Book Review of the Week: Life is a Verb

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

HOW often do we read a book that truly, incredibly, deeply, changes your life?  Hardly ever for me, to be honest. I recently found such a book - it is Patti Digh's new book, life is a verb: 37 days to wake up, be mindful, and live intentionally.


And, I am happy to host it here on Wandering Educators as part of Patti's Book Blog Tour this month! I first met Patti through my academic advisor - they work together at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication, and after he recommended her site to me, I was floored by the possibilities.  Possibilites for what, you may ask?  Well, I could give a huge list, or I could condense it to this: possibilities for life. Yes, it is that good.


So, life. Pretty big, that subject. The hubris of someone digging in? Noticeably absent. Patti is so kind, sharing, giving in her book. She has sorted out the book into six themes, or practices, for intentional living. She presents us with essays - full of life, art, love, and humility - and each lesson has an action section at the end. As with any intercultural learning, sometimes the action section has the most impact. How many of us have discussed intercultural living ad nauseum, and then been surprised with ourselves by playing Ecotonos?


Her essays touch the deepest parts of ourselves - saying yes, being generous, speaking up, loving more, trustng yourself, and slowing down. Indeed, this book is nothing short of a treatise for all of us - for peace, intercultural learning, and noticing the small things in life that mean so much. While I was reading the book, I noticed myself changing. Instead of watching the Olympics closing ceremony, I watched my daughter dance - and we both were better for it. That sort of intentionality is something that I've taken away from reading this book, and have striven to integrate into my own life. It isn't seamless, but it Is Making a Difference.


Why here on Wandering Educators? Well, besides the fact that Patti teaches diversity and intercultural learning, I think that especially as global learners and travelers, we all need to be mindful of who and what we are - whether here or abroad.  When I think of my experiences overseas in vastly different cultures, I see instances where I could have been more interculturally mindful - haven't we all? The more that we can inhabit our own stories, as Patti says, the more that we can truly be in the moment, experiencing life in all its diversity.


But that's enough of me - here's what Patti had to say...



WE:  Please tell us about your new book, Life is a Verb...

PD:  This book was a real labor of love. I started writing essays a few years ago to create a 3-ring notebook, an instruction manual, for my two girls. Something to leave behind for them if I should die unexpectedly. The impulse to do that had begun in 2003 when my stepfather was diagnosed with lung cancer and died just 37 days later. That time frame scared me and woke me up.

I started asking myself one question every morning: "What would I be doing
today if I only had 37 days to live?" My answer was that I would write. I would write all my stories down for my girls so they could know me as something more than a mom. So I started a blog called "37days" and after two years of writing an essay every week, a publisher approached me about publishing 37days in book form. That book is *Life is a Verb!

Life is a Verb *is part inspiration, part how-to, and part memoir. It's been called "not a self-help book, but a soul-help book." At its core, it is a book of challenges to help us all live more mindfully.



WE: The art is just gorgeous - how did you find so many talented artists to

PD:  I am so happy that readers of my blog literally made this book a work of art! Rather than have a designer illustrate the book, I put a call out on my blog and over 70 artists responded from around the world, people who had been long-time readers of my blog, 37days. They were individually assigned essays and in two weeks' time they had submitted over 125 pieces of original art! The publisher took one look at the incredible art and decided not only to print the whole book in full color, but also to include every single piece of art submitted! I was completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of generosity and beauty.



WE:  You teach intercultural education and diversity. And, I see that talking about diversity weaves its way into this book.  Do you think that once someone reads your book, they can ignore diversity and change?

PD: I think too often we talk about diversity and intercultural issues as if they were separate from everyday life. But each encounter we have with another human being is, in effect, a diversity encounter--we are constantly engaging across difference, aren't we? Each of us views the world through a particular lens--and that lens is sometimes quite different from those around us, because of the elements that have shaped us in our lives, whether our ethnicity, family structure, education, travel, and much more. My hope is that after reading *Life is a Verb,* people will have a greater sense of the value of opening space for others, of granting the same level of specificity to others as they do to themselves, and of the ways in which we can stand true to our beliefs and still allow for the truth of others. I would hope that readers of this book will emerge more open to the humanity of those with whom they disagree.



WE: With global travel, it is so easy to be insular - sticking with others from your culture, eating at McDonald's instead of locally. How can travelers be more aware and live intentionally while abroad?

PD:  I think learning doesn't happen until we come to an "edge," a place of not-knowing. Madame Curie has said, "Dissymmetry causes phenomenon." We need to, in effect, be thrown off balance for real learning to occur. And when traveling, that means walking toward "not-knowing" as opposed to running toward the known. It means sitting with the discomfort of now knowing a language and not being able to read street signs, or being unable to read a menu. It means staying at a local pension rather than at a Hilton. And it means opening ourselves up to the discomfort of being thrown off balance. The chances are that you will survive your own ignorance, and will gain a deeper (and truer) appreciation of the country you are visiting. This is as true when traveling in the U.S. as it is when going outside our borders. Eat at a local diner, not a chain restaurant. Go to a community theatre production, not a Hollywood movie. Be local as much as possible. Walk toward discomfort, not away from it.



WE: One of my favorite essays in your book is "live an irresistable
obituary' - how do you think living interculturally and globally can help
*everyone* live an irresistable obit?

PD: I fear we spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting for ideal conditions. Living
an irresistible obituary is, in some ways, the result of merely saying "yes"
to the offers that are made to you, whether the conditions are right or not!
How much time do we spend saying no? One of the best ways to really
understand this essay is to sit down and write the obituary you want--then
live up to that obituary day by day. Life is incremental. Today's decisions
create tomorrow's obituary.



WE:   Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

PD:  I am overwhelmed by the grassroots support for this book and for my blog,*37days*. I hope that *Life is a Verb* will thrill and amuse and enlarge each reader's life in some way. I don't hope that readers will simply enjoy this book--I hope they will love it and learn from it and find their lives enriched in significant ways by it. I've been asked by many readers around the country to visit their towns and read from the book, and I'm accepting as many of those invitations as I can. 

Thanks for the opportunity to visit you here!



WE: Thanks so much, Patti! I have to say, I've gotten a few more copies of Life is a Verb to share with others - I just don't want to let my copy go yet. Thank you for writing such a meaningful, life-loving book.


For more information on Patti's work, or to order an inscribed copy of her book, for yourself or someone else, please visit:



While I was watching the sunset at Lake Michigan last week, I stopped to look...and got off the ship. See what happens when you get off the ship, too.

Lake Mi sunset