One of the many fun things about writing is that there are so many styles to experiment with! Number one on the ways to become a good writer is to write daily. Number two is to read and read and read. The more I write (like on my novels) and read, the more I find that I wish I knew more about.
The books I’ve read lately cover a range of styles. Here they are, along with the reviews I wrote for them on Amazon and Goodreads…
“Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands” is a graphic novel by Kate Beaton, and she uses the medium to its fullest. Through her text and illustrations, she narrates honestly and poignantly what it was like for her to leave her small remote community in Canada so she could pay for her college loans. Through her eyes, we understand how hard it is to work as the rare woman in oil exploration, in the middle of a freezing cold nowhere.
“Nightcrawling: A Novel,” by Leila Mottley, Joniece Abbott-Pratt (Narrator). My review: The best kinds of books let readers walk in the shoes of another, to truly experience and gain compassion for what someone else’s life is like. It’s an understatement to say that Leila Mottley does this in spades with maturity far far beyond the high schooler she was when she wrote this. Joniece Abbott-Pratt does a great job narrating.
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” by Raymond Carver, Norman Dietz (Narrator). My review: Carver is a master short story teller. Love in its infinite gnarly yet beautiful forms. Norman Dietz does great narration.
“How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water: A Novel,”by Angie Cruz, Rossmery Almonte (Narrator). My review: Sublime in every way!!!! Angie Cruz wrote a wonderful book — and then, and then, and then the amazing Rossmery Almonte narrated it into the stratosphere!!! Great title and cover too!
And then there’s poetry and all those styles, which blogger Aparna Sharma has decided to tackle. That’s between her General Medicine studies in Kazakhstan (though she’s from Rajasthan, in Norther India)! Pardon all the exclamations, but I can’t help how my heart warms at how blog-land lets me meet people like Aparna, who love to write that much!…
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
As a kid, I worried that setting myself apart would invite criticism, jealousy, and ostracism. Girls, I was told, must be cute and sweet so they’d be attractive to boys. Women, so it went, were destined to be wives and mothers, no more, no less.
Fears continue to gnaw at me. Now they’re sophisticated, requiring constant vigilance to upend them. Art begs an audience. When art is personal, it’s difficult to not give a damn what others might think, not to mention how wicked my own self-doubt (like when it comes to working on my novels-in-progress) can be. An hour after I was awarded an Emmy, a stranger asked me how the honor felt. My reply was blather. He reminded me that I had indeed won it…
Williamson is correct to point that that being our best benefits everyone. When I’m upset about my goals, I remind myself of her wise words.
Now for a blogger who does what he can to make sure none of us hold ourselves back…
To help himself and others to be happier with themselves, ten years ago he created a blog that’s an encyclopedia of LGBT+ celebrities. To date, he’s written over 500 well-researched biographies!
He explains, “… many people are not aware that most gay men look and behave like straight men, my blog is useful for them and for my peers who have not yet realized that there is no reason to be ashamed. I know most people are not gay, but it feels great to know that so many great people are gay / lesbian. Learning and writing about their lives is one of my favorite hobbies.”
roijoyeux adds that over the decade he’s been posting, his site, “evolved very quickly in the blog you know today, showing to people that gays are not all drag queens, effeminates or perverts, since many great artists, stellar athletes and other admirable celebrities, are gay.”
Generous even at Happiness Between Tails, roijyeux quotes his role model…“If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements…” gayinfluence.blogspot.com Terry from Virginia, who describes himself as “A diehard sapiosexual with an ever-curious mind,” started that impressive site in 2011.
Here, with the help of Wikipedia and Gay Influence, he introduces us to one of his many heroes…
“Cristóbal Balenciaga, the King of the great couturiers, was… gay,” by roijoyeux
Cristóbal Balenciaga Eizaguirre, born January 21, 1895 in Getaria (Spanish Basque Country) and died March 23, 1972 in Xàbia (Spain) was a Spanish fashion designer and milliner.
He is one of the greatest couturiers, unanimously recognized by his peers and nicknamed “the master” or even “the couturier of couturiers.”
If Balenciaga began well before the Second World War, it was during the 1950s that he completely transformed the female silhouette, making it evolve to finally reach its peak in the early 1960s. Among his loyal customers were the Queens of Spain and Belgium, Princess Grace of Monaco and the Duchess of Windsor as well as Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy Onassis.
The fact that Jackie Kennedy bought Balenciaga’s overpriced dresses upset her husband President John F. Kennedy because he feared the American public would think his spending was too lavish. In the 1950s and 1960s, Dior dressed the rich, and Balenciaga, the very rich. It was said at that time that a woman “went up” from Dior to Balenciaga.
Below are the most interesting details about Balenciaga’s life…
Balenciaga, who left school to work for a local tailor at the age of 13, opened his first store in San Sebastian (Spain) at 19. At the age of 24, he already had his own fashion house, a house of which he then opened branches in Madrid and Barcelona, where more than 350 employees worked.
The Spanish royal family wore his creations, but the Spanish Civil War forced him to close his stores in 1931 and go into exile first in London and then in 1936 in Paris, where he opened a fashion house on Avenue George V in 1937. The success of his Parisian house was immediate. Customers even risked their lives by going to Paris in the middle of the Second World War to admire Balenciaga’s creations.
In Paris, Balenciaga openly lived his homosexuality. It was in 1936 in the French capital that he met the love of his life, Wladzio Zawrorowski d’Attainville, a Franco-Polish aristocrat who was then working as a hatter. It was Wladzio who helped Balenciaga find the funds to open his Parisian couture house. Then he became his partner.
Unlike Balenciaga, who had the elegance and class of an aristocrat but was the son of a simple fisherman and a seamstress, Wladzio was a true aristocrat, whose intelligence and wisdom impressed Balenciaga. The two men moved into the same apartment together, where Balenciaga’s mother also lived.
One of their employees, Elisa Erquiaga, explained in an interview: “Wladzio was extremely handsome and well-educated and we all knew [they were a couple], but no one ever talked about it in the house.”
The Franco-Polish man was the only person who managed to calm the anxieties of the Master, his lack of self-confidence and his obsessive search for perfection on, for example, a shoulder, a fabric, or how to elegantly hide the wide hips of [writer] Colette, one of his famous clients.
When Wladzio died in 1948, Balenciaga was so devastated that he considered closing his business for a time. He never recovered from the death of the love of his life and although he had homosexual affairs after Wladzio’s death, he never sought to find new love and became very secretive and almost withdrew from the world.
It was in 1968 that the couturier finally retired (at age 73).
Death and posterity
When Balenciaga died in 1972, Women’s Wear Daily magazine wrote “The King is Dead”. He died very rich, owner of several houses and apartments in Paris, at La Reynerie near Orléans, as well as in Madrid, Barcelona and Iguelda, in his native Basque country.
According to the Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia, the greatest gay couturiers of the 20th century are Balenciaga and Dior, followed by Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier and in Italy Giorgio Armani and Giani Versace.
Balenciaga’s work influenced many couturiers, such as Oscar de la Renta, André Courrèges who worked in his studio, Emanuel Ungaro and Hubert de Givenchy whom he helped. The Balenciaga brand, which nowadays belongs to the French holding company Kering, is currently under the management of Demna Gvasalia, after the departure of Alexander Wang in 2015, who succeeded Nicolas Ghesquière in December 2012.
Are there ways you hold yourself back?
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Wish the holidays would just go away? It’s okay to tell them to go away.
Holidays can be nice — and terrible! Family can bring us to our knees — both to swoon and to cringe. Romance can make our hearts flutter or seize.
From Halloween to New Year’s, at least here in the United States, we’re inundated 24/7 with messages of how this is the time for families and lovers. We’re instructed to either kiss, or to kiss and make up.
Sometimes none of that is possible or isn’t in our best interest.
Traditional or sacred, I invite you to join me in acknowledging that ignoring any special day is perfectly acceptable. Never, sometimes, always; we can give any number of them a rest, whenever we please.
What matters is that we do everything to get through them as best we can — whatever it takes to mark time, to survive, to thrive through and into gentle holiday-free January.
Do you ever prefer to ignore holidays?
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Note: for an audio/podcast version of the blog post below, click here.
Exciting books — thoughtful stories — across land and time, into ourselves and others, they take us everywhere! And it’s not easy to do as I write my own novels…
Author/blogger Maria Alfieri, who lives in Sussex, England, is on a mission. She’s out to create peer support and community when it comes to our mental and emotional wellbeing. Her most powerful tools are reading and writing…
I came to collate The Silent Scream Anthology based on my own experiences of struggling silently in dealing with my childhood sexual abuse. I developed anorexia aged 11, for which I was eventually hospitalised aged 12-13. Anorexia was a physical demonstration of a trauma I could not vocalise. I spent many years starving myself and self-harming. My anorexia developed into bulimia. All my reckless and self- destructive behaviours were a way of me yelling to the world ‘I am not okay!”
Despite gaining some control over my eating disorders, I still struggled, sometimes daily, with that inner dialogue, which told me that I wasn’t worthy. That I needed to harm myself. My mind would sometimes take me to dark places, and I would have to talk myself back from the edge.
I found a way to heal through reading, as this was the first step on the ladder to connection with others — something I’d run away from for most of my life. I’d self-isolated much of my life, as many of us do when struggling emotionally. Mostly because of a deep sense of shame and a belief that I was unworthy of belonging. But reading stories similar to mine made me realise that I wasn’t broken and that I wasn’t ‘the only one’ feeling this way. Through stories, either fiction or non-fiction, we share empathetic connections, reaffirming our humanity. They remind us that we are part of a collective. Through reading, and then writing, I came to understand myself better.
Reading and writing are part of the process of connection; firstly, connection with ourselves, and then connection with others. And connection is vital for healing, growth, and change. Writing about my past, in particular, was an extremely cathartic process. Ultimately for me, reading and writing were the tools through which I recovered the person I want to be.
They brought me into this shared community that we created through The Silent Scream Anthology — a community of courageous and inspirational people who empowered me in many ways and helped me to unravel further the depths of my own unhelpful conditioning. It is my greatest wish that The Silent Scream Anthology is the passing of the torch for its readers — the light which sparks hope in moments of darkness and a stepping stone on the path of connection, healing, growth, and change.
As a collection of raw, honest and inspirational memoirs, anecdotes, poems, and artworks about a variety of mental health topics, The Silent Scream Anthology is aimed at anyone who has ever struggled silently, felt trapped by shame and felt alone in their experiences, no matter what those experiences are.
Prior to collating The Silent Scream Anthology, I qualified as a teacher and taught English across secondary schools before having my four children. Stories have always been an important part of my life, and today I make it my mission to promote the power of connection through empathetic literature.
What book or story has made the most impact on you?
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Is there a certain day that you least enjoy spending alone? Valentine’s Day is meant to be about love — let’s start with ourselves! It’s only a day — only one day — as are all days — wise reminders from guest blogger/ poet/ daydreamer/ writer R.K.B. …
You won’t die. It’s not the end of the world, but I know it feels like it.
I get it. This day might even cause you to become depressed every year.
This year, let’s change that.
You are still worthy.
You are not worthless.
You have love, because you love yourself.
I know, it sucks because you might want to know what it feels like to be spoiled on this day. Or maybe, you just would like to know what it feels like to be acknowledged and told that you are beautiful. Sure, you can take yourself on a date and get all dressed up, but you’d want to know the feeling of having someone else to appreciate it and share it with.
I get that, too.
This isn’t your typical, feel-good post about how “loving yourself will cure all wounds,” because even though that is true, nobody really wants…
Have resources ready -> Again, going back to my comment about the use of technology, I would say keep some LGBT-friendly movies, newspaper articles, novels, stories of successful personalities, etc., handy. Make sure to say this to your peers and family “Take as much time as you need. Once you are ready, ask me as many questions as you want to. I can share some very helpful resources with you so you can understand more about the LGBTQ+ community.”
Be prepared for aftereffects of the storm -> Coming out can be a SHOCK for some people (who are we kidding, it’s a shock for the majority of people!!). From the person who comes out to the people whom he/she/they come out to, everyone gets affected for a variable period of time. Aftereffects can range from minor behavioral changes to crazy fights (to the point of people being thrown out of their own homes, sadly!). So here comes the con of coming out on video calling – although you aren’t physically there to face those aftereffects every single second, you might feel guilty of not being there to support your peers (or at least I was made to feel extremely guilty for not being there and making a wrong decision of using FaceTIme). Whatever, I have no regrets of how I came out to my parents, and I think it was the right time!). Even the duration of these aftereffects can vary from a few hours to days (in my case) to few months or even years (Nick’s case and most people’s case too), which brings me to my next commandment.
Be patient -> As I mentioned before, it can take up to 5-10 years (or maybe a lifetime) for your family to come to terms with your sexuality. Unfortunately, I know of some of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community whose families have not accepted them yet, despite it being >20 years. But don’t lose hope and be strong….
Be strong -> As I mentioned previously that you must be 100% comfortable with yourself before coming out to people. Being comfortable with one’s self also helps to have that courage to face the world. It is NOT an easy process (but neither is life!). When I say that be strong, it doesn’t mean that you have to be the lone warrior on the battlefield. You have tons of resources at your disposal which you MUST use – movies, music (my coming out song to inspire me was Let it go from Frozen), stories of successful people (Ellen DeGeneres, being one of my inspirations), your partner(s) 😉 , best friends, etc.
Hope for the best and have faith – Eventually, it will work out!! Don’t lose hope, think positive, and try to keep yourself occupied (especially in the immediate coming out period) to destress. Coming out is a tough step (in fact, a MILESTONE for every LGBTQ+ community member), so be PROUD of yourself and everything you have achieved.
I wish you all the very best for the next big step in life.
A bit about Rhys in his own words: Rhys: A simple guy, who was oblivious of the gay world, fell in love with the most unexpected person… Now wants to share what it feels like to be in love and the experiences of being gay….!!!
A significant character in my soon-to-be-finished novels, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” and its sequel, “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” is an American/South Asian gay man. While researching his identity, I encountered Rys’ excellent site! Indian by birth and now working as a physician in the U.S., Rhys shares some of his wisdom with us here…
“Let it go! 10 commandments of coming out of that damn closet!!” by Rhys
As I had promised in my post about coming out to my parents, here are a few tips/tricks on how to come out, if you are very nervous and not able to decide what to do (as I was initially).
The answer to the big question, “how to come out?” is ………… “There is NO one way or magic trick to do it!”
Everyone is different, with different family structures, different backgrounds, and people they grew up with. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing I can tell you to guide you for your coming out process. So, here are the 10 commandments of coming out. I compiled these from mine and Nick’s experience. The list is in NO way exhaustive, but does highlight the most important points:
There is NO need to rush to come out. EVER!! The best time to come out is when you feel like you are prepared – be it 10 weeks, 10 months, or 10 years!
You have to be 100% comfortable with yourself FIRST before coming out to your family, peers, or any random Tom, Dick, or Harry (pun intended) 🙂 If you aren’t comfortable with yourself (physically, mentally, spiritually, sexually, and every way you can think of), it becomes hard to stay strong in such a stressful situation.
It’s 2019 -> Make use of technology. FaceTime, etc., aren’t the most ideal way to come out, but I have realized that having the physical distance can help in decompressing some of the tension and harsh situations, which is VERY common during coming out. I used video calling to come out to my whole family. Since I had no plans of meeting my family for an extended period of time, and I was ready to come out. So, I thought video calling was the answer. Believe me, the physical distance was super helpful, especially to decompress the situation in the first few days (but video calling has its cons as well like not being there to actually encounter the aftereffects, which might make some of us feel guilty – read further below).
Be direct -> If there is any situation in life where you don’t wanna beat around the bush, this is one of those times. The more you talk about random BS and take 30-45 mins to come to the point, your audience would have been exhausted already. (Remember, the average attention span for humans is 25-45 minutes.) I admit of being guilty at this myself too. I talk a lot (if in case you haven’t noticed yet :P), and sometimes, the main point is lost in my jargon. It took me 5 attempts (6 video calls in 3 days) to eventually gather the right words just to say it bluntly “I have a boyfriend, and I am gay!” Boom – silence follows (as if you weren’t expecting that – haha!).
Divide and conquer -> This isn’t ethically the most appropriate title, but it was REALLY helpful. When I started coming out in my med school, I came out one by one to my close friends first. Using the same technique, I first came out to my brother and sister-in-law, and 6 months later to my parents. It serves a dual purpose: not having the added stress from everyone at once and also, the people you came out to already can help others come to terms with the “shock.” My brother and sister-in-law were a HUGE support for my parents at the time when I came out to them over FaceTime.
A little about Rhys in his own words: I am a physician from the East Coast of the USA, who grew up and spent 25 years of his life in India, before moving to the west! Currently living with my boyfriend, Nick, I often post on our joint blog, which we created in 2012 when we started dating. He is also a physician, and we love to travel, are big-time foodies (absolutely love brunches!), and are happy to make new friends always!
She’s a warrior when it comes to facing invisible hardships. Her blog posts offer practical help, not syrupy platitudes about how to overcome difficulty. At her aptly named site, Invisibly Me, she describes what it’s like to endure chronic pain no one can see. Caz is young and lovely, so people have trouble believing she lives with an ileostomy. An ileostomy is a surgical operation wherein the ileum part of the small intestine is diverted to an artificial opening in the abdominal wall.
Read on for a sample of her great advice…
“Focus on What You Can Do, Not What You Can’t,” by Caz
I wrote this with chronic illness in mind, but it also applies to other spheres of life, from living arrangements to your financial situation.
Focussing on what you can’t do.
It can become a vicious cycle, leaving us exhausted and disheartened before we even begin. It can happen for various reasons. Looking at how things used to be in the past, such as before chronic illness took hold. It may be from social pressures concerning what we ‘should’ be doing at this point in our lives. It may be from comparing your life to how you thought it would look, or comparing your situation to that of your peers.
For whatever reason, it’s good to work on acknowledging and accepting the situation and what you can’t necessarily change right now. Then, redefine what’s important to you, not what you feel you ‘should’ value or want. Write your own rules. Find new paths to explore and get creative to find ways to get there. Maybe you can’t do certain things, but there will always be options and alternatives. There are always small changes you can make and actions to take to improve your situation or live your best life. You may just have to look a little harder to find them.
It’s also about readjusting expectations and making them more realistic and manageable.
Take note of the things you can be grateful for that often get lost in the midst of pain and illness, or stress and worry. It’s about looking at the things you’re good at and the positives you can eek out of your situation and experiences. You’ve become stronger and more resilient. Perhaps you’ve met new people in person or online, such as through blogging or support groups. Maybe you’re more compassionate, empathic, have found a new skill or have become more appreciative of the small joys in life.
When we focus on the negatives, the limitations or the things we can’t change, we give up our power. By honing in on those things you can’t do or have, or the ways in which you feel constrained, it limits your perspective and experiences even more so.
By focusing on the can’t-do’s, you’re reducing yourself and your life.
You are more than just the things you can’t do.
Empower yourself by looking at what you can do, no matter how small. Look at the things you can change, the tasks you can accomplish, the things you can choose to do.
Instead of ‘I can’t do…’, change it to ‘but I can do…’.
You’re doing the best you can, with the cards you’ve been dealt and the situation you find yourself in. A little jiggle of perspective can make a big difference. Don’t close yourself off from possibilities. Instead, think outside the box and take back some control over your life. You may just find that you’re capable of more than you imagined.
Are you or anyone you know challenged by invisible pain?
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I’m letting my heart spill out through my keyboard… metaphorically, of course, and I’m offering it all to you. Today, I’m going to talk about my mental health. This is something that I’ve worked to conceal for a long time, mostly because of the negative stigma attached to mental illness. I’m sharing for two main reasons; (1) to educate people, and (2) to show people like me that they are not alone.
For the record: I’m living with Bipolar Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder… In this post I’m sharing 10 “harmless things” that people have said to me that actually cause me a great deal of pain. I’m also sharing how they make me feel, and why, while giving you an inside look at my life.
So, these are the things I wish you wouldn’t say to me;
“You don’t look like you have a mental illness.” More commonly stated as…
Books allow me to transcend my own experience of the world. In reading, I can assume the skin of people, places, times, and events that I’ll never otherwise inhabit. They make me feel more part of the world and more human.
How has reading shaped you? Blogger/teacher/parent Pernille Ripp why she believes children should be exposed to all kinds of books…
I get asked for a lot of book recommendations, I think it comes with the territory when you share the love of books. And while I love pairing books with potential readers, I have also noticed a pattern that causes me to pause, that should cause all of us to pause.
I get asked for a lot of books featuring male lead characters for male readers.
When I ask why the need for a male lead, I am often told that “they” just don’t think a boy will read a “girl book.” That a boy will not like a book about feelings. That a boy only wants books that have action. That have other boys in it. That feature characters that look just like them or at the very least think like them.