Tag Archive for: #books

Yesterday, I went to a book launch that was very different from any other launch I’ve been to – for a book I’ve already read that brought me to tears more than once, as a writer, as a mother, as someone who loves people who struggle with addiction. The book is A House on Stilts, written by Paula Becker, and she took great care to bring this book out in to the world in partnership with representatives from agencies in Seattle who help young adults with addiction and homelessness.

More than once, I found myself swooning during the launch. First, when Paula spoke about addiction as a community issue, rather than a personal or familial one. Then again, when Christopher Hanson, the Director of Engagement Services for YouthCare in Seattle used the phrase “unconditional positive regard,” and when all of the panelists spoke about the necessary collaboration between families and social service agencies as we work to craft supports for young people in crisis.

Paula wrote this book knowing that there will be readers who will seek to distance themselves from her story because it is so painful, and many of them will do that by examining her choices and using them to excoriate her and her husband. The book itself is brilliant in the way it combines her personal journey as the mother of someone who fought opioid addiction with the facts about how our communities treat those who struggle and their families. While it is often incredibly sad, it is not a ‘woe is me’ tale or a defense of her individual choices, but a call to action that we must heed if we are to do right by this generation of young people who have been caught in the grip of addiction and all that it bleeds in to – unemployment, homelessness, mental illness, and physical health challenges.

Unfortunately, so many of our public health systems fail to adequately address the needs of young people and families who seek help – especially black and brown people. And over time, the continued failures make it hard to believe that the systems won’t do more harm than good. Threatening to put folks in jail, cut off services, remove children from their parents’ home – these are not ways to heal, and they are certainly not ways to engender trust. If you are a person who has been denied services or threatened with punishment of some sort over and over again, the likelihood that you will continue to ask for help gets smaller and smaller, and you become more isolated and more at risk of harm.

When families are expected to support a loved one with addiction in isolation, they quickly become overwhelmed. I have had personal experience loving and supporting someone who is constantly in crisis – waiting for the phone call that will tell me they are injured or dead, getting the phone call with an urgent plea for shelter or money, holding that person time and again while they shake and sob and say they are ready to get help. The toll it takes on your physical body is real, and the emotional triggers last for – well, decades at this point, and I don’t know if they’ll ever go away. The adrenaline rush that floods your body when you get that call, the shaking, the lump in your throat, the voice in your head that says, “it’s happening again and I have to marshall the strength to manage it,” are nearly impossible to ignore. If we do not have others to reach out to for help who don’t have the same visceral ties to the person struggling (and, thus, can help in different ways that are often more effective), we are quickly depleted in every way.

When partnerships are rooted in genuine care and a purposeful dovetailing of skill sets and resources, they are amazingly effective. As a family member or individual who is struggling, finding those people to partner with is challenging at best, and finding partners with adequate funding and training and physical space is even harder. When we can find them, as mothers and fathers and caregivers, we are allowed to set boundaries that enable us to continue to function and take care of ourselves. Paula’s story is not unique, and it is imperative that we listen to it keenly. Her willingness to share the pain of her journey with her son’s addiction and her ability to hold it up as a call to action for all of us to come together and recognize this as a community crisis is courageous and wise. Find this book, read it, and reach out. Our elected officials need to know that we want them to support funding for the agencies who are tasked with helping individuals with addiction. They need to know that we believe this is a crisis for all of us, that we all belong to each other, and that nobody can do this alone. Even families with financial resources cannot buy their way in to rehab facilities if there are no beds available.

Perhaps the most striking thing Paula said during the book launch was this: “…you cannot starve someone in to recovery, nor can you shame them in to it. I ask you to have compassion – the next time you see someone who is homeless, don’t look away. Offer a smile, meet their eyes, ask if they are hungry and buy them a sandwich.”

The beauty of this book is that compassion not only means kindness toward that one person you see struggling, but it also means that we need to work to build systems of compassion that support our community members in their endeavors to heal. We do, truly, all belong to each other. May we start acting like it, soon.

I am reading the most fascinating book right now and it is spurring all sorts of wonderings in my mind. The book is “The Values of Belonging” by Carol L. Flinders and every paragraph is an opening and a widening and a deepening of understanding.

The Values of Belonging breaks new ground by examining human value systems from the perspective of how we live, not our gender. “There is a way of being in the world that recoils from aggressiveness, cunning, and greed,” writes bestselling author Carol Lee Flinders. This way of being arose out of the relationships our hunter-gatherer ancestors had with the natural world, one another, and Spirit — relationships that are most acutely understood in terms of trust, inclusion, and mutual reciprocity. This society’s core values, which include intimate connection with the land, empathetic relationship with animals, self-restraint, balance, expressiveness, generosity, egalitarianism, playfulness, and nonviolent conflict resolution, are what Flinders calls the “values of Belonging.”

She contrasts the “values of belonging” with the “values of enterprise” that came about when humans began cultivating the land and domesticating animals. She speaks of how profoundly this affected the way we saw our place in the world – changing us from believing we were one integral part of something bigger to a culture of ownership, of dominion, of power.

I have pages of notes and sketches. I dream about it.

It has prompted me to start asking questions about Enough.
What is Enough?
What can I take part in without owning it?
Do I need to own things? Do I need to control them?

Part of the trouble with owning things is that, if we ascribe a certain level of value to them, we then start to fear losing them. And when we’re afraid of losing something, we often begin to believe that its value is greater than it once was. Then, we see anyone or anything that could potentially take those things away from us as a threat and this further severs us from a culture of belonging. Or, it means that we’ve created a new set of things to which we think we belong (and which belong to us) – inanimate objects or scraps of land, or even people, but this kind of belonging is ownership, not connection.

So many of the things that plague us today stem from a loss of connection. Depression and anxiety, relational aggression, climate change. These are all things that came about because of our desire to have, own, be in control of – these cultural values that make us believe we are safe and important. And they are tearing us apart. Owning land and cultivating it, drawing lines around “our” borders and rejecting those who we perceive to be a threat, these things might serve the short term purpose of feeding us and protecting us, but they are anathema to our long-term survival because no matter how hard we might try, we will never be separated from the natural world and each other. We are all intimately intertwined and, in fact, it is our biological imperative to live that way. Our brains are hard-wired to respond to connection by releasing hormones when we cuddle an animal, nurture our young, give or receive a hug. It is why, when we offer help to another person, we feel good about ourselves and when we walk in the woods our nervous systems calm down.

So how much is Enough?
How can we begin to return to each other and the natural world?
Can we integrate the values of belonging with the values of enterprise without destroying ourselves?

I hope so. I haven’t finished the book yet, but for now, I am asking the questions and spending time noticing how I feel when I imagine more connection and less dominion.

Last night I had the incredible good fortune to spend the evening with a group of dynamic, passionate, clever individuals. Most of them I have never met before, but we all share one vital quality. We all want to live in a world rooted in humanity, honesty, compassion and a shared sense of fulfillment and we are all willing to begin acting as though we do in order to effect that change.

There were writers and engineers, human resource experts and folks who fund and support start-ups and one individual passionately committed to restorative justice. There were men and women of all ages, most of us parents, each one of us visionary in our quest to find new ways to connect individuals and groups in ways that are authentic and meaningful and based in respect and caring for one another.  It was not a fund-raiser. It was not a sales pitch or a cult initiation.  It was simply a group of people coming together over a delicious meal to talk about how we can begin to realize the dream of living in a different kind of world.

We were challenged at the beginning to be as honest as we could about who we are, what we want, and how we make our way through the world. To be hyperaware of how we talk about our own lives. I was reminded several times throughout the evening of three books that have had an incredible impact on me and whose fundamental lessons I have to remind myself of often:

Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements,
Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly,
David Whyte’s The Three Marriages.

I dreamt about some of the conversations we had overnight and as I head out to a weekend without my laptop, I am certain the notebook I am bringing along with me will be well-used, filled with lines of inspiration and epiphanies sparked by this amazing gathering of people.  The ripples from this night will continue for days and weeks to come and I am so energized, so grateful to have been introduced to this movement that will change forever how I view my place in the world.  There is something so powerful about being reminded that people crave connection and community that rewards them for being exactly who they are, that being an ‘idealist’ is not a bad thing, that it may one day change the way we all live for the better.

Michelle tagged me in a meme about reading and I just couldn’t resist. I decided, though, that since my girls love to read as much or more than I do, I would see if they were interested in playing along, too.  They were.  Here are our answers to the questions Michelle crafted:

1) What is the quality in a
book that makes you want to dive in and keep turning the page? Name a book that
demonstrates this quality.
Eve – strong characters.
“Wither” by Lauren DeStefano
Lola – lots of action. “The
Wishlist” by Eion Colfer
Kari – Strong, sincere
emotion and/or a storyline that explores the human condition. “Me Who Dove
Into the Heart of the World” by Sabina Berman or anything by Mary Karr.
2) What’s the first book
you read that made you cry? Why did it make you cry?
Eve – “Speak” (by Laurie
Halse Anderson) made me cry because it seemed like something that would
actually happen and it was so sad. 
Lola – “Where the Red Fern
Grows.” Because my mom was reading it to me and she was crying.
Kari – “Charlotte’s Web” for
certain. Absolutely, because it was so easy to identify with the animals when I
read books as a child. As I got older it was more of a challenge, although I
didn’t empathize with them any less. I tend to cry very easily when I read to
this day because I get wrapped up in the story. I have cried at so many books
since then – “Where the Red Fern Grows,” “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” “Don’t
Let’s Go to the Dog’s Tonight,” (or most any sad memoir, for that matter)…
3) How has social media
impacted your reading/writing time?
Eve – I get distracted by
social media and don’t read as much as I used to.
Lola – it doesn’t impact my
reading time. (note: Lola is 10, so she doesn’t have a Facebook page and only
checks her email once every few weeks. I hope this stays true for a while).
Kari – Social media doesn’t
impact my reading time much except that I read blogs a lot, so maybe it has
increased it overall.  I am in the
lucky position of being a book reviewer for Bookpleasures.com, so I feel
obligated to read a lot ;-).  I do,
however, get derailed by social media when it comes to writing time and I often
find myself wrestling with whether or not to stop reading blogs so I can
write.  It is difficult because I
feel like reading more makes me a better writer, and when I don’t follow the
usual blogs, I worry that I’m missing important information or the writer is
wondering where I’ve gotten to. 
4) Have you ever loved a book
so much you kissed it? (Not made out with it, but offered it a sweet
kiss on it’s cover, like giving a friend a kiss on the cheek)? Yeah…me neither.
Eve – No. But if I did, it
would be “The Hunger Games.”
Lola – Yes. “Stargirl” by
Jerry Spinelli
Kari – I don’t think so, but
if I had, it would have been in my emotional-high teenage years and it probably
would have been “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” or “Are You There God? It’s Me,
5) Describe the ultimate
reading conditions for you. Where? What? When? How? Go big.
Eve – Reading a book of
fiction with a cup of hot chocolate in a local café by myself.
Lola – Reading  a paperback in front of the fireplace
with a cup of hot chocolate and a fuzzy blanket.
Kari – Lying on a chaise
lounge in the sunshine near a pool with a huge cup of fizzy water by my side
and a paperback in my hand.  I
should also have a notebook and pen handy so that if inspiration strikes I can
jot something down quickly.  It
would also be nice to have someone bring me fruit to nibble on every once in a
while and adjust my umbrella so the shade covers my book.  I should be reading something painfully
true and funny like nonfiction by Anne Lamott and nobody ought to look at me
sideways when I laugh out loud. 
Also, I should have a companion who is mostly quiet but indulges me when
I need to read passages I find particularly brilliant out loud to them. 
6) True or false: (Tongue
firmly in cheek)
If you can’t be bothered to
read to them, you should not have children.
Eve – True.
Lola – True.
Kari – Mostly true, although,
in my day I have heard some parents read out loud to their children who really
ought not to. They don’t do different voices or they read in a monotone or so
quickly that the child can’t follow the story and I just don’t know how that
can be inspiring. I think it is important to introduce your children to books
and sometimes let them take the lead on how to read them (ie. Should we look at
the illustrations on this one page for twenty minutes before we are satisfied? Should
we read the story backwards and see what happens?).
7) Have you or have you not read
Daughter of the Drunk at the bar?
Kari – I didn’t put this question
to either of my girls because I know they haven’t, but I have and I loved it
and I wrote a review of it and I passed the book along to a friend. 

And now I get to make up my own questions and tag people. I’m tagging ElizabethDebAlicia, and Lyz

Here is your mission, ladies, should you choose to accept it.

1.  Are there any books you wish you had been able to read, either because they are “classics” or because someone recommended them, but you just couldn’t slog through them?
2. What kinds of books (or specific books) make you want to write more? Which ones make you feel so inadequate that you feel like you can’t ever write again?
3.  Do you and your partner read the same kinds of books? What is different about the way you read? Genre? Enjoyment? Ebook versus ‘real’ book? Purpose?
4.   What is your favorite guilty pleasure, book-wise? Did you used to devour Harlequin Romance books? Do you enjoy graphic novels that your kids leave lying around?
5.  What is your favorite picture book of all time? What is the one that you hope to never have to read again? EVER!
6.  If you could inhabit the body, mind and soul of any writer for one week, whom would you choose? No limits.
7.  If “O Magazine” were to headline your memoir in one of its issues, what would the headline read?  

Readers, if you weren’t tagged, it’s not because I don’t care about your answers to the questions, it’s just that you don’t have a blog to publish them in.  Please, use the comments field to dish on your favorite books.

I just finished reading Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, for BookPleasures. You can find my review here. It is a quick read, but frightening in the way psychological thrillers can be – that is, if you’re prone to being a tad bit of a hypochondriac when it comes to your own mental health.

I have also read several other good books lately that I thought I’d pass along in case anyone is looking for something to give to themselves this holiday season.  I generally read more than one book at a time, one on my iPad, one from the library, and one I couldn’t resist buying from the used bookstore.  In addition to that, there are always magazines lying around in different places, propped open to various pages, that I can pick up and peruse when I only have 15 minutes or so before dashing off to do something.  My favorite magazines are The Sun and Natural Health, but my new favorite is a literary magazine out of Portland, Oregon called Stealing Time. It is geared towards all things parenting and may be a new place for all you writers out there to send submissions. It is truly fantastic, with poetry and photographs and essays both fictional and non-fiction.  
The books I have read most recently on my iPad, in no particular order, are:
  •  Louise Erdrich’s “The Round House” (she is a wonder, this one – I love everything she writes), 
  • Alex Mitchell’s “All Gone” – a memoir about her mother’s memory loss/dementia and how the author copes by cooking up memories of her childhood dishes. I enjoyed this one, but am glad I didn’t spend the money for the hard copy because it was such a quick read.
  • Karen Thompson Walker’s “The Age of Miracles” – I am sad that this one is on my iPad because I know both of my girls would LOVE this book, but they have Kindles, so I may need to buy it again for them.  The premise is incredibly unique and the story was fascinating, especially to someone who tends to get lost in philosophical reverie. I didn’t even know it was supposed to be a teen book until after I read it. Loved this one!
  • Amanda Coplin’s “The Orchardist” – this one felt like a Pacific Northwest, caucasian “Roots” in a way. It was epic, spanned generations, and completely sucked me in with the imagery and the fact that I live not far from where it was set.  Tremendous read. 
  • M.L. Stedman’s “The Light Between Oceans” – this book made me cry in a good way. Again, the premise was unique and made me think well beyond the pages of the book. Loved it.
  • Darcy Lockman’s ” Brooklyn Zoo: The Education of a Psychotherapist” – a memoir of Lockman’s residence in a Brooklyn psych hospital. Well-written, quick read. Mostly it made me sad about the state of our healthcare system (especially as it relates to mental illness) and how we train our physicians. 
  • Sarina Berman’s “Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World” – Amazing story! Amazing. I devoured this book and was so sad when it was over. One of my favorite works of fiction this year.
  • Laura Moriarty’s “The Chaperone” – fun, light read that I would recommend for summer vacation.
  • John Irving’s “In One Person” – I had to work to finish this one.  Actually, it was the first third of the book that was work. The rest was pleasurable, but I only kept reading it because I heard Irving interviewed on a local public radio station and I find him so fascinating.  Ultimately, I enjoyed it, but felt like it could have used some editing. (Look at me – novice writer saying that about John Irving! Ha! Who do I think I am?)
  • Liz Moore’s “Heft” – My friend Carrie raved about this book, and I trust her taste, so I downloaded it. What a beautiful story! Another favorite fictional work, for sure.
  • Tupelo Hassman’s “girlchild” – I think I wrote about this book earlier this year, but I have to say it again – I think it’s brilliant.
  • Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken” – this one made me grieve so much for the folks fighting wars all over the planet. It also made me wish they could all unburden themselves of their stories and see them in a different light.
I just gifted myself Anne Lamott’s new book “Help Thanks Wow” and Brene Brown’s newest, “Daring Greatly.” I can’t wait to start them, but first I have a teen fiction book to review that I have to finish because Eve read the back the other day and is chomping at the bit to read it when I’m done.  
Happy reading!