Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘life’

Beautifully Told Stories

51eFb-W7I2L._SY346_The Oxymoron of Still Life by Lynn Lamb.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

It’s not necessarily what the story is about, but how well it is told. Ms. Lamb does a masterful job telling tales in The Oxymoron of Still Life. The first one in the collection (Beauty Bath) is difficult to take in, with scenes of abuse, degradation and murder. In spite of the content, the beginning line is so good, you can’t help but read it to the end. “The inherent danger from the blackness of the new moon was her veil.” This style of moving prose continues with every word and sentence.

Here is a small piece of this delicious literary pie, to give you a taste of the writer’s style. It is speaking about Oliver in Double Entendre“Johanna still had the habit of blowing the bangs away from her forehead with her lower lip jutted forward whenever she was lost in thought. It was no less endearing to him now. He wished he could stand in front of her face to face, so that he could feel her honeyed, warm breath on his skin. With his death, he was now deprived of that pleasure. So angry at the uselessness of his corpse was he that he stamped out from behind the drapery and plopped down on the bed. She looked right through him, and he felt as though he might die a second time.”

In addition to Beauty Bath, and Double Entendre (about Oliver who is dead, but hangs out with his living wife, or so it seems); is Mothballed, which involves a scuttled battleship in the 1920s and a boy named Brice, who hears her call. Each of the stories in this collection is completely different from one another in tone, subject, and dialogue, providing additional evidence of the author’s insight, imagination and writing abilities. If it isn’t clear by now, I’ll say it more bluntly, The Oxymoron of Still Life is excellent.

Prizes Among the Dirt

51xH8YMzYQLThe Boy With The Coin – A Short Story by Christina van Deventer. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

An old man tells his story about a boy he watches across the street, who finds something in the mud and then leaves. The man goes over and finds fifty cents atop a small mound. He is not sure when, or if, they boy will return to collect his find. In the meantime, it becomes clear that the narrator (an older man) has a strained relationship with his daughter (Allison), and doesn’t have long to live.

The Boy With The Coin is a well told short story that keeps the vague past present, and an edge to the tale that is palpable. Is forgiveness, or redemption, possible? Does anyone deserve, or not deserve, to die? Ms. van Deventer asks these questions in the context of the story, and with honest speculation. Does life and death “mean” anything? If so, are we responsible for our actions, or in-actions?

Here is an excerpt, with the narrator being reminded of his childhood joy of living, and present lack of such. “I don’t know what prompted me to cross the street to where the boy had been playing. Curiosity, I suppose. I was once a child myself, but I have long since lost my ability to find joy in the small things, the prizes among the dirt, and I wondered what the boy had found that could be of any consequence to his heart.”

Wanting More

51VU2hVZacLDoppelganger by Jenny Twist.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Doppelganger – “The apparition of a living person; a double, a wraith.”

In this splendid long short story, we find Christine attempting to kill herself. She is married to Kevin, and has two children. When she wakes up, she is in a mansion, her name has changed, and she’s married to a man named Ricky. Most noticeably, her body is that of a model.

“She seemed to have been thrust into a different version of herself, some sort of doppelganger, but she had no access to this person’s memories. What a complete cock-up! You’d think if this sort of thing were allowed to happen, you’d at least be given a few clues.”

Doppelganger is a fine specimen of a story. Ms. Twist has composed a tale that transfers readers’ to a world few of us are familiar with (except for in movies), but many wish they could experience – being rich and gorgeous. Of course, there are always drawbacks, things we don’t plan on happening, especially if we started out giving up on life.

Christine slowly discovers who she is, and starts to remember the players in her new world, and may even move past first impressions of her new husband and fall in love. The ending of Doppelganger is also the prequel for another beginning. If you like short stories, give this one a try. If you don’t like shorts, and read this one you may find yourself wanting more.

It Has Its Own Shape

Good Grief: A Companion to Change and Loss by Dipti Tait.
Review by Gabriel Constans.

411Up78mHJLGood Grief: A Companion to Change and Loss is rich with personal insight, and emotional intelligence. The following quote alone is worth the book’s weight in gold. “It’s a natural process, like the tides that come in and out on the shore of the ocean of your consciousness. Some are high; some are low. It’s about learning how to surf the waves of grief and not drown in the intense sorrow of loss.” Ms. Tait shares the story of her experiences and reactions to her mother and father’s deaths, and how she has learned to not only ride the waves, but to help others stand up on their own board.

The realizations of grief’s depth and width within our lives is written with clarity, honesty, and compassion. The author’s realization that loss is variable and unique to each individual, based on a myriad of factors and conditioning, is vital for acceptance and healing. “A grieving period is individual to the person who grieves. It has its own shape, form and identity based on belief systems, personal experiences and our own unique programming.” This is so true, and yet we often want a cookie-cutter method of how to proceed and navigate loss, without taking our uniqueness into consideration.

This book shares many aspects of grief that we may feel, or think about, but often do not acknowledge, let alone process. There are chapters on loneliness, guilt, shock, stress, and the reality of loss in our daily lives, as well as the possibility for growth. Ms. Tait provides a number of ways to work with our emotions and thoughts that surround grief. These include journaling, the Three P’s (Positive thought, Positive Actions, Positive Activity), moving into emotional intelligence, and the “No/Yes Principle”. “The self-healing process begins when a person can recognize that they want to change.”

There is little doubt that Good Grief: A Companion to Change and Loss is well worth your time and attention. You may also find that it helps you live with the pain of loss with a little more understanding, and acceptance, and provides that bit of support that perhaps you had not have realized was needed, or available. In addition to getting a copy of Good Grief, by Ms. Dipti Tait, you may also wish to take a look at my book Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter. It is similar to Ms. Tait’s, but told through the eyes of a number of people experiencing the death of a loved one, as well as my interactions with them.

More Alive Than Ever

Love: The Beat Goes On by Lynda Filler.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51JCGXkVO9LHer life was flying, her heart was dying. Lynda Filler had a new job, loving family, and an almost too good to be true newly acquainted man she called “my cowboy”. There’d been for-warnings, “messages”, shortness of breath, but nothing really stopped her in her tracks (literally) until 2008 when she is told she has a form of congestive heart failure called dilated cardiomyopathy. Doctors told her it was a death sentence and she must “get your affairs in order”. Nine years later, after driving alone for many months between Canada and Mexico, visiting a shaman in Sedona, New Mexico, and realizing, “I was the change that needed to happen in my healing”, she wrote Love: The Beat Goes On. She’s more alive than ever.

I worked with hospice and bereavement programs for many years. Most people I met was dying, or had had someone die. Whenever I heard about someone having this or that “terminal” disease (or as the author calls it “dis-ease”), I accepted it as reality and tried to help them (and their loved ones) prepare as much as possible, and live whatever life was left to the fullest. Ms. Filler not only didn’t go along with the “program”, but somehow trusted something inside, and outside, herself. Against medical advice she took her own road. Her journey was not random. She learned to honor her intuition, take some risks, and, pardon the clique, follow her heart.

The chapters in this journal are most fitting and include – “The Widow Maker”, “Every Breath I Take”, “Swollen Heart”, “You Are Not Your Diagnosis”, “Red Rocks and Thunderstorms”, “Doctors and Doctorates”, “Is it a Miracle?”, and “It’s a Mind Game”. There is a perfect mixture of describing an event, what her personal reactions, thoughts, and feelings were about the experience, and her understanding and actions (if any) in response. Even though this pattern progresses throughout her writing, Lynda also becomes acutely aware that she is not what she writes about. “I have huge respect for all who survive anything, but I am not my story.”

Love: The Beat Goes On isn’t melancholy, or sanguine; it is as real as real can be. I know of few people who have learned to believe in something beyond themselves, willingly take steps into the unknown, and trust their own gut, as has Ms. Filler. Her life is example number uno of how to live a life of genuine belief and faith. Not in a religious sense, but with practical down-to-earth actions and spirit. This memoir is interesting for personal reflection, and provides a number of suggestions on how others can use what Ms. Filler learned for their own challenges. She doesn’t claim that her way is the only way, but her still being alive gives a lot of credence to what she has to say. “When I walked down from that vortex, my step was light. My heart beat normally again… and I knew it.”

 

A Love Contract

When Soul Is Life: Life Transforming Wisdom from the Heart of the Soul by Kylie Riordan. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

41kFm7QBHBLWe all know that peace, love, kindness, and caring are the essence of a happy and fulfilling life, but most of the time we forget. That’s when a good friend, teacher, or book comes along to help remind us of what we already know. When Soul Is Life does just that. Ms. Riordan proclaims, “I now make kindness my religion, empathy my form of meditation, and compassion my prayer.” If just stating it made it so, we’d all be one big mushy mass of humanity hugging one another and lending a hand. Thankfully, she doesn’t just say it, she shows us how.

“I am honored that we (readers) are on this journey together and I look forward to entering a scared contract of love with you.” The author provides definitions for kindness, love, compassion, and gratitude, and how we can all (together) bring them into our lives, and remember to not only believe in these qualities (and virtues), but put them into practice. Personal examples, exercises, affirmations, and helpful lists, are exhibited throughout, with liberal doses of humility and understanding. “The truth is, compassion is just love, kindness, and forgiveness.”

Chapters include – Forgiveness; Courage; Soul Essentials; Love; Kindness; Gratitude and Simplicity. There is a section on intuition, how to know when it is present (gut feeling, walk, shivers, and flow), and when to follow it. Discussions about love, and the difference between romantic and spiritual love. One of my favorite areas is when Ms. Riordan shares five tips on how to live in the moment (spend time in nature, use abdominal breathing, meditation, awareness of feelings, and making peace with the past). There is also a good quantity of discourse about courage, happiness and authenticity.

The themes and insights in When Soul Is Life reminded me of my time sitting with others who were experiencing extreme pain, loss, emotions, and the aftermath of trauma. As a grief and bereavement counselor in hospital, hospice, private practice, and a variety of health care settings, I was touched by the many occasions of shared humanity. There were times when I would be detached, and others when I was completely overwhelmed. The moments that were most precious, and I believe the most helpful, were when I was able to be completely present, loving, and compassionate. Ms. Riordan’s words, and experiences in this book, helped me remember how to find those moments again.

Yadda Yadda Yadda

Just Sit: A meditation guide for people who know they should but don’t. By Sukey Novogratz and Elizabeth Novogratz. Illustrations by Niege Borges. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

412a0ezS86L._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_If the writers of Just Sit could do so, they would reach out from the page (or screen) grab you by the throat, wrestle you to the ground, and hold you there until you started meditating – metaphorically speaking. That is what it seems to take for us to stop with all of our excuses (real and imagined) and actually do it. The Novogratz’s do everything in their power to convince us – joke, explain the benefits, teach us the fundamentals, and answer every possible question. “10 million Americans meditate, 6 million of them because their doctor told them to.” Let’s just pretend our doctor told us to and start doing it.

Whether you are just beginning, or are the oldest living meditator on the planet, the insights and instructions within make a lot of sense. It includes steps for how to meditate, questions that arise once we’ve started, and why we are reluctant to begin in the first place. “Meditation is a way of training your mind to slow down, to be responsive, not reactive, to bring you into your life and out of the constant chatter that’s going on in your head.” It is often this chatter, and mind-fuck, that keeps us from paying attention to our selves, or side-tracts us once we’ve begun. One of the most practical, and enlightening aspects of this book, is how to work with such thoughts, feelings, and actions. How to “observe” our experiences without believing we “are” our momentary experience.

Here are some of the questions people ask. If some of these sound familiar, join the crowd.  “I feel like a fool. How do I get past it?” “How does just sitting there help me train my mind?” “My mind is sharp already. So why would it need training?” “Can anyone meditate?” “What can I or should I expect?” “I understand prayer, but meditation seems a little out there for me.” “Can I do meditating wrong?” Here’s the crazy part. The answer to most of these questions is, “For meditation to work, you actually have to do it.” Go figure. What a wild idea. “The biggest secret to meditation is all you need to do is show up.” Like exercising the rest of the body, the mind needs attention. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes practice.

The introduction says, “Meditation Is Not for Sissies”, which reminds me of another book “Growing Old Is Not For Sissies”. In other words, it’s not always a bed of roses (though that could be quite thorny). One of the reasons people avoid meditation is because we begin to see what’s going on, and what we are telling ourselves about what’s going on (with our body, emotions, and thoughts). It isn’t always pleasant, but it is what it is. Sukey and Elizabeth Novogratz invite readers to watch whatever arises. “In order to deal with your shit and have a way better life, you’ve got to be willing to show up and sit in the much.”

So, there you have it. Grab yourself by the scruff of the neck (gently), get a copy of this book and Just Sit. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s hard. It’s difficult. I don’t have time. It doesn’t work for me. I don’t know what to do.” Yadda yadda yadda. Stop believing you are what you think (or feel), and take a chance. What have you got to lose? As the author’s state so simply, and brilliantly, with one of the headings, “WARNING: Conditioning impairs freedom.”

P.S. The illustrations, and layout, match the words, and greatly enrich Just Sit with clarity, wit, and wisdom.

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