Worth Reading? Some of the Most Buzzed About Self Help Books

I’m a sucker for self help books. I admit it. Mostly because I don’t think anyone can read just one and magically fix their life. I think personal growth is something we work on our whole lives, and reading books with new ideas, processes, or tools are helpful reminders to focus our time and energy where we most want to.

So if you’re a self help junkie like myself, or you know someone who is, here are the latest ones I’ve read and recommend.

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Self Help Books Worth Buzzing About

51yfkzrjbsl-_sx316_bo1204203200_Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day
By Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky 

I checked this book out from the library and admittedly did not pick it up until it was almost due, and there were holds on it, so I couldn’t renew it. The irony of the fact I had to speed read a book about making time is not lost on me.

Still, this book was a great read with easily digestible sections intermixed with drawings and chart examples. The authors come from technology backgrounds at Google and YouTube. While they both enjoy and appreciate technology, they recognized that it was stealing much of their time away from family and other life goals. They offered practical ways to cut back on screen time and refocus your energy.

What I learned: By implementing some of their tactics, I reduced my mindless scrolling on my phone and how I use my social media by 40%. As someone who earned her nickname of “Wi-fi” from her spouse, I know my husband was impressed with this change.

Recommended for: people looking to reduce or better manage screen time in their lives, tech gurus, business minds

51vx2vhbp1l-_sx331_bo1204203200_The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness
By Paula Poundstone

More of an experimental memoir than a self help book, Poundstone’s book chronicles her attempts at getting fit, organized, and learning new skills. Bonus selling point: while listening to the audiobook in the breakroom, one of our library volunteers listened in while washing some toys and both of us were laughing out loud.

Candid about her moderate celebrity status, Poundstone shares real troubles and issues that are identifiable to many. Her self deprecating humor is laugh out loud at moments, and poignant at others.

What I learned: Have a sense of humor about self help. Poundstone takes both martial arts and dance classes and sees strengths and weaknesses in her abilities with both, but that doesn’t prevent her from finding happiness in the trying.

Recommended for: humor fans, humor writers, parents, anyone looking for some motivation and courage to try new experiences/skills

220px-the_power_of_habitThe Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
By Charles Duhigg

This book was one of my favorite reads of the year, and I probably annoyed a lot of people talking about it. Ha!

With examples covering everything from employee culture to drastic lifestyle changes, tragic accidents to court cases, Duhigg explains how habits play a key role in our lives. The book doesn’t view habits as good or bad, but they can certainly play to our successes or vices. And when you understand how habits work, you have more awareness of how to change them.

What I learned: Many of the examples shared were jaw dropping upon breakdown, especially how habits play a role in our marketing culture. Being aware of that, I felt I had more mindfulness around spending habits and company culture. I also understood what elements I needed to play if I wanted to change habits, and I reduced my fast food intake and diet using them.

Recommended for: goal setters, knowledge seekers, marketers, business minds, managers, those in customer service, teachers, coaches, mentors

95887Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
By Brian Tracy

An older read, but still very relevant. Tracy’s book emphasizes starting your day with the tasks that are the largest or most productive, the “frogs”. Many of us fall into productivity traps like checking emails, and we don’t get around to the larger projects we need to address in a timely fashion. Tackling the most crucial to do’s first ensure increased productivity and fulfillment.

What I learned: Eat That Frog is a short read and includes enough tips and tricks to help you re-channel your focus to make it worthwhile. While the tips didn’t seem new or unexpected, I found it to be a good reminder for anyone with procrastination problems, like myself.

Recommended for: procrastinators, office workers, writers, business minds, anyone interested in productivity boosters

41wibflfg2l-_sx323_bo1204203200_The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
By Eckhart Tolle 

If you’ve wondered what “living in the now” means, this book explains that. Broken into definitions, explanations, examples, and questions and answers, Tolle illustrates the power of the mind to live in the present. He discusses aspects of ego, listening, subconscious, and more.

What I learned: I’ll be honest, I struggled with this read. There were parts that made me think and I did some journaling around this topic. However, this book is not for everyone, and I admittedly wandered while listening because some of the ideas are very intellectual and I am not well practiced in “the now.” But don’t let me stop you, give it a try.

Recommended for: spiritual seekers, meditation lovers, those with an interest in self awareness

91reitnlplGirl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant To Be
By Rachel Hollis

With chapters broken up by the lies Hollis told herself, she goes on to portray how she challenged her own negative thinking and moved past it. Women will find Hollis’ book very identifiable as we all battle “trying to have it all.”

Hollis keeps it real, though. She does not pretend to have all the answers or have everything figured out. She advocates for therapy, faith, and family/friend support that keep her on the right track, and admits she’s still working on things. Written like a great coffee chat with your girlfriend, Hollis is honest, open, and at times very funny.

What I learned: We all spend more time in our own heads than in anyone else’s, so why not make that a pleasant place to be and stop beating yourself up. Get help where you need it, and take control back to follow your dreams.

Recommended for: entrepreneurs, parents, couples, self help book junkies, lifestyle readers, feminists

7b3d72e4d3-baed-465d-b7cc-a413243b3a337dimg400Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life
By Gary John Bishop

Here’s the self help book for people who think they don’t like self help books. With no nonsense callouts, and a dash of humor too, Bishop provides the steps you need to take to, well, unfuck yourself.

Bishop points out the realistic fact that we’re all going to die someday, and you don’t want to get there and discover you have regrets about things you had the power to change. Offering tips to help you through the mental homework, this book asks you to consider both what you’re willing and what you’re unwilling (which can be just as important) to do.

What I learned: This book focuses on the stories we tell ourselves, so part of Bishop’s plan is for us to understand where our own stories come from. By knowing why we think the way do, we can prepare for the struggles that we’ll face in trying to change it, making that change more lasting.

Recommend for: anyone, but especially those facing transitions in their lives

3d-book-cover-image-gbGirl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment
By August McLaughlin 

Combining personal tribulations with a wealth of science to back it up, McLaughlin has created a guide for every woman. Finally, a no shame space for discussing sexual health that advocates whatever path works for you.

From the basic to the advanced, this book is written as if you’re talking with your girlfriends, but full of medically accurate information and body positive / sex positive language.

What I learned: Many women are raised to feel shame about their bodies and their sexuality. McLaughlin’s book is a welcome and much needed addition to the bookshelf. And as a former reproductive health advocate, I wish I’d had this book to refer to students and share with the women I encountered in classes.

Recommended for: all persons who identify as female, people with questions about their sexuality, fans of body positivity/sex positivity, feminists, those who work in healthcare/teach sex ed

51v4-xwstlOwn Your Glow: A Soulful Guide to Luminous Living and Crowning the Queen Within
By Latham Thomas

Own Your Glow is a beautiful combination of storytelling, self help guidance, journal prompts, and practices. Song lists and inspiring quotes are also sprinkled in.

Whether it’s overcoming hardships, dealing with change, or finding the courage to pursue your dreams, Thomas writes to the reader as if she’s a personal coach and mentor for each.

What I learned: I loved Thomas’ journal prompts to ponder the lessons more fully. The book is full of self love and self care practices. It is a total confidence boosting read.

Recommended for: women in need of a pep talk, journal writers, mothers, entrepreneurs

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Those are the self help books I’ve read so far this year.
What titles are on your must read list? 

 

 

 

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What It’s Like to Be a Woman in America

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Like so many women right now, this past week has made me feel a full cup’s worth of anxiety and two tablespoons of crushing grief. Then mix that with a blender powered by my rage with the patriarchy, and you have a slight understanding of where I’m at right now.

Today, I shared my first post on Facebook about my feelings regarding the Kavanaugh hearing and how triggering it has been. For most of the week, I simply didn’t know what to say. So I said nothing. But now, it turns out, I have a lot I want to say. So, if you clicked on this post, settle in, cause I’m about to whip up a batch of bitch biscuits.

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When I posted my comment on Facebook, I was immediately flooded by likes and comments from friends and family saying they were sorry I had to go through what I did, that they had my back, and they sent their love and hugs. That’s fine, and thank you to those who did so, I know your intentions were well meant and supportive. But the thing is, I didn’t need that. Because I know, I’m one of the lucky ones.

The attacks against Dr. Blasey Ford have shown exactly how rampant misogyny, toxic masculinity, and capitalistic, white patriarchy are in our country. Somehow, we have failed our women and our men. We have put the pressure and blame to prove innocence on the victims instead of the perpetrator. We ask women to consider the life of the man, while no one is considering her own. We have bullied women using every physical judgement we can think of, and call their successes ladder climbing and power grabs. We’ve called them too emotional and stone cold bitches. We have made it nearly impossible for men to show hurt, anger, or frustration in healthy ways. We blame alcohol and clothing, instead of people. We’ve ignored our (white) privilege and don’t know how to handle guilt. We think giving others equality means we lose something. We have lost the ability to say sorry, and not for the things we’re sad we may not get, but for the grief we caused another.

Well, I take issue with all of that. And if I can do anything with my voice, or my words, my hope would be to help men understand what it’s like to be a woman in America right now.

In my facebook post, I shared for the first time ever that I was sexually assaulted. I never reported the incident, and I did not tell a soul until now. I chose not to share the details of that experience. And here’s why.

When reports like Trump’s pussy-grabbing comments, or cases like the Kavanaugh hearing make the news, it causes survivors to relive their trauma. I remember what happened, how uncomfortable and alone I felt. How angry and violated. When it happens to another woman, we relive our own experience(s) all over again.

Some women chose to share their stories. Some even shared in painful detail. And some have remained silent still. All of these responses are right, justified, and acceptable. We should never force someone to speak out when they’re not ready or unable. Speaking for myself, I felt a lot of pressure to share my survivor story. Ultimately, I’m not ready or willing to talk about the details. And frankly, it’s none of your business.

But like you, I’m guilty of that macabre, nosy interest in wanting to know what happened. Our brains are wired to categorize. We want to know the details so we can decide how bad was it? To some extent, we all ask what was she wearing? had s(he) been drinking? did she explicitly say no? was this at a party? could it have been a misunderstanding? 

And that, right there, is why most women don’t come forward. I didn’t, and still don’t, want to be looked at differently. I don’t want to be ranked on some undefinable tier of bad things that happen to a person. And yet, had so many others before me not spoken up, I may not have had the courage to write what I’m writing right now.

The thing is, I am one of the lucky ones. And I’m also sickened I have to say that. Because I wouldn’t call my experiences lucky. I just personally know so many women who have faced worse.

I said I wanted you to understand how it feels to be a woman in America in right now. I am not going to lay out the gory details of my assault. Instead, I want to illustrate for you the series of events and experiences I’ve had that are benign. The times where I wasn’t physically hurt, but rather simply encountered men who were “doing the same job as me,” “didn’t mean anything by it,” “just trying to get a date,” “just looking.” You know the ones… they’re always “just joking.” 

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What It Feels Like to be a Woman in America

When I was in high school, I was active in forensics, drama, and show choir. The students all changed in the same green room, and it was not uncommon for the boys to talk openly about all the girls’ breasts, judging and ranking them in size. I was repeatedly told, “Jessi’s breasts are so small, they’re concave!” I was only 15 at the time.

On moving day at my university, there was an apartment building across from the dorm I lived in. They routinely waved a banner that read “She’s been calling you Daddy for 18 years, now it’s our turn.” When I was president of the Women’s Studies Student Association, I hung group flyers around campus that read “I’m a Feminist! Now what?” on them, and someone scribbled “Suck my dick!” One of our biggest campaigns was educating women about date rape and buying drink test kits so women could know whether their drink had been roofied or not.

When I first started my professional career after college, I quickly rose into management. All managers were responsible for coaching their team members, and I repeatedly noticed both my bosses holding myself and fellow female managers to a much higher standard then the men were kept. If one thing went wrong, I was reamed out and expected to make a sales plan or coaching plan to address it. But when my male counterparts regularly lost their coaching binder “somewhere on the floor,” a document with employee names and metrics on it, it became a longstanding joke that the whole office took part in.

Wanting to draw attention to a fundraiser I was doing at work, I posted about a bra fitting event that supported Susan G. Komen for the Cure on my Facebook page. One of my uncles commented that he’d “be available to help bra fit if needed.” 

I was out solo hiking on a popular marsh trail when a man on a bicycle approached me and asked me to go back to his house with him. I said no thank you, and he proceeded to drive around me, continuing to ask me to go with him, becoming more agitated and pushy in his demands, and preventing me from walking down the trail. Thankfully, some other pedestrians distracted him and I took off running into the woods, where he couldn’t get through on his bike, and I hid in the woods and waited for him to leave.

I joined an improv troupe for adults that contained three men and three women. One man in the group repeatedly made all his scenes sexual in nature, berating the woman, and mock beating her at times. Once he physically hurt a female cast member for real in front of an audience. He created scenes where characters set up as siblings were supposed to make out. And before one of our performances, he randomly whispered a detail about a fear I had, but hadn’t ever talked to him about. He’d read it on my blog (which I hadn’t shown him). It sounded like a threat. This man was repeatedly talked to by our director and asked to change his ways. He did not. He was asked to leave the group. Then, I ran into him once more while working, and he spent the entire time leaning over the service counter so far his face was less than a foot from mine.

A few months after starting my new job at the library, I was shelving books and helping a female patron when I noticed a male patron aiming his phone at me. I suspected he had photographed me, and was right, as I saw the camera setting on his phone when he lowered it. He continued to try to snap pictures while I was at the desk. I had emailed security and called, and got confirmation via our security cameras that the man had been taking pictures of me. He had also been doing so at our main location to another staff member and been asked to leave the library. Instead, he just came to our south branch, where I was working. I was instructed to call the police, and they arrested him outside the building. I had to make a statement, wherein I was not warned that my information would be available to the trespasser who was also breaking parole. The police said they could not verify that all the images had been deleted because if they went into the cloud, there was no way to get them out. I spent several hours writing a letter to his parole officer and talking with him on the phone, where he told me “I don’t want to tell you whether to worry or not, but this individual has a very violent history.” 

To continue this latest story, I had to lead a ghost tour that very night after the incident. Normally, that is something I love, but waiting in a park under a lonely street light for strangers to come up to you was unsettling to say the least that evening. When I returned to work, my manager and the security officer gave me the option to have an escort to my car when my shift ended. I told them I would let them know. I never asked for the escort, but the security officer belatedly followed me out after dark on that shift, and I was terrified it was a stranger til I got to my car and my headlights flashed on him.

A male friend was staying at our house and asked about a space heater for the guest room as the one in it wasn’t working. I told him he could take the one from the living room. He said “Ok, I’ll ask Joe.” (my husband) I turned to him and shouted “I live here too!” He said he “didn’t mean it like that” and that I was “being silly.”

Now let’s add in the COUNTLESS times that I’m called honey, sweetie, and darling while I’m working. That I’m told to smile. That men try to stare down my shirt, at my chest, or at my butt NO MATTER WHAT I’m wearing. That they throw sexual innuendos into casual conversation cause I work in customer service and can’t say “Get the fuck out!”

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Congrats to you if you read this far. You’re probably exhausted. I know I am. Have another biscuit.

I am so fucking exhausted by men. If you read all this, if you really let it sink in, tell me you don’t see now why women don’t report their assaults. Tell me you don’t understand why we’re scared of you, why we feel belittled and undermined in so many places and ways. Why it makes us claw against even one another to get ahead? Why does it have to be your daughter, your sister, or your mother for you to care? What about me? What about your neighbor? What about the women of color in our country that are cooking their biscuits over a goddamn dumpster fire of systemic issues?

Please. Just know that women are hurting right now. Whether they even realize it or not. Don’t start challenging me with “Not All Men” crap. I know it’s not all men. But I bet you can do better. We all can. If you’re asking yourself “how’s a guy supposed to even TALK to a lady now?” I think you need to take a hard look at your place in the system. Don’t tell us we can’t take a joke. Maybe you’re not that funny. And the thing is, we didn’t ask you to be.

How you feeling right now? That’s ok.
Share or don’t share. Take care of yourself. It’s tough out there right now. 

ERMAgawd: Why You Must Take Risks and Find the Funny

Ok, y’all know I love me a good writers conference. After I left a career in corporate sales to be a writer, I made attending writers conferences part of my ongoing education goal. I’ve attended at least one a year since 2012.

IMG_3837Well, this year something magical happened. I GOT INTO THE ERMA BOMBECK WRITERS WORKSHOP!

ERMA BOMBECK, FOLKS! ONE OF THE FOREMOTHERS OF FUNNY!

The Erma conference happens every two years, and the last two times I tried to get in, it sold out. No joke, this conference sells out faster every year, like in four hours or less.

So this year, I marked my calendar, I had my morning off, I was holding my credit card in hand with my laptop and my phone ready to GO!

And then, I flew to Dayton, Ohio and proudly wore my newbie sticker that said “Erma Virgin”. Yes, that is what they gave us. Be still my humor-loving, former Catholic heart. 

I’ve been to some stellar conferences and always left inspired, but there was energy like you can’t imagine at this conference. (In fact, the organizers said this was the highest rated conference to date!) I got my schedule, planned out where I was going to go, and then immediately threw that out the window, tried something new, made great friends, and gave it all my best!

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Oh NBD, just new friends holding up our Liza Donnelly (from The New Yorker) cartoons!

ERMAgawd, here’s why you should go! 

Taking risks leads to opportunities and learning lessons. 

You all know I like to say yes to new experiences, but being the newbie here, I was admittedly nervous.

A fair amount of the workshop focused on stand up comedy with the hilarious Wendy Liebman. Wendy’s been a stand up comedian for over 30 years. She’s performed on Carson, Letterman, Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, and been a finalist on America’s Got Talent.

 

It seemed like everyone was talking about the stand up classes. Everyone I met was trying stand up or working on their bits. But I had no intention of going. I’m not a stand up, so that’s not for me.

You guys all know I went, right? LOL

I had planned what workshops I was going to attend the night before they started, and that was the last time I looked at that list. If the stand up classes were getting all the buzz, then I decided to go and see what I could learn from them. After all, I like working in different formats because it teaches you new things about your writing.

After the first class listening to people tell jokes, my gears just started rolling and I spent that night coming up with some material. So the next day, I got up with a bunch of other brave, risk-taking people and did a minute of stand up. And I got laughs! Good ones! That is a very good feeling. One that I’m interested and willing to try again! All because of a risk.

A risk, and the ever delightful and supportive Wendy Liebman, who just happened to be on the same flight to Chicago as me, and who gave me wonderful feedback and encouragement while sitting at our departure gate despite the fact that it wasn’t even 6am yet. Bless you, you’re so kind and charming, and I’m eternally grateful.

Find the Funny 

The other classes I attended were about finding the funny, whether it’s using it to add heart or get through hard times. Or even just on Twitter.

IMG_3874One of my favorite workshops was with Lauretta Hannon, author of The Cracker Queen. She had a lot of great tips on being comfortable with writing your story, even the dark parts, while being ok with yourself in the process. I can’t wait to read her book after she shared some examples of how to use humor to write about the tough stuff, and also where to let the dark moments speak for themselves, because we know not everything we go through will be funny.

 

Both Lauretta and T. Faye Griffin, another presenter, reiterated that making people laugh is a gift. Some of the best writers out there have the ability to make you feel something or learn something, but do so through humor, and that is a very special skill.

It’s kind of mesmerizing to me how many different ways there are to be funny. You can do stand up, you can tell a story, you can caption a photo, you can come up with a punchy headline, you can tweet just to name a few. If there was one takeaway from this conference, it is that “funny” is all around us, and we have the skill to shape it.

I’m so grateful for this opportunity. The crowd at Erma is one of the most supportive I’ve ever seen, which is appreciated because I took one other risk while I was at the conference and signed up for Pitchapalooza, “the American Idol of books”.

In a room of roughly 100 people, I put my name in a hat that probably had at least 60 of those people’s names in it. Only 12 were chosen and I was one of them. I got to pitch my book for one minute to a panel of judges and get feedback on my pitch.

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I swear I thought the audience would hear my heart beating through the microphone, but I had practiced my pitch beforehand and gave it my all. I didn’t win the contest. (Way to go, Liz Dubelman, who did win! She was the first person to say hi to me at the conference, so I have a soft spot for her as a human being. Thanks!) I got really positive feedback and simple tweaks to improve my pitch, and was even complimented on my performance! And that’s a win in my book!

So there you have it, taking risks and finding the funny is what Erma is all about. I’m so glad I could attend and so grateful to the conference organizers, presenters, the keynotes (btw, I hope I wasn’t the only one who noticed all the female keynotes got standing ovations), and my fellow attendees. I’m still riding the highs and energized by all of you!

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What are you currently learning about your writing right now?
What’s inspiring you? 

 

Little Prayers Poetry: An Interview with Susie Meserve

When it comes to choosing the next book to read, I’ll read anything. I love challenging myself to different genres and diverse authors. I think we learn about our world as readers, and writers, through different mediums and kinds of storytelling.

April is National Poetry Month, and I love exploring this genre because it reaches the reader in a way unlike any other written form. Many of my favorite writers began as poets, and there’s something to recognize about the talent and skill it takes to craft a poem that makes you feel something in a short amount of words and with little filler.

007-KLJ-WEB-Susie-Final-3372Susie Meserve is a poet, memoirist and blogger. Her first collection of poems, Little Prayers, was recently published by Blue Light Press and was the winner of the 2018 Blue Light Book Award.

I’ve followed Susie on twitter and her blog for years, so am happy to welcome her over to the Happiness Project to chat about her new book and why poetry matters today.

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JW: Welcome, Susie! 

Describe Little Prayers in three words. 

SM: Poetry about life.

SM.LittlePrayersFrntCvrWbWhat would you say are the themes in this collection of work? 

Death and rebirth, flight and return, the life of dreams, the fleetingness of time. And maybe, as Michelle Bonczek Evory suggested on my book cover, “the daily mundane.”

Your poems feature detailed captures of moments and objects, how we can find ourselves lost within those fragments. Is that where the title “Little Prayers” comes from, those moments? 

I think so, yes! This book had several other titles before Little Prayers—for a while it was called “Losing Paradise” (and a friend suggested “The Oracle”). When I stepped back and looked at it, though, I realized that while the poems were all very different thematically and structurally, there was this fleeting, temporary quality to almost all of them. I hope that doesn’t mean they’re not memorable, but they do seem to capture somewhat ephemeral snippets of time—a bird flying in the window, waking in the middle of the night, a session doing dishes, a little ruminating on California—in a meditative, quiet sort of way. So then I looked at the poem “Little Prayer” and thought, yeah, that’s my title poem. I just slightly changed it to indicate a multitude of prayers, not just one. I should add: I’m not a religious person, but my poetry chapbook (Finishing Line Press, 2008) is called Faith. I’m not entirely sure why. I think the act of writing poetry feels somewhat spiritual to me. And let’s face it, it requires a lot of faith—in something!—to be a writer in today’s world.

What does writing poetry compared to other forms of writing allow you to do differently? Do you think you can speak your truth, or Truth, more clearly? 

I love that you capitalized Truth, here, like the universal Truth. I don’t know if I believe in that concept, though. I actually think I can speak my own truth more clearly in personal essays like this one  and this one, where I’ve had to be deeply honest to tell the story. In poetry, I can speak multiple truths, in a sense. It’s all very sneaky. Poetry is absolutely my first love, and I think what I love about it is the unexpected. I just begin sometimes, and things surprise me, and then I have a poem (that may or may not be “true”). This can be very freeing—when it’s working.

Your poems include a variety of style and format. How do you decide what is the “right” format for your poem as you’re writing? 

Great question. This book consists of poems from over 15 years of writing, so it represents a lot of different styles as I tried them on over the years. For a while I was really feeling couplets, then these formless, no-stanza, rambling poems, then poems with numbered sections. I think the poem usually tells you what it wants. For me, a poem I want more control over—because it’s got a more intense, precise quality, maybe—will ask for couplets or tercets, whereas one that feels more free and easy—or unwieldy—might not want any stanza breaks at all.

What’s your best piece of advice for someone writing poetry?

I don’t use prompts, really (though I do like the prompts in the book The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell, excellent for beginners). My biggest advice is to READ. I think when you start to be able to identify the kinds of surprises other poets incorporate into their work, you start to incorporate your own. So reading a wide variety of styles and voices is just essential.

Why do you think poetry is important today? 

I think poetry asks us to tap into a different part of our brains than prose does. It demands and requires more intangibility. I remember well the time my mom told me she liked my poems but felt like she didn’t understand them. I told her she didn’t need to, that she should just appreciate what she got out of them. She told me later how freeing that was for her, that me giving her permission not to work too hard took away a lot of her anxiety and allowed her to just sit with the lines and enjoy them. I think that’s one of the things that’s hardest about poetry—we don’t always “get it” in the way we might, say, a novel or a memoir, and maybe that’s why people run away from it. We don’t want to feel stupid or like we’re missing something. We want clarity, answers. Because poetry often raises questions. But I think that’s a really good thing! Poetry can open us up to mystery and abstraction, which is good for our brains and our hearts. And the music of poetry—learning to hear it—is essential for anyone wanting to write or appreciate good writing.

What’s next on your writing desk? 

I’m most excited about a new poetry collection I’m working on. I’m writing a series of poems about infertility, pregnancy, and motherhood. They’re deeply personal, much more raw, and all linked thematically. I’m thinking of it a bit like a memoir in verse. It’s going really well. I’m super inspired, and just hoping it’s, you know, good.

I’m sure it will be! Thanks, Susie! 

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In honor of National Poetry Month, Susie is giving away a free copy of Little Prayers to two lucky people who signs up for her newsletter before Sunday, May 6th! Sign up at Susie’s website to win!

You can catch up with Susie on Twitter @susiemeserve or on her website, www.susiemeserve.com, where she blogs regularly about writing and being More Than a Mother.

That Time My Dad Stole All My Money

Since today is April Fool’s Day, here’s a little tale from the vault of dad stories. You remember my dad, right? He’s the one who gave me free butt soap as a gift one time!

This is my dad.

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Note* He is not a real pirate. 

Well, several years ago, NOT on April Fool’s Day, my dad went to the bank and needed a check made for something. I don’t remember the exact details, but the bank was going to charge him money to get this check from his own account. Being the hardworking, farm-raised, former Navy man he was, my dad was not about to pay extra for this check from his bank account.

After going back and forth with the bank teller, my dad grew so angry he decided to CLOSE his account and take his banking business elsewhere.

Dad: “Close my accounts!”

Bank Teller: “All of them?”

Dad: “ALL OF THEM!”

Meanwhile, a week or so later, I went to the same bank at a branch in my town and asked to do a fund transfer from my savings to my checking account.

The bank teller stared at the screen. She tells me she needs a manager to look something over.

You know where this is going, don’t you? 

So, the manager comes over and looks at the computer screen.

Manager: “It appears your account has been closed.”

Me: “CLOSED?”

This is the part of the story where the manager escorts me to a tiny desk in a corner, AWAY FROM THE PUBLIC so when they tell me my account has been hacked or something, I DON’T SCARE AWAY ALL THE PEOPLE.

I worked in retail for six years; I know EXACTLY what that tiny desk in the corner is for. 

So now, I’ve been passed onto Man With a Mustache to sleuth out what happened to my entire savings account.

Mustache Man: “It appears your account has been closed.”

Me: “CLOSED? Who closed it? I didn’t close it. All my money was in there! Where is MY MONEY?”

Mustache Man: *scrolling through my account information* “Do you know a…Jerry Witkins?”

Me: *speaking between clenched teeth* “I need to call my father.”

I ring up dear old dad who greets me like he’s Mrs. Doubtfire.

Dad: “Hellooooooo!”

Me: “Did you recently come into a large sum of money, Pops?”

Dad, in all sincerity: “Say, now that you mention it, I did actually find some extra cash.”

Me: “BECAUSE YOU STOLE IT FROM MY ACCOUNT!!!”

Dad explains to me about his trip to the same bank in his town and how he demanded to close his accounts. What he didn’t realize, and the bank teller didn’t explain to him, is that as co-signer for my savings account which my parents started for me as a child, he closed out MY account along with his.

And here’s the kicker, while he had no recollection of the sum of money in this “extra mystery account,” he figured it was one he’d started a long time ago and told the teller, “Yep, close it!”

Me: “You put that money back!”

Dad: “I’ll think about it.”

Me: “You march back into that back, tell the teller what you did, and put my money back!”

Dad did return my savings, and we had a good little laugh about it…much later. But because the bank had closed my account, I had to get a new account and new number. I wasn’t too upset though. This time, there would be NO co-signer.

Happy April Fool’s Day, everybody!
Tell me your best prank story, planned or otherwise!  

 

 

#BOAW2018: 10 (Unusual) Things That Make Me Feel Beautiful

Hey Women!

What makes you feel most beautiful? I have a hunch it has nothing to do with what we’re constantly being advertised. Never in my thirty-two years have I, or any of my female friends, said “You know, mascara makes me feel the most beautiful ever,” or “This smooth glide tampon makes me feel so freaking beautiful I can’t handle myself!” Damn, I wish I heard that sentence more often. Most of the time, we’re taught periods are a pain (and they definitely can be), but we’re not taught they make us beautiful.

I’m not knocking makeup or modern conveniences. I enjoy both of them too. There’s a place for them, sure. But what really makes you feel the most beautiful? When I think about that question, the answer has little to do with my body.

Author, blogger, and podcaster, August McLaughlin, is hosting her annual Beauty of a Woman Blogfest. She’s asking women all over the world to talk about what beauty means to them. And since she’s also the fab creator of GirlBoner, (“Where Good Girls Go For Sexual Empowerment”), some bloggers are writing about sexuality too.

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I’ve been a participant in both categories over the years. If you want to check out one of my past posts, I recommend Heavy Petting is a No No: Sex Education for the Saint of Heart. 😉

This year, I wanted to talk about beauty as a woman in her thirties. At a time when your body starts changing (like, not bouncing back in ways it once did), it can be a mind shift to still feel beautiful in a world that emphasizes outer beauty and youthfulness so highly. My body changed, and so did my style.

There are some things that remain constant, though. That will always make me feel truly beautiful and empowered in my own skin.

10 (Unusual) Things That Make Me Feel Beautiful

1. Learning something new. 

Is there anything quite like the joy of learning something new? There’s that moment when you’ve really put time and energy and sometimes expense into understanding something that didn’t come naturally, and then…it finally clicks!

Damn, that’s a gorgeous moment.

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2. Reading books out loud. 

What can I say? Words are my love language.

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3. Making art for the fun of it. 

I believe adults don’t PLAY enough. When’s the last time you picked up your ol’ Crayola 64 pack (dating myself there) and just colored? Or used a paintbrush? Or even doodled? I’m not “an artiste,” but playing around is therapeutic and relaxing for me when I remember to leave judgment at the door.

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4. A damn fine blazer. 

I’m a sucker for a power suit. Alas, I rarely get to wear them anymore. But why not give yourself a Try Day Challenge and write about it? I did.

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5. Travel

A friend of mine coined the term “wonderfully uncomfortable” and it has forever stuck with me. Traveling somewhere outside your comfort zone is a great opportunity to meet new people, hear new stories, and gain a bigger picture of the world. I always leave feeling grateful and humble afterwards. Aren’t those beautiful, genuine emotions?

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6. Going for a walk. 

Cool breezes on your skin, your feet pounding the pavement or hiking the trail. I never get clarity like I do when I’m on a solo hike.

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7. Genuine, consensual touch. 

You know people who are huggers? Like good huggers, not creepy uncle huggers? There’s something beautiful and comforting about being with someone who just knows when to give you a hug or reach for your hand. Science even supports that hugging longer has positive effects on the endorphins in the brain! I value a good hug from a friend or loved one.

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8. Recognition

Who doesn’t appreciate when someone finally notices how damn hard you work?! You go, grrrl! I see you!

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9. Eating dessert for breakfast. 

Because I’m an adult. Because I can. Because I’m worth it.

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10. Not buying into all the ageist, objectified patriarchal bullshit. 

Cause ain’t no one got time for that!

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What makes YOU feel truly beautiful? 

***

*This post is part of The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest VII! To read more entries, and potentially win a fun prize, visit the fest page on August’s McLaughlin’s site between today and 11pm PST March 9th.

 

A Year of Reading: The Books I Read for a Monthly Challenge

Gather in, bloggers and readers, I’m going to tell you a secret.

Are you ready? Here goes…

I love reading. 

Ok, that was not a secret at all.

51j4xd2ntcl-_sx355_bo1204203200_I’m actually going to tell you about the books I read for a book challenge I gave myself in 2017. I found this awesome little book on Amazon called A Year of Reading by Elisabeth Ellington and Jane Freimiller.

The book features a different theme each month with five options for what to read. What I loved about using this guide is that it includes diverse authors of various ethnicities as well as a wide variety of genres in its recommendations. Over the course of the year, I read a mix of fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose, and even a few graphic novels.

It also includes discussion and reflection sections and extra credit opportunities with bonus book recommendations, interviews and videos to check out, and more!

Here’s a sample of what my year looked like using this guidebook to switch up my reading! I didn’t finish every book every month, because life gets in the way sometimes. But there were months I read more than one title for the theme too, so in the end, it evened out.

My Year of Reading

January: A Happier You
Book: The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman

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What I liked about it: This book is a collection of the author’s art, sketches, and photography. It includes story snippets and random musings. It’s different than any other book I’ve read. For more info about this book, check out my previous post here.

February: Classic Romance
Book: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

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What I liked about it: A fascinating look at love and relationships across generations, geography, and social media.  

Blog Review: Check out my favorite parts in my full blog review!

March: Focus on Justice
Books: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

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What I liked about it: Easily one of my favorite reads of 2017. Incredibly well written, the book chronicles Stevenson’s journey toward working with wrongfully convicted death row inmates and juveniles who were tried as adults. The book discusses one case in detail throughout, but includes multiple examples of cases Stevenson worked on. From tampering with evidence to racial prejudices, the author and lawyer tackles what’s wrong with our justice system.

Blog Review: Read my full blog review of the book.

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What I liked about it: So powerful. Congressman John Lewis joined with illustrators to tell his story of the civil rights movement to a whole new generation in this graphic novel series. Definitely read all three books! Another favorite that will make you think, make you learn, make you humble, make you crave change, do better, be aware!

April: Creative Spirit
Book: Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

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What I liked about it: Beautiful blend of memoir, prose, and poetry. It’s emotional, artistic, and rhythmic. This one deserves to be read aloud.

Blog Review: Read my full blog review.

May: Families in Fiction
Book: The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi A. Jackson

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What I liked about it: Family dynamics are at full play in this story of sisters who move from Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their grandmother. It’s more than a coming of age story, that’s just a small part of the tale. There are family secrets and lessons to learn as the sisters create a new sense of home.

June: Families in Nonfiction
Book: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

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What I liked about it: A humorous and heartfelt graphic novel and memoir about caring for aging parents. As much as you’d think this was a quick, easy read since it’s illustrated, I had to take my time and read this slowly. With older parents of my own, there were parts I could identify with, and the unknown future and potential issues this book brings up made me emotional. It shares real feelings and concerns about what we do with the people we love as they get older.

July: Journeys
Book: In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta Ahmed

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What I liked about it: I didn’t know a lot about the Muslim faith before reading this and it was interesting to have a woman’s point of view on the religion and its practices both in Saudi Arabia and the western world. Despite faith-based and gender barriers, the author and doctor was able to show the reader her deep love for the religion, the women who are making progress in unique ways, and how to be a strong, professional woman.

August: Starting Over
Book: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord (did not finish)

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September: This Digital Life
Book: The Circle by Dave Eggers

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What I liked about it: Um, I didn’t care for this one personally. The storyline is interesting and brings up issues about social media, safety, and security. However, I was disappointed with the lead character and felt the author did not represent her very realistically. I think if a writer is going to write a main character that is a different gender or ethnicty than themself, they should make that character as real as possible. The numerous sex scenes that take place in public bathrooms did not do anything to move the story forward or seem true to the character. They very much felt written by a male for a male. This made my interest in the book lessen.

October: Reading About Reading
Book: The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe by Ann Morgan (did not finish)

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November: Comfort Food, Comfort Reading
Books: Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

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What I liked about it: Sasha Martin had a very difficult childhood, and despite moving around and many unstable moments, she’s created a memoir that revolves around food. From the unique, makeshift meals her mother made to family recipes to attending cooking school, Martin finds meaning in them all.

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What I liked about it: Another graphic novel for my list! Knisley shares short stories of food memories in this graphic novel. From learning how to cook mushrooms with her mother to traveling the world and surviving on pastries, her passion for food will be felt.

December: Heartwarming Classics
Book: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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What I liked about it: I completed this one on audiobook and highly recommend the BBC radio production recording if you can get it. Excellent narrator and the story is infused with additional sound effects like the chains, the chimes of the clock striking the hour, and some instrumental music. I really enjoyed this classic and would read it again.

***

What reading challenges did you do or are you currently doing?
Do you think reading diverse books is important?
What do you want to read more of this year? 

 

 

 

The Phenomenal Woman Playlist Revealed!

It’s time to announce the annual winners of the 2017 copies of the Phenomenal Woman and Cafe Mix playlists!

Every year I make two mix cds as gifts for my mom and sis, and I count on you to help me find the best songs out there to include!

Thank you to all who gave suggestions, sharing their favorite artists and songs to jam out to. I love researching this project because it’s basically me dancing around and surfing the internet, watching a lot of music videos.

So… thank you for your help in making that happen. 

Without further adieu, here are the 2017 playlists! Happy listening, everyone!

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The 2017 Phenomenal Woman Mix

1. On + Off ~ Maggie Rogers

2. White Tiger ~ Izzy Bizu

3. Roll Up Your Sleeves ~ Meg Mac

4. That’s Alright With Me ~ Andreya Triani 

5. Rainbow ~ Kesha

6. Higher ~ The Naked and Famous

7. Want You Back ~ HAIM

8. Ice Age ~ Serena Ryder

9. Deeper ~ Ella Eyre

10. Tightrope ~ LP

11. Simply Falling ~ Iyeoka

12. Breathe You In My Dreams ~ Trixie Whitley 

13. Mermaid Song ~ Emily Kinney

14. What You Don’t Do ~ Lianne La Havas

15. Make It Rain ~ Koryn Hawthorne

16. Capable ~ The Wild Reeds

17. Tennessee Rain ~ Addison Agen

18. Brother ~ Uncle Jed

19. Pretty Please ~ Lauren Ruth Ward

20. Moonlight ~ Grace VanderWaal 

The 2017 Cafe Mix

1. Summer Storm ~ Joel P West

2. Dusty Trails ~ Lucius

3. The Luckiest Man ~ The Wood Brothers

4. The Old Churchyard ~ Offa Rex

5. Glorious ~ Melissa Etheridge

6. Cover Me Up ~ Jason Isbell

7. Into My Arms ~ Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer

8. Break My Heart Sweetly ~ John Moreland

9. Let It All Go ~ Birdy & Rhodes

10. Someone That Loves You ~ Izzy Bizu & Honne

11. Without You ~ Oh Wonder

12. See You Around ~ I’m With Her

13. I Followed Fires ~ Matthew and the Atlas

14. The Chase ~ Tori Amos featuring Natashya Hawley

15.  Floodlights ~ Jack and Eliza

16. Blue Ridge Mountain ~ Hurray for the Riff Raff

17. When the Right One Comes Along ~ Sam Palladio & Clare Bowen

18. Come Undone ~ Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan

19. Ghost in This House ~ Lauren Duski

20. Friday I’m in Love ~ Janet Devlin 

***

And now, for the lovely winners of these cds to be announced!
Congratulations Mark Petruska and Crystal Brunelle!
I’ll be in touch to get you your new tunes; thank you both for helping grow my list!

 

 

Call for Songlists: The 2017 Mixtape Begins

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You know the drill. We’re making a mixtape, people.

It’s old school. It’s outdated. Who even has a cd player anymore?

Well, my mother does. It’s a Bose. Because all old people own Boses.

Since 2007, my reoccurring christmas gift to my mother and sister is a Phenomenal Woman Mix Tape, and I rely on YOUR HELP to find the best songs to put on it. Bonus points – in the last five years, I also added a Cafe Mix for all those winter mug holding moments.

So tell me, who are the phenomenal women you’re listing to? And what coffee shop tunes are you chillin’ out with?

Two lucky commenters will win a copy of each CD! 

***

Get started with these inspiring jams off last year’s CD!

Into the Wild by LP (Phenomenal Woman Mix) 

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Postmodern Jukebox featuring Maiya Sykes (Phenomenal Woman Mix) 

Wildest Moments by Jessie Ware (Phenomenal Woman Mix) 

Unsteady by X Ambassadors (Cafe Mix) 

Growing Things by Shook Twins (Cafe Mix) 

Check out the full 2016 playlists here, plus 2015 and 2014 if you just wanna dance.

 

Wear What You Want

IMG_3537I love seeing people embrace their own beauty. In a world of impossible beauty standards, the role models I want to embrace are the people who celebrate doing their own thing while opening doors, rather than closing them, for others to find what’s right for them too. I follow campaigns like Tess Holiday’s #effyourbeautystandards. I’ve been a user of #StitchFix for awhile and love how detailed their style profile is and that they allow clients to play with fashion. So when Dia & Co. asked me if I was interested in participating in their Try Day challenge, I said yes.

The Try Day challenge is about the clothes in your closet you haven’t found the guts to wear yet. The items you chose to buy, but haven’t worn. The clothes you’d love to try on and try out, but always second guess yourself or change out of at the last minute.

Dia & Co., like Stitch Fix, is a personal styling business that sends five items to your home to try out with your existing wardrobe. They specialize in plus size fashions which is awesome because no one should have to forgo personal style just because of size. Having worked in the retail industry for several years, I know how hard it can be to find as many options in special sizes. Everyone wants to look and feel great in what they wear. Shopping and sporting your style shouldn’t be as degrading or frustrating as the fashion industry, and let’s not forget misogyny, sometimes makes it.

I say, WEAR WHAT YOU WANT. 

I grew up the youngest child of four, so a lot of my clothes and fashion sense came from my older siblings. Acid wash jeans, anyone? This year it dawned on me, I didn’t really know what my fashion style was because I never actually thought about my personal style. I got the same kind of pieces I always got, bought some trends, but didn’t necessarily have a signature look.

To be honest, I’m still figuring that out, and it’s cool with me if it changes over time. Clothes are just another way to be creative. At my core, I’m a jeans and tshirt kinda gal. But I love the feeling I get when I wear a suit jacket. A nice, well fitting blazer makes me feel like a badass.

Still, I have clothes in my closet that I never wear too. Specifically, two leather jackets. So when I thought about the Try Day challenge, I knew I had to incorporate one of them. Another look I love is denim on denim, but since I don’t live on a ranch and professionally rope cattle, I wasn’t sure I could rock that style either. So, there was my challenge. Wear denim on denim with a leather jacket, and rock it.

IMG_3500I styled my look with things that I loved, and paired them with things I wanted to try. I wore dark denim skinny jeans with a lighter denim shirt. I scrunched up my socks on the outside of my boots (because 80s girl). I threw on a leather jacket, a scarf, and some teardrop earrings and went out with the hubs.

I loved my look and felt good in it (until we went outside, because this outfit is not winter weather appropriate for Wisconsin, but hey it’s called a “challenge” for a reason, right?) All wind advisories aside, I loved doing something that pushed me to try a new look. We could all do with a little more self confidence and creativity, don’t you think?

What items are hiding in your closet, begging to spend a night out?

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