We are what we consume

This week my mind has been swirling with thoughts of consumption (no, not TB; please don’t call me “Satine”).

Faced with the super-fun task of crafting a budget to pay down my credit card, I have been seeking ways to reduce my spending without sacrificing the quality of everything I put into and onto my body.

As most of you know—despite my unbreakable sweet tooth—I tend to be rather strict about what I eat and the types of products (personal hygiene, cosmetic, household cleaning, etc.) I use. I try to limit my exposure to harmful chemicals however I can. (Useful resource: the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database)

I am also devoted to raising awareness about climate change (if you are rolling your eyes here, please skip the rest of my blog post and instead check out theses informative, accessible webpages from NASA—or, finish reading and then check out the site).

On Wednesday, I tried to watch U.S. President Donald Trump’s first United Nations speech—I had only caught soundbites of it live. About halfway through, I paused, then closed the window on my laptop and decided to find something more productive to do with the remaining time I’d given myself to watch the speech.

Retrospectively, that shift was also reflecting a broader awareness of consumption that I have been gaining this week. The title of this post is “We are what we consume,” inspired by the timeless saying “we are what we eat.” However, in my journey to improve and refine my consumption habits, I am aiming to be mindful of more than just the food I eat and the products I buy; I am also striving to be incredibly mindful of what I am reading and watching daily.

After shutting down the president’s disconcerting speech (I’d already gotten the gist of it from my managing editor’s story; I already knew all I needed to, both as a citizen and a journalist, so watching it after the fact was just torturous), I opted for a few other videos:

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Lauren Singer of Trash is For Tossers | Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pF72px2R3Hg

This isn’t the first of Lauren Singer’s videos I watched, but it’s the one I recommend as a starter. On her blog, Trash is for Tossers, Lauren shares her experiences living a “zero waste” lifestyle. All her trash from the past four years is in that mason jar she’s holding.

From Lauren, I learned about Bea Johnson, whom the New York Times has crowned the “Priestess of Waste-Free Living.” But instead of just reading a Times story, I also explored Bea’s website, Zero Waste Home, and watched her TED Talk:

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Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home | Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSUmo-40pqA

I don’t think I will convert my lifestyle to fully mirror those of Lauren and Bea—at least, not yet. But from them, I am learning about how I can save money and produce less waste—which serves not only my bank account but also the planet. I hope to share some of that journey her as well as on my recently-switched-to-public Instagram account: @jess_corbett.

My first move was to buy food from the bulk section when I stopped at Whole Foods on Wednesday. I opted for their recyclable paper bags because I have not yet invested in the reusable ones, but I felt a sense of excitement when I came home and transferred my organic, unsalted almonds and dried mango slices into my glass containers. Baby steps.

Since I returned home from work last night, I have watched two additional documentaries. While they are not about zero waste living, they do align with my goals of mindfully consuming content, and giving more thought to what I do and do not need.

The first has been on my “to watch” list for ages, and I am so grateful I finally sat down to enjoy it. I watched Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things on Netflix, as I put DVDs into a giant case and ripped apart their individual cases to recycle the paper parts.

The film stars two men who have made it their mission to launch a minimalist movement in America, and while they don’t overtly state that their goal is to acquire less so they produce less waste, their key points resonated with me. Among them, we are happier when we just invest in high-quality things we actually need, and “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.”

This afternoon, as I shredded old bank statements, I watched a Netflix’s original documentary called Chasing Coral. Although it is heart-wrenching to see how climate change is impacting coral reefs around the globe, I was riveted. I encourage you to watch it until the end; you’ll be rewarded with an original song from Kristen Bell plus videos of baby sea turtles—and who doesn’t love baby sea turtles?

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Chasing Coral is available on Netflix.

The film also was not about living a zero waste lifestyle, but it motivated me to be more mindful of my consumption habits. Although we need to globally overhaul our energy systems to effectively combat climate change, seeing how the warming oceans are killing off massive swaths of beautiful coral reefs brought tears to my eyes. I also felt confident that watching the film fit with my goal of more mindfully consuming media content.

So far, this post has just been a list of suggestions for where you should seek information elsewhere; that’s because while I have tried for the past few years to prioritize mindfulness, this consumption component is still very new for me, and I don’t have too much to say about it just yet. I merely want to share these resources and invite you to send me any related/relevant suggestions.

Thanks for reading, and if you’re not bored of me yet, below I’m including a roundup of my recent articles for Common Dreams. 

xo, Jess

My recent articles—related and not to my comments above (read all my CD articles here)

#StopBetsy trends after our lovely Education Secretary takes a “horrific step back” on Title IX (aka the federal law barring sexual discrimination in schools)

Even all 50 state directors of Medicaid agree that Graham-Cassidy is terrible

EPA forces staff to attend anti-leak classes as Trump wages war on the planet

Two California cities sue Big Oil companies for their contributions to climate change

Surprise! Bill written by two male Republicans sucks for millions of women

Gun stocks surge as Trump pushes to ease export regulations for assault weapons

New poll reveals nearly half of Americans and 2/3rds of Democrats want a single-payer healthcare system implemented in the United States

New research released during UNGA reveals there are more than 40 million modern slaves worldwide—and many of them women and children

Progressive groups and lawmakers mobilize in response to Republicans’ last-ditch attempt to cut off millions of Americans from healthcare 

Conservationists are outrage after Zinke memo reveals the federal government’s unprecedented assault on public lands

Bolstering the case for a single-payer system, a new report shows how for-profit insurers are fueling America’s opioid crisis

“Spitting in the eye of transparency,’ the federal government reveals just 22 Mar-a-Lago visitors after promising to release full logs

The EU’s food safety watchdog is under fire for copying and pasting analysis from Monsanto into a Roundup safety report

As the United States reels from several natural disasters, 300+ groups endorse a sweeping climate bill

New research shows 10 percent of global GDP is hidden in tax havens while the world’s poorest people suffer

As Democrats and Trump bicker, Dreamers send a clear message: ‘No deal without us!’

In districts where Trump dominated, these Democrats delivered a stunning blow to the GOP in special elections

Trump gets shit for exploiting storm victims by pushing tax cuts for the wealthy amid disaster recovery

In a “groundbreaking” development, more than a dozen Democratic co-sponsors rush aboard Bernie’s Medicare for All train

After Hurricane Harvey, Texas is left with a toxic soup of shit, spilled Fuel, pesticides, and more

16 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Muslims are still central targets in war with no end

If humanity doesn’t turn back from climate abyss, says Pope, “we will go down”

Mueller warns the White House that he plans to interview six Trump aides

Inspired by Standing Rock, First Nations ‘Tiny House Warriors’ protest pipeline project

Citing climate change hoax, Rush Limbaugh downplayed Hurricane Irma, then evacuated

As Scotland vows 100% transition to electric cars, the U.S. caves to the auto industry’s dirty demands

As the planet rages with fires and storms, experts are fed us with murderous climate denialism

Study finds 83% of tap water around the globe tested positive for tiny plastic fibers

Abortion rights are under attack as Kentucky moves to close the state’s last open clinic

“This is about basic decency,” says Obama, denouncing Trump as the DACA decision sparks nationwide protest

“This is evil,” say immigrant rights advocates, blasting Trump’s decision to end DACA

More than 120,000 of “world’s most persecuted people” are fleeing violence in Myanmar

Trump’s ending of DACA will spark protests, lawsuits, and congressional battles

“No more road left” for diplomacy regarding North Korea, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley tells the United Nations Security Council

Analysis reveals Hurricane Harvey triggered the release of nearly a million pounds of toxic air pollutants

An “Impeach Donald Trump Now” Billboard goes up a mile from Mar-a-Lago

Trump warned: “If you end DACA, we will make your life impossible”

The sinister side effect of an amazing new cancer drug: one dose costs nearly $500K

Relief for immigrants as court blocks a “patently unconstitutional” law in Texas

As workers ditch Trump, AFL-CIO president says the White House is full of “racists” and “Wall Streeters”

UN Human Rights chief questions if Trump is fomenting violence against journalists

With a midnight deadline, activists begin a final push to thwart Trump’s attack on net neutrality

“Unprecedented” rainfall and “catastrophic” flooding devastate the Gulf Coast

A Charlottesville coalition will march 10 days to D.C. to confront white supremacy

Thousands of San Franciscans celebrate after a far-right group cancels their rally

Trump’s “pioneering” hurricane news dump fails to prevent controversy

“Law is dead in America”: presidential pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio is widely condemned

Outside Trump’s White House, Dreamers vow to “fight like hell” to #DefendDACA

Defunding clinics, GOP governor “throws women under the bus” in South Carolina

Rightwing protesters to be welcomed in San Francisco… with piles of dog poop

100% renewable roadmaps for 139 nations reveal comprehensive path to fully sustainable system worldwide

Trump-allied firm slammed for $1 billion lawsuit against Standing Rock water protectors

Harvard study confirms #ExxonKnew and misled public about the climate threat for decades

Trump’s hint at pardon for Sheriff Joe Arpaio denounced as “an official endorsement of racism”

As Trump ramps up the War on Terror, U.S. bombings kill 170+ civilians in a week

Cleveland Browns football players kneel during the national anthem in the largest NFL racial justice protest yet

Treasury secretary’s wife provokes outrage with a classist tirade on Instagram

With Trump, warns Scahill, the “unelected national security apparatus” has been unleashed

Demanding a ban on killer robots, tech experts warn of opening “this pandora’s box”

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Weekly article roundup & extra goodies

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#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.

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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…

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What ‘successful’ people do

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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?

What I have to say about The Unspeakable

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum (Photo courtesy of www.meghandaum.com)

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum (Photo courtesy of http://www.meghandaum.com)

Since I’m still jobless (Potential employers, if you’re reading this, here’s a link to my résumé. Please hire me.), I am back to blogging about books I’ve read for fun. One of the most miraculous post-grad discoveries I’ve made thus far is that unemployment and lack of homework allow me to read for pure enjoyment. It’s incredible. As a born-again bookworm, I have realized how vital leisurely reading is to maintaining a high level of happiness with my life.

I’ll admit it: the number one reason I picked up this book is that a reviewer compared her writing to that of Joan Didion. While I won’t go so far as to call Meghan Daum the next Didion, The Unspeakable is well written, honest and enjoyable. I laughed out loud; I related to the narrator. Reading it, I felt as if we were having a long conversation — a telltale sign of a good writer in my not-so-humble opinion. I found myself captivated by her tales of growing up and finding herself; making major life decisions, especially with regard to marriage and parenthood; and confessions such as not being a foodie, which resonated with me and my inability to achieve #domesticgoddess status despite a newfound love of The Food Network and HGTV.

Daum even made me briefly reconsider my instinctual rejection of Los Angeles, which is no small feat – just ask my LA-bound college friends. She also made me consider the acts of reading and writing memoirs, and on a broader scale, why we write.

In May, I wrapped up my final semester of college, during which I was enrolled in the most challenging course I have ever taken. It wasn’t that content was difficult, though making sense neo-Lacanians and higher ed pedagogy is not at all easy; it was emotionally challenging.

Around mid-March I asked to meet with the professor. I was struggling with the course; I dreaded each class meeting and watched the clock intently, silently counting down the minutes until 5:15 p.m. As someone who has always loved school, this was new to me. Even suffering through a semester of calculus in high school wasn’t as painful as the mid-semester class meetings for this course. Before my meeting with the professor, I bought a cup of coffee at the library. My nerves got the better of me and I spilled the coffee instead of drinking it. I was bursting with anxiety when we sat down in his small, cluttered office. He asked how I was – how my semester was going. It took me months to understand why I almost immediately started to cry.

His question – his concern for me – was genuine, which was shocking to me. I have found that when most people ask “How are you?” they don’t really mean it. They often don’t want to hear about your sickly relative or unemployment or money problems. They want to hear that you’re happy and healthy – that all is well. Somehow, real life has become too uncomfortable to talk about. That’s why my mother consistently reminds me not to discuss politics, sex or religion before we leave the house for holiday dinners with our extended family.

One of the key points of this professor’s course was to interrogate the question “Why do we write?” Based on Daum’s collection of essays, I suspect she writes to answer “How are you?” a bit more honestly than many of us are used to. Throughout the book she skips the small talk and invites the reader to take a look at her real story and taboo topics that we often avoid in day-to-day conversation. The course challenged me to do the same, and my dedication to doing so is a major reason why I enjoyed Daum’s writing so much. Telling her truth takes a lot of courage, but she does it well. She doesn’t leave things unsaid.

Next up: Tina Fey’s Bossypants and How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. In May I was in the midst of a feminist rampage and ended up on Amazon. I justified the purchases by reminding myself that there are much more reckless ways of dealing with my pro-woman rage and doing damage to my bank account than by adding to my already overflowing bookshelf.

Update: I finished Bossypants on my way to New York and loved it. Before I read Moran’s book, I’ve started Thrive by Arianna Huffington. Clearly I’m still in my memoirs-written-by-successful-women phase. I suspect I’ll need some fiction soon!