My Least Favorite Question: “How is the writing going?”

Five years ago I was accosted by a girl in my head. She showed up uninvited, as if she’d been waiting for the opportunity to pounce. She told me her name, her story, and then sat down to wait as I considered it.

In secret, I started to type.

Within days I came out to my husband as a wannabe novelist – a surprise to both of us – and confessed that I had no clue what I was doing. Could he still love me if I followed a crazy dream? Did he think I had potential? Can a nobody journalist just morph into a somebody novelist? Furthermore, why do people show up in your brain if you’re not meant to do anything with them? 

He nudged me forward. Yes, do it. OF COURSE DO IT. So I did, and that’s how Leona came to be. Then Mallory showed up two years later, and now a third cast of people have arrived. The new ones are still in progress, but frankly, so are Leona and Mallory because I’m still learning about them. Just today, while on a long run, I discovered something else that belongs in Novel No. 2. Like a sweet gift, she whispered something in my ear and I ran harder to mull it over properly.

This dream is not gone, not even a little. In between the freelance writing, the homeschooling, the teaching, the photography… I am still thinking of my characters. I carry them with me. I know which chapters need trimming. I know which plot points need attention. I know these matters will be tended to at the correct time.

But oh, some of you still ask, and you are dear to me. You are. Please know that I covet your support in that rooted, quiet way. When my time comes, I know some of you will race to buy a copy my book. You’ll jump at the chance. THANK GOD FOR YOU. Yet, I cannot bear to answer this question – “How is the writing going?” – because it nearly kills me every time. There is no suitable answer.

How do I summarize the hours I’ve spent crafting these stories, or the hours I’ve spent just thinking about them? How do I explain the many query letters I’ve sent out only to receive rejections in return? How do I describe the requests for full manuscripts – real jolts of hope – only to be told that something is not quite right? How do I harness the encouraging feedback from industry professionals and churn that into a better story? 

And how, please tell me, do I balance the things I must do with the things I long to do? That is something I’m sure you all understand.

Perhaps I should return to the monastery. Something about that feels right.

So yes. I’m still writing. OF COURSE I AM. There is no need to ask. Until further notice, assume EVERYTHING FORWARD.

Book Review: Homegoing

(This review was originally published on The Same, an online literary journal for women, by women.)

Every once in a while I read a book so intense that I have to put it down and breathe. Or cry, or do some sort of mundane task in order to calm down. The Kite Runner is one of those books. In parts, so was The Devil of Nanking and Between Shades of Gray.

Homegoing begins in 18th Century Ghana. Two half sisters, Effia and Esi, don’t know the other exists, and thus begins a 300-year journey that follows their genealogical lines into modern time.

Effia, known for her unmatched beauty among her tribe, is married off to a wealthy and influential Englishman who oversees the British slave trade headquartered on the Gold Coast. She raises their son, Quey, in the Cape Coast Castle, a lush and expensive living Effia has never known, but beneath the floorboards lies another world. It is in the dungeons of that same castle where captives lay shackled together, knowing the Door of No Return leads to a cross-Atlantic slave ship.

Esi is the daughter of a tribal warrior, strong and proud, but when she is captured, kept in the castle dungeon, and sold into slavery, her status is erased, as if her position in the tribal region never mattered at all. Esi develops nerves of steel, a sort of resolve that grows from the gut. She enters the slave trade and gives birth to a daughter, Ness. The family line continues.  

From there, two narratives unfold – one in Africa, one in America. It is one long family story, but it is also fourteen interlaced short stories. Each chapter is told from the next family member in line, offering a unique perspective that spotlights how oral history morphs and shifts depending on the audience. For the family in Africa, there is honor, recognition, veneration, but for those plucked from their land, from their touchstone and their identity, there is bitterness and a sting that lingers as a constant undercurrent.

I want to say that author Yaa Gyasi streamlines this family’s history effortlessly, but I know better. From the level of detail, the pitch-perfect characterization, and the way in which we walk through three centuries without even thinking about what year we’re in, it’s clear that her research was extensive and exhaustive. Her writing style is beautiful. There’s no way it was effortless.

Please continue reading on The Same.

That time I was questioned by the police

A couple of days ago I was on a six-mile run while listening to West Cork, an Audible True Crime series, which is set up like a podcast. (If you enjoyed Serial and S-Town, I recommend you give it a try.) The particular episode I was listening to centered around the Irish Garda’s (police) questioning of a murder suspect, and suddenly I was struck by the memory that I, too, had been questioned by the police.

Not for murder, mind you. For fraud, forgery, and theft.

This was me in college. I was an A/B student – only one C, thank you very much, and it was in Geology,  a mind-numbing class about rocks.

This photo was taken in 1998 in my office when I served as editor of the university newspaper. Behind my head on the wall is a poster of Jon Bon Jovi. To my right, on the shelf, is a framed photo of Chuck and me. I was the student who got up early to exercise, rode my bike to campus, hung out in the newsroom when I had free time, and studied hard for every exam. In addition to the newspaper, I also worked part-time at the front desk of a local hotel, an ideal job for a college student because I could study when not helping guests. I had nary a blemish on my record.

Imagine my disbelief, then, when I was called in to the Murfreesboro Police Department for questioning. I had no clue why I’d been contacted, so I started recounting my steps for weeks and months on end. Had I gone somewhere? Had I seen something? Had I done something? Why do police officers look so scary in interview rooms? 

I sat down at the table and the two male officers looked back at me. I remember clearly a distinct silence before a file was opened and one of the officers took a breath to speak.

“Do you know why we wanted to talk to you?”

I either shook my head or said no.

The officer read my address to me and asked if I lived in that particular apartment. I said I did. (As a reward for earning the editor position, I moved off campus into my own one-bedroom apartment. The rent was $390 per month and my cat, Precious, was able to live with me.) He asked how long I’d lived in that apartment, and at the time, it had been less than a year.

Then he placed in front of me a series of checks written out to various stores in the local mall. They weren’t checks from my bank account, and my name wasn’t on any of them. He asked if I recognized the checks, and I said no.

He asked, “Are you sure?”

I examined them more closely. They belonged to a woman, evident by the printed name in the top left-hand corner, and they’d been filled out by a woman, evident by the big, loopy cursive handwriting. Still, they weren’t mine, nor were they filled out by me. I either shook my head or said no.

The officer explained that a box of checks had been delivered to my apartment – or rather, the metal mailbox associated with my apartment located at the front of the complex.

“I don’t use that mailbox,” I said. Relief washed over me. “The lock doesn’t work so the door just hangs open. I only use my campus mailbox.”

Another bout of silence.

“Only junk mail gets delivered to the apartment. I don’t use that mailbox. I don’t even check it.”

My relief faded. I realized that whether or not I used the mailbox for my own mail didn’t matter. If a box of blank checks had been delivered there, in theory, I still could’ve taken them and used them.

“I didn’t take the checks. I didn’t do this.”

The checks were collected and set aside, and a blank notepad and pen were placed in front of me. I was to sign my name several times, then sign the name of the person whose name had been forged.

A handwriting sample.

This was the real deal. I was a suspect in a crime. (Cue Law & Order gavel.)

I panicked as I started to sign my own name because I was certain they’d doubt me. As a 20-year-old creative person, my signature was known to change shape. It depended on my mood, my effort, the time I had to sign something. Sometimes it was coiled and messy, other times it was neat and professional.

I endeavored to sign my name authentically. Then, I moved on to the stranger’s name. I signed it over and over again, each on a new line, then I pushed the notepad back across the table so the police officer could inspect it.

Then he said something I will never forget.

“I have to say – this looks very similar.”

He brought the checks back to the center of the table and placed the notepad next to them. Yes, they looked similar, in that twirling, spiraling way every girl’s handwriting looks similar at 20 years old. My heart pounded.

“I didn’t take those checks. It wasn’t me.

While I have no idea what I looked like sitting at that table, I’m confident I looked a mess. I’ve never been able to hide my emotions. What you see is what you get. Surely, they could’ve interpreted my fear as guilt. The truth was that I wanted to cry and call my parents. 

Then, I looked at the dates on the checks and thought of my work schedule at the hotel. Suddenly, it occurred to me that my time could be accounted for. 

“You can look at my time cards,” I offered, “at the hotel. I’m sure I was working on those days.”

I went on to recount my work schedule, knowing my time cards would validate that I was seated at the front desk on the clock when the real thief was clothes shopping with someone else’s money. I gave them my boss’ name and number and told them to verify that what I was saying was true.

They let me go with the warning that if my time couldn’t be accounted for I would be contacted again. 

Thankfully, my boss provided the life-saving time cards that coincided with the dates written on the stolen checks. I was both grateful my name had been cleared and mortified that it had been associated with a crime in the first place.

I never heard from the police again.

The last thing I did was call the leasing office at the apartment complex to tell them what hell I’d just been through and to get the dang lock fixed on my mailbox.

A year and a half later, when I moved out of the apartment, the lock was still broken and the mailbox continued to be stuffed with junk mail address to “Current Resident.”

Part Three: Don’t Waste Time

You can start here if you like. You can also start with Part One where I talk about the importance of self-care and move through Part Two, which is about caring for those closest to you, but starting here is fine because this is a rule I adhere to with fervency. I push it onto everyone I know. I am the pusher of Don’t Waste Time. It is likely I’ve said this to you in person if our paths cross in any way.

A history: I am a recovering Yes Person. I spent my 20s working in church nurseries because I was asked to. I helped with children’s choir, despite the fact that I cannot sing. I agreed to participate in groups and outings and events because I felt obligated to. I went places I didn’t want to go and did things I didn’t want to do because I was a people pleaser, and HEAVEN FORBID SOMEONE NOT LIKE ME.

By my 30s, I began to recognize that I have certain skill sets and running children’s choir was not one of them. By the time we joined our current church almost six years ago, I was able to say with confidence, “I am not interested in working with children, but I’m happy to help with communications and photography.” This wasn’t just about using my time and talents wisely; rather, it was about recognizing that I had wasted a lot of time doing things that were not meant for me, and I no longer wanted to do that.

It was a personal prison, and it wasn’t exclusive to volunteer or work-related choices. I’d hung on to friendships that weren’t really friendships. I engaged in conversations that were not my concern, and I spent a lot of energy worrying about inconsequential, unimportant things. I cannot calculate how much bad television I have watched. 

It nagged me as my 30s unfolded. Why hadn’t I learned the power of No earlier? Perhaps that’s the natural progression of things. You don’t understand how necessary No is until you’ve wasted so many Yeses.

Then something happened in our family that anchored Don’t Waste Time so deep in my gut that I started saying it loudly and clearly to anyone who would listen. My sister-in-law, Tami, died suddenly at 47 years old. One day she was moving along in her wonderful life. The next day, gone. Just like that. At 47.

What. the. hell.

In the shock of her death I stamped out an email to my closest girlfriends telling them all sorts of things that should happen if I die suddenly – an actual list of things to do – and OH MY GOODNESS how does this happen to someone who is ONLY 47.

From that moment on, to the best of my ability, I have not wasted time. I’ve said no to the things I don’t want to do and YES to the things I know will be good for me or good for others. It’s rampant, I tell you. I AM ALL ABOUT IT.

No, I will not serve on that board right now, but ask me again in a year.

No, I will not teach elementary age classes at co-op, but yes, I will teach high school.

Yes, I would love to take a group photo for your non-profit for free.

No, I will not watch This Is Us anymore because I’m tired of being manipulated each week.

Yes, I will accept this freelance assignment, but no, I won’t accept that one.

On and on it goes. My No is No and my Yes is Yes. Occasionally, I will take time to consider my options and make a decision after some thought, but my instincts are strong. I know what’s meant for me and I know what is not. When I’ve been unclear, a quick chat with Chuck or my sister or a close friend clears it right up.

How does this connect to self-care?

In a dozen different ways. Consider your time and energy like a bank account. How much you spend and where you spend it is a reflection of your priorities. Are you investing in what matters to you most? Or are you blowing your precious, limited time on a bunch of life-sucking nonsense because you lack the confidence or courage to say no?

Hear me: Don’t Waste Time.

Don’t waste time on relationships that aren’t mutual and restorative. Be friendly to all and be generous when you can, but don’t dig into the reserves of your time and energy when the returns aren’t there.

Don’t waste time on projects, activities, and other participation-based events that don’t align with your priorities, talents, and availability. Don’t say yes out of obligation. Don’t agree to something when your gut is screaming no. Please, oh please hear me on this. Say yes only when you know you’ve got the time, energy, and passion to devote to it.

Don’t waste time on bad television, bad food, and bad company. Junk in, junk out. It’s that simple.

Don’t waste time wishing something would come your way. CLAW AT IT. Be aggressive. You have a dream? Turn it into a plan. What in the world are you waiting for?

Don’t waste time scrolling. I’m still learning this, if I’m honest. I enjoy social media, but at the same time, I despise it. We are meant for personal connection, and social media is not personal connection. People are not interchangeable with screens.

A few more things…

Rest is not wasting time. Rest is restoration, a necessary recharge. How I rest may not be how you rest, so I won’t tell you how you should rest. Just know that it’s important to find a way to log off, shut down, and be still.

Time spent thinking and waiting is not wasting time. Did you know that Bill Gates schedules time specifically dedicated to thinking? He weeds out all distractions and funnels his energy into thinking. He’ll read, go for walks, have light, easy meals, and think. There’s a lesson to be learned here, especially since our society is entirely too focused on glorifying how busy we are. If you need time to think, take it.

Finally, trying something new is not wasting time. Don’t be too quick on the no. Say yes to things you’re not sure about because you may learn something. Don’t like it? Never do it again. Love it? Make it your new hobby. Going through the experience of trying something new, no matter the outcome, is time well spent.

I think I’m done here. I’ve written down all the things I keep saying to people in real life. It is from my deepest heart that something has resonated with you or helped in some way. God bless you for hanging in there and reaching the last paragraph. I hope, sincerely, that I’ve not wasted your time.


Part Two: Caring for Others

Read Part One first.

The reason to take care of yourself first can be summed up with a simple analogy: You can’t draw water from an empty well.  How well (or poorly) I care for my family is almost directly connected to how well (or poorly) I care for myself.

If I’m not good mind, body, and soul, they suffer for it. It’s that simple.

So why, when talking about self-care, do I even consider other people? They aren’t me, nor do I expect them to be like me, but their lives are wholly intertwined with mine. These precious people – my husband, my children, my dearest friends – are an extension of me. Their wellness, on varying levels, is directly connected to mine. When they hurt, I hurt for them. When they need help, I want to offer a hand. When they need a hug, I want to be first in line.

Because my personal hierarchy of care moves from me to my husband, we’ll go there next.

You might read these questions and think, “Wow, girl. Sounds like it’s all about him!” That would be true if 1) I wasn’t already taking care of myself, and 2) he wasn’t already an attentive, connected husband.

In truth, caring for my spouse works because he is caring for me in tandem. These things parallel each other in an ideal world – we’re both listening to each other, we’re both making one another a priority, we’re both saying what needs to be said and keeping quiet on stuff that doesn’t matter. We aren’t perfect in this arena but THANK THE SWEET LORD ALMIGHTY we have learned from our mistakes and try hard not to repeat them.

[Note: In fractured marriages, it is exponentially difficult to know what to do, what to say, and how to behave. When matters are dire, a check-list of questions for self-awareness isn’t enough. Seek help. Go to a professional. Yes, take care of yourself, but please – move outside the circle and wave a red flag.]

In our house, the marriage comes before the kids, barring emergencies and individual circumstances. We are careful about this too, rotating between family trips together and vacations where we leave the kids with family members to run off by ourselves. We balance date nights and family outings. We consult each other on big decisions because even if we know what the other parent will say we want the boys to see that Mom and Dad are a team. Over and over again we’ve put this hierarchy to the test and it has never failed us. Not once have we regretted it.

So what about the kids, these little people who require so much of our time, energy, and emotional strength? They have needs, big and small, and for me to be the best mother I can be, both my marriage and I need to be in their best possible shape.

Raising kids is hard, y’all. HARD, HARD, HARD. What makes it manageable, however, is being intentional, present, and willing to work through whatever is thrown our way. If I want to care for my sons in the way I feel called to, then I must pay attention to their whole being. I need to make clear our household priorities are and then draft a workable plan. I need to be flexible (because plot twists happen) and I must be willing to back up, re-evaluate, and try again.

Have I mentioned that parenting is hard? Wasn’t sure if I made that clear. (Now you see why self-care is crucial.)

If my home is at some level of peace (we aren’t talking high scores here, folks. We’re talking manageable), then I’m best equipped to care for my dearest friends and family. My tribe of girlfriends is precious to me, and they have carried me through low times. When I am healthy, I am able to help carry them. Like a marriage, these relationships work in tandem.

To have a tribe of people outside of your spouse and children means you have a touchstone for celebrating good times and a reliable place to land when everything crumbles. These relationships do not exist without their own need for nourishment. When I invest in my friendships, the returns are incalculable. 

All of these thoughts and questions were born from a couple of hours with a notepad. They may not be grand revelations for some of you, and I realize certain situations call for different questions.

However, the importance of self-care can’t be overstated. No one can take care of you like you can. Before you run on empty caring for everyone else, fill up your own tank. Invest in the short, sweet life you’ve been given and stop wasting time on what’s not meant for you.

Part Three: Don’t Waste Time.

Part One: On the Importance of Self-Care

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. Sometimes it’s hard for me to know when to share something or if I should keep it to myself altogether.

Today is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, a perfect combination if you think about it, so it seemed like the best possible day to speak on vulnerable things. 

Last summer, sometime around my birthday, I started doodling on a notepad. I was deep in thought about how to take better care of myself – a mundane topic for some, but monumentally important to me. As someone who’s always struggled with a depressive side, it can take an extra effort to move through the day intentionally, to resist the urge to crawl into bed and introvert so hard that a sturdy wall builds between the rest of the world and me.

Years ago I talked about this depressive streak with my grandmother. She, too, lives with the same little curse. She said, “I guess I’m just turned this way,” and it was then that I realized depression isn’t a cold. You don’t catch it a couple of times a year. It’s always stirring under the surface. Sometimes you feel it coming on slow and steady like a hurricane, and sometimes it pops up like a tornado, fast and furious, and you aren’t prepared at all.

There I sat doodling, drawing circles and lines and names, trying to discern how best to care for my mind, my body, my home, my relationships. Without medication (I’ve been there) and counseling (I’ve done that) and draining the energy out of my husband and closest friends (thanks y’all), I tried to figure out what is absolutely necessary to give myself the best possible chance of success in most circumstances.

While there are times when medication, professional counseling, and reaching out for external help are crucial, I have learned that how I care for myself has the greatest impact on how I move through the world. It is the core from which all the other stuff flows. 

Therefore, it starts with me, and since I’m married and view marriage as a fortress that must be rooted and built up, my husband comes next. Then come the boys, and after that, my closest friendships and family members.

This flow of care is controversial, no doubt. I know many moms whose flow of care is arranged differently, and I don’t intend to tackle or speak to their reasons why. Each woman (and man, for that matter) is capable of arranging her own hierarchies as she sees fit. Also, some of you are single with kids, or married without kids, or in various other ages and stages of life. The hierarchy shifts as life does. Of course!

WHICH IS TO SAY the hierarchy of care is fluid. There are times when care shifts depending on need, but when relationships are in good health, those shifts don’t shatter the system. Simply having a newborn shifts the hierarchy of the house temporarily. Basically, if I need to put more energy into myself, my husband, a friend, etc., I do.

So what does it look like inside each of the circles? I doodled those too.

Me First

While this goes against what we teach our children (“Others First”), I’m curious to know if we’ve made a wrong turn somewhere, like we’ve given no room for caveats. How can we care for others when we are not well ourselves? I keep coming back to this question: If I am struggling to stay above water, how can I be a reliable life jacket for any one else?

So, if my goal is to be the best possible person, the healthiest and most helpful to those I love, I need to address all aspects of my well-being (spiritual, emotional, physical, relational, and personal) with a list of specific questions.

First, the spiritual self.

This is the core of the core, the deepest heart space that needs the most attention. For me, it’s my relationship with God. It’s not a perfect relationship, but it’s an intentional one. When I feel the most disconnected from actual life, I can usually point back to a disconnection in my spiritual life.

Second, the emotional self.

If I let them, the burdens of the world will put me prostrate. Burdens I create for myself keep me comatose. Holding grudges, repeating mistakes, hanging on to shame – these emotional bags wear us down, so we must learn to recognize what’s poisoning the well and deal with them accordingly.

Next, the physical self.

Almost as important as my spiritual and emotional life is the attention I place on physical health. Yes, we live in a constant state of dying, but I’m not talking about physical fitness here. Body dysmorphia is my cross to carry in this world, so daily exercise isn’t about fitting into jeans or losing those last ten pounds. For me, tending to the body is the same as tending to the mind. Exercise is my best medicine, and there has been plenty of research to prove it can mentally benefit everyone. Additionally, physical care is about how we nourish our body and how we rest it. 

Then, the personal self.

We’re all given talents and gifts, passions and interests, and it can take a lifetime of sorting through those things to make the most of them. Whether they transpire as full-on careers, lifelong hobbies, or bouts of effort over periods of time, our personal work is important. I was lucky to discern my love and talent for writing early on, but it’s not always been clear what I’m supposed to do with it. When it comes to my whole health, though, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how necessary personal work is.

Finally, the relational self.

We aren’t meant to move through life alone, which can be a challenging truth for hardcore introverts. Connecting with people isn’t what’s key; it’s how we connect with them that matters. Am I doing my part? Am I being used? Who or what am I neglecting? Living in conflict crowds the mind, and frankly, life is too short to let contention grow.

When one or more of these areas is out of balance, I’m not my best self and that leaves the door open for other areas of my life to suffer. It seems like common sense now, but it’s taken me years to recognize my poor attitude or season of depression was related to one or more of these areas being ignored. Never has my life been unmanageable, but many difficult seasons could’ve been better handled had I tended to my own well-being with intention. This may be old news to you, but for me, it’s been a two-by-four to the head.

I don’t think there’s ever a time when all of these questions are answered affirmatively. We are never 100 percent, are we? Yet, if working heartily on these areas of self-care with diligence, then we’re setting ourselves up to be better partners, parents, and friends.

Next up: caring for my spouse, my children, and those I love most.

Book Review: The Trespasser

In her sixth book from the Dublin Murder Squad, Tana French hits it out of the park again. I think she’s one of the best true crime writers on the market today. French’s stories move along critically, methodically, and follow the natural course of asking whodunit.

We were introduced to Detectives Antoinette Conway and Stephen Moran in The Secret Place, which gave me pause because The Secret Place is my least favorite in the series. (Note: It wasn’t because of Conway and Moran. It was because the main characters are spoiled brat teenagers and they were terrifically obnoxious. The core of the plot was still good.)  The Trespasser is free from pesky brats, so right away I was good to go.

Conway and Moran must solve the mystery of a woman found dead in her immaculate home. She’s young and beautiful, which means the beating that caused her death was likely a domestic. An angry boyfriend, perhaps. In typical French fashion, readers follow the detectives step by step, as each layer of the onion is peeled. Privy to Conway’s inner dialogue only, we consider suspects and motives as she considers them. We analyze evidence alongside her. Moran offers input, but we, like Conway, rely on our instincts.

The Trespasser, like all of French’s novels, moves along at an appropriate pace. Not too fast, not too slow. In keeping with the rest of the series, it is less about what and more about how. It’s always the how, which keeps the brain spinning for possibilities.

Also, I listened to it on audiobook, a first for me since I own the rest on paperback. Narrator Hilda Fay has the most delightful Irish accent.

So yes, I recommend The Trespasser. More so, I recommend Tana French.

A note on the Strong Female Lead Character: I recently read a thread on Twitter that had me second-guessing my frustrations with lead character Jazz in Artemis, the strong female character I did not like and who ultimately became the reason I didn’t finish the book. Was I too harsh? Am I letting male characters be messy and flawed but not extending that grace to female leads? Am I casting them as unlikable? Am I exhibiting a bias? 

After reading The Trespasser, I’ve cut myself the slack because Detective Antoinette Conway is as strong and flawed as they come. She is pushy and snarky. She’s harassed and prodded on a daily basis and always comes out swinging. She’s got a foul mouth and a quick hand. She is exactly the woman I’d never want to cross.

So what’s the difference? The difference is in the construction. Detective Conway is a well-written, fleshed out sharp but flawed character. Jazz is a simulacrum, pieced together by a male writer who thinks Jazz is what a strong female character looks and sounds like. Those two things are not the same.

Does that mean a man cannot write a strong female lead character well? Absolutely not. Ken Follett, Wally Lamb, and Khaled Hosseini all do this effectively. Perhaps, then, this issue is best handled on a case by case, or book by book, basis rather than in sweeping statements made on Twitter.

But then, isn’t everything?

Skincare staples at almost 40

This post probably feels random for most of you, but bear with me.

One of the things I decided to do when I turned 30 was take better care of my skin. I noticed it was changing, and it was only going to change more as I aged. Drugstore products worked mostly well, so I started using a retinol to counteract the crow’s feet and laugh lines. I used scrubs, foaming washes, whatever was on sale. For most of my teen and adult years, using “whatever was on sale” worked.

However, when I turned 35, my hormones threw a party. As someone who never dealt with acne as a teenager, minus a spot here and there, I was appalled and offended that at 35 years old my face had lost its mind. It wasn’t even regular, run-of-the-mill acne. It was cystic acne, that painful, deep-rooted, takes-a-week-to-surface acne that flanked the sides of my face. It was painful and ugly, and I didn’t know how to fix it.

Fast forward five years and my skin feels normal again. I still get a spot now and again, but not only have I learned how to take care of my skin, I’ve also learned how to prevent more spots (so far).

Part of it, I believe, is diet and general healthcare. I drink a lot of water. I try not to eat a lot of sugar. I don’t touch my face a lot. I exercise, get enough sleep, and so on. Basic healthy things.

The other part of it is skin care. The first thing I did when I switched up my skin care routine was stop exfoliating. No more scrubbing and scratching my face because I needed it to CALM THE HECK DOWN. I also needed an antibacterial component to attack the acne, so I started using Cetaphil and I haven’t looked back.

[Not pictured is the Cetaphil antibacterial bar soap I use in the shower.] I use the foam wash morning and night at the sink, followed by the unscented lotion to moisturize. If I need to use makeup remover, I do that first, but I’m not using anything else to actually wash my face. Cetaphil is amazing and it’s enough.

Each morning after washing my face, I apply Mario Badescu’s Glycolic Eye Cream underneath and around my eyes, even above and between my eyebrows. If I’m going somewhere right away and want to apply makeup, I skip the eye cream and use It Cosmetics Feel the Moment Primer Serum all over my face instead.

At night, I use the Peptide Renewal Serum in the same places, as well as my neck. If I feel an acne spot starting to form, I use the Drying Lotion. If you catch the spot early enough, it will never surface. It’s weird magic.

These products are small but mighty. A little goes a long way, so while I normally wouldn’t spend $45 on a tiny dropper bottle of something, I can tell you honestly that I used the same Peptide Renewal Serum from July 2017 to mid-January 2018.

To help combat the dark scarring (thanks cystic acne!), I’ve used Murad’s Spot Serum with a lot of success. (This is a travel size. I’ve never bought the full size.)

Finally, I recently discovered a makeup product that I love, love, love. NARS tinted moisturizer is the ideal answer for someone who doesn’t want full-coverage foundation but prefers a little “veil of color.” Added bonus – it has sunscreen in it. It works like a BB Cream, but it’s actually a moisturizer.

I recognize that my skin is likely to change even further after I turn 40, but right now, it’s holding up. Minimal fuss with a little attention to trouble spots seems to do the trick. 

Book Review: Parable of the Sower

Before The Hunger Games, the Divergent Series, and The Maze Runner, there was the Parable of the Sower. Unlike today’s dystopian novels, where there is a contest to be won or a large looming government that manipulates its people for sport, Parable of the Sower is a story of survival. Written in 1993 and set in 2024, the novel lacks the technological devices (literary and otherwise) that we see in dystopian stories today, which is a feature I appreciate and prefer. There are no gadgets to get one out of a tight spot.

Lauren Olamina is the daughter of a preacher, but what she comes to believe about God, creation, and human nature is unique to her. The world she lives in isn’t compatible with her father’s faith, a world broken down by erratic climate and global economic upheaval. The dwindling family survives by banding together with others to stay alive outside the city of Los Angeles.

When a fire ravages their compound, Lauren is forced to pack up and head north. She has a feeling about it – which is important since she is a sharer, or one who lives with hyper-empathy, and follows her gut instinct at every move. Believing she has the answer that will rebuild society, a vision for Earthseed, she and a group of travelers walk to northern California to take a chance on a new life. The journey is not without loss.

Normally I’m not interested in dystopian stories. There is enough pain and frustration in our current time. Why borrow troubles from tomorrow? 

Yet, among the noise of stories like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner is a dystopian story that makes you pause. Even Station Eleven, which I loved, has an air of indulgence to it. It’s fiction, all the way, like the Handmaid’s Tale, which was written not long after Octavia Butler started the Earthseed series. So far-fetched it will never be.

Parable of the Sower is deeper than all of these stories. It’s raw and feels so real that I think, yes, we could do terrible things to each other in a state of panic. 

How scary.

You should read it.

Book Review: Armada

I’ve been adamant about my love for Ready Player One, not only listing it as one of my favorite books I read in 2017, but also pushing it on anyone who might like it – including Chuck.

Undoubtedly the stakes were high for Armada, Ernest Cline’s second book. Would it be as good? Would it even be close?

It was darn close. Inches away, even.

Armada takes place in present time. Zack Lightman is a high school senior living in Beaverton, Oregon, where his life is punctuated by video games, a part-time job at a used video game store, and hanging out with his friends. At home, it’s only he and his mom, because when he was barely a year old, his father, Xavier Lightman, died in an unfortunate accident at work. Zack carries around a perpetual sadness on account of that void.

Zack’s biggest flaw is that he’s a daydreamer, but when he spots a space craft – one that looks suspiciously like a ship from his favorite video game, Armada – floating above his school, he starts to wonder if he’s losing his mind.

When men in suits descend from the space craft and call his name for all of the high school to hear, he realizes he’s wide awake and completely sane. 

The story takes on speed when the truth about our national defense and space-based video games unfolds. It is fast and quick to the end.

Armada is a fun ride. Just as Ready Player One was an 80s kid’s dream, Armada has plenty of pop culture references to appease the reader. I don’t consider myself a science fiction fan when it comes to books, but I’m a Ernest Cline fan for sure. If you enjoyed Ready Player One, go for Armada. You won’t be disappointed.

Additionally, if you enjoy audiobooks, both of Cline’s novels are narrated by Wil Wheaton. Double points!