Sunday, August 22, 2010

Adventures in Reading

Friends often ask me what I'm reading now. So I thought this year I would keep a running list of what I've been reading (to the best of my ability).  I've just updated it to catch up with my summer reading.
Besides these books, I also consistently read The New York Times Online, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Entertainment Weekly (guilty pleasure), and Writer's Chronicle.

I hope this list will help inspire your own reading adventures.  I'd love to know what's been on your reading list this year.

  • The Distant Land of My Father (Caldwell)
  • A Weekend to Change Your Life: Find Your Authentic Self After a Lifetime of Being All Things to All People (Anderson)
  • Out of Our Past: The Forces That Shaped Modern America (Degler)
  • The Holy Book of the Beard (Brenna)
  • Rock Paper Tiger (Brackmann)
  • Eat, Pray, Love (Gilbert)
  • White Asparagus (Belz)
  • Super Sad True Love Story (Shteyngart
  • The Sweet By and BY (Johnson)
  • The Disappearing Spoon (Kean)
  • A Walk on the Beach: Tales of Wisdom From an Unconventional Woman (Anderson)
  • Father of the Rain (King)
  • Sanctificum (Abani)
  • Medium Raw (Bourdain)
  • You Lost Me There (Schwarzbaum)
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Smith)
  • Water for Elephants (Gruen)
  • Summer of Firefly Memories (Gable)
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (McCullers)
  • The Help (Stockett)
  • Olive Kitteridge (Strout)
  • The Hole We're In (Zevin)
  • Where the Money Went (Cantry)
  • Revolutionary Road (Yates)
  • The Passage (Cronin)
  • The Rum Diary (Thompson)
  • The Taste of Civilization (Flammang)
  • Rough Country (Sandford)
  • The Ginger Man (Donleavy)
  • The People's Act of Love (Meek)
  • Being Real (Scott)
  • Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly, Ex-Sorority Girl's Guide to Why it Often Sucks in the City, or Who are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me? (Lancaster)
  • Fat! So? (Wann)
  • The Fat Studies Reader (Rothblum/Solovay/Wann)
  • If You Have To Cry Go Outside (Cutrone) - I want to give it to every teenage girl I know. Cutrone is fearless about honesty and living one's truth.
  • Drood (Simmons)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Random Thinks: Creativity, Self Expression, HAES, and Being Alone

Life is full of wonderful, crazy ups and downs.  Mine in particular seems to be feast or famine, rain or shine, without much balance.  As much as I enjoy one of those lovely sunny days where there are moments of rain, there haven't been any of those in my life for some time and I don't foresee any on the horizon. Not that I'm complaining mind you.  This morning however, I'm taking a breather to put some recent thoughts into words in hopes of making some room in my head for more.

I've experienced a surge in creative energy lately.  And with it, a desire to chuck everything and go on the lamb from obligation, responsibility and reality.  I want to draw, paint, write, and create. However, this creativity spree needs a funding source and so my urge to throw caution to the wind and go for it, is tempered by the daily grind of work and meeting life's financial obligations.  Good thing I don't find this daily work a grind at all. 
Along with this overwhelming external creative explosion, I've spent a good deal of thought and energy on internal expression as well.  I, like most people I assume, spend a lot of time inside my own head.  One of the things I think about most often is how to align my external self with my internal view of who and what I am.  Understanding that we have little control over other people's opinions and conceptions of us, I still desire to reconcile these things for myself.  What does this mean?  Well, its not about diets, exercising, and conformity to external expectations.  Its about acceptance, health, and self expression.  OK, those of you who know me might be saying "she conforms?" and you'd be right.  Conformity is not one of the things I'm well known for.  But conform I do.  I'll admit that some conforming to societal norms can seem necessary to navigate through life.  It certainly makes things easier.  But it also stifles the creative energy of the individual and honestly, who are "you" to tell me what's the best way to get through life or to hamper my ability to get through life.  Purple hair, tattoos, and multiple piercings do not prevent an individual from being a productive member of society.  Creative expression of appearance is no indication of one's abilities.  Body shape and size are equally non indicators of an individuals motivation, drive and abilities.  "Societies" general reactions, disinterest, and dislike for anything beyond "normal" or "average" is the real culprit that hampers self expression and self acceptance. 

I recently met a young woman who owns her own small coffee and tea shop, she lets the hair stylist across the street use her as a "hair model," trying new techniques and styles.  On the day I met her, she recently had a small shape shaved into the hairline with a short asymmetrical cut.  It was bold, brave, and beautiful.  And I was inspired.  I'd already been considering a full shave of my head, a clean start and new beginning, and now I was thinking about all the possibilities.  I still have a full head of hair, but each day I'm closer to a change that more fully expresses my true self. 

I'm also fully embracing the health at every size premise (HAES) "that the best way to improve health is to honor your body, adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight-control)."  The thought of spending any more of my free time at a gym or "working out" is completely distasteful to me.  It's not enjoyable and it doesn't feed my creative spirit.  Instead, I choose to dance (I can't be any more awkward than this guy), to laugh 'til I have to run down the hall to pee, to participate in the famed "balance beam olympics" (water version), and to move around while I'm standing in long lines at concerts (most recently Lady Gaga).  I want to find joy in movement and defy anyone to tell me that they find more joy in going to the gym than in spending time with friends or family laughing and moving naturally and healthily. 

Finally, there is a video that's been circling social networks lately.  Tanya Davis' How to Be Alone.  As someone who long ago embraced the joys of being alone, finding an amazing sense of self and freedom in alone, I'm excited that others are sharing this video.  Too much of society equates alone with lonely and the two could not be further in likeness from each other. "Society is afraid of alone though. Like lonely hearts are wasting away in basements. Like people must have problems if after awhile nobody is dating them. But lonely is a freedom that breathes easy and weightless, and lonely is healing if you make it."  There is another video of Tanya Davis' poetry that hasn't circled quite as widely through my social network (There's a Flower in My Pedal).  There is a line in the poem "just like everyone else, this year I got married", the video then flashes to the words "to myself".  I love this thought and want to embrace it and live it out.  I can't think of a more beautiful thing than to love and honor ones self enough to make the kind of commitment one professes to make when they marry someone.  We live in a time where the meaning and importance of marriage is twisted by groups and individuals mostly concerned about politics and religion.  Some take it for granted, while others are going to the highest court in our nation for the right (a topic for a different blog).

Perhaps all of our energies would be better spent focused inward, accepting ourselves for who we are and committing to living that life to its fullest expression.  And in that practice of learning to accept and respect ourselves and our own differences, perhaps we will learn to accept and respect others.  Perhaps we could learn to stop judging ourselves so harshly and will then be unable to find faults in others as well.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 1: Yourself

30 Drawing Challenge Day 1: Yourself
As promised, I'm posting the results of my attempt to tackle the 30 Day Drawing Challenge and as predicted it took me 7 days to actually get to it.  At this rate, I've already stretched my 30 days into 210.  Perhaps I should call it the year-long drawing challenge.  Time however is not really the point.  Its about getting back in touch with my creative energies and flexing those artistic muscles that have grown atrophic from non-use. 

I also am discovering that its about something else this particular exercise gets right to the heart of: self-discovery.  Admittedly, the idea of self portrait was terrifying to me at first.  Over-thinking it as I tend to do, I arrived at the grand scheme of doing something very abstract and esoteric.  As I approached the actual task at hand, I thought differently (or somewhat at least).  I hadn't initially planned an image of myself at all.  Perhaps its because I don't think of myself in terms of what I look like.  I don't own a full length mirror and I put my makeup on with a hand-held compact.  Rarely, when I get a glimpse at me or (e-gads) I see a photo that has somehow snuck by my photo radar and been taken of me, I feel as if I'm looking at a stranger.  I frequently comment on how the body is just a mode of transportation.  And much like a car, it doesn't really matter if its a luxury mobile, sporty compact, or pimped out ride, if it gets you from point A to point B safely then it will do.  However, having recently purchased a brand new sporty compact car myself, I can admit that we probably all feel a bit safer and more comfortable in a newer, younger model.

So my approach was a bit of abstract realism.  When I think about who I am, I consider the young girl buried in books in search of all the possibilities life has to offer.  I'm still that girl, I haven't given up on life's possibilities and I really do believe that everything and anything is possible.  The tree and the dragonfly are symbols I align with and relate to.  The dragon fly has a very complex history. Its etymology derives from the Greek Anisoptera meaning not equal.  Culturally its seen as both good and evil.  Swedish folklore refers to the dragonfly as the one who weighs people's souls for the devil.  But Japanese culture sees it as a symbol of courage, strength, and happiness.  The tree, is mythologized in many cultures.  I view the tree as a symbol of strength and flexibility.  From the elasticity of its branches, the sensitivity of its foliage, and the strength of its massive root system, trees are built to withstand, endure, and regrow from the very ashes of fire and maelstrom.  They hold knowledge from the ages and while they have strong roots, contrary to popular understanding, they actually derive 99% of their mass from the air (really! watch this).  I was raised in a pretty traditional mid-western family (until it became nontraditional), my roots are strong and yet I feel (like most I assume) as if I've derived much of who I am and who I'm becoming from my experiences and surroundings, above and beyond my roots. 

And so, Day 1: Yourself was certainly more of an exercise in discerning more about myself than portraiture can accurately depict (which is almost always the case).  And yet from my abstract and esoteric thoughts of who I think I am to the abstract realism (and still esoteric) depiction of who I actually am, I found it a rewarding and enlightening experience.  So go on, give it a try yourself.