Category Archives: Books

How to Win Friends

As much as I love my husband, there’s no getting around the fact that he’s not girlfriend material. We have a lot of common interests and we love spending our free time together, but when it comes to girl talk, he’s clueless. He hasn’t mastered the technique of listening without trying to fix things and when I tell him about my latest find at Sephora or at the consignment store, his eyes glaze over. Whether the subject is family or fashion, vocations or vacations, there’s something about a conversation with a female friend that keeps me from feeling alone in the world.

I’m still in touch with some of my high school and college friends thanks to Facebook and e-mail, but we live so far apart that we can’t meet for coffee or a drink after work. My shy nature combined with five relocations in 17 years of marriage equals a friend deficit. I muddled along as best I could and I was lucky enough to meet some wonderful women through work and classes. I’ve volunteered and joined organizations. I often felt awkward and silly, like a five-year-old in a playground asking someone to play with me, but every place we’ve lived, I’ve found lifelong friends. The kind it hurt to leave behind each time we moved.

This time, I think we’re finally putting down roots. I’ve made friends of neighbors, met other friends in dance class, writing groups and book clubs. As an added bonus, I live in a place that my old friends like to visit. It feels like a winning situation to me, but it was a long journey.

Rachel Bertsche, author of the blog and book MWF seeking BFF, was much more deliberate in her quest for female friends. When she relocated from New York City to Chicago to marry her fiance, she made it her mission to find new girl friends. I’ve followed her blog as she went on 52 “girl dates” in a year, trying to find a new BFF. She reported back to her readers on the good, the bad and the ridiculous.

Maybe that was a little crazy, but it was a reminder to me that finding new friends does take effort and creativity. MWF seeking BFF comes out on Tuesday, December 20th and I’m looking forward to reading more about Rachel’s search. If you’ve ever found yourself wishing you had more close pals, you might just learn how to win them thanks to Rachel’s experience.

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Filed under Books, Creativity, Friendship, Reading

Twyla Tharp’s Creative Habit

There are plenty of opportunities to see great dance and theater performances in San Diego. I miss a lot due to inattention and lack of planning, but I managed to get tickets for Come Fly Away, the Broadway musical choreographed and directed by Twyla Tharp. A live big band performs onstage with one vocalist and the voice of Frank Sinatra while a cast of dancers tell the story through the choreography. Sounds like heaven to me.

I’ve long admired Tharp’s work and I loved Movin’ Out, the 2003 Tony winner for Best Choreography, also directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp. Movin’ Out was a similar format, with a singer/pianist and a band performing the music of Billy Joel on a raised platform while dancers performed onstage.

Tharp also wrote one of my favorite books on creativity, The Creative Habit.

There are twelve chapters densely packed with practical advice based on her more than forty years of creative productivity. She shares what she’s learned, how she figured it out, and offers thirty-two exercises to help artists of every genre build their own creative rituals and habits.

Two of my favorite chapters are Spine, about finding the central idea, the meaning behind your story; and Skill, the reminder that talent does exist, but that hard work, study and practicing to build the skills we lack give us the foundation for our creativity.

Tharp says that “the best creativity is a result of good work habits.” I’ve found that I’m happiest with my work when I stick with the habits I’ve built for myself. I’m so grateful for what I’ve learned from her book and delighted that I’ll have another chance to see the result of her creative habits when I watch Come Fly Away.

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Filed under Art, Books, Creativity, Dance, Writing

Life Itself

What I’m Reading Now

I can’t afford to buy all of the books I read, so checking out books from the library  is one of the ways I control my budget.  If I must have a copy for my very own, I wait for the paperback to come out.

This week, though, I found a book that I couldn’t resist and I bought the hardcover edition of Life Itself, a memoir by Roger Ebert.

I used to watch Siskel & Ebert and I always appreciated Ebert’s reviews, but lately I’d lost track of him. Other than clicking on a link to his website to read his opinion of a film I was interested in seeing, I didn’t know much about his life or career after the death of his co-host and friend.

When I picked up the book, I was drawn to the quote on the back:

“I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do.  To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

This idea rang true for me. It’s a philosophy that I need to believe.

Then I opened the cover of the book to read the jacket copy and learned that Roger Ebert is a thyroid cancer survivor. Like me. Unlike me, the surgeries he had to endure left him unable to swallow or speak. How had I not known about his ordeal?

My doctors said that if they had to pick a cancer, they would pick thyroid papillary carcinoma. The survival rate for adults is 95% at ten years. Patients under 40 and those with small tumors have a better prognosis. I was 35 when I was diagnosed and my tumor was small. Lucky me.

But I know that I am fortunate. I had one surgery to remove my thyroid gland, I was treated with radioactive iodine to kill any stray cancer cells, and now I take a daily thyroid pill to replace the hormones that my body can no longer produce. I didn’t feel lucky that year, though, when I was terrified, exhausted, and struggling to find a dosage that worked for me.

Roger Ebert wasn’t lucky. He had several surgeries to remove his thyroid gland, a cancerous salivary gland, and part of his jaw bone. He can no longer eat or drink and he can’t speak. But he is still reviewing films, still writing, still living a full life. I want to learn from him.

Since childhood I’ve feared being deficient. I thought I had to be perfect, to please everyone. As I got older, I started to feel that I owed a debt to society for the privilege of being a part of it. By now I’ve learned that in trying to please all, I can truly please none, but it isn’t easy to fight those old thought patterns.

This memoir seems like a good way to reinforce the lesson I’ve been trying to absorb: that my purpose in life is simply to be myself as best I can. That doesn’t mean that I turn my back on the needs of others. But it does mean that I must focus on what brings me joy. Family and friends, my dog and my garden, reading and writing. If I spend my energy on those things, I will be happy and that happiness is something I will be able to share with the world.

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Filed under Books, Reading, Writing

Books I Love

I’ve always loved to read.  Books can be instructive, inspiring, diverting, educational, or simply entertaining. I find new ideas no matter what I read. I’ll discover a word I’ve never heard, travel to a place I’ve never been, immerse myself in history, or explore topics from philosophy to genetics.

I’ll read anything from classics to mysteries, histories and memoirs, from popular fiction to short stories and poetry, but novels are my favorite form.  I get to know the characters. I immerse myself in their lives to try to figure out why they do the things they do. Whether a novel is popular fiction or literary, when I read, I step outside of my own life and focus on someone else. I practice seeing life from another’s point of view. Who wouldn’t benefit from doing that a little more often?

These are just a few of the many books I love.  What are your favorites?

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Filed under Books, novels, Reading