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Let’s Talk About Books, Baby

June 25, 2012

One of my Creative Year goals was to read 26 books.

Well, I have now read 32 books and it’s not even July yet. So maybe that goal was a little – underpromise over-deliver of me, but I really never had paid attention to how many books I was reading in a year. So. Now you know.

Anyway, here is my list, and I’m including succint reviews for your enjoyment.

Yes. Succint.

1. The Help – Kathryn Stockett – AWESOME. If you have not read it, you need to go find it and read it now. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

2. The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin – Also AWESOME. If we’re friends on FB you already know…I LOVED THIS BOOK. I talked about it all winter. Go read it. Do it. Live it. Be “YOU” whoever YOU is.

3. Expecting Adam -Martha Beck – Beautiful – a memoir by a Harvard (I think) professor married to a Harvard professor who found herself pregnant with a Very Special Baby. I loved this book and its bittersweet yin and yanginess (for everything you think you have lost, you find something in its place.)

4. Sleeping Arrangements – Madeleine Wickham- Meh. Not bad for chick lit.

5. The Queen of New Beginnings – Erica James – dragged a bit in the middle. Not bad for chick lit.

6. The Gate Crasher – See #4

7. Bossy Pants – good, funny, Tina Fey is awesome. The prayer for her daughter – hilarious.

8. A Previous Engagement -Stephanie Haddad – stop downloading so much free shit on your kindle. Like this.

9. The Historian Elizabeth Kostova – Very good. Engrossing. Consuming. AND SOOO LONNNNGGGG MY GODDDDDD

10. The Postmorals – Drew Magary – Oh w o w you need to read this. Thought provoking and just wow.

11. Into the Wild – John Krakauer – Uhhhh spoiled white kid disappears into woods. Lives on his own. Dies in a bus. Sucks. His parents are sad but resigned. True story.

12. The Zookeeper’s Wife – Diane Ackerman- beautiful, heartbreaking, WWII nazi drama, Poland, Zoo….very well done. Read it!

13. Heaven is For Real  – Todd Burpo- sweet, gushy, more about the parents than the kid. I wanted more….something. Read it but borrow someone’s copy.

14, 15, and 16 – Fifty Shades Trilogy – EL James – Good. God. Almighty. Buy it for your kindle so they kids won’t know what you’re reading.

17. Three Girls and a Baby -Rachel Shurig –  Stop downloading so much free shit for your kindle, like this.

18. Cottage for Sale, Must be Moved -Kate Whouley –  Memoir – very good! I loved this book. Charming.

19. Some Girls – Jillian Lauren- True story of a woman in a harem. Not as good as I thought it would be.

20.  Crooked Little Heart – my first wrangling with Anne Lamott. Loved.

21. The Hour I First Believed – Wally Lamb – When you finish reading The Help and The Happiness Project, go get this book. Just so…incredible.

22. Possible Side Effects – I love Augusten Burroughs, mostly because he is more messed up than I am.

23. The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion – Good, good. I think I didn’t know what she meant by “Magical Thinking” until I read #31. Now I get it.

24. Last Night at Chateau Marmont – Lauren Weisberger – look, you either like Chick lit or you don’t. If you get a book with a sparkly high heel on it and you expect War and Peace, well, you’re going to be disappointed.

25. Wild – Cheryl Strayed – I know. Oprah book clubbed it. It was aight. Kinda pitchy, dog. Not sure she really found what she was looking for. But ok.

26. The Weird Sisters Eleanor Brown – weird 2nd person omnicient narrator. THAT IS ALL. (I actually ended up liking it but…it took awhile.)

27. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn – Read this one after The Hour I First Believed.  BEAUTIMOUSLY written and a twisty turny voicey plotty mystery/love story/revenge/redemption ending with WHAT THE FUCK??!! Excellent.

28 & 29. Diverngent and Insurgent – Veronica Roth – LOVED. Could NOT STOP READING.

30. Resilience – Elizabeth Edwards – I read this because that hideous Rielle Hunter’s book is out and I wanted to read something to combat her juju. This book was beautiful.

31.  Magical Thinking – more Augusten Burroughs. Excellent, as always. And I’m not just saying that because he scares me a little.

32. Rosie – More Anne Lamott. I liked this book but I don’t think the person who wrote the blurb on the back actually read the whole thing.

So that’s my list so far…what are you reading?

Beginning

June 3, 2012

Author’s Note

I have always wanted to live at the beach. That’s my big secret, which is really no secret at all. I used to say it all the time, and then people would say “Yeah, well,  we all want to live at the beach after we come back from vacation. But you don’t really want to live there. It’s not always vacation there, you know. Hurricanes, tourists, winter for God’s sake. And the insurance, the cost, the crappy water, and there are no jobs at the beach.”

And my big secret is that yes, I really do want to live there, despite the flaws, despite the downside. I love the bright, hot yellow summers, the long, misty gray winters, the thrill of riding out a hurricane. Tourist season, off season, storm season; all of the seasons of the beach hold charm and promise and inspiration and beauty and danger and frustration and peace for me.

“Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable.” – Twyla Tharp

So that is my secret.

And that is my philosophy.

And everything is here. And by the time I’m done, I will have used it all.

One way or another.

Complicated

May 30, 2012

I love silence

and I loathe silence.

The quiet of it, the stillness of it, such a necessary evil, such a beautiful dream.

Silence lulls me and awakens me, caresses me and hits me.

I can find myself and lose myself in silence.

I can sit with it and I can rail against it.

I sometimes look forward to it, seek it,

claw desperately to make my way to where it is,

and I sometimes check my watch over and over, waiting for it to end,

and I sometimes run from it, not looking over my shoulder,

not wanting to see how close it has come to me.

Silence brings forth hope and fear

Love and loss

What was and what might have been

Wrongs and rights, yesses and nos.

Things I did and did not say hang heavy in the silence,

and sometimes the silence is just empty, hopeful, expectant.

Sometimes lovers, sometimes stalkers, silence and I don’t quite have it all

figured out yet but that is ok, and that is not ok.

Silence is a gift and curse, it is music and it is noise, it is poetry and it is smut.

It is everything at once,

and yet it is nothing.

***

My answer to the amazing Danielle LaPorte’s question, “What is your relationship with silence?” and the best I could come up with was…it’s complicated.

What I Want

May 21, 2012

What I want is to know about people. About the ways we are broken, wild, incomplete, imperfect.

The ways we interconnect with other people. The ways we need them. The ways we are needed by them. The ways we both chase after and resist that need. The ways we disguise it. The ways we fit together like puzzle pieces and yet we can’t see past our own missing parts to see that his part or her part fits with it.

I want to know more about the way our polarity changes when we come across that person who sees our broken, wild, incomplete, imperfect self and says Yes. Yes, I will have that. I will love those things in you, and I will not try to fix, tame, complete or perfect you, but I will be utterly charmed by these things in you. When you meet that person, what happens? Does the sky change color? Does the world widen? When your negatives are suddenly positive, what else changes for you?  And then, if the broken, wild, incomplete, imperfectness of who you are gets to be too much for the person who said they would love all those things in you – what happens? Can you go back to the old color of the sky? Can you unsee what you have seen, unlived what you have experienced?

It’s the unknowable, unfathomable pieces of people that fascinate me. The motivation behind the mask, the hurt behind the eyes that try to smile, the scars and blemishes we cover up are what I seek. The bad boys we dated, the cracks in our souls, the dips and valleys in our hearts that can never quite be brought up to level are the things I want to explore. In myself, in you.

I want to lead people to do as I have done – copy pages out of books and highlight paragraphs and write YES! THIS! in the margins. I want people to email passages to their friends, to tweet perfect sentences, to tell their most cherished soul mate YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BECAUSE IT IS SO US.

And I tried to tell myself I’m not a writer, that I can’t tell stories.

But I know there must be a story that does these things. There has to be a way to express these unknowable truths, to capture people so they read, open-mouthed and astonished, at seeing their own story within this story. Because every story is this story, and this story is every story.

Now to find it, to grow it, to let the words surface and the story form. To get it down, to love it from regular imperfection into perfect imperfection. To find my voice, a storytelling voice. To let the characters be who and what they are, to tie things into knots that can’t be untangled. To be happy with the tangles. To take this thing that stirs deep in my soul and show it to you.

To live some life, to risk something for the story, to knows these things about my ownself and be willing to display them for the world and for my husband and my friends and my parents before I expose you so starkly. My eagerness to make you vulnerable knows no bounds. But as a servant leader, I don’t ask you to do anything I won’t do, so first, I must summon the courage to show you my scars and my wounds and my hopes and remove my clever disguise.

All fiction is autobiographical fiction. – variously attributed

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better. – Anne Lamott

All writing is a betrayal. – some man on NPR whose name I can’t remember but he was brilliant.

If you wait for inspiration, you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter. – Paulo Coehlo

Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block. Sit down and write. – Patti Digh

Failing to plan is planning to fail. – every strategist ever.

Try to write something. Remember who you are. – my sweet friend Elizabeth K. ❤ (Your words have stuck with me. 🙂 As you can see.)

***

I actually have an idea. An idea that could become just the sort of book I love, with lots of characters and plot lines and voices and interconnectedness. I’m being gentle, letting it come to me, like you would a baby deer. Chasing it will make it run. Putting a deadline on it will kill it.

Opening myself up to the possibility of it will give it room to make itself fully known to me.

 

 

High maintenance

May 21, 2012

I don’t drink any soda except Fresca and diet root beer. I’m drowning in unsweetened tea and water isn’t going to cut it with my fiery burrito bowl. I bring a Fresca from work and drink it boldly, daring someone at Chipotle to say something.

No one does. I’m flagrantly breaking unspoken rules and no one cares.

I am perplexed, a bit. Wondering, quietly, what other rules I could be breaking with no consequence. The list is long, dizzyingly long. I realize how many rules I follow, how much no one else cares whether I do or I don’t.

I hide my can beside me, less bold than before, for some reason. Someone could care, I suppose.

Some days I don’t make sense, even to myself. Today is one of those days.

Navel Gazing Meta Blogging BS

April 17, 2012

Feel free to skip this. It’s really not about anything, it might not even make sense. But writing is cheaper than therapy and my therapist probably has an 8 week wait for an appointment anyway. So. I’ve been thinking about being a writer. And being a novelist. And being a published novelist. And how I don’t know how to do any of those things except put words together and maybe that just isn’t enough.

Maybe a person  needs more than a little talent to get a book published.

I have always thought of writing as my passion. The thing I am supposed to do. The thing God put me on earth to be. But then…I think more, about how I wasn’t remotely interested in a career in publishing or editing or journalism or anything remotely related to writing. I wanted to be a writer, but I put no extraordinary effort into learning how, exactly, to do that. I set deadlines for myself and missed them. I signed up for challenges and programs to help me finish my book and quit working on it. I rebelled against my own desire to the point that I have to wonder if it really is my desire, or just an assumption I made somewhere along the way. Writer = novelist = published novelist= riches, fame, beach houses.

I had already begun deconstructing the equation, letting go of the outcomes. I was down to writer = novelist.

What if writer = whatever the hell it is I feel like writing in the moment?

What if there is a better reason to write novels than realizing the dream of a beach house? What if there are many paths to a beach house? What if a beach house is so much more trouble than it’s worth that I wouldn’t want it once I had it? (Not likely)

And then I was invited to a meeting last week, and I met extraordinary people doing amazing work in the field I have worked in for the last 13 years and I thought hey, I have good ideas and I do amazing work.  Public health could be..might be…is? my passion. I have loved pretty much every moment I have done this work and I just had to ask myself – why are you resisting this? Why do you keep calling yourself a writer but not writing what you think you should be writing? Why can’t you just surrender to what you love, even if it’s not what you thought it was going to be?

So I am letting go. I’m letting myself not worry about novels. I’m looking at all the things I would need to do to go back to school for public health. I’m paying attention to how good it feels to do my work, to do my job, and letting it be ok that I might always have 3 unfinished novels on my hard drive. I’ll write poems and little prose pieces and whatever when I want to. But I am surrendering the fantasy that I will make a living from my words.

I’m Being Shannon, and it feels really, really good.

 

Tied

March 23, 2012

I once saw
these knots
you call love…
tangled messes of need and desire and fear…
frayed strands of hope and vulnerability and laughter and gentle, quiet strength
as something to fix,
to untie
to straighten and soothe and smooth,
cutting off to equal lengths,
as though that would help me
understand and quantify and measure
the length and breadth and depth
of feeling.
But something shifted, something
changed…
something about the way
you looked into my eyes
and tucked a lock of hair behind my ear
and held my hand
and held my heart
on a quiet Sunday morning
made me realize
that my job is not to fix anything
my job is not to untangle anything
My job is to hold it,
Sacred and treasured,
just as it is, just as it was handed to me, entrusted to me.
My job is to see its beauty,
to recognize its light.
My job is to surrender my own tangled brokenness,
to hand it to you, unashamed,
uninhibited, and willing to find
all the secret ways and places
our sacred broken selves
fit perfectly together.

Untitled Haiku

March 22, 2012

In my head I hear

memories like melodies

spinning ancient tales

 

 

 

Pseudonym

March 6, 2012

I can’t help but wonder if,

when he said my other name

should be,

could be,

Isis,

he knew that she’s a goddess –

the goddess of

nature and magic,

the ideal wife and mother,

the seat of the king’s power,

the patron of

sailors (with her lusty wenchiness)

and the patron of healers,

able to control the weather by the knotting or unknotting of hair and

gifted with the interpretation of dreams.

I wonder if he knew she is called

She who gives birth to heaven and earth,

She who knows the orphan,

She who knows the widow spider,

She who seeks justice for the poor people,

She who seeks shelter for the weak people

She who seeks the righteousness in her people

and I wonder if he knew

they called her

The Brilliant One in the Sky,

Star of the Sea

Great Lady of Magic,

Mistress of the House of Life,

She Who Knows How To Make Right Use of the Heart,

Light-Giver of Heaven,

Lady of the Words of Power,

Moon Shining Over the Sea.

and I wonder if he

meant to call me Isis

after all.

Unoaked Merlot

February 27, 2012

Red wine

pools like darkness

in the bottom of my glass.

Light sneaks in through

half-open blinds

and flashes

as cars drive by,

lost or drunk or

tending to middle-of-the-night

things.

Cohen tells me the cracks, because they let the light in,

are ok.

And as I run I see

even my shadow looks smaller.

Bending and stretching and

reaching for that thing

just out of grasp, oh so close…

so close and yet.

Not as close as it seems, not as close as it looks from

where I stand.

I look into the darkness

and I swirl it and

I breathe it in and I wonder

what it would be like to jump-

just abandon all my fears

and forget the limits and the programs and the

restraints and restrictions and see,

just see

what I’m really made of

what I’m really capable of

whether the light can really penetrate

this twlight where I dwell.

This place that’s neither here nor there,

this nor that

dark nor light,

the shadowy incongruence

of what if

and maybe and

I don’t know and

someday.