January Book Round-Up

Hey everyone! I have always wanted to share book reviews on here but I never really felt like I had place or voice to do so. Then I realized that’s all bullshit and any of us can do whatever we want as long as what we’re putting out in the world is honest, coming from a place of love, and the best work we can possibly do.

Yes! I am finally starting to embrace what this blog is all about. Only took me like 3 years.

So starting now I’ll be sharing brief reviews and synopses from the books I read every month. I am warning you now– I never stick to one genre, author, or theme. I read all over the place, all the time. There MAY be an uptick of Western stuff in the coming months as I research a project of mine, but that’s about it.

BNBlue Nights – Joan Didion

Blue Nights picks up where The Year of Magical Thinking left off. Both are memoirs of grief that Didion captures with heartfelt honesty and clarity. In Blue Nights Didion floods light into every dark memory and turns over each happy memory again and again like a stone. We are very much in her mind, rattling through her thoughts with her, no matter how repetitive or meditative. Personally, I love The Year of Magical Thinking more because of its depth and narrative, but it is easy to do that. To enjoy Blue Nights you must be willing to do the work alongside her. It’s tough but rewarding.

 

bedWomen in Bed: Nine Stories – Jessica Keener

Lately I’ve been giving short stories a whirl. After buying Roxanne Gay’s recent collection, I remembered the things I loved about the form and have decided to return. (I left because they reminded me of poorly structured school assignments…) Jessica Keener’s collection of stories follows women of all walks facing changes both in their control and not. The first of my favorite stories, “Boarders”, tells the story of a college-aged woman living in a boarding house with elderly men while sorting out her dating life. It highlights how we often seek shelter in the wrong places. My other favorite, “Recovery”, is the heartbreaking tale of sudden death and survival and how we don’t always have the answers we need. The depth of pain in this story is contrasted against the stark hospital surroundings and left me deeply moved. Some of the characters lose depth from time to time, but overall it was an engaging read.

 

Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmithstrangers

How I missed this one until now is it’s own mystery. (See what I did there?) Many of you will know this story from Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the same name. I also haven’t seen the movie so being able to read the book prior to doing so (I am definitely going to now) was a real treat. At first I felt like the story started out slow and I was getting a tiny bit frustrated with the sedate and steady unfolding. How wrong I was! Highsmith builds a wild, important world and all that slow sharing really pays off in the end. This is a crime novel like nothing I’ve read and really focuses on how ordinary people can be driven to commit crimes they never imagined they could. I am obsessed with how Highsmith weaves this story and keeps you on board until the end. Incredible book to pick up ASAP.

 

elephant-vanishesThe Elephant Vanishes – Haruki Murakami (Translated by Jay Rubin & Alfred Birnbaum)

Before this collection of short stories the only book by Murakami I had read was his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running which I read during my giant memoir phase. At this time, I was also super interested in writer’s working schedules and routines and how they incorporated fitness. I loved the ease with which he wrote that story and was interested to see how it would play into fiction. Fast forward a couple years to now–I’m on my short story kick and the boyfriend owns this one. Win! Murakami’s stories are enticing, and weird, and sexy all at the same time. No two stories are the same, though there are lots of reoccurring themes, and I didn’t have trouble getting on board with the more sci-fi level stuff. However, there are few female characters I identify with, and a couple times questioned how he represents women in his work, but overall the language and storytelling were unique and powerful.

Can’t wait to share new books with you next month. Let me know what you think of this new section and you can keep up with my reading list DAILY by following me on Goodreads! CLICK HERE.

 

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Do Less to Get More Done

focus

Three years ago I made a note to myself in my journal. I had been reading something–an article or a book– and wanted to boil down what I had read to a mantra.

The entry says this:

Work when you are working.
Relax when you are relaxing.
Write when you are writing.

And it is something I try to keep at the top of my mind every day. At the time, I was trying to do it ALL. I kept my days loaded with To-Dos and appointments and I would beat myself up mercilessly if I didn’t get it all done. I was overloaded and scattered — I got very little done for years. (Not an exaggeration. I drove myself crazy.)

I was busy for the sake of busy. Which I see as a silent epidemic in the US. We’re expected to be super fit, eat healthy, go to work, have a side gig, have a romantic partner, party all the time, have a nice home, have another side gig, have a hobby, volunteer, save money… this is a list that could probably go on forever. I thought that if I wasn’t busy, if I wasn’t part of the “hustle”, I was failing.

Projects fell apart. I spent more time making to-do lists than actually getting anything done and felt tired and overanxious most of the time. I really wanted to be perfect, or close to it, and of course it all came crashing down almost as fast as I put it up. It took a lot of time for me to realize that by not focusing on the present moment and present project, that I was ineffective and often times, rude to those around me.

less-is-more

Instead of picking a date night with my significant other and sticking to it, I’d try to squeeze in a couple of hours of work before or after our “date” so the day wasn’t a “waste.” When I was at work, I was distracted by everything I had to do when I got home. When I got home I was distracted by everything I couldn’t get done at work.

I was an inefficient wreck.

I was prescribed to the “do more” movement and I was a whack job. It took a lot of time to unravel myself from this mindset, to love myself unconditionally and allow myself to be a human. Humans need rest. Humans need love. Humans need to unwind after a terrible day or week. I had to allow myself to “do some of it” and be okay with that.

My little mantra can be shortened into one word and it is this: FOCUS.

By being present to the task at hand you are able to finish it faster and at a higher level of quality than if you try to multi-task it with another or if you are distracted and distant. In the past I told myself, “Write today, all day.” Which was unrealistic and I got very little done. Now I tell myself, “You have 30 minutes. Turn off the phone and go for it.” I get more done in a shorter amount of time because I am tuned in.

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Also, another remarkable change was giving myself time to rest and recharge. To be lazy. To sleep in. To take a day off from the gym. When I am well-rested and happy my projects are easier to tackle. Slogging through a day at the office after four hours of sleep was hardly efficient and I had no energy when I got home to do a single chore or write a single line of text.

I know, trust me I KNOW, this is going to go against everything you feel is right. It’s going to take time to relax. It’s going to take so much time to be okay with not doing it all. It feels weird. I’ve been there. But I promise you, by doing less and FOCUSING on each individual task at hand, you are going to get so much more done and be so happy because of it.

Guest Post: Why I Fear Happiness

I will not gab here for long, because the guest posts are for other voices. But I just wanted to say: hurrah! My very first Cheap Courage guest post. YOU COULD BE NEXT. Just drop me a line! And now without further ado… “Why I Fear Happiness”:

img_20161009_120902054I could talk your ear off about Ireland.

My second semester my sophomore year in college, I lived in Cork for five months to study abroad. On a brisk January morning I found myself in a taxi with a man with an accent too thick to decipher, two red and white polka dot suitcases, and some scribbled instructions from my father on how to find my apartment. I knew no one and tried to wear a confident, albeit terrified and tired, smile as I entered the worst apartment I’d ever live in.

What followed was five months that, as every cliche about studying abroad goes, “changed me forever.” I stumbled between pubs and classes, fell in love for the first time, traveled 8 countries over 30 days with my roommates, and found I was a person I actually quite enjoyed. My anxiety stayed at bay and my depression never seemed to take hold while overseas.

It was every montage sequence you find in a grainy sepia-toned coming of age film about 20-somethings trying to find their way. It was chaotic and hard and therapeutic and exhaustingly beautiful. When I got back to the states though, it took me years to find that person again and more or less, I never recaptured that frenzied happiness I had once felt.

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Molly at 20 in Ireland

Three weeks ago, my husband Luke and I boarded a plane headed to Ireland for our honeymoon. Us picking Ireland as a honeymoon destination was a decision made on a lucky find with a cheap airline back in March. It wasn’t until we took the train from Dublin down to Cork and taxied through the city that it started to feel real.

The next few days, next to the day I married Luke, were the happiest I’ve ever been. My cheeks frequently hurt from smiling too much and my slight Irish accent came back within days. Unlike my college town, the city of Cork hadn’t changed in the nearly six years since I had lived there. The hot chocolate shop still stood, as popular with locals as ever, and the famous chipper was still serving bags of greasy chips. The pub I used to frequent still had the same white daisy painted over the blue exterior. Even the table configurations inside were the same.

We took trains around the county of Cork and on our last day ventured out to Doolin to hike the Cliffs of Moher. While I had lived in Ireland, I joined a mountaineering club (mainly to meet Irish men but that’s beside the point) and seeing the Irish cliff sides again brought everything back. It brought me back. I was 20 again and confused but also deliriously happy about the freedom that being away from home can only give you.

But I wasn’t back. I stood on a mossy tuft of grass and looked out over the sea. We had taken a picture together moments before and when I looked at it, I could see my forehead wrinkles. I had smile lines. My hair was longer but slightly less thick. I also was thinner but different.

This was different.

I was now 25 and married. I lived just beyond the city limits of Chicago with Luke and our aging dog who didn’t quite understand she was aging. I had a stable job. I was happy.

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Luke and Molly, the newlyweds

I’m not a fan of happiness. It’s weird to see that written out but it’s honest. Happiness is fleeting, it’s inconsistent, it’s never permanent. It’s a hope, not a promise. When you finally start to feel happy, that’s when you should be afraid because now you have something tangible to lose. I didn’t realize how happy I was in my life until I stood in the October air of County Clare but now I’m do. And now I’m afraid.

Most of my life I’ve been unhappy. I don’t know if most people would gather that as words are easy enough to hide behind. I talk about myself in vague, self-deprecating ways so no one delves deeper. I talk constantly about anything and everything so people don’t question me for fear that I’ll never stop talking. I can remember two concrete times in my life I could call happy: those winter and spring months of 2011 and the past couple years.

I don’t know what to do with happy. It feels like something palpable I should be able to hold tightly. I remember my flight home from Ireland back when I was 20 and how scared I was. It was like emerging from this contained segment of my life and desperately wanting to hold onto who I had found. What I had found. I had figured it all out and nothing would ever be bad again. I remember crying the second the wheels touched down in Milwaukee. The pressure behind my head built and I was nauseous. Somehow, I felt I had to let go. In the coming months I’d fake my way back into sorority life and be more miserable than I’d been in years.

Recognizing happiness is like when you’re in a horror movie and thinking about the monster is what makes it more powerful. If I recognize I’m happy and draw attention to it, that’s what will be the end, or so my brain keeps telling me.

When the plane touched down in Toronto from Dublin, Luke and I scrambled through the airport, desperately trying to get through customs as fast as possible during our short 1 and a half hour layover. We made it just in time to our plane to Chicago. We laughed the way you do when you’re tired but also relieved. He squeezed my hand and kissed my sweaty forehead. As the plane took off and we headed back to Chicago, I reached out and grabbed a hold of his thigh.

This time when we landed back home, I didn’t want to let go.


img_20160612_124208-1Molly Sisson, 25, graduated in 2013 from University of Iowa with a BA in English and a focus in Creative Writing. She attended University College Cork for a semester in the spring of 2011. Following college, she fell into a career in finance and currently resides in Oak Park, IL with her husband, Luke, and their overly energetic dog, Lucy. She spends most of her free time reading listicles, binging entire series on Netflix, and eating lots of macarons. She sporadically posts blog entries on her blog: http://awriterswordvomit.blogspot.com/.

Call For Guest Bloggers

I am so excited to announce that Cheap Courage is now accepting guest bloggers!

woohoo

Below you will find your basic standards for post submissions… these are the things that will make it easier for me to vet writing and schedule posts. The most important thing is that the post reflect the Cheap Courage lifestyle. That means it is not only a reflection of your life so far, but most importantly, it’s all about doing NEW stuff! The stuff that scares you. Write about anything and everything but keep the heart of this blog in mind. 

We are here to grow. We are here to challenge ourselves. We are here to laugh. We are here to find our courage when all hope is lost.

That’s it! Follow the submission guidelines below and you’re golden!

  • Read the Cheap Courage About page to familiarize yourself with what I do here.
  • Spin around in a circle.
  • If you would prefer to pitch before you write a post, please do the following: 
    • Write a 3-5 sentence pitch about the post and why it’s a good fit for Cheap Courage.
    • Send me one other blog (or essay or journal entry or love letter… anything so I know you have a fairly decent grasp of the English language) to read.
    • Write a nice bio.
    • Put it all in an e-mail to me at kusekamanda@gmail.com with the subject line: “I have Cheap Courage and that makes me brave”.
  • If you have a post written and you’d like me to share it, please do the following:
    • Send me only original posts, I am happy to link to your site, your Instagram, your dog’s Facebook, whatever! But I will only take originals.
    • Keep the post between 500-1,000 words. 800 tends to be a personal sweet spot I love.
    • Write a nice bio.
    • Put it all in an e-mail to me at kusekamanda@gmail.com with the subject line: “I have Cheap Courage and that makes me brave”.

I absolutely, positively cannot wait to start working with all of you!

6 Books To Make You Feel Strong

Can you hear that? That’s me sighing so deeply that the roof is rattling. The past two weeks have been trying, tiring, and… good for my character. Two weeks ago I received a promotion at my day job. This was a position that I had been chasing for two years relentlessly. And now it’s here. And now it’s mine. And now I am hella tired.

Adjusting to my new role has, on the surface, been alright, I feel like I am where I need to be finally… however, I come home exhausted, I work later, and my balance of life has been thrown for a loop. It’s amazing how small changes affect our entire being.

At the same time as my promotion I really hurt a tendon in my left leg and had to stop training for my half marathon. I am unable to run. Running is my main source of stress relief so not only have I found myself coping with new issues but I do not have my usual coping tools available to me. It’s been a weird September.

I found myself going back to my bookshelf for comfort. Reading books I read a decade ago for the first time, to help relax me. I wanted to find a center and I hoped it would be in those pages. I read Kerouac’s On The Road, Hornby’s High Fidelity, and I’ve been eyeing my Fitzgerald collection (I own all of his books) with a hunger I usually reserve for pizza.

As a result of using texts to soothe me, where I would normally use my body, I’ve put together a list of books that have made me feel strong in the past and that deserve a re-read. I’m hoping you too will pick up on of these books and feel strong and centered.

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