2020: The year of ‘Self’

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’m a little late to my 2020 theme post. Actually, I’ve been later. Did you notice I didn’t post one last year? Neither did I. I don’t even know if I had a theme in 2019, and it sure did prove to be a tough year for me.

Not only are we welcoming a new year—we are also welcoming a new decade. As I reflect on my life the past 10 years, I see tremendous growth: I met my husband, graduated with an undergraduate degree, traveled to places around the world, had many rewarding jobs, got married, got a cat, went to graduate school, won an alumni award, and rediscovered different hobbies like theater and avid reading and writing. Life has been good to me!

If there’s anything that I’ve learned this past decade, and continue to relearn, is my self-worth. It’s something we all have (not to be confused with self-esteem) and I’ve worked hard to combat those negative thoughts.

What I have noticed throughout the past year is that I have been super negative. From looking in the mirror and picking at my face, my body, and overall image, to writing and calling myself incompetent or worthless, I’ve really pushed myself down this year. I feel as if I can never say a good thing about myself. I’d like for that to change in 2020.

Writing a master’s thesis and starting a new job at the same time is extremely stressful, but they are both very positive things. I’ve become so stressed that I’ve been sick since October. I haven’t been eating well, and I haven’t exercised as much. It’s taken a toll. It’s time I start to become more positive and erase those negative thoughts that constantly swirl in my head telling myself that I am “not enough.” As a perfectionist, these thoughts occur often, and it is affecting my overall health and happiness.

In 2015, I learned that there is a key difference between resolutions and habits. Resolutions just don’t work. If you say you want to eat healthy, you aren’t really creating something that is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based). If you really want to succeed in your goals for the next year, try to form habits.

In 2016, I took it one step further (all inspired by Gretchen Rubin, a happiness expert) and declared a theme for my year, which was Health. In 2017, I created a theme of Improve, and in 2018, my themes were Perform and Travel. This year, my theme is “Self.”

Coffee, Food, Drink, Hottest, Leaves, Winter, Cold

I was trying to find the perfect word to describe what I wanted to achieve this year, and I found that one of my friends has the same goals for 2020, calling 2020 the year of “Self.” So, inspired by her, that will be my theme!

Now, along with a theme, you must create goals that correspond with that theme. Then, you create SMART habits that will help you achieve your goals.

Here are my goals for Self:

GOAL: Become more mindful: Do you every feel as if your mind doesn’t stop? My mind has raced constantly and I cannot concentrate and complete everything on my to-do list.

Habit: To achieve mindfulness I will use my Stop, Breathe, and Think app once a day and meditate throughout the year.

GOAL: Be organized: From my full-time job and writing my master’s thesis to side gigs and a social life, I have found that I have lost touch with my organizational side (a side I took pride in). I want to be able to juggle all my tasks—from my blog and bookstagram posts (follow me @keepitkassual on Instagram) to my work meetings and academic projects.

Habit: Purchase a monthly/daily planner and a bullet journal and regularly update both items once a week, on Sunday mornings. Sundays will be your day to be organized for the week and start the work week recharged and focused.

GOAL: Prioritize fitness: This one is pretty straightforward. When I exercise, I am not only physically healthy, but mentally healthy. I am energized, confident, and can concentrate and complete my other tasks with a positive attitude.

Habit: Go to the gym 2-3 times a week, incorporating regular strength training with cardio (spinning on Saturdays or using the bikes at the gym on weeknights). I also plan on putting the gym in my planner to hold myself accountable and not move it if other things were to arise.

I am hopeful that these goals will be achieved this year! If I am mentally and physically healthy (mindfulness and exercise), I will feel organized and energized to complete my other tasks. I also hope to prioritize writing not only for my thesis and other academic projects and read slowly, enjoying the books I want to read rather than rushing through them. With the help of achieving these goals, I will truly be able to focus on myself—mind, body, and soul.

What about you? What are your “themes” or goals for 2020? Share in the comments below, and wishing you and yours a Happy New Year!

‘Mastering’ the thesis: A student’s journey

For those who don’t know, I am currently earning my master’s in English—a very rewarding and fulfilling area of study for me. It’s been a whirlwind these past two years; working full time and switching jobs all while going to school full time can be stressful!

My project has many layers, but to simplify it, it focuses on the female heroine in fantasy literature. The fantastic as a genre offers readers the opportunity to explore the impossible, and because of this, authors of this genre are able to introduce readers to worlds beyond our imagination.

The genre itself also opens up doors for protagonists to do what might not be as easy to do in reality. A heroine establishing their autonomy and fighting solely to save the world they live in has unfortunately not been a storyline commonly produced by authors from other genres throughout the centuries. That’s what I ultimately argue; the genre and its elements allow these heroines to be who they truly are.

Since I was a child, I’ve been drawn to fantasy simply because of its availability of heroines. From Lucy and Susan Pevensie to Coraline alike, I have always admired them and been inspired by their valor. Growing up and entering academia, it’s easy to say that feminist theory has been the foundation of my research and a number of research papers at the end of each semester.

So, I spent the summer reading the fantastic (doesn’t that sound awful? ;)). Here’s what I read:

-Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (reread) – Lewis Caroll

-The Princess and the Goblin -George MacDonald

-The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

-A Wrinkle in Time -Madeleine L’Engle

-His Dark Materials -Phillip Pullman

-The Hunger Games (reread) -Suzanne Collins

-The Harry Potter series (reread, focusing on the development of Hermione Granger) -J.K. Rowling

-Coraline (reread) -Neil Gaiman

After reading all of these books (and a billion pages of scholarly articles), I found something inspiring about the heroines depicted in these stories: they all control their narratives (except Meg from A Wrinkle in Time…did anyone like that series?).

I found, overall, that each heroine works to control their narrative in their story and rebel against forces working against them.

I immediately decided that this was my project, but I couldn’t write about every single heroine (at least not yet).

I decided to take a contemporary approach and focus on three beloved heroines: Lyra from His Dark Materials, Hermione from Harry Potter, and Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games.

After more research, I began to dive deeper. I soon discovered that these three heroines not only establish their autonomy in their stories, but they also bend their gender.

I then studied the topic of tomboys and concluded that each Lyra, Hermione, and Katniss display different tomboyish characteristics, therefore separating them from the regular heroine: Katniss, the hunter, and Lyra, the rascal, and Hermione, the bookish and unkempt.

Further, they all own their identities, and even if they sometimes represent femininity in their stories (Lyra being dressed up by her mother, Katniss being dressed up for the Games, or Hermione dressing up for the Yule Ball), they do it as a choice and perform femininity without losing their core, tomboyish essence. They remain in control throughout their stories.

The fantastic offers endless opportunity, and because of the genre, authors can bring these heroines to the forefront; these lovely, amazing, gender-bending, rebellious heroines that we all love so much.

I am now in the final stretch: writing my master’s thesis. This past month, I submitted my first chapter for review.

IMG_4620Right now, I am focusing on my Katniss chapter. I am very excited to write more about one of my favorite heroines (and arguably, one of society’s favorites). And, I’m even more excited to present my project on Katniss at a national conference in Boston this March.

I bet you’re wondering how a person working full time has the time to write a master’s thesis? She doesn’t, folks. She just doesn’t.

It’s been a really tough process. Lots of tears, lots of therapy sessions. It’s hard to leave work and keep that creative energy to last beyond after-work gym sessions or making dinner/spending time with my husband.

It’s hard to say no to plans, to move plans around, or cancel plans to write or research. Heck, it’s hard to sit down and write. But, I wanted to be honest with those who are wondering, and an ally to those who might be going through the same thing as me.

This is what I love to do, and I’m excited to share my love of writing and the topic and genre I love so much with the world.

Thanks for reading! Has anyone taken on a project this large? Any advice? Want to just rant about it to a safe, open space/person? Feel free to comment below!

 

The best of mystery: Ruth Ware

Greetings, Bookworms!

As an adult, my taste in genres has broadened, and I find myself reaching for mystery novels more and more. Lately, my wish list and Goodreads account have consisted of Agatha Christie, the queen of murder and mystery. I also gravitate toward female novelists who are making strides in the genre and write about strong, female protagonists, like Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, Kate Morton, and one of my favorites, Ruth Ware. All of these women have kept me up at night and I couldn’t be any more thankful!

I consumed Ruth Ware’s latest novel, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, in less than four days. I closed it wanting more and yearning to revisit her books. When it comes to Ruth Ware’s books, I follow the same ritual: I’d get the novel, open the book, and be entranced finishing them in days rather than weeks, loving every minute of the story.

Because I wanted to revisit her novels, I thought it would be fun to rank her novels and give a few reasons why I love them (without giving away too many spoilers). I have never done anything like this before! Excited!

OK, here goes:

 

westaway

 

Left to fend for herself after her mother passes away, twenty-one-year-old Hal Westaway receives a mysterious letter detailing her grandmother’s death and that she is receiving a substantial inheritance. But there’s a mistake: Hester Westaway is not Hal’s grandmother. Broke and desperate, Hal decides to visit the house anyway and deceive the family and claim the money. Hal then journeys to the house, a sprawling, beautiful English estate, and soon discovers that there is something very wrong about the family…and the inheritance.

What I love about this book:

  • The TAROT: After her mother dies, Hal takes over her tarot reading kiosk on the pier. Weaving tarot into the story creates such a magical and spellbinding element, making it even more mysterious and intriguing.
  • The setting: Trepassen House is old and filled with secrets. The sprawling fields, overgrown maze, rickety boathouse, and creepy, unkept qualities add so much to the story. I found myself wishing Hal explored it more—especially the maze!
  • The sisterhood: There are many moments of sisterhood in this novel. From the love between a mother and daughter to the love between two best friends, this novel is about the importance of love and sacrifice. You’ll see!

 

lying game

When remains of a body are found on a beach in a coastal village, Isla receives a group text message from her high school best friend that she needs help. When her two other friends respond “I’m coming,” she finds herself on a train to help Kate. Once inseparable, the four friends—Kate, Fatima, Thea, and Isla, discover that their well-kept secret isn’t as concealed as they thought. The four close friends must take out a page of their old book, and the Lying Game makes a comeback.

What I love about this book:

  • The nostalgia: Although I do not know the characters, what I love about this book is how relatable the nostalgia can be. Have you ever seen a friend from high school or early college years and relived those memories with them, looking back at the old times? That’s what this book is like—although, their past is a little darker than mine.
  • The unreliable narrator. The unreliable everyone: I used to hate the unreliable narrator…until this book. I loved not knowing what was true and even the uncertainty of the truth. You realize, as the reader, that you are part of the Lying Game. Even when you close the book, you still don’t fully know the truth.
  • The outcome: Oh, you just don’t see it coming. The ending of this book is tremendous, filled with action and lots of heartbreak.

 

dark dark wood

Ware’s debut novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood, follows the story of Lenora, a reclusive writer who finds herself attending her old best friend’s weekend getaway in a creepy glass house. When Nora wakes up in a hospital bed and learns that she might be responsible for a murder, she tries to put the pieces together, revisiting her dark past and trying to find out the truth.

What I love about this book:

  • Again, that idea of the unreliable narrator: Nora, whose memory is altered after the incident, does not know what is real. As she lies in the hospital and eventually revisits the glass house, Nora puts the pieces together and discovers the truth.
  • The Agatha Christie-esque collection of characters. It reminded me a lot of And Then There Were None or Murder on the Orient Express. All of the characters had their own suspicious qualities about them, and you find yourself unable to trust any of them.
  • The planchette: The characters, drunk and wanting to have fun, use a planchette to “break the ice” among the group, and while it’s all fun and games, some characters find what the planchette writes out is a little too close to the truth. So creepy!

 

cabin 10

In The Woman in Cabin 10, Lo, a writer for a travel magazine, boards a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. One night, Lo wakes up to a loud noise and splash. When she looks outside, she notices blood smeared on the glass of cabin 10’s veranda. There was a murder on the boat, and no one believes her. It becomes her mission, then, to discover who is missing from the boat, and boy, does she get in trouble.

What I love about this book:

  • From the minute you open the book, you’re on edge: A life-changing, dangerous incident happens in Lo’s life that sets the tone for the rest of the novel. The thrill is there right from the start!
  • The most suspenseful and unnerving action happens in this novel: Lo certainly goes through a lot to solve this puzzle. Ware definitely tried something new with what happens to Lo—and she succeeds in that hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-standing-up thing.
  • The odd sense of sisterhood: Lo finds herself making a strong connection with the most unlikely of characters, and you end the novel feeling a little sympathetic towards that character and happy with the outcome.

 

This was fun!

Readers: Have you read any of Ruth Ware’s books? How would you rank them?

And Readers: If you haven’t read any of Ware’s novels, what are you waiting for?

 

 

 

 

 

Looking Back: A Conversation with a WWII POW

On this day four years ago, I was sitting under the hot sun at Omaha Beach in Normandy listening to President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande speak about the importance of liberty and friendship.

Who would have thought I would ever write that sentence—not me!

In 2014, less than a month after I graduated with my Bachelors, I traveled to France with a group of fellow journalism students from Central Connecticut State University to cover the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Looking back, I realized then that it was a tremendous opportunity. Now, four years later, I there is nothing I wouldn’t do to relive those moments.

All of my classmates had their goals for the trip. For one who is deeply connected to history, I knew that my biggest goal was to meet someone who fought 70 years ago on those beaches and share their story.

The first three days of our trip were filled with heavy emotions. I remember standing on a silent Omaha Beach letting the wind whip through my hair as I looked out into the vast ocean. We walked along the innumerable rows of white crosses at the American Cemetery, reading the names and paying our respects to the nearly 10,000 soldiers who lost their lives fighting for our freedom.

Omaha 1

 

american cemetery

 

We visited Pointe du Hoc, the highest point between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach.  I walked inside the bunkers, originally under German occupancy before American troops captured the area while scaling the cliffs. I remember looking out into the water from one of the edges of the point and taking in the scenery, wondering how a place so beautiful could host such dark and scary moments in history.

pointe du hoc

After the commemoration on June 5, our group stood outside waiting for the buses to bring us back from the beach to our designated location. It was an excruciatingly hot day, and my friends and I went to the shade. We then met Bernie Rader and his grandson, Brad, and we talked while waiting for the bus. We casually asked where they were from, and the grandson replied that he was from Connecticut. A town, in fact, not too far from us.

I could not explain the amount of excitement we felt. I remember my classmates and I immediately went into “journalist” mode and started to ask Bernie questions. As soon as we started the interview, his bus came. Heartbroken, we watched the bus drive away. Throughout the rest of the day, I ached to learn more about Bernie and his experience. His kind face and eagerness to share his story stayed in my mind, and I made it my mission to find the Raders and share Bernie’s story.

Long story short, I found him, and later that summer, I met up with Bernie in Connecticut and we had lunch. It was then that I heard his story and wrote my article for the class.

Please read Bernie’s story and remember those who gave up so much so we could be free today. Also, please read and check out all of the other awesome work my class did that summer!