Review: Sidroc the Dane by Octavia Randolph

Sidroc the Dane: A Circle of Ceridwen Saga StorySidroc the Dane: A Circle of Ceridwen Saga Story by Octavia Randolph
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The hero, Sidroc is fated to transcend an early life of battering and betrayal to become a warrior marked by destiny and a few drops more compassion than most men of his brutal age. This is a masterfully woven tale of becoming that carries the reader deep into the culturally foreign yet humanly recognizable world of Northern Europe in the 9th Century.

There are all the hallmarks of a great yarn here: a pacey plot, richly woven with swirling foreshadowings; characters who are full-blooded human beings, scaling the contours of heroic moments, mortal flaws, and failures – a mix of light and dark that is sympathetic and solidly believable. Sidroc is the kind of hero who enables the soul to capture a greater vision of its noble potential, expounded in a tale that doesn’t dial back on the gritty historical realities. All this is supported by historical detail, accurate and immersive, so that the reader truly enters the world of the saga. The author, Octavia Randolph (scholar, craftswoman, tale-weaver, essayist, and seasoned navigator of the 9th Century) is so steeped in the times she writes of that she’s a safe pair of hands when it comes to how things most likely were.

This book was my initiating experience to the Circle of Ceridwen saga and it is appropriately epic. I’d have read it a lot quicker if I hadn’t been inspired to stop often to look things up and read more widely about the times and places. The author’s website provides an excellent resource for anyone who wants to dig a little deeper. The delightful thing is that there’s so much more to explore of this world, with at least eight more novels and adjunctive works still extending. It’s a thrill that there’s more to come.

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Review: The Mind Monster Solution by Hazel Gale

The Mind Monster SolutionThe Mind Monster Solution by Hazel Gale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book of strategies to deal with the roots of self-sabotage and burnout. It packs more value per square inch of page than anything else I have read on the topic. Of course, our reception of a book is also a matter of timing in life, but I have to say this one really spoke to me and finally nailed some nasty old habits. Its ‘modality’ is basically NLP/cognitive hypnotherapy, but the first thing I learned is that the hypnotherapy bit has almost nothing to do with ‘hypnosis’ techniques and everything to do with interrupting the ‘trance’ states in which we tend to carry out self-destructive behaviours. It takes application, but it is encouraging and doable! It’s comprehensive, and there are lots of angles. The author basically throws the kitchen sink and a couple of grand pianos at the issue.

I don’t know anybody who is not in some degree struggling with self-sabotage, but for me, recovering from burnout, terrified of going back to the way I was and treading the same old paths, it was crunch time. I am now recommending The Mind Monster Solution to everyone and referring to it frequently in training the team of support workers I supervise – for themselves and the people we work with.

What was good? All of it. Hazel writes well, and it’s got to be the next best thing to having a series of 1-1 sessions. The book is aimed at empowering the reader with the tools to be their own therapist. I think it saved me a lot of money. There are practical exercises to apply every chapter, and it’s worth doing them. The parts that had me on the edge of my seat were the telling of her own emotional battles as a competitive fighter. I’m not an athlete, but these were tantalizingly relatable to my own experiences of psychological shutdown and gave me huge hope.

The only thing that didn’t quite work, which didn’t matter in any case, is how the reader at the beginning is invited to skip or skim bits to home in on which of the many strategies appeal to them. I don’t think it’s easy to do this because the chapters do build on previous ones and, even though the material is cross-referenced, you’ll end up needing to refer back, so it’s best to read and apply from beginning to end – in my opinion.

I am profoundly grateful that Hazel had the skill, compassion and generosity to write this book. It’s worth ten of the others.

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Review: Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo

Everything is Figureoutable: How One Simple Belief Can Help Us Overcome Any Obstacle and Create Unstoppable SuccessEverything is Figureoutable: How One Simple Belief Can Help Us Overcome Any Obstacle and Create Unstoppable Success by Marie Forleo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are lots of books out there like this, making staggering claims for how they will revolutionize your life. I’d never have opened this if it had not come from a trusted recommender who was convinced enough to send me the book and tell me to read it. It happened to come at the perfect moment when I was bottoming out, and I can honestly say it’s the one that has made a difference. There are no shortcuts to hard work, lots of very hard work, but sometimes we need a little hand-holding as well as some butt-kicking and Marie does it all generously and compassionately. There are exercises to complete and it’s highly recommended to do them. I will have to go back and complete some of them as I got to a point where I was just hungry to read the next chapter. I should re-iterate, “there are no shortcuts in this book”. It might be for you, it might not be for you – but if it is for you, it’s a game-changer! Everything IS figureoutable.

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Review: How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price

How to Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your LifeHow to Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a well paced and informative read without the epic amounts of padding that seem to come with so many promising titles. It’s not *strictly* about how to *break up* with your phone entirely. Rather, the author unpacks a strong case and gives very practical steps to take control of the relationship so the smart phone can be a tool and fun without stealing the emotional energy and attention we know we’d rather be giving to things that matter in life.

The first half of the book weaves together anecdotal and research-based evidence for the ways in which smart phones have been detrimental to our quality of life. By open admission of the creators of WMDs (Wireless Mobile Devices), they are designed to be addicting, and the evidence shows that they have us hooked. I like the tone the author takes. She presents the evidence without haranguing the reader, emphasising our choice to take it and do something or move on if it’s not for us. there was no guilt tripping or accusation. I found the exposé of just how insidious and strategic the commodification of our attention has been was starkly disturbing.

The second half of the book was the 30 day plan, which wasn’t the selling point for me as I am some way along the road of detoxing my digital life already and was just looking for something to keep my resolve on track. However, this section is full of practical advice, hints and tips, and encouraging testimonials from people who have reclaimed big chunks of life from the influence of these devices. So I didn’t do the plan, but I gleaned some good reinforcements. I think the plan would be great for those who can stick to these sort of things. Again, the author’s ‘take it or leave it; your choice’ approach was refreshing.

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The Wisdom of Things Found 5: The Teaspoon

TeaspoonThis was found on a track that runs along by the river Wear. At the bridge at the bottom of Page Bank, the path is metalled with what seems to be rubble from old houses. There are tiles and bits of pottery, brick and plaster, the occasional door handle or tap washer. I always keep my eyes down in case, in a final bid for immortality, the past has sent something forwards in time to be found.

It was no surprise to find a battered teaspoon, then, but this one made me smile. As a gift from a demolished home, this was well chosen for me.

I like teaspoons: chatty little upstarts in the cutlery drawer. They have heard all the gossip in the world from their hiding places in sugar bowls, on saucers, on the kitchen sideboard, and they like to stir things up. Just as a junkie’s paraphernalia (often including a teaspoon) becomes comfortingly associated with the addiction, so teaspoons speak to me of the good pleasure in my life that is coffee. A good teaspoon has a little weight but not too much. It should  nestle comfortably between thumb and forefinger and clink lightly against the cup when stirring. Holding it, one should feel inspired to gesticulate for emphasis and, possibly, to flirt.

She makes the sign of a teaspoon
He makes the sign of a wave
The poor boy changes clothes
And puts on after-shave
To compensate for his ordinary shoes
(Paul Simon)

In specific, look at this little one. Stamped out from cheap, thin metal, like a paper doll, I’d say it was born in the leaner war years, giving its understated, sinuous decoration a note of defiance: “I will be pretty. I will be more than ‘just a spoon’.”

Does it have anything wise to say? I think so.

I’m reminded of the times I’ve chosen to eat desert with a teaspoon instead of with a fork or table spoon, taking smaller mouthfuls, savouring each of them, drawing the experience out.

I picked up this spoon at a moment when I felt overwhelmed by life. I realised I needed to go back to ‘eating’ with a teaspoon. Even if there’s a mountain to move, and just a teaspoon to do it with, the main thing is to make a start and to savour each small moment.

Some of Mevlana’s words came back to me. These have never failed to unlock a sense of presence and peace for me:

Take little sips of air for the rest of your life.

Coffee Shop Pop Psychoanalysis

I’ve blogged previously about my ongoing battle with fountain pens. As a Scotsman I knew once said, “It’s a sair ficht.” While he was referring to the daily struggle between the ways of the flesh and the ways of the spirit, I feel, in microcosm, so is the Way of the Fountain Pen for me. I love the romantic icon of the fountain pen, but for as long as I can remember it has only loved to scratch holes in my paper and (somehow) put ink in and around my mouth.

Rorschach and CoffeeOur most recent skirmish was held this morning in a local coffee shop as I tried to do some journaling. Thankfully, I was prepared with several squares of scrap paper on which to get the pen working before damaging my journal. Nevertheless, Stanley (yes, my pens do have names) was channelling Hermann Rorschach — so not much journaling was done. I obligingly embraced the opportunity to do a spot of coffee-shop psychoanalysis, folded the papers in half over Stanley’s leaked blobs to see what could be found. What do you see in these, I wonder?

(Add your answers in the comments – but don’t look there until you’ve decided what you see; and don’t overthink it!)

Rorschach 1
Rorschach 1
Rorschach 2
Rorschach 2
Rorschach 3
Rorschach 3
Rorschach 4
Rorschach 4
Rorschach 5
Rorschach 5
Rorschach 6
Rorschach 6

A couple of these are absolutely startling. to my mind (it’s that first one that blows me away). Of course the reason our minds are so quick to see things in these ink blots has something to do with the fact that they are fractal (so they inevitably resemble the forms that occur in nature) and the fact that we are fundamentally wired to try to interpret sensory input. That what we see varies from person to person, supposedly indicates differences in our state of mind, our habits of thought or perception.

I just think they are fun to play with.