Mental Health Awareness Day

Today is Mental Health Awareness Day. 1 in 5 adults in America experience a mental illness and nearly 1 in 25 live with a serious mental illness. However, there is still a significant stigma toward mental illness in our society. We’re not supposed to talk about it. People experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying, and discrimination. I myself have experienced this before. This stigma can prevent people from reaching out for help and can sometimes have fatal results; Suicide is the second leading cause of death of youth ages 15-24 and the tenth leading cause of death for all Americans.

 I live with depression and ADHD (and probably a bit of undiagnosed anxiety, tbh). Though these conditions are mostly controlled, they have had a huge impact on my life in the past and continue to do so now. They’re part of me, and I’ve chosen to embrace them and talk about them openly to help combat that stigma and help others. I’m happy to talk about these things and if you ever need someone to talk to, please reach out!

 

Resources:

The World Health Organization also has a great video series on what you can do to help prevent suicide. 

https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2019/10/10/default-calendar/world-mental-health-day-2019-focus-on-suicide-prevention 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a whole page on fighting stigma and helping those with mental illness; I highly suggest you read it.

 https://www.nami.org/stigma 

NAMI also has a whole bunch of initiative and guides on their Mental Illness Awareness week page.

https://www.nami.org/get-involved/awareness-events/mental-illness-awareness-week

#ShakespearesPlaylist: Twelfth Night

So I LOVE finding songs to fit the mood of #Shakespeare plays. Basically every time I hear a song I love on the radio, I think about how I could fit it into a production. I can’t help it. My brain just does that, which is funny, because I’ve only directed one production (my own one-act) and questioned myself and my abilities the entire time, so I don’t necessarily see myself directing anything else any time soon, but I just like to dream about the music anyway.

I’ve decided to play with this habit of mine more and make full-fledged Spotify and Youtube playlists for each play by Shakespeare, under the umbrella name and hashtag #ShakespearesPlaylist .

So Twelfth Night has long been one of my favorite Shakespeare plays (like, since age 10) and I’ve performed in it twice myself, so the summary and song list in this post are longer than any I’ve written so far in this series! I just can’t help myself, I really love this play, hah.

The Britches and Hose Production of Twelfth Night in 2011. I was Viola!

The Britches and Hose Production of Twelfth Night in 2011. I was Viola!

The Britches and Hose Production of Twelfth Night in 2017. I was a wandering singing musician person - we called ourselves the Festettes!

The Britches and Hose Production of Twelfth Night in 2017. I was a wandering singing musician person - we called ourselves the Festettes!

Quick Wikipedia Summary: Viola is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria. Believing that her twin brother Sebastian is dead, she disguises herself as a young man under the name Cesario and enters the service of Duke Orsino. Duke Orsino has convinced himself that he is in love with the noble lady Olivia, who is mourning the recent deaths of her father and brother and refuses to see any men or entertainments. Duke Orsino then uses 'Cesario' as an intermediary to profess his passionate love before Olivia. Olivia, however, falls in love with 'Cesario', setting her at odds with her professed duty. In the meantime, Viola has fallen in love with Duke Orsino, creating a love triangle: Viola loves Duke Orsino, Duke Orsino loves Olivia, and Olivia loves Viola disguised as Cesario.

In the comic subplot, several characters conspire to make Olivia's pompous steward, Malvolio, believe that Olivia has fallen for him. This involves Olivia's riotous uncle, Sir Toby Belch; another would-be suitor, a silly squire named Sir Andrew Aguecheek; her servants Maria and Fabian; and her melancholy fool, Feste. Through a fake love letter, Malvolio is encouraged to make a fool of himself in front of Olivia, who is convinced that he is mad and leaves him to be cared for by his tormentors. Pretending that Malvolio is insane, they lock him up in a dark chamber. Feste visits him to mock his insanity, both disguised as a priest and as himself. Sir Toby later marries Maria for this jest. When Malvolio is finally released, he swears revenge on all who conspired against him.

Meanwhile, Viola's twin, Sebastian, has been rescued by Antonio, a sea captain who previously fought against Orsino, yet who accompanies Sebastian to Illyria, despite the danger, because of his admiration for Sebastian. Sebastian's appearance adds the confusion of mistaken identities to the comedy. Taking Sebastian for 'Cesario', Olivia asks him to marry her, and they are secretly married in a church. Finally, when 'Cesario' and Sebastian appear in the presence of both Olivia and Orsino, there is more wonder and confusion at their physical similarity. At this point, Viola reveals her identity and is reunited with her twin brother. The play ends in a declaration of marriage between Duke Orsino and Viola.

I chose “Hey Brother” by Avcii to demonstrate the familial love between Viola and Sebastian. Both of them believe the other has drowned in the crash and are pretty devastated about it. The chorus in particular fits this storyline:

What if I'm far from home?
Oh brother, I will hear you call!
What if I lose it all?
Oh sister, I will help you out!
Oh, if the sky comes falling down, for you
There's nothing in this world I wouldn't do

Amy Winehouse’s cover of “To Know Him is to Love Him” is a perfect illustration of Viola’s love for Duke Orsino.

To know know know him
Is to love love love him
Just to see that smile
Makes my life worthwhile

Why can't he see?
How blind here he be?
Someday he'll see
That he was meant just for me, oh oh oh oh

Taylor Swift’s “You Belong with Me” also represents Viola’s situation, simultaneously in love with Orsino but pretending to be his male friend, having to woo another lady on his behalf. It’s so bubblegum pop that I really resisted including it in this list, but honestly, the lyrics are so ridiculously perfect for this plotline that it had to happen.

If you can see I'm the one who understands you
Been here all along so why can't you see
You belong with me
You belong with me

Walkin' the streets with you and your worn-out jeans
I can't help thinking this is how it ought to be
Laughing on a park bench, thinking to myself
Hey isn't this easy

And you've got a smile that could light up this whole town
I haven't seen it in a while since she brought you down
You say your fine
I know you better then that
Hey what you doing with a girl like that

…I'm the one who makes you laugh
When you know you're about to cry
And I know your favorite songs
And you tell me about your dreams
I think I know where you belong
I think I know it's with me

I’ve chosen Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” to represent Malvolio, who is so overproud that he willingly believes his mistress Olivia is in love with him, despite the ludicrousness of the fake love letter and the situation as a whole. He literally thinks the letter is about him!

You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You're so vain,
I'll bet you think this song is about you
Don't you? Don't you?

I chose Mad World by Gary Jules to represent Sebastian’s massive confusion about arriving in Illyria. Everyone seems to know him and have strong opinions about him, but he just got there! What the heck is going on. (I’m not so certain on this choice, as I think the overall mood of the song is too melancholy for Twelfth Night, but I really want something in here about Sebastian’s POV. I may replace this one later if anyone has any good suggestions!)

The Lumineers’ “Hey Ho “is a great song to represent Feste, as Feste’s song in the show literally includes the words “Hey Ho, the wind and the rain.” Plus, the laid-back troubador style of Hey Ho works really well for Feste’s casual and humorous approach to life.

Finally, here’s a video of an actual production of Twelfth Night which I actually was in. It’s the final song in the show, The Rain it Raineth, with music by Dave Seidman-Joria. Feste in this version is played by Sam Stenecker! Then from left to right in the back is: Lauren Sutton, Leandra Lyn, Megan Fraedrich, Rachael Dickson (my non-writing superhero alter ego), and Dan Clark.

A Cell Phone Mount that Actually Lasts- Thanks to Sugru!

I don’t know about y’all, but I have never found a store-brought car cell phone holder that actually lasts for any significant amount of time. Whether they clip on to an air vent, stick on to the dash, or suction on to the windshield, they always fall within a few days to a few weeks. I often resort to sticking my phone in the drink holder so I can reference directions when I’m going somewhere new. But with my arthritis neck joints, this can be really painful. I also have to take my eyes off the road much more if I do this.

My grandparents recently gave me their old 1997 van; I have a car for the first time since February (my previous car was totaled after a tire blew out while I was driving on a highway. Fortunately, no one was hurt, just my car)! I optimistically bought a clip-on phone holder at the auto parts store when i was picking up some new windshield wiper blades and it fell down within 5 minutes. It was frankly just ridiculous.

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Fortunately, I’ve found a solution! Sugru is this really cool clay like substance that is sticky and moldable at first, starts solidifying after thirty minutes, and is cured hard and strong in 24 hours! I used this to make a cell phone mount in my previous car too and it stayed put for over half a year. It lasted through my car accident and was still there when I sold the car to my insurance company.

It’s pretty easy to create this phone mount. I took the case off my phone and molded the Sugru around it. This gave me the exact dimensions I needed but was light enough that it didn’t mess up the Sugru while I was working with it.

I positioned the mount as close to my sight line as I could. Here, my phone is held firmly in place and is visible right over the right side of my steering wheel. It’s a non traditional area for it, but it works great.

I ended up using two packages of Sugru for this. I molded two holders under the phone, for it to sit on, and a holder on each side, to hold it in the right spot, sticking each holder solidly to the dash as I worked. You have 30 minutes to work with the Sugru before it starts setting, but I actually put this all together in just 5-10 minutes. I then let it cure for the next 24 hours and voila- a stable, solid, working cell phone mount!

It’s not the /prettiest/ mount out there, but it works perfectly for my needs.

Have you used Sugru? What problems did you fix with it?

Tech and Safety Tip: Sending your Location to Friends via iPhone or Messenger

I read a comment somewhere online the other day that mentioned an iPhone feature where you can text your exact location to a friend. I didn’t know this existed, but I am so happy it does! This not only will make meetups at big festivals easier, it’s a great safety tip!

I’ve had to walk around alone at night before, particularly when I lived in Chicago in the pre-Lyft era, and this feature would have been really handy then! My friends and I already text our taxi or Lyft drivers’ info to each other if they’re acting creepy or driving in a scary way; I love that now I know how to quickly send my location to friends in case of an emergency!

I sat down and figured out how to do it via text on iPhone and via Facebook messenger. It was really easy! Here are some step by step screenshots:

Facebook Messenger:

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I have a mass group convo with a lot of theater friends, so I tested this out in our chat the other day. It’s just three quick button clicks- first the four dots in the lower left corner of the screen, then the blue and white location button, and finally the “share live location” button. I particularly like that this gives you a live location, so even if you move around, your friends can see where you’re going.

Though iPhone GPS can be a little off at times, a general whereabouts is certainly a lot better than no info at all!

iPhone Texts

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This one’s even simpler! Just click on the google maps button in the bottom right hand of the texting screen and then press “send!”

There’s also an alternate method where you click on a contact’s name and choose to either “send my current location” or “send my location.”

With “send my location” you can actually choose a duration. So if you always want this person to know where your phone is, that’s an option. Or you can just send it for an hour or a day. Choices!

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BONUS IPHONE SAFETY TRICK:

If you ever need to call emergency services immediately, push your side button 5 times rapidly and this screen will pop up. Supposedly it works with the home button too, but I couldn’t get it to work.

As Apple says: “hen you make a call with SOS, your iPhone automatically calls the local emergency number. In some countries and regions, you might need to choose the service that you need. For example, in China mainland you can choose police, fire, or ambulance. 

You can also add emergency contacts. After an emergency call ends, your iPhone alerts your emergency contacts with a text message, unless you choose to cancel. Your iPhone sends them your current location, and, for a period of time after you enter SOS mode, it sends updates to your emergency contacts when your location changes.”

You can set up your emergency contacts and your medical ID info in the Health app on the iPhone. I don’t use this app for anything else, but it’s useful for this situation.

and there you go! I hope this info helps!

I've Learned SO MUCH from the By the Book Podcast!

I listen to numerous podcasts but one of my current favorites is the By the Book podcast! I discovered it earlier this year through an ad on the Freakanomics podcast (which my husband listens to obsessively) and was instantly HOOKED. I’ve listened to every episode since then (which is saying something since they have several seasons!

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The premise of this podcast: The brilliant and hilarious Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer read through a self-help book for every episode and try to live by it for two weeks straight. They chronicle their adventures with wit and thoughtfulness and I’m pretty obsessed. I’ve learned so much from so many episodes! It’s also helped me to be a lot more careful about my own self-help reading and encouraged me to take a closer look at the authors and what they’re really saying.

For example: The Miracle Morning book has personally really helped me in the past. After getting my depression under control (FISHER-WALLACE STIMULATOR, SERIOUSLY Y’ALL), The Miracle Morning has changed my life more in the past year than anything else! Going through the SAVERS approach regularly (silence/meditation, affirmations, visualizations, exercise, reading, and scribing/journaling) helped me remember that I have ALWAYS wanted to be a writer and got me on track toward pursuing that path really seriously. However, the By the Book episode on Miracle Morning pointed out a lot of issues with the book and its author and helped me realize that I had been doing a lot of “take what I want and throw away the bad” in my own approach to it. Which is totally fine. I still use it sometimes. But a lot of the advice in the book is kind of victim-blamey and makes me uneasy when you actually look at closely. So now I’m more careful about how I suggest that book to friends; I include a lot more disclaimers and points about how I actually use it.

By the Book has also made some really significant changes to my life in the past year! It’s inspired me to make numerous changes.

Here’s what comes to mind now (I may add to this later as I remember things or add more!):

Things I do now or have done because of the By the Book podcast: (links go to the episode on Stitcher’s website)

Look! Plants I’ve somehow kept half alive, plus an old soda bottle I now use to water indoor and outdoor plants, and our compost pail!

Look! Plants I’ve somehow kept half alive, plus an old soda bottle I now use to water indoor and outdoor plants, and our compost pail!

  • We now plan out our family meals ahead of time and try to do all the grocery shopping once a week. John and I pick and make the recipes together and have found it makes our life WAY simpler when we actually know what we’re eating at night. (From the “America’s Cheapest Family” episode) 

  • I published a short story as an ebook on amazon. I had already written this story and submitted it to an anthology. When it was rejected, I thought - YOLO and decided to put it on Amazon as an experiment. It’s been fun! I’ve earned about $40 from it, which is cool. (From the “how to write an ebook that makes you money forever in 7-14 days” episode)

  • I’ve invited friends over to work at our house whenever they like. Not many people have taken me up on this, but I do love that as someone who teleworks full time and has a pretty big house, I can provide an escape for my student friends or other friends who work from home. (From “a girl’s guide to joining the resistance”)

  • I reuse and recycle more things, have started composting (blog post coming about this soon!), and make my own reusable wet wipes for cleaning. (“zero waste home”)

  • I focus on only saying nice and supportive things to myself. (“What to say when you talk to yourself”)

  • I try to use my phone less when I’m out and about (“bored and brilliant”)

  • I try to only check my email and social media twice a day. Honestly, I’m pretty bad about this, but just knowing it’s an option for days when I REALLY need to focus is good. I also now outsource time-consuming tasks i hate to people on Fiverr . I’ve found a cool personal assistant guy and have had him do some cost-comparison research tasks which have been really helpful! (“4 hour work week”)

  • So Kristen and Jolenta have only done one “diet” book and it had such a bad effect on Kristen that they don’t plan to do another one. This episode and a lot of their conversations in later episodes helped me come to grips with a lot of my disordered eating habits (I tend to either over-eat or under-eat, and neither is healthy) and develop a more healthy approach to my body. I don’t weigh myself any more and I don’t really plan to again; it’s highly triggering for me. Instead, I eat healthy most of the time, avoid too many processed foods, practice delaying my first meal until 12 pm or 1 pm (which effectively means I usually am intermittent fasting for 14 hours), and exercise regularly. And that’s enough for me. As long as I’m feeling healthy and happy with how I look, I don’t need to know my weight; it’s just not important. Thanks K&J for helping me realize that! (“French Women Don’t Get Fat”)

  • I’ve worked to define what types of clothing and accessories are and aren’t my style and have been donating or selling things that aren’t my style. If I go shopping now, I’m much less likely to impulse buy anything, as I know exactly what I like and what looks good on me and I’m not willing to spend money on things that don’t fit in those categories. (“curated closet”) 

A snippet of the pinterest board I made for the Curated Closet.

A snippet of the pinterest board I made for the Curated Closet.

Look at these plants I’ve managed not to kill yet!

Look at these plants I’ve managed not to kill yet!

  • I actually let myself actually watch TV without doing work sometimes. I mean, not all the time, I usually am working on some craft or blog post or something if I watch TV, but sometimes! (“Pantsdrunk”)

  • I’ve really tried to walk outdoors more and keep my house plants alive more consistently. I re-planted our dead herb garden and have managed to keep 4/5 plants alive for the last few months! (“nature fix”) 

  • I’ve let go of some project ideas that were GOOD but just not for me. This book specifically talks about letting go of the ideas that aren’t a match for you so they can go “find someone else” they’re better suited for. This was how I finally let go of the idea of writing a non-fiction book about marital surnames. It still fascinates me and I think it needs to be written about, but I just don’t have the passion to pursue that myself. I prefer my fiction writing. (“Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear”)

  • I had actually already “konmari-ed” several parts of our house but this episode has helped me retain some of the ideas - specifically, does this item give me joy? If not, I should donate it and let someone else enjoy it. (“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”)

EWF Unpacking: Polish Your Pitch and Publishing Masterclass

I’ve been pretty dilatory about posting up these notes, but I’m slowly getting them out there! Here’s some more useful wisdom from the Emerging Writers’ Festival!

I took very few photos at the festival, but I did manage to get this one of my name tag and my awesome shoes.

I took very few photos at the festival, but I did manage to get this one of my name tag and my awesome shoes.

Polish Your Pitch - Class by Jennifer Baker (publishing professional of 16 years, host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, contributing editor to Electric Literature, essayist)

I have pages and pages of notes from this class taught by Jennifer Baker, including some very specific suggestions she made for a story I’ve been trying to pitch. Here are some of the highlights though:

  • First, follow the rules on pitching. Actually read the publication’s submission guidelines and make sure you know what type of work they’re working for. It’s a waste of your time and theirs if you pitch something that doesn’t follow their guidelines and/or is just totally wrong for their publication.

  • Your article topics need to be specific and interesting. Your goal is to get a “I haven’t heard this before” from the person you’re pitching to. If you’re writing on a common topic, make sure to specify what makes your spin different and unique.

  • If you can’t find a person’s name or can’t figure out how they identify, it’s okay if you just say “Dear Editor.” Just don’t make assumptions!

  • The editor is coming at your piece with a few things in their minds: “Can you do the thing you’re saying you can do?” “Is it worth my time and effort to pay you?” “Is the structure and voice of the piece there?” You want to be able to answer all these questions in your pitch. The more fleshed out and structured the idea, the less work the editor needs to do to get it up to par.

  • If someone rejects your pitch, don’t take it personally! Jennifer said: “As an editor, I have rarely ever NOT taken a pitch because of someone’s bad writing. I don’t believe in bad writing, but I do see unfocused writing.”

Publishing Masterclass - Class by Jane Friedman (20 years of experience in publishing industry, author of The Business of Being a Writer and The Authors Guild Guide to E-Publishing)

I actually had to leave this class 1/3 of the way through to go volunteer for the festival in another location, but I still learned SO MUCH. I’m really glad I got to go for at least that much.

I found this sweet pupper hanging out in Old Town Alexandria near the festival while walking between events one day. <3

I found this sweet pupper hanging out in Old Town Alexandria near the festival while walking between events one day. <3

  • To submit to publishers, you need:

    • A finished manuscript for a fiction book

    • A book proposal for a nonfiction book

    • For a memoir, you probably should have both a finished manuscript and a book proposal, as some publishers will want one or the other and plenty will want both.

  • Before you submit, you need to make sure your manuscript or proposal is the best you can make it. You need to resolve all the problems or hire someone to do it for you. No one EXPECTS you to hire an editor for revisions, but it’s certainly an option.

  • If you want a large/mid-size publisher, it’s a good idea to get an agent.

  • It’s really important to define the genre of your book so you can find the correct agents and publishers. This can be hard since some book genres are pretty nebulous.

    • For example, “Literary fiction” is sometimes publisher code for “will not sell.” However, once it makes the best seller list, a literary fiction book’s genre tends to magically change to “mainstream fiction.” (There are no particular requirements for either of these genres).

    • You can sometimes get away without picking a genre for your book by comparing it to another work instead, but that doesn’t always work.

  • Hard to sell works: Poetry, collections, multi-genre work, “hard to categorize” books

    • Even if your work is “hard to categorize,” just label it something. People run in the opposite direction at the sound of “hard to categorize.” “If you don’t know, they won’t know either.”

  • Projects that are more commercially viable:

    • Fiction - Genre, commercial, or mainstream narratives of about 80,000 words. You can go as low as 50,000, but that’s as low as you can go. Once you reach 100,000, you’ll get some pushback about it being too long or needing more editing.

    • If you’re trying to get a nonfiction book published by a large publisher, you need a platform. Your visibility and authority can matter as much as the content. They expect you to bring the audience to the publisher, not vice versa.

      • if you’re a journalist or professor or have some sort of career that gives you credibility on a topic, that can help you with your nonfiction author platform.

  • Less commercially viable projects:

    • Narratives that are 120,000+ words.

    • Children’s picture books, cookbooks, travel, short fiction, essay collections, poetry, anthologies of any kind

Fixing Up Split Headphone Wires with Yarn!

Oh oh I actually came up with the solution to this problem all on my own and I am DELIGHTED at how well it worked!

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So I tend to be rather hard on my headphones and as a result, I don’t spend much money on them. I had a cheapo pair currently that work fine, however, the connection between the two wires leading up to the headphones split, so they were constantly getting tangled. It was driving me pretty crazy.

I’m simultaneously learning to crochet and have a lot of yarn around, which gave me an idea. What if I just added some yarn into the wires and then braided the three pieces (two wires, one yarn piece) together? That would combine them all again and reduce the tangling!

It honestly worked better than even I could have anticipated! And it made my headphones look really unique and fun. I’m really happy with the result.

Here’s how I did it!

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  1. There was one tiny clasp still holding the two split wires in the headphones together. I cut that off with some scissors, as I’m about to render it useless!

  2. I took some yarn and tied it securely to the base of the headphones using a few knots.

  3. I measured out the yarn against the headphones and cut it to the length of the entire cord. This will actually be too long, but it’s easier to trim it later than add more length if you cut it too short.

  4. I channeled my elementary school self and braided the wires together with the yarn! (making friendship bracelets was the cool thing on my school bus! I carried around the cutest little Cat in the Hat bag full of embroidery thread and safety pins to pin the braid to the back of the seats while I was working on it. Ahhh nostalgia.) I held the end of the braid with my chin, but you could also clip it or hold it down with some heavy books if you like.

  5. When I was almost done, I tried on the headphones to ensure I had enough length of two split wires for my head and neck, then tied off the braid below that spot.

And there you go! It’s been working perfectly since I braided it. :)

#ShakespearesPlaylist: The Taming of the Shrew

So I LOVE finding songs to fit the mood of #Shakespeare plays. Basically every time I hear a song I love on the radio, I think about how I could fit it into a production. I can’t help it. My brain just does that, which is funny, because I’ve only directed one production (my own one-act) and questioned myself and my abilities the entire time, so I don’t necessarily see myself directing anything else any time soon, but I just like to dream about the music anyway.

The Globe Theater cast of The Taming of the Shrew from 2013 - photo from  https://thehoneycombers.com/singapore/the-taming-of-the-shrew/

The Globe Theater cast of The Taming of the Shrew from 2013 - photo from https://thehoneycombers.com/singapore/the-taming-of-the-shrew/

I’ve decided to play with this habit of mine more and make full-fledged Spotify and Youtube playlists for each play by Shakespeare, under the umbrella name and hashtag #ShakespearesPlaylist .

Quick Wikipedia summary: The Taming of the Shrew depicts the courtship of Petruchio and Katherina, the headstrong, obdurate “shrew” in the title. Initially, Katherina is an unwilling participant in the relationship; however, Petruchio "tames" her with various psychological torments, such as keeping her from eating and drinking, until she becomes a desirable, compliant, and obedient bride. The subplot features a competition between the suitors of Katherina's younger sister, Bianca. who is seen as the "ideal" woman. The question of whether the play is misogynistic or not has become the subject of considerable controversy, particularly among modern scholars, audiences, and readers.

I chose Florence + The Machine’s Kiss with a Fist to represent the domestic abuse prevalent in Taming of the Shrew. This is the part of the play that makes everyone uncomfortable, but it’s such an integral part to the plot that you really can’t remove it or gloss over it without changing the story completely. This is one of those problem plays that I think needs to be done carefully and respectfully, with a lot of conversation and care. Sure, perform it, but make sure to discuss the problematic aspects of it in your program or in a post-show discussion.

Husband John and I saw a version of it at The Globe in London in 2013 that featured an all-female cast; that choice retained the original story while portraying it in an explicitly feminist way that helped me see it in a really different way. It was very affecting. Because of those problematic aspects though, I personally have never been involved in a production of it nor have I seen many productions of it. One study (reported on Priceonomics) found that it was the fifth most popular Shakespeare play (in terms of professional performances by major theater companies between 2011-2015; this kind of surprises me? It is quite possible though that I’ve just happened to live in areas where it’s just not commonly performed. Plus, I mostly work with and am around community theater productions, and they seem to be slightly less willing to put on controversial plays (just my observation, not sure why).

I should note- Kiss with a Fist is not actually about domestic violence. Florence Welch explained the meaning of the song on her blog: “It is about two people pushing each other to psychological extremes because they are fighting but they still love each other. The song is not about one person being attacked, or any actual physical violence, there are no victims in this song. Sometimes the love two people have for each other is a destructive force. But they can't have it any other way, because it's what holds them together, they enjoy the drama and pushing each other's buttons. The only way to express these extreme emotions is with extreme imagery, all of which is fantasism and nothing in the song is based on reality. Leona Lewis's ‘Bleeding Love’ isn't actually about her bleeding and this song isn't actually about punching someone in the mouth." (I grabbed this explanation off Wikipedia)

Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation is a bit of an obvious choice for representing a woman who refuses to conform to society’s expectations of her, but I love this song and had to include it anyway.

Yeah, that’s a really short explanation of that, but I really can’t think of anything else to say. Joan Jett is awesome.

Etta James’ It’s a Man’s Man’s World addresses the gender dynamics of the play, as ultimately Katherina has little choice when it comes to her husband. Although Katherina does ultimately “agree” to marry Petruchio when he shows himself willing to counter her sharp wit, she has no ability to stop the ceremony when Petruchio hits the priest and drinks the communion wine and is completely helpless when Petruchio abuses her by withholding food and gaslighting her until she does his bidding. He shows off her “tame” self at the end to the other men. The setting of this play truly is “a man’s world” and Katherina is trapped in it.

Finally, since these songs have mostly been pretty dark, I’m ending on a lighter note with Letters to Cleo’s I Want You to Want Me. This cover was prominently featured on the 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack. 10 Things is a loose adaptation of Taming of the Shrew and also coincidentally is one of my favorite romantic comedies of all time, probably because it came out in 1999 when I was 11 and thus was one of the first modern romantic comedies I ever actually watched.

The Best Long-Lasting Lipsticks: If You Love the Look but Hate Reapplying

So some friends asked me for long lasting lipstick recommendations and I'm happy to oblige! These lipsticks work well for anyone who loves makeup but hates spending more than a few minutes applying it.

So currently, I telework full time from home and don’t even put on makeup most days. I just use my basic skin routine of cleanser, toner, acne products, moisturizer, and Vaseline petroleum jelly at night (on my forehead and lips) - I really keep it super simple. And my skin generally looks great as a result! So when I /do/ leave the house, I generally just put on some lipstick and peach blush, perhaps a little concealer if I’ve been stressed out lately. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll put on some eye shadow and mascara, maybe eye liner. But I definitely have more lipstick than any other product and wear it most often!

I /only/ wear long-wear lipstick because I despise smudgy lipstick and leaving lipstains on glasses. I’ve honestly tried using fancier lipsticks before; I’ve prepped my lips with a sugar scrub and used a lip primer and lip liner and blotted three times and used a setting powder. It never works for me! And it’s way more work than it’s worth for the final result. So now I just stick to the long-lasting lipstick I know and love.

Two tips on long-lasting lipstick:

1. Use Vaseline petroleum on your lips at night to keep them moist and happy. These products can often be drying. Vaseline can also help remove the lipstick!

2. The secret trick to keeping lipstick off your teeth- After you apply, just put your thumb in your mouth, close your lips around it, and then pull it out. You have to wipe your lipstick off your thumb then, which is annoying, but I’ve literally never found anything else which works better.

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So my most commonly worn lipstick brand these days is Maybelline SuperStay Matte Ink (pictured). The colors shown here are: Pioneer, Heroine, Artist, Romantic, Explorer, Philosopher, and Protector.

I love this brand! It runs under $10 and comes in a lot of different colors - from classic or bold, to neutral or more out there shades. I should have even more than are pictured here, I just can’t find one or two of them right now, as I usually always have one in my purse when I’m out and about.

I have gone to dentist appointments wearing these shades before and they don’t budge; my dental hygienist has actually asked me what brand it was. They’re great! And you can also mix them together for an in-between shade if you’re careful - I apply the shades directly over each other on my lips and then rub it together to mix it and cover all the lines. I of course use a cloth to sharpen all my edges.

In addition, this brand has a great applicator that has a sharper edge than most do; i find it easier for making a sharp line. It also smells AMAZING. I think they put vanilla in the formula or something.

I also recently tried out the Maybelle Super Stay Ink Crayon Lipstick but honestly, I wasn’t impressed. It didn’t last nearly as long as the regular formula.

This pic shows my favorite lipsticks and most commonly worn AFTER my Maybelline:

First: my Rimmel Provocalips (upper left corner). These colors from left to right are Play with Fire, Heart Breaker, Kiss Fatal, Little Mink, and Dare to Pink.

Next going counter clockwise: the shorter purple lipstick is Maybelline 14 hr in Wine and Forever (my darkest lipstick!); then two Maybelline Superstay 24 Colors - All Day Cherry and Timeless Toffee.

Upper right: CoverGirl Outlast All Day Two Step Lipcolor in Eternal Flame.

Bottom Right: Lipsense by Senegence long lasting liquid lip color in B. Ruby with Glossy gloss.

Next to that on the left is Revlon Colorstay Ultimate in Buffest Beige (my go to nude lip color). I use this one if I’m wearing stage makeup and playing a dude.

Next to that: Revlon Colorstay in Unlimited Mulberry and Forever Scarlet.

Finally, bottom left is Kat Von D everlasting liquid lipstick in Backstage Bambi.

I would recommend all these brands with different levels of caution; all of them will last longer than your standard cream lipstick. Almost all of these can be bought at a drugstore or Target and honestly those tend to work best for me (I think my lips just adhere better to cheaper brands?). The Kat Von D is the most expensive by far; this shade lasts maybe half a day for me, but I've been told that this particular color is the hardest to work with from that line so I'm hoping to try another shade in the future to get a better idea of its quality.

The Lipsense is very different from the rest; it dries very quickly and requires lots of thin layers and a gloss to work. It's a bit tricky but I've found with regular lip scrubs that it withstands most of the day. It can only be bought from independent sellers and not from retail stores; if you're interested in it I can give you my contact. :)

As always, let me know if you have any questions! I'm happy to help!

Easy No Heat Hair Styling For Fine-Haired Girls

Half dry hair in low buns at top, lower left shows the hair immediately after several hours drying in the low buns. lower right shows the final look after it’s all dried post-makeup.

Half dry hair in low buns at top, lower left shows the hair immediately after several hours drying in the low buns. lower right shows the final look after it’s all dried post-makeup.

Since I bleach my hair before i dye it all the colors of the wind, I try to really baby it at other times.

I rarely use heat styling on my hair- maybe once a month I’ll use a curling iron and a blowdryer maybe once every two months. But my hair tends to lie rather flat if I don’t do /anything/ with it, so I use a lot of no heat styling tricks. Usually, I just style it by waiting until it’s half dry after a shower, and then putting it into one of a few hair styles so it can gain some shape and texture as it dries the rest of the way. This doesn’t work on everyone, but if you have naturally straight hair with a similar medium-fine hair diameter like I do, it works great! (If you’re not certain what type of hair you have, this article on Headcurve can be really helpful! I have a 1b hair type, meaning it’s fine and generally straight, but not so fine that you would see a lot of scalp showing through.)

My current favorite no heat style is two low buns in the back. I specifically also twist the hair as I’m putting it into the bun. I then either sleep on it or chill for a few hours while I’m working.

Once I take it out- voila! Fun curls and texture. As you can see in the picture, it’s still just a little damp when I take it out, so I finger comb it and zhush it a little. By the time I’m done with my makeup, it’s all dry and looks great! It’s really simple and I quite like it. :)

I personally don’t tend to use a lot of product on my hair unless it’s absolutely necessary. I don’t even usually use frizz free serum on my hair, as it can look greasy really quickly. I’ll often just put a little lotion on my hands at the end of my prep, rub it in, and any small amount that’s left, i’l just lightly finger comb through my hair - ends first, than just a very light hand on my roots.

#ShakespearesPlaylist: Comedy of Errors

So I LOVE finding songs to fit the mood of #Shakespeare plays. Basically every time I hear a song I love on the radio, I think about how I could fit it into a production. I can’t help it. My brain just does that, which is funny, because I’ve only directed one production (my own one-act) and questioned myself and my abilities the entire time, so I don’t necessarily see myself directing anything else any time soon, but I just like to dream about the music anyway.

I’ve decided to play with this habit of mine more and make full-fledged Spotify and Youtube playlists for each play by Shakespeare, under the umbrella name and hashtag #ShakespearesPlaylist .

Quick Summary of the Play from Wikipedia: “Set in the Greek city of Ephesus, The Comedy of Errors tells the story of two sets of identical twins who were accidentally separated at birth. Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio of Syracuse, arrive in Ephesus, which turns out to be the home of their twin brothers, Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant, Dromio of Ephesus. When the Syracusans encounter the friends and families of their twins, a series of wild mishaps based on mistaken identities lead to wrongful beatings, a near-seduction, the arrest of Antipholus of Ephesus, and false accusations of infidelity, theft, madness, and demonic possession.”

I actually acted in a minor role in Comedy of Errors earlier this year! It’s an extremely silly play, and probably one of my least favorites, but the director and assistant director had a really fun vision for it that included lots of slapstick and physical comedy, plus a prominently featured rubber chicken. I got to wear a lovely costume and a ridiculous mustache and got to do some really fun comedic acting just reacting to the shenanigans aroudn me! Here’s a publicity pic of me for it (pre-mustache):

Plus I just got to work with the best people. Here are a couple of us in a ridiculous cuddle pile on the floor backstage, lol.

ANYWAY, when I think of this play, I tend to think of exceptionally ridiculous songs or songs about “double vision” or confusion. So I’m putting in Yakety Sax, the classic slapstick song, Double Vision by Foreigner to refer to the Twins/mistaken identity plot, and One Week by BareNaked Ladies to evoke the shenanigans feel of the whole play. I’m also throwing in Crazy by Gnarls Barkley (a cool slowed down version!) in here to refer to every character’s mutual feeling of “What is going on here? Am I going mad?” by the end of the show".

What songs would you add to this list? You can suggest them here or on Twitter at #ShakespearesPlaylist :D

A Diet App for Children? Are you Friggin Kidding me?

I just found out that the Kurbo by WW app exists from this Atlantic article (which has a great overview of the app and the issues with it) and I'm slightly horrified. It’s aimed at children 8-17. Apparently you need to sign up /with/ a parent if you’re 13, but in my experience, age restrictions on tech like that are super easy to get around. And even if a parent DOES sign you up, are they realistically going to be there with the kid at every moment supervising them on the app?

The basic idea behind the app (putting foods in green, yellow, and red categories based on nutritional value and encouraging users to eat yellow and red in moderation) isn't /terrible/ but marketing it to children as opposed to parents is pretty...awful. And to kids as young as *8*? Are you friggin kidding me? I've used the WW program before and found it pretty positive and helpful (with just a lot of caveats in there about my own depression and ADHD issues which sticking to any healthy diet long term difficult), but I'm pretty appalled they're doing this. I could /maybe/ see the idea behind marketing it to teenagers 15 and up with their own access to money, but from just a basic administration issue, the vast majority of kids don't buy or prepare their own food?

Plus this whole thing just seems really problematic and trigeringg. Even WITHOUT the 24/7 news cycle and social media of today, I remember being unhappy with my size and my weight starting at least back to age 9. I clearly remember the first time I looked at a picture of myself and hated the way I looked (it was from summer camp, I was sitting on a horse and wearing black shorts and a colorful shirt and I thought my legs looked "huge"). I am much happier and more confident with myself, my life, and my appearance than I ever was as a child, but I STILL fight disordered eating habits all the time. Aiming a weight loss app at a child is just one of the worst things I can imagine. Let. Them. Be. Children. And don’t give them a friggin complex over their appearance at an age that’s so difficult already.

Emerging Writers Festival Unpacking: Keynote, Fiction Intensive, and Against the Algorithm

So going over all my notes from the Emerging Writers Festival is helping me recap everything I learned and make sure I put it into practice in my own writing life and practice. In addition, I’m hopeful this might be helpful for others who weren’t able to attend some of the sessions, for whatever reason.

So here are some tidbits and wisdom from the first few sessions I attended at the festival!

Catherine Chung and Tayla Bruney

Catherine Chung and Tayla Bruney

The Keynote with Catherine Chung. She talked about her second novel, The Tenth Muse, with moderator Tayla Burney (a journalist and book reviewer for the Washington Post. She also writes a weekly email newsletter of author events and literary happenings around DC called Get Lit DC; you can subscribe to that here).

  • Cathy said that she had to rewrite her novel several times. “I had to let my narrator have this amazing life. I found sometimes I was the oppressive societal force holding my protagonist back.”

  • She said that she’s had writing retreat experiences where they just feed and house you and you just write all day. “It’s the most quixotic, ecstatic writing experience where you never have to leave the world you’re writing in. It ruins you for life.”

  • At one point, the company she worked for actually did a Christmas skit making fun of her ambition to be a writer. [Isn’t that SO SCREWED UP, seriously??]

  • “Writing rules are silly.” One professor claimed that if you don’t write every day you’re not a writer, but she said that while she was researching for her second novel, there were maybe years where she went without writing. She’s clearly still a writer.

  • For her first novel, she wrote all the time and threw out at least 1,000 pages as part of her process. It seemed like she was just accumulating pages and then throwing them away. But eventually it all came together and she figured out the structure. Her second novel was more structured from the beginning and was a different beast entirely.

  • A friend gave her a headsup before her novel came out: “Every writer gets depressed when their book gets published,” regardless of how well it does in the world or anything. Because you’re going from living entirely in your head to releasing it and waiting to hear what people think of it. Waiting is a terrible feeling. So ahead of her second novel’s release, Cathy decided just not to care.

  • She named the protagonist of her second novel Katherine as a joke, since so many people thought her first novel was an autobiography. However, it kind of backfired because many people still thought her second novel’s protagonist was autobiographical. At one point her wikipedia said that she was a 74-year-old woman; she was kind of sad when it got corrected.

From novelist Catherine Chung’s Fiction Intensive Workshop:

  • Cathy talked a bit about how she found it really interesting to see what people believe and what they don’t believe, as all of fiction is about making things up that people go along with. Sometimes we’re willing to believe the most ridiculous things, and in the current political climate, there’s a constant debate about what is true and false. What determines the stories we believe? What determines the stories we tell and are allowed to tell? (I believe most of the statements in this paragraph are actual quotations from her, but I didn’t notate it well enough in my notes to know for sure, so I’m paraphrasing a bit.)

  • “When you figure out the technical parts of a story, everything else falls into place” – who is the narrator, the audience, what is the shape of the audience.

  • She had us do an exercise where we wrote a letter to someone close to you in which you told them something you’ve never told before. As Cathy said, this premise sets up the central tension of a story from the very beginning. “There’s a reason you haven’t told them this thing before, and there’s a reason you’re telling them now. There’s a potential of how it will change everything.” When there’s an audience member for a story that’s very specific, it puts the tension of the story at the forefront. She pointed out that we don’t usually think about the fact that the speaker in a story is different from the author, and the intended audience and the actual audience are not always the same. Once she started thinking about this, it helped her unlock some things she’d been working on for her first novel.

  • Cathy said her first and only college writing professor said you have to be absolutely subjective about everyone you write. You have to be able to see it from their side, no matter how horrible they are. But you also have to be absolutely objective about yourself.

Against the Algorithm Panel with Lupita Aquino (co-founder and co-moderator of the LIT on H St Book Club at Solid State Books, instagram book reviewer), Amanda Nelson (executive editor of Book Riot), and Kendra Winchester (co-founder of the Reading Women podcast). My notes from this were scribbled into a tiny notebook I bought last minute at Old Town Books while my laptop was charging, so they may not be as detailed or as…in complete sentences as other notes. :)

Panelists gave some great advice about the dos and don’ts of author marketing:

  • Lupita - Engage with people before asking them for a favor or a review. And pay attention to what types of books people are into.

  • Kendra - She suggests engaging in Middle Reader Thursday or other events designed to bring attention to your books. There are lots of hashtags and discussions out there particular to specific genres. You can even reach specific agents this way sometimes. She also suggests you experiment with your marketing; don’t be afraid to be imperfect.

  • Amanda - Be a community member before you start asking for stuff. Find book writers that write about your genre and reach out to them directly. Writers LOVE to hear from authors.

I basically didn’t take any photos on the Saturday of the writing festival at all except this one.

I basically didn’t take any photos on the Saturday of the writing festival at all except this one.

  • Regarding diversity in publishing and books:

    • Amanda - publishing as an industry is overwhelmingly white women at lower levels and white men at the higher levels. The inherent structure is racist and sexist. Her company has a diversity mandate where 30% of their reviews have to be of works by POC authors. They’re very strict about it

    • Lupita - Online, you notice the diversity issues more. We need the options.

    • Amanda- If you say “I just want a good story,” you're saying you just want to read what’s marketed to you. And those books are by authors who are overwhelmingly white, male, and cisgendered.

    • Kendra- You have to work to find the books sometimes and represent them. We need to see more people with disabilities in them. We need more than just Darcy’s cousin and a woman in the attic. She suggests following amazing women as well to learn from them.

    • Moderator Allison Punch - wants to make a distinction between what’s getting buzz and what’s actually written. People of Color have always been writing; we’re just now hearing about them.

  • What they do to help underrepresented authors

    • Amanda - Donates ad campaigns to some independently published books.

    • Kendra - a snowball effect can really help.

    • Amanda - looks out for debut authors in her marketing and tries to promote them.

    • Kendra - Points out that she thinks it’s unfair to debut authors that we expect them to be perfect. They need room to grow and become better.

  • If you want to become a book reviewer on social media

    • Kendra - be consistent with your postings

    • Amanda - have an interesting angle to it. Don’t just post a photo of fairy lights as your cover picture. Like she follows an instagram that only posts library books - she loves that, as it brings out books that are older. Do something unique.

  • How to support books besides tweeting and reviews:

    • Amanda - pre-orders! for libraries even, creates buzz

    • Kendra - create an evergreen post of a list of books - one of their most popular posts ever still is about Muslim women authors.

    • Lupita - pre-order giveaways

    • Amanda - pre-ordering from independent bookstores

  • Pitching to reviewers

    • Kendra - be specific and complimentary. Show familiarity with the reviewer’s work and guidelines.

  • To avoid drama on social media

    • Lupita - Set boundaries - practice self care

    • Kendra - ignore the drama and go to the people that support you

    • Amanda - Remember your job and ignore the rest. Avoid the petty crap.


#ShakespearesPlaylist: King Lear

So I LOVE finding songs to fit the mood of #Shakespeare plays. Basically every time I hear a song I love on the radio, I think about how I could fit it into a production. I can’t help it. My brain just does that, which is funny, because I’ve only directed one production (my own one-act) and questioned myself and my abilities the entire time, so I don’t necessarily see myself directing anything else any time soon, but I just like to dream about the music anyway.

I’ve decided to play with this habit of mine more and make full-fledged Spotify and Youtube playlists for each play by Shakespeare, under the umbrella name and hashtag #ShakespearesPlaylist .

The incomparable Larry Yando as Lear in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production in 2014. Photo from  https://www.chicagoshakes.com/plays_and_events/lear

The incomparable Larry Yando as Lear in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production in 2014. Photo from https://www.chicagoshakes.com/plays_and_events/lear

Quick Summary from Wikipedia: King Lear is the tale of a king who bequeaths his power and land to two of his three daughters, after they declare their love for him in an extremely fawning and obsequious manner. His third daughter gets nothing, because she will not flatter him as her sisters had done. When he feels disrespected by the two daughters who now have his wealth and power, he becomes furious to the point of madness. He eventually becomes tenderly reconciled to his third daughter, just before tragedy strikes her and then the king.

I’m starting with King Lear because I just watched Kurosawa’s “Ran” with my husband, which is basically King Lear set in feudal Japan, so it’s on my brain anyway.

Here are a couple songs on my King Lear playlist. What would you add to this list? :D

Both Viva La Vida by Coldplay and Pompeii by Bastille fit King Lear’s “former leader watching his world crumble” theme, IMO.

Okay these two are a little more specific and require some explanation.

Frank Sinatra’s Where Do You Go? - I went to law school in Chicago and lived there for a few years after, so then-boyfriend/now-husband John and I went to a lot of shows at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. They have a great under-35 program that allows younger adults to get discount tickets and it was AWESOME.

In 2014, they did a friggin’ astounding version of King Lear that portrayed Lear as someone who really loved Frank Sinatra and used Sinatra’s music throughout the play to illustrate his growing madness. This specific obscure Sinatra song was used to illustrate how lost and alone Lear was and was mixed and looped to show his growing distortion. Right before the intermission, this one house set that had been standing up the whole time came toppling down over the actor playing Lear, who stood in just the one hole for the window so he wasn’t actually crushed, with rain and thunder and this haunting song in the background.

So clearly it made an impression. I definitely think of Sinatra whenever I think of Lear now.

Ravel’s Bolero is my pet choice and something I would include if I ever had the opportunity to direct Lear in the future. There was an amazing Radiolab episode a while back which discussed how the repetition in Bolero and in one woman’s paintings were a strong symptom of their own mental illnesses. It fascinated me and ever since, I have wanted to use Bolero as a metaphor for Lear’s madness.

What obvious songs am I overlooking? Do you have any choices that might seem odd without further explanation? I want to hear them all! Use the hashtag #ShakespearesPlaylist to get them to me. :)

The Inaugural Emerging Writers Festival in Old Town Alexandria!!

The last two weeks or so have been really rough, so I was really excited to attend my first writers festival in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia this past weekend!

It was the inaugural festival and was hosted by Old Town Books, which opened last year and is run by a bunch of really wonderful people with great ambitions and thoughts for the reading and writing communities! (I wrote a while ago about attending my first book club meeting there; the next one is in September and features the book “Coastalegre,” which is loosely based on Peggy Guggenheim and her daughter. As an art lover, I deeply appreciate this.)

This is a photo gallery, so you can click through and look at more than just like, my face and this one panel pic. I actually was so absorbed in all the speakers that I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I thought, but I got a good amount anyway. :)

I had so much fun and I learned a ton! I attended numerous classes and panels and volunteered at two of them. Honestly, I did WAY more than I even realized, once I started writing all these things down. I also met just a ton of wonderful writers at different points in their careers, which was so wonderfully inspiring.

  • Keynote Conversation with Catherine Chung, author of The Tenth Muse

  • Fiction Craft Intensive with Catherine Chung

  • Against the Algorithm Panel with Lupita Aquino, Amanda Nelson, and Kendra Winchester (all bookternet reviewers and leaders)

  • Polish your Pitch with Jennifer Baker (publishing professional of 16 years, host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, contributing editor to Electric Literature, essayist)

  • Publishing Masterclass with Jane Friedman (20 years of experience in publishing industry, author of The Business of Being a Writer and The Authors Guild Guide to E-Publishing)- I had to leave this early to go volunteer at the merch table, but the first hour was AMAZING and so useful.

  • Talk and signing with Tope Folarin (author of the novel A Particular Kind of Black Man, short story author)

  • Apply Yourself Panel - with Hannah Bae, Jennifer Baker, and Caits Meissner (PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program director, author), Kris Zory-King moderating

  • Writing the Personal Essay with Hannah Bae, journalist and essayist

  • The Path to the Debut Novel with Angie Kim, author of Miracle Creek

I was honestly going to write a whole blog post about ALL the things I learned in ALL the classes, but I just…do not have time fo rthat today. So i think I’m going to spread it out in more bite sized pieces, one or two classes a past for a while. I honestly gained so much useful knowledge

It's My Fisher Wallace-versary and the Anniversary of Getting My Depression Under Control

Selfie-ing it up with the Fisher Wallace Stimulator. I tend to use a sweatband with it instead of the included Velcro headband; it just has always worked way better for me.

Selfie-ing it up with the Fisher Wallace Stimulator. I tend to use a sweatband with it instead of the included Velcro headband; it just has always worked way better for me.

A year ago today, I received my Fisher Wallace Stimulator in the mail and used it for the first time. My depression was REALLY bad then, despite being on two anti-depressants already, and I was desperate to find something that worked. The Stimulator had great reviews and a 30-day return period so I thought - why not?

Within a few days of use, it kicked in. And since then, my clinical depression has been more consistently under control and my brain has been more stable and happy than ever previously. I still do have some issues at times, but usually those relate to - me not using my Stimulator enough or me going through a particularly stressful experience. I am consistently happier, calmer, and more focused in my life. I don’t snap at my husband as much and we can talk about tough topics now without me getting overly sensitive.

And once I made space in my brain for something besides just trying to survive emotionally, I rediscovered my love for writing and started really pursuing a career in it. Since then, I’ve had numerous stories published, self published one short story myself as an experiment, and have made a ton of writing friends on twitter and in person. My writing life makes me so so happy and I am utterly delighted that the Stimulator helped me get that life.

I’ve written about my experience with the Stimulator more in depth in the past here, so I won’t repeat it all now. But I just wanted to mark this day for the important, life changing event it was. I am so so thankful that this technology exists. ❤️

FYI: you do need a prescription to purchase it. It isn’t covered by insurance and usually costs $799, but they have a sale going right now (only for TODAY, it looks like) where you can get it for $399. I highly suggest it! It doesn’t work for everyone (i mean, does any medical treatment work for anyone?), but there’s a 30-day return period where you can get your money back if it doesn’t help you.

As always, if anyone out there had questions about the Fisher Wallace Stimulator, depression, ADHD, chronic pain, or any other of my pet topics, please feel free to reach out to me here, on twitter (@rachaeldickzen), or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/rachaeldickzenauthor). :)

And I was doing so well with that updating thing for a while...

Apologies for the lack of updates lately. I've been dealing with a family emergency that isn't my story to tell (because you know if it was, I'd be the loudmouth blabbing it all over! I am an open book. Plenty of other people are not.).

In any case, I've been too stressed out to blog or write really, but I'll try to get back to things as soon as I can. I am at the Emerging Writers Festival in Alexandria, Virginia this weekend and will be sure to write about that soon; I’m tweeting and facebooking about it over at @RachaelDickzen and www.facebook.com/rachaeldickzenauthor .

Thanks for your patience. :)

The Vanguard: My Current #WIP and Some Cool Ancient Civilization Facts!

My current work in progress (WIP)is “The Vanguard: The Cats that Conquered Egypt.” This is about the Battle of Pelusium, which took place in 525 BCE between the Ancient Egyptians and Persians. Legend has it that the Persians put cats (and other animals, although this part gets left out of a lot of retellings) on the battlefield before them in order to discourage the Egyptians from attacking; the Egyptians at that time held cats sacred and actually put to death anyone who killed a cat, even if it was by accident.

When Cambyses attacked Pelusium, which guarded the entrance into Egypt, the Egyptians defended it with great resolution. They advanced formidable engines against the besiegers, and hurled missiles, stones, and fire at them from their catapults. To counter this destructive barrage, Cambyses ranged before his front line dogs, sheep, cats, ibises, and whatever other animals the Egyptians hold sacred. The Egyptians immediately stopped their operations, out of fear of hurting the animals, which they hold in great veneration. Cambyses captured Pelusium, and thereby opened up for himself the route into Egypt.

Polyaenus - Strategems, VII.9 (Published 163 A.D.)

Realistically, this almost certainly didn’t happen and if anything like it DID happen, the Persians probably just painted cats and/or Egyptian gods on their shields. But it’s a great story, and I do love my cat legends.

This is the African Wildcat. From what I’ve been reading, this is probably what ancient Egyptian cats looked like. Honestly, it’s probably what ALL cats looked like at that time. But for the sake of differentiating them in my head, I’ve been envisioning just Bahadur (Persian cat) as an African wildcat (i haven’t been able to find ANY descriptions of cats in ancient Persia because than I just pull up “Persian cats,” which probably didn’t develop until like, the 1700s).

This is the African Wildcat. From what I’ve been reading, this is probably what ancient Egyptian cats looked like. Honestly, it’s probably what ALL cats looked like at that time. But for the sake of differentiating them in my head, I’ve been envisioning just Bahadur (Persian cat) as an African wildcat (i haven’t been able to find ANY descriptions of cats in ancient Persia because than I just pull up “Persian cats,” which probably didn’t develop until like, the 1700s).

The story starts about a year or so before the battle and tells the background leading up to the battle from the point of view of two cats. One cat, Bahadur (this is Farsi for “fighter”), lives in the royal palace kitchens in Persepolis, Persia, and ends up befriending an Egyptian woman who is sent to the Persian King as a decoy wife (he had asked for the current pharaoh’s daughter in marriage; he actually sent the PREVIOUS pharoah’s daughter instead, which Cambyses took as a grave insult). The other cat, Nedjem (which actually just means “sweetie” - Egyptian cats weren’t usually given individual names), is the in-house cat in the Department for the Protection of Cats (Upper Egypt branch) in Thebes. This government agency (which actually existed, although we have no idea what it was actually called or how exactly it functioned) existed to prevent the exportation of cats out of Egypt. I’ve also put them in charge of punishing people who hurt or kill cats, as it makes sense to me, but I have no actual evidence that this was the case.

I had planned on publishing this on Amazon in July but it’s actually still not finished, for a few reasons. The primary reason is that my face and head have hurt for most of the last month, which made it harder for me to like, concentrate on anything, and I’ve had to spend a lot more time at various doctors’ offices lately than I’d like. Ends up I have a deviated septum which is causing all the problems and I’m getting a septoplasty next Wednesday for it. Yay. PLUS, this story has honestly just been a lot more complicated and interesting and difficult than I thought it would be. It’s turned from a short story into more of a novella, as it’s over 14,000 words now and I still have a few more chapters to write.

So since the story itself isn’t quite out yet, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite tidbits I’ve learned in my research.

It’s unlikely that cats in ancient Egypt actually looked like an Egyptian Mau looks like now, but they’re so pretty, and I love them, so I’m imagining Nedjem as a Mau. :)

It’s unlikely that cats in ancient Egypt actually looked like an Egyptian Mau looks like now, but they’re so pretty, and I love them, so I’m imagining Nedjem as a Mau. :)

Egypt:

There’s evidence that every cat in Ancient Egypt was considered a demi-god. Mere humans couldn’t own a cat, and all cats were under the guardianship of the pharaoh.

Diodorus Siculus wrote “Whoever kills a cat in Egypt is condemned to death, whether he committed this crime deliberately or not. The people gather and kill him. An unfortunate Roman, who accidentally killed a cat, could not be saved, either by King Ptolemy of Egypt or by the fear which Rome inspired.”

Instructions for the deceased were written on the inside of sarcophagi. These would remind the soul of who they’d been in life and what to do in the afterlife.

Persia:

Ancient Persians practiced Zoroastrianism, the world’s oldest monotheistic religion. Zoroastrians consider both water and fire life-sustaining, so they generally pray in the presence of some form of fire. They did not build temples, altars, or statues of their god. As they conquered numerous other countries, they allowed them to keep their temples and practice their religions, but did not build any new ones. It’s believed that the tenets of Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) were all shaped by Zoroastrianism, as it established the idea of one god, heaven, hell, and a judgment day. It’s still practiced today, particularly in India.

Oh fun fact - “Magi” literally refers to priests of zoroastrianism. So the three Magi were three…priests of zoroastrianism. I thought all this time it was just a fancy word for “wise men.” That must be a thing they just tell you at church.

Zoroastrians didn’t really like cats - it was sad they were created by an evil spirit and there were numerous supersitions against them- but plenty of ancient Persians kept cats as pets anyway. At one point, there was a prince who loved his cat so much that petitioners would write out their requests and tie them to the cat’s collar so he’d have to see them!

I'm a ChildFree MomFriend and That's Just Fine With Me.

I used to think I really wanted kids, but over time, as I grew up and realized that I didn’t have to want the same things as everyone else, I determined that it was a lot more complicated than that.

Now, I’m not anti-kids at all.My nieces are one of the best parts of my life and I really enjoy talking to children. They’re hilarious. But I also really enjoy handing them back to the parents at the end of the day and going home with my husband to a quiet house. I totally support any of my friends who want to have kids and will cheer them on and give their kids stuffed animals and personalized onesies galore, but it’s just not for me. And John agrees as well!

Me as a kid, with my dad. I was a handful, can you tell? And let’s just be honest, if John and I procreated, our child would be way too smart and mischievous for anyone’s good.

Me as a kid, with my dad. I was a handful, can you tell? And let’s just be honest, if John and I procreated, our child would be way too smart and mischievous for anyone’s good.

I DO have some very maternal qualities, and I really enjoy taking care of other people. A friend labeled me “a momfriend” not too long ago, and I loved it. I want to check in on my friends and make sure they’re doing okay; I definitely worry about them and try to help them whenever I can. I love having a house that my friends feel comfortable in and I hope they realize that they can always come over if they need to get away from their parents or roommates or boyfriends or whatever. I like feeding people! I also adore my cats and mother them ferociously. But just because I have those qualities doesn’t mean I want to be an actual parent.

First, I have lots of medical issues, y’all. Chronic neck pain from osteoarthritis, clinical depression (which is controlled and generally stable now, but still exists and is a real concern in my life), ADHD, the New Fun Unnamed Chronic Pain is still rearing its ugly head pretty regularly, bad allergies, plantar fascitis (so my feet hurt all the time, yay), occasional tendinitis in my wrists, and now I have this deviated septum thing that needs to be fixed. Have I mentioned I also have a bicuspid aortic heart valve? I literally have a valve in my heart that’s SUPPOSED to be 3-sided but is actually 2-sided. This doesn’t generally cause a problem, but it does make me more prone to infections and such. And I’m 31! Like - who knows what else is wrong with me that I just haven’t discovered yet? I may develop something new tomorrow. And pregnancy and a baby would literally make all of those issues worse. It wouldn’t improve /any/ of them.

Second, partly because of said medical issues, partly because of…just my own personal feelings, pregnancy is like one of the most terrifying things in the world to me. My body does PLENTY of things on its own already that I don’t want it to do; the thought of actually losing it to another being is really unpleasant. Every time I hear about someone’s pregnancy or what it does to them, I just….ugh, no. It sounds awful. No, thank you. I’ve already firmly decided that if I ever DO change my mind and want a child (not likely), adoption is the way we’re going. I know it’s expensive and not easy, but pregnancy is just not a thing I’m ever willing to go through. My feelings might rise to the level of an actual phobia of pregnancy, honestly; it’s called tokophobia! It sounds like it’s hellish for people who WANT kids but are terrified of pregnancy/childbirth; I feel lucky that that’s not my situation.

I did almost buy this father’s day card for John and sign it from the cats, but I just sent him a picture to save $5 instead, lol. (He HATES the entire concept of calling pets your children, hah).

I did almost buy this father’s day card for John and sign it from the cats, but I just sent him a picture to save $5 instead, lol. (He HATES the entire concept of calling pets your children, hah).

Third, from a purely practical standpoint, life is expensive and my husband and I are often struggling even just with us two. And we’re lawyers! We’re better paid than many! But our house has lots of issues that still need to be fixed and my body persists in developing new problems that require lots of money, so money is still a serious concern. I can’t even comprehend the idea of trying to fit a kid into our budget.

Finally, I just really like my life the way it is. I enjoy having time to spend with my husband and with my friends. I like being able to participate in community theater. I love that my day job is flexible enough that I can also fit in writing on this blog and creative writing! I want to travel the world and see everything out there. These things are all certainly possible with children, but they are certainly much more difficult. And it should be! I value children enough to know that having them shouldn’t be a default or an afterthought. I don’t want to have kids unless I KNOW I really want them and am wiling to put in the time and money and effort needed to being the best parent I can be for that kid (not in a pinterest perfect way but in a “I need to help this tiny human become a decent person” way). And I’m not willing to do that, so - nope! No thanks. I’ll spoil my family’s kids and friends’ kids instead. :)