becoming wise, in the body of the world (31/99)

You know I’m a podcast junkie.  One of my favorites is “On Being” with Krista Tippett. I don’t always catch every episode but I enjoy her conversations immensely, even when I’ve never heard of her guest. (Those can be some of my favorite episodes.)  I like how Krista  — she carpools with me to and from work, so we’re on a first name basis — asks thoughtful questions that produce insightful answers. Her voice is so resonant and calming, and I just feel better after listening to her, especially after a long day.

She launched “Becoming Wise” in March, a new podcast based on her recently-published book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.  (I have this checked out from the library now and it’s among the books I really want to get to this holiday weekend.)  At an average of 10 minutes each, “Becoming Wise” is much shorter than “On Being” which makes it easy to catch up on several at a time, as I’m doing (although not in chronological order).

Episode #15 of Becoming Wise (“I Feel, Therefore I Am”) featured playwright, performer, and activist Eve Ensler.  Now, I happen to think Eve Ensler is one of the most powerful and influential women on the face of the Earth. Her work resonates deeply with me as it has a significant personal meaning to my life.

In this episode of “Becoming Wise,” Eve echoes the themes of many of Krista Tippett’s guests as she talks about being connected with the world.

“How in our daily lives are we connecting with ourselves and everything around us? Because that’s where real, energetic transformation comes from.”

In the Body of the WorldIt’s a theme that Eve explores in detail with her memoir In the Body of the World, which is such a powerful book. (I listened to this on audio two years ago and it has stayed with me ever since.) It’s described as “a visionary memoir of separation and connection – to the body, the self, and the world.”

That is an understatement.

This is a cancer memoir and as one would expect from Eve Ensler, it kicks cancer’s ass. It is honest and raw. (Again, this is the creator of The Vagina Monologues we’re talking about here. You want bravery and telling-it-like-it-is?  Eve Ensler, poster child, right there.)

From the publisher’s description:

Playwright, author, and activist Eve Ensler has devoted her life to the female body—how to talk about it, how to protect and value it. Yet she spent much of her life disassociated from her own body—a disconnection brought on by her father’s sexual abuse and her mother’s remoteness. “Because I did not, could not inhabit my body or the Earth,” she writes, “I could not feel or know their pain.”

But Ensler is shocked out of her distance. While working in the Congo, she is shattered to encounter the horrific rape and violence inflicted on the women there. Soon after, she is diagnosed with uterine cancer, and through months of harrowing treatment, she is forced to become first and foremost a body—pricked, punctured, cut, scanned. It is then that all distance is erased. As she connects her own illness to the devastation of the earth, her life force to the resilience of humanity, she is finally, fully—and gratefully—joined to the body of the world.

Here’s a quote from In the Body of the World that I loved.

“Love was something you succeeded or failed. It was like a corporate activity. You won or lost. People loved you and then they didn’t…. I had failed at love or the story I had bought about love… I was reaching at love , but it turns out love doesn’t involve reaching. I was always dreaming of the big love, the ultimate love, the love that would sweep me off my feet or ‘break open the hard shell of my lesser self’. The love that would bring on my surrender. The love that would inspire me to give everything. As I lay there, it occurred to me that while I had been dreaming of this big love, this ultimate love, I had, without realizing it, been giving and receiving love for most of my life.

The life I was living was a life of love.”

Seems like it still is.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #31 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.

summer blue (30/99)

Blueberries 2 - 6-28-2016

Blueberry - 6-28-2016Blueberries - 6-28-2016

Tonight’s blueberries, from the backyard.

Tomorrow’s breakfast.

Summer is here.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #30 of 99 of my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

Book Review: LaRose by Louise Erdrich (29/99)

LaRoseLaRose by Louise Erdrich
372 pages

When you pick up a Louise Erdrich novel, you know to expect an intricate, intergenerational story with many layers and an emphasis on the richness of Native American Indian culture.

Erdrich’s newest book, LaRose, has all of these elements set amidst a family tragedy. While hunting a deer, Landreaux Iron accidentally shoots and kills his neighbor’s 5 year old son, Dusty Ravich.  (This isn’t a spoiler; it happens within the first few paragraphs and is mentioned in every description about the novel.)

Although LaRose is set in modern times — most of the narrative occurs circa 1999  and is set in North Dakota — Landreaux turns to the ancient Ojibwe tradition of giving up one’s own child as atonement.

And that’s exactly what happens:  with the reluctance of his wife Emmaline, he gives his son LaRose (who was a playmate of Dusty’s) to Peter and Nola Ravich to raise.  As if this wasn’t awkward, sad, or complicated enough, the two families are related; Emmaline and Nola are half-sisters.

While most of the novel focuses on the two families’ grief and their individual ways of coping with this tragedy,  there’s a complex backstory that Erdrich brings into the narrative.  LaRose Iron, who is given to the Ravich family  to raise, is actually the fifth LaRose in a long lineage of individuals — male and female — with the same name.

At times, I found these additional plotlines and characters confusing — and this is one of those novels where there aren’t any quotation marks, which can often make it difficult to determine who is speaking. I liked LaRose, but the structure and the multiple narratives were occasionally challenging.

This is the fifth Louise Erdrich book I’ve read. Others were The Round Housewinner of the National Book Award; Shadow Tag, which I read in one sitting; The Painted Drum, which contains one of the best quotes I’ve ever read; and The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories, 1978-2008, my first introduction to Erdrich’s work.  (Links take you to my reviews.) With her resonant prose, reading a Louise Erdrich novel is always a rich literary and historical experience. In that aspect, LaRose does not disappoint.

* OK, here’s the quote:
“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.”

I just love that.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #29 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 


sunday salon/ currently: reading, writing, blogging … and possibly hiking (28/99)

Sunday Salon banner

After a much busier-than-usual week (two work events, two get-togethers with friends), I’m feeling the need for some downtime.  Nothing is on the agenda today, my preferred way to spend a Sunday. I’d also prefer spending it on the deck, but since it’s a few degrees shy of 90 as I type this, indoors in the a/c seems to be the better option.  There’s the usual straightening up/cleaning to do around the house (which may or may not get done) and meal planning for the week.

Summer Reading … 
LaRoseShades of BlueFelicity

Since my last visit here in the Salon, I’ve finished three books: LaRose by Louise Erdrich, Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue, an anthology edited by the amazing Amy Ferris, and Felicity by Mary Oliver.

Of the three, Shades of Blue had the most impact on me and has earned a spot on my Best Of list for 2016. The honesty and courage of these writers as they share their personal experiences with mental health, addiction, depression, suicide, and grief is incredibly moving.  There’s something in every story that connects with you, which is the point.

Modern LoversI need to spend some time with Modern Lovers today. I’m reviewing this one for the Post-Gazette and that deadline is approaching quickly.  This is better than I expected; I judged it by the cover and immediately thought “fluffy beach read.”  It is a bit lighter than my usual fare, but sometimes you need that. And after this week (and this month’s depressing news cycle), I do.

So far I’m up to seven books for the library’s Summer Reading program.  (Magazines count for this; three of my “books” are actually periodicals.)  My goal is 20 and I’d like that to be heavier on the books than magazines.

Writing … 
The Girl starts a week-long Teen Fiction Writing camp tomorrow.  I would have loved this when I was her age. She did a similar program last year with this organization and really liked it.

Taking a Liking to Hiking …
The Boy is participating in a fabulous day camp program this summer for teens with Asperger’s. It emphasizes social skills and a lot of outdoor time.  They’ve been doing short hikes (approximately 4 miles, which certainly doesn’t sound that short to me). Surprisingly, he’s become very interested in hiking, trails and especially streams, and has expressed interest in continuing this when camp is finished in two weeks.

Fortunately, Pittsburgh is a great area for hiking so I’ve been looking into some possibilities for him and I to do some occasional short hikes together.  (If any local readers have suggestions, I need them as this is — quite literally — new territory for us.)

#99DaysSummerBlogging is still going strong.  By the end of this week, we’ll be 1/3 of the way finished. (And so will summer!)  I’m slightly revising my approach to this project, though. One of my main motivations for doing this was to actually write every day. Admittedly, that’s been difficult as some posts need a few days to come together and I’m not a fan of posting something just for the hell of it.

I’ve realized that writing every day doesn’t mean the same as writing a brand new blog post and publishing it every day.  I’ve decided to give myself permission to write some posts in advance. That way, those can be pulled out of Drafts and published on days when I want to spend longer on other posts — or even other writing projects.

And speaking of which, a review is due soon, so back to my book I go.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #28 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 



Listen to Your Mother Named as Best in the Burgh! (27/99)

LTYM - Poster

This must be what it’s like to win an Emmy.  We’ve had exciting news this week for Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh, which I was thrilled to be  part of this year along with 13 other amazing women and writers.

We’ve been honored Pittsburgh Magazine by with a Best of the Burgh award in their Kids and Family section!

We made the audience “laugh, cry and open up about their own experiences, which is the organizers’ goal.”

Indeed it is, along with raising money for a deserving local nonprofit that serves women and children. (This year’s recipient was Jeremiah’s Place, a relief care nursery in Pittsburgh.)

Take a bow (another one), ladies.  All you who were in the inaugural cast last year and those who shared the stage with me this year and those behind the scenes and especially LTYM creator and founder Ann Imig … congratulations to all of us!

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #27 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.


brexit at breakfast (26/99)


Yes, I realize that’s not the Union Jack nor the American Flag, but it might as well be given the news from across the pond this morning and the anticipated ripple effects here. (And the realized ones, with the stock market plunge.)

That photo was taken nearly three years ago, as part of Pittsburgh’s Knit the Bridge yarn-bombing project. More than 1,800 volunteers worked for 14 months, knitting and crocheting 580 blankets that covered the Andy Warhol Bridge to celebrate Pittsburgh’s diverse neighborhoods representing dozens of ethnicities.

It was a grand display symbolizing the threads that tie a community together.  The connections between all of us and the bridges that lead to understanding.  The interdependency that unites us, makes us one.

I’m certainly not an expert in such global matters as Brexit.  I will admit that it wasn’t until the murder of Jo Cox that I even knew this was happening, and shame on me for not realizing how big a deal this was. I mean, I needed to ask The Husband for “the Reader’s-Digest-So-I-Sound-Somewhat-Intelligent-When-Talking-With-My-Coworkers” version of Brexit over breakfast this morning.

(His response?  “It’s 1929.”)

It would appear that some people in the UK needed an FAQ, too.  NPR reported that Google searches on “what is the eu” and “what is brexit”  spiked significantly after the polls closed.

It’s easy for us to be all smarter-than-thou, shaking our heads in astonishment as we wonder aloud what the hell people were thinking.  But the parallels and the implications are truly frightening, considering our own political mess here on these shores.

I realize I sound a bit hypocritical saying all this when Brexit wasn’t even on my radar until a day or so ago. Trust me, I’m paying attention now by reading about what this means — and it doesn’t sound pretty.

This morning we woke up to a very different world.

Or, given past history, one that we already know.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #26 of 99 in my 99 Days of Blogging project. 

A Few Book Reviews by The Husband (25/99)

I’m not the only one who writes book reviews in this house.  All of The Husband’s reading is history-related nonfiction and presidential biographies, and he’s been churning out quite a few longform-style reviews on his blog.

Since I’m at a work event this evening and he’s holding down the homefront, it’s more than apropos for his words to take over the blog tonight, too.

Here are some of his recent reviews:

Five Presidents

Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford by Clint HIll 

The First Congress

The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government by Fergus M. Bordewich

Prisoners of Hope

Prisoners of Hope: Lyndon B. Johnson, The Great Society, and the Limits of Liberalism by Randall Woods 

This is post #25 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project (We’re a quarter of the way there!)

99 Days of Summer Blogging