Flashes of Life – Episode #1

Back to school season always hits the retail business hard, my store especially so. The line to check out stretches all the way to the back and then twists and loops its way around the store as new and returning students take their first of many tests in patience.

Every register is open. Someone made sure they all got the necessary repairs to be functional during this crucial two week period. The new cashiers struggle with how to do split payments, and a supervisor shuffles around fixing small mistakes that could have far-reaching ripple effects. Someone at register six wants a purchase delivered, the cashier in charge of alcohol sales needs to know if we accept driver’s licenses from Puerto Rico for the fifteenth time, and the number of customers at the returns desk who don’t have their receipts only grows exponentially.

I arrived an hour early because I finished my other errands and it is too hot to sit outside.

My mood is off because I stayed up until three finishing one of the books I was reading. I can’t go to work today tired and angry because the students’ and parents’ patience will already surely be running thin.

I purchase a very large hot chocolate and sit at the window, in the air conditioning, to drink it and put some of my emotions down on paper. It helps. A playlist blares through my earphones and drowns out the chaos behind me. The hot chocolate soothes my soul in a way that coffee just can’t, and the words flow out, tumbling over one another to bring you this story.

A few moments of peace to put my mind and body back in order, centering my soul. And then it is time to dive into the fray.

The Inner Critic, and The Inner Best Friend

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I’ve been listening to many, many podcasts as of late, and one of them recently hit very close to home. Rachel Brathen (From the Heart: Conversations with Yoga Girl) finished a Yoga Teacher Training last month by interviewing all 52 of her trainees about what their Inner Critics and Inner Best Friends tell them. The interview is so long she actually split it into two episodes, and I cannot decide which half I adored more. It got me thinking, “What do my Inner Critic and Inner Best Friend tell me?”

 

My Inner Critic says – 

I am not prepared. I will never be prepared to make any kind of leap into the unknown, and if I leap, I will fail. It says that I will never work in freelancing, that I will never break into publishing.

I am not creative enough. I will never finish writing any of my books because I am not a good enough writer, that I don’t have a big enough imagination.

I will die alone. I will never find the love of my life or build the family I desire.

Others are more qualified. I will never get the job/internship of my dreams because I am not worthy of it. Others will always be chosen over me.

I am too intimidating, or not beautiful enough. I will never end up with that guy I’m crushing on because he will always choose someone else.

 

My Inner Best Friend says – 

I am more prepared than I know. I can see the truth of this every day when I talk to customers at work, or classmates in grad school and drop knowledge bombs that amaze and astound (My Inner Best Friend is pretty full of herself, for good reason. She has a lot to stand up to.)

I am so creative it’s painful sometimes. It’s no wonder I am always daydreaming and cannot stay focused on one story. I keep coming up with more! I dream vividly. After a lot of practice, I can even control what I do in my dreams, and sometimes if I’m woken up, I can return to the dream I left off in. I am creatively powerful, and I will succeed through pure force of will if nothing else.

I am never alone. I have my huge family (just going back two generations I already have over 40 close family members: Siblings, Parents, Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, Second Cousins, Grandparents, Great Aunts, Great Uncles.), and I have quite a few close friends whom I can call up at the drop of a hat whenever I need them, not to mention my internet friends, who I speak to nearly as much as everyone else and love just a dearly. I just need to have a bit more patience and faith, and God will lead me to my forever partner, my future husband.

I am just as qualified as others. And I have a lot of skills that I don’t know how to put on a resume, which probably means I’m actually overqualified for everything I’m applying to. The right position will present itself, and I’ll know it when I see it because it will be the one I don’t give up on so easily.

While I never doubt that I am beautiful, everyone has their own personal views on beauty. It’s completely possible that the guy I’m crushing on at any given moment doesn’t find me beautiful because his standard of beauty is completely different from mine. I always hear my Inner Best Friend start screaming at me when I think I am too intimidating, because **** that. If a guy can’t handle me on daily basis – my beautiful, smart, strong self – than he doesn’t deserve my best or worst. He’s not the guy for me, and I just dodged a bullet. I need a strong man who is not afraid of being matched in wits, and is also looking for an equal to share a life with.

 

 

Other Things My Inner Critic and Inner Best Friend have fought about:

In Elementary School, my Inner Critic told me I would never make real friends. This was in part because I moved when I was eight, and had a lot of trouble meeting new people with similar interests. My Inner Best Friend reminded me that I had built in best friends in my siblings and cousins, and we are all the closer for it, even now that I have close friendships with people who are not related to me by blood.

In Middle School, my Inner Critic told me I was terrible at sports. And it almost won. But Freshman year of high school I had one of the track coaches as my gym teacher, and he helped me find my athletically inclined side.

In High School, my Inner Critic continued to tell me I wasn’t good enough to succeed at athletics, as well as in theatre and in classes. My Inner Best Friend gave me the fortitude to keep running, making my success about beating my own records, not the records of others. I found the courage to go out for the play every year and even had a few line-solos senior year. I studied hard and took each setback as a challenge. I was nearly a straight-A student, even though I wasn’t in all AP classes like most of my friends.

During Undergraduate Studies, my Inner Critic told me I was stupid. That I had taken on too much. That the friends I made in high school weren’t going to be there for me always. That I was in way over my head, and that there was no way out. My Inner Best Friend fought back tooth and nail and finally convinced me to transfer schools and start over. My Inner Critic told me I would be letting everyone down. My Inner Best Friend said this had nothing to do with anyone but myself.

Just after graduation, my Inner Critic told me that I would never get a job I even remotely enjoyed, that I would be unemployed forever, that all of my friendships were terrible and falling apart, that I would disappear from existence, and that I would never amount to much. My Inner Best Friend immediately went into overdrive, found me a job, and made the most of it.

A year after graduation, my Inner Critic told me that I could never move out of New Jersey (where I loved living but didn’t have many job opportunities), and would work soul-sucking jobs while never reaching my dreams. My Inner Best Friend said, “Let’s move to Boston?”

18 months ago, my Inner Critic told me I would never get into graduate school or get the chance to pursue my dream career. My Inner Best Friend said “Hold My Beer.” and did it anyway.

Right now, my Inner Critic is still trying to hold me back, tell me I am afraid, and that I will never get any cool jobs I apply to, so why bother applying? My Inner Best Friend is already in full armor on her white horse, ready to beat my Inner Critic into submission.

Because what my Inner Critic will never be able to understand is that courage is impossible without first being afraid. I am not fearless, running blindly into things without a thought to their outcome. I live with fear every day. And every day I have to choose to put on my armor one piece at a time, saddle up my horse, and ride into battle. The prize? Everything I’ve ever wanted.

Maybe I’ve watched too many John Wayne movies, or maybe it was the steady diet of fantasy novels I read as a child, but I believe that with courage, goodness will always prevail.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 (KJV)
“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” ~John Wayne

 

What do your Inner Critic and Inner Best Friend tell you?

 

Until next time,

~Amanda

TOTY – 26: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise

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Today is a few days after my 26th birthday, and I am sitting in a Starbucks tearing up as I read my old TOTY posts. These yearly summaries serve as such a huge reminder of everything I’ve accomplished, and just how much has changed over the past four years. This will be my fifth consecutive year of blogging, and probably my fifteenth year since I started messing around with the idea of having a blog and playing with Blogger, WordPress, and Wix. I’ve loved long-form writing for a long time, and it amazes me that I have the freedom to do something like this every day. Of course, it’s been a bit of a struggle keeping up here over the last year, but there are some wonderful reasons for that.

 

I am attending Emerson College for graduate school in publishing and writing. You all helped me get here by reading this blog and encouraging me to follow my dreams. It’s a lot of work, but I am adoring every second of it! I have met wonderful, interesting, inspiring women who I might even go so far as to call bosom friends. I have had some spectacular professors who have helped shape my image of what the publishing world is and is not, and have pushed me to trust my instincts and pursue my passions. I have learned an incredible amount, and that was only the first year! I still have three semesters left to soak up as much as I can, and I am beyond grateful to be able to be here now.

Last September I moved out of my Uncle and Aunt’s house and into a rented room. It’s not my first time in an apartment – I lived in two apartments during undergrad – but it is the first apartment I’ve had where I have my own room and the first place I’ve paid for completely on my own. To pay for it, I took an assistant supervisor position at a large retail store, where I work 40+ hours a week in addition to going to 8 hours of class and doing 6+ hours of homework. I haven’t had a lot of time to look for a corporate job or an internship, but I haven’t given up. There are a couple very cool opportunities on the horizon that I am aiming for!

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you know that school + work = not enough things to keep me motivated. This has led to me sleeping a lot, which has been necessary with my crazy work schedule, but not productive or overall healthy for my life. I’m hoping to hone my daily schedule this year to make room for what matters most – family, health, and writing.

 

Speaking of health, mine has been a roller coaster this year. Last June I started Accutane for my acne, and after almost nine months had clear skin for the first time in almost eight years. I had forgotten how good my skin looked when it was clear, and while the acne had never really hurt my image of myself, having clear skin definitely improved my confidence. It’s almost like I didn’t realize how awesome of a woman I had grown into until the acne cleared up. Like wiping off the grime of adolescence to see clearly the woman growing underneath. My acne didn’t make me feel bad, but it did keep me trapped in that ‘not a girl, not yet a woman’ stage of life that I was craving an escape from.

On my first day of work at my retail job in October, I sprained my foot at the bottom of my apartment stairs and ended up at the hospital for myself for the first time since I was born. I was bedridden for a week, had crutches for a month after that, and wasn’t allowed to run or do strenuous activities for six months after that.

I got off my crutches just in time for my first Black Friday in retail, and all of the new germs I was around 40 hours a week finally caught up with me. Thankfully, my store had a very quiet Black Friday, because the cold I caught robbed me of my voice for a week and it would have been a nightmare. I am beyond thankful for small miracles.

My six months without exercise ended just about the same time I was finally in the clear post-Accutane. My foot still aches occasionally, and my alcohol tolerance is crap because I wasn’t allowed to drink on the Accutane. It also took longer to finish the Accutane (about nine months vs six) because I had to stop taking it while I was on painkillers for my foot. Organs are precious, and I didn’t want to put mine at risk by pumping them full of chemicals.

 

Cut to about a month ago, when I traveled to Boise, Idaho to visit one of my best friends in the whole world, Jordan. This girl was my radio show co-host in college and has since become part of my family (seriously, we bring her on family-only trips because she blends in as one of us despite being the only redhead). She flew up to Boston last September to help me move into my apartment, and I cried when she moved across the country in January. I flew out there to spend the week between our birthdays together, and it was simply wonderful.

We spent most of the week in various pools, waterparks, and rivers because it was topping 100 degrees and we were super pale. For once, we were on our sunscreen game and avoided getting sunburn. I have my first tan in three years. I spent quiet mornings on her balcony reading and listening to podcasts (I’ll share my favorites soon!), and we explored the city with her local friends (who are just lovely and I miss them already!) late into the evening because the sun doesn’t set until 10:30pm in the treasure valley. We rounded off the week with my first hike since moving to Boston, climbing Table Rock  (follow the link for trail map!), which is 900ft above Boise’s already 2,600 ft elevation. My poor body is used to Boston’s whopping >50ft above sea level, and reaching the top of Table Rock (3,500 ft) was a struggle. It was worth it for the accomplishment and the views of the city and valley, ringed in rolling mountains, but oh boy did I feel it the next day.

 

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The cold I caught in Idaho was nearly but not quite gone when I flew back east a few days later, and I ended up with an ear infection and just two weeks remaining on my parent’s health insurance. Cue more little miracles. I tried to take it slow, which is why this post didn’t go up on my birthday like it usually does.

Just as I was recovering from the ear infection, I went home for my soon-to-be sister-in-law’s bridal shower and wasn’t feeling too well. After yet another last-minute doctor’s appointment, I found out I also had strep, so now I’m on medication for that as well. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that all of this happened while I was on my parent’s health plan. To be fair though (in the long list of small miracles in my life) I was able to sign up for my graduate school’s student health care plan until I graduate. God is so, so good y’all.

 

I’m back from vacation and back at work, which right now is mostly training some new assistant supervisors, but I am trying to appreciate the methodicalness of it all as I prepare for my second year of graduate school to begin. Before classes start up again, I will be moving into a new apartment that includes a real kitchen and living room, and yet somehow costs less than what I am currently paying. How I found it beats me. (again, small miracles!)

I’ll be living with a few of my classmates, and I am beyond excited to be A – living with friends rather than strangers, and B – living with these friends who I can be completely myself with, whether that’s loud, quiet, happy, or sad. I think it is one of life’s biggest gifts to live somewhere you can relax and unwind and be your authentic self without having to monitor what you do or say or worry about offending someone just by living your life. These girls inspire me to do my best, but they also encourage me to take time to process life and be my true introverted self. I am so blessed to have them.

 

Starting my second year/third semester of graduate school means I finally know what’s coming and can build a schedule around it. I know my general work schedule, and my class schedule, so I can plan writing time around them, and even *gasp* make time for a bit of working out.

In June of this year, my co-worker/friend Patricia and I signed up for a month of Yoga classes, and I fell in love with it. Two weeks ago I met with one of the studio managers where we attend classes and signed up for their Seva program. I’ll be volunteering there a few hours a week to help keep the studio running smoothly! This particular program includes free access to a few classes in exchange for my volunteering, which is just beyond amazing, but I would probably do the program even without that carrot. I always have a craving to help ‘mother’ people and organizations, and I so rarely have the opportunity to feed that craving.

Yoga has been even more life-changing than I imagined. It is simultaneously harder and easier than I thought it would be, but the inner peace that I find in the practise is another one of those small miracles I’ve been experiencing all year.

 

This brings our total of ‘things Amanda does’ to three. Why stop there?

My theme for this year is Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise like the Benjamin Franklin quote, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” I’ve had that quote taped to my childhood bedroom wall for years, but I noticed it for the first time in forever last time I was at my parents’ house. It’s been floating through my subconscious ever since, and it finally occurred to me last month that that’s what I’ve been searching for. During my vacation, I took some time to sit with my thoughts and see what bubbled to the surface, and I came up with a few truths about myself I haven’t been acknowledging lately.

I am a morning person. My days are best when I get up before 7am and go to bed around 10pm.

I thrive on having too much to do because it forces my brain into organization mode. I was at peak working ability when I was working 4-5 positions and attending undergraduate classes my senior year, and again when I had to schedule my writing time around my cousin’s nap schedule as a nanny. I thrive on slim-to-no time, and I am very good when I am down to the wire. When I don’t have enough to do I procrastinate, and things fall to the wayside and get forgotten easily.

I need to mother. Whether it’s a person or a company, I need to get into the nitty-gritty of what’s going on and fix it, whether physically or through advice. I’ve had a ton of people tell me over the last year that I give great advice, so I guess it’s about time I embrace the title of advice giver and own up to my need to fix things. I will continue to endeavor not to smother people, but also to help them be their best selves through self-care and organization.

 

These revelations led me to create a list of things I want to accomplish this year, each of which falls under healthy, wealthy, or wise.

Under the Healthy category, we have the following tasks:

#1 – Do Yoga Every Day.
I’ve been following Yogi Rachel Brathen for… Well, probably longer than this blog has existed, to be completely transparent, and I’ve always been fascinated by the practice of yoga. My mother has the cold, hard proof in the form of a VHS copy of Yoga for Dummies from probably 2002 that I used to use! It’s taken me sixteen long years, but I’ve finally caught the yoga bug and I don’t plan on letting go of it any time soon.

#2 – Get Eight Hours of Sleep Each Night.
Sleep is the most important thing you can do for yourself. My current job has my sleep schedule all over the place. Most recently in June, there was a fortnight where I fell asleep between 2am and 5am on any given day. It was trippy. As a morning person, working late night hours isn’t good for my creative side or my health, but until I find something 9-5, my sleep schedule is something I need to be proactive about and focused on if I want to avoid getting sick again.

#3 – Cook Three Nights a Week.
The new apartment I am moving into in September has a full kitchen, so I’ll actually have space to spread out and make a full meal – with side dishes – to fix my diet, which has been minor meal prepping and a lot of sandwiches over the last year. If I get a more normal job, I’ll be home for dinner most nights and can actually take advantage of the new kitchen!

 

For Wealthy, I came up with:

#4 – Shop Small.
I want to only shop in used and vintage clothing stores this year. Not only will this help confine my spending, but used and discount clothing hunting is a skill I think everyone should perfect at some point in their lives. By hunting for clothes that come from across multiple years, I think I’ll finally start to build a personal style rather than jumping on whatever the current trend is. I’m excited to see where this resolution takes me.

I also want to only shop indie and used bookstores this year. This is a goal every year but at some point, I end up in Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million spending money like water. Canceling my B&N membership card didn’t help, I just pay full price now. To combat my horrible book-buying habit, I am going to attempt to go on a 98% book ban this year. Meaning I will do everything in my power not to buy or acquire any new books and to solely use my library card. Unless there is something I am dying to the read and none of the local libraries will stock it for me.

#5 – Save Money.
As I continue my Master’s program, I can feel my loan payments creeping up on me, just waiting for graduation to pounce. I also have a million other things I want to be able to do over the next few years – weddings to attend, overseas trips I want to take, writing staycations, book conventions, etc. To combat all of this, I am going to attempt to curb my general spending (and my eat-out budget) so that I can save at least $400 each month.
– $100 for my emergency fund
– $100 for my loan fund
– $100 for my weddings fund
– $100 for my travel fund.
If this means I have to cut even my book budget and only get books from the library, I will suck it up. It’ll pay off in the end, right? The only things that make you richer by spending money are books and travel, so I’m just trading one for the other. Library cards let me have my cake and eat it too.

#6 – Pursue Passions.
This year I want to focus on what matters most. In the job sense, that means being aggressive and going after those competitive internships and positions that I’m afraid I won’t qualify for. I need to have courage like the Gryffindor I am and charge at my fears head on if I want to overcome them. I can’t just sit around and wait for fate to do its thing when I have the power to help it along in the direction I want so desperately to go. I can do this by grabbing every freelance opportunity I see and giving it 100%, allowing it to build up my writing resume for more permanent positions. This will also up my ‘things Amanda does’ count, which will help me be more productive overall.

 

And finally, for the Wise category:

#7 – Write more.
It probably won’t be every day, because I’ve never been able to keep that promise, but I want to write for myself more regularly than I do now. Blog posts, book reviews, short stories off the top of my head, work towards completing one of the numerous longer-form things I have in the works – I really want to have something I can show people and be able to say “Hey look what I can do!” or “Here’s how I write, take a look!”. I spend so much of my imagination in my head that it never makes it onto the page, and people only know I write at all when they read this site or ask me about my writing and I go down a rabbit hole of explaining my characters and their motivations.

I really want to attempt writing short stories this year. I have a habit of starting and not finishing novels, and I think it will be an interesting exercise in editing myself to try a short-form story. I need to learn how to describe things succinctly, instead of letting the world building run off with my plot. I feel like it’s time to start leaving my mark on the world, and this is how I want to start doing it.

#8 – Become more business literate.
Through podcasts, workshops, webinars, and online classes, I want to educate myself about how to run an actual business, so that I can manage my freelancing and my soon-to-be crushing debt in the best ways I can. This includes learning about advertising and marketing, finance, and SEO.

#9 – Pursue Peace, Grace, and Simplicity.
Through it all, I want to focus on cultivating grace, not perfection. I want and need to organize my life in little ways to make a big impact. I’m taking Emily Ley’s advice and running with it. After reading her book Grace, Not Perfection last year, I am inspired to read her A Simplified Life, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect. All three promise to be inspiring.

 

This year, I want to learn to have patience and grace with myself and others. I want to focus less on what the world thinks of me and more on what I could be doing for the world while taking the best care of myself. I want to reach for the stars but in order to get there, I need to build a solid catapult, or a ladder, or a tower. Clearly, I am not an engineer, but you get it. I can’t get anywhere without a solid foundation, and that foundation has to be me.

 

Here’s to my fifth year of blogging. I am so looking forward to all of the cool things I will accomplish and experience this year, and I hope you will join me on this journey.

 

 

Sincerely,

Amanda

 

 

Previous Theme Of The Year (TOTY) Posts:
TOTY – 22: Why Soul Searching is Not my Theme of the Year
TOTY – 23: Wellness and Becoming my Best Self
TOTY – 24: Me Doing Me
TOTY – 25: Responsibility

 

 

Top 10 Books I Read in 2017

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It’s already MAY, but I had such a hard time choosing between the 56 books I managed to read last year. I am SO PROUD of that number. I worked hard for it. I figured that now is as good a time as any to share them with you because maybe you’ll want to pick them up over the summer. People read then, right?

In an effort to shorten the judging process that got me to this point, I decided to only nominate books that I read for the first time, and to exclude all re-reads from this contest. In no particular order, here are the top 10 books I read in 2017.

 

 

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

1 – Grace, Not Perfection – Emily Ley
This book changed my life. I read it while I was nannying for my baby cousin, so even the more maternal bits really hit home. Whether you are young and virtually single like me, or raising a bunch of munchkins, or just living your best life, this book will help you make it even better. I can’t wait to pick up Emily’s second book, A Simplified Life, this year.

 

 

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2 – The Diviners – Libba Bray
1920s New York City + strange magical abilities + teens sleuthing to stop a supernatural serial killer? SIGN ME UP. This is one of those books that you pick up at the library because of the cool cover and then run away with it once you finish reading the blurb because it’s so cool. And even at a whopping 500+ pages it just flies by because the writing is just that good. I’m saving my reviews of this series for October. Look out for it then!

 

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

3 – A Novel Bookstore – Laurence Cossé
Let me just say… WOW. This birth-of-a-bookstore/mystery novel about the fictional The Good Novel bookstore in Paris and its founders blew me away. A tiny bit slow in some places, but the intertwining narratives of the founders, reviewers, and their loved ones was wonderfully written and lovingly translated from the original French.

 

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

4 – A Gathering of Shadows – V. E. Schwab
This whole series is wonderful. I’ve never read anything like the Shades of Magic trilogy, and I am so SO excited that Schwab will be blessing us with a spinoff sequel trilogy, as well as a prequel comic book. Of the trilogy, the second novel was my favorite, and the cover art especially drew me in. The character development is just expert level here, and I can’t wait to get my hands on more of Schwab’s work.

 

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

5 – Uprooted – Naomi Novik
This book. THIS. BOOK. I haven’t read a story like this since I picked up the actual Grimm’s Fairytales. The plot is phenomenal, the characters aren’t perfect, or entirely lovable or hateable, and the forest. is. alive.

Uprooted gets a lot of hate for the romance aspect of it, but I think it was handled really well and people need to get used to the idea that semi-immortal beings need love too. You don’t hear people complaining about Bella and Edward being together because Edward is like 900 years older than her, do you? So don’t come at me about Agnieszka’s romance. It’s as healthy a love as she is going to get in these crazy times.

 

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

6 – Elantris – Brandon Sanderson
An arranged marriage alliance + a religious war + a mysterious plague that only effects the god-like people of Elantris? Trust me when I say the roughly 600 pages are worth it. I haven’t read worldbuilding like this since Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time saga — which makes sense if you think about it because Jordan chose Sanderson to finish his work when he was passing.

 

 

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7 – M Train – Patti Smith
I’ve never read a memoir written by a musician before, and let me tell you, this was delightful. Patti Smith is not just a musician, poet, and author, but also a mother, wife, icon, and member of a former mysterious society. This memoir is written mostly stream-of-consciousness style, but that only adds to the magic of the words. From writing in coffee shops (like I am now), to traveling the globe, to singing in cafeterias at midnight, M Train is sure to inspire you to write more of your own work and see the everyday magic around you.

 

 

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8 – Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella – Megan Morrison
It’s no secret that I adored the first Tyme novel by Morrison, Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel,  but Disenchanted did me one better if that’s possible. “Cinderella” comes from a family of fashion. Her new stepmother is a trial, but she probably means well. The private school she goes to is full of rich and royal brats, most of whom will grow up to work in the family business: that is, fashion. The entire Blue Kingdom runs on fashion. But not everyone loves it. Ella knows which families use sweatshop labor, and sets out to bring. them. down. Even if it means ruining her chances with the cute but cursed prince in the process. I can’t wait for the third installment (involving the Frog Prince!), due out in the next year.

 

 

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9 – In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan
If you’ve been reading fantasy your entire life and wondering why tropes are what they are — the guy gets the girl, everyone loves the hero, the maidens need rescuing, etc. etc… LOOK NO FURTHER. Brennan turns every single trope on its head and it’s flawless. Not only does everyone hate Elliot, he doesn’t even get the girl, or get to save the world, or have a touching reunion with his parents. Nope. Elliot gets shipped off to a school in a war zone in a magical land because his teacher doesn’t like him, and spends most of his time in the library wishing he could meet mermaids despite everyone telling him how dangerous they are. Elliot is not a hero, and he certainly doesn’t like the would-be hero, Luke Sunborn, with the beautiful golden locks. Nope. Not one bit.

 

 

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10 – Lois Lane: Fallout – Gwenda Bond
I didn’t even know I needed a series about Lois before Clark until I saw Bond’s book on the shelf, and now I need her to be consulted with on anything and everything to do with Superman and Lois Lane that is ever created in the future. I have always loved Lois, but never before have I gotten the chance to really get to know her. Now that the military brat has settled in one place for the first time, attending a Metropolis high school and interning at The Daily Planet, she has a bit of free time on her hands, and a lot of bad guys to take down. Now if only she could convince her online crush SmallvilleGuy to meet in person.

 

 

Honorable Mentions:
Elise Kova’s The Alchemists of Loom
Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

Baseball Season Has Arrived!

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You guys. I am SO excited to be going to my third major league baseball game ever.

My first game was at the old Yankee stadium when I was maybe six years old, wayyy back in 1998. It was just after my birthday, the middle of an exceptionally hot July, and I was just learning to read. Not that it mattered. I already knew most of the important names: Andy Pettitte, David Cone, David Wells, Daryl Strawberry, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Joe Girardi, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Mariano Rivera, and this hot shot shortstop from my mom’s hometown – Derek Jeter.
My dad’s job sponsored a family bus trip into the city for the game and my father, elder brother, and I attended. Our seats were in the blazing sun and we eventually moved to shady seats that someone had never shown up to claim. I barely noticed. I was too busy watching baseball.
I’ve spent years watching my Yankees on television, and going to most every baseball game that I can get tickets to. Now my 1998 team only plays in the Old Timers Game, and I watch with the same ferocity that I watch the World Series. But I’ve never made it to another Yankee game.

My second game was a Red Sox vs. Orioles game last year that my uncle got free tickets to at a trade show. My uncle, aunt, and baby cousin left early, but I stayed until the very end. I didn’t care that I knew absolutely no one there, much less anyone in the entire city.  And I only cared a little bit that it was a Red Sox game and not a Yankee game. I even cheered for the Red Sox. They won. And the Orioles moved down to the #2 spot, letting my Yankees slide into the #1. 😉

This time around, I bought my own ticket, and I’m taking myself to the ballgame. I don’t even care that it will probably downpour all day and the game will drag on due to rain delays. I’ll be in one of my favorite cities, watching my New York Yankees take on their biggest rivals – my new home team – The Boston Red Sox. And I already know all the important names. ⚾️

 

Vocation Awareness Week – A Reflection on Callings and Life

 

 

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Photo Circa October 2011

 

 

Yesterday in church, a visiting priest spoke to us about how this week is Vocation Awareness Week. It was perfect timing because I’ve been questioning everything lately.

Grad school is going well, but whether it’s because I’m only taking two classes a semester, or because a lot of the publishing material is the same as what I covered studying broadcasting, public relations, and general communications during my days as an undergraduate, I realized last week that I am profoundly bored. I know, I’m as horrified at the prospect as you are. Mostly, I can’t figure out what, aside from teacher insight, I’m getting out of the classes that I couldn’t get on my own. Graduate school isn’t worth it just for the degree and the name of the school on my resume.

When I was first earning my bachelor’s degree, I was convinced that the right school on my resume was my ticket to the Best Job Ever. After transferring to a smaller school and getting a better education there, I realized how ridiculous that idea was. It’s never been about the school name, it’s always been about what I can learn from the program. That’s why I chose Emerson College. It is supposed to be the best graduate publishing program in the country, taught by current professionals, and my ticket into the industry through networking.

I am enjoying my copyediting class, but that’s because the teacher makes it interesting, and the textbooks are a little dry for me to work through on my own. We also have to take overview classes in book, e-book, and magazine publishing. I was assigned to take magazine publishing this semester, and it is almost exactly the same as three different classes I had to take for my bachelor’s. The teacher is lovely, but the material is nothing new. We also have to do interviews with magazine professionals for this class, and for all of my googling/emailing/twittering/calling, I have yet to get a response from anyone I have reached out to. And the lack of interviews, even though I don’t have control over that, actually affects my grades, which is just terrible and makes me incredibly sad.

So, what am I getting out of graduate school? The truth is, I don’t know. My apartment lease is good through August, so I am going to keep at it for another semester and try to take more classes in book publishing specifically, but if it doesn’t get any more interesting then I don’t see the point in sinking myself into more student debt if I don’t need to.

I spoke to an associate editor back in September at the Boston Teen Author Fest, and while she has a master’s in publishing, she said that if she could go back and do it over, she wouldn’t. She would apply directly to internships instead and get involved in the industry that way. Because you can get as educated as you want, but at the end of the day, the industry is small and the only way in is to know people who will want to hire you. Every day that I’m bored with my classes I feel her advice more strongly.

 

If I choose not to stick with graduate school, the next question becomes, of course, whether I want to try for internships here in Boston, or in New York City? My parents live about 90-minutes from NYC, so moving back in with them would make it possible for me to work a part-time job locally and go into the city a couple days a week for an internship.

On the other hand, I love Boston. I feel at home here, and I rarely feel at home 5+ hours away from my parents. Maybe it’s because I have family nearby if I need them? My aunt, uncle, and cousin live here, and my great aunt and a slew of second cousins live just north of the city.

In 2015, I traveled to Portland, Oregon, for a public relations conference and fell in love with the city. My favorite parts were the lack of nightlife and the abundance of green space. It felt like coming home, except it was on the other side of the country. That’s what it felt like moving to Boston. There are parks everywhere here, and New England is almost as friendly as the Pacific Northwest. I have a profound desire to live within walking distance of bookstores, coffee shops, and museums, and I have that here in addition to a church I really like. This city is huge, but at the same time, it is incredibly small. There is a reason the Boston Marathon starts in another town. The entirety of Boston proper is maybe three miles by five miles, and the extended Boston Area is about ten miles by twelve miles. There is always something going on, and that drives my curiosity and my imagination constantly to new heights.

Moving back home requires me to give up all of the coffee shops, bookstores, museums, and my church, and moving near New York City would require me to give up all of my parks and outdoor space as well as my church community. I am at an impossible crossroads.

 

When the priest spoke about vocations yesterday, a couple things clicked in my mind. I started thinking about my life as it stands now, what I can and cannot live without, and what I can see myself doing for the rest of my life.

I’ve never really wanted to be a nun. In fact, until the spring of 2016, the only thing I definitely wanted out of my life was motherhood. I wanted to raise babies with the love of my life, teach them how to survive in this crazy world, and watch them fly. Admittedly, I went to college because I needed to do something and get a job to pay the bills until the day I got married and had babies and could be a stay-at-home mom, and also to have something to go back to after my babies were grown. But I didn’t love anything like I loved the idea of motherhood, and I think that is one of the primary reasons why I floundered so much during college. By the time I transferred schools at the end of 2012, I was completely lost and unsure if I would ever get married, let alone date, and I threw myself into studying communications at my new school in part to distract myself. I enjoyed communications. It was logical, it was scientific, but it was also at the root of what I loved as a child: creation and creativity. Studying communications brought back my love of writing, which had been missing since I started high school.

I graduated with my bachelor’s in Communication Studies, and then I started looking for a job. I quickly realized that none of the companies that could pay me any livable salary had ethics that I could live with or worked with brands that I could get excited about. It was a sad day when I realized I was back to square one. No potential jobs, no potential relationships, and a fat lot of nothing to show for the last five years of my life. I was lost again. I job searched for six months while helping to plan two weddings, and then I took a retail job. I enjoyed the job and wedding planning, but they didn’t change my life or give me direction. After the weddings, I moved to Boston and became a nanny for my baby cousin. I loved that, too, but it also opened my eyes to the trials that would come with motherhood. For one, you can’t turn it off, and I don’t think I ever really thought about that before. I wasn’t even his mother and the worry was almost crippling. The good days were amazing, but the hard days were harder and more exhausting than anything I have ever experienced. It showed me that I’m not quite ready for motherhood; and that finally allowed my heart to consider other options.

Options. There were many of them at the time. I could move home and get another retail job and exist listlessly while I saved up money for an apartment and then some unfocused future doing who knows what. I could get a job in Boston and stay here, doing the same thing with less of a support network. Or, I could consider graduate school in something.

As a child, I wanted to be in school forever. I wanted to possess all of the knowledge of the universe. I really couldn’t blame Eve for trying that apple, because knowledge is intoxicating. While getting my bachelor’s degree, I decided that I was firmly against going to graduate school. I didn’t want to be a teacher, and if I wanted to study history there were a thousand ways to do that without getting a degree of some kind.

Then I discovered publishing through a YouTube video. Ironically, this is similar to the way I discovered public relations, except that that was through Twitter. After a year of praying over it and processing the idea, I applied, thinking I would have to apply for multiple years before I got in. I was accepted on the first try, and now I’m in the thick of it, but I’m still questioning.

Discovering publishing didn’t suddenly make me want to be a writer or an editor. I’ve always loved those things, but it never occurred to me that I could make a career out of it. When I found publishing, I thought a master’s degree was my only way into the industry. Since getting accepted in March, I have learned so much about the ways into the industry, but the doors themselves are still very much closed to me. I hope to crack them open next semester when I take my book publishing classes, but it is becoming more and more clear to me that opening these doors isn’t something anyone can do for me, but something I have to do for myself, in my own way, and with my own timing.

 

All of this questioning started a couple weeks ago when I finally landed a new job. I’m working in retail in what I guess could be described as head cashier position at a superstore that I won’t name for security reasons. My first day was interesting enough to keep me engaged, and then the morning of my second day I sprained my foot/ankle. After nearly two weeks, I returned to work a week ago for my second day on the job, and everything has been hunky-dory since then. I’ll never know if it’s because I’m on crutches or not, but everyone has been especially kind and calm when I ask questions, and so many people have come up to me and introduced themselves that after only six days on the job I can now tell you the basic hierarchy of the store and who is in charge of which departments, as well as point out the store manager, the HR manager, and the regional manager upon request. It’s amazing to me how quickly the acclimation process is going, and just how much I am enjoying it. I get excited to go to work, even though it means being on my feet/crutches for about eight hours and dealing with a handful of frustrating customers each day. I love serving people, especially when I can serve not only the customers but also my fellow employees in some sort of leadership position.

 

So, in the middle of yesterday’s mass, I realized that motherhood wasn’t my only calling. I can’t live without books. The writing, editing, and creation of them as well as the consumption of them. I adore working with people, whether in a customer service or leadership capacity. I also have a dream of being a Girl Scout Leader someday. I was an assistant leader in middle and high school, and it’s life-changing to help young people discover their strengths and the confidence to pursue their dreams. I want all of these things, and where I live won’t change them. These are my vocations.

September Update & Goals Check-In

Update - 9 - September

This post is going up a little late this month. Mostly because I was completely unmotivated to write it until today, but also because I have kind of a lot going on at the moment.

I’ve moved! I’m still settling into my new home, but I promise to share pictures of my space once my bed arrives. Until then I’m sleeping on an air mattress, which is not ideal, but still better than I thought it would be.

Grad school is going well so far! I’m only two weeks in, but I’m loving my classes and the professors are great. There aren’t a huge number of opportunities to socialize, but I’m working on that. I’ve signed up to be a fiction reader for the graduate-student-run literary journal on campus, Redivider, and I’m hoping to get some opportunities to gain more copyediting experience as well.

There has been nothing but radio silence on the actual paying job front. I don’t understand why companies can’t at the very least have an automatic e-mail sent to anyone they throw into the ‘no’ pile. No answer is just plain rude. Even places that I’ve been able to go into in person and talk to a manager about hiring opportunities just redirect me to online applications that are then met with silence. Thank goodness it’s autumn again. Most retail places are looking to hire for the holidays now, so I should be able to get a position at someplace like Target or Macy’s. I’m sending out those applications today or Sunday.

Right before my nannying job ended, I wrote a cool post about the top 10 board books I read as a nanny. Did your childhood favorite make the list?

Tomorrow, I am attending Boston Teen Author Festival (BTAF) at the Cambridge Public Library and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School! Over 40 YA authors will be there, and while I’m pretty sure I haven’t read any of their books, I can’t wait to learn more about their work and get excited to read it! Best of all, the event is totally free!! I am most excited to meet Lindsay Cummings and Sasha Alsberg. Lindsay and Sasha have written a space opera called Zenith that is due out in January, and I preordered it months ago. Sasha is also one of the reasons I am where I am today. If I had never watched her videos about Emerson and their publishing program, I wouldn’t have looked into graduate school here, and I would probably still be living in New Jersey and trying to get a job in Public Relations while I attempted to write my book and actually working in retail. Instead, I’m chasing my dreams in a city I adore. So thank you, Sasha, and welcome back to Boston! Lindsay is also one of the reasons The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova was on my TBR that day I walked into B&N to find Elise doing a signing. She was so nice and gave some really amazing advice about writing and publishing that further convinced me that working in publishing is what I want to do with my life. So thank you, Lindsay, for sort-of introducing me to Elise. Once I get a job I can’t wait to pick up the sequel in the Loom saga, The Dragons of Nova! I was thrilled to participate in the cover reveal for this book!

Next week I’m seeing Patti Smith at an event for Harvard Bookstore, and I am so so excited. After reading her book M Train this summer (twice!) I am psyched to hear her speak and to pick up a copy of her new book, Devotion, which is supposedly about writing. You might only know her for her Springsteen-co-written hit “Because the Night”, or because of her marriage to Fred Sonic Smith, but believe me, her writing is something downright magical.

When I’m not working on homework, filling out job applications, or making multiple trips to the store to buy apartment necessities, I’ve been reading voraciously and re-reading my WIP. It’s amazing how many things I didn’t need during undergrad that I need now (like a teakettle). I haven’t read my manuscript in its entirety since I wrote it last November. Reading it again is like greeting an old friend. It’s a relief to know that I still love it and that the story is still solidly in my head as well as my heart.

I know I’ve been pretty terrible so far with the Friday Files posts, but I think they’ll pick up soon. I just needed to take a beat and figure out how to incorporate them into my life. Expect one on time management next week that should help explain my process. In the meantime, if you haven’t read my first Friday Files post, check it out here. It’s all about building a grown-up wardrobe without breaking the bank.

That’s what’s going on with me this month. Let’s check and see how I did on my goals in August.

August Goals:

Walk over 40 miles: My total for August was 43.45!

Read 8 Books:
River Secrets
Someone to Hold
Forest Born
The Diviners
Carry On
Fall of a Kingdom
A Man Called Ove
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

What I’ve actually read: A lot of romances.
River Secrets
A Knight to Remember
Getting Out of Hand
Forest Born
Knocking Boots
The Princess Saves Herself in This One
Fahrenheit 451
The Diviners

Review 7 Books:
River Secrets
Forest Born
Someone to Love (Review available in 2018)
Carry On
Fall of a Kingdom
Getting Rid of Bradley
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

The Diviners (Review Available in 2018)

Secure an Apartment: CHECK!!

Secure a Job: Search in progress.

 

September Goals:

Walk over 50 Miles: As of yesterday, I’ve passed the 50-mile mark!

Read 5 Books:
Fall of a Kingdom
Over Sea, Under Stone
Rise of a Hero
Voyager
The Dark is Rising

What I’ve actually read:
Fall of a Kingdom
Someone to Hold

In Other Lands
Over Sea, Under Stone

Review 6 Books:
Fall of a Kingdom
Someone to Hold (Review Available in 2018)
In Other Lands
Over Sea, Under Stone
Rise of a Hero
Fahrenheit 451

 

Get a job: Apparently, I am not the only graduate student struggling with this. Thankfully the holiday season is fast approaching and all of the retail stores are hiring. Who would have thought that two years out of college I would still be struggling to find a job? Not me. I’m also looking into how I can work as a virtual assistant or freelance copyeditor (once my copyediting class is over). I think this whole financial situation will get a lot easier if I can learn to diversify my income and pull from many places rather than one.

 

How are you doing on your goals? Are you still struggling to find a job? Do you have any advice about diversifying your income? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at Amanda@highlightsandhotchocolate.com.

Until next time,

Amanda