“One Weird Trick” by Liz Jackson Hearns with Patrick Maddigan

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Subtitle: A User’s Guide to Transgender Voice

Recommended to me by: a trans client

“The goal of One Weird Trick is to help you find a voice that is natural and authentic and allows you to move through the world with confidence and ease.” The first thing the book admits is that there is no one trick, weird or otherwise, but instead a lot of understanding, awareness, and practice to change vocal habits. I would love to see this useful book issued under a title that does it justice rather than one that sounds like clickbait.

The book starts with the anatomy of vocal production and breathing. While it’s helpful to understand the anatomy, the level of detail and the small size of the anatomical drawings makes it feel arcane and overwhelming, even for someone who has looked at vocal anatomy before.

The rest of the book is much easier to follow, with a kind, matter-of-fact, thorough approach to changing one’s voice to express one’s desired gender presentation. The author is a singing teacher and relies on basic familiarity with western musical notation and concepts. There are brief explanations in the text.

Changing speaking pitch is covered in depth, as well as other factors that affect perceived gender of a voice: varying pitch or volume for emphasis, resonance and vocal placement, tongue placement for articulation, and body language and emotional expressivity.

There are detailed exercises and tips throughout the book, and then more exercises gathered at the end in “One Weird Workbook.”

If you want to change how you express gender through your voice and body language, this book is a great guide. It compresses a lot of useful material into a short book and has a list of references at the end for further study.

Available at Amazon.

“Focusing” by Eugene T. Gendlin, Ph.D.

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This is the 25th anniversary edition of Eugene Gendlin’s original book explaining his Focusing method for the general public. I sought it out after learning Inner-Relationship Focusing and Untangling(TM) from one of his students, Ann Weiser Cornell.

Eugene Gendlin’s approach is deeply kind, and goes back to the essence of Focusing, which is keeping someone company in their process by listening.

Focusing came out of research into psychotherapy, so it shares that fundamental bias that the problem lies inside the individual, rather than naming systemic, societal issues that cause individual distress. The book does not mention race at all. It does include women as Focusers, but unfortunately feels the need to evaluate their size and attractiveness, where men are not described in those terms.

That said, when Focusing is used with care and respect for the wider context, it can bring contact and movement to stuck places inside us.

Gendlin’s six steps, with some notes:

  1. Clear a Space. Ask what is between you and feeling fine. Let your body answer. Don’t go into any one issue, just acknowledge what’s there. This can bring relief in itself, bringing attention to troubles without drowning in them.
  2. Felt Sense. Choose one issue. What is your sense of all of it? Yes, that unclear muddy queasy sense – that. This is how your body has this issue, including all the past events it links with and all the subtle signals that you have sensed in the present. It is not divination – your body might have opinions, but it cannot tell the future.
  3. Get a Handle. This is a way to keep coming back to this felt sense. What word, image, phrase, or sound expresses it just right?
  4. Resonate. Keep checking your handle with the felt sense, adjusting as needed. If it fits, sense the fit several times.
  5. Ask. “What is it, about the whole problem, that makes me so —- (put in your handle)?” Or, “What’s the worst of it?” or “What would make it okay?” Let the feeling stir and provide an answer.
  6. Receive. Take time to receive the answer. Be glad it spoke. Protect it from critical voices.

At some point there may be a shift in the felt sense, a releasing or unknotting, a deep breath, more ease. Focusing is the act of paying attention, and does not require a shift to be “successful.” Sometimes we just need to sit with ourselves without demanding a change.

This book is friendly, gentle, kind, just as Focusing is meant to be. It emphasizes that Focusing is supposed to feel good. If it stops feeling good, back up and find the place where it went awry. Being heard about something very difficult should feel good in the midst of the difficulty. If it starts feeling weird, also back out, since it’s not meant to induce a deeply altered state.

I’m not sure how this book would read for a beginning Focuser. For me, it was illuminating, after experiencing several different people’s interpretations of Gendlin’s original method. I’m keeping the idea of being gentle, and stepping back to feel a response to the whole of a situation.

I will also note that Gendlin described Focusing, rather than created it. People have been paying attention to their body sense of a situation and keeping each other company in many ways across time.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams” by Eugene T. Gendlin, Ph.D.

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Eugene Gendlin did research into what makes psychotherapy effective, and distilled what he found into Focusing. The client/Focuser pays attention to what is unclear but present inside, and the therapist/Companion facilitates that.

In this book, he applies Focusing to interpreting dreams. You get a sense inside of the dream, and then ask one or more of the following questions and feel for a bodily response.

First, love and enjoy the dream, whether interpreted or not. The next one may be clearer if dreams feel welcomed. Only the dreamer can interpret a dream. An outsider can offer questions, but the dreamer is the one who knows.

(Associations)
1: What comes to you?
2: Feeling of the dream?
3: What happened yesterday?
(Place, Story, Characters)
4: Visualize the place or setting of your dream. What does it remind you of?
5: Summarize the story in a general way.
6: What/who do the important characters remind you of?
(More with characters)
7: What part of you is that?
8: Be that person? Let your body respond like a character in the dream.
9: Allow the dream to continue
(Decoding)
10: Symbols? “Standard” symbols, or “What kind of thing is that?” For example a bridge crosses from one side to the other.
11: Body analogy? High up in your head, lower down in your body, underground unconscious.
12: Counterfactual: What in the dream is different from reality?
(Growth and development)
13: Childhood associations?
14: Personal growth? Where is your growing edge, your stuck place, your struggle?
15: Sexuality? How might the dream apply to how you express yourself sexually?
16: Spirituality? How does the dream relate to the numinous?

There is a whole chapter on question 10, symbols, and it dates the book, with references to Indians in stereotypical roles rather than respectfully referring to Native Americans, and what is now a slur to refer to someone with developmental disabilities.

Bias control: Listen inside in a friendly way, rather than arguing with or criticizing what comes. Notice if you are reflexively interpreting a dream to agree with what you already believe and ignoring parts that disagree with that.

Invite a growth direction from the dream by noticing what is new, different, unaccustomed for you. Consider small actions that move in that direction.

Dreams, especially over time, can give a sense of where we are with a longer process or issue.

Grounding dreams are a special case of this. Many people have dreams of being above ground level, which can correspond with not being connected with the body and the physical sense of being supported by the ground. “The ground holds you with ease, solidly, as an adult can hold a child. You can exhale all the way, stop being careful, let go, just be.” Our capacities are more available to us when we trust we are solidly held by the ground, like a strong person who can move things by pushing off the ground.

Recommended as a compassionate set of tools for interpreting dreams and listening to yourself and your body.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Mindful of Race” by Ruth King

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Subtitle: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out

In the Introduction, Ruth King shares the effects of race on her own body and her own family as a Black woman living in the south of the US. Insight meditation has helped her manage the effects of racism, and she has created trainings that help others cure the heart disease of racism.

Part 1, Diagnosis, analyzes racism. Her writing is direct and clear. Here is how racism affects Black people. Here is how it affects white people. We have dominant and subordinated identities, like a white woman who is also chronically ill, or a Jewish person who passes as white. Here is how we can begin to get honest with ourselves and others about race.

Part 2, Heart Surgery, teaches the basics of mindfulness meditation. Here is how to invite the body to settle. Here are many specific phrases to say silently to ourselves or others in metta (kindness) meditation. For example, “When you feel deep sorrow, hopelessness, and despair, I will stay with you. I will breathe with you.”

Part 3, Recovery, gives tools for creating racial affinity discussion groups and making progress in dislodging racism from our hearts. Throughout the book, she gives examples of how listening deeply and making time for our emotional responses allows us to move through them and reach our vulnerable hearts.

Unlike The Inner Work of Racial Justice by Rhonda Magee which moves very slowly and seems to be trying to convince skeptical white people, this book lays out the truth and assumes people will do the work to absorb it.

Highly recommended.

Ruth King’s website with more about her Mindful of Race training program.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Across the Green Grass Fields” by Seanan McGuire

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Recommended to me by: Reading Every Heart a Doorway

This is book 6 in the Wayward Children series. Young Regan ends up in the Hooflands world, and has adventures. The book starts out full of drama, and also has quiet parts full of good fellowship. It seemed all too predictable for a while, but the ending was unexpected. I liked how Regan handled it.

Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking” by T. Kingfisher

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This is young adult book with a fourteen-year-old protagonist opens with a dead body on the bakery’s floor. Young Mona is a baker with an ability to magically affect dough, and her power becomes crucial to save her city. The book is plot-driven, and also emphasizes Mona’s relationships with others (without a romance!) and her embodied experience.

This quick read resonates with current events and also provides a satisfying distraction. Recommended!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Politics of Trauma” by Staci K. Haines

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Subtitle: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice

Recommended to me by: Darryl C.

This book rang true to me from beginning to end. Staci Haines combines embodied trauma work with social justice, and everything she says fits with what I already know and takes it further.

Many healing modalities view trauma and abuse as individual problems. Instead, Haines puts trauma and abuse in the context of our abusive social structures that put individuals in harm’s way. White supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and environmental destruction divide us from one another and keep us from learning the skills we need to treat each other with care. They keep us divided from ourselves as we try to heal.

Safety, belonging, and dignity are core needs that should be met together for everyone. Traumatic and abusive situations put one in conflict with another – we can choose either safety or dignity, either dignity or belonging. Our bodies deeply learn traumatized ways of responding to the world.

We can form declarations and commitments: statements about our core beliefs and goals that guide our healing. For example, “I am a commitment to be in my skin without apology.” (Lisa Thomas-Adeyemo) We can discover what commitments and declarations we have unconsciously adopted or had imposed upon us. Declarations can be personal or community-oriented or both.

We can find what supports us and practice resilience, reminding ourselves to come out of trauma mode. Social justice organizations can also collectively practice resilience. We can rebuild safety and trust at the embodied, physical level. We can relearn boundaries and requests.

To help someone heal, we blend with the patterns that are already true for them, and help them notice what the pattern has been taking care of for them. As the body is supported and honored, the underlying physical and emotional memories and holding patterns can be released. We can help someone feel allied with, exactly as their body needs to feel it.

For example, make a fist with one hand. With the other hand, try to pry it open. How does that feel? Instead, let your other hand support the fist with curiosity and kindness. How does that feel? What happens with your fist? With the rest of your body?

Trauma is held in the body through bands of tension, or absent slackness. A healthy body has relaxed presence. Somatic opening is encouraged by blending with what is there and allowing it to release and transform. While emotions often arise during a release, cathartic emotion is not the goal.

We can discern what shame is ours and what belongs to others. We can blend with shame, hearing its messages, and look underneath to what it is hiding or protecting. Often shame is preferable to feeling powerless, helpless, or abandoned. We can learn to take centered accountability rather than being over- or under-accountable for our actions. We can sit with the complex questions around our responsibilities. We can learn about forgiveness of others and self-forgiveness. “Even if … [shameful act or belief], I am forgivable.”

We can learn to be present with ourselves and with others at the same time. We can learn to hold contradictions and conflict. We can learn how to have generative rather than destructive conflicts.

Personal healing and social justice organizing can support and serve each other.

I loved this quote at the beginning.

The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The body says: I am a fiesta.
—Eduardo Galeano, from “Window on the Body”

Highly recommended for activists and healers!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“In an Absent Dream” by Seanan McGuire

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Recommended to me by: Reading Every Heart a Doorway

This is book 4 in the Wayward Children series, and it stuck with me more than the others. Katherine Lundy finds a doorway to the Goblin Market world, where everything has its price, but unlike in our capitalism, the Market ensures that the bargains are fair. Children find their way in, and the rules are more gentle for the younger ones.

To me, the ending does not seem fair. Of course, a lot of things happen to children and young adults in this world that are horrifically unfair, and sometimes we also make it look like the children had a free choice, when they did not fully understand the consequences of their choices.

Thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

I also read “Beneath the Sugar Sky” and “Come Tumbling Down” in this series. They were more plot-driven.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire

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Recommended to me by: Tor.com giveaway

What happens to the kids who go through a portal to another world, and then get stuck back in this one? They might get grouped together at a school for wayward children where they can tell each other about their worlds and try to re-acclimate.

There was some unexpected violence in the plot, but there is also a deep vein of kindness in this book, as well as a deep vein of understanding for children feeling completely at sea in the world they find themselves in – this world.

Highly recommended.

The sequel, “Down Among the Sticks and Bones” has more violence and less kindness (although still some) with strong opinions about children being people, not paper dolls.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Invisible Women” by Caroline Criado Perez

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Subtitle: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

Recommended to me by: Dave C

This is an engagingly written, data-driven compilation of all the ways women are left out of important scientific and civic decisions, to our serious detriment. Often data isn’t even collected in a way that shows relevant differences between men and women. Men are considered the default, “typical,” “normal” person, while women (51% of the population) are the atypical awkward exceptions. It includes language (does “Man” mean everyone, or not?), budgeting decisions, bathrooms, safety equipment design and size, public transit, cleaning chemicals, medical treatments, political expectations and judgments, etc.

Despite its calm, matter-of-fact tone, it is infuriating to read.

I usually don’t add books here that I haven’t read in full, but I want to keep track of this one as a reference and highly recommend it even though I don’t have the emotional stamina to read it now.

Available at Powell’s Books.