Sunday, December 17, 2017

Falling apart

I don't have time to write this blog post. I don't have time to clean up the dishes and are still joyously scattered all over the house. I don't have time to write the list of things I need to do today. I don't have time to snuggle the feverish 4-year-old who is curled up in my bed. I don't have time to respond when my husband kisses my shoulder while I'm clicking away at the keyboard, trying to look like I'm doing my homework. I don't have time to mail the New Year's cards that just arrived. I don't have time to correct the mistake the card company made. I might have made the mistake, I don't know. I don't have time to check my horoscope, I don't have time to observe the new moon, I don't have time to really think about how I want to start the new year. This is my FAVORITE time of the year- not Christmas. The end-of-year wrap ups. The BIG GOAL SETTING season. I don't have time for any of it. I'm barely surviving. 

How many times have I written this? I've been blogging for almost ten years and everything I write is some form of this post. "I'm sorry I've been so absent lately! I'm not reading as much as I want to right now! Things are really hectic right now. But don't worry, I'm on the cusp of something new, and everything is about to change." I earnestly believed that. I have spent most of my adult life thinking I was JUST about to nail the magic combo of meal planning, organization, water-drinking, routine following that would make things easier. That would make me happy. If I wrote about it, it would come true.

I've explained away my mental illness for a long time. For two reasons: 1) I figured if I wrote about it, it would become true. 2) It seemed self-indulgent. I've been dramatic my whole life, and I didn't want to steal this battle from the people who were really struggling. Even after being prescribed antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds a few years ago, I told myself it was a mistake. That the doctor was just going along with it to make me quiet. I didn't really need them, or worse, I didn't deserve them. I was being dramatic. I was making a mountain out of molehill. I could go off them at any time. Spoiler alert: that didn't go well.

I'm learning it's not normal to have a stress response that requires you to spend a more than a week sleeping 13-15 hours a night, completely cutting off contact with the people you live with and shirking a large amount of responsibility. "Oh, you're tired, your body needed it," well-meaning friends would say. Meanwhile my husband hasn't spoken to me in a eight days and my professor is wondering if I've dropped off the planet. I'm learning it's not normal to be so afraid of getting caught by a wave of emotion (positive or negative) that you religiously avoid all television and movies you haven't seen before, and that watching something that MIGHT make you cry, for any reason, is so scary that your body shakes and your teeth chatter. I'm learning that it's not normal to save every negative word and feeling for the people at home, showing the world your sweetest face and letting your rage leak out behind closed doors. I'm learning that once you've decided that you're not going to subject the people you love to your nastiness, once you firmly get a grip and shove it deep inside, it POISONS you. It physically weakens you. Your bones hurt all the time and you have no idea why, so you watch another episode of New Girl that you've seen fifteen times and wait for your kids to get into bed so you can pass out and sleep away the feelings. 

I'm learning that being busy is not something to be proud of, and I'm terrible at surviving it. I'm learning that I'll never wake up early enough, plan strictly enough, or drink enough water to do all the things I put on my own plate. I'm learning that my kids will ALWAYS get the least of me, the most squeezed-out-toothpaste-tube parts of me, and that I'm not okay with that being their memory of me. I'm realizing that I used to think "At least they're too young to remember me snapping at them, me choosing the laptop over them." And they're not too young to remember anymore. 

I'm learning it's not normal to keep yourself from crying for months. I'm learning that if you keep it all in, it will eventually explode out of you and the tears will rush so fast that your throat will go raw and your body will rebel and your muscles will feel like you were hit by a truck. In the middle of all of this you'll realize it's been MONTHS since you cried. You'll realize you can't remember the last time. And you'll know something has to change. 

I'm going to the doctor tomorrow and asking for help. More than just medicine. Referrals. Something. Because I'm not healthy, and my family needs me to be healthy. I'd like to be healthy. I'd like to stop spending every Monday thinking THIS TIME I'LL NAIL IT. I'm tired of thinking that this happens to everyone and I just need to suck it up and get over it. I'm tired of falling apart, but even more, I'm tired of trying to pretend like it isn't happening. I'm so tired, and believe me, I'm getting enough sleep. 

I've never been private, and still writing this all seems a little scary. It also feels like taking a deep breath after taking little gasps of air through my nose for a solid hour. I've only survived the last few weeks because wiser women than I have wrapped me in their arms and shared their stories and honored me with their own tears and checked in with me consistently. And if I can be that person to someone else, even virtually, every bit of misplaced shame is worth it. There is nothing wrong with being a little broken. And there is nothing wrong with needing to get help. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Be Your Own Lady Fall Quarterly Update!

Se que nadie le esto así que  me siento tan solo triste y roto como todos los pensamientos que pasan por mi cabezaThe last time I posted, summer was just beginning, and I was feeling really whiny about the future, and I was 31, and I was a first grade teacher. Pretty much the only thing that remains unchanged is that I'm still taking myself mega-seriously, and I've still got it in me to whine.  One morning this summer, I was out to breakfast and whining to a dear friend about how I couldn't "make it all work." I knew I needed to cut some things out to grow in other places, but I didn't want to give up on Be Your Own Lady. She gave me an idea of using this space to share quarterly updates, still talking books and activism and writing without feeling the pressure of regular posting. I loved the idea. I think I'll probably still post a year-end recap, and I'm going to be trying to facilitate more guest posting, but I'm sticking to four major check-ins throughout the year. It will still give me the diary-esque feel I'm going for, and keep me interacting with Be Your Own Lady until I have more time to decide where all this is going.

Work: At the end of the summer, I got a job as a Library Media Specialist at the elementary school I was already working at. I was petrified for three days, then elated, and now I'm still over the moon and also kind of tired. I'm taking graduate courses through Salem State to get my school library license, and I'm learning a lot, but it's really hard. I think it's the actually-trying-to-learn-something thing. It's exhausting. It's worth it, because I'm living a dream that I thought might take much longer to reach. So I'm eyeballs deep in digital literacy standards and Makerspace ideas and the Dewey Decimal system, which, for a book lover and librarian enthusiast, I am shockingly unfamiliar with. I am finally using the nameplate Ben made for me years ago. Ashlie Swicker: Librarian.

Emotional Club (@emotionalclub) on InstagramWriting: Over the summer, before I knew my fall would be quite so consuming, I also worked on making a site for my writing work, with the eventual goal of trying to get a few more freelance jobs. I'm really happy with how it came out, and look forward to adding more of my favorite pieces to the clips page. Check out ashlieswicker.comThe biggest sacrifice I've had to make is my writing group. We've been meeting monthly since last September, sharing insight and excerpts and it's been such an amazing experience to talk about stories and have an excuse to keep my word count up. We met as part of a writing class and enjoyed each other's company so much that we kept meeting afterwards. I adore these ladies and leaving sucks, but I haven't kept up a writing habit for a few hectic months, and I know it will be awhile until things are settled enough for me to dive back in. I miss my story, but also have been picking away at the same plot for three years, and I feel weird relief to step back. Interesting.

Here are my most recent articles for Book Riot:

Buy, Borrow, Bypass: Body Positive Memoirs (Read THIS IS JUST MY FACE! Do it!)

I'm struggling with not writing for them as often as I  should, not keeping up with new releases the way I'd like to, and not pursuing new freelance work the way I thought I'd be this fall. My library job is bigger and more important growth, so when am I being pouty about it taking up so much of my time?

Reading: I'm going to keep myself together and try not to cry right now- I'm having a TERRIBLE fall where reading is concerned. I have so many things I'm interested in reading, but I'm not working hard enough to set aside the time. I could blame it on the fact that I am truly busy, but I find the time to mindlessly scroll Twitter and Insta for countless hours, so there's no excuse. I'm not working out as much as I should to feel good, and my best reading happens when I'm on the elliptical, so there we are. STILL I have read a few things that I loved the crap out of, so here:

Moxie  The Witch Boy  I Am Alfonso Jones  The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

I'm also loving A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir on audio, when I get my act together and remember headphones to listen while I grocery shop, and I'm reading two library-adjacent titles for work (Resolve and Rescue and a book about Makerspaces).  I have some great books on deck, including the third in Libba Bray's Diviners series and some middle grade egalleys that I was praying I'd get approved for, then instantly forgot to download (EYEROLL AT MYSELF). Tell me what you're loving. Get me jealous enough to break this slump!

Blogging: I haven't been doing much but I've been reading some great things that soothe and inspire! Click through and be well (hopefully I'll get back to more focused Coffee and Blogs posts soon!)

Hymn: A Poem by Sherman Alexie  ("Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.")
5 Ways to be a Good Friend  (Another thing I am constantly working on.)
Reading Pathways: Paula Danziger  (Best author of all authors.)

I also check my horoscope every week/day at Astrostyle and monthly with Susan Miller. Chani Nicholas is another great resource.

Looking for similar Posts? Follow me! | Source: visualgraphcLife: My lucky little life is trucking along. Now that we're all back to school I'm MUCH happier than I was in the unscheduled, unstructured summer. Milo is in kindergarten at the school I work in, and I'm liking being so near to him- I wasn't sure how that would go. Elliott is doing so well at PreK, reaching his goals and making friends and seeming more mature everyday. My mom and stepdad were living up here for the month of September, and my sister Laurel is getting married at the end of October, so we've been spending our weekends on family time and birthday celebrations. Ben shot a new movie in September and his last film is being shown in festivals all over. 

I always wish there was more time- to read, to sit around, to see friends, to travel- but I recognize this is a period of wild career growth and I need to buckle down. Each of the boys has a skill they're really working hard on and both are right on the cusp of new milestones. Ben's brainstorming some next steps that are really exciting. We're all strapping in to make it through the holidays without too much stress, and I'm so excited for what 2018 will bring.

That's all I have at the moment, but I would love to hear from you. Where are you in work, reading, writing, life? Do you have a horoscope site to suggest, because I'm currently obsessed! What is making you happy? DO SHARE, these kinds of updates are my favorite things to hear. So much love to each of you. 

(image credits: 1, 2, 3)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

June 24th, 2017

This weekend, I'm going to make some decisions. 

It's my first weekend of summer vacation. I'm spending almost the entire time with friends- on a lake in Maine, at a lovely lunch destination in New Hampshire. I'm going to have a lot of driving time to think and to listen. I'm going to have a lot of time away from the hectic pace of work and family to process everything bouncing around my ridiculous brain. I'm going to absolutely embrace the damn magic of this gift of a weekend.

And I'm going to make some decisions.

Last weekend, I talked with my mom. Really talked, with the barriers down. When I was young, I was a bitch at home, and I didn't have a good relationship with my mom. When I got older, we got incredibly close, but I was so scared of returning to the bitch-daughter status that it was hard for me to be real. This weekend we were real. About the deaths in our lives. About the things we wanted for ourselves a long time ago. About the things we would need to do if we wanted to live the lives we had planned, or even if the plans changed. We ate lobster rolls and fried clams and had one of the most personal conversations of all time under the cover of the bluegrass live music that was playing right next to us. The dude started playing You Are My Sunshine, the song that, in our family, represents all the men who have died before their time, and we started openly sobbing. It was that kind of day.

My mom said two things that have stuck with me big time. She used the phrases "small life" and "I'm not going to let moss grow under my feet." These things resonated so hard I could feel them vibrating in my chest. I can talk FOREVER and I can't find words to explain how those things made me feel.

I haven't fought for much. I haven't taken any risks. The biggest thing I've done that includes even a modicum of self sacrifice is going on medication, and I benefit as much as my family. I got a teaching degree because someone said I'd be a good teacher. I got a job in a district and I stayed there because it's safe and because you get better at it every year. I had one kid because I like kids, and just as much because it's what you do when you've been married awhile. Without much thought, another came along quickly. We moved because we ran out of space. It's a wonderful life, one I truly love. But I wonder how I can add intentionality moving forward.

I spent my teens and twenties dabbling in other people's lives, trying on different personalities, exploring what I liked. Sometimes I cringe when I look back and see how clueless I was, but I try to be patient with myself. It was all work that brought me here, to this strangely pivotal time. I've felt strongly in 2017 that I am at a turning point. And I feel it even more strongly this weekend.

So I'll drive, and I'll think. I'll be with friends and enjoy their company and pay close, close attention to what words and ideas make me light up. I'll make some lists. I'll make some decisions.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Things Making Me Happy

At the end of last week, I had a minor mini breakdown. My anxiety skyrocketed. I fought with my husband- not a novel thing, but I recognized old patterns in the way I couldn't drop it, stormed away and stormed back again, louder this time. I isolated myself from people who I wanted badly to see. I stood at coffee counters, firmly telling myself I'd feel much better with tea or water, and walked away with large drinks full of stuff that would make my heart race. Little bells went off- this isn't normal. This isn't right. The little bells are lifesavers and such proof that I've come so far. I thought about how crappy I'd felt on Thursday and Friday, and felt sad that that used to be every single day.

The culprit was yoga, or lack thereof. I had been going once a week to an hour long class and then doing SUPER LOW EXERTION workouts on a little elliptical I keep in my office a few other times. It was nothing that was sculpting my body or blowing my mind, but apparently it was keeping things together. I got thrown off my routine two weeks ago when I had to be out on weeknights, and exercise dropped off the plan. I felt the difference SO HARD. And I felt so lucky to be able to notice, analyze, and trace back to the source. This is a skill I took forever to develop.

Anyway, that awareness is making me happy. So I thought I'd share a few other things making me happy right now.

1. Horoscopes
I love them so much. Right now I'm really, really into the Astrotwins. They have daily, weekly, and monthly horoscopes for every sign and I check in every morning. I love how reading horoscopes lets you see how you're feeling about yourself- whatever person-specific things bubble up as you read are the things you are holding close to your heart. I don't overthink them, but I let them inspire me. I also check out Susan Miller and Chani Nicholas.

2. New Clothes
I don't buy new clothes very often, but I splurged during Modcloth's Memorial Day sale. The thing I love about Modcloth is the community aspect- the reviews are full of honest and detailed descriptions, especially from fat people. This makes me feel so much more comfortable shopping. I know they were recently bought by a different company and am warily keeping an eye on how things play out, but for now, the business side of things went well! I bought a romper patterned with umbrellas and storm clouds, a LBD for my sister's bachelorette, a green skirt (which I own in yellow and get countless compliments on), a heart-patterned tank top, brown saltwater sandals, and a red dress patterned with ice pops for my anniversary party. I have to try everything on this weekend, but I wore the romper to Book Expo this week in New York and no one tried to sell me tickets to the Statue of Liberty, so I think I blended in among the city people. Being a fat girl in a romper was a fashion goal achieved! 

3. Summer plans
Last year was the summer of moving, and house stuff took up every second of my time, This summer is the summer of family, and that's where my focus will be. My sister/best friend is getting married in October, and this summer brings a lot of pre-wedding celebration. My son was diagnosed with a developmental delay at the end of the school year, and we're going to be trying to keep a loose "homeschool" schedule so we can work on behavioral tasks he needs to nail before heading back to school. My husband and I have been married ten years in June, and that needs it's due attention. School goes almost all the way through June this year, but we're left with 8 solid weeks to breathe before everything starts up again. I hope to make the most of them.

4. Be Your Own Book Club
IT'S BACK! Our June pick is THE HATE U GIVE, a wildly popular YA novel dealing with the Black Lives Matter movement and a young black girl torn between two worlds. I've been hearing nothing but great things about this novel for months now, both from the industry and from friends, but what really tipped me over was the fact that Cult of Pedagogy (a teaching website I love) is also reading it as part of their summer book club. The chance to hear about this important book from an educator's perspective was too much to pass up. I'm going to try and focus a lot of the discussion on Instagram and on the Be Your Own Lady Facebook page. Let me know if you're reading along!

What's making you happy?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

In Which My Planner Makes Me Face The Truth About My Schedule

Things I have learned about myself since I've started using a Passion Planner:

1. Mondays are my best day (so now I know I need to seriously frontload my week)

2. If I fall out of the habit of checking in nightly, I fall apart in a completely disproportionate manner.

3. When I take the time to add stickers and happy-making tape, I'm happier and feel more organized.

4. I have too many things going on.

5. I have too many things going on.

6. I have too many things going on.

There is nothing cute or brave or impressive about having too many things going on, especially when you struggle with time management like I do. And I seriously do. I've been living my life in such an oblivious way for SO long, but anyone who knows me realizes that I am never on time, I am always doing things last minute, my house has to be terrifically filthy before cleaning becomes a priority, and I have no way of measuring how long things will take me to complete. I am just learning how bad I am at this part of my life. 

I sat in an IEP meeting for my son yesterday and read pages of gorgeously written reports about the way his brain and body work. Comparing what he can do in a separate tiny room to what his teachers see in his classroom and what our family sees at home. He's smart and strange (the reports are peppered with weird things he said or did over the course of his testing, it's amazing) and struggling. Sitting in a room of professionals who know him well, we realized that he doesn't have the planning skills he needs to succeed. He knows a lot, but doesn't know where to start. And sometimes really simple tasks seem so hard that he gives up and throws an out-of-scale temper tantrum. It's supposed to be ridiculous behavior. And I sat there thinking, "Me too, sweetheart. Me too."

I'm loving using a Passion Planner because it calls for constant self-reflection, and one of the biggest truths it's showing me right now is that I am taking on too much and doing a lot of things poorly as a result. I'm not doing a good job of regularly blogging here, maintaining the book club, keeping up with my Book Riot duties, participating in my novel writing group, planning my sister's wedding festivities, running the school newspaper, and still being a good friend, a present mother, and holding down a full time teaching job. Writing down that list, I started getting the weird pride rush- Look at everything you're doing! This is the problem. It seems like a badge of honor. I have to remind myself that I'm doing very few of those things WELL. And most weeks, by Thursday, I am so overwhelmed that I shut down and pull the blankets over my head before it's even dark outside. I am not thriving.

Ways I'm pulling back:

1. I put out a call on social media last week for people to share their reviews of the March selections for Be Your Own Book Club, and from here on out, the book club will exist on social media, but not with official blog posts. 

2. I've taken a step back from my novel completely. I had been miserable when I didn't write and felt extremely stale and forced when I did. I get The Check In, a Tiny Letter for writers written by one of my favorite authors, Amy Spalding. A few weeks back I replied to her Tiny Letter, and she wrote back (which was a fangirl moment for sure). Her advice was to take a break, maybe even work on a different project, and try to actually miss your characters, So I've taken it out of my rotation, at least until my next excerpt is due to my group in June.

3. Posting will continue to be sporadic here. After The Lady Project Summit, I was really fired up to be more consistent and try to interact more, but I think it will have to remain my free-association journal and random confessional for awhile longer.

4. I'm publishing two more issues of the school newspaper, and then using the summer to decide if a school book club would be more beneficial to myself and the students in my school, or whether to revamp the way I run the newspaper for next year.

5. When I schedule exercise like an appointment, I pay attention, so I'm going to do the same for one-on-one time with my kids. It has to be as much of a deadline as my other work or the guilt of not hanging with them will crush me. It also has to fit within the limited lines of a daily time block- if the block is full of various other responsibilities, the family time won't happen.

Some things that won't change: 

1. I'll still be active on Instagram and Twitter (because I like it and I meet a lot of friends there) 

2. I'll be focusing more on my Book Riot duties (because it pays and has opened so many doors for me and because I'm so proud to be a part of it)

3. My sister's wedding year is still a huge priority for me (because she's my best friend and because it's really fun).

None of this is NEWS, per say. It's just me thinking out loud, because that's what I do best. It might be a nice reminder for you, if you're forgetting that you can constantly adjust or that you need to give yourself permission to do less. Anyone else feel like confessing? Are you taking on too much? What can you pull back from? What are your non-negotiables? I'd love to hear I'm not the only deluded one. 

*Passion Planner notes: I'm obsessed with this thing. I'll write more about it at a later date, but right now there are some great sales you can take advantage of. Through May 8th, the colorful undated planners are HALF OFF. If you enter XANDRA10 at check out, you'll get 10% off (I got this code from Heroine Training when I bought mine), and if you enter as your referral email, I'll be forever grateful. All images in this post are from the gorgeous Passion Planner Instagram account. I am in no way affiliated with Passion Planner, just REALLY into them. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Five Major Bolts from The Lady Project Summit

It's been exactly a month since the Vets Memorial Auditorium in Providence, Rhode Island transformed into a center for extreme female-identifying power. I attended the Fifth Annual Lady Project Summit in March at a moment when I felt equally overloaded and paralyzed. I knew that I had a lot of irons in the fire and I knew that I wasn't necessarily ready to release anything, so even though I was already struggling to keep up with my contributing positions, novel writing group, and Be Your Own Book Club, I jumped at the chance to cover the Summit. I went to take notes, to get some good stuff to share with you readers. I left completely fired up, inspired and clutching a list of tips to support my hustle at home. With enough time passed for me to really absorb the dizzying array of speakers and panels I heard at the Summit, I wanted to share five of my favorite messages. 

1. Speak up again, and again, and again
Among the first people Summit attendees heard was the female governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo. Opening with the statement, "You could say it's an interesting time to be a woman in America," Raimondo called on women to use their voices and continue to dissent. The reminder that our power comes from our conviction was well timed. Throughout the day, the theme of rejecting the ingrained narrative that "good" girls and women are quiet and submissive kept rearing it's gorgeous head.

2. If you do the thing, you are the thing
One of the words I heard a lot at the Summit was "hustle." Originally I understood this in the context of "the side hustle," as in, your pet project/passion/hobby that you pour extracurricular hours into, but throughout the day, I came to the realization that this is the way many women are running their entire lives. One of the best panels I attended was run by a woman named Kate Zielger, and one the most valuable slides in her presentation outlined her different jobs, projects, and commitments over a span of ten years. Zielger talked about how each different part of her (packed) schedule fed a different part of her, and how the different sections ebbed and flowed, taking precedence or a back seat according in changing seasons. She shared this quote from Ruth Bader Ginsberg that struck me:

"Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion that my classmates trained only on law studies lacked."

The idea of separate parts of life providing respite from the others is comforting me to, and speaks to a compartmentalizing that I'm really striving for. But one of my favorite takeaways from Ziegler was the declaration that taking credit for the things you do, whether or not they're classified as your "job," is vital.  "If you do the thing, you are thing." That statement makes me want to get started immediately.

3. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
This is one of those annoyingly pressing messages that the universe sent me several days in a row. My yoga teacher said it, and then Lisa Jakub said it during her powerful keynote, and then Jennifer Romolini said it during her lunchtime chat. Over and over, the reminder that it is okay for things to be hard. It's okay to feel awkward, to get rejected, to stay up late, to push it past what feels cozy. Past what feels possible. Lisa Jakub spoke about facing anxiety head on, instead of hiding away from it. Jennifer Romolini talked about starting from absolute scratch, mothering and working and going to school all at the same time and sometimes feeling miserable. All of it was necessary. All of it sparked growth.

In an age of enlightenment around women prioritizing their needs, I feel like the distinction between self growth and self care needs to be carefully made. Self-care does not necessarily mean doing whatever feels good at the moment, but damn it do I let myself get away with a lot of avoidance and use the term to justify. The message, spoken sweetly and with encouragement, that it is okay to feel like it's a slog, was received loud and clear.

4. Being a writer is something people are viscerally afraid to want
A lot of what was communicated at the Summit was familiar to me- ideas that I understood but needed help actualizing, or things that were adjacent to truths I already held. It was a supportive, comforting feeling. But this point shocked me. Several times, women shared stories about incredible acts of bravery- ending marriages and wildly successful careers, starting over on their own terms- and then admitted that they were still too scared to call themselves writers. 

Like Cheryl Strayed tells us, writing is not coal mining. It's not surgery and it's not frivolity. We let it hold too much power- we're not good enough or we don't do it often enough or we haven't hit a certain arbitrary milestone that lets us claim the title or it's too silly to say out loud. I thought this recurring theme of people struggling to call themselves writers was really interesting. I also found it interesting (encouraging? amazing?) that both women who directly shared stories about being afraid to call themselves writers have books coming out this year.

5. The company of other women who hustle hard is energizing and worth the effort
I wonder how many of us who were there that day are introverts on some level. A lot of the people I knew or recognized were from Instagram or Twitter, contacts I might have made the last time I attended the Summit two years ago. It's clumsy, when we're used to shooting out one liners and appreciating each other's contributions with simple "likes." But it is so important. There was a physical power in being together that day, literally brushing elbows, making small talk at lunch, hearing each other laugh and seeing each other nod. By the end of the day, keynote speakers were commenting on how much vulnerability and community support they had witnessed throughout the Summit. 

For some, the in-person connection is a necessity, and for others, it can be terrifying, I am one who would typically choose an evening following along via the hashtag to being out among the people, but I recognize the importance of physically being there. The conversations and connections I made during the day drove home the feeling of community, an element that can be reached online but is deepened when women gather together. Driving home, I thought of how lucky I felt to spend a day completely surrounded by powerful ladies who all made the choice to spend the day together getting even more badass than they had been that morning. 

Does this connection sound appealing? You don't have to wait for next year's Summit to get a taste. The Lady Project has groups around the country and they meet for events on a regular basis. Check out the nearest chapter and consider a membership. Meet up for a book club discussion or crafting night or a seminar on creating a mission statement. The benefits of gathering with other strong women are felt immediately and will likely still be on your mind a month later. I know that was the case for me.

I was given a pass to attend The Lady Project Summit in exchange for honest coverage of the event. Opinions are my own. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Pomodoro Your Life

One of the best gifts I ever got was a Kindle. Ben got it for me for Mother's Day in 2012, and at first, I didn't really think I needed it. Over time, I started finding more and more uses for it- there were cute apps my kids loved. I could get the next book in a series when I was too impatient to wait for a library hold. Food prep was more tolerable when I spent the cooking time accompanied by my favorite shows on Netflix. Soon, the Kindle was one of the most used things in our house. And like all well-loved things, it started wearing out. It got to the point where apps would only work properly if I turned the thing completely off and started it up again. Today, I still use this strategy when my favorite show won't load on the Netflix app. The Kindle works. But most days, it needs a hard reset to get on the right track, and I end up wasting a lot of time time coaxing it to do the thing it's designed to do. The Kindle is me.

I've been down and out for month. For the past few years, I've been in a pattern where I go through long periods of time where I feel unmotivated, sluggish, overwhelmed, and generally terrible. I might have a breakthrough for a day or two, but it usually takes a hard reset for me to get back to a bare minimum. Even then, I can't guarantee that I'll still be in working order the next day. I'm entering a new season of my life, and even though the external pressures seem easier than ever (my kids are older, I'm well finished with grad school), for some reason, everything seems harder. I know I feel better when I'm active and that I am a creature of momentum, so I'm trying to swing the pendulum back to vibrant Ashlie. I'm gathering a new set of tools to coax myself into a positive routine, and one of my favorite efficiency tools is The Pomodoro Technique.

The idea behind the technique is really simple: short bursts of focused energy, followed by a small break. It's the embracing of the rules that is extremely helpful. During your 25 focus block, you are ONLY working on the objective that you set for yourself. Time your break as well as your focus time. After four blocks of focus time, take a longer break. Before you know it, you're powering through blocks of productive time with very little distraction.  

On a recent day of blog/personal organization work, I used Pomodoro to make a mind map of personal goals and assign due dates to action steps, draft 2 blog posts, add images and schedule social media for the posts, fill out my planner at the month view, fill out my planner at a week view, and develop and then implement a habit tracker. This added up to 8 focused work periods, which seems like a lot and a little at the same time. Even with no personal distraction, this amount of focused time was TIRING.

I used a few tricks to make my Pomodoro experience even more successful. I thrive on Gold Stars, so I needed a way to get points for not being distracted during my 25 minute focus blocks. Enter the Forest app. I use this often when I need a forced distraction from my phone. When you start up the app, a little tree begins to grow, and until your chosen time period is up, you have to kill the tree in order to get past the screen and into your apps. I set the Forest app to be in effect during my focus blocks, and also used a Google timer on my laptop to track the time and utilize a loud noise to mark the end of a time period. Because a focused day of using Pomodoro can mean a lot of sitting, I used Go Noodle to fill some of my 2-5 minute breaks. We use Go Noodle for brain breaks in my classroom, and I've used to get rid of energy with my sons, but I never thought of using it for myself. The videos are short and you can choose Zumba, silly campfire rhymes, yoga, mindfulness, and a bunch of other themed movement activities. It's accidentally Pomodoro perfect. 

I find Pomodoro to work best when there's a large block of time and a big list of tasks to tackle, but it can be used to stay on track for singular focused bursts, as well. I love seeing how other bloggers use Pomodoro- Xandra from Heroine Training has a great video about how she uses Pomodoro and Sarah from Yes and Yes mentions Pomodoro in her post on ways to increase your attention span. 

Have you used the Pomodoro Technique? How do you claw yourself back into an upswing? Let me know! Wishing you productivity. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Coffee and Blogs No. 28

Coffee + Blogs took a much longer break than I ever anticipated. I'm always trying to adjust to the ebb and flow of life, and I'm trying to find it interesting rather than alarming to see the way certain things fade out and bloom back. This weekend I am in a particularly delicious place, staying in my sister's house while she is on vacation. It is silent here, and I finally broke out of my reruns/pajamas slump to get some work done. A new planner, the Pomodoro Technique, and Spotify playlists are kicking my butt in the best best best way.  Without further ado, here are some lovely things to read.

1. Do My Friends Secretly Dislike Me? This is such an important read for the anxious mind, and pretty much every person ever who has had a moment of insecurity about their friends and acquaintances. (Let me just reiterate for the 100th time that I wish to god Rookie had been around when I was a mess of a teen)

2. How to be a good listener: the expert's guide Being a good listener is on my lifetime skills-to-learn list. It took me a long time to realize what a terrible listener I am, and now I love reading about ways to get better. After a few frustrating interactions lately, this advice really struck me: It took a while for me to understand that if a friend is in a dark place, the most compassionate thing we can do is to climb down into that place and sit with them for a while.

3. What's Your Happiness Recipe? And How To Create One To be completely honest, sometimes these articles weary me. I get it, I get it, I need to remember to drink water and take a moment for myself and light a candle. But then I find myself three days past my last shower, sucking on my fifth coffee and crying in the living room because I can't remember how to summon the energy to turn the TV off and stumbling to bed seems too hard, so I sleep on the couch. THEN THESE ARTICLES DON'T SEEM SO GOOFY. I think the biggest step is to actually write stuff down.

4. The Strange Case of the Reincarnated Egyptian I love stories of children connecting with past lives and find it incredibly interesting to speculate about reincarnation. Do you believe?

5. One Thing At A Time An adorable comic about a girl who gave up mulitasking.

6. How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind I'm not sure if I've already shared this, but I think this is an important monthly read. I've been falling way behind on issues, overwhelmed by my personal problems, and relying on Twitter for my news WAY too much. This article outlines important steps for adjusting yourself to the new realities of resistance to keep yourself from burning out, and most importantly, TO KEEP TRUMP FROM SEEMING NORMAL. He's not. This isn't. Don't get used to it.

7. On a similar note, here are some tools that have been extremely helpful to me in staying connected without feeling flooded with information: The Skimm is a M-F news update delivered to your inbox with an overview of the news and links for further reading. Countable is an app I've used for awhile to keep track of issues that are important to me. You can share how you would vote on issues, discuss in forums, and directly contact your representatives from inside the app. I've fallen out of the habit of calling my reps, and I am going to remedy that. 

8. True Story: My Husband Used To Be A Woman I love Sarah's True Story series, and this one was great. I'm trying to normalize different family narratives for myself,  and Nick and Anna's story was touching, real, and romantic. 

9. This photo series celebrating iconic black women during Black History Month is gorgeous and enpowering. 

10. I've been calling my sickness/apathy/inefficency over the past few months everything from a slump to a minor depressive episode. I've blamed it on overbooking myself and my medications. But in my deepest core, I know that hand-over-hand work is the only thing that can pull me (I am not diagonsed with depression, and I know that some people cannot just "try harder" to "snap out of it." I, on the other hand, cannot use mental illness that is not mine as an excuse to not put the work in) out of the hole I've lined with blankets and crawled into. In that vein, here are some articles that slapped some sense into me: from Rookie, Rethinking Self Care (what a beautiful and dangerous phrase) and from Xandra at Heroine Training, What To Do When You Don't Feel Like Doing Anything . I'm in the middle of reclaiming some discipline and taking some responsibility, and these articles have helped me see the light.

That's what I have this week! Follow me on Instagram to see what I'm reading/buying, and on Twitter to see what hilarious hot takes I'm retweeting. 

image credits (1, 2, 3)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

February Be Your Own Book Club Recaps and March Book Reveal!

February was not a hugely successful reading month for me, despite having a vacation and a few snow days tucked in there. I'm here to share my triumphs and failures around our February Picks.

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon- I adored this cute YA pick. It only took me a few days to read and the fluffy plot was exactly the amount of tension that I needed (read: almost none). There were aspects that I found SLIGHTLY unbelievable, but I was 1000% willing to suspend disbelief because I enjoyed the characters and the romance so much. I'll definitely see this movie when it comes out. I've heard that Yoon's second book, THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR, is even better, so it's on the list!

HIDDEN FIGURES by Margot Lee Shetterly- I failed here. I tried to get into this book. I wanted to get into this book. When print didn't draw me in, I tried the audiobook, and in both formats, it just didn't grab my interest. I was supremely disappointed in myself for awhile, because I think this book is important and I'm proud of the conversation around it and I wanted to educate myself. Then I took a deep breath, recognized that it might just be the timing, and gave myself permission to put it back on my Want To Read shelf. 

I think that's a pretty important message to stress for anyone trying to keep to a reading list or a reading habit or participate in a book club- it's okay to bail on a book. Sometimes it's an indication of the book being "good" (oh, the tangent I could get on about what that even means), but more often it's timing, your personal preferences, your stress level- anything can factor into why a book isn't a great fit for you at the moment. You don't need my permission, but if you're beating yourself up about, consider this your pass: you can put a book down at any moment with zero hard feelings. 

One trick I use when I'm trying to get into a book that I think just needs a solid chance on my end is to start reading in a place where I can't stop. I'm in the middle of COME AS YOU ARE, an amazing nonfiction book about women's sexuality. I took it with me when I was going to get a pedicure- I couldn't very well leave and switch out the book if my mind wandered and I started craving some fiction. This trick also works if you read at the gym or on a commute. But then sometimes, all tricks aside, you need to put it down.

For March, I've stuck with the formula of picking one fiction and one nonfiction title. 

Fiction- The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

From Goodreads:  A dazzling, heartbreaking page-turner destined for breakout status: a novel that gives voice to millions of Americans as it tells the story of the love between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl: teenagers living in an apartment block of immigrant families like their own.

After their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras leave México and come to America. But upon settling at Redwood Apartments, a two-story cinderblock complex just off a highway in Delaware, they discover that Maribel's recovery--the piece of the American Dream on which they've pinned all their hopes--will not be easy. Every task seems to confront them with language, racial, and cultural obstacles.

At Redwood also lives Mayor Toro, a high school sophomore whose family arrived from Panamá fifteen years ago. Mayor sees in Maribel something others do not: that beyond her lovely face, and beneath the damage she's sustained, is a gentle, funny, and wise spirit. But as the two grow closer, violence casts a shadow over all their futures in America.

Peopled with deeply sympathetic characters, this poignant yet unsentimental tale of young love tells a riveting story of unflinching honesty and humanity that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be an American. An instant classic is born.

Nonfiction- Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling 

From Goodreads:  In Why Not Me?, Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it's falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you're constantly reminded that no one looks like you. 

In "How to Look Spectacular: A Starlet's Confessions", Kaling gives her tongue-in-cheek secrets for surefire on-camera beauty, ("Your natural hair color may be appropriate for your skin tone, but this isn't the land of appropriate-this is Hollywood, baby. Out here, a dark-skinned woman s traditional hair color is honey blonde.") "Player" tells the story of Kaling being seduced and dumped by a female friend in L.A. ("I had been replaced by a younger model. And now they had matching bangs.") In "Unlikely Leading Lady", she muses on America's fixation with the weight of actresses, ("Most women we see onscreen are either so thin that they're walking clavicles or so huge that their only scenes involve them breaking furniture.") And in "Soup Snakes", Kaling spills some secrets on her relationship with her ex-boyfriend and close friend, B.J. Novak ("I will freely admit: my relationship with B.J. Novak is weird as hell.") 

Mindy turns the anxieties, the glamour, and the celebrations of her second coming-of-age into a laugh-out-loud funny collection of essays that anyone who's ever been at a turning point in their life or career can relate to. And those who've never been at a turning point can skip to the parts where she talks about meeting Bradley Cooper.

I'd love to know how you're feeling about the book club picks. Is there something you'd like to see more or less of? Would you like more interaction, question style? I'm still triyng to find the best format for discussions during and after reading, and would love to hear your thoughts.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Five Books That Call Bullshit on Diet Culture

I'm finishing up our February book club picks and putting the final touches on the books for March, but in the meantime, I wanted to share one of my favorite pieces of writing about feminism and diet culture. I have shared the link to it's home over at Book Riot a few times, but I wanted to have it here for posterity. 
This piece was originally posted on Book Riot on September 19th, 2016.
In 2016, I learned that I was fat. I’ve been fat my whole life, off and on, and even when I was smaller (obediently shrinking, absorbing compliments left and right, hearing comments about how gross I used to be) the word “fat” was rarely used. Not even the meanest people will actually call you fat. They might ask you if you like donuts, imply that your furniture is on the verge of breaking, or congratulate you for ordering a salad, but people rarely say “fat.” I think that’s why claiming the word, typing it and having it come flying out of my mouth, feels so damn good. This word is a descriptor, one that applies to my fabulous self, and if you were going to try and search for condescending terms to discuss this situation with me (overweight, larger, curvy, hefty) I’ve trumped you. I’m fat. I like it.
I was not always so proud. I have been searching for, about to start, or struggling with a diet for my entire life. I have tried Weight Watchers, Atkins, 21 Day Fix, low carb, no carb, simply eating significantly less food, eating all organic, eating only berry cereal, not eating after 9pm (then 7pm), drinking lemon water, drinking salt water, taking laxatives, taking vitamins, counting calories on seven different apps. I have stood in front of diet-approved workout DVDS, listening to an angular woman chirping to me that I am finally going to look good in my bathing suit this year! The fat woman modifying the exercises to her right looks as weary as I feel. “Don’t tell me what looks good,” I whisper under my breath. “I’m trying to stay alive.”
Because that is the new vicious lie that has developed since I started dieting as a girl. No longer is fat simply unsightly, a barrier that keeps you from a happy life trailing scarves behind you on the beach. Now it is insidious. It is trying to KILL YOU. You are, at all overweight times, MOMENTS FROM DEATH! You’re going to DIE! It will choke you, stop your heart, poison your blood, slow your breath until you fall over. Cause of death? Fat. Lazy, stupid, idiotic fat accumulating on your lazy, stupid, idiotic body. You’re not smart enough, strong enough, dedicated enough to follow the SIMPLE STEPS to keep the fat off your body. You’re going to die, and you deserve it. Bullshit.

Diet culture is the perpetuation of this lie. Diet culture is gushing “Oh, I’m going to be bad!” before biting into piece of cake or a donut or a Hershey’s kiss. Diet culture is feeling virtuous when you order a salad. Diet culture is your Facebook feed full of people selling you shakes and workouts and wraps to help you drop the pounds. Diet culture is the pervasive chatter about the morality, quality, and quantity of any food eaten in any order during the lunch hour in any building that employs women. Diet culture is the cashier at Dunkin Donuts proclaiming “good girl!” when I order a bagel with no cream cheese (for my husband). Diet culture is a male supervisor complimenting a mostly female staff on the lovely potluck breakfast they brought to celebrate their hard work, then commenting that the weather should be nice enough over the weekend to get out there and burn off all those calories. Diet culture is so pervasive that you might be shrugging right now, thinking none of these examples are really that bad. Diet culture is something I have had to identify, face, and choose to ignore in order to live my best life. Diet culture is something I actively navigate everyday that I live on this Earth as a proud, happy, fat woman.
How did I get here, calling myself a fat woman, proudly brandishing a word that used to represent my worst nightmare? Why I am finally okay with the one aspect of myself I have actively tried to “fix” for my entire life? Oh, you know, books. Badass, life changing, body positive books. The internet is a terrible and beautiful place, but I will be forever grateful because it was my window to the body positive movement. I found bloggers writing powerful manifestos and gentle truths. I don’t have to be skinny to be happy? I don’t have to be ashamed of myself? It took me almost a year of immersion before I was ready to call myself fat, and thanks to these amazing books, I’m never going back.
There are thirty-one essays, one for every day of the month. If you’re just beginning to dip your toe into body positive literature, these bite-sized pieces are great on length, but pull no punches in the power department. You’ll want to read each one, written by a different voice and highlighting a different experience, with enough time to process the fists-raised message. Hot and Heavy features stories about porn, cancer, car crashes, pecan pie, masturbation, speed dating, fashion, burlesque, a place called the Cook Islands (which we all need to visit immediately) and much more.  The works are broken up into three sections, titled Life, Love, and Fashion, but I found a theme of childhood memories (almost impossible to avoid when talking about being a fat person in our society) and sexual positivity (never easy to find in our sex-shaming society) prevalent through most of the essays. This book is a font of empowerment and an introduction to so many strong voices that advocate for pleasure and confidence. It is diet culture’s antithesis, and you need it in your hands.

This was my very first introduction to fat girl literature. I had followed Baker’s online presence for a few years (her blog, The Militant Baker, is a don’t-miss) and was so excited to read her book. I love to take pictures of what I’m reading for Instagram and Listy, but I hesitated with this cover- I was still getting used to flaunting the F word. I posted a picture of it…then started reading it in public. After a few empowering chapters, I was reading this on the elliptical at the gym, head held high. Baker covers a ton of important topics, but her statistic-filled chapter breaking down the mechanics of the diet industry was the most important thing I took away.  It should be obvious that an industry that can only exist if we are unhappy with how we look will have a vested interest in keeping us unhappy with how we look, but Baker explains the patronizing way that diets and the companies that profit from their use perpetuate self-loathing and then reach out, calling themselves the solution to our low self-worth. Baker specifically calls out diet culture for the bullshit it is.

You Dont Have To Like Me Alida NugentYou Don’t Have To Like Me by Alida Nugent
This series of essays is about Nugent’s embracing of feminism, and guess what? You can’t discuss feminism without touching on the screwed up social messages that women receive about their bodies. I strongly related to the essay about claiming a “one of the guys” persona and perpetuating sexism in order to feel accepted- that’s definitely a place I’ve been in the past, and reading about someone else in that position was heady relief. But her chapter about her struggle with bulimia and the myriad of issues that caused her body so much damage was also a powerful punch. Few women have avoided a struggle with some form of disordered eating, and hearing other women speak about this is kind of like becoming an adult and realizing that every woman you know has faced sexual harassment. Nugent calls bullshit on perfection, on traditional standards of beauty, and on beating yourself up. It’s fierce and empowering.
I started loving Lindy West because of her writing on Jezebel (her piece about Love Actually actually made me pee myself) and her amazing work on This American Life. I knew Shrill was about feminism and body positivity, and I knew that West was funny, but I didn’t realize the combination would make me throw up praise hands so many times while reading. Shrill expertly covers topics such as dating while fat, being a woman in comedy, defending yourself against shamers- things you might expect. I found it more interesting when the chapters delved into less-heralded topics: disagreeing with/standing up to someone you like- her boss, Dan Savage- and her own need for acceptance of other fat bodies. West talks about her original shock at seeing larger bodies naked and celebrated, and how she had to immerse herself in images of fat bodies to normalize them for herself. As a person who has received the sometimes screamed message to COVER UP AND CROP FROM THE NECK UP, this resonated with me. West fights diet culture by refusing to accept that her body has to look different before she develops a rewarding career and finds love. West fights diet culture by fighting back against trolls and never allowing herself to shrink in the face of bullying. She also laments about counting almonds in a way that me laughcry.
Dietland Sarai WalkerDietland by Sarai Walker
Dietland is the only work on fiction on this particular list (although I’ve celebrated fictional fat heroines in the past) because Dietland specifically spears diet culture directly in the jugular, with heavy swipes at rape culture and the porn industry in the process. Plum Kettle is not the slightly-plump almost-plus-sized heroine that often represents the struggle. She’s 300+ pounds, and she has been obediently trying to get smaller her entire life. The first few chapters illustrating the minutiae of her following the strictures of her diet were so difficult to read as a former crash dieter. Her discomfort on the street. Her future thin persona that is so real to her that she names it and buys it a wardrobe. Her complete confidence that nothing will derail her from her number one goal- to shrink. She will get thin or die trying. Transformations occur and they are DAMN empowering. This is a book for anyone who is sick of the trappings of being a woman in our patriarchal society. This book is about calling bullshit, and stomping on that bullshit with army boots laced over bright tights. Read it.
Am I missing anything? I’m hungry for more fat heroines, more books that skewer the diet-culture myth that people need to be slim before they can be happy. I need more books that call bullshit on this bullshit diet culture.