My Paraben-Free, Mostly Natural, Somewhat Cruelty-Free Beauty Regime

I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for a long time but hesitated because… well, it’s not the thing I typically talk about here. But after reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, the topic’s been on my mind more and more — and I finally thought, “Hey, it’s MY BLOG. I can write about whatever I want to write about!”

When it comes to beauty products, I’m a total hippy. It started several years ago (maybe a decade ago) when I decided I wanted to go paraben free. I wanted products that I felt ok putting on my body — but I also wanted them to work. And let me tell you, that can be surprisingly difficult to find.

So what do I look for in a beauty product?

  • Paraben free. This was my first step towards hippy-dom. Parabens are “estrogen mimickers,” and some studies link them to increased risk of cancer. (Nothing conclusive, I should note.)
  • All natural, as much as possible. I’m not going to make my own mascara, but I like ingredients that I can understand, and in general feel that the less ingredients, the better.
  • Cruelty free. I decided to add this criteria after reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – so no, not all of the products I use are currently cruelty free. “Natural” and “cruelty free” often have overlap, but not always. I’m not going to throw out everything I have, but as I buy new products, I’m going to be looking for this.
  • Price conscious. I used to buy really expensive skincare products until I realized that, for the most part, the drugstore ones did the same thing. Now I try to buy the cheaper product, when that’s an option. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean THE most inexpensive item on the market — it means that I look at the price, how long the item will last me, and make a decision based on that.

And look — I’m not super strict about this. I try to do the best I can, because at the end of the day, that’s all you can do. I also don’t really care if YOU buy all these crazy hippy products or not — you do you. That’s a personal decision. But, as someone who’s had a hard time hunting some of these down, I’m eager to share what I’ve learned and found along the way.

So, without further ado… here are the hygiene, skincare and beauty products that (for the most part) fit my hippy criteria.

Hygiene Products

hygiene

1. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. Let’s start with the hippy-est of them all, shall we? Seriously, half the reason to buy anything from Dr. Bronner’s is to read the insane ramblings on the packaging. But in spite of the company’s “might be crazy” founder, these products are awesome. Natural, effective, smell great, and yes, the company is cruelty-free.

2. Surface Trinity Strenghtening Shampoo. One of the benefits of having a mother-in-law who is a hair dresser is that she’ll randomly recommend new products she’s found. This shampoo was one of those — she recommends it to a TON of people, not just the nature-lovin’ folks — and it’s pretty great. It’s paraben free, sulfate free, vegan, gluten free (for folks who are SUPER sensitive to gluten). It is, unfortunately, not cheap (another perk of having a mother-in-law who’s a hair dresser), but if you want to splurge, I do recommend.

3. Tom’s of Maine Toothpaste. Is there even another natural toothpaste on the market? If there is, I haven’t found it. But why would I — Tom’s is great. Plus, they have a sensitive version for my lil’ sensitive toothies.

4. LAVANILA ‘The Healthy Ddeodorant. Most people are SUPER hesitant to try natural deodorant. Not all are created equal. The hunt for the perfect natural deodorant is my great white whale. Crystal is effective, but after repeated usage, makes my armpits itch. Primal Pit, despite its horrible name and bizarre ingredient list, was SUPER effective (like, the best I’ve ever tried)… until I developed a painful rash from the baking soda. These days I use LAVANILA — smells nice, keeps me odor-free, and doesn’t bother my apparently super-sensitive armpits — but I’m almost always on the hunt for a better brand. In fact, I just bought some Lavilin to test.

Skincare Products

skincare

1. Alaffia Everyday Coconut Face Wash. One of my biggest criteria for face wash is that it actually wash things off. This seems weirdly rare. But Everyday Coconut takes off even my most stubborn makeup, doesn’t dry my already dry skin, and is pretty damn cheap ($8.99 for a big ol’ bottle). Plus, the company does approximately one zillion good things, and happens to be local for me.

2. DeVita Solar Protective Moisturizer SPF 30+. This is a product I’m SUPER picky about — it has to sink in quickly and not feel greasy, it has to be moisturizing, it can’t make me break out, and it has to have SPF (for the cancers, but also because WRINKLES). I often experiment, but always end up coming back to this guy. DeVita goes on a little white at first (that’s the natural sunblock), but then it disappears and gets the job done. I’ve worn this in Hawaii and not gotten burnt. Plus, it’s routinely rated top-in-class by the Environmental Working Group. It’s not SUPER cheap (about $25 a pop), but it’s not the most expensive moisturizer on the market either.

3. Earth Science Apricot Night Cream. I bought this as a total fluke after TSA confiscated my night lotion (boooooo). I slapped it on before I went to bed, decided I didn’t particularly care for the texture or smell… and woke up the next morning and was AMAZED at how hydrated my skin looked. No dry patches on this face, baby! Bonus, turns out the company is cruelty-free. And you can find it at the drugstore. WOO HOO!

4. REN Micro Polish Cleanser. After my facialist recommended that I use a gentle exfoliator 2-3 times per week, I found this brand. REN used to have a jojoba-bead exfoliator that I LOVED… and then, because the world is cruel, they discontinued it. Their Micro Polish Cleanser is… ok. Honestly, I’ll probably look for another product after I’m done with this tube. But REN as a company is one I can get behind — good ingredients, cruelty free.

5. Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel. If I want a mid-afternoon refresher, or a boost of extra moisture before applying lotion, I grab a cotton ball and dab on some of this stuff. Simple ingredients, cheap, and it smells nice (or, as Byron would say, “Like a Grandma”).

Makeup Products

makeup

1. The Body Shop Makeup Brushes. Most of the brushes I use are from The Body Shop — they’re soft, last forever, and are made from synthetic bristles (rather than goat or pony hair, which makes my eyes swell up — wheeee!). There’s some disagreement over whether The Body Shop is cruelty free or not… but I guess as consumers, we gotta decide what’s “good enough.”

2. bareMinerals Original Foundation SPF 15. I’m always conflicted about bareMinerals. On the one hand, their products are decent, if not rave-worthy. On the other hand, while bareMinerals is cruelty-free, its parent company is not (a theme, it seems…). But that said — I’ve been using the Original Foundation for years. NOT as foundation, however — I user it as cover-up. Stick some on a brush, dab it on problem areas. Voila.

3. Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Full Coverage Foundation SPF 15. Oh Tarte. How I love thee. How sad I was to discover you were recently purchased by a parent company that is not cruelty-free. Soon, I’ll have to decide if I’ll continue using you… but in the meantime, yeah, I love these products. Despite the “full coverage” in the name, this foundation goes on light if you don’t apply a ton of it. A little definitely goes a long way — which means that one tube lasts FOREVER. (Which is good, because at $38, this stuff ain’t cheap.) The tube I’m currently using I bought in… wait for it… December 2013. Still goin’ strong.

4. Tarte Clean Slate 360 Creaseless 12-Hour Smoothing Eye Primer. I’m not as nuts about this product, but it gets the job done. It’s an eyeshadow primer, which means you put it on before your eyeshadow. Why bother? Because my eyeshadow lasts all day, doesn’t crease, blends better, and I end up using less of the product.

5. M.A.C. Eye Kohl in ‘Teddy’. How ecstatic was I to learn that this, the best eye liner in the entire world, was paraben-free! How devastated was I to learn that M.A.C. tests its product on animals. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of this one. Probably cry. If anyone has recommendations for a replacement, I’m all ears.

6. Mirabella Magic Marker Eyeliner. I’ve never worn liquid eyeliner, because I find the application of it, um, error-prone. But this stuff is GREAT. It’s like a felt-tip marker — just draw it on, and get some va-va-voom cat eye’s. I don’t wear it often, but sometimes you want the extra drama. This product isn’t the most natural of the bunch, but it IS paraben-free and cruelty-free.

7. Zuzu Luxe Mascara in ‘Onyx’. I am, as it turns out, insanely picky about my mascara. I want it to be natural looking, but not too natural looking. I don’t want to be able to FEEL it on my eyelashes (a weird sensation). I want it to wash off with soap and not require makeup remover. I’ve tested a lot of brands — bareMinerals, Buxom, Tarte — and Zuzu is the one I’ve currently landed on. It’s… ok. I like the way it looks once it’s on, but applying it is kind of a bitch. It gets gunky, and you have to work slowly to make sure you don’t end up with clumps. So I’ll probably move on after this tube. I’ve heard Dr. Hauschka is amazing, but it’s too rich for my blood. I’m tempted to try e.l.f., which is $3 at the drugstore. Can’t beat that with a stick.

8. bareMinerals ‘READY 4.0′ Eyeshadow Palette in ‘The Truth’. Again with the bareMinerals. Sometimes the easy option just works. These colors have a tiny bit of shimmer, blend decently, and are perfect for everyday wear.

9. Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Blush in ‘Tipsy’. I don’t know what kind of witch magic is in this blush, but it really does last all day. The matte color looks scary-bright in the compact, but once you put it on, it gives a nice, natural-looking glow. And, like all Tarte products I’ve encountered, a little goes a loooong way.

10. MAKE UP FOR EVER Mat Bronze. Do you know how freakishly hard it is to find a matte bronzer? I’m not a unicorn, I don’t want my cheekbones to shimmer. Now try finding a matte bronzer without parabens — next to impossible! I was so happy when I found this one. Unfortunately, I just learned the company tests on animals. DAMMIT, MAKE UP FOREVER. THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.

Ahem.

So there you have it — my paraben-free, mostly natural, somewhat cruelty-free beauty regime. Obviously, it’s still evolving. If you’re interested in seeing if a makeup company tests on animals, I’ve found the list on Paula’s Choice to be useful.

 

Fall Book Reviews

This was totally unintentional, but the apparent theme of my fall reading list? Depressing ‘R’ Us. Not that any of these books were bad, per se — we just had a whole onslaught of “whomp, whomp” themes. Manipulative friendships, religious cynicism, multiple suicides… it was a whole big bucket of WHEEEEEE!

So let’s get started on this parade, shall we?

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

Cats_Eye

I’ll start out by saying that since this is an Atwood book, it is, of course, wonderfully written. But Cat’s Eye is wildly uncomfortable. This is the story of Elaine, who returns to her hometown of Toronto for a retrospective of her painting career. While there, she recalls her entire childhood and young adult life — and it’s in the remembering of that childhood that shit gets WEIRD.

If I had to pinpoint one theme of the book, it’d be this: children are horrible and cruel and do terrible things to one another. Enter Cordelia. Cordelia, Elaine’s supposed best friend, is the ringleader of a group of girls who do awful things to Elaine. Just awful. And this is what makes Cat’s Eye such an uncomfortable read — all the terrible things these children do? They all read true. Children can be absolutely cruel and manipulative — but often aren’t seen as such, because come on, they’re children!

About halfway through the book, Atwood pulls a masterful switch on us. I don’t want to tell details, but at a high level — Atwood slowly transforms Cordelia from the antagonist into… well, not the protagonist, for sure. But sympathetic, yes. And that’s why I think Cat’s Eye is worth the read — to watch a master author at work. Sometimes being uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing.

Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley

Oh man. Here comes confession time. I’d never read Travels with Charley, but enjoy a lot of Steinbeck’s other work. So after our California road trip adventure, I decided it was high time to pick up this book. I know a lot of people who love it, and I mean come on, it’s a classic! Man road trips across the country with beloved dog. What could be better than that?

The whole time I was reading it, all I could think of was…

The Simpsons - Old Man Yells at Cloud

I’m sorry, you guys, but most of the time Steinbeck just came off as a cranky old man who was frustrated by the direction his country was headed. Everybody was doing everything wrong! Kids these days! IT USED TO BE BETTER WHAT IS HAPPENING TO AMERICA!

Did anyone else get this impression while reading this book? Was it just me?

Now, it must be said — since this is Steinbeck, there are moments of beautiful lyricism and insight. The last third of the book seemed to hit its stride (once he reaches the West coast — Steinbeck just can’t hide his love for the Best coast). But the rest was a bit of a slog, and if I hadn’t been committed to finishing this one, I may have set it down early. AND THAT IS MY AWFUL CONFESSION.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling

This is the one book that breaks the depressing mold… which is odd, considering that it has a murder-mystery-suicide at its core.

I’ll admit it — I never would have picked up this book (let alone found it) if J.K. Rowling hadn’t been revealed as the author. Even still, I didn’t have super high expectations. I thought it’d be a fun read, but I knew it wasn’t going to be Harry Potter.

And then I couldn’t put it down. The Cuckoo’s Calling isn’t the best written book I’ve ever read, nor the most original — but it’s fun. It’s just plain fun. The characters are interesting, the plot intriguing. You turn each page thinking, “What happens next?” Which is a quality I remember the Harry Potter books having — sitting at the kitchen table, unable to set the book down, NEEDING to know what happened next. Ms. Rowling, bless you for that — we need books like this, books that get people interested in reading.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

THIS. This was the surprise read of the season. Several friends recommended it, but I knew nothing about the plot. When I started reading it, all I felt was a big fat “meh.” White middle-class 20-something explains family drama. Yup, I thought, I’ve read this before. I almost set the book down, but for whatever reason decided to continue on just a liittttle bit further.

And then — the twist. The thing that makes this book NOT your regular family drama. There had been hints dropped along the way, but I’m not always so quick on the uptake. And in case YOU, dear reader, are not so quick on the uptake… I’m not going to say what The Twist is. I’m not even going to hint at it. Which makes the book pretty damn difficult to review. So I’ll just say this: I ended up LOVING this book. It’s going to be on the 2014 Favorites list, for sure. It made me think, it had me emotionally invested, it had my mind-grapes muddled for days. I read the end on an airplane, which was a TERRIBLE IDEA. I had to stop reading several times because it got me too worked up. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is not THE best-written book I’ve ever read, but the plot — and the questions and moral ambiguities the plot raises — more than make up for it. Seriously, go read this one.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Cats_Cradle

Last winter (OMG almost a full year ago??) I read Slaughterhouse-Five and LOVED it — and to my immense shame, I admitted that I’d never read any Vonnegut before. So I thought, “Ok, let’s try another.” And Cat’s Cradle… man, this was one cynical book. Cat’s Cradle seems to be Vonnegut’s anti-religion creed, anti-society creed — the prose equivalent of giving up on all mankind. And that’s really saying something, because Slaughterhouse-Five ain’t exactly unicorns and sunshine. But I mean, look at this:

And I remembered The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon, which I had read in its entirety the night before. The Fourteenth Book is entitled, “What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?” It doesn’t take long to read The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period. This is it: “Nothing.”

Fantastic prose — DEPRESSING AS HELL. I’m definitely going to be reading more Vonnegut, but this one wasn’t top-of-the-list for me. I consider myself a realistic; I don’t necessarily consider myself a cynic.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood

This is a case of “Not for me.”

Last fall (HOW, HOW HAS IT BEEN A YEAR), I read Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I wasn’t crazy about it, but enjoyed it enough that I wanted to check out Murakami’s fiction.

Norwegian Wood is objectively a good book. It’s a quiet book about important things (suicide and depression, mostly — I KNOW HOW TO PICK ‘EM, AMIRIGHT?). Just like What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, the writing quality is high — even beautiful in spots. There is no doubt that Murakami is an excellent writer. But about halfway through… I got bored. I thought maybe things would pick up, so I pushed on. And then I got to a point where I was far enough along that I couldn’t NOT finish, but dammit I just wanted the book to end. So, yes, I finished this book. Mostly out of spite. Good work, me.

But I can’t call this a “bad” book. Because it’s not a bad book — even as I was desperately trying to finish it, I could tell that. It just wasn’t for me. I think these days I need more plot — less introspection, more action. My college self probably would have loved this book — heck, I would have wanted to write this book — but we change, and as we do, our tastes change. Others would enjoy this book. Just not me, not now.

That wraps up the Fall Reading Fun Times. Dear LORD I need to chose some more uplifting books. Any recommendations? Have you read any of these?

Small Acts

It’s been a shitty week.

Look, there’s no point in sugar-coating it. It’s true. This about sums it up:

Ferguson. Horrible floods in Morocco (where a friend currently is). The gaping maw that is Black Friday, opening wide to reveal the beating heart of a twisted societal merry-go-round.

My brain went to a dark, dark place this week. The one prevalent thought that kept popping up?

let's burn this mother down

Things are shitty. Let’s not gloss over that.

But I don’t like it when my brain goes to a dark place. I need something to latch on to — some glimmer of hope. We all do, I think.

So I thought ok — what’s going on right now that’s good? What do I have to be thankful for?

I am thankful that my ankle seems to be healing.

I am thankful that my friend in Morocco made it out of the flood zone.

I am thankful for a husband who is up for any adventure, big or small.

I am thankful for friendships that span 20+ years.

I am thankful for family living nearby.

I am thankful for this small idiot cat, who is sitting on the printer purring for no reason.

I am thankful that we live in a time and place where it’s easy to show support for others half a country or half a world away.

If you’re interested in doing something, anything to make the world seem just a little brighter right now — might I suggest a donation to the Ferguson library? They’ve stayed open during everything, providing a community gathering place and a space for kids to be safe. You can donate easily from their home page. It took me all of 30 seconds.

It’s easy to feel powerless after weeks like this, but even small acts matter.

Sharing Inspiration, Part 2

After the Ankle Incident, my friend Jenny commented, “Wow, you’ve had kind of a rough month.”

“Have I?” I said.

“Well, you got really sick a few weeks back. And now the ankle.”

“Huh,” I said. “I guess you’re right.”

It hadn’t really struck me like that. November has been an introvert month for me — turning inward, staying indoors, having quiet “me” moments. It’s easier to do when it’s cold outside and dark at 5pm. After Jenny’s comment, though, I realized what’s really been taking up my thoughts this month, if only subconsciously — replenishing the creative reserves. October was a big push creatively, what with the 30/30 Challenge and all. And creativity’s cyclical. I’ve still been tinkering away at the editing, but mostly? I’ve been thinking, pondering, reading, listening, seeking inspiration.

So I thought I’d share — what’s been inspiring me lately?

Wonderbook. One day, Jeff VanderMeer’s book will wind up on my book reviews, but my shameful secret is that it’s taken me a year to read it, and I’m still nowhere near done. It’s not because it’s not good — it’s really good — but it’s big. Like, physically big. Big books don’t fit in my purse, which means they don’t get read on the bus, which means it takes forever to read them.

Wonderbook

Anyway. This book is full of SO MUCH ruminative goodness. Its focus is how to write imaginative fiction, and it goes into more detail than any other writing book I’ve encountered. It’s forced me to examine my work-in-progress in a new light, to question decisions I’ve made, to answer why I’ve made the decisions I’ve made. And the book itself is quite beautiful — another reason I’m slow to get through it. It probably takes me 15 minutes to go through two pages — in the best way possible. It encourages the mind to check out and drift.

30 and Bookless“. I’ve been recommending this article by Rachael Maddux left and right, and I keep going back to it. It’s a great reminder that, despite my college-self’s ambition to have a book published by now… it’s ok that I don’t. It’s probably even best that I don’t, because I wasn’t the same writer back then that I am now. We’re two different people, producing different work.

Fleetwood Mac. Specifically, this song.

You guys, I just CAN’T GET ENOUGH. I listen to it on repeat, I sing along, I sway to it in the bathroom as I’m putting on makeup. The slow start, the bewitching build. It’s definitely set the contemplative mood for the month.

The Habits of Highly Productive Writers“.My college advisor recently shared this article by Rachel Toor. Nothing in it is revelatory (“Highly productive writers nap four hours a day!”), but there are some good tips. The part that really jumped out?

When someone’s doing a lot more than you, you notice it. It brings out your petty jealousy. And if you’re like me (occasionally petty and jealous), it might make you feel crappy about yourself. Which is, let’s face it, ridiculous. No one else’s achievements take anything away from yours, or mine. The fact that another writer is working hard and well should be nothing more than inspiration, or at least a gentle prod.

Sometimes, some days, that reminder is particularly important.

What are you reading, watching, listening to this month?

The Day the Dog Got Away

Things can go awry in the space of a moment.

It’s been cold in Seattle, but bright-blue skies without a cloud in sight. Yesterday afternoon I called Louie over, put on his harness and retractable leash, and we set out on a walk.

There’s a road near our house that meanders down a green belt. It’s a long road, but ulimately a dead end, so there’s not a lot of traffic. And Louie loves it. Birds chirping, no cars zooming by, lots of fun forest-y smells. We’ve done this walk… I don’t know how many times. I like it, too — the sunlight filters through madronas and maple trees, there’s a creek bubbling along the side of the road. We’ve seen pileated woodpeckers, and there are always squirrels chattering around. This time of year, fallen years pile on the side of the road, and Louie’s tail starts wagging furiously when he trots through them. In short — yesterday we were headed out on a usual walk, in a usual place.

I noticed a fern off the side of the road, backlit by sunlight, and took out my phone to snap a photo. I knelt down to get the shot, stepped into a pile of fallen leaves — and Louie startled at the sound. The leash jumped out of my hand, and the dog bolted.

Now, Louie is a nervous dog. He always has been, and we do things to try and build up his confidence, but I think he’s just always going to be a nervous dog. However, in this instance, I think he would have startled initially, seen things were ok, then stopped… if it weren’t for the retractable leash. As he ran, it dragged behind him on the cement, creating even more noise. And Louie ran, terrified.

Louie’s built like a whippet, and when he runs, he runs. In a matter of seconds, he was far down the road. I started calling his name and headed after him, hoping to calm him down. Then, as Louie was sprinting down the center of the road, a car came around the corner.

I started running, waving my arms to make sure the car saw the situation. The car stopped. But Louie was still running. Before he reached the car, he made a 180 and started running back up the road towards me. I positioned myself to try and get in front of him, to grab him as he zipped by — but I missed. He sped past my left side, and as he did so, the leash wrapped around my ankle. Louie jerked to a halt, the leash tightened, and I fell, hearing a pop as I went down.

I sat in the middle of the road, holding my leash-wrapped ankle, the dog secured but freaked out. I realized that the car was still down the road. I unwrapped the leash, got up, and hobbled to the side of the road.

The car drove forward and stopped when it reached us. The window rolled down, and a woman came into view. “Are you ok?” she said.

Embarassed? Twisted ankle? Still trying to figure out what the hell just happened?

“I’m ok,” I said.

“Can I give you a ride home?”

Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.

We got back home, shaken up and slightly worse for wear. Louie had clipped a nail and was bleeding, and my ankle was swollen. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the living room, me RICE-ing my ankle, Louie on his bed, licking his paw.

I’ve had a zillion ankle injuries in my life, and this one doesn’t seem too bad. So while the ankle is frustrating, the most “WTF” part of the whole situation was the suddenness of it — how we could go from a sun-dappled autumn walk, to the sudden panic of running down the road with a car coming towards me and the loose dog. The day turned on a dime in about ten seconds.

Tomorrow will be a-ok. But today calls for licking wounds and curling up.

Cold Snap

There are currently half a dozen blooms on the three rose bushes in our front yard. They’re not the full, sultry blooms of high summer, but they still unfurl defiantly against the grey November sky, shaking off raindrops as they stretch wide.

Sedona Rose in November

They’re in for a nasty surprise. We’ve been living a mild fall — 50’s, sunny, only the occasional rainstorm. But this week, the cold arrives. It’s supposed to drop below freezing tonight. So they say. So it feels.

In September I wrote that I was not ready for summer to end. And I wasn’t — I let it go begrudgingly, kicking and screaming the whole way. But the sunny fall eased me into the next season, soothed the transition.

This weekend — just in time, it seems — we got the house ready for winter. Mulched the flower beds, brought in the delicate potted plants, turned off the outdoor hoses so the pipes won’t freeze and burst. By Saturday evening, there was a damp bite to the air, the kind of chill unique to the Northwest. We went inside and pulled on sweaters and turned up the heat.

Maybe it was the act of physical preparation, but I feel ready. I feel ready for extra comforters, for nutmeg and allspice, for the windows to fog up from brewing soups. I’m ready for hibernation and creativity, snuggling up and letting the mind wander.

Cat snuggled under a blanket.

This one is clearly ready for hibernation.

The cliche about Russian novels being so long because of the long winters — there must be a truth to that. Dark nights inspire the imagination to run amuck.

 

30/30 Wrap-Up

Well, it’s done.

I wrote for 30 minutes for 30 days, each and every day. Through some very generous donations, I raised $110 for Seattle’s Hugo House.

I’m not gonna lie, the past week and a half were tough. We were traveling, there were work events, and then — icing on the cake — Byron and I both caught the cold from hell. Multiple days I thought, “I could just skip today. No one would know.” Except I would know, and I would feel guilty, so I sat down for the 30 minutes anyway. Maybe fever-dream writing will be the pinnacle of my book.

Mostly now, I want a break. I want a nap and a day where I don’t think about writing at all. (It is highly likely this is the residual sickness talking. But it’s still how I feel.)

Still… in the past 30 days, I’ve edited 89 pages of my book (89 single-spaced pages, to boot). That’s a little over 45,000 words. That’s a hell of a lot more than I’ve gotten done in the past several months. All from just sitting down for 30 minutes a day.

I’d like to keep this up. Habits are hard to make and easy to break, so I should keep it up. The lesson learned through this whole thing is that it’s entirely possible to prioritize your writing if you make it a priority.

 

Reading Diversely

Last week I was wasting time getting up-to-date information on Twitter, when I stumbled upon a couple tweets by Amanda Nelson, the managing editor of Book Riot.

Curious, I watched Nelson’s video. Her point, in a nutshell: “If you’re not paying attention and doing it on purpose — reading diversely on purpose — what you’re going to do is read mostly white people.” Due to a LOT of different factors, the majority of books that people read are by white authors (and mostly white male authors, at that). It’s not really through any fault of their own, but unless people consciously pay attention to the diversity of their reading list, that’s just the way the chips are gonna fall.

To demonstrate this, Nelson shared the numbers from her own reading logs, both before and after she started paying attention to reading diversely.

  • In 2012, Nelson read 92 books — 4 were by “people who were not white,” so 4.3%.
  • In 2013, her percentage was 3.6%.
  • So far in 2014 (after she started paying attention to reading diversely), 15 out of 91 books have been written by people of color, putting her percentage at 16.4%.

So I was curious. I took a look at my Goodreads account and studied the authors from the past couple years. (Note: I only started using Goodreads in 2013, and don’t have a log of my reading prior to that.)

  • In 2013, I read 23 books. 7 were by women authors, putting that percentage at 30% (admittedly, 3 of the 7 were Margaret Atwood). 1 was written by a person of color (Haruki Murakami), so 4.3%.
  • So far in 2014, I’ve read 21 books. 10 were by women (47.6%), and 1 has been by a person of color (Sherman Alexie — 4.7%).

Ouch. I assumed my percentages wouldn’t be great, but interesting to note — even though Nelson reads a LOT more books than me, our percentages are similar. Which goes to prove what she’s saying — if you’re not paying attention, you aren’t reading diversely. My percentage of women writers is pretty damn good. And you know why? A couple years ago, I made the conscious decision to start reading more books by women authors. If I made the same decision regarding ethnic diversity, how much better could I make those percentages?

(I know some readers at this point are asking, why does it matter? Why should I be concerned at all by the ethnicity of a writer? To which I would say — watch Nelson’s video. She more eloquently explains all of this than I ever could. Why do I personally care to make my reading more diverse? Because it’s a big, big world, with a lot of people, and a lot of different experiences. I feel more educated, more aware, if I get even a snippet of that diverse experience.)

I’ve had Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison on my reading list for a while — think I’ll boost them up. Any others you’d recommend? How do you ensure that you’re reading diversely — or do you decide to at all?

My Fellow Americans

Like many of my fellow Americans, I have a complicated relationship with patriotism.

In college, I minored in history, focusing mainly on early 20th century United States and Latin America. Studying those two surprisingly related topics — well, you don’t come out of it with the greatest view of our nation’s past. It’s a very different perspective than your typical high school course. Our country has a history of doing really shitty things, and an equally prevalent history of glossing over them for future generations.

Because of this (and let’s be honest, probably also because of many, many other reasons), I’ve never been your “rah rah” patriot type. Blind patriotism serves no purpose. Nor does blind cynicism. You study history, it shows one thing clearly: there is a lot of grey. Black and white rarely exist.

If you study past events — if you pay even a sliver of attention to current events — it’s easy to feel like our country has lost it way (if it ever had one to begin with). Jump on in the handbasket, we can all ride to hell together.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to join a group of World War II veterans on an Honor Flight to Washington DC. I’d never been to “the other Washington” before. From what you’d hear on the news, you’d think the city is Gomorrah reincarnated — a hot bed of corruption, the living embodiment of everything wrong with America. Maybe it is. Here is what I saw:

At every memorial we visited, I saw strangers approach a veteran, shake his or her hand, and say, “Thank you.”

I saw a protest in progress directly in front of our nation’s capitol, proceeding unmolested, with no guards or policemen telling them to move along.

I saw smudged handprints on the Declaration of Independence.

At the Vietnam Memorial, I watched a family take paper and pencil and create a stone rubbing of a man named Smith.

Also in front of the White House, I saw a smiling group of people — men, women and children — unfurl a Kurdistan flag and take a family photo.

One thing that’s easy to forget while reading the history books — it’s all made up of people. History if palpable. It’s complicated and evolving. The Americans who came before us did a lot of good — they also did a lot of bad. But if you take a close look at people… I think over the long, slow curve of history, our arc trends towards progress.

United States Post Office.

United States Post Office.

DSC00934

The White House

The National Archives

The National Archives.

Column on the National Archives.

The National Archives.

DC Metro.

Autumn in Washington DC.

Autumn in Washington DC.

Natinoal World War II Memorial

National World War II Memorial.

World War II Memorial

Ceremony honoring the veterans at the World War II memorial.

My grandfather, World War II veteran.

My grandfather, World War II veteran.

World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial

Washington Monument.

DSC01090

Lincoln Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial.

At the Lincoln Memorial, the spot where Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

At the Lincoln Memorial, the spot where Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial.

Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Honor Flight Honor Guard.

The veterans being greeted by an honor guard on their return home.

30/30 Check-In

Here we are, day 15 of my 30/30 Writing Challenge — writing for 30 minutes a day for 30 days to raise money for Seattle’s Hugo House. I’m proud to report that so far I haven’t missed a single day, even though some days were like pulling teeth. A brief check-in, then, on lessons learned from the challenge thus far.

(Oh, and a reminder — the whole “point” of this, aside from creating good writing habits, is to raise money for the awesome Hugo House. If you’re so inclined, you can donate here.)

Lesson #1: It is much, much easier than it sounds like to get in 30 minutes of writing a day. I admit to being a little bit daunted by the number, especially considering how my writing schedule had been going recently. But once you commit to it… you guys, there are 30-minute chunks everywhere. In the morning before work, on your lunch break, while dinner’s cooking. I knew it before, but this has just highlighted the fact — the time is there, if you prioritize. (And here’s the usual caveat how I don’t have kids, I’m sure it’s harder with kids, but you know — same general theory still applies.)

Lesson #2: Earlier is better. Again, this is something I already knew (are you seeing a theme here?). Last year, while finishing the first draft of my book, I got up early every morning to get the time in. Now, I find myself returning to that schedule. There have been two days where I skipped the morning, thinking “Oh, I’ll have time to write later.” Both times, it bit me in the ass. Days have a way of spiraling out of control. The earlier you can check off the writing, the better. Plus, then you have the benefit of already having accomplished something with your day, before it’s even really started. (I find this true with running, too.) I love being able to head into work and think, “No matter what else happens today, I already accomplished this.”

Lesson #3: Getting up early sucks. Look, it just does. Maybe not for some people, but every time that damn alarm clock goes off, I want to smash it over the head and go back to sleep. Instead, I turn it off and roll my sorry butt out of bed. (Related tangent: my dad hated his childhood alarm clock so much that he saved it and, as an adult, used it for target practice. Early-morning dislike, it runs in the family.)

Lesson #4: If you work consistently, you get shit done. 30 minutes a day adds up. Prior to this, I had edited 3 chapters of my book. Now I’m up to 7. It took me 15 days to make that leap. Admittedly, the editing is getting easier the further I go (ooph, the beginning of the book was rough, you guys). But this rapid accumulation is an obvious result of sitting down and working.

Lesson #5: It’s about priorities. Lauren at I’m Better in Real Life wrote a great blog post about writing seasons. It’s a reality of life that, over time, priorities shift. You expend more energy in one facet of your life than another. I’m prioritize my writing right now — which means, yes, some other things may drop off a little bit — and that’s ok.

At this point, I’m thinking I may continue the 30 minutes a day, even after the 30/30 Challenge is done. Which, I mean — we’ll see. It’s still early days. I’m halfway there. But really, there’s no downside. Whatever you do, whether it’s writing or coding or creating whatever, consistent work habits are key.