Book 8: The History of Love

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The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Book: 8/52
Completed: October 2, 2015
Purchased: Goodwill

I am told that I tend too heavily towards metaphors. Here is the metaphor that came to mind as I was reading The History of Love:

Imagine a massive knot. Not the Gordian Knot, because that would make this about thinking outside of the box, and it isn’t.

Imagine this tremendous knot, which is more beautiful than chaotic. You believe that it can be untangled, because even though it’s complicated, it seems orderly and has amazing symmetry. So you sit back and study it, following its trail and waiting for it to unravel. Each time you mistake its solution, you feel a little more frustrated. But you have faith in eventually seeing a magnificent and straight rope at the end of it.

And then just when you can’t tolerate the frustration any more, someone comes up behind you and saws it right in half. (I already said it wasn’t the Gordian Knot, so maybe Alexander is on a knot-cleaving kick and this was another unlucky victim.) What you’re left with are all of the components of that beautiful knot, in a dozen useless, fraying strings that can never ever be connected.

THAT is how I feel about this otherwise well-written novel, with it’s confusing “how are they related” characters. For the first half of the book, I thought each character was nested within the frame story of another. For the first third of the book, I thought that one of the main characters was an entirely different sex. I can’t even tell whether or not we discovered that one of the characters was a hallucination at the end. The smaller those string pieces got, the more useless they were.

Would I read more by this author?: Maybe? The story was very disappointing, but it had potential and the writing was darkly funny at times.

Rating: 6/10
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Book 7: Pedagogy of the Oppressed 

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Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
Book: 7/52
Completed: September 26, 2015
Purchased: Borrowed from Francis

I read this to round out my reading challenge with some nonfiction or academic writing, but when I think about reading this book, I groan involuntarily. It was very challenging for me to finish it. I hesitate to criticize it out of the context and significance in which it was written. It is the kind of book that I would be interested in learning about from someone more informed than I am in revolutionary theory and historical social justice. It is clearly a significant piece, I just struggle to see how it could possibly be considered effectively written now or ever.

Here are my (uninformed) thoughts:

  1. Not one point that is made is backed up with evidence.
  2. Most of the proposed methods for reversing oppression are stated absolutely and then never outlined. The book stands almost exclusively on, “This is the way that it must be,” but rarely delves into, “and this is how it could/should be accomplished.”
  3. Sometimes in the small intersection of inflammatory writing and academic writing where this book falls, an authoritative tone becomes confused with intellectual authority. An emotional plea that is presented as a logical argument must still make sense. Was there a need to invent so many terms and then rely so heavily on the reader’s fluency in them? How could this have possible been written for a population with limited education’s comprehension?

Would I read more by this author?: Please not without it being a part of a curriculum in which someone helps me see the merits of it.

Rating: 4/10

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Book 6: The Poisonwood Bible

IMG_2838The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Book: 6/52
Completed: September 19, 2015
Purchased: Borrowed from Francis

This book was fantastic, but it should have ended 2/3 of the way through. Barbara Kingsolver failed to capture the same spark when the characters moved into adulthood as she did when they were children. When they each separated, it became a series of incomplete and rushed narratives rather than an intricate and playful 5 perspectives of a shared experience. Unfortunately, that continued for nearly half of the novel. It was enjoyable, but I spent a long time hoping the book would recapture what it never managed to.

As with The Sheltering Sky, The Poisonwood Bible was reminiscent of Heart of Darkness. Perhaps more directly influenced in ways, Kingsolver gave more insight into the humanity of the natives than Conrad or Bowles. Still, there was always the sense that the main characters could never fully integrate into the culture they were flung into.

Part of the reason why I so deeply enjoyed reading this book was because it connected with some of my own experiences, both first and second-hand. When I was 17, I travelled to Kenya and was more or less isolated in a small city there while doing volunteer work. Kenya of the early 2000’s is in no way like the Belgian Congo during the mid-2oth century, but I felt that my experience lent to my ability to visualize the culture and landscape being described.

I was also reminded of how I presume to imagine my mother’s childhood. She is one of four daughters of a mother who is very smart but prone to staying in bed for periods of time. The five of them lived under my grandfather, who is a passionate and forceful man with difficultly relating to others and prone to waxing extremely religious. As children, they were subject to his whim dragging them across the country repeatedly, once nearly moving to Iran on the eve of the terrorism of the 1972 Munich Olympics, which cancelled their trip. I haven’t spent an abundance of time with these relatives, and so it is very easy for me to assign what little I know of them to characters, thereby filling in the gaps of the people that I suppose them to be. Hopefully I do them no insult in doing so.

Would I read more by this author?: Eagerly.

Rating: 8/10 (first half 10/10)

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Mindfulness

This month I’m attending The Mindfulness Summit, a free daily electronic series on mindfulness which features the most prominent figures in the study and practice of western meditation. These are mainly doctors or clinicians affiliated with major universities who have been committed to integrating eastern principles into western lifestyles for decades. I’m very excited to resubscribe to my own practice, and am so happy for the opportunity to share my mindfulness journey here.

I am certainly someone who has had highs and lows, most of them internal. At my lowest,  I have been capable of extremes of self abasement. At the recommendation of a university counselor, I joined a Loving Kindness Meditation group for students in the Fall of 2011. The group met once a week for 8 weeks, focusing on the principles of mediation, attentive breathing, and self kindness. It was a very raw experience for me. I can remember feeling overwhelmed by the silence of our group meditations, often fighting back tears. It can be very uncomfortable to sit alone with yourself and your thoughts in silence, fighting for acceptance. I can easily point to it as one of the most significant experiences I’ve ever had, and although I didn’t speak to the other group members, I always felt a tremendous affection for them when we would pass each other on campus.

The next semester, I was eager to further my involvement with meditation and signed up for a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy group. This treatment is intended for people in a depressive remission– people who have a history of depression but who are not currently experiencing a depressive episode. For 8 more weeks, I learned to greatly reduce labelling and judging my thoughts and experiences. I did not have as profound of a response to my time in the group, but I think that shows progress. I also learned that some of what I previously considered to be strengths in dealing with depression were actually avoidant and maladaptive behaviors, which were weakening my ability to manage negative thoughts.

At the end of both courses, we were asked to choose a stone and write a message on it to remind our future selves of the experience. I’ve always really loved these stones, but feel ashamed at the corniness of what I was inspired to write, so I pack them away in boxes. The idea of having to explain my experiences to guests in my home who might stumble upon them is very uncomfortable for me, and I regret feeling that way.

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After these two experiences with meditation, I began to pursue mindfulness with an academic curiosity. At the time I was an aspiring clinical psychologist, and saw amazing potential to enable others to experience the same level of change that I had. The structure and ease of accessibility of these programs create an ideal solution for chronic issues of generalized anxiety and recurrent depressive episodes.

I can honestly say that mindfulness helped reduce my recurrence of depression for several years. However, I didn’t continue the practice and, predictably, my problems returned. I have often gone back to mindfulness practice and literature when I feel like I’m losing control, but haven’t kept to the structure provided in the classes. Additionally, I think there’s a vital component that comes from doing the practice communally. Even if you aren’t open to sharing your experience with the group, the vulnerability of silence and breath shared with strangers heightens the spirituality of the experience.

I’m at a place now where I don’t know what I will be doing with my life professionally, but I’m hoping that this summit helps me return to mindfulness just as a meditating mind returns to the breath, with a gentle push and warm acceptance for the thoughts that distracted us from our path. The path does not have to be straight, mindfulness teaches us, so long as we are attentive to it and follow along with kindness and curiosity.

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Book 5: The Stone Diaries

(null)The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
Book: 5/52
Completed: September 12, 2015
Purchased: Goodwill

After my last 4 books, it was refreshing to read a book where women actually exist as fully formed beings. As I mentioned in previous reviews, this isn’t something that I’ve ever been conscious of but is becoming increasingly difficult for me to ignore, especially from male authors who are otherwise richly insightful in their narrative.

The Stone Diaries follows the protagonist, Daisy, through her full life. The reader is privy to significantly more insight than Daisy herself by allowing us into the minds of those closest to her at pivotal moments such as her birth and childhood, 3/4 life crisis, and death.

I loved this book as soon as I closed it, probably more than I enjoyed it while I was actually reading it. It had moments that inspired deep reflection, but at times the story itself dragged. However, upon finishing it it was immediately apparent that the novel was a fully formed entity, much like a full life, that demands to be admired holistically. It stands on its own as a beautiful piece that deserves your read. Clearly I’m not alone in this opinion, as The Stone Diaries was the recipient of the 1995 Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was a New York Times Bestseller. So read it.

Would I read more by this author?: Certainly! She is eloquent and clearly demonstrates an ability to write an array of characters so I don’t expect her future books would feel like a reinvention of this one.

Rating: 9/10

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October 2015 Fitness Goals

As I mentioned in my post, A Month with Cassey Ho, I will be giving fitness progress updates and reflections on the 1st of each month. It can be easy to get a bit fixated on the daily details of your journey to better health, so in an attempt to keep sight of the forest rather than the trees, I will be limiting this topic to monthly.

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I don’t plan to weigh-in or report measurements, but progress photos are often very encouraging. I don’t have one from the beginning of September, but starting next month it will be fun for me to see further change.

I like to be intentional about setting specific goals for myself at the beginning of the month. My fitness Instagram allows me to see a lot of fun calendars for monthly challenges, but they can often be found on Pinterest as well. This month, I will be doing…

  • Blogilates October 2015 calendar:

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  • Shake your Asana Instagram Challenge (October 1-14)
  • Push-up Pro and Squat Pro Apps
  • Couch-5k (or another beginner jogging program, I’m a bit torn)
  • I will also be focusing on improving my terrible hamstring flexibility, which often forces me to do modified versions of exercises.

While it isn’t related to physical fitness, I held back from registering for more fitness challenges because I want to leave time to participate in The Mindfulness Summit, which runs all month and will be absolutely amazing based on the first day.
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I plan to write more on mindfulness soon. Tomorrow, maybe.

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A Month with Cassey Ho

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Our move to the West Coast was incredibly stressful for me, and came after a year and a half of bumps in the road. No part of me felt like it was the wrong decision to move to Oregon, despite never having visited, but I was not in a strong place to handle the transition. I quit my job a whole month before we departed partially to have the free time to say an adequate farewell to the East Coast, but mostly because I was eager to leave such a stressful position.

My depression worsened during that month. While my lows are never as low as they were when I was younger, a thick layer of negativity settled on everything around me. It was difficult to deny my irritability, nearly constant and irrational, towards everyone close to me. Sometimes when you’re low enough, even the happiness of others makes you resentful. Predictably I wasn’t taking care of myself. I hadn’t for a while, but that month really was a plunge.

Enter That Thing I Did, Francis’s video blog. Let me tell you, having rock bottom self-worth does not prepare you to see yourself from every angle, with a fish eye lens, unshowered.  I don’t know if my weight gain was gradual, sudden, or some combination, but it apparent and it was devastating.

When we arrived in bicycle-friendly Eugene, I felt the frustration and embarrassment of feeling winded after riding just a few blocks with Francis. Those feelings made me so hostile. I remember finding 100 reasons to be shitty to Francis during our first day as we pedaled around exploring our new home.

Looming over me was my appointment as Maid of Honor in my friend’s approaching wedding. In one short month I would be photographed from countless angles. Worse, it was the wedding of a friend from High School, so our mutual acquaintances who would see the photos were people I associate with the most insecure time in my life.

Honestly, thank God for that wedding. I don’t think anything less would have motivated me to make such an extreme change.

The next day I started Cassey Ho’s bikini contest meal plan and the Blogilates Beginner’s Calendar. I had minimal faith in my self-discipline, but from the beginning I never missed a day and only had two (intended) cheat meals. I can’t tell you how many pounds of steamed broccoli I ate or how many pounds I lost but I was really amazed by how much my body changed in a month. I had muscle definition I’ve never had and felt a lot less frustrated by my endorance while we peddled around town. Most importantly, I really worked for it so I felt like it was earned!

After a month of Blogilates, picking out a dress for the wedding
All of this is an endorsement for a healthy lifestyle, but I drank the Blogilates Kool-Aid so now I’m going to tell you why it was the best program for me (and probably everyone.)

1. It’s free. All of the videos are well-organized and accessible on YouTube. Cassey keeps content fresh and consistently adds new material. Only a yoga mat is required for all workouts, and most of the videos are between 5-15 minutes. There are absolutely no excuses to be made.

2. It sets realistic goals. I started out with the beginner’s calendar, and while I was often VERY sore the next day, I never felt like I was pushing myself to the point of potential injury, which has been the case with other things I’ve tried. You are responsible for doing your own stretches, but I think (and hope) that’s common sense for most people.

3. It’s challenging. Did the previous point make is sound easy? It isn’t. You are definitely responsible for pushing yourself since no one is there to call you out in the privacy of your own living room, but if you give it your all you will absolutely feel it. The principles of pilates are grounded in core strength and using your own body weight as resistance, and Cassey is very creative when it comes to finding ways to keep pushing past the plateau.

4. It’s Cassey.

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Cassey Ho, the founder of Pop Pilates, clearly works her ass off. The amount of content that she produces, her availability to those enrolled in her plan, and, let’s be honest, her physique are so impressive to me. Her personality makes the program what it is. Everything is colorful, cheerful, fun, and encouraging. The small talk during reps showcases how authentic she is. It’s funny, because I am NOT any of those things. I would be the Wednesday Adams of  personal trainers. But it’s INFECTIOUS. When I do the program regularly, I am so much nicer and more optimistic throughout the entire day. Certainly part of that is endorphins, but I know for a fact that most of it is how pleasant and smiling Cassey is while I workout. I kind of actually feel like she’s my friend! (I’ll stop here because I’m feeling like a huge dweeb… I’m just so lonely in Oregon!)

5. The community. And now I get even more uncharacteristically extroverted. The Popster community on instagram is amazing. It’s almost like you can suspend disbelief that the internet is a warm and welcoming place where people support and encourage eachother instead of, you know… a monster pit. I LOVE seeing people posting their progress honestly and humbly. Making a second account just for my fitness journey has been so liberating. I don’t feel fat or whiny to admit when I’ve had a bad day, and I don’t worry about being judged or thought less of. I wish I could feel that way on my main accounts, but that’s alright. I’m happy to have the Popster community as an outlet and for the accountability it has provided.


I have to be honest: After all of that hard work, I came home from the wedding and stopped making clean eating choices. I also lost workout momentum when my job search became more dire. Without the wedding photographer as my motivation, I fell off the wagon. I wish I could say that all of the great results and feelings were more important to me than looking good in photos, but it seems insecurity was the greater motivator.

The good news is, I just finished day 3 and can already feel myself getting hooked again. The program focuses on monthly calendars, so I’m really excited to leave an iffy September behind and have an October even more awesome than August! I plan to post on the first of the month with my goals so as not to inundate the blog with fitness updates. If you’d like, you can follow my fitness instagram @catfit_foxfit .

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