whim: an odd or capricious notion or desire; a sudden or freakish fancy

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

my life according to buzzfeed quizzes

Sometimes I wonder if I should be doing more productive things with my free time, but then I think naaaah. And then I take another quiz.

So, without further ado, here is a summary of my life and personality according to wise, wonderful, always reliable universe of Buzzfeed quizzes:

1. Which Jane Austen hero is your soulmate? 
Mr. George Knightly (I was hoping for Wentworth, but alas)

2. Which Jane Austen heroine are you? 
Anne Elliot (I am most pleased) 

3. Which American president are you?
Andrew Jackson 

4. What is your patronus?

5. What should you give up for Lent? 
Caffeine (I don't actually drink caffeine, except for the occasional Dr. Pepper to keep me awake when I'm driving to and from work. So this probably means I should give up NOTHING for Lent. Actually, I really should give up Buzzfeed.) 

6. What kind of ghost will you be? 
White Lady (a vengeful spirit who haunts a lighthouse by a rocky cliff? Okay, sure, that sound good.)

7. What kind of cat are you? 
Indoor cat (this seems like a copout. Aren't there a lot of cats who are technically indoor cats? But if you mean introvert, then yes, that would be accurate.)

8. Which Jurassic Park character are you?
The sassy velociraptor (yes, please)

9. Which period in history do you really belong in? 
Imperial China (hmmm.)

10. Which character from Shakespeare are you?

11. Which philosopher are you?
Nietzsche (hehe)

12. Which Joss Whedon character are you?
Kaylie from Firefly. I like her, and they describe her as an "adorable badass." I'm okay with that.

13. Which strong female character are you?
Princess Leia (love)

14. Which fandom do you actually belong in?
Whedonverse (I love this. I mean, the Tolkien universe is always appealing to me, but I'm pretty sure Joss Whedon gets my heart)

15. Which Hogwarts House do you actually belong in?

16. Which Harry Potter character are you?
Dumbledore (okay?)

17. Which Doctor Who companion are you?
Clara Oswin Oswald (I really like Clara. They do need to spend a lot more time developing her character, but overall, she rocks my socks off)

18. Which dream home should you live in?
A beach house in Bali (yes, I'm on board with that one!)

19. What city should you actually live in?
Cape Town, South Africa (this conflicts with #18, but I'm okay with two houses.)

20. Which Disney hero is your true love?
Flynn Rider

21. Which Disney princess are you?

22. Which European country should you actually live in?
Sweden (three houses?!)

23. Which career should you have?
Writer (MFA Creative Writing degree in hand--now where's my money??)

I'm sure there are more, but let's call it a day. 

And now you know the true me. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

2013 in retrospect: body woes

It's been a few days since I posted about my decision to spend January reflecting on the previous year before I move on with my 2014 resolutions and such. So I started with my 2013 list of favorite books, which was an easy-peasy post (if there's anything I can reflect on, it's books). Other things are less fun to think/write about. Like my body. One of the biggest woes I had in 2013 was a growing animosity for my body and, because it's one of the hardest things for me to talk about, I'd love to get it out of the way and out of my system early in the month.

It's probably better to start this with a general history of this issue in my life. So this post will probably be more of a 2013andbefore reflection, but we'll see where I end up. Thank you for indulging me. 

I should start by saying that I've had body image issues for almost my entire life. I realize that I'm not alone in this. Everyone has at least one thing about their body they'd like to change, right? And I know that it's possible to acknowledge my body's faults while still being comfortable in my own skin––but for me, that's much, much easier said than done. 

To start off, I have this weirdly vivid memory of when I went to visit my friend who was working at a dress shop in the local mall (we were in high school). It was a slow day in the store, so she was picking out dresses for me to try on and we were having a little fashion show. As I was showing off the dresses, she mentioned that she was envious of my curves, because she was so stick straight. I was completely shocked. I could not wrap my head around the fact that someone who was that skinny would ever want to be curvy. I wasn't overweight, but my hips and thighs had always bothered me, and I remember being really confused. I was always envious of her body type––what business did she have being envious of mine? 

I thought that an "ideal" body type existed, and because I did not have this body type, I was unhappy with my body. My body was not good enough; therefore, I was not good enough. The shame I felt for my body colored my whole perception of who I was and what I was worth. As a teenager (and even into the first couple years of my twenties), I held back in so many areas of my life, and I see now that my tendency to hold back was directly linked to my distorted body image. I was an academic underachiever of sorts in high school... okay, I was a straight A student, but I never really pushed myself. I know I could have worked a lot harder than I did. Also, I loved to sing, and had a decent voice, but I never had the confidence to excel vocally. I did audition for a couple musicals in high school, and I made call-backs both times, but when I suddenly had to sing in front of other students who were, in my opinion, beautiful songbirds, I froze. I sang with the intensity and pitch of a dying mouse, and I was stuck in the ensemble playing Random Nurse 15 in South Pacific and Random Cockney Street Woman in My Fair Lady. 

In my early twenties, I made a sort of uneasy truce with my body. I was still not satisfied with my shape, but I started realizing that I could still be a worthwhile, excellent person without being the perfect size (this is not rocket science, folks, but believe me, it can be a hard thing to accept). I took better care of my body and was, overall, more happy with myself. I went on an LDS mission and learned that not only was I capable of doing really hard things, I actually enjoyed it. I started having health problems on my mission, but thankfully was able to serve a full 18 months, and I came home with a determination to take better care of my body. Also, when I came home I realized the enormous amount of self confidence that goes along with academic achievement, so I started pushing myself in school. Things were going better. 

Aaaand then this little thing called grad school came along. It was, thus far, the pinnacle of my academic achievement, and I am so proud of what I achieved in my master's program. It was one of the best and hardest things I have ever accomplished. But grad school was not great on my body. That is, I was not kind to my body while I was in grad school. I basically threw healthy eating and exercising to the wind and put 100% of myself into my program. Winter 2013 (January to April) was the last semester of my program. I was teaching classes, taking classes, working on my thesis, and really loving it. 

I know that my body had been screaming TAKE A BREAK AND TAKE CARE OF ME for a while, but I was too busy and going too fast to notice or care. All of the sudden, I went from going 100 miles an hour to standing still, and my lack of caring for my body caught up to me. I gained weight, which I hated, but what was worse was the depression that came along with it. I knew I had to start taking better care of myself, and I really tried, but my body seemed determine to punish me for my negligence by being sluggish and refusing to lose weight. As a result, I wallowed and cried and locked myself in my room with books and Netflix streaming. 

When I did make attempts at interacting socially with others, it was really really hard. A few friends from grad school and I decided to spend the weekend in Capitol Reef, and I was so excited to see everyone, but dreading it at the same time. I actually cried when I left my house, partially because I was stressed, and partially because I felt pathetic for still not having a job, and partially being I so wanted to be 30 pounds lighter than I was. When I actually got there, I felt a whole lot better, and I had such a lovely time being around my kind, supportive friends, but I still struggled, feeling distant and cut off. I realized that part of my problem was that I was internalizing my troubles instead of seeking help from others, but I just couldn't get myself to say anything. I couldn't vocalize what I was feeling. 

So here I am, more than six months after graduating, still in the same body slump. Body image issues on top of general depression on top of looking for a job and deciding what in the world I want to do with my life = one herculean rut. I have a feeling that I'll come back to this rut in later posts, because I want to think a little more about depression and about what I want to do with my life, but for now, I want to wrap up by going back to where I started (somewhat).

I know "they say" you should love your body no matter what size or shape you are, but to be perfectly honest, I'm afraid that the happier I am with my body, the less I will be motivated to be healthier and lose weight. I know that's a harmful mindset, but sometimes you know things and still don't believe them. Isn't that the worst? When someone wise tells you something wise and all you can say is "I know, I know," but that really doesn't change anything? All I can say is knowing something is different than believing it, and just because I know I am a worthwhile, excellent person, doesn't mean I always believe it. 

As I read through this post, I find it unimaginable that I'm still fighting the same battle I fought back when my friend told me she was envious of my curves. Why is this still a problem? 

My mind keeps coming back to part of the Sylvia Plath quote I have posted on my blog: "The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." I believe that the impulse to create things is something innately human––and creativity extends much farther than just the arts. We all have the ability to create moments (perfect moments, even), and if what Plath says is true, self-doubt is what hinders our creativity the most. There are enough hard things in life, why make it harder for ourselves? If I could make peace with my body instead of constantly tearing myself down, how much more could I accomplish? 

How much more could I create? 

Friday, January 3, 2014

challenge: most influential books of my life

One of my dear friends, Shaina, challenged me to come up with a top ten list of the best/most influential books in my life, and I can't help but make an attempt. It's really hard, though. First of all, I've got to figure out what "influential" means in this context. I'm thinking of books that have evoked the strongest emotions, books that have really stayed with me, that were revolutionary in some way. Books I think about a lot. Also, books that have influenced my own writing.

Also, I'm finding it impossible to come up with only ten, so I've broken it up into two lists: most groundbreaking FICTION and most groundbreaking NONFICTION (sorry, poetry and drama. you haven't made it yet).

Here goes:

Top Ten Fiction (in no particular order):

1. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
2. Persuasion, Jane Austen
3. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
4. Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
5. Fairy Tales of the Brother Grimm
6. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
7. Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
8. The Princess Bride, William Goldman
9. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
10. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Bonus: The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Top Ten Nonfiction (in no particular order):

1. The Art of the Personal Essay, ed. Phillip Lopate
2. Essays of Elia, Charles Lamb
3. Dreamthorp, Alexander Smith
4. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard
5. Leaping, Brian Doyle
6. Words of the Grey Wind, Chris Arthur
7. Quotidiana, Patrick Madden
8. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
9. On Tremendous Trifles, GK Chesterton
10. The Wet Collection, Joni Tevis
Bonus: At Large and at Small: Familiar Essays, Anne Fadiman

(I know, I know, I totally cheated with the bonuses. So, combining the lists and including the bonuses, this is the Top 22 Most Influential Books of My Life. Ah well.)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 in retrospect: overview and books

Rather than feeling the typical celebratory, forward-thinking attitude that a new year brings, I find myself feeling reflective. I find myself wanting to look back before I look forward (perhaps this is inspired by Charles Lamb's marvelous essay, "New Year's Eve," which you should absolutely read if you haven't already).

2013 was a big year for me, in more ways than one. It was thrilling, fulfilling, frustrating, and depressing in turn. I experienced some of my highest highs and lowest lows, and I think it would be wrong of me to close the door on everything I experienced without some recorded meditation. So, I've decided to devote the month of January to looking back at 2013. Usually, the beginning of January is spent making goals; instead, I want to spend January internalizing the previous year, and then I will move forward at the beginning of February with resolutions and the like. My only goal for January is to blog. I start teaching at SUU next week (still haven't written a syllabus), and I expect that the first month of teaching will be busy, finding my way around and getting used to a new campus, new students, and mostly getting back into a teaching mode. BUT I'd like to blog my way through, here a little and there a little, despite being busy.

Anyway, my first item of reflection is books. I read around fifty books in 2013 (a number that I'd like to increase this year, but I'll make that goal later), some of them fantastic and life altering, others disappointing and dull. Here are my favorites:

Best Books I Read in 2013 (in no particular order):

1. At Large and at Small: Familiar Essays, Anne Fadiman: This collection embodies so much of what I love about essays: they meander, reflect, inform and transform. She inspects ordinary topics and makes them fascinating. She is also witty and so much more intelligent than I could ever be.

2. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver: This book broke my heart, then broke it again and again. It was tragic and haunting and beautiful all at the same time. Oh, and Kingsolver's prose is TO DIE FOR GORGEOUS.

3. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green: There are so many YA books that are absolute trash (I suppose that's true of most genres), but I love a good YA novel. I wept in this book. Shamelessly.

4. The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart (the second YA novel on this list): You know the feeling of reading a book with ideas and characters that are utterly tired and predictable? Like a painfully derivative RomCom? This book was the exact opposite, and it was refreshing. The concept, plot, and characters of this novel are unique and fresh, and it was so much fun to read. The second book in the series is less successful, but still fun, and I have yet to read the third.

5. Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), Jerome K. Jerome: Hilarious. Jerome's essays are delightful, so much so that I was apprehensive about reading his fiction (I didn't want to be disappointed), but this book was laughoutloud funny from the very first page.

6. Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh: Some may not see the purpose of buying the book, because most of the chapters also appear on Allie's blog, but after reading it, I did not regret buying it one bit. I laughed (harder and more frequently than I did in #5) because it is so darn funny, and I cried because parts of it are so fetching tragic. Allie Brosh is relatable and outlandish and incredibly talented.

7. Things That Are, Amy Leach: This collection of essays makes the natural world seem magical and fantastical. I had the privilege of hearing Leach read from this book and also workshopping one of my essays with her, and it was wonderful. Check out her bluegrass readings online, and you will see how delightful and quirky she is. Love love love.

8. Moby Dick, Herman Melville: This novel is a dream. I love essays, and I love fiction, and this book manages to be both. I took my merry time reading it because I didn't want to rush––I wanted to relish in Melville's seductive prose. I admit, at times I wanted more narrative, but in the end, I was won over. Take a gander at mobydickbigread.com, and listen to Tilda Swinton's reading of Chapter One and Benedict Cumberbatch's reading of Chapter 58.

9. Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys: Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorites, so it's surprising that I hadn't heard about Wide Sargasso Sea before this year. I love how fragmented and imaginative this novel is, and I love the idea of fleshing out a character that is so little explored in the original text. I'm looking forward to reading Jane Eyre again to see how this book affects my reading of it.

10: Birdology, Sy Montgomery: A collection of personal essays about Montgomery's interactions with birds. What could be more delightful? Both informative and charming. Read it.

11. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald: I reveled in how deliciously depressing this book is. Give me a great melancholy book with doomed characters and I'm a happy girl (weird, I know––don't judge).

BONUS: Most Disappointing Books I Read in 2013:

1. The Haunted Mesa, Louis L'Amour: I really REALLY did not want this book to turn sci-fi/fantasy halfway through. I wanted it to stay a creepy ghost story steeped in Native American legend and myth, not a gateway to a different dimension. I felt like it was such a cop-out. Blech.

2. Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson: I feel blasphemous putting RL Stevenson anywhere near a Most Disappointing list, because I love his essays with all my heart, and I love Treasure Island. But this book just did not do it for me. I was bored through the entire second half. Maybe I wasn't in the mood?

3. Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness, Willard Spiegelman: I really wanted this book to be great. That title! Taking pleasure in the ordinary! It sounded so wonderful. But I found Spiegelman's essays dull and a bit lackluster. Also, as a narrator he came off as pompous and a bit too self-satisfied. Alas.

(Note: I really love even numbers, and I am uncomfortable with the fact that both of my lists end in odd numbers. Should I indulge in my obsessive compulsive tendencies and add one more book to each list? Yes, yes I should. Without further ado:

Another Best Book:

12. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons: Witty, charming, cheeky.

Another Disappointing Book:

4. A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle: What's with the weird Utah tangent? Seemed so out of place. I love Doyle's other Sherlock stories, but this one wasn't his best.

The end.)