Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: The Year I Realized I Was Numb

So I started my year in review. I used my favorite tip about going through and reliving the year through social media updates. I reread my January post about what I hoped for the year. I ruminated a little bit on all the jokey 2016-needs-to-be-over memes and the slew of celebrity deaths. I think I have a word for the year that just passed: Numb. 2016 was the year I could no longer maintain my level of numb. 

2016 was big. I started writing for Book Riot and bought a new house. Both of these events honestly brought out the worst in my personality, and that was something huge for me-- to recognize that trying times show off my ugly, and to actively wonder about how to change that. Trying times have made me a little monstrous my whole life, but I worked up a cocoon of numb. When the bad moments passed, I would paste my smile back on and move forward. This year, the numb started getting worn down in places. I couldn't shove my own crappiness away easily. Things that hurt me hurt me harder, or longer. 

Writing for Book Riot was easily the most growth-inducing thing that happened to me this year. When I got word that they were considering me for a contributor position, I was over the moon. Then I became part of the back channel conversation, and I promptly experienced high anxiety for about three months. Part of it was realizing that writing for the site was about much more than benignly enjoying reading. Part of it was realizing that I am not as smart, worldly, or well-read as I allowed myself to think I was. Part of it was that this place did not allow for numb. Writing there this year, and observing the conversations of other contributors and our editors, I have learned a stupid amount, and very little of it is about writing. I've practiced listening to learn, and keeping my mind open enough (and my numb dialed down enough) to recognize when I know nothing about something. I've encountered clashing opinions, seen ways to validly justify them, and juuusssst started edging into forming my own, as opposed to accepting the opinion of someone I know to be more versed in the issue. This might seem like beginner stuff, but I have been numb for a very long time. The most important thing I learned from Book Riot this year is that everything is political. The most important thing I saw confirmed is that books can be lifelines. 

Buying a house was harder, and I was more numb. Ben took care of SO MANY of the details, because I was really struggling with leaving our little house at all. It was too small for us. There wasn't space to breathe or grow. We couldn't fit toys for our kids or BEDS THAT WERE COMFORTABLE but I kept saying "We're fine, this is fine, it doesn't hurt because I'm numb!" There were so many sweet memories in that little house. Leaving it was nearly impossible, and then we hit snags in the logistics, which is SO COMMON in house-buying but I could barely handle it. Being on medication helped, but I'm going to be honest- at times, it made me feel a little numb. We had support every step of the way, people helping us pack, people listening to my vent, dear friends letting us live RENT FREE until situations were ironed out. We put things in storage and took things out of storage and finally we signed the papers and passed our first home to the sweetest little family in the universe. Then we signed the papers and came here. And now this is home. I know that I can't be numb about this new place because there is so much work to do and I want to be a part of it. I want to be connected to the paint colors and the way we set up the outdoor living spaces and I want the fireplace to be in working order and if I don't fight for that- if I just mention it to Ben and go back to being numb about where I live- it won't happen. Which is fine! If I want to be numb about things. But if I want to read in front of the fire. I have to call a chimney sweep. I have to reject being numb.

Being numb has been a coping strategy that I have used my entire life. When kids picked on me in elementary school, when my dad died and I had to go back to conversations where his name might pop up, when my high school boyfriend used to scream at me in the halls between classes, when I knew that I hurt my friends but was too embarrassed to apologize (this is a recurring pattern that I have experienced everywhere I've ever lived, childhood thru college and on), when I look back on the shitty way I treated my sisters when I was younger, when I recall every single time I've ever gotten blackout drunk and depended on someone else to take care of me, when I think of some of the terrible fights I've had with my husband. Whenever something bad happens, I go numb. Whenever I am faced with my own mistakes, I go numb. Pretend not to care, or even more pointedly, pretend the problem does not exist. This year, I realized how much I go numb. I started seeing some of the patterns I use to duck my head and keep my feelings shoved DOWN. Uncomfortably, I started realizing that none of it goes away. It's all still there. Shoved really far down. READY TO BLOW.

In 2016, I wrote the same story over and over. I watched the same three TV shows hundreds of times. I escaped into HOURS of mindless scrolling on the internet in an effort to stay very, very numb. And for the first time in 31 years, I started realizing what I was doing. 2016 started to wake me up. I've started paying attention to the bigger world and I've started really evaluating how I feel about everything from diet culture to story structure to local politics. Silly? I don't know. I think apologizing for or gently mocking my emotions has been one of my ways of staying numb. So fuck it.

Some numb-busters I've already encountered? An amazing writing class where I converse with women I admire about our stories in a serious, non-apologetic manner. Choosing something I care about and really researching it- I've been reading about and sorting my feelings around diet culture most of this year, and it makes me think, really hard. It kills my numb. More of these issues are going to pop up, because I'm going to stop avoiding them. 2016 was a mind-screw because so many things changed, but the biggest change was my own outlook. I hope when I come back here in 2017, I can say that I kept this trend going.

(Boom Boom Pow image by Allison Black via Pinterest

Monday, December 26, 2016

Putting The Year To Bed: Tips For A Year-End Review

This is my absolute favorite time of the year. Christmas is winding down and we get to start planning for the year ahead. I'm not talking about resolutions. I'm talking about a genuine examination of what we want/need/expect from 2017, and I honestly don't think you can achieve that without looking back at what just happened in the past. You need a year-end review.

A few years ago, before kids and medication, I used to live SO HARD in the lifestyle/Mommy blogging world (read: obsessively reading and comparing myself to these filtered, cropped families), and I built up some huge ideas about who I wanted to be. Every year, I would write out a fresh, huge list of resolutions that would transform me.  One year, I had 12 goals, one for each month. I was going to learn to sew using vintage patterns, grow all my own veggies, lose a ton of weight, redecorate my home, and basically become a new person by the end of year. I could link to this blog post but it's actually so sad that it hurts to think about. Okay here but I warned you.

I didn't think about who I was or what was actually happening in my life. I just wanted to look like those other fancy 20-somethings. In actuality, I was so unhappy that I was chain smoking on my back porch and hiding from most in person social interaction, but I thought if I ran fast enough and screamed loud enough on the internet, I could forget that shit and start a shiny new year. GUESS WHAT DIDN'T WORK LOL. I still get depressed and still sometimes dream about transforming into an interesting, vintage-wearing coastal millennial with a Polaroid deal on my blog, but those are fleeting thoughts. Looking back at the life I'm living helps ground me. Then the real work of planning the next year can begin.

Here are a few of my tips for reviewing the year you just lived:

1. Make your own highlights reel. Write down each of the 12 months on a piece of blank paper, and write the big events that happened for each. It's up to you how big to go. Add weddings, funerals, job changes, large trips, momentous news. This is data, people. Was a part of the year loaded with downer news? Did you travel a lot during a certain time period? The 12-month-paper method helps you see some of the things you accomplished and some of the things you survived. 

2. Read about yourself. People will use all their available air vilifying social media overshares, but screw 'em, because you are about to get a review of your year on the daily level. Go back through your most used social media accounts. If you are a person who posts often or even semi-often, it can be super valuable in getting a feel for how things actually were in February. Warning: this can take a surprisingly long time. There might be a lot of comb through, but this isn't homework- do whatever feels good. (Some sites will run the numbers for you- the music service Spotify has a playlist of your most-listened to songs, and Goodreads will show you your year in books.) 

3. End with a little freehand. Write, draw, list, whatever, but after going over the last year, give yourself time to really think about how you feel about it. It's hard to separate the way you feel in the post-holiday burnt-out haze from the way your entire year actually went. Give yourself permission to name the year. You're about to leave it behind, anyway, so no need to be polite, 

And links:

How To Conduct Your Own Annual Review  (different article with similar title!)

I hope you take the time to do a review of the year, because I'm selfish and I want to read what you came up with! When I complete mine, I'll share it, and I would love you to do the same- send me a link or post something in the comments! Let's put this year properly to bed. Next up- 2017! 

(image credit: Taryn Knight)

Friday, December 16, 2016

What's Working in a Broken Time

There's a dumpster fire t-shirt that keeps popping up in my Facebook ads, and if I was more sure of the sizing, I'd buy it instantly. The dumpster is green with big white numbers: 2016. Indeed.

Honestly, this year is important. So important. We're living through some pretty terrifying history. We're being called to action in a way that I don't think has happened in recent memory. Although, I could be very wrong about that, because if I've learned anything in 2016, it's that I'm very ignorant. What I don't know could fill libraries of mythical proportion. I'm trying to catch up on 30 years of lost wisdom as quickly as I possibly can.

Good things happened this year, too. I'm going to spend some time before 2017 really looking over the year and putting things into perspective for myself. This article from Gala Darling has me thinking, but there are guidelines everywhere. Going back through 12 months of social media accounts can be incredibly eye opening. You might forget how you were feeling in March, but Facebook doesn't. Facebook never forgets. 

I have wanted to share some things that are working for me right now. None of them are life changing, but in a time where I am constantly vacillating between upset and numb, recognizing little positives is healthy. And fun. And maybe something can be helpful to you, which would mean that even though I AM currently Sadness from Inside Out, I am contributing to an upswing in someone's life, and that would be just lovely.

1. Syncing Google Calendars with my husband
Oh my GOD I am the lamest but...this has been huge. One thing I'm truly grateful for is that Ben and I both have hobbies that fulfill us and take up a lot of our time. Ben shot a movie this fall that required a bunch of production meetings and two very full weekends of round-the-clock commitment. I take a writing class every other weekend and meet up with friends as often as I can manage. We have two kids who like to go to birthday parties and pick apples and see Santa Claus and do all the Northeast US activities that finish off a year, not to mention doctors' appointments and parent teacher conferences and all that jazz. Basically, with four schedules to coordinate, we were constantly texting each other (because we are rarely home at the same time) "What's happening on the 14th?" or "What time do I need to take off next Thursday?" It was super annoying to get those questions, sometimes because "I ALREADY TOLD YOU" and sometimes because "I HAVE NO IDEA!" and the paper calendar was at home. On the wall. With the fish. The rest of us were out in the world.

So at some point in the fall my sister was watching the boys and we went on a romantic date and we sat down and synced our calendars. Oh Google, you siren. We have a Master Calendar and any time one of us enters an event, it automatically pops up on the other's calendar. We also both use Gmail, so if we get a confirmation of anything via email, the calendar asks us if we would like to add it. I bought plane tickets near Thanksgiving, and when I went to enter the info, my flight times AND FLIGHT NUMBERS were already in the calendar, waiting patiently for approval. So while synced calendars does nothing about my dread of what is going to happen to women's health rights in this new regime, it makes me on-the-level life so much easier, and oddly, I feel much more connected to Ben. We're synced. 

I'm not a numbers girl. I am a dreamer. Cold hard facts are shitty and wake up me to reality and I don't like knowing the truth. I like living in my head. This is why I need- and am starting to love- data. It started with Fitbit a few years ago. The facts about when I actually was getting in most of my steps surprised me (Working in an elementary school= tons of steps. Chasing toddlers= surprisingly, not as many steps!) and I became obsessed. When I upgraded to the Charge, I started getting my sleep data and guess what? I sleep a lot more than I thought I did. Who knew?  For a few years I've been very careful to track my reading in Goodreads. Sometimes I find that I read a lot more than I thought I had. Sometimes I find that my "diverse reading streak" includes only one author of color, and I have more work to do than I thought.  I got a new app that helps me track my period (It's Clue and it's cool). I guess I'm just sick of guessing. I like keeping track of things. At Thanksgiving, I lost my Fitbit charger, and I've gone without for about a month. I hate it. I like having metrics with which to track my days. I want to be free-spirited and intuitive, but I suck at knowing myself without external structure. Give me data.

3. Lists
I've only made about three lists in 2016. It's a practice I've strayed from, and it pisses me off. It's like drinking water, eating vegetables, getting lots of sleep. It's SO freaking good for you, and the contrarian in me loves to reject that which I know it healthy and pure. When I make a list, and I on fire.I have realistic plans for my time, I know what I expect of myself, and I know how to order my days to be productive. Why do I fight this so hard? Why does three extra minutes of scrolling through Twitter seem so much more lucrative? Lists work and I push them away so often, It's stupid.

I really love this list pad from Etsy. It sits on top of a teetering pile of planners that I've used for an average of 3 days each. But this pad is dateless, so you can pick it up and return to the land of planned at any time. And it has the things I actually need to do. It's a single page that gently promises me that I can have the kind of day I imagine, and that I don't need to do it again tomorrow unless I absolutely want to. Thanks, notepad. You get me.

Right now, living well isn't very sexy. It's being organized and managing family schedules and keeping track of things. But it's working- these are the little things that are working. I have BIG plans for 2017. I know I need to make some very big changes. List pads and Fitbits won't be enough to carry me on this trajectory much longer. But for now, it's checking boxes and making lists and gearing up for even greater things.  

(image via pinterest) 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

How to Listen and How to Stay Mad: Intersectional Feminist Action Steps

Be Your Own Lady has been silent. First I was just busy-- I had a delightful October, even while nervously following the news. Then, November 8th happened, and something fundamental changed. I'm not going to waste time remembering the joy of that afternoon, of taking my boys to vote for a female president, of my naive certainty that I would be able to experience the first black president followed by the first female president. I'm not going to spend a lot of words recalling crying on my couch at 2am, thinking of my students and my sons and my brother and my nephew. I lay next to my son Elliott that night with a truly broken heart and already I felt my resolve thickening. I whispered to him "I promise I will never let you think that this behavior is normal. I promise I will never let you think these words and actions are okay." I hoped I was being dramatic. I was not.

I feel stupid, but since then, writing has felt very difficult. I want to sleep a lot. I've had a crappy appetite (a symptom I have never experienced before). The horror of the results of the election is nothing compared the appointments that have been made in the following days. This keeps getting worse, and the scariest part is that I can feel myself slipping. It's almost Christmas. I need to pick up a new winter coat. This awfulness is feeling normal. That is the most dangerous possible thing,

I want to be very clear that I do not think my personal safety will be at all jeopardized in this new America. I am a straight-presenting white person with a white husband and white sons who subscribes to no religion. I know that the president elect thinks my fat is really gross and would probably doubt my rape because I'm not beautiful enough to sexually assault, but I'm able to walk down the street with zero fear. There is no talk of registering fat people. But people of color, people of religious diversity, refugees fleeing war, LGBTQ people, people who receive their healthcare because of the Affordable Care Act-- these people are already feeling it. Hate crimes, horrible slurs, elected politicians who misunderstand and therefore dismiss (or outright condemn) them, anxiety over loss of care, possible registries (OH MY GOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME REGISTRIES?), religious persecution, and worst of all, sneering comments or cold indifference from so many people who know them. I cannot imagine the psychological toll of knowing that from the highest power in the country right down to your next door neighbor, your life matters less because of the color of your skin or the way you worship or the person you love, And since I'm rolling in my privilege over here, I need to disrupt this pattern. I am among the least affected, which means my job is to resist.

The internet is RIFE with resources. I have found so much comfort in actionable steps. There are places you can donate, elected officials who legally HAVE to listen to your concerns (and scripts for people with phone anxiety, HEY OH!), suggestions for where and when and how to organize, calls to subscribe to print newspapers (supporting journalism is more important than ever), TONS OF GREAT BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS to help yourself and the people in your life understand American politics and the immigrant experience and life from perspectives that are not your own. 

Many of my readers are white, so I'll summarize what I believe our job is, coming from the seat of extreme power we have always held.

1. Shut up and listen. This has been hard for me. I like to talk. And a lot of the listening right now has been hard to swallow (Is it embarrassing to face your white privilege? Sometimes! Shut up and do it anyway). Listen to people of color when they say your safety pin is not making them feel safe, and resist the urge to scream BUT! Listen to people with chronic illnesses when they explain exactly how they will be affected by the loss of their medicines. Listen to people when they tell you their experiences with racism on the street. Listen to people when they tell you how to disrupt hate speech as a bystander.  

HERE'S THE HARD ONE: listen to people when they tell you they think the spike in hate crimes is being made up. Listen to people when they that Muslims should be responsible for reporting terrorism before it happens. Listen to people when they say they don't think the new appointments are all that bad. Then BITE YOUR TONGUE because this is not the time to spout really angry facts and say "Tell me why you feel that way?" Listen to what they say. In a civil conversation with a person you actually know, you might be able to point out truths about a group that they hadn't heard in a calm way before.  You might start to get a picture of the actual issues that are hurting people, and it's very possible that the reality of this administration will not address those issues. I heard someone say that in this election, we listened too much to the candidates and not enough to the voters. Listening to someone with a different viewpoint is not a tacit endorsement of the horrific behavior happening in and out of the political sphere. Have conversations with people you know in real life.   

*I don't think this olive branch listening technique is required for any white non-marginalized person. It's way too hurtful and you shouldn't have to shoulder that emotional labor. But white people who aren't feeling the heat of this first hand? Take a breath and listen, because we are going to need to educate ourselves and each other on different viewpoints if we want to protect our civil liberties going forward.

2. Educate yourself. Again, take a bite of humble pie and admit that a) Twitter is not acceptable as a singular news source and b) you don't understand as much as you think you do about...anything. At least I don't. And I intend to change that. One of my action steps for the new world is to subscribe to a print newspaper, something local and probably only Sunday delivery, as that's all I'll be able to actually commit to. I'm hoping that staying on top of news beyond what is shared in my echo-chamber of a social media feed will help me be well rounded and understand more about what is going on around me, It's annoyingly adult. It's super necessary.  

I also want to read more nonfiction about America. I live and love here and a lot of my most passionate feelings are summed up in memes and Hamilton lyrics, so I have work to do. This post was written to familiarize voters before the election, but a lot of the books are still very relevant and features picks on both sides of aisle. I challenge you to read a book that critiques the political party you most identify with-- I'm thinking of starting with Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank, which examines the Democratic party. I'm also reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, because everyone should.

Lastly, this current world is not super loving to people who don't fall into the straight cis white category, so if you are straight cis white, it's time for you to start reading some fiction by and featuring The Other. This has been the work of the past year for me, and it has opened my eyes enormously.  I know I'm a Book Riot advertisement (Full disclosure: I contribute to the site) but honestly, it's their diversity policy that has expanded my horizons so much over the past year. There is a ratio that must be met for every article so that authors of color are being featured, so pretty much any article you check out will give you some options to read outside your normal sphere. Some of my favorite picks include Gabi, A Girl In Pieces by Isabel Quintero, Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina, Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan, and Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.

3. Practice speaking up in your daily life. This one is really hard for me. When I am on the internet, I feel free to shout my feelings loud and proud, but in real life, I am a classic Libra, trying to smooth feathers and find common ground. This is not a trait I dislike about myself, but I am trying to make sure I have the fire in my belly to call out my friends and loved ones for using hurtful speech. I look for it in my own speech patterns, too, because I'm no saint. There's no need to deliver a lecture every time. A simple "Don't say that" may be enough. It sucks and is awkward and it's worth it to erode the culture of "jokey" racism that exists in stereotypes and sayings.

Many, many people have said all of this more eloquently than me:

Resistance 365 This is an amazing blog with a daily action step. ACTION STEPS FIGHT DEPRESSION AND KEEP US VIGILANT (Moody, I love you.)

Holy Fuck The Election Choose your own adventure activism. 

So many good resources on the internet right now. Don't forget to stay mad, friends. No matter who you voted for, I doubt you expected an anti-Semitic cabinet member, a racist Attorney General candidate, or an Islamophobe for a national security advisor.  THIS IS REAL AND PRESENT DANGER. Fight.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Privilege vs. Accomplishment: Fun Birthday Thoughts

Yesterday was my birthday. My birthday is always one of my favorite days of the year. Who doesn't love a day devoted to self-celebration, excess, cake and favorite foods, presents, and messages from friends new and old? I also really love getting older. I have felt out of my depth for most of my life, and every year that passes I feel more confident, less worried about others' opinions of me, and more comfortable in my own skin. (I am shooting, at this point, for an early grandmotherly look. I want long grey hair, a big, soft body that I will drape with cool skirts and scarves, and tons of funky jewelry. I will call everyone "dear" and talk a lot about crystals and spells and push coffee on everyone. This goal is SUPER attainable- I am at least halfway there.)

I was thinking a lot about how lucky I am and how much love there is in my little life and I was separating out what has been given to me versus what I have earned, because that's a fun way to celebrate getting older. But it's important.  I took a picture of my sons and I was thinking about posting it and captioning it something like "My two biggest accomplishments of the past 31 years" or something similarly clever. And then I paused, because my sons are not accomplishments. Sitting with that felt weird. 

My body made my sons, not because I worked hard or because I had to go through a lot, but in the lottery of the world I got a body that easily makes babies, and then they fairly easily slid out of me, and I truly had little to nothing to do with that. Now, yes, I am raising them, and trying very hard to give them the things they need while also giving myself the things I need, but I screw up EVERY day and I have a MASTERS DEGREE in working with little kids, so I can't really say that surviving my parenting battles is any real accomplishment. Also, they are people, and calling other people a personal accomplishment seems kind of gross. So my sons, the two biggest sources of frustration and joy in my life, are not really an accomplishment I can claim.

Maybe my house? Well, no. Moving into this new house is not that big of an accomplishment. I didn't build this damn thing. There was a lot of stress with the move and my family made it through the summer with the help of the people around us who held us in their loving arms and soothed me every step of the way. There is work to be done turning this house into OUR HOME, and we're partway there, but I've even had endless help there: friends and family turning up to paint and peel and clean and love, money from my grandfather's legacy to pay for repairs that might have had to wait, a detail-oriented husband who stayed on top of bills and paperwork when I was too emotionally burnt out from leaving our old home to deal. So this house is a blessing and I'm so happy I'm here, but I can't call it a personal accomplishment.

I was starting to get nervous. My writing? I've always been able to put words together. My job? Given to me when I was young, secured by a contract rule that says that after three years, you're pretty much guaranteed a position. My relationship? Ben's patience is not my accomplishment.

Well, I'm thirty-one and I've done nothing.

EXCEPT. Well. I'm a lot different than I was even five years ago.  The biggest change I can recognize is my temper at home- a combination of medicine and therapy and long talks with my husband have helped me realize how I effect my home when I unleash the emotions that I keep pent up in public and as a result, our home life is happier. I am happier. It's a work in progress. It's an accomplishment.

I speak up more now. My voice still shakes and I still turn bright red, but I no longer assume that anyone older than me is smarter than me. I no longer live in constant fear of offending someone I work with, or someone I interact with, or the teller at the bank who might overhear me.  It's a work in progress. It's an accomplishment.

I love more now. I went through a period in my twenties where I was very closed off. I liked being home and alone and I never wanted to visit or have people over. Getting out to meet someone was a huge inconvenience. I resented people who wanted my time. I don't know if I was depressed or just selfish, but I had a really hard time holding up my end of relationships. I still get overwhelmed sometimes, but I have come to realize the joy of having a group of people who are your people. I appreciate the push and pull of the time we give each other, and realize that it's not a zero sum game. My female friendships are a freaking treasure. It's an accomplishment that I got out of my own damn way to embrace them.

I am a better teacher and writer because I've stuck with both. I've taken criticism and made adjustments. I've studied craft and applied new techniques. I've looked inside myself, thought about what I specifically can offer, and used that to improve my practice. When I remember my first years teaching, or think about some of my first drafts and stories, I cringe so hard I almost turn inside out. But over the years, I've improved, and I truly believe that will continue. Becoming better through hard work is an accomplishment.

So I guess it's not a throwaway life. I have been given SO much. I will never for one second stop recognizing my unbelievable privilege. But maybe even knowing that is an accomplishment in itself. I do not take this life for granted. I can't wait to see what this next year will bring. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Astrology for October 2016

Last night was a new moon, today is a new month. Let's check out some lovely resources for October astrology. Libras, it's our yeeeaaaarrrr!

Rookie Horoscopes: Happy New Moon in Libra!

Astrology Zone: Susan Miller's Monthly Horoscopes (As of this morning, the horoscopes were still September, and I know it takes Susan awhile to update sometimes, but it is so worth the wait. She goes into incredible detail and gives specifics down to the day.)

From Gala Darling: Create Your Own Full Moon Ritual (Full Moon coming up soon!) and while you're feeling witchy, House-Witchery: 13 Easy Ways To Infuse Your Home With Magic is a good read.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Coffee + Blogs No. 27

IT'S FINALLY COLD! This is MY TIME OF YEAR. Everyone in my house is freezing because I'm insisting on open windows and we're all piled under blankets and I'm cradling a mug of coffee like it's the idol Indiana Jones liberated from it's spot under that rolling rock. It's time for the return of  Coffee + Blogs.

Aunt Acid: Advice for a Struggling Writer  This advice about work/life balance and engaging in creative pursuits of the sake of creativity is useful for every single one of us with a passion we don't get paid for.

"There is only one bad reason to write, and that’s for external validation. That’s because, even if you start getting some, you’ll never have enough. Praise is like money: no one ever feels satisfied that they’ve gotten their fair share. Almost no one has the strength to walk away from that particular roulette table."

MASH to Determine Your Gilmore Girls Life  Ugh I hate all my results but at least Lane is my best friend.

A Mary Anne With Kristy Rising: On the Enduring Legacy of The Babysitters Club I always identified with Mary Anne, but mostly because I didn't really fit anywhere else. When she got a boyfriend, I was like "Welp, now I'm no one!"

10 Simple Ways White People Can Stand Up to Everyday Racism 1. Listen when people of color talk about racism and white privilege. This is by far the most important step. LISTEN.

A Harry Potter Where Hermione Doesn't Do Anyone's Homework For Them. I miss The Toast so much. Granger/Lovegood for Prez.

How To Listen When You Disagree  Especially in a world where we are also striving toward the important goal of speaking up for what we believe in, listening to something we disagree with is harder than ever. Now that emotional intelligence is getting so much focus in the classroom, this is going to be one of the most important skills we explicitly teach our students.

When you find yourself in disagreement, just ask one question:
“Will you tell me your story? I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”

Why Is It So Hard To Imagine Our Lives After Dieting? I did not diet at all this summer. I ate every flavor of Ben and Jerry's and never once chastised myself for a chips to carrots ratio. I deleted my calorie counting apps and started paying attention to how my body actually felt when I put different things in it. It was weird. Weirder was admitting to others what I was doing.

Paradoxically, being vociferous about masturbation or the American history of genocide were way more socially acceptable than my choice to stop dieting.

Letting go of the dream of thinness is one thing. Really recognizing that we live in a culture that promotes injustice, self-harm and the diminished lives of women — and REFUSING to play along — is quite another.

Hocus Pocus Tee This wasn't one of the movies my family loved growing up, but I know it's a cult favorite and this one is by the same ladies who made my BABE WITH THE POWER shirt that I've worn almost exclusively for the past two months.

Are We Meeting the Needs of our Black Girls? Currently in our country, there is an important hyperfocus on the way institutions deal with race. While I watch police forces go through the process of (kinda) accepting and (kinda) dealing with criticism, I realize that education will be next. Here are some conversations we need to start having.

Three Fat Heroines I Wish I'd Met Earlier and 5 Books That Call Bullshit on Diet Culture are two of my recent Book Riot articles that I am super, super proud of. (In the bullshit diet culture article I speak about You Don't Have to Like Me, the last pick for Be Your Own Book Club)

Just A Reminder That All Of Rory's Boyfriends Were Terrible. Two Gilmore Girls articles in one list? Shhhhh.

This is what I have for now, but keep sending me awesome links and stay tuned for some spooky reading suggestions and more interviews with interesting people! Be your own lady, lovelies. 

Image credits: 1, 2, 3

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Rant About How I Am Stressed and I Am Lucky

I'm up early, scrolling through one of my favorite educational blogs for ideas about connecting with my students. I forgot to pick up the pictures I had printed yesterday (one of each of my students, to display in the hall outside the classroom), and I'm wondering if I should grab them on the way to school or keep that precious time for lesson planning and get them on the way home, but the boys have a brand new babysitter today and I also want to leave plenty of time to get home and see them and thank her for saving our asses on the preschool pick up front. The weekend was super busy with visiting with family and previewing music classes. I think it's funny that I thought I would paint my nails when I barely got lunches packed and there are still wedding and thank you cards sitting on my desk that I meant to send out a solid month ago.

I need more time.

I was getting stressed out yesterday because the beginning of things is hard and I often lose sight and think that means my life is hard. We're adjusting to a totally new school structure for the boys, and life in this big new house, and plunging back into the busy that I missed so much over the summer. It's hard right now, to smooth the edges into a routine that works for us, and I angrily got into the shower and a poor stupid spider fell out of the shower curtain and my frustration outweighed my terror (nothing is worse that spiders when you're naked and vulnerable) and I smooshed that poor guy while shouting "I JUST WANT FIVE MINUTES IN THE SHOWER WITHOUT SOLVING A PROBLEM YOU ASSHOLE." Ben walked to the door of the bathroom, observed my wet naked freak out, and turned around and left.

But then I got back under the water and started thinking, and breathing, and remembering that I am so stupid lucky. Luckier than I realize most of the time. My house is harder to manage because it is bigger, because we live somewhere with enough space for our kids to play and for us to each have our own domains to be alone and put out all our weird collections. Drop off/pick up is much more complicated because the boys are in Real School, interacting with kids and learning skills and it's so, so good for them, even if the hours are ridiculous for working people. I'm overwhelmed at work because I am meeting 19 new children who have already become my classroom family, kids I am privileged to teach at work with a team that I adore. It IS hard, don't get me wrong, but totally worth it,

It feels very Pollyanna to flip the script in this way. I want to be dark and sarcastic and go on Twitter rants about it being a woman's job to arrange childcare (and I have done all these things), but the reality is that I have a damn good life and all of my "problems" stem from the riches I have in the form of a healthy family, lovely home, and rewarding career. So wah, feel sorry for me. Yeah, I'm allowed to be stressed- things are truly stressful right now. I'm allowed to feel overwhelmed at the New that is shaking down right now. But I also need to take a few deep breaths, check in with all the positives I'm rocking, and take care of business. 

I stayed up late to pack lunches and write notes to my sons' teachers. I'm going in to school early today to get ahead of the week. I'm a little stressed, but I am doing something about it. I wish you the same kind of success.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Summer of Suck: 2016 so far

I don't know if the world has always felt this dire, or if I'm just now realizing how scary things are because I am learning so much these days. Paying attention and listening. I'm guessing that it's always been a terrible time to open your eyes, but a lot of hate is boiling to the surface (the top of the Facebook feeds?) and it's harder than ever for me to compartmentalize.

On a much MUCH smaller scale, this summer has been really weird for my family. Our move has been delayed, we're staying in temporary housing, our things are in storage. We have arranged for, canceled, and rescheduled our utilities/cable/contractors in what seems like an endless loop. We were going to spend much of July working on our house to make it clean and livable- that's been pushed back a month. Small potatoes compared to the horror of this election/social justice in our country right now, but being out of our routines, sleeping on the floor, uncertainty, and having our things (MY BOOKS) packed away has been difficult. The preschoolers are adjusting better than I am.

Last summer felt drastically different. I went on a couple of trips sans kids and worked on my novel a ton and day drank and decorated my office. I'm not sure if the national narrative was as rough- it could have been, but I wasn't paying attention. Donald Trump was a joke. I was carefree. I bought an instant camera and spent whole afternoons ordering clothes for my sister's wedding. It was nice. But it wasn't lasting. The fall was all parties, weekends away, celebrations. I turned 30 and realized I was at a place full of comfort- no stretch. So 2016 became the year change. It's kind of sucked to have my year of putting my family through lots of change happen at the same time as a universe of shit is hitting the fan about the way non-white cis people are treated in this country, buuuuuut this is another lesson in the life course titled Hi Ashlie, This World Does Not Revolve Around You.

This year I have tried to balance my place in the national narrative (privileged white woman who needs to listen and signal boost voices more intelligent/ignored than mine, fat woman who needs to loudly celebrate her body regardless of how uncomfortable it makes anyone), my voice on the internet (blogging, Book Riot, and especially on Facebook where there are average characters from your real life insisting ALL LIVES MATTER and getting annoyed when you come down hard on the side of social justice), my place in my family (matriarch, so act it, lady- pull yourself together, spend out on a good mattress, and buckle down to change your address with the post office for the 17th time this summer), my place in my community (you're lucky as hell to have these people, you're lucky as hell to have these people), and my own self-care needs (alone time, alone time, alone time). Throughout a lot of roller coaster situations within my family and as I'm witnessing the horror of the way humans are often treated in my very own country, keeping these roles in mind has been mildly helpful.

There is a quote that I am paraphrasing (butchering) about years that ask questions and years that give answers. This is a year that is asking a question, and that question is WTF?, but I do not think this is the beginning of the apocalypse. It's a time for people who feel a little bit weird about what they see and hear to solidify their stance and vocalize it. You don't have to pick a fight with every great aunt in the world, but you should know how you feel and know how to say it. (As Hamilton would chide us- if you stand for nothing, what'll you fall for? OOH) If you are someone who is in the habit of speaking out against injustice, don't forget to give yourself breaks, because being told you are a stupid idiot for your views (no matter what they are) wears you down.

The world is not hopeless, because Michelle Obama slayed last night, and also because YOU are in it, and you are part of what makes it better. That's corny but it's true. Yeah, this has been a summer of suck, but we are the only damn things that will improve it. Be Your Own Lady challenge: tell me one thing about this summer (or 2016 in general) that has been really, really good. Let's change the narrative. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

To the next people who live in this house

To the next people who live in this house,
You don’t know me, but I am the last woman to live in this house. I wanted to tell you a little bit about the place you’re about to live.

When I first came here, seven years ago, I was a child. I was married, had a career, but I was spoiled and young. So much younger than age can measure. I had known sadness, but not hardship, and I had no idea what I was getting into. Seven years can change a lot. This house is where I stopped calling myself a girl. I’m not sure if it’s these walls that did it, but that realness will stay after I leave.

The kitchen was the first place we changed, and financing the floors was how we learned what “six months no interest” really means: if it’s not all paid by six months, you’re going to face ALL THE INTEREST. That was hard to swallow. The living room walls are blue, but that’s not the first color I picked. We bought three gallons of Tea Time Beige, and after only a few swipes on the wall, I instantly hated the color. The paint is still in the basement. I promise we’ll get rid of it before we close. Anyway, that’s when I learned the importance of testing your color before you stock up.

The hallway outside of the bathroom is where I read the pregnancy test that turned me into a mother. I took it on a whim, on my way to work, and I called into the back bedroom where my husband was sleeping. I told him to put on his glasses, and he looked and it and said “REALLY?” and gave me this side hug. The only light was coming from the sconces over the vanity. It was the last carefree moment we ever had.

The window in the corner of the living room is where I sat down hard on the couch the day my mother called to tell me my grandmother died. The couch was always there; it’s where I was sitting when I called my Papa to say goodbye, when I was stranded in a snowstorm and he was dying in Florida. In the backyard, which I never tamed, I used to think of my long-dead father when I tried to dig or landscape. He must have been laughing so hard at me. Our whole family has watched the birds in the hedge next door for years now. It feels a little lame, but we can’t help getting thrilled when we see cardinals or blue jays. There are wild raspberries in the hedge on the opposite side. They’re thorny and the neighbors hate them, but they are our favorite part of every year.

I wrote my first novel on the back porch, bit by bit over several years. This is also the first place I ever called myself a writer. I was sitting at the kitchen table when I got the news about my first paid writing gig. I jumped up and down and cried in disbelief. Some of the happiest moments of my adult life have happened at a little desk pushed up against the left back window, before sunrise, with a hot cup of coffee at my side.

Last October, my sister threw me a giant surprise party to celebrate my turning 30. I stepped onto the back porch and saw our backyard full will a huge tent strung with gorgeous lights and a crowd of people cheering for me. I was so stunned, but later, when I watched a video of myself stepping onto the porch, I noticed my son holding up his arms and pronouncing “all Mama’s friends!” That’s what I will forever think of when I think of that night, and all the campfires we’ve had in the backyard. How lucky we are to have these friends.

This doesn’t cover all the memories of this home: sitting on the front porch steps eating popsicles, dance parties after dinner with sauce-covered boys, greeting trick or treaters, shoveling our little driveway, naming strays, walking to the dinosaur playground, birthday parties and Easter brunches and a million nights of takeout on the couch with a good movie. But I need to stop because I know the most important thing is that none of this matters. This is not our home to make memories in anymore. It’s your turn now.

You don’t have to keep anything the same. You can paint the siding or tear down the raspberries or demolish the little back porch. This house is yours now, to make perfect for you and the family you plan to raise here. And I want you to know how special that is to me, to know that a family is coming here. To know that you will be layering more messy fabulous family love onto the messy fabulous family love that has already happened here.

I’m not giving you my blessing, because you don’t need it. You are already scheming, I’m sure, where you’ll put the Christmas tree and what color your children’s room will be. Your touch is already flooding the walls. I hope you have the same profound transformations that I have had while you call this place your home. And if you ever choose to move on, I hope you can have the same peace that I do, saying goodbye.

Here is the post I wrote sharing pictures of our brand new house in 2009. It's amazing how much has changed.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Feminist Sticker Club Giveaway Winner!

Thank you to everyone who participated in the challenges I laid out last week in the Glorious Bod post, I absolutely freaking adore seeing all your selfies. It drives me over the edge of happiness. So many gorgeous smiles and sun kissed ladies and summery feelings- KEEP IT UP please don't stop. I plan to keep posting all summer long- break the internet, ladies.

I was pumped to see so many people enter the giveaway for the SIX MONTH SUBSCRIPTION to the Feminist Sticker Club (the July sticker should be here any day and I can't wait!). Alas, there can only be one winner, so a big congratulations to....

Blythe Henderson Freedline!

Hooray! But I can't let the sticker love stop there, SO, if you have posted a selfie in the last week with the hashtag #BYOLSummerOfSelfies (hint: you can go throw that hashtag on any selfie from the last week RIGHT NOW), leave a comment here or privately message me with your address, and I will be sending you your very own copy of the Beach Body sticker. EEE! I can't wait to see where you slap these stickers. Thank you again to Kelly at Feminist Sticker Club for donating this badass prize.

Another quick note:

There is no July pick for Be Your Own Book Club- my family is moving and I'm taking a writing class, so I have no time to give it the love I think it deserves. If you're hankering for a July suggestion and didn't read You Don't Have To Like Me, our June pick, definitely check that out. I adored this book and will be rereading passages all summer. It's a feminist, body positive, gushing confessional about lipstick, rape culture, bulimia, fashion, female friendship, periods, abortions, and the ridiculous task of being a woman in today's society. I especially love the way she discusses her mistakes and missteps- incredibly validating to me. I'll be writing up my review and some discussion questions in early August.

Keep cool, sweet ones. All the love in the world!

(image credits: 1 / 2)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Three Ways to Celebrate Your Glorious Bod (Yes. It's Glorious.)

Self love is kind of an exhausting concept. We all KNOW that we're supposed to love ourselves. Pinterest boards, internet memes, and annoying coworkers like myself are constantly reminding you to love yourself. Sparkly t-shirts and soap advertising and yogurt companies are demanding that you love yourself. The message is developing that you're not a REAL woman unless you LOVE YOURSELF, DAMMIT. Add in the pressure of loving your BODY, a mission fraught with baggage and insecurity, and most people would rather get a root canal than have an honest discussion about their positive qualities. So let us address the elephant in the room: loving your body is painful work. It's undoing hurt and embarrassment, it's letting go of impossible expectations, it's facing possible rejection. Loving your body feels like all the things we've been told to eschew: pride, vanity, self absorption. Loving your body is not an end game. It's something you just keep working at.

Below I've listed some actionable tasks that can help you celebrate your bad ass body- especially timely as we in the northern hemisphere are headed into the summer season. Like all work worth doing, there are tangible rewards involved, so read to the end to enter a giveaway that I am so, so excited about! Without further ado, some summer body love tips.

1. Look at yourself in the mirror.

ASHLIE, I already do that! I can hear you sighing. Some of you have already clicked out of this window. Buzzfeed lists about TGIF shows are better than this (fair point). But I'm not talking about the glance you give yourself when you're washing your face, the critical eye you use to check your outfit for stains/rolls, the careful study you make if you apply eyeliner (HARD SHIT). I'm talking naked, chicky, and for more than a second. Here's something that happens when you're bombarded with messages about what you're supposed to look like: you forget what your body ACTUALLY looks like. You sort of separate yourself from your physical shape, and when you do  look and see yourself, if something doesn't meet that particular body shape you're always striving for, you look away, quickly.  You should not avert your eyes from the actual thing that carries you around.

Really check yourself out. Admire the shape of your body. Find parts to become enamoured with. Maybe it's your collarbones or the swell of your breasts or the way your butt looks when you stick it out and look over your shoulder. Wear your favorite underwear (I'm really into these lately) and give yourself a twirl. Catalogue your different body parts. Know yourself. I have two different sized breasts and a large pouch of belly fat that hangs. I could lose 100 pounds and still have this shape, so I look at it and familiarize myself with me. I really love my overall silhouette, the way my hips flare out, my calves. I wouldn't see these things if I didn't spend a good amount of time staring at myself naked.

Bonus points: Take a nude picture of yourself. Do not panic if this makes you panic. Some of us are there. Some of us are not. Consider where you are. We have villainized nudes in every way in this culture, because...the naked body is gross? The naked body is currency? No. Your naked body is yours, and looking at it, in the mirror, on a camera, by yourself, zero judgement, is an excellent celebration of the flesh and blood that houses your soul.

2. Load up your social media with glorious babes.
This has been extremely powerful for me. When I was a young mom, I was a deep observer of the mommy blogger scene. I read their updates and followed their Instagram and Twitter accounts and I could not figure out how real people with tiny children kept their houses so stylish, their white sofas so white, their children so occupied with only three wooden toys, etc. The more I saw what these other families looked like (strangers, far away, who did not give a shit about me) the more I panicked about my failures. This is the great drawback of social media- the comparison factor. It can be as bad as photoshopped models in magazines, except these are somehow real people. I know a lot more now about photo staging and using filters to make your sunlight look *that much* brighter. But I also know that who I follow directly affects how I feel.

Armed with this knowledge, I have filled up my feed with women who are powerful and lovely to me. Because I have often felt bad about being a fat person in our culture, I follow women who actively identify as fat or plus size and post pictures of themselves. I am normalizing, for myself, fat bodies in bikinis, shorts, on the beach, traveling overseas, having good days and bad days, being real and lovely people. And it empowers the hell out of me. Whatever you're trying to normalize for yourself, search out Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat accounts that are honest about this particular thing and join the community! Poke around, follow and unfollow, find accounts that make you pump your fist in the air.  We're scrolling through our social media accounts constantly, so be a picky curator of what you're constantly exposing yourself to. Some of my favorites include The Militant Baker, Aarti Olivia Dubey, Virgie Tovar, Tess Holiday, Tara O'Brien Illustration (omg her art), and actually a ton more so I suggest checking out who I follow.

Bonus Points: Participate in a Follow Friday on one of your social media accounts. On Fridays, people use the hashtag #followfriday and highlight accounts they think their followers would appreciate. Keep it from being spammy by tagging an account you truly admire and adding a short sentence about why you love this feed and why you think others would, too.

3. Take pictures of yourself.
A lot of pictures. Outfit pictures, selfies, pics in your bathing suit, pics of your dinner, with coffee and books and and drinks and every prop you can think of. Casual snaps and elaborately posed portraits, all made up or the way you woke up. Take a lot of pictures of yourself and post them EVERYWHERE.

I try to be open minded and come from a place of no judgement, but I am still infuriated when people have something to say about [teens especially] who post a lot of pictures of themselves. The worst are socially liberal people who understand that we shouldn't judge other people's lives but turn around and make snarky comments about the content or quantity of THE PHOTOGRAPHS A PERSON POSTS. I take some good natured ribbing about the amount of pictures I share, and I post everything- tub pics and arty photos in the good light from the driver's seat of my car and pictures of myself looking a little rough. I used to feel self conscious about it, but I'm kind of past that point. Now if someone says something, I try to smile and reply with "Thanks, I love that shirt!" or "The light was so awesome!" I recently showed up late to a party and a ton of my friends made fun of me for posting a picture of myself reading in a bubble bath. I shot back, "You're at a party, get off your phone!" Don't. Let. People. Give. You. Shit. For. Your. Selfies.

I was so deeply inspired by the above video. Fabulous fat role model women talking about their lack of limitations, celebrating the way they buck the traditional attitudes fat people are supposed to have: constantly trying to shrink, endlessly apologetic.  At one point, you hear this quote as you're seeing clips of fat women absolutely slaying: "It's really up to us to change the narrative, and to share photos of ourselves, follow each other, and show each other that this is what women look like...we are breaking the internet." I took that as a personal challenge.  Because of my devotion to internet role models I've been collecting from the corners of the internet, I have completely changed the way I allow myself to dress and operate as a person in this world. Think of it this way: your selfie will hurt no one, but it might save somebody.

Bonus points: Take a picture of yourself every day for the whole summer. I've started and I will not stop.  I'm using the hashtag #BYOLSummerOfSelfies and I would love it if you did, too. I want your selfies. I'm greedy for them. Flood the internet with pictures of your gorgeous self.

Extra bonus points: Work on posting pictures of yourself that you don't 100% adore. I'm focusing on my thighs and stomach, things I've lived at least 25 of my 30 years trying to hide- this summer they are on display. Some of my pictures are filtered to the hilt and I look like a porcelain doll and I love that, but I'm trying to make sure that some of my pictures honor the non-fantasy version of myself. You don't always have to wait for the perfect shot. On the other hand, there is zero judgement if you take 76 pictures til you get the shot you like. I do that, too.

*If you hate selfies, that's okay, too. Just don't make fun of anyone else for loving them!

So there. Three tiny challenges. This is not a magic bullet or a fail-safe prescription-  the final product of an never-doubted, perfectly-loved body is a unicorn, but it's a NOBLE goal to keep working towards, even if it's a little bit at a time. Some of this will put you outside of your comfort zone. If you are ready, do the work. It is so valuable, and if you share it, I can promise you at least one cheerleader who is already so damn proud of you for even considering.

I did promise rewards, and this one is FABULOUS. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you know about my current love affair with Feminist Sticker Club. This monthly subscription service promotes indie artists, supports feminist charities, and has the best customer service I have ever encountered. I've spent most of this year's summer days toting around a water bottle with my beach body sticker prominently displayed, and I get so many compliments, not to mention the little thrill of body pride I feel every time I catch a glimpse. The chance to share this bad assery with you ladies makes me swell. Kelly, the braintrust behind Feminist Sticker Club, has generously donated a SIX-MONTH SUBSCRIPTION for me to giveaway. You want to win this.

How? Check out the Rafflecopter below! You can win entries by following Be Your Own Lady and Feminist Sticker Club on Facebook and Twitter. You can win DOUBLE entries by posting which body love challenge you're going to try, sharing one of your own, and posting your selfies with the hashtag #BYOLSummerOfSelfies. I told you, I'm greedy for pictures of you. You can rack up entries until Friday, when I will pick a winner!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Image credits: 12 / 3 (my own) / 4