Three ways to enjoy the holiday season

Benihana Christmas One party

If you’re not interested in simply gritting your teeth and pushing through the holiday season, I have some tips to help you through the duration of December with a remnant of your sanity intact.

1) Don’t leave your house

This is probably the biggest reason you’re feeling stressed. Going out shopping and seeing people purchasing expensive items, especially with cash, is sure to make the mug you picked out for your parents look like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Instead of venturing out into the wild, do your shopping at home. This way you’ll be clueless as to what everyone else is buying and be able to relish in your sensible gifting finds.

2) It’s best to avoid excess caffeine

Sure, caffeine puts a little zest in your step and it might help fight off depression, but it can also heighten feelings of anxiety and leave your body dehydrated. The last thing you’ll want to have happen, while shopping in an overcrowded and over-heated store, is to have a panic attack while feeling like a sock is stuck in your throat. Bring some water, lose the coffee, and hope for the best.

3) Set a spending limit with friends and family

Money is a huge issue this time a year. Most people feel like they don’t have enough of it. The best way to counter the inadequacy blues is to set a spending limit on gifts. This way no one has to feel guilty and everyone can better enjoy the company around them without fear of being judged for the amount they spent on a gift. With the money you save on gifts, why not donate a percentage to charity.

This year make spending time with the ones you love a priority!

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Finding Metaphors in Everything

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Once, mere minutes before a boyfriend broke up with me, I sat outside a subway stop in the rain, waiting for him to meet me at the designated break-up time. OK, I didn’t know it was going to be a designated break-up time. I thought we were meeting for a date, possibly a riveting Scrabble game. But I remember I was running late, and lucky for me, I grabbed an express train at a crowded transfer station. When Dude finally got there, he apologized for his lateness, he said he had to take local because the stations were so crowded and the lines were apparently caught in train traffic. We realized that we were actually on the same local train at one point, but whereas I risked the swap, he decided to stay on. Later that night, when I was walking past Lincoln Center with plastic Duane Reade bags of all of my stuff — Scrabble game included — I laughed at that fateful metaphor glaring right at me. I also cried but that was about the break-up, rather than seeing the metaphor. Continue reading

Teach Me To Write

If only writing was easy to learn, like math.

If only writing was easy to learn, like math.

I’m an English major. I do a lot of reading and a lot of writing, and a lot of complaining about reading and writing. Sometime around my sophomore year, I had to choose a concentration within my major: creative writing or literature. I want to be a writer, not a professor or academic, so I chose creative writing. The choice was obvious.

As the classes, semesters, and years went by, it became less and less obvious. One fall, when choosing what classes to take the next semester, I had a conversation with a friend, also a creative writing major, about this. We both were out of literature credits (all English majors had to take a couple) and were faced Continue reading

The Writing on a Bus Writing Exercise

I was a commuter college student. I spent the dark hours of the morning on a bus headed into Atlanta, watching the sun rise right as my fellow passengers and I started to exit off the highway. And man did I love it. Naps, study time, reading time, and, yes, writing time. That hour was my favorite time of day, yes even if I had to study. It was the most productive time I ever spent.

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5 Things to Write About Today

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Pooh is brainstorming.

I never know what to write about. Somehow, there are simultaneously too many and not enough topics. So I go to books—I had to read Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg once for class, and I’ve found that helpful for memoir or personal essayish things. I also sometimes just let myself react to things people have said to me, or things in the news, or things I can see without getting up from my desk.

Water bottle. Stack of books. Pile of laundry I have to fold. (So those times I usually end with me just doing laundry, not writing. Which is actually fine, because laundry is usually more urgent anyway.)

But for those of you who aren’t in school, or don’t read books (you should read books) or don’t want to end up dong laundry, here’s a list of five things to write about. Feel free to add your own favorite topics or prompts in the comments.

  1. Your dog. If you don’t have a dog, write about someone else’s dog. This probably won’t work if you’re a cat person, in which case, move on to number 2. (Do not write about your cat. It is evil and deserves no contemplation.)
  1. Your family. It’s hard at first, because you might not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But tell yourself that no one has to read something just because you write it, and after it’s done you can always just hit delete and never look at it again. Plus, if its brilliant enough, it might be worth losing your spot at Thanksgiving.
  1. A conversation you’ve heard on the street. Don’t act like you don’t eavesdrop. You have heard a strange snippet of conversation as two people walk past you. Did it leave you intrigued? My most recent experience of this was,

“But, like, she didn’t say no one likes square dancing.” (Is it really something you have to say?)

  1. Someone you hate. This might be easiest—we don’t care about hurting their feelings, we have tons of reasons, and no one wants to listen to it unless it’s well written and funny. So make it well written and funny, and tell me us you hate them.
  1. An old story. Take something you like—whether it’s Cinderella or Slumbdog Millionaire, and remake it. Change it, play with it, make it your own. It’s not stealing, it’s flattery. Right?

Good luck, I’m sure you’ll be brilliant!*

*This is a pointless compliment designed to give you confidence at the beginning of your writing process. You might be dumbest person alive for all I know.

What I Think About at Work

If anyone ever tells you, “I’m completely devoted mind, body, and soul to my job while I’m at work,” this person is likely the biggest, fattest liar you know. Why? People daydream while they’re driving, while they’re having family interventions, during sex, the moment one realizes someone is staring at them in an extremely close and uncomfortable manner. We all daydream. My job is typically, almost always, quiet and most time the only way around it is to talk to my co-worker, raise some hell, or think up pleasant or horrifying scenarios in my head; my favorite on being finding a huge stash of money while I’m walking my dog, in all honesty it’s my most replayed fantasy.

Since working in a beige box doesn’t provide much of a jumping point for creative stimulation, I have reliable sources of mental inspiration. Here are some thoughts that help get me through the day.

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A Fascination with Literary Groups

myself

Writing isn’t as much of a hermit hobby as I thought. Sure, when I was younger and well into my teens, I hid any type of writing I did in a document on our family computer under my initials and a number. I probably thought I was being sneaky about how I would come into the living room and add to my story — a riff off of Little Women about a girl and boy’s school post Civil War where we grow up with the characters and watch them try to make it in the changed world — but my sister finally looked over my shoulder at the Word doc on my screen and read the chapter’s title aloud to me. “What’s Joe’s boat?” she asked without emotion, though my 13 year old heart grew embarrassed at her blatant disregard for my privacy. Continue reading

Poor Writers Recommendations: Memoirs

I always take my coffee with sugar and a huge leaf.

I always take my coffee with sugar and a huge leaf.

*Disclaimer: this list is completely based on what I read recently and/or am staring at in my bookshelf. It is in no way ranked in order and some of my favorite books and authors have been left out for no good reason at all. Maybe they’ll make it next time if the prices of their readings go down. (I’m looking at you, David Sedaris.)

I decided to make a list of some memoir books I like, mostly because my fellow poor writers gave me the idea and I couldn’t think of anything better. Also, though, memoir seems like an appropriate fall genre, kind of nostalgic and academic and orange. Or at least, that’s my spin. Continue reading

Is it calling it quits?

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I’ve been working for a little over a year now, trying to get into the blogging industry and semi-succeeding with the internships and freelancing opportunities I’ve had, but I realized the other day that I’m not happy. I thought that the feeling I had when I would tell people what I did was me being happy, but even though I could tell people I was writing, that I was living in New York, and that I liked the companies I worked for, I wasn’t happy or getting anywhere really.

To an extent, I can proudly say that I’ve learned a lot about an industry that I wanted to be a part of. I got clips. I got experience. I met some really cool people and filled out a resume. But when I realized that this uphill battle was getting steeper rather than leveling out, I knew that I needed to reevaluate what I was doing.

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Social Media, Get Away, Please

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Social media spells tragedy for some and fame for others. Social media wreaks of opportunity, yet leads to the subtle unravelling of social awareness and relationships… potentially. I hear from many people how much they love Facebook as it brings them closer to their friends and family, while allowing people from their pasts back into their lives and not always for the better. If you really take a second, how connected are you really?

At this point in time I recognize the bulk of my friends as tiny avatars floating the screens of both my laptop and cell phone, I know the wee bits of their lives through stylized photos on Instagram, what tidbits they scatter on Twitter, and of course by the carefully selected narratives displayed on Facebook.

The times I’m off Social Media completely, are the times I realize I have nothing useful to say to such an audience of people. I don’t know how much the quality of my breakfast means to anyone, or why it should. If something worthwhile has happened I figure, it won’t get too many likes anyway and my fingers back away from the keyboard and onto something more pressing, like a novel that I need to finish.

Is this the sum of my life, tweetable, likable material for everyone to gawk at?

Ugh, the grind of seeming like you’ve gotten your shit together. What’s the big deal about having everything figure out? How did the picture of perfection come to be a series of perfected candids and hashtags? I too have succumbed to this seduction! I used to make sure to update my profile pictures, I’d pick out just the right bands and shows so everyone would see how unlame I was. Meanwhile, I was still listening to
S Club 7, loving every minute of it.

I envy people who have jumped the social media cruise ship. While there are pluses and bonuses to everything, social media included, I resent that it’s become such a pervasive part of my life. For work I use it, at work I’m forever explaining to people how to use it, and I hear elderly people rag on my generation for using it. “These young people don’t know how to have a good time without some thingamajig in their faces.” Just leave me be, leave me be.

I miss the days of simplicity. Myspace in all of it’s customization embracing chillness. I used to scout sites for new backgrounds, make playlists, and bask at my efforts. Maybe the difference is age, maybe the difference is we mistake distance for connection. The day I’m able to reach through a computer screen to hug someone, well, that’ll be real progress.