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The books in that stack were the first five things I planned to read this month. But then I remembered I have a book club reading to do for next week, and things are due at the library, so I’ve pushed most of them back to later in the month.

But the one I read and devoured in a day and now have to buy for myself and possibly everyone I know?

  1. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. It took me three days to read this, but I’ll be unpacking all the good it will do me for a long time. I experienced a lot of joy and a lot of discomfort reading this book, for I, too, am an introvert who has gotten very comfortable saying no to a lot of things when I would be better off saying yes. Many things she said hit very close to home. I believe I need to continue my education by binge-watching her shows. Okay, maybe that’s not the point of the book. Maybe I can watch an episode a day or as a treat for saying yes to something scary/exciting?
  2. Speaking of the book club, In the Skin of a Jihadist by Anna Erelle is our church book club’s selection for next Tuesday, so naturally I waited to start it until today. Whoa. Intense. This should be a good discussion.
  3. In preparation for reading next month’s selection for a different book club (I may have a problem…an awesome, wonderful problem) – Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – I’m re-reading The Case for Reparations.
  4. For Black History Month, Austin Channing Brown is highlighting a different educational resource every day. 
  5. Speaking of BHM, if you’re wondering what you could possibly read (other than the resources on Austin Channing Brown’s page), here is QBR’s list of 100 essential black books. And here is a list compiled by The Woke Folk of books on race, gender, sexuality, and class to download for free.

What are you reading these days?

On Fasting

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Tomorrow we enter into Lent, which in many traditions is a season of fasting. I’m not sure Lutheran is one of those traditions, but I tend to fast during Lent anyway. I started doing so to support an early college roommate who was Episcopalian, and I’ve done it ever since. I’ve become less communicative about it over the years, not only because it’s become more of a private reflection, but also because I’ve found that fasting is one of those things people are either willing to understand or wanting to argue about.

This post is for the willing crowd. Arguing crowd – save your breath. I’m still going to do it, because I find it beneficial. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. You do you.

First, these are not reasons that I fast:

  1. To test my willpower or prove that I can accomplish it. Fasting is an intensely personal experience for me, but that doesn’t mean that it’s just about me and what I can do. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that if this is the only reason one fasts, then what one is doing is not so much fasting as it is dieting.
  1. To rid myself of vices. If I notice something I’m doing is harmful to myself or others, I don’t need to wait until Lent to get rid of it. Nor do I need to use the calendar’s announcement that it’s Easter as an excuse to pick it back up. It just needs to go. What needs to happen there is a full turning away, not a temporary doing without.

Reasons I fast:

  1. To induce gratitude. Doing without something for a season that is a regular, enjoyable part of my life, makes me ten times more grateful for life and more aware of a purpose outside myself in general, and that gratitude feeds right into the joy of Easter.
  1. To make room. Abstaining from a regular activity frees up that time (and head space) for more contemplation, meditation, and prayer.
  1. To lay down privilege. This is humbling and paves the way for that experience to change me into someone who acts more fairly.

The year I went vegan for Lent, I learned a lot. What I expected to get out of it was an immense joy when I could have cheese (if Jesus were a food…) again and a little time for reflection that I saved by preparing and eating simpler meals.

Then, like a fool, I told people what I was doing.

This announcement inspired a lot of opposition. It wasn’t like I was asking anyone to join me, but they were still upset about it. This confused me until I realized that when people rise up against something that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with them, it’s usually a justice issue. They or someone they love or support would lose power – usually over other people – or money, which is just tangible power, if everyone started behaving or believing that way. So they don’t like it.

When I see something as a justice issue, however, whether or not they like it becomes kind of irrelevant. If it is strictly a difference of opinion, I’m pretty live-and-let-live about it. Sure, I will tease you. You think Uggs are pretty? Fine. I might, tongue fully in cheek, tell you that your taste is wrong, but really? Live your life; wear your hideous boots. What do I care?

But.

I will remove that tongue from my cheek and seriously urge you to investigate where and how they’re manufactured. Because it matters. Morally and ethically – it matters. Issues of justice cannot be brushed off with a flippant agreement to disagree.

So the year I went vegan, and people started hurling their statistics and medical studies at me, I didn’t tell them they had a right to their opinion and let it go. I, ever the argumentative academic, read their statistics and studies. Then I read most of the works cited at the bottom of those sources to get a larger picture of their viewpoint. I analyzed the credibility of their sources, and I studied equally credible sources (and in quite a few cases, more credible sources because wow, people will believe really shoddy work from really shady places if it allows them to resist changing their mind) that came to a different conclusion.

[As an aside, if you are looking for a socio-political rabbit hole to fall into, I recommend a compound search of food systems and justice. It’s fascinating.]

Through reading all this research, I came to some conclusions of my own. For the record, I didn’t stay vegan, although if you are, I highly support your decision. There are a lot of good reasons to do so.  There are also good reasons not to, and those reasons are more in line with my values. I did, however, radically change the way I view and buy food. After my experience and the domino effect of education on the subject, I could not in good conscience know what I had learned and remain unchanged.

Fasting is not always such a life-changing experience for me, but it does always manage to find a new way to shift my focus away from myself and onto the needs of others. That’s a lesson that extends far beyond the fasting season.

Steele Secrets

I met Andi Cumbo-Floyd by joining the online writing community she leads. She has helped me with my work and has taught me a great deal about making time for getting it done. I am very excited for you to get the opportunity to read her first novel, which comes out February 9, so I invited her to talk about it here today. Enjoy! And order her book!

  1. Tell us about Steele Secrets.

Steele Secrets is my new YA novel, and it tells the story of Mary Steele, a 15-year-old girl who finds herself unexplainedly in an abandoned cemetery.  While she’s there, she meets the ghost of a slave named Moses and has to fend-off a bulldozer sent to destroy the cemetery.  In the course of her fight to save the cemetery, she learns a great deal about her small mountain town, about her neighbors, and about herself.  And not all of what she learns is good, and all of it challenges her sense of history and self.

  1. What prompted you to write it?

Over and over again, I have read about – and personally witnessed – the destruction of historic African American places, particularly slave cemeteries.  As a country, we do not value these places as they should be valued, and so we let them be destroyed because of our apathy. Sometimes, we destroy them with malicious intent or because of shame.  None of those reasons is acceptable.  So Steele Secrets comes, in part, from that experience and is my way of working through why we don’t care to save these houses, cemeteries, and other historic sites as much as we do, say, a presidential mansion.

I also wrote this book because I wanted to investigate my own heritage – note, small spoiler ahead – as a woman who identifies as white but is a direct descendant of African Americans.  I wanted to study my own thoughts and feelings about that identity, of which I am very proud but still unsure of how to wrap into myself fully.

Finally, I wrote Steele Secrets because at our 200-year-old farmhouse, I often feel the presence of a woman who was enslaved here.  I call her by the name Judith, but I do not know her real name; it’s not recorded anywhere.  So in these pages, I wanted to explore this idea of slave hauntings as beneficent gifts to us in the 21st century.

  1. Describe the research process that went into writing this story.

I actually didn’t do any particular research for this book, BUT I did draw on the research about slavery that I did for my previous book, The Slaves Have Names.  I also used a lot of the knowledge I’ve gained as a member of the Central Virginia History Researchers, a group of professional and independent historians who have worked to save a local African American cemetery and who strive tirelessly to recover the stories of African Americans and their communities in our part of the world.  Plus, I was able to draw from the work I’ve been honored to do with local historical societies; in fact, one of my characters – Shamila – is based loosely on my friend Elaine, who directs the Louisa County Historical Society.

  1. From which character did you learn the most?

What a great question! Without a doubt, Moses taught me the most. . . about what it might feel like to be enslaved, about what it is to forgive but not forget, about what family means.  I don’t want to say too much more because I don’t want to give away too much of the book, but Moses was my favorite character.  I fashioned him after Primus, a man who was enslaved at the plantation I call home.

  1. Which character frustrated you the most?

Oh, Mary, the protagonist.  In many ways, she and I are alike, so her foibles and failings are much like my own. . . and so when she messes up, I get frustrated because I do the same things.

  1. After reading Steele Secrets, I wanted to know more about how burial grounds and other sacred historical spaces of slaves are treated in our culture. What resources would you suggest?

Another great question.  The first resource I’d suggest is Lynn Rainville’s book Hidden Histories: African American Cemeteries in Virginia. The book is chock full of advice about finding old cemeteries, tips on preserving them, wisdom about how to understand the gravestone carvings, and an array of insight about historic preservation.

I’d also suggest that if you live in a place where there are plantations – i.e. most of the East Coast and all of the South – check with your local historical society. Ask them what places of import to African Americans are in danger.  Talk to property owners and see what they know about burial sites, slave quarters, etc., are on their land.

But honestly, we simply don’t have enough resources going into this work.  Every day, historic cemeteries are destroyed.  Every day, houses and other buildings that relate to enslaved people and their descendants are torn down.  So our best resource is ourselves – we can learn about these places and gather people to save them. . . we can take Mary’s lead.

Andi

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer who – with her husband – runs God’s Whisper farm at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where they have 4 dogs, 4 cats, 6 goats, and 23 chickens.  Her books include The Slaves Have Names, Writing Day In and Day Out, God’s Whisper Manifesto, and the forthcoming Steele Secrets.  You can learn more about her at andilit.com.

 

 

For much of my life I have often been treated like the smartest person in the room. Whether or not I have been said person is highly debatable. But even when – especially when – I know I’m not, I like the challenge of this expectation. It motivates me to dream big and set go-for-the-gold, be-all-you-can-be, insert-your-favorite-inspiring-cliche-here goals. And can I meet them? Of course I can. I’ve been told my whole life that I can.

The downside to this is that I tend toward perfectionism. I can set ten lofty goals for the year, meet nine of them, and still feel like a complete failure because I missed one. That means I can’t be the smartest, because the smartest would not have missed that tenth goal. That one will haunt me. I will miss sleep over it. I will write long, whiny, navel-gazing blog posts, most of which I won’t actually post (you’re welcome), about it.

But that feeling? It’s not the truth. And I’m writing about it today not just because I need to hear it but because maybe you need to hear it, too.

Meeting goals – any goal – is not failure; it’s progress. It’s growth. It’s not losing ground or even remaining still; it’s moving forward.

[This is not to say that if you don’t maniacally set goals like I do that you’re stagnating. I’m sure you’re growing, too, even if you don’t have a compulsive need to document it.]

So when one of the activities in Beth Morey’s Your Fearless Year 2016 was to list twenty achievable but big and fearless goals, I was equal parts excited and scared to commit to that much of a plan. Okay – four parts excited, one part scared – my love for this list is pretty big. I’ve mentioned some of these already this year, but they’re all important to me.

The list:

 1. Get a job (or a way to generate income) that is better suited to my strengths.

2. Move into a house (or again- a place that is better suited to me).

3. Finish a complete rough draft manuscript of at least one of my current works in progress.

4. Submit at least ten items (articles, poems, flash fiction, essays, or the aforementioned manuscript) for publication.

5. Read 100 books.

6. Start a newsletter.

7. Launch my writer website.

8. Choose and use social media outlets better (more coming soon on this).

9. Showcase coffee picture project in a public way (calendar? Book of poetry? Step one – choose a medium.).

10. Replace one worn-out or not-really-me item at my house per month. Late December/early January was a three-for-one deal – bedroom curtain, shower curtain, and a WIP shelf. I think the shelf is my favorite:

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11. Send holiday cards with a picture I’ve taken myself.

12. Take a trip for fun.

13. Take a dance class.

14. Try one of the new crafts that my crafting friends have been inviting me to try.

15. Throw my Hemingway party (food that is simple and good – like Hemingway’s prose – and drinks laden with booze – like Hemingway).

16. Learn to speak better Spanish.

17. Find (or make) a place to play piano on a regular basis.

18. Go on a date.

19. Participate in a Couch-to-5K program (projected start – late May with a race on July 4th).

20. Take a cooking class. Possibly knife skills. Or cake decorating. Or overcoming chicken phobia (is that a thing that people teach? Because it should be.).

So there they are, and here’s to making progress.

I’m linking up with Marvia Davidson for Real Talk Tuesdays. Join the conversation!

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The thing I’m into the most right now? These boots.

Most of the month has involved making and talking about plans for the year. What I spent most of January doing was talking about what I’m going to be into, so it seems fitting to discuss both here.

I got off to a slow start with my reading this year. I only read four books, but I enjoyed them all. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson were beautifully written. Andi Cumbo-Floyd’s first novel, Steele Secrets, is officially coming out on February 9, but I got a sneak peak, and I loved it. Thursday, I’ll post an interview with Andi in which she talks more about the book and the characters, but you should just go ahead and order your copy now. I also read Jen Lancaster’s The Tao of Martha, and she was hilarious and fantastic as always (except for that part about her dog. That wasn’t funny. I know – spoilers. I just want you to be emotionally prepared, if that’s even possible.).

I enjoyed The Tao of Martha so much that I am reading her My Fair Lazy now with Maggie. We used to read books at the same time, and I’m happy to be doing that again and even happier that it’s a book by someone we both fangirl pretty hard over. I’m pretty sure I’ve read this one before, but it’s been a while. The details are fuzzy in my memory.

 I’ve begun stacking books that are on my next-to-read list on top of my liquor cabinet.

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Making an appearance this month (probably) are Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, Shonda Rhimes’s Year of Yes, Oriah’s The Invitation, and Kate Bolick’s SpinsterPreston Yancey’s Out of the House of Bread might be the book I’m most excited about right now. I took his Sacramental Baking course one summer, and this is the book that came out of that course. In fact, he’s going to be teaching through the book in late February, and it will be worth every penny.

A lot of my specific goals for the year mostly involve getting up off the couch – you know, going out and talking to people. As humans do. I also got a slow start on that, but I made it to Mallorie’s make-and-take oils party Friday night. I was a little congested on Saturday, but the chest rub we made helped that a lot (and also left my skin super soft, because coconut oil). In February, Michelle and I have a Galentine’s weekend planned, and she and Tammy both have birthdays coming up, so I foresee outings involved there. And at long last, supper club returns the last Sunday of the month!

January was a blur. Maybe I’ll be more present in February. That, too, is something to look forward to.

 I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer. Hop over and tell us what you’re into!

photo (58)It’s arrived. The push back.

Every year when I make resolutions or choose a new word for the year, I start out optimistic. I am looking forward to the year. I am excited about what it might bring or what exploration of this new word might teach me.

Then comes the push back.

It came early this year, which was to be expected, I guess. Choose a word like “true,” and one should expect all sorts of “yes, but…” and “…not yet” to show up.

I see in possibilities. Possibility is where I’m happiest. It’s hopeful and shiny. It’s like my empty coffee cup, waiting for the French press to be ready, telling me that the glorious nectar of the bean will surely soon be mine. There’s a lot of true – about who I am and who I’m becoming – in possibility.

There’s also reality, and sometimes it pushes back so hard that it packs down the bricks in the wall it’s building.

When friends couple off or get married, I’m about 90% happy for them and 10% lonelier (hey – progress – those percentages used to be switched). Lonely likes its protective walls.

When people I respect and love say “liberals” like it’s a dirty word, revealing the limits of their respect and love for me (the dirty liberal), I add more bricks around the parts of myself that their vitriol has taught me they can’t accept.

When I give more to my job than my pay grade warrants but can’t quite find a tangible reason why I bother, I want to build the wall higher.

[Aside – to a GenXer, “tangible reason” = “promotion and a raise,” not just a pat on the back. I can pat my own back, thanks. Match those words to some cash. Or at least a bathroom break. Maybe a taco.]

When I write and write (and revise and revise), and it’s still not enough to be the thing I’m doing with my life, I want to make a little brick cubbyhole, fill it with pillows, and take a nap.

I like my walls. They’re comforting and familiar. They say nice things to me and smell like rain. They tell me I’m right. They tell me I’m pretty.

Then true comes along and whispers, “Tear them down.”

So that’s how beginning is going. *sigh*

 

I’m linking up with Marvia Davidson’s Real Talk Tuesday (heh – how about Thursday?).

Whew. It’s been a rough week for fandom. Saying goodbye to David Bowie was saying goodbye to part of my childhood. And Alan Rickman inspired me with his late-start-but-still-phenomenal career and as a person in general. I can’t even go on Facebook right now because I am at work and a damn professional, and I am mainly working very hard at not sobbing into my keyboard.

Yesterday, The Bloggess posted her tribute and thank yous in a beautiful way, and I want to do something similar here. There are a lot of people, like Bowie and Rickman, whom I will mourn along with the world when they pass. But there are roughly a dozen people whom I’ve never actually met whom I will mourn as if I have. Whoever my boss is when those terrible days come – be advised I will take a few days off. Trust me – you’ll be glad that I do.

I have a lot of fandoms, so it was difficult to narrow down the list to six, much less five. But here they are:

Bernadette Peters – I have loved her since I could barely even love anyone. She played Lily St. Regis in the 1982 Annie, and in my 7-year-old mind, she was so fancy. I love her grace and the way she just takes over the stage. My favorite thing she’s done was her performance as the witch in Into the Woods. When I saw the newer version last year, I missed her. I mean, Meryl Streep is awesome – would that we all developed and displayed our talents so brilliantly – but I missed Bernadette Peters in the role. In my mind, it will always be hers.

Michelle Pfeiffer – Confession: when I grow up, I kinda want to be Michelle Pfeiffer. From reenacting her rendition of “Cool Rider” in Grease 2 in front of my friend Ginger’s camcorder to her depiction of Catwoman to her marriage to David E. Kelley (lucky guy…and sure, also a fantastic writer and producer…who gets to be Michelle Pfeiffer’s husband), she has the sort of career/life I would want if I were an actress. She has an impressive body of work that I could gush about all day.

But seriously –

 

Peter MacNicol – He played my all-time favorite television character on my all-time favorite show. I can’t see him in anything without thinking of Ally McBeal‘s John Cage. He delivered my favorite lines and my favorite speeches from the show. When people ask what fictional character I relate to most, unlike most writers, who will name someone from literature, I name a character from television – John Cage. I will be inconsolable when anyone in the cast of Ally McBeal dies, but his death will be the hardest.

Michael Rosenbaum – I teared up even typing his name. He’s only a few years older than I am, and frankly, I hope I go first so I don’t ever have to deal with his death (after we’ve both lived long, happy lives, hopefully well into our late 90s, of course). Michael Rosenbaum played Lex Luthor on Smallville, and while he’s done many awesome things since then, that was his role that actually has had an impact on my personal life. I love his portrayal of Lex. I loved it so much that I joined his message board to talk about it with others who loved it as much as I did. And then I followed a lot of them to Livejournal to discuss it even more in-depth. Thus I began my first blog – my first regular writing practice. So when I become published, Michael Rosenbaum will be in the acknowledgements of people whose work was instrumental in getting me there.

Then I met some of the people whom I knew from the message board and from Livejournal, and I still keep in touch with a lot of them today. Some of them, I’ve never met in person but still consider good friends. Some of them, I have met in person and consider some of my best friends, like my friend Michelle. I can’t imagine not knowing these people, and I have Michael Rosenbaum to thank for that as well.

Nathan Fillion – Need I really explain this one? Firefly. Castle. Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog. Nathan Fillion’s awesomeness is pretty apparent. He makes an excellent TV boyfriend. I love him in everything he’s been in, but I might love his Twitter best of all. Some days, it’s the only reason I still have a Twitter.

I would join his message board so hard (if I were still in my twenties and had oodles of time to spend on the Internet. And if message boards were a thing people even did anymore).

And because five is not enough…

Lauren Graham – Lorelai can never die. Neither can Sarah Braverman. That’s the rule. You hear me, universe? I won’t stand for it.

After this week, I’m in serious need of a weekend of self-care, which specifically will consist of a vat of roasted veggie soup and Veronica Mars (oh, God. Kristen Bell. YOU BE GOOD, UNIVERSE!).

 

 

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