Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘non-fiction’

Review of Teaching the Cat to Sit

9781451697292‘Teaching the Cat to Sit’ by Michelle Theall
Reviewed by Sara Rauch
21 May, 2014 Lambda Literary

Michelle Theall’s new memoir, Teaching the Cat to Sit, brings some big topics—God, sexuality, abuse, loneliness, love, family—to the page. It’s a rocky ride, full of contentious conversations, frank disclosures, and plenty of struggle.

Teaching the Cat to Sit presents two interwoven narratives: first, adult Michelle’s struggle to get her adopted son baptized in the Catholic Church, her decision to pull him from the Catholic school he attends, and the ongoing battle to win her mother and father’s acceptance. The second narrative begins with Michelle’s youth—a journey that leads her through abuse, her grasping to understand her sexuality, a brush with a pedophile priest, her first relationship with another woman in college, her attempts to “turn straight,” her coming out, her leaving her home state, and the healing process that eventually leads her to her life partner. A lot happens in this book—and Theall moves through the circumstances of her life with remarkable dexterity.

Theall writes with compelling honesty about loneliness—in fact, the title of the book comes from a line she overhears her father say to her mother on that topic—and the feeling she so plainly articulates has real resonance. And while her loneliness hobbles and confuses her as a young adult, her ability to be alone is ultimately what heals her.

God plays a big role in Teaching the Cat to Sit. And this isn’t just any God; this is the Catholic God—not exactly touchy-feely, not exactly a paragon of acceptance. And those with major chips on their shoulder in regards to the Catholic Church and its treatment of gays may balk at some of what Theall says. But ultimately, Theall’s grappling with the God of her youth deconstructs a very real barrier between public and private. God is, on one hand, such a personal choice, and worship, while often done in public, is arguably one of the most private acts we humans do. For Theall, having been forced to keep secrets for most of her life—to protect herself, to gain her family’s love—privacy has too long meant silence. And the breaking of a silence she is no longer willing to bear becomes the ultimate act of bravery, one that threatens to crack the delicate acceptance she’s gained from her family.

There are moments when I wanted Theall to slow down, to let me in and show me a little more of her internal struggle—but a book of this scope, covering as much ground as it does, can make that sustained interiority difficult. Some of the moments Theall presents, especially her encounters with wildlife, allow us a telling window into her state of mind—those moments of understanding, of transformation and acceptance, are very powerful.

Read entire review and more at: LAMBDA LITERARY

Feel So Mortal

9780226105277Feel So Mortal: Essays on the Body
by Peggy Shinner
Reviewed by July Westhale
Lambda Literary

“The domestic made lethal – that’s the legend.”
-Peggy Shinner

We live in a society entrenched in matters of the body. Sexualization, fetishization, policing, ableism, movement, tangibility, and the body politic, our corporality is absolutely everywhere. Despite the fact that bodies are subject to intensive scrutiny, the historical origin of how bodies have been perceived throughout time (everything from feet to slouching to undergarments) remains mysteriously out of the realm of everyday knowledge. How is it, for example, that foot shape determined class and stature, traditionally? How has the body been commodified in times of martial economies (i.e., dowry economy)?

In her illuminating book of essays, Peggy Shinner tackles those exact discussions. Using the craft of braided narrative, Shinner weaves together historical fact, socio-political theory, and personal experience to create essays that grapple with our culture’s multitudinous interactions with the body. In her essay “The Knife”, for example, the reader is taken through Shinner’s personal experience as a martial arts teacher, the history of karate and fighting with weapons, the concept of arming oneself against a world that is marginalizing, and what it means to work with your hands in a world of abstract technological importance. Similarly, her essay on kleptomania offers insight into the history of the word (and how it was used to describe a sexual disorder, primarily occurring in women who found amorous rapture in stealing things from department stores), while laying the tracks for her own stories to shine through.

Truly, this is a collection of essays that takes the idea of making the personal global extremely seriously.

Read entire review and others at LAMBDA LITERARY.

Portlandia Coming to Print

The Portlandia Activity Book
Posted on 13. Jan, 2014 by William Johnson in Features, News
Lambda Literary Review

portlandia_cover_FINAL_STOREWhen in doubt, put a bird on it. Next month, McSweeny’s is releasing The Portlandia Activity Book, a companion piece to the popular television IFC television show Portlandia. The book, written by Carrie Brownstein, Fred Armisen and Johnathan Krisel, provides fun-filled activities for the whole hipster family.

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From the publisher:

This is The Portlandia Activity Book—a compendium of guaranteed enrichment for the Pacific Northwestern part of your psyche. Like a cool high school that prefers a sweat lodge to the traditional classroom, this book will expand your mind through participation, dehydrate you to a state of emotional rawness, then linger in the corners your bare soul.

Here you will find enough activities to get you through a year’s worth of rainy days, including: How to Crowdfund Your Baby, Punk Paint By Numbers, Terrarium Foraging, and so much more. With pages unlike any you’ve seen before, this is the kind of book that you can be yourself around. Shed the trappings of normalcy, let down your glorious mane, and take the deepest breath of your life. Portlandia is beckoning your arrival.

Read entire column and other stories and reviews at LAMBDA LITERARY.

A Gradual Awakening

Excerpt from A Gradual Awakening by Stephen Levine. Over the last 3 decades, I have returned to this book many times for insight, reminders and support.

Awareness

Meditation is awareness. The motivation for meditating is often quite different for each person. Many people come to meditation because of their love for the qualities of some teacher or their desire to know God. Others because of a desire to understand mind. Some begin not even knowing what meditation is, but with a great longing to be free from some sadness, some pain, some incompleteness in their lives.

Here is offered a simple Buddhist mindfulness practice to come to wholeness, to our natural completeness. The basis of the practice is to directly participate in each moment as it occurs with as much awareness and understanding as possible.

We’ve all developed some degree of concentration and awareness. Just to be able to rad a book, to live our complicated lives, takes awareness and concentration. They’re qualities of mind present in everyone.

Meditation intensifies those qualities through systematic, gentle, persevering techniques. To develop concentration, we choose a single object of awareness, the primary object, that the attention is “re-minded” to return to and encouraged to stay with. We choose a primary object and work with it; whether it is something we generate in the conceptual realm, like a verbal repetition or the idea of loving-kindness, or something that is always present, like the sensations in the body.

Mindfulness of breathing is a powerful means of developing concentration. The breath is a superb object because it’s constantly a part of our experience. Also, because our breathing changes, the awareness must become very subtle to accommodate itself to it. Awareness watches the sensations that occur with the natural coming and going of the breath. Awareness penetrates the subtle sensations that accompany each breath. When we bring attention to the level of sensation, we are not so entangled in the verbal level where all the voices of thought hold sway, usually lost in the “internal dialogue.”

The internal dialogue is always commenting and judging and planning. It contains a lot of thoughts of self, a lot of self-consciousness. It blocks the light of our natural wisdom; it limits our seeing who we are; it makes a lot of noise and attracts our attention to a fraction of the reality in which we exist. But when the awareness is one-pointedly focused on the coming and going of the breath, all the other aspects of the mind/body process come automatically, clearly into focus as they arise. Meditation puts us into direct contact – which means direct experience – with more of who we are.

For instance, if we watch the mind as though it were a film project on a screen, as concentration deepens, it may go into a kind of slow motion and allow us to see more of what is happening. This then deepens our awareness and further allows us to observe the film almost frame by frame, to discover how one thought leads imperceptibly to the next. We see how thoughts we took to be “me” or “mine” are just an ongoing process. This perspective helps break our deep identification with the seeming solid reality of the movie of the mind. As we become less engrossed in the melodrama, we see it’s just flow, and can watch it all as it passes. We are not even drawn into the action by the passing of a judgmental comment or an agitated moment of impatience.

When we simply see – moment to moment – what’s occurring, observing without judgment or preference, we don’t get lost thinking, “I prefer this moment to that moment, I prefer this pleasant thought to that pain in my knee.” As we begin developing this choiceless awareness, what starts coming within the field of awareness is quite remarkable: we start seeing the root from which thought arises. We see intention, out of which action comes. We observe the natural process of mind and discover how much of what we so treasured to be ourselves is essentially impersonal phenomena passing by.

We discover we don’t really need to ask anyone any questions, we needn’t look outside ourselves for the answer. As we penetrate the flow, the flow is the answer. The asking of the question is itself the answer. When we ask, “Who am I?” who we are is the processes asking the question.

Love, Sex & Gender

Excerpts from The Penis Dialogues: Handle With Care.

“I was struck by this book’s humor, probing curiosity and genuine compassion.” – Eve Ensler (Author, Actor & Playwright of The Vagina Monologues and V-Day.

“Did you come?” “Yes, did you?”

Male and female genitals come from the same fetal tissue. Despite the anatomical differences between male and female, it turns out that orgasms in men and women are physiologically and psychologically very similar. Studies have been done in which experts could not reliably determine gender when reading descriptions of orgasms with all anatomical references removed.

Researchers have also discovered that multi-orgasmic men (repeated orgasm without ejaculation) have the same arousal charts in the laboratory as multi-orgasmic women.

The next time you think a woman doesn’t understand what you’re saying, thinking or feeling (because she’s a woman), think again!

Lovemaking Olympics

Recent research legitimizes sex as a healthy form of exercise on a par with running, walking or swimming. Some specialists in cardiovascular disease have found that having sex three to five times a week can cut the risk of a stroke or major heart attack in half!

A study of 2,400 men in the town of Caerphilly, Wales, discovered that those who had three or more orgasms a week had half the number of strokes or heart attacks as those who didn’t. The study lasted for ten years.

It turns out that even mild or moderate forms of physical activity, including sex, can help protect the heart and decrease the chance of illness.

The male of the chicken.

In Latin penis (pes) means tail. The dictionary defines it as, “The male organ of sexual intercourse: in mammals it is also the organ through which urine is ejected.”

The dictionary describes the word cock as: the male of the chicken; the male of other birds; the crowing of a rooster; a weather vane in the shape of a rooster; a leader or chief, especially one with some boldness or arrogance; a faucet or valve for regulating the flow of a liquid or gas; a tilting or turning upward; a jaunty, erect position; to set; to be ready for release; a small, cone-shaped pile.

I don’t believe I’ve ever thought of my cock as a “cone-shaped pile” or an “arrogant leader or chief.” Nor have I thought of an erection as “jaunty,” but I guess I’ll have to reconsider. After all, these facts are in the dictionary as plain as day and who am I to question Webster’s?

Will you still need me when I’m sixty-four?

A team of researchers from the University of Southern California has determined that “men and women are remarkably similar in their mating preferences.” They found that college-age men and women prefer a long-term exclusive sexual relationship. Both sexes want a conscientious and compatible partner.

A cross-cultural questionnaire found that, contrary to popular misconceptions, over 890 percent of older women, and over 70 percent of older men, feel that sexual activity is important for health and well-being. Another survey found that 80 percent of married men over the age of 70 and 75 percent that were un-married, remained sexually active.

It turns out that grandparents and college students want the same thing – love, commitment and sex. People of all ages enjoy one another’s bodies and the pleasures, attachments and feelings that come with them.

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