Andi Winter

Writer, Reader, Tea Drinker, Chrononaut

Category: reading

Self-reflection

It’s getting towards the end of the year, which is when I tend to start looking at my To Do list (aka a ‘goals’ list, or actually more of an ‘intentions’ list) and checking to see how I’m doing*. Am I on track to accomplish the goals I set out on January 1? How am I doing with the intentions I set way back then?

One of the barometers I use is my reading list. Lately it has been noticeably devoid of my usual suspects. Where is the urban fantasy? Science fiction? Good literature? Non-fiction? Classics?

Not on this girl’s nightstand.

Nope. It’s been a slew of romance novels, ranging from YA to Nora Roberts to Christina Lauren and on up, along with my daily dose of stoicism, and occasional hit of Pema Chodron.

<insert screech of record needle on vinyl>

Yeah, I know. Believe me.

Romance novels and stoicism? What kind of combination is that?

Apparently it’s exactly what I need at this moment in time.

Romance novels are guaranteed happy stories. Right now, I like knowing how the story will end, and knowing that it will end just the way I want it to—with people making mistakes, learning lessons, and becoming better (and more loving) people.

I like that message.

Stoicism reminds me not to take myself so seriously. It reminds me that I can only control my own actions, and that to try to control what I cannot is the way to insanity.**

Pema Chodron reminds me to breathe and to take a kind, curious look at what disturbs me enough to have me hiding my head in the sand with my romance novels.***

So for all my hand-wringing about not reading “good” books****, maybe that’s okay right now.

Maybe keeping my sanity is important enough to let the To Do’s and goals and systems and intentions go for awhile.

They’ll be waiting for me when I’m ready to face them again.

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*I’ve been moving away from To Do’s/goals, and towards systems/intentions. I think it’s healthier for me, but it is a bit of change after so many years focused on Accomplishments.

**“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” I think Yoda understood that trying to control anything (situations, people, marsh creatures) would never turn out well.

***Not that I have yet found the courage to do this type of reflection, but it’s a good reminder.

****I define “good” books as those that challenge me, that give me insight into aspects of life I wasn’t aware of. I’ve read a number of “good” books that happened to have been romance novels, but those are few and far between.

It’s alive! (well, online)

My (very) short story “Bitter Spell” was included in the Halloween episode of the Alone in a Room with Invisible People podcast, and Rebecca Galardo did a fantastic job reading it. It’s so different to actually hear your written words spoken aloud (esp. by someone else), versus hearing them in your head as you read. As I listened to the story, I thought, “I wrote that? Wow.”

You can hear the story here (at the 1:58:35 mark):

Episode 71: 2nd Annual Halloween Special: Listener Edition – Part Two

Credit goes to Holly Lisle and her “How to Write Flash Fiction That Doesn’t Suck” course (it’s free!).

And now back to the writing…

I won!

Out of numerous entries, my (very) short story, “Bitter Spell,” was chosen to be read on the upcoming Halloween episode of the Alone in a Room with Invisible People podcast.

Curious what this may look (er, sound) like? Check out last year’s Halloween episode. (Skip over the first 30 seconds to avoid the creepy intro.)

I’m excited to hear my work read outloud by a voice not my own, let alone possibly by Holly Lisle, whose classes I have taken. Validation FTW!

Have a Happy Halloween, and may your zombie ex-husbands not come after you.

 

Permission granted

The other day I stumbled across a relatively new book on meditation. With a title like Bliss More: How to Succeed in Meditation Without Really Trying, I figured I had to give it a try.

I mean, why wouldn’t you try it? With emotional well-being benefits* like:

  • Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
  • Building skills to manage your stress
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Focusing on the present
  • Reducing negative emotions
  • Increasing imagination and creativity
  • Increasing patience and tolerance

And then add to that meditation’s ability to help manage:

  • Anxiety
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Sleep problems
  • Tension headaches

Oh, and it’s free. Why wouldn’t you want to meditate?

I wanted to—desperately wanted to—but I struggled with it. I’ve tried Zen meditation, mindfulness meditation, and some other flavors, but I never came out of it with a happy, blissful surfer-like experience. More often I was tired, my back ached from sitting up straight, and I spent my time so focused on not thinking** that all I could do was chastise myself for thinking, which was more thinking with an added dollop of a feeling of failure.

Awesome.

The practice advocated in this book turns all of that on its head.

What if you were comfortable when you meditated? What if you were encouraged to look at a clock whenever you started wondering about the time? What if you accepted your thoughts as completely natural***, and not Dastardly Enemies to avoid or destroy? What if meditating were actually easy?

Like I said. Radical ideas.

So here’s the meditation technique:

  1. Sit comfortably (with back support)****
  2. Use an easy-to-see timing device (not an alarm)
  3. Calculate your finish time (10-20 minutes)
  4. Close your eyes
  5. Passively think the sound “ahhhhh-hummmm”
  6. Let yourself simultaneously get lost in your thoughts
  7. When you remember that you’re meditating, passively begin thinking “ah-hum” again
  8. Peek freely and often at the time
  9. Once you’re done, wait a minute or two before opening your eyes
  10. Come out slowly

Thre prescription is to ideally, meditate 2x a day (upon awakening, and in afternoon/early evening), and no more than that.

Easy peasy.

I’ve tried it a couple times so far, and so far it feels odd to have permission to let my mind ramble with no curbing it. To sit back and relax, and not keep adjusting my posture and thinking about the position of my head or the ache in my knees.

Just the idea of not trying is a revelation. No effort.

Permission granted to just sit.

Amazing.

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*Source: Mayo Clinic

**Yeah, try to have no thoughts. And no get caught up in, “Darn thoughts! Why won’t you go away? I’m meditating here!”

***Even the ones you are embarrassed to think.

****How would you sit if you were watching TV? Yeah, do that.

Romance novels: sappy or empowering?

I grew up with historical romance novels*, and then read a ton of Harlequin Silhouette romance novels in college**. After graduating and becoming “an adult,” I started reading “real” books***, and saw no need to ever read a romance novel again. They were mindless brain candy, and I was more mature than that.

Apparently I’ve regressed.

I can’t remember why, or how, I started reading romances again—too many YA dystopian novels? too much violence against women in Game of Thrones****?—but I found an escape that felt good and hadn’t realized that I had missed.

Still, I felt embarrassed to be seen reading romance novels, regardless of how well-written they were (or even if their covers did NOT scream romance) because, well, they’re romances. Chick lit. Silly fantasies. Definitely not something that an educated, intelligent person should read*****.

Then I came across this post by fellow author Alex Kourvo, and I began to rethink some things:

The Novels We Need Right Now

Maybe it’s okay to read something that makes you hopeful, that makes the world seem a little brighter, and that brings a smile to your face. And what’s wrong with a happy ending? After all, Much Ado About Nothing is a classic, and as Nora Roberts points out, everybody ends up happy.

If you haven’t read a romance novel, give one a try. I recommend Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen for those who want a “real” book (it’s a classic for a reason), but who also want to dip their toes in the romance genre******.

Looking for more suggestions? I’ll give my romance recommendations in an upcoming post.

Are you a romance reader, or a romance avoider? Let me know in the comments.

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*Like Kathleen Woodiwiss (A Rose in Winter was my favorite book in high school and Ashes in the Wind formed my understanding of the American Civil War.)

**Instead of the gigantic chocolate chip cookies they sold at the campus store, I would reward myself with “just a chapter” from a Harelequin Silhouette romance novel. Which usually turned into two chapters, then three (they were so short!), until I had finished the novel and found myself having to finish my term paper at 1 am.

***Like Sophie’s World (amazing) and Outlander (stayed up all night with that one).

****FWIW, I loved the first novel, and I enjoyed the first season of the TV series, but after awhile the violence against women just depressed me, as much as I adored Tyrion and Arya.

*****To be fair, I have read a considerable number of classics in recent years, including War and Peace and Moby Dick (both of which I enjoyed).

******For more of a paranormal mystery, give Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte a shot. But at all costs skip Wuthering Heights by a disturbed Emily Bronte (unless you’re into abusive relationships, and that’s not romance).

Three for Thursday

Here are a few of my favorite things for this Thursday:

  • What I’m reading: Romance novels by Stephanie Laurens – I stumbled across her books on the shelf at the library the other day, saw that they were set in the Victorian era (which I’m currently saturating myself with), and checked two out. I then promptly devoured both of them. Intelligent, funny, emotional, passionate. Too good to miss.
  • What I’m watching: Thor: Ragnarok – This was the first Marvel movie in awhile (and the first Thor movie ever) that I truly enjoyed. It’s a different, funnier side of Thor, which will I take as the result of his association with Tony Stark. And a fight match between Thor and the Hulk? AND Valkyries? What’s not to love?*
  • Exercise program I’m loving: Classical Stretch – Sure, the instructor is Canadian and a former ballerina (i.e. super flexible), and it’s kind of quirky, but the exercises are scientifically researched** to increase strength and flexibility, the show is filmed in beautiful locations (Mexico, Jamaica), and the best part: just 20-ish minutes! These are the first workouts I have done in I can’t remember, where I don’t constantly clock watch from the beginning; I’ll start to wonder how much time is left, and discover there are only 3 minutes left! Just watch out for the pliés, though — they are killers.

What is delighting you this Thursday?

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!
-Andi

 

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*Okay, Cate Blanchett once again as a villain didn’t thrill me, but at least she was better in this than the dreadful Indiana Jones Film That Shall Not Be Named.

**The exercises use the same principles as what I studied in massage school, which won me over.

Today’s haiku

"Discipline Equals Freedom" by Jocko Willinkread Jocko Willink

‘fear doesn’t get a vote’ now

back to the writing

 

-on reading “Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual” by Jocko Willink

Today’s haiku

"Rebel Mechanics" by Shanna SwendsonYoung Adult novel

“Pride and Prejudice”-inspired

predictable fun

 

-on reading “Rebel Mechanics”

Summer reading program is on

Summer Reading Bingo Card for adults

This summer’s Reading Bingo Card for adults

It’s summer*, which means it is time for the Summer Reading Program! My love of the SRP dates back almost 40 years** when my local public library had a Reading Bingo Card*** and I was so excited to read books that fit the different categories. I can’t remember exactly what I read, but there are proud X marks on some of the categories.

Well, in my current mild-mannered day job, I get to put together the summer Reading Bingo Card for adults, and every summer I still get excited about reading the books to complete the card. However, this summer I did something slightly different—the card is not just about reading, but also about exploring library services and “Building a Better World”****.

So of course I started strategizing and creating reading lists for the 14 different book categories, and of course I looked at how many squares I could finish ON THE FIRST DAY. Because I just could not wait.

Yeah, kind of sad.

<sigh>

At any rate, as of Day 2, I am in progress on six (6!) squares. And that’s me being restrained.

Yeah, I like to read. A lot.

<another sigh>

So what’s on your summer reading list? Anything you can’t wait to try?

 

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*Summer in Oregon apparently means 60 degrees and drizzle. It’s starting to look like Juneuary again.

**Okay, I’m definitely starting to feel old.

***Yes, I still have the 1980 Reading Bingo Card from my childhood library. And no, I am not ashamed.

****That’s the SRP theme this year. FWIW, the theme was decided two years ago.

Children of the 80’s and geeks unite!

cover of "Armada" by Ernest Cline

“Armada” by Ernest Cline

I have discovered a new guilty pleasure: listening to a delightful audiobook at home with a glass of wine. And the first audiobook to receive this treatment? Armada by Ernest Cline.

If you are a child of the 1980’s, or a geek, or even better BOTH, this book was made for you. Pop culture (heavy on the sci-fi) references abound as an alien fleet comes to attack Earth, and it gets even better with the reading by Wil Wheaton.

Yes, Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Wil Wheaton. Gaming nerd Wil Wheaton. Geek Extraordinaire Wil Wheaton.

I can’t remember the last time (any time?) I listened to an audiobook read by someone with so much enthusiasm and love. Wheaton’s reading was infectious and fun. Sure, the story is a bit predictable (especially for readers of Ender’s Game and viewers of The Last Starfighter), but it’s still a joy to listen to Wheaton sing rock songs and do impersonations of Sir Patrick Stewart and George Takei.

While I have only read the print book, I can only assume that Wheaton put the same energy into his audiobook reading of Ernest Cline’s previous book (and soon to be movie) Ready Player One (another fun 1980’s/geek novel).

Now, to find the next decadent wine-worthy audiobook . . .

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