“shadow daughter” by harriet brown

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Subtitle: A Memoir of Estrangement

Recommended to me by: Body Impolitic

A powerful, lyrical book about Harriet Brown’s complicated relationship with her difficult mother, including estrangement, and about family estrangement in general. She describes her ambivalence and self-blame in the face of anecdotes demonstrating dramatic emotional abuse, as well as the long process of naming her own truth.

The book also covers estrangement in general, both the pressures against it and the reasons for it. She interviews and quotes from other people who have gone through estrangement, and researchers into the topic.

She brings in estranged parent forums with both clarity about their self-deception and defensiveness, and empathy as well. There is a sense of bending over backwards to be fair.

The lower case title and author name on the cover make me sad on Harriet Brown’s behalf. I wonder if they were her choice, or a marketer’s design.

I am fascinated by the way Harriet Brown continues to put a lot of effort into family relationships, despite the ruptures and judgements stemming from her estrangement with her mother. She skillfully navigates those tricky waters.

I read the book cover to cover in an evening. Highly recommended if you have had to walk away or strongly limit an important family relationship, or if you want to understand that process better.

More stories by Harriet Brown on her website.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist” by Margalis Fjelstad, Phd

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Subtitle: How to End the Drama and Get on with Life

Recommended to me by: a client

A clear analysis and set of tools for bringing your energy back to yourself when you have been wrapped up in caretaking someone who is volatile and focused on themselves. In the book, persistently difficult people are labeled as narcissists or borderlines, or BP/NP for short. I have hesitations about casually throwing around psychological diagnoses and prefer to focus on problematic behaviors, such as the inability to see others’ point of view.

Accept that the difficult person will not suddenly become empathic and considerate. Move out of the drama triangle (persecutor, rescuer, victim) into the caring triangle (assertiveness and doing, caring and choice, acceptance and self-responsibility). I like having a clear alternative to the drama triangle. Practice saying no, disengaging from arguments, and saying what you want. Take concrete actions to make your life better, possibly including ending or severely curtailing the relationship.

Recommended for anyone fed up with the caretaker role in relationships with persistently difficult people.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“It’s Ok that You’re Not Ok” by Megan Devine

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Subtitle: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand

Recommended to me by: Robyn Posin

The way our culture deals with grief is vastly broken. We treat it as a problem to be solved rather than as an experience to be carried. We shame grieving people for not doing the process “right” (what does that even mean) rather than listening to and accompanying them. We spout platitudes like, “It’s all for the best,” to separate ourselves from the reality of loss.

Megan Devine shares about her own catastrophic grief at the accidental death of her husband at age 40, and offers support for others going through grief.

Pain is a healthy, normal response when someone you love is torn from your life. It hurts, but that doesn’t make pain wrong.

Suffering comes when we feel dismissed or unsupported in our pain, and when we thrash around inside our pain, questioning our choices, our “normalcy,” our actions and reactions.

She advises experimenting to see what helps even a tiny bit in the depths of grief. What lets you feel companioned in your pain. What lessens the suffering. What supports wellness and avoids “worseness.” What are your internal signals of overwhelm, and what to do about it.

She addresses how (and why) to stay alive, physical and mental effects of grief, how to manage anxiety, and why to make some kind of art to express your grief. Advice to supporters is: listen. Don’t try to fix, minimize, or put the focus on yourself. Listen.

The last section of the book addresses how to handle would-be supporters’ missteps, and how to help them be more helpful.

The word trauma is only mentioned once in the book, even though it focuses on traumatic sudden losses. I wonder how much the combination of trauma and grief can be eased with trauma healing techniques.

Highly recommended to anyone who has been knocked down by grief, or had a friend knocked down by grief. (That’s just about everyone.)

Megan Devine blogs and runs online Writing Your Grief support groups at her website, Refuge in Grief.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“A Headache in the Pelvis” by David Wise, Ph.D. and Rodney Anderson, M.D.

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Subtitle: A new understanding and treatment for prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndromes

Recommended to me by: a client

As is clear from the subtitle, this book is written by and for men, or at least people with prostates and penises. The book is focused on physiology rather than gender, and a lot of the information applies to everyone. They do include a chapter on the physiology of people with vaginas as well.

When people go to the doctor with pelvic pain, they are most often given antibiotics. If the pain persists, they are sent to psychologists, or recommended for surgeries that usually don’t help either.

The Stanford Protocol addresses chronic pelvic pain through a combination of trigger point release and conscious relaxation. Their model is that most pelvic pain is caused by chronic tension, similar to a tension headache. Trigger points in the muscles are released through a combination of external and internal massage by physical therapists trained in pelvic work.

The book carefully covers other causes of pelvic pain before turning to the Stanford Protocol. Pelvic anatomy is illustrated in detail, with common locations of trigger points.

Paradoxical relaxation is taking time to be with tension, without avoiding or trying to change it, and also separating tension from pain, even when they are occurring in the same place. It is similar to Inner Relationship Focusing in its attitude of warmth and acceptance toward exactly what is so right now. In this space of acceptance, muscles can begin to relax and the nervous system can calm down overall.

They note that the same trigger point can cause more or less pain depending on the overall level of nervous system activation and anxiety in the body.

The authors also recommend briefly checking in with pelvic tension and inviting it to relax many times during the day.

Their method is “inconvenient” since it takes a long time and requires hours of physical therapy and relaxation practice. They teach people paradoxical relaxation and self-treatment for trigger points in 6-day intensives. They claim their method works for about 80% of people who try it, most of whom are desperate after running out of other options.

Recommended as a knowledgeable, practical, compassionate approach to pelvic pain.

I also skimmed through “Wild Feminine: Finding Power, Spirit & Joy in the Female Body” by Tami Lynn Kent, which is about pelvic healing for women from both a physical and spiritual perspective. Unfortunately it completely ignores the existence of trans, intersex, and nonbinary people who may have vaginas and not identify as feminine, or vice versa. It contains a lot of practical advice for getting to know the pelvic region and rituals to balance the energy there.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Spark in the Machine” by Dr. Daniel Keown

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Subtitle: How the Science of Acupuncture Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine

Recommended to me by:Tracy Andrews, LAc

This is a fascinating look at how acupuncture channels correspond with fascial planes and embryonic development. The author is a medical doctor as well as an acupuncturist, and includes vignettes of using acupuncture in the ER.

Unfortunately, as part of the correspondence with yin and yang, he emphasizes the “yin” passivity of the egg during fertilization. That has been debunked since the early 1970’s, as this article in Discover Magazine, June 1992 points out.

When he doesn’t have that basic fact about fertilization correct, I wonder how much poetic license goes into the rest of his information about fetal development. The book is still an interesting read though!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Tear Soup” by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen, illustrated by Taylor Bills

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Subtitle: A Recipe for Healing After Loss

Grandy, a “somewhat wise” grandmother with a long silver braid, has suffered a big loss. In gorgeous detailed illustrations we see her making tear soup with her tears, memories, and time. She grieves alone and with friends. She gives it all the time it needs, far longer than some people think it should take. Eventually she’s ready to put her soup in the freezer and only eat it occasionally.

A loving, compassionate look at grieving big losses in children’s book format, but appropriate for any age. Highly recommended.

Grief Watch website has more books, and a free download of the “cooking tips” and “recipe” from the back of this book.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

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Recommended to me by: my cousin

Bedridden with a severe neurological illness, Elisabeth Tova Bailey finds companionship and entertainment in watching a woodland snail go about its life on her bedstand. The snail is housed first with a potted violet plant, and then in an elaborate terrarium. The book describes the snail’s life in carefully observed, lyrical detail. Her illness, circumscribed life, and slow recovery are described along the way, but are not the focus.

Quoted from a letter:

I could never have guessed what would get me through this past year—a woodland snail and its offspring; I honestly don’t think I would have made it otherwise. Watching another creature go about its life…somehow gave me, the watcher, purpose too. If life mattered to the snail and the snail mattered to me, it meant something in my life mattered, so I kept on… Snails may seem like tiny, even insignificant things compared to the wars going on around the world or a million other human problems, but they may well outlive our own species.

I enjoyed learning more about snails, and about resilience. Recommended!

Elisabeth Tova Bailey website

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Come Shining” edited by Jill Elliott & Alison Towle Moore

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Recommended to me by: Tina Tau

I bought this book to read Tina Tau’s essay about going to sea on a sailing ship in 2016 with an international group of novice sailors. Her essay is a meditation on what it means to be American and how we look to the rest of the world, watching our political disarray and increasing gun violence with compassionate eyes.

The book grew out of a writing group “On Writing in a Dark Time,” with additional poems and essays from all over the country. The sections are “Facing the Darkness,” “Reflection in the Dark,” and “Finding Our Way Forward.”

I liked the individual essays and poems in the book, and each one does not feel depressing on its own, but collectively they weighed me down. I kept wandering away from the book and then finding it again and reading a few more, which is why I’m only posting about it now at the end of 2018.

I’ve found that in conversations with people about the dark times we are in, we naturally find an alternation between worry about ongoing disasters, and appreciation of the small details of the present. I wish this book had more of that alternation.

Recommended in small bites for its lively personal essays and poems, many anchored here in Portland.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Conversations on Writing” by Ursula K. Le Guin with David Naimon

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Recommended to me by: sturgeonslawyer

I read this because I will read anything by Ursula K. Le Guin, and alas there won’t be more wise words from her to read. I feel her loss as an emptiness in the world where her steadiness and integrity used to be.

The book is an edited transcription of radio interviews with David Naimon of KBOO here in Portland, divided into sections for fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. It includes a few excerpts by Le Guin and others that she referred to in their conversations.

A short, choppy book, great for learning little bits about Le Guin and about writing and about reading and about life.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Bikequity” edited by Elly Blue

book coverSubtitle: Money, Class, and Bicycling

Recommended to me by: Elly Blue at Microcosm Publishing bookstore

A collection of close to twenty articles about the intersection of biking, class, race, and social inequity from a variety of viewpoints. Each article was clear and engaging. Since I bike for transportation and care about social justice, this zine/small book felt comforting and inclusive to read. Recommended!

Available at Microcosm Publishing.

book coverI commented to Elly that I was starting to notice judgment about biking around as I near age 50, and she also recommended a smaller zine, “Pedal by Pedal, a zine about women over 40 who ride bicycles,” edited by Julie Brooks.  Also inclusive and comforting to read.  There are more women like me out there!

Available at Microcosm Publishing.