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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Create a New Story & Live It

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I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about meditation, mantras, and visualizing goals. I keep reading about mental blocks and holding yourself back from the things that you want and the things you deserve because of patterned thoughts and “stories”– the things we tell ourselves to keep us from going for something. We tell ourselves that we will never have money because we’ve always been broke or we’ll never find love because we’ve never been worthy or never had it before. We take the same paths over and over again because we don’t believe we can take another. It isn’t always about blazing a trail but simply taking a left instead of a right.

I get asked a lot where all my energy comes from. How do I get up early, how do I write at night after work, how do I have a dog… etc. etc. And while I sometimes thought I was just a high energy person by nature, I realized it’s really because I believe I am a high energy person.

Did I lose you right there? Wait! Stay with me.

I know this stuff can sound weird and can scare the living hell out of you but listen… just stop and think about the things you have always just assumed about yourself “I am just a nice person”, “I am just a lazy person”, “I am a math person”. Where did those things come from? You made them up! Or someone told you were good (or bad) at something and you believed them and created your story from it. We naturally want to do the things we are good at and avoid the things we are “bad” at, I get it. Life is easier that way. But what if the you you are now, is based on a series of stories that you wrote for yourself?

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To prove my point I’m going to break down a couple of my stories, both good and bad.

I Am Not A Math Person. Numbers bore me.
This is a story I started telling myself in the 7th grade. What’s funny is that I was in the “gifted” math group in the 5th grade, but it took just a couple of years of consistently being told I was a great writer, that I’d publish a book one day, and that math was my weakest subject, to reject the whole thing all together. No one explained to me that though it was my “weakest” subject, I was still very much “good” at it. I believed what I was told and leaned into my writing and let my math muscle deteriorate. Combined with two unhelpful middle school math teachers who laughed at wrong answers, and of course, puberty, I rejected the whole notion that I could ever be good at math or science and by the time I hit the 9th grade I lived in perpetual fear of it.

And then I had a wonderful Chemistry teacher who was TOUGH on everyone. She was this way because she believed we could do anything we worked for. I spent hours after class with her going over formulas again and again until I could do the most difficult problems she wrote. I worked my ass off and got an A. Because she believed in me, because she made me focus, and because she made me work as hard as she knew I could.

It still took me some time after that, years and years of undoing the bad story, but here I am, working at a company, doing math, handling my own finances, figuring shit out. The stories we tell ourselves are sticky but they can be unstuck if we focus and move past our setbacks.

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I am high energy. I don’t require sleep.
When I got to be about 16 years old and was forced to work my ass off at boarding school (a school that I was getting a free ride to and thus was in perpetual fear of getting tossed out) I told myself that I required little sleep. I worked a part-time job, I stayed up late doing homework, I had a boyfriend, friends, extracurricular activities, started playing sports…I jam packed my days and found that if I pushed outside of myself, the energy was there. The same went for college, I pushed my limits, always feeling a heightened awareness that college was going to end and that I needed to soak up as many experiences as I could. I went to parties, I took lots of weird classes, I worked as an RA, I said “I can do it all” because I truly believed I was that type of person. If I pushed, I found the energy for it all just outside my comfort zone.

Flash forward to me as an adult trying to do as much as I did in college but adding in new responsibilities: rent, a dog, full-time job, bills, navigating NYC, cleaning my apartment… At times I would come to a screeching hault all of a sudden and realize “Maybe I can’t do it all.” But I had always been that person, I had always told myself I could do it all. And the moment that belief faltered, so did my ability to do the things I wanted to do.

It took me a few years (yes, years) to right this ship. It took learning a new way of doing things and getting things done to get there. I went through months and months of stress and of simply doing it all wrong. I tried to apply what I knew in college to my new life and that failed miserably. And now I do believe I can do it all, just in a different way.

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I absolutely know what you’re thinking right now. Really! You’re thinking that this can’t possibly be true, that there are things standing in your way but just remember, someone who was born with more than you has fallen and someone born with less than you has risen. It’s all a matter of perspective and of creating stories for yourself that fit. If you secretly wish you were “A Morning Person”… Tell yourself you are, set your alarm like you are, GET OUT OF BED like you are. If you wish you were kinder. Tell yourself you are, do kind things, enjoy the feeling that comes from doing kind things!

I’m not saying this cut and dry and I am not saying it is easy. It actually kind of sucks most of the time. Re-writing your story is HARD. But like… what else are you doing with your time here?

The Perfect Project Recipe

DeathtoStock_Medium5Hey! Funny story… I still haven’t figured out how to balance all of the writing projects I want to take on… and my mind is getting a little clouded by the whole charade. I now keep lists of both, the projects I have in progress, and of all the projects I’d like to get going on as soon as humanly possible. The biggest challenge of course is taking on work that pays versus working on my own personal writing. The personal stuff doesn’t make me any money (not yet, anyway) but it feeds my soul in a way that some projects cannot. I am always choosing between the two.

It’s funny how the writing I do at home started as a way to keep my brain alive while working an office job, but even that has divided itself into writing work that gets me paid and writing work that makes me happy. I should point out that the two are not always mutually exclusive and I am much happier writing above all else, but somehow I have once again made the work/pleasure divide in my life and once AGAIN work is getting most of my attention.

Perhaps it is because money is easily measurable. I feel accomplished each week because I’m receiving some pay, even if it is tiny. The pay arrives and marks the end of a long work week, a job well done. It is proof that I worked hard and I worked well. Writing for myself is only measurable by word count and often those words make my skin crawl.  

Little by little though I find a way to chip away at the unnecessary and find tricks or methods that allow me to accomplish just a little bit more each week. You see, a flaw of mine, that hardly seems like a flaw upfront, is that I like to “get stuff out of the way”. I’d rather spend four hours one night on a project from beginning to end to get it out the door then dedicate a slot and move on to something else that needs my attention.

The problem here of course is that work that is regular (this blog, freelance, etc.) gets put in front of all my other endeavors (essays for lit mags, poetry, etc.) almost constantly. For example, I haven’t worked on any personal essays in ages and they are where my true passion lies. I should instead, evenly split my time to the best of my ability and finish these things in tandem alongside my personal projects.

The fight for balance continues but I promise you that I will find a method that works for a scatter-brained girl like me and I’ll share the secret sauce with you. I am determined to get the Perfect Project Recipe to get anything and everything you’ve ever wanted done.

Come In and Know Me Better, Man

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Ugh, I knew this was going to be a tough one to write but I have to do it. It’s the next step in this little evolution I’m experiencing right now. So here it is…

I’m a super jealous person.

Oh my god, I can’t believe that’s in print now, but here we go!

I’m a super jealous person, it’s my worst character trait, and I hate it. I wish my first instinct when someone has something really great happen to them was not to wonder what I’m doing wrong and what they’re doing right and if I’ll ever have that “thing” happen to me. But it is and it’s exhausting.

I am sure my sense of jealousy stems from my tendency to constantly compare and contrast everything that I am presented with. I’m a tiny bit… analytical. So when I see ANYTHING, anything at all, I want to know how it happened, how it works, and how I can do the same thing. It’s weird but I’m like a super smart Chimpanzee or a four year old — I want to know how everything works so I can make it mine.

The good news is that I know this about myself. I can now recognize it when it happens and control it. I tell my brain stuff like, “Calm down, wow.” “This is great for them, be happy, weirdo.” I channel my jealousy into fuel to work harder on myself and my own projects and then I take a few minutes to think about the person, the thing, and I always realize in the end, “This is really awesome. I am so happy for them.” It just takes me longer than the average bear to come to this conclusion. I’m fighting my natural state. And I’m hoping by doing so that it won’t be my natural state anymore.

I’m curious… what would you say is your biggest character flaw? How do you fight it? Or do you not? Tell me, tell me. I’m monkey who wants to know stuff!

And Now the Words are Bubbling Up…

“And if you don’t live, you have nothing to write about.” – Maynard James Keenan

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything for the blog, mostly because I’ve been out there in the real world dealing with so many “adult” things I think my head may explode. The great news is that I have been feeling inspired to write creatively again and I’ve been writing every day.

I couldn’t tell you why paying my bills, taking care of my dog on my own, dating, working, freelancing, and traveling extensively have fused together to make me feel poetry again, but they have. I think it has to do with the fact that instead of putting so much pressure into the page and into my future with the page, I’ve been applying that intense pressure to my actual life. And now the words are bubbling up.

I haven’t felt like writing poetry in years and yet here I have been writing poems in my tiny red journal. The first day I put the pen down to write a poem was about a month ago. I went to Brooklyn Bookfest, as I always do, to attend panels, to lurk at the stands of my favorite literary magazines, and to soak up the energy that comes from being surrounded by people who love the sweet pain of writing too.

I attended a panel with my favorite contemporary author Nick Flynn (Another Bullshit Night in Suck City) called “Poets Looking Back.” He sat with Ada Limon, Cate Marvin, and Gregory Pardlo to talk about their collections of poetry and how they use their personal experiences to shape their writing.

I have always loved Nick Flynn as a non-fiction writer because of his fluidity and choppy chapters. His non-fiction is very much influenced by poetry and by rhythm. I have always aspired to be so cool with my words. Beautiful and well-crafted, sure, but man, do I want to be as cool as Nick Flynn.

Being at the panel I started thinking about my own writing and passions. It was very powerful for me to hear from successful poets who combine non-fiction and poetry in such an open and honest way. I feel like I’ve always been afraid to do this upfront, that the two are different, never to be entangled. The Romeo and Juliet of a writing life. I think also we were always taught in school to keep them separate because in poetry you can stretch any truth and in non-fiction you have to be true. Blurring the lines was dangerous and often, not allowed.

It’s silly how I’ve let an education from 15 years ago change the way I write. Silly and embarrassing. But this is how we grow. This is how we change how we write. And this is how we change how we live.

Each poet read a poem, and even though I came for the Flynn, I stayed for the Limon and wound purchasing both of their books of poetry. Flynn’s “My Feelings”, and Limon’s “Bright Dead Things”. I was obsessed with the poem that Limon read, straightforward, sexual, powerful, and knew I had to have the book.

Since that day, I have written poetry almost every day. Most of it is terrible, as I clean off all my rusty hinges, but I have to say, it feels like the words have found a place in me again. And I have missed them.