I was pleased to receive from TCK Publishing two copies of Melissa Steginus’s new book, Everyday Mindfulness: 108 Simple Practices to Empower Yourself and Transform Your Life. After a brief scan of the book, I have decided to work through my copy starting in the new year and, as the rush of “new year new you!” commitments are sure to be rolling in soon, even in these strange times, what better time to get the second copy of this one into someone else’s lucky hands?
With 108 mini-exercises, the book is designed to take you through exactly four months of practice. In her introduction, Steginus explains the importance of that number, 108, and her reasons why she asks the reader to commit to four months of practice rather than a quick shot of, say, 12 days, as is popular in many self-help type programs these days. In the last few years, I’ve worked through a number of writing and thinking practices, ranging from The Writer’s Daily Devotional, to See the Bigger Picture, and from A Writer’s Q & A, to The Daily Stoic. In 2021, I’ll be adding Everyday Mindfulness to my collection of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Everyday Peace, which is also a collection of 108 daily prompts for thinking and being in the world.
About the Book:
Transform Your Life with 5-Minute Mindfulness Exercises
Everyday Mindfulness guides you through the most powerful daily mindfulness practices that help you rewire your habits and rewrite your life. With step-by-step instruction and evidence-based exercises you can do in as little as 5 minutes a day, it’s never been easier to make positive changes stick in your life. This is a powerful personal development program cleverly disguised as a book.
Connect with Yourself and Discover Your Capacity
Most of us are so busy that we forgot to focus on how we really feel, what we truly desire, and what we need to do to move our lives in the right direction. This book is your master manual for reconnecting with yourself and your inner resources so you can take immediate action to transform your life. The power to change your life is in the small things you do every day. This book guides you through over 100 simple practices, in small doses, so you can discover what works best for you and build on it. This book is designed to help you master the six areas of your life:
Each of the six sections has 18 exercises, complete with reflection questions, to help you reclaim, redefine, and realize your untapped potential within that area of your life. With Everyday Mindfulness you will awaken to yourself, connect with your inner wisdom, and tap into your capacity for self-empowerment, fulfillment, and transformation. It all begins with paying attention. This book includes 108 daily mindfulness practices, explanations of the purpose behind each practice, and over 300 reflection questions that encourage profound self-exploration and transformative action.
About the Author:
Melissa Steginus is a coach and wellness specialist helping people structure their work and lives to be intentional, empowering, and fulfilling. She has served thousands of people through her workshops, online courses, and 1:1 sessions. For more information, visit: http://www.melissasteginus.com.
The giveaway will run from December 7th at 6:00 a.m. until December 16th at 6:00 a.m. One entry per person via Rafflecopter. Bonus entries can be earned by following the prompts in Rafflecopter. The winner will be e-mailed and will have 72-hours to respond before a new winner is selected. Good luck! Click here to Enter.
Black Dog, Black Night is a collection of contemporary Vietnamese poetry, collated and translated by Nguyen Do and Paul Hoover. The collection includes poets from the Vietnamese Writers Association (VWA), which is the government-sanctioned and sponsored writing organization, but perhaps more importantly, it includes Vietnamese writers from outside that group, including many who have or had been imprisoned for their political views and poetic/creative choices.
As a communist country, every form of expression in Vietnam is closely monitored, and only speech sanctioned by the government will see the light of popular publication. Knowing this, Nguyen Do and Paul Hoover set out on a mission to find, translate, and publish/distribute the greatest contemporary Vietnamese poetry they could, regardless of whether those writers were part of the authorized VWA or not. The result is a collection that acts as a study in Vietnamese writing, society, culture, and government; it is at once a virile condemnation of censorship and a championing of Vietnamese creative arts.
The collection is divided into small segments by poet. Each section begins with a brief introduction to the poet; as a western reader new to Vietnamese poetry (as most readers will be, especially anyone who does not read Vietnamese), I found these introductions, though brief, enormously helpful, as was the introduction to the collection, which discusses the realities of writing and publishing in Vietnam, as well as the penalties for going against state sanctioned themes (imprisonment, execution, etc.)
This collection is remarkable, and the styles, voices, and themes of these poets are unique, refreshing, and edifying. Some of my favorites include Te Hanh, whose “Missing My Home River,” begins, “My home country has a dark green river / Its water is like a mirror in which bamboo can see its hair / My soul is a summer noon / covered in shadow all the way to the shining river.” So many of these poets include nature imagery in their poems, but for many western readers, the metaphors and settings will be fresh and new, because unencountered.
Other favorites from this collection are Van Cao as well as Hoang Hung, whose poem dedicated to Nguyen Do lends its name to the title of the collection. Hung is one of the poets who was imprisoned (for thirty-nine months) and sent to a reform camp because he attempted to get his poetry published outside of Vietnam. Another stand out is Thanh Thao, who is the first member of the Vietnamese Writers Association to not be a member of the communist party.
One of the most interesting features of this collection, though, is that it includes poets who lived through the Vietnam (or what they call the American) War, those who are younger and know it only from the stories, those who are natives still living in Vietnam, and those who have expatriated. This provides a rich, complex experience with multiple perspectives and, perhaps, a hint at the changing landscape of and possibilities for Vietnamese literature now and in the future.
“Don’t” by Linh Dinh
According to a theory, the first word
Ever uttered was perhaps “don’t.”
Managing an unruly horde of kids,
The cave mother had to “don’t” nonstop.
Don’t [put that thing in your mouth]!
Don’t [climb up that branch]!
Don’t [wake your father up]!
150,000 years ago, the main purpose of language
Was to prohibit. In many places on earth, now,
The main purpose of language is still to prohibit.
Upon the publication of Man Tiger, which was longlisted for The Man Booker International prize in 2016, Eka Kurniawan was described as “a powerful new voice on the global literary stage.” This seems a wholly apt description.
The book tells the coming-of-age story of Margio, a typical young man living with his family in a small town on the coast of Indonesia. We are first introduced to Margio as the inheritor of his family’s long legacy: the spiritual marriage between his body and the tigress that lives in his bloodline and is passed down from generation to generation. We learn that, for some unexplained reason, when Margio’s grandfather dies, the tiger passes not to Margio’s father, but to Margio himself, skipping a link in the chain. The strange, imaginative, unwinding narrative that takes us backward in time, from the moment the narrative opens in violence, to the moment it closes at the exact same point in time, serves to explain why the tiger has skipped the father.
Part of what makes this novel wonderful is that it is so unexpected. The story begins with a shocking bang, and then goes ever backward in time in order to fill in the necessary information about the two families at the heart of this intense drama, so that when we return to the present, and indeed the very last page of the book, the justification for Margio’s initial actions, for the release of the tiger, doesn’t just make sense, it becomes a heartbreaking necessity.
I will say that, though the book is described as being part of the “magical realism” genre (and Kurniawan is now known for writing in this style), there was much less of it than I had anticipated. There is of course some, given the fact that the main character has a tigress living inside of him that can be released at any given moment, but aside from that initial folk story at the beginning, and its return at the end, the novel reads generally like contemporary Indonesian fiction. Ultimately, I think the tiger is less a primary function of magical realism and more of a metaphor for the fierceness with which we protect the ones we love.
I also appreciated the unique take on certain symbols in this one, like the garden. Kurniawan upsets–or disrupts–some of the conventional ways in which western readers, in particular, might read common themes and symbols, in order to explain the particular circumstances of this family in this time and this place. In all honesty, this is the kind of book that reminds me of how important, and how fun, it is to read non-western literature in translation.
“The white tiled floor with its streaks of red blood resembled the national flag. And still standing there was Margio, his face a mask of gore, nearly unrecognizable.”
“Only men marry tigers . . . but not all the tigers are female.”
“She hadn’t left him. The tigress was there, a part of him, the two of them inseparable until death.”
“Nothing was more embarrassing for a girl older than twelve than not knowing who would be her husband.”
“The mistakes were all his. He had carved out his own sorry life for himself.”
If you’re a novice poet and want to struggle with the existential dread of being wholly intimidated by a boxer far above your class and the simultaneous inspiration of a knockout mind and craftsperson, then why don’t you go ahead and read some Gwendolyn Brooks?
Seriously, folks, I’ve read Brooks’ poems here and there, in this or that anthology, or when shared by some fellow reader on Twitter or Instagram. But this is the first time I sat down with a complete collection of her works, and I don’t think it’s an overstatement to suggest that it left me stunned.
The collection itself includes poem selections from 3 previous publications spanning the length of her career plus a final section of “new poems” at the end. I certainly had my personal favorites among these, but at no point did I find any of her work weaker or uninteresting, or irrelevant. To me, that’s the sign of a master poet; someone who is digging as deeply and sharing as articulately and creatively at the beginning of her career as she does nearer the end of it, and across all sorts of themes.
Take, for example, this short poem, “the progress,” from “Gay Chaps at the Bar,” which was published in A Street in Bronzeville (1945).
And still we wear our uniforms, follow
The cracked cry of the bugles, comb and brush
Our pride and prejudice, doctor the sallow
Initial ardor, wish to keep it fresh.
Still we applaud the president’s voice and face.
Still we remark on patriotism, sing
Salute the flag, thrill heavily, rejoice
For death of men, who, too, saluted, sang.
But inward grows a soberness, an awe
A fear, a deepening hollow through the cold.
For even if we come out standing up
How shall we smile, congratulate: and how
Settle in chairs? Listen, listen. The step
Of iron feet again. And again wild.
Just look at what Brooks does before and after the volta. The first 8 lines seem to suggest a continuity of patriotism. A commitment to the nation’s commanders and even president, and the suggested idea that we are patriots, still. Proud to be American. But–I mean really, “but” in line 9 is the volta–then there’s a change. Context fills in. That proudness is a façade, isn’t it? There are whispers and rumblings growing inside of us. We are hollow where we should be filled with spirit. Our exterior poses and actions do not reflect the fear and resentment, the doubt, stirring beneath the masquerade.
Perhaps it is the state of the world (United States) right now, but this poem, which comes a little earlier than the 1/3 mark of this collection, had me sitting up at attention. It’s a clear indication of what Brooks can do with mastery of form, with subtlety and surprise. Whatever form she explores in this collection, she does it with deft touch and wild imagination. Some of her poems are biographical, like “A Bronzeville Mother,” which is a longer poem whose speaker, the woman responsible for the murder of Emmet Till, imagines herself a white princess and Till, that 14-year-old boy, a “Dark Villain.” It’s haunting.
I marked so many poems in this collection, and for so many reasons. I think it suffices to say that this is one I’ll return to again and again, not just to enjoy it, but to learn from it.
This City is a Minefield is the debut publication by Chinese-Canadian writer Aaron Chan. This collection of essays is notable for its stark honesty and courageous, expose style of writing. The pieces read like creative nonfiction versions of the classic confessional poetry, both in their tenderness but also in their rawness.
I was excited to read this one as part of my exploration into and focus on Asian/Asian American (or in this case Asian Canadian) Writers this year. This was one of my three major thematic focus areas for reading in 2020, and Chan’s work is a welcome inclusion to that collection, particularly as I don’t read much Canadian writing, either.
What the collection does well is work around a few common themes, most of which pertain to race, sexuality, and aspiration. Chan writes openly and honestly about what it is to be a gay Chinese man in Vancouver, and I learned a lot about a city that I had, until now, held in very high esteem. It’s both rewarding and a little unsettling to get such an inside look at an idealized city from the perspective of a native who is also an outsider. Chan’s writing about being gay and Chinese, too, is disturbing. It’s not just the pressure from family, but the blatant homophobia in the gay community that is incredibly maddening. Chan touches on the other side of that coin, too, when he writes about the problems of fetishization.
Another interesting insight Chan offers is how traditional Chinese parents think of themselves as “Chinese first.” This is a term that, though holding different connotations, rubbed me the wrong way immediately, because of the rise of this idiotic and dangerous “America first” mentality here in the United States. Chan’s perspective on it is different, though, in that this is a family trying to hold onto its heritage in a new world, and among the pressure to assimilate into a white western society. Still, Chan is I think reasonably upset by his mother’s constant pressure on him to be Chinese before Canadian. Much of this struggle over identity and multiple identities comes up repeatedly throughout the collection. How to be gay and Chinese? Chinese and Canadian? A native and an outsider? A dutiful son and a man who is true to himself and his own ambitions?
I think some of my favorite essays in the collection are “Between Channels,” “Identities,” “Cold War,” and “Underworld.” Each of these explores something that gets a little bit deeper than just Chan’s own experience and individuality. And if I have one critique of the collection, it is that Chan writes mostly about himself; this isn’t surprising or even a “bad” thing, given that the essays are personal narrative-style; however, when I think of the great essayists, one thing they do well is to connect their personal story with universal themes. In his best essays, Chan is doing that very thing. I hope he will continue to pursue that avenue in future endeavors.