I have been a voracious reader ever since my mother put me to bed with Raggedy Ann stories. I learned to use books as a distraction during difficult times. My elementary school teacher wrote on my report card, “I hope she will develop an interest in socializing,” when the threat of divorce in my home had me pressing my nose into books.
It was a short leap from reading stories to wanting to write my own, and I clearly recall hours spent decorating construction paper covers for my latest. In high school, I hid a novel behind my science book. The discovery of the classics set my mind on fire and I was called to social justice through personal essays and memoir. A number of books — like Soul on Ice, by Eldridge Cleaver, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, The Diary of Ann Frank, and Night, by Elie Wiesel — opened my eyes to the injustice of the world. And, of course, poets lit up my imagination and connected me with the sensuality of nature and beauty.
I read the spiritual masters, from Zen Mind Beginners’ Mind, by Zuzuki Roshi, which upended my spiritual beliefs, to contemplating Wayne Dyer’s questions in Excuses Begone, in a book club. I read books about writing and the writer’s life with an unquenchable thirst. Are these the choices I could make?
When I teach writing workshops, I use poetry to jumpstart writing. Poetry opens the door to the subconscious. I have a plethora to choose from because I receive three poems a day in my inbox. I begin my morning with inspiration, as I read a poem instead of the latest horrifying headlines.
In these troubled times, there are a few books I keep by my side, books that not only inspire but reflect back to me my best self and our best possible society. I encounter ideas that challenge and uplift, such as practicing interbeing instead of judgment, as explained in Eisenstein’s book, The Most Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible. The compassionate practice of tonglen, taught by Pema Chödrön, is a meditation where you breathe in your suffering and breathe out healing, then breathe in the suffering of others and breathe out healing. David Whyte’s interpretations of words, in his book Consolations, urge us to dig deeper and find solace in a fresh perspective.
These ideas invite me to hold onto hope and practice compassion toward myself and others, to envision a life filled with grace and goodness.
Marianne Williamson’s book, A Women’s Worth, constantly reminds me that I am not only precious, but I am worth it: worth a political system that truly represents me, worth the equal and fair treatment of neighbors of color, worth the dismantling of power from patriarchy to support a multiplicity of choices, worth a world of generous possibilities for each of us to fully bloom into our potential.
I am no longer the child who hid behind books. I am the woman and writer who knows the power of words to create. Change begins with me.
The Most Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, by Charles Eisenstein (North Atlantic Books, 2013)
Start Where you Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, by Pema Chödrön (Shambhala, 1994) and When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chödrön (Shambhala, 2000)
Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meanings of Everyday Words, by David Whyte (Many Rivers Press, 2015)
A Woman’s Worth, by Marianne Williamson (Random House, 1993)
To read or hear poetry: