The Books to Read When You Want to Save the World and Yourself.

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The obsession is real.

The other day, I was a little extra tired after being out later than normal for my husband’s birthday the night before. I got home and started making dinner, and my husband walked into the kitchen and asked, “Weren’t we going to go to empanada night?” Our favorite bar was hosting an empanada food truck and we had been excited for it all week. I basically had a breakdown right there because I forgot about the empanadas, desperately wanted to go get them, but was so tired and had already started making food at home. I freaked out and felt a panic attack building, and I eventually said, “I’m so overwhelmed all the time, just thinking makes me overwhelmed. I’m exhausted.”

I just planned a wedding, and that process took so much out of me. I wasn’t expecting it to be as bad as it was. I had panic attacks and horrible bouts with my anxiety. I thought I’d be back to my normal self after the wedding was done, but I’m not. I’m burnt out. And this moment has made me realize that I’ve been burnt out for a long time, not just because of my wedding.

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We got married in a library!

My anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed, even when it appears that I’m not, have prevented me from doing so many things I expect of myself. It causes a kind of paralysis that then spirals into guilt and frustration, and it just gets more fun from there. Recently I’ve realized that my anxiety and existential struggles are, in ways, directly connected to our modern American culture of achievement, consumerism, and “disruption”. With the attention economy (social and traditional media) following us everywhere we go thanks to invasive technologies, this frantic culture has infected every aspect of our lives. I’m overdue for a refocusing of my life.

Luckily, I’ve happened upon four books that, when read together, validated what I was feeling and helped me start to build a plan for how to get out of this headspace. I realized that I needed to take a step back and refocus in a way that allows me to build meaningful awareness and take pointed actions in my life. These books are The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, Braiding Sweetgrass by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, and How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. I recommend these books to everyone.

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Tanya Tagaq & ROSALÍA: The Keepers of Culture

This year I haven’t felt as connected to music as I usually do. Music has always been a huge part of my life, and when I was a teen I spent countless hours in my room scrolling through iTunes and music websites discovering new types of music, new artists in styles I already liked, and music from artists I already loved. This was, of course, before iTunes became a piling heap of steaming shit. I use Spotify for music discovery now. No regrets. Here is my account if you want to follow along.

I was feeling rather bad about my lack of music exploration in 2018, so I did what most normal people do. I checked out some Best Of 2018 lists. As I was working through NPR’s top 10 albums of the year, I became completely bewitched by ROSALÍA. Her new album El Mal Querer is #8. ROSALÍA is a Spanish-speaking singer from Catalonia, Spain and lends her stunning voice to haunting and beautiful flamenco guitar. Her earlier album from 2017, Los Angeles, shows a rather straight forward approach to flamenco, a style of music not usually being played on mainstream music radio.

As a fervent fan of the Gipsy Kings, who also perform Andalusian-style music, I immediately fell in love with ROSALÍA. While her new album still holds much of the classic flamenco style, it adds more modern and inventive production skills to amp up her sound. The effect is an interesting modernization of a very old and rich musical style. Flamenco is several centuries old and originates from Andalusia, Spain. It is itself born of an interesting blending of multiple cultures, including the Romani, Moors, Castilians, and Sephardi Jews. It is a performance of music, vocalizations, dance, and rhythm. ROSALÍA’s music is obviously not the full package, but I’ve never seen her live so maybe she has dancers or dances herself. I don’t know! I was not surprised when I saw her name pop up next to the likes of Solange and Cardi B on show tickets, but I was a bit surprised that flamenco has made its way to this particular arena.

What ROSALÍA seems to have done reminded me of another female artist: Tanya Tagaq. Tagaq is an Inuit throat singer whose music is haunting, aggressive, and incredibly visceral. Its jarring nature is not for everyone, but her music was recently featured on the soundtrack for the indie film Thoroughbreds. This well-deserved spotlight has highlighted her work and brought it to many people who probably have never heard of throat singing before. The unique thing about Tagaq’s music is that is is very modern. You could seamlessly play it in a club without anyone skipping a beat. But Inuit throat singing is an art that has been in existence for hundreds of years. It was banned for decades by religious communities and is only recently making a wide resurgence.

The amazing thing about Inuit throat singing is that it is primarily a women’s game. It was not originally seen as a type of music or performance, but as just interesting vocalizations and breath work. Traditionally, two women will face one another, and one will start off the roll of singing while the other repeats her as a kind of mimic or an improvised round. The sounds are continuous from both women and the game only stops when one of the women starts laughing or runs out of breath. It is meant to be a silly bit of fun, but can you imagine how metal and witchy it would be to see two women facing off, making what can only be described as primordial grunts and gasps? It’s incredibly badass.

When I consider both Tanya Tagaq and ROSALÍA, I see two young women fully embracing their culture and bringing it into the modern mainstream global culture. This culture has been dominated by American styles for a very long time, and both the elements of Flamenco and Inuit throat singing don’t fit those moulds…and yet they are some of the most beautiful forms of art I have had the privilege to enjoy thanks to Spotify (this is not supposed to be an ad for Spotify, it has its issues too).

Women usually do this work. Much like how our genes carry the exact data of our mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers etc., we tend to carry on our family and culture’s traditions. We tell the stories, make the food, teach the crafts and skills. We preserve and amplify. We pass it down to our children. This has generally been the case for thousands of years in human civilizations. Men have been known to do this work as well, and I don’t want to slight men like my father, who gathers and cares for his family’s genealogy, but overall on a grand scale this is a woman’s work. While it might seem unfair or a burden, I take it as a privilege, an honor, and a duty.

Women’s Obsession with Death: Millennial and Victorian time-traveling sisters

order-of-the-good-deathA reading list on this topic is at the bottom of the post!

If you haven’t noticed an uptick in the true crime obsession of late, you must be a prepper who lives in the wilderness of Wyoming (which doesn’t exist, stay woke) and doesn’t have internet or electricity or neighbors. And in that case, you might be a serial killer yourself. The explosion of true crime and horror podcasts has been serious. So has the increase of murderous television, mystery thriller novels, the popularity of witchcraft, and support for the death positive movement. But why? Who? What? How?

The who is easy…women. It’s always been women, honestly, but millennial women are viciously gobbling up all things violent crime and creepy lore. While I could point to something like the insane popularity of authors such as Gillian Flynn or Paula Hawkins, it really took shape with the phenomenon of Serial. From there we got the massive hit My Favorite Murder, a true crime podcast hosted by a comedian and a YouTuber turned Food Channel personality. Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark captured a moment. The shear volume of fan art, tattoos, and merch being generated…the memes!! Women tuning in felt like they were sitting down to a never ending glass of wine with their favorite girl friends, dishing about murder. The pod soon took off and became so much more than what it seemed. Karen and Georgia started using it as a way to preach about the benefits of therapy, self-care, and mental health awareness. They talk about women taking care of other women, and they face all of our worst nightmares with us. We cheer together when they tell the heroic tales of women breaking free from murderous men, or surviving against all odds. We cry with them when we lose another Sweet Baby Angel.

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When Great Women Die

Maya AngelouI was in a custom framing shop running errands for work when I saw a push message on my phone from my New York Times app, informing me of Maya Angelou’s death today. I was in the middle of discussing pricing with the young woman behind the counter, who looked to be about my age, when I stopped short and said, “Holy shit, Maya Angelou died.” She just looked at me, and I swear we both nearly started crying.

Maya Angelou’s death hit me very hard, and by the looks of my Facebook and Twitter feeds I wasn’t alone in that. So many of my friends of all genders posted condolences and shared links to powerful stories about the great woman, but it was my female friends who overwhelmingly shared how Angelou’s words SAVED them. I had one friend who talked about how Angelou’s poems helped her battle self-doubt and depression. Several talked about how her words pushed them to finish high school and live better lives. And another talked about how Maya Angelou’s words stopped her from killing herself. They SAVED her.

For me, Angelou was a reminder that hope is never dead and that there is always something to fight for. She taught me, and I think a lot of girls, what it means to be a strong woman. Two things happened when I first heard of her passing. The first was extreme sadness. In a way, I felt like all hope and all strength had died with her. The next was a moment of self-reflection where I thought about how I internalized her words and messages, and how they wouldn’t die with her because they had a place in me. Then I thought about how I could best embody those ideas she spread. A very similar thing happened to me when Nora Ephron died two years ago.

So what I started thinking about was what happens when great women die? Being a great woman on a scale as grand as Angelou’s is hard work. It’s hard enough just being a woman with so many things stacked against us. It’s hard to do even the simplest tasks, like go for a fucking jog. But that is why we need great women so badly, and when we lose one I get a little scared. Who will take her place? Honestly, it should be you and me.

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The Shameful Book Club: Southern Novels for Summer

3-28-13_ReadingSo I have a deep dark secret that I tend to hide pretty well. I am very ashamed of this, especially since my mother is a librarian, and over 50% of my immediate family members are writers (including myself), and I also consider myself a bibliophile. This is hard for me to admit, but I am not as well read as most people think I am. There, I said it.

Now that I’ve admitted this, I aim to rectify it. After all, one of the best things a writer can do is read. I’ve decided to create for myself a reading challenge. Each season of the year I will dictate a genre or category that I feel would compliment that season and try to read as many of the “must-reads” in that category as I can. Some categories and genres are very embarrassing for me, and others just have a lot of really great novels that I want to get to. Southern novels is one category where I’m really lacking, despite my absolute love of southern writing.

A lot of these books, like The Grapes of Wrath and The Color Purple, were books that were assigned in high school English classes. I had kind of a strange high school English experience, and a lot of classics (in all genres) slipped through the cracks. Now is my time to catch up.

I have put together a lofty list of novels that I will try to read between the months of June and September. I’m giving myself a lot of time, because, as you’ll see, there are an ass-load of novels. I actually had more, but then I realized that Gone with the Wind is roughly seven books in one, so I cut my list up a bit. I also might start this week instead of June, we’ll see. I’m currently trying to prepare for that devil called the GRE, so who knows what time I’ll actually have to devote to this. I’ve listed the novels below in the order I would like to read them in, but sometimes plans change, so I’m not holding myself to it.

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Part-time Creative: My rules for surviving the battle

Cheryl-StrayedCall me a weekend warrior, if by weekend warrior you mean someone who actually stays in and struggles to be creative and productive on the weekends (and weekday nights). I’m certainly going to war, but not with shots of tequila or complicated bongs. My adversaries are mostly my exhaustion, anxiety, self-doubt, and Netflix account. They all distract and prevent me from writing in my spare time, something that many of us with day jobs are forced to do.

There is only an incredibly small percentage of people who are lucky enough to pursue their creative dreams 100%. Most of us have to walk a fine line of full-time employment and part-time creativity in order to follow our dreams, and it’s exhausting.

The most important thing to remember is that different things work for different people. There isn’t just one process for navigating this situation, so figure out what works for you and stick with it until it doesn’t work. YA author Susan Dennard has an incredible series about how to maximize your productivity, and I highly recommend everyone take a look at it. You can follow her plan exactly, or you can bastardize her ideas and make them your own. That’s kind of what I did, and I will share my personal rules with you in the hopes that they will help you too.

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Taking Breaks

I am such a huge proponent of taking breaks that sometimes it gets in my way. Sometimes a weekend break turns into a week break, and then expands into a whole month. I think it’s worth mentioning that I have been working on developing a strict routine and being more disciplined when it comes to writing, but that does not diminish my love and enthusiasm for breaks!

When people talk about developing routines, working in breaks is always a really important part of that. You need to let your brain disengaged so new ideas can flow in uninhibited. It’s similar to the rest periods you would take when lifting or training for a marathon. But they talk about breaks in smaller terms, like an hour or two in your day. I’m talking about whole days or weeks!

After I finished a draft of something, I put it in a drawer and forget about it for about a month, usually. During that time I like to take a full week off from writing and catch up on reading and TV shows I love. Then I’ll work on new or other projects I have going on. Throughout all of this I will always have ideas come to me for the draft I have on the back burner. Many new thoughts pop into my head — new plot ideas, changes to characters, solutions to annoying problems, etc. I write those all down, but I keep my eyes off that locked away draft. Then, after the draft has cooked for a while in my mind, I will go back to it and dive into another round of revisions. I cannot stress enough how helpful this is for me.

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Camp NaNo: A change in plans

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Camp NaNoWriMo is a delightful off-season (if you will) NaNo event that is held in the spring every year. Like November’s NaNo, it is a time to push yourself and connect with other writers, but being Camp, it is also much more relaxed. Your options are cracked wide open, so instead of being restricted to just a novel, you can write a screenplay, short story collection, poems, anything your heart desires. The word count can be set to whatever is most appropriate for your project (as opposed to the traditional 50K), and you can be very specific about which medium and genre you’re writing in. Another awesome element are Cabins. You can fill out a quick questionnaire and be put in a small group of 11 people who are working on like projects. You can go with a random selection or pick a group of people you already know. This is incredible for helping you meet others that enjoy writing what you write.

I can’t tell you how excited I was to participate in this year’s first Camp NaNo. Like NaNoWriMo, I have never tried it before, and it sounded amazing to me. Most especially because I COULD WRITE A SCREENPLAY!! I started planning my plot, loosely outlining, building a brainstorming board on Pinterest, putting together a playlist, and getting really excited. But then I looked at all the projects I still have on my plate.

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Pinterest and Writing

pinterest-pinboard-600I had a crazy idea today, and I’m hoping I struck genius gold. I’m not sure how genius gold differs from real gold or just plain genius…I don’t know, I’m recovering from an illness so my mind isn’t quite right. Just go with it.

Maybe I’m not the first to come up with this particular idea, but I’ll certainly take credit for it! It’s very common for writers to create playlists to help us get in the right head-space to work on a particular project. I love the process of creating specific playlists. It’s another way for me to learn more about my setting and characters. Which song most accurately depicts the ora of this town? What song would she listen to after her heart’s been broken? What song would be laid behind this scene in a movie? Making the playlist that guides me through each story is almost better than writing the story itself. But what about those of us who are also greatly affected by visuals? Shouldn’t we have a sort of visual playlist to get us in the mood as well?

Enter Pinterest! I just started using Pinterest a few months ago. I boycotted it for a long time because I thought only desperate housewives and boring girls who only thought about weddings all day used it. But then I realized how helpful it is for storing ideas and discovering fun recipes! It also caters to my OCD organizational habits quite nicely. I have a board for my dream house, a board for recipes, a board for desserts, and board for style, a board for books, a board for films, but NOT a board for weddings! I refuse. But I’ll admit it’s hard to resist. Those pins are just so damn pretty!

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