Question of the day: What helps you feel positive? What things light you up? What are your just-for-you passions?
I’m having a slow reading month. Some of you know that my life has just been weird the last couple of weeks. But that’s okay! I want to take joy in where I’m at in life and bring more passion and mindfulness into my everyday life. That begins with taking a few days to recharge and do things that light me up.
The funny thing is… if you wait until a time of stress to figure out what makes you happy, it can feel impossible. You get this sense that nothing makes you happy because the stress turns your brain to mud. You might not be able to remember which pass times really help you feel better. If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that a moment of stress is not the time to rely on your memory!
So, take time this week to think about where your passions truly lie and what you can do to make them a more intentional part of your days.
What does that look like for me? Well, for starters, I’m participating in @BooksLikeWhoa’s Dracula Read-Along which just started today. Being able to chat about a classic with other people will make my heart happy. Reading classics gives me this sense of accomplishment (hopefully that’s not just me). It gives my English major brain this sense that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing (even though, obviously, being an English major is irrelevant. We can read whatever we want!) But regardless, it’s a nice feeling to immerse yourself in a classic you’ve heard so much about and find out for yourself what you think of the story. They’re also a great opportunity to learn about history and the societies present during the time period you’re reading from.
Next, I’m going to try to wrap up I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son by Kent Russell. It’s really great and gets me thinking – this month just hasn’t afforded much time for reading, unfortunately. I love that in the essays, Russell is purposefully choosing provoking experiences just to learn and write about them. His journalistic but personal approach offers an intriguing perspective on the memoir/essay genre. Plus, I’ll feel proud once it’s finally on my read-shelf considering how long I’ve owned it!
Other than that, I’ll be spending time on bookstagram because it makes me happy and hanging out with my family because they help me to do things I normally wouldn’t. We watched the Goosebumps movie last night, and I liked it way more than I thought I would, for instance. Taking time for activities outside my normal ones can get me out of my funk and help me feel refreshed. Thankful for moments like that, and hoping to have a few more of them this week.
I’d love to hear what you’re up to this week. What lights you up?
Hearing nothing but the sound of your breathing is a rarity. I know that the common thing to do here would be to sell silence to you as a tool. It’ll make your life better and you’ll reach self-actualization or something along those lines. But that sound bite is overdone. Not everyone finds the quiet moments as fulfilling as I do, and I recognize that. To some people, a lack of stimulation is absolutely maddening. It’s not even about being bored or some subconscious fear, certain people just aren’t wired to crave quiet time like others are, and I get that.
For me, though, quiet is a fundamental need that has to be met for me to keep functioning. I know that silence may not be a true necessity the way water is, but I still feel as if it I can’t live without it. It’s at least partly my introversion, but quiet time is also just good medicine for me. The quiet moments I get by myself are the moments when I fell the most grounded. The most connected to the world and the most alone. The safest and the most vulnerable. I need time to be quiet to figure out what all the rattling around inside of me means, and I’m sure other introverts feel the same.
Earlier today, I stepped outside on my front porch to let the cat out, and it was surprisingly quiet outside. I live in the middle of dozens of acres of farmland and wooded areas where small houses are lined up in little loops but still far apart compared to other neighborhoods. It’s not as loud as living in the city or even in a subdivision, but it’s never this silent. There’s so much wildlife around that the trees are always rustling, the water is moving down the drainage ditches and creeks, or the frogs are calling to each other. It’s common to think that nature is quiet, but it’s not, except on days like today. We had a cold front come through, so I think the drop in temperature made all the animals hunker down for a while, and when I stepped outside it was completely calm.
It was striking how silent my world was in that moment. So quiet that there’s no other way to describe it. I forgot that the world could get that still. I felt surrounded, but the world had been washed clean of noise. All I had was my sight, and with that focus of sensations, I felt a clarity. Not simplicity, but a clear focus.
As a writer, I’m always linking moments like this back to my work. Today, I thought about how stories don’t come from the quiet times in our life. Stories come from the overheard conversations, the arguments, the friendships – the moments when we interact with the world and exchange something within ourselves for something out there. Stories are not born in silence… but they do mature in the quiet moments when we are left with our thoughts and the sound of our breath. Without silence, there is no room for the seeds of the story to fully take root. We can learn, gather information, interact with the universe, but everyone, even an extrovert, needs a quiet moment for the experiences to sink in and take root in the story of our lives. I think I needed the reminder today of what true silence is, and I honestly think it can be the best medicine.
Today’s post is probably going to get hokey-pokey pretty fast, so this is your fair warning.
This phrase is on my mind: “Travel lightly and deeply.”
I’m currently reading If You Feel too Much by Jamie Tworkowski, which is where I read these words for the first time. I couldn’t quite let them go once I’d read them. Not in a stuck-in-my-head kind of way, but in a I-need-this-idea way.
Sometimes I need someone else’s words to sum up what I’m feeling before I can ever fully explain it myself. Sometimes, other people’s words are a bridge to understanding myself as much as my own words are a bridge to understanding myself. One of the reasons I write is to be understood and known. That’s always been the appeal to me, and that’s why I know I make so much more sense on paper. I use books to understand others, and I use writing to understand myself and be understood.
When I speak audibly, I almost always fail at expression. It takes hours of thinking over a subject and rehearsing my own made up lines in my head to explain myself coherently to anyone else. During the last few years, I’ve put a lot less effort into that preparation because it’s exhausting. Do I really want to spend my life in that limbo when it’s so much easier just to make myself known on paper? Time is too precious.
All of the above feels necessary to say, but it also feels so necessary to look at that sentence more closely. The line, “Travel lightly and deeply.” speaks to me, but it also sounds like a dream, something to aspire to. It’s hard to imagine that it could be something I start doing today without preparation, but there’s a part of me that thinks it’s supposed to be that simple. I have a tendency to over complicate things, and I have a suspicion that, while this phrase holds a lot of weight, it may not take that much dissecting to understand.
Travel lightly: my first thought in response to these words is that I should give away all my belongs and only hold on to the few things that are near and dear to me, but I think this phrase means something much deeper (and who knows why I have this fascination with getting rid of things. That idea seems to glom onto any even remotely philosophical idea even have.) “Travel lightly” on a deeper level means “lay down your burdens.” Let it go. I struggle with this. I like to hold on to things, especially negative energy, and it’s so bad for me. I still do it. I hate the idea of laying down a thought before it’s fully processed. Before it is dissected, and understood, and mined for its value. But that thinking relies on a falsehood - you don’t learn from bad circumstances by dwelling on them. You learn by accepting them and staying open to learning. I’ve never once learned anything while I was angry about my situation and riling up my attitude every five minutes because I’m prideful and was born with a chip on my shoulder. Traveling lightly, in short, is about accepting life as it is while knowing that brightness and light are in even the bad places.
Travel deeply: give importance to meaning. Whatever is meaningful and good to me is what I should dwell on. Dive in, and experience life in whatever way I think will uncover meaning for me. Obviously, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to do something damaging just for the sake of experience, but by definition we’re talking about making our lives better here, so maybe that goes without saying. That word “deeply” just strikes me so much as the meat of life, the purpose. I don’t believe any of us were made shallow. The spiritual part of us that I believe in creates too vast an expanse within ourselves for me to ever think anyone is incapable of depth. The deep, inner part of our lives is one of the most meaningful aspects of human life, and it’s where meaning itself is derived. We go into our deep, inner space when we think about what’s meaningful to us. We’re in our deep space when we’re acting out our passions and being intentional with our lives. That deep space is critical, and we should not neglect time spent with it. I want to learn to be alone with my thoughts a little more often. I want to learn that I don’t have to chase the next idea, the next thought, the next piece of media to consume just to make sure I’m moving forward or not bored. I don’t have to always be moving forward. There is a time and a place to sit, be quiet, and look back.
This is the part when I realize the yin and yang of this whole idea: to go lightly and to go deeply through life are in some ways opposites, but married together they mean so much more. Their meanings rely on each other. You can’t truly go lightly without digging in and learning from the past because it’s necessary for acceptance, and there is no use in sitting down to contemplate the past if you don’t stand up and leave the burden on the floor, going lightly away from that place. A yin. A yang.
These are just some thoughts that are on my mind today. I hope you can find some kind of meaning in them. I hope you’re encouraged or inspired or thoughtful after reading them, but no matter what, just know that your life matters and you can make it matter to you. Keep your perspective on the light and the deep and reach out to others when you need to.
If you have thoughts, please share them in the comments, as always. Thanks for reading this far.
Nobody’s perfect, and who wants to read a novel in which none of the characters are flawed?
To me, the unlikable characters are the screw ups, the ones that don’t always know why they’re messing everything up, or even the characters that are self-sabotaging and know it. That’s my favorite kind of character. I see complexity in an their choices, and that means there’s room for meaningful growth. That’s what keeps me reading.
I’m the kind of person that sees my own mess-ups as huge, unforgettable sins. It’s not an attractive quality (one I’m trying to work through), but it’s the honest truth. For most of my life, I’ve held myself to a higher standard than I’ve held anyone else. It’s exhausting. Maybe that’s why when I see a character who is messing up monumentally, I see a little bit of myself in them. Their intentions probably aren’t bad – most people have understandable intentions, but their actions are so obviously wrong that it hurts to watch them sometimes.
If we stop and think about it, it’s the unlikable characters that should help us see our faults and encourage us to change. It’s true that a well done “good-but-flawed” character may be able to do the same, but I argue that the unlikable character is even more effective because they draw up so many emotions in us. They help motivate us because they resonate with us, even if the resonation is negative. Fiction can be a mirror for the reader. We learn empathy because we see part of ourselves in the story that’s being told. This also plays on the idea that the traits we dislike the most in other people are the traits we dislike about ourselves. For me, that’s definitely true, and it comes to mind when I read a character that is on the unlikable side. In many books, a likable character represents an ideal – a young protagonist who feels unlovable but in reality, two attractive dudes are obviously pining after her, for example – but an unlikable character represents a more common experience. To compare with the previous example, they’re the characters that feel unlovable because they truly possess flaws – they’re distrusting, make selfish choices, or make choices that others don’t understand.
On a broader scale, I cherish any book that I see part of myself in. I think that’s what books are for – they allow us to see ourselves in other people. That small amount of mirroring that we see in a novel helps us understand our humanity more deeply. We see our hurts and triumphs in a different light. It’s not about the supposed narcissism of wanting to “see myself” in a work of fiction. It’s the way it makes me feel more connected to the people and world around me because it tells me I’m not alone. I empathize with issues I will never experience because books help me imagine what it would be like to experience them myself. That’s one of the reasons I keep reading.
What was the last unlikable character you read and why did you dislike them? Let me know your thoughts.
I know you get this all the time, but I can't believe you're here already.
In some ways, I'm more excited to see you than ever. The last couple of months have been an upward trend. I'm more excited about my creative projects than ever. I'm constantly coming up with new ideas and for the first time in my life, I'm not putting them off. Life kicked me in the butt, and I responded by becoming a badass. I'm telling you this because it's so new and compelling to me that I have to share. I hope you don't mind.
I'm doing whatever I need to do to launch my projects which usually means staying up way too late to write a little more, revise a little more, or submit one more piece to a literary journal. From that perspective, life is looking up.
On the other hand, I've been dreading the holidays, and what are you, December, but a sinkhole of holiday to-dos and expectations. I'm a little over it honestly. This is a point in my life in which everything is moving so quickly that it's hard to remember what the holidays are actually for, but I'm trying my best to get back in the right headspace. I've been a little self-absorbed in the past, and I'm ready to change that. December is the perfect time to get started. It seems like everyone is in a giving mood, and that alone makes me happy. I just need to focus on the lasting things and not the material. I need to remember all the hard situations I had to get through to make it to this point and appreciate the journey. Life is a mess, even in the moments when you feel like you have it together. I don't want to wait until I'm finally "put together" to look back and appreciate everything. I want to start now.
So, December, my goal is to keep moving forward, but not forget to look back and appreciate everything that got me here, the people who held me up and championed me along the way. It's a duality. The past informs the future of all the possibilities, and the future provides hope for the trials of the past. My experiences, good and bad, give my dreams of the future a new context. I know how far I've come, so I dream bigger after every milestone. To me, that's how you find the beauty in the day to day. You have to keep moving forward while giving thanks for what has passed.
Thank you, December, for the good I know you'll bring and the challenges you'll provide to help me grow. You're not half bad, really.
What are you anticipating for the month of December? Share what you're most excited about in the comments and let's talk about it.
I love libraries.
We live in a day and age in which many people doubt the usefulness of libraries. Some say that libraries are on their way out the door altogether. No one cares about reading. Libraries merely remain in existence because schools use them.
I know all of those statements probably hurt your heart as much they hurt mine. Readers know that libraries are far from dead. How could they be when we love them so deeply and frequent their beautiful rows on a daily, weekly, monthly basis?
Today, on the day we are meant to give thanks, I want to slow down and shows some appreciation to libraries. Here are just a few of the reasons I love my local library.
1. It motivates me to engage in the arts.
Every time I visit my library, I get an intense urge to write a novel. Seeing shelves and shelves of books written by people like me who love stories and words makes my writing dream feel more attainable. So usually, I find a seat and get to typing - whether on my phone or on my laptop. I put everything else to the side and push myself to make a little progress toward my goal.
Obviously, being around all of those books also makes me want to read every single one of them. I can't help myself: I usually check out 4-5 books knowing that I already have 2 current reads going (and 100 unread books on my shelf at home on top of that). The fact that there's no time to read all the books I check out, let alone all the books in that library, doesn't matter at all. What matters is my love for reading burns all the brighter between the shelves of my library. I let my whimsy take over. I check out all the titles that suit my fancy, and my life is so much more beautiful for it.
2. The atmosphere at my library is cozy and friendly.
There are tons of sitting areas and the librarians have always, always been friendly. Now, I will admit that I've met a few rude librarians in my lifetime, but not at this library. Those were isolated incidents regardless. My library offers the opportunity to be alone with all the books just by strolling back into the stacks, but also provides me with the sense of being one person in a large universe, one piece that fits uniquely into the larger puzzle. I love those combined feelings: alone and yet part of the big picture.
3. They. Have. Everything.
The library I'm a patron to now is absolutely huge. They have a section for every interest and an easy to use online catalog for finding exactly what I want (or ordering it from another library on the off chance that they don't!). I tend to frequent the YA and humanities sections, but I always take an opportunity to wander other sections if time allows. Getting lost in the stacks may sound cliche, but in a world where noise is so prevalent and encouraged, it's really nice to slip back into the quiet rows for a little while.
I've also been a patron at smaller libraries (like the one in my hometown) and even that tiny library had so many titles that are new to me and super interesting. My point is that not every library has to be huge to be lovable or have a good selection, but I am very grateful to have access to a large library.
Overall, libraries have added a lot of extra beauty to my life. I wouldn't take back a minute that I've spent at my library for anything.
There are dozens of other reasons that I love libraries, but now I'd like to hear yours! Share a positive memory or experience you had at your library in the comments and let's chat!
The holidays put a lot of stress on the general public. It's hard to keep up with all the places you're supposed to be, people you should buy gifts for, and food you're supposed to cook. It's stressful, I know! I, for one, am trying my hardest to simplify life this December. I'm choosing to set boundaries and stick to them - including a gift budget!
If you're looking for some easy gifts that will keep you stress-free and on a budget this year, I some ideas for the book lovers in your life. Knowing you have to fill so many stockings can leave you wracking your brain about what to buy, but hopefully, my ideas help! I can tell you from experience that I definitely enjoyed receiving these items as gifts!
My favorite thing about reading lights is that they’re easier on my eyes than a lamp or overhead light. A good booklight makes it easy to read when other people are sleeping in the room. I've used them on family vacations or when I want to hang out in the living room and finish my book but the rest of the house wants to go to bed. A booklight could probably also be used on nighttime road trips if the light isn’t excessively bright.
Personally, I didn’t know how useful book lights were until I got one as a gift one Christmas and started using it. Now it’s one of my favorite gifts I’ve ever gotten (although the original one I received from my mom ran out of life a long time ago). Using my booklight helps me feel a little more comfortable and a little cozier while I'm relaxing and enjoying my next book.
Bookmarks are a super practical gift for the book lover in your life, but magnetic bookmarks are even better. The magnet on the back makes it easier for readers to keep their place in the book they're currently loving. It won't fall out easily, and it's harder to accidentally knock out of the book than a normal bookmark. This is definitely important if your bookish friend carries their novel around with them. It can also be helpful for people who have to deal with pets knocking belongings over, have small kids running around the house, or just want a little extra cuteness in their life. Some super cute magnetic bookmarks are available from the Etsy shop linked above (FunUsualSuspects).
Notebooks are handy things for most people to have around. Making list, budget planning, and journaling are all practical reason that someone may be happy to receive an extra notebook. It's always good to have an extra one lying around for when you run out of pages. But bookish people, in particular, seem to really enjoy receiving notebooks. I assume it's because many readers are also writers or journalers and that's wonderful! There are so many cute notebooks out there, and a fair amount of styles to choose from. I prefer large, unlined notebooks. The completely blank pages help me feel more in control of my creativity and what I put in the journal, but a standard small, lined notebook also serves an important purpose if I want to write pages and pages of thoughts and feel that they have some sort of order. There are plenty of inexpensive options if you choose to buy this bookish gift. I've linked one above from Target.
The coupons book lovers can get from these companies are worth the membership alone, but the extra percentage you get off at B&N and BAM with memberships makes it a killer deal if you’re someone who buys books on a regular basis. If your favorite bookish person doesn't live near either of these stores, that's okay. Most chain bookstores offer some kind of paid membership for extra benefits and most likely all you'll have to do is peek at the retailer's website to find details.
These memberships are the pricier options on this gift list, but they're not outrageous. My B&N membership costs about $25 a year. It's an item that sometimes seems too frivolous to buy for myself, but when it comes to a gift for someone else, that's exactly the quality you want to look for. Would they love this and put it to use but won't buy it for themselves? Sounds like a great gift idea to me!
Book Outlet is an online bargain bookseller that list all of their books at a 50%-90% discount. A gift card for Book Outlet is a great gift because not only can the gift receiver take advantage of some crazy deals, they can also get twice as many books as they would at the average bookstore chain. That means your gift goes twice as far and makes them twice as happy! Plus, I guarantee your book lover will spend even more than their gift card amount. Book Outlet is that good!
Those are my 5 bookish gift ideas! If they helped you nail down your Christmas list at all, let me know! Remember to take it easy and don't let the rush and expectations of this season get you down or make you miss out on the whole point of this time - to slow down, enjoy the walk, and celebrate the people around you.
I hope your days are merry and bright this December.
There's something about the season changing that reminds me that anything is possible. It doesn't matter if it's spring to summer or fall to winter, the change in temperature and the change in nature makes a smile creep up on my lips and I can't help grinning at the world around me.
I have a tendency to get stagnant. I abuse my go-to activities. I work, I read, I watch Youtube, and other than a few days out of the week that I spend with my boyfriend or family, there is little variation in my daily activities.
It's like my brain was made to dig ruts.
I have a difficult time refreshing my mind and truly relaxing, and I think a lot of it has to do with the environment I create for myself. I don't change things up often enough, but when I do (or when I'm forced to notice the changes around me due to the seasons shifting), I feel so incredibly light. The weighty feelings seem to wash away as the sunlight moves over them at a new angle.
Lately, I've found myself longing for this summer to end. Where I live, the cool air is just beginning to settle in. I feel as if it's drug on too long even though I'm used to drawn out summers and used to enjoy them quite a bit. At the beginning of May, I was so quick to say, "I have a whole summer in front of me. Look at the possibilities!" Even if I had to make the opportunities for myself, I was going to experience something new and experience it fully.
Somewhere between the unopened job applications and the rejection letters, though, I got bogged down. I've always hated the feeling of falling behind, of knowing that my peers were doing exactly what I wanted to do and that they may even be taking it for granted. It's been a frustrating summer, and although I know exactly why I made the decision to veer off the course I was on, I feel very, very lost at times. You can hold the map and know where the main road is, but still have no idea how to get out of the uncharted swamps.
If my life has been marked by anything, it has been the fact that I've had to do nearly everything on my own. For many of my expeditions, I have had no one to go before me and show me the way. Sometimes I consider it a blessing, sometimes a curse. I was a first generation college graduate. I learned about financial aid and navigated two different college campuses alone. I started grad school completely on my own in the midst of settling into my first apartment which I studied the lease for and signed for on my own. These aren't uncommon things to do, but I've often envied the support I see my peers receiving when I'm just trying to get my feet out of the mud and keep moving.
I am longing for the new sensations of fall. I'm ready to tread the sea of leaves and finally slip a jacket over my shoulders. I'm ready to appreciate the new. I'm ready to usher in the change. This is an entirely new feeling for me. I will be present for it. And this may be the autumn where everything changes in my life. You never know.
Poet. Reader. Lifelong Student.