Feb 17

Saving My Life Right Now: Winter 2017

The winter has always been hard for me. And I always hate the third quarter of the school year — that time between the start of the spring semester and spring break. (I thought it wouldn’t be so bad as an instructor, but it still feels like being stuck in quicksand.) Then, couple that with the current political climate, and it’s pretty easy to see why I haven’t blogged in over a month.


I feel incredibly small right now, and like I don’t matter. I feel like the words I could say to my readers are functionally worthless. And I also feel like so many are going through so much worse than me right now, so why doesn’t it even matter if I post something?

I know all of this is unhealthy thinking, so in an effort to get back on the horse, I’m linking up with Anne from Modern Mrs. Darcy to talk about things that are saving my life right now.

001: My super tiny bullet journal.
I’ve written a lot about different planning methods I’ve used in the past, but this year I joined team #bujo. But I also knew I wanted to shrink down my planning as much as possible. So instead of using the standard-sized Leuchtturm 1917 notebook, I’m using a pocket-sized one. (I don’t think the world needs another blog post about bullet journaling, but I’ll probably write one very soon anyway.) I’ve been tracking the books I’ve read, what I’m grateful for, and what I’ve spent. I’ve really been looking forward to Saturday nights when I bust out the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners to make the spread for the next week.

002: Carrying a book with me.
I always used to carry a book with me, but got out of the habit when I was at the job from hell. I didn’t feel like reading pretty much the whole time I was there, so I never jammed a paperback in my purse to savor over lunch. Recently, I got back in this habit, and I’m happy to report I read 5 books in January alone. Also, office hours are great when they’re spent reading.

003: My Stanley travel mug.
I hate travel mugs that don’t actually keep the coffee warm. I also hate travel mugs that don’t have lids that close all the way. Luckily, Chris found this Stanley travel mug. He has one that’s 16 ounces, and I have the 12 ouncer. Not only does it keep my coffee warm for a few hours, if I throw it in my bag, it doesn’t dump coffee all over my laptop.

004: The Beach Body App.
I did a little survey on Snapchat the other day (username: GentleMarisa) and asked people what their favorite workouts were. The overwhelming response was that people liked the Beach Body app. My friend Liz sent me a discount link, and I signed up. This past week I’ve been doing Focus T-25 in the mornings, and the 3-Week Yoga Retreat in the evenings. And the best part of it is that I don’t have to leave the house, which is the hardest part about working out in the mornings in the winter. Seriously. I refuse to go out in the cold so I can get sweaty.

005: Good coworkers.
It’s just good to know when you have some coworkers who are like your comrades in arms. I probably have the most ideal working situation of anyone in academia, and any time I think about that, I’m just overcome with how lucky I am.


What about you? It’s important to remember that self-care isn’t selfish. What’s saving your life right now?

Sep 16

Reader Rant: 10 Reasons I Stop Reading Books

I once met someone who always finished every book they picked up. I’m not like that AT ALL. I think I’ve quit a lot of books, and always for different reasons. And while I may eventually pick those books back up again and finish them, there are some things that make me stop reading books and never go back.

Here are the 10 reasons I stop reading books.

And with that, I give you 10 reasons I stop reading books.

10 Reasons I Stop Reading Books Click To Tweet

001: The author can’t write women characters.
Look. It’s not that hard. Like, if you want to write but you don’t understand 50% of the population, then you need to reassess your path. I mean, sure, there are a ton of famous writers who get away with it, and have built huge careers (and cocaine addictions and subsequent sobriety) on it. But it’s 2016, and I like to think that readers won’t let you get away with it. I know I sure won’t.

I think Kelly Sue DeConnick said it best:

“So, there’s the Bechdel test. I’ve got another test that works just as well. The Sexy Lamp test. If you can take out a female character and replace her with a sexy lamp, YOU’RE A FUCKING HACK.”

And any book that has that sort of female character in it is absolutely not worth my time.

002: The story relies on stereotypes.
Try harder. Seriously. If you can’t make a character real and authentic, then you need to work on a new draft. And as a reader, there is nothing more boring than reading stereotypical characters or dialogue or scenes. It’s predictable and lazy. Also, when you read a stereotype, it seems like a place holder that the author put in there so they could come back and fix it late. And placeholders don’t move the story forward.

003: The book doesn’t live up to the hype.
Sometimes the hype machine gets itself all worked up and makes you think it’s totally worth paying $30 to preorder a hardcover copy of what promises to be the book that will define a generation. And then you get it, and it’s garbage. I definitely don’t preorder many books these days, just because I’ve been burned one too many times. So I’m always leery when a book is preceded by the sort of fanfare one typically reserves for a fifteenth century monarch. And if the book doesn’t deserve that fanfare, I stop reading it.

004: It’s not my cup of tea.
Sometimes a book isn’t for me. Simple as that. It’s nothing against the book itself.

005: The story is inspiration porn.
I really hate stories that tell us characters with disabilities or diseases are inspirational simply because they have disabilities or diseases. Characters with disabilities or diseases should not exist to make able-bodied readers feel inspired and good about themselves. Characters with disabilities and diseases should be in stories though, BECAUSE THERE ARE PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES AND DISEASES IN THE REAL WORLD.

006: It’s one of those books that the pseudo-intellectual boys from college used to talk about.
I have a whole shelf of these, and I’m thinking about doing a blog post about them, and then giving them away to blog readers. I mean, I feel bad about giving you guys books I quit reading, but I also want that shelf real estate back and maybe these books are your jam. (Does anyone want a fuck ton of Bukowski and Salinger?) I only wish I still had the terrible mix CDs from the pseudo-intellectual dudes I knew in college. That would really be fun to go through.

007: The author’s hand is way too damn heavy.
I get my preachin’ on Sundays. At least, I would if I went to church. But suffice it to say that the minute a book starts preaching to me, I’m done. Or, if the book has a hella preachy tone with the message instead of just showing me the characters and their story, I’m out.

008: I can’t identify with the motivations of any of the characters.
This is pretty much why it’s impossible for me to watch Girls on HBO. Basically, I don’t understand why any of the characters do anything. And if I don’t get that, the story doesn’t make any sense to me. And if the story doesn’t make any sense to me, then it’s really hard to keep reading.

009: I can’t figure out what’s happening.
This one kind of piggy backs off the last one, but doesn’t necessarily require the previous condition. Sometimes, I feel like writers wan’t to pack as many subplots into a story as possible. Then, instead of being exciting and complex, the story turns into a garbled mess where I need a spreadsheet and a flow chart to keep track of all the stuff that’s happening and where the information all belongs. And it’s worth noting here that I’m absolute shit with spreadsheets and flow charts.

010: The author cares about the plot more than the characters or the story.
This is a very big pet peeve of mine. To me, the plot doesn’t functionally matter. I will gladly read books with no plot at all if the characters are interesting. But what I can’t stand is a quick-paced plot that I can’t care about because the characters are basically anonymous shadows of people. If I don’t have the thing to emotionally ground me in the story, then I don’t really see a reason to keep going.


What about you? Why do you stop reading books?

Jul 16

Reading Memories: Crying About Dr. Seuss and Frodo

reading memories

This summer, I’ve been working with the Institute of Reading Development, and it’s been a lot of fun and also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve worked double shifts as a server and bartender. I’ve worked with impossible ghostwriting clients. I’ve worked at the job from hell. But nothing compares to the exhaustion I have felt after teaching 4 reading classes on a Sunday.

When I’m done, my brain is tired and almost incapable of thought. My body hurts from standing for about 8 hours straight, but also from squatting down to talk to each and ever one of my students. I’m drenched in sweat, because even when the air conditioner is on, I can’t stop sweating because I’m all over that classroom.

And while all of this is going on, I’m teaching some of my favorite books of all time.

The high school class centers around learning to properly read and take notes in textbooks, as well as reading Book I of The Fellowship of the Ring. This is absolutely perfect for me, because in high school, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was very important to me. The first time I ever skipped class in high school was to go buy tickets for The Return of the King. I can attribute elements of my own moral compass to that book series since I read it at a time when I was figuring out what was wrong and right to me. If you ever have four hours to watch a person cry hysterically about friendship, or about our ability to rise to a higher nature, then buy me a beer and let me talk about Tolkien.

If you don’t have that kind of time, then satisfy yourself with this picture of me dressed as Frodo back in high school.

Reading LOTR made me think dressing like Frodo was a good idea.

What can I say? I have a very particular milkshake that literally brings zero boys to the yard.

Both of the high school classes I have taught this summer have been very successful. And I attribute most of that to the fact that no one is allowed to dislike Tolkien on my watch.

But I get to teach other favorites too. The last class session with my kindergarteners finds me reading The Cat in the Hat out loud. It’s a straightforward, silly story. There’s no room for emotional breakdowns there.


There's no room for emotional breakdowns there. OR IS THERE?! Click To Tweet

Spoilers: There is.

I think my first memories of being read to involve The Cat in the Hat. In fact, one of my first conscious memories involves that story. My brother and I are in the bathtub playing with this metal toy pot that went with our kitchen play set. (This was back in the day when kids’ toys were made of metal and other non-safe materials.) My mom is there giving us the bath, but midway my dad walks in. He’s still in his button-down shirt and tie. (Also, his mustache and hair are still dark black and not gray like they are now.) He grabs the pot and pours some water on our heads. My brother and I laugh hysterically.

Then, we’re dried off and put to bed. My brother’s bed is on one side of the room, and mine on the other. Mom sits in a rocking chair between us and reads The Cat in the Hat. Dad sits on the edge of my bed. Then we’re asleep.

This could very well be a conglomeration of memories of bath and bedtime routines from my childhood. But I don’t think that matters. What matters is that I have this memory of my family all in one room together, thinking about the same thing all at the same time. That wasn’t something that happened a lot. While my mom stayed home with us, my dad worked really long hours as a restaurant manager when we were little. I remember we pretty much only saw him for those few minutes before bed. And because my brother has autism-like symptoms, we don’t really share a lot between us. We were never close, but we shared that story.

So, while I read this story to my kindergarteners now, it’s hard not to think about how significant those moments were, even though they happened probably 28 or 29 years ago. It’s kind of crazy to think how unbelievably important a silly story about an anthropomorphic cat who makes a big mess can be.

Do I get a little choked up in class? Yeah.

But I think that’s par for the course with teaching kindergarteners. The class requires that the parents sit in class with their children. And it’s really sweet to watch the kids bond with their parents while they work on reading.

If I’m being honest, teaching kindergarteners has been the first time that I’ve thought to myself that I want to have a kid. And I want to have a kid because I want to teach a kid to read.

Naturally, this desire to have a kid was completely erased when I walked into my middle school classroom. There is truly no birth control like sharing a room with ten 13-year-olds who all think they tell the best jokes.

Spoilers: No 13-year-old tells good jokes.