This morning, John and I took a walk with two of our friends, another couple whom we are so lucky to know. Everyone had coffee (not me, though! I get the zoomies) and we strolled around Ravenswood enjoying the sunshine and beautiful weather. We talked about movies, books, projects, and how much we missed traveling. (Good lord, I miss traveling.) It was a wonderful way to start the morning.
Some relationships take work, especially in our pandemic-informed world. Sometimes you have to pick up the phone or tune into the Zoom meeting, and sometimes it's frustrating based on whether or not you like the person on the other end...but we do these things because there are certain societal expectations: work obligations, social obligations, the yearly Holiday call, etc.
And then there are truly effortless relationships. These are the ones you drop what you're doing once you see the contact name light up your phone screen, or the ones that make you smile as you put the hangout into your calendar. The key to these relationships being flawless isn't necessarily having everything in common. I've realized that it comes down to one factor.
It's all about being comfortable with being yourself, and both parties totally accepting each other as they are by creating space in conversation to speak and to listen, and most importantly to hear. Hearing also manifests in body language. For example, a phrase like "I see that you're looking a little blue today," when the other person isn't ready to say it can be a wonderful way to show that you're listening. It's a basic acknowledgement of the human experience, and it works healing magic.
If I am being honest, I spend most of my time only being a pale shade of myself. I sit quietly over long dinners, entertain small talk and redirect it to take the spotlight off of myself, listen through my phone's receiver, only giving feedback to show that I am listening and that I care, and definitely turn down my quirkiness I have learned to embrace as I get older. I don't know exactly how I became conditioned to act this way, but I think the answer is somewhere in between the church pews where I was expected to be silent and sit or stand whenever someone told me to, and the barroom career I developed where I have to be someone else to show the room a good time.
I'm not complaining. It's just a fact of life. We can't be all of ourselves all of the time (especially not in professional situations) and our ability to Chameleon our way through different situations is actually pretty cool. It can be a survival technique or a way to win at poker every time. It can even be fun.
All I'm saying is that I'm grateful to have a couple of friends who let me feel entirely like myself every time. The relationship is effortless, the conversations are mutual and easy and extremely wholesome. I'm just feeling thankful right now, and John feels the same way, so I can be confident that the awesome-friend factor lies with these two lovely, kind people who were up for coffee and a walk this morning. If you stumble upon this, thank you.
Until tomorrow, stay safe, stay well, and stay kind.
I never thought I'd return to teaching piano. I swore it off during my Master's program, mostly because the free time in my Master's program was gently (sarcasm) padded with several students as well as six+ gigs per week. After a 7am alarm, a rushed thirty-minute dress-n-run, an hour commute, and an often-hungover, but always exhausted $5 breakfast at the South Loop's Dunkin Donuts location, I'd barely make it to class on time. At 9:30am I would find my usual seat in Electronic Music class and try to get through the lecture's heady contents. After dismissal, sometimes I'd take a quick 15-minute nap in the studio next door, hanging onto the day by the skin of my teeth. Then, I'd go through my classes until 5 or 7pm, grab food, and hit the bar to work until 2am. I'd crash around 3 or 4, get up, and do it all again.
I did this during my undergrad as well, though I'm not sure if I worked harder then, or during my masters. Chicago is a different beast than Kalamazoo, but all I know for certain is that I was tired. I was tired in high school, too. In my 29 years, I don't think I've had much time to simply chill. Even as I write this, I'm coming off of 5.5 hours of private piano teaching, 2 hours of livestreaming, and an hour phone call. After all of that, I still have a few thousand words to plow through to hit my daily goal and this is a Pandemic with "free time" to burn. Do I have an off switch? And if I do, would someone please tell me where it's located? I'm finding ways to make every minute count. It's in my blood. It's how I was trained.
I paid off my student debt in 2019. This is because I worked my face off in a relatively lucrative, yet abusive field starting at the age of twenty. I have, at times, felt resentment and confusion surrounding talks of student debt forgiveness. Where's my 10-50K check for time/life/friendships/opportunities spent on singing in bars to clear my credit score? I paid my dues! (Stay with me, my fellow 90's kids. I'm on your side.)
I'm a millennial living in a major city who owns a home. I also owe the years of insomnia and anxiety to this as well.
I think we need to place more value in the accountability of our education systems to ensure that students who go into debt can get out of it. I got to my financial status (not great, just stable...) in a field that is only tangentially related to my degrees. I don't compose for money. I don't perform art music for a living. I write and perform pop songs.
I will do another post about the rungs of accountability and possible solutions that I believe in for everyone who paid to attend higher Ed. But right now, the crispy, candy-coated M&M-like outer layer is this:
Student debt means money, yes. But more importantly, it means the emotional debt assigned to the minds and well being of college students. No one should have to pull all-nighters to please a professor, let alone endure degradation for one. By signing up for a career path, one should be guaranteed a job, or at least a shot at one. And for god's sake -- why is college so damn expensive these days? And the branded colleges that might get you a better shot at your dream gig...? They're unattendable (yes, I created that word) for most middle- and lower class families. How can we aim to thrive when most of my peers struggle daily with anxiety, depression, perfectionist complexes, and self-medication to turn off academia?
Student debt means the repercussions of mental health for years to come. Student debt means the fear of unemployment. Student debt means giving of yourself beyond the resources that you have. College is a paid service. Often times, it doesn't pay dividends. There must be a solution, or at least a middle ground. I think smaller class sizes are a start, but that's for another post, dear reader.
What did you get out of school? I'm honestly curious, and I'm open to experiences unlike my own. As far as my payout, I got some great friendships and a few extra tools in my toolbox, but we all deserve more than that.
I am a curious person by nature. I love to read, write, and study whatever catches my attention. I will always crack the next book I can get. I will always turn on NPR to hear what's going on in the world. I will always splurge on museum tickets or concerts or travel. I was probably always going to be okay. But I always felt like I needed the diploma-stamp of school to validate me.
I know this is a divisive issue, and a painful one for many. Some will call it a privileged conversation. Some will think that I'm being snarky or out of line. This type of post certainly bars me from higher-ed gigs in the future. But it shouldn't. therein lies the f***ed up paradox of academia (just like the starred-out use of an expletive in a vErY rAtIoNaL ArGuMeNt). Debate should be not only entertained, but welcomed with open arms in these institutions, as well as their hiring panels. Prove me wrong. I'm here for it. And by the way, I'm extremely qualified with a MM + 9 years' professional international gigging experience in several genres. *Yawn* But I'm sooo self involved! And I refuse to play by the rules, that is, after I played by them for many years.
So I'll keep hanging around here and sharing my thoughts, expecting to be shut out of the very circles I graduated from with nearly 4.0 GPAs. In the meantime, I just want a few trauma-fried brain cells and 100K back. Is that too much to ask?
This post was sponsored by my own homemade Yellow Scorpion and Scotch Bonnet pepper hot sauce: Spicy.
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.
I'm struggling with writing today. That's natural and fine, but I'm going to try and put the words down.
I stayed productive for most of the morning and afternoon. After my usual morning writing exercises, I had a sound check for my Songwriter Sunday, followed by a doc appointment and a few errands. One of these errands included picking up food for my lovely leopard gecko, Athena. (If you've never seen a Dubia Roach, definitely Google them, but don't be afraid: they're far quieter and less smelly than crickets.) The other involved picking up a package that had been shipped to an old address.
One of these errands involved a very kind person who reached out to me via Instagram and let me know a delivery had been sent to his apartment with my name, address and apartment number on it. Wild! We chatted for a few days before I knew it was legit and I made my pickup. He was so sweet and congenial. It restored a bit of my faith in humanity, if I can use that old trope.
Today was a good day because I felt like it was normal to run around and perform errands (double masked, of course). I usually hate going to the doctor's office, but today it gave me something to plan for; to be ready for.
I'm feeling a bit spent from the six vials of blood drawn from my arm, so I might let myself relax a bit extra tonight. I know it's not a *huge* deal, but my pre-doc blood pressure and my post-doc blood pressure readings were entirely different; the latter dropped back down to normal. My anxiety is a very real thing and I'm trying to honor whatever my body is up to these days. Right now, my anxiety monsters are rallying for a Netflix night. (Don't forget to visit my post: "In Defense of Vices". Takeout and TV, here we gooooooo.)
So, reader, I apologize for the short post, and I hope to get you something much more snackworthy tomorrow. Today was too exciting for this old lady.
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.
Photography: Andrew Kaczor
Fun fact for those of you who know me from my original music, my cover career, and my intense enthusiasm for conversation about albums, artists, and sound in general. However, I was doing something before I was jamming at the piano.
I was skiing.
My parents allege that I first hit the slopes at the age of 3. This, of course, was on a small kid's practice hill, what they called a "bunny hill." I don't know if it was the usual snowy Ohio winters or my low center of gravity (I'm 4'10" as an adult), but I took a shine to traditional skiing, then racing, then a bit of stunt work with trick skis. Every time I arrived at the local ski resort, I remember feeling incredible pride when I would fill out the skier ability level sheet to get the proper resistance set up for my body's ability: Level III. Check.
I placed in a few of the local ski races in my preteen years, and went on to tackle double black diamonds in New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont into my teenage years. I wanted to tackle Colorado next. I loved the thrill of the speed, conquering moguls, and beating other people to the bottom, only to take the lift back up and do it all again. I didn't mind the cold; the warmth of the ski lodge was all the more satisfying after a couple of hours on the slopes. Hot pretzels and hot chocolate were fitting rewards.
I was always a daredevil kid. A few medical emergency highlights include a sprained ankle from soccer practice, trying to tough out what might have been Meningitis, and a snake bite (yes, I engaged with the snake). Also, the following.
My cousin Andrew got me interested in trying stunts. He's a phenomenal snowboarder, and even with my experience, I pale in comparison when it comes to baseplates meeting powder. He is also an incredible photographer with a keen eye for motion and color, and found a niche in photographing snowboarders (as well as being the subject of some shots for magazines, if my memory serves me correctly). He even moved out West for awhile to chase his passion in both areas. Yes, that's his photography work above. (Not of me...sheesh!)
One day I was tackling a jump I'd done countless times. Correct me if I'm wrong, mom and dad, but in my memory, the peak of the jump was taller than me, so upwards of 6 feet. Normally, my skis whizzed along, my poles nestled securely under my armpits, and my goggles whisked the snow from my vision: I was lazer-locked in. On this particular day, I wanted to try a 180, landing backward and spinning back out to garner more speed forward. I had also done this before, however, on this particular day, my ski caught wrong somewhere somehow and the next thing I knew, my brain was pulling back black curtains from my eyes and red-coated staff was getting ready to strap me in a gurney to take me down to Medical. The rest of the day was a bit fuzzy.
Ever since then I've been a bit hesitant to try challenging physical endeavors. I even avoided getting a bike for many years, and once I had one, the first few rides were terrifying. It's like my mortality was slapped back into my head.
Today, John and I went ice skating. I haven't done that in awhile...not for any given reason, but maybe because I used to be so busy gigging, If I had to guess. Maggie Daley park was beautiful, the sun was shining and we had nearly 40-degree weather. I was so excited for this excursion, this change of pace, and I didn't think anything of it. We got our skates after checking in and laced up. "It's just like skiing," I told John, remembering the sweaty lodge smell and the struggle of snapping in my own ski boots as a kid.
As I stepped onto the ice, I faltered. A fluke, I noted. But then I pushed off and faltered again, and felt the embarrassment rise, flushing my mask-concealed cheeks (thank goodness). After a few more shaky steps I had to ask John to hold my hand. I hate asking for help.
So here's the thing: is it a matter of practice? I was a born snowbunny. If I had to ask my childhood self if she'd ever be scared of ice skating, she would have laughed in my face. Yet, here I was, fumbling along, executing my worst nightmare: relying on (ugh!) a man for help! Luckily John is my favorite dude, and he was the sweetest about it, as he always is. We made it through about 90 minutes of laps before our time slot had expired and we headed home.
Now I'm having a whiskey cocktail and wondering just how sore I'll get. I wonder where my confidence went, and what spaces it left unoccupied for the fear to settled in. In any case, I'm glad I did it. The fire in our condo is roaring and I have the night off. Life is good, and I'll try again next season. Maybe I'll hit the slopes again, too.
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.
The last year has offered the gift of time to many people who've chosen to use it in different ways. Some have enjoyed the downtime, and others have gotten around to old projects that they had abandoned in the wake of too much work or too many responsibilities. I've done a little of both.
One of the frenzies at the beginning of the pandemic was home repair. I remember reading that Home Depot was running out of certain supplies for awhile, and I witnessed a line out the door when I made a trip there myself. We own a two-bedroom condo, so there isn't much to do in the way of fixing roofs or painting the exterior, but we have a lot of instruments (somewhere around 6 guitars, two basses, a grand piano, a Wurlitzer, a ukulele, three keyboards, a cajon and a ton of other aux percussion...) and a lot of books. That being said, our home projects have involved a lot more organization, the hanging of our art collection, and a few small purchases to brighten up our work/home/play space.
I'm most pleased with our bedroom. It's about the size of our living room (for some reason) and half of the space previously sat unused. Now it's our teaching and streaming studio, sporting a beautiful chest, a wildly colorful rug, sound equipment, a desk, that new bookshelf I shared the other day, and a room divider. It is extremely "extra" but it makes me happy.
As my home has morphed, so have I. I read a few articles on how chronic stress actually changed the DNA of lab rats. It's something regarding telomeres and the breaking of the molecular composition of the strands, so rather than trying to explain it just read what this researcher says. She will actually make it make sense.
John and I went on a walk at the beginning of the lockdowns, and I remember telling him, "We are going to be different people on the other side of this pandemic, and of course, he agreed. I went on to tell him how chronic stress doesn't only create a mental shift, but a physical one as well. I know this from my PTSD diagnosis and therapy (including EMDR; perhaps more on this another time). I also know it from life experience. I was a happy kid. I am a generally anxious and skeptical adult, and this is certainly due to the fact that I had periods of chronic trauma, and incidents of single episode trauma. (Single episode trauma, as I see it, and to avoid any trigger words would be like getting in a car accident. In my case, my car was my body.) With every frightening and life-altering incident, my brain adapted to be on high alert to prevent those things from happening again. I call this "kicked puppy syndrome." When a dog is young, if you hit it, it will cower from you well into adulthood, even if it's transferred to a happy home. I know this because my childhood dog, Milo, had a very gentle and loving upbringing in the Kaczor household, but never let us pet him without bowing away. That's how we knew he was abused before we got him.
Alright, enough example-specific heavy talk! But I'm bringing all of these things up to say that I have seen how the pandemic has changed me. I'm more withdrawn. I am afraid of getting phone calls. I don't really like to go places. I've seen my friends change, too. I learned that some people I really love are extremely selfish, demanding, or that they lack empathy. I've seen others soften and make more space for empathy. Maybe they were always that. Maybe it's been a coal-to-diamond pressure level of a year.
Just like my home, I'm a little different now. I have a few more mental paintings hung, a few more accessories in my frontal lobe via the time to read and create. And maybe some parts of me went to the local resale shop as a donation. I feel stripped down and vulnerable, like I'm finally getting to know myself in my 30th year. I think I like the updated version of me. I'm just worried other people won't. But that'll be a problem for another time. I've got enough on my plate as is, and so do you. The big questions tend to work themselves out.
Thanks for reading. And until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.
There are multitudes of ways to cope when life presents challenges. I'm pretty sure I know someone of every preference: the depression napper, the overeater, the social media addict, the workaholic. You might think, "wow, that's judgy," but it's not coming from a place of judgment at all. I have used all of those coping mechanisms in the last year, and probably before the pandemic, too. I just didn't realize it.
Perhaps a year ago I would have criticized myself for the Twitter doomscrolling, the movie marathons, and the previous day's afternoon cocktails soaked up with salami, Gouda, and crackers followed by a food coma nap. Today, not so.
We're taught from a very young age that too much of anything, even a good thing, is bad news. You can overexercise! Over-socialize! (Whoever thinks that too many spa days is harmful truly doesn't understand the joy of luxury.) I accepted that theory for most of my childhood, and into adulthood. Now, I'm here to undo it.
I can mark the day things changed: 15 March, 2020. This was the day Chicago shut down and I lost my job. I went from 5 nights a week of gigs surrounded by money and partiers who were happy to throw it around...
To time and silence. My brain and I have never been good friends. I have been reliant on my job (and the sound that comes with it) to quiet the nit-picky and critical voices that constantly tell me I will never be enough.
Initially, I turned to strict scheduling and an aggressive creative workload to keep myself at bay. This is because I read an opinion piece from an astronaut that swore the secret to staying sane in space was to have routine. Fortunately, that's worked for me. I've been productive this past year: One book completed, another on the way, 40-some new original songs, self-education on a lot of technology, and building my virtual piano studio to 20 students, among other things.
But there is another component for my anxiety and PTSD-riddled brain that is equally responsible for keeping me alive. (Remember? I just figured out I wanted to do that.)
And the award for "best supporting coping mechanism" goes to my vices: the social media dives, the Netflix nights, my inability to control my wallet around book sales, and my frustrating love of all things boozy. I am, in my heart, an epicurean. I have been trying to quash that through vigorous personal training sessions, spreadsheets on spending, and calorie trackers for years, but nothing seems to really shrink my proclivity for pleasure. The cards I was dealt in this life haven't been the easiest. Maybe that's why I'm on the hunt for things that make me feel good now.
All of that being said, my vices have never gotten in the way of the completion of my daily to-do lists. Maybe that's the balancing point, sort of like the old 'work hard, play hard' slogan. I am not advocating behavior that is life-debilitating or life threatening, I am merely suggesting that we seek a different ratio of responsibility/work and things that make us feel good.
I would kindly ask you, reader, to suspend any negative feelings, now more than ever (but always, actually, please) when you see someone acting in a manner that doesn't live up to your standards. Maybe a Rom-Com and a pint of ice cream is the antidote needed to coax someone with depression a few steps further away from the edge of the mental cliff. Perhaps an afternoon spent going through old Facebook photos, reminiscing about all the trouble you got into and laughing about it is the levity you need to get out of bed a few minutes earlier the next day. Do you see what I'm saying? It's heavy, but worth considering. Little things like this, things I would have previously deemed "time-wasters" may actually be key to survival.
Take it easy on yourselves, and others.
That all being said, it's noon on a Tuesday and I am going to have a (single) glass of wine because the sun is shining and dammit, I like wine!
Cheers to the vices!
For the last few months I have been streaming on a platform called Sessions Live. In fact, Sessions recruited me for their program. After doing a bit of research, it seemed like an awesome opportunity. Besides being paid to go live, there was a supportive tipping option, I'd have a personal coach, and the most thrilling aspect of the whole thing was that I would be connected with an international audience!
My first stream sported viewers from Egypt, Greece, the Philippines, as well as fellow Americans. I made a little money and had a lot of fun! However, over the course of a few months, Sessions made platform-development coachings less available, changed the price of the tipping currency to reward artists less, and changed their reward system for progress made. It was really disappointing. I had referred friends to Sessions and felt embarrassed to see it change. But the truth of the matter is that it could have been cool. It was cool. And then it wasn't.
I'm going to try switching platforms, admittedly, to the platform I was encouraged to settle on nearly a year ago. I'm just stubborn sometimes. This Saturday 3/6/21 from 5-7pm CST I'm going to go live on only Twitch. If you're already on Twitch, I'd love it if you gave me a follow or a subscribe there.
Some days I am totally streamed out. Between streaming, teaching, and attending Zoom meetings to socialize or discuss collaborative projects, I get a lot of screen time. I'm staring at a screen right now, and after that I'll probably work on my (second!) book before I go teach for 4 hours and play a few hours of virtual DnD. Someone recommend a good blue light filter!
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was so anxious to stream. I didn't like looking at myself in the camera (I did, and still do have a lot of weird nervous ticks). I didn't like being unable to hear audience feedback. It's counterintuitive to everything I've done behind a piano in the glorious 23 going on 24 years I've been playing. I am proud of myself for forging ahead nonetheless and using streaming as a way to stay connected with friends and family, many of whom haven't been able to see me play in years, if ever. I'll probably continue virtual shows even once I'm able to go back to bar work.
For those of you who've been watching my shows throughout the past year, I am so grateful for your time, and in many cases, your donations as well. This has been a difficult period for artists, and I know a lot of artists who've changed tremendously because of it, whether it's creatively, in personality, or even in terms of long-term goals and priorities. I feel like a whole new person. I'm more introverted. I get nervous about phone calls and Facetime meetings. I spend most of my free time writing (books and songs) and reading, and I've found I sort of like this lifestyle better. I'm living with myself one day at a time, letting her surprise me, being open to rerouting on this wild white water rafting journey of the mind and soul.
The same ol' Cassandra you tolerated thus far will still make an appearance for streaming: Songwriter Sunday at 2pm CST (Restream/All Major Platforms), on Wednesday with John from 7-:830pm CST, and now Saturdays from 5-7 CST on Twitch only! It's worth a try. I hope to see you all there.
Until tomorrow, stay safe, stay well, and stay kind.
I just wrapped up my weekly interview, Songwriter Sunday (Sundays @2pm CST on all the major streaming platforms), with Heidi Joosten. Heidi is a composer, songwriter, sage of musical theater, and my maid of honor, aka a dear friend. I thought I was fully ready to facilitate today's conversation given that we've been buds since 2015 and that we lived together for a few of the years in between then and now, but she surprised me with an interesting thinking point.
Heidi is a child of music educators with a masters degree level (plus a boatload of experience) of schooling. She explained that her affinity for Musical Theater versus art music was based in the spirit of collaboration. In academia, or art music, she explained, there is an expectation that an artist will be able to do everything they need to do perfectly, regardless of their skill or education level. I remember feeling horrified, as a creative person, that I'd have to learn basic computer programming to complete my degree program. I even cried in my undergrad sound processing class, much to my professor's disdain. I wasn't supposed to be there. I know that now, in retrospect.
I enjoy many facets of being a sound aficionado: mixing, mic placement, marketing, and of course, writing. I like painting, dancing, listening to albums, and drinking wine while I do so at times. But the tech aspect of things has pretty much scared me out of a DMA. (There are other factors, but that's for another day.)
Musical Theater, however, Heidi said, relies on a spirit of collaboration...of knowing that there are friendly, intelligent experts who want to elevate your content or work with you on a project. They're out there in the universe. You just have to ask them if they want to play.
I realized that the same is true with my relationship to pop music. Again, I can handle most of my basic needs as a content creator, but I much prefer when an enthusiast of a specific area steps in and reassures me that whatever I'm into will be the best it can be.
How else does life work without teamwork, really? I'm 4'10". I need John to reach the flower vase on the top shelf for me. I need the plumber to fix the garbage disposal. I need the cashier at the Dollar Store to render me change. This should be the norm throughout the arts as well. The Rugged Individualism philosophy which has wrecked our country, most prominently in the last four-five years, is also wrecking our budding artists. Not everyone is meant to program in MaxMSP. Not everyone likes writing lyrics. Not everyone wants to research the ins and outs of mastering. When a child wants to write a song, for god's f***ing sake, don't crush that aspiration. Help them. Collaborate instead.
Maybe that person who's averse to certain skill sets likes to write melody, or weld their own instruments together, or function as an arts administer to a collective. Rather than criticize people for their shortcomings, why don't we applaud them for their strengths and find places to connect these inclined folks? My whole experience in academia was centered around what I failed to do best instead of celebrating what I did well while cultivating room for improvement.
We can do better.
In short, many thanks to Ms. Joosten for that mental spark which has fueled today's blog post! I think that, as artists, we can always improve in the areas where we lack, but leaning into our stronger traits couldn't possibly hurt.
Ego's a whole other hurdle, but that's not for today. ;)
What are you good at? I found that after two degrees in music, I really like to write prose. On paper, I'm not qualified for it, but I'm letting myself love the new parts of me that pop out; surprises abound.
In your dream world, who would you like to work with? A dancer? A singer? A painter? For the record, I know a lot of really stunning artists in a lot of disciplines. That's kind of my passion...connecting people. So if you have an idea that requires a bit of support but you're not sure where to start, don't hesitate to hit me up. Smash that contact form. If you have my phone number or email address, contact me directly. I'm here for all of it.
Welp, we're losing daylight here in the now fairly-bearable Chicago pre-spring, so I'm going to head out for a walk before it's too late!
Until tomorrow, stay safe, stay well, and stay kind.
For more on Heidi, visit https://heidijoosten.com/
Short Saturday #1: These posts won't be quite so long because I teach and stream all day on Saturdays, but here's a snippet of my brain chatter for those who enjoy it. :)
I like to read. I really, really like to read. This past year has allowed me more time to read than I've had in over a decade, and I have been taking advantage of it. In fact (once I got the go-ahead from the aforementioned family friend, of course), buying books was the one thing I didn't skimp on. Toilet hooch, sure, but not an eye batted at an Amazon cart packed with books.
Between my spending loophole and John's comparable interest and book harvesting efforts, we've accumulated more books than our three six-foot tall shelves can handle. I've done the rough math. Each bookshelf can hold between 100 and 150 books, depending on the length/thickness of the books at hand, so it's possible that we own 450 books plus the stacks that have started growing out of the floorboards.
After ordering two small personal bookshelves for our journals/reads of the week that we keep close by our morning writing table (thanks to those who got us the Bed, Bath and Beyond Gift Cards!), we were fortunate to pick up a little auxiliary shelf from the neighborhood thrift store. Starting last night, I began the gargantuan task of reallocating books from the big shelves to the little ones, being sure to keep everything in order by genre and author. (Someone once tried to rearrange my collection. They are lucky to be alive.)
Today I'm going to share a few of my favorite reads from the last year or so. I'd love it if you dropped yours in the comments, too! Admittedly, I'm a bit more inclined toward nonfiction, but I'll take any suggestions.
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron (I read this yearly)
Me by Elton John
67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence by Howard Means
Ohio by Stephen Markley (not for the faint of heart)
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Empathy Cultivating Must-Reads:
Hunger by Roxanne Gay
Entitled by Kate Manne
The Torture Letters by Lawrence Ralph
Until tomorrow, stay safe, stay well, and stay kind!
...and wish me luck with my crazy Saturday.
I got my hair cut on Wednesday for the first time since November. Last fall, COVID numbers were soaring, so John and I decided to hunker back down and keep our excursions to the grocery store. It's been a lonely winter, even with my best friend around.
After my haircut, my amazing stylist (she is an artist and also a wonderful therapist at times) and I took a walk around the neighborhood, since we hadn't seen each other in a season. She's incredibly fashionable, kind, and witty as hell, so I always expect a good conversation. A pair of hip, lace-up-bottomed pants displayed in a storefront window caught her eye, so we paused to study them. She joked that because of all of our work loss (she's also a bartender), she'd have to stick to window shopping for now, and that she even "window shops" at online stores, dreaming of all the cool clothes she'll eventually want to purchase. I confided that at the beginning of the pandemic, I spent money exclusively on groceries, prescriptions, and yes, Disney Plus, and that's all I allowed myself.
Mid-summer, John and I had a call with a trusted family friend, who gave us the go-ahead to get takeout once a week or buy a new item of clothing if it gave us a bit of a mental lift. His justification: "What's the point of holding on to every penny if you're miserable?"
When we got off the call I remember bursting into tears and asking John, "Can we get takeout tonight?" Those of you who know me well know that we got Pho. It was the highlight of the last several months. Remember, this is back when we had a full day's worth of sunlight. My college self would have scoffed at me if she was in the room that day. Remember when we lived off of coffee and ramen? You've gone soft on me!
Yesterday, on a long walk, I allowed myself to step into an art shop for a moment. I starve without art, without color, without eccentric and beautiful things around me. A year ago I wouldn't have admitted that, but my college self is right; A year of isolation and stress has certainly changed me. Budget in mind, I picked out a small art print and a pair of odd cutlery earrings. The cashier jokingly called me "The Winter Ninja" since I had a dark mask, dark blue eyeliner and a black beanie cap on. We shared a laugh, and for a moment, I felt normal, or whatever I think normal feels like these days. My face hurt from smiling while John hung the print on the wall near my sink. (It's a JSalvador painting of my favorite Marvel heroine, Jessica Jones. More on PTSD later, though. I have plenty on that. Don't rush a good thing!)
Back to my walk with the stupidly, all-around wonderful stylist-bartender-counselor-trend consultant-friend. She agreed that finding small ways to connect with the things you once loved is a brain saver. A well placed candle, a rearranged reading nook, that one bottle of nice wine you've been saving for 6 months while drinking toilet hooch in the meantime to save money (okay, not toilet hooch, but $2.99 wine is a close second)...all of these things are important. I found that I might not even need a tangible fix. Sitting in the park reading a book this summer felt like a vacation. I got a free app that identifies flowers and plants on site, and that's provided hours of entertainment. (Seek! Get it!)
In "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron, the author argues that observation is the key to sanity. The chives are growing back in after the winter freeze! The gecko really ate that insect up quickly! The rain sounds nice today. That print looks dope over my sink, and I get to look at it every day. All of this comes back to yesterday's post: the desire to live can be beautifully colored with rewards and surprises.
I hope you have time and metal/emotional space to reward yourself with something small and meaningful today. Drop your favorite treats (material and otherwise) in the comments if you like. It might inspire others.
Until tomorrow, stay safe, stay well, and stay kind.