French Toast On A Cold Winter’s Day

Hi! It seems like we ended the weekend and just side-stepped Monday. At least, to me, Monday flew by, which is why we didn’t find a new blog post yesterday. The highlight of yesterday was my getting a new winter’s jacket because my old one met its demise in a washer with a pen. It was a white coat. I don’t think I’ll be washing my new one.

Here’s how I started my Tuesday morning. Scrambled eggs, French toast, and berries.

IMG_4822.JPG

Sometimes, you just need to spice up that toast.

Yesterday’s workout consisted of strength training.  I did a lot of cardio on Sunday with a run, so I hit my triceps, chest, legs, and core. Part of it was done with a friend from work, which makes it more fun! For the first time, I did some work on the TRX bands, so that’s something I want to look into more.

Now onto the day’s most surprising moment: I finished a book!

It seems like it’s been forever since I’ve read something other than a textbook (all with good purpose), so it was a little strange (and delightful) to jump back into the world of fiction. I love that I can connect to the library on my iPad and I spent some quality time a few days ago just browsing all the titles available. Many of the books I wanted to read needed to be put on hold and I’m just hoping they don’t all come at once.

First to pop up was Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You. Going into it, I didn’t know much about it other than that it was “sad.” While I thought the premise had its tragic moments, I think it delved into some important political issues that people don’t want to talk about. I really can’t dive in too deep so as not to spoil, so I will just recommend that you read it yourself. You will feel sad, but also inspired.

And also, apparently, I have stellar timing because the movie version is coming out in March. Go me!

Advertisements

Amy Poehler Is Better Than You

As promised I have an entirely loving book review for Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, which I only have amazing things to say about. I want to be her protégée. I want to be brave, hard-working, confident, and resilient like she has been throughout her career from the first time she ever improvised on stage as a fourth grader in The Wizard of Oz to now where she is finishing her last season on Parks and Recreation.

IMG_0569.JPG

There is something completely endearing about Amy Poehler and the work she has done. To me, she is the embodiment of quality entertainment, creating work that is vibrant, sweet, and hilarious. During my reading of this, and let me tell you, I tried with all that I had to slow down, I awed as much as I laughed out loud. As a writer, she is relatable; as a comedian, she takes risks and doesn’t hold back; and as a person (at least from what she portrays in her book because I, unfortunately, am not blessed to be her friend-yet), she is kind, smart, and passionate.

In the book, she remarks how it never occurred to her that she wouldn’t succeed because she knew she would do whatever it takes to get there. For her, as it should be for all entertainers, it wasn’t about the money or fame, but the satisfaction she takes from expressing her creative inspiration for others to enjoy. Too often we consume entertainment that is all for the fame, or infamy, it can garner, from going viral to having one’s face plastered all over the internet. Listen, I get that, especially for this profession, one needs to get attention in order to be successful, but Amy Poehler is just one of the amazing writers and actors/actresses who create quality content rather than cheap hi jinks.

The book is titled Yes Please because that is her motto in life, personally and professionally. One can never have too many incredible, supportive, passionate people in their lives to get them through anything. There can never be a job or opportunity too small if it offers you experience and important lessons. Part of what she drills home is that she didn’t get to this point in her career all by herself. There were other people surrounding her and they included mutual, beneficial relationships. We can’t think too highly of ourselves or expect to get anywhere by putting others down. As she also says in her book, what’s good for you, might not be good for me, but I respect that (paraphrased). Competition is important, but the secret power to success is support and hard-work.

I won’t analyze every point or comment in this book, but I could if you wanted me to, because I think Amy’s voice and stories will do it better. However, there is one more thing that I found incredibly poignant and relatable and I wanted to address it. In her preface, and throughout the book, she talks a lot about how certain things are hard, such as writing. I’ve said before how writing can so often be seen as coming from a romantic, poetic flow, when really it is a difficult process comprised of many different stages. Amy gets it. She also says something that seems so obvious and yet, I find myself constantly failing to realize.

Talking about or planning “the thing,” is not doing “the thing.” My thing, as it is for Amy, is writing. I find myself getting frequently caught up in the semantics of writing, trying to finds the best apps, the best space, and the best processes to promote my best writing. The truth is, my best writing probably will never come from the first draft of anything. I can plan and blabber and brag all I want about writing, but none of it counts until I’m actually doing the writing. Getting it all down and putting in the time is the only way I can produce anything of substance. If I want my “thing” to be writing, then I can’t just call myself a writer and look like a writer, I have to write. The same goes for anything I do in my life. Putting the time in gets results. Hard-work and effort leads to bigger accomplishments. Doing “the thing” is the only way I can be successful with “the thing.”

Being productive can be hard, especially in this instant gratification obsessed world. Many times when I finally sit myself down to write, and I of course have better days than others, I will write for five minutes then somehow find myself back on Twitter doing nothing of substance. It’s almost a sickness as much as it’s a joy and convenience. Amy admits that it’s hard to follow-through and find time to fit things in, but she is glaring evidence that doing “the thing” works.

Reading this book has only confirmed what I always knew, I want to be Amy Poehler’s best friend, or at least her mentee- actually that’s exactly what I want to be. She has fallen prey to awkward moments like anyone, saying things she didn’t mean, not knowing how to resolve conflict, and living through difficult phases in her life, but she kept constantly working and heading towards something.

Her stories are funny and well-written. She goes from poignant, beautiful descriptions of her love for her family, to weird poems written for Tina Fey. There are discussions of her early career working in Chicago and New York that was sometimes messy but always important, to all the late-night hits or misses on SNL. Relationships are appreciated and respected, even if they never lasted. She doesn’t apologize for being who she is or wanting what she desires, which exudes confidence that can only come from experience, both successes- for example, being nominated for awards and orchestrating funny on-stage moments- and failures- for example, not winning said awards. She doesn’t simply tell her views on life, but she shows it, which is the mark of any great writer.

Though she mentions how being a woman in this culture has sometimes made it more difficult, she doesn’t linger on it. She is one of those people who allow their work to do the talking for her. She is a proud feminist and embodies what many women do and should do-be confident, efficient, and fearless even when you are scared witless. She doesn’t put down other women or men because she knows she doesn’t have to in order to be who she is. That is wonderful. And refreshing.

There are so many more things I could say and reflect on about this book, but I won’t because I think it’s an important read. There are facets on childhood, womanhood, career struggles, career successes, motherhood, and just working so hard at what she loves. Anyone can find inspiration through this and I wish I could read it all again without knowing what it holds. Though I will read it again eventually and am certain I will still enjoy every sentence.

I’m also certain that at some point in the summer of ’89 when Amy worked at an ice cream shop my parents frequented, I consumed ice cream she scooped from my mother’s stomach. If you don’t think that is not equivalent to meeting her, then I don’t think we can be friends anymore.

Read this book! You’ll be sad when it ends, but you will be better, smarter, and happier when you do.

IMG_0582.JPG

Two Books, One Theme, A Hundred Thoughts and What-Ifs

This week, I’ve read two books, a memoir about hiking and a novel about happenstance. Wild by Cheryl Strayed is one of those books that leaves you feeling inspired and in awe of the human condition. I love hiking, surrounded by trees and water, the peace of silence, and the feeling that your body and mind are truly connected. At the end of the day, I also very much like going home, eating a hot meal, using the facilities, and sleeping in my warm bed in my warm house. Camping can be fun for a couple of days, but I’m not sure I would love doing what Strayed did for that long.

Wild is a memoir Strayed wrote about her travels on the Pacific Crest Trail. Though she set out alone, she met people on the way, learned a lot about herself and her strength, and walked a whole lot. In theory, it sounds romantic. When it comes down to it, if I needed to or felt inspired to, my body could handle the physical requirements of such a journey, but emotionally, I’m not certain I would be up for it. To be fair, Strayed went through a lot of emotional obstacles that led her towards the trip, but I am certain there are people who hike for long periods of time because they like to. I am not one of those people, but I do like reading about them.

Unlike the book I mentioned that I stopped reading, I felt connected to the protagonist and her story. It was as much about her personal life and emotions as it was her hiking adventures and there was a nice balance. In memoirs, there’s never the true anxiety of wondering what will happen next because you know the protagonist is well enough in the end to have written the story (in most cases). Yes, there’s still the anticipation of things that you don’t know, but it’s not quite the same as in novels. However, memoirs portray a range of different perspectives and life experiences that can only be shared through media. At times, I felt as though I was on the trail, my legs burning, feet torn up, lugging a huge backpack that contained all of my life’s possessions. When Strayed expressed relief, I felt relieved. When she was scared, I was trembling with her. That is a mark of an excellent memoir, an author who shows not just what happened, but how he/she felt in those moments.

I was sad when the book came to an end and I also had a hankering to go hiking. No worries because Reese Witherspoon hopped onto this book before it even came out and has already filmed the movie version.

When I started The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty, I was excited because I’ve had it on hold from the library since August. I was immediately pulled into the story and anxious about first, what the secret was, then how all of the stories and characters would interact. I cannot give this away, but I will say that the novel is satisfying in that it feels frustrating as hell. I liked the book in the way that I didn’t necessarily love what happened, but it left an impact.

I believe I mentioned a book I once threw across the room because I hated how it ended. This was a different circumstance and not only because I was not about to throw my electronic reader. In that book, it ended without an actual ending, but a copout. In The Husband’s Secret there are great tie-ins and an interesting plot throughout and I loved learning how they all connected. It was very hard to put this book down and I can see why I had to wait so long for it. I finished the book very quickly and felt satisfied with the ending, which again, is not easy for me!

One theme in the book that stands out to me is how the author lingers over the what-ifs in the world. She defines these possibilities, which leaves a larger impact on the way things actually play out. Though it’s important to live in the present in real life, it can sometimes be fun to imagine how things may have played out if you made a different choice, whether it’s big events or small occurrences. In real life, you’ll never know, but Moriarty uses this technique in an intriguing way which only adds to the story.

When reading, I often reflected after wondering what I would do in some of these awful situations the characters have to endure and there is no easy answer. I suppose that what the story and Moriarty wants to convey is that when faced with something, you just do it, which is prevalent in Strayed’s story as well. There’s no anticipating how you might react to something, just as there is no knowing what might happen next. Sometimes, you just have to trust yourself and your instincts to go with the flow. That’s a scary concept.

Though these books were very different, in themes and styles, they both show how important reading is. It makes you think, learn, and view things in a different light.

How Books (Not of the Text Variety) Help You Learn

This week, my book of choice has been The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. The novel is a work of historical fiction, focusing on Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, as they navigate their lives during the early part of his career.

I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t read much of anything from Hemingway, though I certainly am interested in doing so now. He appears to be a complex, troubled man whose entire life focused around his passion for writing. In the story at least, many of his actions are narcissistic, making me cringe at how he treats his wife at times, but even more so at her blind willingness to follow him. This could simply be a facet of that era, but it is especially frustrating near the end of the book, which I will not delve into further so I don’t spoil it for you.

McLain shows flashes of Hemingway’s own perspective on the story, though rare, which aims to humanize him a bit more than the protagonist, Hadley, discusses as she simply idolizes and adores him, despite his misgivings. The book plays out as Hadley tells the story of their marriage, the beginning and the demise (which is not a spoiler per se), speaking in the present, but also at times with a touch of hindsight. Their time together was romantic and nostalgic, imperfect and complicated, but very intriguing.

At the end of the book, McLain discusses the research that went into creating this story. Since it is historical, the focus is on real people, though fiction allows for some improvising. I wouldn’t know how true to the real people McLain remains, but she brings life and layers to her characters, providing them with traits and flaws that are both likable and disagreeable, a mark of excellent characterizations. The story also leaves me brimming with curiosity to learn more about the real people, through biographies as well as Hemingway’s fiction.

Writers, especially at this time when the role was so glamorized and American authors were starting to come on the scene, are fascinating. This is why the most interesting part of the novel was the depiction of very famous writers of this age. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and even James Joyce are mentioned and characterized. Paris is the main landscape and it is fascinating to learn more about how writers functioned in these times, struggling for success and living and traveling with little money.

I think it helps a bit to see that even these esteemed writers struggled, especially as they were developing their craft. Writing often seems chic and melodic, which are beliefs based off of the final product, though I’ve learned that the entire process is long, difficult, and deliberate. If you’re lucky, there are days when the words flow onto the page, with fingers not able to type or write fast enough to keep up with the thoughts and ideas. There are also days when even forming a string of words together to create one sentence is meticulous and frustrating. With writing, you have to know a lot about the world, at least at the point where you understand and explore your own perspective, but you also have to actively search and research for others.

In college, the biggest lesson for me to learn about writing- and trust me, there were many I gained- was that what you first put down on the page will very rarely be the final copy. This is true for any short stories I write, and a bit less so on these blog posts because I sort of just let myself fly. To be a decent writer, a lot more time and patience has to go into a creation than the time it took to write the first draft.

Early on in Hemingway’s career, Hadley accidentally lost a suitcase full of the majority of his work, on her way to meet him in another country. This is the equivalence of hard-drive failure and the inability to procure what you wrote. I’ve been in the situation where I feel as though I’ve written a good enough essay only for it to disappear and though you can bring some of it back to life, it will never be as well-worded or the same to what you had before. However, the book Hemingway forgave his wife and though done with a heavy-heart, saw this as an opportunity to make a fresh, clean start and it worked for him. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to lose everything, there is definitely something to not being overly attached to the words you put down if there are better ways to play with them. This was another important lesson from my college writing classes and it hurts more than you would think to erase what you thought was good, but doesn’t quite fit.

I enjoyed the book overall, though I wasn’t in love with it. More than anything it helped me to be more reflective about my own writing and my passion that drives me. There is a constant reminder needed that even if you are talented in something, true, quality work is not simply provided to you, but the result of hard-work and dedication. Yes, there has to be a natural propensity for that particular craft, but it will never flourish if you don’t put in the time.

I recommend The Paris Wife if you are interested in historical fiction, Hemingway, or just want to get lost in a story.