August to September Books I Read

In this post, we’ll go over the books I read August through the end of September, 2021. I got my books at the following locations:

Over the last couple months, I read a total of six books, and only five are pictured as I listened to the Still, Together audiobook.

Edit (October 9th, 2021): Oops, I forgot that I read two more books: Men Explain Things to Me and The Faraway Nearby, both by Rebecca Solnit.

Night Falls Fast

by Kay Redfield Jamison

** trigger warning: suicidal ideation, suicide

I read An Unquiet Mind by the same author, and wow can she write. This book is all about suicide – the causes, life experiences, community impact – every facet I could think of lives in this text. It’s well researched, compassionate, empathetic, intelligent, kind. I absolutely recommend this book to anyone (in the right state of mind to deal with this subject matter and with a support network such as a therapist).

Little Weirds

by Jenny Slate

A stunning little book of short stories. It’s very weird, quirky even. But not in a self-indulgent way. There’s real pain in it, not the appearance of it for plot (*cough* unlike *cough* No One Belongs Here More Than You).

From A Prayer, “As the image of myself becomes sharper in my brain and more precious, I feel less afraid that someone else will erase me by denying me love.

I absolutely bawled my eyes out over “I Died: Bronze Tree” while sitting on my living room floor ravenously getting through the last quarter of the book. Go read it for yourself if you like very weird things.

Disability Visibility

edited by Alice Wong

** trigger warning: SA, suicidal ideation (all trigger warnings are listed before each story so you can skip any you want!)

Wow, just wow. I highly recommend this anthology. These stories are from people with all kinds of disabilities, seen and not seen. It was horrifying and sad and angering, and worth every ounce of energy to get through each page. I highly recommend this book to anyone, and especially to people who work in public and who say they want to do the work to promote diversity and inclusion. It’s also generally helpful for just recognizing the sheer scope of human life, and that this world really is built for only some human experiences, not all human experiences.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

by Jean-Dominique Bauby

** trigger warning: life-altering injury

I’ve been meaning to read this book for so long. It’s been on my shelf and I was so afraid it would be so sad. It’s melancholy. It’s compact. It’s packed and unpacked and tidy and very messy and hard and easy. I was tired. I thought of the missing and what struck me was Bauby’s relentless living, just doing the thing of living. Every single day.

There is life in the diving bell, the immobilized appearance of stasis where your brain functions normally but your body does not do what it did once. Bauby doesn’t get existential really. He dreams of food, tastes it even. He manufactures a way to write a book with no pen, no hands, no paper, no computer. He makes others extensions of himself and recognizes the futility of his infantile need for others (paraphrasing him). I recognize in him the feeling of “I’m stuck and yet my brain is immaculately aware of the details of all of this, and I must use my imagination because otherwise I will crumble like a hard cookie.”

Group

by Christie Tate

** trigger warning: suicidal ideation, eating disorder

Exhausting. I really loved the beginning of this book. Maybe the first half? But I became tired of the author. It could have been the subject matter that knocked me down. She goes into group therapy and the members are just bad to each other (the author poses it as an alternative type of therapy). They yell at one another, degrade one another, have full-blown tantrums, and the takeaway is that the author is able to grow intimacy through years of this and “score” her heart to allow romantic love in.

I’ll spare you the fucking pain of getting through the last quarter. She meets her now-husband when she gives up the search for love. I rolled my eyes. She realizes that her therapy group members were there all along and “They had always loved me.” Then she goes on to say that she “wouldn’t die alone. These people would surround me. They would help my family plan a proper burial.” Like I said, exhausting. Too harsh? Maybe. I don’t really recommend this book. And also please only read it if you’re in a decent state of mind and have support around you.

Still, Together

by Manoj Dias

A quick read, or in my case, a quick listen. Dias talks about the different ways in which stillness and consciousness can improve relationships. I particularly enjoyed the section about workplace consciousness. He posits that one should feel they are doing good at their job, or at least not causing additional harm. I have had this thought many times before, and like to ask myself questions like this. How am I showing up at work? Am I generally doing more good than harm (as far as I can perceive and interpret it)? It had some good questions, and also some good guided meditations.

Men Explain Things to Me

by Rebecca Solnit

A quick detonation of ideas, all sewn together under the topic of feminism, femininity, female identity, and the erasures that come with being born in one type of body. She starts off with a hard-hitting and all-too-familiar story about mansplaining. It’s as infuriating as King Kong Theory and Invisible Women.

The Faraway Nearby

by Rebecca Solnit

Uncomfortable, still, murky. I find it so strange when authors use external tragedy to weave their story. She spends time talking about leper colonies and then jumps into her mother’s illness. Maybe I missed the connection, but I’m exhausted by hyperbole. I’m tired with too much comparison when the initial story itself may be bolder and more honest without all the intertextuality. Perhaps she’s using strangers’ pain to keep a distance from her own? I don’t recommend reading this, especially not alone in Joshua Tree with no cell service like I did. That was faraway nearby.


April to July Books I Read

This post contains reviews to the books I read in April through July, 2021. While my previous book recaps contained Am*zon affiliate links, I’ve been making an effort to purchase instead through the following (not affiliate links):

In total, I read 15 books during this time (1 not recapped below).

No One Belongs Here More Than You

by Miranda July

** trigger warning: disturbing sexual encounters, allusions to child abuse and endangerment

No One is a books of disturbing short stories (yep, I’m using the word disturbing multiple times). It speaks to hyper-sexuality, unappropriate sexual relationships, and subversive power dynamics.  This book was published in 2007 and I think it really shows the progression we’ve made in society since then in adding terminology to our lexicon that enables us to really explain why we’re feeling icky while reading this.

It’s unfocused, rambly, and those elements are conflated with a type of genius that we assign to people who go to repeatedly distressing places to shock, creep out, and make skin crawl. Shock itself is not a sign of merit-worthy writing. And I think these stories rely purely on shock to dizzy the reader into the illusion of good storytelling.

King Kong Theory

by Virginie Despentes

** trigger warning: SA

While July relies on shock and discomfort to distract us from mediocre storytelling, Despentes uses those same elements to embolden the reader to deep dive with her. This short book is truly infuriating in the best possible way. She takes us through her time as a sex worker in plain language that concretizes why she wants to make more money in less amount of time.  She invites us into the interactions she has with men who seek out companionship and sex, and does so with frank observations about innocence in contexts we would not associate with innocence. She flips empowerment on its head and introduces a truth we cannot ignore – as women, we risk rape every time we leave our homes.

King Kong Theory reminds me that I don’t have to be pretty or womanly or whatever the fuck else I’m supposed to be. That’s an essential reminded and actually makes me think of the concept of Compulsory Heterosexuality (Comphet). Comphet (coined by Adrienne Rich in 1980 in an essay discussion the troubling ideas attached to lesbianism like “she just hasn’t met the right man”) is the expectation that heterosexuality is the only valid sexuality. It comes with a list of things women do because they grew up with this ideology – including, feeling that one has to be attractive to men even if one is not a straight cis woman (or even if said straight cis woman is not attracted to the man in question), assuming straightness (creating a false default sexuality),  and dating heterosexually just because that’s why you think you’re supposed to do. I highly recommend doing your independent research to learn more.

Tiny Beautiful Things

by Cheryl Strayed

This book contains advice column submissions and responses. As is said in the introduction, Strayed has an interesting and quite effective approach to advice-giving. Sometimes she starts off talking around herself, and we learn a lot more about her as we see her respond to her many submissions. Since she is the consistent voice in all of this, and we get a lot of it, I do read this more as a “getting to know Cheryl through the vessel of other people’s problems”.

I think we live in a world where there’s more than enough advice being given out, and oftentimes, people reach out for advice when they know what they want to do but nobody’s given them permissions. A lot of us have been trained by abusive and neglectful parents to be constantly insecure and seek a stamp of approval on our every action. Sometimes it totally helps to have that validations, but unfortunately, really change comes only when we can validate our choices based on self-trust. And getting advice can convolute the process of standing on our own two feet.

Keeping a Nature Journal

by Clare Walker Leslie

Keeping a Nature Journal is absolutely great for people looking to start a nature journal. It contains concrete information on the tools you’ll need, how to draw, and how your observations can help scientists study climate change.

Codependent No More

by Melody Beattie

This book is an excellent introduction on codependence – how Codependents are made, why it’s so harmful (and hard to break out of), and how to identify and deal with the behaviors that come with it. I would highly recommend it for people who grew up with parents who are abusive, neglectful, alcoholic, drug-addicted, and self-centered. If we don’t identify these behaviors, it keeps us in a cycle of seeking out partners and friends who were like our parents (because we were taught that was love).

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

by Caroline Criado Perez

This was a long, hard read packed full of critical information. Did you know that cars are tested on male “test dummies”? Or that women are disadvantaged even by what part of the street governments decide to plow snow from first? Or that men are associated with “genius” engineers because they tend to show obsessive behavior, rather than women, who tend to distribute their attention span across multiple activities? Invisible Women is maddening and tells you just about everything you’ve suspected but never had to “numbers” to back up.

Initiated: Memoir of a Witch

by Amanda Yates Garcia

Initiated is one woman’s spiritual journey and coming of age. She starts with her childhood, winds through her twenties, and into her Saturn Return. It’s devastating at times reading about her entanglement in a harmful relationship with a drug dealer, her first time performing sex work, and her clinging to the edges of society while conforming just enough to keep herself alive. She has a powerful, poetic, and intelligent voice.

Single. On Purpose.

by John Kim

**trigger warning: pseudo-inspiration and shaming coming from a licensed therapist

This book tidily fits into the “you’re not good enough” subgenre that’s cropped up in self-help books. You’re not exercising enough; you don’t have enough friends; you don’t have enough hobbies. His solution to becoming someone worthy of a relationship is buying a motorcycle and just being hot** (doing crossfit). ** hot to his standards

Do I really have to be “cool” to find a partner? Or can I just be my weird self? Isn’t it okay that I exercise three times a week instead of six to seven? Can’t my hobbies be more home-based – reading and collecting Tarot decks? Or must I absolutely go outside into the world and display myself on the charcuterie board of singles? To be honest, I don’t think I was the intended audience, and this is what I get sometimes when I don’t research a book enough.

Lolly Willowes

by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Lolly Willowes is a fictional novel about a 20th century woman called Lolly who never marries. She’s the semi-weird but endearing aunt. You walk through life with her as she cares for her nieces and nephews, serves as a confidant and companion to her sister-in-law, and rejects suitors by acting strangely. It is very slow-paced, but I figured it would be. Lolly Willowes is considered an early Feminist classic and I can see why. Lolly makes it clear she wants to remain single, and the turning point of the novel is her declaring that she is leaving home life to go live in the countryside. The ending is quite strange and involves the devil. It’s a bit ambiguous and leaves me wanting, but overall, a good classic.

How to be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t

by Lane Moore

While I don’t find the author very funny (she’s a comedian), she writes a damn good book. How to be Alone is a compilation of non-fiction stories about Moore’s life. I could relate to so much of it, and maybe that’s why I’m quick to categorize it as good. But it feels so genuine and urgent (she talks about tough topics including homelessness and really sketchy living situations). It really explains what it’s like to have nobody to rely on and nowhere to go.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

by Greg McKeown

Could have been an email. It reads like a blog post that is rewritten like 12 times in slightly different language to fill the minimum word requirement for a book.

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice

by Terry Tempest Williams

This book was a bit difficult to follow along as it talks about things I can’t relate to – like a close relationship between the author and her mother. It is interesting to get that perspective, but I really wasn’t able to get into it as it’s so foreign. The most captivating part of this book is definitely that it has to do with owning your voice through writing. But in the end, there just wasn’t enough common ground to give me even footing as I made my way through it.

Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power

by Pam Grossman

This book was highly-praised but was just okay to me. Like When Women Were Birds, I just didn’t have the common ground to really understand impact of pop culture on the author. It would probably be satisfying to somebody who has a good memory, and a fond remembrance of “formative” films and music and books. I just had not seen or experienced a lot of the media that she spoke about, so I got lost.

Existential Kink: Unmask Your Shadow and Embrace Your Power

by Carolyn Elliott, PhD

I really enjoyed this book because it was quite different from other books I’ve read about difficult thoughts and behaviors. Rather than blame and shame (like we see in the John Kim book), this book says a very real and raw thing about humans – sometimes we get off on suffering, difficulty, and drama. And it’s important for us to acknowledge that so that we can move past it and become more comfortable with quietness, boredom, repetition, ease, safety, and rootedness. When you grow up in a highly volatile environment, you start to think that’s actually reality (but it’s just one example of how people live). And when you’re able to tell yourself that you kind of get off on drama, then you can get on with your life and find peace in being boring as fuck, sitting at home with a cup of coffee and writing a blog post about books you’ve been reading. That’s the life I want.

She says, “Dissolving unconscious patterns by making them conscious (and thereby integrating your being, your will) allows you to wake up out of this powerlessness and become the captain of the ship of your own life.”


Write the Docs 2021 Accompanying Content

This blog post accompanies my Write the Docs 2021 talk entitled “Almost None to Some: Driving DISQO’s Doc Culture as a Solo Documentarian”.  Here, you will find the mottos and writing prompts included in the final slides for each of the five topics we went over.

Thank you so much for attending, listening, and participating. I’ll add a link to the YouTube video once I have given the talk and WTD has published the content on their platforms.

Here are the slides.

If you have questions or want to connect, see my LinkedIn.

Find Comfort in Incompleteness 


Unhelpful Thought

I work towards perfect documentation. 

Find Comfort in Incompleteness Motto

I work towards good enough documentation. 

Writing Prompt

What does “good enough” mean to me, and how can I differentiate “good enough” from “perfect”?

 

 

Influence Don’t Force


Unhelpful Thought

I force people to see how important documentation is.

Influence Motto

I empower others to take responsibility for documentation. 

Writing Prompt

How can I promote documentation visibility and empowerment at my company? In which ways have I already done this?

 

Empower Others Through Onboarding and Training


Unhelpful Thought

I assume new engineers and other roles will gravitate to documentation on their own.

Empower Others Motto

I guide new employees through documentation. 

Writing Prompt

What does documentation onboarding look like to me? What would I want to walk someone through?

 

Establish Key Partnerships


Unhelpful Thought

I try to get everyone on board with documentation.

Establish Key Partnership Motto

I invite those interested and curious about documentation to be my allies. 

Writing Prompt

How do I currently keep myself open to partnerships within my organization? How can I promote a continued attitude of openness?

 

Find Your Place in the Org as a (Solo) Tech Writer


Unhelpful Thought

I’m a background player.

Find Your Place Motto

I have a strong identity within my organization. 

Writing Prompt

How do I perceive my own identity within my organization, and how do I want my identity within my organization to look?


January to March Books I Read

This blog post contains notes and reviews of the books I read during January through March 2021.

Quiet

By Susan Cain

Quiet is a non-fiction book about introversion in an extroverted world (or society). In Quiet, Cain offers an explanation for culture’s obsession with extroversion. She debunks the idea that extroverted people make better leaders than introverts, citing sociological studies. One of these studies by Adam Grant posed the following: “extroverted leaders enhance group performance when employees are passive… introverted leaders are more effective with proactive employees.” Later in her chapter “When Collaboration Kills Creativity”, she says “we should actively seek out symbiotic introvert-extrovert relationships, in which leadership and other tasks are divided according to people’s natural strengths and temperaments.” So then, rather than trying to make natural introverts something they’re not, why not instead look at the strengths of introversion, and those talents of introverted individuals? 

Cain goes into the biology of introversion too – “serotonin-transporter (SERT) gene… helps to regulate the processing of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. A particular variation, or allele, of this gene, sometimes referred to as the “short” allele, is thought o be associated with high reactivity and introversion, as well as a heightening risk of depression in humans who have had difficult lives.” She also goes in the nurture side of things too but doesn’t skimp on the positive traits of introverts (those that are often disregarded because we’re so fixated on the loudest, most extroverted displays). 

This book is a treasure for introverts and offers deep understanding and validation. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

The Drama of the Gifted Child

By Alice Miller

The Drama of the Gifted Child is a non-fiction self-help work about living after an abusive childhood. First of all, this book is difficult to get through as it offers a handful of horrifying anecdotal stories. Get through those (they’re sprinkled throughout) and you can glean some very useful and validating information about healing from an abusive childhood. She leans on some heavy and necessary truths like, “As adults, we don’t need unconditional love, not even from our therapists. This is a childhood need, one that can never be fulfilled later in life, and we are playing with illusions if we have never mourned this lost opportunity.”

A rather useful understanding on healing, she states: 

We cannot, simply by an act of will, free ourselves from repeating the patterns of our parents’ behavior… We become free of them only when we can fully feel and acknowledge the suffering they inflicted on us. We can then become fully aware of these patterns and condemn them irrevocably.” 

I found her approach satisfying and honestly, and much more productive than the “your parents did the best they could” inspirational quotes I see therapists posting on Instagram. I highly recommend this book to those who come from abuse, and please be very gentle with yourselves while reading it as it’s quite emotionally taxing to read (mainly due to the stories included). 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

The Soul of Money

By Lynne Twist

The Soul of Money is a non-fiction book about philanthropy, activism, and money. Overall, this book was about putting your money where your morals are. I have a fine-tuned understanding of this as it’s something I say in my animal rights activism to show people that their individual actions do matter, and every person has the potential to impact our collective future. I think she says nothing too revelatory here – though this may be because I come into reading it as an activist and she herself is an activist. So maybe we’re on a similar wavelength. Read it for the personal stories, and for enriching your experience with money, especially if you are an activist of any sort, a minimalist, someone who cares for the planet, or someone who wants to remind themselves of their individual power through spending. 

All in all, I came into it already agreeing with her premise and already thinking in a similar fashion, so the takeaway was minimal for me. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

Frientimacy

By Shasta Nelson

Frientimacy is a non-fiction self-help book about making friends and deepening friendships. If you’re like me, you wouldn’t know how one can fill a whole book on friendship but I was rather pleasantly surprised by the amount of depth and insight this book contains. My primary takeaway from this book applies to all types of relationships – and that’s the Triangle of Intimacy. Basically, she posits that all friendships have three requirements: positivity, consistency, and vulnerability. 

She draws a triangle, and on the bottom, there’s positivity. That’s the baseline. Without it, you can’t go upward and you can’t build a healthy friendship. The two sides of the triangle slanting upward are consistency and vulnerability. She then says that the level of consistency and vulnerability must somewhat match, or your relationship is going to get off balance. So this means that the amount of time you spend with your friend should somewhat reflect the vulnerability you exhibit. Off-balance can look like over-sharing and under-sharing, all comparable to the amount of time invested. 

I’d recommend this book to those who need a good model for healthy friendships, so basically anyone. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

At the Center of All Beauty

By Fenton Johnson

At the Center of All Beauty is a non-fiction memoir and reflection of solitude, singleness, and being a creative. Each chapter is dedicated to the stories of one or two solitary artists – from Emily Dickinson to Henry David Thoreau. Johnson looks at the rather voluntary aspects of being alone, for the sake of one’s art, for the sake of one’s soul need to be with oneself. He walks through his own history and parallels with “great” artists. It requires the right headspace for reading, and not one of seeing aloneness as deprivation – which it can be. 

When he speaks of solitude, it is not hermithood. But rather, he identifies solitude as the purposeful choice to spend a life in recognizing oneself as a solo passenger through life. He includes married people in solitude, and identifies it as a state of being, not a legal standing. 

I’m not sure who I’d recommend this to, perhaps someone entering a new phase in their life – retirement, buying a home solo, planning a trip that has deep personal meaning. Maybe this book is for nobody and maybe there’s an intentional piece to that. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

Complex PTSD

By Peter Walker

This is a stunner of a book on Complex PTSD. It’s a non-fiction bible on the experience of CPTSD – from the author’s first-hand life with this diagnosis, to detailed information on how to live day-to-day with this incurable experience. I won’t go too far into describing the book as it has a very specific audience, but I would recommend it highly to anyone with this diagnosis. It genuinely changed my life for the better and I have not found any other book comparable so far. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

Attached

By Amir Levine and Rachel Heller 

Attached is a non-fiction self-help book that you’ve likely heard of if you’re in the dating world. It’s become (thankfully) quite popular for individuals to identify their attachment style – avoidant, anxious, secure, or some combination of two. This book is quite valuable for anyone to pick up, as it brings to awareness some of your own traits, and also enables you to identify those folks who may bring out some aspects of you that you’re not fully a fan of.

I highly recommend this book to everyone – whether you’re in a romantic relationship or not. It can really help you with healing from trauma, unhealthy patterns, and curiosity you might have about why you act the way you do in relationship. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

How Not to Die Alone

By Logan Ury

Though this has a hyperbolic title, it was not as profound as advertised. This non-fiction self-help book goes through attachment theory (just get Attached – reviewed above). It also goes through how to make an awesome online dating profile for those swiping, implores everyone to go on a second date (not axing people after one date), and nudges you strongly not to “slide” into milestones like moving in together. Instead, about moving in together, she says this should be a conscious choice, not just a default because someone’s lease expired. 

My biggest takeaway from this book was her very interesting types of daters who are very much still single (I really like a good self-categorization) – the Romanticizer, the Maximizer, and the Hesitater. The Romanticizer believes in fairy tales, soul mates, the ultimate love of a lifetime. So they exit when things are simply not dreamy, when they are not being swept off their feet to the max. This type believes they are single because they have not met the right person yet. Their challenge is to become more realistic about their expectations. 

The Maximizer always things there’s something better out there, and they never want to settle. Their challenge is recognizing when they are actually settling versus when they are nitpicking. The Hesitater perpetually thinks they’re not ready to date because they’re not the person they want to be yet (ME!). Their challenge is diving in unready and acknowledging that they will continue to grow even inside of a relationship (and that’s totally okay). 

This book is a great primer on some different ways to view dating differently. You can skip it if you’ve read Attached and a bunch of other dating books. If you haven’t read a dating book before, it’s a good entry point. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 


2020 Most Impactful Books I Read

In my second installment of “Books I Read”, I’m going to talk about the most impactful books I read in 2020.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

This is probably my new favorite (fiction) book, even surpassing Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse. Drive Your Plow is written by Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Man Booker International Prize. It is dark, fixated on the intersection of the mundane and the fantastical, and holds a message about the widespread abuses and disrespect towards our fellow animals. Drive Your Plow tells the story of an older woman, an unreliable crone archetype who swaps people’s names for descriptors and lives in a remote village with harsh winters and pleasant vacation-worthy summers.

She and a neighbor discover the murder of another neighbor, who appears to have been trampled inside him house by deer. The story teeters from there between eccentric narratives, pulling you into a fantasy land, discoursing with fascinating villagers with wits and uncommon specializations, sitting at the woman’s table for drinks and a meal, all before landing you back down to earth with a heavy realization that slowly creeps on you (and the villagers) as you near the final pages.

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link).

The Highly Sensitive Person

This non-fiction self-help book is validating to those who literally are more sensitive – to light, sound, taste, all of it. I easily qualified as a highly-sensitive person (HSP) given the results of the quiz that starts off this informative and kind book about what it means when the world is louder and more abrasive than you’re able to easily navigate through. Where “sensitive” is an insult in our culture, the author details how some (including me) just interact with the world in a different way. And there are plenty of benefits to being sensitive – it shows in my writing for one.

We’re quickly outgrowing last generation’s “tough as nails” brainwashing and bringing in a new era of acknowledgment of the simple fact that the world is incredibly diverse and all the more interesting and rich for it.

Author Elaine N. Aron says,

“We are the writers, historians, philosophers, judges, artists, researchers, theologians, therapists, teachers, parents, and plain conscientious citizens. What we bring to any of these roles is a tendency to think about all the possible effects of an idea. Often we have to make ourselves unpopular by stopping the majority from rushing ahead. Thus, to perform our role well, we have to feel very good about ourselves. We have to ignore all the messages from the warriors that we are not as good as they are. The warriors have their bold style, which has its value. But we, too, have our style and our own important contribution to make.”

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link).

Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions

Paganism is a non-fiction introduction to Paganism. Though I already knew a bit about it, this book did an outstanding job of overtly discussing the critical aspects of Paganism – from morals and ethics, to the convergence of religion (or spirituality) and science. I thoroughly enjoyed journaling to the prompts at the end of each chapter.

This book enabled me to refine my practical approach to relating to the earth. It doesn’t require leaps in logic or reaching to unfounded and irresponsible (and destructive) ideologies based in shame and punishments (if you catch my drift).

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link).

Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language

Wordslut is a pop take on gender linguistics by Amanda Montell. As a writer, it’s affirming to be reminded that criticism of women’s speech and writing is in aims to uphold a false idea of the “right” (white male) way to speak.

This book gave me some fresh takes on the state of language right now and got me thinking a lot about women in the workplace. With all the articles coming out about women needing to drop the “ums” and “likes”, I’ll proudly keep speaking in a way that’s connection-focused and community-oriented.

Montell says,

We’re also living in a time when we find respected media outlets and public figures circulating criticisms of women’s voices – like that they speak too much vocal fry, overuse the words like and literally, and apologize in excess. They brand judgments like these as pseudo-feminist advice aimed at helping women talk with “more authority” so that they can be “taken more seriously.” What they don’t seem to realize is that they’re actually keeping women in a state of self-questioning – keeping them quiet – for no objectively logical reason other than that they don’t sound like middle-aged white men.

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link).


Creative Forgetting

I’ve talked numerous times about my idea that everyone is creative. And this month, we’re going to talk about this creativity, but from the perspective I’ve been enduring. So it may or may not be well known, but childhood trauma causes memory loss. I have suffered significant memory loss throughout my life. But recently, as I’ve spent a lot of my time in my home, I’ve remembered some significant memories that punch through just a very small bit of that fog. Today’s topic is not about the science of that, or memory loss’ protective quality. It’s about creative forgetting.

I wanted to tie this into trauma-related memory loss because I think some of the same themes are playing out here. So creative forgetting is literally me forgetting all the time that I’m a writer. After a draining day or week, I’ll sit on my couch and watch YouTube videos of highly creatively disciplined individuals making their art.  I’m so happy to see other creating, and even making their living from the things they create. And I spend time too making lists, either in my head or on paper, of things I’m interested in. I do this to try to gain creative inspiration. I pull out my watercolors and paint. I make a pizza or pancakes. I sew. I read. And in all this, I conveniently forget that I’m a writer through and through.

Like many creative endeavors, writing is not regarded as valuable in our society, and it can be ridiculed (until those people who ridicule me try their hand at writing themselves). And I think that when you’re creative (everyone is in some capacity), but in a traditional way (like with writing), you have a stubbornness in your step. You know you’re doing something that’s highly valuable, and that people aren’t about to admit is highly valuable. But writing is traditionally creative  – gasp – and society wants automatons. By the way, when I say “traditionally creative”, I mean that it’s normally considered creative. I believe that everything is a creative act – from washing the dishes to fixing a car to investing in stocks.

For me to feel that I was worthwhile in my pursuit of writing as a full-blown career, I went to a coding bootcamp. This step in my education brought me a very interesting career as a Technical Writer. I blend my writing skills with some engineering skills – even building a full iOS application as a previous job. But there’s that inherent awkwardness in feeling that your position is looked down on. I wrote about this in I’m Not In It to Become a Developer, after someone said I’d make more money as an engineer (even though I have no interest in being an engineer).

So I was thinking – what if I keep forgetting that I’m a writer because I myself have integrated some other people’s beliefs about the worth of writing? I know the worth of writing. I know it’s a significant industry, a competitive industry, a powerful industry. I know that celebrities and politicians inevitably write a memoir or a self-help book. So then why the creative forgetting? Perhaps because the value of my writing has not been validated. Perhaps because my writing has not sold more than a dozen copies. Perhaps because I operate behind the scenes, most extremely as a ghostwriter. Or affectionately, as gutter, which I call the process of totally breaking down a piece of work and reassembling it.

This all isn’t about a need for me to gain attention about writing. If you snug up close to each sentence, it’s evidently a practice in thinking about why I keep forgetting that I’m a writer. Partly, it’s because I’m not reminded. And that’s not going to happen. Nobody’s going to remind me that I’m a writer. The other part of it is that I’m met with a lot of media that asks me to explore myself. Whenever I read something on Instagram or otherwise about exploring myself, I keep getting caught off guard. Thoughts course through me – do I not know myself? I look up and there are six stacks of books in front of me, and a 17 Penguin edition book collection of Victorian and contemporary Horror classics. Do I not know myself? Or is this self-care shit getting out of hand (*closes Instagram*)?

So then memory loss comes into play. Writing is how I define myself. So then is forgetting that I’m a writer a from of temporarily rejecting my identity (and myself)? And I should clarify that when I say I forget I’m a writer, I mean that I may have some free time on the weekend, and it’s not the first or second or third thing I think of doing. Of course, this could all have a lot to do with the pandemic. We’re all at home (or should be because of COVID) and there’s not a lot of external stimuli.  But what I’m trying to get to is that whatever your passion and your craft and your skill is, it is valuable. It is so valuable that for you to grasp its significance would terrify you. So please, whatever society tells you, what you do matters.

Remember who you are and keep reminding yourself every day so you don’t walk around in a daze. So you don’t wander into odd hobbies along the way that you’re not really interested in that keep distracting you from your deep work. But funny enough, if you’re a writer like me, you know those weird winding roads you take enrich what you do. Just don’t get lost there. Do what interests you, find other avenues, but remember who you are. Know that your forgetting is not forever. I recently reread a story about a girl named Vasalisa in Women Who Run With the Wolves. In this story, a little girl goes through a mini hero’s journey of developing or recalling her intuition via the external symbol of a doll. It’s a worthwhile read to understand the steps involved in building trust in the self.

What is inside of you cannot be lost or forgotten forever. Leave yourself a paper trail if you need to while you explore so that you don’t forget. What you do is an expression of a wealth inside of you. It cannot be crushed, but it can be artificially diminished by what society says, by stumbles and falls, by a whole lot of other factors. But it’s all yours and your only job is to keep remembering and keep returning.


Buying a Couch Changed My Life

I’ve spoken about the home in indirect and direct ways before. It sounds like a bit of an exaggeration to say that buying a couch changed my life. But there’s a bit to it. For some backstory, I grew up moving around a lot and going to a lot of different schools. Not only that, but I grew up with an American mother and French father. So I spent nearly a decade living in France, during which I was considered the American girl. It didn’t help much when I moved to the US, since I was the French girl here. I was always the outsider. Even at home. I spent a significant amount of my childhood in my room alone. I parented myself, and eventually, I played parent in a lot of ways to my own mother.

I come from a very dysfunctional and abusive background – I won’t get into all that here. But I want to set the stage for showing how I was able to overcome some of this through creating sacredness in my own apartment now. When I was a teenager, I shared a room with my mother (it’s as bad as it sounds, worse even). Every few months, she would go through massive purging, in which we would get rid of a significant amount of items. A lot of it were things we realized, if just days later, that we actually really needed. So I really got into the habit of deep purging.

I continued this self-enforced deprivation for a long time. When I was in college, there was a point where I was doing laundry two to three times a week because I had so few clothes. And this may work for some people, but in combination with fears around never feeling like I had enough, this was a toxic cocktail for self-loathing enforced by significant material deprivation.

I’ve previously talked about minimalism in the following articles: Clearing Out (written while in an abusive relationship) and Why I Failed at Minimalism. And for a while, I considered myself a minimalist. I realize now that I used it as an excuse not to settle down anywhere and do the healing work I needed to do. After all, that shit was terrifying. I would have to look at nearly two decades of abuse that lingered and messes with every facet of my life.

I came to a point where minimalism (or deprivation under disguise of a social phenomenon popularized by Marie Kondo) was an excuse to keep moving from place to place. It was an excuse for home never being a satisfying place to be. It was an excuse for home to be sterile, frantic, unwelcoming, and even frightening – replicating the “home” of my childhood.

Probably the most significant, clearly identifiable turning point in my adulthood – and you may laugh – is when I bought a couch. My friend and I went to Home Goods in February – yes, I bought my first ever couch at the age of 29. Before that, I just had a desk in my living room. I would joke that I lived like a frat boy. Picture a nearly bare apartment with some IKEA furniture – but without a TV or gaming console. Books instead.

So my friend and I were in Home Goods and I could not figure out for the life of me which couch was “good” or “comfortable”. My friend put the most wholesome peer pressure on me – “buy the couch, it’s okay”. I sat on it in the corner of the store with her for a good ten minutes, not saying anything. My brain was short circuiting. Who the fuck was I to own a couch? What gave me the right? My brain went blank save for the nasty little voice. It reminded me that I’d had a roommate in college who burned down our apartment. What if that shit happened again? Why bother getting a couch?

Being up at the cash register was another good ten minutes of brain fog. But I bought it. I bought the fucking couch – and this heavy chonk in my living room feels very grounding. The first night I had it home, I was afraid to sit on it. I remember the delivery man looking at my stunned face after he’d set it down and going “you should enjoy it.” He didn’t know what saying that meant to me.

My gorgeous couch now sits in my living room, and I sit on it with my cats. I fluff up the pillows every single day and look over at it so many times throughout the day (including when I’m on work Zoom meetings) that you’d swear someone was sitting on it. It’s light grey and makes me think of a couch a nice older woman would have. It’s respectable – not the gothic couches I had all over Pinterest boards. But better because it’s in my own apartment and I used my own money to buy it, and the style is going to age well.

So when I say buying a couch changed my life, I mean that it was a significant symbolic statement to the universe that I’m ready and willing to settle in. Not to settle in a location, or to settle down. Not to never move again. No – it’s symbolic for settling into myself. This big bulky anchor acts like it – reminding me daily of the power that comes from waiting, studying, harvesting only that which is ready to be plucked.

And come to think of it – my three card Tarot spread for today ties in perfectly with this conversation. I drew Judgment, the King of Cups, and the World. When I saw this trio, I thought of the advantage I now have of mature (King of Cups) discernment (Judgment) over each piece of my life and myself (The World). Through liberating myself to settling into the symbolism of placehood, I’ve opened myself up to personal growth in a way I never had before. I’ve given myself an investment that only I could give myself. Nobody was going to do that for me. My parents abandoned me far before the age that I could properly develop my identity and self-esteem. So part of my recovery was giving myself the little space of home that I never had.

Why a couch? Why did it take a fucking couch to get me to this place? I have some theories – but maybe I’ll explore that more another time. For now, I can say with a sense of humor that a couch changed my life.