Book Review: Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community

I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with self-help books, whether it comes to the personal, professional, romantic, and so on. I’ve read my share of self-help books in my life time and I’ve acquired quite a list of the good, bad, and downright ugly.

I can happily proclaim C. Paul Schroeder’s Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community belongs in the good category.

In Practice Makes Purpose, Schroeder takes six ancient ideas and updates for our modern age, which let’s face it, my readers, is often confusing, frightening and downright overwhelming.

What are the six practices you ask? Quite simply they break down to the following:

  1. Compassionate Seeing
  2. Heartfelt Listening
  3. Intentional Welcoming
  4. Joyful Sharing
  5. Grateful Receiving
  6. Cooperative Building

Each of these six spiritual practices starts with a singular issue and ends with an actual practice. Between these two points includes steps Schroeder lays out at as the fix, the deep dive, the mantra, and the challenge, which are fully described in all six of these practices.

For instance, in compassionate seeing, Schroeder asks the reader to view ourselves and others with complete and unconditional acceptance. Now, this does not mean you condone someone’s behavior. Some people are just awful but get the “story behind the story” to find out why they are awful before you completely write them off. Compassionate seeing helps us connect with others and realize how we are all interconnected in various ways. Without compassionate seeing we are in danger of unraveling, which depletes us as individuals and depletes our communities.

As Practice Makes Purpose goes through all its parts, Schroeder describes in full the barriers we may face as well as the triumphs we can achieve. He does this with a clear and concise writing style that is practical, empathetic and audience-friendly. Once a Greek Orthodox Priest, Schroeder is wise enough to realize not every reader is a Christian, so he refrains from strict religious terms that may be off-putting. Nor is this book some odd bit of new age fluff that may turn off readers of more traditional religious orders.

While reading Practice Makes Purpose, I was struck how practical and easy I could use this advice in my own life when dealing with challenging people and predicaments. His advice is healthy in it respects our need to be open to others (his advice when it comes to heartfelt listening, “Tell me more” appeals to the writer in me and I also appreciate how he discusses the boundaries we may need to use in other situations. Yes, be open but don’t get steamrolled by others. I also deserve compassion.

What else do I like Practice Makes Purpose? This book is less than two hundred pages. It can be read in day during a binge read. It can be read piecemeal if you are dealing with a situation or person that requires reflection on only one or two of the six practices. You can easily carry this book in a handbag or knapsack, and its practices can be interwoven in one’s home and workplace. I would love to see all six practices used in our children’s schooling (especially in the wake of the horrific shooting in Parkland, Florida).

As for my life? I am now using Practice Makes Purpose when it comes to my self-care, especially when it comes to my mental health issues. I recently took up meditation and six one-sentence mantras Schroeder provide within this book is now part of my meditation practice.

At this point, Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community are thee right words, in the right book, at the right time.

 

 

 

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Retro Review: My Way of Life by Joan Crawford

When it comes to a film diva’s way of life I can’t help but think of Joan Crawford. Certainly she was so much more than using evil wire hangers to beat her kids and being hailed as Mommie Dearest, right?

Well, of course one of the first ladies of Hollywood’s Golden Age is full of wisdom, so what a blessing it was to find Crawford’s book My Way of Life, a book written long before Gwyneth Paltrow thought up “unconscious coupling” and told us to stuff vagina eggs up our tampon tunnels via her lifestyle website Goop.

My Way of Life is part memoir/part self-help book. Published in 1971, long after Crawford’s heyday and just a few years before her daughter Christina told us her tale of the abuse she and her siblings were slung at the hands (and yes, wire hangers) of “Mommie Dearest.”

My darlings, Crawford just knows we are clueless when it comes to our love lives, our careers, our households, our looks, our child rearing and our entertaining skills. And she’s only too willing to help because she’s a giver. Plus, she does this with a lot of juicy Hollywood tales and a steaming heap of name dropping that TMZ’s Harvey Levin and Perez Hilton would sell their mothers for!

Now, I’m sure most of you know some of the common sense ideas Crawford pontificates upon in My Way of Life. You’re very own Mommie Dearests probably taught you these things when you were growing up. You should always prepare for the day by writing down a to-do list, or as Crawford calls it “plan of action,” and it’s best to do this the night before. No matter what, remain confident and positive. And it’s a good idea to have your day’s outfit already laid out and cleaned and pressed.

Okay, but what else Joanie?

Well, we should never let our husbands know about childrearing and cleaning routines. Apparently, they can run Fortune 500 companies or run a country, but that can’t handle changing a diaper or loading the dishwasher.

Crawford also tells us to not to get fat and ugly or a man will leave us for another woman.  But a man should never catch his wife without a full face of make-up on or with curlers in her hair.

When it comes to eating Joan admonishes us to never serve a dish featuring the colors red and yellow together. Well, there goes my corn, tomato and basil salad. And Crawford wasn’t exactly fond of butter, potatoes, cheese and avocados. You’ll get my butter, potatoes, cheese and avocados out of my cold, dead hands.

When it comes to making your figure slim and chic, Crawford advises us to never sit on a soft chairs because it spreads out one’s hips. And here I thought my curvy hips was due to genetics.

Scrubbing the floor is great exercise. If you want to go without a bra you should swim for it’s good for the chest. Well, sorry, but my girls need a house.

Crawford is full of advice when it comes to beauty and fashion. Moisturizing is key. Or as Crawford puts it, “Moisturizer is probably the most blessed invention of the past two decades” (Dr. Jonas Salk, “Bitch, please!”)! We should never have our face in a sour, disagreeable expression because it makes us ugly.

Ahem…

smiling-gives-you-wrinkles-resting-bitch-face-keeps-you-pretty-quote-1

As for our wardrobes, Crawford has a lot of advice on extolls the virtues of matching, hats, gloves, and jewelry. And never dress for yourself; dress for the man in your life.

Did I mention men? Yes, according a Crawford thinks a woman needs a man like a fish needs water. And she isn’t reticent on how to please our husbands. For instance, learn about every aspect of his life including his job (as for you having a job? Well, your husband is your job, silly!). It doesn’t matter if your man pumps gas for a living or is the Chairman of the Board for Pepsi-Cola like Crawford’s fourth husband Alfred Steele. Make his career your career and he’ll be happy morning, noon and night. Also, never let you man know about the mundane aspects of your life. You’ll just bore him. Let him know nothing of household purchases. Goodness, don’t you ever let hubby see that box of Kotex or his testicles will shrink into Rasinettes.

As for childrearing you ask? Well, never once does Crawford mention wire hangers as a method of discipline. But boy does she know how to raise kids. According to My Way of Life. Crawford is the perfect mother.

For the most part, I couldn’t help chuckle and roll my eyes while reading this book. However, I did think it had some good advice on keeping healthy with both exercise and good, decent non-trendy food choices. I do think some of her fashion advice was pretty timely even today like finding your own style, choosing your clothes for your way of life and find the colors that make you most happy. I also appreciated her praise of sex, not just for one’s man but for one’s self, too. She also mentions about the importance of relaxing after a long, hard day, advising readers to put the phone away, have a glass of wine and have a good conversation with people you love.

Yes, a My Way of Life is dated and a bit silly, but it’s still a fun read in our age of Kardashian, and one retro read I can highly recommend!

Book Review: Whatever Happened to Interracial Love by Kathleen Collins

In the mood to read a collection of short stories rather than read a full-length novel, book of essays or work of non-fiction, I chanced upon Kathleen Collins’ small volume of stories Whatever Happened to Interracial Love at my local library. The book I held my hand was small and I figured it wouldn’t take much time to read it and therefore, I could quickly churn out another review in a short amount of time.

And yes, it didn’t take me long to read Collins work, only a few days given my personal and professional schedule. However, it did take me time to digest each and every story, which is probably why it took me some time to write this review. I found each of the stories invading my bloodstream and taking up space in my brain, heart and soul. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love made me look at some very thorny topics regarding race, gender, class, education, sex, money, and artistic expression. Sometimes reading is there just as entertainment, nothing wrong at that. But often reading is about learning and questioning the very society and culture we live in.

While reading Whatever Happened to Interracial Love I asked myself, “Just who is this Kathleen Collins? How come I never heard of her until I picked up her book?”

Kathleen Collins was born in 1942. She was educated at Skidmore and worked as a film maker and artist. Her film “Losing Ground” came out in 1982 focusing on the life of a black female professor navigating the shifty waters of academia and her marriage to a volatile, passionate artist who has his own demons to contend with. This forces the female protagonist to question her own choices and inspires her go on a journey to find her own version of ecstasy. This sounds like my kind of film and I can probably find it via the Internet for a nominal price.

However, it is Whatever Happened to Interracial Love that I must concentrate on, a book that was discovered recently and published last year, nearly 30 years Collins died of cancer.

It is 1963 in the title story and about two roommates living in New York City, one black, one white. The white roommate is a Sarah Lawrence graduate and works as a community organizer in Harlem. Her lover is a black poet. The other roommate is black and madly in love with a white Freedom Rider. She also spent time in jail while protesting down south.

Both roommates have to deal with the backlash of not quite fitting into the firm ideals of how they should conduct themselves as women and how their behavior might be unbecoming towards their separate race, and much of this comes from family members. They also find themselves questioning their choices both personally and politically.

Interracial love is also beautifully conveyed in “The Happy Family.” In this story a white man becomes acquainted with a loving black family while attending a civil rights rally while attending a church. He can’t help but be drawn to this particular family. His own family was severely dysfunctional and his new friends are kind, warm and inviting, everything his family is not. Plus, he is drawn to their intellectual ways and their commitment to social justice. He ends up falling in love one of the daughters and romance blooms between the young lovers. You can only hope that this romance will deepen and grow during a time of racial injustice and intricate family dynamics.

Getting below the surface and finding out the uncomfortable truth is the narrative of “The Uncle.” In this story a young girl is absolutely besotted with her handsome uncle and beautiful aunt. They seem to have the perfect marriage, one this young girl hopes to have herself. But as she gets to know them more and more, she soon learns of something isn’t quite right about the marriage, which makes them teeter on the pedestal she placed them upon.

So many stories in Whatever Happened to Interracial Love are linked by the themes of love, learning, questioning one’s choices and the choices of others during the rich tapestry of the civil rights movement.

Collins stories are more character-driven than plot-driven, and each character is written so full of richness and depth that I felt I knew these characters. At times their experiences resonated with me and sometimes they were very foreign, but no matter what, they were always compelling. Often I wondered about them after I finished a chapter. What did the future hold for these people?

Whatever Happened to Interracial love shows rather than tells. Collins delivers these short stories in visual elements that are quite striking, which must be due to her experience as a film maker.

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love is another book that stayed with long after I finished it. And it saddens me Collins died long before her book was published and before she could bless us with more of her work both on celluloid and on the written page.

Book Review: Under the Affluence-Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America by Tim Wise

under the affluenceEvery once in while there comes a book that makes me want to shout from the roof tops, “Everybody, please read this book if you truly care about humanity and society!” Tim Wise’s book Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America, is one such book. And though it may sound melodramatic, I truly think Mr. Wise’s book is an excellent primer on exactly why our nation seems so skewed, confused and messed-up, especially during one of our most scary, yet important presidential election years ever.

Scholar, activist and writer, the aptly named Tim Wise, has focused on societal issues since college and one of his first jobs was working against former KKK grand wizard, David Duke’s presidential bid. Since then Wise has worked on behalf of many progressive causes and has written several books, Under the Affluence being his latest.

In 2016 Wise wonders why do we (as a nation and a society) shame the poor (and let’s face it, anyone who isn’t mega wealthy) while praising the super-rich? And what does that say about us and what impact is this having on society?

Wise calls this detestable movement “Scroogism,” and, yes, based on Ebenezer Scrooge from the Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. And it is a theme that has shaped our thinking about the haves vs. the have-nots and have-lessers, much of it encouraged by big business, Wall Street, billionaires and millionaires, CEOs, the radical right political pundits, the current state of the GOP, conservative Christianity, mainstream media and often, ourselves. And yes, that includes the have-nots and have-lessers. And Wise offers evidence through nearly 40 pages of end notes to give gravitas to Under the Affluence.

Under the Affluence and its theme of Scroogism is divided into three well-researched, scholarly, yet audience friendly, maddening, heartbreaking and in the end, cautiously hopeful chapters. These chapters include:

  1. Pulling Apart-The State of Disunited America
  2. Resurrecting Scrooge-Rhetoric and Policy in a Culture of Cruelty
  3. Redeeming Scrooge-Fostering a Culture of CompassionIn Resurrecting Scrooge,

Wise carefully researches how in the 21st century the United States is a society that bashes the poor, blames victims, the unemployed and underemployed, embraces a serious lack of compassion and celebrates cruelty while putting the wealthy and the powerful on a pedestal. And Wise examines the origins of class and cruelty in the United States, the ideas of the Social Gospel and FDR’s New Deal, the myths and realities of the War on Poverty from its inception to Reaganism (and how liberals responded), and the concept how culture of cruelty affects who receives justice and who receives nothing at all except horrifically de-humanizing insults, both in rhetoric and reality. It is probably these two chapters that truly stirred my rage, and at times, I had to put Under the Affluence down and take a few deep breaths.But just as I was about to chuck Under the Affluence across the room and spend a week in the corner rocking back and forth, I read the final chapter, and felt a bit of hope. Perhaps, as nation things aren’t as bleak as they seem. In this chapter, Wise reminds us to look for possible roadblocks on the way of redemption. He also mentions that besides facts, use storytelling because behind every fact there is a very human face with a story that must be heard. He behooves us to create “a vision of a culture of a compassion” and how we can help communities to control their destiny.

Now, I am a realist. I know for the most part Under the Affluence is a book that preaches to the choir, especially in 2016. But maybe, just maybe, Under the Affluence will open minds, soften hearts and act an agent for, as Elvis Costello so aptly put it, “peace, love and understanding.” Under the Affluence is not only one of the most important books to come out in 2016; it is one of the most important books to come out in the 21st century.

Wise also takes a look at the world of the working poor and the non-working rich, the myth of meritocracy, horribly mean-spirited remarks, much of it coming from the radical right, including pundits and politicians, excessive CEO and big business pay, the devaluing of work that truly benefits all of society-nursing, teaching social work, protecting the public, improving our infrastructure, creating art, taking care of the elderly and disabled, and so on. And let’s not forget the very valuable work that doesn’t pay-parenting, eldercare, volunteering, etc.

In Pulling Apart, Wise takes a hardcore look at our current state of joblessness, wage stagnation, underemployment and how they affect us in this stage of “post-recession recovering” America. He investigates today’s realities and the long-term effects of income and wealth inequality. Wise contemplates who and what caused these problems and how race, class and economics are involved.

Book Review: The Other Woman by Therese Bohman (Translated by Marlaine Delargy)

the other womanEvery once in a while, I come across a novel that stays with me long after I finish reading it, one that I makes me wonder how the main character’s life will play out after the initial story reaches its denouement. The Other Woman by Swedish writer Therese Bohman (translated by Marlaine Delargy) is such a book, and possibly one of the best books I have read even though 2016 is only half over.

The protagonist of The Other Woman is nameless and faceless. She is fairly young, has some college education, and desires to be a writer. However, she works at a hospital cafeteria and her so-called writing seems to be limited to thinking about it, not exactly doing it.

Feeling at loose ends, and desiring some excitement in her predictable life, our protagonist develops a crush on a much older, successful doctor named Carl Malmberg. Dr. Malmberg is on his second marriage and has children with both is first and second wife. It isn’t long before our protagonist starts an affair with the doctor. She is attracted to his success and maturity and he is attracted to her youth and how she seems to put him on pedestal, obeying his every lead.
It is there I should have closed the book in disgust. I’ve been cheated on and it isn’t a picnic. It hurts. However, I was so compelled by this woman’s story that I couldn’t stop reading it like her story was a literary drug.

The protagonist isn’t just the “other woman” in the literal sense, the mistress sense. She is the other woman in how she relates to her co-workers who entertain themselves with idle chatter and gossip, her friendships with people vastly more educated and successful than her, and yes, with her lover, Dr. Malmberg. She willingly shares her body with him, but she doesn’t share her life. Though she desires more, she knows exactly what she is to Dr. Malmberg, an escape from the day to day life of being a doctor, husband and father.

It at this time our protagonist sparks up a friendship with a young woman named Alex. Alex is confident and magnetic, and the protagonist can’t help but get caught up in Alex’s intoxicating allure. Their relationship borders on the erotic. I must say the reason made sense to me but also made me gasp out loud once I found out why. Blackmail, trickery, betrayal all play a part in the lives of our protagonist, Dr. Malmberg and Alex. And once these elements play out, the reader doesn’t clutch the pearls in disgust. Instead, instead one might think, “Well, sometimes you have to be a less than a good person to get things done and certain things out of the way.”

Or as our protagonist states,” “Morals are for those who can afford them.” And in a world where being a less than ethical is rewarded or at least ignored, can any of anybody afford morals?

The Other Woman is written with a bittersweet pathos, our protagonist both wise and at times, infuriating. You relate to her longing and her loneliness. You relate to her desire to belong and her feelings of being above it all. You relate to her longing to have connections that are both carnal and cultural. But perhaps most of all, you want the protagonist to learn to develop a stronger sense of self in a confusing world that denies those things, especially for women. I’m older than the protagonist and I’m still struggling with this.

But not all is lost. There are layers of hope in The Other Woman as it draws to its close. Our protagonist starts a new journey, one that you wish is more fulfilling and where every wish she desires comes true, and perhaps one where she will learn to like herself just a bit more. Maybe Bohman will write a sequel, but I don’t exactly want her to at this point. For now let’s keep The Other Woman’s next step be a mystery and left up to the reader’s imagination.

Book Review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

modern romanceI’ve always had a soft spot for comedian and actor, Aziz Ansari. A fan of the TV show “Parks and Recreation,” I could have easily found Ansari’s character, Tom Haverford, an annoying hipster blockhead. But Ansari’s natural humor and charm, made young Mr. Haverford a bit palatable. Plus, Tom, along with Donna Meagle (played by the incomparable Retta) gave us “Treat Yo Self,” which is wise advice indeed.

Now with “Parks and Recreation” being a fond televised memory and “Treat Yo Self” being a notable Internet meme, Mr. Ansari has published his first book, Modern Romance.

When I first found out about Modern Romance, I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “Oh, no. Not another comedian writing about romance, love, sex and the like.” I wondered if Modern Romance would be a memoir of sorts featuring muses on Ansari’s romantic history. Or would it be a tired trope of endless jokes like, “What’s up with women and shoes?” Yes, the tired women and shoes joke, the airplane food joke of relationships.

Or goodness, even worse—a millennial’s version of Steve Harvey’s Think Like a Man, Act Like a Lady.

Fortunately, Modern Romance is none of those things. And it is a delightful and eye-opening read on the current state of dating, sex, relationships in the 21st century, giving us the good, the bad and the ugly.

Now, Ansari does not do this alone. He joins forces with notable sociologist Eric Klineberg in dissecting our dating culture in an age of on-line dating, texting and sexting, speed dating, hooking up and other assorted romantic encounters and  unknown to our parents and grandparents when they were young.

Speaking of our parents and grandparents, in Modern Romance, Ansari begins by asking older folks how they met their spouses. Most of them met their spouses simply due to their proximity—in other words—location, location, location. These people lived in the same neighborhood, on the same block or sometime even in the same building. Many of the couples met at their houses of worship or while in high school or college. My mom met my dad through her older brother. And Ansari’s mother and father met through a marriage arranged by their families.

For the most part, the older interviewees met their spouses this way because they didn’t have the options we have today. Many of the couple got married very young, especially the women. Those whose marriages survived described their marriages as happy and strong. Maybe they didn’t initially feel the bolt of instant attraction, but they grew fond of each other as time went on.

However, many of the women interviewed were a bit wistful, wishing they could have spent their younger years getting an education, traveling, working, dating and just working on themselves before they got settled into their lives as wives and mothers. And they were thrilled their daughters and granddaughters got to experience these very things they wished they could have had when they were in their twenties.

Today we meet our potential betrothed old school, but we also meet them in ways our elders couldn’t even imagine—online dating sites, speed dating, dating apps, swiping left and right on Tinder and various hook-ups. But are these almost infinite options of finding l’amour allowing us to look over our shoulders (literally and figuratively) for someone “better?”

Also leading to romantic confusion in this modern age is our various ways of communicating, especially when it comes to those gosh darn smart phones. Sure we talk to each other face to face and have actual conversations on the phone. We text and we Skype. We send selfies and sexts. As for me, well, I have a confession to make. I have never taken a selfie. As for sending sexts of my yoni? Out of the question.

As for sending texts? Well, I don’t have a problem with sending texts regarding minor things. But I miss the actual art of conversation, especially when it comes to the opposite sex. Not to brag…okay, I’m going to brag. But men have told me I’m a delightful conversationalist and I’ve been told I have a beautiful speaking voice, no vocal fry here, my friends. So you can imagine my frustration when guys only want to converse in texts, and not have actual conversations.

But enough about me…back to the book.

Ansari also leaves the confines of the USA and travels to Japan, where everyone seems to have their genitals on ice, to Argentina, where icing up the genitals a wee bit might be a good idea. In Japan, people don’t have sex, but they sure like to cuddle up. And in Argentina, the sexual energy vibrates from every corner. Ansari also travels to France where people just expect their spouses to cheat and for the most part are “c’est la vie” about the whole thing.

Throughout the dating detective work Ansari puts into Modern Romance (with a lot of analysis and data most likely due to Klineberg’s help and expertise), provides us a glimpse into his own issue with dating and relationships, and admits at times, he truly screwed up. But being a self-aware kind of gent has learned from his mistakes and is now in a lovely relationship that is going quite well.

Now I’m sure some people reading Modern Romance will have justifiable complaints. Ansari and Klineberg mostly focus on heterosexual, college-educated, middle class professional-types, which leaves out quite a few demographics, those in the LGBT community, non-college educated, working class, etc. Perhaps someone out there can write a book on romance for certain varying demographics.
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In the end, I found Modern Romance to be at turns funny, wise and filled with empathy and charm, and one quite comforting in a time when our Facebook relationship status is might be, “It’s complicated.”

Book Marks

cropped-reading_is_coolMom has issues with Good Night, Moon. And I, too, am perplexed by the size of the kid’s bedroom. My entire apartment could fit into that thing.

Thinking sexism no longer exists? Read this woman’s story of submitting her manuscript under her own name and then under a male pseudonym. Notice the difference. Yes. Sexism still exists. Ugh. I could write a huge rant on the sexism that goes on the world of writing.

Barber gives free haircuts to children who read to him. What a great idea!

Author, publisher and journalist, Adria J. Cimino shares her thoughts on dealing with good and bad reviews (other than putting on your big kid underpants and dealing with it).

Twelve books to make you happy when you’re feeling blue.

#TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter. Seriously, do not say these things if you value your life.

New book explores bias against redheads. Hmm, I’ll have to read this book.

The first black James Bond, well, on book audio.

Here are the most anticipated books coming out this fall.

This is truly horrifying. The amount of people who think we should ban books is increasing.