Category Archives: Live the best life

The Interplay of Contemplation and Creativity

What I’m reading right now:



Summarized in the phrase “pray and work,” “The Rule of St. Benedict” provides the inspiration for Christine Valters Paintner’s newest exploration of the mutually nourishing relationship between contemplative practices and creative expression. Artists of all stripes and stations in life—poets or painters, potters or photographers—will discover how traditions of Benedictine, Celtic, and desert spirituality can offer new sources of inspiration for their work. Through this twelve-week course, themes like “Sacred Tools and Sacred Space,” “Creative Solitude and Community,” and “Nature as a Source of Revelation and Inspiration” are enriched by Paintner’s perceptive discussion and enhanced by insightful quotations from well-known artists and writers. Each week offers suggestions for grounding both the creative and the spiritual life through three basic practices: walking, lectio divina, and journaling. In sync with Paintner’s vibrant Internet presence, The Artist’s Rule is supplemented with online resources, including guided meditation podcasts, video lessons, and discussions.

Buy this book

Three Ways to Deal with the Hard Stuff

This is going to be short. It has to be. Thanks to an unexpected case of tendinitis–though is there ever a case that is expected?–in my left shoulder, I’m typing it with my non-dominant hand as I wait for the Ibuprofen to kick in.

And my blog reboot had been going so well!

Luckily, I did some serious spiritual work during my disappearance from social media. Let’s see if any of that meditation, mindfulness, and gratitude practice took root. Right now, I’m calling upon the sage advice of Eckhart Tolle, whose books I’ve read and re-read this past year. As he sees it, there are three sane ways to deal with hard breaks:

  1. Change the situation.
  2. Leave the situation.
  3. Surrender to the situation.

My tendinitis IS. I can’t change it. I also can’t walk away from it. I can only accept that this is what’s happening to me NOW. Well…Tolle admits that there is a fourth way to deal with hard breaks–suffer. But why bother? This injury has caused enough inconvenience and physical discomfort, must I add anger, resentment, impatience? Must I wound myself far more deeply and painfully than the stab in my shoulder?


Not saying it will be easy. I can’t drive like this. I have a disabled mother who requires a lot of physical assistance, and a stepfather who will need transportation to/from a medical procedure in about three weeks. He’s counting on me to provide it. So this is scary.

But I can feel the fear, the frustration, acknowledge it, and then let it go.

So even if my shoulder is injured, I am just fine.

All the rest? It will work out the way it works out, and probably a lot more smoothly without me getting hysterical.

Want to know more about how to thrive no matter your circumstances? Start here:

Why You Should Read What You Love

Seems it’s best to read what you genuinely enjoy rather than what you think you should read, or what you’d like to be “seen” reading. Here’s happiness expert Gretchen Rubin’s take on the matter:

“I wanted to make more time to read–more books, with more enjoyment. To do so, I gave myself permission to read at whim. Samuel Johnson observed, ‘If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.’ Science backs this up. When researchers tried to figure out what helped third-and-fourth-graders remember what they read, they found that the students’ interest in a passage was far more important than the “readability” of the passage–thirty times more important.”

So when not compelled by work or school or promises to your author sister-in-law, READ WHAT YOU ENJOY.

And if you want to read more from Gretchen Rubin, I suggest starting with The Happiness Project.


Financial blogger Ruth Soukup offers advice for getting the most out of life without going broke.

Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life

Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life

I was surprised at the depth of this book. There’s more here than tips on how to get stuff cheap or cut your grocery bill, though that kind of information is included. But the author also shares her own personal demons–clinical depression bad enough to lead to hospitalization, compulsive overspending. She makes clear the link between emotional conflict and overbuying, clutter and excessive spending, and offers a good discussion on the philosophy behind moderation.

On the practical side, there are plenty of questions and exercises to help readers define The Good Life as it relates to their own lives. Soukup shows how to take steps toward gaining control of your wants, so that you meet your needs and build a solid money management style. The tone throughout is conversational and approachable. There’s a definite Christian slant, but it doesn’t cross the line into preachy and it doesn’t diminish the book’s value to those with a more secular view of the world.

A useful book about the meaning of money and the power it exerts.

What Makes A Good Life?

A biography of literature’s first essayist organized around twenty-one answers to the question: How to Live?

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

Bakewell’s exploration of Michel de Montaigne gives us a good sense of the man, his time and his philosophy…or rather his attempt to arrive at a philosophy. Montaigne was an admirer of the Skeptic and Stoic branches of Hellenic thought, which basically tells people to a) question everything and b) take life as it comes. This is a great prescription for studying the world and one’s own mind, but wasn’t all that conducive to one’s health and safety in a time of religious fanaticism and civil strife.

The author does a good job presenting the complicated political and religious conflicts of the time in a way that is understandable to those without specific knowledge about life in 16th-century France. She also shows us how Montaigne, a politician as well as a thinker, managed to negotiate his way through these troubles while keeping his humanity in tact.

Some chapters are harder work than others. Bakewell juggles three time lines: biographical, historical and literary. It requires time and close attention to take it all in. For me, it was the literary time line that lagged. All the intrigue about the many versions of the essays produced in Montaigne’s lifetime and then the petty intellectual battles surrounding the editing and interpretation of the work through the centuries got a bit tedious.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent introduction for Montaigne and it made me add his daunting ESSAYS to my reading list.

The Comfort of Your Own Company

In How to Be Alone, Sara Maitland offers an interesting historical/cultural view of solitude and considers its place in modern life. She presents the meaning and value of being alone as a sort of pendulum that has swung back and forth in popularity through time. I’m not sure I agree with a conclusion based on such limited evidence. Just because ancient Romans valued public life to excess doesn’t mean the same was true of other cultures in existence at the time. What about China and the Near East?

How to Be Alone

How to Be Alone

I’m also not sure Maitland makes her case that a strong preference for solitude is seen as a huge eccentricity in modern western culture. Rather, we seem to be living in an era when widely differing modes of living are acceptable. A lot, of course, may depend on profession and age. In the corporate world, being reclusive might indeed get someone pigeonholed as sensitive or introverted or a “deep thinker.” School-age kids and young adults who like to be alone probably run a greater risk of peer and parental backlash than older people do. Also, Maitland doesn’t really address how modern technology has blurred the lines of what constitutes “being alone.” People can now carry on active social lives without ever leaving their homes. Yet, physically, they are still alone.

Maitland does admit that her previous memoir/cultural history A Book of Silence suffered a bit from the confusion of the terms “alone” and “silence.” The same confusion is present in How to Be Alone, but I don’t think it’s a flaw. Rather, the two concepts naturally share the same space. Kind of like conjoined twins, you can’t easily tease them apart or examine one without considering the other.

I have to agree with Maitland that most people could benefit from expanding their capacity for being alone. More and more of us end up alone–through death or divorce or just long life spans. It pays to learn to be comfortable with your own company. Also, young people who don’t need to be part of a gang have the opportunity to develop their own interests and talents. Maitland provides numerous exercises for those who might want to experiment with solitude. Such as going to a crowded place by yourself or taking a trip alone or indulging in periods of private reverie.

I highly recommend How to Be Alone. It provides a lot of material for discussion in one concise, thoughtful package.

Why a Book Blog? Celebrating 100 Posts.

Well, friends, when I started the blog in late December of 2013, I was cautiously optimistic. I’d tried blogging a few years before. This Literary Life was meant to be a journal of the life and times of a working writer. Problem was the life of a writer, at least this writer, isn’t much different from everyone else’s. My posts on the struggle to finish a project or find an agent seemed so beside the point. “Who cares?” I asked myself. “Who needs to know that I wasted an afternoon playing sixty rounds of Free Cell rather than edit my new story? Is there anything insightful or even entertaining about it?”

No. Not really. And that’s probably why I abandoned my blog after a dozen or so posts.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t really “get” blogging. The advice from writer’s magazines and writer’s conference panels was that having a blog is critical if you want to land an agent and publisher, or, if you’re already published, to expand your audience. Yet, at the time, most of the successful writers I knew of didn’t blog. Some didn’t even have websites.

After This Literary Life faded away, any time someone mentioned blogging my brain automatically checked out of the conversation. Blah. Blah. Blah. Tell me another one.

Then came the Independent Publishing Revolution. Thanks to print-on-demand technology and the emergence of e-books, a writer no longer has to toil for years over a novel only to stack in her closet with all the others she couldn’t get the traditional publishing industry to take notice of. Now a writer’s career is in her own hands–from composition, to production, to promotion.  Author websites are no longer a cool way for the as-yet-unpublished to feel like a “real” writer. They are home base for a genuine professional business and a way for a writer to connect with readers.


That’s a group I know something about. Not only because I want them, an audience of my own, but because I am one myself. A reader. Passionate. Obsessive. Voracious.

Writer. Reader. This book blog became a way for me to merge my twin identities. A place to compile my reactions to the books I read. E-books. Print books. Much loved classics by long-dead masters. Popular bestsellers.  The debut offerings of indie adventurers. It doesn’t matter. Whatever the source, each book I feature gets a close reading and in-depth, careful critique.

Even better, this time around it’s no struggle finding material for my blog. I’m always reading. There is always a fascinating new author to interview. Sometimes I’m very very lucky and a writer I’ve reviewed or otherwise featured will grow into a friend. Someone to trade book recommendations with and moan to about how grueling and tedious it’s been editing my latest project.

Somehow, without really noticing, I’ve racked up 100 posts. I’ve enjoyed it, too. This book blog isn’t a chore. It’s FUN! Partially because I’m reading even more that I did before I started it. My television is getting dusty. And my Free Cell stats are in the toilet. I don’t have the time to play computer card games.

Too much to read.