Monthly Resource Collection: September 2020

This month I found myself listening to music (the new Katy Perry album Smile, and the In the Heights soundtrack) and true crime podcasts (see: Weird on the Rocks and My Favorite Murder) during my morning workouts and makeup sessions. I don’t believe this was an attempt to distract myself from our current reality, but somehow it does feel nostalgic to listen to things as if we were pre-pandemic. To rest your mind as you prepare for another day. Fall reminds me of true crime podcasts and training for half marathons; running through the leaves and rain. It reminds me of wrapping up my wedding season at work just in time for a big vacation. This year is obviously different.

However, in between my distractions, mental “breaks,” or privileged lapses from reality I did go back to my morning ritual, complete with coffee, a lit candle, and a book, followed by fifteen minutes of meditation to absorb what I’d read. And this month I dove into Ta-Nehisi Coates, requiring extra time for absorption.

This month’s resource guide focuses highly on Coates’ work because I am fascinated by it. His writing reads more beautifully than anything I’ve picked up in a decade, like poetry with poignant edges. I cannot believe it’s taken me this long to sit with it and I hope you’ll join me.

Books:

Quit Like A Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed With Alcohol takes a close look at the normalized relationship most of us have with alcohol, it’s effects on our mental and physical health, and how the constructed “alcoholic / non-alcoholic” binary created and enforced mostly through Alcoholics Anonymous-style programs designed by white men, and for men is harmful for women looking to quit. Whitaker examines the ways alcohol is marketed specifically toward females, why women choose to drink in the first place, and why teaching women to give up their power, intuition, and control over their own lives in order to become sober is a damaging and patriarchal idea.
Ta-Nehisi Coates writes this book as a open letter to his teenage son, explaining the complexities and dual realities of navigating this world, and specifically this country, as a Black man, in a Black body. Coates explains that there is a separation between lived realities, or worlds. There is what is true, and there is the “dream” – an illusion of democracy built on stolen land using labor stolen from Black bodies. The dreamers continue living this comfortable illusion, given the truth but in denial or refusal of it, the reality that our very democracy and every institution therein exists only because of current and historical violence against the Black body. Are we capable and willing of awakening?
We Were Eight Years in Power is a collection of powerful essays written by Ta-Nehisi Coates meant to chronicle the years President Barack Obama was in office and the dangerous white supremacist backlash that followed. Fear of a Black President, The Case For Reparations, and The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration are some of the works included. Each essay is prefaced with context and personal memoir making the collection even more compelling.

Notable Podcast Episodes:

The Rich Roll Podcast Episode 547: We are Water: Erin Brokovich on Pollutants, Politics & People Power https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-rich-roll-podcast/id582272991?i=1000491955278
In this episode Rich Roll and Erin Brokovich talk about her new book Superman’s Not Coming and discuss the roles corporations and government really play in protecting our environment and the water we think is safe.

Bookstores to support: https://www.semicolonchi.com https://eurekabookshop.com https://keybookstore.com

The Word of the Day is Lament

I haven’t written much about my experiences or feelings navigating the last four or five months. I still have a lot to work through before I feel clear enough to discuss my thoughts regarding the traumatic closure of my business, my scramble to keep afloat, the uprisings all over the country and the way our mainstream political discourse has changed. I’m still struggling daily. Every crack and flaw in our feeble system has finally been exposed. Watching and living that reality through sober eyes has been an experience. It will continue to be for some time. Accepting that new reality is where I currently reside on my grief journey.

In the face of challenge or trauma I place myself in a constant state of motion. I’ve learned this through years of writing and a year of weekly therapy. Moving fast helps me to feel productive, like I’m in total control, which I understand is rooted in a deep history of societal ideology promoting capitalism and individualistic bootstrap culture in this country. The guilt I feel is constant; it’s enough to make me sick to my stomach at the thought of possibility of failure. It is with me daily. Were my parent’s sacrifices for nothing? If I’m not producing something, I feel worthless. I would be lying if I said that being Mexican / American – the daughter and granddaughter of people who worked hard and sacrificed everything to give me a better life – hasn’t influenced my relationship with work and my value. With production and permission to exist. It has. The extent to which I feel these things is something I’m working through now. And it’s tough.

I’ve gone through months of feeling unpredictable and intense emotions. And months of trying my best to stay busy and channel them into something tangible and useful. But for the last couple of weeks I’ve been feeling something different. Something that I couldn’t name until earlier this week when I listened to Rob Bell’s podcast episode “We Hung Our Harps” on The Robcast.

I listened to it three times.

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and

wept

when we remembered Zion.

There on the poplars

we hung our harps,

for there our captors asked us for

songs,

our tormentors demanded songs of

joy;

they said, “Sing us one of the songs

of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord

while in a foreign land?”

-Psalm 137

Although I was raised in a strictly Christian household, I am not religious. I fall somewhere on the scale between atheist and agnostic beliefs. What I appreciate about Rob Bell is how effective he is at using the bible to teach lessons that make sense no matter what your religious beliefs may be. However problematic, these words spoke to me, on a symbolic level. They helped me to begin processing that emptiness I started to feel a few weeks after being back to work. I feel disconnected from everything that was taken from me so easily. From my job, from my business, from my relationship with work and to the part I play as a cog in a larger broken capitalist system in this country – that does not care if I succeed or fail.

Bell made two specific points in regards to the Psalm above that gave meaning to my feelings of emptiness and disappointment. The first is that we are on the cusp of a great, collective “lament.” We, as a country, had the opportunity to make something great. To use our privilege in this world for good, and we largely did not. We blew it. And now we’re here. “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion.” We’re mourning many of our privileges, but also mourning our fantasies. The ones we had about who we were as a country and “how far we’d come.” I feel like the first stage of this lament began for many of us, after Donald Trump was elected. Bell acknowledges that even those of us that are critical of our country and it’s flawed systems still, on some level, believed at least something about what our place in this world was. What the United States could stand for, what goodness we could pull together to do if we used all that power in the right ways. We were capable of so much good. But the reality of what’s happening doesn’t reflect those beliefs. I had this personal moment of reckoning when I was thinking about the Muslims currently in internment camps in China. My immediate though was: “How can we help anyone else when we can’t even help ourselves?” I had never felt that way before. Before, I could either be proud of our country or disappointed in our country. Helplessness was an emotion, as an American with white privilege, I haden’t spent much time feeling. “There, on the poplars, we hung our harps.”

A great lament. A mourning for what we had, and what we thought we had.

An acceptance of our painful failures.

The second point that Bell made was in regards to exile. Exile can be a literal, physical banishment from one’s country or home. Or it can be an emotional expulsion. The anxiety I feel knowing that as a US citizen, the mobility and “freedom” that we’re used to owning has been largely curtailed, is intense. What a privilege we had. But the emotional exile is something interesting. A feeling of banishment, of loneliness, of losing the little faith I had in this country to keep us safe. The safety net I thought I had just doesn’t exist and that, more than anything, feels like abandonment.

I’m not bringing up these points to focus only on the negative, or to wallow in self pity. I bring these up to hopefully help others recognize that that sadness and grief for what we had, and thought we had, is real. And it will likely get worse and more intense before the upturn. But that’s the beauty about a lament – a loss, a grief process – once you allow yourself to feel it, you can move through it. With a clear head and a stronger heart you have the freedom to create something better, something new and previously assumed to be impossible. My hope, for all of us who make it to this next chapter in United States history, is that we have the courage to mourn what’s lost, let it go, and build something compassionate and new.

2019 Book List

Every January first I sit down with my journal and I write down five personal and five business-related goals, then consciously forget about them until the following January when I finally quantify the progress I’ve made. Then I make new goals. Sometimes I’ve not met the previous ones to my standard, so I repeat them, acknowledging it’s a process and not a failure. Some goals I’ve repeated several years in a row.

As I get older I realize that for inspiration to find me, I must always be learning. The perfect Liz cocktail therefore includes: A specific amount of solitude (mental stillness or quietness alone with my own thoughts), time set aside for writing and writing alone, and a steady flow of books. Reading great stories helps me to learn style and flow, story construction, new words, and most importantly, new and different ideas. Reading brings me back to my real and true self, writing aids me in showing it.

At times, reviving my creative self has felt like waking up from a sleepy but satisfying hibernation, hungry to come out of my den for new ideas. Other times it feels like a violent reviving of my soul, shocking myself back from unconsciousness and a kind of temporary creative death.

As a strategy to read and create more, which ultimately makes me connect with my true and happy self on a regular basis, I implemented some strategies in 2019.

1) Read 30 minutes every morning before work when you’re having your coffee.

2) Try to also read on your days off instead of watching TV, or being on your phone.

3) Aim for completing one book per week.

4) Write one blog post per week for one year to see how it goes. It can be any length.

5) Set aside about five hours per week to write. Divvy it up however you want. Write about whatever you choose.

6) Try to freelance at least one article.

7) Start a book club.

Reviewing this list overwhelms me with gratitude for the progress I’ve made getting to (re)know my creative self this year. I mostly stick with goals one, two, and five on a regular basis, with some room for improvement of course. I only missed a couple of blog posts this year, but published one almost every single week. I freelanced several articles, and did in fact start that book club, and we’ve met twice so far. As far as the books go- I read 21. I plan on reading a couple more before the year is through, but I wanted to share my list with you for two reasons. One: So you can get new book ideas! And two: So you know that I didn’t even make it half way to my goal. But I don’t at all consider it a failure- I still read about fifteen more books this year than last, and I have no doubt that I’ll read even more in 2020.

Liz’s 2019 Book List

These are simply listed in the order I read them, with asterisks next to the five I most highly recommend at this time, based on how interesting they were, how much I learned from them this year, and their ability to influence my research and work. I read very little fiction, therefore I feel that the couple novels on the list deserve an imaginary and automatic asterisk for being amazing.

1) Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk

2) American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land, Monica Hesse

3) The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule

4) Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, Laura Jane Grace

5) Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country, Pam Houston

6) Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, David Goggins

*7) Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer

8) Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff

*9) Deep Work, Cal Newport

10) Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport

11) I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara

*12) How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence, Michael Pollan

13) Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg

14) The Testaments, Margaret Atwood

*15) Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, Sarah Smarsh

16) Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking it All with the Greatest Chef in the World, Jeff Gordinier

17) The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem, Stacy Schiff

18) The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life, Shawn Achor

*19) Into The Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro, Rachel Slade

20) Shit the Moon Said: A Story of Sex, Drugs, and Ayahuasca, Gerard Powell

21) Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

Next on the List / Will Read Before 2020:

22) The Gift of Fear, Gavin De Becker