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Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Imperfection

 

Does this happen to you? Books seem to appear just when you need them? And they all tie together?

A co-worker dropped this off at my cubicle with the caveat: “My friend loved this book and gave it to me…it didn’t do anything for me, but I thought you might like it…if you don’t, pass it on.”

I will admit that my co-worker and I have had book discussions, so she has some idea about what books I like to read, but…I REALLY needed to read this book…NOW.

I have been struggling to embrace and accept my imperfections for a while (including the blurry photo at the left, which I took several times. I figured as long as you can see it and read it…it doesn’t have to be PERFECT). It fulfills its purpose as is.

I recently had a get-together with some wonderful supportive friends who love me and see me as gifted, talented and creative. I read some poems for them, including one I had recently, with trepidation, brought to a workshop. I was sharing with them some of the comments (which actually were mostly good and quite helpful). I told them “when it was finished” I was going to submit it. They thought it was fine the way it was. We laughed about how nothing was ever “finished” for me. I now know why: I believe that there is ONE thing I will create that will be THE thing that will prove my worthiness…if I keep working at it and never finish it…then the magical piece of work might still exist (like believing in Santa Claus…or the Elusive Comic Book!) I guess it is my way of believing life can change overnight. Though this appears to happen to some people, it is for the most part, not true. It certainly is not something I can will or force to happen. Life happens when you live it.

This book helped me understand why I can’t create a body of work. Perfectionism is a big, bad monster for me. I am “hustling” for my worthiness as Brene Brown says in her book. (I LOVE this phrase…I picture myself walking the streets, begging people to appreciate me.)

The book is broken into ten guideposts that represent ways of thinking you need to let go of in order to embrace your imperfection and believe in your own worthiness. Guidepost #2 is “Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism”.

And my favorite (V8…knock in the head) moment while I was reading the book was when the author wrote, “I think everyone should read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist — I try to read it at least once a year. It’s a powerful way of seeing the connections between our gifts, our spirituality, and our work…and how they come together to create meaning in our lives.” WHAT?! I recently wrote a blog about that book!

I just love when the dots connect!

BTW…I submitted the poem last week…with some of the workshop suggestions. 😀



{December 27, 2013}   The Best Book I’ve Ever Read

The wording of the title seems to imply I have a definitive answer. Yet on any given day my answer might be different. My lack of conviction on this and other “favorite” questions has often felt like a problem to me: one that indicated that I had no core, no strength of conviction, or no knowledge of myself. I either assumed my lack of an answer was because I am too wishy-washy (when I was feeling bad about myself) or because I am too intellectually curious (when I’m feeling good about myself).

Many books have vied to be the answer to that question for me over the course of my life: Leaves of Grass, Wuthering Heights, Tuesdays with Morrie, A Gift from the Sea, Simple Abundance, The Artist’s Way…the list could go on and on because reading has always been a staple in my life. And I have always had this crazy concept of commitment when it comes to reading that if I start a book, I have to finish it. This creed results in my slogging through books at times (I have done this lately, making me think that I no longer liked to read).

Book cover for The Alchemist

Then the other day when I started reading “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. TODAY, this is my answer to the question/statement of this blog’s title. I know I’m arriving late to this party: the book was published in 1988, and the number of translations and books sold is staggering…but it is brand new TO ME. It came to me on a free table at work, and it appeared for me exactly when it needed to appear.

I have recently been in a dark place…a very scary place. For someone who has LOVED Christmas her whole life to want to turn her back on it forever, sleep through it (or skip it as John Grisham wrote — the comedy movie version of his book is what I watched yesterday trying to get out of my bad mood) is not a good sign for holding onto a joy of living. I was also finally considering giving up on this blog, one of the few things that has brought me joy and kept me going the last couple of years. But during this time I was also reading Paulo Coelho’s book.

This morning I read this:

“Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him,” his heart said. “We, people’s hearts, seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer want to go in search of them…few follow the path laid out for them — the path to their Personal Legends, and to happiness. Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed to be a threatening place.

“So, we, their hearts speak more and more softly. We never stop speaking out, but we begin to hope that our words won’t be heard: we don’t want people to suffer because they don’t follow their hearts.”

“Why don’t people’s hearts tell them to continue to follow their dreams?” the boy asked the alchemist.

“Because that’s what makes a heart suffer most, and hearts don’t like to suffer.”

The alchemist then told the boy…”What you still need to know is this: before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one ‘dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.’

“Every search begins with beginner’s luck. And every search ends with the victor’s being severely tested.”

When I read this, I recognized the place where I am; I could hear my heart again (which had become quiet) and I came back to the keyboard and back to the blog. I have read a lot of inspiring and positive blogs and books recently trying to light my way out of the black hole, but for some reason, this spoke to me in a way that nothing else I read did. I believe it is because it was what I needed to read and it was put there to help me on this part of my life’s journey.

Now I feel that it is fitting that the answer to the question, “What is the best book you ever read?” can change throughout your life. Because the best book you ever read is the one that touches you and communicates to you when you need it. Today I give a hearty “Thank You,” to the person who put this book on the free table to share it, to Paulo Coelho for writing it, and to the Soul of the World for communicating it to him.

P.S. As I sat down to write this, I realized this was also the topic of the Daily Post prompt today. It was my moment of clarity for what has been bothering me…if that isn’t a message from the Universe, I don’t know what is. 🙂



{July 31, 2013}   The Garden of Books…

Garden at Flower Show

This morning I read Colline’s blog about curling up on the couch with a book and tea…Oh, I could so relate!

It inspired me to pull out a poem I wrote several years ago about reading and share it.  My reading time has always been the highlight of my day (except for going for a walk outside on a beautiful day). Reading is going for a virtual walk. 🙂

Reading in the Morning

 The story grabs me

like a childhood friend;

Together we tumble

through a garden gate,

where the words are blooms,

some delicate, some loud,

vying for my raptured gaze.

In this garden of a book,

there are places to pause and sit

and soak it in,

and places to roll,

smell the soft grass.

I watch the sun

scamper squirrel-like

around the garden,

teasing the leaves

and branches.

I watch them brush each other

hesitant, yet tender

as new lovers,

my vicarious pleasure,

becomes longing and then…

I come to the end.

There is reality,

solid as a wall my fingers can touch;

away from the sun,

the stones are cold.

Duty time has come

too soon.

The world calls,

harsh as a crow’s caw.

Time to leave this place;

place my closed book

aside

and get to work.




Writing In FlowMy morning routine includes reading a chapter of a book about writing and then writing my “morning pages” (as coined by Julia Cameron). I am currently reading “Writing in Flow: keys to enhanced creativity” by Susan K Perry, PhD. According to Ms. Perry, Key One is to Have a Reason to Write. In the questions at the end of the chapter she suggests that the reader examine his/her motivations for writing. She knows that her readers will find many. (I certainly did.) Her theory is that when you clear away the peripheral ones, you will get to the heart of the matter and learn a lot about how to foster flow in your writing.

It has always been easy to tell when I’m “inspired” in my writing vs. when I am not. It is as if I am a completely different person. When entering college I was required to write an essay to see whether I could opt-out of Freshman English. Unfortunately the topic was something I knew nothing about and had no interest in…so it was Freshman English for me. Once in class, we were able to choose our own subject as long as we followed the assigned format: comparison essay, descriptive essay, argumentative essay, etc.  Lo and behold, by the time I got to the third paper, my professor had written “A+” and a note that said, “Do you really belong in this class? See me.” Ah, the power of writing about something that interests me!

But I don’t want to depend on being “inspired” to write well, that’s why I am reading the book. So…what is my motivation for writing? I have loved books from the time I was a small child. Consequently I have always admired writers; it was always a club I longed to join. Also, one strong aspect of my personality is that I am a “communicator,” someone who is constantly trying to make sense of my world and interpret what I see, to create relationships between people and things that may not appear to be related (i.e., creating metaphors, the source of my poetic bent). And I want to connect with others, gain their respect, and have them appreciate what I have to say. But although I found many of my reasons have to do with connecting with others, I have written so much that no one has read: endless journals and poems that I haven’t shared. I’m thinking getting to know myself and being comfortable with myself is also an important reason that I write; it may be the bare bones reason, because even if no one reads what I have written but me, I still feel compelled to do it.

One of the most important things I learned from this exercise, though, had to do with a motivation that wasn’t there: making a living with writing. I’ve always struggled with that: making money by editing is one thing, doing it by writing is another. I have often felt conflicted, at times guilty, envious of others, and angry at myself for being a “failure” at making my writing “pay off.”  I often beat myself up about this “failure” and think that “I should” be making money. This exercise helped me work through some of those feelings. I simply don’t have the motivation for it. I am not a “failure” as a writer because I’m not making money at it. If I really wanted to make money at it, I would approach it differently. I would be writing what I think others are interested in; I would be doing research and treating it as a profession. I have to recognize that I am “choosing” not to make it a living at it.

I’ve got a long way to go with this book. I’m interested in what else I will learn about myself and where it will take me. My readers, have you ever REALLY explored your motivations for your passion?



{February 23, 2013}   Book “Stories”

After reading a comment by Annina on my last blog on Book Care and a comment by Lingering Visions on another blog, I felt inspired to tell the “stories” of a couple of my books.

First of all, I’m a saver. (I prefer that term to “horder” or “pack rat.”) I love meeting people and consider myself blessed by all the wonderful people I have met in my life. But, as we all know, acquaintances come and go; saving things they gave me or wrote to me helps me remember them and their role in my life, however brief. I’m very aware, though, that a lot of this will be lost someday when my memory (and my body) is no more, and someone combs through and discards my belongings. I don’t mean to sound morbid, but it is reality.

So…I’m starting to allow some of my books to tell their own story. Here’s a couple of examples of what I mean.

books, God Among the ShakersA one-time co-worker and friend wrote a book about The Shakers. We lost touch when she moved out of state. While going through some old stuff, I found a photocopied review of  her book, as well as a promotional card on which she had jotted a note to me. Instead of throwing these things out, I put them in the back of the book. As I continue to sort through my papers and saved items, I will find other things and add them (I know I have photos, cards, etc.) If I never tell anyone the story of our relationship, I hope someday that someone finds the “treasures” in the book and is interested in the story behind it.

John Adams, David McCulloughAnother book with a story? I have an autographed copy of “John Adams” by David McCullough. When the book came out, McCullough was reading from it at a nearby charity event. My employer’s president had purchased a whole table of tickets to the event. He was not able to attend, but he gave the tickets to our company librarian to distribute. The librarian thought the company book club members were the logical choice to receive the tickets; I was one of the lucky ones! Each table had one autographed copy of the book. At the event, a photographer took pictures of the attendees at each table, trying to sell the photographs. I did not buy a picture, but I have a xerox copy of our photo. I came across it in some papers and put it in the back of the book, along with a the ticket and brochure about the event.

The story is there if someone wants to piece the items together and read the clues. How about you? Do any of your books tell their own story?



{February 15, 2013}   A Book Lover’s Care Guide?

Has anyone written such a thing?

The last blog about bookmarks lead me to thinking about book care. I figured bookmarks were created to keep people from folding back the corners of pages (as a tool for book care), but I had no idea of their history until I found this link. Interesting! (I should have used that link in the last blog.)

I then did a search for book care and found most of the information that came up was directed at children and was regarding library books. The exception was this humorous video created by the George Mason University library, which was directed toward college students. Wouldn’t we treat our own books at least as well as we would treat library books?

I guess not. I recently pulled some old poetry anthologies out of my bookcase, and I have a confession to make. Book lover that I am, I found dog-eared pages. Oh, the shame! The anthology was from college, I believe, so I can claim I was just young (like the young people in the video) and didn’t know better…do you buy that? The book was Contemporary American Poetry, edited by A. Poulin, Jr. (2nd edition). The cover is damaged with folds too. (I’m really dating myself here because from what I could find online, this book  is now up to the 8th edition. There was also a 4th edition in my bookshelf that could have been from graduate school.)

Poulin Poetry Anthologies

I could try to defend myself by saying that they are paperback books. Paperback books were created to be more “disposable” versions of hard cover books. They were also more “affordable” versions of hard cover books, although nowadays they are pretty expensive as well. I have saved a lot of my paperback books because it would be pricey and a lot of work to go back and replace them with hard cover versions. I made a big “book care” mistake with my paperbacks though: I had them in a bookcase that got direct sun! So I have…bleached out spines.

So..there’s two book care no-no’s: don’t dog-ear the pages (#5 on the video) and don’t keep them in the sun!

And how many of us can claim we don’t eat while we read (#4 on the video)? I love my tea and toast with a good book. Some of my books have a butter-grease thumbprint or two on a few pages. That can be a reason why some people don’t like to read library books or used books…you don’t know where the book has been! (Anyone remember the “Seinfeld” episode with George taking the book to the bathroom?)

Finally…I come to book covers. Anybody else out there old enough to remember covering your school books with paper bags or other paper book covers? The paper bag ones were wonderful to doodle all over and personalize. Book jackets were originally used to protect the covers of hard cover books and now are pretty much a marketing tool.

How about it book lovers…do you have any “rules” for taking care of your books? Any book care tips to pass on?



{February 8, 2013}   Using Bookmarks

bookmarks, reading, books

Bookmark gifts

As you can see, I’m not talking electronic bookmarks here. I’m talking about those items that you stick between the pages of paper books. I have received many of them over the years as simple gifts, made of so many different materials: metal, paper, cardboard. The photo shows just a few; there are countless others still stuck in books that I abandoned mid-read. My bookshelves are probably full of twice as many.

So you would think I would use them, right? Nope…I’ve recently taken to using scraps of paper as bookmarks. I find myself writing down words I don’t know, or jotting down references and subjects that I want to look up later. The scraps with scribbles go into a small box on my desk for when I have some free time on the computer (which isn’t often, I must admit). I felt like I wasn’t getting enough out of my reading by skipping over words or using the context to guess at their meaning. I felt I was giving up opportunities to learn!

I’m wondering, how many of you still use bookmarks?




Poetry AnthologiesThe weekly photo challenge topic is illumination, but this post isn’t about the photos; it’s about illumination of the mind.

I recently borrowed Harold Bloom’s poetry anthology from my town’s library because someone in a poetry group recommended it. It has been a while since I have been in school, so this was a challenge for me. I love and write poetry, but nowadays I read modern American poets (most of whom are still living). The wonder and beauty of anthologies, of course, is that they expose the reader to a variety of poets and poetic styles, allowing him or her to compare them and choose new favorites — hopefully sending them off on a journey of discovery and learning. In this case, it actually sent me back to my own bookcase!

bookcaseMy office bookcase is chaos and a catch-all. It is also full of what I consider my “necessary” books: anthologies from when I was a student of literature. For the most part, I never read them straight through; I extracted different pieces for papers. Their purpose was to get a broad spectrum view of a time period or some other random criteria (women poets, American poets, etc.). As I read, “Till I End My Song,” I discovered different poems from familiar poets and poems from poets I had never read before. It also contained works by poets whose names sounded familiar to me, but just in a peripheral way; I had never sought out their work. I found a new-for-me (but dead) poet whose work I wanted to read more of: Stevie Smith.

One of her most famous poems is “Not Waving but Drowning”:

Nobody heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

and not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking

and now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life

and not waving but drowning.

My interest was more immediate than an Internet or Library search: I went straight to my bookcase and …VOILA! Several of my anthologies contained poems by her. This was step one: after reading those I could decide if I wanted to turn to my library for a deeper look (the answer was “Yes,” BTW). I love being able to do that.

As an editor and reader I have always been in love with books. The day is yet to come when I will turn to a Kindle or a Nook, but I have changed my book buying and retention habits in recent years. I no longer keep novels unless they are first edition or signed, or I absolutely love the book. (Wuthering Heights will always have a place on my bookshelf!) I consider poetry books or short story anthologies necessary books; they can always be revisited at different times and bring different illuminations to a hungry mind.




I make resolutions every year — or to put it another way — I set goals every year, as most people do with varying degrees of success. I believe the motivation behind the resolution or goal is the key to its success: why do you want to do it? Because you think you should? Because someone else wants you to? Because you feel like circumstances are forcing you to?

As I got ready to set my goals for 2013, and as I hand-wrote a rough draft of this blog in a notebook with aching hands, I pondered my writing habits. I’m thinking the time may have come when I have to change them. I don’t know what is wrong with my hands (tendonitis…arthritis?), but it has already been a few weeks and the pain is not only not subsiding, it seems to be escalating. I could use this as an excuse not to write, but I can’t allow it. Should I get an ergonomic pen? Speak into a dictaphone (which I actually have; I can’t afford Dragon)? Would typing be better?

My current morning pages notebook

My current morning pages notebook

Although I’m a decent typist (having worked as a secretary right after college) I still prefer hand-writing in a spiral-bound notebook with ruled pages. Friends over the years have gifted me with some lovely journals, which sit there like “good china,” waiting for the special occasion, that SOMEDAY when I will feel like I am finally the writer I want to be, when everything I write will be brilliant and worthwhile, clothed between luxuriant covers. SIGH…

My new beautiful journal

My new beautiful journal

I’ve always been like this: saving the “good jewelry” for special occasions that never seem to happen; saving the “good poems” for special publications that I never get up the courage to submit to. When I was a young art major, one of the best drawings I ever created was done on newsprint paper. My art teacher asked me why I did that. There was no creative reason; it wasn’t elemental to the concept or an essential factor in the art produced. My answer: “I didn’t think it was going to come out that good and I didn’t want to waste good paper.” I have to ask myself, “why don’t I think I’m good enough to use good paper or good journals?”

Just change your habits you say; it is simple, just go ahead and write in the good journals. I have tried that a few times. My closet contains some lovely leather-covered journals with a couple of entries, abandoned because their beauty did not inspire me to new heights; their outsides did not elevate what was inside.  Morning pages are just morning pages whether they are written in a cheap cardboard-covered notebook or a leather-bound book with handcrafted paper.

What are “Morning Pages” you might ask, if you have not read Julia Cameron’s books. I have turned to the “Artist’s Way” every year with the best of intentions. This time I’m reading “Finding Water” for a change of pace. Same author, same principles: sit down and hand-write 3 pages as soon as you get up. Get rid of all the random negative thoughts you may have as you start your day. Get in touch with your feelings and your “small still voice” inside. In Julia’s words (from page 14 of  “Finding Water”):

Be trivial, be petty, whine, grump, groan, and complain. Morning Pages siphon off a haze of negativity through which we normally face our day. The negativity goes onto the page instead of just wafting around us as we make our way through our daily lives. “These pages are boring,” you might complain. Write them anyway.

Julia recommends doing it for twelve weeks to make it a habit you will stick with; I never seem to be able to do that. I ultimately fall off to a couple of days a week, and that is the never-ending story of my “journaling” activities. But a funny thing happened as I read the next paragraph, sitting down to write my morning pages. I understood why I prefer to write in the spiral-bound notebooks!

Julia goes on to say: Sometimes we try too hard to have something to say. We feel desperate but we don’t want to act desperate. We want to pose a little–even on the page. Posing gets us nowhere. We do better to just come clean. It can take getting used to, this nakedness on the page…We want to pretend we have momentous things to say when the truth may be that we yearn to say something but we don’t know what.

I think when I write in the beautiful journals I feel like I’m posing. I’m putting pressure on myself; I’m not allowing myself to be “naked” on the page.

I started this post to write about the tendonitis or arthritis I’m having in my hands that is making it difficult for me to write right now, but the actual writing has revealed that this is just the latest excuse. (How can I write in these beautiful journals when my writing is cramped and nearly illegible?)

Breaking the habits seems difficult in itself, but facing the reasons behind those habits is more difficult still, and that confrontation may be the only way new habits can be created after all. Morning pages are worth their weight in gold, even if they are clothed in cardboard covers.



{February 21, 2011}   So Many Books, So Little Time…

As a book lover I have stacks of unread books in my house, some given to me, some picked up at yard sales or on sale.  As I have mentioned in a previous blog, I have been using Paperback Swap to get rid of books I have read and don’t want to keep, and swap them for others that I would like to read, but I recently ran out of credits!

So…I looked through my stacks and picked a book that my husband purchased and read years ago by a best-selling author.  It seemed like a good candidate for Paperback Swap:  written by a popular author and not a “keeper.”  Trouble was I wasn’t in the right mood to read it; it didn’t grab me and make me look forward to reading it. It was drudgery.  I spent a couple of weeks getting through just a couple of chapters.

In my younger days, I committed myself to books — once I started one, I tried to finish it no matter how long it took (of course, I would often start another one on the side while I dragged myself through the first one).  That was then, this is now; I’m older, and there are too many books I want to read before my time is up (and more being written every day!).  I want to read a book that cheers me up, makes me laugh, broadens my knowledge, or sparks my creativity.  Taking classes and going through training requires enough “have to” reading right now.  That book is going to Paperback Swap today, even though I haven’t read it; today I start something fun.



et cetera
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