Turning to books to fill the holes in my knowledge

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Mostly, I consider myself pretty well-read. I’ve continually had a book, with a bookmark in it, since I was in the first or second grade. I slowed down a little in high school and college because homework, but let’s be real–I haven’t not been reading a novel since I was like 8.

And yet, I am always, constantly, consistently floored by how poorly read I am. There is so much good stuff, so much important stuff that is missing from my “read” list, in part because it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, and when your favorite author has penned “at least 98” books, it’s really easy to read just him.

Thanks, Google.

Long ago, I made a rule that I wasn’t allowed to read more than one Stephen King book in a row, and as a result, I am NOT through my favorite author’s oeuvre. Which is great. I keep all my King books on their own shelf, and I keep my books-to-read on their own shelf. And by “shelf” I mean “separate book cabinet that is overflowing because I have a book-buying problem that I don’t ever want to solve.”

My last four reads

But that’s not to say I fill in the non-King spaces with good, quality literature. I primarily read to be entertained. Now that I’ve taken a stab at writing my own books, I especially appreciate a perfectly drawn phrase, a perfectly worded graph–which tends to point me toward “good” books. But not always: Aside from King, I favor memoirs and, lately, women’s fiction. And it’s easy for my books to be a little … well … white-washed. Lots of characters that resemble me–physically, personally, socioeconomically. Most of what I read was written in this millennium.

There’s something to be said for making a conscience effort to dip into literature that is new, that is unlike me, that doesn’t feel familiar or slip right on like a favorite pair of fuzzy socks: Simply put, it makes us look at things difference, to consider them in a new way.

A few years back, a friend gave me an, as she called it, Clit Lit curriculum, covering  women’s books through the decades starting in the 1950s. I read

  1. The Best of Everything,” by Rona Jaffe (1958)
  2. Valley of the Dolls,” by Jacqueline Susann (1966)
  3. Hollywood Wives,” by Jackie Collins (1983)
    (I apparently missed the ’70s novel? What the heck.)

I was a fascinating look into what was important to women in those years, into how they were treated in the work place and by men.

This year, I’ve been on a race kick, seeking out books about black characters and/or by black authors:

It’s not enough, I know, to submerge myself in mid-century feminism or black literature for a month in a half and say “Look how much I’ve learned!!” It’s not about that. It’s about identifying what’s missing for me–in my education, in my reading list, in my experience–and trying to fix that. These aren’t permanent fixes; reading a couple books isn’t going to make someone any more than a novice in women’s lib or the black experience. But I think it helps.

I often think about that study that came out a few years back that found reading literature can make us more empathetic. (The excerpt below is from Time.)

… (I)ndividuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective. This link persisted even after the researchers factored in the possibility that more empathetic individuals might choose to read more novels.

Oh, sure, it’s not a cure for ignorance, but it gets me to stop and think about something I might not have considered before. That can’t be a bad thing.

I’m currently reading something a little lighter, a palate cleanser, but I’d love to know what you read when you need something meaty. Smart. Something to make you see things differently.

I think I like the choker necklace trend, especially because it was Grandma Clela’s

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I’m wearing a choker today.

I think I like it. I think I’m OK with it. But it’s a trend I never thought I’d get behind.

When they were popular in the ’90s, I was a solid “WTH, those are hideous, stop it.” When they came back this season, my tune had not changed.

But then my friend Jackie rocked one on Instagram, and it looked so beautiful, and I said … MaaaaybeThen she did it again, and I said, OK, fine.

My husband’s grandmother passed away a few months after I met him, and when his grandfather passed away this summer, when it came time to sell their house, a box of his grandmother’s costume jewelry made it to my in-laws’. My mother-in-law, sister-in-law, nieces, and I all went through it. I spied a choker, gold, that no one else wanted and thought, Well, even if this fails, it was Grandma Clela’s.

I deigned to wear it today. Seemed to go with the wide neck on my navy dress and pulled back hair. I love wearing vintage jewelry and thinking about the last time it made an appearance. When did Grandma Clela (that name kills me … Clela) last wear it? Did she party? Go out with friends? Did her man take her on a hot date? (I wish my inaugural wearing of it was something more exciting than, “Um, I went to work.”)

Be nice to me, my selfie game sucks ass. I’m mostly OK with that, as I’m not 23, but ugh.

I think I like it. I wondered if it’d get uncomfortable–I’m more of a tiny charm on an 18-inch chain necklace wearer, the kind of necklace that you put on and promptly forget about. But you can’t forget about a choker–it’s too close to the skin. I feel it each time I turn my neck or even when I just sit there. But it doesn’t irritate me. And I feel like it might be making me keep my head up, my neck straight.

I’m pretty open about trying new trends, even if I don’t love them at first (obviously). I figure, if I fail, it’s only a day, who cares? But I might be officially on this train.

Anyone else riding with me? Any other trends you’re on-the-fence about?

(Just for funsies, I hopped on Claires.com to see what chokers they had, because duh, and the entire site is buy one, get one free. I like these two. I also snooped around on Etsy and OMG look at this Harry Potter snitch one. My iries have turned into tiny hearts. Actually, if you’re interested, look around that shop–there are a bunch of amazing styles in there.)

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST!!!

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I was in second or third grade when the animated “Beauty and the Beast” hit theaters, so I was basically its target audience. I think that makes this nearly 34-year-old the target audience of the live action film that came out Friday, too. (At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.)

I NEVER see movies on opening weekend. I hate the crowds and have no interest in camping out for an hour for decent seats. Neither was an issue this weekend because, well, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. I went with a friend and her son, and we got there so early, the previous movie hadn’t even let out yet. And we’re not talking “It had five minutes left.” It had a good 20 minutes to go.

The movie largely followed the cartoon’s story line, with a few delightful changes. (And yes, that means SPOILER ALERT. If you don’t want to hear about the changes, move on, sweet one.)

  1. The opening scenes. We see the human prince at a ball. Folks in the nearby town hate him but love his parties, so they use him for the excuse to get dressed up and dazzle. After the refuses to help the enchantress-as-beggar, which causes the whole kerfuffle to begin with, we learn that the entire town completely forgets about the prince and the castle–which makes for a particular problem for the castle staff who is married to townspeople.
  2. Maurice! I adore doddering old Maurice in the cartoon, and Kevin Kline actually improves upon him. The townspeople think he’s doddering only because of his later claims of the beast, but before this, he keeps quietly to himself. He is a doting father, but he still grieves his wife; it’s the one story he cannot bring himself to tell Belle.
  3. The beast gets a personality! This was easily my favorite added detail in the live-action film. When he gifts Belle his sexyass library, they actually discuss literature. They carefully flirt, and each realizes that there’s more to the other. During their long winter walks, they’re not just silently eyeballing the other but learning about the other. It really helps with that whole Stockholm thing.
  4. The beast shows Belle an additional trinket gifted by the enchantress to taunt him: a map that will take him wherever he wishes to go. Belle uses it to return to the home of her childhood, where she learns what happened to her mother.
  5. Morons are losing their shit over LeFou and his one-second dance with a man. After all the build up, I was insanely disappointed with how short the scene was. They don’t even show LeFou’s face during the dance, just the fellow he dances with. I got more of a gay vibe during the song “Gaston,” when LeFou sings, “And they’ll tell you whose team they prefer to be on …”
  6. The household object stars are Lumière and Maestro Cadenza. The latter, I hardly remember from the cartoon. Cogsworth is in a bunch of scenes, but he doesn’t have nearly as large a role as he did in the cartoon. Which is too bad. It’s Ian Freaking McKellen, man.

The best lines:

  • “Do you think you can grow a beard?”
  • “Someone turn me back into a clock, please.”
  • “Have you really read all of these books?” “No. Some of them are in Greek.”
  • “What’s your name?” “That’s a hairbrush.”

Anyone else see the flick this weekend? How much did you love it???

I don’t wear green on St. Patrick’s Day

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I am not a girl who’s too cool to worry about being lame during holidays; I am the master of Christmas. I love Easter bunnies. I decorate the tiny purple tree in my office with hearts every Valentine’s Day.

But come St. Patrick’s Day, you will not find me in any green.

There I am, not bein’ Irish in DC last year. Because I was curious, I looked up FDR’s ancestry, too: He was primarily Dutch and English.

Nevermind that I’m not remotely Irish (just look at me–do I LOOK like I could possibly be Irish?), I know the day isn’t really for Irish people. Instead, it’s that I sometimes still have the personality of an 8-year-old, and you’re not the boss of me.

When I was in Catholic grade school, even though we wore tiny plaid navy uniforms, it was Such A Thing to wear some green on St. Patrick’s Day. But I didn’t know that when I was young; my mother is Italian, and my father is Iranian–forgive me for my ignorance about the tradition.

So on St. Patrick’s Day, all I remember is this little horde of Catholic school girls and boys, coming at me with their thumbs and pointer fingers like pincers.

“She’s not wearing green, pinch her! She’s not wearing green, pinch her!”

In my mind’s eye, I swat them all away like a cloud of gnats, but I’m sure my annoyance was much quieter than that when I was 8.

From that day on, I made a concerted effort to NOT wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.

Today, as a full-fledged grown up, when I got dressed this morning, I considered putting on my Kelly green sweater, to just go with the flow and get in on the celebration. But my inner 8-year-old won, and I’m instead wearing this melon orange shirt I just got from Old Navy.

Instead, I prefer to celebrate my yearly desire to be Irish with, of course, food. Reservations have already been made to get some corned beef in my belly. I may send it down with some Jameson.

And if anyone in the restaurant tries to pinch me, I will kick them; the bruise will eventually turn green.

See, I’m being helpful.

It’s not ‘selfish’ to put yourself first

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I started going to Weight Watchers meetings last May. It worked beautifully for me, and I not only hit my weight goal, but I maintained it for six weeks and thus had bestowed upon my head a Lifetime Membership. So long as I go to a meeting a month, it’s all free for me, including the delightful tracking app, which is a huge part of the reason I was able to lose the weight.

Another huge part of the reason I was able to lose the weight was my incredible meeting leader. She is a tiny burst of sunshine with a drop of sarcasm and a great big heart. She’s a major proponent of “You do this for YOU,” which is the only way it can work.

She was on vacation during the meeting I attended this month, though, and our sub was a new gal. Very sweet. Very excited. You can tell she was eager and wanted to be helpful.

However, she kept saying something that absolutely grated on me, and she knew it wasn’t the right thing to say, but she never changed her tune.

She lost 60 pounds on Weight Watchers. She has kids and a husband. She’s nearing menopause, and she figured, better to lose the weight NOW and focus on herself NOW than after menopause kicks in, when it’s supposed to be so much harder to lose weight.

Click the image for more.

Then she kept using that effing word I hate: That it made her selfish to focus on herself.

“Well, not selfish, that’s not what I mean … ”

“But I decided to be selfish. That’s probably not the right word …”

“It was time for me to be selfish.”

NO. NO. NO. NO. NO.

IT IS NOT SELFISH FOR A WOMAN TO MAKE HER HEALTH A PRIORITY.

IT IS NOT SELFISH FOR A WOMAN TO MAKE ANYTHING ABOUT HERSELF A PRIORITY.

It is not “almost the right word.” It is not “close to the right word.” It is not “not exactly what I mean, but close enough.”

People who go to Weight Watchers are often in a vulnerable state. It’s not comfortable to sit around a group of strangers and discuss body image. It can become comfortable, if you get yourself a good group and as your confidence grows. But if you go to Weight Watchers, it’s because you’re unhappy with an aspect about yourself. And to even imply that caring about your physical health is selfish to this group of women? Totally unacceptable.

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Now, most of the people in my group have been together since May 2016, so we are comfortable with one another. But everyone is in a different stage of weight loss: I only had 23 pounds to lose, and I did I hit that goal in November. Another woman is only six pounds away from losing 50; she doesn’t need to lose those six pounds, but she wants to be able to say “Holy shit, I lost 50 pounds.” Some women look drastically different. Some look basically the same. Some look a little different, but they’re so happy about it that they probably experienced the biggest boost in confidence of anyone.

Plus, we’re used to the message from our typical leader: That it’s not about the weight loss. That, yes, that might be the goal, but it’s about eating right and feeling good about it. It’s about becoming healthier so we can enjoy our lives more. She knows how important it is to put ourselves first before we can be any kind of a successful caretaker for anyone else.

It’s a point that’s lost on a lot of people. Like our leader stand-in.

How I’m practicing self care this semester: Massages

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While I don’t love how trendy the idea of “self care” has become (if I see “Treat yoself!” one more time, my eyeroll will get stuck like that), I do adore the concept behind it: Yes, we’re overworked. Yes, we’re over-stressed. Yes, it’s easy to put our own care on the backburner while worrying about everything and everyone else.

True confession: I have an easier time with self care than a lot of people (read: women) seem to. I don’t feel guilty when I make myself a priority. I’m pretty good at listening to my body and recognizing when I need a break. I don’t have an issue telling people “no.”

But this semester, I did something that is at least a year late: I scheduled a massage every two weeks for myself.

relax

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I have a crappy back. I can tweak it easily, which results in total immobility; I’ll wake up the morning after I turn funny or take too fierce a bit of a blueberry muffin (true story), and I can’t get out of bed. Turning my head results in excruciating pain, so I just lay there and whimper.

I think the issue is, in part, a knot I have in my right shoulder blade. It’s been there for years, and massage therapists always find it and work on it, but they say the same thing after: I didn’t have enough time to get it out. You need a regimen.

It helps that I work for a community college with an on-site massage clinic. They’re students, yes, but they’re great (the clinic is part of their coursework). So I scheduled an appointment every two weeks this semester. I’ve had two thus far. The knot isn’t gone yet, but I’m hoping it is by May.

Spelling it out like this, it seems like such a little thing: that I have a back issue, and I’m taking steps to take care of it. But it’s a huge thing for me, even though I do try my best to take care of myself. It’s a matter of taking a periodic assessment: What is missing from my life? What is making me upset? Even those of us who make this kind of care a priority still need to remind themselves sometimes.

I’ve had two massages thus far, and they have been relaxing and, it seems, good for the back. My next one is next week–let’s see if that damn knot is any smaller.

In addition to these massages, I do treat myself to pedicures every two or three months, depending on the season. I allow myself alone time–solo lunches or movie matinees, the occasional shopping trip. I make time in my week to read. I have a friend who allows herself the luxury of a bath every night. I’m curious: How you take care of yourself.

‘Between the World and Me’–Read it.

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Last night, in front of the fire, I finished reading the book “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It affected me in a way most books don’t, where I could actually feel my worldview expanding because I was looking into a world I had not looked into before, understanding it in a way I’d not understood it before.

I looked it up: Pronounce his name ta-nuh-HA-see.

I’d seen glimpses, sure. Hollywood is rife with movies about The Struggle of the Black Man. But I’m not sure a one of them made the impact that Coates’ book did. Before reading this book, I couldn’t identify why that was, but after reading it, I can, and the reason is uncomfortable to say: It’s because so many of those stories created and distributed by Hollywood, even though they were about blackness, were written for me, someone who, to borrow one of Coates’ phrases, was raised to believe herself to be white. And “Between the World and Me” is not for me. It’s for his son, who has a black body.

A lot of this book made me uncomfortable, largely because it states truths anyone who’s part of white America doesn’t really think about because we don’t have to think about it. In the early pages of the book, Coates recalls his son’s reaction to hearing that the killers of Michael Brown would go free, and he excused himself from the room because he didn’t want to cry in front of his father.

I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it. I tell you now that the question of how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream, is the question of my life, and the pursuit of this question, I have found, ultimately answers itself.

Coates takes the talk of race and racism that’s only glossed over in most other media I have consumed about the topic and cracks it open. He does so simply, without any kind of blinders or big words. Simply: This is life.

Continue reading

Man, has ‘Chasing Amy’ changed as I’ve grown up

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I first saw “Chasing Amy” as a college student, and during those four years, I probably racked up at least half a dozen viewings. I loved the twist in an otherwise traditional romantic comedy: boy meets girl, girl loves girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl.

While I would never call myself a conservative person, I related to Holden (Ben Affleck). I understood how intimidating another person with a wide array of sexual experiences could be, and I thought his climactic last-ditch effort to save both his relationship and his friendship was kind of funny.

Fast forward a decade-plus … and I’m almost ashamed that I ever related to such a judgmental tool bag. And his last-ditch effort is embarrassing at best and damned insulting at worst.

The major thing that’s changed is my understanding of LGBTQ+. In college, gay people made me uncomfortable. I had never known anyone who was out, and I just felt sweaty and uncomfortable when people talked about it. It was 100 percent due to a lack in any experience with anyone who out.

Today, I’m just … not that girl. I no longer feel any differently around someone based on who he or she sleeps with (and am puzzled by those who do, even baby Jac), and I’ve made it an effort to not just feel comfortable, but to be helpful; I work in a community college, and I’ve gone through Safe Space and Safe Zone training. It’s not to say I’m an expert in any kind of non hetero-normative people or relationships, but I make an effort because

  1. I am interested in relationships.
  2. I understand why I used to think how I did and why I no longer think that way.
  3. I think it’s important that we do our best to not be assholes.

As such, I look at Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) and find her transformation as a character to be wild and beautiful and honest and lovely. In college, she was just a funny girl.Similarly, I see Hooper in a completely new light. I’m not sure I gave the black, gay character a second thought the first half a dozen times I saw this movie. Today, I feel like there could be entire theses written about Hooper and race and machismo in both the black community and the comic book community, where men are men when they like women with giant breasts and tiny waists.

One of my favorite scenes–Hooper & the kid in the record store

In my recent viewing, I’m left with a major question I’ve not had before: Is Banky gay? I ignored all the direct and indirect references to the possibility in earlier viewings, but now, I can’t decide if I think the movie is pointing to the fact that he’s closeted or if it’s instead rolling its eyes at the idea that anyone who is a homophobe must just be unaccepting of his own sexuality.

I find it fascinating to rewatch or reread favorite stories from my youth or my 20s and see how experience has caused me to view them so differently. The same thing happened with “Forever …” and I’m dying to reread a teen favorite, “Inherit the Wind,” for the same reason. I should probably give Dogma a re-watch, too (they’re the only two Jay and Silent Bob movies I liked, and I really liked them).

What media has changed for you over the year?

I really hate it when people have their phones out around people

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It’s something of a joke among my coworkers: Jaclyn hates her phone. I don’t like the idea of people reaching me any old time they like. I value my free time way too much to want anyone to have that kind access to me.

As a result, I tend to judge people whose phones grow as an extension of their wrists. Earlier this week, I went to a work lunch. I was the first one there, and I noticed I had a text message from my aunt. As I replied, the next two attendees arrived, and I apologizes profusely for my phone, which I promptly put away and did not touch for the rest of the lunch.

During lunch, one young man rarely made eye contact with anyone else at the table because he was too busy on his phone. A woman he is working with at one point told him, “I don’t even need your cell phone number. You respond faster than anyone I know when I email you!”

Put it awaaaaay.

He beamed and said “thank you.” I judged him like the meanie I am. WHY was he proud of this?? How many people has he snubbed over the years while he’s been so concerned to hit “reply” to an email he received 32 seconds ago? Yes, it can make the email sender feel good to feel so important, but if it had taken him 2 1/2 hours, would the sender have felt badly? Never mind the people he’s had to ignore to be so “on it” all the time–what about the precedent he’s setting for himself? Isn’t he creating an expectation that he will drop whatever he’s doing to reply to an email?

What aggravates me most about this sort of thing–and the reason I apologized when I was caught on my phone–is that keeping your face toward a screen when you are with actual people in actual life tells those people, “You are unimportant to me.” It’s disrespectful, and it’s rude.

I notice it so much, I comment on it so much, that my husband and I have taken to pointing it out to each other when we go out. Look around the next time you’re in a restaurant: You’ll likely see multiple tables where no one is talking because everyone is ignoring their actual company in favor of virtual company.

Folks who heart their phones so hard seem to have plenty of excuses: “I’m worried about my kid” or “It’s something important for work.” I don’t buy it. Unless you’re waiting for word that a loved one’s surgery went well, or something akin to that, no one’s that important.

Redaction: Presidents and prime ministers and kings are that important. Are you a president, prime minister, or king? You are??? Then welcome to my blog! You’re not? Well … then might I challenge you to put your phone away the next time you’re at a social outing? Your friends and colleagues will appreciate it.

I want to stop ‘snoozing’!

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Everybody talks about wanting to change things and help and fix, but ultimately all you can do is fix yourself. And that’s a lot. Because if you can fix yourself, it has a ripple effect.” ~Rob Reiner

I’ve been in a rut lately. I’ve felt bored a lot–personally, at work, in general–which isn’t something I often feel in any of those places.

Last week, I went to dinner with a friend, and we discussed our respective ruts. I told him that, as new age’y and cheesy as it sounds, I fully believe that simply being positive can help a lot. And I’ve recently read something about why hitting the snooze button can completely ruin your day. So I figured I’d start mornings this week with that teeny, positive step.

sleep

The idea behind not snoozing is pretty simple: By getting up when you originally intend, you’re starting your day by taking control of it. (This doesn’t even begin to touch on all the health reasons behind ditchingsnooze.”) I mentioned it in a staff meeting last week, and the response was unanimous: We all had generally better days when we got up on-time instead of inching our ways into lateness, nine minutes at a time. (Aside: Why on earth are snoozes nine minutes? How arbitrary.)

The ideal appeals to me, especially because I never actually fall back asleep when I hit “snooze.” So I went with it, unwittingly bringing along a little bit of positivity to my mornings, which is never a bad thing.

So yesterday, not 10 seconds after I hit “snooze,” I said, “NOPE.” I shut off my alarm and I got up. Just that tiny “I’M THE BOSS OF ME” moment made my morning a little happier. Did it have a huge impact on the rest of my day? Eh, not so much. But it was a good start.

Today, I woke up a few minutes before my alarm (which I really hate) and snuggled in until the alarm sounded. It wasn’t hard to shut it off and get up immediately. I suspect it’ll just get easier as the week goes on.

Snoozing is new business for me. I NEVER hit it before I got married. But my husband loves his snooze button, and his bad habit rubbed off. This week, though, I’m noticing that MY new habit is starting to rub off–he got up WAY earlier today. Heeeyyyy, look at me, being a good influence!