Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul

History – straight history . . . not my typical reading material, but this tome came highly recommended, by an equally avid reader whose opinion I respect.  she noted Barry’s gift for narrative, how he could take an otherwise dry timeline and tell the story – of nations, government, movements, and individuals.  I’m widely read in the area of evangelical Christianity, and thanks to my current position, I’m immersed in the worlds of politics and law.  John M. Barry’s most recent book, Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty, plays to all three wheelhouses.  But it is a MUST read for anyone who wants to better understand the rise of the ultra-conservative, Tea Party movement, where it comes from and what it eventually leads to.


Narrative is definitely Barry’s strong suit.  He has an especial gift for conveying the nuances of character in just a couple of sentences, and his ability to distill complicated events into clear prose allows the reader to grasp more details than they normally would.  He is the perfect author to take on a subject most Americans think they understand, revealing patterns and truths that have been missed by most.


So why should Americans take the time to read about a period of long-past history thy haven’t thought about since their schooldays?  Because this look back at the earliest beginnings of our nation will bring current day issues and headlines into sharp focus.  What happened at the dawn of our democracy has EVERYTHING to do with today’s Godless Liberal vs Tea Party Patriot dichotomy.


Pick up Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul for a clear look at both where we have come from and where we are headed.

The Book of Lost Fragrances – M.J. Rose

I enjoyed this book a great deal. I have a more than passing – okay, voracious – interest in all things mythological and specifically archetypal, this spoke directly to one of my passions. However, that is not by any means the subject of this work. Rose manages to incorporate mythology, psychology, reincarnation, Chinese politics, Tibetan history, the Chinese Mafia in places as far-flung as Paris, along with the science of perfumery, archaeology and metaphysical exploration into one surprisingly coherent whole.

For those of you who cannot stand a story without a love story – it’s there. If you want a thriller – it’s there. If you want history, ancient and more contemporary – it’s there. So is science and a host of other issues that all wind around each other to create one of those intricate Chinese decorative knots, each strand necessary and holding together the whole.

Towards the end, I began to wonder about why not as background had been given for one character in particular, and why two other past-life memory aids kept being mentioned. It finally occurred to me that the author had a previous book entitled The Reincarnationist, and that is the term used to describe the troubling character. I need to do a bit of digging, but I bet he showed up in some of her earlier work. Rest assured, however, this book can and does stand on its own quite well.  You might even want to go back to some of those earlier works!

“Enlightenment 101: Live Like a Window, Work Like a Mirror”

Quite the goal that, enlightenment, eh?  While part of me says “All in!”, the more rational part has a few caveats: got to make a living, be an involved aunt, write what is for me to write.  I can’t spend the rest of my earthly life cross-legged under a banyan tree.  Bet you can’t either.

So, why did I delve into Live Like a Window, Work Like a Mirror by Mark C. Brown, Ph.D.?  The endlessly curious, less rational part, of course.  But even the rational bits are glad that I did.  And even if you are not actively seeking your personal nirvana, I’ll bet this book would be helpful to you as well.

Brown warns in the introduction that the first couple of chapters will be slower going, and it was fair warning.  While definitely dense, these chapters serve as the basis for all else contained.  Not to ruin the surprise or anything but Brown sets out his understanding of Consciousness as Creator.  He views everything material to be Consciousness manifesting itself, and each developmental step, physical as well as mental, being the push toward enlightenment.  Once humans and the human brain developed, Consciousness let go of now needless physical transformations to focus all that power on mental, thought-based development.

It does get a bit boggy, but I urge you to press on till you digest it.  Everything else in Dr. Brown’s explanations and methods flow from these ideas.  And, I must add, flow logically, which can be tough to find in this area.  That logical grounding went miles in helping me to accept the more metaphysical stuff to follow.

If you fancy yourself a Buddhist, or at least well acquainted with its tenets, you won’t find great surprises here, but you will find a more reasoned presentation.  Its about learning detachment, over and over and over, deeper and deeper and deeper.  Now, while I don’t aspire to complete detachment, I was able to see a reason for developing some of these skills.

Brown describes the process of learning self-observation, the ability to step outside your self, with all its messy emotionalism and bias, and to see yourself and others engaged from an observer’s stance.  As a writer, this ability is invaluable, and I am grateful to Brown here.  I’ve never been able to wrap my head around detachment before, and he showed me that I already do this.

That is another fundamental point for Brown – we are ALREADY IN PROCESS.  Because Consciousness is constantly pushing for growth/expression, we’re all on the road to enlightenment, albeit at different points on that road.  While frustrating to my Type-A friends, we CAN’T rush enlightenment.  We are where we are, learning what we need at this point, and the best we can do is step out and observe it.  So guilt – GONE!  No need to kick yourself, cause you’re as far along as you could possibly be right now.  Lovely!

Living like a window, then, is the practice of detachment, letting the occurances of life and thought and feeling flow through you like a breeze through an open window, here and gone, here and gone.  Working like a mirror is how we deal with others, remembering to take ourselves and our tumult out of the equation, so our friends, co-workers and loved ones can more clearly see their own tumult and know what they need to open themselves to.

So, if I’m not converting to Buddhism, or devoting my life to contemplation and meditation, why bother with enlightenment?  Cause I get tired, and I bet you do as well; tired of the drama and the emotional roller coaster.  No, I don’t care to eliminate them completely, become some unfeeling aesthetic.  But I could stand to let some of the daily chaos of work or family life blow through me like an open window instead of having my view blocked by the blotches of stuff stuck to a more closed off mind.  And learning to view my conflict with others not as a personal attack requiring self-protection, but instead stepping outside the scenario to learn what I can from watching it play out and blow on through can only do my emotional and mental state good.

So take the plunge and give swimming toward nirvana a try.  If Mr. Brown is indeed correct, you already are!  Pick up Live Like a Window, Work Like a Mirror.  Lets see if we can’t help Consciousness along just a little bit.



Live Like a Window, Work Like a Mirror – Mark C. Brown Ph.D. – First Light Books – 2012

Gypsy Boy

Mikey, call me!

Okay, sorry about that but I had to.  I finished the ARC of Gypsy Boy before Christmas, but I had to let this bubble for a bit.  And now, for the requisite cliche:  I laughed, I cried, he had me at the first paragraph.  Anyone who can, wiht tangible warmth and affection, describe his grandmother as an oger is a guy I want to spend time listening to . . . so I did, much to my delight.

Mikey Walsh is a pseudonym for this remarkable young man, who grew up a soft-hearted, kind young boy in a culture that demanded he be a cold, tough fighter, the Romany gypsy community in Britain.  Surrounded by the perfect set of “characters” for a memoirist, but a nightmare family come to horrifying life for a sensitive boy.  Mikey’s story will resonate with anyone who has ever felt they  just don’t quite “fit” in their family, their culture, or the world in general.

As anyone who has felt that “otherness” knows, life is far from a sitcom script, and Mikey’s was likely worse than most.  There are portions of his story that are literally gut-wrenching and heartbreaking to read.  I can’t even imagine what they were to live.

Is there a happy ending to Mikey’s story?  As in all real life stories – kinda.  I think he would say yes.  A fairy-tale happy ending?  Nope.  He is making his way through life, day by day, working as a teaching assistant in a school for special needs children, a post I bet he is fabulous at.  It also allows him ot fill in the yawning gaps in his widely intermittent formal schooling.

Perhaps what I find most remarkable is two-fold.  First, that with so very little education, Mikey Walsh’s voice is clear and compelling, more engaging than any I’ve read in a long, long time.  It is that voice that left me feeling both like I know him intimately, and wishing that I knew him better.  Second, he has to be one of the most genuinely loving and forgiving souls ever to walk this planet.  With all the truly horrific abuse heaped on him from as young as two or three years old at the hands of those who should have been protecting him, even after being what it is me inexcusably neglected by those who didn’t physically harm him but blatantly turned their backs, refusing to intervene, and the betrayal by those he trusted most deeply who turned their backs on him when he needed them most, Mikey still looks on them with a deep and abiding love, seeking to find the reasons for their pain and choosing to forgive and engage with them, even after being hunted as s fugitive for years at their order.  There is much to learn from a heart this magnanimous.

The highest compliment I can think of for a memoirist is this: I want to meet this  man, to spend time talking, laughing and learning together, not about his past, but just to share lives as friends.  And Mikey, should this ever make its way to your attention:  Please, please, please, do not stop writing.  Have at non-fiction, fiction, plays or screenplays, whatever.  The world needs your voice, your humor, and your wisdom.  I, for one, will be waiting.

Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies, by Mikey Walsh, is due to be released by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martins Press this coming February, 2012.

Shea Vaughn’s Breakthrough

Shea Vaughn’s Breakthrough, while useful for anyone is oriented toward women of a certain age, specifically 45 and older. At the leading edge of this precipice, and always interedted in incorporating meditation into different areas, I was curious.  Could she persuade my less than enthusiastic self to begin regular exercise?  Could it challenge my mind as well as my body?

Ms. Vaughn has taken her extensive experience in various areas of fitness and melded them into a personal mix of East/West philosophy and movement.  To my admitted surprise, and her credit, Ms. Vaughn does not skimp on the cerebral, philosophical portion of this mix.  In fact, it is 172 pages into the 226 page book before exercise is addressed with any specificity.  Shea Vaughn’s Breakthrough is far more concerned wit the mental and emotional orientation needed to gain the maximum benefit from exercise of any kind, not just the system the author has named SheaNetics.

Vaughn takes her readers on an annotated journey through her own life and the lives of some others she has worked with in order to give a real-life context to what could easily become a series of catch phrases threaded together.  She shows how her unique mix of Eastern and Western modalities came about and how it can be of use to anyone, helping the reader to breakthrough, wake up to the life they are living in the present and plot a course to move into a better future.  She then urges readers to build their new future on her five “living principles”: Commitment, Perseverance, Self-Control, Integrity, and Love.  A great deal of time is given to explaining each and illustrating the principles at work in individual lives.

As I mentioned earlier, it is only the last fifty or so pages that deal with physical conditioning moves and recipes, along with suggested “breakthrough behaviors”.  There are pictures of poses that Vaughn says are to be done in series, with flowing movements one to another.  And I gave them a concentrated effort, but found it difficult to puzzle out exactly what flowing movements were needed to transition between the poses.  I suspect it would be much easier either in person or along with a video to help those of us not already experienced in the Eastern disciplines.  When I later took at peek at her website – – some of the video clips helped me to see what she was aiming at, but I couldn’t find a link to the specific poses she uses in Breakthrough.

I appreciate Vaughn’s refusal to simply prescribe a workout regimn as a cure-all for everyone.  Her emphasis on the mental and emotional needs for well-being is fantastic.  As a long-time student of the inner life, there were not great revelations hiding for me, but most folks don’t live so much in their own heads.  For the ladies out there who have spent a large part of their lives just reacting to what life throws at them, Breakthrough is a marvelous starting point, taking them step by step through a process of looking at what is, what the results have been and what they truly want their lives to be.  It can awaken them to an entirely new world of understanding and empowerment.

I would recommend that Ms. Vaughn consider creating a CD or DVD to accompany future printings, addressing the specific exercises she showcases in the book.  The slower among us could learn from her expertise in physical conditioning as well.  On her website, you can also find an entire CD or DVD series, if desired.

Master Your Sleep by Tracey Marks, M.D.

A good night’s sleep – modern man’s Holy Grail.  The way we all talk, its the one full-proof panacea we turn to to fix nearly anything and pretty much everything.  And the lack of it . . . well, that’s responsible for almost every ache, pain and muddled thought we have.

When this ARC came across on NetGalley, I was ALL in.  My problematic sleep history began years ago, finally diagnosed as sleep apnea.  I used a C-Pap machine at night till I lost all my weight and several consequent sleep studies confirmed that I don’t need it any longer.  However, the  hormone disturbances of peri-menopause combined with the side effects from certain maintenance medications to introduce me to the Wide World of Insomnia!  If Dr. Marks could teach me anything to help me get even a slightly improved night’s sleep, I would be so grateful.

The first half of Master Your Sleep focuses on the mechanics: how our wake and sleep cycles work, the biology of sleep, and then how even a single night’s sleep is a repetition of cycles.  We are very delicate clockwork creatures, and our modern life has surprising ways of encroaching on that mechanism.  Marks goes on to look at the different consequences of sleep disturbance – physical, mental, emotional.  I was struck by h0ow convinced we are that good restful sleep matters, but how uneducated we remain about the serious health repercussions, focusing instead on the more passing annoyances of feeling tired or sluggish thinking.  A startling number of diseases and serious medical complications are rooted in a lack of consistent, restful sleep, from diabetes, cardiovascular problems and even general susceptibility to opportunistic infections.

The most common sleep problems are laid out in clear, easily accessible terms, allowing readers to grasp the process and the importance of halting it without resorting to off-putting technical jargon or fear-mongering.  It’s readable, clearly understandable and still interesting to the normal, non-medical reader.

While the first half was interesting, the second half is downright useful.  Marks reviews the different treatment options, from medications (prescription, over-the-counter, and homeopathic), to cognitive, behavioral and even the purely physical, such as light box therapy.  She reviews how each treatment works, and why certain approaches are better for specific difficulties, effectively tying her first section with the second.

It was this second half that was gold for me personally, and I firmly believe it will be helpful for most, if not all readers.  If there is  medical imbalance of some sort, medication is the way to go, and a logical first step.  But if, like myself, that has not been effective, the cognitive tools – how we “think” about sleep – can make a HUGE difference.  Even more so, the behavioral tools can improve your sleep and your life almost immediately,

The most impressive part is the practicality.  Marks hits her strong stride in the behavioral measure that can bring significant improvement.  First up is the sleep diary, allowing the sleeper to narrow in on what the specific issues are, beyond the typical “didn’t get any rest”.  Then she moves on to helping readers analyze the assumptions we all have about sleep in general and our own in specific, and how those assumptions can lead to disturbances, or make relatively minor ones into more severe problems.  This allows readers to move from simple identification into actions they can begin taking that very day.  What impressed me further were the documents she provides in the appendix: a structured two-page Sleep Diary, an Assumption Log and a Problem-Solving Worksheet.  These bring the therapist into the reader’s room and allow the reader to start right in on the nitty-gritty work immediately.  And who wants to wait any longer to sleep better?

There is an added bonus, for those of you with little ones running about your home.  Marks has a separate chapter addressing the special causes and issues that arise with sleep disturbances in children, and the problems that their parents face.  It’s an even more delicate situation, but one that affects not only the sleepless child but every individual in the family, and Marks gives it the acknowledgement and treatment that it deserves.

So . . . how ya been sleepin?  With 1 in 3 people experiencing some instance of sleep disturbance, I’ll bet you or someone you care about will benefit from Master Your Sleep.

Life Sentences by Laura Lippman

In Laura Lippman’s latest, a self-absorbed memoirist-turned-novelist once again delves into her past, searching for material.  thinking she has exhausted her own life, Cassandra Fallows decides to focus on a so-called friend from her childhood, a virtual cipher named Caliope (Callie) Jenkins, who had been convicted of killing her second child years after they lost contact.  The hook was that Caliope had pled the fifth, refusing to speak, even in her own defense.

Though the first chapter struck me as slow, mostly just Cassandra’s self-pitying thoughts about her less than stellar reception as a novelist, the premise and the mystery sounded promising.  The rest of the novel is the story of Cassandra’s attempts to uncover the truth about what had really happened, not only to Callie’s son, but to the woman herself in the intervening years.  Unfortunately, all that is uncovered is Cassandra’s all-consuming narcicism and capacity for self-delusion.  Her futile probing of childhood friends only reveals that no one seems to share the childhood memories she had published for the world’s consumption.  In fact, most of them don’t even want to see her again, let alone talk about Callie or their pasts together.  We also meet a damaged former cop, and I got the feeling we were supposed to believe she was obsessed with the unsolved case, but frankly, I didn’t.  The parody of a well-known, publicity seeking female attorney did nothing to help this tale limp along.

Ultimately, I was bored, and after a couple weeks puzzling, I think I’ve pinpointed why – there is not one single likable character in the entire novel.  The ones who aren’t deeply, even offensively flawed, are so harh that you can’t bring yourself to care about them.  And Lippman’s portrayal of Callie Jenkins as a mysterious cipher is so complete that I couldn’t even maintain a curiosity about what she had gone through or why she had remained silent.  There was just nothing compelling about her.

What I did enjoy about Life Sentences was the undercurrent of personal remembrance and revelation.  How much of our “personal” history is really ours?  Don’t we share it with the people who lived alongside us?  While using our experiences to inspire fiction is common to the point of expectation, straight memoir is a completely different proposition.  What is the truth?  Facts and figures, verifiable information?  Or is it what we recall?  The sum total of what everyone recalls?  As writers, what are our responsibilities to the people we write about?  What are the responsibilities to our readers?

Life Sentences fell short as a mystery for me, but it has its merits as a musing on how we remember what whe have lived through, and how we should handle those memories and the people involved.