Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category
Over the year, I’ve become a fan of Jake Bible’s ‘Writing In Suburbia’ podcast. Writing in Suburbia is geared toward pro-writers, but is chock-full of great information for writers at all levels. The podcast is irreverent and speaks to the less glamorous side of the writing life (e.g. embracing housework chores of the day). Jake’s a prolific writer across many genres. He typically writes a novel a month. You read that right, a novel a month!
I decided to read his fiction and started with Blood Cruise, since I rarely get an opportunity to read thrillers. The title and cover art immediately hooked me.
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. What’s not to like? There’s something for everyone: action/adventure, mystery, intrigue, horror and a little science fiction. Bible keeps the pace going at an incredible speed. He achieves this through the use of zippy and effective dialogue that reveals character, short chapters and excellent plotting.
The set-up starts off pretty simply: Ben Clow thinks he is going on a short vacation on a private cruise with Maggie, his girlfriend and Nick, his friend and former poker buddy. Despite stepping onto a yacht named Lucky Sucker, little does Ben suspect that soon he will encounter gangsters, spies, deep cover agents and other suspicious characters, and a giant, genetically modified, blood-thirsty sea monster. The sea monster is compelling and scary. Bible moved pretty seamlessly through various characters’ viewpoints. And, although I wouldn’t have minded lingering with several of the characters and experiencing more of their internal thoughts, these issues didn’t knock me out of the book. He did a superb job at telling a gripping story with believable and interesting characters. This is a fun read and makes me want to explore more of his work.
Book Review: Women, Writing and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine by Peggy Tabor Millin
Posted December 9, 2013on:
We cannot write well by staying on the surface of our lives or by attempting to hide our true selves behind our words. We free the pen to dig deep whenever we pick it up. Peggy Tabor Millin
What can women who wish to write discover about themselves if they enter into conversation with a nonlinear, archetypal feminine process? What is the wisdom and inner authority that awaits them in their own bodies, moving through perhaps limiting feelings of shame, blame and judgment? In the richly inspiring book Women, Writing and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine, Peggy Tabor Millin argues that what awaits women, if they so choose to explore, is their deepest self from which springs their writing life. And, she asserts that excavating this self is more important than the outward goal of publishing. Drawing on her extensive experience as a writing teacher, practicing Buddhist and cartographer of women’s cycles of creativity, she argues that the real struggle that many women have with writing is not just about a lack of time, writing space or support. It is the struggle for authenticity. Women’s multiplicity of social roles and living in a world that often undervalues them add to the challenges of finding the courage not just to write, but to create a worthy self. In Women, Writing and Soul Making, Millin offers a fresh and inner directed path to the writing life through what she calls an ‘archetypal feminine approach’ to writing and self-making.
Millin shares insights of how to access the subterranean territory of the writing experience that has seldom been mined. Many writing books crowding the shelves today assert principles, programs, and protocols for becoming a bestselling author with a platform that will entice agents and publishers. We can characterize much of this work as outer directed, active, assertive and perhaps linearly driven. Readers, in this book, will not find tidy exercises and chatty language about how to pitch ideas to editors. Millin, however, offers women writers (and male writing instructors) another way to think about the writing life by first acknowledging that women writers struggle with claiming a voice. She names and explores internal and external barriers that stop women from writing and from taking themselves seriously as writers. She argues that women must make new meaning for themselves by paying attention to what innate wisdom residing in their bodies and buried in their psyches, they (and the world) may have devalued.
She successfully yokes together concepts about women’s spirituality, Jungian and archetypal analysis and embodied learning. Her book is part of a growing trend that employ a contemplative and body wisdom approach, gleaned from eastern traditions, as a foundation for a writing practice, including Gail Sher’s Writing the Fire (yoga and writing) and Larraine Herring’s Writing Begins with the Breath (mindfulness and writing). Through vignettes, koans and stories Millin’s method is subtle and almost easy to overlook. The task is to move from our heads into our bodies, easier said than done. She reveals her technique of ‘Centered Writing Practice’ which includes two elements: “writing to neutral prompts and writing in community.” Neutral prompt are phrases, concrete nouns and active verbs that carry no obvious emotional connection for the writer. The writer follows where the language takes her. The second and important aspect of this practice is writing in community. Centered Writing Practice happens in a circle of women, regularly, and with focused attention. Each chapter begins with a piece that emerged from some of the free writes and ‘word circle’ exercises that Millin uses in groups. The reader is thus invited in to see how the book was constructed through many nonlinear techniques. The spiral graphic sprinkled throughout Women, Writing and Soul-Making remind us writing and coming into self has no final destination. Miller notes: “Practice does not make perfect; practice makes possible. Practice—of sport, writing, art-making, meditation, music—has no goal but revelation.”
Along the way, we meet Lord Mother, Millin’s contribution to an archetypal support system rooted in women’s experiences with the Divine, mystical, cyclical and seasonal. Millin helps us to recognize that our judgment, shame and victimization can be acknowledged without being indulged in, constituting a resting place versus a stopping place. Readers will also enjoy getting to know the intriguing archetypal figures of ‘Lady Underground’ and ‘The Blood-Raw Savage’ who can also support in getting to know our bodies’ wisdom and unconscious desires.
Although shunning simple and formulaic steps toward writing, Millin does offer organizing principles for writing and exploring consciousness that include the Four Wisdoms: ‘The Wisdom of Not Knowing’, ‘The Wisdom of the Ecology of Body and Earth’, ‘The Wisdom of Fierce Compassion’ and ‘The Wisdom of Diversity’. These Wisdoms explore what she identifies as feminine processes of ‘relationship and responsiveness’, an awareness of interconnectedness and fierce compassion that links soul work to creative work. Through these wisdoms she tackles many ‘hotspots’ of women’s lives including how we grapple with power, vulnerability, and expectations in relationships. This is a chapter most readers will want to linger in.
I was predisposed to like this book as I am intensely curious about how women navigate a creative life given the obstacles borne out of the social tensions around caretaking, relational work and constructing a core self. Finding new metaphors of creativity that don’t pit women against codified ways of knowing the world, their work and families is of vital importance. In my teaching and coaching work, I’ve found similar patterns of challenges that women face, in pursuing a creative life that is aptly described by Millin. And, Millin does a good job of arguing for exploring and being open to a repository of suppressed ‘women’s wisdom’: “Tribal cultures that honored women’s rhythms understood women to hold the creative future of the culture-not only because they produced children, but they fathomed the sacred nature of the cycles of creation.” However, in several places, I was uneasy with some of Millin’s uncritical language and assumptions about women’s experiences (including “when women feel stress, they are biologically wired to seek solace with other women” or “the power women innately hold confounds thought”). As I read, I felt the tension between embracing and feeling good about ‘feminine’ patterns and my understanding that gender is also mutable, historically varied and socially constructed. There isn’t one universal women’s experience or even ‘female ways of knowing’. Each reader will have to navigate and make sense of this tension.
Toward the end of the book and again drawing on Buddhist thought Millin makes use of the four paradoxes writers face: ‘Pleasure and Pain’, ‘Praise and Criticism’, ‘Fame and Disgrace’ and ‘Gain and Loss’. The dynamic of dualisms confound and often frustrate us yet form a way into understanding the writing life. I found myself lingering here, too.
Her book also addresses those writers who are transitioning from one type of writing that may be more analytical (i.e. technical writing, academic writing) to one that is symbolic and abstract (i.e. poetry). She wants a general respect for all writing. Despite the lack of specific exercises, Millin’s material will ignite an intuitive spark in each reader about how to proceed: some might journal more, some will try using ‘neutral prompts’ to begin a project, some might list the ways they experience societal femininity and how that is or isn’t congruent with their personal ways of knowing the creative cycles of the earth. Some will want to explore deeply the archetypal figures Millin presents. Some readers will be better able to recognize where some of their negative voices about writing came from (which are personal and which are cultural), some will feel relief to find that many women struggle with inner barriers that often go unrecognized; they might seek or start a writers’ group based on Millin’s thoughtful guidelines. According to Millin, if we get focused on our own excellence and joy in creating and living, this will support our inner most desires. I can see why this book was a Next Generation Indie Book Winner. It is so useful, innovative, playful and fresh that it is worth a place on every aspiring woman writer’s (and writing teacher’s) book shelf.
This book review first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Western North Carolina Woman
Posted October 21, 2012on:
The Power of Receiving: A Revolutionary Approach to Giving Yourself the Life You Want and Deserve by Amanda Owen
“Receiving is a skill that can be learned, developed and strengthened.” Amanda Owen
We’ve probably all been raised with an idea of what makes a ‘good giver’. Most of us have spent considerably less time though contemplating what makes ‘a good receiver’, or how being a good receiver might help us to achieve our goals. My skepticism ran high as I approached Amanda Owen’s The Power of Receiving. Receiving, yeah…yeah…yeah isn’t that about gratitude? Haven’t we heard it all before? I thought, great, another book in the personal transformation genre that encourages narcissism and tilts toward individual versus collective solutions. Well, on most fronts, I was pleasantly surprised about how useful Owen’s philosophy of receiving can be in helping to shift our tendency to live in a constant state of ‘doing’. Owen encourages us to look at how our beliefs about the continuum of ‘giving and receiving’ and ‘active and receptive’ shape our lives.
Owen notes that the ‘Giver archetype’ is well-known and lauded in our culture, but the ‘Receiver archetype’ (as a positive image) is absent. She explores cultural and spiritual beliefs that make many of us suspicious about the value of receiving. Receiving and being a receiver can have negative connotations, especially in ‘a pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ society. She, however, dispels the notion that being a more skilled receiver is about being a taker, passive, selfish, submissive, or a doormat. Instead cultivating our ability to receive allows us to embrace a more richly textured human experience. Tuning into the power of receiving can help us feel supported, energized, and enhances our ability to give.
Owen applies her philosophy about receiving to goal setting. She argues that we rely on and are encouraged to “exaggerate the importance of initiative and to allocate most, if not all, of our resources toward the active pursuit of our goals.” Most of us have been taught to set goals in a determined and often relentless way. It’s not that this is a wrong strategy, but it is one that values “willpower” and ‘doing’ so much that we can miss what the universe is offering us at any given moment. Also if we are always in an ‘active state’ (see below), we may cultivate ‘overgiving’, miss (or misinterpret) vital information about how to best achieve what we want, or fail to as for help and support in key moments.
The gold of the book was in Chapter One and her discussion of ‘Receptive and Active States’. She lists these as the following:
‘Receptive States’: Meditating, Listening, Feeling grateful, Accepting, Allowing, Opening, Relaxing, Letting Go, Noticing, Observing Welcoming, Yielding, Including, Embracing, Feeling, Hearing, Appreciating, Being, Contemplating, Watching, Letting Be, Attracting, Revealing, Acknowledging
‘Active States’: Analyzing, Talking, Promoting, Investigating, Controlling, Influencing, Multitasking, Persuading, Defining, Judging, Exploring, Shaping, Pushing, Holding, Thinking, Informing, Building, Doing, Acting, Performing, Gong After, Hiding, Forcing, Evaluating
Her ‘active and receptive’ lists have been described elsewhere as ‘inductive and deductive thinking’, ‘inner and outer knowledge’, and ‘holistic and linear thinking’.
I looked at the two lists and honestly asked myself, ‘In what state do I spend the majority of my time?’ And, ‘What’s my preferred state?’ You guessed it–I tend to spend the majority of my time in the ‘Active States’. As a coach, I often talk a lot about the importance of receptivity (and by extension relaxation), but after reading this book, I could pinpoint my own gaps in walking my talk. Owen points out that relying almost exclusively on outer focused active states is taxing on mental, physical, and emotional levels, often leaving “no replenishment time.”
Last year a dear friend and I (who define ourselves as ‘overgivers’ and often feel challenged with receiving), read and corresponded about The Power of Receiving. Her insight about Owen’s work on ‘active and receptive states’ strikes me as important: “One part I especially appreciate is her argument that the ability to notice subtleties in one’s environment is part of the skill set needed for receiving.”
In receptive states, Owen notes, we generally can pay more attention to “information from and about other people, information from the environment and information about our own feelings.” Hard do all of these things when we’re active (or giving) all the time. If you buy this book and just read Chapter One, you’d get your money’s worth.
Owen provides a step by step approach for working on your goals using her receiving model. She recommends a gratitude practice, learning how to receive compliments (surprisingly difficult for many of us!) and developing the capacity to be ‘spiritually naked” as a different way to approach one’s goals. Being spiritually naked means that we not just allow the good parts to show, but allow people we care about to see what we consider the flawed parts of our self, too. She advocates going on a ‘complaint fast’. Complaining, Owen reminds us, saps energy, and “discharges energy without changing anything.”
All of her suggestions for becoming a better receiver are doable. I especially like the way she adapted Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s breathing exercise (Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out). She suggests an additional exercise where you breathe in a quality that you like about yourself (and breathe that out), and then breathe in a quality that you don’t like about yourself (ten in-breaths and ten out-breaths) . When we disown the parts of ourselves that we feel are negative and undeserving, they tend to as Owen says “run us from behind the scenes” and become part of a ‘shadow self’. I found this once a day breathing practice powerful and opens new channels of self-acceptance.
Her book is especially useful to read if you’ve felt blocked for a long time in waiting for your goals to manifest. Her formula: Believe + Receive=Achieve is accessible and shows how to achieve balance in creating the life you desire.
She outlines who should her read book and the list includes women (though she skirts over a detailed discussion of gendered socialization that encourage women to ‘overgive’), men (no discussion of gender roles or sexism), caregivers, the helping professions and new age, metaphysical and self-help readers. Books in this genre typically minimize history, racial group disparities, and systemic inequality. So, I didn’t really expect a discussion about how America’s political culture has created rigid ideas about ‘givers, takers, and receivers’ that default along race, class and gender lines. But, I would have willing received that level of insight and analysis and the book would have been richer for it.
Cover photo credit