Level Up Your Life

I’ve been a member of Nerd Fitness for about three years now. If you don’t know anything about Nerd Fitness, it goes something like this:

Steve Kamb and Team Nerd Fitness write articles that they post on the Nerd Fitness blog. Readers of those articles are members of the “Rebellion.” The focus is on fitness, nutrition, and sometimes general life stuff, like finances, self-confidence and mental health, social skills, etc.

There’s a lifetime membership you can buy, which gets you access to the Nerd Fitness Academy content, and the NFA Facebook groups (one for male-identifying individuals, one for female-identifying individuals). There’s also a billion and one unofficial side groups, with various purposes (one for our LGBTQA+ members, location-specific groups like the Pacific Northwest one, one for NF singles, etc.).

Nerd Fitness also designed an IRL RPG internet membership program, called Rising Heroes. Instead of a lifetime membership fee, you pay monthly (or annually, for a discount). You get missions sent to your mission control, you join a faction, and you all battle together against the Shadow Organization, which is fighting to keep the general populace complacent, lazy, and fat.

I read the articles on NerdFitness.com. I am a Women’s Academy member. I am in Rising Heroes. Obviously, I’ve really bought into this stuff. For good reason—it’s helped me more than I can say with fitness, nutrition, and finding amazing friends that are supportive and enrich my life every day.

I preface this review with all that info so that you understand where I’m coming from, and that my review is probably a tiny bit biased when it comes to Steve’s book, Level Up Your Life.

Is the writing good? Yep. Are the topics within relevant and sprinkled with nerdy references? Yep. Did it help me reframe my thinking about certain things, and make me feel more capable of progress toward my own goals? Absolutely.

There’s a lot of great stuff in this book. Really. But if I’m being totally honest—it’s just a gateway. I think you should definitely read the book. And if you like what you read…check out the articles on NerdFitness.com. Start exploring the free resources that are available. Consider joining the Academy, if you like structured progression plans when it comes to fitness and nutrition. Or join Rising Heroes, if, like me, you struggle with daily accountability. There’s a wealth of information and support and love out there, all facilitated by Team Nerd Fitness. They’re amazing people, and their products are helping hundreds of thousands of people every day.


Celtic Magic

I feel like DJ Conway and I have similar tastes in pantheons and magick systems, so it was a no-brainer to read this book. I really enjoy the simple and accessible format, and the information that she included.

I think the most valuable component of this book for me was the sample ritual components, which I’m excited to adopt and adapt for various uses.

I don’t agree with everything she says, and the correspondences are useful but there are more extensive resources out there. I particularly disagreed with the idea that the Morrigan and Cerridwen are just Irish/Welsh versions of the same goddess. But, that’s the beauty of Paganism—everyone gets to have their own approach and interpretations.

I would recommend this book to any Pagan interested in Celtic styles of religious worship. I can’t speak for or against the historical accuracy of anything in the book, but it’s a fun, quick, and useful read.

Where to Park Your Broomstick

This was my first ever book on Paganism. I ran into it during a weekly trip to Borders with my best friend, when we were 13 years old. Not only is it a perfectly fabulous intro for teenagers to the world of Wicca and Paganism in general, it’s also perfect for adults who are new to all this. The information is accessible and intelligently curated. You don’t get overwhelmed with information, but still get everything you need to get started. There’s also a healthy emphasis placed on the religious aspects of Paganism, which is something a lot of other books coming out around the same time geared toward teenagers missed out on. For example, you’re going to find a lot more practical approaches and spiritual emphasis in this book than in a Silver Ravenwolf book. For me, always more interested in the religion than the witchcraft, it was absolutely perfect.

I’ll always be thankful to Lauren Manoy for providing me with such an excellent introduction to the belief system that has become a part of every moment of my life. Blessed Be.

Big Magic

I hadn’t read any Elizabeth Gilbert before now, but some of my writing friends were reading this book, and it looked intriguing. I’m always up for a nonfiction about the writing process, since that’s the best way to procrastinate from actually writing.

Through a series of loosely connected almost-vignettes, Gilbert talks about her writing process, Inspiration (with a capital I), and whatever blocks our creativity (namely fear). It’s interesting stuff, hearing about how other writers work. They make it sound so magical, you know? Well, except for Anne Lamott, whose Bird by Bird is still the best book on writing that most young writers could read.

Gilbert has some useful ways of looking at creativity and inspiration. She talks about fear like they are old friends. She talks about inviting her fear and anxiety to tea, so they can sit together amicably and still get the work done. I like that.

Sometimes I found the prose a bit too—patronizing. Keep your day job is practical advice, but a little hypocritical, coming from someone who wrote a book that hit the New York Times Bestseller List in such a big way. Not that any big-time author should mislead aspiring authors to believe that it’s always possible for them to hit the big leagues. But it comes across as patronizing when I hear people like Gilbert or Sanderson talk about the “odds.” Writers can be adults and make their own damn decisions. Besides, not everyone is in it for the money and glory. Sure, that’d be great—but most of us write because to not write is to slowly go insane.

Anyway, Big Magic was light, and a fairly quick read. There are some interesting ideas in it, and some cool anecdotes. It’s worth a read if you’re looking to procrastinate a little by reading a book about writing. I would probably go with Pressfield’s The War of Art if you’re looking for something more motivational. Which isn’t to say I didn’t want to write by the time I finished reading Big Magic. That’s the beauty of books about writing. Glamorize the process a little bit, make it feel like magic, and you can inspire a reluctant writer to hit that page again.

How to Be Sick

You can tell from my blogs on my hyperemesis gravidarum that I had a rough pregnancy. When you’re wondering if your body is even capable of bringing a baby to term, because you’re basically allergic to being pregnant, and you could lose your own life and the life of your not-yet-viable baby…it’s a lot of stress. Constant bedrest is frustrating. Throwing up every five minutes is frustrating. Not have the strength to shower or bathe yourself is frustrating. Constant hospital visits and IVs and PICC lines and home deliveries of medical goods to your front door except you’re too weak to pull the boxes inside before your husband gets home or your friend comes over to help…

I needed help, emotionally. Mentally. My soul was cracking under the weight and I didn’t like what I saw on the other side of that potential breakdown. Sitting through therapy sessions was not going to happen, mostly because I couldn’t leave the house, wasn’t bathing enough to be presentable enough to do so anyway, and would throw up throughout the whole session.

So I turned to books—my always-teachers.

This book was written by a woman who is chronically ill. Her illness is inexplicable and difficult to treat. It can take frustration to an exponential level when even your doctors don’t know how to help you.

Thankfully, this author was practicing Buddhism well before she became ill. Her advice and anecdotes are calming and never make light of the emotional, mental, and spiritual pain that can be brought on by chronic illness. In particular, her experience as a person who enjoyed good health for many years before contracting her chronic illness highlights the frustration that comes from a mind that believes you should be able to do more and a body that relapses if you push it too far.

Her writing is thoughtful and kind, commiserating and empathic without being self-indulgent. Her insights and explanations of how Buddhist practices and philosophies could be helpful served as a powerful building block for me. Ultimately my illness was an opportunity to grow and evolve in many ways, and I believe this book helped me on my way towards that. I learned a different kind of patience, through my illness and the teachings of this book. I think I am a better person for it, even though I would never wish HG on anyone.

This book is a wonderful choice for anyone dealing with sudden or chronic illness which does not have a clear end in sight or which triggers a spiritual dark night of the soul. I would recommend it to any woman with HG, as well as anyone struggling to come to terms with the limitations an illness poses on their body and life.

Will I Ever Be Good Enough?

With the current political climate in America, I think this is a really powerful book to have read. I read it a long time ago, and have been putting off writing the review. Some self-help books are a little too revealing, when you mention that you’ve read them. It can be pretty personal stuff. However, with a President who is likely a narcissist, it all seems a little less personal, and a lot more relevant and scary.

The most important thing this book can give anyone who has had a narcissist in their life at any point, is validation. You are not alone. There’s so much potential for the gaslighting to really convince you that YOU are a bad person. That everyone else LOVES the narcissist and there must be something wrong with you if you don’t like them. Gaslighting, combined with the way the narcissist changes their behavior around other people to give them a different perception, can make you feel so completely and utterly alone. This book will help.

I remember when I first stumbled on a subReddit for people who have had narcissists in their lives. It felt like the most important thing I could possibly discover about my life and my childhood. It was eye-opening and amazing, reading other people’s stories. It brought so much insight and clarity into my particular issues.

The second most important thing this book can give you is an understanding of the other people in your life who have been affected by the same narcissist. Whether you’re the golden child or the scapegoat, understanding how a narcissist can play loved ones against each other is key to healing your relationships with those other people.

The third most important thing this book can give you is the knowledge that the narcissist in your life will likely never acknowledge that they have a problem. It’s well-known, in the world of therapy and psychiatry. Narcissists are some of the hardest people to treat because they just don’t believe they have a problem. There is no “getting better.” There won’t be apologies down the line, or heartfelt realizations and mended fences.

The end of this book pushes for a sort of internal forgiveness, where you come to terms with what has happened to you, learn to set new boundaries, and then let go of your anger. I’m not really able to do that at this point—I can see why it would be useful, but anger is still my best defense right now. However, this book does have a really good direction, with excellent advice. The writing is clear and concise, the stories told are very helpful and illuminating. The author obviously has plenty of experience and knows what she’s talking about, with proven methods that have helped many, many people in these sorts of situations.

I’m so very glad I read this book. It helped me in my personal journey, and hopefully will help others who find themselves in similar situations. My never-ending thanks to the author for creating this and putting it out into the world.

First, Kill All the Marriage Counselors

So, there’s reason behind the title. It’s a pretty unfortunate title pick, for readers like me. First of all—I love therapy, and have benefitted immensely from it. I’ve never been to couples therapy, but I don’t really like the implication that marriage and family therapists are all bad at their jobs. Secondly, this is the same women who wrote The Surrendered Wife, and any feminist might be tempted to boycott the book just because of the title.

There are some questionable concepts in this book that seem kind of dated. Also, this discussion is ONLY about a male-female marriage. I think it has potential, if she were to instead say “yin” and “yang” throughout the book, rather than “husband” and “wife.” I don’t know if all relationships have that much of a clearcut dynamic, of course. But this book would be great for the person who wanted to learn to be a better yin, if their partner didn’t want to let go of being the yang.

Without getting too much into the specifics, let me just say that no one ever modeled a supremely healthy marriage communication style for me. I haven’t seen it much in books (I read mostly Young Adult, though, so I don’t know how much exposure I’ve had to married couples beyond all the Outlander books). I haven’t seen it much in the real world, since every couple out there tends to develop an individual style that works for them. Everyone has different pet peeves, everyone has different types of joy and support they get from their partners. Suffice it to say I hadn’t learned a good style for myself and my husband by observing any other couple.

I think there’s a real struggle sometimes for a woman like me, who works in the field of technology with mostly male coworkers, to take off my “work” hat and put on my “partner” hat when I get home. The parent one is easy—it isn’t so different being a self-starting responsible employee to being an authoritative yet loving parent. The wife/partner role, however, feels like it differs a lot. I don’t want to be authoritative to my husband. We’re both adults, and he already has a mom. He doesn’t need me micromanaging his life, or trying to exert control over how everything’s done.

The author, Laura Doyle, makes an interesting (and somewhat understated) point that at some time in our life, we may have learned from experiences that things only ever turn out the way we want them to when we are in control of a situation. It can be really tough for a woman who faces microaggressions EVERY DAY (real talk: this is all women, all the time) to soften up that defensive shell and be vulnerable with her partner. And that’s what it takes to release control—the courage to be vulnerable. To say, figuratively, “I trust you to handle things, and have my best interests at heart.” How many times have I “suggested” a better way (my way) to do something, in the seven years I’ve been with my husband? I think I’m being helpful. I love him, and want him to achieve greater efficiency and all that good stuff. I never wanted to admit before now that there might be a constant, implied, “Because the way you’re doing it right now is wrong” in every one of those suggestions. That’s criticism. And no one really wants to face criticism coated in helpful suggestion every damn day of their life. Constructive criticism is for your writing circles and real-talk time with your best girlfriends. It feels kind of cruel to do it to your partner all the time.

(Big Aside: An exception to this would be calling out sexism and microaggressions. As a feminist, I think it’s super important for me to call to task those around me, when I recognize sexist remarks, or thoughtless microaggressions. How else are we going to bring the rest of the world around to exercising true equality?)

Doyle explains her Six Intimacy Skills, and I have to be honest that I don’t even remember what the six skills are, even though I just finished reading the book last night. What I learned from most were the examples given in all the little sections of each chapter. Potentially real scenarios, contrasting the way you might be tempted to communicate with your partner, with the way that you could respectfully communicate with them. Honestly, who doesn’t want to treat their partner with respect? That sounds like an awesome goal.

For me, this book came along at the right time, and seemed to fit well with the type of joy I want to get out of my marriage. I have a forceful personality, as an Aries woman, and my husband has a strong personality as well, as a Taurus male. We butt heads a lot. It’s nice to get this reminder that I can soften up, be vulnerable with him in a way that I’m not with a lot of other people. There’s also an interesting chapter on receiving help/compliments/gifts more graciously, which is something I’m going to need a lot of practice with to get good at. It’s too easy to brush compliments aside if I don’t agree with them. Which is just another way to keep myself from celebrating myself when I deserve it. As if I’m not allowed to let myself be happy and confident. :/

I think this book would be great for a partner who finds themselves complaining a lot about the small things. The division of chores, managing money, gift giving, even driving styles. There’s a lot of useful, helpful information in here on how to craft a better approach to communication with a partner. If you can look past some of the more binary aspects of her discourse, and take the concepts that seem outdated with a grain of salt, you might just get exactly what you need.

True story: I’m pretty darn frustrated at this book for fixing problems in my relationship in just a few weeks that I’ve been trying to fix myself for SEVEN YEARS. It’s hard to acknowledge that I might have been part of the problem for so long. I’m good at not backing down from my position of strength and control. That hasn’t done much to really encourage equality and joy between me and my husband. We’ve gotten by just fine, of course—but things are even better now.

The Surrendered Wife

I can guess what you’re thinking about the title. I’ve talked about this book with a few girlfriends since I read it, and all their reactions are mostly the same.

Unfortunate title aside, this is actually a good and useful book for some people. I think I benefitted from it because I’ve never had really great, healthy marital communication modeled for me before.

There’s an updated version of this book, called First, Kill All the Marriage Counselors. Again, a super unfortunate title that doesn’t accurately describe the contents of the book. I’ve written a full review on that book, since there’s no real need for people to read this older version unless they really want as much as they can get from the author. I found a copy of this one first, though, so it was my introduction to Laura Doyle’s work. Now go read the updated version instead. 🙂

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The KonMari method of tidying/organizing blew up across the internet. I was hearing about the book and the method everywhere. It seemed like the people reviewing it were giving away the biggest secret, so I didn’t really see a point in reading it myself. Until my sister started reading it and revolutionized her closet and her home office. It isn’t that my sister was a messy person, before. They had about the same level of clutter in their house as my husband and I do. But the way she talked about cleaning out her closet of the clothes that didn’t bring her joy, and the pictures of her office when she’d started purging and cleaning and crafting it into a new, bright, comfortable space… It was enough to convince me, and I checked out the book on Overdrive.

It took me a little while to get through, partly because I was taking care of a newborn, but also partly because there isn’t much through-story to make it a page-turner. The sections are short enough that they aren’t tedious, but it’s still easy to put it down in between chapters.

The chapter on folding? I probably could have done without. It’s an interesting concept, but honestly, I don’t need a special way to fold clothes when I’ve managed to purge so many that I can see everything in my drawer easily.

That’s the big draw of this book, I think. The purging of stuff is laid out in a simple plan, with very strict rules, and man do they make sense. Only keep that which brings you joy. Nostalgia doesn’t even count as “joy” all the time, so you end up getting rid of a lot of things that “remind you of” something but that aren’t seeing any use. There was a lot of cheeky, corny stuff in the book, including the concept of talking to your possessions. But some of it was great, like going through a stack of greeting cards from friends and family, thanking the card for the message it brought you, and then throwing it away. I’ve got two whole boxes of cards that I need to do that with, which have been weighing on my mind since I finished reading this book.

We didn’t do a huge purge in the KonMari style, mostly because we’d already done a big “before-the-baby-comes” purge. We made room for all the baby stuff which now makes my house feel cluttered again. But there are some small areas where I could stand to purge more—jewelry, for one thing. You buy a nice big jewelry box to keep everything organized and you just end up accumulating a ton of stuff you don’t ever wear. Likewise with a cool rotating earring tree. I wear maybe 5 or 6 pairs on the regular. Why do I need 20+?

I wouldn’t say it’s entirely necessary to go out and buy this book—I didn’t, after all. But there’s some handy information in it, and if you ever find yourself stuck in that loop of having too much stuff, donating a bunch of it, then accumulating more stuff that you then also donate…this book can help. My shopping habits are vastly different now. I think about whether something brings me actual joy BEFORE I purchase it, which cuts down on the general clutter in the house.

The best time of year for de-cluttering and deep cleaning is of course between Imbolg and Ostara. It’s time to wipe away winter’s cobwebs and usher the light back in. That coincided perfectly with when our little one was due, so we got a lot done. I can’t wait till she outgrows more of this stuff so that I can keep getting rid of it, too. Benefit to knowing you’re only going to have one kid: I don’t have to keep ANY of this stuff once she’s too big/old for it. I get to divy it up among my friends and coworkers who are having their firsts (a group which seems to grow bigger every day, because I guess we’re just at that age).

In short: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up can change your habits and your house, and if that’s what you’re looking for, definitely hit this one first before you start researching organization methods and all that other crap. Streamlined, simple. The book could probably be half its length and still get the exact same message across—but then, maybe she hasn’t learned to tidy her writing the way she tidies her home. 🙂

The Gifts of Imperfection

This might be the very best nonfiction book I’ve ever read. Aside from writing-craft and various neopagan subject matters, I don’t read a whole lot of nonfiction. Nowhere near as much as my sister, who has all that excellent knowledge and interest in learning theory, child psychology, and various other enriching topics. Still, I would go so far as to say everyone should read this particular book. It’s that good, and that important.

I fell in love with Brene Brown’s TED Talk on the power of vulnerability. Everything she said felt so RIGHT and in line with how I thought everyone should be living their lives. This book takes the meat of that talk and pulls you deeper into it. Expands on everything, makes it really sink in.

Now, just because I think everyone should read this book, I wouldn’t say that we are all ready for it. I happened to pick it up shortly after my transformative HG Dark Night of the Soul, and the timing was perfect. Having a horrible illness, being so sick for a long period of time, opened me up to look at life in different ways. I’ve been re-arranging my priorities in a major way, and really analyzing where I’m at, where I want to be, and why there’s still distance between those two. So a book on how to embrace imperfection to live a more wholehearted life—well, the timing was just right.

One thing I really love about this book is how it presents concepts based on Brown’s research findings, but doesn’t give you that checklist sort of “do this and prioritize this and you’ll be happy” that we so often see nowadays. Brown offers mini guideposts on how to foster more of some of the concepts she says are important for wholehearted living, but she tempers all of it with the admission that it’s a constant process. That we all need to try all the time to cultivate a wholehearted life, and that we aren’t perfect (indeed “perfect” doesn’t exist). I love her personal anecdotes, because the way she is vulnerable in them, and still has the courage to tell them, is truly practicing what she preaches.

There’s a fabulous section on perfectionism that really hit home for me. I think I will have to read it another hundred times, but it gives me so much hope that there is a way to combat the everyday perfectionism that so often negatively impacts my creative output. I’ve tried reading self-help books geared toward overcoming/working through perfectionism (and its accompanying procrastination impulses), but none of them hit me like this one little section did.

One of her stories was so impactful that I had to put down the book for a while. I spent a good hour cuddling with the cat, thinking about what I’d just learned. It brought up a very strong memory that has always stuck with me.

I was at my high school sweetheart’s house, and his young cousin was visiting. They were running all around the house and yard, playing with the dog and with nerf guns. The cousin came up to me (I was sitting on my boyfriend’s bed, reading) and said I was “Superlady” and had to come help him save the world. And I couldn’t do it. I fed him excuses and stayed securely put. Why? Because I didn’t know how to “play” with others. I spent years playing outside with a neighbor when I was younger, but that was safe. It was always just he and I (with occasional visits from our older sisters), and he was a little younger than me. We had wonderful imaginations and would never have ridiculed each other for playing the “wrong” way. The rest of the time? I played alone, with stuffed animals and small dog and cat figurines. So by the time I was in high school, a full six years or so after that neighbor friend had moved away, I had no idea how to “play” with other people. And what if I did something wrong? Or what if I had too much fun and looked goofy in front of my boyfriend? No, it was safer to stay on that bed with a book than risk looking like an idiot.

Reading Brown’s book, I finally realized what I was actually afraid of. I wasn’t scared of letting my boyfriend see me be silly, or act like an idiot. We were teenagers in love, so we were already awkward enough around each other. He kept dating me even after the tenth grade haircut disaster, after all. What I was really scared of was that he would see me being vulnerable. Trying something I might not be good at. Having to admit that I wasn’t already good at something.

I see it with my husband now, too. That slight bit of hesitation before I open up and admit that I don’t know something, or might be subpar at some skill. He knows I’m not perfect. I know I’m not perfect. But there’s still this intrinsic shame that tries to take hold, every time I have to admit that I’m not perfect.

So, I had a nice powerful realization, sparked by one small anecdote in this book. It’s that powerful, the concepts she talks about.

I can imagine a lot of the people in my life reading this book and taking different things from it. To someone who doesn’t value human connections as the be all end all of our existence here, it might not carry the same weight. As a writer and someone who values compassion and empathy and connectedness, though, every bit of it was impactful. It’s the kind of knowledge that you know would just completely fix the whole world, if everyone would just open their hearts enough to let it in.

I’m hoping to read Daring Greatly next, because I suspect it might have some good pointers on how to parent wholeheartedly. Thank the gods for Brene Brown and her research, and that she can share it so effectively in her writing with the rest of us.