Sunday, July 26, 2015

Coffee and Blogs No. 21

This summer has been stuffed to bursting with events and vacations and play dates that have kept me moving and in the sun and more pleased than I've been in a long time. I visited Florida to celebrate all the pre-wedding festivities for one of my sisters, took in a day in the life of an MFA grad assistant with a dear friend and fellow writer, and have been hitting every pool, pond, and splash park in a 20 minute radius of my home.  But that's not all! My brain is exploding, as well. I've started writing for the site What the Fangirl and am totally restructuring my novel to fit more of my original premise. These are both stretching my creativity in lovely, torturous ways. I haven't been too busy to be on the scan for links to enjoy and enlighten!  Let's see what we have here...

*I had no cable growing up- we were a PBS family. This meeting is probably exactly how Wishbone was conceived.  
We’re getting kids to read here, Janice. Give them just enough to tantalize their literary palates and I guarantee you they’ll devour all these titles, cover-to-cover, and certainly not just use the surface knowledge gleaned from Wishbone to posture before their future professors and Internet dates for the rest of their adult lives.
*Comic books were not something I was particularly interested in until lately, and all of the sudden I find myself rocking back and forth on my heels in the comic aisle of B&N, feeling like I'm finally in the foreign land I wished to visit but it's all in another language.  Enter A Feminist Ranking of Female Superheros by Sam Maggs- this article introduced me to characters I want to meet, but also gave me some terminology so that when I finally do "get into comics" like I've been wanting to, I can brave the aisle (or better yet, my local comic store) with some confidence.

*Roxanne Gay wrote Bad Feminist, a book I want to share for Be Your Own Book Club as soon as possible, but it was her opinion piece for the New York Times that I read this week. The death of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in police custody ("suicide") earlier this month, is terrifying in it's POINTLESSNESS, and it's a story that's getting uncomfortably familiar. Gay's reactions as a black woman are required reading, especially for those of us who are not black. We have to listen to her, because there is no other way for us to experience this- we've never had to face it, but we do have to listen
Each time I get in my car, I make sure I have my license, registration and insurance cards. I make sure my seatbelt is fastened. I place my cellphone in the handless dock. I check and double check and triple check these details because when (not if) I get pulled over, I want there to be no doubt I am following the letter of the law. I do this knowing it doesn’t really matter if I am following the letter of the law or not. Law enforcement officers see only the color of my skin, and in the color of my skin they see criminality, deviance, a lack of humanity. There is nothing I can do to protect myself, but I am comforted by the illusion of safety.
*I love the round ups of "Tips from Smart Woman" that Kate Baer publishes on her blog. The sex tips were fabulous, and these tips about writing were exciting and depressing and confirming. I love seeing the pictures of these bad ass ladies. I love this series all together. 
No woman gets an orgasm from shining the kitchen floor. -Betty Friedan (that might be my new personal mantra)
*How To Tell if You're in a Goosebumps Book Your town is one of those towns where everyone knows you by name with the exception of that mysterious shopkeeper who’s just opened a spooky curios store around the corner from your house.  

*How To Tell if You're in a Baby-Sitter's Club Book You take great pleasure in listing every article of clothing you’re wearing, as well as every article of clothing each of your six closest friends are wearing. Pretty much yes.

*In the same vein, I like this essay about fictional childhood best friends. I'm gearing up for a reread of Harriet the Spy and the Anastasia books.  Who was in your metaphorical gang when you were a kid?

*Self-care is a concept that I love for it's kindness and selfishness and get grumpy about because the more I learn about it, the more I realize I can't use it as an excuse to eat more cupcakes in the name of love. Anne shared what self-care looks like for her this summer: new pretty underwear, more bike rides, more salads, asking for help, getting messages, going to bed earlier.  Some of that stuff is not "fun." But ugh, necessary. The comments have a gold mine of further ways to take care of yourself.

*More self-care with a witchy point of view. I really like the offerings on an altar- this practice really appeals to me, although I've never tried it. I have a little altar in my office that is lovely, but it could use a little more attention. 

*I've had two articles published by What the Fangirl in July: The Problem with Virgin Vampire Killers: A Review of Eva Darrows' THE AWESOME and I've Never Seen: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Two. It's a really fun site to write for! I'm working on a review of a Holly Black book and my recap of Season Three of Buffy.

*If you follow Be Your Own Book Club, this month we're reading Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. This is a pretty popular book- I follow NPR Books on Facebook, and usually respond their weekly question about what you're currently reading. I rarely ever get a response from other readers, but when I posted about Me Before You, I got tons of positive replies. That being said, I'm not overwhelmed by the plot or characters.  I like them. I hope everyone is happy in the end. But it's not a page turner for me. How are you liking it?

(Image credit. Click through- the image description has a great short story about the saucy lady pictured here)


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pros/Cons of Losing Weight

Reasons I Want to Lose Weight:

  • I want to go on roller coasters until I'm 70
  • I want to be able to climb to the top of the big slide on the hill at Davis Farmland for as long as the boys want to, and not have to stop because I'm worn out.
  • I want to wear jeans more often.
  • I want to deal with times when I eat my feelings and gain more control over myself in those moments.
  • I want to ride any amusement park attraction and never have to worry about fitting in the seat.
  • I want to be able to climb the ladder and get onto a floating dock in the middle of the lake.
  • I want to be healthy enough to watch my grandkids and greatgrandkids grow up.
  • I want more energy. I want all the energy.
  • Sometimes I look at a picture and the girl I see is not actually the girl I'm seeing in my head.
  • I want good blood sugar.
  • I want to feel proud of myself.
  • I want to feel good.

Reasons that I Don't Want to Lose Weight:

  • I'm already good enough the way I am.
  • I live in a society that demands women find their worth by shrinking.
  • I have clothes that I love, cute dresses and swimsuits and jeans, and I don't have to lose weight to live out the style that I love.
  • I think diets are demeaning.
  • Nothing that I struggle with emotionally will change if I look different than I do now.
  • People will congratulate me (obviously) and that will feel so good (obviously) and I'm scared to define my worth through this process.
  • Most weight loss tools are condescending and shitty. The fitness chatter for men is "You're going to get so cut!" and the fitness talk for women is "You're going to look so good in your bathing suit!"
  • It's taken me 30 years to like myself. I really like myself. I'm scared that admitting I need to lose weight will confuse that message that I have finally pounded through my thick skull.
  • It's hard.

This is an accurate representation of my brain, every day, trying to reconcile body acceptance and feminism with my biological need to have less weight on my body. For me, it's medical- a report to me about my personal situation from a doctor.  If I want to live a long time, I have to lose weight. I have done it before. I know that it's possible (even though post-kids and at 30, it's harder than ever).  But it's work, and I'm struggling with it. I know a lot of my heartfelt reasons that I don't want to lose weight are really important, legit things- I don't want to mess with my own hard-won self confidence, for instance- but it's also legitimately important that I take my health in hand and take care of myself.

It's kind of tiring.

I wonder if I would have such fiery values about loving myself if losing weight was easy for me, or if I've built up this gorgeous wall of feminism because I don't fit the typical mold of societal beauty. I think it would have still appealed to me, this radical message that you don't have to be constantly pursuing a stick-thin body and you can beautiful at any size, in any outfit of your choosing, showing as much or as little skin as you please, wearing full make up or nothing at all. I've been all sizes, and it's never made me happy. Healthier maybe, and probably (ick) a little more self righteous. 

It's all part of a cycle; this pros/cons list will be my negotiation for the rest of my life. Weight was my focus last summer, and it's rearing it's head again. I will always have to work a little for optimum health. I will always be extra critical of the messages that the media and society perpetuate about what is healthy, what is pretty, what should be loved. I will always have to balance those two things to embrace self acceptance and my own personal health.

What do you think, ladies and gents? How do you balance your feminist values with personal health? Any leads on workout/weight loss programs that aren't...awful? I'm using Pinterest as a tool right now, looking for images of confidence and health tips at the same time, but I'd love to hear what has worked for you! Much love, xoxo.

Image credits: 1, 2, 3

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Midsummer Check In!

There is a line in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that I have always adored. I just spent too long looking for it, which turned into reading huge passages from it, which turned into almost abandoning this post, so I'll paraphrase. Basically, it's about time doing strange things, passing in dollops so entire days and even weeks are gone before you a can blink an eye. That's what's going on this summer. Sometimes I feel like I'm waiting around for bedtime, other times I'm wondering how an entire four-day vacation vanished so quickly, or how I completely missed strawberry picking season for the first time ever.

This has been the easiest summer I've had yet home with my kids. For the first time, they can both talk and walk (so we can do more activities with less facilitation by me) but they also still nap (and the two to three hour period that they nap every afternoon is literally the highlight of my day). I have more free time for myself than ever, and I'm capitalizing on it. I'm blogging here and for other sites. I'm working on my manuscript for the YA novel I've been writing. I'm reading as much as possible, and buying more books than I can keep up with. I'm watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer kind of obsessively. I'm meeting up with friends and going on day trips and buying my first bikini (almost 30 and the heaviest weight I've ever been seemed like a good time to get over that hurdle) and having a damn blast. Seriously.

There are a few problems with this lifestyle: I'm not 20 anymore. If I had been a little more in tune with myself when I was in my twenties, then I could have had a whole freaking decade of this behavior. Maybe I was too jammed up with self conscious bullshit. Maybe I had to get here before I was ready to truly let loose. I should have been writing with less distraction, wearing a bikini on the beach with friends, planning more dates with Ben.  Now that I'm closer to thirty, I bounce back from hangovers more slowly, have to squeeze my hobbies into smaller blocks of time, and while hanging with friends is doable, time for Ben and I is rare and precious. There are so many things I'm dying to do, and to quote another paraphrased saying, I can do anything, but I can't do everything.

My mind is kind of exploding with the all the goodness in my face this summer- amazing books, breakthroughs in my story, fun with my kids, really tasty beers, wonderful friends, hopeful plans for the future. I'm at a point where I need a little discipline (some salads. some exercise.) and a solid long list to organize my thoughts. I need to balance my beers with water. I need to balance my friends time with family time. I need to set some concrete goals, to be a little more proactive. Reactionary living has been really fun, but it's not sustainable long term.

I've been being my own lady pretty ferociously, and it's freeing and a little frightening.  It can feel weird to take a lot time for yourself. It can be awkward to admit that you need to key back into the more boring but more stable parts of your routine.  It is downright scary to reevaluate the plans that you've been blindly hanging on to for several years. But that is part of being your own lady. Living wildly and checking in with how it feels. Making plans so that you're living an intentionally fabulous life, instead of hoping that the life you want blossoms in front of you. 

How is your summer going? Are you diving into any crazy projects, listening to good music, day drinking something delicious that I need to know about? Are you at a point where you need to stop and check in with your goals, or are things singing for you right now? I'd love to hear from you.

Keeping with tradition, I've joined Spotify about seven years late, so here is my summer playlist. A Great Big World is my favorite new band, and the new songs from Sia and Adam Lambert are making my life. 

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Be Your Own Book Club June 2015: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Do you wanna leave soon?
No, I want enough time to be in love with everything...
And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short 
-Marina Keegan from the poem "Bygones"

This book wasn't what I expected. I like essays.  I like to hear people talk about themselves. I'm quick to join in with the internet chorus that agrees, en mass, to like something, to call it good.  I was surprised by my reactions to The Opposite of Loneliness, until I thought about it for awhile, and then I wasn't anymore.

This volume is made of up short stories and essays.  The introduction, written by one of Keegan's writing professors, is as long as many of the works. I learned two technical writing terms in the intro itself, so I was considering this book a win before I'd gotten very far.  It was later, when I was uncomfortable with my lack of interest in the stories, that I appreciated that everything was in such short bites.

Throughout the short stories in particular, there were glimpses of interaction and character development that I really liked, but I was haunted by this nagging feeling that I was missing something.  Across the board, the stories finished weak, and many of them weren't very good. I would get to end, wanting badly to get that "woah" feeling that endings often give me, and I'd feel lost. I was searching for something to connect with, and I was often disappointed. The fact that I felt this way when I wanted so badly to enjoy this book spoke volumes to me.

Where I think Keegan's work does shine is when she is writing from the point of view of a 20-something college student, which she is, forever.  I liked her story about the college girl dealing with the death of her casual boyfriend (although I found the subject matter, and the post-mortem journal-reading, in particular, an eerie prophecy) and how sick she felt, reading his private thoughts about her not comparing to his ex-girlfriend. I found flashes of powerful recognition in the short story about the girl who visits her boyfriend doing summer stock and suspects he's cheating.  The descriptions of being sure you're right and then sure you're imagining it were visceral.  She nailed it.  

I loved this beginning:

The biggest fight in my relationship with Danny regards the absurd claim that he invented the popular middle school phenomenon of saying "cha-cha-cha" after each phrase of the Happy Birthday song- an idea his ingenious sixth-grade brain allegedly spawned in a New Jersey Chuck E. Cheese and watched spread across 1993 America with an unprecedented rapidity.

This is such an perfect way to set up the ultimate annoying one-upper.  What a ridiculous claim- who IS this guy? What IS this relationship? Except...there was no follow through.  He never really got called on his shit.  And now I'm wondering where this phenomenon (still going strong in my first-grade classroom to this day) really came from.

There's also this from the last essay Keegan wrote for the Yale Daily News (the essay that went viral after her untimely death in 2012):

It's not quite love and its not quite community; it's just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it's 4 am and no one goes to bed...We're so young. We're so young. We're twenty-two years old. We have so much time.

It's not only gorgeous because of the painful irony that Marina Keegan did not have "so much time"...she died only a month or so later.  It's also a really perfect sentiment for the end of college.  The whole essay discusses the fear of leaving the safety of the college support system, and speaks with the gravity and wisdom of a young person who has no idea how young they are, no matter how many times they say it.  That is the biggest praise and criticism I've seen about Keegan's work- it all sounds like she's in her twenties.  

I wonder, a little uneasily, if Keegan would be comfortable with us reading these pieces. They were unfinished, unpublished (aside from the essay from her college newspaper), and her parents and professors just did their best to evaluate what she would have wanted in her published work.  Maybe she was still working out the finer points of some of these endings.  Maybe if she had had more time to develop her style, it would be a different book.

What did you think about The Opposite of Loneliness? Any favorite passages or essays? Am I being too harsh on the quality of the writing?  In the end, I didn't enjoy this book the way I wanted to, but I have spent an entire afternoon and evening writing this review due to how often I keep getting lost in rereading different sections.  I'd love to know what you think!

Now to introduce the July pick: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.  I've heard good things about this book, and see it on lots of reading challenge lists.  Hopefully it will be a little lighter and a little more plot driven, as has been requested by some of my lovely readers.

Thank you to everyone who has been reading along this year! In the first half of 2015, we've read four books, and I'm hoping to keep going strong.  Happy reading, fabulous ladies!