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It’s not every day that begins with a procession of scantily clad senior citizens bobbing in the deep end of the pool at seven o’clock in the morning. But that is exactly how my first day of water aerobics started.

About a month ago, I injured one of my legs while training for a half marathon. I had to stop running for a couple months, so I decided that swimming would be the safest exercise during my recovery period.

I arrived early that first morning of class, blinking repeatedly in the glare of the bright morning sun. After meeting the teacher, I quickly wrapped my waist in a flotation device as instructed, and grabbed a couple of Styrofoam dumbbells, making my way to the deep end of the outdoor pool.

My new classmates filed in, peeling off their mumu-like cover-ups one by one. I was the youngest person by 35 years. The median age of my classmates was roughly 71 and some change.

As the grannies gingerly lowered themselves into the pool, it looked something like a Far Side cartoon. There were body parts headed in directions that gave even gravity a run for its money. There were funny looking spindly legs topped by overly amble middle sections that looked shockingly similar to Twinkies perched on toothpicks.

I couldn’t stop staring. I think it was the inevitability that was so fascinating. I couldn’t help but think I would be just like them before I knew it, but hopefully with decidedly more stylish swimwear. I suddenly realized that all my futile attempts at prolonging my youth were headed in one direction and one direction only – straight downhill. 

While I noticed that these ladies didn’t seem to put a lot of thought into figure-appropriate swimwear, they certainly valued proper and liberal application of bright red lipstick first in the morning. They were of the school that said that you don’t leave the house without your lipstick no matter what the task at hand. And, apparently, that included water sports.

As we started to paddle around the pool, the ladies noticed the one of their classmates did not match the others. Each lady introduced herself to me, each telling me how much fun the class was, and how they enjoyed coming several times a week.

Clearly, they had all been attending this class for years, and came as much for the gossip as the exercise. I laughed to myself as I listened to them discuss their recent doctor’s appointments, the best bingo nights around town, upcoming funerals, and of course, the weather. Weather is very big among older people.

Once the class got going, we executed numerous swimming exercises that resembled something between blind senior ballet and inebriated water polo, minus the coordination and precision. I nearly bit a hole in the side of my cheek trying not to laugh.

We did laugh, the ladies and I, as we bumped into each while traveling every which way across the pool. Awkward as they were, I was impressed by the freedom and confidence they exuded. I supposed everything is more graceful and buoyant in the water. 

As we finished our class, the grannies asked me to please join them again. How could I resist? Where else can you get this kind of entertainment so early in the morning?

I finally did it. Recently, I wrote a post asking for suggestions for the reading list I was compiling for myself for the next twelve months. My intention is to read 25-30 books in that time period. The response to that request was overwhelming, especially from some of my most well-read friends. I received well over 100 titles in all. You can see them all here.

In the end, extracting my seletions from that list of books was like trying to choose between my children, and I haven’t even read them yet! A special thanks to all those who contributed. Without whom, I never would have ventured so boldly into the uncharted territory of the fiction section! It’s going to be a fantastic year of reading! I can’t wait to get started!

If you decide to make your own list, please include it in a comment to this post!

Without further adieu:

Fiction:

  1. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
  2. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close(Jonathan Safran Foer)
  3. Till We Have Faces (C.S. Lewis)
  4. The Harry Potter Series (J.K. Rowling)
  5. Five Quarters of the Orange (Joanna Harris)
  6. Franny and Zooey (J.D. Salinger)
  7. The Brother’s Karamozov (Dostoevsky)
  8. Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)
  9. The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner)
  10. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon)
  11. Of Love & Other Demons (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
  12. My Name is Asher Lev(Chaim Potok)
  13. A Lesson Before Dying (Romulus Linney & Ernest J. Gaines)
  14. Assassination Vacation(Sarah Vowell)
  15. All the Pretty Horses(Cormac McCarthy)
Non-Fiction
17. Salt: A World History (Mark Kurlansky)
18. Surprised by Hope (N.T Wright)
19. The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America(Louis Menand)
20. A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine (Jay McInerney)
21. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Michael Pollan)
22. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto(Michael Pollan)
23. Pensees(Blaise Pascal)
24. A Language Older Than Words: (Derrick Jensen)
26. Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (Flannery O’Connor)
28. The Myth of Certainty (Daniel Taylor)
Short Story:
29. A Good Man is Hard to Find (Flannery O’Connor)
30. How We Are Hungry(Dave Eggers)

books

I’ll start by saying I’m embarrassed it’s taken me so long to put this list up. I’ll also start by saying the list of books to be read is literally endless, not to mention overwhelming – in the best sense. I think that is the explanation for the delay.

It is thrilling to consider the possibilities held between the pages of an unopened book. So many things to learn, experience, and encounter. I asked all of you, along with several of my most well-read friends, to contribute just a few of your favorite books to my list. The response was enourmous. 

I intend to extract my own list from all the suggestions below. My hope is that you will be inspired to do the same. 

FICTION

Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)

The Harry Potter Series (J. K. Rowling)

Song of Solomon (Toni Morrison)

One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

The Chosen (Chaim Potok)

Midnight Children (Salman Rushdie)

The Kite Runner (de Khaled Hosseini)

The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)

Five Quarters of the Orange (Joanna Harris)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Louis De Bernieres)

Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)

Franny and Zooey (Salinger)

Portrait of a Lady (Henry James)

Vanity Fair  (Thackery)

Cold Mountain (Charles Frazier)

Jitterbug Perfume (Tom Robbins)

Madame Bovary (Flaubert)

Brother’s Karamozov (Dostoevsky)

Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky)

The Sun also Rises (Hemmingway)

Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)

Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston)

Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)

Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)

The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

The Sound & The Fury  (William Faulkner)

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

Gilead (Marilynne Robinson)

Specimen Days (Michael Cunningham)

Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon)

Ocean Sea (Alessandro Barrico)

White Noise (Don DeLillo)

Til We Have Faces (C.S. Lewis)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer)

The House of the Spirits  (Isabel Allende)

Of Love & Other Demons (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Dune (Frank Herbert)

Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen)

Summerland  (Micharl Chabon)

The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)

Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)

My Name is Asher Lev (Chaim Potok)

A Gathering of Old Men (Ernst J. Gaines)

A Lesson Before Dying (Romulus Linney & Ernest J. Gaines)

The Gift of Asher Lev (Chaim Potok)

The Magician of Lublin (Isaac Bashevis)

Don Quixote (Miguel De Cervantes)

Middlemarch (George Elliot)

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) 

The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon)

American Gods (Neil Gaiman)

The Angel’s Game (Carlos Ruiz Zafon)

Assassination Vacation (Sarah Vowell)

The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis)

The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy)

The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

All the Pretty Horses (Cormac McCarthy)

NON-FICTION

Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers)

The Myth of Certainty (Daniel Taylor)

Paul and the Self: Apostolic Teachings for Personal Wholeness (J. Knox Chamblin)

The Art of Eating: A Collected Gastronomical (M.F.K. Fisher)

Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution (Thomas McNamee)

No Future Without Forgiveness (Desmond Tutu)

Salt: A World History (Mark Kurlansky)

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (N. T. Wright)

The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (Louis Menand)

A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine (Jay Mcinerney)

Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale (Frederick Buechner)

Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris)

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Michael Pollan)

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (Michael Pollan)

Pensees (Blaise Pascal)

The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life & Our World (John Robbins)
Diet for a New America (John Robbins)

The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted & the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long Term Health (T. Colin Campbell)

A Language Older than Words (Derrick Jensen)

Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community (Wendell Berry)

Guns, Germs & Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (Jared Diamond)

The Origin of Species (Charles Darwin)

Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (Flannery O’Connor) 

The Professor & the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity & the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (Simon Winchester)

The Memory of Fire Trilogy (Eduardo Galeano)

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (Azar Nafisi)

Fraud (David Rakoff)

Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems  (David Rakoff)

A Walk in the Woods (Bill Bryson)

A Short History of Nearly Everything (Bill Bryson)

The Emigrants (W. G. Sebald)

Camera Lucida (Roland Barthes)

Blue Like Jazz (Don Miller)

Traveling Mercies (Anne Lamott)

The Five Love Languages (Gary Chapman),

In His Steps (Charles Sheldon)

Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis)

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey)

Getting Things Done (David Allen)

Think Big (Ben Carson)

The Bible

The Quaran, English Translation

The Other Side of Israel (Susan Nathan)

The success principles (Jack Canfield)

Banker to the Poor (Muhammad Yunus)

SHORT STORY

A Good Man is Hard to Find (Flannery O’Connor)

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Zadie Smith

Vladimir Nabokov

How We Are Hungry (Dave Eggers) 

OTHER
Poetry
:
Sandra Cisneros
Joseph Brodsky
Czeslaw Milosz
Michael Ondaatje
Dylan Thomas
Anna Akhmatova

I was sitting in the kitchen, having a stand off with my writer’s block a couple weeks ago, and overhead my mom explaining Paint-By-Numbers to my two nieces, ages 5 and 3. She was pointing to the picture on the package.

“If you want the picture to look like this, you have to stay in the lines.”

There are good reasons why we all feel more comfortable surrounded by the lines. They provide direction, comfort and predictability. They help us feel okay, knowing where we fit in, and give us something to measure ourselves by.

In adult life, that external validation is rarely enough to make us feel satisfied at the deepest levels. I’ve often flirted, lusted even, for certainty, for control of the moving and chaotic pieces of identity and calling. I’ve longed for the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that assured me I was on the right track of being who I needed to be, or was supposed to be.

For most of my life, I’ve known I was an artist, and for most of my life, I’ve tried to deny or avoid it, in varying degrees. The chaos of the creative life is unsettling, to say the least. I love beauty and I am never more alive then when I am creating something – an idea, a piece of art, an experience. But that creative process is so uncharted, so unbound, so wide-open, that it frankly scares the hell out of me. 

So, I run. Not always, but frequently enough. I’ve often tried to quiet the artist within, and settle into a more responsible grown-up life. But, every time I have done this, it is as though something benevolent and parental exposes and sabotages my efforts to escape.

For the last five or six years, I’ve been trying to finish my bachelor’s degree. Or rather, start trying to finish. My long-range plan was to earn my masters and doctorate in clinical psychology. Having not completed my undergraduate work has been a source of personal disappointment and shame for years. It’s absurd how much I’ve let it hold me back. 

My plans to go back to school were seriously derailed in the last couple of years, due to life circumstances. Lately, I’ve felt like it was time to take the bull by the horns, and do this thing once and for all. But, there was a problem.

I recently found out that the three years of undergraduate credit I have would not transfer due to accreditation issues. I would have to start at the beginning. I was inclined to pull up my bootstraps, redouble my efforts and dive right in to English 101. Just before enrolling, however,  it seemed like a good idea to step back and re-evaluate before committing to an 8-10 year academic trajectory.

I allowed myself to ask, Do I really want to go back to school? And, if so, why do I want to do it? I may as well have slid back the lid of Pandora’s box. All of a sudden, that small voice deep inside seemed to have something important to say. The more I thought about not going back to school, the freer I felt. I knew I was on to something.

After further self-examination, it became apparent that my desire to obtain an academic degree was not purely motivated. I differentiate this from my desire to guide people in healing and wholeness. The degrees, unlike the calling, are primarily about my need to be validated, seen, and acknowledged. Unfortunately, those things are an inside job for the most part, which, between you and me, I kind of hate. It’s so much harder.

I think there was a time in my life when my desire to become a psychologist was an authentic choice. But, over time, as I changed, my passions evolved. Along the way, I forgot to give myself permission to allow my goals to flex with me as I grew and developed as a person.

It’s odd to say, but the older I get, the more I see the value of quitting. Sometimes, when things are too hard and there’s too much resistance, life is trying to tell you to change your course. That could mean a mild adjustment, or a 180 degree turn around. However,I have a personality that is prone to push harder when I encounter an obstacle. Sometimes, that can be beneficial. And, sometimes, it is just plain stupid. 

This time, instead of barreling past the obvious messages life was trying to send me, I asked myself, who I am – not as a profession, but as a person? I believe I am a nurturer, learner,  healer, visionary, inspirer, intuitive, creative, and lover of beauty and people.  All of those things come naturally to me, even though they usually require hard work on my part. I was born knowing how to do them; they are not skills I have been taught. It is as though they are coded onto my DNA, not learned or aquired, but developed.

I don’t think it is necessary for me to do any of those things within the confines of a particular profession for them to be satisfying. I could express each piece in any number of different combinations and contexts. And, I’m sure I will over a lifetime. In fact, I think finding my own way will be infinitely more fulfilling than the satisfaction one profession could provide.

I feel the greatest pleasure these days when I write. (Stay tuned, it could change tomorrow!)  So, for now, I want to pursue the development of my writing, and fill my life with experiences that are worth writing about. How the rest of it will work out? I have no idea. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

What are you running from that you know you are made for? 

Heart of the Artist

Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost.

Isak Dineson

Babette’s Feast

Check these guys out!

 

A few blogs I’m enjoying that I think you will too:

http://dearkaren.typepad.com

http://beyondJEMS.wordpress.com/

http://joeljmiller.com/

www.randyelrod.com

www.dooce.com

http://normanatq.blogspot.com/

 

In almost every way, the morning started out differently that it had before. Approximately 20 degrees cooler, the air itself seemed to be filled with confidence. I woke early, around 5am, and proceeded through my usual morning ritual of French-press coffee, email and news.

I was ready to roll. My head was in the game, right from the start. Thinking back to my run two weeks ago, this morning hung in stark contrast to the fantasies I had of throwing in the towel not long before. It seemed impossible to imagine moving forward, or rather, moving at all, only two Saturdays previously.

Lacing up our shoes, my dad and I devised a realistic plan for completing our mileage. Our goal was 11. Slow and steady would be the name of the game. We plotted our course, filled the bottles on our refueling belts with Gatorade, put our iPod buds in our ears, and off we went.

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Cool, breezy and overcast, the sun was just tracing the billowy clouds with morning light. We rounded the track at Pinkerton Park four times; it seemed to go by quickly. As we passed other early morning runners, we cheerfully waved as we ran in time with the music pumping in our ears.

After a quick stop at the house, we made our way through the town square, the round-about dotted with only two or three cars, probably left over from the night before. It was calm and quiet, as most of city residents surely lay in their beds asleep. We passed the old buildings, looking sleepy and not yet awake themselves.

The last five miles became a bit more difficult than the previous six, but not impossible. High walls of leafy vegitation created a cool tunnel along the trail following the Little Harpeth River. It feIt strange to run past the places where I faltered on my last distance run, feeling strong and sure of finishing this time. I was back on the horse again, after a bad fall, regaining confidence in body and mind.

The final two or three miles went by quickly. Not pushing too hard, I was able to enjoy the scenery, and appreciate all that my body was able to do. It was even, dare I say, fun this time! As we approached the Public Square again, now walking to cool down, my dad and I commented that we could have gone even further. But, eleven miles seemed like quite enough for one day.

—–

If you know me at all, you know that slow and steady wins the race is pretty much the antithesis of my middle name. I am a make-it-happen kind of gal. Some might even say, strong-willed. Okay, everyone would say. I don’t like to give up once I’ve decided to do something. This dedication and tenacity have allowed me to accomplish some great things. However, they have also proven to be a liability when left unchecked.

I’m learning trying to learn to be willing to change strategies, and be flexible in how I get to my goals. I am not naturally this way. (Shocked?) Getting a little older and living with a chronic illness are teaching me to listen to my intuition and respect my limitations. Previously, I would have ignored the warning signs and barrelled right through the roadblocks. I am being broken of my drivenness. Thankfully.

For me, drivenness is characterized by insecurity, fear and the need to prove something. As I have often said, no one is thinking about you as much as you’re thinking about you. Never more true in our places of insecurity. No one cares how fast I run a half-marathon but me! In fact, my family and friends are endlessly encouraging and surprised that I would even attempt to cover that distance, much less run any part of it.

These days, my goal – my authentic goal, that is – is to be gentle with myself and enjoy being exactly where I am – even if that is a little slower than I would like. I will always enjoy a good challenge; that’s just who I am. However, going forward, I want to check my motivations, and have the wisdom to throttle back and let go when it’s best to. I probably have some more work to do on that one! Fortunately, I have a feeling life will give me ample opportunities for practice.

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