Monday, December 18, 2017

My Favorite Books of the Year.

Howdy! Christmas is one week from today! (Are you freaking out now? Sorry. I literally bought ZERO Christmas presents this year. I'm not sorry about it, either. And though I was going to make presents for my friends, since I've only gotten two done that seems like kind of a fail, too. So I've basically just given up on the present thing for this year. Whatever.) And there are only two weeks left of this year...praise the lord! 

One of my goals for this year was to read 50 physical books. That totally didn't happen. I only read about 27. But I did listen to approximately a zillion audiobooks, so my book total for the year is currently 109. You can see all the books I read in 2017 here

I keep track of everything I read and everything I want to read on Goodreads, which is a really awesome social media for books, basically. I don't actually know anyone who uses it as much as I do, but I have no regrets about it either, so whatever. Anyway, Goodreads holds the "Goodreads Choice Awards" every year, and all the users can vote for their favorite books published that year in several different categories. It's pretty fun, though I've usually only read a few nominees in any given category, and there are many categories that I've read none of the nominees for. But this year I was PISSED about the results. Because there was a book that I thought absolutely should have won for the Nonfiction category and it didn't. It was in the semifinal round and then got eliminated in the final round of voting. And it felt like a cataclysmic tragedy that it didn't win.

So I decided that I was going to make my own collection of the best books I've read this year. Mine were not all published within the past twelve months, which is the stipulation of the contestants for the Goodreads Choice Awards, but they were all books that I read within the past year. So there you have it. And, to rectify the grievous error that was made in the Nonfiction category of the Goodreads Choice Awards, let's start off with:

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown (2017)
If there is one book to read in the current world climate, this is the book. BrenĂ© Brown talks sense into a world that feels like it makes no sense at all these days. This animated video of her ted talk about empathy vs. sympathy is one of my favorite things to watch over and over and over. Anyway, Braving the Wilderness is about how important it is to treat people with decency and respect even when we find it exceptionally challenging, even when we disagree with them politically, even when we find their opinions on things completely abhorrent. It’s also about calling out bullshit in a way that is productive and beneficial to everyone involved. It is absolutely worth reading.

The Moth Presents: All These Wonders (2017)
Have you heard of the Moth? It’s an ongoing live storytelling event. So people get up on stage and tell stories about their real life experiences without using notes or anything. They are gritty and real and emotional. They are powerful and unbelievable. This story by Ed Gavagan is the most powerful story I’ve ever heard in my life. Though it’s not in this collection of transcribed Moth stories, you should totes take 17 minutes out of your day and listen to it. And then you should read this book because there are lots of other great stories in it. 

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (2017)
Imagine a world where the energy crisis was solved before it ever began to be an issue and how much time and energy that would have freed up for people to invent newer, greater things. That is the world that All Our Wrong Todays begins in. This book is written very much in the style of Kurt Vonnegut, who is one of my favorite authors, and it was really great to read a book that evoked that same feeling I had the first time I read one of his books. I loved every minute of reading it, and was very satisfied with the story in its entirety. The ending did not disappoint, and the action throughout was really engrossing.

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay (2012)
Obviously this was geared toward people my age, and I don’t think it would be particularly beneficial to, say, people my parents’ age, but if you’re currently in your twenties or even early thirties, it is worth reading, I think.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017)
I’ve already written a blog post about why I loved this book, which you can go read if you want to find out more about why I loved it so much. It is a timely novel. It is important in the America of 2017. It is important. It also won the Goodreads Choice Awards for the categories “Debut Goodreads Author” and “Young Adult Fiction”. Obviously other people loved it, too.

Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur (2014)
So, funny story, in high school I liked poetry a lot. Then I went to college and found out that you’re supposed to read poems like 30 times and pick them apart to find the six different meanings that the poet buried into the words and it killed poetry for me. I was like “Oh, actually, maybe I hate poetry. Huh!” And then I read this book. And I decided again that I do, in fact, love poetry. Just maybe not the really highbrow, stuffy stuff. And that’s okay. It’s okay to like the poetry that is immediately relatable and evocative and makes me think YESSSSSS every time I turn a page. It’s okay that there aren’t six different meanings behind every line. That doesn’t make it less powerful, less true, less important. After this book, I also read “The Princess Saves Herself In This One” By Amanda Lovelace, and then “The Sun and Her Flowers” came out this fall, and both of those were also wonderful. But Milk & Honey, being the book that convinced me to like poetry again, will always have a special place in my heart. I also started following more short form poets on Instagram, like Nayyirah Waheed, and  Rudy Francisco, then started following Button Poetry too, and found people like Melissa Lozda-Oliva and Sabrina Benaim. It’s been a good year for me and poetry.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)
This book is excellent. That’s really all I have to say about it. It’s kinda long but it didn’t even take me long to read because it was so damn good.

Colors of Madeleine Trilogy by Jaclyn Moriarty (2012, 2014, 2016)
Jaclyn Moriarty has written a several other books, a few of which I’ve read and really enjoyed, but this trilogy is definitely my favorite of her work. It is fantasy and really very well done. The world she created was completely believable and I got fully pulled into the story and was intensely invested into listening to the audiobooks, even when I was on vacation in Europe.

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory (2017)
Spoonbenders is about a family of people with supernatural abilities who all find themselves in various predicaments throughout the story. In a lot of ways it was a very normal, average sort of story, but it was also one of those books where you don’t figure out exactly what is happening until the very end because there are all sorts of pieces that you can’t really figure out how to fit together. You follow all of the different family members at different points, and their stories weave and intersect really interestingly and it was overall a really excellent read. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Net Neutrality: You Should Care.

Have you all seen stuff about the FCC's upcoming Net Neutrality vote? I'm honestly not sure how people could still not know about it, because I've been keeping myself only minimally informed about current events/politics these days because I'm SO EXHAUSTED by it and even I have seen all sorts of stuff about net neutrality.

But, for those of you who are actually living under a rock right now, here's the issue in a nutshell: net neutrality is what ensures that the internet stays a free and open space, and if it goes away, internet providers will be able to charge more for specific things. You want to keep watching Netflix? Well in addition to paying for Netflix directly, you may have to start paying your internet provider more to be able to access it. You want to be able to Google all of life's most puzzling questions the minute they pop into your head? Be prepared to shell out money for speedy results - eliminating net neutrality will mean that internet providers can demand more money for higher bandwidth.

I could go on, but hopefully you get the picture. Repealing net neutrality would help only the huge corporations that provide our internet. And guess what? They already make enough money. Really, they do. And repealing net neutrality wouldn't help any of the rest of us. At all.

Why, then, you might be asking, is this even something worth voting on? Wouldn't this just be a hard no, and we could all move on?

Yeah, you would think so, wouldn't you? But we seem to be living in the upside down, in a parallel reality where everything is the same mostly except a lot more horrible and we have to worry about things like whether the people who are supposed to make decisions in our interest are going to do something that will completely screw over all the individuals of this country. Like, literally all of us.

So, unfortunately, this becomes something else we have to worry about as citizens. It's not enough to be worried about holiday plans and what to buy people for Christmas and the driving conditions for the day and all the normal December things. We also have to worry about whether the FCC will do the right thing and protect us from this really bad move. Isn't that fun?!?

I'm so tired. I'm so tired of carrying the weight of wondering whether everything will work out for an issue that shouldn't even be talked about. It's one thing to feel compelled to speak up about an issue that is complicated and has some definite pros and cons regardless of the solution (and there totally are some of those), but it is so exhausting to be fighting for things that shouldn't even be on the table for discussion. Net neutrality is important. It shouldn't be something we have to fight to not have taken away.

I feel like this world is a confusing, scary place these days, and it takes so much more energy to navigate than it used to. I've been thinking about this song often, mostly just because I think we all need to open our eyes and just do the right thing, but also because it starts off  "All this feels strange and untrue / and I won't waste a minute without you / my bones ache, my skin feels cold / and I'm getting so tired and so old." It rings true. I'm so tired.

If you would like to do something, you can click here to express your desire for net neutrality to be upheld. It only takes a minute or two. And it's important. If you use the internet and don't want to pay more than you already do to continue using it, you should care. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

On Writing.

There's this David Sedaris quote that I see pretty regularly cropping up on the internet at stuff.

"Write relentlessly until you find your voice. Then, use it."

That's something that a lot of published authors have either said or demonstrated through their own bodies of work. A.S. King, a young adult author whom I admire greatly apparently wrote seven full novels before she wrote one that got published (and, if I understand correctly, that she even wanted/tried to get published). She spent that long developing her voice and finding the style that she would become known for. It's incredible!

I've never written a full novel. I have written some shorter pieces that I've been really proud of before, but they always seemed pretty experimental. Not to mention they were usually assignments for school, so it was hardly self motivated. That's the one thing about writing that is really hard for me; I am not a self-starter.

Right now I am in the middle of writing a novel that I may or may not end up liking. The last time I participated in NaNoWriMo, two years ago, I got to the 50,000 word count and hated what I'd written. It was an idea I'd wanted to make into a book for years, and when I'd actually spent a month writing it I didn't like what I'd come up with at all.

This year, I'm enjoying writing the story I decided to go with a lot more, but it's also turning into something I didn't really have in mind and I'm not totally sure the direction it's taking is one I like. But we'll see. Maybe I'll end up liking it after all.

I'm also currently listening to the audiobook Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie, which is a memoir written in the third person. It's so incredibly fascinating even though I've only read one of his novels, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, which was published in 2015 after Joseph Anton. It's really cool to learn insights into his writing process and how different things affected him as a person and as a writer and all sorts of stuff like that. I'm not really holding my breath on becoming a published author, nor am I planning to try to support myself exclusively by writing, and I'm certainly not expecting to ever be on Salman Rushdie's level of fame and recognition, but it is really cool to learn about it all the same.

It makes me wonder if I will ever have a style that is my signature. One time, in college, a professor told me that he found my writing to be Vonnegut-esque, which is maybe the highest praise I've ever received. I don't think that's what my particular writing style is like any more. I just don't know what it is now. And I don't really know what I want it to be, either. I've also been told often that my writing reads with my exact voice. That's pretty believable to me; I definitely think that I write how I speak and I probably don't spend nearly as much time editing/revising as I should, so it is logical that my written words sound just like my unedited spoken words.

I don't really know what the point of all that is, it's just a collection of thoughts I've been having these days as I write my "novel" and listen to an author's memoir.

Speaking of my novel, I HAVE CROSSED THE FINISH LINE! With a week to spare, I have officially written 50,000 words. Go me.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Computer Glasses. And a Novel Update.

I recently ordered some computer glasses for myself from Felix Gray.

What are computer glasses? You ask. Well. They are non-prescription glasses that block out the blue light spectrum that comes from screens. They're supposed to help with eye strain and eye fatigue and all that jazz.

"Are they working?" you ask. Well, I have no idea. I'm not someone who gets headaches from looking at the computer, but I do sometimes feel like my eyes are drying up and maybe will drop out of my head when I've been sitting in front of my computer all day.

Mostly I got mine for two reasons:

1. Since we've really only had access to personal screens for the past twenty years or so (and I think I'm being a bit generous there...I think it's been more like fifteen years for most people. But whatever), we really have no idea what the long term effects of all this screen viewing will be on our eyesight. Chances are, it's not going to have done great things for these ole eyes another twenty years down the road. So partly I'm trying to do my eyes a favor now.

2. I just really like glasses. I really do. I bought a pair of non-magnification glasses at the dollar store in college and literally wore them for an entire semester.

The best thing about these computer glasses is that they are just as cute as that dollar store pair I loved so much! So I'm pretty satisfied with the purchase overall. Not to mention I've been looking at screens an extra lot this month since I'm writing a novel in my spare time. Here's a video of my grooving to some music as I work on my novel.

To that end, here's an update on my novel: I've written 40,000 of the 50,000 words for the month. And it's still only the 16th! It helps that my sister is really really kind and generous and has been letting me borrow her computer most days so that I can work on it. I also have a pandora station that I started off the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack that is really great for writing to, in my opinion. It's got a lot of classical music and also string quartet and orchestral versions of pop songs, which is really cool. I've fallen in love with Clair de Lune. And I've also discovered the Vitamin String Quartet, which is who is doing that cover of Cheerleader in the video above. Pretty cool, right? So it's all going pretty damn well, I'd say. Just have to finish strong over the next couple weeks!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Some Thoughts on Recent Headlines.

This is a micro poem by Nayyirah Waheed. I've mentioned her before, and her work is fantastic. But anyway, this poem comes to mind often these days, as each and every day seems to bring forth more women talking about men who have assaulted or harassed them.

I am tired. I am tired of seeing and hearing about sexual assault every time I swipe over to the news screen on my phone. I am tired of it being in my face all day every day.

I want to stop having to hear about and read about the horrible situations that these women have gone through and continue to endure all the time.

But it's not that I want to silence these women who speak up so bravely in a culture where it could cost them respect, their jobs, their sanity, but most definitely costs them their privacy in a matter that is highly personal and surely painful. No, I'm proud of those who have the courage to expose their tormentors.

What I want is for this shit to stop happening. I want to stop hearing about it not because women continue to be too afraid to come forward, but because creepy men stop pulling stupid shit like this.

It breaks my heart. I'm so tired of creepy men doing creepy shit. Just be a decent fucking human. Is that really so hard to do? How about you only make sexual advances toward people your own age? And whom you aren't a work authority figure over? And how about, if the person you make advances toward seems to not be into it, how about you leave them the fuck alone and maybe even apologize for having misread that. Yeah, that might be awkward, but's better than just continuing to bark up that tree, right?

Like, is it really so hard to not be a creep? Because I really feel like it isn't. Especially when I consider the large number of non-creepy humans I know personally.

I just want everybody to collectively get their shit together about consent and stop doing things that create victims who then come forward and make the shady stuff public. Just STOP DOING THE THINGS. And we'll all be better off for it.

And I know that I will definitely be less tired.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

It's That Time of Year Again...

We're exactly one week away from November today (a fact that is kind of blowing my mind!), which means that in seven days NaNoWriMo begins. Does NaNoWriMo ring a bell to any of you? Maybe you remember that is stands for National Novel Writing Month. Maybe you remember that people can sign up to participate and then write a 50,000 word novel during the 30 days of November. And maybe you remember that I participated in it two years ago and EVEN successfully finished my 50,000 words.

But probably you didn’t hear much more about my “novel” beyond that. Partly, that’s because 50,000 words isn’t really what most of us would consider a novel. I think it was about 80 pages. The other reason you probably haven’t heard much about the one I finished is that I haven’t even looked at it since the end of NaNoWriMo two years ago. The best explanation I can give for that is that I hated what I’d written. For a couple of reasons. One is that I had spent an entire month writing what felt all like backstory. I was more than fifty pages in and there wasn’t really a plot yet. Another reason is that I’d started NaNoWriMo a different year with basically the same story idea and hadn’t gotten very far before life got too busy and I couldn’t finish. Well the one rule about NaNoWriMo is that you’re supposed to start writing from scratch on November first. So when I started with the same idea two years ago that I’d come up with a few years before, I didn’t ever look back at what I’d written the first time. But upon completion of 50,000 words, when I looked back at the original attempt I’d made with that story I realized it was better. Much better. The actual writing was better. So I concluded a couple of things: I didn’t really want to keep working on what I’d done, and also I might be getting actively stupider now that I’m finally not in school any more. Ugh.

Anyway. I decided to give it another go this year, which is going to be extremely challenging since I don’t even have a laptop these days, but we’ll see what happens. I’m planning to just write it all in a Google doc.

I’m for sure not using the same idea I had for a different year (even though there aren’t really any of those left, anyway) since that was ultimately a disappointment last time. I don’t have any great ideas for a novel this year, but I decided that I want to challenge myself and my creativity in new ways. I think I’m going to experiment with magical realism. Magical realism can be present in many artistic endeavors of all different types, but as wikipedia describes it “often refers to fiction and literature in particular, with magic or the supernatural presented in an otherwise real-world or mundane setting.” Some of the most well-known writers of magical realism are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie. I’ve read quite a few YA novels that fall into the magical realism category in the past few years. Some examples are American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, and all of A.S. King’s books.

During a playwriting class I took in college, I had to write a scene where something not physically possible happened. It was sort of different, because the intent of the prompt was to write something that wasn’t inhibited by the constraints of performing it onstage. The point was to write something that would be a challenge to stage, that would require every member of the creative process to be inventive and figure out how to make the idea come to life. I ended up setting my scene on a space station that loses gravity at one point. So not exactly magical realism. But that writing prompt was challenging and fun and made me want to do something like it again. So that’s what I’m going to do.

Maybe I’ll end up liking what I have done at the end of November more this year. Maybe not. Maybe it’ll be one more piece of writing I never look at. Maybe it will be what finally gets me really writing again on a regular basis. Only time will tell. But it all starts a week from today.

As an aside, if any of you know really great places to write in Maine, I would love to hear them. I found the last time I did this that sitting alone in my house wasn't really my best writing plan. I'm also taking suggestions for music to listen to while writing.

(Also, this picture has nothing to do with NaNoWriMo I just like having a picture in every blog post and this one has books in it and a quote from a book that I read and liked once.)

Monday, October 23, 2017

2017 Goals Check In.

In the spirit of publishing my goals and holding myself accountable to how many of them I’ve actually accomplished, I’m going to share my goals for 2017 here and check in on how I’m doing with them. It’s kind of blowing my mind how fast this year has gone by. Wasn’t New Year’s Eve only a couple of months ago?

I actually had two different sets of goals for the year. I have the official list of 2017 goals I had for myself, which are sort of vague and self-improvement-ish, the way lots of people’s New Year’s Resolutions are. And then I had a list of 17 things I wanted to do in 2017, which is less vague and has more specific activities and still has some overlap with my original goal list.

Let’s start with the original goals.

  1. Practice hygge.
I did my best with this last winter. There were several moments where I felt like I was getting the hygge thing right, and I did make a lot of hot chocolate. Unfortunately, my bedroom is freezing all the time, so that makes it a bit of a challenge.
  1. Remember to breathe.
Well I haven’t died yet, so….
Nah, just kidding. This one is more about taking space to just appreciate what I have and all that jazz. It sorta goes hand in hand with the next goal, which is:
  1. Be mindful.
I read an article about mindfulness shortly before making these goals. I haven’t necessarily done a great job at it, but being mindful is something that I occasionally remember to make an effort at.
  1. Read to Mackenzie.
I was better at this when she was littler. She got really squirmy and was kind of a brute for a while and would tend to rip the pages while I was reading which made it hard. But recently she started really loving to be read to, so I'll pick back up with it.
  1. Read 50 physical books.
I’m keeping a list. So far I’ve read 23 physical books (and am in the middle of three more) but it’s not looking like I’ll meet this one. I spend a lot of time in the evenings cooking, exercising, and spending time with my family, and by the time I’m turning in for the night I’m usually too tired to read.
  1. Read all of Jane Austen’s books. (For real this year.)
I bit the bullet and started getting them as audiobooks. I’ve totally read two more! But I might not get to them “all”...
  1. Climb a mountain. Or two.
DONE! Tumbledown and Double Top. Boom.
  1. Remember that this life is my choice.
A constant work in progress.
  1. Learn to sing one song well.
I actually decided I want to play Passenger Seat on the piano. Haven’t really gotten it yet, but I did start practicing.
  1. Be more sparkly.
I’ve totally been wearing glitter any time I think it will be acceptably appropriate.
  1. Write more letters.
This is always my goal. I’d say I’ve done better writing letters in 2017 than I did for the part of 2016 that I was living in Maine, which is really what that was about. So I'll call that a success.

Now, for my more concrete goals. (Remember, there's some overlap here.) 

  1. Climb a mountain.
  2. Go skiing.
  3. Go snowshoeing. 
  4. See a play.
  5. Go to a concert. 
  6. Paint a picture.
  7. Re-insulate bedroom.
  8. Get curtains.
  9. Alphabetize bookshelves.
  10. Go on an adventure.
  11. Read every Jane Austen book.
  12. Knit something.
  13. Write 20 blog posts. (Working on it!! This one makes 14 that I've published.)
  14. Shoot 5 rolls of film + develop them.
  15. Buy a record player.
  16. Grow something. (I'm counting the cosmos that I planted even though there were only two flowers and then my brother-in-law's mom pulled them out cause she thought they were weeds.)
  17. Get Kendra to the Common Ground Fair.
So ten and a half isn't bad for that list, in my opinion. There are still two and a half months left of this year, and who knows? Maybe I'll surprise everyone by magically reading twenty-seven more books and re-insulating my bedroom and mastering Passenger Seat and all sorts of things.

Although probably not. 

But really, what matters to me is the attempt. And truly some of these things that I've gotten done have been really great. Like the record player? Probably my best purchase of the whole year. And climbing some mountains has been challenging but incredibly satisfying- I'm going to try to keep it up and actually hike Katahdin next year. And who knows, maybe I'll get really crazy and come up with my goals for 2018 before two weeks of the new year have gone by.

But then again, probably not.

Friday, October 20, 2017

What Am I Doing With My Life?

Sometimes, when I’m sitting in my cubicle at work and freezing my butt off because there’s inexplicably an air conditioning vent spewing frigid air at me in mid October, I wonder what on Earth I’m doing with my life.

I have a finite amount of time to spend on this planet. I can’t help but think of those lines from the Mary Oliver poem, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I occasionally start to feel that I am perhaps squandering it. I want my life to mean something.

Might I direct all of you to the song “Twenty Something” by Jamie Cullum?

It’s pretty applicable to my life right now and also the lives of lots of other people I know (who are in their twenties). I first heard it in high school and liked it a lot back then, but it becomes ever more relevant as the years pass.

I recently read this post about vocation. It talks about three different categories of work: a job, a career, and a vocation. In the post, they define a job as sort of a means to an end and a career as working to advance through the ranks and get achievements.

Now, I have had some “jobs” before, and I honestly liked them a lot. I guess part of that comes from the fact that I worked with kids a bunch and that never really seems like “busy work” because there’s always more going on when you’re helping another person learn and grow and change. But I honestly like working. I like feeling useful and helpful and doing things. I am pretty task-oriented. I like the feeling of getting something done. I did realize after three years of college that a career really doesn’t appeal to me at all. I am not interested in climbing a ladder and trying to get ahead of those around me. Competition isn’t really my thing. And I’m okay with that.

A vocation, on the other hand, is like a true calling. Work that doesn’t feel like work at all because we find it fulfilling and satisfying all on its own without paychecks or accomplishments. A vocation is what everybody wants. Or should want. Something that makes us feel like we were put on the earth for a reason and are making the most of what little time we have here.

The problem is, I have no idea how to find my vocation. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve sitting in that cubicle though. Which brings me back to the original point: what am I doing with my life?

I think it's okay not to know, but it doesn't really feel okay not to know. It feels like treading water in the middle of the ocean; necessary to stay afloat but ultimately pointless if there's no chance of finding and proceeding toward the direction of dry land.

I had a conversation with a friend this summer about how hard it is not knowing. For instance, I've always wanted to be a mom but I don't want to spend my whole life waiting for that to happen. If I knew that it would, I could better enjoy my time now, and if I knew that it wouldn't, I could adjust to that idea and figure out what to do with my life instead. It's the not knowing that is such a challenge. It's hard to make peace with something not happening while also still hoping and wishing for it. My friend said I better figure out how to live with it because that's all of life right there. And of course he was right. But knowing that I need to make peace with not knowing doesn't actually make it easier. It's still hard.

I still find myself wondering what I am doing with my life and what I should be doing with my life and what I could be doing with my life on a literal DAILY basis. I have some ideas- some realistic and some optimistic and some outrageous- that I occasionally take steps toward. I have some plans that I make small progresses toward. I keep thinking and pondering and hoping.

And some days that's enough to quiet the pulse of panic I feel when I think about whether I'm wasting my life. It's enough to be snuggling my niece most nights. It's enough to just keep breathing.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

On Body Image.

Let’s talk about bodies, shall we? Actually, I’m just going to talk about my body and also share some thoughts on self-image that I think are pretty applicable to other people, but I have no idea what goes on in all of your heads, so if I’m totally off base just ignore me, kay? Cool. Here we go.

Bodies are weird.

Like, they’re actually weird, with all the zillions of different parts that do different things some of which are automatic and some of which are only automatic sometimes. Breathing? You can choose not to but also your body will keep breathing if you stop paying attention. That is wild. But it’s also not really what I mean when I say bodies are weird.

They change in ways that are so very gradual that we don’t really notice until later when someone else points it out or when we see an old photo of ourselves. We are in some ways the closest observers of our bodies, but also the people who see ourselves the least. Weird. The way we think about ourselves is influenced, in so many ways, by the opinions we have about our physical appearance and how it compares with others. Of course physical appearance isn’t the only component of self-image; our skills and talents and willingness to embarrass ourselves in front of others and intelligence and all sorts of other things also contribute. But the way we look is pretty much the first thing others notice about us so it makes sense that it influences how we think about ourselves, too.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that many parts of our bodies are determined by genetics. In a lot of ways we just have the bodies we were born with (and some people won the genetic lottery and aren’t even able to get fat or whatever, which really blows my mind) and there isn’t much we can do about it besides get cosmetic surgery. But there are other people (with self discipline that is unfathomable to me) who exercise regularly and slowly get a body closer to what they want. Maybe it’s not perfect still, but they lose weight and tone up and whatever else they need to do to have a body closer to what they want it to be. And I don’t think people ever really “arrive” at their ideal. I don’t think that’s how bodies work. But I also think that’s okay. Maybe nobody is ever completely satisfied with what they’ve got and it’s just part of human nature.

Now for the part where I talk about my own body. It changes a lot. My weight has fluctuated between 120 and 150 pounds since high school. Which is a pretty considerable range, honestly. And what’s especially weird/interesting is that when I’m at my heaviest I usually don’t notice. Isn’t that interesting and wonderful in a way? When I’m my puffiest, “grossest” self I don’t usually look at myself in the mirror and think that I’m fat. I see all the different parts of myself that are the same as always and have the same problems with and praise for them as I always have; my inner thighs touch and I hate it (both because of how it looks and because it is uncomfortable AND because it seriously diminishes how long I can own a pair of jeans), I have hollows beneath my cheekbones that are subtle and often get lost in the roundness of my cheeks when I smile but are definitely there, I have a dimple in only one cheek, etc. It’s only after I have lost weight that I look back at pictures and think, “Wow, I was really pretty overweight, huh? How did I not see it?” Which might be bad in terms of overall physical health, but it also seems pretty psychologically healthy to me. It’s like the exact opposite of body dysmorphia.

Imagine looking at yourself every day and thinking that you look disgusting. And yeah, there absolutely are people who do that, but I don’t think most people do. Maybe I just have no clue. But it seems like even though we totally have things we want to change about ourselves, even when we are trying to lose weight or whatever, we are still usually able to make general peace with how we are at any given moment. Imagine if our self image kept us hiding out in our houses? Yikes.

Bodies are weird. But they’re wonderful. We spend our whole lives inside of ours and still don’t know everything about it. That totally blows my mind.

I started running this spring and my body has changed more in the past five months than it maybe ever has. I remember in high school before I lost a bunch of weight my senior year (my doctor later told me it was because I’d started eating breakfast- go figure) there was this time when I couldn’t find my hipbones. Obviously I knew where-ish they were, but externally you couldn’t find a trace of the actual bone. But then when I lost weight hip bones were visible. I was definitely not one of those people whose bony hips jab out of their jeans, but I could find them when I looked for them.

Anyway, similar things are happening to me now. Running hasn’t made me weigh less, but my body is just different. My legs are super muscular. I’ve always had pretty skinny calves but all of a sudden they are something that can only be described as “shapely.” All my pants are really tight on my calves and my legs barely fit into my boots. There are muscle bulges on my SHINS. I didn’t even know that could happen until now! And my thighs still touch, but they also curve way out in the front, too, because of my new muscles. And I just noticed the other day that I have this weird little hollow in the very front of each of my legs between the hip and thigh. I have no idea what it’s called because I never knew that such a thing existed. And, weirdly, I swear my shoulders are skinnier now. I have no idea why running would make my shoulders thin out but I honestly like them more now than I ever did before. I happened to catch a glimpse of the back of one when I was flexing for something or other and it was surprisingly jacked looking (I think it was kind of an illusion, but whatever). And for the first time that I can ever remember, I can tap my sternum and it makes a hollow noise because I’m actually just hitting the bone without any cushion in front of it (probably it was like that before as well, like when I was really skinny in high school, but I never noticed until this time). And I have quite literally run my ass off; it’s only about half the size it was last winter, maybe even smaller. Yet I totally still have a belly the exact same bulge-y size it was before I started this whole running thing. Cool, body, thank you so much.

Last week I went to see one of my friends play music in Yarmouth and, as I often do when I’ve made plans to go out in public, I wore something that made me feel cool (because dressing for my office job is actually one of my least favorite things ever) and sprinkled glitter on my cheeks and chest (because it’s one of my goals for this year to be more sparkly). Since my purple hair was still pretty fresh and I didn’t trust it not to stain my shirts purple, I wore black shirts all week. The one I wore that night was this floaty-ish shift type shirt I got in Portland, Oregon on my road trip last year. By the time I got home from the gig in Yarmouth everyone at my house had gone to bed and the shower light, which we use sort of like a bathroom night light, was on when I went in to get ready for bed myself. In the semi-dark of the bathroom, I saw my reflection and thought, “wow, I actually look thin right now! I can see my collarbones!” And as silly as something like that seems, I love when my collarbones are prominent. I’ve got a short torso and big boobs, and it’s just a lot going on in a pretty small area, so my collarbones usually don’t stick out and it’s usually not a part of my body that makes me feel delicate. But on that night I did. So even though taking bathroom mirror pictures is kinda trashy, and even though it was terrible photo lighting, I took a picture of myself.

And now I’m going to share it with you all even though the photo quality is dismal and I am making a sort of silly face in it and you can barely even see the collarbones in question.

Because even though the picture didn’t really capture what I was feeling, that was a moment when I looked at myself in the mirror and saw not just what I’m used to seeing or what I’m okay with seeing, but also what I want to see. For that moment, none of the things that usually bother me about my body (and there are plenty of things that do) were visible, and I was left with just loving everything that I saw.

In my experience, those moments don’t come super often, and I think that’s fine. As long as when they do come, we take a minute to just rest in the goodness and appreciate it.

**EDIT: Not hours after this posted, I saw a post on instagram from the poet Nayyirah Waheed that was so intensely relevant. I'll share a screenshot of the poem here for you all, but you can also click on these links to find her on twitter and instagram or buy her books on amazon. She's pretty dope.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hello, October.

As could have been predicted, I never posted more in September. Sigh.

September sort of flew past and October is even more insane, honestly. In the middle of September, I suddenly found myself with plans for every single weekend of October. How does that happen?!?! And who knows if I’ll actually make it to all of them, but I do try. Some of them are just events that I want to go to, and when I have to go alone, all bets are off for if I’ll actually follow through when the time comes. But a lot of the plans are things other people invited me to, and I usually do go to those because I don’t get all that many invitations so I accept all of them. Anyway. As of right now I have only one weekend day free of plans during the whole month of October and I’m kiiiind of hoping to go to climb a mountain somewhere. We’ll see what happens.

For those of you who were waiting to hear (soooo...none of you?), my goals from September were a bit of a flop. I did take 7 pictures, but I still haven’t developed any film. I did get a haircut, which I really liked. I practiced Passenger Seat only a few times. I made a pie and went to church all on the same day, but it was technically October first, so I’m not sure it counts. I never drew anything. Meh.

Lots of other wonderful things happened though, like my friend Kendra came to visit me for a few days and we went to the Common Ground Fair, and walked on the breakwater and visited lots of cute shops in Rockland and all that great Maine sort of stuff. I love her. It was really really fun to show someone around my state for the first time again- it’d been quite a few years since I had the chance (I did get to show lots of people around Minneapolis while I lived there, though, so that’s something).

But now it’s October, which means a whole new set of goals. I already got purple hair (which is separate from the haircut I got last month) and love it. A few things on my list are events that haven’t yet happened. I also want to read three books and write five letters. We’ll see what happens.

I’ve already finished one book, The Sun and Her Flowers, Rupi Kaur’s second book of poetry. It was phenomenal. I’m also in the middle of two others. Okay, full disclosure, one of the two is one I’ve been in the middle of since September. But that’s okay! I’ll hopefully still finish it this month! The other is Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor, which I have as an ebook on my phone with a new app called Libby. I am kind of loving having access to a book wherever I am as long as I have my phone with me (so, wherever I am). I’m totally someone who believes you should bring a book everywhere, but sometimes it’s really inconvenient to have a book in your purse. And sometimes you don’t have the book with you in very specific situations like when you’ve arrived at a restaurant expecting the rest of your party to be there already but it turns out they were running even later than you and you’re already inside without a book. In situations like that I’ve been reallllly glad to be able to just pull out my phone and start reading. It’s seriously great.

Anyways, things are happening around here. I got to meet a cute, fresh, little baby (Alice) ten days ago and I get to see my cute niece on an almost daily basis and she has so much personality already, despite exclusively calling me and everyone else she knows “Dada”.

I’ve been to the movies FOUR times in the past month and only two of them were with my mother! Okay, to be fair, one time was with my friend’s mother, and I’m not entirely sure that’s less embarrassing, but whatever. One movie out of four with people my own age isn’t bad though, right?! Oh, it is? Okay, whatever. I made it down to a weightlifting competition last weekend and I’m going to try to attend a Rett Syndrome strollathon in Capital Park this weekend. It’s gonna be crazy, but life is just like that sometimes.

And as the days get ever shorter and I find myself with fewer hours of daylight with which to do things outside, I’m glad for every single plan that obligates me to leave my house. Winter is hard and I feel like it’s heading for me at breakneck speed. I’m clinging to the last vestiges of warmth I can possibly get.