Feeding the mind, and book reviews

A while ago I bought The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. The Artist’s Way is a self-help book that is worthy of an entire post to its self, but put simply it is a book and corresponding series of exercises that take more of a spiritual approach to reclaiming and nurturing creativity. I never finished it (although it’s on my list), but I’d like to paraphrase one principle in particular which has always stuck with me: in order to maintain artistic motivation and momentum, it is important to keep one’s bank of inspiration full, so to speak. Cameron suggests doing this by taking one’s self on weekly “artist dates”, to do something that one is truly interested in. As she explains artist dates on her website:

[They] fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.

This means that even if an artist date doesn’t involve an overtly artistic activity, it still stimulates extremely important qualities: lightheartedness, curiosity, pleasure, and, indirectly, a sense of self worth. I struggle with ALL of these things quite often, especially when I am going through a low. I feel guilty about allowing myself to do pleasurable things if they are not directly and explicitly tied to work or improving my physical health or my home situation.

One way I’ve been taking artist dates recently is by getting back into reading fiction. I was on a non-fiction kick for a while, but as great as the genre can be, it’s been leaving me unsatisfied lately. I’ve been craving more creativity, more stories. It’s been great so far. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and allowing myself to devour books if I feel like it or read things that can’t exactly be defined as fine literature has felt freeing.  It’s one way I can take back some of the power that I feel mental illness has taken from me—the ability to follow my interests without discounting them.

When I struggle with allowing myself to feel strong emotion, I return to light-hearted, familiar books and series. A particular favorite is the Hannah Swensen series by Joanne Fluke. These books comprise a murder mystery series that is fun without being gory or gritty. They follow Hannah, owner of a small-town Minnesota cookie store who always manages to stumble across murder victims. Each book always contains some of the recipes mentioned within the story. These books are formulaic but addictive. Perfect for when I want something to distract me from my life, but not heighten my anxiety or depression.

Over this past long weekend, I spent some time at a friend’s cottage with another friend of ours from college. We spent the cozy evenings coloring and reading. I whizzed through the first book in the Butternut Lake series, Up at Butternut Lake, and another book in the SouledOut Sisters series, Come to the Table (I told you I was a voracious reader!) Both of these titles also fall under the lighthearted fiction umbrella.

Up at Butternut Lake was written by Mary McNear. It is about a woman (Allie) who, along with her 5-year-old son, moves to her childhood cottage following her husband’s death. The plot follows Allie re-establishing herself in the Butternut community and (duh) falling in love with her workaholic neighbor; the middle-aged waitress at the only diner in town; and Allie’s friend Jax, who has a big secret. Also pretty predictable, but I really don’t consider that to be a bad thing. In this case, it was exactly what I needed. Perfect summer reading, with relatable and interesting characters.

Come to the Table was written by Neta Jackson. It is part of the SouledOut Sisters series, which is a spinoff from the Yada Yada Prayer group series, which I also love. Both series are Christian fiction. Come to the Table also follows multiple POVs. It is about a group of friends and roommates as they interact with their church community and work with needy Chicago populations. One of the things I liked about it is that the young adult protagonists do not have their shit together—they struggle to find their lives’ callings, just like I am. Although I do not really connect with the style of worship depicted in the book, I am Christian (Mennonite, for anyone who cares), and enjoyed finding a series that is not fairy-taleish, mystical, or preachy. I liked how it showed God working in the characters’ lives in a real-world, down-to-Earth kind of way.

Lastly, I just finished Queen Sugar. Written by Natalie Baszile, it follows the story of Charley, a black Californian woman who inherits a Louisianan sugar farm. Readers are thrown into the struggles and new pleasures she and her daughter Micah experience as they move to Louisiana, and reconnect with Charley’s family. I am still processing this one. It’s definitely not a light-hearted read, and I see myself re-reading it when I am in the same state of mind as when I re-read The Help, actually.

A couple of closing notes: Click on any of the book titles to check out its Goodreads review. Also, check out the Buzzfeed listicle entitled “31 Books You Need to Bring to the Beach this Summer.” It’s where I first learned about Queen Sugar, as has a TON of other great-looking titles, spanning a bunch of genres!

Lastly, I know that of course not everyone shares my tastes and religious beliefs, and that’s just fine. I just ask that if you feel compelled to leave a comment on any of the books I mentioned, please keep it respectful and constructive. Thanks!

 

 

Cameron, J. (n.d.). Artist Dates | Julia Cameron Live. Retrieved July 12, 2016, from http://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/artists-dates/

Thompson, L. (2016, June 29). 31 Books You Need To Bring To The Beach This Summer. Retrieved July 12, 2016, from https://www.buzzfeed.com/lincolnthompson/books-you-need-to-bring-to-the-beach-this-summer?utm_term=.xgeNV2ZyX

 

https://www.buzzfeed.com/lincolnthompson/books-you-need-to-bring-to-the-beach-this-summer?utm_term=.xgeNV2ZyX&sub=4286341_8993172#.eu3x1nDmB