1. Daring Greatly. In a previous post, I shared Brene Brown’s fantastic TED talk:  The power of vulnerability. Talk about eye-opener! (If you haven’t seen the TED talk, check it out below. It’s time well-spent!) What has me singing Dr. Brown’s praises again is that I just finished her book, Daring Greatly. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, shame, courage and worthiness, and in this book she shares all that she learned. It’s a powerful, life-changing book. I have highlights and sticky notes on nearly every page. Here are a few points that resonated the most:

1. Belonging and “fitting in” are not the same thing. Brene found that fitting in means molding yourself to what another person or group of people wants you to be. In other words, trying to be like them in order to be accepted by them. Belonging is quite different. Belonging is showing up and being seen for who you really are and being accepted for that. “Belonging starts with self-acceptance,” she says. “Your level of belonging can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough gives you the courage to be authentic.

2. Guilt is not a 4-letter word. Well, that’s true, but you know what I mean. Guilt is about behavior — something we did or something we failed to do. It’s this discomfort that often is the precursor to real change. But this is different from shame. Shame is when we feel bad about who we are. Two different ends of the spectrum.

3. Perfectionism is a 4-letter word. “Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfectly, look perfectly and act perfectly, we can avoid the pain of judgment,” says Brene. It’s like trying to build an impenetrable wall around your life. Perfectionism focuses on others by worrying about what they will think, rather than promoting true achievement and growth.

4. Vulnerability is courage. This is Brene’s overarching message throughout the book. There are a couple of myths about vulnerability that most of us buy into: first, that it is weakness and second, that it is optional. “Vulnerability is the most accurate measure of our individual courage…and the only choice you have is how you handle the feelings of being exposed.” We all do something with those feelings. Some of us numb them (food, alcohol, shopping). Some of us try to be perfect (see above). Some of us disconnect. She wants us to recognize these feelings and challenge ourselves to show up and allow ourselves to be vulnerable because that is how we dare greatly.

Do any of these points resonate with you? How did you try to dare greatly?

[ted id=1042]

2. Everyday joy.

The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

How do you find the miraculous in the common?

3. Mini Book Review: The Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Strout.

From the jacket flap: Though the Burgess boys grew up in small-town Maine, they eventually move to New York City. (My note: the characters live in my neighborhood in Brooklyn!) Their worlds are upended when their sister, Susan, urgently calls them to come home because her son, Zach, has committed what is being deemed a hate crime.

Burgess BoysAt times, I loved this book. I was completely engaged with the characters and felt like I knew them personally, even the minor characters. I could open the book randomly to any page and know who was speaking. That takes a lot of skill and a keen eye. Strout makes it look easy, but I’m here to tell you, it’s one of the hardest things to pull off.   Then there were other times I had to encourage myself to go back to the book. (“Don’t give up now, you’re only 100 pages from the end.”) The consequences of the major plot point are subtle, kind of like life. We often only see in hindsight the thread unraveling from the choices we make. While this is true, as a reader, I wanted something big to happen. I wanted suspense to pull me in and force me to keep turning the pages, wondering what would happen to the characters. I wanted…something more. I loved Strout’s last book, Olive Kitteridge, which won the Pulitzer Prize. That book is a subtle telling of intertwined short stories, also with very complex characters who live fairly ordinary lives. The Burgess Boys is in the same vein so I was expecting to fall head-over-heels for it, and I felt a bit sad that I wasn’t swept away. I think I preferred this sort of subtle storytelling in the bite-size pieces of short story format (a la Olive Kitteridge) rather than a novel length work.

If you love digging into family sagas, I have a feeling you’d really enjoy this one. If you like a lot of action and plot twists, this probably isn’t the story for you.  It seems like I’m not the only one who had mixed feelings.

4. Spring has sprung!

Spring flowers

5. Two poems. Wrapping up the guest poet series as we near the end of Poetry Month, I’d like to turn this space over to poet Amy Holman. She’s going to share one poem she’s written and one poem she admires.

Guest Poet: Amy Holman

I have been invited to share my sensibility with you via poetry. The first part of the assignment is to give you a poem of mine and explain what the hell I was thinking. In doing this I can’t help but think how I am also sharing with you the particular magazine that published it, and thus inviting you to read further. Who shall I choose? But, that’s the literary consultant in me, talking to you about editorial sensibilities at magazines. It could be good to sell my book through a well-chosen poem. I do have a collection published that is not out of print, and a chapbook that is out of print, and other chapbooks that had mysterious print runs, and a publisher who skipped town. I think newer is better. It implies that I’m still writing.
“Freelance Destiny” is my selection at Zocalo Public Square, a Los Angeles-based online magazine for journalism with a poetry section edited by Stephanie Brown. This poem references a TV character of a show that aired in the 1960’s, and which got a revival with the advent of DVD boxed sets, and later a remake. My brother gave me the boxed set. We had watched another show, “Thunderbirds”, by the same writers when were tiny. In this poem, I take the female fighter pilot, Destiny Angel, from the program “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons”, and imagine what she did with her time in retirement. Since she was a stylish woman who sewed her own clothes and a fierce fighter pilot, I figured she would go freelance and help Human Rights Watch in ousting the Uzbekistan dictator’s daughter and clothing designer, Gulnara Karimova, from Fashion Week. I was delighted to see in the list of designers featured at that event one named Michael Angel. Perhaps it was destiny. I used the triolet 8-line form in stanzas.
Mortal Geography
The second part of the assignment is for me to share a favorite poem with you. I have lots of poems that I love. One of my favorites of a newer poet, Alexandra Teague, comes out of her first book, Mortal Geography, published by Persea. Teague plays with grammar in a poem about teaching English as a second language. It reminds me of some rules of order I had forgotten. The poem is also about the power of language to articulate the ineffable, which poems do even better than prose. It surprises. “Adjectives of Order” was also published in Slate. [Note: there is a also an audio of Alexandra reading the poem.]
Amy Holman is the author of the poetry collections, Wrens Fly Through This Opened Window (Somondoco Press, 2010) and Wait For Me, I’m Gone (Dream Horse Press, 1995). She has work in two subway anthologies, Token Entry (a poem) and The Subway Chronicles (an essay), and poetry, fiction, and essays in numerous print and online journals. She is a literary consultant and teacher living in Brooklyn, NY. 

Coming next week: Kathy McCullough from Reinventing the Event Horizon and her partner Sara get married, and I had the distinct honor and privilege of being a witness at the ceremony.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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