Stop, Breathe & Think

Remember how I said I wasn’t going to write themed posts anymore but would instead start writing about whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted? I’m doing that! I’ll still write about writing, it just may not be on a Wednesday. In fact, today is one of those writing-less Wednesdays.

I’ve been really stressed out lately. Actually, being stressed out is normal for me. I’ve been an anxious person ever since I was a little kid who couldn’t sleep in her own room because her lamp cast a shadow on the wall that looked like a giant nose (I have no idea why this upset me so much, but I definitely remember the knot I’d get in my stomach every time I saw it. You can’t make this stuff up, people). But recently, (as in yesterday) I heard about a couple of apps that help with mindfulness and guided meditation. I’ve tried meditation in the past, but it didn’t really work for me.

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Am I doing it?!

I kept getting impatient because I couldn’t make myself stop thinking long enough to feel calm and peaceful. So I got frustrated. And even more anxious.

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Now, years after those hideous attempts, I’ve made a new attempt. The result? I really enjoyed it. I found an Android app called Stop, Breathe & Think. One thing I like about it is that it not only explains how to meditate in 3 easy steps — Stop, Breathe, and Think (which it expands on) — but also why and how meditation and mindfulness are beneficial. The app also drops a little science with a succinct explanation of the Autonomic Nervous System’s 2 branches, the Sympathetic & Parasympathetic Nervous Systems, how these systems relate to and effect our bodies, and how mindfulness and meditation effect these systems.

Another thing I love about this app is that it asks you about yourself. The very first thing you see when you open it is the question “How are you?” From there, you’re invited to close your eyes and get in touch with your body and mind so you can choose what state both are in. Next, you’re taken to a screen with 5 different faces (representing 5 moods/states). Beneath each face is a list of emotions for you to choose from. You can choose up to 5 emotions across all 5 face/mood screens. Then the app computes your results and gives you a list of 3 different meditations that are most likely to be helpful to you. You’re told the length of the meditation, and given a short description of its purpose. You can choose 1, 2, all 3, or go back to the main menu and choose a different meditation altogether.

A calm, slightly robotic voice guides you through each meditation, first easing you into relaxation, then asking you to consider different concepts (according to the meditation you’ve chosen) such as change, gratitude, cause & effect, etc.

I’ve done four meditations so far, and I really enjoyed them. Having a guide is especially comforting for someone like me who constantly worries about whether I’m doing something the right way. While you have the option of purchasing additional meditation sessions, the app is free to download and comes loaded with 15 different meditations to do without cost. The app is also available for the iPhone, or you could just open it on your laptop. If you’re curious about meditation, give it a try!

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Do you meditate?

 

The Sisterhood of World Bloggers

Hey there, everybody. My awesome blogger friend Frankie nominated me to be another link in this chain of blog posts responding to questions about being part of the craze-mazing blogging world, travel, and other biz. There are so many great lady bloggers out there, and I’m glad to be part of their world.

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Thanks for the nom, Frankfurter!

Let’s get started!

Where is your all-time favorite destination?

I’ve spent most of my life wishing I was somewhere else. Nowhere was this truer than in Charlotte, NC. My mom and I moved there the summer before I started high school, and I spent all of high school AND college wishing I lived in New York or London or Narnia, or (almost) anywhere else. But after years of moving all over the place, and now that I do live in London, my favorite destination is my mom’s house in Charlotte, NC. I love how it feels to come home to the US after being away; I appreciate everything more when I come back. My favorite restaurants, being able to drive without fear, and the love I get from friends and family. Nothing like it.

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Which post are you most proud of?

I am always most proud of the posts where I was able to be completely honest and got comments from folks who could relate. My most recent post of that kind is this one about what I hope to accomplish starting this year.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party, alive or dead?

A squeal-worthy dinner party for me would include:
1) Neil Gaiman, because he’s an epic dude who writes inspiring, magical things.
2) Amanda Palmer, because she’s a bad-ass, independent artist who will leave me feeling empowered, AND because seeing the love between her and Neil Gaiman in person would fill me with all the warm fuzzies.
3) Amy Poehler, because she’s hilarious and her book felt so honest and made me feel like it’s beyond acceptable to be me.
4) Toni Morrison, b/c she is a writing god and I want her amazing intelligence to rub off on me.
5) James Baldwin, for the exact same reason.
6) Donna Tartt, because I want to lick the pages of the books she’s written.
7) Zadie Smith, because she knows how to get right to the root of things.
8) Rebecca Sugar, b/c she’s adorable, mega talented, and has created one of the best animated shows I’ve ever seen. (Please watch Steven Universe)
9) Leonard Nimoy, b/c he brought Spock to life like no one else could’ve, and b/c he was passionate about so many things. I also have a crush on young Leonard Nimoy. Just sayin’.
10) Mabel Pines from Gravity Falls, b/c she always puts a smile on my face. Technically, she’s neither living nor dead, but I needed a number 10 to round things out and Mabel wins at everything.

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Do you have a favorite travel app?

Not really, but I do have a favorite app to use while traveling. WhatsApp is a life-saver whenever I’m in another country and can’t call people normally b/c it would cost me a billion dollars to do so. I love that being out of range of my network doesn’t have to mean being cut off from everyone I know.

What’s your favorite and least favorite thing about blogging?

My favorite thing about blogging is that I’ve made new friends here because of it. I also love being able to communicate with/get to know the bloggers I haven’t met in person yet through their blogs. My least favorite thing is the pressure I feel to post things, which can lead to me posting content I’m not thrilled about just for the sake of posting something. But that’s mostly an in-my-own-head sort of thing (and honestly, I put that kind of pressure on myself in most aspects of my life). I’m gradually getting better at giving myself a break, though.

Is there anything you like to do any time you visit somewhere new?

EAT.
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Eating the food a country or state is known for is my favorite way of getting to know a new place. I love good food, and I love trying new food.

Where is somewhere you’ve been or something you did that you didn’t expect much of, but ended up loving?

When I studied abroad in Scotland my senior year of college, I attended a cèilidh (kay-lee) — a traditional Gaelic party that involves lots of dancing. Heading there, I just knew I’d spend the whole night embarrassed, in a corner, hating myself. I ended up having a blast. Everyone dances together, and since most of the people there were international students, we had to learn together how to do each dance, and it was so much fun. I came out of there sweaty, tired, and proud.

What’s your pet peeve?

My biggest pet peeve is when people are inconsiderate. From not holding the door for someone, to cutting in front of someone, to being a terrible listener. Personally, the worst one is when someone cuts me off while I’m talking. I don’t talk much anyway when I’m around people I don’t know well, but when I do, I appreciate being listened to. I love listening to other people — it’s how I get to know them. So when a person interrupts or talks over me, it makes me feel for a nanosecond like I’m not worth knowing. It was the biggest bummer of my life to find out the whole “treat others the way you want to be treated” thing doesn’t necessarily mean anything to the people you encounter. Some folks just take whatever you’re willing to give without showing any kindness themselves, which is crappy of them. But you can’t stop being nice to people just because they’re not nice, cuz then the world would be full of jerks.

What’s your most treasured possession?

My most treasured possession is myself. I can walk, talk, hear, see, taste and breathe. Most importantly, my thoughts are (mostly) coherent, and I have memories and a personality that I like. A lot of people lose limbs and organs, and some lose their minds. I have yet to do either, and I’m grateful.

Welp, that’s me.

I nominate Kristen, Camila, Jaime, and Susan. Same questions.

  1. Where is your all-time favorite destination?
  2. Which post are you most proud of?
  3. Who would you invite to your dream dinner party, alive or dead?
  4. Do you have a favorite travel app?
  5. What’s your favorite and least favorite thing about blogging?
  6. Is there anything you like to do any time you visit somewhere new?
  7. Where is somewhere you’ve been or something you did that you didn’t expect much of, but ended up loving?
  8. What’s your pet peeve?
  9. What’s your most treasured possession?

No. 131

Sometimes, you just need to get away, even if it’s only for one night. The day before Christmas Eve, I traveled to Cheltenham in Gloucestershire to stay at No. 131, a restaurant and bar with 11 bedrooms, attentive and kind staff, great food, and the best bathtub I’ve ever had the pleasure of soaking in.

There are three types of rooms: “Cosy”, “Very Good”, and “Excellent”. Prices increase according to which room you book, and vary depending on the time of year. When I arrived, a member of staff checked me in and informed me that I’d been upgraded to a “Very Good” room from a “Cosy” one. I’d been excited about staying at No. 131 ever since I made the booking, but when I saw my room, I squealed (after the super nice woman who showed me to my room had gone, obvi). It was so. Pretty.

I stood there for maybe 5 seconds, drooling, before racing all over the room to take pictures of everything. Yes, the bathtub is in the bedroom. It was the most beautiful, insanely deep tub I’ve ever seen. I sat in it with my clothes on and felt like I was in a space ship. I actually giggled. I ran into the bathroom, which was just as nice as everything else. I looked out of the window in front of the tub and got a view of the street out front. On the bed, there was a hot water bottle, and an envelope with my name on it.

Inside the envelope was a lovely note from the management welcoming me to No. 131 and wishing me a pleasant stay. Boom. I was completely sold. Upon opening the wardrobe, I found more to delight and amuse. In addition to a place to hang my coat, there was a cute little tea set, a selection of teas, coffee, sugar, and a mini bar.

I had a few hours before my dinner reservation, so I made some tea, poured myself some water from the large bottle they’d left for me, put on my pyjamas, and relaxed in the squishy comfort of my bed with the TV on.

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Right before dinner, I ventured down to the basement bar. Like the rest of the building, it’s lovely, but since the lights were dim (and since I was enjoying myself so much) I didn’t get any pictures of it. It was chilly outside (December, duh) but I sat in their outdoor area with my pint anyway. It’s a cool atmosphere. Groups of friends were out there laughing beneath the heaters. I sipped my beer and watched the world go by a bit before heading back inside.

I reentered the building from the front so I could take a couple of snaps.

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I had dinner in another dimly lit and beautiful space. Several groups were happily chatting away around me. I ordered the devilled crab on toast as my starter, the braised ox cheek with horseradish mash as my main, and an autumn fruit crumble for dessert.

It was a delicious dinner, and I left the restaurant stuffed.

Among the extra services offered that you may recognize (like in-room massage) there are unique complimentary ones which add to No 131’s already considerable charm. The woman who showed me to my room gave me the option of accepting these services, one of which I enjoyed after dinner. While you are having dinner in the restaurant, a member of staff will leave cookies, and hot milk in a thermos with chocolate stirrers in your room so you can make hot chocolate. You better believe I took them up on it.

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Unfortunately, since I’d already stuffed myself with food downstairs, I couldn’t manage the hot chocolate AND both cookies, but I made a good go of it.

Before bed, I luxuriated in a nice looooooong bath in that glorious tub, which was perfectly positioned so I could watch CSI and the first episode of Sherlock as I sank into the bubbles. An interesting thing about No. 131 and the other venues in The Lucky Onion group is that all food and products are locally sourced, including the organic bath products by the brand 100 Acres, based in the Cotswolds.

After my bath, I slept well…until the fire alarm went off. Apparently the fireplaces cause that from time to time. Continental breakfast is available, but you also have the option of having pastries and juice left at your door in the morning to enjoy at your leisure as an alternative, also complimentary. Why not? I went for it. If given the choice, I’ll always take more sleep and bumming around the room in my pjs to getting dressed and dealing with other humans in the morning. Maybe it’s the crotchety grandma in me. *Shrug*

My stay at No. 131 was so relaxing. It really made me see the value in taking a bit of time away from the city. I can’t wait to go back and take advantage of more of their offerings. I also hope to do some exploring around Cheltenham next time.

What’s the best overnight trip you’ve taken?

Happy Tuesday!

P.S.
RIP David Bowie, you king, you.

“Writers and artists aren’t machines.”

Hello again.

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I know I said I’d decided to leave off doing the themed posts, but this super cool chick said she digs the writing posts, and I dig writing them. So here I am!

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Heads up — this is gonna be a long one.

I follow Neil Gaiman on Facebook. The other day, he posted a link to one of his old blog entries — from waaaay back in 2009 — called “Entitlement Issues,” which he brought up because the same issue that inspired its composition has once again reared its ugly head. I’ll use the same excerpt below that he used on FB; it sums up his blog post nicely (though I highly recommend reading the post in its entirety).

People are not machines. Writers and artists aren’t machines.

You’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.

No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next.

If you haven’t already guessed, the “George” he’s referring to is George R. R. Martin, author of the extremely popular Game of Thrones book series. Gaiman wrote this in response to a missive from a fan of Martin’s who subscribed to Martin’s blog but became “frustrated” by the lack of news about the next book in the series. Other people have made snide comments recently, as his latest installment is not yet finished, about how they’ve seen Martin out and about. Living his life. *Gasp* How dare he?

As an avid reader, I understand full well how hard it can be to wait for the next book from an author you love. I also understand how it feels to end one book in a series and immediately want to tear your own face off because you have to wait for the next one. It’s tough.

But…

As a writer, I believe that every point Gaiman makes in his post is true. No artist is beholden to their audience to produce work on demand. That’s not how good art is generally made. If you’re a professional writer, as in producing work that will be available to the public, you are putting something very personal out into the world to be viewed, judged, and commented upon. Wouldn’t you want it to be something you feel good about?

It seems to me that the biggest problem with series books is that either readers complain that the books used to be good but that somewhere in the effort to get out a book every year the quality has fallen off, or they complain that the books, although maintaining quality, aren’t coming out on time. — Neil Gaiman

Several opinionated articles have been written about Martin’s failure to meet his book deadlines. One (that kind of grated on me) concluded that Martin is in danger of becoming irrelevant to the series that he created since the show is set to outpace the novels. That to me is ridiculous. For one thing, the two are completely different projects in different mediums which have now veered away from one another plot-wise (according to this and other articles I’ve read). For another, I tend to agree with the last lines of yesterday’s Guardian article on the subject: “David Benioff and DB Weiss, the producers of the television show, may be ahead of him, story-wise. But those characters and events will always be his.” He created this world that people are obsessing over. And there will always be a population of readers who appreciate him for that.

Another interesting point brought up by the Guardian article was the idea of “the muse.”

“In the four years from 1996 to 2000 he published three books; in the 15 years since he’s published part of one,” wrote Tim Marchman at Deadspin, in a piece published a few days before Martin’s admission. Plainly, this line of thinking held, Martin is physically and intellectually capable of producing faster. Does he ever plan on finishing the thing, before he dies?

Well, the muse doesn’t quite work like that, most writers would cluck.

The muse actually has very little to do with it. Many writers will tell you that if you aspire to any kind of writing career, you need to get over that whole “but I’m just not feeling inspired” thing. I’ve heard and read that piece of advice more times than I can count. You just have to DO it. But that doesn’t mean that once you do, the words will come flowing out all shiny and chrome. It also doesn’t mean that you’ll see every story through to the end. Sometimes you just don’t feel connected to what you’re working on anymore. In his apology to fans, Martin wrote, “I am months away still… and that’s if the writing goes well. (Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t.)” And that’s true. You might write 5,000 words of utter garbage one day, and the most perfect 200-word paragraph known to man the next. The artist is the only one who knows their vision. Therefore, only they know what, of the work they’ve done, is ready to be seen by others (or if the whole thing should just be scrapped).

When a person has a career in the arts, people seem to think that 1) they only ever work on one project at a time, and 2) they just sit around scratching their privates all day until they “feel like” doing some work — but the actual work only takes, like, an hour, right?

Making any kind of art is fun, but it can also be a real challenge to bring your ideas to life. Especially when you really care about getting it right. And even in those moments when you aren’t actually working on a particular project, you’re thinking about it. Every artistic passion has its difficulties. And the artist creating the work is going to be harder on themselves while making it than any critic or reader or viewer could ever be, because only THEY know what their goals are for their work.

And, hey! There’s also the fact that George R. R. Martin has to write a book series AT THE SAME TIME EPISODES OF THE TELEVISED ADAPTATION ARE BEING MADE AND BROADCASTED. That’s a lot of pressure… and a lot of promotion to do…. and a lot of events to attend. And this is on top of any engagements he has that are purely book-related, and any non-GoT projects on the burner. Most authors likely have more control (overall) over what gets done when. But then, most authors aren’t competing against adaptations of the work they’re writing…as they write it. I’d be pulling my hair out and punching people in the face if it were me. Just sayin’.

Bottom line: if George R. R. Martin didn’t care (as some disgruntled fans claim), the series would be over by now, long before its time. He would’ve crapped out a bunch of nonsense, bound it up, said “There ya go,” and went on his merry way. When an author takes their time with a story, it’s a good sign they’re making something that they — and by extension, their readers — can be proud of. It’s what I imagine most authors mean when they say that they write first and foremost for themselves. That’s the kind of work I want to read — a story the author is proud of.

I haven’t read a single GoT book yet (though I intend to), but from what I’ve gathered, the stories are long and the world is complex. I doubt any of his readers would be cool with a watered down version of the world he’s created in exchange for having the book in their hands faster. It doesn’t seem worth it to me.

Writers are human beings. They have lives. They have good days and bad days. Sometimes you’re pumped and can’t stop churning the words out; sometimes you’re mentally defeated and can’t even bring yourself to crawl out of bed, let alone write. And there’s everything in between, too; there’s life to deal with. Everyone should be allowed to work at their own pace. Everyone should be allowed to make mistakes. Martin missed his deadline. It happens. It doesn’t mean that he or any other author who does the same is lazy or doesn’t care about their readers.

In fact, they’ve probably missed their deadline because they do care.

It will be done when it’s done. And it will be as good as I can possibly make it.George R. R. Martin

Life Resolutions

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Can you believe it’s already 2016?

I wish I could be like some of the other people I know who’ve said that 2015 has been their “best year yet” and that they can’t wait for what 2016 holds. I can’t in all honesty agree with the first part, but some pretty great things have happened to me in the past year that I’m very grateful for. However, I wholeheartedly agree with the second part: I’m curious about what the new year will bring. I have some goals that I hope to accomplish, but they aren’t “New Year’s Resolutions” because they’re things I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Like…

Have A Healthy Body

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I have some really unhealthy habits leftover from high school (when my epic metabolism prevented love handles) that I’d like to get rid of for good. Exercise for me takes the form of an occasional long walk and some crunches here and there. I want to get into a regular routine of activity, but more than that, I REALLY wanna learn how to eat healthy. Up til now, I’ve been erratic with my healthy eating b/c it always seemed so expensive to get healthy foods that also tasted great. I love Whole Foods like woah, but I can’t shop there all the time. And when I put my healthy shopping on pause, it opens me up to eating truckloads of sugar and fast food and anything else that’ll mean I don’t have to do the dishes. I know you don’t have to shop at Whole Foods to be a healthy eater, but for a lazy eater like me, it’s just easier when a store is basically like “ONLY HEALTHY THINGS SOLD HERE.” Anyway, I’d like to get back on the health horse without falling off this time. Here’s hoping.

Have A Healthy Mind

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Without going into too much detail, this has been my biggest struggle. Not of 2015 — of my life. Having great friends and loving family members is helpful, but there’s a lot I need to do on my own to reach this goal. It’s an ongoing battle that I’ve already made progress with, but there’s always more to do. I plan on making more strides in this part of my life, too.

Visit Japan

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I have wanted to do this since I was 11 and watched my first episode of Dragon Ball Z. Japan’s history and culture is so rich and unique; I’ve always had a soft spot for it (and a slight obsession). The language is rhythmic and beautiful. The fiction is dark and strange. I need to visit that country. Growing up, what stopped me was a lack of funds. These days, what stops me is fear. I absolutely want to be there, but I haven’t spoken the language since I was an undergrad and have since forgotten a lot of it. I always wanted to go there as a fluent speaker. But now that I’m basically back at square one, the idea of going seems kind of scary to me. I know English is spoken there, but I want to be able to speak to people comfortably in Japanese. I’m planning to take classes or find a private tutor who can help me get back to a good place with the language so I can finally, confidently, journey to the place I’ve always dreamed of visiting.

Explore!

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London, England, Europe, everywhere I can (and want to)! Now that I live here, my head is constantly spinning with how many boroughs there are to visit, hidden streets to discover, and countries only a cheap flight or train ride away. There are places I haven’t yet been and places I hope to revisit with older eyes. Go, go, goooo!!!

Finish this $&^%#^%$@#&^% Book!

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This novel has been in my head for years and now that it’s finally being put to paper, it’s a little scary. But I need to finish this because I know that doing so will make me feel so satisfied. It’s weird how frightening putting your ideas into action (or essentially, getting what you want) can be. But I want to do this — need to — because it really matters to me. I’m a writer. Do you know how hard it is for me to say that?! It doesn’t feel like a real thing unless you have something published that people actually know about. But if you spend your time writing, it’s true. Whether you’re published or not. So I’ll tack another goal onto this one: don’t be afraid to call yourself a writer.

Love Unabashedly

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I am a love monster. An affection bomb. I love showing love. But not everyone is comfortable with that. This goal actually goes hand-in-hand with my mental health goal in that it requires me to stop caring what other people think. If someone is uncomfortable with the way you are, there are sooooo many other people in the world whom you can befriend, fall in love with, or smile at on the subway. Not everyone likes everyone else. Not everyone clicks with everyone else. And that’s OK! My goal is to be my weird, crazy, brimming-with-love self without discomfort because there is always at least one person out there who will appreciate you for who you actually are (and luckily, I already have a few of those people in my life 🙂 ).

I also have hopes for all of you. I hope that this year, you make yourself so, so proud. Be happy, all of you.

My blogging schedule is going to change again. I’ve found that writing 4 times a week (on top of the other writing I need to do) is a bit of a struggle for me. So I think I’ll just post when I really have something I want to say to you (until I find a comfortable routine). But I’m glad I tried out the themed posts because now I know that I can do it if the whim ever strikes me again.

See you next time, you crazy animals.