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

3 Lessons From My Husband

Today is my husband’s birthday. I’m up at 5am to write while Kanan sleeps so we’ll have the day to spend together once he wakes up. I know that I haven’t given much history about our relationship, and rarely divulge details about his life specifically, focusing mainly on relevant information for our topic at hand. So today, in an attempt to shine light on the person that my husband is, I’m going to share three big lessons that my husband has taught me about life in our last (almost) six years together.

If there’s one thing about Kanan’s personality that has always perplexed and fascinated me, it’s his ability to consistently be one step ahead of the rest of us when it comes to matters of “zen.” I use that term loosely and metaphorically to mean calm, collected, and unchanged by his surroundings. When we first met I mistook his disinterest in most things as aloofness, dismissiveness, and an overall indifference or dispassion, but I know now that my husband cares more deeply than anyone I’ve met, he’s just remarkably good at choosing what few things he cares about.

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Lesson #1: “Structure Your Life Differently.”

If I had a dollar for every time this phrase exited my husband’s mouth or came through to me via text message, I’d be rich, and I wouldn’t need to structure my life differently.

Over the years Kanan has seen me grow from a mid-twenties employee with undefined dreams to an early thirties small business owner with fairly clear goals for our future.

I’ve discovered that when I have an end goal in mind I will work relentlessly toward it regardless of the time and energy that it takes to get there, even if it means depleting every resource I have in the process. Sometimes this takes years to complete. Sometimes the “end goal” is so obscure and far off in the distance that it’s almost impossible for anyone else to see, let alone support. But I see it.

Kanan may not notice what I’m able to predict. He observes my chaotic life, chalk full of work and stress. I see myself lay one more brick down each day I wake up with intention. It may not look like much now, but someday I’ll build my castle, revel in it, then move on to something new. I thrive on accomplishment and projects. I find happiness in the process of building, not necessarily the “finished” result – consequently this means I’m never really done and I’m almost never satisfied.

He watches me struggle and sometimes doesn’t realize that I share his same vision. Laying a brick a day will get us there, I promise, but you need to trust me. A decade later, and the foundation is complete. Still a lot of castle to build, but it’s got something solid to stand on. Structuring your life differently takes time. Great things aren’t built overnight. Strategies take trial and error to perfect; systems take years to run smoothly. I’d work seven days a week, and teeter on the precipice of burnout – he’d say “structure your life differently.” I’d be at the end of my rope spending every “personal” moment on my phone working. What should I do? Structure my life differently. To him, its easy. A simple answer to any of those parts of my life I am not satisfied with.

His point: When I’m “done” I’m never done. So I may as well create a life I love to live in the process of building. Structure my life differently. 

It’s not that I didn’t understand this concept before – I feel like I have quite a clear understanding of what it takes to create a life you actually want, basically full of work I enjoy, people I enjoy, and activities that give me joy, purpose, and meaning. But for me it will take years to even define what that looks like, and I imagine it will be fluid and constantly in flux. But I feel like when he emphasizes that point to me, it’s his subtle and effective way to reiterate that I am the creator of my life and I do have the power to change it, and make it however I dream. It’s up to me, and he knows I can do it. After all, if I’m not happy with something in my life, all I need to do is do it differently.

Lesson #2: Leveling up is hard, but a great partnership will force you to level up constantly, and forever.

I resist what my husband tells me to do. My husband resists what I tell him to do. Together we end up stubbornly encouraging each other to become better people.

What I’ve discovered is that my husband and I chose each other for big reasons, and each one of us has greatly valuable qualities to bring to our table. So when we resist each other because of our strength and stubbornness, eventually one of us will rise to join the other. And when we really clash, it’s because one of us just hasn’t quite figured out how to get up to that next level yet. But with enough encouragement, we will.

This happens in small ways, like snoozing my alarm. I used to be that person. Snooze the alarm every single day for however long it takes to get out of bed in the morning. Kanan explicitly hated this behavior because it disrupts his sleep, and we had many arguments about it, until stubbornly and angrily I made it a point to get out of bed immediately, every single day as soon as my alarm went off. Annoyed and stubborn, I now am a more productive person who loves the morning and looks forward to quiet time alone with my coffee, my books, and my computer. Why would I want to waste that wonderful peaceful time snoozing?

This also happens in big ways, like eating more plant foods, a significant and long-term lifestyle change. Over the years Kanan has resisted my dietary choices being “pushed on him” and has explicitly made it clear to not tell him what to eat. It turns out, the squeaky vegan wheel gets the grease. When I see my husband packing his mostly (if not entirely) raw, plant based lunches for work everyday, coming home for his post-work kale, ginger, celery smoothie it does two things. It instantly makes me happy that we’re headed down this healthy, long path together, but also makes me realize that I can do better too. I don’t eat kale everyday; there’s always room to improve and grow.

When my husband and I seem to disagree, I now try to step back and look for the lesson inside the clashing of two stubborn individuals. We both want what’s best for us, so who needs the boost up to the next rung? The other one of us will be more that happy to provide it.

Lesson #3: Protect Your Time.

This last lesson I’ll share with you wraps back around to the initial idea of my husband as the “zen master.” Kanan is not a meditation expert. He doesn’t do yoga. He’s certainly not Buddhist. He has fairly liberal beliefs but is in no way carefree or someone I’d call a free spirit. He has not reached enlightenment. Nor is he wearing a poncho and selling beads in the park. My point: he’s neither a true zen master, or a wannabe zen master. He’s just himself.

He is an adamant nonconformist in his own way. He’s so punk rock about his time that it fascinates me and encourages me on my digital minimalism journey. Simply put, Kanan understands with no degree of uncertainty that his time is his own, and he is allowed to selfishly protect it. He can exist amongst the chaos and remain himself, a calm center.

Social media? Not worth the time or energy. Texting? Only if absolutely necessary, or to appease his text-happy wife. Facetime is a solid no. Calling is a sometimes and only for the most important in his life. He refuses to make plans if he even has an inkling he may not want to participate in something or may want to just relax and do what he wants. He doesn’t feel the need to answer to anyone about how he spends his personal time, and most of the time that philosophy does apply to me. And while this can frustrate me sometimes as his behavior can appear to be noncommittal or selfish (which it is), he generally encourages me to live the same way. Selfishly with my time, even when it pertains to matters involving him.

This has taught me that being selfish with my time is okay, and that respecting each other’s time is important. It’s taught me not to dole it out indiscriminately, and to really decide if something or someone is worth letting into my life and space. My husband is basically a minimalist at heart, and someone so confident in himself that he can live his life from his own center, allowing in only the things that mean most to him. That is a skill most of us have to actively cultivate with things like exercise, meditation, learning – strategies. I joke that Kanan has had it figured out since I met him. I thought he was antisocial and afraid to commit. It turns out he just wanted to make sure I was someone he wanted to give his most precious resource to before he decided to marry me. What a way to live.

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Wedding Photos:

https://www.hennygraphy.com

Tattoo Stories

I went to my first tattoo appointment about four years ago, alone. I felt like I was being unreasonably impulsive to get it when Kanan was out of town working even though I had a consultation prior, and had been mulling over one of the ideas since I was sixteen years old. At this point I figured it was now or never, but for some reason I felt irresponsible, like a teenager making a choice they can’t take back. But if I’d had the idea for a decade, it probably wasn’t going to change. I had booked out months in advance for the artist’s soonest availability and he called me with a cancellation. Honestly, I’m not the fondest of needles but at this point I was so ready for new beginnings it didn’t matter to me. I had convinced myself that whatever pain I’d feel could only be a significant improvement over the last few years.

I had the idea to get the words “Constructive Deconstruction” tattooed on the inside of my left arm the first time I read Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk, about ten years prior. In my previous post Why I’m Vegan Part 1 I go into detail about how the book influenced me to research factory farming and animal welfare, ultimately resulting in me becoming a vegetarian, and years later, a vegan. It had changed my life significantly when I was just sixteen years old, the protagonist’s mantra, the thread that tied the story together: Tear it down to rebuild. Constructive Deconstruction. If that idea made sense to me then, it’s crystal clear now.

Fast forward to college. I was taking one of my many Women’s Studies classes and we were assigned an essay by Audre Lorde. Her paper Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference would drive the “Constructive Deconstruction” point home with a intersectional feminist perspective so powerful, I took it as a sign that I had to carry those words with me permanently.

“The future of our earth may depend upon the ability of all women to identify and develop new definitions of power and new patterns of relating across difference. The old definitions have not served us, nor the earth that supports us. The old patterns, no matter how cleverly rearranged to imitate progress, still condemn us to cosmetically altered repetitions, of the same old exchanges, the same old guilt, hatred, recrimination, lamentation, and suspicion.

For we have, built into all of us, old blueprints of expectation and response, old structures of oppression, and these must be altered at the same time as we alter the living conditions which are a result of those structures. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

It gives me chills to this day even though now I have all but memorized it.

That first tattoo will always be the most deeply meaningful to me – it has become the mantra for my own life, giving me conviction to push forward and pave my own path through the pieces. Knowing that real change grows out of complete deconstruction gives me power. Knowing that I do not want to reform, and that I do not define the master’s house as my only source of support empowers me still.

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On that same day I got another tattoo that I believe is the counterpart to the constructive deconstruction idea: “Give me a reason to care, I’ll sing along forever.” A Bouncing Souls lyrics from their song Sing Along Forever on their 2003 album Anchors Aweigh. The script is my Grandma Brown’s handwriting, pulled, pieced together and traced from birthday cards and book inscriptions. She always encouraged me to read and learn, to do my own research and refuse to believe anything just because it was told to me. So I made a deal with myself. If I’m going to try to live a progressive life, if I’m going to tear things down to rebuild, I’m going to be open to the truth. I’m going to be willing to learn painful things and to relearn uncomfortable realities. I’m going to change the way I live when I learn my privilege. I’ll try my best to know better and actually do better. And if you give me that reason to care, I’ll make it one of my life’s goals to sing about it forever. Because what are ideas without action?

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I got my next tattoo a couple of years later on what I now call my “vegan arm.” I mean, my whole body is vegan, but my left arm is just more vocal about it. (Ha. Ha.) I essentially entrusted my new tattoo artist to create a half cow, half dog portrait with the words “Have courage and be kind” framing their sweet faces. And the work she did is perfection. We used a picture of a beautiful cow I found online, and a picture of my adorable border collie Moose. Connected with a flower crown, but split down the center, it’s meant to represent the idea that we’re all in this together, and we all have a responsibility to each other on this planet. Everyone’s soul matters, and the value that humans place on life is arbitrary and ignorant. I believe that everyone should have the right to their own life, and it shouldn’t be our choice to take it, no matter the species – they are a someone. The ironic part about this is that animals know this already, and they should be our teachers. They know how to be kind, and to only take life when necessary. It’s us humans that can’t figure that out.

I used the quote “Have courage and be kind” because it’s from one of my most favorite Disney movies: Cinderella. The remake. Her mother gives Cinderella this last bit of advice to her before she dies, and to me it’s simple but so complex. It’s something that I need to be reminded of daily, because having courage is only half of the equation. Finding a way to be kind in this life, to me, is the hard part. Not letting the world harden you as you discover inequalities and injustices, but being wise enough to push forward toward change with kindness in your heart and the belief that the world can be better. Hope. Knowing that kindness begets kindness, but you must have the courage to speak up and work toward change.

There’s a scene in the movie where the prince is hunting a stag and stumbles upon Cinderella on her horse in the woods.

Cinderella: “What’s he [the stag] ever done to you that you should chase him about?”

Prince: “I must confess I’ve never met him before. He is a friend of yours?”

Cinderella: “An acquaintance. We met just now. I looked into his eyes, and he looked into mine and I just felt that he had a great deal left to do with his life, that’s all… Please don’t let them hurt him.”

Prince: “But we’re hunting, see it’s how it’s done.”

Cinderella: “Just because it’s what’s done doesn’t mean it’s what should be done.”

She shifts his thinking of the stag as a thing, to a someone. With kindness. To me, there’s nothing better than working toward that balance.

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The most recent tattoo I have also has a complex story. In 2012, Laura Jane Grace, the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, Against Me! interviewed for Rolling Stone Magazine, explaining she was transgender. I kept the magazine because it was revolutionary at the time and to me, she was so brave to announce to the world that she would be identifying as a woman moving forward. I also thought it was great journalism.

Over the years I’ve gone to a few of their amazing concerts, but actually had the opportunity to meet her in person at Humboldt State University at a small acoustic show she played for around $20 a ticket to promote her book Tranny. Which is amazing. I brought my magazine from years prior that I dug out from under a million books and papers, with the off chance she might sign it for me. And she did, with one of my favorite lyrics: “There is an ocean in my soul where the waters do not curve.” I had my new tattoo artist place this on the back of my arm, opposite my Bouncing Soul’s lyric on what I now call my “punk rock arm.”

To me, the song The Ocean represents the undying persistence to discover your true self. It represents the not-giving-up during the tumultuous repetition of life that attempts to strip you of yourself, but in doing so makes you more authentically you if you let it. It’s about that night at their concert playing The Ocean when my sister and I knew it was that exact moment where the crowd would move from jumping in symbiotic unison to violently tearing through each other in an instant, so in a half second we grabbed each others hands and held on tight. It’s the strongest and the calmest. It’s the most volatile and yet the most flexible. The ocean grounds itself around whatever obstacles appear, while ultimately being uncontrolled.

“There is an ocean in my soul, where the waters do not curve.”

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Tattoos 1 & 2 by Henry at Sailor’s Grave Tattoo, Eureka CA

Tattoos 3 & 4 by Stacey at Seven Stars Tattoo, Eureka CA