Weekly article roundup & extra goodies


#CurrentlyReading: Naomi Klein’s “No Is Not Enough”

There’s a line where the sky meets the sea and it calls me
But no one knows, how far it goes
All the time wondering where I need to be is behind me
I’m on my own, to worlds unknown

–”How Far I’ll Go – Reprise,” Moana

This past weekend, I trained at Common Dreams for the Saturday/Sunday shift, so I got to take off today. I used my free time to visit the DMV and handle some household chores, but I am happy to feel increasingly settled at my new job and in my apartment. After work on Friday, I was drained from a long day of trying to sort through some troubling global affairs, so I went home and watched Moana, a Disney film released last year. (For a fascinating look at how producers navigated culture and criticism, check out “Consider the coconut! The Polynesian myths (and Disney-fications) behind Moana.”) For me, Moana resonated because its main female character seeks adventures and life experiences beyond the limited parameters her father sets for her—similar to Ariel in The Little Mermaid, and Belle in Beauty and the Beast.

After watching the movie, I found myself reflecting on two scenes from my teen years. When I was 14 years old and started researching some journalism and political science programs at prestigious Northeastern colleges, my father said to me, “get your head out of the clouds.” He promptly informed me that I would attend community college first, and if I attempted to go to any out-of-state schools, I would “not get a dime” from him. I channeled his rejection of my ambitions into motivation to study harder and lead as many extracurricular activities as I could manage. Three years later, I accepted a full scholarship to attend Ithaca College in New York State; I told my father about it in the exact place where he had told me to stop dreaming.

So, for anyone who has read this far down the post: Don’t let yourself be held back by the people who don’t believe in you. College was by no means easy, but it taught me the value of perseverance, and the vitalness of finding people who love, respect, and support me. I learned to seek out people who both challenge and encourage me to chase after my “crazy” dreams.

Apparently, last week’s reflection theme was “absurd restrictions forced upon me as a teenager,” because I also ranted about dress codes—and received many wonderful words of encouragement from friends, family, and former teachers. I am including it below.

As I retrieved my apartment keys from my handbag tonight, I couldn’t help but notice that my fingertips brushed against my thighs, so this dress would have violated my high school dress code. It has been a decade since I started high school, yet the policing of my attire apparently remains engrained in my subconscious. I, like almost every woman and girl I know, have struggled with body image issues most of my life…but I have also cultivated a love for fashion, and I use my clothing choices to express who I am and who I wish to be. I remember when a male high school teacher reprimanded me for a skirt that barely complied with the dress code; I remember sweating through short-sleeved tops in 90-degree weather, because we weren’t allowed to wear shirts that showed our shoulders; I remember being relieved that the yoga pants-ban came after I graduated, because as a college-bound 18-year-old, they were my go-to comfort option.
Somehow—despite my visible tattoos, pink hair dye, and “short” dress selection for summertime work attire—at age 24, I have graduated college (which I attended on an academic scholarship), secured full-time employment in my desired career field, and fostered a wonderfully supportive community of friends, family, and colleagues who embrace me for who I am, and what I wear. So, maybe it’s time we stop pulling teenage girls out of classrooms for their “distracting” dresses, and allow them to learn while wearing whatever clothing makes them most comfortable. Eventually, they will have to decide what careers they want to pursue and whether they can live with any requirements that accompany those career fields, but first, LET THEM LEARN WHO THEY ARE AND WHO THEY WANT TO BE.
If they want to pursue careers that involve pantsuits and heels, that’s awesome. If they want to work from home in pajamas, sounds great to me. If they want to work for a company that, like mine, accepts an animal print dress and Birkenstocks, then that’s fantastic…but while teens are trying to figure out what to do with their futures, let’s stop policing their wardrobes and instead focus on encouraging them to be thoughtful, compassionate human beings.

A few more pieces you should read (in addition to mine, which are posted at the bottom):

Weekly Roundup (read all my CD articles here)

“The Mooch” Likes Cameras, But DJT is the Boss

Unlike Sen. Sanders, Senate Democrats Don’t Condemn Dirty Energy Bill

Poland’s Lawmakers Are Nuts and Poles Are Mad About It (Update: Shockingly, their far-right president did a good thing and vetoed these awful bills)

Muslim Worshippers Clash With Israeli Forces Outside a Famous Holy Site

Sen. Warren Flunks Trump – Six Month Report Card

Exxon-Exec-Turned-US’s-Top-Diplomat Did Some Bad Things With Russia

Trump Snubs Nation’s Oldest Civil Rights Group (Again)

DJT’s ‘Bait and Switch’ Presidency (Spoiler Alert: He Didn’t “Drain the Swamp”)

GOP Tries to Gut Federal Protections for Endangered Species (See Cute Animal Pics!)

House Republicans Introduce a Budget/Tax Reform to Boost Military, Help Rich Folks

State Dept. Plans to Shut Down Office That Investigates War Crimes, Genocide, Etc.

It Is Also Considering Sending the Refugee Office to Homeland Security

Badass Nuns Build Cornfield Chapel in an Attempt to Block Pennsylvania Pipeline


Life updates & articles I’ve written recently

Me, after being hit in the head with my television before a hellish 8-hour drive

In my last post — published about six months ago, because try as I might, I can’t commit to blogging consistently — I was grappling with what it meant to be successful and tackling challenges I faced as a freelance fact-checker in New York City. Since then, I’ve accepted a full-time job and moved to Portland, Maine — exciting, I know!

It has been two weeks since I moved to Maine, and today I finally finished unpacking. More than half of my possessions, which traveled from their storage unit in Chicago to me by way of a professional moving company, arrived a week late, so I spent the past week living in a maze of boxes and bins, attempting to sort through everything. The rest of my stuff was driven up here from New York City (sadly, there are no photos of the giant camo tarp and a bunch of bags strapped to my car roof). Despite many moving struggles, I am thrilled and fortunate to be living in a brand new studio apartment in downtown Portland. It was a relief to escape New York City — while also staying in my field — but I am especially lucky that this new job brought me to such a charming city.

Which brings me to my new job… I am now a staff writer at Common Dreams, a website that publishes news and views (opinion pieces/columns) for a progressive audience. It has been tricky to transition from fact-checking long-form features to writing multiple news articles per day, but I am immensely excited and grateful to be writing. I work with a small but brilliant team of writers and editors. Below, I have compiled links to all the articles I have written so far. Now that I’m writing full-time, I may enjoy blogging more, but either way I hope to post weekly roundups of my articles, for all the friends and family members who have asked how they can read my work. 🙂

xoxo, Jess

Weekly Roundup (read all my CD articles here)

(x2, because I was too busy unpacking last weekend…sorted from newest to oldest…)

Women’s March organizers and protesters marched 18 miles because of the NRA

Two awesome humans talked to each other (on video!) about politics and the world

Texas lawmakers defunded Planned Parenthood and caused more teen abortions

Environmentalists are being killed in record numbers worldwide

Sea levels are rising and will drown several U.S. cities by 2100

POTUS applauds Jr. for tweeting emails about meeting with Russian lawyer

Trump Jr. basically tweets out admission of collusion with Russian officials (*facepalm*)

More Jr. drama because apparently my new beat is the Trump spawn & their failings

Related: Labor activist arrested for investigating factory that makes Ivanka’s shoes

U.S.’s top diplomat accepts troubling award, admits he misses all his Big Oil buddies

Sanders tweets advice for POTUS re how not to be a global embarrassment at #G20

Beyond the #protestporn, G20 protesters have some solid demands for improvement

NRA makes awful videos targeting protesters; protesters announce march in D.C.

Polish environmentalists condemn POTUS for bailing on the Paris Climate Agreement

Major christian church preaches that climate change is real, calls for urgent action 

German police spray G20 protesters with a high-powered water cannon

Canada apologies to citizen for allowing U.S. to detain, torture him at Gitmo as a teen

John Oliver calls out major media company for being the Fox of local news

U.K. prepares in case POTUS tries sneak into their country and avoid protests

That’s all for now, folks! Stay tuned…


What ‘successful’ people do


Me, enjoying The Great Outdoors, before the EPA and U.S. environmental regulations are fully done away with and the beauty of nature is destroyed (Photo credit: Ian Engel)

As I noted in a piece a couple of weeks ago, this post has been dwelling in my drafted email folder for quite some time. Whenever I considered publishing it, I found an excuse not to — I’m too busy with work; it’s missing something; do I really believe in what I’m writing?

There’s no denying I tend to seek out challenging — and thus often stressful — opportunities. I crave personal progress and whenever possible I give most of my energy to professional projects. When I did the final revision of this piece, I took on someone else’s full-time publicity job (she went to Thailand, and yes, I’m eternally envious) while also freelance fact-checking and working my part-time job. Some nights, I slept 3 hours; some meals, I skipped simply because I couldn’t stop working. I try to be an advocate for wellness, but exemplifying that — especially in my line of work, media — is tricky. But as I struggled to regulate my sleep and eat nutritious meals, I found myself thinking about what it means to be successful, and I returned to this drafted essay…

Forbes piece appeared in my Facebook feed last spring. At the time, I was working about 65 hours a week — half at a lefty national magazine; half at a luxury fitness club. I would roll out of bed at 4:30 AM to drag my sleepy self five blocks to the gym. Five hours later I’d speed walk back to my apartment with exactly 15 minutes to change, pack lunch, and brew a second cup of coffee. For five months, I hardly slept or socialized, and my body shut down. For weeks I battled sicknesses that built upon each other, until I found myself curled up in a Midtown CityMD waiting room, unable to work and in need of an antibiotic. I considered leaving the city when my lease ended last August. I spent much of my summer browsing housing sites. Twice, I had apartments fall through just as I was about to fork over hundreds of dollars for deposits. I finally found myself a new home — a spacious Crown Heights apartment with two wonderful roommates. I couldn’t be more grateful for the changes the late summer brought: a new apartment, a new job, fewer hours at the fitness club, and just a bit more time to socialize (read: sleep).
Although my new schedule allows more freedom, I keep coming back to the Forbes piece. I read “How Successful People Spend Their Weekends” on a Sunday night. At first glance, I was very excited; I figured it would offer some Thrive–esque advice about time, stress and/or money management. It didn’t necessary fail to do that, but I found myself repelled by its assumptions. I was drawn in by “successful” in the headline. Success is a concept I’ve been seriously grappling with for the past few years. But as I read through the Forbes cheat sheet for how to make better use of my weekend time and model myself after “successful” individuals, I grew frustrated because it didn’t apply to me or many people I know.
Some samples of my reactions:

#2 They Designate Mornings as Me Time. 
That sounds lovely, and since I stopped opening the fitness club, I’ve tried to do that more. Still, sometimes I have to send emails, make calls or run errands, because it’s the only time I can. But when I first read this piece, I was already rising before the sun. To have “me time” in the morning, I would’ve had to wake up between 2:00 and 3:00 AM. I was working so much to pay rent — and yet I couldn’t help but wonder, “Does working insane hours to pay my bills on time make me ‘unsuccessful’?” The folks at Forbes probably think so… but I saw it as responsible. I’d rather work extra hours than get evicted, acquire a ton of credit card debt, or have to call home to beg a parent for extra cash.

#4 They Pursue a Passion.
 I agree that “indulging your passions is a great way to escape stress and to open your mind to new ways of thinking.” It’s a key reason I try to work jobs about which I’m passionate during the week. On weekends, I clock in at the fitness club by 7:30 AM, and those shifts on Saturdays and Sundays allow me to maintain my membership, so I can work on weightlifting and attend yoga classes. The gym job is far from a dream position, but it allows me to pursue my passion for fitness, as well as stay healthy enough to spend weekdays on my primary passion: journalism. It’s fundamental to personal development to pursue passions, but if we designate only the weekends for our passion projects, it seems likely we’ll end up miserable the other five days of the week.

#6 They Minimize Chores. 
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I really hate household chores — but I must also confess to being a stress-cleaner who derives satisfaction from scrubbing floors and disinfecting all surfaces in sight. My journalism job (or “jobs,” since my main gig is freelance and I often work for multiple outlets simultaneously) can keep me at the office late. The hours are unpredictable and when I add that to my attempt to exercise regularly, I don’t spend much time at my apartment. I can occasionally squeeze in some late-night laundry, or vacuum on an afternoon off, but I tend to dedicate one of my weekend afternoons to cleaning, because I like the tidy space and that’s when I have the time.

I am only 23 years old; I have many, many more years in the work force, and I plan to continue working jobs about which I’m passionate. I still struggle with whether I’d call myself “successful,” but I care deeply about the work I do and try to make sure each task aligns with my career goals and personal values. The Forbes list reads to me like advice for people who hate their day-jobs and only tend to their passions (and mental states) on the weekends…but rather than success, I see that as failure. Success should mean pursuing your passions (and finding a way to make a livable profit from that), rather than putting off passions until the two days per week a ‘successful’ person does ‘me time.’ Sure, sometimes I go weeks without a full day off…but when you (mostly) enjoy and believe in what you do for money, you don’t have to reserve your weekends to recover from your miserable day-to-day life. You end up living for more than the weekends; you end up living for every day you get to wake up and take on your next challenge.

(NB: I would like to note that my ability — especially at my age — to pursue a career about which I am passionate has been made possible in part by my white privilege + middle-class suburban upbringing, and the educational and networking opportunities provided to me because of that…in addition to a lot of all-nighters, many missed meals and excessively high stress levels.)

My struggle to define success

Burnt pastries

While trying to feed myself a subpar dinner, I almost burned down my apartment building.

For months, I have been revisiting the same nearly complete blog post. It resides in my email draft folder—waiting, lurking. Every time I consider publishing it, I stop myself. 

Its topic: Success.

Part of me is turned off by the idea of success—if I consider myself “successful,” won’t I just become complacent?

Part of me is lured in by it—if I consider myself “successful,” won’t that be an indication that I feel fulfilled by my daily life?

I don’t think this internal dichotomy is uncommon, especially among 20-somethings…or dare I even write the dreaded term millennials…but in my day-to-day I don’t often encounter in-depth discussions focused on defining success and analyzing how it pertains our decisions.

My unpublished piece is a critique of a popular news outlet’s BuzzFeed-style listicle about how “successful” people spend their weekends. The listicle’s main premise is that weekends should be reserved for “me time” and passion projects. My argument against that is essentially that success shouldn’t mean doing something you hate every weekday so you can spend the weekends doing what you love (which describes the vibe I got from the listicle); rather, I claim success should mean taking care of yourself and doing something you love every day, and finding a way to live off of that.

And I know, that’s extraordinarily easy to say and immensely more difficult to practice. What’s held me back from hitting that daunting publish button is doubt in my own argument and whether I’m actually practicing what I preach (don’t hate me for this cliché; it’s just too fitting to resist). 

As I type this from the heart of Midtown, guzzling endless cups of tea and coffee to keep my sleep-deprived brain marginally more functional, I ponder my definition and whether my life reflects it. I have spent the last week temporarily doing someone else’s full-time job, while freelancing during mornings and evenings, and working part-time on the weekend (gotta love the Brooklynite’s freelance hustle). 

“Me time” has meant me knocking out from exhaustion in the early hours of the morning, clutching pints of Halo Top or cups of Yogi tea that by some miracle haven’t yet spilled on my laptop (plus facilitating the rescue of a 35-pound raccoon from an eight-foot barbed wire fence and almost burning down my apartment—see photo above—but those are stories for another time). 

As I contemplate my upcoming career and location decisions, I wonder what will be required of me to pursue my passions. I wonder whether I truly want to solidify my currently dubious definition of success, or just keep chasing it; I wonder whether concretely defining success for myself will actually guide me to becoming successful by my own measure; I wonder whether continuous personal growth requires us to allow our individual definitions of success to constantly evolve, and if so, how to navigate that.

With this unsettled definition to consider (not to mention all my swirling thoughts about where I want to live and work), I struggle to determine whether my daily choices are truly enhancing my skills and aligning with my career goals—i.e. paving a path to success.

So, I put these questions to you, internet dwellers:

1. How do you define success?

2. How does passion interact with your definition of success?

Practicing mindfulness – my main takeaway from Thrive

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington (Photo courtesy of Crownpublishing.com)

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington (Photo courtesy of Crownpublishing.com)

A few months ago, I wrote this piece, but never posted it. It felt so much more personal than a simple book review. I have been reconsidering it for the past few days, but was finally pushed to publish it after reading a somewhat thematically related blog post by Wil Wheaton.

So, here is my (slightly revised) reaction to Thrive: 

Arianna Huffington’s Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder is about burnout, happiness, and balance; it’s about health, redefining success, and working toward mindfulness.

It fit well with my mentality this summer. My three goals for this summer have been: patience, positivity, and productivity (listed from most difficult to easiest for me).

It’s been a struggle getting through this book, but I have enjoyed it immensely – particularly the conversational tone. The concentrated guidance toward mindfulness resonated strongly with me. At many points I wished I could have read this at the beginning of college. I spent a good portion of those four years rather unhappy. My strongest motivator for seeking this new approach to living is the realization I had the end of college that I couldn’t continue living in a way that sacrifices my happiness. It sounds like a common sense statement that shouldn’t be as revolutionary as it was for me, but living in a way that prioritized genuine happiness didn’t feel natural to me.

Some practices such as yoga proved to have a positive impact on my mental health during my college years, and I have tried to hold on to that feeling through at-home practice, while I attempt to sort out the next phase of my life.

While I was in the midst of reading Thrive, I found out that one of the mindfulness mentors I encountered during college was diagnosed with cancer. She is a young, seemingly healthy yogi, so I was shocked by her diagnosis. But it was a reminder about the unpredictability of life, and as she works through her treatments, I am working more to value my health while I have it.

In addition to trying to maintain a sleep more/eat better/work out regularly lifestyle, I took myself off social media for the a week this summer, in an effort to practice the kind of mindfulness Huffington explores in this rather personal book. Even before reading Thrive, I was well aware that have serious trouble disconnecting. (I even caved and reconnected shortly shy of a week when the #GOPDebate and #JonVoyage were scheduled for the same night.)

If you know me personally, you likely know these social media cleanses aren’t out of character for me; however, this one was the first that was motivated by more than just a personal desire to go off the grid and live in semi-isolation for a few days. It was motivated by a desire to practice mindfulness with regard to every choice I make – even with Tweets or Facebook posts.

A few hours after I finished reading Thrive, I retrieved a package from the mailbox addressed to my sister. It was a Lokai bracelet. Unfortunately, I had been planning to buy her one for her upcoming birthday (fortunately, it means I know her well enough that she would have appreciated the gift). However, the size small was too tight on her wrist, so I bought it off of her and she has ordered a new one for herself. (Update: I have since broke my bracelet and I’ve been meaning to order another.)

The Lokai bracelets feature clear beads with one black and one white bead on either end. The white bead is filled with water from Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth; the black bead is filled with mud from the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. It’s supposed to represent the universal human need for balance, and remind us that we all experience highs and lows in life.

I am grateful for this gift from the universe (and my child-sized wrists), as it will serve as a physical reminder to internalize and practice the lessons I took from Thrive. I highly recommend the book for everyone, but especially for young people focused on personal success and just beginning their careers. For me, while I like to believe it would have been nice to read it earlier, I think I found it at the perfect time.

P.S. I am immensely grateful for my friend Erin, who lent me her personal copy of Thrive, and has encouraged me to pass it along to someone else who may benefit from reading it.