authors, Books, Careers, Goals, Life, life hacks, self-help

Self-help yourself

IMG_20170905_122356In Bridget Jones’ Diary, Bridget wonders why her parents and their generation seem to have it all together. She wonders why they don’t seem to suffer the angst and worry of herself and her friends. Maybe, she ponders, maybe this happens because they didn’t and don’t read self-help books. Indeed, she questions whether the fact the she and her friends constant reading of self-help books is a “sort of, arrogant individualism which imagines each new generation can somehow create the world afresh.”

Bridget (book Bridget, lesser so movie Bridget) spends copious amounts of time referencing self-help books. Especially  when dealing with her own love life, or in helping her friends dissect their own romantic entanglements.

Are self-help books the problem, as Bridget questions in whatever current angst she is found? Or do self-help books actually, er, help?

There is no definitive research to show that these books help or hinder. Indeed, as Oran Canfield, son of Jack Canfield (the Chicken  Soup for…author) notes, there is often an alarmingly big difference between the public and private lives of self help gurus. They tell us how to get it all together, when they themselves don’t have it all together.

“I never had any faith in any of that self-help shit,” Oran has been reported as saying.

But what about personal experience? Have self help books improved your life – or mine, for that matter?

I cringe when I say it (in case admitting to reading self help books is akin to sneaking chocolate from a child) but, yes, self help books have been my aide and guide throughout my life. Yes, so many of them say the same things in repetition. Yes, so many of the advice seems superficial.  Yes, few of the authors have credentials or even experience enough to write the self-help, self-improvement book.

But sifting through some self help manuals has allowed me to pinpoint what it is exactly that is good in my life. Sorting through visualisations and mantras has given me a sixth sense for bullshit – and a sixth sense about when something, however outlandish, might work. (Who knew that Cheryl Stayed changing the script given to her as a woman, her “I am brave, I am safe, I am strong” affirmation, would remind me of my courage and power and allay my fears?).

Self-help books led me to philosophy.  To Aristotle’s idea of the science of happiness

To the mean between two excesses – you know, that balance that we all talk about.

Self- help, it seems, stretches back to ancient times.

We become reflexive people. We are inspired to make better choices. We take positive action. We think about the big questions in life.

And we learn more about ourselves and others.

What self-help books have helped you?

 

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authors, Books, compassion, family, Life, life hacks

I read because.

I am sitting in a bookshop after work. In the bookshop cafe. Drinking tea. Writing. Reading.

I like to read. I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction. But in either form I enjoy the description of ideas and people. Reading challenges my mental paradigms, and helps me gather new ones, new thoughts, new ideas, perhaps layered upon and blended with the old.

Reading can be both public and private. Indeed, it has been said that reading, especially reading fiction, encourages empathy  – that it is a kind of empathic technology.

I don’t know if that is particularly true but I do know of the power of narrative transportation. Indeed, research been shown that millennials who were immersed in the Harry Potter narratives have been influenced in terms of empathy for the outsider. This has, apparently also affected their votes.

Now that is pretty powerful. As Neil Gaiman said: “Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. And discontent is a good thing: people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different, if they’re discontented”.

Reading thus becomes a conversation. Reading together can draw us together, as individuals and families and communities. Barack Obama, on meeting author Marilynne Robinson, commented: “When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you”.

I think reading, and reading aloud as a family, has encouraged us to see new and different viewpoints. To question and to think.

And, most of all, I think reading has been a pleasure in my life, both reading on my own and reading aloud to children. The stories have woven threads of pleasant memories.

 

 

 

Books, family, Life, Maybehedoesnthityou, Motherhood, speaking up, Women

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Time and Time Again

Ben Elton’s book ‘Time and Time Again’ details travel backwards in time, to correct an event that had world-wide catastrophic events. At book club, someone asked the rest of us: ‘If you could go back in time, what would you change about your life?’ A personal twist on the novel’s societal concern.

My immediate reaction was ‘Nothing’. I made the decisions I did, the choices I enacted, based upon who I was at the time, with the information then available. How could I change that? Indeed, to change those decisions would mean to change me, to change my family of seven sons.

Does this mean that all my choices and decisions have been good?

Far from it.

They are, however, mine. They make me whom I am today, both the good and bad. They form the substance of my relationships – with family, with God, with others – and the essence of my theological, philosophical, and personal understanding.

I have written before of domestic abuse. Surely, I am not ‘owning’ that?

Well, I am. I am not a victim or even a survivor. I am not an over-comer. I am a woman who has experienced abuse and, in decrying the abuse of myself and my sons and the abuse of other women, I am strong. I am not broken and no, my sons do not come from a broken home. We are well, thank you very much. Our home has peace. We grow in virtue and compassion. We have a radar or sixth sense for abuse and control in and of others. We can see through the bullshit (excuse the language, but we can).

I made a choice to marry young, to continue to be a rescuer, because that is who I was at age nineteen. I didn’t deserve the abuse. But, be sure, my seven sons from that abusive relationship are beings I would never wish away.

I have made many mistakes in my life. But having seven children and homeschooling are not any of the mistakes. To erase or to manipulate my history in one swift time machine trip would be to erase the good with the bad.

I am who I am. I fight for others. I own my choices and stand firm against abuse. I am not a victim. I am whole.

In a life well lived. In a life that I plan to continue to live well.

In fact, there may just be truth in the old adage ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

Books, Christmas, Life, Movies

A booky Christmas

For those of us who love books, reading and writing, a Christmas without books would be unthinkable.

While others make lists of food and cards and Things To Do I make mental lists of books to read over the break. The Christmas break. The no work break ( who am I kidding??).

I keep wanting to add more and more and more books but I am trying to learn realistic time management – you know, where you actually plan for what is possible and not for superhuman, Wonder Woman Leonie who can cram 48 hours into 24. Or so she thinks.

These are currently on my booky Christmas want-to-read list:

  1. No Holly for Miss Quinn by Miss Read. An oldie but a nevertheless an easy to read, feel-good Christmas story by that quintessential British author, Miss Read. Miss Quinn enjoys her singleness but has become a trifle smug. One Christmas jolts her from such smugness.
  2.  The Twenty Four Days of Christmas by Madeleine L’engle. What can I say? This children’s book inspired me many years ago. As a young teen reader, I knew what sort of mother I wanted to be, one day. I learned, through literature, of  Christmas traditions. This shaped my mothering and my Christmases. I have to re-read it.
  3. The Conscience Pudding by E. Nesbit. Another classic and another children’s book. The Christmas after the death of their mother, the Constable children (Five Children and It) want to give away their Christmas. As is usual for the children, their endeavours end in situation comedy scenes.
  4. The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton. The sequel to the book much loved by me and many others – The Twelve Storey Mountain (or Elected Silence) – and a book I have wanted to read for  long time. I found an original 1953 edition in a library. Treasuring his own story of conversion while looking at contemplation in my own life.
  5. Selected Writings of Dorothy Day. Dorothy Day may just be one of my modern day heroes. Her story of abortion, affairs, picking men who would not love her back and then, her love for her daughter, her life as a single parent, her love of Christ and her love-hate relationship with the Church, her writing of peace and compassion, especially for the poor and forgotten, the influence of Kropotkin and St Therese – these are the stuff of narrative lived in an authentic life.
  6. Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. Parenting, relationship, movies, told from a father and son point of view.
  7. Bridget Jones’ Baby by Helen Fielding. This is my fluff reading. What can I say? Bridget makes me laugh! I love, too, how the baby becomes the donor in Bridget’s life – very Joseph Campbell.
  8. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. A modern re-telling of The Tempest, set not on an island but in a Canadian prison. What Shakespeare buff could resist?
  9. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. I am a big Nick Hornby fan. I love his style of writing, the semi-autobiographical tone. I love his movies. The movie of this book, with a very young Colin Firth, is a story of family and community,  of love and despair, and  with the usual Hornby character who doesn’t quite fit in (cue story of my life). I love the movie and look forward to the book – a cheap, market find book for me.
  10.  All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. My book club book. It is not yet in my library but I Have to read it for book club. I am scared – will it make me cry?
  11. The 48 Hour Startup by Fraser Doherty. Yes. I am always wanting to start a book business. But I am reading this more like fiction than as a how-to book. The best way to read is through the lens of narrative.

So that is my booky Christmas. I have a smattering of unfinished books lying around, which are my pick up now and then books. Perhaps I will list them in another post.  But for now these are my Christmas books. Will I read them all? Probably not – but then, there is January and reading on the train to work!

 

 

Books, Life, Unschooling

Promiscuous reading

Author (Paradise Lost) John Milton argued for promiscuous reading.

Now, the word promiscuous has certain connotations in our culture. Yet, promiscuous, removed from sexual connotations, initially implied random, casual, indiscriminate behaviour.

It is the idea of random reading that I am exploring here, under the banner of promiscuous reading. That kind of reading that just happens, casually, because books are strewn around the house. Or on your bedside table. Or on the higgledy-piggledy bookshelves, so that when you go to search for one book, you become lost in a book-savouring haze, and come away with another six books that you want to read and re-read, in addition to the original book for which you were searching.

This is promiscuous reading at I'd like to see you have a little direction.its best. Reading from a variety of books, different genres, unrelated authors, prose, poetry, non-fiction, biography, classics, graphic novels,  apologetics. Whatever it is that strikes your fancy, rather than working through a prescribed booklist.

In some ways, the prescribed booklist limits the experience of reading. It limits the reader’s exploration, and blocks mental conversation with a number of contradicting  ideas. When we read promiscuously, however, we explore a number of ideas, we stretch ourselves mentally, we enter into dialogue with authors, ideas, writing styles; and with others, our colleagues, friends, family. Is Dumbledore right, for example, in asking Snape to kill him, to protect Draco? Does the act of killing affect us, as explored in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment? We make connections with Nietzsche’s discussion of man as a ‘sick animal’ and contrast this with the hope of St John Paul II’s ‘theological anthropology’, viewing humanity as a complex whole, body, soul, heart and conscience, mind and will, with a vocation to love.

These kinds of links are made with promiscuous reading. Indeed, promiscuous reading often manifests itself in ‘having more than one book on the go”. It has been likened to being a ‘book-adulterer’ but I think it has more worth than that.

In my case right now, that means Woman by Edith Stein, The Brokers by John Grisham, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Trials of Theology by Brian Rosner and some Advent/Christmas reading – Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Pope John Paul II and The Christmas Mouse by Miss Read. An eclectic bunch, a promiscuous bunch, with books picked up to read at disparate times, according to mental agility and/or tiredness in the moment. It’s those reading rhythms of life.

Promiscuous reading was something I encouraged in our homeschooling. Strewing books on the table, in baskets, near the computer. Sharing books avidly. Reading picture books and contemporary fiction alongside classics and  books like Supertrucks and The Way Things Work. Coming to realise, as Donnalyn Miller describes in The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child,  ‘that every lesson, conference, response, and assignment I taught must lead students away from me and toward their autonomy as literate people.

Promiscuous strewing and sharing of books can lead to promiscuous readers, whose lives will be made richer through their contact with a range of topics, genres, authors. And I agree with Ms Miller (hers is a great book, by the way, on encouraging reading in children): ‘the purpose of school (I would say education) should not be to prepare students for more school (or only for possible future needs). We should be seeking to have fully engaged students now.’

Life, Unschooling

Reading fiction.

“If you feel . . . that well-read people are less likely to be evil, and a world full of people sitting quietly with good books in their hands is preferable to world filled with schisms and sirens and other noisy and troublesome things, then every time you enter a library you might say to yourself, ‘The world is quiet here,’ as a sort of pledge proclaiming reading to be the greater good.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Slippery Slope

I’m here to proclaim that reading can be part of the greater good.

Seriously, Leonie, you might say.

Yes, seriously.

And wait. I’m not just proclaiming that reading is part of the greater good. I am also proclaiming that reading fiction is part of the greater good.

I knew this instinctively as a child, I knew that when I read literature, really good literature, I was beamed to another world. It was not merely an escape from an often chaotic childhood (though it could be argued that this was part of it). It, reading fiction, presented new ideas, new situations, allowed me to face good and evil, to formulate hypotheses about life, to decide on a code or rule of life, to be who it is that I am today.

My vocabulary changed after reading fiction. My style of speaking and writing changed after reading literature. I felt better, I acted better. I thought in different ways.

Then life stepped in. Suddenly, there was less time for “me” reading amongst reading for work and study.

I solved this problem , in part, by reading children’s literature. I love children’s literature, the pathos, the evocative turn of phrase, the sheer delight.

And reading aloud to my children brought extra joy, in shared delights.

But still, reading literature had become a sorry second or third or fourth or….. In my life.

And I think I paid the price , with less delights to share and ponder.

Reading a blog post, shared on Facebook, at the start of the year,has changed all that. The post reiterated eleven ways to be healthier and happier. And one was “Read fiction “. What?

Apparently , reading fiction improves connectivity and brain activity.

Yes! It hit me! This I already knew. I knew the effect of literature on me and on my life and in my family, I knew the delight.

So this is what I have been doing: reading more fiction. Without judgement. Without telling myself that I must. Without a pre-arranged booklist.

Just reading. When and where I can. What I want.

Plus, the other day, in discussing the current murder mystery novel of choice, I noticed my sons’ fiction lying around. Turns out that they, too, love fiction . And In noticing my reading of fiction, they have been reminded and encouraged to read more fiction themselves.

The power of story.

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