the habit of being_on music


I lived with two roommates in college and one loved Joni. Worshipped would be the more accurate word. My other roommate and I were Leonard Cohen people and while M wailed along with Joni in her room, E and I listened to Leonard.

At a recent work-related dinner one of the wives was appalled to discover I didn’t like Joni. I made some offhand comment along the lines of Joni not being my style and the wife ceased to make conversation in my direction for the rest of the night. For reals. It was like being in 3rd grade again and being frozen out on the playground because you wore the wrong bow in your hair. On the way home, we were rehashing the dinner and Mister said, “Thank you for not liking Joni, I couldn’t imagine a lifetime spent listening to that caterwauling.”

I decided maybe I should give Joni another chance, maybe twenty years later Joni would hit a nerve (in the good way). I listened to songs off several albums and still, after all these years, my dislike of Joni’s music is strong. The Nacho wanted to know “why are you torturing my ears?” And so, another failed attempt at liking Joni and I’m okay with this. And if you like Joni, I’m glad and I promise not to hold it against you.

Unrelated to Joni, the Nacho has some serious dance moves with a lot of footwork. I decided it might be fun to show him some James Brown videos because well, footwork. We started with his appearance on Ed Sullivan and the Nacho loved it. He’s got the shuffle, shuffle (because really, what would you call it?), spin, shuffle, shuffle, I feel good down pat. Now he wants a suit.

PS: I’m sending out a newsletter next week. If you’d like to receive it, sign up in the sidebar ———>

  • caterwauling is my new favorite word.

    i went through a Tori Amos phase in high school, i swear she was the one who got me through my teens. i’m sure my parents thought everything about Little Earthquakes on repeat was shrill and whiny.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      lan, i tried really hard to like tori, really liked her lyrics but sometimes the singing became moaning and well, i just couldn’t.ReplyCancel

  • Nope, not a Joni fan at all!
    I grew up listening to Johnny Mathis, Sam Cooke,and Otis Redding. Those musicians are who my Dad liked and that’s what was played in the house, now I can’t help but think of my Daddy when I hear their songs, bittersweet.ReplyCancel

  • Leonard Cohen. Well done. Maybe I shouldn’t mention that I was into bands like The Replacements when I was in college.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Love The Replacements! Saw them, the Psychedelic Furs, and Morrissey in the same week whilst in undergrad…such good memories!ReplyCancel

  • And now I’m listening to I’ll Be You and smiling at my younger self. Thanks for taking me back, Amanda.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Denise, happy, happy memories! We had a shindig for my son’s birthday and The Replacements were a part of last night’s playlist :)ReplyCancel

  • Lindsay Sledge

    I do like a few songs off Blue but otherwise she has never done it for me either. I have been known to never talk to people again that bad mouth Dylan, so I can understand where she was coming from. haha I’m only half kidding.ReplyCancel

  • At least she didn’t play you tracks and her favorite album. Shudder. Shades of years ago for me. I cannot tolerate Paul McCartney in the least. It is possible I made some people cry with this admission. For what it’s worth I listen almost exclusively to women singers and never ‘got’ Joni Mitchell!ReplyCancel

  • people are weird…not you, her. I’m not a fan of Joni either but then I like to listen to silence most of the time, it drives my music loving husband mad :)ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Karen, I have come to greatly appreciate silence since having children!ReplyCancel

  • I like Joni, and her “Chelsea Morning” is one of my favorite happy songs. That said, I don’t mind your not liking her, if you don’t mind that Leonard Cohen isn’t my cup of tea. I like that we can all agree we like music and that the word has enough space in it for all of us.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Agreed! It was so odd to be cold-shouldered over something so trivial.ReplyCancel

  • How odd that you should be cold shouldered for expressing your own opinion. Perhaps they weren’t worth talking to anyway? I can’t say I have ever been drawn to the music of Joni Mitchell either, caterwauling is a good description. We are lucky to have so much choice of music to listen to.ReplyCancel

the habit of being_on a monday


“From painting I learned something else of infinite value to me. Most young poets have bad working habits. They write their poems in fits and starts, by feast or famine. But painters follow the light. They wait for it and do their work by it. They combine artisan practicality with vision. In a house with small children, with no time to waste, I gradually reformed my working habits. I learned that if I could not write a poem, I could make an image, and if I could not make an image, I could take out a word, savor it and store it.”
—Eavan Boland

For a while now I dithered about a writing project. The words come in fits and spurts, sometimes haltingly slow. On several occasions sentences sprung fully formed and I thought, This is it! I’ve got it. Only to not really have it. Sitting in a funeral home waiting for the Mister to make the rounds I passed the time by reciting one of my favorite poems* (this one) to myself, I had an epiphany about structure that had me making notes on the drive to lunch.

Once I get the journal & the next book off to the printer, I plan to sit down and see what these thoughts and scribbles amount to. I hope it’s good work, the kind that pushes and challenges, the kind that leaves me tired yet utterly fulfilled. Until then, in between the work and the kids and the errands, I’ll write down the words and phrases as they come and see what grows from them.

Tell me about your working habits!

* Why We Should Memorize.

“The best argument for verse memorization may be that it provides us with knowledge of a qualitatively and physiologically different variety: you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen. Robson puts the point succinctly: ‘If we do not learn by heart, the heart does not feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own insistent beat.’”
—Brad Leithauser

  • I keep having ideas for writing projects. I think “yes! This is it!” then sit to work on it and realize that “no! the words aren’t coming!” I need to take it in the fits and starts. Jot down ideas, words, sentences as they come. And then trust that when it’s time the ideas will all join together into something that I can work with. I have taken to carrying my notebook with me again. That is helping :-)ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Yay for joining ideas together, Jen! It’s how the work gets done (at least here).ReplyCancel

  • I’m sorry you had a funeral in your week Amanda, that is always hard.
    As you know I am NOT a writer, but I do have a mole journal that I carry to scribble down says and quotes I come across, or lines from books I’m reading that I want to remember.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Tracey, you may be a writer. Glad you keep the notebook to remember the golden bits from your reading!ReplyCancel

  • Jenny Tackett

    Sometimes just spending time with our ideas is as nourishing as producing a final product. Enjoy swimming around with your thoughts. Thanks for the TS Eliot link. I don’t read enough poetry but do love it.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Jenny, love this! The idea of process over product is so important. Hope you enjoy Prufock :-)ReplyCancel

  • Ah yes, great invitation! My creative work has its own rhythm for sure…times of complete drought followed by floods of ideas and productivity. I am learning that I can’t force the flow but I can continue my daily practice even when it is a bit dry and sparse. Sometimes a gem is hidden in there for a later time. Sometimes I just have to rest in the in-activity and trust that during the down times, my creative well is being filled. This poem by Tara Mohr really speaks to me on this topic:

    • admin

      Thanks for sharing, Arbor! It really is important to try and keep up the habit even when the well is running dry :)ReplyCancel

  • Mnaise

    Great quote on memorization!ReplyCancel

  • timely! I have been forcing myself to write every day, forcing. I get very easily discouraged but luckily have not find an as gratifying way of scribbling over something I have typed in to the computer and so I have gobs of open files. I think I work best by churning out, churning out and then giving myself space before I go back to it. I need to read more about work habits of mamas to many and the small to stop feeling discouraged.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      brooke, the space is soooooo important and necessary for me!ReplyCancel

  • Oh my goodness LOVE that poem. I remember reading it in British literature class and not getting it the first time through. And we discussed it and it slowly opened with such richness. It’s everything a good poem should be.

    I write most afternoons, except for Fridays. I have personal writing and two articles a month to write. I keep a running document on my computer of article ideas and a moleskin with me in my bag so when I’m out I can jot ideas down. Sometimes an idea comes while reading something else, or something someone says. Most of my writing is non-fiction but I have a smoldering desire to return to fiction, although no real idea for a story.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Danielle, Agreed! The notebook by my side is essential:)ReplyCancel

  • I do hope you write your little heart out, it’s what makes you you!! My habits are willy nilly. I am best in the early morning. I love to write my posts early, my journaling early as well. I love to read in the afternoon and evening hours. and as you know I am a huge fan of THE LIST. Without I would get nothing done around here.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Karen, I love mornings but alas, so does the Camellia. So for now, fits and spurts. And the list! We’re kindred spirits :)ReplyCancel

  • Thanks for reminding me of those wise words from Eavan Boland — ‘follow the light’ I tell myself, ‘follow the light’. Time w/ small children is broken up into so many tiny pieces, but if we try to stitch them together, who knows?ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Sarah, I’m all about stitching together and I like to believe that one day I’ll be pleasantly surprised at what I’ve stitched together in between all the busy!ReplyCancel

  • i’m thinking a lot about this as it seems i “don’t have time” to work. or time to fully flesh out an idea. so many starts and stops in mothering. so, i carry a notebook around and jot down what I’m thinking while my son plays or when i walk down to the barn to do chores. i don’t know exactly where its all going, sometimes i work at something only to find at the end that i’ve changed directions entirely. but i do know the work is going somewhere. and that changing directions and pausing is part of the journey.ReplyCancel

the habit of being_lent 2015

This year my birthday fell on Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday so there was much feasting. I ate a ginormous piece of my birthday cake at 11:50pm with a tall glass of cold milk because I knew I wouldn’t be able to have it the next day since I planned to give up sugar for Lent. I thought long and hard about all the things I could give up and the hardest, the one I would struggle with on a daily basis, was sugar. And so, Ash Wednesday dawned bright and early and I found myself reciting Eliot’s words—And pray to God to have mercy upon us / And pray that I may forget / These matters that with myself I too much discuss / Too much explain / Because I do not hope to turn again—on the way to mass.

As much as Lent is a season of giving something up, we have added two things to our daily routine. Daily sketching wherein my sketches continue to reduce the littles to fits of laughter and still, I carry on. Daily reading of poetry. We usually do both of these activities two times a week but so far we are enjoying more drawing, more poetry. This also feels like a natural time to pull back from all the distractions and re-think my (loose) plan for the year—How am I logging my time? Should I be saying no more often?—because let’s face it, the shine of the new year has worn off and I have settled into familiar habits (possibly a rut).

Lenten reading: Confessions (a reread and while I know I have this version I can only find my French version), Lent and Easter with the Church Fathers (this is read with the littles), and From Ash to Water which was recommended by Rebecca.

I read this post and found myself nodding silently along. If you have a few minutes, it’s worth reading and this part, the cherry on my sundae.

Which is to say, I suppose, that the crucible of parenting is another form of Ash Wednesday, day in and day out: a humbling, quiet bearing in one’s body the reality of limitation, the inevitability of a return to dust, the preciousness of fragile life, the longing for more. My forehead is not marked tonight, but my body is marked; my life is marked. We all fall down–and we all long and hope to get up again.

  • I chose this lent to add more spiritual readings and really didn’t give up anything. However, I have cut back on sugar because I’ve been feeling awful when I eat great quantities. As I age my body betrays me. However, I believe I will look fantastic for the wedding! I woke up this day resolved to cut back on the virtual stuff (I am allowing an hour right now for internet). I don’t like the way I feel fractured in my attention or time, so I must alter that.ReplyCancel

  • I am a non-believer for many, many reasons (I have no aversion to church; I find it very peaceful), but because my husband believes and observes the Lenten season, I observe with him. He gave up fast food; I gave up Candy Crush. We’ve added things as well – I am reading more, working on the connections in my life. I like the focus the practice brings.ReplyCancel

  • I have not given up anything this Lenten season, but I have made the conscience effort to be more aware of the moments that make up my days, my life. With the passing of my Pappaw this past December it made me realize once again [because sometimes I forget] just how fast a life can go by and I need to pay attention.ReplyCancel

  • I have been writing weekly posts and prayers related to FROM ASH TO WATER at, and it has been so-so for me. Are you liking the book? I like its rootedness in the daily readings, but as an English teacher, I’ve cringed over a few typos. But, it helps me practice patience and forgiveness!

    Let me know what you think of it so far? With Honesty!!!ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Honestly, typos drive me crazy, uUP THE WALL CRAZY. I’m with you on the so-so but you know, I dithered about what to read this year as nothing stood out and said, “read me!”ReplyCancel

  • thank you for sharing this post, I look forward to hearing more about how your sugar abstinence is going, the more I look the more places it seems that sugar is hidden!
    I hope you are well, and your lenten habits are proving positive. I like the idea of your daily doodles xReplyCancel

  • Jenny

    I really appreciate this thoughtful post and happy birthday!ReplyCancel

  • Thank you for sharing that post with us, Amanda. It was perfect.

    I gave up all candy for Lent. Along with you I also added some readings and meditations to my days. I think it is important not only to give up some “thing”, but also give up some time.ReplyCancel

  • Oh, goodness! I’ve been limiting web time during Lent and didn’t even realize until yesterday that you’d shared from my Ash Wednesday post. I’m honored. Your blog is such a constant encouragement to me as a writer-teacher-mama-follower along the Way. Thank you.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      you are most welcome, cindy. and i feel the same way about your blog!ReplyCancel

  • […] between reading these other books, I finished my Lenten reading of The Confessions. I first read this in my sophomore year of college in a philosophy class and […]ReplyCancel

the habit of being_the bookseller

The Bookseller caught me off guard. Reminiscent of one of my favorite movies, Sliding Doors, this story follows a woman in 1960s Denver who moves between her reality and an alternate world, and leaves the reader pondering the big question, What if?

By day, it is 1962 and Kitty Miller is a single woman running a bookshop with her friend, Frieda. By night, it is 1963 and Kitty is Katharyn, married to a gentle soul named Lars, and mother to three. It becomes increasingly difficult to discern which scenario is reality, which is the dream.

In The Bookseller, books from the era are mentioned and help to situate the book in the early 1960s: Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent, Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools, and Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Also relevant to the time period is the talk of mid-century design. Cynthia Swanson is not only an author but a mid-century modern designer. Cynthia has been kind enough to prepare a guest on being both an author and a designer:

the habit of being_cynthia swanson
Storytelling and Design: How Do They Relate?

In The Bookseller, the main character’s husband Lars is an architect. My choice of profession for Lars was intentional; although I am a writer by trade, I’ve always had a passion for design as well. Writing about a fictional architect reminded me how closely design and storytelling are related.

They both require thinking from another’s point of view. To create an effective plan, designers need to consider how others will use a space. They need to consider their clients’ lifestyles and routines. By the same token, when writing fiction, authors must embed their own mindfulness into characters. Authors need to pretend they’re walking in their characters’ shoes.

In several scenes in The Bookseller, the main character, Kitty – who in her real life is a never-married, childless bookstore owner but in her dream-life is married to Lars and goes by her given name, Katharyn – walks through the home Lars has built for them as if she is seeing it for the first time. Because of this ambiguity, I found myself, early in the writing process, sketching the house’s basic layout. I did this so I could accurately propel Katharyn through the space. I had to ensure that when she turned left down a hallway, she was going in a direction that would get her to another room. I had to think about what she would see when she looked out the picture window in the living room. I needed to know how far away other characters’ voices would sound if they were in the kitchen when Katharyn was in the bedroom.

 When done well, both contain only the most essential details. You know those design shows on TV – the ones with “before” and “after” shots? Stunning transformations, right? It’s true that stylish lighting, gleaming countertops, and shiny new fixtures can change a room from disaster to divine space.

But the element that makes the most difference? Lack of clutter. The “before” pictures usually contain the day-to-day clutter of living: piles of papers on every surface, heaps of toys and games (with all their tiny parts) scattered around the floor, clothes jammed in closets and stuffed into dresser drawers that won’t close.

The “after” pictures never show any of that. Good designers provide functional storage solutions. But the real work comes later, from the homeowners – keeping their clutter at bay on an ongoing basis.

The same is true for good writing. Early drafts might contain pages of ultimately unnecessary details. Who cares where the characters went on vacation ten years ago, if it’s not vital to the story? Does it matter if the dress she wore today was blue or green?

In a preliminary draft – at least, for me – there are particulars that can be removed later. I still know these things; keeping them in the back of my mind helps me define who the characters are. But the final draft only needs the details that propel the story forward and provide adequate information for readers to create a picture in their own minds of what the characters and setting look like. As in thoughtful design, in a dexterously-written story, the details are sparse, but each has meaning.

 I love how writing The Bookseller allowed me to combine my passions for fiction and design. Just as Lars thought about the elements that would make his and Katharyn’s home both functional and beautiful, I endeavored to do the same in this book. As I put myself into these characters’ shoes, I sought the exact details that would make the story both pleasing and convincing.

I am giving away one copy of The Bookseller (sorry, US residents only). Simply leave a comment. One winner will be chosen at random, Monday, March 9.

  • This sounds so intriguing! I’ve added it to my goodread’s list. Thank you for the giveaway.ReplyCancel

  • Sounds like a good one,a bit unusual which is always a bonus if done well! Will add to the list :)ReplyCancel

  • sounds like a book that keeps you guessing!ReplyCancel

  • interesting, i just looked to see if the book was available at my library, it’s not. :(ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Lan, Today is the book’s release date so it might be at your library shortly!ReplyCancel

  • Such a great review not a book I’d heard off but it’s now most definitely on my must read list ReplyCancel

  • What thoughtful words! Thank you. Putting this one on my list.ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie

    How wonderful! This is a definite *need to read*ReplyCancel

  • I would love to read this Amanda. Thank you for the giveaway.ReplyCancel

  • Brittany

    I look books about books or libraries or the rooms that house them. This sounds like an enjoyable read.ReplyCancel

  • Brittany
  • Jenny Tackett

    Sounds intriguing. A good rainy March read is much needed in these parts and Sliding Doors is also one of my favorite movies. Thanks for the recommendation and the give away.ReplyCancel

  • How interesting…I’m married to a Lars (who happened to graduate with a degree in Architecture) who is currently building our family a new home…sounds slightly similar to this book…only in those ways, of course. At least my name is not Katherine, that would be too much for me :o).

    I’d love to read this novel!!

    Thanks for the giveaway, Amanda.

    Take care~ReplyCancel

    • admin

      April, even without being named Katharyn, the similarities are spooky!ReplyCancel

    • admin


      Your name was the lucky one chosen from the hat! Congrats :)ReplyCancel

  • This sounds intriguing! I was a big fan of Sliding Doors as well, love the concept behind the plot. Thanks, Amanda, for hosting this giveaway!ReplyCancel

  • Michelle

    I had just put this book on my to read list a few days ago.ReplyCancel

  • Charlotte

    Sounds like a good book to read before it warms up outside. There will be so many outside things to do, cuts into reading time.ReplyCancel

  • Rain

    Hope it’s not too late! I’m intrigued and would love to read this.ReplyCancel

  • Suzy

    Been waiting anxiously for this book.ReplyCancel

the habit of being_early 2015 reads


“We wear clothes, and speak, and create civilizations, and believe we are more than wolves. But inside us there is a word we cannot pronounce and that is who we are.”
—Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

After finishing The Empathy Exams in early January I picked A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and while I never thought it would appeal to me, it did. Hugely. This book restored my faith in the future of the novel. I knew nothing about Chechnya yet the writing drew me in and as the pieces began to come together, I was speechless. This is seamless storytelling and lyric language at its best.

I picked up Station Eleven next which was good, even great in parts. After all the hype around it, I expected more. This is the story of survival after a pandemic and there were many glimmers of a good story but the book bounces around like a crazy ball and the glimmers fizzle out. The plot with the graphic novel was ridiculous (imo).

Up next, Dept of Speculation which is not quite a novel, more like a very fragmented long short story. Speculation made me hurt for the woman and laugh at her joke: “Why couldn’t the Buddhist vacuum in corners? Because she had no attachments.”


PS I get a lot of emails about books so I’ve put a Bookish link in the nav bar. If you click on the link you’ll be taken to every post in that category. Likewise you can scroll down to see my reading lists by year.

  • Okay. I clearly need to find myself a copy of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. But I have two big fat books I’ll be attempting first, Green Henry and The Golden Notebook. I don’t often read big fat books, so we’ll see how it goes… Happy reading!ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Oh my, it has been forever since I read any Lessing! Maybe undergrad? I remember beginning with The Golden Notebook at the end of spring semester and then spending the entire summer in a Lessing bender. Enjoy!ReplyCancel

  • I really didn’t like Jenny Offill’s novella and every time I saw it on a best-of list at the end of the year I disliked it even more. It may border on hate at this point. A rare experience.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      sprite, there were things i liked (the style), things i disliked (her and with a vengeance)—i definitely don’t think it lived up to the hype.ReplyCancel

  • I am thrilled that no matter how crazy your life is you still read and take the time to come here and share. I appreciate each and every one of your book reviews and I know I’ve told you that before, but it’s the truth.

  • I just picked up station Eleven from the library. Perhaps I should set it aside and find A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Thanks as always for the recommendations and a bit of your literary insight.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Heather, Station Eleven was good but coming on the heels of A Constellation…, well, it really wasn’t fair to Station Eleven. But I still think it was worth the read and definitely left me thinking “what if”.ReplyCancel

  • Bambi

    Constellation of Vital Phenomena, I just loved this story. I sunk deep into the characters. I will have to check out the other books you mentioned. Love your book posts.ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie

    Adding to my reading list, as usual. I love that you inspire my bookish life.ReplyCancel

  • I enjoyed A Constellation and assigned it to my literature class last year–the students had to use it and write a literary research paper on Chechnya. Ouch!! I was fortunate to get “Tony” to do a Skype interview, too, and he answered all of my students questions from what looked like his bathroom. But afterwards, I realized I had the recorded volume down too low and could not replay it for my class. ): Looks like I won’t be taking over for Terry Gross anytime soon, but I loved him and his book!ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Rebecca, I love you for this. We are truly kindred spirits!ReplyCancel