Books

Read it!: Big Magic

I’m trying to get my writing mojo back, and a part of that process for me involves getting caught up on my reading. Simultaneously, I figure it can’t hurt to share what I pick up along the way.

Last winter I bought a ton of books, but didn’t have time to read them. Fortunately, in 2019, the tables turned.

Every now and then, I’m going to share with you my insights into the good, bad, and the ugly side of my reading material. And so, whether you’ve read it or not… This time around I’m covering Elizabeth Gilbert’s last book.

I know I’m late to get on the Elizabeth Gilbert love train. Last year my therapist loaned me her copy of Eat, Pray, Love. (I haven’t finished it, but I need to return it.) Prior to that, though, I first laid my eyes on Elizabeth via one of her TED Talks.

I thought she had a refreshing take on life and creativity, and when Big Magic was released, the hype was hard to ignore. The subtitle alone was enough to grab my attention: Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Ohhhhhhh boy, I thought. I NEED this book. Although I think of myself as a creative person, I’ve let fear and procrastination keep me from creating anything substantial for years. (When I think of all the time since I first graduated that I could have spent writing a book, it’s a damn shame.)

As I approached Big Magic I was curious about Elizabeth’s approach. Within the first few pages, I found it incredibly easy to root for her premise. Regardless of your area of creative interest–whether you’re pursuing the arts, or your drug of choice involves math or science, when you create–when you MAKE something–you are taking a risk and daring to demonstrate your willingness to approach The Unknown. Putting yourself out there is scary. To dare to extend yourself is a powerful thing.

Ultimately, Big Magic is a prolonged pep-talk. Divided into SIX sections, and at 272 pages, the book’s length combined with its tone made it a quick, comfortable read. Throughout her book’s pages, Elizabeth encourages readers to boldly greet their creativity, embrace, and enjoy it.

She also includes a few curious concepts. For instance, consider The Shit Sandwich. Whether you’re pursuing your dream full-time or dealing with a day job, in the segment entitled, “Persistence”, Elizabeth asks the ultimate question: “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?”

When I first read those words, I smiled both inside and out. I could truly relate. As my last full-time position came to a close, I found myself questioning everything. Among other things, I actually remember thinking to myself, “None of this is worth it.”

As the book went on, I found myself supporting just about everything Elizabeth has to say. But there was one exception: In the segment entitled “PERMISSION”, I found her usesing some that really bothered me. Actually, it was beyond bothersome: I found it offensive.

When it comes to making things, Elizabeth says, “…in the end, it really doesn’t matter that much. Because in the end, it’s just creativity.” I was on high alert after reading that. And that statement wasn’t the only anti-creativity bomb that she dropped.

Now, to a certain degree, I get it. There are times when people can take their creativity too seriously. As a result of their delusions, creatives can become overly stressed. And a part of me realizes that Elizabeth was probably trying to get certain folks not to worry too much and just enjoy the creative process. That said, regarding making music, Elizabeth wrote that, “Music is nothing more than decoration for the imagination. That’s all it is.”

And when I read those words, I nearly threw her book away.

Not only have there have been studies, but there are books that exist about the power of music and the effect that it can have on human beings. Regardless of which resources you choose, the authors’ statements are backed by science.

Plus there’s the fact that I’ve always taken music personally.

As a child, my mother sang in church. I remember very little about going to rehearsals with her. But one thing I could never forget is that I used to cry when she sang.

Music moved me that deeply.

That level of emotion stirred in my spirit again recently when I was watching a pianist on Instagram–of all places–playing Mozart. (Shoutout to Chloe Flower, Cardi B’s pianist.)

I’ll spare you from more ranting, but in a nutshell, when people say that art doesn’t matter, it makes my blood boil. And even when I’m not that angry, it makes me struggle to take them seriously.

Fortunately, after her comments on how unimportant art is, Elizabeth returned to her regular self. She discussed a few other relevant points, including the horrible myth that people buy into which states that artists can only create in the face of personal tragedy.

In general I felt comforted by Elizabeth’s words. These days, in spite of opportunities to shine brighter, creatives can be plagued with the temptation to doubt their own authenticity. Yet among other things, she reminds us, “…you are already creatively legitimate, by virtue of your existence among us.”

Overall, Big Magic offers readers lot of common-sense advice in a refreshing package. I enjoyed how Elizabeth framed various aspects of creativity. For instance, at one point she discussed the idea that one’s craft has to be formally studied in order to succeed professionally.

If you’re a writer, you know the drill. Supposedly, in order to be a writer, you need an MFA, or you MUST go to journalism school. Yet in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Would I read Big Magic again? If I have time to, maybe.

Would I recommend this book?

Eh…As I said before, It’s a quick, comfortable read. I like Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s seems like the type of person I’d go to lunch with. I like what she has to say about art and inspiration. Big Magic is light, warm, and mentally provocative.

Yet again, I can’t forget about the passages in “Permission” where she said art was useless. That section threw me off so much that I actually caught myself wondering about the kind of debates Elizabeth might have had with her editor.

Eventually, Ms. Gilbert encouraged her readers to “relax”. That’s very well and good, but I feel like she could have made her point without using statements that seemed to be so needlessly opposed to the book’s main objective. There are ways to tell people that they shouldn’t take themselves too seriously that don’t involve insulting their calling.

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Books, feminism, Television, The Hottest of Takes

The Handmaid’s FAIL?

Millions of years ago when I was in school, I read The Handmaid’s Tale. And I’ll confess–as with all of Margaret Atwood’s works, it gave me the creeps. I don’t remember every precise detail of its story. However, I still have enough of it with me to recall its overarching themes. It deals specifically with women’s reproductive rights and the horrors of living in a society where our agency has been removed.

Flash forward to today. A TV adaptation is about to be released. And something is amiss in the way the actors are discussing their material.

Last night I read some tweets* by a reporter who was present at a screening. Her words made me do a double-take. Then earlier today, I read this piece on Vulture’s web site. Elizabeth Moss, who plays Offred said

“Honestly, for me it’s not a feminist story — it’s a human story, because women’s rights are human rights. I never intended to play Peggy as a feminist; I never intended to play Offred as a feminist. They’re women and they are humans…”

(Emphasis added.)

A part of me feels terrible. I don’t want to make assumptions about Ms. Moss. If that’s how she feels about The Handmaid’s Tale, that’s her right. But from what I read on Twitter, she wasn’t the only cast member attempting to disown her show’s heritage.

At this point I’d like to offer the film and television industry’s PR people some advice.

Firstly, “feminism” is NOT a dirty word. It is nothing to be ashamed of. The people who think it’s divisive are probably the same people who think that it’s wrong to talk about racism.

But that’s another rant for another time…

I agree completely with the Vulture piece’s opening. We’re at an interesting point in human history. A reality-TV star is president. Still, even before he was elected, people were taking to the streets–and their keyboards–unafraid to take a stand against injustice. In that light, I’d like to argue that it is more than safe for an individual to own who and what s/he is.

The same can be said for our works of art. Reading Ms. Moss’s words, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Tale’s actors were coached to deny the production’s feminist overtones. I’d like to know why. Are producers afraid of offending their audience?

Take it from me as a Black person: Not everything is for everyone. There are folks out there who will reject you for your inherent traits. Why not revel in your production’s uniqueness? Downplaying something that is so obvious to onlookers, such as The Handmaid’s Tale’s feminist elements makes you look cowardly and dishonest.

Furthermore, it’s not necessary. Your work will draw the audience that it is meant to have, period–regardless of their gender or political stance.

Denying The Handmaid’s Tale’s feminist themes is like saying Roots has nothing to do with Black people. I don’t see what the point is in dancing around the obvious, other than an attempt to win over a disinterested audience.

If that’s the case, I have the feeling that the Tale’s producers are in for a very rude awakening. And like those who regret voting for you-know-who, when certain folks have an epiphany, it won’t be pretty.

*In case you think I’m weird with my,”Someone on Twitter said something….” check out this Vanity Fair piece. I Googled after I wrote my post and the title says it all.

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Books

Read it!: The Universe Has Your Back

I can’t begin to tell you how long I’ve wanted to review this book. I finished reading The Universe Has Your Back a long time ago.

The Universe Has Your Back - Cover

So what’s kept me from talking about it? Fear.  On one hand you have the fact that I’m spiritually liberal: Religiously speaking, I have a Christian background. I’m familiar with the faith. And I’m still what you would call “spiritual”. Yet I don’t believe Christianity has the only answers regarding God and humanity. Meanwhile a lot of my friends are still traditionally Christian. As I contemplated talking about Gabby Bernstein’s latest read, I could feel their judgement start before I even began.

But honestly? I’m too old to be afraid of what a bunch of humans think. My soul’s destiny isn’t tied to them.

Let’s get right into it. The Universe Has Your Back is fantastic. It’s the best book I’ve read about faith in a while. The content isn’t tied to any particular religion, but you can easily apply it to your spiritual path. It addresses God and faith from a general point of view.

In the book Gabrielle Bernstein addresses one of spirituality’s biggest questions: If God (or the Universe) is as loving as we claim He (it) is, why do we give doubt so much room in our lives? Better yet, how can we banish it?

The solution seems easy enough.We need to trust and truly believe that Jesus/God/the Universe is there for us. Period. But maintaining an unshakable faith can be challenging. Ms. Bernstein acknowledges this. Yet she also addresses the heart of the struggle, and the key to our success. We need to harness our ability to focus on one of the only things that matter in this life: Love.

Gabby also addresses the concept of surrender—an idea that people of all spiritual stripes wrestle with. In order to receive from the Universe, we have to be willing to release ourselves from our egos. They can be one hell of a motivator. They can also separate us from what God intended.

The Universe Has Your Back is chock full of contains meditation and reflection exercises. This is important since the road to spiritual trust isn’t simple. It’s always worthwhile, but it’s a truly humbling process. In order to succeed at it we need to dig in and do the work.

I’m far from spiritually perfect. I wrestle with the concepts in The Universe Has Your Back all the time. But I’m glad I came across this book. I need to give its concepts the attention they deserve.

Let the healing begin.

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Books, education station

Books: See Me After Class

Well, guys. I still want to work in education.

I’ll tell you about that another time. Long story short–yesterday I had one hell of an epiphany about my career. Last night I went and shopped my basement for teaching books. Thank God I didn’t burn them like I’d once planned. I found most of them. Among the pile, I was happy to see one in particular: See Me After Class by Roxanna Elden.

seemeafterclass-cover

This was the first authentic book on teaching that I’d ever read. The teaching-book landscape can be tough. Some volumes can seem polished to the point of stiffness. And don’t get me wrong. Those sort of books have their place.

Yet that’s not the only thing that new teachers need. When you’re in or out of the classroom and you feel like you’re losing your mind, you need a voice that can offer you perspective. You need someone who knows that classroom management issues don’t correct themselves as magically as they do in the movies.

I have a ton of other books, like Teaching to Transgress and When Kids Can’t Read. But I think Ms. Elden’s book is going to be the first one that I re-read as I get my mind back on track. Her work covers a variety of scenarios–dealing with colleagues, your “teacher” personality, marking assignments, etc. And of course, there are the myths. Have any of you teachers out there heard the phrase “don’t smile ’til Christmas”? (If you don’t work in education, you should know that some people advise teachers not to smile until before their first major holiday. No doubt, this is supposed to show students that we are serious professionals.)

Man.

If I followed that rule, my face would fall off.

See Me After Class offers readers a realistic look at teaching. I recommend it to anyone who’s new to the profession.

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Books

Idea: BlackGirlMagic Syllabus

I’m in a season of self-appreciation. As a part of my self-care routine, I know that I need to take care of my mind. And as a Black, female writer, I believe one of the greatest gifts I can give myself is a commitment to reading more books that are by or about* Black women. One night last week it hit me: I need to start a #BlackGirlMagic Syllabus.

blackgirlmagicsyllabus
I’m sure this isn’t an original idea. Tons of people read authors who share their background all the time. But as I get closer to myself, I know this is something that I need to keep up. The words of other Black women soothe my spirit.
This little idea of mine almost makes me wonder. Is there a mode of therapy out there called Healing Through Literature?
What sort of books speak to your soul?
*When it comes to diverse books, I know a writer’s approach is critical. Right now I’m reading Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older—an author that I trust.
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Books, losing my religion

Books: Brazen

brazen-cover-sept-12-2016I remember when I first read Brazen. After an evening out, my copy was at home waiting for me. Earlier, I’d gone to Paris Lectures–an event where I’d shared some of my dreams in front of a hometown crowd. Since then, I’ve paid close attention to my struggle to keep my aspirations alive.

Overall, Brazen focuses on the impact that self-doubt can have on us as we pursue our goals. It takes faith to beat a doubtful spirit: Our passions are a gift. We need to cultivate them.

In Brazen, the author explores the connection between our dreams and the ways that we view and receive God in our lives.

This book may not be for everyone. Fundamentalists probably won’t like the author’s easygoing tone, or the fact that she mentions yoga. They may even hate that her book is interactive, complete with exercises involving a Brazen Board (the author’s version of a vision board) at the end of each chapter.

While reading Brazen, I frequently stopped to underline passages. I enjoyed scrawling page numbers at the back of the book, knowing that I would look at them later on. The author offers her readers many rare gems. For instance: One of Brazen’s chapters contains a good, solid word about clutter and self-care. I’d never thought about those two issues related quite in the way the author explained them. Quite honestly, those pages alone would have made Brazen worth its price if I hadn’t gotten my copy for free.

As far as I’m concerned, Brazen’s author did her job. In this life, you need to be Brazen and honest about what you want. The best way to do that is by being your most authentic, God-given self.

Disclosure: Brazen has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

 

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Books, Film

Raising Dion

Some of you might remember my old post about Man of Steel. One of the things that really touched me in that film was a scene that featured Clark as a young boy. It put my curiosity into overdrive. In fact, at the time I said

Could you imagine being a kid and having to wrestle with superhuman abilities? Could you imagine being a parent and having to raise a son who could burn you by looking at you? Kudos to the writers…Not only did I feel Clark’s vulnerability. I caught a glimpse of what Martha Kent must have felt as the mother of such a precious and powerful child.

In the end I was left asking the very questions that open the trailer for a brand new comic book, Raising Dion.

There’s so much to appreciate about this video.

Firstly, the casting made me smile. When I was younger I longed to see myself in some of the worlds that captured my imagination. In the past I’ve found it hard not to take the exclusion of non-white actors as an insult. I felt as though the folks behind the scenes were saying, “People who look like you aren’t good enough to experience this magic…”

I realize that we live in the era of Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. Still, it’s truly heartwarming to me to see a Black woman depicted as a normal human being rather than a gaggle of stereotypes.

Secondly, again, I’m really intrigued by Raising Dion‘s premise. My knowledge of comic books and superhero lore isn’t extensive. However, I doubt that a parent’s take on raising a superchild is something that’s been explored in great detail. That isn’t to say that most stories in the genre don’t include poignant moments shared between a parent and her wunderkind. They do. Yet I’m used to relatives being relegated to the role of virtual bookends in a supercharacter’s life.

Overall, when I think of Raising Dion, there’s a lot of hope in my heart. The first issue of the comic book is available for download on its writer’s web site. I can’t decide which I’d want more–for it to be a TV series, or a film. At the very least I see Raising Dion as a story that is bound to inspire kids of all ages.

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