Dr. Stacee Reicherzer’s Reviews : “Juliet Takes a Breath” by Gabby Rivera

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Juliet Takes a BreathJuliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Damn, this book’s good! I love, love seeing excellence in queer fiction.

First, it’s a compelling storytelling. Juliet’s coming of age as a young dyke who’s Puerto Rican, brown-skinned, curvy is told in the contrasting settings of The Bronx- where she grew up, Portland- where she interns under her mentor, and Miami- where she experiences a profound awakening to queer POC identity and expressions of gender, sexuality, and freedom.

So in that sense, it’s a fun read that moves the reader along through these vastly different locations and their impact on her development- I could hear the tires screech on the Number 2 and 5 subway train split, taste the first time encounters with Portland vegan food, and feel the pulse and power of the Clipper Queerz party.

That’s real testimony to Gabby Rivera’s power as a storyteller, for although I as a white transgender woman share queerness with Juliet, few of the character’s other cultural realities were my own. Yet I was connected and moved throughout the story, and didn’t want to put the book down.

I also took this in through my lens of white privilege, finding myself situated as both the witness to Juliet’s testimony of intersecting race, culture, size, and queerness; and my own awareness that I at times have been a trans and pan-identifying version of Harlow, the white woman whom Juliet initially viewed as a mentor. Even as much as I loved the storytelling, the more poignant piece was the work I still need to do on my own self to examine my privilege and the racism that comes with it.

So I got way, way more than I bargained for in a book that I picked up because I love the cover art and a general love of queer stories. I very much appreciate the takeaway that I along with all white queer people have: putting the time in to dismantling the racism that keeps our family of color in the margins. We have to recognize the right for space, for voice, for mattering; and have work to do in ensuring that this is experienced in a way that BIPOC need it to be.

Juliet Takes a Breath is such a reminder of my need to take responsibility for this. I just really dug the book for telling me this.

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The Cost of Fear

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Fears come and go, and are forgotten about as soon as whatever we were fearing didn’t happen. And all we did was give our thoughts over to fear, and along with it, our health, our opportunity to experience joy, our time with people and circumstances who are here today.

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One of the hardest life lessons to learn and relearn is around fear. We have such a tendency to cluster our life stories around fear for those things that we cannot control. And if there’s one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught, it’s how little control we truly have.
 
Of course there are healthy fears. These are the things that keep us from putting our hand in a pot of boiling water or frolicking with a wasp nest.
 
How much time do we give though to unhealthy fears that are based on all that could go wrong with a situation over which we have no control; particularly when the situation can also work in our favor? This is the kind of fear we need to address. It’s the fears which keep us up at night and that occupies our waking moments.
 
So instead of being in the here and now, being fully alive in our present lives, we give our thoughts to imagined problems and catastrophes.
 
Then when these imagined catastrophes are never realized, we move on to the next fear, and the next. The months and years pass. Fears come and go, and are forgotten about as soon as whatever we were fearing didn’t happen. And all we did was give our thoughts over to fear, and along with it, our health, our opportunities to experience joy, and our time with people and circumstances who are here today.
 
Even when fears are realized and bad things happen, all of the worry we surrendered to ahead of time did nothing but cause a lot of build-up around things we could not control or avoid. For if we could have changed things, we would have.
 
How much mental space do you need to be devoting today to fear, then? How much more of your present life needs to be lost forever to the things that you cannot control or change?
If there was ever a moment to be reminded of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s opening lines of his first inaugural address, it’s now: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Seasonal Affective Disorder and What You Can Do to Prevent It

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It feels like the beginning of a prolonged period of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities and even people, and a sense of being taunted by the sudden ubiquity of Christmas carols instructing us to be of good cheer. And for most of the U.S. and Canada, the whole thing just got jumpstarted by the end of daylight savings time.

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Aw, the magic of the holidays is near! But for sufferers of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the shortened and often gloomy days, compounded by winter storms and long, dark nights feels like anything but “magic.” Instead, it feels like the beginning of a prolonged period of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities and even people, and a sense of being taunted by the sudden ubiquity of Christmas carols instructing us to be of good cheer. And for most of the U.S. and Canada, the whole thing just got jumpstarted by the end of daylight savings time.

But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know if you suffer from SAD every year at this time, although this article by the National Institute of Mental Health gives a solid explanation of seasonal affective disorder’s symptoms, risk factors, and treatments. You want solutions, right? Here are 5 that you may not have necessarily considered:

1. Light therapy. This is a frequently used treatment that works by extending the amount of light exposure people have during the day. There are a few ways to get this, too. One bookworm I knew treated her SAD by filling a beautiful aquarium with corals and anemones. She actually came to look forward to long winter nights that were spent reading by her tank, and did so without the harmful rays of intense lightboxes. Terrariums, which have made a comeback from their 70s heyday, are another great low light option; and African violets, which flower in a huge array of colors, are well-suited to terrarium living. Growlights for indoor plants will keep tropical beauties with full, glossy leaves at their most lush and healthy, helping create an attractive living space that’s also well-lit. Be sure to read manufacturer instructions about plant light safety.

2. Dance and arts based therapies. There are a lot of great talk therapists who specialize in work with depressive disorders. Talk isn’t the only form of therapy, though. Dance therapy allows the body to experience healing through movement and physical expression. If you can’t find a dance therapist, there are dance classes at gyms, studios, and Meetup circles around the country offering everything from ballroom to hip hop to bellydancing. You say you feel too self-conscious to dance? Art therapy, yet another wonderful expressive therapy that engages through the process of creation, is another option. Art classes are also ubiquitous; and even craft stores offer opportunities to learn a fun hobby while producing gift-worthy wreaths and other pretty home decor.

3. Medications. This isn’t a cold. You’re not going to beat it with chicken soup. It’s time to recognize that seasonal affective disorder and other mental and emotional concerns are a part of your overall health. Make an appointment with your doctor and talk about your signs and symptoms. Medication can help you through the season.

4. Create ‘Winter Only’ Activities. Nope, I don’t mean Netflix and chowing down on pizza and leftover Halloween candy. You may have to get yourself out the door kicking and screaming, but engagement with the world is key to you staying active and healthy. Play tourist in your hometown museums and historical features; see the entertainment and lecture opportunities being offered in theaters, universities, and cultural centers. Embrace the outdoors, if your health permits it. I discovered a love of snowshoeing while living through New Hampshire’s long, dark, and snowy winter. And I’m a Native Texan, so this took some pretty deliberate choicemaking.

5. Fitness. Don’t wait until New Year’s to start a resolution to lose weight or get into shape. The time to start a physical regimen is now; and there are gyms for every budget, goal, and fitness interests. In addition to feeling better, there’s the very real bonus that strength training increases joint flexibility that can reduce injuries due to slips on ice. I attribute my strength training to avoiding serious injury from a fall I had in Chicago 4 years ago. Yoga friends swear by its health benefits, and hot yoga may be an especially good antidote for winter’s bite.

If after reading this, you’re still saying “Bah!,” I get it. It takes a lot of effort to avoid retreating into the negativity of seasonal affective disorder. By making that effort, though, you create the possibility of a radically different winter. There’s of course the added bonus that you’ll start spring with some beautiful houseplants, pieces of your own art, and maybe even some fancy Salsa footwork.

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Is Your Work Ethic Costing You Happiness?

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Okay, show of hands: how many of you either grew up hearing “You need to work twice as hard” or figured that out somewhere along the way? The double workload ethic is the story for many who grew up in systems of inequality. It often meant survival in a world that would otherwise serve us up a plate of scraps and tell us how happy we should be that we can eat, at all.

Roots of the Double Workload Ethic

I don’t know many Black families who didn’t teach their children this message. Ditto for folks whose families immigrated to the U.S., whether from South America, South Asia, Southern Europe, or somewhere in-between. We LGBT folk who’ve lived “out” realized this too; as did women who entered the grossly unequal workplaces of the 70s and are still doing so today.

The message was clear: the world will not treat you fairly. To gain anything in life, you’ll need to prove yourself against people who are seeking to disprove you. If I had a dime for every time someone’s sought to disprove me in 30 years living out as transgender, I’d be typing this blog from Tahiti while sipping…whatever Tahitians drink.

Ours is a powerful shared story of survival, then; one that continues to guide us like a beacon toward an imagined future. What that future means isn’t made explicit. Is it a happy retirement in a modest house and with minimal debt: what many were led to believe is the American Dream?

Where the Double Workload Really Ethic Leads

The part that nobody told us is that, virtuous as it is to maintain a double workload ethic, it’s probably never once in the history of oppressed people made any one of us particularly happy. Consider the high incidence of untreated depression, anxiety, compulsive gambling and addiction, as well as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic health problems afflicting American workers.

Doubling down on work is not a celebration of life nor of the body in which we live it.

Let’s also consider what the double workload ethic truly does to relationships. Many of us have painted ourselves into a corner with the notion that working extra hard is a necessary sacrifice for our families.

While there’s a clear financial advantage to doing this for the short term, once the urgency was over, how many of you kept the sacrifice going because you couldn’t figure out how to do anything else? How many of you have watched children grow and people pass from your life while you were busy working?

The Power of ‘NO’

What would it mean to you if, just for a minute, you were to entertain a notion that perhaps you have human limitations and a right to work less than is humanly possible? I can sense some of you becoming appalled at this suggestion because it seems so contrary to your beliefs. If you’ve conditioned yourself to believe that the double workload ethic is a lifelong must, it’s a radically different concept I’m suggesting.

If you’re willing to consider that I may be right though, here are some things you can do right now while you’re at your desk on this quick break from work, waiting for your microwaved cup of ramen noodles to cool (don’t spill that on the keyboard. The IT folks get touchy about such things).

  1. Be Grateful. Spend a few minutes thinking about the people whose own work ethics guided you here. If you got here on your own, be grateful for the resilience it took to help you achieve what you have on this day.
  2.  Be Loving. Notice the things that you have in life right now that aren’t your work and which need your focus. Who’s alive in your life right now that really matters most to you? What attention might you be yearning to give this person; and what attention might the person be yearning for from you?
  3. Be Creative. What parts of your life need expansion? Is there a love you have for art, gardening, or another passion that’s calling to you? Perhaps you’ve been putting off experiencing something new: the joy of learning a language, of visiting a nearby museum or garden; or of taking a journey to the mountains, the shore, or a new neighborhood in your own city. Is your dog giving you that “Come on and take me to the dog beach, girl!” kind of look?
  4. Say No. It’s a fun little word. Just two letters. Make it a practice to use it when you’ve reached your limits; and when you’re unwilling to sacrifice time spent loving and creating. Let go of the fear of disappointing someone because chances are, some other Yes person will do what you’re no longer willing to do. The world won’t end without you giving your all; but if you don’t stop saying Yes when you need a No, you’ll lose a lot more than you gain.

My wish is for each of you to experience your humanness fully. Live in this day and enjoy what it means to exist in the life you have, whatever circumstances you’ve created. Consider this day in this life as the ultimate opportunity; for in so many ways, it truly is.

In other words babes, live in the Now.

Dr. Stacee’s Review of ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho

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The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A hero’s journey for our time, this book resonates as the ultimate coming of age story. It held me spellbound and because I couldn’t put it down, I actually elected to read it while running on the treadmill instead of going with an easily digestible episode of Dr. Who or a Mexican soap opera.

That’s commitment for me. Treadmill reading isn’t easy.

Even the book’s publication story is compelling: In its first launch, it was not a commercial success. The author’s commitment to the book and his conviction that this is truly something that readers want and need was part of what attracted me to it; for this is the living spirit of the hero in his book.

The story is of Santiago, a sheepherder boy who notes the herd/follower mentality of his sheep; which is a worthwhile allegory for a human experience in its pre-awakened state. He realizes one day of his sheep, “They trust me, and they’ve forgotten how to rely on their own instincts….” This is Santiago’s burgeoning awareness that there’s something to which he’s instinctually being called to do.

Following a dream of buried treasure in Egypt, Santiago experiences a journey of transformation as he encounters people whose lives we see all around us: the sage Melchizedek whose message Santiago almost misses in becoming too irritated to listen, the shopkeeper who has a dream of going to Mecca that he’ll never fulfill (the person who doesn’t take risks to break free), the Englishman who’s become so invested in pursuing the intellectual qualities of spiritual alchemy that he misses the opportunity to truly transform (the academic who lacks real wisdom).

Santiago experiences plenty of hard knocks. Rather than turning around and going home, which many would do, or going down a road of self-pity and convincing himself that this is all there is for his story, Santiago chooses to learn from the experiences: “…he realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as a the poor victim…and an adventurer.”

Santiago’s is the story for all of us in our choosing of perception, our commitment to a path that we know is right even if people around us don’t understand it or say it’s wrong.

The book’s theme: “…when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” becomes Santiago’s living experience as he undertakes the journey. He does so humbly, learning through the experiences and slowly undergoing an alchemy of the soul.

This book did it for me.

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