Sunday, November 10, 2013


   I consider myself pretty crazy. Not so much in the wild 'n crazy gal mode, although I can be that sometimes, but more the hide-the-knives-and-stay-out-of-my-way certifiable kind of crazy because of my occasional black funks of depression. But never once have I peed in cereal bowls and stashed them under my bed "until the acrid stench will peel the skin off the insides of your nostrils" to avoid the bad vibe of the bathroom. Nor have I given up eating in order to "eliminate excess energy in the body" so I can sleep 24/7 and avoid having to leave home. That is crazy! And that is just one hilarious episode from "Agorafabulous! :dispatches from my bedroom" by Sara Benincasa. Thanks, Sara, for making me feel almost normal for a change.
    In her roller-coaster ride of a memoir, Sara takes us from her nightmare agita-filled (in Italian, agita means "you're really nervous, your stomach hurts, or you've got the shits," or all three in her case) high school trip to Sicily; through her bowl-peeing sleep-until-you-stink college days; to working for Edgar, a power hungry hippie throwback even crazier than her, at the Blessed Sanctuary retreat; with a brief stop in Texas as a ninth-grade writing teacher "handling" Billy's boner; all the way to becoming a stand-up comedian. With all that material straight from her own life, I'd say she found the perfect career, wouldn't you?
   "Agorafabulous!" is a hootie read! While mental illness is nothing to laugh about, Sara spins her own struggles with agoraphobia, depression, and "unruly hair" into charmingly witty vignettes that will make you chuckle and possibly even feel a wee bit less crazy yourself. One of the jacket blurbs reads, "If I ever get thrown in a mental institution, my only hope would be having Sara as a cellmate." That goes for me too. If (or when?) my black funks take over my life completely, expect a collect call from me, Sara, to come be my roomie and bring a heaping helping of fabulous into my funk!


Monday, August 26, 2013

"I STILL HAVE IT . . . I Just Can't Remember Where I Put It: Confessions of a Fiftysomething" by Rita Rudner

   Rita Rudner, you deceived me! I have been on a kick lately of reading books about navigating the turbulent waters of hitting mid-life since I'm not doing it so well on my own. I thought this was one of those books from reading the flap blurb. This is SO not one of those books. But I ain't mad, I got nothing but love for you (a fave quote from "Independence Day" I just had to throw in here, in case there are any other "ID" fans out there), because I needed this book way more than more how-to-turn-50 tips. YOU MADE ME LAUGH! Out loud even, and that's rare for me. So thanks for deceiving me! And I could read the short chapters, each a stand-alone comedy routine, on my breaks and actually return to work with a smile! I'm sure my co-workers would say "thanks" as well if they were writing this with me.
   What parts made me laugh the hardest? That's tough to pin down because the whole book is hilarious, but here are a few for starters. I loved "Dining in the Dark," where Rita and husband Martin try to break out of their take-out habit by exploring one of "The Top Ten Hottest Places to Eat in L.A," according to Martin's magazine. Unfortunately, the article didn't mention they didn't actually get to "eat" at these places! All of the vignettes about house-hunting and moving and remodeling are hysterical -- of course, not to Rita and Martin, but then it did give her lots of writing material. Reading about Rita's quirky, crazy father gave me lots of laughs, and as a bonus made me feel that my own quirky, crazy father isn't quite so bad. "To Hell in a Handbag" is a hoot, especially since I've wrestled with my own "LV" envy over the years. And the Bonkers chapter stole the show, as he did Rita's show, as well as stole my heart! Put it this way, there is no un-funny story in the entire book!
   Plus the quotes made me laugh and tack up a few on my bulletin board! I'll only share my faves (because this is a book review, not an entire book!):

I can never ask for money back after I've loaned it to a friend and they forget to return it. The most I can do, when I'm over their house, is break something of that approximate value.

I love being married. It's so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.

I don't plan to grow old gracefully. I plan to have face-lifts until my ears meet.

My husband won't let me sunbathe topless. He says he's afraid I might poke someone's knee out.

I don't want to be in good shape anymore. I don't want to be one of those women who look great from the back and then turn around and frighten people.

   See what I mean?! The quotes are fabulous! Even the last chapter, where Rita shares other book titles she considered -- "Artificially Hip," "That Botox Has Sailed," "Aged to Imperfection," "I'm Still Hot (It Just Comes in Flashes)" -- made me crack up so much I wanted to start the book all over again.
   If you're like me and can't afford a face-lift to make you feel better, get Rita's book and get a laugh-lift instead -- it's cheaper and totally pain-free!!

Friday, August 16, 2013

"The TAO of MARTHA" by Jen Lancaster

   Jen Lancaster and "The TAO of MARTHA (My Year of LIVING, or Why I'm Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog)," oh how I love thee, let me count the ways:

  • I love you for the dust jacket cover, with the sideways cake and homage to Martha in the starfish-puffball-explosion of a frame, and the oh-so-domestic blue gingham fancy end papers.
  • J'adore you for enlightening me on the finer points of how to hog-wrestle a comforter into the dutch oven of a duvet, making me laugh so hard I nearly shart myself, and for bringing "shart" into my lexicon to replace the much cruder terms I normally use.
  • Me likey you for sharing the contents of your Drawer of Shame and Cabinet of Shame and making me feel much less ashamed of my junk drawers/cabinets. (I noticed you didn't diss Carrie Bradshaw once in this book, so I felt safe in using the "me likey" Carrie-ism.)
  • I totally dig that you found your X-factor in going all Team Disaster Prepper. BTW, I will totally eschew my vegetarian ways and find you in the Chicago 'burbs to feast on sardines and human-grade dog food stew when the zombie apocalypse comes, so set an extra place!
  • I am enamored by your willingness to bare all when it comes to your failings, even the gozillion-dollar "easy" toffee incident, and find a way to laugh about it (even if it means your friends may end up with tire-fire toffee before they get it right).
  • I applaud you for facing your loathe of Halloween (which I totally share, except for the free pass to eat candy like there's no tomorrow!) and turning it into a glitterfied Pumpkin Palooza and drunkety-drunk-drunk fest. (Sorry, I couldn't help but throw in one more Carrie-ism!) You've given me a whole new outlook on Halloween!
  • you for sharing your scrapbook pix to give me a visual of your escapades and so I can better get to know you, Fletch, Maisy, Loki, Libby, Hambone, the Thundercats, and the New Girls (hope I didn't leave anyone out). (Plus, now I know what your house looks like so I can find you when the big one hits! And may I add, Fletch is hubba hubba!!) 
  • Most of all, I love you for sharing the other Miss M's Tao, which I won't mention here and be a spoiler but I have already written on a Post-it and is hanging from my bulletin board as a daily reminder. IT ROCKS!!
   Jen, I will admit, I've never been a big Martha Stewart fan. In fact, hearing her "It's a good thing" mantra was like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. But you've made me appreciate the finer points of her way of LIVING, and I will never regard Martha with disrespect again. I promise! I just have one request in return -- please don't let your next memoir be "The Opus of Oprah." I literally live for your next memoir to be published, BUT I DON'T DO OPRAH. Thanks!
   Have I got you intrigued about "The TAO of MARTHA"? Good! Get your copy today and get your laugh on!!


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood" by Suzanne Braun Levine

   Have you ever been in the check-out line at Wal-Mart and overheard women discussing the exact same thing you have been going through or thinking about? And in that moment, even though you didn't join the conversation, you felt a tad bit better just knowing that you weren't alone in your experience or bat-crap crazy for your thoughts? This is what I've been feeling while reading "Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood" by Suzanne Braun Levine: that I'm not flying solo in feeling seriously screwed up from all this aging business.
   I am 51. Yes, I'm finally ready to admit it but with my own twist: I am calling myself an AGELESS 51. This puts me smack dab in what Ms. Levine calls the Fertile Void, "where we begin the process of sorting things out -- and shaking things up. We shed the voices of shoulda-woulda-coulda thinking and begin to sense the presence of an internal compass, our own voice." Well, my own voice is saying, or more like screaming: Fertile Void, Smyrtle Void, this feels like the Amped-up Abyss to me. Nothing in my life feels right anymore. I'm frustrated. I've got all this mojo building up to barrel over the precipice of where I am and don't want to be and to change things, but it would mean jumping into the abyss because I haven't got the first clue what to do to make my life feel more right. Ms. Levine says, "No wonder the journey begins in a torrent of confusion. Many women find themselves at the edge of a cliff before they even realize something is happening. And looking down, they can't imagine what ropes and pulleys will guide their descent. They are propelled only by a funny feeling . . . a mixture of dissatisfaction and fear -- and a panicky sense that is it time to do something." You got that right, Sister! I want to do something, anything but, as she and others who've written about the Fertile Void validate, I feel stuck. And feeling stuck SUCKS! So what to do to unsuck my situation? Ms. Levine says, "The solution, ironically, is not more movement, but less. The cure for 'stuck' is 'still.' A gathering in of the energy unleashed by Saying No and Letting Go (two of the key aspects she describes as common in Second Adulthood -- being able to finally say "no" and let go of whatever no longer serves your best life). That is what the Fertile Void can offer, an opportunity to exchange the wish to control life for a willingness to engage living." I am all about engaging living, having recently dubbed myself an "Adventurista," so I'm working on staying still until the big reveal of what the hell I'm meant to do next comes along. It ain't easy.
   Saying "no" has gotten easier for me over the years after I decided I was tired of being everyone's beck-and-call girl, especially when it came to family affairs that always seemed to involve rescuing relatives from crises of their own making and loaning money (more like donating as there was rarely ever any payback). But the "letting go" is a struggle, always has been. I am no good at accepting things I can't change -- like jonesing for the Tin Man's oil can to lubricate my creaky joints before I roll out of bed in the morning -- and releasing my expectations of how I want to look -- as good as Cher and Barbra, okay, I'll be more realistic and settle for Paula Abdul who is also 51. I am working on it, though, as Ms. Levine says the letting go is a necessary coping mechanism for surviving the transition to Second Adulthood. My first step was accepting that I could mess myself up BAD riding my skateboard Pinkie and releasing her to the care of my teenage niece who wants to ride. I miss seeing Pinkie standing up in the corner of the pantry, that hot pink confirmation that I am still a wild and crazy gal, but admittedly, that's all she's done for the past year anyway, so it was time for her to fly with someone a bit more spry.
   What else did I learn from this book? I learned that there's a bona fide reason for my crankiness, or my Ouiser-ness as my bestie Sara calls it from Shirley MacLaine's character Ouiser in "Steel Magnolias" who says, "I'm not crazy . . . I've just been in a very bad mood for forty years!" I have entered the Fuck You Fifties, as Ms. Levine calls the decade, a time of "speaking up, speaking out, speaking one's mind" and a spirit of rebellion that rivals our teenage years. I sure fit that mold to a tee; in fact, I should be the poster chick for the Fuck You Fifties! My sweetie DMan, the poor thing, sure gets an earful of me speaking my mind about anything and everything, including our relationship. As Ms. Levine explains, the Fuck You Fifties brings on a reexamining and redefining of our intimate relationships as women feel the need for more authority, independence and space in their lives. Therefore my age is to blame, not me, if we end up with a white line down the middle of our house separating my space from his. The way I've been acting, he may prefer it anyway so he'll have a safe-zone man cave where he can retreat when my Fuck You Fifties really get fired up.
   There is a ton of good stuff in this book to help women navigate the journey into Second Adulthood. Reading many of the personal stories felt just like that eavesdropping Wal-Mart experience, giving me real-life examples of how to handle the twists, turns and roadblocks ahead and also making me feel blessed in some cases that my situation isn't worse. As always, I'm a sucker for quotes, and Ms. Levine collected some dandies! Here are my two favorites:

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is or how valuable or how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open."
                                                 -- Martha Graham

"At this time in our history, we should take nothing personally. Least of all ourselves. Try to do whatever you do as an act of celebration. WE ARE THE ONES WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR."
                                                 -- Hopi Nation, "Wisdom of the Elders"

   "Inventing the Rest of Our Lives" is not a quick read, nor an easy one. There will be lots of time spent with the book lying on your chest while your mind ponders all the aspects of aging Ms. Levine touches on; there will be times of skimming through pieces that don't apply to your life. But the book is definitely worth the time to help you figure out what matters, what works, and what's next for the second half of your life. Enjoy!  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Here I Go Again" (a novel) by Jen Lancaster

   I love, Love, LOVE Jen Lancaster! If I didn't already have the most fabulous bestie in the world (my Sparkle Sara, who turned me on to Jen's books in the first place), I would definitely be calling, emailing, Facebooking and otherwise cyber-stalking (except texting, I don't text, or tweet for that matter, I'm way too wordy for both of those) Jen to see if she had a bestie opening. I should be a shoo-in too because I've read all her memoirs -- "Bitter Is the New Black," Bright Lights, Big Ass," "Such a Pretty Fat," "Pretty in Plaid," "My Fair Lazy," and "Jeneration X" -- and love, love, loved them all! (Sorry to be so mushy gushy but trust me, one "love" just wouldn't be enough!) I even read her first go at a novel, "If You Were Here," and really liked it. (See, I can temper the love thang when it's called for.) Her Facebook page is one of my very few "likes" -- I will not be a slut with my "likes" just to get free stuff -- and I regularly check in with her website to see what craziness is going on with her, husband Fletch, and the ever-growing menagerie of dogs and cats that roam her home.
   And now here I go again, love, love, loving her newest novel "Here I Go Again" -- totes! (A word from the book that I finally figured out means "totally" and then proceeded to use liberally. Another thing I love about her books, plenty of free Jen-isms to spice up my vernacular!) If you are looking for a hootie summer read that is the perfect cocktail of wit, sass, and snarky, this is IT.
   Think back to high school and that one popular bitch-chick that you sort of hated because she had it all -- maybe a hot pink Beemer convertible, the head cheerleader spot and Prom Queen crown, fabulous hair and clothes that every other girl imitates, wanna-be boyfriends out the ying-yang, and a posse of devotees that hang on every malicious word and put-down she says -- and yet you sort of wanted to be her. This is Lissy Ryder, the star of Lyons Township High School Class of 1992 and this novel. Believe it or not, her life got even better after high school: a high-paying PR job, a great husband and condo, swanky clothes and club memberships. Then she lost it ALL. Facing her twenty-year high school reunion while living back with her parents, she figures she can get her life back on track by finagling new PR work from former classmates that have gone on to successful careers. She figured wrong. At the reunion, everyone hates Lissy and reminds her how she made their lives miserable. Even her bestie abandons her. All she's left with is a hippy-dippy former classmate offering hope in the form of a new-age elixor that will give her a sense of clarity, purpose, and inner peace. When Lissy isn't convinced the magic potion will cure the bitch of a sitch (another Jen-ism I'm stealing) she is in, her friend assures her it will also fix her hangover and complexion.  Of course then Lissy is onboard and down the hatch it goes.
   So begins Lissy's karmic adventure to fix her past in order to fix her present, while trying to fix her parents and friends along the way. While trying not to be a spoiler, I will mention there is some time travel involved in case you have issues with that sort of thing. I normally would. In this context, though, the method seems perfectly plausible; there's no McFly DeLorean in sight. And the hilarious romp that ensues from the time travel is totes worth suspending a bit of disbelief. Besides some of my fave fun parts -- Lissy's Southern Mamma (I can hear my Southern kin in everything she says!); the nostalgia of all the song lyrics and TV show references (however I do take offense at Jen's mention that "Mayim Bialik does not grow up to be cute. Like, at all." I adore Mayim as Amy Farrah Fowler on "Big Bang Theory," so please, do not diss the AFF!); the crazy auto-correct texting faux pas of Debbie turned Deva; and the didn't-see-that-coming ending -- "Here I Go Again" also has deeper undertones of what it means to be a friend, figuring out what you truly want versus what you "should" want, and the value of appreciating what you have before it's gone.
   From the daisy book liner that mimics Lissy's teenage bedroom wallpaper to the last lines -- "Whoa. Karma really is a bitch." -- this novel is a surprise-tinkle-from-laughing-too-hard page-turner that's better than a cold glass of Chardonnay on a hot summer night! Now if only my copy of her next book -- "The TAO of MARTHA (My Year of Living or Why I'm Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog)" -- would come, I could keep right on laughing. Surprise tinkles be damned!


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"Love for No Reason: 7 Steps to Creating a Life of Unconditional Love" by Marci Shimoff

   Love. I'm not very good at it, never have been, even after having two husbands, several boyfriends, and now the best life buddy ever in DMan. Love is mushy, and I hate mushy stuff. I've never gotten the hang of balancing the give and take in relationships, plus I'm prone to sinking into the black funks of depression. When I'm there, I shut everyone out, including sweet DMan, and what love I can usually muster dries up like a popcorn fart. So when I saw "Love for No Reason" by Marci Shimoff on the shelf, I figured I needed to study it and maybe I could learn to be better at love, for DMan's sake if nothing else.
   Boy, was I wrong. The book isn't a guide for how to love better in relationships at all; it's so much more. "Love for No Reason" is about infusing your entire life with love, an "inner state of love" that doesn't rely on anything outside yourself to make it happen. To get there, Ms. Shimoff and co-author Carol Kline take you through seven steps, which align with the seven chakras (or energy centers) of the body, that allow you to blast through any love barriers you have and pump up the volume of your unconditional love.
   If it sounds a little hippy dippy (as my brainiac buddy Sheldon Cooper from "Big Bang Theory" would say), it is. Now I totally believe in chakras, but reading the "Love for No Reason" themes nearly made me close the book for good as a bunch of hokum: #1 Love Is Who We Are; #2 The Purpose of Life Is to Expand in Love; and #3 The Heart Is the Portal to Love. Even after finishing the book, I'm still not sure I buy into themes 1 and 2. And theme #3? Every love song ever written says love comes from the heart, so why does that have to be a theme? Then the people interviewed for the book are called "Love Luminaries"    -- gag me with an over-the-top spoon. But I read on through the hippy dippy and gag reflexes and I'm glad I did. There is beaucoup good information throughout the book, based on scientific research too, about how bringing more unconditional love into your life can help you live healthier and longer, enjoy life more, be more fun to be around, and even make the world a better place. And the action steps to get there aren't complicated or costly. The authors lay out simple changes anyone can make to boost their love for no reason.
   I want to share three things (and there are many more I could share) that made an impact on me. I pray every day, and thanks to my mama who is a prayer warrior extraordinaire, I have a big list of folks with serious health problems to pray for. While I'm happy to be able to do something for these folks by praying, I often wind up feeling anxious and depressed by putting myself in their place and trying to anticipate their needs. Not any more. Now when I pray I just send out love to them, I smile while I'm doing it and even put my hands over my heart to connect with the energy flowing out, and I feel that I'm doing us both some good. The heart chakra step about "living with an open heart" reminded me to be compassionate and giving but also to give what I have and not more, that I've got to take care of myself and keep my "love tank" filled up in order to give and love unconditionally. I'm bad about giving too much and then getting grouchy about it, so I needed some reminding. Finally, the chapter on communication (throat chakra) hit home about my subconscious mind believing every word I say after the statement "I am." I know this one sounds real hippy dippy, but it's true. So now when I look in the mirror I say "I am fabulous" instead of "I am old (or wrinkled or fat or saggy)," and when I screw up at work I say "I am doing my best" instead of "I am stupid (or ignorant or such a wasteoid)." At least I'm trying to say the loving things more than I say the others.
   If you've read any of my other reviews, you know I'm a sucker for quotes. There are TONS of great quotes in this book, including one I'll share at the end. And the personal stories of the interviewees are wonderful! Two of my faves are from Melissa Etheridge, about how cancer taught her to choose love over fear, and from Johnny Barnes, who says, "The way I see it, this world was made for love. When the good Lord wakes me up mornings, puts a song in my heart, joy in my soul, and a smile on my face, I just have to give it away."
   Even if you skip over the exercises (some of which are very good) and just read the chapter summaries and stories, give it a go and I bet you'll love "Love for No Reason."

"There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer . . .
No door that enough love will not open
No gulf that enough love will not bridge,
No wall that enough love will not throw down . . .
It makes no difference how deeply seated may be the trouble,
how great the mistake,
sufficient realization of love will resolve it all.
If only you could love enough,
you would be the happiest and most powerful being in the universe."
-- Emmet Fox, twentieth-century author and teacher

Thursday, May 9, 2013

"Spontaneous Happiness" by Andrew Weil, MD

   For any of you that fall into the black funks -- what I call my dips into depression -- like I do, "Spontaneous Happiness" is a godsend. In fact, the book is as much about fighting off depression as it is about courting happiness. I will admit at times it's a tough read, with lots of psychological lingo, and I've been plowing away for several weeks to finish it, but the results I'm getting in feeling less funk and more happy make the effort well worthwhile.
   First, let me say that none of the information in this book is mind-blowing new stuff and some of it is just common sense. But Dr. Weil doesn't take old concepts and simply repackage them with cutesy names, like "Harvesting Your Happiness Habits." I hate books that do that. What he does do is boil down tons of research on what makes people happy and what makes them depressed, puts it in terms average folk can relate to (for the most part), and then gives a comprehensive approach to finding more of your own "spontaneous" (meaning coming from within yourself rather than due to some external cause) happiness, and without gimmicks or prescriptions.*
   Second, even though I knew a lot of this information, I learned a lot too. For instance, I had no idea that antihistamines can trigger depression. When my last black funk started, I had been taking double doses of my allergy medication all day long because Missouri has been having a hellacious allergy season already. One of the scariest parts of feeling depression come on for me was not knowing what triggered it. That left me feeling helpless. I cannot stop taking my allergy meds, unless I want asthmatic bronchitis again -- no thanks! -- but at least I am more aware of how my meds are affecting my mood and trying to take the least amount that offers relief. Dr. Weil also offers tips about a lot of other meds, prescription and over-the-counter, that can cause depression and/or anxiety. Coffee is another depressed mood trigger for some people, from the highs and lows caffeine brings. I love coffee, would sip it all day long to keep me "up," and didn't think it affected me at all. But since I've cut back or switched to tea in the morning, I have been more mellow and focused, not so anxious and negative. I also learned about a supplement called SAMe, that can be a mood enhancer like St. John's Wort. I can't take St. John's Wort because of contraindications when taking birth control pills -- and believe me, nothing would make me more depressed than getting pregnant at my age, which I'll just say is over 45, so I'm not quitting my pills -- so knowing SAMe is an alternative is good news in case I have a black funk attack I just can't shake.
   "Spontaneous Happiness" also gave me a much needed refresher on doing simple things I know are good for me but I've forgotten about. Or got too lazy to do, more likely. So I've started meditating again, seeking out nature more (when the pollen isn't attacking me), intentionally looking for beauty in my world, and trying to smile even if I don't feel like it. He cites a study where subjects that smiled actually saw more humor in the activity they were made to do than the people who made a neutral or frowning face. I believe it -- when I smile, my mind feels less troubled (and a bonus, my wrinkles show less!). Plus people are a heck of a lot nicer to me when I smile at them, which doesn't suck since I work in public service and encounter a lot of cranky people. I'm also picking a mantra every day before work, something like "breeze" or "aloha" that's fun to say. Then when I start getting stressed and my "negative Nellie" mind starts chattering that I hate my job or want to kill someone (figuratively speaking, of course), I repeat my mantra until I settle down. And it works!
   There's a ton more information in the book, everything from using gratitude to the healing effects of light therapy, everything from the benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to herbal remedies. Plus he offers "An 8-Week Program for Optimum Emotional Well-Being" and appendices with specific details on diet and lifestyle changes to make a getting-happier plan easier to manage.
   "Spontaneous Happiness" has made a difference for me. I'm not deluded to think I'll never have another black funk, but now I've got more options than staying in bed and ignoring the world to relieve it. Give it a read. Maybe it will help you as well.  

(* Dr. Weil does recommend psychiatric help, psychotherapy, and medication for people with major depression.)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"This I Know: Notes On Unraveling The Heart" by Susannah Conway

   Some books are so beautiful, I can't help but pick them up and thumb through. "This I Know: Notes On Unraveling The Heart" by Susannah Conway was one of those books: the cover resembled a homemade scrapbook saved for only the most precious photos; the heavy matte pages were filled with random quirky Polaroids, the kind you would tape to the bathroom mirror to keep a special memory fresh in your mind; the size of a girl's secret diary that felt just right clutched against my chest. So I took the book home. And it sat there. From the jacket liner, I knew the book was born out of grief from Ms. Conway having suddenly lost her significant other to a heart attack. I had no current grief issues gnawing at me that made me need to read this book. Still I left the book near my reading chair, picking it up every time I sat down, running my fingers over the cover, flipping through and glancing at the Polaroids until one day I decided I would just start reading. If it was depressing or boring, I would be done with the book, no matter how it's beauty kept drawing me in. Then I wanted to kick myself for waiting so long -- I was hooked even by the introduction when I read:

"Unraveling is not a bad thing. It's not coming undone or losing control. It's letting go in the best possible way, untangling the knots that hold you back, unwrapping the gifts you've hidden for too long, unearthing the potential that's always been there, finally ditching the labels and should-haves, and letting yourself be what you were always meant to be."  -- Susannah Conway

   I am a sucker for quotes and as soon as I read it I fired this one off in an email to a friend going through an unraveling in her own life. She loved it too. Besides deserving to be front and center on my fridge on a hot pink magnet, this quote sums up the soul of the book. Part memoir, part how-to manual, "This I Know" is about coming through whatever fire you've suffered and rebuilding your life piece by piece with what you love and love to do.
  If you are grieving, this book is for you. I also lost a significant other long ago, and Ms. Conway's recounting of the hurt and despair, the hopeful rituals and guilt and baby steps of healing were vividly real. I wish I'd had this book back then to know I wasn't bat crap crazy in all I was going through.
   But this book is so much more than a gift for the grieving. "This I Know" is  about digging out dreams you forgot you had and making them part of your life; forging past fear and sharing your creativity; becoming friends with your body; making peace between yourself, your face, and aging; and getting comfortable with solitude by creating your own tribe of one.
   Being a quote freak, I have to share two more I loved:

"It's never been true, not anywhere at any time, that the value of a soul, of a human spirit, is dependent on a number on a scale."  -- Geneen Roth, from "Women, Food and God"

"For me, solitude is not an empty space, but a richly detailed tapestry of my interests, thoughts, and desires. When I am alone I am free to dance inside the textures of my dreams without the pull to be elsewhere, the constant nagging feeling that I should be doing something else."  -- Susannah Conway

   Ms. Conway found her unraveling from the pit of grief through blogging and taking Polaroids, then turned her passions into online courses to help other women begin the unraveling for themselves. Check out her website,, to find out more about her classes, photography, and other books.
   "This I Know" is beautiful inside and out. Pick it up, you'll see. You'll want one for yourself and one for someone special in your life -- this I know.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"My Trip Down The Pink Carpet" by Leslie Jordan

   I have never been a fashionista or a beauty queen (nor even fashionable or beautiful, for that matter), but somehow I've developed a fascination for fashion and glitzy spectacles. So when I was searching for a book to read and sitting on the library shelf was "My Trip Down The Pink Carpet," with an irresistible sparkling tiara on the spine, I snatched it up. Then when I saw Leslie Jordan on the cover -- the four foot eleven inch dynamo that played the snarky gay diva Beverley Leslie to perfection on "Will & Grace" -- I couldn't wait to start reading and trip down the pink carpet right along with him.
   Turns out the book isn't about couture (unless buying panties for actress Beverly D'Angelo at Victoria's Secret counts) or pageants, but Mr. Jordan still had me hooked even before the table of contents with a quote from his "witty and wonderful mother" Peggy Ann:

"If I live to be one hundred and five years old, I will never understand this deep-seated need you have to air your dirty laundry! Why can't you just whisper it to a therapist?"

I certainly understand where she's coming from, being the proper Southern mother that she was, but her son Leslie airing his dirty laundry is what makes the book so hilarious. And sad. And at times inspirational. But most of all, damn entertaining.
   Describing himself as "the gayest man I know," Leslie writes, "I fell right out of the womb and landed smack dab in my mama's high heels." So it's no wonder that when trying to find his special purpose as a boy, he tried out being a go-go dancer on the family's coffee table and being a majorette on the front lawn. Unfortunately, his daddy brought home a carload of army buddies just when Leslie was perfecting his twirling routine. "Daddy! Daddy! Watch me twirl," he hollered, like any kid would when showing off a new talent. "Oh, son," his daddy said, stretching out "sohhhn as if he was in deep pain," "why don't you twirl that little baton in the house? I'll pay for whatever you break. Just please twirl in the house." 
   Can't you just picture the scene in that front yard? Can't you just hear his daddy's trying-to-be-supportive but still-slightly-mortified voice? I sure can.  Mr. Jordan is gifted at spinning the anecdotes of his wild and crazy life so vividly that I felt like I was right there with him falling in love with a Gypsy in Bucharest, with him sharing a jail cell with Robert Downey, Jr., with him as two huge drag queens escorted him into his first gay bar and he realized he "was no longer alone."
   No matter how much fun I was having, I nearly had to slam the book shut and never go back when Mr. Jordan dissed my beloved Lynyrd Skynyrd, my all-time favorite rock group. Now everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when he said he "could not bear that white trash, rock 'n' roll music," to me that barrels way past opinion and borders on blasphemy. I forgave him, though, when he went on to profess love for the bluesy songs of Dusty Springfield and classic soul music. We share those loves. Plus, he penned so many pearls of wisdom that I have fingered like rosary beads (and wrote down for future quoting), there's no way I could leave the book unfinished. I might miss something like:

"In the South we do not put crazy people away -- we put them out on the porch so everyone can enjoy them!"

"Honey, if you've got one foot in yesterday and one foot in tomorrow, you are in the perfect position to just shit all over today."

"Shit happens and I don't think God has anything to do with it. I love the idea of having a God that does not do anything for me or to me, but only shines through me. I love the idea of God as a light, a beautiful, all-encompassing, nonpunishing, healing light of love."

   If you're a bit squeamish about male genitalia, you may want to skip the chapter on "Peter Gazing." But, do not skip the "Drugstore Cowboy" story, a sweet, touching, sad scary tale about the tangled knot of addiction and abuse that can be so hard to break free of. Nothing that painful and personal is easy to share -- no matter how much a person needs to air their dirty laundry -- but Mr. Jordan tells it straight up with a side of humor, the same way he writes about his struggles with self-loathing, booze, drugs and sexaholism.
   What a hoot it's been to trip down the pink carpet with Leslie Jordan! And no pink carpet experience would be complete without celebrity dishing, behind-the-scenes showbiz secrets, and revealing snapshots, which he throws in at no extra charge. To top that, when I was checking out his website,, I found out there is a DVD version of "My Trip Down The Pink Carpet." Watching the trailer alone nearly made me wet my pants! So you can read the book, view the video, or do both. I love having options, don't you?!
   I'll leave you with a Beverley Leslie quote from "Will & Grace," delivered in his signature snide soprano Southern drawl: "Well, well, well, Karen Walker. I thought I smelled gin and regret." Loved him as Beverley Leslie, love his memoir "My Trip Down The Pink Carpet." I bet you will too, no regrets about it. 


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How To Hepburn

   Katharine Hepburn once said, "Stone-cold sober, I find myself absolutely fascinating." How can you not love someone that can say that, and best of all believe it, without a bit of irony or tongue-in-cheekiness?
   I have adored Katharine Hepburn since I first watched "The African Queen" as a child. Her mannerisms, her physicality, her grace yet toughness, her expressions that told the story better than dialogue ever could sucked me in and made me a lifelong fan. While I haven't seen all her movies (some 46 including big screen and television), the ones I have seen are among my all-time favorites: "Desk Set," "Adam's Rib," "Rooster Cogburn," "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner," and "On Golden Pond." What actress but Katharine Hepburn could shine as strong and bold in those movies next to powerhouse actors like Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, and Henry Fonda? None that I can think of.
   I've devoured her "Me: Stories Of My Life" autobiography; "Katherine Hepburn," a pictorial history of her movie career by Jessica Hodge; and a sampling of other biographies written by her friends and acquaintances. With each glimpse into her life, I found her more and more absolutely fascinating. Then when I heard about "How To Hepburn -- Lessons on Living from Kate the Great" by Karen Karbo, I knew I had to read it and know even more.
   Ms. Karbo begins the book with a quote from Dick Cavett, spoken to Hepburn when he had the rare opportunity to interview her in 1973:

"I have a feeling that millions of people think the following about you: she knows how she wants to live her life, she's succeeded at it, it's all worked out, she got what she wanted. And they feel you probably have some guiding principles, some secret, that, if only they knew them, they could be as successful and as content as you seem to be."

Exactly! That's what I was looking for, and Ms. Karbo delivers, weaving quotes and anecdotes from every era of Hepburn's wild ride into a playbook of sorts for carving out a bold and satisfying life. For starters, Hepburn was brash to the point of obnoxious. She refused to be categorized, by Hollywood, the press, or the public. She ignored fear and charged headlong into anything she was afraid of, including appearing on the stage, which she did for most of her life. She refused to acknowledge problems, believing everything could be solved by a cold shower or brisk walk. She shared her opinions freely, with everyone, regardless of how unpopular or out of vogue her views may be. At a time when marriage was every girl's dream, Hepburn said, "If you want to sacrifice the admiration of many men for the criticism of one, go ahead, get married!" and "if it wasn't bloody impractical to love, honor, and obey, you wouldn't have to sign a contract." She was a cultivator of eccentricities (see pages 36-37) and quirky friendships. No doubt about it -- she lived her life on her terms and could give a damn less whether anyone approved.
   Except for maybe Spencer Tracy. During their long and mostly under-the-radar love affair, Hepburn doted on Tracy, playing caretaker to his bad-boy drunk. Even in their movies scenes together, she has a way of looking at him like he's the only person that exists in her world, with almost a worshipful gleam in her eyes. But even with all the sacrifices she made for Tracy, in keeping his boozy life in order, Hepburn was still Hepburn. From time to time she would take off to do a play or have an adventure and leave him to fend for himself. She never gave herself away completely, even to Spencer.
   While I disagree with Ms. Karbo's suggestion that Hepburn had a closeted lesbian relationship with her good friend Laura Harding, question the motives she ascribes to some of Hepburn's approaches to life, and frankly got sick of being told to wear sunscreen, her finale of "Tips For Getting Your Hepburn On" (page 178) was worth reading the book for. My faves are:

#2 Find Yourself Fascinating

#4 Say What You Think

#5 Don't Confuse Self-Improvement with Self-Remodeling

#16 Find the Type of Clothes You Feel Best In and Never Take Them Off

About #5, Ms. Karbo says, "Hepburn was always trying to improve herself. A self-confessed compulsive worker, she made herself into a great actress from a curious-looking girl who had a flair for self-dramatization and that was about it. But she never tried to change herself."
   I love this tip best of all. From magazines to day-time talk shows to every pop-up ad on the internet, we are constantly bombarded by messages saying we must change something about ourselves in order to be thinner, smarter, prettier, or more desirable. Instead of changing, how much more worthwhile would it be to get your Hepburn on -- to find yourself absolutely fascinating and then improve on that. Thanks Kate the Great and Ms. Karbo for the tip. I'm going to do it.