zeusSo I wrote a book of mythology and you are going to buy it. You are going to buy it because unlike other books on mythology – which make you want to curl up and take a nap next to a bonfire composed of books on mythology – my book is a furious hurricane of swears and incest, interspersed with classically inspired illustrations that I have gone and drawn dicks all over.

It is, basically, the death of all culture.

I have a website where I do this kind of thing all the time, and I’ve drawn criticism because some people believe that by making Zeus talk in all caps and by inserting disco balls into Native American creation myths, I am disrespecting the founding beliefs of cultures I have no right to disrespect. Here’s the thing, though, and it’s a thing that all teachers and students of mythology would do well to remember: Myths are supposed to be ridiculous.

Here’s what Joseph Campbell – pretty much the god of talking about myths – has to say about humor:

“Humor is the touchstone of the truly mythological … The gods as icons are not ends in themselves. Their entertaining myths transport the mind and spirit, not up to, but past them.”

That is to say, if you want to communicate some seriously cosmic knowledge, it helps to warm the crowd up with a couple jokes. The problem is that in our centuries of academic analysis, we’ve completely forgotten what makes the jokes funny. We’ve let the languages get out of date, and the pop culture references don’t make much sense anymore.

This is where I come in.

I come from a proud lineage of bards and vagabonds; the guys who lived or died on whether they could entertain a hall full of drunken barbarians. I come to you from a time before copyright law, where it wasn’t so much what you told, as how you told it. Think of me as a modern-day Shakespeare, except more attractive, less British, and on the internet. This is not the death of culture. It’s the zombie apocalypse.

 


undauntedI’ve done dozens of interviews since Undaunted launched in early February and am occasionally asked: Why in the world would a woman want to go into combat?

The question always surprises me since the answer seems obvious, but perhaps that’s because I’ve been around military people all my life. The military is a traditional place. Throw into the mix nonconventional women and things get interesting.  These women believe they can fight, lead and defend, despite conventional wisdom.

I answer the question by pointing out women serve for the same reasons as men, which ranges from patriotic duty, family tradition, money for college, or simply because it’s a steady paycheck in a poor economy.

The performance of this generation of servicewomen is not only revolutionizing the military, but as evidenced by my talk radio discussions, is testing social views of traditional gender roles and norms.

It helps to keep society’s broader context in mind. A century and a half ago married women couldn’t own property in America. They achieved the right to vote only 93 years ago. The first female didn’t become CEO of a Fortune 500 company until 1972, and two years before that women finally obtained the right to have credit cards in their own name.

Meanwhile, in the military, women couldn’t exceed 2 percent of the armed forces and couldn’t be promoted beyond the ranks of lieutenant colonel or commander until Congress changed the law in 1967.

By 1973 the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a law that denied servicewomen’s dependents (her children and spouse) basic benefits such as housing and medical care—all the things authorized to military men’s families. And by 1975 pregnant women were no longer kicked out of the service.

We’ve come a long way as a military and a society.

Yet, being asked on live radio why any woman would want to join the combat arms branches is a reminder that societal gender norms aren’t always in line with official policy changes.

It’s not unusual for the pushback to come from other women. Since the book came out, one of the main subjects in Undaunted, Major Candice O’Brien, has been accused by some for putting her career before her family.

A few days ago while visiting Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, I met a female officer who shared a similar story. A neighbor felt it was her business to tell the major: “You’re failing your kids.”

How did she respond?

With more tact than I could have mustered. She told the woman she saw herself as a role model for her children, a person they could look up to and admire, knowing that they, too, through hard work, could aspire to achieve and be whatever they set their minds to accomplish.

Such scrutiny is a reminder of just how courageous these women have to be off the battlefield.

The challenges, choices, and successes encountered by women throughout their military careers, from issues of discrimination to juggling family and a job, have far-reaching implications for all women in contemporary American society. Women in the military are on the cutting edge of gender debates. Their struggles and triumphs and the price they pay may point the way to the future.


drawing_your_lifeDo you think drawing is something that only other people do? Does the idea of drawing in public scare you? Why not hold a Portrait Party and find out that there’s nothing to be scared of and that everyone can draw?!

In my new book, Drawing Your Life, I hope to encourage you to pick up a pen or pencil and start to draw the everyday and ordinary things around you. The book is full of encouraging prompts to help you make drawing a regular part of your life.

One of my favorite things in the book is the section on holding a Portrait Party. A Portrait Party is a gathering of friends (or strangers!) where everyone draws portraits of everyone else at the party. The only rule — the thing that will help break the ice and show everyone that they can draw –  is that no one should look at their paper whilst they’re drawing!nobbs1

Drawing without looking at your paper is a very freeing experience. And everyone will start to relax because no one can produce the “perfect” drawing.

As I write in my book, “When we first start to draw we have a tendency to draw what we think we see, rather than what we’re actually looking at. We also often worry about what our drawing looks like and that can make us too nervous to actually put pen to paper.”

Over the next twelve months I’m planning to hold Portrait Parties around the UK, North America and hopefully further afield. If you would like to help me organize one near you, contact me via my website (address below).

 

Michael Nobbs is an artist, blogger and tea drinker  — not necessarily in that order. In the late 1990s michaelnobbshe was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalopathy/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and now blogs and tweets about drawing, keeping things simple, and maintaining a creative career despite limited energy. His book, Drawing Your Life: Learn to See Record and Appreciate Life’s Small Joys has just been published by Perigee/Penguin. Check out his website at: http://www.sustainablycreative.com.

Follow him on Twitter @michaelnobbs

 

 


drawing_your_lifeI’m a great believer in the power of working a little and often in order to reach our creative goals.

My book, Drawing Your Life, is the largest single project I’ve ever undertaken. When I started I knew I had 208 pages to fill and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t daunted. (I have produced a number of short eBooks but was able to produce those at my own pace.)

Living with Myalgic Encephalopathy/Chronic Fatigue syndrome means that I’m a little like an old rechargeable battery that no longer holds much of a charge. Each day I have a very limited amount of energy and I have to make decisions about how best to make use of it.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about focusing my available energy on just one thing each day that I decide is most important. As much as possible I try to make that one thing a creative something. On most days whilst I was making Drawing Your Life that one thing was working on the book.

nobbs_creativity

I began by splitting the book into manageable chunks. I drew 104 lines on the blackboard in my studio—one line for each two page spread of the book. I then aimed to work on one spread at a time in short twenty minute chunks. Some of the simpler spreads could be completed in one session; some took many 20-minute blocks. Working this way I knew I only had to work for twenty minutes and that if I kept repeating the process I would eventually have a finished book. As I finished each spread I crossed a line off on my blackboard and had a little celebration.

Drawing Your Life is a book was created in short blocks of time — and it is a book that can be used in short blocks of time.

nobbs_one_thingIf you have a hankering to draw your own life, but don’t feel as though you have the energy or the time, think again. In the book you’ll find lots of encouragement to pick up a pen or pencil and make a small drawing of something right in front of you. And if you keep doing one little drawing at a time, you’ll eventually have a book full of drawings of your life.

 

Michael Nobbs is an artist, blogger and tea drinker  — not necessarily in that order. In the late 1990s he was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalopathy/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and now blogs and tweets about drawing, keeping things simple, and maintaining a creative career despite limited energy. His book, Drawing Your Life: Learn to See Record and Appreciate Life’s Small Joys has just been published by Perigee/Penguin. Check out his website at: http://www.sustainablycreative.com.

Follow him on Twitter @michaelnobbs


There are so many great Irish authors, instead of (or in addition to) a pub crawl we recommend doing a Literary Crawl! But unless you are a speed reader, you should probably get started on this ASAP.

1. Let’s start with the famous (or is that infamous?) Oscar Wilde. He continues to delight us with his wit in The Importance of Being Earnest. Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray still serves as a cautionary tale on debauchery. But Wilde was also a tragic figure, imprisoned for his homosexuality, Penguin Classics has a forthcoming edition of De Profundis with an introduction from modern Irish author Colm Tóibín (and #9 on our Literary Crawl).

importance dorian profundis

2. James Joyce is an author who inspires literary lovers to take to the streets on June 16th in celebration of Bloomsday. So he is a perfect author to visit on our literary tour. Get out your Portable James Joyce and grab a seat at your local pub. Joyce is also letter “J” in the forthcoming group of Penguin Drop Caps, with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

joyce j

3. Bram Stoker is, of course, best known for his classic horror novel, Dracula. As you drink your Guinness and read about vampires, just remember that they don’t play nicely and they don’t make good boyfriends. Just ask Lucy and Mina.

dracula

4. Now let’s visit some modern Irish authors. The late Maeve Binchy was an internationally bestselling Irish author, with over 40 million books sold. She passed away last year. So for her Light a Penny Candle.

binchy

5. Sebastian Barry is a novelist and playwright. Just listen to him reading On Canaan’s Side and you’ll love his flair for the dramatic as much as we do.

canaan

 

6. Marian Keyes‘s The Mystery of Mercy Close isn’t out until April but we highly recommend her last novel, The Brightest Star in the SkyAlso publishing next month, Saved by Cake is a non-fiction look at the joys of baking as well as Keyes’s recent battle with depression.

mercy_close brightest_star saved_by_cake

7. William Trevor has won a lot of awards for his writing but don’t take our word for it, read his Selected Stories and decide for yourself.

selected_stories

8. If you like psychological murder mysteries then Tana French is your author. We recommend starting with her first, In the Woods, but all her books are from the perspective of different characters in the Dublin Murder Squad so you could easily start with her latest, Broken Harbor.

in_the_woods broken_harbor

 

9. Continually lauded for his work, we recommend reading  Colm Tóibín‘s first and second books on our Literary Crawl.

thesouth heather_blazing

10. As we round up our Literary Crawl, we’re coming back across the ocean to the United States to celebrate Irish-Americans (we know a lot of them and we’re betting you do too). The Irish Way looks at the Irish-American identity and its evolution. Or you could just listen to audio book of “Dr.” Denis Leary trashing everyone. Your choice.

irish_way denis_leary

Posted by: Julie Schaeffer, Senior Online Content Coordinator

 

 

 

 


Excerpt (4)
Excerpt After the Music Stopped Alan Blinder (Penguin Press)
Excerpt Did You Miss Me? Karen Rose (Signet)
Excerpt Ten White Geese Gerbrand Bakker (Penguin)
Excerpt Farewell, Dorothy Parker Ellen Meister (Putnam)

Reading Group Guide (1)
Reading Group Guide  What the Family Needed Steven Amsterdam (Riverhead)

Video (1)
Video The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead Paul Elwork (Berkley)

Posted by: Lindsay Jacobsen, Online Content Coordinator


drawing_your_lifeDrawing always felt like it was something other people did. People with a natural talent… like artists. People like me looked longingly at art supplies (maybe even sometimes bought a sketchbook and a pen) but never actually “drew” with them!

Back in the early 2000′s I was spending a lot of time in bed. I’d been diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalopathy (commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and I was feeling very low. There was very little joy in my life.

For years I’d look on enviously at those of my friends who had taken art classes at school, some of whom had gone on to art school and were now practicing artists. At 32, ill in bed and feeling as though I had no talent it seemed as though it was too late for me to even start to try and draw let alone become an artist.

For my 32nd birthday a friend gave me a very small sketchbook and a copy of Julia Cameron’s The michael_nobbs1Artist’s Way. At first Julia’s wonderful ideas for discovering our artist-selves seemed to be merely taunting me. I was only able to sustain reading for very short periods of time let alone work up the energy to act on them. But slowly – very slowly – I did work my way through her book in 20-minute sessions.

I felt encouraged and empowered by Julia’s advice that it was never too late for us to start thinking of ourselves as artists, I began to shift my twenty minutes of reading to spending twenty minutes with my new sketchbook. Because I was in bed most of the time I had to practice drawing the everyday and ordinary things around me — a pile of books, my teapot (I drew my teapot a lot), or my bottles of medicines.

Those early drawings, as bad as I’m sure they were, ignited a spark in me. There was something life affirming about really looking at the things around me, and then doing my best to replicate the shapes I saw.

michael_nobbs2As my health improved (I’ve no proof that it was learning to draw that helped me physically, but I can’t help suspecting it was), I began to attend a weekly drawing class.  My confidence grew. In 2004 I began blogging. I wrote a little about how I was doing health-wise and made a small drawing of something that was in front of me to accompany the blog. And I still worked in my 20-minute chunks of time.

Today, I still tend to draw in short spurts. I still draw the things around me. But now I think of what I am doing as “drawing my life.” By doing so I’ve learnt to see the joy in the mundane. I’ve learnt that taking just small steps to do something creative builds over time into a substantial body of work. I’ve learnt that it’s never too late to start to think of one’s self as an artist.

Michael Nobbs is an artist, blogger and tea drinker  — not necessarily in that order. In the late 1990s he was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalopathy/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and now blogs and tweets about drawing, keeping things simple, and maintaining a creative career despite limited energy. His book, Drawing Your Life: Learn to See Record and Appreciate Life’s Small Joys has just been published by Perigee/Penguin. Check out his website at: http://www.sustainablycreative.com.

Follow him on Twitter @michaelnobbs


Slow Family LivingSeveral years ago we hung an Appreciation Banner in our house. It is a piece of burlap with a pocket sewn on for each person and a pocket for paper and pens and a pocket for all the world. The idea is not my own completely – I co-created it with a dear friend and co-author of my previous book.

It is the simplest of tools and of designs and yet the effect this banner has on our family is nothing less than profound.

Too often as parents and as partners we see what’s not working…pick up your clothes, make your bed, put your backpack away, do your homework, you left the sponge in the sink, don’t talk to me that way, and on and on it can go.

This banner fosters the opposite.

Every now and then we call it into action. We invite everyone to stuff the pockets with written appreciations both big and little. This changes the way we see things. It makes me as a mom and a partner look for the things that are working and the things that are good and happy and fun and celebratory.

It could be something as simple as appreciating that a child got up for school so cheerfully or took out the trash the first time they were asked. It could be an appreciation for an apology or a smile when you needed it most. It could be for someone else or even for yourself. It could be for anything in the world.

When the pockets are stuffed full, we make an announcement that we will read them aloud. There is usually one last mad dash to stuff the pockets a little more. The last minute flurry is always exciting!

I am continuously amazed that this appreciation muscle gets stronger the more I use it. And the kids feel this way too, that the more you appreciate, the more there seems to be to appreciate.

Then at dinner each person is handed the stack from their pocket. We go around the table and read them aloud and it feels so good. And it makes us want to do it again and again. Because whether you are reading the things that people appreciate about you or hearing people read the things that you appreciate about them, it just feels like pure joy. And who couldn’t use a little more of that in their home?

Try it. I think you’ll like it.


Slow Family LivingI’m spending time with my mom this week, as she turns 88 years old. She has lived a good life, raised us nine children and says she’d do it all over again if given the chance. She truly loves this life of hers, and her role as mom to all of us.

Every summer we gather at her home and hang out together for weeks, sometimes making a friendly competition about who can stay the longest. Her grandchildren too, many of them now grown, come back to the well that is the home my mom created.

I hear people say to her, “Oh! You’re so lucky!” But really, I think it was all less about luck, and more about intention. Her putting in place the traditions she wanted and speaking the language of family connection while we were little and as we grew.

My mom was the queen of ritual and made lots of things special and fun even in their simplicity. Our birthdays, holidays, and even the day-to-day were celebrated simply but powerfully, imbued with special meaning for us as a family.

As adults now that is what we remember. The special breakfast on Christmas and Easter that was Cheerios and ice cream and strawberries. The birthday presents on the table when we woke up. The foil-wrapped Cracker Jacks on the back porch on Three Kings Day. The Christmas stockings on St. Nicholas Day. There was nothing elaborate in any of it. And yet it was all incredibly celebratory and made us feel connected to each other and to this unique entity that was our family.

To me this is the basis of Slow Family Living: the idea that as parents we can put traditions in place that are simple and easy and celebratory of the fact that we are a family. With our own fun and ideas and rules and ways to create connection in the day to day and in the holidays.

My goal in writing Slow Family Living is to give families ideas and inspiration to create connection in whatever way works for them. Be it driving home from soccer practice or school, or celebrating the major holidays and other special days. How do you do it? How do you celebrate the fact that you are a unique and amazing family, connected now and connected for a lifetime together?