Sunday, March 28, 2010

Your Handwriting Can Change Your Life

      Your Handwriting Can Change Your Life!
Can it? Can it really? Can one's handwriting change one's life?

That is the premise of Vimala Rogers' book, YOUR HANDWRITING CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFEicon She says that the way we form letters and place words on a page as we hand write things is indicative of our attitudes and behaviors. And if we change our handwriting, then we can change attitudes and behaviors.

Well, I love this stuff...this was just another in a long line of tools I've worked with...personality tests, temperament tests, godesses in every woman...tell me more about ME. Also, when I found this book I had been depressed for some years, dissatisfied, but didn't know how to make it better. So this is handwriting? Great, let's do this.

The initial exercise in the book had me write a page in my usual handwriting, and then she analyzed aspects of the sample from how it's placed on the page, to handwriting size and slant, and then each letter individually.

She described a way of forming the letter 't' that one might want to avoid...she said that when the crossbar across the top is made with a bowl-stroke, sort of scalloping down, that it is saying..."I know I'm bright, I know I'm talented, but I don't know where I'm going."

When I read that I felt as though cold water had been poured over me. That bowl-stroke was how I crossed my t's. All of my 't' crossbars bowled so much they could have held soup. And what she said was how I'd felt for YEARS, not knowing what I wanted to do, knowing there was something else, maybe lots of something elses, and not feeling as though I had any idea how to go about getting there or knowing what it (or they) was (were).

I didn't LIKE feeling that way, so stuck and frustrated. She said, "change the crossbar into a straight, upward directed one that has purpose and drive. In no time at all you will begin to have a sense of direction."

So I practiced. It was hard. But I changed how I wrote the letter 't'. Practiced for months. I made sure that top crossbar on the 't' was not bowled, that it was straight across and strong. I changed my handwriting.

Did it change my life? Well, not too long after I changed how I wrote this letter, I left my marriage, in which I'd been unhappy for years. I started a new, much more fulfilling relationship (with a woman! yay!). I felt as though I was making steps in my life to be truer to me, stronger in the world and with others.

Were those major changes a direct result of my changing my handwriting, how I wrote the letter 't'? Could the changes have resulted from me having my mind focused on getting direction while I was practicing my handwriting, kind of like a meditation or affirmations? Or could the changes have come from some other catalyst? Or would they have happened anyway??

Of course I don't know.

But it is awfully interesting to me that those changes seemed to coincide pretty closely with me making that specific change in my handwriting.

I took the book off the shelf again recently. There are a few things in my life that I'd like to work on, a few patterns I have that I would like to change (perhaps residue from that marriage I left?). So now I have a few other letters I'm working on. Will changing how I write those letters change my behavior? I think it's worth a try.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

So Many Books...

I'm in one of those mental places where there are so many books that I want to read right now that I'm having a hard time settling on what to read next.

Two bookrings* arrived on the same day. I did finish one of the bookring books, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (which I liked, it was sweet and kind of had a slight Jane Austen-y feel to it, though a bit more modern) and I should be reading the other one, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, but it didn't grab me in the first few pages, so I put it down.**

I brought home Autobiography of an Execution by David Dow, which caught my eye at work. but I looked at it and decided that I did not want to read it now. I do want to read it, it looks interesting and well-written,'s musings of a death row lawyer. Which I'm thinking should be read when the timing is right.

Brunonia Barry's new book, The Map of True Places, sits on the table beckoning, as does Anna Quindlen's new one, Every Last One. PLUS, somebody just offered to send me the second in the Maisie Dobbs series, Birds of a Feather***, AND we will be receiving Making Rounds with Oscar by David Dosa which will need to be reviewed for librarything. AAAUUUgghhh!

One of my co-workers recommended A. Lee Martinez as an author similar to Christopher Moore (one of my faves), and Martinez has a new one out (so does Christopher Moore, for that matter), called Divine Misfortune. I brought Divine Misfortune home last night and started that.

Far too many books. As my girl Therapist said, there is not enough time to read all the books I want to before I die. There just isn't. It used to feel as though there was enough time, when I was younger and it seemed as though dying or even getting old were incomprehensibly far away. As I creep ever older, and there are more and more books being published, I feel overwhelmed by how many books there are and how little time I really have (not that my death is impending, as far as I know, I just ain't getting any younger.) And I don't want to waste the time I have reading something not enjoyable.

*bookrings from - someone offers a book and if people want to read it, they sign up and one person reads it and sends it on to the next. wonderful system.

**The thing about bookrings is that it takes time for the books to arrive inn my mailbox. I signed up for these rings months ago, as both of those books have been on my radar as ones I wanted to read. It's just that when they show up in my mailbox may not be when I'm exactly feeling like reading them. But they are here now. And I have to pass them along. And I should read them first.

***Another wonderful bookcrossing activity, RABCK, Random Acts of BookCrossing Kindness, a bookcrosser will see a book on someone's wishlist and send it to them, either out of the blue or contacting them first. dee-lightful!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Time Traveler's Wife and other Love Stories

My Girl, Bibliophile, asked me to write about Chris Bohjalian's Secrets of Eden, a book that I read right after she finished it. I like to do what she asks and yet I was stumped for two very long moments trying to remember what the book was about...I chatted back that I might write about it IF I could remember it.
Slowly the book came back to me and it became clear that I really did not have much to say about the book other than that I usually like Chris Bohjalian and I liked this one...but...and therein lies the problem. For me, Chris Bohjalian and Jodi Picoult always have a BUT.
It's but, this sounds familiar or but, I think I read this, or but, there were a lot of twists and turns but the map was still so clear it was never a surprise. In defense of Secrets of Eden, there was one unexpected surprise...wish I could remember what it was.
So, because I am an independent thinker prone to do the opposite of what I am told/requested to do, I began letting my mind wander.
I started thinking about breakfast this morning and how I got to see someone I hadn't seen since grammar school. We found each other on Facebook and he and his partner were visiting Portland so we arranged to meet. I have very fond feelings for this "boy" from my past. We had lunch together almost every day and I vividly remember both his lunch box and mine. I began thinking about all the different kinds of love we experience during our life on this planet and the time in which it spans. I thought about learning in church about love for one another, love for our life partner, and love for God. And maybe I'm a little ADD but putting the thoughts of love, time, and God together made me think of a quote from The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

Claire is silent. Her pragmatism and romantic feelings about Jesus and Mary are, at thirteen, almost equally balanced. A year ago she would have said "God" without hesitation. In ten years she will vote for determinism, and ten years after that Claire will believe that the universe is arbitrary. That if God exists he does not hear our prayers, that cause and effect are inescapable and brutal, but meaningless.
And after that? I don't know. But right now Claire sits on the threshold of adolescence with her faith in one hand and her growing skepticism in another, and all she can do is try to juggle them, or squeeze them together until they fuse. She shakes her head. " I don't know. I want God. Is that ok?"

I guess my point is that I read The Time Traveler's Wife for the first time about four years ago and it still sticks with me. It is a fairly long book and yet I remember most of the backdrop and even a lot of the obscure references. It is one of the very few books that I have read a second time in my adulthood because there is just not enough time left to read everything that I want to devour before I die. But this one I did. Why? Because it is amazing the way that Niffenegger never lost her place in the story. For a book that hops back and forth through several decades, places, and supporting characters, never once did I feel like she took the easy way out. It was simply amazing.

I suppose it could be argued that I am a sucker for a good love story. I can quote large blocks of both Love Story and The Way We Were. I read and saw Endless Love as a teenager and still have the song on my Ipod...and...I still think that Joey and Dawson belonged together. That being said, it is not often that a book sticks with you like a good friend that you want to go back and visit.

Seeing Philip this morning was amazing and delightful. Two adjectives that I have no hesistation attaching to Niffenegger's novel. I hope to see and enjoy the company of Philip again. The Time Traveler's Wife may just sit on my shelf because I don't know if my heart can take losing Henry a third time.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mathilda Savitch

Mathilda Savitch: A Novel

Why do we read books? To be entertained, to learn about other people and places, to learn about ourselves, to be shocked or scared or thrilled or... delighted.

Mathilda Savitch was a delight. Reading this reminded me of reading Mark Haddon's Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain. I was enthralled by Christopher and Enzo and so eager to see how each of those characters interacted with their world, and so I was with Mathilda.

As Christopher and Enzo did in their respective books, Mathilda narrates in her own unique voice. Mathilda is a preteen (-ish, we don't really know) whose sister was killed after being pushed in front of a train. She is trying to make sense of her life after the tragedy, wondering how she fits into her family now that her sister is dead, how could Helene actually be GONE, as she also searches for the man who killed her. Her parents are emotionally absent, wrapped up in their own grief. That all sounds rather grim, but Mathilda comes up with her own, often very un-grim ways of sorting things out and thinking about things. Her observations are often spot on, sometimes poignant, sometimes hilarious, sometimes both at the same time.

She goes into a Catholic church on a weekday and meets a nun...

     I ask her if she knows any prayers. Which makes her laugh for some reason.
     "Oh yes," she says. She says she knows quite a few. She walks over to one of the rows and picks up a red book in a little book-holder built right into the bench. She opens the red book to a particular page and points to something. "This is a good one," she says.
     I move a little closer to her. She hands me the book, but I'm not about to audition for her.
     "Do you ever say something that's not from the book?" I ask her.
     "Like what?" she says.
     "Just something you made up,", I say. "Your own thing. Like stories."
     "No," she says. "What kind of stories?"
     "I don't know," I say. "About whatever's bothering you."
     "If you say the words of the prayer," she says, "things won't bother you so much. That's why you say them."
     "But they're not my words," I say.
     "Yes, they are," she says, "they're everyone's words."
     She was a lunatic, I decided. You'd almost have to be in her profession.

She talks about mothers...

"Ma's not even here and still she's everywhere. Mothers are like that. When it comes to biology, mothers are a real problem. They stick to you because you have a lot of their cells and everything. It's worse than a monster movie."


"Books again. I could scream. I mean, I like books just fine, but I don't want to make a career out of it."

I laughed out loud when I read this line in the first couple of pages. It was funny to me because it is in the beginning of HER book (and therefore perhaps a contradiction), and mostly I laughed because I DO want to make books my career. I guess maybe I already have.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tweak and Imperfect Endings

Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines
I'm reading Nic Sheff's Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, Nic's gritty memoir about his drug addiction and the beginning of his recovery. His father wrote a companion book, Beautiful Boy, about being the dad of a drug abuser. I read Beautiful Boy over a year ago and am appreciating seeing both sides of the story, one from the person who is addicted, and the other from a loved one watching.

Both are fascinating, and both are helpful to me as I train drug and alcohol counselors who work with abusers. (I use the book I wrote (ISBN: 9780595342051) to help drug and alcohol counselors deal with their clients' religion and spirituality.)

As many memoirs about abuse, it is often hard to read, hard to see someone, even from the distance of reading their book, in such a horrific circumstances.

Imperfect Endings: A Daughter's Tale of Life and Death

I just finished reading Zoe Fitzgerald Carter's Imperfect Endings, a book coming out this month. Carter describes her mother's wish to end her life after suffering for years with debilitating illness, and her mother's hope that her daughters will help her decide exactly how to end her life and be there for the death itself. Not living in Oregon (the only state that allows assisted suicide in circumstances like this), her mother faces additional challenges in actually how to carry out her wishes.

I wanted to see how this daughter navigated this often scary and ultimately courageous decision, knowing that I might make the same decision someday (if I were to have a debilitating illness. which I don't.).

Carter goes into detail about her own fears about losing her mother, mostly not wanting her mother to want to die. She describes her childhood and her mother's childhood, hoping to gain insight into her own fears as well as why her mother might make this decision, as well as her mother's inclination to include her daughters in what might be a grisly process.

I absolutely agree with her mother's choice to end her life on her terms. Her illnesses guaranteed more pain and less dignity as it progressed, and she wanted to die before the pain and other effects of the illnesses (dementia, for one) got so bad she didn't feel as though she was able to be herself anymore.

This is an interesting (and unintended) pairing of books for this post...Tweak, about a young man who was going to die if he kept up his life of addiction, and Imperfect Endings, about a woman who chose to die on her own terms.

One argument addicts make (and Nic is no exception), is that it is THEIR life to throw away if they so choose. Why should anyone stop them if they want to keep using their drugs? If it kills them, then it kills them, and they argue that they are making a conscious decision, knowing that a life of drugs might kill them.

Yet Nic has a choice every day about whether to stay clean and to get healthy. Granted, it's an incredibly hard choice, one that seems monumental to make with the disease of addiction. Zoe's mother's debilitating illness offer her no choices. There is nothing she can do to make herself healthy. Medications might help some of the symptoms for a time, but nothing can reverse the progression of the diseases.

With both of these books, the story propelled my reading, more so than the quality of the writing. Sheff writes in that fragmented, broken way, jumping from one event to another, which seems to reflect his meth use. He holds nothing back, and sometimes the details are hard to read (digging for veins, prostituting himself). Carter's writing is much clearer, and there are insightful passages.

(Probably my favorite is when she describes her sister's penchant for labeling personality disorders, but mostly it talks about how she herself deals with pain...

"Her diagnoses of people tend to go through phases - borderline personality disorder, passive aggression, sugar addiction - and I wonder if trauma is her current favorite.
"Not that I don't find labels reassuring. naming the pain means holding it away from you, labeled and contained, instead of allowing it to wreak its havoc inside you like some rogue strand of DNA quietly lethal."

...maybe it was just insightful to me...I also find labels reassuring, my theory is that if I name it, then I can look at it and deal with it. This sometimes works well, sometimes not.)

We're all gonna die. Both books talk about how the choices we make affect how we die, but mostly the choices reflect how we're going to live.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Customer Questions

"Do you have a novel about a whale? But not Moby Dick? Something more readable than Moby Dick?" (I suggested Fluke by Christopher Moore.)

"Do you have any books about a donkey named Hector? Where I keep my horses there is a donkey named Hector and it would be so great to have a book about Hector who is a donkey to give to the woman who runs the place." (um, no, I can't find anything like that at all...maybe you ought to write one).

"Do you have that book about the houses? It's really a lovely book. There is blue on the cover. You should have it. You should know it. Powell's has it." (we need a little more information than a color on the cover and 'houses'.)

"Do you know where I can get some rennet?" (from a woman buying books about making cheese. and no, I don't know where to get it.)

"I'm looking for this book", he says as he hands me a piece of paper that says Sarmaj "Blondness".
I think for a moment and say, "Jose Saramago wrote a book called Blindness, could that be it?"
"No", he says, "It's Blondness."
"Weeellll, let me go get this one, just in case..." I bring Blindness to him and he says "Well, that might be it."

"I need a book on how to change your identity," he asked with a significant lisp. Not sure exactly what he wanted, I asked for a little more how to change your gender? No. Like witness protection program changing your identity? Yeah, more like that. I found one published in 2002. He ordered it. I hoped it covered 'fixing your speech impediment'.

"Do you have Soil Conservation and Management?" I took him to the section and said, "It's one of our best sellers." He didn't even smile.

"Do you have How to Kill a Mockingbird?" (And I want to say, "Yep, right over here in the hunting section." But I don't.)

Impatient With Desire?

"You shouldn't have to work so hard to read a book.", my friend told me, when I told her about my frustration in reading Impatient With Desire.

Ms Burton seemed to be trying to get SO much information in this novel that it made it a muddle to try and read.

The journal entries themselves were hard to follow. Many entries seemed to be talking about several different periods of time within the same entry and it wasn't always clear (to me) when. There were many lists of people, far too many to keep track of in this fairly slim volume. While I was reading I repeatedly referred back to previous entries, trying to figure out who was who and when something was happening or had happened.

Ms. Burton's goal was to help readers have a better understanding of pioneers, as well as get a glimpse into one woman's heroic journey. In this she (at least partially) succeeded. There were some exquisite and evocative passages in the book, describing their lives in Illinois before leaving for California, Tamsen's fierce longing to travel and be part of the western migration, her love for her husband and children, as well as of the horrors they endured during those four and half months in the mountains.

I loved some of the individual passages in this book. Reader friendly? Not so much.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stores Are Not Playgrounds (and Other Customers)

Last night a woman came into the store with her two children, girl and a boy about three and four years old. Mom had a big exchange to do (lots of items, kind of complicated), and the two children were left to their own devices. They were looking at displays, playing with each other and running up and down the aisles. They'd been in the store for about half an hour already, and the exchange took about 20 minutes, and when done, Mom headed out to the car with her bag and the kids. whew! Then she came back IN, without the bag, to do more shopping. Mom was looking at books and pretty much ignored the kids, who again were playing, looking, pulling things off tables and shelves. One of the managers went over and told the Mom that she needed to watch them, that it was not okay for them to be running around freely. Did that help? Did they stop? Not so much. At one point Mom wanted to go to a distant part of the store to get an item and told the kids to "stay right there. don't move. stand still." The boy stayed and the girl started following her Mom. Mom joked about it, "Who's following me? Who's following me when I asked them to stay there?" After about an hour (the second hour), she finally came up to the registers ready to check out, with a large stack of books. She was paying close attention to the purchase, hardly any attention to the kids. They finally left at about 8:30.

It wasn't the kids' fault, they were just doing what preschoolers do, run around and play with each other and whatever is around them. They weren't given any guidance or parameters for how to behave in a bookstore. argh.

All right, that was a bit of a rant.

Two young men stopped me in an aisle and asked if I could help them find a book for their Mom. They said she'd liked The Kite Runner. Three Cups of Tea was in their hands, and they asked if that would be good. I told them that it IS good, very good, describing Greg Mortensen's work to get schools built in Afghanistan, but that the version they had in their hands was the young reader's version, their Mom would probably prefer the original. I showed them the front bays of books, pointed out ones I'd read (Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (charming, lovely), Lovely Bones (brilliantly done, stunning) as well as ones I hadn't but know a bit about (Olive Kitteridge won Pulitzer Prize, heard it's a bit grim, A Reliable Wife selling well, good story, I want to read it). I found myself talking pretty fast, trying to give them many options. I said it sounded as though their mom liked good fiction, and they agreed. They ended up choosing Three Cups of Tea. They were very sweet.

A woman started to ask me a question..."Can you help me? You're going to hate this question, I hate this question. I work in a perfume store and people ask me all the time, 'What would be a good perfume for my mother?', and it's so individual, but I'm going to ask anyway, Can you help me find a good book for my brother-in-law?"

I appreciated that she KNEW what she was asking, choosing a book IS so individual. I try to find out if they know any likes or dislikes of the person, what they've read before (and liked OR disliked)...sports? politics? history? thrillers? science fiction? It's helpful to have somewhere to start.

The hardest is when people come in and want to choose something for a child. That they haven't seen in five years. Who lives across the country. And they have no idea how well the child reads, nor what the child is interested in (bugs? princesses? dinosaurs? magic?). It's a challenge but I've got to give them props for wanting to give the child a book.