Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Delicious Words: The Best of Books Devoured in 2014

I love reading.  L O V E reading.  Books have sustained me through some of the hardest challenges of my life.  They are inspiration, education, and sanctuary.  They challenge and uproot.  They uplift my whole person.

That said . . . I've been rather lax in my reading.  Part of it is that being a mama takes up a lot of time (in an awesome way), but then after my sweet boy goes to bed, it's honestly easier to take in some TV shows on Amazon Prime than it is to pick up a book.

Still, my goal was to read ten books in 2014 (I know, I know, such a small goal for a woman who professes to L O V E reading), and I exceeded that.  So yay me.  And also yay to the fact that reading, even what feels like a paltry amount, has reminded me of just how much I need to be reading.  Not just because it is awesome and good for your brain and nourishing to me on a personal level, but also as a writer.  If I want to be a professional writer, I need to be a professional reader, too.

Here are some of my [highly professional?] favorite reads of 2014.


The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd.  This was my first read of the year, and oh man, was it a good one -- and kind of perfect that it was my premiere book of 2014.  It's an autobiographical account of author Kidd's journey out of patriarchy and into her own self.  Perfect for any woman seeking to embrace her own woman-ness in a deeper way.

“I often went to Catholic mass or Eucharist at the Episcopal church, nourished by the symbol and power of this profound feeding ritual. It never occurred to me how odd it was that women, who have presided over the domain of food and feeding for thousands of years, were historically and routinely barred from presiding over it in a spiritual context. And when the priest held out the host and said, "This is my body, given for you," not once did I recognize that it is women in the act of breastfeeding who most truly embody those words and who are also most excluded from ritually saying them.” 

- from The Dance of the Dissident Daughter

Immortal Diamond: The Search For Our True Self by Richard Rohr.  If you follow me on social media, you may already know that I read a good deal of Rohr's works this year.  I even started a free book on Facebook for other Rohr readers.  So I probably don't have to tell you that I really (really, really) like what Rohr has to say.  Reading this Franciscan's priest's words helped move me from seeing the world, and specifically matters of spirituality and faith, in black and white (otherwise known as dualism) to opening up to a greater and more mysterious spectrum of existence and possibility.  Read it if you're weary of spiritual shoulds and are looking for another way.  I also recommend The Naked Now, Job and the Mystery of Suffering, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, and Falling Upward, all by Rohr and all among my 2014 reads.

“Metaphor is the only possible language available to religion because it alone is honest about Mystery.” 

- from Immortal Diamond

Red, Hot, and Holy: A Heretic's Love Story by Sera Beak.  I have something of a love/hate relationship with this book.  I felt like the book's description made promises that the book itself did not deliver on.  However, I have to put it on this list anyway because I love how committed Beak is to finding her whole self, no matter the cost.  Don't read this is a self-help book (that's what messed me up, I think -- read her The Red Book if that's what you need) but as an autobiographical love story between one woman and her Holy.

“Ideas aren’t helping you anymore, Sera. Concepts have run their course. Paradigms pop. Theories leak. Techniques are only top-offs. Beliefs brush away. Books close. Workshops end. What truly transforms is this Closeness with Me. You gotta hug Me so tight that nothing comes between Us.” 

- from Red, Hot, and Holy

Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  I haven't finished this yet, despite having started it at the end of 2013.  It's not the kind of book you can rush through.  I find it hard to read more than a few pages at a time, because it is rich and healing and alive.  It is a collection of retold myths and fairytales.  Required reading for the awakening woman.

“If you have yet to be called an incorrigable, defiant woman, don't worry, there is still time.” 

- from Women Who Run With the Wolves


A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.  This book.  This book.  It is perhaps the best book I read this year.  It is a work of art, leaving me breathless like few works of fiction ever have.  It is hard, and lovely, and challenging, and sacred.  Go.  Read it.  Now.  I'll wait.  (And read Ness's other works afterward, because those are really quite good, too.)

Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?” 

- from A Monster Calls

The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.  This trilogy isn't high art like Ness's book.  But it is really, really fun.  And it's set in a fantasy world based loosely in Russian culture, which I found unique and refreshing.  The story can be a little predictable, but Bardugo makes up for that with lots of engaging adventure, bloodshed, characters that you care about (pirates!!!!), and romance that I didn't hate.  Like I said,  I had a blast reading these, and couldn't stop until I'd consumed all three back to back to back.

“Anything worth doing always starts as a bad idea.” 

- from Siege and Storm, book 2 of the Grisha Trilogy

His Fair Assassin Trilogy by Robin Lafevers.  I started this series in 2013, but the final book only released this November.  I have been practically panting for it all year, and per-ordered it so I'd get it on release day -- I never pre-order books.  I basically love this trilogy with all my heart.  It's about assassin nuns (assassin nuns, people!!!) set in medieval Burgundy.  Snarky, deliciously dark at times, full of ass-kicking women, they are SO GOOD. 

“I comfort myself with the knowledge that if Duval ever feels smothered by me, it will be because I am holding a pillow over his face.” 

- from Grave Mercy, book 1 of the His Fair Assassin Trilogy

Magdalen Rising by Elizabeth Cunningham.  This book is the first in The Maeve Chronicles, a series retelling the story of Mary Magdalen.  Under Cunningham's care, Mary becomes the fierce and fiery Celtic (eeek!) Maeve, who is raised by seven mothers and goes off for training under the Druids once she comes of age.  Trigger warning: there is sexual violence which, while not explicit, is nonetheless devastating.  Honestly, although it took me awhile to come around to it, this is one of the reasons I love this book.  It's the best fictional representation of sexual violence I've seen because, as with true life sex crimes, it completely stops and reroutes the story.  Nothing is the same after this intimate shattering.  I'm looking forward to reading the remaining books in the series.

“I've outgrown my childhood name, and I haven't found a new one yet.”

- from Magdalen Rising

Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God by Rainer Maria Rilke.  No best-of-books list would be complete without poetry.  And Rilke's poetry is so, so rich.  It is just what I needed to read: the words of a mystic, questioning, reaching into the darkness, and learning to be satisfied with not-knowing.  Rilke's poetry echoes my own heart's throbbing.

“I circle around God, that primordial tower. / I have been circling for thousands of years, / And I still don't know: am I a falcon, / A storm, or a great song?” 

- from Rilke's Book of Hours

The Anatomy of Being by Shinji Moon.  I'm still working my way through this collection of poetry, but it is powerful.  Visceral, electric, and full of emotion.  And I love that Moon independently published it.  Basically, yum.

“You will lie to everyone you love. / They will love you anyways.” 

- from The Anatomy of Being

Friends' books

This list would not be complete without mentioning the bravery of my friends who published books in 2014.  I've blogged about a couple, but here they are in their totality, all gorgeous and worth reading(I feel pretty sure I'm forgetting someone . . . if so, my deepest apologies! pregnancy brain strikes again -- remind me and I will happily add yours to the list!)

For 2015 . . .

I've already started reading some of the books that will become my best-books-of-2015 list, I can just feel it.  Like A Discovery of Witches, for example, which I'm currently devouring.  I'd like to read more fiction across a variety of genres, styles, and topics, both for fun and for my edification as a writer.  I tend toward reading a lot of more self-help-y kind of books (usually spiritual ones), particularly when I feel like my heart is spinning.  So more fiction for 2015.

I'd also like to read more parenting books.  I've bought a decent bunch of them over the past two years, and have barely touched them.  I'd like to finish one or two.

Similar to my accumulation of parenting books, I've accumulated even more books on writing over the years -- and again haven't read most of them.  So I'm planning on reading more of those, particularly Writing Begins With the Breath because, well, writing tends to bring out the worst of my neuroses, so writing + breathing sounds like a better plan than writing + emotional eating, or writing + floundering in self-doubt, or writing + depression.

Looking back over this list, I notice that the authors mentioned are predominantly white.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is curious.  I'd like to widen my range of authors, to take in the experiences of those who don't look like me.  I think it's important, as a person and as a writer.  I've already started doing this with my son's books, expanding our picture book collection with stories featuring non-white characters and both male and female main characters, as well as purchasing toys that aren't all male, or the kind of toys marketed only for males.  It's time to challenge myself and expand my mind in some of the same ways as I'm doing for my son.  One book I'm particularly looking forward to/nervous about reading is Writing the Other, which delves into penning characters of a different ethnicity than the author.

And more poetry.  Because poetry = awesome.

On top of that, a number of my friends are publishing new books in 2015, so I'm also looking forward to getting my hands on those.

Most of all, though -- I've purchased a TON of books I haven't read yet in the last year or two.  So my main book goals for 2015 are to a) read a bunch, and b) buy no more books!  (Anyone else have a book buying problem?)

I'm also having a baby in the spring if all goes well, so I'm setting these book (and all 2015) goals with fluidity and grace.  Who knows how much time I'll have to read/create/brush my teeth in the second half of the year, so I'm holding everything quite loosely (or trying to). 

Okay, enough from me.  Your turn!  What were some of your favorite reads of 2014?  Anyone with me in the assassin nun fangirling?  How about your reading hopes for the new year?

*this post contains affiliate links. thanks for support the blog!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

#VATMOSS To Affect (and Decimate?) Small Business
UPDATE: I am not pulling my Kindle books off the EU market.  This whole VATMOSS this is incredibly confusing, and I'm grateful for the folks who pointed me toward resources (like this one) that show that in cases where the digital product is sold through a marketplace (such as Kindle books through Amazon), it is the marketplace and not the owner of the product that is responsible for the new tax.  So that's good.  But future ecourses of mine will only be open to non-EU folks.  Ugh what a mess, huh?

I'm leaving the original post up because there's important info in here, but WILL be keeping my Kindle books on the EU market.

You may or may not have heard of the new European Union VAT tax which is being applied to the sale of digital/downloadable items like books, music, ecourses, and more.  It's strangely not getting a lot of publicity, even though it is going to adversely affect many, many small businesses and independent artists like myself.  Basically, business owners are being required to pay an additional tax to the home countries of EU residents that purchase ditial items from them.  I find it all incredibly confusing, but you can read more about the VAT tax here, and this is one of the best articles I've found delineating what is taxable under the new tax and what's not.

That's all very interesting and brain-imploding, Beth.  But, um, why are you writing about it?

Here's the deal.  I love doing business with customers the world over (thank you!).  However, at this time I don't bring in nearly enough income (or, uh, hardly any income) to warrant registering and paying for the new EU VAT tax.  So, as of January 1, 2015, my ebooks will no longer be available to buyers within the European Union.  December 30, 2014, is the last day to purchase the Kindle edition of The Light Between Us and Life After Eating Disorder.  I'm also removing The Light Between Us from Smashwords because there doesn't seem to be a way to make it only available to non-EU customers.  In addition, unless this law changes, my future ebooks and ecourses will not be sold to residents of the EU.

Which totally sucks.

That said, right now the tax does not apply to physical items purchased online, so EU residents can still buy my art prints and originals and hard copies of my books.  So that's good.  Be aware, though -- there's talk of applying the VAT tax to physical goods in 2016, and Australia's also looking to implement the same kind of tax.  So if you're as upset as I am by these laws, either as a seller or a customer, please write to your local representative and encourage them to rethink how this new tax is negatively impacting the global small business economy.  I have, and will continue to.

So this is kind of a lame end-of-the-year post. But it's what is best for my business right now.  If in the future I bring in more income and can afford to pay the VAT tax, then I will happily reopen my eproducts to EU residents.  Until that time, it's out of my hands.  I'm very sorry, and very sad that it's come to this.  Please know that I treasure your interest and your business and your readership immensely. 

That said, there are still a handful of hours to get your Kindle copy of my books before this whole VAT mess goes into place.  So if you've been waiting, now's the time.

Thanks, and hope your transition into 2015 is peaceful and soft.

*image by Dave Dugdale under creative commons

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Free Quickie Mixed Media Art Demo: "Moon and Stars"

I've been wanting to do more fast art demo videos for you and, now that I'm getting a bit of energy back post-first trimester, I have!  It's fun to do these quick videos for you, with minimal editing but (hopefully) a good bargain of inspiration for just a few minutes' of watching time.  I really enjoy watching other artists' fast painting videos, and I hope you enjoy this one.  And if you are hungry for more art-in-motion videos, you can find the rest of mine here.

Here is the finished version of this painting, entitled "Moon and Stars" (and prints are up for grabs in the shop here):

Thanks for watching!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I Believe in the Night {On Decembers}

There's something about December.

I've long resisted it.  The depth of night . . . the buzzing of the holidays . . . the overabundance of delicious and bad-for-you things in all the places. 

I used to say that this was my least favorite time of the year.  And that was before my baby was stillborn days before Thanksgiving.

But this year feels different.

Maybe it's that I'm resting with the hibernating earth, staying away from the manic hustle and bustle of holiday to-do lists and presents and unnecessary obligations.  Maybe it's that I'm doing the holidays my way, perhaps for the first time, and choosing only what is nourishing and enlightening for my spirit.  I feel like I'm wrapped up in a cloak of star-marked night, breathing in time with the bears sleeping winter away in their mountain dens.

Maybe it's that I'm pregnant -- a time that always makes me feel more visceral, more embodied, more sexy and sacred.  Maybe it's my body waxing around the seed of life in the darkness within that makes me appreciate this time of thick, cold night.

Or maybe it's that it's my fearless year (just for a little while longer now), and I'm reaping the benefits of challenging myself to find treasures in winter's darkness. That I'm learning to not run from the dark, but slowly turn my face toward it and invite it in for tea.

This year is different.

I hope next year is different in the same kind of way, too, more and more different-in-a-needed-way, as I learn to trust this soul of mine, and the feeling coursing through my marrow. 

I hope I never forget to honor these long, dark nights. 

I believe in the night, when dreams run free across the stilled landscape.  When the moon wanes and waxes and wanes above, her eternal dance that tells us so much about ourselves.  When the stars play behind the wandering clouds, and all the earth is a question.  When I teach myself again and again, and sometimes learn, to surrender to myself, to this body, to rest.  When slumber makes us children again for a time, trusting in what is, if only for this night.

I nestle into December's darkness and try to heed the quiet throb of my own heart's pace.

"You, darkness, of whom I am born–
I love you more that the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illuminates
and excludes all the rest.
But the dark embraces everything:
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations–just as they are.
It let’s me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me.
I believe in the night."
- Rainer Maria Rilke, from Rilke's Book of Hours*

Your turn: how is your December different this year?  Is it a welcome kind of different, or something less desirable?  How would you like it to be different next year?  Let your thoughts wander over how you can make December 2015 a good-different for yourself.

*affiliate link

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Making Memories: A Simple Holiday Ornament Tutorial

Today I am over at All That Love Can Do for the wonderful RaeAnne's 12 Days of Christmas, a series that provides support for babyloss parents during the holiday season.  I share a few words (sneak peek below), and a simple tutorial making your own memorial ornament for your tree or simply to adorn your home.  I'd love for you to join me over there!

"I don't have much advice on how to survive the holidays as a grieving person, except that you do what you need to get through it.  Avoid parties, cards, people, and whatever else if you can't handle them.  Let yourself ache.  Invest in a massage or see a therapist for extra support.  Boil life down to the pure essentials.  Journal angry/sad/silly/lonely/dizzy.  Make art.  Sleep a lot.  Eat some chocolate, watch a lot of reality TV.  You have permission, no matter what anyone else may say.  Your allegiance is first to your own heart."
Looking for more support for a difficult holiday season?  Check out my 2013 blog series Hurting For the Holidays, featuring many writers' gentle wisdom for achy hearts during this sensitive time of year.

My Fearless Year: Farewell, For Now

Well, my dear Fearless year, we've had quite the time, haven't we?  We crashed into 2014 together, intent on growth and success and soul-knowing.  And we did it.  We grew.  We saw some successes (and some failures).  And today, I know my soul far better than I did at this time last year.

It's been quite the year.

I wrote a book.  And published it.  And then wrote most of another book.  And a book of poetry (coming soon, I hope). 
I did a lot of things to my hair, intent on discovering what is most me-ish.
I pierced my nose, after much dreaming, and made plans for future tattoos.
I made art.
I made love.  I enjoyed my first orgasm.  And then a bunch more after that.
I fought for my marriage.
I fought for my soul, reclaiming it for myself from all those darn shoulds.
I fought depression
I released.
I said hello, hugged beloved kindreds.
I said goodbye.  And it hurt.  A lot.  Especially when my farewell went unnoticed. 
I traveled (twice!!).
I went down a scary water slide . . . and liked it.
I said no.  And yes.
I explored.  I found a cave.  I found my self.
I thrashed.
I burned
I howled at the moon.
I said hard things.  I said nothing.
I made mistakes.  A lot of them.
I cursed more.  I listened harder.  I tried to love better.
I wore real lipstick for the first time, and loved it.
I charged forward, and stepped back. 
I rested.
I healed.
I danced wild. 
I (with some help) gave a new person life within me.
I whispered "I love you" an extravagant amount of times into my beloveds ears.
I was afraid.  I did it anyway.  And sometimes I didn't.

Quite the year.  I've never lived a year so full, I think.  Not ever. 

What I've loved about my Fearless year is how I went after it, sometimes aggressively, went after the life I longed for, the self that I wanted to be, the way that I wanted to walk in the world.  I went for it.  And what I found difficult about my Fearless year in hindsight, is, um, that selfsame aggression.  Sometimes I went too hard (and sometimes not hard enough).  I was not always the most nuanced in my awakening.  I stepped on toes, quite a few of them.  For that I am sorry.


I also pulled my own toes out from a number of different heels, of things that snagged my soul and kept my knotted up and small.  So, for all my mistakes and stumblings, it was worth it.  I look back at my Fearless year and am satisfied.  Because I went for it.  And that is, if not everything, then a lot.

Thank you, my Fearless year.  You taught me a lot about how I want to be, and how I don't want to be, and who I'd like to walk with, and where.  You taught me that fearlessness is not a state of walking without fear, but a state of being fearful but daring to walk anyway.  You taught me about the nature of courage, and how sometimes it is loud and sometimes it is soft, and sometimes it can look a lot like sleeping, which was unexpected.

I felt so young this year, my Fearless year, so full of life.  And then sometimes I felt excruciatingly old.  That was harder, but you had lessons for me there, too.  You taught me more in the art of turning the everyday into magic that is no less sparkling for its mundanity.

You taught me to be me, and you taught me well, I think.  And now it is time to say goodbye, my Fearless year, to release and renew and rediscover.  I'm sure I will meet you again one day, and perhaps even one day soon.  But for now, we part.

Thank you and thank you and thank you, my Fearless year.  I will never be the same, and I will never stop being grateful for that.