Category Archives: Writing/Books

Reading on the Run: Audiobooks to Inspire You

Scene from a running trail in Portland, Maine

Scene from a running trail in Portland, Maine

Check out five audiobooks that will help you unleash your inner champion.

Since two of my favorite loves are reading and running, I was thrilled to write a piece for Runner’s World Zelle on the intersection of those two subjects, specifically audiobooks that will help fire up your running through their tales of trouncing self-imposed limitations, journeying from everywoman to athlete on the world stage, and more. Of course, I’ve included my beloved What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami. (Incidentally, his first two novels, which were previously impossible to get in English, have been recently released as Wind/Pinball.)

Be sure to check out Five Running-Themed Audiobooks to Inspire for my other recommendations.

Note: The Will Smith quote has been truncated. For the full version, search “Will Smith on running and reading.”

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Gatsby’s Smile

detail-from-great-gatsby-original-cover

Detail from the original cover of The Great Gatsby.

Speaking of beautiful writing

“It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished—and I was looking at an elegant young roughneck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd.”

Related: Beautiful, Strange Passage from Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

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Running Love, Audrey Hepburn’s Healthy Living Secrets, and the Empathetic Brain

Running love

Every relationship—whether you’re talking friends, family, or romantic partner—takes attention and a bit of work. That’s even (or especially?) true when you’re talking about your relationship with exercise. On that note, this week I’m over at Runner’s World/Zelle, where I offer ideas for falling (and staying) in love with running, but I suspect the broad strokes of the ideas could apply to a number of passions. Check it out!

More link love:

Audrey Hepburn was an icon of class, beauty, and style, so it’s perhaps not surprising that she brought that grace to healthy living and food as well. Her son has just published a cookbook At Home with Audrey, and in an interview he talks about her very well-rounded and holistic approach to life, including her emphasis on drinking water, her flexitarian and seasonal approach to eating, and her once-a-month detox day. (Of course she was ahead of the curve!) See it here.

A new study found differences in the brains of people who respond emotionally to other’s feelings (like those moved to tears by witnessing others’ pain), compared with those who have more rational (or cognitive) empathy, such as a clinical psychologist counseling a client. It makes perfect sense that there are different kinds of empathy and that those types light up different parts of the brain, and I can see this finding having a number of ramifications. As just one example, one would imagine that helping professionals do far better with a hefty dose of cognitive empathy versus the emotional kind. (Can’t get much done if you’re crying along with your patients, right?) I’ve personally never heard empathy broken down into subcategories and it’s definitely given me things to think about. See the study here.

Reading that study made me think about discussions of how reading fiction cultivates empathy. Not long ago, I saw the historical fiction writer Erika Robuck during her book tour for the lovely The House of Hawthorne, who said something along the lines of: “A history book can help you see a battle, but fiction can put you in characters’ shoes and makes you feel what they’re feeling.” Her words are backed up by a study that finds not all reading is equal, empathy development-wise. Not surprising, literary fiction—as compared with genre or nonfiction—was the winner for boosting readers’ ability to their ability to infer and understand other people’s thoughts and emotions. See the study here.

How do you keep your workouts fresh? Where are you on the empathy continuum? Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction?

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Tips for Introverts and Their Managers

thoreau

I’m guessing Thoreau’s plan would not have thrived in open-plan-lovin’ Corporateville U.S.A.

Plenty of people don’t fall into the extrovert category. For those inward-looking, quiet types and their managers, there are ways to make the typical work experience more hospitable.

I don’t usually share the work I do in my paid work life on Books+Body, but I think I might start doing so a bit, starting with an article that published today. The piece is called “Four Tips on Getting the Most from Your Introverted Team Members,” and it takes a look at what managers and project managers can do to foster the participation and potential of their introverted members, and I think it has interest for the introverted employee as well.

As an introvert myself, I took special pleasure in writing this. I’ve done other articles on the subject and find that writing is even more satisfying when the subject matter is close to my heart. So what is an introvert? Or, for that matter, an extrovert? In the simplest terms, an extrovert draws energy from the external world, introverts from their inner world. From the article:

Studies show that introverts make up one-third to one-half of the population. Yet most offices are set up exclusively with extroverts in mind, a fact that becomes immediately obvious when you look at traits associated with the two personality types.

  • Extroverts gravitate toward groups and constant action, and tend to think out loud. They are recharged by the external world and from being around other people. They represent the Western ideal of showy confidence and “men of action,” often moving into that action before they’ve formed a concrete strategy.
  • In contrast, introverts typically dislike noise, interruptions, and big group settings. They instead prefer quiet solitude, time to think before speaking (or acting), and building relationships and trust one-on-one. Introverts recharge with deep dives into their inner landscape to research ideas, focus deeply on work, or delve into a book.

Of course, the labels extroversion and introversion lie on a continuum; few people are purely one or the other. Moreover, it’s a rare U.S.-born introvert who hasn’t developed at least some skills to navigate the perpetually extroverted workplace. They have to. In a culture where the typical meeting resembles a competition for loudest-and-most-talkative, where the space is open and desks are practically touching, and where turbocharged confidence, charisma, and sociability is the gold standard, introverts often feel they have adjust who they are to “pass.”

In other words, the modern open office is pretty much a nightmare for the typical office worker. But for many, it’s the reality, so the piece—drawing from an interview with Self-Promotion for Introverts author, Nancy Ancowitz and the work of Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking—gives ideas managers, leaders, and introverts themselves can use in such settings. I hope you’ll head on over and read more about the deep, quiet type.

And in closing, I share my favorite quote from the piece:

“While an extrovert is comfortable coming up with ideas out loud, the introvert needs to send her thoughts to her internal editor first,” says Ancowitz. “Introverts are less likely to share their ‘drafts.’”

-Diann Daniel

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Three Books About Transformation and the Power of Choice

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Spring ushers in thoughts of transformation and change. Eat & Run, Mystic River, and The Invention of Wings tackle these subjects—and the role choice plays in their fruition—in a myriad of ways.


Spring is hands-down my favorite season. By the time March comes around, winter feels like it has gone on forever (a feeling magnified by a factor of 1,000 this year), and the promise of new life—both literally and metaphorically—fills me with a sense of promise that is unique to spring. The season also has an obvious association with transformation, change, and the power of choice, and these are subjects the three books below tackle, albeit in different ways.

Eat & Run

by Scott Jurek, with Steve Friedman

Part memoir and insight into a winning mindset, part philosophy and running guide, and part vegan cookbook, Eat & Run has a lot about it to love. Scott Jurek is a champion ultramarathoner, and he’s worked hard to get where he is. Yet, in contrast to many memoirs that revel in the subject’s childhood pain, family difficulties, and so on, the difficulties Jurek faced are discussed in such a low-key way, they’re almost easy to overlook. And I think that’s a key of the point of the book: During one of Jurek’s 100-mile races, for example, it’s not exactly helpful for him to ruminate on what’s gone or going wrong. Better to stay in the moment, focus on the task at hand, and embrace the most optimistic thoughts. Kind of like life, right?

Excerpt:

Most of all, the ultra distance leaves you alone with your thoughts to an excruciating extent. Whatever song you have in your head had better be a good one. Whatever story you are telling yourself had better be a story about going on. There is no room for negativity. The reason most people quit has nothing to do with their body.

Mystic River

by Dennis Lehane

Whereas Jurek’s book is about the positive power of choice, especially the ability to transform early difficulties into success, Mystic River is largely about how people are so often imprisoned by early hardships, as well as other things they can’t control. In other words, it almost seems to take the view that we have no choice, or at least not fundamentally. The movie Gone Baby Gone, based on the book of the same name by Boston born and bred Lehane, begins with the line, “I always believed it was the things you don’t choose that makes you who you are.” Those external factors play a huge role in Lehane’s Mystic River, and most of the pivotal choices people do make are ill-advised or bad ones with heavy repercussions. Plot-wise, Mystic River follows what happens after a young girl’s disappearance and unravels the mystery of who’s behind it. Thematically, it tackles how both events and people’s background can function as an invisible prison that keeps them trapped, often more effectively than the physical kind does. Yet for all Mystic River’s bleakness, Lehane’s writing is so masterful, even calling to mind Shakespearean tragedies, that I fell captive (in a good way) and wanted to read this book nonstop until I’d turned the last page.

Excerpt:

Jimmy got out of prison two months after the funeral, stood in his kitchen in the same clothes he’d left it in, and smiled at his alien child. He might have remembered her first four years, but she didn’t. She only remembered the last two, maybe some scattered fragments of the man he’d been in this house, before she was allowed to see him only on Saturdays from the other side of an old table in a dank, smelly place built on haunted Indian burial grounds, where winds whipped and walls dripped and the ceilings hung too low. Standing in his kitchen, watching her watch him, Jimmy had never felt more useless.

The Invention of Wings

by Sue Monk Kidd

While Mystic River is largely about being imprisoned by one’s circumstances, The Invention of Wings is just the opposite. This book tackles some heavy themes as well—slavery, the subjugation of women, brutality—and yet, throughout there is a sense of hope that underlies it all. Viktor Frankl once said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” The Invention of Wings is testament to those words as it looks at the strength of courage in the face of oppression, the difficulty of standing up for one’s beliefs, the life-changing force of compassion, and the freedom found through an indomitable spirit.

Excerpt (name blanked out to lessen any spoiling effect):

“Is there anything you need?” I asked.

She laughed. “There anything I need? Well, let’s see now.” Her eyes were hard as glass, burning yellow.

She’d borne a cruelty I couldn’t imagine, and she’d come through it scathed, the scar much deeper than her disfigured foot. What I’d heard in her ruthless laugh was a kind of radicalizing. She seemed suddenly dangerous, the way her mother had been dangerous. But ____ was more considering and methodical than her mother ever was, and warier, too, which made it more worrying. A wave of prescience washed over me, a hint of darkness coming, and then it was gone. I said to her, “I just meant—”

“I know what it is you meant,” she said, and her tone had mellowed. The anger in her face left, and I thought for a moment she might cry, a sight I’d never witnessed….”

What role do you believe choice and mindset plays in one’s life? What books have you loved lately?

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The Wisdom of Fear and Resistance

what-you-haven't-done

A “fortune” I got. (In an unusual six-degrees-of-separation note, the same fortune appears in Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs).

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about people’s interconnectedness and influence on one another, often in unknown ways, and also about the ways in which we do and do not align our everyday actions with our deepest goals and dreams. I think these things are intricately related, since it is so often other people, sometimes people we know only by their words, who help us find insight.

Into the category of illuminating words, I would put Simon Van Booy’s beautiful book The Illusion of Separateness, a story filled with characters who have had profound and unseen effects on one another. There have also been thought-provoking posts by people I’m connected to on creating the life you want, re-claiming your power of choice (the latter inspired by the former), and making sure you start a project by asking: How do I want to feel at the end? And then there was Nina Badzin’s post on the subject of resistance, which included her new mantra ‘do the work‘ and other takeaways from The War of Art: Break Through Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.

I read Nina’s post not five minutes after I had finished two hours of writing what was essentially a treatise on why I once and for all had decided that writing fiction wasn’t for me. If it was, why had I spent so many years not doing it? Sure I flirted. I’ve taken creative writing classes, just recently in fact. At one point in my life, I even went so far as to get MFA applications to two very respected programs and collect the recommendations needed for each. So on the surface, there have been times when it would appear I do take my fiction writing seriously (and actually do the butt-in-the-chair work for it). But mostly I haven’t. I didn’t apply to an MFA program because, well, it’s not like it would lead to a paying job or anything. My practical side eventually wins out when I start to get those pesky artistic ideas. Plus, there are other reasons: Writing fiction is isolating, consuming, etc. etc. And quite frankly, it doesn’t make me happy. Not the way running does, going to yoga, writing on this blog, or even, doing the work and writing I get paid to do. Still, there’s this insistent, utterly nagging voice that says I need to sit down, delve deep, and make stuff up.

The problem is that the resistance to doing so, which used to be lowercase ‘r’ resistance has grown more powerful over time. If words could think, resistance would definitely think it’s been bumped up to a proper noun.

A look at resistance

In her post Nina tackled the subject of overcoming the everyday forms of resistance that so often block us, and she has found that waking early has been key. I completely relate. The time before anyone else wakes up—heck, even before I’m quite awake—has always been my most fruitful and creative time for writing. But for my recent fiction writing class, I actually worked on my stories at night, which is unusual for me, after my paid writing and editing, and still I managed to bypass the little ‘r’ resistance, largely because I had deadlines (which I love), and I could only scrap my efforts so many times before I had to just go with an idea. But my very big accomplishment—six stories in six weeks!!—was tainted with something, and it was this: I went into the class almost trying to prove to myself that I didn’t really want to write. I even wrote one story explicitly about that very subject, and it was the underlying theme of another. In other words, I was dealing with my resistance but not my Resistance.

It hit me today that without dealing with my big Resistance, nothing would be decided. The class has been over for awhile and I’ve been as conflicted as ever. I have lots of thoughts on all the ways I and others can engage in resistance (for example, procrastination) and will tackle that subject in another post, but the truth is that once I know I want to do something, I’m pretty driven about just moving forward. Also, though I am unconventional in certain ways, I love structure, rituals, and clear goals, and within those things I can really relax.

A few examples: Take on marathon training? No problem. (I’ve completed two. When I set my mind to it, I just did it.) Go through a year-long intensive yoga teacher-training program? (Happy times.) Take a singing class even though anyone would recommend I not torture others like that. (All over it.) But in all cases, I did a lot more doing and a lot less thinking about doing.

How I viewed those activities is vastly different than my idea of writing fiction. Although I absolutely love running, there’s not even the tiniest threat that I will ever be able to make it a career, much less an adequately paid one. With the yoga training, I doubted I would teach but I loved yoga, so why not delve deeper? With the voice classes, I was terrified actually, but only because I knew for sure I would embarrass myself. As predicted, I did, although there was a lot more to work with in my embarrassing vocal chords than I would’ve thought, and I got so much out of my classroom experiences.

Looking to Oprah for answers

Nina’s post really triggered something in me, and even though I had long ago heard of The War of Art and had mentally put it on my to-be-read list, suddenly and immediately I had to hear more. Someone in the comments mentioned that its author Steven Pressfield had been on Oprah so off I went to the Queen of Finding Your Calling.

My problem with the fiction thing wasn’t really an issue of procrastination or similar; it went much deeper: I just haven’t wanted to do it! Like, at all. But how can I have this little voice that tells me very clearly I need to be writing (I call it The Bully) but doesn’t also make me put my butt in the chair to do the work (or in my case, even want to). Oprah and Pressfield addressed just that question. For example, what keeps us from sitting down and writing when we say we want to be a writer, getting out there for a cycling session when we say we want to do a triathalon, or taking that chess class when we’ve said we always wanted to play (and secretly think we’d be really good at it)?

“I have a rule of thumb,” said Pressfield. “Which is that the more important an activity is to your soul’s evolution, the more resistance you will feel to it; the more fear you will feel. Like your speech at Harvard.”

Oprah, it turns out, can self-sabotage like the rest of us, and she found herself procrastinating the writing of her Harvard commencement speech. Why would this world-famous renowned speaker do such a thing? “It was the word Harvard and everything that that connotes,” she said.

In other words, writing that speech felt important. It’s a perfect example of how procrastination and other forms of resistance can be so revealing. (Of course, sometimes procrastination is simply wanting with every fiber of your being to avoid the boring task ahead of you, but that’s a post for another time.)

“Here’s my theory; this is the metaphysics of the whole thing,” said Pressfield. “The key thing about resistance is that it comes second. And what I mean by that is what happens first is the dream, and resistance is the shadow. Like this tree that we’re sitting under casts the shadow. So what comes first is the dream.”

“You can’t have the dream without the shadow?” said Oprah.

“In my experience you absolutely can’t,” said Pressfield. “Resistance to me is a force of nature.”

Quelling resistance

Writing fiction is my Harvard.

When I was a child, the works of fiction I consumed seemed to come from some heavenly plane of existence, somewhere apart from everyday life. And even though now I know plenty of people in real life and online who have published novels, I don’t know that I’ve ever quite let go of my reverence. Growing up, books gave me glimpses into things I felt but could not articulate, peeks into other ways of life I sensed existed but hadn’t yet seen evidence of, access to experiences I knew technically were make-believe but were emotionally oh-so-real. And most of all, reading gave me the ability to live so many lives and see into other people in ways that were far beyond what was possible with my one life; they made me feel connected at the most profound level. To me, the idea of one day being able to give others any of those things seemed like the highest form of creativity. The most intimate.

And by far the scariest.

“What are you more afraid of than anything else in the world?” Pressfield said during his time with Oprah, as he offered one powerful way to find one’s calling.

To take Pressfield’s tree/shadow metaphor further: To my mind if the dream is the tree, and the resistance is the naturally occurring shadow of that dream, then the energy of attending to that dream (i.e., working on it) provides bright light to the tree. The tree keeps growing, and the shadow it casts is short, just like at noon. Guess what happens, though, when your dream is pushed down and unattended in the wild dusk of your soul? The shadow—the resistance—is what continues to grow. The tree is still there, rooted even, and you probably catch faint glimpses of its outline occasionally. But, oh, the long, dark shadow it casts.

Oprah thought the idea that resistance is inextricably intertwined with having a dream (like the tree and the shadow, like yin and yang) was a comforting idea, which is funny (and just proves we’d be best buds), because I thought the same thing. It’s not as if I had never had a similar thought before, but somehow hearing Pressfield talk about the way fear and resistance are just part and parcel to the caring was like a pinprick to a balloon, and my capital R resistance immediately deflated into common noun status.

I still have all the same concerns. For example, most of the aforementioned novelists I know do not receive even close to enough financial compensation to actually live off the very consuming endeavor that is writing. (And I’ve even worked with someone whose book had been made into movie.) Still, as mentioned, nobody’s paying me for my other avocations, and I do them gladly (in fact, I pay other people to do them).

I count all this as a real “aha moment” (to put it in Oprah’s terms) along my path, and I feel like it’s a pretty big deal. And to circle back with the opening, I send gratitude to all the people who have helped me have it (many more than are even mentioned, of course)—it would not have happened otherwise.

***

What pursuits call to you but simultaneously provoke your resistance? How have you overcome fears about trying or keeping up with an important goal?

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Four Steps to Becoming Happier

tree-at-charles-river

By using four simple steps to focus on the moments of joy in your life, you can increase your happiness quotient overall.

You may recall that I was reading the book Hardwiring Happiness, which holds that our brains developed in such a way that they ignore the good in favor of the bad, and that in order for us to hold onto good moments so that they actually become a part of our personal story, we have to do some work and pay attention to them. To that end, lately I’ve been making a point to be conscious of the small moments of joy so that I absorb them. I especially worked toward that awareness this past weekend, which was filled with lovely small experiences, the kind that, unfortunately, are too often easily forgotten.

“It is only possible to live happily ever after on a daily basis.” —Margaret Bonanno

Take Saturday. It was a gorgeous New England fall day, which is admittedly par for the course this time of year. What’s not typical? The early-summer temperature. My boyfriend and I (along with everyone else in the city) took advantage of that aberration and got outside to revel in our luck. The morning had been quite gray, and yesterday (Sunday) was also gray all day and then rainy too, so the gorgeous Saturday afternoon was a beautiful and very limited window of good weather. I tried to soak it in as we walked along the Charles River from Harvard Square, then into Central Square, along Mass Ave., then back to Harvard.

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Weeks Footbridge near Harvard

Here are a few things I savored: The light was absolutely beautiful on the water, and the sky was a Crayola Sky Blue, which was always my favorite color in the box. (This fall, the light has been especially amazing, and we’ve had sunsets that rival those you’ll see from the beach in the Los Angeles area. And that’s saying something.) Along the river, runners paraded past us, many dressed in the ubiquitous neon that’s now the rage. At the boathouse nearest Harvard Square, a girls’ rowing race had just finished; the girls milled about or stood at the food table, their flushed cheeks and happy faces testament to the joy of a hard and rewarding physical effort. In Central Square, my boyfriend got a cappuccino at 1369 Coffeehouse, and I went next door to the vegan cafe Life Alive for a yummy green juice (kale, celery, cucumber, ginger, lemon, wheatgrass). Then at the end of our walk, we got sandwiches at Darwin’s, an awesome sandwich shop that’s also a little market and bakery/coffeehouse. We took our food to sit on a bench in Longfellow Park, next to the statue of Longfellow, for a little impromptu picnic.

All of these moments were so nice, but as I mentioned, they were also small and easy to forget. Yet guarding against that natural tendency to forget is definitely worth the effort: Absorbing these little moments of joy can make you happier, more resilient, and more confident overall. Here are four steps to making that happen.

One

Release your tension.
Breathe in deeply, let your shoulders drop, and allow your body to relax. It’s easier to take in something good if you clear the way to receive it. In and of itself, breathing in slowly and deeply, with an especially long exhale will help you to relax and will help your body be more receptive to good things.

Two

Notice the positive.

life-alive

Inside Life Alive, located in Central Square

Bring to mind something positive (gratitude, memories of good times, an accomplishment) or notice the good experience you’re having right now. In my walk example, I noticed the gorgeous fall light, the color of the river, the healthy vibe of all the runners, the deliciousness of my green juice, and my delight at being in Life Alive, with it’s obvious celebration of vegetables, among other things. (I want to emphasize, however, that these steps apply not just to things outside of you, but also to the good things you do. For myself, it’s much easier to notice natural beauty or goodness in others than it is to congratulate myself for a job well done, so I need to work on noticing more about my own good works and accomplishment, but I suspect I’m not alone in that!)

Three

Stay with the positive feelings, and build on them.

Breathe in the experience, turn it over in your mind for five to 10 seconds longer, think about its relevance to your life, notice additional details, and so on. In other words, don’t simply let that moment of joy slip through your consciousness; instead, give it additional roots to make it easier to “plant.”

Four

Concentrate on absorbing the experience.

Imagine that this good experience is filling up your body, making it glow with warmth. See your face suffused with happiness. Know that this good experience is becoming part of you, and that you can call on it as necessary.

Of course, you can’t walk around 24/7 mooning over the beauty of the day, your coworker’s helpfulness, or your amazing multitasking skills, but slowing down often enough to build up your stores of positive experiences can go a long way to making you happier overall.

How about you? What moments of joy have you savored lately?

Related:

The Beauty of Quiet

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