Things I Keep

This post is part of ThinkKit by Smallbox.Prompt: Time to go through your (actual) desktop, junk drawer, or coat pockets and share an artifact from your past. A half-torn ticket stub, once-washed receipt, coffee-stained map, anything in a frame: it's all fair game. What springs to mind from your artifact? The smells, sights, and sounds? A specific feeling? Hold it in your hand, close your eyes, and go back in time to a moment.

I'm really good at getting rid of stuff. If I'm not using it, wearing it, or looking at it on a regular basis, consider it gone. Moving into a smaller apartment this past spring forced me to purge a lot of things I just didn't need. (In the process, I think I accidentally got rid of some stuff I really do need, too ... but that's another story.)

Even after moving in, I spent a lot of time over the summer continuing to get rid of objects that no longer made sense for me to have -- snow skis, old prom dresses, worn out running shoes, costumes from college -- you get the idea. I would never describe myself as a minimalist, but there's something about freeing yourself from that extra baggage that feels really good.

But okay, here's the catch. No matter how many times I clean out my closet, there are a few things I can never bring myself to throw away.

1. Wine Corks

 Things I Keep - Ally Denton

Things I Keep - Ally Denton

It all started in college when I decided I was going to collect beer bottle caps, and use them to make a coffee table for our house senior year. Frat boy move, I know. But for months, I collected caps from parties, from the sidewalk, from bars, from friends -- people I barely knew started giving me their caps once they realized my obsession. It was very kind, actually.

This project, however, like most of my crafty endeavors, did not go as planned. After laying the caps out in a very intricate design, if I do say so myself, I totally botched the important part of the process. The resin I used to seal the caps to the top of the table never dried correctly (I'm still not sure why...) and as a result, I was left with a sticky, toxic mess. So naturally, we threw the table down in the basement and still managed to find some use for it most weekends.

After awhile, I was finally able to stop saving bottle caps. But my affinity for collecting the tops of alcoholic beverage containers didn't stop there, because now I collect wine corks. A classier choice? Not sure. But I'm doing it, it makes me happy, and I'd say I'm pretty close to finding another new DIY project to screw up.

2. Stickers

 Things I Keep - Ally Denton

Things I Keep - Ally Denton

For a few years now, I've been casually collecting stickers. I say casually, because acquiring these stickers is not hard work. Most of them came to me for free. I have a big shoe box full now, and it's a lot of fun to sift through. Inside are stickers from Colorado, Puerto Rico, France and Spain, local Indy restaurants and breweries, surf shops, concert venues, and dozens of other random, kitschy places.

When I tell people about this collection, they usually ask where I'm going to put them all. That's a great question. And I think that's part of the reason I started collecting them in the first place. One day, it will be really cool to see them all spread out, stuck on something more permanent, a collage of all the places I've been.

3. Cards

 Things I Keep - Ally Denton

Things I Keep - Ally Denton

Above is a funny card I received from my friend Anne a few months ago, asking me to be a part of her wedding this summer. I said yes, don't worry.

It wasn't until the move this spring that I finally threw out cards from my high school graduation. Hoarder status, it's fine. Clearly, I have a hard time getting rid of handwritten cards, letters, and notes. I think it's the gravity of the act -- the idea that you're literally trashing the kind words someone took the time to write and send to you, with postage, and an envelope, and all of that snail mail stuff no one likes to deal with anymore. It just feels kind of harsh.

As much as I love to laugh and poke fun of cheesy Hallmark marketing ploys, I'm a total card person. I love sending them, I love receiving them, I love picking them out. Taking the time to write to the people you care about is important for a myriad of reasons. But mostly, it's just nice. And for that, I think I can make a little extra room in my closet.

Soundtrack of 2014

This post is part of ThinkKit by Smallbox.Prompt: Strike up the band – what was the soundtrack to your year? Was it the music you listened to the most? A certain song that kept reappearing, or worse...that you couldn't get away from? Or maybe it wasn't music at all – maybe a podcast, voice, performance, or significant sound played over-and-over. Whatever you heard: we're all ears!

 Soundtrack to 2014 - Ally Denton

Soundtrack to 2014 - Ally Denton

I've been struggling to keep up with Think Kit posts this month, but when I saw this prompt in my inbox this morning, I had a "drop everything, save drafts, and get to it" sort of moment.

After obsessing over Spotify's Year In Music dashboard, I've been wanting to put together a post on what I listened to most. If you're an avid Spotify user like myself, you should definitely check this out. Your results will probably surprise you, in ways both alarming and delightful. For example, Usher's "Love In This Club" made it onto my Top 100 Songs playlist and for that, I'm not sorry.

What really interested me about the Year In Music results was the seasonal breakdown. Spotify tells you which artists you listened to most each season and if you live in Indiana, it confirms your struggle with seasonal depression once and for all. Only kidding ... kind of. It's nothing new, but I continue to find myself amazed by how certain songs can take you right back to specific moments, people, and feelings from another time. Music, crazy stuff, man.

Here's my seasons in music.

Winter: Kings of Leon

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLFYfQbOCPg]   Early in 2014, I went through a phase in which I pretty much only listened to loud guitars, raspy male vocals, and excessive distortion. Kings of Leon took the crown on Spotify, but I was also listening to a lot of The Black Keys and The White Stripes. Twelve months later, not much has changed. I've still got heavy-bluesy-rock sounds on frequent rotation.

Spring: The Avett Brothers

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugkLFwqslp8]   I mellowed out a little bit during spring, which was a direct result of a decision to get back into playing violin. For awhile there, I was playing my violin almost everyday -- a habit I hadn't practiced in years -- it was awesome. I was taking private lessons, jamming at least once a week with some new friends. I was finally starting to get my chops back, as they say.

The fact that The Avett Brothers were my most-listened-to artist during this season is,  without a doubt, due to the song above. It played on my laptop on repeat for a few days while I tried to learn it on violin. I'm happy to report, it worked.

Other artists on frequent rotation this spring: Andrew Bird, Arcade Fire, and The Lumineers. Not surprisingly, they all use violins (or a cello ... close enough) in their lineup.

Summer: Lana Del Rey

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKxuiw3iMBE]   When Lana Del Rey's new album came out early this summer, I was smitten. I spent many afternoons at work with Brooklyn Baby, my theme song for a solid few weeks, on loop. The real memories from this album, however, come from West Coast. This song was my jam (and my roommate's) for essentially the entire summer. We had just moved downtown, we were feeling way too cool for our own good, and somehow the sound of that song embodied everything we were doing.

I think it's just the badass, don't fuck with me sort of vibe you get, or at least I get, from the song. Lana was in good company this summer. Her music of was accompanied by the sounds of Disclosure, MisterWives, and Phantogram.

Autumn: Lorde

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkeKOrWQpZo]   I listened to Lorde quite a bit when her album first came out, but it wasn't until this fall that I really got hooked. Her voice is sort of spooky and enchanting, so it just felt right to crank up this song in the car on a gray, cool day. This is my favorite track off the album, mostly due to the first 30 seconds. Heavy bass, catchy beat. Sign me up.

Because you can't listen to too much Lorde without getting depressed, this fall also welcomed a lot of Kanye West, Wiz Khalifa, and alt-J.

Tell me about your year in music. Which artists defined 2014 for you?

With Uncertainty Comes Opportunity

This post is part of ThinkKit by Smallbox.Prompt: The calendar still says 2014, but let's push forward. What are you looking forward to in 2015? Is there an event, special occasion, or reunion that you're counting down the days until? Planning a trip? A life change? A move? Or maybe it's the simple pleasures – the release of a movie, something or someone hitting a stage near you.

 Changing Rooms, sky view

Changing Rooms, sky view

2014 was a year in perpetual transition. January hit and all of a sudden there was this sweeping momentum for change, most of it good. I started a new job in a new field. I moved to the heart of downtown Indianapolis with one of my best friends. I took on some creative side projects, and through it all, had a lot of fun.

Other transitions weren't as easy. My family moved away from Indianapolis, to a new home in Washington, D.C. Relationships ended and started, and ended again. I experienced misjudgments and disappointments, but through it all, learned a lot.

The year threw a lot of uncertainties in my direction, but what I gained in the process is the realization that things often feel crazier, messier, and more out-of-control than what they really are. In fact, what's happening is probably just ... normal.

Uncertainties are simply part of life. A big part of life. They can be scary and intimidating and overwhelming, but only if you let them. The deeper I get into my twenties, the more I realize that I'm not only just okay with uncertainties, I’m excited by them. In uncertainties lie future possibilities and for me, there’s nothing more reassuring or optimistic than that.

So as 2015 approaches, I’m looking forward to turning uncertainties into opportunities. Whether it’s a new place to go, a new person to meet, or a new venture to chase, I say, bring it on. Because without uncertainties, there would never be any risk. And where’s the fun in that?

image source: Anirvan on flickr

The Scar That Left A Mark

Don't all scars leave a mark? By definition, yes. But if you're like me (read: clumsy, unaware of your flailing limbs, not afraid to jump off of things, etc.), you probably have more scars than you can count, but only remember how a select few of them actually happened. There's a big difference in a nasty cut from that razor you should have already thrown out, than a busted elbow after making a conscious decision to go rollerblading in the rain. (Ask me about that one later.) The scar story I remember best is the first one I got. I was really small, maybe five years old. Almost every night in the summer, my parents and I would take a walk around our neighborhood. The beautiful thing about this routine was that they did all the walking, while I enjoyed the luxury of getting pulled around by my dad in a red Radio Flyer wagon. I've always placed a pretty high value on traveling in style.

To keep something like pulling your daughter in a wagon exciting, my dad had attached a rope to the handle of the wagon. This gave him a little more length and made pulling me more comfortable, but mostly, it just allowed him to run really fast with the wagon behind him. This scared my mom quite a bit, but that of course only made us want to run up and down the streets even more.

The evening of the scar, my dad decided it would be good idea to run up the big hill right in front of our house. Sounds good. How could I object? These are the benefits of having an Army Ranger as your dad. Running up a hill, pulling a small human behind you, and making a game of it is not only really easy, but makes perfect sense.

We took off up the hill. I clinched the sides of the wagon with my hands and started smiling and squealing as usual. It was thrilling and terrifying, all at the same time. I wish I had the physics background to explain what happened next, but all I know is one second I was flying full steam ahead, and the next I was flipping backwards out of the wagon, scraping my back and rolling down the pavement.

My mom gets to me first, running up from behind. She whisks me back down to the house and as you might imagine, is less than thrilled this accident even occurred in the first place. I'm crying and moaning like a five-year-old would, more because I'm scared and less because what happened actually hurts. My dad runs into the bathroom right behind us and feels horrible, but knows I'm okay and that it could have been worse. My mom will feel that way too, eventually.

The end result of the accident is an ugly cut on my upper back and the scar left behind is just a little mark, you can barely even see it now. The reason I remember this scar so well and think of it often, is because I've watched the mark work its way down my back for the past twenty years. It's weird. Like I said, the scar formed on my upper back, close to my right shoulder-blade. But now, the mark is more in the middle of my back, just to the right of my spine. I wonder when it landed there for good.

If you're curious, this little scar didn't stop my dad and me from running around in the wagon. In fact, I can probably think of a few more scars I've collected with him as my partner-in-crime and I wouldn't have it any other way. If you've got a few good scars, chances are you've got a few good stories to tell, too.

 

 

 

 

The Morning Drive

You'll notice I avoided calling this post something like, "My Morning Commute." Something about the word commute just turns me off. It sounds middle-aged. Zapped of all life and creativity. Not what I'm going for for. Probably not what anyone is going for, actually. Let me back track a bit. With my new job (which is great) comes a lengthy drive to and from Greenwood every morning. Now sure, this drive will shorten itself drastically once I move downtown this summer. But until I get to live the hip, urban, twenty-something apartment life I deserve, the drive from Hamilton County down to the South Side remains a fixture in my day.

I don't know about you, but driving in rush hour traffic (really, any traffic... it's a problem) freaks the crap out of me. Talk about high blood pressure. Shooting the gap* between two oversized load trucks is not exactly a relaxing start to the day. Not at all. It took me a few weeks of holding my breath and death-gripping my steering wheel to realize, wow, there is probably something I can do to make this better.

And low and behold, there is something. And that, is podcasts. Yes, podcasts. There are so many of them! And they're all pretty much free. Maybe I'm late to the game on this (I usually am), but I feel like I've made some miraculous discovery. I actually look forward to my drive now because I get to listen to something fresh, interesting, and in my opinion, worth my time.

If my awe and wonder is not enough to convince you, here are a few more reasons why podcasts are awesome:

- You can always learn something new if you want to.

- It's a mental escape, almost more so than listening to music.

- It gets your creative brain thinking about new ideas, stories, people, places, relationships, everything.

- They are only a minor commitment. Thirty minutes, an hour, boom - you're done. If nothing else, you've completed something today.

Because I know you're curious, here's what I've been listening to lately:

This American Life

 This American Life

This American Life

I think everyone probably knows about This American Life at this point. But if you don't, it's not too late for you. Every week, this show focuses on a particular theme. This week's, for example, was "There's No Place Like Home," in which the producers delved into stories of people who are working to preserve or create a comforting, meaningful sense of place in the towns and cities where they live. In each episode, there's always great variety, and the stories are usually very poignant and unique. If nothing else, they get you thinking. Plus, something about Ira Glass's voice (the Executive Producer) just sucks you right in. It's magnetic. Subscribe.

All Songs Considered

 All Songs Considered

All Songs Considered

I hope you didn't think I could write a blog post on podcasts without mentioning NPR once or twice (...it'll happen twice, just so we're clear). I like this podcast because it mixes commentary with both clips and full-length versions of songs, so it's a nice variety  of stuff, especially coming home in the evenings when I feel more like blaring some music. Lately, I've felt like I've been totally out of the music scene. Not really following any new bands, and not really caring. This show, however, makes tracking new artists relatively easy. Of course, not all of the selections will be to your liking. But a lot of it, if not most, is really good and likely stuff you've (or at least that I've) never heard before. A few favorites I've found - Dog Trumpet, Lowell, and Royal Teeth.

Pop Culture Happy Hour

 Pop Culture Happy Hour

Pop Culture Happy Hour

Another NPR selection. This one, however, is less about music and more about TV, movies, celebrities, trends ... things like that. I've only listened to two of these so I can't say too much about it yet. One of the details I do enjoy about the show is that at the conclusion of every episode, the producers go around and say one thing that's making them happy this week, which always functions as some sort of suggestion for fun things to go see or do.

Anatomy of a Movie

 Anatomy of a Movie

Anatomy of a Movie

Not for the weak of heart. This podcast can be long. Almost two hours long, actually. So yeah, there's a lot you can probably skip over, but there's also a lot you'll want to listen to, carefully. If you're into movies like I am, you'll be frustrated that you can't actually join in on this Socratic-like dissection of different movies, their actors, writers, sets, anything and everything else you can think of. I really enjoyed the discussion on Her and am looking forward to listening to one of their old episodes on Gravity. Browse all episodes here.

Freakonomics Radio

 Freakonomics Radio

Freakonomics Radio

This is another I've only just started listening to, but so far, it's great. It's a nice break for me, because I definitely don't think like an economist ever. Like, at all. And it shows me an analytical side of things that I often overlook too quickly. I'm a total faker though, because I haven't read this book yet and it's been out forever. Maybe I'll get the audiobook, and that will just feel like one giant podcast? In the meantime, I'll keep listening to episodes like "Are We Ready to Legalize Drugs" and "Reasons to Not Be Ugly".

Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which ones? Share your thoughts and thanks for reading!

*This, however, is a great start to any day.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNuPTS8ugCo]

My 2014 Oscar Predictions

I can hardly contain myself. The Oscars are HERE! Every year, I look forward to the awards and the red carpet fashion, but for whatever reason, this year's Academy Awards feel particularly exciting. I made it a goal this year to see as many of the nominated films as I could. Here's what I saw:

  • American Hustle

  • The Wolf of Wall Street

  • August: Osage County

  • Captain Phillips

  • Dallas Buyers Club

  • Gravity

  • Her

  • Despicable Me 2

  • The Great Gatsby

  • 20 Feet From Stardom

  • Lone Survivor

  • Iron Man 3

  • Blue Jasmine

 image source

image source

Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. My biggest regret in the list is not yet seeing 12 Years a Slave. Confession: I was nervous to see it in theaters because I know I will cry like a baby. I'll wait until it's available On Demand and watch it in the comfort of my own basement. That being said, from what I've heard it has good chances of snagging Best Picture, and for very good reason.

Below I'll list who/what I think will actually win (#1) and who/what I really want to win (#2). I'll only make predictions for the categories in which I've seen one or more of the films and feel I can make an educated (or at least somewhat educated) assumption. Alright then, without further ado...

Best Picture

  1. 12 Years A Slave

  2. Dallas Buyers Club

Best Actor

  1. Matthew McConaughey

  2. Leonardo DiCaprio

Best Actress

  1. Cate Blanchett

  2. Amy Adams

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Jared Leto

  2. Jared Leto or Jonah Hill

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Jennifer Lawrence

  2. Jennifer Lawrence or Julia Roberts

Best Animated Feature

  1. Frozen

  2. Despicable Me 2

Best Cinematography

  1. Gravity

  2. Gravity

Best Costume Design

  1. The Great Gatsby

  2. American Hustle

Best Directing

  1. Alfonso Cuarón

  2. Martin Scorcese

Best Film Editing

  1. 12 Years A Slave

  2. Gravity

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  1. Dallas Buyers Club

  2. Dallas Buyers Club

Fun fact: The makeup budget for this film was only $250!

Best Original Score

  1. Gravity

  2. Her

Best Production Design

  1. The Great Gatsby

  2. Her

Best Sound Editing

  1. Gravity (or Lone Survivor... I have faith)

  2. Lone Survivor

Best Sound Mixing

  1. Gravity

  2. Lone Survivor

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. 12 Years A Slave

  2. The Wolf of Wall Street

 Best Original Screenplay

  1. Her

  2. Her

Other items worth noting - Jennifer Lawrence has already tripped on the red carpet, Ellen DeGeneres is going to be amazing and as usual, Lupita nailed it. 

Share your own predictions in the comments or let me know via Twitter (@AllyDenton), I'll be tweeting all night!

Dissecting Apple's iPad Air TV Ad: "What Will Your Verse Be?"

Earlier this month, Apple released a new television ad for the iPad air (watch below). I get that it's the point of all commercials to suck you in as a captive viewer, but this is really one of the ads you can't help but pay close attention to. I credit that to the fact that this ad begins in silence. Not pure silence, you've got some wind blowing and other audio of that sort, but there are no words for the first 12 seconds. You almost don't notice this because of the beautiful landscapes and scenery you're looking at instead. It's visually stimulating to say the least, but more happens in 90 seconds than just stunning images and backgrounds. A few other commenters have written this ad off as too-much, cliche or typical of Apple to go so "over the top". I'll admit, I felt the same way the first time I saw it. It's easy to roll your eyes and think... beauty, poetry, the human condition, blah blah blah, are you serious Apple? Just sell me an iPad and cut it with the touchy-feely crap. But the ad came on again and again and there I would sit in awe of those beautiful mountains, feeling my creative juices begin to stir and eventually, my feelings changed. So basically, the ad worked.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiyIcz7wUH0

Here are some things the ad does particularly well:

1. Juxtaposition

You could argue that juxtaposition is the driving force behind the entire ad concept. With Robin William's speech from Dead Poets Society as voiceover throughout the duration of the ad, we both see and hear the constant intersection of technology, mankind and culture. By placing an iPad Air on top of a mountain, at the edge of a waterfall and underwater in a coral reef, we see worlds colliding--the natural and the manmade. But it doesn't feel invasive or wrong. In fact, it feels quite the opposite--powerful, creative and totally right. In this footage, nature and technology are living in harmony and mankind is thriving. Who doesn't want that?

2. Challenges the definition of poetry

There are a lot of different people featured in the ad--engineers, athletes, dancers, musicians, mountaineers, architects and children. They are all working on something and the implication here is that they are all doing what they're doing for a bigger and greater purpose (hint: it's their verse!). Hockey players using the iPad Air to strategize their next play--poetry. Engineers making advancements in wind power technology--poetry. Storm chasers tracking an incoming swell--poetry. DJs playing for a crowd of young EDM fanatics--poetry. The interesting thing here is that the ad does not focus on an end product. Instead, it showcases the creative process. The message is not this is what an iPad can do for you rather, this is what you can do for the world with an iPad.

image: digitaltrends.com

3.  Sparks the viewer

For a perceptive viewer, I think the ad sparks equal parts wanderlust equal parts inspiration to get out there and start innovating, whatever that means for you. The commercial ends, literally, with a challenge to the viewer: "What will your verse be?" I know, I know, cue the collective groan from the audience... And I guess that is where the ad takes a huge risk and in the mind of some, fails in doing so. But I think we can all agree that if any company can toe the line of cliché and still get away with it, it's Apple. And despite that potential shortcoming, the ad succeeds in a major way by advertising its product in a supporting-actor role, so to speak. The message Apple promotes is that no matter what you do, the iPad air is your perfect companion. But by not highlighting any apps or specific capabilities of the iPad, the human projects take center stage. It's subtle and slightly subversive but by doing that, the iPad steals the spotlight without you even realizing it... And isn't that the mark of a great ad? It's storytelling at its finest. It's something that clicks so effortlessly, you can't fully realize or explain it's power and influence.

What do you think about the ad? I'll be curious to read and discuss your comments below.

Also, check out two more ads I've been enjoying and thinking about by Google and P&G.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lv-sY_z8MNs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57e4t-fhXDs

Let's Go For A Drink: Round 5

Read previous rounds here. If we were having a drink right now it would probably be a beer of some sort, considering the Patriots vs. Broncos game currently blaring from my living room. I’m not a huge beer fan however, so I might go ahead and pour myself a glass of red wine instead. I like the juxtaposition of it all.

If we were having a drink right now, I would ask if you recognized me. For the first time in really, forever, I am not a blonde. Nope. Decided it was time for a change. I’ve always been too scared to dramatically change my hair color. People always told me I would never be able to get the blonde back. Psh. So a few weeks ago I had an appointment scheduled with my hair guru. I explained I wanted to go darker, handed her some pictures of Jennifer Lawrence, closed my eyes and said do yo thang.

I don’t like to say that I’m a “brunette” because … I’m just not. But right now, yes, my hair is brown and I’m having fun with it. Sometimes when I’m getting ready to head out the door and just quickly glance in the mirror I freak out for a second. And then I remember, oh yeah, I did that.

If we were having a drink right now, I would start stressing about all the training I’m supposed to be doing. A few months ago, I had the brilliant idea of signing up for a half-ironman distance race. That is, 70.3 miles of swimming, biking and running. If you’ve kept up with my blog at all, you know I got into triathlon this summer and had a great time doing it. It was fun to start training in three different sports as opposed to just running a lot (I was really starting to get burnt out on the whole running five days a week thing). I felt strong, confident and was eager to keep racing. I seriously couldn’t wait to sign up for Muncie 70.3 when registration opened.

 ironman.com

ironman.com

Fast forward a few months later and...yeah. I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here for any scrap of motivation. All I want to do is yoga. All the time. Right now I feel like I could easily replace my training schedule with six days a week of yoga classes and that would just be perfectly fine and dandy. The only thing left hanging is a lot of guilt for spending an arm and a leg on the Ironman entry fee. But, who knows? Maybe in a week or two my motivation to eat, sleep, triathlon will return but until then, you'll find me sweating on my mat. Stay tuned.

If we were having a drink I would tell you about my upcoming trip to North Carolina. I’m so excited to get out-of-town, even just for a weekend. I'll get to see my brother, who has tickets to Book of Mormon (score!), and some good friends who have moved to Charlotte since graduating. Fingers crossed for some warmer temperatures, too.

 minnpost.com

minnpost.com

If we were having a drink right now I would definitely offer you this amazing dark chocolate covered caramel popcorn that has sort of been my BFF this weekend. Seriously. Have some.

 This isn't even the one I'm talking about. I've eaten so much of it, the bag looked bad in a photo. I'm sure this one is equally amazing. Curse my aunt and uncle for sending us so much sugary goodness!

This isn't even the one I'm talking about. I've eaten so much of it, the bag looked bad in a photo. I'm sure this one is equally amazing. Curse my aunt and uncle for sending us so much sugary goodness!

If we were having a drink right now I would tell you that I’m chomping at the bit to get started on something. For the past few months I’ve been living in a perpetual state of transition. I quit teaching this fall to pursue writing. I realize now that I didn’t really know what that meant. I had no structure to follow or specific goal to chase and I don’t always do well without tangible direction. I began to feel uneasy about what I was doing and as a result, decided I wanted to pursue something else entirely. So I set off in that direction for a few months and eventually realized no, that's not the right move either (But that's being kind - it was really more of a what the hell? are you serious? type of realization). Instead of being honest with myself I was looking for a quick fix to feeling directionless and scared. I know I’m speaking in vague terms here but there's really no need to give you the nitty-gritty, mostly petty #postgradproblems details.

Bottom line, I’m ready to start working on and toward things I’m passionate about. It's true, life is short, but I'm only 24. There is plenty of time and really, I need to slow down and enjoy it. It's time to feel young and fearless again.

 photo from Pinterest

photo from Pinterest

Late Summer Reading Lists

This summer I've read...-The Best of Youth by local author Michael Dahlie

 best of youth

best of youth

I got so wrapped up in Henry's, the main character's, trials and tribulations I began stealing away moments during the school day to read this novel. The reader empathizes with Henry right away and wants to help see him through to the very end.

- Triathlons for Women by Sally Edwards

 9781934030400_p0_v1_s260x420

9781934030400_p0_v1_s260x420

While there's no substitute for learning by doing, when you're approaching a new hobby or skill, reading about it certainly can't hurt. Making rookie mistakes is part of the process, but this book helped me avoid some potentially dangerous faults and explained some basics that made learning easier - especially when it came to that bike leg!

- Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

 owls

owls

David Sedaris is so easy to read. His writing inspires the reader to pay attention the the mundane, the subtleties of everyday life, and see the real story in that.

- The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

 flowers

flowers

A good summer book club novel. Not my favorite on this list, but still worth turning the pages. If you're a gardener (or planning your wedding, perhaps) you'll enjoy this deeper look at each flower's message.

I'm currently reading...

- The Last Policeman by local author Ben H. Winters

 last policeman

last policeman

I'm normally not a fan of mystery novels, so without sounding too cliche, I have to say that so far, The Last Policeman is an exception. It's suspenseful, but without withholding so much information you just get frustrated (ahem, Gone Girl, anyone?). The hero, Detective Palace, lays low early on (I'm only about halfway through) but its clear that he is intense and calculated. He will do whatever it takes to solve his case and ensure justice prevails - even in the circumstances of doom.

- Best American Short Stories 2012 edited by Tom Perrotta

 bass

bass

I always turn to the Best American collections when I want to read stories but don't want to spend any time looking for "good" ones (yes, life is so hard). They're all good, and all nearly perfect. In the introduction, Perrotta writes something like - there is no such thing as a perfect novel, but a perfect short story? That exists.

 tin house

tin house

- Tin House: Summer 2013: Summer Reading

I'm trying to read more literary journals. It's hard to find them at bookstores, but I picked this one up at Barnes & Noble and thought the cover art was beautiful. I also like the concept of "Summer Reading". I'd like to subscribe to a few journals to read consistently, does anyone have a recommendation?

On my list...

- East of Eden by John Steinbeck

 eastofeden

eastofeden

I've been told to read this book by several different people, several different times. Admittedly, I am poorly read in "those books you're supposed to read", so I thought this might be a good one to check off the list. It's great to read contemporary stuff, which is most often what I select, but there is something to be said about learning from the greats.

- How We Are Hungry by Dave Eggars

 hungry

hungry

I've never read Dave Eggers, and I'm trying to read as many short stories as I can get my hands on--two birds with one stone, yes?

- Tenth of Decemberby George Saunders

 tenth

tenth

Sort of the same situation here. I've heard a lot about George Saunders. In fact if I'm not mistaken, he made it to Butler a few years ago for the university's prestigious writers' series. I missed it, of course. But he's been on my to-do list for awhile and this collection has received lots of buzz that I want to get in on, too.

- Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

 swamp

swamp

This has been sitting on my shelf for a long time. It's Karen Russell's first novel, though apparently it doesn't read like it. She's a rock star. There's something very fascinating about her setting, in my opinion - the Ten Thousand Islands off the southwest coast of Florida. Humidity that strong just sets an interesting haze over everything. It slows everything down.

Happy reading, everyone. Enjoy these late summer days and nights, soak them up before their gone.

Let's Go For a Drink: Round 4

Playing catch-up? Here's Round 1, Round 2 and Round 3. Good morning. Let's chat over coffee. Or, if you're like me, some black tea with honey and cream. Decadent, right? I better drink it fast though. Once the clock strikes nine a.m. around here, you can't eat or drink anything but ice chips for the rest of the day. Unless of course heat stroke is something you enjoy. At least finding some comic relief in this heat wave is easy. All you have to do is turn on the news. On Good Morning America this morning, the anchor advised everyone to just stay home. Don't leave your house because "believe me folks, the worst is YET TO COME!" But if duty calls and you simply must leave, make sure to travel with a "Heat Wave Survival Kit." Lemme get one of those, you're probably saying. Well, all you need is a fan, two dozen ice packs, two misting spray bottles (one full of water, the other full of peppermint tea...what?) and drinking water. Sure, I'll just toss all that in my purse and head out. No problem.

teaIf we were having a drink this morning, I would tell you I shouldn't be doing this at all and that really, I should be packing. I'm moving this week. Moving as you probably have experienced, is both a blessing and a curse. Like a lot of young twentysomethings, I've moved every year for the past six years. This is great for de-cluttering purposes. I've gotten really good at just throwing shit away. Haven't worn it in six weeks? Get rid of it. But here's what I can't figure out. The stuff I choose to throw out--t-shirts, shoes, hoodies, the 18,000 pairs of free sunglasses I got in college--is nothing compared to the crap I still keep. I think you'll find nearly every greeting card I've ever received tucked away in shoe boxes upstairs. That, and enough stickers to wallpaper my bathroom. I love stickers. It doesn't matter that I have nowhere to put them (I refuse to put them on my car until I drive something a bit sportier), I'm addicted to them and I can't stop. It's disgusting.

I'm gonna run to the kitchen and brew another cup of tea, maybe brew you some more coffee if you'd like (all the while wishing I had a freaking Keurig machine) and then I'm going to tell you all about how nervous I am for this triathlon I've got on the docket in just over a week. I promised in this post I'd write more about training later - mostly for my own sanity. I could very easily turn this space into one of those health/fitness blogs everyone reads, but I won't. I will, however, tell you I've been swimming, biking and running like a madwoman for the past few weeks and that I'm up to my knees in new gear. Triathlon is not a cheap hobby to take on. I'm getting good use out of everything, don't get me wrong, I practically live in Lycra these days. But if a year ago you had told me I would be dropping Benjamins on lock laces, race belts, bike cleats and open water-specific goggles, I would have told you to get outta here.

But hey, at least once this race is over I can add another sticker to my collection.

Our nine a.m. heat wave quarantine hour is drawing near, so before you go (if we were having a drink, that is) I would tell you about my summer travels. Once this move is done, I'm actually looking forward to staying in the same place for an extended period of time. I just returned from a week spent in Colorado where I hiked my first 14er (Colorado speak for a 14,000 ft. mountain). It wasn't until I was back down in Denver, safe and sound, that I learned I had just summited the third highest peak in the contiguous U.S. (Alaska is clearly in a league of its own). It wasn't a technical climb by any means. We didn't carry a rope, a helmet or an ice axe. So why am I telling you this? Because HOLY COW! Altitude. One day you think you're in shape, then the next day, you go up this mountain where you literally feel like your lungs are collapsing and you're simultaneously going into cardiac arrest. This sensation does not help you calm down, either, as you scale a very exposed, very high ridge where the wind is whipping against your bare legs and hands (because you've never climbed a mountain and you forgot pants and gloves). It also doesn't help you speak reasonably to your boyfriend, who is just trying to help you calm down, so you don't have a panic attack at 14,000 feet and kill him, too. Panic aside, though - what an amazing view.

1004780_1926337555847_2123795343_n

 

 

 

 

 

On making big decisions...

Today was a tough day at work. Not because I had dozens of essays to grade or because the kids were particularly chatty as we get closer to summer break. Today was tough because I finally broke the news to my students that I am not returning to their school to teach next year. I’ve literally spent months trying to make this decision, mulling over what I should do—whether or not I should teach for another year or whether I should start going after what I really want, full speed ahead. It’s probably no secret to anyone reading this blog that I want to pursue a career in writing. That probably sounds silly to some, I know. I can feel the self-consciousness creeping over me right now as I type this sentence (I tend to get all red and blotchy when it happens—very attractive). But working as a writer is something I have to at the very least attempt, or I know I will always be stuck wondering what could-have-been.

But instead of walking you through the tedious ins-and-outs of my psyche and how I deliberated and stressed and talked and thought (and wrote) about what I should and where I should go, I’d like to instead share with you what I’ve learned about making big decisions.

My mom said it best, as moms usually do. “As far as big decisions go, this probably isn’t going to be the best decision you’ve ever made, and it’s probably not going to be the worst. It’s just your first.” And she was right.  When debating what I should do with my career—to seek out the turning point or to maintain the status quo—I was paralyzed by the idea that this was such a huge, monumental thing. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the micro-details of one big decision. Things that in the larger scheme of life just do not matter. Of course, big decisions will change your life. That’s why they’re big. But when placed at the crossroads of two different paths, neither one distinctly good or bad, neither one outweighed by more pros or cons, I’ve realized that sometimes it doesn’t matter so much which path you take, as long as you choose the one that brings you the most peace of mind.

Humans have been conditioned to care about the way other people see us. Honestly, I know I sometimes care a little too much. Even though it is not unusual to be conscientious about aspects of your life, it often seems that way because we are so scared to talk about it. I get insecure about the way I look way too often. I’m embarrassed that I’ve never read a Jane Austen novel. I worry about keeping up with my peers, that I’m not volunteering enough or working enough or achieving enough. It’s hard to tell people your plan is to give up a steady paycheck to pursue writing novels and teaching creative writing at a university—a job market (like many these days) that isn’t exactly lush and bountiful.

But what surprised me today was that when I told my students my decision, nearly all of them were happy for me. Sure, there was some sadness, a little anger (not to mention a few who could care either way) but for the most part, all of my students were excited for me to start pursuing what I want and taking actual steps to follow my dreams, cheesy as it sounds. I was so worked up to tell them because I was worried about what they would think, or how their opinion of me might change. But today I learned something awesome from them. People respect confidence. And even if you’re unsure about some things, especially the future, there’s no shame in that. In fact, people who are confident about what they’re capable of in the face of uncertainty often deserve the most respect.

Carrying through with big decisions certainly takes courage and guts. Hopefully, in the near future, I can tell you that the uncertainty that came along with this decision has paid off. But even if it doesn’t, I know I will have learned a lot along the way.

 

 

YA Fiction Round-Up: I Am The Messenger, Ready Player One, And More...

I've been reading a lot of Young Adult fiction lately. I guess that's what happens when you're an eighth grade English teacher. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. Some of the best books in recent years have been classified in the YA category--John Green's bestselling The Fault in Our Stars, for example, set right here in Indianapolis. The following is a list of books I selected for my eighth grade Literature Circles. (Shout out to Sam Moody, teacher extraordinaire, for his super helpful guidance on this!) So what's a Lit Circle? It's like a book club with less wine and more worksheets. But you feel free to read these however you like.

 life-of-pi-book-cover

life-of-pi-book-cover

Life of PiYann Martel

To my surprise, not enough of my students selected this book to form a complete Lit Circle, though many are reading it on their own and loving it as they do so. I selected Life of Pi because my own ninth grade English teacher chose it for us way back when. Plus, timing was right, as the film Life of Pi just picked up a number of academy awards and received positive acclamation all-around.

If you read this book, you'll be amazed at Martel's commitment to Pi's narration. It's so believable you wonder if Martel himself was never lost at sea with a hungry tiger named Richard Parker.

 I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak

I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak

I Am The Messenger, Markus Zusak

Chances are you've read, or at least heard of, Markus Zusak's more popular novel, The Book Thief. If you haven't read it, don't worry, because neither have I. I'm sure it's awesome, and it's on my list, but I'm not sure any YA novel could be more of a page-turner than this one. It's best read in one full swoop so make sure you have a few hours to spare before you dig in.

 scorpion

scorpion

The House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer

Futuristic dystopia sci-fi nightmare sort of novel. The kind that twelve-year-old boys read and actually enjoy! A miracle in and of itself. The novel is set in a place called Opium, a strip of land on the present-day U.S./Mexican border. There's all kinds of underlying messages about government and science and society that readers can pick up on in a way that's accessible for kids but not overly obvious for the adults.

 flowers-for-algernon-book

flowers-for-algernon-book

Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes

Another good one courtesy of my ninth grade English teacher. This is by far the most mature of the books selected for my classes Lit Circles, maybe because it's not technically a YA novel. I only have one small group of three students reading this book together, and when they finished it yesterday, I think they all shed a tear or two. It's a heart-wrenching story, but the best ones always are. Read it.

 Ready-Player-One-Paperback-Cover

Ready-Player-One-Paperback-Cover

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline

Another favorite among the boys. Although I was impressed by the number of girls who signed up to read this one all about life inside the OASIS - a virtual reality video game from the future. Ready Player One is a cautionary tale, asking us to examine our sense of reality. Are you really who your online-self claims to be?

 Book_CuriousIncident

Book_CuriousIncident

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon

Another book that's not specifically YA, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, chronicles the story of Christopher--a young boy intent on solving the mystery behind the sudden death of his neighbor's dog. Christopher is not your typical narrator, or your typical young boy for that matter. He describes himself as "a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties" if that gives you an idea of who you're dealing with. But just like with Charlie in Flowers for Algernon, you'll fall in love with Christopher and cheer him on page after page as he solves both the mystery of the dog, and the more stirring mysteries within his family.

Have you read any of these titles?

What book(s) are you currently reading? Any recommendations?

Happy reading y'all!

Let's Go for a Drink: Round 3

Round 1Round 2

If we were having a drink right now, I’d be drinking Gatorade. Lemon-lime Gatorade, to be exact. No booze for me until after the mini-marathon next weekend. Wait…what? “Isn’t that a little extreme for just a mediocre runner like yourself?” you ask. Although your comment about mediocrity stings a little, I keep a straight face. “Well, yeah, maybe so. But I figure I need all the help I can get, right?”

 the best flavor of all - don't argue

the best flavor of all - don't argue

Runners are obsessive people. We obsess over numbers, training logs, nutrition, hydration, the weather, our feet! We stretch constantly, we foam roll our IT bands in agony, we massage our knotted-up calves with golf balls, we no longer eat but “fuel.” All this stuff, at least for me, is part of the fun—it builds excitement and anticipation up for a race, for a goal. It also eases my mental state (and according to all those motivational posters, running is like 95% mental, right?). If I feel like I’ve done everything I can to try and make sure I have a “good” day, come race-day, I have no reason to feel anything but confident.

Now this is rather annoying, as you can imagine, when the 250-lb man who polished off a growler of Sun King and a Hugh Jass burrito last night barrels past me down the finish line, huffing and spewing all the way. But alas, the universe is not always fair.

 beer run?

beer run?

If we [you] were having a drink right now, I’d tell you I am counting down the days until summer vacation. It’s been a long year. And I will be proud when June 7 rolls by and I can say I survived my first year of “life in the real world” which is what everyone’s calling adulthood these days. But holy cow, I am so ready for some sunshine, some 90-degree Indiana humidity to gripe about, some swimming pools and some ice cream.

 the perfect summer view

the perfect summer view

I’ve offered you my last Gatorade at this point, and now I’m telling you about how I’m trying really hard lately to be a more positive person. Not an easy task if you’ve ever tried it. Yikes…The idea here is to stop allowing ourselves to be controlled by stress—something I know I’m guilty of way more than I’d like to admit.

I am a to-do list person, which is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it’s refreshing to create a bit of order in what often feels like a world of chaos, but on the other hand, to-do lists can quickly take over your life, your sanity and make a pathetic sucker out of you. This idea hit me in the shower yesterday (where all the best ideas seem to live) and I thought, what if I stop trying so hard to finish my to-do list? I never do anyway. It’s impossible and the stress of feeling like I have to get 25 things accomplished at once is enough to give me stroke. It’s at least enough to make me dwell on how tired I am, again, which is annoying for everyone and is actually a result of negative thinking itself. I recently read that fatigue is not necessarily physiological, but a product of our perception. Fatigue is our brain’s way of telling us we just need to focus our minds on something positive.

This has to be true, right? Think about it. The days I feel so tired I can hardly keep my eyes open are the same days when everything seems hopeless and bad. Coincidence? Probably not. The path toward positivity for me starts with taking some time each day to just focus on what’s good. Like the other day I thought, I’m sick and tired of this stupid rain but wow—look how beautiful it’s made the grass and the trees. Everything is so green, finally. And this weekend, when my legs hurt like hell on my ten-mile run, I’ll try my hardest to remember that I’m so lucky to be healthy and to be able to actually do this when so many others are hurt or sick.

 beautiful blue sky telling you to be positive

beautiful blue sky telling you to be positive

If we were having a drink right now, I’d go recycle our empty bottles (of course) and say thanks for listening to my ramblings on life and have a great weekend.