August Book Round-Up

This month I’m going to list the books in reverse order, from least to most favorite.

big little lies5. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

“WHAT?” you’re thinking. “But Leanne, you LOVE Liane Moriarty! Didn’t you adore The Husband’s Secret? And just last month, you gave The Last Anniversary a rave review.” Well, this book was the exception. Like most of Moriarty’s books, Big Little Lies is written very tongue-in-cheek: a caricature of a slice-of-life. Unfortunately, in this book, Moriarty attempted to balance the lightness and humor with a much-too-dark subject: domestic violence and sexual abuse. In my opinion, the balance did not succeed. I also disliked her technique of using “interview” quotes interspersed between chapters, generally from people who weren’t part of the main story. I found it confusing and it took me out of the narrative. I did read all the way to the end, but it left a bad taste.

all the summer girls4. All The Summer Girls by Meg Donohue

I’d never read anything by Donohue before, and I did like her writing style. Her descriptions were beautiful, her analogies enviable. But the story had weak premise: three former best friends keeping secrets about the night of a brother’s death years before. All blamed themselves, yet none of them discussed it in the intervening years. The idea seemed to be that the unburdening of the secrets would solve their personal problems, but I didn’t see any true catharsis for any of the girls. Some of it was outright unrealistic: for example, Dani, the drug addict, actually quit cold turkey in the middle of the book. Only one of the girls, Vanessa, had a storyline that showed true self-discovery. And Kate, the sister of the dead boy, rekindled a romance with her former fiancé at the end of the book. I found that particularly awkward, as the only scene between the two was at the beginning of the book when he dumped her. How was the reader supposed to be invested in the relationship? Continue reading

“What Do You Do?”: Guest Post by Cristen Dimas

Today’s post is brought to you by Cristen Dimas, my longtime friend and children’s book writing partner. Cristen once had a purpose that fulfilled her, but when life circumstances changed, she found herself needing to explore new avenues. Read her inspiring story below! 

Cristen Dimas

Cristen Dimas

When my family relocated as a result of a transfer in my husband’s career, I resigned from the job I loved as an elementary music teacher. My children were near preschool age and childcare was difficult to find in our new town, as were teaching jobs. So we made the decision that I would stay home with our children until they reached kindergarten. We planned well financially and I was prepared and excited to be a stay-at-home mom.

What I didn’t anticipate was my newfound inability to answer this single question, one that often arises when you move and meet a lot of new people: “What do you do?”

It felt so strange not to say “I’m a music teacher.” Simply answering “I stay at home with the kids,” didn’t feel right. It wasn’t that I felt like that wasn’t enough. Yes, that is what I “do” now, and it’s an important and fulfilling purpose. But I felt like it wasn’t really a full representation of me. And I knew that for at least the next few years, at least, I wouldn’t be able to say I was an elementary music teacher. I felt lost. Continue reading

Identity Crisis: Averted

I chose to write about PURPOSE this month for, well, a purpose. I thought I would need to prepare myself for the feeling that I was losing my current life’s purpose by giving up mommy-time and writing-time in favor of going back to work. I thought this transition, from stay-at-home to working mom, from writer back to musician, would provoke a mini crisis of self. I’ve had these crises before- when I transitioned from college to professional life; when I got married and took my husband’s name; while I was pregnant and becoming a mother. I’ve always felt a lack of center when I needed to re-think the ways I identify myself. So it seemed reasonable to think I’d go through something similar during this next transition.

Except it hasn’t happened. I feel completely prepared for everything to come. Sad, yes; extra-emotional, yes; nervous, yes. But readyI puzzled over this, even while feeling grateful for my own firm sense of self. This is what I came up with:

My identity hasn’t changed. Only the proportions have changed. Continue reading

The Purpose of Practice

As a music teacher, I am regularly told that my subject is less important and more expendable than other “core” subjects such as reading, math and science. Why? Well, because most music students don’t grow up to have careers in music. I question the validity of this point (does that mean Biology and Algebra were a waste of my time, since my career doesn’t involve them?) but let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that it’s true. Most students who make music don’t become musicians. I’ve been teaching in public schools and private settings for over twelve years now, and I’ve seen some truly talented students spend hours in the practice room, dedicate months to learning solos for festivals, win entry into the top ensembles in the state… and then go off to college for a non-music degree, and rarely, if ever, pick up their instruments again. Do I feel like my colleagues and I have somehow failed these students? Not even a little bit. Because although they’re no longer playing their instruments, I know they’ve learned something incredibly valuable from their music education.

They’ve learned how to practice. 

Over the weekend, I started listening to Gabriela Periera’s DIY MFA podcast. (Gabriela was one of the clinicians who most inspired me at the Writer’s Digest conference.) In Episode #2, Gabriela talks about how her violin practice habits informed her writing practice habits. Her analysis really resonated with me on a personal and professional level. Professional, because it gave me some new language to explain the importance of practice on any instrument, not for the music’s sake, but for the practice’s sake. Personal, because it gave me a new framework for my own writing practice; ironically, the same one I’ve been assigning my students for a decade:

1. Warm-upmetronome

2. Skill practice

3. Develop repertoire

4. Prepare for performance Continue reading

Remove Your Appendix

When was the last time you thought about your appendix?

Unless you’ve experienced appendicitis, you’ve probably never considered your appendix at all. It’s a completely unnecessary part of your body. It serves no purpose whatsoever. It’s like a fork when you’re eating hot dogs: positioned near the action, but never in use.

What else, in your life, is like your appendix?

Do you have a friend who you were once close to, but now have nothing in common with? Is there a piece of furniture or technology in your house that gathers dust? Do you have a membership to a gym or clubhouse that you haven’t used in years? In other words, can you think of anything that serves no purpose whatsoever, that simply takes up space, time or energy?

If you can, I recommend emergency surgery. A metaphorical appendectomy. Get rid of the purposeless thing or person. Do it gently, so as not to leave a scar, but get it done. Continue reading

Top 10 Reasons To Go On Vacation

What’s the purpose of vacations?

I would never have asked myself this question in my twenties. I would have thought it was obvious: you go on vacation to relax. Period. But as I’ve gotten older, and particularly since having a kid, I’ve realized there can be multiple motivations for vacationing. I’ve also learned that everyone on the same trip doesn’t necessarily have the same reasons for going. And if those reasons aren’t aligned, someone is going to wish she’d never left home.

This question feels important to me, because it’s August, we only have a couple of chances left for short trips before the start of the school year, and I want them to fulfill the needs of everyone in our family.

Aruba at sunset

Aruba at sunset

Continue reading

Purpose, Simplified

DR beachLet’s kick off the PURPOSE-ful month of August by simply defining what it is, and figuring out how to find it.

To my mind, finding purpose is the art of asking yourself personal “why” questions; purpose itself lies in the answers to those questions.

For example:

Purpose: Parenting

Question: “Why do I want to be a parent?” The answer will help you qualify your parenting values, and direct your interactions with your children.

Purpose: Work

Question: “What do I want to be when I grow up?” The answer will help you find goals for your education and work life.

Purpose: Life

Question: “What am I truly passionate about?” The answer will open your mind to all sorts of potential new avenues. Continue reading