Saturday, January 24, 2009

At the Breakers by Mary Ann Taylor-Hall

At the Breakers by Mary Ann Taylor-Hall appealed to me because the protagonist is a single mother, leaving a difficult relationship, seeking refuge in her new job at renovating a hotel, while finally giving herself to explore her dreams of being a writer. For all intents and purposes, I should have loved Jo Sinclair and I kept hoping I would. When in the first chapter she doesn't call the police as she should . . . nor in the second .. . or third, I was prepared to throw the book across the room. Perhaps I should have but the truth this is not a badly written book. If you like Lifetime movies or preferred the movie version of Under the Tuscan Sun to the memoir then you'll probably like this book. Woman leaves a bad situation and tries to salvage her life and the lives of her children while also trying to find herself. Of course there is a romantic interest and another possible one to complicate the inevitable one. It is all so predictable that I knew how it would end by the end of the third chapter. The writing is adequate but there are flaws that keep this from being a well written book. Too predictable and peopled with characters who stay on the page rather than leaping from them and into the reader's heart, this is a quickly read and forgotten novel. But if you don't like or feel a great deal of sympathy for Jo Sinclair by the end of the first few chapters you won't feel any by the end of the book. I know I didn't.
I was frustrated, while reading the novel, that obvious errors were not caught. Disneyworld is in Florida, not California. And when I read that Jo gave Victor a pocket watch I was utterly baffled. Not once had this pocket watch been mentioned prior to its magical appearance and yet she managed to not only get his pocket watch from his possession to have it repaired but she did so while living in a different state! Not once does Taylor-Hall hint at this gift prior to its manifestation, let share with the reader that Jo has a gift for Victor in mind. She just seems to drop the watch onto the page and presume that the reader will take the whole back story on faith, I suppose. I'm still trying to figure out how she managed to get the watch from him without his noticing. Another example of almost the same thing occurs when Erica, her middle daughter, arrives for Christmas with no warning. Jo, not expecting Erica's visit, has no gifts for the girl. She sees a painting on the wall and the reader gets to hear all about how Jo found and bought the painting, etc. Naturally she wraps this painting up and gives it to Erica. A better way to present the painting to the reader would have been to have Jo hang it up as soon as her room was painted and ready for her to move into, have the back story shared in that earlier chapter. Then, when Jo makes the decision to give the painting to her daughter, the reader would have a better appreciation of it's intimacy and importance. As it is, the painting is thrown on the wall just in time for Jo to give it to her daughter. It's rather like Chekhov's mandate that if there's a knife on the wall in the first act it had better be used by the third--only in reverse where a knife appears by the third act where no knife was before. These details, along with the predictability and poorly realized characters kept this novel from being anything more than adequate. It's a shame. I think the author has the ability to write better but I don't think I have the patience to read anything else she's read to ascertain if my intuition is correct or not.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Your Truest Self by Janice Lynne Lundy

Your Truest Self: Embracing the Woman You Are Meant to Be by Janice Lynne Lundy is a pleasant surprise. I tend to avoid these types of self-help/motivational books because they are too often more cute than helpful. Lundy has managed to avoid this by bringing in other women to share from their experiences. Each chapter presents a different woman--from musicians to authors to therapists to spiritual leaders. These women are Lundy's mentors and rather than just allowing these women to write a chapter or essay of their own, she shares her own reason for wanting this woman to be a part of her book. By contextualizing each person within her own experience, Lundy humanizes rather than elevates them. And some of these well-known, even famous, women lend themselves to being iconic. Instead, Lundy shares these women in a gentle and intimate manner to present "Twelve Transformational Truths." A quick skim of the chapter titles gives some clues as to the themes covered, presented in titles that serve as affirmations:
I am free to live a spiritual life of my own making. I trust my body's divine connection. I choose thoughts and feelings that honor my sacred self. I engage in daily practices that nurture my spirit. I cultivate compassion for myself. I experience the divine in everything and everyone. I know divine assistance is available to me at all times. I acknowledge that difficult times bring healing and deeper wisdom. I can create my life anew each day. I trust the divine timing of my own unfolding. I courageously speak and live my truths. I open my heart to others and celebrate our oneness.
Each woman featured in the chapter is chosen as a model/mentor, someone who has led the way, who has been there and can now show others how to move from there to a new way of being. These successful women serve as positive examples, often overcoming surprising challenges along the way. What makes this book so effective is that Lundy allows herself to participate in their experience by drawing on her own struggles. When discussing health with Dudley Evenson or Naomi Judd, Lundy shares with the reader how she herself has learned through the women some truth of her own. While every woman's truth may not have relevance for the reader, I would be surprised if any woman reading this book didn't find something or someone who inspires on some level.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Commitment to My Chakras

Beginning in February, not necessarily the first but sometime early in February, I am going to commit seven weeks to chakra work. I will begin with the root chakra and move up to the seventh perhaps giving an eighth week to focusing on working with all of the main chakras each day. This work will include yoga and qigong practice, meditation, aromatherapy, and whatever else I can do using the resources I have on hand. I have two books but one in particular I believe will be my primary resource. As I use others, I will share them as well. So what brought on this decision? Well, I’ve been talking about doing this for a while. I just never really committed to doing it. I’m hoping that by putting this out there in my blog that I will be forced into some sort of accountability. I’ve been led to do this for a while but recently, while doing a meditation, I had a vision of sorts. I was standing at the end of a long corridor, white marble walls and floors. To the left there was a line of stained glass windows. The window closest to me was red and the next one down the corridor was orange, then yellow, etc. As I walked down the corridor, I was bathed in the rich red of the first window. I went over to it and opened the window, letting in a stream of white light that feel upon a large red gem, one I had not noticed until that moment. The jewel was spinning and, as I reached up toward it, the refracting red glittering light dancing on my palms and the walls around me, the jewel lowered until it came to the level of my own root chakra and just floated there before me until I turned to close the window. Then I moved forward to the orange window and repeated the series—first standing in the glow, then opening the window to allow white light through, then seeing a large orange gem spinning above me. I actually didn’t stay within the meditation long enough to experience the full passage along the corridor but that meditation really gripped me. So much so that I would start it now if I were not already doing a boot camp on SparkPeople and working through Body + Soul’s 35 Day Challenge.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We Interrupt This Blog for a Political Moment

My son wrote the following in his blog:
When I was a little boy….maybe 4… I asked my mom, “when are we going to have a black president?” My mom told me, “I don’t know. Hopefully in my lifetime.” I was so young, but that memory etched into my mind forever. And now, here it is, that question I asked so long ago - that question I never thought would get an answer - will receive that answer. I doubt my life will change that much just because of Obama being president, but if it opens opportunities for future generations to embrace and celebrate differences and diveristy under the banner of peace, then let’s build that future. Starting now. I do not recall this conversation (and I am shuddering at the thought of what else I might have said to him that he has permanently etched into his psyche) but I have always hoped I would live long enough to see this moment.
And so today, Barack Obama became the first African American President of the United States of America. I wish I could have been there personally but it was enough to be sitting in front of my television and sharing a moment that, twenty years ago when I was talking with my son, was still only a matter of hope.

Writing Great Characters by Michael Halperin, Ph.D.

Writing Great Characters: The Psychology of Character Development in Screenplays by Michael Halperin, Ph.D. is an interesting book. Not quite what I had expected. The exercises focus on applying the ideas in the book not so much to your own writing as to the analysis of film. His perspective seems more Freudian than Jungian, overall. Not a bad thing but it’s something to consider going into it. Sometimes he references films, gives a summary of the plot but gets some of the details incorrect. Not a crisis but it does make his contentions somewhat suspect. Most disappointing is the editing where quotations that include ellipses are inevitably followed by an erroneously placed double space. In other words, when quoting and inserting an ellipses, the word that immediately follows the ellipses has a gap in it . . . so mething like this. And since I seem to be on a “poorly edited” kick lately, I may as well admit that this was annoying but not critical. I think that there’s an argument for anyone who wants to give their characters some psychological depth to read through this book (it can be read in a single day) but I don’t know that most experienced writers will not have already learned the ideas presented in the book. Not an essential book, the information is good enough to merit recommendation.

Monday, January 19, 2009

ACIM Meditation #1

The following was written on 15 January 2009 In my reading of A Course in Miracles, one of the foundation lessons that is being explored in the early part of the workbook is how our perceptions, our thoughts, are not real. In living with vertigo, I realize that I have been blessed with the hard reality of this teaching. When I read that my thoughts are showing me a meaningless world, it makes more sense than my perception of the world does. After all, my perception says that the floor beneath me can tilt at random and the countertop I am leaning upon will move as easily as the couch on which I am sitting or the bed in which I am lying will sway and drop from beneath me. None of these thoughts are real, obviously, and they do indeed present to me a meaningless world. It is easy for me to embrace today’s lesson (My thoughts are images I have made) because I live each and every day with a sort of filter that warns me about the meaninglessness of my thoughts/perceptions. I know that my thoughts are images I have made because I see the countertop slip away, I see the floor tilting, I see the room spinning, but none of these things are in actuality occurring regardless of what my mind thinks my eyes see. These are all thoughts, misperceptions that belie the truth. I can’t help but wonder if I would have embraced this workbook lesson with the same ease a few years ago before I started living with the constant hum of vertigo. It’s one of those questions that will never have an answer and that’s okay.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Big Towns, Big Talk by Patricia Smith

Big Towns, Big Talk by Patricia Smith is not one of my favorites of this brilliant poet’s collections although it includes her superlative Skinhead. Nevertheless, the seeds of her brilliance are so obviously present it is impossible not to recommend this book. Poetry being a subjective thing, anyone who still suggests that slam poets are not writing legitimate verse need to slow down and read all of Smith’s works, perhaps reading from her first to most recent published to see how beautifully her roots have grown. One day, Patricia Smith will be asked to put together a collection of poems—a new and selected collection of her pieces. I will read and nod and smile at the expected. Of course, this and this one would be included. I will shudder at the reminders of almost forgotten others and the new ones will make me want to scream in ecstasy. And when I close the book’s cover, having finished the feast, I will wonder at the ones that got away, the few that didn’t make the final cut. I will begin revising her choices to suit my own preferences. I expect the collection I create by choosing my “best of Patricia Smith” would be less gentle than her own choices. Medusa
Poseidon was easier than most. He calls himself a god, but he fell beneath my fingers with more shaking than any mortal. He wept when my robe fell from my shoulders. I made him bend his back for me, listened to his screams break like waves. We defiled that temple the way it should be defiled, screaming and bucking our way from corner to corner. The bitch goddess probably got a real kick out of that. I'm sure I'll be hearing from her. She'll give me nightmares for a week or so; that I can handle. Or she'll turn the water in my well into blood; I'll scream when I see it, and that will be that. Maybe my first child will be born with the head of a fish. I'm not even sure it was worth it, Poseidon pounding away at me, a madman, losing his immortal mind because of the way my copper skin swells in moonlight. Now my arms smoke and itch. Hard scales cover my wrists like armour. C'mon Athena, he was only another lay, and not a particularly good one at that, even though he can spit steam from his fingers. Won't touch him again. Promise. And we didn't mean to drop to our knees in your temple, but our bodies were so hot and misaligned. It's not every day a gal gets to sample a god, you know that. Why are you being so rough on me? I feel my eyes twisting, the lids crusting over and boiling, the pupils glowing red with heat. Athena, woman to woman, could you have resisted him? Would you have been able to wait for the proper place, the right moment, to jump those immortal bones? Now my feet are tangled with hair, my ears are gone. My back is curving and my lips have grown numb. My garden boy just shattered at my feet. Dammit, Athena, take away my father's gold. Send me away to live with lepers. Give me a pimple or two. But my face. To have men never again be able to gaze at my face, growing stupid in anticipation of that first touch, how can any woman live like that? How will I be able to watch their warm bodies turn to rock when their only sin was desiring me? All they want is to see me sweat. They only want to touch my face and run their fingers through my . . . my hair is it moving?