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

Back again, with good life choices!

This morning I woke up around 7:15 with strong gas. I went to the bathroom, then came back and snuggled back into my bed with a book. Not too much later, the gas was back again, so I made another bathroom trip. I decided my body was telling me it was time to be up, so I decided to go upstairs and start my day. Good life choice #1. I still live in my parents’ house, in the basement room my brother occupied when he was still at home. (Side note: although I moved back home before my abdominal troubles started, things worked out excellently. My parents tend to spend most of their time upstairs, so unless someone’s doing laundry the downstairs tends to be pretty quiet. I have a bathroom only steps away from my bedroom door, so if I feel like it, I can pretend I still live in an apartment and seek out my parents’ company as it suits me.)

I am feeling pretty good today. While I was not tap dancing and singing show tunes when I came upstairs, I was in a good enough mood to take the 1:00 total it takes to scramble myself an egg in the microwave instead of reaching for my usual cereal and plain yogurt. I ate my egg on a slice of white bread with a piece of Muenster cheese hacked off the loaf my dad brought back from the States. It was delicious. I also peeled myself two peaches. GLC #2.

As if the wonders  would never cease, after letting stuff digest a bit I did a gentle Pilates workout I found on Youtube, and supplemented it with some more advanced Pilates moves I knew already. After that, I went for a brisk walk down a few blocks and back. GLC #3! It was the best kind of workout I can do for myself. Before my troubles (I say that a lot…shorten itmaybe to B.C? Before Crohn’s?) I did do Pilates, but also loved doing heavy workouts–Jillian Michaels 30-Day Shred, her kettlebell one, and other 20-minute cardio and dumbbell  workouts I had on DVD and found online.

My incision has long since healed, and my doctors have given me clearance to do whatever exercise I feel up for. For the most part, that has not included long workouts like that. To clarify, for the most part I have simply not wanted to. I work a challenging retail job, with a LOT of standing, walking, and crouching. On the days when I work, I usually count that as my exercise. Often, I am so mentally and/or physically tired and uncomfortable that it feels like work takes the kind of effort I used to put into my old workouts, without the endorphin rush. I am not fully happy with this choice, but to quote one of my co-workers, “It is what it is.” Most often, since varying levels of depression have become my norm, on days I DON’T work I tell myself that I need to rest, and save my energy for work. Whether or not this is true or just a trick mental illness plays on me, I’m also unhappy with this choice–but it is one I am making steps to change.

I think that part of the reason exercise seems so daunting is that I am on some level stuck in the same mindset in which I approached exercise B.C. That mindset might work for and inspire some people, but it is not healthy for me any more. The all-or-nothing, go-go-go, type of inspiration now feels like bullying my body instead of listening to what it desperately needs to tell me. My goal is to do SOME kind of physical activity on the non-work days, even if it is only a 10-minute walk. Yes, ideally the human body should get more than that, but for me it is an achievable, non-scary baseline when brushing my teeth and hair twice a day feels like a prize-worthy achievement.

Gentle, yet effective forms of exercise I have found are:

1. Solo walking. Indoors to a video or outdoors. Sometimes I will break it into chunks, doing 10 minutes or however long in the morning, and again in the evening or whenever

2. Pilates. Pilates can be extremely demanding, but it is a type of exercise that is based on quality of movement rather than quantity. So, doing only a few repetitions of a movement with proper breath can be extremely effective AND feel really good! When I am exercising pretty regularly, I like Pilates For Dummies. When I am feeling less in shape, there are tons of gentle Youtube workouts that are designed for pregnancy, or bodies that have other challenges. Do not feel ashamed of searching these out!

3. Walking with friends. I put this in a separate category than solo walking, since it takes more effort to co-ordinate schedules. DB (Dear Boyfriend) is a fantastic partner for me since he is encouraging of however long or hard I want to walk. I’ve also walked and hiked with my parents, DB’s mom, his brothers and sister-in-law, and my own brother and sister-in-law. I am blessed with a fantastic support network, but you can also often find walking buddies through fitness stores, gyms, and the Y.

4. Squats, belly dancing moves, leg lifts, and the like while brushing my teeth and hair, fixing food, washing dishes…if anything else feels like more than I can handle, this is a fantastic outlet! It probably looks pretty funny, but screw anyone watching, it’s good for you! You can get a decent amount of total movement a day just by doing this. When my depression is strong, my days can get pretty sedentary. Movement keeps me fit, and helps prevent blood clots by keeping my blood flowing.

To sum up: I feel good today. It is almost 11:00 AM, and I have already made several healthy choices! Blogging was #4 for anyone keeping track 🙂 Any one can feel big on its own, but when I help myself wake up well, one small good choice tends to prepare the ground for another.

“Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow”

–Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden