Love and Work

I love most Disney movies but, if I had to pick a top ten, it would include The Princess and the Frog.  Tiana has a dream all right, but she turns it into a Goal and works her butt off in order to achieve it.  I always liked what her dad said: “You wish on that star, but it can only take you part of the way.  You have to help it out with hard work.”  And she does.

Then, things don’t go exactly as she planned.  She falls in love.  And she has to choose between Naveen and finally getting the thing she’s worked so hard for.

There are a lot of romantic comedies marketed towards grown women that handle this storyline with less grace than this animated feature.  Woman works hard to get what she wants, man comes along and shows her that all work and no play blah blah blah.  Love is more important than life-long goals anyway, right?

But at the beginning of The Princess and the Frog, Tiana has made it.  She should be reaping the rewards of her hard work except someone moved the finish line.  So she does something desperate in order to get what she’s already earned: she kisses the frog.

This is where the storyline deters from a typical story like this.  Tiana does fall in love with Naveen, but only after he learns the value of hard work and after he decides to prioritize her goal as much as she does.  She does choose Naveen over finally seeing her dream come true, but it’s a corrupted version of her dream anyway: a version that requires hurting people she cares about and a literal deal with the devil.  It makes her realize why she’d had this dream to begin with.  And, in the end, Naveen does everything in his power to make her dream come true.  She did choose his safety over the restaurant, but if he had sat at home while she built Tiana’s Place from the ground up, that boy would have been back on the street again.

All that to say, I saw an article this week that said millenials were prioritizing education and careers over marriage like it was a bad thing, but if your spouse isn’t as invested in your future as you are, there’s nothing wrong with wanting more.

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Brain on Fire

When asked to name their greatest fear, people can list anything: oblivion, dying alone, failure.  Heights, depths, sharks.  Clowns.  While I’m afraid of some of those things, my greatest fear isn’t so common.  My greatest fear is that I could, through some stroke of misfortune, lose the ability to read.

A lot of terrible things happen to Susannah Cahalan in Brain on Fire, many that are objectively worse but, to me, that was the scariest moment in the book.

Brain on Fire is a unique memoir in many ways.  In writing it, Cahalan documented her “month of madness,” from the minor personality lapses that were the first sign something was wrong to her recover as she fought to get her life back.  Most interestingly, there were long stretches of time where she lacked full consciousness.  With no recollection of her own to draw on, Cahalan instead relies on cryptic journal entries, spotty surveillance tapes, and other people’s partial accounts to piece her story together.  A typical memoir relies on distance in time to give it weight.  Her lack of recall gives Cahalan a different distance, putting her closer to her readers’ level.  This changes the tone: the reader is afraid for her though they know she’s right there.  The suspense gives them a reason to keep reading while the camaraderie gives them the courage to go on.

Her pacing encourages this tone.  The book is subtitled, “My Month of Madness,” but it feels longer as doctor after doctor fails to diagnose her.  Besides the fear of not know what was happening or how to fix it, she also shows frustration, especially as some physicians dismiss her concerns or doubt her answers to questions of drugs and drinking, answers that significantly affect their diagnosis.  Women face problems like this all the time and seeing the effect this can have in the face of a major crisis makes the story more personal.

From the beginning, it is clear to the reader that Susannah must get better.  It’s the only way she could have written the book.  But the journey Cahalan takes us on to get there is terrifying and long, while always allowing the reader hope and a good person to cling to.  Despite its horrors,  Brain on Fire is an enjoyable read and a reminder about all the good things in life.

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Land of the Free

It’s July 4th, which means I should probably be posting something patriotic right about now.  Except…I am the least patriotic person you will ever meet.  There’s a lot of things going on in our country right now that I disagree with and I think the fact that we have a literal pledge of allegiance (guys…nobody else does that; seriously) is a little…off.

I have been thinking about this all day and here’s what I’ve decided: America is a work in progress.  There is a long way to go.  We enjoy many freedoms other countries may not, but we have far too many citizens who don’t get to partake in that.  I disagree with the idea of “make America great again,” because we must move forward, not backward, and include all people if we truly want to be great.

I keep seeing these words: “Land of the free because of the brave.”  I know that’s true.  I know it began with the Founding Fathers who risked executions to declare their independence, followed the Union army as they fought to keep the nation together, and continues to show, to this day, in our military who only want to keep its citizens safe.  But that’s not all.

We are free because of the slaves who risked their lives to escape their bondage.  We are free because of the women who marched and endured imprisonment to earn the ability to vote.  We are free because of the brave souls who through the first brick at Stonewall and fought back against discrimination.

“All men are created equal” has often been a catchphrase more than a truth.  Based on race, sex, orientation, and socioeconomic status, too many people are treated as if they don’t count, as if they must justify their existence.  We are not truly free until we are all free, and we still have a ways to go.

So be brave.  Keep fighting for justice and sticking up for those considered “other.”  If we are to be the land where all are free, it will be because you were brave.

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Perks of Being a Wallflower, Redux

This is the third time I’ve picked up The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  The first time, I didn’t make it far past Charlie’s definition of masturbation.  The second time, I finished it, but I still didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.  It was sad, but that was about all I got from it.

I kept the book because I keep all my books, but it wasn’t one I intended to read again.  I only picked it up again because I joined a book club.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a prime example of why rereading is valuable.  On a second read through, you remember enough key plot points to pick up other nuances.  For example, knowing Charlie’s realization about his Aunt Helen at the book’s climax colors his memories of her in such a way that you are forced to reconsider it more complexly, beyond good and add to the multiple layers.  It also makes it easier to see her effects on Charlie, how his inability to assert his own needs is rooted in that one trauma.

Besides foreknowledge of the story itself, you bring to a rereading everything you have learned since the first time.  While reading this time, I recognized signs that Charlie was depressed which led to both a deeper connection to his character and to the text.  It made me wonder if there was a previous draft of the book excluding the epilogue and ending in tragedy – a question I posed to my book club as well.

I enjoyed reading this book as part of my book club.  We discussed the value of anonymity in baring your soul and how the story would be different if it was set in the modern-day with current social media platforms.

Both rereading and book clubs can provide a different perspective for a reader.  And in reading, perspective is everything.  No two people read the same book and no person truly reads the same book twice.  Reading this book reminded me of that, and I enjoyed looking at it with a new perspective.

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Work Anxiety

I started my new job this week.  Before you ask: yes, I am still working at Kate Spade.  I’m doing both.

Retail and food were two industries I never thought I’d be involved in because I’m not really a “people person.”  I put on a good show, but I am very often wishing everyone would just LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY.

The real problem is that people give me anxiety, especially when there is a crowd of them or they expect something from me.

For a long time, that just wasn’t something I talked about.  But in each of my jobs, I have had a moment where I had no choice, where the anxiety was so overwhelming that I couldn’t hide it.

The first was at Kate, where I paused in the back room to catch my breath.  The new manager asked if I was all right and, when I couldn’t answer yes, asked what was wrong.  “I just have a lot of anxiety,” I told her.  She understood – dealt with it as well, in fact – and suggested ways she had learned to cope with hers during her years in retail.  A different day, when I was feeling overwhelmed to the point of tears, she gave me a job that was useful but would give me time to calm myself down.

At Amelie’s (that’s the new place), I mentioned it to two people.  The first, my trainer, suggested an herbal tea we served that was good for anxiety.  It worked too, and soothed my nerves wonderfully.  The second, a guy who was also new but had previously worked at Starbucks and Panera, told me he also had anxiety and that, when things were too overwhelming, he told his boss and just took a break.

Through talking about my anxiety, I found others who could relate to my struggle and had overcome it.  I also found ways to make it better, through following their advice and alleviating the stress of needing to hide it.  The worst thing mental illness does is trick you into believing you’re alone – and you’re not.  We hear it so much it becomes a platitude, but it’s the truth.


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Postcards From the Edge

Carrie Fisher drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.

But in another world, Carrie Fisher died with cocaine, heroine, and ecstasy in her system.  She self-medicated for her mental illness and lost the fight to addiction.

Fisher was a brilliant actress, but she was also a brilliant writer.  Her first book, Postcards from the Edge, proves this.

From the very beginning, Postcards is…uncomfortable.  It follows Suzanne as she is hospitalized for her addiction and goes into recovery.  Once she leaves the hospital, it shows her recovery and attempt to re-assimilate into the real world.  Her writing came from a place of pain, from someone who has experienced it before.

The format – part diary, part third person – emphasizes the tone.  The diary entries are a place of reflection, a day-to-day log of her time in the hospital with other addicts.  It simulates for the reader how she feels she belongs there.  When she leaves the hospital and the story is told in third person, it emulates her outsider status.  This section also shows how hard recovery can be.

At first, it was hard to get immersed in the story, because of the awkwardness.  But after a few chapters, that became the appeal.  That, and Suzanne, who is an appealing character it’s easy to relate to, especially if you also suffer a mental illness.

Rest in peace Carrie, and thanks for the story.

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The Wonder Woman movie finally came out, after years and years of waiting for it.  I was worried.  For one thing, I have hated almost ever DC movie I’ve ever seen.  The most recent, Batman Vs. Superman and Suicide Squad, were exceptionally awful.

And yet, Wonder Woman was incredible.  Gal Gadot was the perfect actress for the role, playing Diana Prince as a powerful warrior whose kindness and compassion are her strength.  Chris Pine stole hearts and subsequently broke them as Steve Trevor, who is an actual nice guy who respects Diana and believes in doing the right thing.  The movie was populated by well-rounded characters, many of whom were also strong women, and it showed the pain of war as it affected communities and individuals.  This is mostly thanks to Patty Jenkins, the movie’s director who fought for years to bring the Amazon’s story to life.

It’s one of those movies that made me want to fight the patriarchy with my own bare hands, and a movie I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.  The same thing can be said of Cars 3.

In the third installment of the franchise, Lightning McQueen is getting beaten more and more by newer race cars.  Other veteran racers are retiring, but Lightning refuses to quit before he’s ready.  When  he wrecks horribly, it looks like he might not have a choice.  He doesn’t want to face the same fate Doc did, but since he’s not there anymore, Lightning can’t ask his advice.  Instead, he goes to the places Doc trained on, the dirt tracks and the forest roads, and meets those who inspired him.

Initially, it looks like the message is the typical millennial-hating garbage of the older generation: newcomers ruin everything.  Actually though, it’s the opposite: the message is that the older generation has to adapt if they want to stay in the game.  Lightning gets to continue doing what he loves because he’s willing to learn new things to do it.

Lightning has a lot of character development, but my favorite part of this movie was Cruz Ramirez.  After being told all her life that she’s “not a race car,” she’s given up on the dream.  When she learns to believe in herself – and Lightning takes her under his wing – she proves them wrong.

If Wonder Woman made me feel like fighting the patriarchy with my bare hands, Cars 3 made me feel like dismantling it brick by brick.  They talk about the history of racing, both the good and the barriers outsiders had to break down themselves.  By looking at their history they were prepared to move into the future.  Nothing is given to them freely, but they understand why it’s worth fighting for.

Both are empowering movies and worth supporting for the messages they share and the characters they bring to life.  They’re great if you need a pick-me-up.  So head to the movie theater and get ready for Feelings.

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Once and For All

Sarah Dessen has been my favorite author since I was fourteen.  I’ve read all of her books and get the new ones as quickly as I can.  Her latest, Once and For All, is obviously written by a different person, a Sarah Dessen who’s grown and is reacting to the world around her.

Louna has seen a lot of marriages come and go, courtesy of her mother’s wedding planning business.  But its hard to believe in true love because, if you only get one, she’s already lost her chance.  But Ambrose believes in second chances and wishes, and he hopes to make Louna believe in them too.

I enjoyed Once and For All, though the quality after the magic of her writing in Saint Anything was slightly disappointing.  It is clear she used this writing to work through her grief about recent news events.  I don’t fault her for this – it’s what writing is for – but it did affect the story’s cohesion.

The chapters alternated between the main story and flashbacks of Louna’s life before. It worked for Louna’s character, revealing crucial information about her past in a format that allowed the reader to know her as she is and what made her that way.  It shows the ways tragedy can affect a person.

Unfortunately, trying to write two love stories in one book distracted from the main plot.  Neither romance was as immersive as most of her books are.

Despite this, the characters are as charming as ever, including William, Louna’s mother’s gay business partner, and Louna’s best friend Jilly.  I mention them by name because they were my favorites, and every scene they appear in feels like hanging out with a friend.

Overall, I did enjoy Sarah Dessen’s Once and For All…I just wouldn’t recommend it as anyone’s first Dessen novel.

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Dead Last beats Did Not Finish, which is better than Did Not Start

April and May did not work out like I wanted them to.  I still haven’t fixed my writing space; I’m still not sure how I could.

Instead of dwelling on that and the missed posts (and getting even more behind), I’m going to take this one word at a time.  It’s not a permanent solution by any means, but it’s better than what I’ve been doing.  And what a great week to start, because I did something really exciting this weekend that I’d like to share with you.

Friday, Jennifer and I (and Layla) drove down to Charleston.  It was exciting from the very start.  South Carolina drivers seemed to be holding a contest of who could kill us first.  But we did make it in one piece.  After checking in at our campsite (yes, campsite: more on that later) at James Island, we went downtown.

The stretch of King Street we were on looked like someone had turned Southpark Mall inside out and dumped it on the street.  But on the next block, down Market Street, we found some of the true gems of Charleston: the open-air market, Market Street Sweets, Kaminsky’s and the attached steakhouse that was recently damaged by fie, and the Moon Pie General Store.  We walked another twenty minutes to go to Blue Bicycle Books.

I don’t know how Jennifer felt about this bookstore, especially after all the trouble it took us to find it, but I love this place.  It’s quiet and peaceful, and I always feel like I’m entering a different world when I open the door and the cool air rushes at me.  We only stayed a few minutes, and we didn’t buy anything but my Charleston trip wouldn’t have felt complete without it.

With First Looks over, it was time to get to the reason we were there: Questival.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been describing Questival as a scavenger hunt, but it’s not that simple.  It’s 24 hours of adventures big and small.  The things we were challenged to do ranged from “draw a team crest” to “eat a bug,” “sing karaoke” to “ride a unicycle.”  Each quest was worth a certain amount of points.  Jennifer and I focused on location quests because we wanted to see as much of Charleston as possible.  We visited Rainbow Row, Waterfront Park with its pineapple fountain, and White Gardens.  We even drove out to the Angel Oak Tree, a 400-year-old oak.

Most memorable was the Four Corners of Law, not because of the  buildings themselves but because of the woman we met standing there: a 75-year-old former Marine who noticed we looked lost and stopped to help.  She suggested we go in the church, as both Washington and Lee had worshipped there, and eat lunch at Brown Dog Deli.  Unfortunately the church had just closed, but the deli was the most amazing meal I’ve had in a while.  I had the Fig’N’Pig, the perfect blend of sweet and savory.  Also a chocolate chip cookie, which was so sweet and gooey I almost died.

We finished Questival in 71st place.  Seventy teams did better than we did…but thirty did not.  At least ten of those had zero points because they didn’t even try.

Maybe we didn’t win, but we had a lot of fun exploring Charleston and stepping out of our comfort zone.  And yes, camping.

This was the first time I’d ever been camping.  We put up the tent and got a thousand bug bites.  We even made new friends with some girls from Asheville who camped a lot.  It was a great first camping trip.  We’re already looking forward to the next one.

Sometimes you step out of your comfort zone and find yourself in a magical place.

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A Day at Kate Spade

I started my job at Kate almost two months ago.  I love it, and one of the things i love about it is that every day is new.

That being said, this isn’t a “typical” day, because there’s no such thing.

9:02 – Kasey and I clock in.  I have spent almost an hour in traffic, but feel better as soon as I pass through the doors.

9:12 – While Kasey works on the deposit, I pull out my client book and make sure all my information is up-to-date.

9:20 – We take the trash out.  (It can’t all be glamorous.)

9:34 – Kasey shows me how to check in a shipment.  The first thing I unload is a new box of Glitter Keds!

10:03 – Music comes on and the doors officially open.

10:10 – We get our first client of the day, a woman looking for a dress to wear to her daughter’s “moving up” ceremony.  I sell her my favorite black dress in the store.

10:27 – Kasey and I talk about her time on a cruise ship while we wait for the next client to enter.

10:44 – We get a new delivery. Still preparing for the new floorset on June first!

11:29 – A man comes in to buy his wife a purse.  He talks about how she was there for him when he had nothing and how they’re still close now.  It’s the most precious thing I’ve heard all day.

12:00 – I’m introduced to a muse (that’s my official job title – how darling is that?) who has transferred from Charleston.  She gives me some suggestions about where I should eat on my trip next month.

1:30 – Kasey and I work with a woman who’s just turned 70.  She’s a sweet, colorful person who falls in love with our camel t-shirt and a pink pair of sunglasses.

1:34 – Off to lunch.  I have a chat with one of the employees at Coach about the acquisition.

2:34 – I clock back in.

3:02 – I help a lovely woman find a comfy dress to replace hers that’s falling apart.

4:28 – A girl comes in with her grandmother, looking for a bag to take on her trip to Charleston.

4:47 – Lainey and I tag-team markdowns.  Neither of us know all the product names yet, making the whole thing an interesting scavenger hunt.  (Spoiler alert: most of the items have already sold out at our store, so it’s a bit fruitless.)

5:58 – Dawn finishes her work in the back just as Britt is arriving.  The back room has never been so organized, at least not while I’ve been there.

At the end of the day, I’m tired and my feet hurt.  With the adrenalin fading, I start to realize some of the things I could have done better.  It’s a continuous learning process, and can be emotionally exhausting for an introvert like me.  I’m looking forward to my day off…but I’m also excited to return Saturday, when I’ll meet new, interesting people and spend time with all the shining girls I get to work with.

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