BOOKS/Heather Seggel

Survival Guides for the Resistance

Rumba Under Fire: The Arts of Survival From West Point To Delhi
Edited by Irina Dumitrescu (Punctum Books)

Bouncing Forward: Turning Bad Breaks Into Breakthroughs
Michaela Haas, PhD (Enliven)

Well, the unthinkable happened. And woven among the think pieces and holiday cheer that feels this year as though it might lead to a cracked molar or two, resistance is building. And from that resistance will likely come some art that lasts beyond this phase in our eventual extinction. Hasn’t it ever been so?

This is the question Rumba Under Fire: The Arts of Survival From West Point to Delhi seeks to answer. The “arts” described here in essays, interviews and poetry, are all byproducts of crisis. Concentration camp prisoners starve by degrees, but share favorite recipes with one another so avidly that an oral cookbook is created. A couple separated by military deployment mark time with an invented card game that unites them, but instead of whimsy or strategy, playing reinforces a grim fatalism.

Editor Irina Dumitrescu finds stories of beautiful work wrought in the worst imaginable circumstances and asks, if crisis situations produce such quality efforts, should we bother to fund the liberal arts in academia? Well, yes, we probably should, the inevitable outflow of bad poetry notwithstanding. A story about survivors of the siege of Sarajevo hinges on the question of which book any given person would refuse to burn for fuel. The same question is posed to each of the contributors here, and it will leave you pondering your own answer, and perhaps eyeing a beloved bookshelf with some discomfort.

Rumba Under Fire was published before the US entered its present circumstances, but it feels like a tool of the resistance. Add it to your belt; publisher Punctum Books has released it as an open source document, so you can download it to an e-reader immediately at no charge, but donations will prove crucial to their future success.

Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks Into Breakthroughs was published late in 2015, but this user friendly introduction to resilience and post-traumatic growth should begin finding new readers as we move toward inauguration day. Author Michaela Haas spoke with a range of trauma survivors about their experiences and how they not only made it through but did so with a sense of being better for the experience.

The stories are inspiring; Haas interviews Maya Angelou, Temple Grandin and surgeon Rhonda Cornum, who was captured while serving in Iraq, among several others, and shares an intimate view of how they were shaped by difficulty but never stopped growing. The book ends with a list of hands-on methods to try yourself; if you think it’s too ooey-gooey to sit down and make a gratitude list at the end of the day, consider that it’s one of the techniques the military uses before sending soldiers into combat that has a proven record of lowering the occurrence of PTSD after service (they just macho it up a bit with the nickname, “hunting the good.”).

I can’t speak for you, but my social media is full of to-do lists and Monday morning quarterbacking, and every third post is asking for money I don’t have to share. It’s easy to feel helpless, and hopeless, and to wish feverishly for a quick trip in the Wayback machine to undo some crucial errors in our recent past. But giving up is really not an option, and being asked for things I can’t provide begs the question: What can I do? When an opportunity appears, will I be able to say “yes” and step up? Starting from wellness is critical, and that requires a clear head and some attention to health; add a regular 15-minute meditation session, and you’re far more likely to stay present with whatever the situation demands.

No matter what happens in the next few months, they will be hard and stressful for many of us. Bouncing Forward can help you opt out of despair and step up to the challenges we face with resolve and confidence.

Heather Seggel is a writer and on-call law library assistant who wishes the position let her wear a little light and siren. She lives and works in Ukiah, California. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2017

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