At Bouncing Back

When I was sixteen months old, according to my mom, I still wasn’t walking. I’d pull myself up on furniture and crawl around, but I wasn’t using my feet for anything–which, considering how many tiny shoes I’ve seen in my boxes of baby stuff, was probably pretty vexing.

Concerned, Mom took me to the doctor. After a short period of observation, she says that the pediatrician turned to her and said, “She’s perfectly capable of walking. She’s just not going to do it until she can do it perfectly. She’ll probably be like that her entire life.”

So yeah, I guess you could call me a perfectionist.

I graduated from high school summa cum laude–and never got so much as a detention. I got accepted to my first-choice college with a full ride. I passed all my classes, did several internships, graduated cum laude in four years, and secured a job two months before leaving school.

Well, I thought I secured a job. Turns out, due to circumstances I won’t go into here, not so much.

I didn’t write all that to imply that the world owes me a job, although the idea that everyone deserves the means by which to procure food and shelter is not a new one (and, in fact, is one gaining traction in Switzerland as we speak). I just mean that, well, this is kind of the first time my life has gone off script–and I don’t like it.

george rr martin


I’m glad you’re calm, George, because your life gives me anxiety.


I like having a plan. I’m boggled by the idea that George R. R. Martin doesn’t outline his epic novels before writing them, describing himself as a “gardener” rather than an “architect”. Even if the job I had wasn’t necessarily my dream job, it was still something to build on. Now I’ve got nothing, and I’m not happy about it.


Some people, like George, like to let things happen naturally. I say if that had been cavemen’s philosophy, we never would have invented the wheel. Sometimes, you gotta take what nature gave you and make a circle out of it so your oxen can pull you to market. Or something.

Even though I know I’ll probably end up getting another job (and not, say, living in a van by the river), it’s hard not to feel shaken by this first of many hiccups. Relationships, cooking, public speaking–I’ve felt insecure about my abilities in all those areas before, but never about anything that had to do with my mind or my work ethic. So what’s a girl to do?

Well, I started by coming back here. Sometime in the past year (wow, sorry, it’s been a while, folks) I reverted back to perfectionism and forgot how to be okay with just… okay. Here’s the best way I know how to get back there from “sucky”.

What is not sucking? In the world of recovery from personal or professional Sudden Onset Suckishness (or SOS), not sucking is defined as getting back to business, full stop, no conditions. You can do it kicking and screaming, but you have to do it.

1. Don’t fear rock bottom. When I got home from my last day of work, I told my roommate I was out of a job and proceeded to cry so hard for so long that I choked on my own snot. That was my low point this time. My other Rock Bottom Greatest Hits have included:

  • the time I stayed up all night watching Parks and Recreation and drinking an entire bottle of rosé after a bad breakup
  • falling out of bed after a different bad breakup and staying on the floor, in my blanket burrito, for three hours
  • skipping class and driving out of state for a day to avoid a difficult conversation with a friend (we’re good now–sorry, Ira)

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Rock bottom is awful, but sometimes you have to live there for a little while. Think of yourself like an air hockey puck: you have to hit a wall before you can go in a new direction.

2. Make an “eff you” playlist. Mine is here. Fill yours with songs whose lyrics, genre or style fill you with enough spite to live another day.

3. Be careful how you vent. You don’t want to go on social media and diss your ex-lover/friend/employer to the whole world. Even if you’re in the right, airing your dirty laundry can make you look whiny rather than righteous. I’m a big proponent of complaining–recent studies have shown that talking about your problems can improve your mental health–but if you’re looking to have a job, a friend or a date ever again, you may want to avoid publicly ranting about how you’ve been wronged.

Some of the above advice goes out the window in certain cases. If you’ve been victimized, wrongfully terminated or discriminated against, get a lawyer and go after those other buckets. However, still tread carefully when it comes to public denouncements. Depending on laws in your state, discussing details of your case could jeopardize your chances of winning.

4. Analyze. This is my favorite part. What, if anything, did you do to contribute to the situation that you’re in? What, if anything, did others do to contribute to the situation that you’re in? (The answer could be nothing, but make sure to approach it from all angles.) What can you do differently next time, and where can you go from here? Don’t spend too much time on this, because take it from me, you’ll lose your mind, but try and get some rudimentary answers before you move on.

5. Gather cheerleaders. Call your friends, call your mom, call your dog (not on the phone,

cheerleader dog


Fifi is so excited for you! Photo credit: G.W. Little.


by their name. Does your dog have a phone?!) and get them on your team. Let them know that you’re going to need support. The ones who really love you will give it to you.


6. Take baby steps. (See what I did there?) Let yourself be proud of the things you accomplish, no matter how insignificant they may seem from the outside. Big tasks, like getting a job or getting over your ex, only seem daunting when you look at them as one thing. Try thinking of them as lots of things you can do over time. If you want to share your little wins with me, come talk to me on Twitter. We can be okay together.

You’re always okay by me, you guys. If you want to gush about office supplies, rant about pockets in women’s clothing or complain about… well, just about anything, hit me up on Twitter. Make sure to like this page on Facebook, too!


At Writing Letters to Yourself: #DearMe

Dear 16-year-old me,

Hey girl. Hope you’re doing okay. It sure has been a while… we turn 21 in a couple months. It’s bananas.

I remember how you used to look at the seniors walking around your high school and think about how grown-up they seemed. You’d daydream about how nice it would be once you were finally an adult who was sure of herself and knew what she was doing all the time.

I still think that version of adulthood sounds nice. Unfortunately (and I don’t want to scare you with this, so you can skip to the next sentence if you want to remain blissfully unaware), after a few years of talking with people much older than either of us, I don’t know that it exists. No one knows what they’re doing, and that’s especially true in high school. I know it looks like everyone around you is comfortable with who they are, but really, they’re just as confused as you.

Listen to the glasses, High School Me.

Listen to the glasses, High School Me.

Before we really get into it,  I want to tell you thank you. Thank you, High School Shelby, for being a giant nerd who was friends with primarily other giant nerds. Nerdom comes with a set of problems in high school, yes, but you never got into drugs, you didn’t drink a drop of alcohol, and you never had sex, of either the protected or unprotected varieties. That sentence probably makes you feel irrationally boring, but it makes me feel proud of you. You know what’s good for your body and what’s not. You know what you’re ready for and what you’re not. You are paranoid on a level with Cold-War-era America, and thus far that has kept you out of trouble with the law and kept you from getting pregnant. Sometimes anxiety is a good thing.

Most of the time, though, it’s not. I hurt for you. You worry so much, and it’s not your fault. I think if I could tell you one thing, it would be that you deserve to feel good. You deserve to do things that make you happy, to surround yourself only with people who make you happy, to make your happiness your highest priority.

You are worth more than letters on a report card or numbers on a scale. I can hear you asking whether you’re fat or not in a panicky voice and I know you mean to ask whether you’re pretty enough to be significant. You are brilliant and kind and funny, and you work harder than anyone I know (excluding your state-science-fair-winning dive-team-medaling Girl-Scout-Gold-Award-winning best friend, Kat, who works that hard because she draws strength from a giant-sized lithium ion battery in her left hip). Are you beautiful, good at school, well-liked? Yes. Do you need to attach that much of your worth to those facts? No.

Go easy on yourself. Work hard for the B instead of making yourself implode over the A. Eat the cupcake. Free associate sometimes, just to get your creative juices pumping. Pay attention to how your mind and body feel, and if you need help with either, ASK. You are sixteen. Nobody thinks you should be entirely self-sufficient except you.


You have no idea what this is from yet. I’m so excited for you.

Pay attention to how your mom and sisters react to your friends and your boyfriend. If your mom doesn’t like someone, she’s going to let you work out the fact that they don’t deserve you on your own, because she loves you and she wants you to learn. If your sisters don’t like someone, they will be vocal about it because they love you and it annoys them when other people make you cry.

It’s okay to like what you like. If you’re more into Taylor Swift than Mayday Parade, or if you’re listening to the Wicked soundtrack for the umpteenth time while all the other drama kids have moved on to some other show, you don’t have to worry about whether people will stop liking you because of it. People who pick their friends based on music taste are kind of crappy people. Besides, Taylor Swift is cool–and she’ll only get cooler in the next five years, trust me.

I’m jealous of how much you read. Don’t worry, I still have my nose in a book most of the time, but you’re about to discover the workforce and Netflix, and those two things (not necessarily in that order) are going to eat up lots of your time.

I’m proud of you. I’m proud of how hard you work and of how often you’re beginning to try new things and of the number of adventures you want to have. I wish I could give you a hug, but spacetime doesn’t work that way, so I guess I’ll just tell you that we turn out okay. You’re gonna be fine. Embrace it.

I love us,

Future You

P.S. Spoiler alert: you and Kat are still best friends.

I’m back, baby. Follow me on Twitter @ShelbyBouck or like this blog’s page on Facebook for more non-suckage.

At Writing Thank You Notes

From the time I was old enough to hold a pencil, every six months my mom enforced a rule that some people think is archaic: sitting down to hand-write notes to people who had sent me gifts for my birthday or Christmas. The notes were usually on cute stationery that came with tiny envelopes and smelled really good in that paper-y, book-smell way, so the process wasn’t overly taxing, but to a six-year-old who would rather be reading or telling stories to her stuffed animals, it wasn’t exactly a dream way to spend an hour.

Jimmy's got the right idea. Via

Jimmy’s got the right idea. Via

I have to admit, I haven’t stayed on top of the thank-you note thing as I’ve moved into adulthood. I still write them… just sometimes the Christmas thank you notes go out in February. I am grateful. I am. It’s just that I get busy.

And that’s just it, isn’t it? Maybe know I’m grateful for my gifts, and my job interviews, and the places I stay when I travel, but do the people who give me those things know that? I can say “thank you” verbally to someone who’s in the room with me or on the phone, but using good-smelling stationery and a fancy pen to send a letter takes time and effort that lets someone generous know you care.

This kind of gesture is particularly important for people who are older–grandparents, aunts, uncles–because many of them still expect thank-you notes to arrive. It’s still a good idea to write thank you notes to people who didn’t watch Happy Days every week as it came out, though, since the fact that they’re not expecting it will make your gesture that much more adorable. Here’s the anatomy of a good thank-you note. It doesn’t have to win an award–it just has to be nice.

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the world of gratitude-related missives as writing an individualized, kind and visually pleasing note that lets its recipient know you care.

1. Stock up. You can get thank-you notes just about everywhere–Walmart, Target, bookstores, even some high-class gas stations. Get one card for everyone you’re thanking, and make sure you’ve got envelopes. Pens are a good idea, too, unless you’ve mastered the art of telekinetic handwriting projection, in which case, good job!

leg lamp gif


2. Be specific. Don’t be the kid who wrote a stilted form letter to all their relatives after Christmas: “Dear Grandma, Thank you for the gift. Love, [name]”. Name the gift and talk about why you liked it. If you received cash, write about what you treated yourself to with it. If a gift arrived broken, defective, or not to your taste, don’t mention it–just return it quietly and channel your joy from the store credit you’ll receive into a genuine thank-you note. If you can’t return it, just say something neutral and complimentary-sounding: “Every time I look at it, I’ll think of you”. Super sweet, super-not-indicative of the leg lamp from A Christmas Story maybe not being your thing.

This part can be easier to write for notes about favors people did with you or interactions you had. Handwritten notes for people who kept you in their homes while you were traveling or people who interviewed you for jobs are unexpected and kind (and, from an employment standpoint, can give you a real boost).

3. Make nice. Thank-you notes aren’t just about settling a debt–one nice favor for one handwritten note. They’re about making a personal connection, sometimes with folks you rarely see. Ask how the recipient is doing, as specifically as possible! “I heard you got a new kitten–how is Mr. Whiskers doing?” “Congratulations to little Karen on getting onto her school’s softball team!” “Great seeing you at Great-Aunt Sally’s Christmas dinner–I hope you had a happy new year!” Thank-you notes for job interviews don’t have to be that personal, but do include something about hoping your maybe-future employer is doing well, and how nice it was to meet them.

Wait a minute, Mister Postman!

Wait a minute, Mister Postman!

4. Deliver! I sure hope you waited to go shopping for thank-you note supplies until after you finished this article, because there was one crucial item that I didn’t mention earlier: stamps. They’re the main difference between email and snail mail, and in the digital age, they can be easy to forget. Get Forever stamps so you don’t have to worry about whether you’re including the correct postage. If you’ve forgotten how to address an envelope in the U.S., no worries; there’s a tutorial here. Don’t worry about getting your notes out late, either. Even though it’s better to be prompt with thank you notes, there’s no deadline on appreciation!

Get scribbling, readers–and thank you for being here. If you’d like to thank me for something, you can do that at this blog’s Facebook page or on my Twitter feed.

At Writing Fictional Women

captain marvel logo

Please make this good, Marvel. Pleeeeease. (Also, make a Black Widow movie. Pleeeeeease.)

Overall, this has been a great year for girls and women in film, TV and literature. We’ve got Ursula K. Le Guin and Jacqueline Woodson, who each won 2014 National Book Awards (for Lifetime Achievement and Young People’s Literature, respectively). We’ve got a Captain Marvel movie in the works and two female-led action movies, Divergent and Mockingjay Part 1, making bank at the box office. We’ve got Olivia Pope, Jessica Day, Sophia Burset and a host of other women blazing trails for many interesting, unique television characters to come.

However, the reason that these characters are so notable is partly because they are in the minority. For every book, movie and television show that writes its female characters well, there are five who still rely on tropes and outdated stereotypes—or worse, outright cast women just so they can be eye candy. For some reason, after over 2000 years, writers, even the writers who write about the characters I listed above, still have trouble portraying women as humans in the media. If you’re a media professional, or hope to become one in the future, I’ve created a little guide for you and for my own reference (writer, hello); have a look and feel free to tell me anything I missed!

What is not sucking? Not sucking in the realm of creating fabricated female characters that are just as three-dimensional, active and distinct as they are in real life.

  1. Create more than one of them, and give them names. Women make up 51% of the world’s population. Shouldn’t they make up more than 30% of all speaking roles in the movies? Shouldn’t they make up more than 15% of the protagonists we root for in cinema? Shouldn’t they get their own movies instead of just cameos in every single male superhero’s movie? (Sorry. I’m still bitter about the severe lack of a Black Widow movie in our universe.) Put more than one woman in your fictional work. Extra points if they’re friends.
  2. Let them have conversations with each other about something other than a man. Fulfilling just these first two items makes sure that your piece will pass the Bechdel test. “Well, that bar’s set pretty low,” you might be thinking. Yes. Yes it is. But you’d be surprised: only a little over half of the movies released in theaters in 2014 have passed the Bechdel test. Some of the titles that passed are surprising: 22 Jump Street,
    I didn't see this movie, but I guess Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill couldn't have been the only people in it if it passed the Bechdel Test.

    I didn’t see this movie, but I guess Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill couldn’t have been the only people in it if it passed the Bechdel Test.

    Transformers: Age of Extinction, and Flowers in the Attic all featured conversations between two named female characters about something other than a man. This proves that your story doesn’t have to be sophisticated or even particularly feminist to pass this test; your dialogue and worldbuilding just have to acknowledge that there are a lot of women in the world, and they talk about a lot of stuff that’s not dudes. Your female characters’ conversation can be about anything—shoes, dinner, other women, taking over the world—except a man, and can last no longer than two or three lines, and you’ll pass the test. BUT WAIT, YOU’RE STILL NOT DONE:

  3. Write them with complex, diverse personalities. Some women are strong warriors who literally wear combat boots, kick butt and take no nonsense from anyone. That’s great. Some women are soft and kind and bake cookies and make glittery Pinterest projects. That is also great. Lots of women embody both or neither of these types and all of them are great. (Except when they’re not. Women can be villains, also, and not just because they’re aggressive businesspeople or Wednesday-pink-wearing mean girls.) Think beyond the stereotypes you’ve seen before and go big. Also consider reflecting our actual world in your fictional world by populating it with a significant number of non-white, non-straight, non-cis-gendered, bigger-than-size-6* people as well as their white, straight, cis-gendered, smaller-than-size-6* counterparts.
  4. Write them with individual motivations. Women are often daughters, wives, girlfriends and mothers. Again, that’s great. However, some women are none of these things, and even women who have partners and families have ambitions and interests outside of their partners and families. Just like men, women may have career aspirations, a desire for political power or scientific discovery, patriotic or even nationalist loyalties—in other words, desires and narratives that have nothing to do with family relationships. Explore those. They’re interesting.
  5. Write them as people. That is, after all, what we are.

*If you are a man, or writing male characters, the phrase “size 6” means almost nothing to you because men’s sizes are based on things like inseams and waist measurements, while women’s sizes are based on things like black magic and lotteries. I know. It’s nuts. Read more about it here.

If you’d like to role play as a fictional female character… maybe don’t do it on this blog’s Facebook or Twitter. But you can come talk to me about it there!

At Packing Your Bags

How Not to Suck at Packing Your Bags

I just got back a couple of weeks ago from a fantastic visit with my best friend in Boston. She’s an MIT engineer—and, therefore, a certified genius—who regularly does research on stuff I’m not even allowed to talk about. Suffice it to say that one of her projects is going to go to Mars. The planet, not the city in Pennsylvania.

Anyway. The city of Boston is not as awesome as my friend, but it comes pretty close. Beautiful fall colors on all the

A dramatization of an actual Boston bunny. I debated putting a picture of one of our founding fathers here, but this won.

A dramatization of an actual Boston bunny. I debated putting a picture of one of our founding fathers here, but this won.

trees, a million people in scarves, century-old bookstores, the best Italian pastries you’ll eat outside of Italy, regattas on the river… and bunnies. So many bunnies. I had a great time and came back with an MIT mug in my suitcase.

The only way the trip could have been better? Maybe if my flight from Boston to Miami hadn’t been delayed. If it had been on time, I would have gotten to my connecting flight before the gate closed. If I had gotten to my connecting flight before the gate closed, I would have gotten to sleep in my bed that night. Since none of that happened, I ended up stranded in Miami. For. Twelve. Hours.

The Mini Motel is a cool, albeit expensive, alternative to sleeping on a bare floor. You know what else is great? Blankets. Picture courtesy of the New York Times.

The Mini Motel is a cool, albeit expensive, alternative to sleeping on a bare floor. You know what else is great? Blankets. Picture courtesy of the New York Times.

Really, there was nobody to blame. The weather in Boston was bad, which was why the flight was delayed; there was a Big Massive Auto Show going on in town, which was why I couldn’t get a hotel room; I was stuck in Miami and not Atlanta, which was why there were no “sleep suites” where I could go to catch some z’s. Overall, the situation was… less than ideal.

If you’re traveling this holiday season, don’t be like me. Don’t sleep on your purse for two hours and then wander around Terminal D like a ghost in an 18th-century Gothic novel. Pack right—for every possible situation.

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the world of packing as collecting one’s belongings for a trip in a way that is sensible, space-saving and least likely to get you detained by the TSA.

  1. Think about your destination. Desert? Tundra? Rainforest? Don’t discount the importance of having options for all possible weather conditions. Regardless of where you’re going, you’ll need a few basics (deodorant, books, duct tape), but most of your suitcase is going to be specific to your trip. Bring light layers and an umbrella (and maybe some snakebite venom if you’re going to the middle of the desert).
  2. “Hack”* your suitcase. Rolling your clothes into cylinders will allow for more free space in your bag than folding them into rectangles will. Put shoes on the bottom to evenly distribute weight and make sure your clean clothes don’t get shoe prints on them. For the love of God, get a suitcase with wheels. It’s the 21st century and technology is beautiful.
  3. If you can leave it at home, do. Are you really going to need to work on your laptop on this vacation? Do you actually need a new pair of jeans for every day? Are you actually going to wear any of those accessories? No? Leave it. Leave it all.
  4. …except underwear. If a Walking Dead scenario happens and you’re stuck in your destination for a month with worthless currency, no washing machine and no possessions but what you have in your suitcase, you’re gonna want clean underwear.
  5. Try to keep certain things on your person. ID. Books. A blanket. A pillow. A phone. If you get stuck in an airport, these are the supplies that are going to alleviate your situation. Don’t sleep on the bare floor of gate 27D. It won’t help you.
  6. Don’t get arrested. Learn what can’t be transported in the cabin on flights in your country, and then don’t pack those things. The government has a lot of lists, and it’s better to stay off of them.

*As any MIT student will tell you, very little to do with your everyday life is really a “hack”. For a list of some of MIT’s most famous actual hacks, click here.

Happy trails, readers. If you wanna chat about packing or anything else, like this blog on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. (Preferably both, not gonna lie.)

At Scheduling Your Life

I am a school supply fetishist, and I am not ashamed.

Sometimes, when I’m having a really bad day, I go to the school supply section in Walmart and inhale deeply. I might have kids someday just so I can spend time in that aisle every September. The scent of paper, all the pens and pencils in neat plastic packaging, highlighters in every color… it’s all so soothing.

Rory Gilmore's rationale for getting three highlighters. Quote from Gilmore Girls, tote made by CafePress.

Rory Gilmore’s rationale for getting three highlighters. Quote from Gilmore Girls, tote made by CafePress.

You know what my favorite thing is, though? Planners. Datebooks. Portable calendars with pages dedicated to entire months and other pages with big boxes for writing down daily details. They offer more than just the smell of productivity and learning: they promise order, structure, relaxation brought on by knowing exactly what to expect from every week ahead. I’m practically swooning now just thinking about it.

You’ve probably guessed that I kinda can’t function without some kind of advance outline. Spontaneity isn’t my strong suit, but I know exactly where I will be at three p.m. this Friday, when my next paper is due, and what I’m going to tell the next person who asks when I’m free. (Saturday morning, after breakfast, if you need to know.) Proper scheduling can help keep you from overloading your life, losing track of time, or worse, double-booking. Here’s how to get started—you’ll be sniffing Rolodexes in no time.

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the world of planning one’s time as making sure one has enough hours a week to complete assignments and fulfill commitments, while leaving a little time for fun and decompression.

  1. Do some math. I know, I know, it’s painful, but I promise it’s simple. First, figure out exactly how much time you have in a week to do everything you need to do: seven days times twenty-four hours each day equals 168 hours.


Okay, now schedule in some time for sleeping. I know it’s not exactly productive, but if you deprive yourself of sleep you’re just going to be miserable all the time, and that will RUIN YOUR LIFE. The whole thing. So, minimum eight hours of sleep a night times seven nights is 56 hours of sleep, and that leaves 112 waking hours every week.


That looks great, right? So much time! But wait, we’re not done. If you’re in your twenties, you’re probably involved in some kind of work or school. If you’re in college classes, take the number of credit hours in your current course load and multiply it by three, to allow for enough study time for every class. For example, I’m taking 15 credit hours this semester, so if I’m studying the proper amount those classes will take up 45 hours of my waking time.


I’m also working part-time, so that takes up another 15 to 20 hours (we’ll call it 17 just for the sake of argument).


Take out some time for transportation to wherever you’re going. My commute to work is about half an hour each way, and sometimes finding parking on campus takes up to 45 minutes. All told, transportation to and from work and school takes up about 6 hours of my time every week.


After all of that, I have 44 hours every week for personal care, food prep and consumption and… well, fun. You might have more or less time depending on your commitments—I know a lot of people who take classes but don’t work, or who work and don’t take classes.

  1. Look at the final number. If, after all that math, your number is really big, you might want to consider adopting some new activities. Figure out exactly what you’re doing with your day, whether it’s watching Netflix or ending world hunger, and evaluate it. Do you want to do more? Are you not giving yourself enough credit—are you actually doing important stuff that I didn’t list as part of the equation? Are you happy living life without a bunch of stuff on your schedule? If so, awesome. If not, change something.

If your number is really small—or zero, or negative—you need to cut back on something. Make a list of all the commitments you have and figure out what you can and should eliminate. You should probably stay in school, if you’re in it, and if your job is your only source of income you should stay at that too, but if you’re dividing your remaining time between twenty different committees, clubs and organizations, you need to prioritize. Stay involved in your favorite activities, and start saying no to the others.

If, like me, you’ve got a moderate amount of free time left in your schedule…john lennon

  1. Resist the urge to fill up every slot. High school taught me that time doing nothing structured or “purposeful” was time wasted. Résumé fillers, career enhancers, noble acts of service that will set you apart from the crowd: those are all necessary, right?

ANNNNNH. Wrong. (That was my poor imitation of a Jeopardy buzzer.) Humans need rest. We need play. We need time alone, time with friends, time with family, time to feel free to pursue whatever our hearts desire. Every moment of your life doesn’t need to be scheduled. You’ll be okay if you don’t save the world today—or even ever. Promise.

I’d be happy to schedule your life for you, readers. If you need help with the math above, or if you want someone to come fondle Sharpies with you in an Office Depot, come talk to me on Facebook or Twitter.

At Feeling Feelings

Most of the time, I like eating. Food is delicious, and it’s extremely varied; it can even bring relationships closer together. There’s a reason dinner is such a popular option for dates, and it’s the same reason our favorite holidays often involve a big family feast: sharing a meal with someone is a powerful, beautiful thing.

Still, I wish I wasn’t required to eat. Hunger hits me at inconvenient moments. The process of getting food inside me, whether by cooking, ordering takeout, or sitting down at a restaurant, takes up a significant amount of my time—time I could be using to not write blog posts. If I could have any superpower, I would seriously consider the ability to get nutrients from photosynthesis and therefore only eat the food I wanted, whenever I so chose.

Concealing and denying your feelings can have disastrous consequences. Still from Frozen, copyright 2013.

Concealing and denying your feelings can have disastrous consequences. Still from Frozen, copyright 2013.

I think about emotions in much the same way I think about food. Curry? Chocolate? Real mashed potatoes (as opposed to the abomination that is powdered Ore Ida)? Awesome. Joy? Love? Schadenfreude? Even better. But when it comes time to eat the Brussels sprouts of psychological experience, I would just… rather not. I distract, I obsess, I attempt to convince myself that whatever EXTREMELY UNNECESSARY AND INCONVENIENT thing I am feeling just isn’t there. I don’t have time for that nonsense, darn it.

… except I have to make time. I we all do. If you go too long without eating, your body starts shutting down. If you bottle up your feelings for too long, bad juju happens. You could blow up at your best friend, stop making progress at work or school, or even start an eternal winter in the middle of June. Don’t run away from your loved ones and create your own ice palace of solitude. Follow these steps to emotional honesty instead.

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the world of conscious perception as being able to accurately define your emotions, release them, and begin to feel better, without destruction of self, others or property.

  1. Sit with your feelings. Get comfortable with accepting what you experience. Get close to your emotions. Look at them. Scoot right up to their faces and peer into their souls. At first this might sound like snuggling with a smelly stranger on a park bench, and it never gets more pleasant, frankly, but you get used to it.
  2. Question your feelings. Anger, for example, is easy: quick, visceral, not complicated to explain. However, it’s also a handy mask for other feelings that suck more—sadness, anxiety, hurt, guilt, or insecurity are only a few possibilities. Before you make a hasty decision about how you feel and what to do about it, ask yourself if there are any other options.
  3. Deep breaths. Two counts in, one count held, three counts out. Repeat as many times as you want until you’re calmer. If you’re in the
    Metallics are in this season. Orange is the New Black, copyright 2012.

    Metallics are in this season. Orange is the New Black, copyright 2012.

    throes of an anxiety or panic attack, jumping jacks, counted out loud, can help too. (Just one of the many things I’ve learned from Orange is the New Black. Another tip: you can make fashionable shower shoes out of duct tape, if you’re Laverne Cox.)

  4. Release. Crying sucks, but sometimes it’s what you have to do to get your feelings out of your system. Just make sure you have tissues on hand to take care of the aftermath (read: snot). If you’re all cried out, or don’t feel like you can cry at all, writing, drawing and making noise (screaming, singing, playing an instrument) are other effective forms of emotional detox.
  5. Add a little helium. Do something, anything that will lift your mood. Make art, read a book, go for a run, laugh at your favorite television show, discover a new hobby, call your mom. It might take time to get back to happy, but at least for now you can be okay.

Feel better, readers. If you need someone to talk to, or if you really like this blog (aww, thanks!) you can like it on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

At Moving Out

If you ever find yourself in a room full of twenty-somethings and you need to start a conversation, here’s a tip: start talking about how much you hate being an adult. We all have a story about sending a prescription to the wrong pharmacy, forgetting to pay a bill on time, or accidentally exploding an oven.

Wait. Is that last one just me?

Regardless, if the Internet and my own experience with people my age is any indication, everybody 30 and under experiences a little bit of regret about the whole leaving-the-nest thing. We all have a part of us that wishes we could go back to living at home rent-free with minimal responsibility. That’s a pretty sweet deal, but nobody appreciates it until it’s over… partly because we all get sick of it eventually. There is a reason that most of us in the Western world grow up and leave home to seek our fortunes. We get to have adventures, make mistakes and figure out our own minds and limits—maybe while doing some (legal!) things our parents would disapprove of. Moving out isn’t easy, but in the end human nature dictates that it’s for the best. Here are some ways to make the progression from your childhood home into a dorm room or your own apartment a little easier.

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the world of striking out on your own as gaining a modicum of independence without hurting yourself, hurting anyone else, destroying property or going into soul-crushing debt. (You are capable of this, I promise.)

  1. do your laundry bookPack smart. Packing is awful. Unpacking is awful. Make both processes easier by only taking things you know you’ll need and that you can’t replace cheaply when you get there. Anything with sentimental value is worth taking; so is anything particularly helpful. Books are, of course, essential—for people newly living away from their parents, I highly recommend Do Your Laundry Or You’ll Die Alone. It was written by a mom who was worried she hadn’t told her daughter everything she needed to know before she went to college, so there’s advice on literally everything in it. (Relationships? Check. Money? Check. Care instructions for various types of fabric? Triple check.) Anything you don’t need to bring you can leave at your family’s place or sell at a garage sale to make a little extra cash before you leave.
  2. Get a planner. Dorky? Some people might think so, but I don’t. Planners save lives. Where else can you keep track of classAdulthood step one: make your own lunch. Comic by Buttersafe.assignments, work schedules, due dates for bills and birthdays all in one place?

…Okay, your phone would work, too. But having a tangible ink-and-paper schedule that you check regularly can keep you more in touch with your responsibilities so you don’t go into a downward spiral of flakiness. In short, get a planner that you can carry around with you and write everything down in it.

  1. Stay clean. Not just your body, but also your living space. Science has proven that spending most of your time in a messy room can have a chaotic effect on your mood and productivity. (I could have told you that just from playing The Sims.) Plus, as stated in Do Your Laundry, “even messy people like clean roommates”, so organizing your space can help you avoid conflict.
  2. Budget. Living as a student or an entry-level worker means living without an excess of cash. Keeping to a strict budget can help make sure you go into as little debt as possible (some debt might be necessary for things like student loans and credit building). First, save a percentage of your income whenever it comes in—it can be as little as 10% of every paycheck. Then pay for your nonnegotiable expenses: food, rent, tuition, utilities. What’s left over you can play with, but be smart about how you use it. If you’re in love with that adorable dress from Torrid but you can’t pay for it in cash right now, wait a week and decide if you still want it.
  3. Take baby steps. You may still need your mom to help you argue with your landlord, your dad to help you do your taxes and your older sister to help you approach romantic interests with confidence. That’s okay. Nobody’s one hundred percent independent right away. It’s okay to get help while you transition into adulthood. Just make sure you try new things—and don’t be afraid to suck at first. Everybody does.

Godspeed, readers. If you want to chat about what you hate–or love!–about living on your own, come visit me on Facebook or Twitter–if you want to look into Do Your Laundry Or You’ll Die Alone, check out its Twitter feed and Facebook page. (Comic via Buttersafe.)

At Being Well-Read

I’ve gotta tell you a secret, guys. No matter what I’m doing—working, driving, sitting in class, hanging out with friends or acquaintances—I would always rather be reading.

Hermione gets it.

Hermione gets it.

Someone out there has read this and is now thinking, “But not when you’re talking to me, right?” Sorry, honey, whoever you are. There’s a reason the main thing I do with my closest friends is get together and read in silence. It’s not that I don’t like “real” life; books are just so much better.

I wish everybody felt this way—not just so folks would understand not to try and strike up a conversation with me when I’ve got my nose in a book on the bus, but because reading for pleasure is directly linked to future success in children and teenagers and higher levels of empathy in people of all ages. Plus, it doesn’t only actually make you smarter, it makes you look smarter, which is helpful if someone in a job interview or on a date asks you what your favorite pastimes are. Reading is essential, but it’s also fun if you do it right.

Not everyone had the same experiences I did growing up. Not everyone had parents who sat down and read with them at every given opportunity. Not everyone had access to public and school libraries filled with good books and helpful people. Not everyone went to a school where it was okay to think reading was exciting and fun. Because of these and other reasons, some people don’t discover the love of reading until adulthood. If you’re one of those people, get excited–you have SO much discovery ahead of you. Starting out on this adventure might seem intimidating, but don’t worry. Mama’s got your back. Here are some ways to start reading for pleasure that won’t make you want to tear your hair out–and some helpful links!

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined on the journey to well-read status as honestly enjoying reading fiction—not just doing it because you have to.

  1. Sample lots of genres. Start with contemporary fiction—it’s super accessible and unbelievably varied, so no matter who you are, there’s a book out there for you. Don’t worry about what will be “useful” or what will impress people. Read what looks interesting to you. My favorite genres are realistic (sometimes called “literary”) fiction, fantasy and young adult (which, yes, is totally worth reading even if you’re no longer a teenager). Other types of novels include mystery, science fiction, and romance; I’ve found something to enjoy in every section. Don’t reject an entire genre based on your perception of it! You could very well be pleasantly surprised if you take a chance.
  2. Read what you said you read in high school. Classics are usually classics for a reason: they tap into human experiences and desires that transcend time and place and idiom. (Plus you can talk about them to impress a date.) If Great Literature seems daunting, it shouldn’t. At one point, even plays written by William Shakespeare were just considered entertainment for the uneducated masses. Today, the only differences between the Bard and an MTV reality show are rhyme, meter and some depth of feeling. If the idea of reading “older” English intimidates you, start with something from the 20th century, like The Great Gatsby, Beloved, or Catcher in the Rye, and work your way backward.
  3. Get some perspective. Read books written by men and books written by women. Read books written by people of every race and nationality and sexuality and gender identity and any other identifying characteristic you can think of. Don’t do this just to check off items on some diversity itinerary. Do it because all human stories are different from each other, and they are also all the same, and both of those things are vitally important.
  4. Go back to basics. The children’s section of any bookstore is home to some of the best stories you’ll find anywhere. As C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, once said, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” Reread your old favorites, and then discover some new ones.
  5. By Grant Snider of Incidental Comics.

    By Grant Snider of Incidental Comics.

    Be a rebel. Banned books are some of the most important books you can read, because if something upsets people, it is likely worth a lot of thought. Some people jump at the chance to read banned books (“CONTROVERSY! ALL RIGHT!”), but others are a little more hesitant. If you’re in the second group, consider that before you disagree with something, you should probably find out exactly what it is you’re disagreeing with—and that involves digging a little deeper than reading a warning label. Reading banned books gives you the opportunity to decide how you feel about an issue, whether that’s profanity, prejudice or pornography, without having to rely on the opinions of a politician or a PTA. As you’re reading, see if you can find out why the book got banned. Considering the work as a whole, think about what the author was trying to say with the contested parts of the book. Should the entirety of the novel be lost because of a part of it that offended someone? If you read it, that becomes your call and not someone else’s.

  6. For the love of God, read Harry Potter. In fact, just go ahead and start with that.

Have fun, new readers–and old ones, too! If you have recommendations for me, or if you’d like some, please visit this blog’s Facebook or catch up with me on Twitter.

At Getting Your Toes Done

Open-toed shoes are part of everybody’s uniform in Florida, especially during the summer. This is nice, for the most part, but it can socially handicap you fast if you don’t take care of your feet. I’m not just referring to the ladies here. Guys, I’m sorry, but hobbit feet are just not cute. Hair, long toenails, calluses—if you’re gonna wear sandals, you have to get that nonsense under control.

Even great football players get pedicures--and so does Tim Tebow! Original photo from TMZ.

Even great football players get pedicures–and so does Tim Tebow! Original photo from TMZ.

Oh, stop complaining that it’s “girly”. I don’t know very many people of any gender who’d pass up the chance to soak their feet in hot water and let somebody rub pomegranate-scented lotion up and down their legs.

I’m not the best at doing this on my own (certainly not because I’ve got toenails that grow diagonally or something. Nope. Nuh-uh). Fortunately, my beach town has several great nail salons, and they’re more than happy to help out those of us who have difficulty in this area. However, as someone who’s more than a little socially awkward, getting a pedicure presents a unique challenge. How does one interact with someone who knows exactly how much dead skin has accumulated on your tootsies? Is it okay to focus on the backrub you’re getting from the massage chair, or are you required to make small talk? How much are you supposed to tip?

Lucky for us, in the grand scheme of things, getting a perfect pedicure isn’t that important. All that matters is that you let yourself be pampered—and treat your nail tech with respect. Here’s some ways to make sure your pedi is perfectly okay.

What is not sucking? In the realm of foot-related spa and salon services, not sucking is defined as getting your feet pampered without causing an awkward situation… or making a mess of your feet.

  1. Make an appointment. Nothing’s worse than waiting an hour for a walk-in foot massage, except maybe listening to somebody complain about waiting an hour for a walk-in foot massage.
  2. Dress right. You don’t want to wear a skirt to a pedicure—the cosmetologist will see far more of you than they ever wanted to. In summer, wear shorts. In winter, wear pants that you can comfortably roll up to your knees.
  3. Choose a color. There’s way more to a pedicure than getting your toenails painted, but if you’re opting to get some pigment on your piggies, try and expedite the color-selection process as much as possible when you get to your nail polishappointment. If you’re dedicated to regular pedi maintenance, feel free to pick a dark color or something neon. If you’re like me, the toenail polish you select is going to stay on your toes for half of eternity because you won’t bother to remove it, so try and choose something natural looking.
  4. Decide how social you feel. This is best done on the day of your appointment before you leave your house. Feeling like some silent contemplation is on tap today? Bring a book or magazine to the appointment. Feeling chatty? That’s awesome. Go forth and be pampered sans accessories.
  5. Then, act accordingly—and politely. No matter how social you feel (or not), you can never ever be too nice to someone who touches feet for a living. Say hello. Ask their name. Ask how their day is going. The conversation can end here if you’d rather be reading, but if you feel like bonding with your beautician you can ask about their kids or their last vacation or even start talking about your own life—as long as you keep in mind that there are other people in the room with you.
  6. Don’t. Move. Don’t move your feet when the person giving you your pedicure is painting your toenails. Don’t move your feet when they’re putting your feet back in your shoes or stuffing your toes into the little Styrofoam spacer. Don’t move your feet when you’re sitting under the dryer. Just don’t move them and you’ll greatly reduce the risk of screwing up your paint job.
  7. Tip. Fifteen percent minimum, folks. Budget for it.

Enjoy your pedicure, readers! If you want to share pictures of your favorite color choices or tell me funny stories about feet, like this blog’s page on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.