Lady Love: Why Claire Underwood Leads Me Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

*Spoiler Alert: I may say something that ruins your life. 

Hello again. Let’s get to it, shall we? In the wake of #InternationalWomensDay it’s only natural I continue my Lady Love series, and this is one edition my bony fingers can’t wait to tackle.

Unless you’ve resided soundly beneath a boulder for the last few months (in which case I’m very sorry), it’s near impossible to avoid the upcoming election. CNN and Fox News practically foam at the mouths each time a candidate says something stupid, smart, or generally nondescript, and I must confess I’ve found myself swept up in the political fracas. Rather than bore you with yet another political “break down,” let’s instead talk about something much more enjoyable (and less likely to induce a gag reflex).

Of course I’m talking about House of Cards.

I’ve carried along with Frank and Claire Underwood since the very beginning. Is the show a bit soap opera-y, unbelievable, and downright dark at times? You betcha. In an interesting article from Salon titled, “Hillary’s ‘House of Cards’: What Claire and Frank Underwood tell us about marriage, gender and the White House,” the author points out why so many keep coming back to this campy political drama.

[House of Card’s] cynical, chilly, dispassionate view of American politics and human relationships feels knowing, at the very least, about the truly craven depths of the human heart.

Even though I find myself snickering at the absurdity of some of the plot twists (bye bye Rachel), the show does a good job of remaining loyal to its characters, allowing them to develop to the nth degree without putting on the breaks. The characters themselves are unique and thoroughly entrenched in their own dark dramas, only looking up when they bump into another person’s dark drama. The show is twisty, plotty, and so very different from my every day life that I’d be lying if I didn’t say I loved it because of the fraught escape it provides me.

Praises that the newest season is out and ready for our binging pleasure. But let’s be honest–the real person we care about is Claire. She is the stoic, calculated, and utterly classy female frontrunner that does whatever it takes to make it to the top.

It’s become clearer each season that Miss Claire is truly the brains behind Frank’s dastardly deeds. He vows to raise the banner of ruthless pragmatism —and he does—however, it’s Claire who fights, suffers, strives, and wins.  Here are two reasons I’d choose Claire as my team captain, no matter the situation.

Her Ice is Real

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There are times in life when you’re sad and anxiety-ridden and you need to curl up under some covers with a puppy and a mixing bowl of Cap’n Crunch and just dig the hell in. Yes life is troubling and ugly and in many situations crumbling into a heap of tears and emotions is totally understandable.

Sometimes, though, you’ve got to straighten up and do the dang thang.

Throughout the entire series, Claire is faced with triumphs and tribulations so polar they’d make even the most even-keeled person have a melt down in a Target parking lot. Her focus and commitment is undeniable.  And even though her station as “wife” and “First Lady” weirdly diminishes her accomplishments time and time again (thanks society), she understands the nuances of her place and uses that in her favor. Truly, Claire has worked and sacrificed alongside Frank; however, in Season 3 the seat of the First Lady muddies her contributions in the eyes of others, relegating her to choosing the right easter egg for the White House hunt while Frank discusses matters of national security a mere few floors away. In one of the best scenes in the entire series, Claire and Frank go at each other in the oval office.

“I should’ve never made you ambassador,” Frank says.

“I should’ve never made you president,” Claire retorts.

Here we see Frank not as a cunning leader who has duped an entire nation, but as Claire’s political puppet, one she’s been manipulating from day one. This is why I love her ice. She has to be calculating and has to be consistently on. She understands her precarious position even more than Frank, and knows what is required in order to accomplish her ultimate goal.

Her Drive is Undeniable

frank-and-claire

I think that sometimes Claire gets overshadowed by Frank.

There I said it.

Yes, yes, yes, he was able to become the PRESIDENT without a single vote cast in his favor and yes, yes, yes, he did it by killing not one but two people, but let’s take a moment and think about Claire. She gave up her nonprofit, she allowed her husband to take a mistress, she denied herself a lover, and she did it not because her husband needed her to…but because she knew it was necessary.  It was necessary in order to achieve the ultimate goal-a forever spot in history. Absolute power drives her just as much as it drives her husband.

Her drive allowed her to dig into her dark past. But rather than rely on her story as a crutch, she used her pain to propel her. There have been several articles touting either her utter commitment to the feminist cause or her abrasive opposition to it, namely because of how her sexual assault was handled in Season 2. It’s true that Claire evolves throughout the series, I would argue that it’s her drive that increases along with her character depth. In this article from the Atlantic, the author tackles Claire’s trajectory.

In Season One, she was her husband’s ruthless co-conspirator in advancing his career. As Season Two is reviewed and discussed, no character has been more polarizing—or so I gather from the most provocative assertions made in recent House of Cards responses: that Claire is a ‘feminist warrior anti-hero,’ as Tracy Egan Morrissey  argues at Jezebel, and that, according to Amanda Marcotte’s related theory, “the show has abruptly shifted into one of TV’s most feminist offerings.’

One thing that cannot be argued is Claire’s nuanced personality. In my opinion, she sees herself as thoroughly equal to both male and female counterparts and believes she should be treated accordingly. This is a huge aspect of feminism, one that seems simple, but in a male-dominated society, is actually pretty stinking hard to carry out. Also, she doesn’t succumb to societal pressures of how her life should look; she writes her own story and adheres to that script no matter what.

What do you think about Claire Underwood? Would you choose her as your team captain? 

Sources:

Photo 1Gif 1, Photo2Source

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Professional/Personal Development (gross) Books that are Great for 2016

Hello all, I’m back at it with a few more book recommendations. This post is dedicated to that necessary evil we all love to hate—Professional/Personal Development.

I’ve written on the subject of self-help books before, though “Personal/Professional Development” sounds a little sexier, if not creepily hormonal.  Wouldn’t you know, there’s a brand new batch of great books for 2016 just waiting to be devoured. I’ve always been open to various genres (turning my nose up will likely result in me walking into something). So I’ve tried it all—from trashy romance novels to horribly angsty YALit to some really dry, difficult classics, and they’ve all taught me something valuable.

The thing about Personal and Professional Development books is they aren’t sly about their teaching—there’s basically a big ol’ neon sign flashing “this is going to teach you something” above each work. In our fast-paced society, it’s easy to feel bogged down, unmotivated, and overwhelmed, especially when you evaluate your career and life and come up wanting.

The thing is, everyone is a work in progress. Everyone could use a little extra boost. 

I’ve always been kind of obsessed with the topic of improvement. My shelves are lined with notebooks filled to the brim with neatly scripted to-do lists and goals and inspirational phrases painstakingly transposed from Google (is that endearing or just sad?). I’m a big believer in setting attainable goals and working my arse off until I can contentedly slide my pen across one less item on my ever-changing life list. No matter if you’re a CEO of a major corporation, a stay-at-home mama with a brood of lovely rascals, or a fresh-faced college grad with a little too much pluck, these books can help you and your  career develop (yuck).

1.) I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of their Time

Laura Vanderkam

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I enjoyed this book so much I read it twice. Seriously, I did. Though I will say this book isn’t exactly the most beautifully crafted—Vanderkam’s turn of phrase won’t make you sigh with metaphysical understanding or laugh out loud. However, her advice is practical and her approach is pragmatic, and I love the book’s underlying theme. In the book she interviews hundreds of “mosaic women,” females who have young children but also have a career that earns them over 100K.  She simply asks these women how they manage their time without delving into the archaic, dried-up “how does she do it all” narrative. She discusses practical ways women can truly engage with family and grow their career while not falling prey to the harried, scary business mommy trope. She reminds us that we actually have 168 hours a week, and those hours can be spent catering to a hectic job, raising a loving child, engaging in meaningful connection with a spouse, and facilitating truly beneficial “me time.” She writes:

You don’t build the life you want by saving time. You build the life you want, and then time saves itself. Recognizing that is what makes success possible.

and this little gem…

In life, you can be unhappy, or you can change things. And even if there are things you can’t change, you can often change your mind-set and question assumptions that are making life less good than it could be.

She also takes on the narrative we tell ourselves about how “busy” we are. In society business is a status symbol in the same way a lack of sleep seems to represent a life well-lived (more so, at least, than someone who happily clocks 7-8 hours a night). Vanderkam takes these assumptions to task and upends them, asserting that it’s okay to have leisure time and to be well-rested.

2.) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Marie Kondo

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Okay people get ready to have your world rocked. I understand that this book is very “in” right now. It’s very “buzzy.” It’s all the “rage.”

Unnecessary quotations are wonderfully awful.

Marie Kondo is a self-proclaimed tidier who has spent her whole life looking for efficient ways to store, manage, and enjoy her belongings. It’s kind of impossible to continue living in clutter after reading her engaging work. Yes, my purse is still a madhouse of fools and my car is kind of an embarrassment to the human race, but my cabinets…my cabinets are truly lovely. The same can be said for the majority of my house, although my closet tends to build up with clothes and puppy toys faster than you can say clutter. However, Kondo’s two-point approach to getting rid of stuff and filling your space with things that truly bring you joy is really compelling.

In a review of the book an author sums up her approach quite nicely:

First, put your hands on everything you own, ask yourself if it sparks joy, and if it doesn’t, thank it for its service and get rid of it. Second, once only your most joy-giving belongings remain, put every item in a place where it’s visible, accessible, and easy to grab and then put back. Only then, Kondo says, will you have reached the nirvana of housekeeping, and never have to clean again.

When she says put your hands on everything, Kondo means everything. And she means do it all in “one sitting,” or a cohesive space of time, not spread erratically over a year or a few months. She divides up your tidying into different categories based on their degree of difficulty, with the last category, personal memorabilia, allowing you to put off throwing away your love letters and kindergarten poems until the end. Kondo’s method comes from a worthy place—according to her, your home should only contain the things that bring you contentment and joy.

I will say that her section on books was hard for me—she requires you get rid of books that no longer bring you joy. I must confess I didn’t go through my books as I should have because it is so hard for me to give away books. One day I may need them! Or worse, someone else may randomly need my extra copy of Southern Women Writers and I will be able to fill that void. I know I have a problem and I’m working through it, but I digress.

Kondo asserts that the things you don’t absolutely love are taking up the space that the more joy-bringing items could occupy.  She encourages people to toss or donate these misfit items. Donate and toss I did. By the end of my tidying I had 6 garbage bags filled with stuff I no longer needed. And as Kondo promised, I felt a lightness I could only describe as declutter detox.  The feeling was so strong, I told about 7 of my friends they absolutely had to read the book so we could talk about it at length.

The Life Changing Magic, is much more than a cleaning book. It’s a book about taking stock. It’s a book about assessing the life you have and how it measures up to the life you want, and adjusting accordingly.

So there you have it. Two books to fill up your brain and your Kindle, that will also help you professionally and personally. Happy reading!

 

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3 Real Jobs You Can Get with an English Degree

Hello guys and dolls. I hope wherever you are, there’s a nice cup of coffee and a bag/plate of carbs within arm’s distance. Today we’re going to deviate a bit from recommendations and into a darker territory.

The real world.

Now, before you go crawling back into your Netflix-laden hole, hear me out. The real world is kind of scary, yes. Bills and taxes and job interviews and termites are all equally horrible, and they’re all things “adults” have to deal with.  However, everyone hates dealing with blandly adult things. Moreover, most everyone longs for that sweet time when they were able to ask the adults in the room to wave their magic wands and make all the bad and boring disappear.

Sadly, the wand is gone, folks.

For those who’ve just graduated with a Liberal Arts or English degree and find themselves in the hire me hell hole (a term I coined while I resided there), the wand seems like damn lie.

Anyone who has decided to pursue a Literature or Writing Degree has inevitably undergone the questions that accompany them. What are you going to do with that degree? and Are you silently judging my grammar? The answer to the latter is yes, but the first question can give even the most overconfident bibliophile pause. I would argue that even those majoring in “safe” degrees like Accounting or Biology often find the question stumps them, too. Does anyone really know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives in their early twenties? Really? Even people in stable jobs question that decision from time to time (or all of the time), so why the book major bashing, people?

No matter, the question is a valid one (kind of) so it’s only appropriate you provide a (kind of) valid answer. Below are three fields I’ve come across that match the skills of most English majors quite well. And people are catching on.

Enjoy, my coffee drinking compadres.

 

1. Social Media Manager

Social Media Doodles Elements

Before you give me the bird and start your tirade about how social media is the downfall of our society, wait. Hear me out. Then, by all means, continue tirade-ing.

  • Writing about topics you’ve never before known. 
  • Figuring out the perfect turn of phrase. 
  • Understanding the essence of something and communicating it to others in a way that makes them laugh, makes them think, and/or makes them want more. 

Do any of these tasks sound familiar? The answer, of course, is yes. Chances are, you’ve had to accomplish all three of these tasks in one or all of your Literature or Writing courses. Social Media may not seem similar to analyzing a Jane Austen work through a feminist lens; however, the skills that allow you to do so are quite compatible. Similar to a time when you’ve been met with texts you’d never before read, managing social medias for businesses require you to dig a little (or most often, a lot) deeper.  Social Media Managers often are met with clients who are professionals in areas they never in their wildest dreams thought they’d deal with, though they’re able to do the relevant research in order to represent them. Personally, I’ve managed social media accounts for funeral directors, pest control specialists, mortgage lenders, and a brand of vodka.  I’ve learned a lot from them and have been able to use those skills garnered from my Literature courses.

I’ve also had to put on my researching pants and dive head first into the ever-shifting terrain of digital marketing. Researching what interests people, what trends, and what turns people off is actually fascinating.  Moreover, finding the perfect way to reach an audience is extremely satisfying, no matter if it occurs through a thesis or a tweet.

 

2. Content Creator

Young Woman At Her Desk Taking Note

This position probably sounds a little more enticing. The title flutters; however, the job itself is tough, relevant work. Creating relevant, SEO friendly content about, say, a plumbing company may seem daunting, but Content Creators eat stuff like that for breakfast. Their content comes in the form of website content, blogs, informational brochures or press releases, just to name a few.  The title itself shifts from Content Writer to Content Creator to Content Developer; however, the tasks are similar. Create content for a company, individual, or brand in order to draw more attention, gain sales, and provide a well-written narrative. For this job, it’s important that you have a background in research and you’re willing to expand your knowledge base in order to understand seemingly unusable information.

For example, writing 500 words about teeth whitening and cavities for a dental office while implementing key words is just another day in the life for a Content Creator. Content creation can be fun; however, it can feel mind-numbing if you have to consistently create content for fields that don’t interest you at all. That’s where creativity comes in! As a Literature or Writing major, you’re asked to really examine a text—even one that doesn’t interest you in the least—through different lenses, which allows you to expand your interest and gain confidence in the subject matter. The same can be said for tackling a subject for content writing you’ve never before tackled. Content creators must have a handle on the audience, as well, so they know the type of content wants to be read.

 

3. Technical Writer

Cooking Pasta. Step By Step Recipe Infographic

Remember that (other) moment you told you parents you were going to major in English, and they asked, “How will you make money?”

Me too!

At the time I recall yelling, Let me be me!!!!! and running up to my room, slamming the door, and blasting Avril Lavigne or something equally angsty. But I digress…

Technical writing can make you real cabbage (aka money). We aren’t talking brain surgeon or engineer money, but we are talking this kind of money. On the flip side, technical writing is aptly named.

It’s technical. Writing.

Not creative, not stream of conscious, not implementing awesome words like cabbage, but technical. Many technical writing jobs require the writer compose directions, explanations or instructions about a difficult subject, or process in an understandable way. Technical writers work in, you guessed it, primarily information-technology-related industries.  Types of documents technical writers compose are customer service scripts, training course materials, contracts, policy documents, white papers, etc. If you think, I’ve never written customer service scripts, training course materials, contracts, policy documents, white papers, etc. fear not! That’s where that trusty research background comes in. Also, in many cases English majors have to take a Technical Writing course where they learn the basics of formatting and audience for these types of documents.

 

So there you have it—three sound counterarguments to the illogical questioning of your life choices. Next on the list, how Netflix actually makes you a more well-rounded critic. Or maybe I’ll just write more about books I’m reading…

What are other ways you think your Liberal Arts degree prepares you for the “real world”? Any other career suggestions? 

A Book & A Show

Oh this is January, and what have you done?

I think I just spliced several different concepts, songs, quotes but we’re all good with that right? Right. Happy New Year everyone! Times they are a changing and it’s 2016 in the big town baby.

Wow, my brain is just one giant pop culture machine.

So, as you may have noticed I haven’t blogged in a while. There I said it. The old me would be obsessing over this fact, but obsessing is so yesterday people (thanks Hilary Duff). Also, as part of my job I have to blog for 4-7 other entities, post to a myriad of social media accounts as a ghost writer (spooky), and type until my little fingers chap (yum), but I know, I know…I should dutifully blog for the few folks who love books, television, traveling, more books, and general craziness.

Guess what, though? This blog is for you, yes, but it’s also for me. It’s a way for me to be bonkers and discuss the things that make me happy—the same things that I think might make you happy—and so I’m not going to apologize because enough women out there have apologized for lame reasons (I’m sorry for you bumping into me. I’m sorry for serving food that’s too hot. I’m sorry for being smarter than you.) so I’ll just refrain this time.

Whew, now that that’s over with, let’s get down to biz-naz.

Everyone loves talking about goals and resolutions and new beginnings in January. Not sure if you’ve noticed that…

Normally I love digging into a good cliche and tearing it to pieces through thinly veiled sarcasm and biting apathy but this time, you guessed it, I’ll refrain. I mean what’s wrong with trying to be better? What’s wrong with trying to push yourself to learn a new language, try a new workout, stop guzzling Diet Coke (too good, though, y’all.  Just…too good), or make an online dating profile (a personal nightmare of mine).  The new year is exciting and fresh so it’s kind of a no-brainer people would grab on to it with all of their might, even if that zest only lasts a month or so. 

There was my (second?) soapbox and now on to what you really want—recommendations. Let’s start the new year off on the right foot with some quality. We get enough trash already with the internet and television (even though, when one consumes trash willingly say, by binge watching Real Housewives…that’s, like, a whole other thing) so why not try out a few things with some substance?

The Book

After finishing this book I had that thick teary glob that gets stuck in the throat and kind of hurts but also kind of reminds you you’re alive. Anyone tracking with me?

When I get the glob, I know it’s a good book.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is the real deal people. J. Ryan Stradal brings to life the food, the flair, and the people of America’s Midwest through weaving the lives of each character around the story’s protagonist—Eva Thorvald, a cooking savant.

Each character that is introduced is real and engrossing and their stories, although varied and unique, seem to somehow orbit cohesively around Eva and her cooking abilities. You don’t have to be a foodie to enjoy the book, though. The way Stradal shifts from lighthearted tales of young love to deeper situations like the death of a mother or divorce will keep you guessing and prevent you from feeling complacent.  Even though, if you’re a foodie, you’ll definitely enjoy the descriptions of every type of food from new age organic concoctions to homemade butter-laden “dessert bars” passed down from generation to generation. There are even recipes in the book!  Kitchens has a whole lot of heart and exhibits deep, beautiful knowledge of the unique Midwestern culture. It’s the perfect way to begin your reading journey for the new year.

The Show

I’m a self-proclaimed Netflix fangirl. Also, I adore Parks and Rec. So when Aziz Ansari came out with his show on Netflix called Master of None, I was sold. The show chronicles Dev (played by Ansari) and his dating experiences in New York.  It’s a whole lot more than “The Bachelor: New York Edition,” though.

Firstly, it’s not total garbage.

Secondly, it’s got range.  From what happens when everyone around you starts having kids, to dealing with racism and sexism, to trying to navigate how to live with someone, Master of None strikes the perfect balance of biting commentary and farce—the writers acknowledge that millennials are self-centered and insecure while creating endearing, hilarious characters you can’t help but love. Master‘s wit is biting and the stories are memorable which is basically what everyone is looking for in a television show.

So there you have it, a couple worthwhile things that can fill up your time without making you feel like a total sloth.

 

3 Books for Fall

The secret is out.

I’m so basic.

I know it in my bones, and now that we’ve cleared that up we can move on to more important things.

Too much of a good thing is a great thing.

Too much of a good thing is a great thing.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always loved the fall. Growing up in rural Oklahoma, I think I felt fall-the real fall-more than those who grew up in a more urban (read civilized) environment. My house was surrounded by trees, and I spent most of my time outside, so when the tiniest hint of crispness in the air wafted through my nostrils I’d feel myself becoming giddy. The trees would blast their colors and I could finally go outside without fearing 3rd degree burns from the Oklahoma summer heat. My grandparents would organize hay rides and the entire community would pile into a trailer and ride around presumably in one big circle because the weather was just too good and the moon was just too full not to. There were bonfires, there was cider, there were babies wrapped in homemade quilts. It was divine.

That deep love for the fall has now manifested in me buying too many chintzy pumpkins, eating candy corn like it’s my life source, and burning every pumpkin scented candle the good folks of Bath and Body Works can crank out. Fall allows my home to become a campy and overly scented shrine to fall, but you know what, it makes me happy, so I keep on keepin’ on.

With fall comes hot drinks and with hot drinks comes cozying up on a couch and with cozying up on a couch comes reading (or if you’re me, with breathing comes coffee with coffee comes life with life comes reading). Naturally, I’m going to give you 3 book recommendations for the fall and even though these are absolutely not fall themed at all, they are awesome, and I think a lot of my blog readers enjoy awesome.

1.) EileenOtessa Moshfegh

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Y’all this book is twisted in the best way possible. It’s dark and hilarious. At one point while reading it I said “Holy hell!” out loud at a Starbucks at the absurdity of it all. If you consider yourself even a little twisted, and let’s be real, we’re all a little twisted, then you should try out Eileen on for size. The story is told through the perspective of Eileen Dunlop at the age of 70 as she looks back on the days around Christmas when her twenty something self flew the coop on her drab, desolate life as a secretary at a boys detention center and a caretaker (kind of) to her alcoholic, abusive father. Her drab, depressing life changes when a new woman comes to work at the detention facility, and what happens next is sickening, seductive, and downright shocking.

Sounds like a nice, frothy read, eh? What’s impressive is how Moshfegh manages to create such despicable and, at times, disgusting, characterizations for Eileen, but somehow, in the end, we root for her.  Moshfegh delivers doozies like this:

Some families are so sick, so twisted, the only way out is for someone to die.
― Eileen

So just in time for the spooky season is this dark read that will leave you both disturbed and thoroughly entertained.


Spinster-book

2.) Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, Kate Bolick

I love a book that details the ins and outs (okay let’s be real the outs) of a woman navigating through her life. As a woman, it’s almost like I’m able to chart my own course in tandem with the women I read.

In Spinster, Bolick doesn’t shy away from the questions many of us have asked, and are probably still asking. What is my place in the world? What is my place in the world as a woman? What is my place in the world as a woman who may or may not see marriage as something I care to pursue? Her book is deliciously structured around 5 incredibly successful “spinsters” (literary and history buffs alike will rejoice) who served as inspirations as she navigated through life, love, and loss. The 5 women (writers Maeve BrennanNeith BoyceEdith WhartonCharlotte Perkins Gilman and Edna St Vincent Millay) were considered her “awakeners” and provide a unique cultural and historical edge to the memoir.

Bolick challenges culture norms that insists women must be married and mothers first, and then fill in the gaps if possible, later.  She writes:

You are born, you grow up, you become a wife. But what if it wasn’t this way? What if a girl grew up like a boy, with marriage an abstract, someday thought, a thing to think about when she became an adult, a thing she could do, or not do, depending? What would that look and feel like?
― Spinster

Spinster is a challenging read, but one that is worth the time. Especially for women. Especially for women who are consistently pushing back against what society deems appropriate for them. You know the type 😉 (read, me)

3.) Sense and SensibilityJane Austen

This book forever holds a special place in my heart/mind/soul. It’s one of those books that, because I began reading it during the fall, I instantly associate it with the season. d0a7a26f5f9cf0347c676788360b92edDo you have any books like that?

For those who’ve been living under a large rock, Sense and Sensibility was written by the incomparable Jane Austen, and, in my humble opinion, is one of her best books. I’m too  much of a wuss to say it’s her best book because I’m constantly vacillating between S&S and Mansfield Park.  It’s also a book with a beautiful film companion (Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, you know just the bottom of the barrel kind of cast) that stays true to the book.

It’s a lovely tale of two sisters as they try and navigate through their family, monetary, and love drama after they are left with little money and barely any prospects for marriage (which, as you know, during that time was seen as basically a woman’s purpose for being).

The relationship between Marianne and Willoughby is one for the books. If you love drama, like Real Housewives chair flipping level drama, then they are the couple for you.  The other sister, Elinor, is maybe one of the most honest, kindest characters I’ve ever read (right up there with Atticus Finch in TKAM) and the way she navigates through her environment, her distressed love, and her station in life is really very beautiful.  If you’re looking for a wonderfully written work that will whisk you away from your everyday life, Sense and Sensibility is for you. It’s also a nice dip into the Jane Austen pond, for those who’ve only read Pride and Prejudice (not judging you…but kind of judging you).

So there you have it. Three books to take you through the lovely fall months. Which books do you enjoy reading in the fall? Have you read any of these three? 

A Rant and a Book Review

I’m back at it again, and because life is, well, life, I’m going to flip the script and rant a little bit. Everyone loves good old fashioned rant, right? It’s just, there’s something I’m so over.  I’m sick of it hanging around or trying to burst my perfectly normal life bubble. And here’s the deal, it’s something everyone struggles with at one point or another.

Nope, it’s not a Netflix obsession, though many strong men and women have fallen at the feet of this powerful entity.

It’s fear.

Let me set the stage a little. As part of my job I am required to stay up to date with current events.  I’m also heavily involved with social media.  Although this helps me tremendously in the doldrums of small talk or at fancy parties (Can you believe what *fill in the blank of a politician’s name* said? The Kardashians are truly taking over. Why yes, the stock market does suck right now.), I also find myself inundated with some truly horrible and heartbreaking news on an hour by hour (or with social media, on a minute by minute) basis. This is tough even for the most stable and formidable person, though, I’ve never really described myself as stable or formidable, so occasionally I find myself feeling a teensy bit overwhelmed.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. Recently, a news anchor who was fed up with violence and bad news said he was going to only post positive things for an entire day.

 It’s odd that something like this is odd, but it is.

Fear is just the worst. I think one truly horrendous aspect of it, is its ability to morph into anything.  Fear of failure, fear of death (ironic, because it’s the only unavoidable aspect of life), fear of looking like an idiot, fear of dealing with idiots, fear that you’ll never see Gwen Stefani on tour, fear your children will grow up and hate you, fear your children will never grow up, and on and on.

I think in today’s society the inundation of information is sometimes good, but sometimes it’s very, very dangerous.

We’re expected to absorb so much information from so many different avenues in so many different forms (long form rants on Facebook, airbrushed photographs on Instagram, flashing red news headlines on Huff Post, 140 characters of horrifying but weirdly tantalizing stories on Twitter), it’s no wonder our levels of anxiety occasionally topple the scales.

I have found really fantastic ways to combat anxiety and fear–there is nothing a big bowl of carbs and/or mug of the blackest of coffee with a best lady friend can’t heal.  Meditation, my faith, exercise, and trashy celebrity magazines help tremendously, as well–but sometimes I feel like the kid from Matilda who had to eat all the chocolate cake even though it was an impossibly large cake (too much freaking cake)–overstuffed and nauseated.

But yesterday I bought one of my favorite author’s book so that’s something to smile about.

Rising-Strong

I’ve talked about Brene Brown before because, homegirl is a boss lady. She speaks truth like this without a thought:

The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.

*drops the mic and walks away*
She so eloquently speaks to the fear of vulnerability everyone carries. She also talks about shame, an ugly little demon that loves hanging around in our psyches. In her most recent book, Rising Strong, Brown delves head first into the crap of life. She unabashedly goes there. She talks about how we, as a society, love a story of triumph.  We love a good underdog tale where the hero overcomes an obstacle and ends up on top. We just don’t want to know all the muck she had to wade through to get there.
Ouch. 
We love hearing about the CEO that started at the bottom, but fought her way up the ladder, achieving all of her dreams to the soundtrack of “Go the Distance” from Hercules.  But we as a society aren’t exactly ready to hear about the 6 months she was unemployed and how her depression got so bad she couldn’t leave her house for 3 of those months.

Talking about the dark stuff is uncomfortable and shabby and weird. Why is that?

Just because we avoid discussing the dark times, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. In fact, I think when we don’t talk about them they grow larger, stretch out their legs, and decide to stay a while. Our emotions are amazing, but if we let them rule us, they will oblige most enthusiastically.

I think speaking the darkness is the only real way to combat it. It’s the only real way we can show up. In her book, Brown gives great advice on finding ways to communicate struggle and show empathy to others.

Fear can also hinder us from taking chances. It whispers that we should live small, shut our beaks, and hope no one notices us.  This comes from a place of people pleasing and worry, but it’s no way to live. When we speak our stories, we’re leaning into fear (fun times, right?).  The leaning in is big, it can even be life changing, but you have to pull your head out of the sand and face whatever it is that’s waiting for you.

Here’s a hint: It’s probably not as bad as your mind’s making you believe. If it is as bad, or worse, then that’s when you turn to your core support group to hold space for you.

And because Tina Fey is a genius,

LOS ANGELES - JAN 27: Tina Fey arrives to the SAG Awards 2013 on January 27, 2013 in Los Angeles, CA

Follow your fear, which in improv usually leads to someone making you sing an improvised song or rap, which is the worst thing that can happen. But the larger thing is the notion that if something scares you a bit, it means that you should follow it a little bit.

Let’s get our improv rap on and face fear with defiance.

How do you deal with fear? Have you read any Brene Brown? What books inspire you? 

Lady Love Part 3: The Many Talents of Lorelai Gilmore

So I have a bit of a confession. In my spare time, instead of solving issues of world hunger or tearing through my (GROWING!) reading list or trying new, exotic cuisine or showering, I’ve gone rogue. I’ve went through the looking glass, and there’s really no turning back.

Yep, I’m re-watching all of the seasons of Gilmore Girls. I went back to the very beginning (a very fine place to start) of Rory and Stars Hollow and Dean (the boy she SHOULD have broken up with much earlier) and Jess (the boy she SHOULDN’T have broken up with…at least until Junior year of college). It’s such a frothy, fast-paced world of perpetual fall days and festivities and old timey barber shop quartets and cars that stay unlocked because, heck, there aren’t any felonies in Stars Hollow.

And Lorelai. Beautiful, batty Lorelai.

Sometimes when life is getting me down, when I feel extra paranoid or kind of blue I remember that one time when Lorelai turned on her car lights because her porch light went out and the yard needed illumination and think, hey kiddo, you’re doing just fine. Here are some lessons I’ve learned from the coolest lady around:

get. it. girl.

get. it. girl.

1.) Staying true to yourself is the only real option.

Kooky, oddball, hilarious, weird. These are all words that consistently come to mind when describing Lorelai. Obviously she’s striking and lovely to look at, but that’s not who Lorelai is, yafeel? She doesn’t cook (at one point she becomes upset with Luke for making her stir), she doesn’t people please (one look at Emily Gilmore’s perpetual side-eye at her daughter and you know Lorelai honestly doesn’t care), and she raises her kid the way she sees fit. Pizza, Twizzlers and coffee for dinner? NBD. Lorelai is Lorelai and won’t be bothered with who she is supposed to be…or who she’s supposed to be with.  That’s actually a really powerful quality in an Instagram filtered society bent on being perceived as perfectly perfect. For the record, if Loreli had an Instagram I feel like it would be filled with photos of piles of dirty laundry and unflattering shots of Michel.

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2.) Pop culture is actually pretty powerful.

Pop culture gets a bad rap.  The thinking goes, if you have enough time to make E! news and People magazine your daily bread then there isn’t enough brain space for things like global warming, politics or existential questions. It’s a valid argument, but one that fails to give credit to the lack of sleep many pop culture fiends can live on. I like to think my existential thoughts in the morning and leave the Marry, Do, Kill Celebrity Style for my late night ruminations.

The thing about Lorelai is she is QUICK. Not only in her talking speed, but in her wit. She’ll drop a reference to Anna Karenina and in the same breath deconstruct the meaning of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And it works. It works in a scary kind of way. Similarly, my knowledge of pop culture occasionally scares me. I frequently find myself asking How in the hell do I know this much about Gwen Stefani or The Kardashians or Ina Garten. Sometimes I feel like I should dedicate my brain to other things, but then Lorelai reminds me it’s okay to have copious amounts of frivolous knowledge. In fact…it might make you a more well-rounded person.  Go with me for a second, pop culture is the great connector. I can’t tell you how many awkward conversations the mention of Blue Ivy has gotten me out of. It relaxes people and allows them to open up, much, much more than global warming does, for the record.  So maybe Lorelai was on to something…or maybe she just really, really liked “Breakfast Club.”

3.) Never underestimate the power of a strong woman. 

Lorelai is one tough broad. She raised a child on her own when she was basically a child herself. Yeah she was privileged growing up and yeah she wound up in a pretty idyllic little town, but for a good chunk of her life, it was just her. She is incredibly self-reliant. I on the other hand tend to lean toward leach-hood when it comes to people I really care about. I think Lorelai appreciates her friends and family (kind of), but when it comes down to it she’s able to create a life in solo fashion. This is a powerful example, not only for women, but also for everyone.

Do you watch Gilmore Girls? Who is your GG character spirit animal? If you don’t watch it, why are you crazy?

Citing erraday:

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Put on Those Travelin’ Shoes: Why I Make Time for Travel

There’s only four ways to get unraveled; One is to sleep and the other is travel. – Jim Morrison

Hi there. It’s been much too long, friends. My reason for the delay is a good one, even though on principal I kind of hate lame excuses. But this one isn’t lame, I swear. I’ve been, you guessed it, traveling. Le sigh. I recently got back from a long cruise where I spent a good portion of time hiding from the sun, hanging with my wonderful family, slathering SPF all over my body, and eating my weight in ze foodz. Traveling is such a wonderful little thing we as humans are allowed to do. Our world is so vast, and we are so small, so it’s only natural we’d want to crawl over it like ants seeing whatever is possible during our little lifespan.

If you’re an ant, I’m an ant.

There are many reasons people travel, but true Ginger fashion, I’ve narrowed down my reasons to three. These are why I habitually stuff my things in a suitcase and hop onto flying contraptions at the blink of an eye.  My intent with this is to inspire a little wanderlust in you while giving you the push you need to plan that getaway and ant your way around the world (yep, ant is a verb now).

Reason 1: Traveling presses that reset button

Day after day, it’s easy to get caught up in that ever-expanding, ever-annoying to do list. Buy groceries, send 60982 emails, take a shower, mow the lawn, wash your hair (LOLZ), catch up every season of Gilmore Girls. You get it. Taking a much needed break allows you to do exactly what you want for a set period of time, to do list be damned.  Travel also makes a little headspace for life when you finish your trip (more on that later).  On a vacation you get to take long lunches (something I thoroughly believe in), sleep in, look at trees, sniff clean air (depending on where you’re traveling), talk to random people, do a cart-wheel, etc.

I can do these things most days, you say. My retort: When is the last time you did a cartwheel?

A real cartwheel, not the butt only in the air, feet never leaving the ground mess adults tend to do. Taking a vacation, at its core, is an act of spontaneity. It doesn’t matter how Type A, planned to the max you may try and make your vacations, something always sneaks up on you, and usually that thing is freaking LIFE. Traveling opens you up to the wacky, insane, beautiful, hilarious world we live in. You’re able to meet new people, hear new accents, try new food, look in the mirror at yourself in a new way. What’s even better is travel reminds us how very similar we all are.  At our very core, we all just want to laugh and love and eat good food, amiright? Travel grabs your hand in a non-creepy way and helps you press the reset button that seemed just out of your reach mere seconds before.

Reason 2: It forces you to make time

Time? Time for what? More like time for whatEVER (see what I did there). Traveling gives you space. Wherever your destination, for some reason a vacation gives you permission to do what you love–writing, reading, trying out a new language, running, telling a lame joke, experimenting in the kitchen or through ordering a new, wacky dish.  These are all things we’re allowed to do everyday, but for some reason we tend to prioritize them lower than something as riveting as investing money or paying a bill or picking up your puppy’s poo. Yes, technically those mundane things are important; however, on vacation your thought process is Heck I’m already giving myself free time, I might as well ____________(fill in the blank with frivolity aka fun).

But for the love of all that is holy, don’t judge yourself. If you relax by watching a couple episodes of Real Housewives of New York in a fluffy hotel bathrobe while attacking the food in the mini bar like a ravaged wolf, go for it! Something I always do before leaving for a trip is perusing a book store for the perfect book. Sometimes it’s a challenging book, sometimes it’s frothy and easy, but it’s always something I want. Then I use the vacation as an opportunity to tackle the book into submission. An added bonus is if I ever re-read the book, I’m instantly transported back to my vacation!

Reason 3: It reminds you why your life is pretty stinking awesome

One of my favorite feelings in the world is falling into my own bed after a long flight home. After vacation, no matter how fabulous, no matter how beautiful, there is truly no place like home (clicking the heels, donning the red shoes). Vacation both expands your horizons and allows you to zero in on why you’ve chosen your little slice of the earth as home. It’s great drinking a new, fancy schmancy latte from a fancy schmancy coffee shoppe where seats are tiny and uncomfortable and the lighting is perfect for Instagram, but it’s just not the same as the corner shop where they know your order and (occasionally) spell your name right on the cup. It’s almost like your life after a vacation is perfectly filtered–brighter, clearer, more likable. It might be ironic going somewhere else just to remember how awesome life is back home, but it’s an irony that this Katy or Katie or KT or Caidey (yes that’s happened before) is willing to accept

Now I’d love to hear from my fellow travel bugs. Why do you travel? What are things you bring on your trip to unwind? Is anyone as obsessed with RHONW as I am? 

3 Kiddie Pool Classics or 3 Easy-to-Read Classics that Shouldn’t Scare the Pants off of You

Hey all! Today is the day you’ve been waiting for. The day I offend literati all over the inter web by comparing books that are stained with their (AND MY!) tears of adoration, to the shallow end of a pool. It’s going to be a ball. If you’ve made it this far, I assume the pitchforks aren’t quite sharpened and the torches only dully glowing, so please hear me out before things get cray.

I think reading is one of the most powerful things you can do.

I think opening a book, diving into it, feeling the feelings of the characters,and empathizing with people and situations outside of your narrow world is noble and brave.  I fall at the feet of the writers of classics.  I’m not worthy of cobbling the shoes of Austen, Faulkner, Dostoyevsky, and O’Connor. Though if they asked me to cobble, cobble I would (man cobble is a fun word).  Calling one of their works a “Kiddie Pool Classic” may not confirm the respect I feel, but it might entice someone to crack open a great book, which I feel is a grand effort all the same.

A Kiddie Pool Classic is an approachable classic. It’s a read you can’t help but devour like chips and queso on a Friday night. It’s a classic that won’t make you feel like the zit faced redhead swaying alone by the punchbowl at the high school dance. I’m a ginger so I can perpetuate this stereotype.

Taking a bite (or nibble) out of the classics is an admirable goal, but sometimes their language, context, and character development (or lack thereof) is difficult to swallow and even more difficult to understand. Especially if, say, you have a full time job and barely any time to water your (dying) plants, let alone tuck in to chapter 797 of Anna Karenina.  These three Kiddie Pool Classics are by no means shallow, but they are approachable and un-put-downable (sry I’m a scholar with my made up words).  Think how great you’ll feel once you read the last page of your first Austen book and finally, finally understand what all the fuss is about.  So here are three classics I absolutely adore and recommend if you want to take a walk on the Wilde side (see what I did there?)

BeFunky Collagess

Whoops, Wilde isn’t on this list, but the joke was worth the lie. 

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

K, predictable right? It’s an American classic, one often referenced and lauded, and it’s a slim lil’ book.  The story is thick with drama, heartbreak, and love (all things I prefer with my afternoon tea). Fitzgerald’s language and glitzy then grimy 1920s setting is downright addicting. The famous characters of Daisy, Nick, and (le sigh) Jay are what will help you battle that 4 o’clock desire to mindlessly scroll through your Instagram feed, and instead tell your lazy self No, today I choose culture. Today I choose Literature with a capital L…or something like that. Gatsby contains themes of living in the past and the broken American dream, themes that are pretty stinking relevant today.  After reading Gatsby you’ll also be able to do what all great readers of literature love–snootily comparing the book to the movie. This time, you’ll be able to honestly say the book is better, because it seriously is (even though I love me some Baz Luhrmann and muh boo, Leo)

Emma, Jane Austen

I’m going to come right out and say it. If you “love” (yes, I’m putting the word in hostile quotations) Jane Austen because of her romantic words and general appreciation of the weddin’ things, then talk to the hand. That’s not my Jane…sorry.  Good ol’ Austen was a complicated broad, one that loved snark almost as much as I do.  She was a master of satire, irony, and slamming her society, which means (GASP) she actually didn’t get all googley eyed when suitors came to call. People kind of freak out when you tell them that most of the time Austen was making fun of the air heads of her society rather than gushing over just how much baby’s breath belonged on their wedding centerpieces. With this in mind, reading her works is a little more fun. The novel Emma is about the main character, Emma (see easy!) a”handsome, clever and rich” matchmaker who doesn’t need anyone or anything because homegirl has. it. togetha. Because she has money in the bank, she doesn’t see much need to marry. Instead she (badly) plays matchmaker with her friends and at times acts like a total brat who simply cannot understand how people do not totally agree with her.  The book is lively and funny and brimming with interesting characters. And it comes with the benefit of saying you’ve “read” (insert watched Kiera Knightly version) something besides Pride and Prejudice.

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

Ok, ok, ok, I know, a story of racism, rape, incest, and heartache isn’t exactly what you’d expect in the Kiddie Pool Classic section. The Color Purple has many moments of ugly, but that’s because we as a society experience many moments of ugly. This truth was no different in the 1930s. It’s a Kiddie Pool Classic because once you start, once you grasp Celie’s rural Georgia and get a feel for the language and her struggle, it’s damn near impossible to put down. The book is structured as an epistolary novel or a book of letters (Literary buzz words for $100, Alex.) from Celie to God. They are personal and heartbreaking and powerful.  Against all odds (abuse, bigotry, loneliness) Celie holds onto her dream of being reunited with her sister which seems to make such deep, dark moments bearable. Walker’s writing style is cutting and unapologetic, which I think we all need a little more of every now and again.

What is your favorite classic?

3 Ways to Say L8r Dayz to Writer’s Block or How to Become More Productive

Well ‘ello loves, glad to be back for more ginger shenanigans. Today I’m going to talk about something we’ve all experienced at some point in our lives, and it’s not that dream where we look down and realize we’re pantless, though…that happens.

I’m talking about the demon, the worst person at the party, the drunk uncle (thank you SNL). Yep, all of those unrelated people point to one very annoying phenomenon: writer’s block.

The thing is, you don’t have to be a writer to have writer’s block. I would even argue that many who loathe writing, hate writing because they have no blooming idea what to write. Writer’s block, or the more inclusive “productivity block” manifests in daily jobs and responsibilities–reports, assignments, tasks, emails, whatevz. You get an assignment that you’re completely capable of completing, you sit down in front of your laptop with a steaming cup o’ Joe ready to tackle the task into submission, then the next thing you know you’re banging your head on your desk while the sinister curser blinks again and again at you in mockery. This is a dramatization, but you get my drift.

So how do you battle it? How do you take ahold of a task and twist it into what you need it to be? How do you happily slice the pen across that to-do list rather than begrudgingly add another, then another item to it? (If you don’t have a to do list, this is a really good time to start one. Trust. They’ll change you).  Here are 3 ways I combat the evil Sith lord that is writer’s block.

1. Trading Spaces

Srsly people, do you remember this show on TLC? It was my JAM. Two designers were assigned to two different home owners, and the two teams…you guessed it…traded spaces with each other. Each team revamped a drab kitchen or fugly living room while their counterpart in the other house did the same. There was a big reveal and everyone freaked out and lost their minds at how awesome their new digs were. Until they didn’t. There was one episode where someone deisgned a room in the exact replica of a circus tent, and for the first time in my life as a child watching the show, I understood what schadenfreude was. 

I digress.

In order to become more productive, you have to get in a zone of productivity; you need to trade spaces with your unproductive self.  The same place you binge watch 30 Rock with a bag of Cheetos in all likelihood doesn’t house your writing muse.  Sorry.  You brain is trained to recognize spaces for what they are. If you’re cuddled up in your comfy bed wrapped in soft blankets that are just begging you to close your eyes…for…one…second, you’re not going to be able to pound out a chapter of your YA novel or your financial report or that email you absolutely must send. You need to create a zone, a space, that screams productivity.

This place can be a tidy desk, a comfortable (but not too comfortable) chair, a floor, wherever. When I was working on my M.A. thesis there was this one spot on the floor in my spare room I swear had magical powers. I would flop down on the ground not really sure where I was going with my paper, and then like magic, I’d be in the writing zone so deeply that not even a batch of freshly baked cookies could deter me. That’s a lie, but I did accomplish a lot of writing.

I realize if you work in an office you might be worried because your desk is where you both work and shamelessly troll social media or Buzzfeed or cat videos. You’re not alone, child. It’s hard to create a space of serenity and productivity when 10 Ways to Figure out Which Harry Potter Character You’ll Marry is one tantalizing click away (it’s Ron, okay.) This brings me to my next tip…

You, on productivity.

You, on productivity.

2. Pump Up the VAH-uuume (translation: get a mix of sweet, sweet tunes)

If your desk has become a place of Youtube debauchery rather than a laser-focused writing utopia, fear not. Music is a great way to set the mood for basically any situation. I like to think of my life as a crazy, if endearing, movie set to various fabulous songs. That’s how I survive traffic jams or sucky moments. Hey everyone, it’s just a movie! Cue the Hall and Oates!

A playlist is a surprisingly easy and effective way of telling your brain It’s time to work, honey, especially, if your playlist is only played during times of work. Don’t make your writing mix the one your run to, or you’ll find yourself typing entirely too fast and jadjkdja;fdk

Get the picture?

What kind of tunes, you ask? Well that’s entirely up to you! Personally, I like a relaxing playlist because my brain personified is a hamster on a hyperdrive wheel.  Music by The Staves or Fleet Foxes really zens me out and helps me focus. You may need more upbeat songs to power you through that to do list, and that’s great! Whatever it is, make sure you quarantine it to times you need to get. ish. done.

3. Work in Spurts

Spurt is one of the worst words of all time, so I thought I’d incorporate it because I just couldn’t bear the burden of the word alone. You’re welcome.

A few months ago when I was faced with a 45 page thesis paper that required intense, at times, mind-numbing research, I learned real fast that if I didn’t take it in bits, I’d end up in the fetal position in a corner somewhere. It was important for me that I felt like I had accomplished something, but that something didn’t have to be a pristine copy of perfection. That something just had to be a bit.

Some days it was so effing hard to write, to research, to not binge watch The Real Housewives of New York because, y’all, Ramona was losing it and I loved when she lost it! But I told myself to just write for a small section of time. If I absolutely couldn’t do it after the allotted time, then I could settle my buns into the couch and dive into the drama of the Upper East Side as God intended it.

Setting aside 10 or 20 minutes of pure productivity (or if you’re a writer, writing time) is a great way to trick yourself into accomplishing something.  If this seems daunting and you just started Scandal on Netflix, then try for 5.  This is the same logic I used when I began meditating. Except I was pathetic, so I only did it for a minute–60 seconds of silence and mind control. It was hard, but putting a limit on it, telling myself I had to try for 60 seconds and then I could go back to working out the existential meaning of a cronut, actually worked. I’m happy to say I’ve worked up to 10 minutes of sloppy meditation, and if I can train my jittery brain to shut the eff up (for 10 minutes!), then you can complete the task that has been relentlessly mocking you for the last week.

Hopefully these tips help you in your writing and work endeavors.

What are other ways you improve productivity? How do you force yourself to write? What has been the outcome of more writing and productivity? Most importantly, what is your favorite Real Housewives locale?