Book Review: I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara

I didn’t pick up I’ll Be Gone In The Dark because I read true crime books. Out of all the genres of books in the world, true crime is one of my least favorite. I’m not a practical thinker. I’m not one for procedures. It’s hard for me to stick to the actual and not lose interest when strategies and laws and formalities start getting explained. When things get analytical, I nope out.

That’s not to say I do not love the genre in other forms though. I’m a child of the Unsolved Mysteries, American’s Most Wanted Generation. I love true crime TV shows and will spend hours watching documentaries. I absolutely love true crime podcasts. Most of my podcast feed is true crime in nature right now.  And I’ve spent a good chunk of time scrolling through online websites and forums devoted to crimes and cases, suspects and victims. But with the exception of The Devil In The White City, I haven’t touched a true crime book in years.

That was until I heard that a comedian/actor who I’ve been fond of for a long while had lost his wife unexpectedly. We’ve had some close calls recently, so the fear of losing my husband is forefront in my mind.(I’m a nervous wreck and worry all the time, so  what’s one more horrible thing to worry about right?)

As I was following that story, I found another story, tucked inside it.

It was a story about a woman who ordained herself a writer as a young teenager and was inspired to slip into the world of true crime by the nearby murder. It was about a night stalker whose 12-year campaign robbed the residents of a section of Califonia of their sleep, sanity, and in some cases, their lives. It was a story about dedication to clues and advances in science and about never giving up. It was a story about a serial killer who was obsessed. It was a story about a woman who in chronicling that obsession, became obsessed herself.

That woman was Michelle McNamara.

And her obsession was the Golden State Killer/ East Area Rapist/ Original Night Stalker.

One of the first things I said to my husband after I started reading it was “Holy shit, Michelle McNamara was a hell of a writer.” The story of the Golden State Killer (a name McNamara coined herself) is interesting on its own but has enough dates and location changes that it could read like an entry in the most boring of textbooks.

McNamara makes sure that doesn’t happen. Her ability to take police report data and turn it into a narrative that as intriguing as any classic whodunit is almost magical. She weaves the horrible crimes committed by the EAR (one of the many names for the Golden State Killer) with not only stories of the victims and neighbors, but about the officers, detectives, forensic scientists, and online sleuths that spent years if not decades on the case. She focuses not only on their methods but how the case affects them as people. How the case seeps into the pores of their careers and forever leaves a mark on who they are as people.

She doesn’t leave herself out either. She cast the lens as sharply on herself as she does the killer or any other side character in the book. She is not afraid to show her faults or the dark side of what an obsession like this does to someone. Her devotion to bringing justice is on full array, and so is it’s price tag. Tales of events left and anniversaries forgotten show the impact McNamara’s devotion to justice had on her life.

Just like the reality of her devotion, the details of the crimes are not sugarcoated either. Taken straight from victim statements and police reports, every detail of the heinous crimes of the Golden State Killer is put on display. His actions, and inactions, are laid out not as a case study but rather like a really great episode of Law and Order. The retelling of the horrible events almost feels like fictional stories sometimes while you are reading. Then it hits you. These horrible things happened. This isn’t a scripted show. This was an actual period in time when one man terrorized an entire section of California. And then, years later, mentally perplexed so many people all over the world.

That’s one of the things that kept making me have to put the book down while I was reading. I would get so invested in the story that when the people of the book would reach out and connect with me, it was like a slap in the face. McNamara stopped being just an author. I felt like I knew her after reading the book for a very short while. I felt like I was there, researching and writing along with her, as the book unfurled. So when every so often, the Editor’s Notes would start a new chapter, my heart would pause. Those would be the moments when I would have to remember that the woman I’m reading isn’t sitting on the other end of the keyboard, or at her home with her daughter and husband. She’s not on a book tour or getting ready to do interviews for the upcoming HBO documentary. She also not relishing in the fact that the man that did all the horrible crimes that her book was written about was finally apprehended.

Michelle McNamara passed away in 2016 before the book was even finished. In 2017, in the closing of the book, the editors who pieced together her work to create the finished project vowed not to stop until they got his name. In April of 2018, Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested for being the suspected Golden State Killer, thanks to new DNA information.

This story is still growing and evolving. And I feel that we owe it to the victims and their families as well as Michelle and hers to make sure we see it to the end.



Book Review: Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint By Nadia Bolz-Weber

I don’t know when or exactly why I stopped reading the Huffington Post. But at some point, I did. I can almost guarantee it wasn’t out of malice. HuffPost, for the most part, has long been right up my alley when it comes to journalism. I read them a ton when I was younger. There was even a time when Recent College Dropout Me fantasized about writing for them. But then she got busy raising babies and started reading TMZ between diaper changes. Her brain slipped a bit and those hopes slipped away. Younger me made some poor decisions (TMZ obviously, not the babies). Somehow, other than the passing hashtag on Instagram, I had almost completely forgotten about the publication. That was until one of their headlines ended up on my Facebook timeline.

And oh boy, was it a good one.

This Pastor is Melting Purity Rings Into a Golden Vagina Sculpture

I mean, how could you see that and NOT click on it?

The article talks about how Nadia Bolz-Waber, the lead pastor at Denver’s House for All Sinners and Saints and all-around kickass progressive Christian author and theologian, is working with artist Nancy Anderson to reclaim the idea of the purity ring. Their project asks people to send in the purity rings they were given as young people so they can all be melted down together to form a golden vagina sculpture. People who sent in their rings by the dead received a silicone ring of impurity and a certificate to boot.

In case you missed it, purity rings were part of some Evangelical circles back in the 1990s to the early 2000s. I even covered this topic in the early days of this blog with The Problem With Purity Rings. Basically, they were a yet again another gross way to try to force further control over young women’s bodies and sexualities. Bolz-Waber and Anderson wanted to use art to try to not only change but also recover from that. And that is pretty fucking awesome.

The article left me not only with an overwhelming sense of “Fuck yeah Girl Power!” for the day, but it also left me with some questions about this Nadia Bolz-Waber lady.

Lutheran pastors can have tattoos? There’s a queer-inclusive church in Denver called House For All Sinners and Saints? There are church people who are down with women having the right to have control over their own bodies and make their own decisions? And who are cool with art that has vaginas in it?

Obviously, I must learn more. Regardless of the differences in our beliefs, Nadia Bolz-Waber sounds like a freaking interesting person with a whole lot of interesting stuff going on.

So I did what anyone would do in our era, I googled her.

Then I bought two of her books.

The first one I read is the one I’m going to finally get around telling you about after this exceptionally lengthy introduction.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint was released in 2013 and is a wonderful blend of autobiography and living mission statement. The book chronicles not only Nadia Bolz-Weber’s struggles with her church and faith but also talks about how she got there.

The book opens with the definition of what a pastrix actually is. And for someone who didn’t actually grow up in the church but did grow up in the thick of the Bible Belt, it was as hilarious as it was helpful. (Have I ever told you about my great grandma’s sister who was am untrained female Southern Baptist preacher? I saw her anoint someone with vegtable oil once. That’s not really related to being a Pastrix but I felt the need to share.)

Following the opening definition, we are introduced to The Rowing Team and told about Bolz-Weber’s early days of sobriety and stand up comedy. The chapter sets the tone for the entire book because it shows exactly how open and transparent Bolz-Weber is with the audience. I was taken aback at just how real her writings were. For whatever reason, it felt alien to me to see a person in the business of holiness not having a completely polished and perfect image. I grew up in the land of Jim Bakkers and Tammy Fayes, Ted Haggards and Jimmy Swaggerts. We have megachurches here. We also have tiny churches with pastors who act like they have a megachurch. I am not used to people in religious authority being so open about their own dirt and more importantly, their own humanity. I’m used to overdressed and made-up plastic doll “people” not actual human beings full of faults, flaws, and four letter words. Bolz-Weber is an actual human being. Four letter words included.

The rest of the book continues with the same candid, honest communication as the first chapter. Bolz-Weber just does not sugar coat a damn thing. And it’s so fucking refreshing. Even coming from a Pagan standpoint, there are times where spiritual books get a little too saccharine for me. That does not happen here. Bolz-Weber is candid and honest with her struggles and never tries to paint them in a positive light. She does often find the cord that ties them to certain spiritual meanings. And I feel that is important. She finds God in the cracks, not just in the sunshine. That’s how I’ve often found connection with my path too. It’s never been the Goddess coming down and making flowers bloom on the path in front of me while moonlight perfectly reflects off some charging crystals lying on the ground. It’s been finding a connection to The Craft in the middle of the mud and gunk of life.

Speaking of, one of the chapters of the book even features a brief visit into the time Bolz-Weber spent with God’s Aunt, the Goddess. It’s about the few years she spent hanging around the Wiccan religion while she took some time off from Jesus. There is no talk of the evils of witchcraft, no talk of damnation, no talk of Hell. I’m not sure if that’s just the Lutheran way or not, but holy balls, it’s awesome to see.  It’s just her pleasantly remembering how much love was present and how awesome the female companionship was of the group was. There was nothing but acceptance and love towards group she was attached to and the people she knew. While I’m not a Wiccan, it did make my Pagan heart happy to see so much love for us Pagan folks.

Some of the stories in the book are so honest, you kind of feel like you’re reading a diary. What’s great about a lot of them is that Bolz-Weber isn’t always the one that ends up being the hero at the end. You can see her as just a real person, someone who, even though she is the pastor of a church and leader in the community, is looking for the answers too.

Nadia Bolz-Weber does not shy to share where she is cracked, or when she has dirt under her nails (there’s a talk in there about Jesus that will make you understand the reference in that sentence). She is open with readers about her struggles and questions and even the doubts she once had about the whole thing. She is equally as open about her belief and devotion. She doesn’t just pay lip service to being a person of the cloth. She lives her faith. The good parts, the easy parts, the rewarding parts, but that’s not all. She also proud lives the hard parts, the unsure parts, the sad parts, the bitter parts, the tiring and painful parts. And she’s not afraid to share it all.

I really enjoyed this book and look forward to not only seeing the melted down purity ring vagina sculpture but reading the author’s other books in the future. Just because we don’t follow the same path, doesn’t mean we don’t take some of the same steps. I really feel that Nadia Bolz-Weber is an amazing woman who has a lot of world-changing ability. Also, we curse about the same amount, so that makes her writings really relatable and enjoyable to read.

I can’t recommend this book enough. If the mood strikes you, definitely pick up a copy. And since, like always, I am late to the party, totally check out the other books she’s written. I plan to.

And just as a funny add-on, there are a lot of mentions of places in the Denver, CO area in the book. Mr. ConjureandCoffee is a born and bred Denver native, having moved away from Colorado when he was around 10. So pretty much everytime a location came up, my South Carolina self would ask him “Hey babe, do you know where so-and-so is?” He quickly tired of my spur of the moment geography quizzes. I’m not sure why he puts up with me but I’m sure glad he does. 🙂

Book Review: Working Conjure: A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic

It’s time for another book review Dear Readers!

But before I review this book, I want to tell you how I even came to read it.

I was doing that mindless scrolling down my Facebook feed that we all do. You know the type, the not really looking at anything but not paying attention to the outside world either sort of scrolling. It’s a horrible waste of time that could be spent being productive.

One of the post I saw that day was someone talking about Working Conjure by Sen Moise. I don’t remember what page or person it was from but I remember thinking the cover looked pretty neat. And the tagline, “Find your power at the crossroads” tugged my heart a little. I briefly read the summary the person or page had included and made a mental note to try to pick up a copy when I got the chance.

Then my mindless scrolling continued. My day went on from there, taking care of people doing things, you know, the same old grind.

That night, camped out on the couch after an exceptionally tiring day of being a mama, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when once again, I saw the cover of the book. This time it was a different person talking about it and how much they enjoyed it. Though the who’s and what’s escape me now, I remember clearly they were two different people, two different pages both talking about the same book.

Because I’m the type of person who doesn’t (often) have to be told three times, I went back to the computer and ordered a copy of the book, Working Conjure: A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic by Hoodoo Sen Moise

 

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It arrived a few days later and I began to read it as soon as I got the wrapper off.

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The book opens with an introductory tale about a day in the life of a Conjure man. It sets the tone for the book early. The author’s voice is personable and clear. It’s like you’re talking to an older family member around a table while you snap peas together. It reminded me of the various “uncles” that used to come around my great grandma’s house when I was a kid, but much more knowledgeable.

The book then jumps right into the meat of the issue. The first chapter answers the question What is Conjure/Hoodoo? thoroughly and with a very common sense approach. The history of Conjure/Hoodoo/Work is talked about as well as the many different aspects to it’s continued following. It’s a quick, insightful, pleasurable read.

The following chapters carry on in the same manner with the author providing personal insight and experiences that get to the heart of the practice. There’s also practical advice and instruction on how to do work. There are instructions for making mojo bags, fixing a candle for separation, a work for a simple cleansing, and a lot more.

Most of these works include the Scripture that is best used for the piece of work. This is something that threw me off a little. And I think that is a purely personal thing. I am not very close to Christianity, even though it was the religion I grew up neck deep in. Sometimes I get to black and white in my thinking.  I not sure why I was surprised at the passages being included. It’s laid out clear as day that Conjure/Hoodoo have elements of Christianity in it. Honestly, it’s feature in the book helped me tackle my own prejudice and dichotomous thinking. I’ve still got a lot to work on when it comes to that, but I think I have a good start.

And speaking of work, one of the most important ideas presented in the book is the idea that your practice is not just reading and thinking. It’s doing. Rootwork is work. You have to get your hands dirty, you have to put yourself out there and be active in your practice. You have to know your roots and know your surroundings. The chapter that goes in depth on the powers that locations have is one of my favorites. Especially the focus on graveyards. I don’t want to tell you too much about it, but there are some very good ideas and precautions in the book about doing work in and around graveyards. If you use graveyards ever in your Practice, you need to read these pages. 

The book also talks about spirit work and emphasizes the importance in the connection to our ancestors. This part of the book hit close to home for me. I have been feeling tugged towards finding out more about my ancestors. Its almost like I can feel them calling me but am not quite able to hear it. The reverence this book places on our relationships with those that came before us has inspired me to listen harder and connect better to those whose blood I share.

Working Conjure: A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic is a wonderful book. It does something that for me, not a lot of other books do. It gives you the tradition of the work as well as a way to implement it in the present day. And that I think is a perfect balance.

 

 

 

Duel Review: Women Who Run with The Wolves and Light is the New Black

If you haven’t figured out by now, I’m kind of a mess. Around me gravitates a sort of controlled chaos.

For example, currently, I’m totally into subversive embroidery. (You mean you can stab a thing thousands of times to create words and images that would give the sewing circle at church a heart attack? Sign me up!) I’ve also just bought and printed like half a hundred pages in a coloring book of shadows off Etsy. So on my desk is haphazardly piled with embroidery junk and printed pages, colored pencils and half-read books. Like books are everywhere. If there’s a flat surface, it probably had a few books on it.

Which brings me to admit I’m the type of person who reads more than one book at a time. Some books are living room books. Some books are bedroom books. And there are some books that are travel in the purse, pull it out when you need a few bumps type of books. And that’s what I’m doing with Women Who Run With the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés and Light Is the New Black by Rebecca Campbell.

Ever heard the phrase “same but different”? Well, that describes these books, kinda. Both of them emphasize the importance of understanding one’s true self. Both of them describe the struggle of breaking down the walls that contain us. And both books, to me, provoke unmistakable inspiration.

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Women Who Run WIth the Wolves is a deliciously heavy read. The author, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, is an ultra-accomplished Jungian psychoanalyst, a storyteller, has a PhD, and is an illustrious post traumatic stress recovery specialist. She uses her expertise in analysis and her innate storytelling ability to examine the Wild Woman archetype in the feminine psyche. And that she does just that in the book. She breaks apart some of some of the most well known myths, fairy tales, and folk tales and exposes the threads that are woven together to create and rally for the Wild Woman ideal.

41xwfptiavl-_sx317_bo1204203200_Light Is The New Black is a light breeze on a hot day. It’s an airy, high-spirited sprint into the world of light working. Not only light working, but light acknowledging. It’s a how-to guide to letting the light inside you out and how to process life shining out loud. The author, Rebecca Campbell, is a well versed jet-setting Australian who has been known as The Skype Nomad and is one of Hay Houses outstanding authors. Hip, fresh, and personal, her writing is easy to connect to. Her voice echoes through the words on the page. With the title playing off the popularity of the TV show Orange in the New Black it’s almost a testament to the influx of spiritualism into current culture. The book is in a similar vein as Modern Girl, Mystical World which you know I am not a fan of. With the exception of one short passage, I have found so much more enjoyment in Light Is The New Black than I did in Modern Girl, Mystical World. And I think that a lot of it has to come from the author being more relatable.   

There’s more to these books than I can put into words. The authors themselves have done so much work to create these volumes of truth anything I try to come up with will fall short. Even though the books are different strengths they both pack the same punch. Sometimes you need to jump into the deep end and surround your mind and soul with ideas that rattle you to the core. Sometimes you need to open a door to a shining light surrounds you and starts healing your wounds. These books do both.  

And both of these books are hitting me right where I need to be hit. Like you’ve read earlier, I’m balancing a lot of things right now. I’ve been balancing them for a long time. With my attention, soul and inner light going into fixing things for others, it’s left me empty. If I’m a match, these books have ideas in them are a striker strip. In the few moments I get, these books have reached inside and found the voice I had thought was lost.

And man, they are inspiring the fuck out of her to do something great.

Even if she is tired and scared and totally washed out. Even if she’s a mess of overstacked bookshelves and tumbling papers. She’s awakening again. These books are guiding her home.  

Featured Photo by Prasanna Kumar on Unsplash 

Book Review: Material Girl, Mystical World

I’d like to hit on the Conjure part of this blog with a book review.

 

I recently read Ruby Warrington’s Material Girl, Mystical World : The Now Age Guide to a High-Vibe Life.

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And by read, I mean I gave up about half way through.

If I had been smart, I would have noticed how often the word “sophisticated” was used in conjunction with the book. On the inside cover it even says “-a sophisticated upgrade on cosmic thinking, from healing crystals to doing your dharma, for women who know that a closetful of designer shoes can happily coexist with a deeply meaningful life.”

Guys, I dont think I’ve ever owned designer shoes. My day to day shoes are Wal-Mart Chuck Taylor knock offs. And I think “sophisticated” would be the last word anyone used to describe me. I know my please and thank-yous and I chew with my mouth closed , but cosmopolitan I am not.

That being said, I believe you don’t always have to personally relate to a theme to learn from it. While I am open to accepting all walks and stations in life, many of the experiences cited in the book fell flat for me. Also, the constant mention of fancy pancy shoes kept throwing me off. Miu Miu shoes may be the cat’s meow, but name dropping them as a status example every few pages gets a little exhausting. (Also, I really dislike feet. So everytime I read about $350 shoes, and it’s mentioned a lot, I end up thinking about the feet that go into them.)

As an author, Warrington is open and friendly. Reading her prose was like listening to a friend talk. But not a good friend. One of those older friends of the family you kinda-sorta know and hang around at BBQs because you hope some of her coolness wears off on you. The first chapter gives an okay introduction to astrology, but it’s under a lot of fluff. The chapter starts with a description of the time the author interviewed a model and they totally “soul sister”ed over their love of astrology. It kind of sets the tone of name dropping in an effort to validate something doesn’t really need celebrity validation.Then we are introduced to The Astro Twins who are everything their name implies, twin sister who do astrology. But, like omg! they are regulars on The Real Housewives of New York ,too. We’ll categorize that as another missed red flag.

As we will the numerous mentions of the author’s online magazine. I am all for getting yourself over, but after the third or fourth time, it’s like damn ,we get it, its called The Numinous. High five for the project, but either write about it in full or move on. Slipping it into to everything discussed in the book makes the whole work feel like commercial.

The rest of part one of the book touches on Tarot (and name drops an American’s Next Top Model judge), Psychic ability, and Karma/Dharma. Even if the writing and narrative voice got under my skin, here and there were interesting tidbits of knowledge,quotes or ideas. Part two focused on Health and Wellbeing. It was full of yoga ins and outs as well as a hashtag word used as part of a sentence. That was almost the point I put the book down. It’s my belief that there is no place in a sentence for #POWERWORD nonsense. Meditation, shamanism, and chakras rounds out the end of part two and I found enough information there that I decided to carry on reading.

Part Three was where it started to unravel. Love, Sex, and Relationships get tied together in a semi logical way. There are interesting thoughts presented in the section. Sex, friendships, and the Divine Feminine are all discussed in acceptable and sometimes humorous ways.

But in the discussion of the many elements of The Divine Feminine, Warrington ventures briefly into conversations about her mother. She writes that our relationship with our mother is first time we get to experience sisterhood. She then says that healing her relationship with her mother was what lead her to her “ultimate self-acceptance”. She reiterates the idea that Mother is name for god on the hearts of all children with the idea that mothers are the first and only true creators. Therefore, Mother is the earthy vestige of The Goddess and the one who tells and teaches us to trust the Universe.

If you know me, you know the relationship I have with my mother prohibits me from seeing any of that as valid. My mother was not the Goddess. My mother did not teach me to trust the Universe. If anything she taught me it was always out to get me. Her lessons were ones not to connect me to a higher power, but to tear me away from myself. Her goal was to mold my fragile mind into something of her own creation, with her own standard settings. So the idea that my self acceptance depends on healing those wounds is a no go for me. It was that vapid thought that ended my reading of the book.

Not everyone has the same privilege. I feel that is the overall message that is lost in this book. Some of us have no relationships we want to heal, no famous friends to chat with, and no fancy shoes to wear. And that means, we have to forge our own paths in New, I’m sorry, Now Age. Maybe someone us aren’t as material as we thought.

Best of luck to Ms. Warrington on her book and her online magazine. While I may not agree with your book, I respect the hardwork you put in it and in all other facets of your journey. Thank you for the experience.

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