Bound

Tomorrow we go to Sanibel Island, Florida.  Never been there. It’s supposed to have good shells.

I am looking forward to sitting under an umbrella, my toes in the sand, the sound of the surf in my ears, and reading voraciously, and then staring out at the horizon with equal absorption.

I am looking forward to being warm, and floating in blue water.

I am looking forward to walking on the beach.

I am looking forward to getting out of my routine.

I am looking forward to diving into books, and writing with a pen, and thinking onto paper.

I am looking forward to being quiet, and talking to G, and riding bikes, and sleeping, and eating seafood.

I am looking forward to exploring a new place.

I am bringing Resilience (which I am almost finished), Start With Why, The Power of Small, and Euphoria.

We shall see what gets read.

Yesterday  my daughter and son-in-law put a bid on a house, and today that bid was accepted. It is a sweet house bordering green-space with extensive bike trails. I am so happy for them. Tomorrow is Em’s birthday and this could not be a better present.

Tonight in Gentle Yoga I confessed what happened with my Apple Watch last night. I took the watch off and marched it over to the other room to the cheers of my class.

It had to be done.

Technology is wonderful, and magical, and helpful, and fun, but it is also intrusive and disruptive and a distraction in a yoga space.

There is a time and a place for everything, right?

(Right.)