The Unpretentious Reader

Monthly Archive: June 2016

Turning 30: a series

Tracy and I, taken shortly before I moved in 2008.

Tracy and I, taken shortly before I moved away from Jax in 2008.

In the spirit of self-reflection and my ever-growing need to write more, I’ve decided to do a little mini series on turning 30. Because yes, I’m turning 30 next month and please excuse me while I go cry into a bowl of anti-aging face cream.

I think most people change A LOT in their 20s. It’s a vulnerable time, I’d argue even more vulnerable than high school, and the decisions you make in your 20s have the capacity to affect the rest of your life in unchangeable ways. Personally, I’ve changed quite a bit and learned quite a bit more during the past decade. And it all started with moving to Nashville…

 


 

I lay on the living room floor in a makeshift bed, trying and failing to ignore my dad’s snores drifting down the stairs from where he slept on the second floor. It was 4:00 a.m. on a mid-July morning and we were waking up in two hours to leave my hometown, the only place I’d ever known. I’d spent the past day and night soaking up time with my closest friends, not truly believing I was leaving, that I’d actually made the choice to leave. But I had. And I was.

At 6:00 a.m. the alarm clock cried out in that obnoxious way old school alarm clocks do, before the rise of iPhones, and I hadn’t slept a wink. Dad woke up, too, and silently we began to pack the last few straggler items into the U-Haul. We’d been unable to secure a trailer to tow my car, which meant for the next nine hours Dad would be driving the U-Haul, and I’d be following behind him. I kept telling myself I was the one who’d chosen to leave, that no one was making me do this.

Leaving the apartment Tracy and I had shared was an unceremonious affair. It was empty, a shell, devoid of the memories of friends, heartache, parties, and laughter it used to hold. I walked through one last time to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind, and then we drove away. Just like that.

Driving the 9 hours from Jacksonville to Nashville was old hat for me, I’d been doing it at least once a year with my parents for most of my life, but something about this drive on this day made everything stand out in sharp focus. With each passing minute, the realization that I was driving further away from the life I knew and into one I didn’t became harder and harder to ignore. I listened to angry music as loud as my ears could stand it, I cried, I called friends back home to pass the time. We stopped at a Wal-Mart so I could buy a car charger for my phone, so I could keep calling, keep up that lifeline I was so desperate to not let go of.

We got stuck in unmoving traffic in Chattanooga, forcing drivers to turn off A/Cs for fear of cars overheating in the thick July air, and at that moment I felt as if I were being punished. I could no longer remember the reasons I was doing this. I missed my parents, I knew that. I’d graduated from college two months earlier with no real purpose, no desire to keep working the job I had. I’d lost interest in various aspects of my life. I knew I needed a change, but was overcome with regret the second I’d committed to one.

3 months before moving. I was a very literal Facebook user at the time. 😉

When we finally arrived, many of my extended family were at my parents’ house, eagerly waiting to welcome me with open arms. I’ll never forget the rush of gratitude I felt in those moments, hugging my mom and cousins and aunts and uncles, feeling scared and so sad and so out of place, yet so very loved. Everyone helped unload the U-Haul, and as my uncle was leaving later that day, he looked me in the eyes and said, “This is your home now, Em.” Internally, I recoiled – my heart was still in Jacksonville, and would remain there for quite some time. But I’ve never forgotten those words, and what they’ve come to mean. Home doesn’t have to be where you grew up, or where you were born. Home is wherever you feel loved.

That was 8 years ago, and I remain forever changed because of that decision I made so long ago to move away from everything I’d ever known, a decision that turned out to be the best one I’d ever made, a decision that’s blessed me with friends and family and relationships I never would’ve known. As I approach this new decade of life as someone who is a very different person from that scared 21-year-old, I’m reminded that moving to Nashville was the catalyst for the change I so desperately needed. I don’t think I’d be the person I am today, with 30 looming on the horizon, living in Utah with my husband/best friend who gets me and a fantastic job and more outdoor hobbies than I need, if I hadn’t left Jacksonville. I don’t know who I’d be if I had stayed – but I’m glad I got the opportunity to never find out. 🙂

Weekend things

Slow Magic performing at the Utah Arts Festival

How’s your weekend been so far? Mine has involved eating BBQ with friends, strolling through the Utah Arts Festival (awesome people watching), out-of-this-world pistachio gelato (eaten after a fruitless search for Dippin’ Dots at the festival, don’t judge me), a little bit of hiking and climbing, and grocery shopping. I can’t believe it’s already almost Monday. Super glad we have a 3-day weekend (4th of July) coming up!

With Danny in school, one of the things I’ve taken over these past few years is meal planning and cooking. Unfortunately I get bored really quickly with the same old recipes, so I have to keep it interesting, otherwise we’ll eat Domino’s multiple times a week (I’m not joking). I’m a bit envious of people who can just go to the grocery store without a plan or list and make it work. I HAVE to have my list!

It’s always interesting to me to see other people’s weekly menus, so here’s what I’m making if you’re curious:

Tonight: Asian-inspired salmon in foil, sweet potato, broccoli
Monday: Book club snacks
Tuesday: Slow cooker balsamic chicken with veggies and wild rice
Wednesday: Leftovers
Thursday: Sushi bowls
Friday: Meatless quinoa tacos
Saturday: Leftovers

Anyway, here’s what caught my eye on the internet this week:


Having just finished A Little Life, I really enjoyed reading this article: How Hanya Yanagihara Wrote A Little Life (written by the author herself). I love getting insight into authors’ writing processes.


Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors (am I allowed to say that if I haven’t read all of his books yet?), on how boredom is a writer’s best friend.


Yellowcard has been near and dear to my heart since high school. There are so few bands I can say I loved then and still love now, and Yellowcard is definitely one of them – so while I respect the band’s decision, I was pretty sad to hear this news that the album they’re currently recording will be their last. The single “Say Goodbye” that they just released is, of course, so good.


You probably won’t find this funny unless you’re a rock climber or know people who are rock climbers…but I couldn’t stop laughing at this video: How to be a rock climber. (FYI, this week I actually said the words “I’d rather be rock climbing” to someone, so yeah, I’ve turned into that person now. I’m sorry.)


I found this article to be pretty fascinating. Having worked at a book publisher and seen the rise in e-books and Amazon, I’ve wondered and worried about what the future of printed books is going to look like. Pulp Friction: If Barnes & Noble goes out of business, it’ll be a disaster for book lovers.


A win for women and society in general: New York City to provide free tampons and pads in public schools, jails, and shelters.


Sobering and alarming: We asked men how they learned about sexual consent. Their answers were predictably disturbing. We have to do better.

Currently

Little Cottonwood Canyon

Hello, and welcome to my brain’s inner monologue! Thought I’d check in and let you know (all 3 of you) what I’ve been up to.

Currently…

Wishing there were more hours in the day to accommodate my rapidly-expanding list of interests and hobbies.

Reading Americanah for book club and simultaneously listening to A Man Called Ove. Enjoying them both so far, though they’re vastly different reads. I’ve come to realize most people fall into one of two groups – those who can read multiple books at the same time, and those who pick one book and stick with it till the end before starting another one. Obviously I fall into the first group. I’ve been known to have up to four books going at any given time, but I try to keep it to no more than 2-3.

Sleepy from staying up far too late every night this week binge-watching the latest season of Orange Is the New Black. It’s darker this time around, which means certain scenes are hard to watch, but it’s doing a great job of covering really important issues and making you think.

– Seriously obsessing over Tasty videos. It’s not gourmet cooking by any means, but who wants to gourmet-cook anything on a weeknight? I’ve already made three of their recipes and they’ve all been DELIGHTFUL and fairly easy for a weeknight dinner. I’m also eyeing this upside down banana bread cake to make soon, yes ma’am I am.

Sore all the time from rock climbing, down to my very fingertips (yep – your hands and fingers can get sore just like your muscles). But I feel like I’m making progress, and every time we go I force myself to make at least one move that’s out of my comfort zone. SO MUCH of it is about trusting yourself, your gear, and your belay partner. I have a hard time letting go of control, so it’s been a really good exercise for me. Not to mention when you climb to the top of something, it is an awesome feeling.

Trying not to use Snapchat as much because it’s draining my iPhone battery something fierce. Does this happen to anyone else!?

– Eagerly anticipating the following book releases: Truly Madly Guilty (Liane Moriarty), The Sun Is Also a Star (Nicola Yoon), and Hunger (Roxane Gay)

Eating Chobani Flip “Almond Coco Loco” like it’s going out of style. It’s my new favorite treat, and it’s not even bad for you!

– And finally, I am LOVING Utah right now, if you couldn’t tell from my Instagram posts. I have a tough time during the winters, but every year when spring/summer rolls around, I fall back in love with this state all over again. It’s been a gorgeous, green season so far and I’m really hoping the wildfires stay far, far away.

 

Happy almost weekend! ❤️

Weekend things

First and foremost: Happy Father’s Day to my dad! Love you lots.

I don’t think I can say anything about the Orlando tragedy that hasn’t already been said, but I am unbelievably heartbroken for the victims and victims’ families. I’m lucky enough to say that this week has been good – great, in fact. 49 people and their families are not. Think about that before you think about literally anything else.

This week we’ve been rock climbing just about every night, which is one of the new things I’ve been trying. So much of climbing is self-confidence and trust, I’m learning; it’s a total mental game. But I like it so far! Utah is such a beautiful place to live and I feel more grateful every week that we get to spend our days here (notwithstanding those awful winters). We’re a 20-minute drive to mountains, waterfalls, wildlife, and beautiful hikes. If there were a beach, it would be PARADISE. But I digress…

Rock climbing!

Stuff I read, enjoyed, and/or thought about this week:


Bo Burnham’s comedy special on Netflix was, well, unlike any comedy special I’ve ever watched. Hilarious, poignant, and weird.


This Turkish artist recreating Van Gogh pieces with art and water is mesmerizing.


Australian comedian perfectly sums up why other countries think US gun laws are crazy.


We are free to arm ourselves against any potentially tyrannical federal government and also free to watch our children bleed to death in our schools, and churches, and clubs.”


Heavy reads this week: Interview with a woman who recently had an abortion at 32 weeks.


I found this article about The Hills utterly fascinating. My friends and I were so obsessed with this show back in the day: The Hills producers finally tell us what was real and what was fake.


It’s not rocket science. British police station releases a video comparing sexual consent to serving tea to a friend.


Bunny (a.k.a. grav3yardgirl) is one of my favorite Youtubers. This recent video from her had me absolutely cracking up. World’s Weirdest Beauty Products!

Book review: A Little Life

a-little-life

Premise

This book follows the friendship and lives of four young men who meet in college – an artist, an actor, an architect, and a lawyer – and takes place over a time period of several decades. Initially you hear from all four perspectives, but the story quickly begins to focus in on its most enigmatic character, Jude, whom you find out early on has had an unspeakable, horrific childhood.

Thoughts

I honestly wasn’t going to review this book at all, because I know I can’t do it justice. But it was so impactful to me, and felt so important, that I’m going to try.

A Little Life is truly a masterpiece and well-deserving of the many awards it’s been nominated for. It’s also the hardest book I’ve ever read, and I’ll say right now there’s a huge trigger warning for abuse survivors and/or self-harmers. But it felt necessary to tell the story, which was powerful, tragic, and unimaginable.

Without giving away too many details, Jude had a terrible childhood. The worst you can possibly think of, and then even worse than that. The effects of which, as you can imagine, follow him into adulthood and influence every single area of his life. Details of his childhood are painfully slow to be released, and there were still plenty of things I didn’t find out about until the last 1/3 of the book. It really explored the psychology of being a victim – how it’s so easy, from the outside, for us to say “Well why doesn’t that person just do this, and then their life would be better!” but in reality, it’s nowhere near that easy for the person living through the trauma. Jude makes a lot of choices that leave you with a desperate need to reach through the pages and save him, stop him, talk sense into him. But for Jude, those were the only choices that made sense to him at the time. He became the person he was because of his childhood (as we all do). It just so happens that his childhood was horrific.

As a side note, it’s also a beautiful examination of friendship – lifelong friendships that have their ups and downs, that aren’t sugarcoated, that are real. There aren’t many happy moments in the book, but the ones that do appear are more often than not comprised of moments/memories with Jude and his friends – the people who care about him.

The writing is flawless, gritty, and engaging. How many more adjectives can I use? This story stayed with me long after I finished listening (the audio version was very good, FYI). I’m also a huge fan of books that follow characters over several decades (it’s why I love Donna Tartt’s books so much), so that definitely helped keep my interest. If I had to come up with one criticism of the book, it would be the lack of women in the story. This starts to make a little sense as you learn more about Jude and his friends, but still, I could’ve done with at least one main female character just to balance it out a bit.

I don’t know. I feel like I’m just rambling here, but this is a hard one to review without giving away details. I’ll just say, if you can handle really tough subject matter, I’d highly suggest you give this one a read. Find out for yourself what kind of book it is — I wasn’t disappointed. (Though, admittedly, I had to read something light-hearted afterwards!)

Weekend things

Street corner, New Orleans

Street corner, New Orleans

Hi, how are you? It’s been a minute. I could sit here and talk about all the things I’ve been busy doing (San Diego! Cookout with friends! New Orleans! Work! Play! Reading! Book club!) and how that’s the reason I haven’t been around to blog, but hey, we all know that’s an excuse. 🙂 I don’t want this to be a place of obligation; my plan is to write when I can. So here I am.

did go to New Orleans earlier this week for a work trip, and while I was only there for a short time, the city surprised me in such a huge way. I can’t believe how much I loved it, and I now want to plan another trip out there – the food, culture, and music were unbelievably captivating. The humidity…not so much. 😉

Anyway – I started thinking I might be more motivated to blog if I had some themed posts to stick to. My friend Kelli does this and has a theme for each day (she blogs every single day!). After brainstorming, I realized some of my favorite posts to read are from bloggers who put together a list of their favorite stories, links, and finds from the previous week. I discover so many good things from these posts. And rather than share my own on Facebook, which I still do occasionally but which is also kind of like the yelling corner street preacher (no one listens unless they already agree with you), I plan to instead curate a list of links/stories/cool finds here for anyone who’s interested.

So without further ado, here’s what caught my eye on the interwebs this week.


Kristen Bell: I’m over staying silent about depression. I so appreciate what she has to say here. There is such a stigma about mental illness in our society, and it’s completely unfounded.


Until there is equal pay, rights, and representation across the board and for ALL women, I will never not support efforts such as this one. Love it: The United State of Women.


Emily Joy is a spoken word poet I’ve been following on Twitter for some time now (though I doubt she has any clue I exist!). She’s incredibly talented and I always appreciate what she has to say about controversial issues. Here she is in a satirical video explaining How to Love the Sinner & Hate the Sin.


This piece by Anne Lamott really spoke to me this week, as I’ve been trying to motivate myself to make more time for writing (and yet there’s always something that keeps me from doing it…funny how that works). The conference I attended earlier this week had a ton of workshops on storytelling, which was no small coincidence considering I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Lamott says this, on writing: “You have to make time to do this. This means you have to grasp that your manic forms of connectivity—cell phone, email, text, Twitter—steal most chances of lasting connection or amazement. That multitasking can argue a wasted life. That a close friendship is worth more than material success.”


Here’s the powerful letter the Stanford victim read to her attacker. I hope you’ve been following this story. It’s a horrific look at rape culture and the failure of our justice system to do what it should’ve done. It’s an illustration of the broken parts of our society and how we still have so much work to do. Here’s an idea: instead of telling women all the ways they can avoid rape and sexual assault, let’s start teaching our boys at an early age that women are people, yes means yes, and rape is wrong. Period.


I’m pretty sure I follow more animals than people on Instagram these days, and I’m not even ashamed to admit it. My latest favorite follow is Mya the Pomsky, which is officially my new favorite breed (Husky + Pomeranian). She looks like an overgrown fox and has the most beautiful blue eyes, and yes, I want her.


 

What were your favorite finds this week? Share them with me!