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.

 

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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?