P is for Pete Rock & CL Smooth

Do you have a song that never fails to take you back to certain moments in your life and make you feel alllll the feelings again? You probably have a few. I do, too. But there’s one in particular that makes me consider and appreciate my entire life — even the things that haven’t happened yet. It’s called T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You).

CL Smooth raps about his upbringing, and memories of all the people who are important to him and have made him who he is. (If you listen to the song, you’ll learn the significance of the acronym in verse 3.) T.R.O.Y. is one of those classic hip-hop tracks that never fails to get those of us who love the genre hype. It’s representative of everything great about hip-hop: the perfect sample, chosen and looped with care; a hot (and timeless) beat that makes you move; words that truly mean something because they came from the heart. Hip-hop, GOOD hip-hop, always makes me proud to be African American because of the impact it’s made and continues to make around the world, and because we had such an important role in creating the genre (as did the Latinos, Caribbeans, and other people plugged into the scene at the time). But my love for this song goes beyond an appreciation for my culture. This song makes me think about my own life and the relationships — whether holding strong or broken — that have shaped my personality over the years.

Both of my parents LOVE music. My dad actually used to dj in high school and on into the early years of his marriage to my mom. The two of them together had a pretty extensive record collection. It hit every genre of music but country and gospel. And since he dj’ed, my dad had a sweet stereo system with massive speakers that he kept in the den in our basement. The majority of my memories of our townhouse, where I lived until I was ten, are of being in that basement. It’s where the big TV was where I watched all my favorite cartoons and learned to imitate the voices of my favorite characters; it’s where I kept my rabbit, Buttons; it’s where the sliding glass door was (through which I could see the ice penguin I’d made with my dad one winter); and it’s where I listened to music and turned my love of it into a capital letter kind of love. (It’s also where me and my first cousin used to introduce each other to a fake audience after plugging in my dad’s microphone. Cuz we were the absolute coolest.)

One of my favorite things to do was turn the volume all the way up at the end of each song I listened to and see what words I could hear as the track faded out. I also remember how exciting it was to catch my favorite songs on the radio (or my favorite episodes on TV) back before people could just find and download whatever they wanted. My first attempts at harmonizing were in front of my dad’s speakers (and now I can’t help doing it whenever I sing anything). I had a lot of fun in that basement, and now, when I hear T.R.O.Y., my mind inevitably wanders back to that time and place. That basement was the first place I heard that song, and the lyrics about aunts and uncles, moms and dads, grandparents and friends, put me in mind of every important memory I’ve ever made. The good, the bad — I wouldn’t be me without all of it.

What song is your T.R.O.Y.?

P.S.
I was inspired to write this post b/c of the new speaker I just bought. It’s a UE BOOM 2, and it is glorious.

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Road Trip Playlist

Welcome to Travel Thursday: Road Trip Edition!
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I’m all about road trips, but haven’t taken one since moving from the East coast to the West in the US in 2010. One of my most favorite things about hitting the road for hours and hours, aside from the beautiful scenery and spending lots of time with the awesome people in your life, is listening to music. I’ve never made a playlist for a road trip, but I’ve been on a lot of them. I usually just put my iPod on shuffle and see what comes up. But certain songs are best for certain moods, and you go through a lot of moods on a road trip.

Sunny beginningsAll I Want Is You — Barry Louis Polisar


When you have to pee
Bird Flu M.I.A.


When the person you’re driving with misses the rest stop
Chop Suey — System Of A Down


90s nostalgia
Shape of My Heart — Backstreet Boys


Eat our #%$*%#@ dust!
Won’t Get Fooled Again — The Who


Turnt
Collard Greens — Schoolboy Q feat. Kendrick Lamar


Are we there yet?
How Soon Is Now? (cover) — t.A.T.u.


Now that I’ve thought about it while staring at this endless stretch of road, I’m convinced me & my S.O. are so right for each other and everyone else can suck it
All Eyes On You — Meek Mill feat. Nicki Minaj & Chris Brown


Cruisin’
Electric Relaxation — A Tribe Called Quest


That f**ker in the red truck just cut me off!
In My Eyes — Minor Threat


When shit gets weird
Starstruck — Santogold


When shit gets weirde
r —ย Spin Spin Sugar — Sneaker Pimps


Why do we exist?
Amnesia — The Vines


Crossing the state/country border
Oh My God — Ida Maria


I’m glad we’re here, but I kinda wish we could just keep driving
The Time Warp — Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast

 

What makes your road trip playlist?

Happy Thursday! ๐Ÿ™‚

OBSESSED: Sea Calls Me Home

Hey y’all ๐Ÿ˜€ Here’s this week’s obsession:

My manager played this song at work and I was hooked. I love the chorus, the saxophone break, and how it makes me feel like I could drop through a portal into another world (I also love that the title reminds me of the movie Song of the Sea, which I’m still obsessed with by the way…). Julia Holter, you’re my ears’ new bff. Why don’t you and my old buddy Rufus Wainwright get cozy together on my playlist…

Have a great weekend everyone!

Halloween Happenings in London

Welcome back to Travel Thursday: Scary Pumpkin Time edition.
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There’s always something fun to do in London. And even though Halloween isn’t a super big deal over here (like it is in the US), there are still some cool, Halloween-themed events happening this week[end]. Since Halloween is only days away, you probably have plans already. But if you don’t (and even if you do), here are some ideas.

Haunted House of Vans

Head to House of Vans on Saturday for awesome skating, headbanging metal, a movie, and ghouls a-plenty. At 3pm, skateboarders will compete for a ยฃ1000 prize in “the bowl.” After that, there’ll be a screening of Lucas Fiederling’s video ‘Where We Come From.’ At 9:30pm, their haunted house opens with performances by Hang the Bastard and Bombus providing the soundtrack. Feel free to give your lungs a rest and your body a workout after as there’ll be DJ sets until 3AM. Admission is free, but if you want to see the bands you’ll need to book in advance.

All Night At The Electric

My favorite cinema in London, the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road, is hosting a movie marathon, starting at 11:45pm Halloween night. The line up for the night will include the Hitchcock classic Psycho, What Have You Done With Solange?, Blood and Black Lace, and that slasher gem, Friday the 13th. Tickets ยฃ40 and include an Espresso Martini upon arrival, a breakfast break, and they send you away with a special recovery pack. There are still tickets left! It’ll probably be tough for non-night-owls to stay awake in those comfy armchairs, but it’s worth a try ๐Ÿ˜€

Grub Club Halloween Dinners

If you’re a fan of the pop-up (or POPdown as the case may be), take a look at grubclub.com for a fun supper club experience. The dinners are hosted by chefs of every background — from the Michelin starred to the up-and-coming — in spots all over London that are sometimes quirky, sometimes funky, sometimes elegant, and sometimes weird (one of the most popular dinners happens in a tube car). Have a look through their Halloween offerings and nab a ticket before they’re all sold out. Ticket prices vary.

Wahaca’s Day of the Dead Festival

In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of loved ones and ancestors who have passed away. As one of London’s go to spots for Mexican food, it seems only right that Wahaca celebrate Mexican culture and recognize the Day of the Dead in a big way. Wahaca will bring together bands like The Horrors, Voodoo Love Orchestra, and a Morrissey tribute band called Mexrrissey (and the award for best band name goes to…), provocative visual art, a market selling artisan Mexican goods, and of course Latin American food for one big blowout that celebrates a beautiful Mexican tradition. This event is something you can attend after Halloween is over and you’re sobbing into your empty candy bowl wondering why! It kicks off November 7th at 1pm. Tickets are ยฃ29 in advance and ยฃ35 day of.

Of course, you could always try to grab a spot on a Jack the Ripper walking tour (a few of which are free!) or do your own costumed tour of the city (apparently there’s a Harry Potter tour route people can follow on their own, which I will totally do one of these days). OR you could stay home and draw the apocalypse on a pumpkin with a sharpie while you shove as much candy as possible in your mouth and try not to choke to death while you watch Michael Myers try to kill off his last remaining family members (and anyone else who gets in his way. Fools).

Yeah. You should just do that.
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Happy Thursday!

OBSESSED

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No, not like that.

I’m devoting Fridays to one thing — song, movie, clothing brand, teaspoon, blade of grass — that I’m loving at the moment. Today, it’s this:

If you haven’t heard, singer-songwriter Ryan Adams has covered Taylor Swift’s 1989. All of it. While the immediacy of T. Swift’s 80s pop aesthetic leaves you feeling like her heart was just broken yesterday, Ryan Adams’s version makes it all feel like a distant memory…but one that still stings. The personal biz he was going through at the time really lent itself to his take on the songs. Not one of them is what you’d expect. I love them all, but his version of “Out of the Woods” is my absolute FAVORITE. If you’re not a fan of Pop but you are into moody, Springsteen-ish rock, give this a go. The whole album is on Youtube.

Listen and be well.

Have a lovely weekend, y’all ๐Ÿ˜€

Treat Yoself

It’s Tuesday!

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Like I said yesterday, I decided to theme each weekday in order to better organize this blog. The theme for Tuesdays is actually the title of this post. I know Travel Tuesdays is a thing — and I am an expat — but I’ve decided to make Tuesdays about indulgence (I’ll be doing travel-related posts on a different day). Mostly, Treat Yoself Tuesday will deal with food, because…food.

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But there are days when it might be about a different nice thing you can do for yourself (like spending ALL your rent money at LUSH for example. Please don’t do this). I’ve got a lot of afternoon teas planned, for instance, because it’s one of my favorite English things to do. I love it so much, I want to high five the skeletal hand of the dead genius who came up with it (there’s a bit of dispute over who deserves my posthumous high five, but I’ll get to the bottom of it one day). However, because I also love theatre, and spas, and markets (wait…that still kinda has to do with food, doesn’t it?), and clothes, and any form of enjoyable niceness, I won’t ONLY be posting about afternoon teas here, so don’t fret.

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Today’s Treat Yoself Tuesday is gonna be super low-key, but it’s about something I think everyone should know about: Banana Bread Beer.

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I’ve actually been buying this beer since well before moving to England. Back in Charlotte, I had to go to Whole Foods whenever I wanted some because no one else sold it. When I first moved to London, went into my local Morrissons and saw that they not only carry it, but they carry gi-hugic bottles of it, I experienced Disney-level happiness.

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I love, love, love this beer because the banana bread flavor (well, its essence) is spot on. This is the only beer I pair with sweet foods.

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Like Kimberley mallow-filled sandwich cookies biscuits ๐Ÿ™‚

Do yourself a favor and try it. The beer, I mean. (If you haven’t tried the biscuits, do that, too. But mainly the beer.) Unless you hate banana-flavored things, in which case, don’t bother. It’s beer, so the banana flavor is more of a phantom presence than a full-on syrupy takeover in your mouth, but I know some people can’t stand even a hint of the foods they dislike most. So don’t force it on yourself.

See you back here tomorrow!

Avenue Q

I first heard the song “It Sucks To Be Me” as a college freshman. My friend Ryan and I were in his dorm, pulling an all-nighter before our first semester finals. Obviously we found about 10 billion ways to procastinate keep ourselves awake. One of them was listening to soundtracks from our favorite musicals. College: the only time in life when you can belt out songs from Rent, Wicked, and Rocky Horror and no one will look at you funny b/c they’re all too busy weirding it up themselves. We found songs from a show called Avenue Q that I’d heard of and was desperate to see as soon as I found out puppets were starring in it. Hearing the songs sealed the deal.

Scratch that, knowing that one of the characters in the show is Gary Coleman after he’s hit rock bottom and become the superintendent of some crappy apartment building sealed the deal. Fast forward 10 years (holy f***, WHYYYY), and I’m FINALLY watching the UK touring cast perform Avenue Q… and it’s even better than I’d hoped.

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Avenue Q hit home for me far more than I ever thought a show about puppets could. Every character — the humans, the monsters, and the puppet-humans — is trying to find happiness. Princeton is a college grad who’s just moved to the big apple and wants more than anything to find his purpose in life. Kate Monster is a kindergarten teaching assistant hoping to advance in her career…and find a boyfriend. Brian’s been laid off, and wants to be a comedian for a living (but his act kinda sucks). His fiancee, Christmas Eve (lol) is a Japanese-American therapist with no clients. Rod is a closeted gay investment banker whose best friend and roommate, Nicky, keeps trying to persuade him to come out. Trekkie Monster is a shut-in who does nothing but watch internet porn all day. And Gary Coleman…is Gary Coleman.

Everyone knows and loves each other, and tries to help each other out in their own ridiculous ways. But there are other characters, like the Bad Idea Bears — who always try to convince people to do the worst possible thing — and Lucy The Slut — a Girls Gone Wild veteran, and…puppet — who constantly complicate things. Eventually, everyone takes responsibility for who they are and what they want, and figure out that it’s best not to force anything; every feeling and situation, the good and the bad, are only ever “For Now” anyway.

The songs are hilarious. I liked all of them, but my favorite is still “It Sucks To Be Me.” Runners up are “If You Were Gay” and “The More You Ruv Someone.” Some songs are about hard truths, like “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” (self-explanatory) and “Schadenfreude” (about how other people’s misery makes you happy). I found out that Kate Monster is my spirit animal. Her songs were full of heart and made me think about those times I liked someone new and drove myself crazy over it. My favorite Kate Monster tunes were “Mix Tape” and “There’s a Fine, Fine Line.”

I was going to say how impressed I was with the actors who played multiple parts (Richard Lowe, Sarah Harlington, and Stephen Arden), but honestly, I was impressed with everyone. Especially with how well the cast worked together! There are parts of the show where both puppets voiced by a single actor are in a scene together, and another actor/crew member has to operate one puppet while the actor who does the voice for that puppet speaks for them (and controls a different puppet at the same time). I don’t know if I explained that well, but it was pretty awesome to see. The timing of speech and mouth movements was always perfect, and I thought that was so cool. It just showed how hard they all worked, and how talented they are.

Also, Avenue Q is a perfect example of how, just because something is full of furry, colorful characters doesn’t mean it’s for kids. Avenue Q is like The Book of Mormon with puppets. (One of the co-creators/writers of Avenue Q actually co-created The Book of Mormon, so…yeah.) It even has a puppet sex scene that lasts the length of an entire song. Not a family friendly show, unless your family consists entirely of folks over the age of 18. But if one of your family members is a toddler who smokes cigars and has a mustache, that’s probably OK.

Bleed For Your Art.

I saw the movie Whiplash and it really hit me. It’s about a freshman drummer named Andrew (Miles Teller) studying at the most prestigious music conservatory in the country. He becomes a member of his school’s elite jazz band, which is led by an extremist, hard-assed, big shot conductor named Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Fletcher screams humiliating insults at his band members, pushing them to the point of bloodshed, all in the name of bringing out the best musician in them. Andrew, who wants nothing more than to be the best, allows himself to be subjected to this mentality in mind-boggling ways. I won’t get specific because I really hope you’ll see it for yourself.

During a pretty tense scene, Andrew gets into it with some relatives about the importance of his aspirations vs. those of his football player and scholar cousins. His family insinuates that in the world of music, there’s no real way to determine who’s “the best” because it’s all subjective. Therefore, there’s little point in striving for something that essentially doesn’t exist (unlike in sports or academia where the standards are concrete). In their eyes, becoming a successful musician is a lesser pursuit.

The validity of art-making is a worn topic, but we’ll never stop discussing it. There will always be artists, and there will always be people who don’t understand how art can be as important as anything else (despite benefiting from it on a daily basis). How many people can’t start the day without that one song that gets them going? How many people eat their lunches sitting on the edges of fountains facing beautifully designed buildings, or on benches in the middle of gorgeously landscaped parks? How many find relief in unwinding in front of a television or movie screen and losing themselves in a world that doesn’t exist, or did long ago? How many read books that open their minds to the things they thought were impossible? In my mind, excellence in art is as necessary as anything else.ย And unlike in sports, where the prime window of participation is small, art-making (by and large) tends to get better with time. The more we’ve witnessed/experienced/learned in life, the more sophisticated our approach to creation. We become better at expressing our individual truths as time goes on. And the better we know ourselves, the easier it is to reach others.

Art connects us. My first friends were the people whose lives I read about in novels. Certain paintings and illustrations get my blood pumping harder than watching a football match. Some songs move me to the point of tears. Not only does good art reveal its maker (in ways conversation never could), it also assures you that you’re not alone. There are other people who think like you, dream like you, and see the world the way you do. And if we’re talking about music specifically, it brings those emotions you can’t express to the brink of tangibility. There’s nothing like when a chord or harmony hits you just right and you feel it shiver through you, in perfect tune with who you are at that moment. And watching a musician lose themselves in what they’re playing is…I don’t have words for it.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Passion is passion, and no one pursuit is more or less worthy than any other in my opinion. I don’t agree with Fletcher’s methods in the movie — I know my best work wouldn’t emerge in that kind of environment — but I do think it’s a good idea to test the limits of what we think we’re capable of. So if you need to drum until the skin on your hands opens up and your kit is slick with blood, do it. Show the world what being the best is worth to you.

Do-Overs

Saturday was a day for redemption.

I published a post last month about a somewhat disappointing walking tour and an even more disappointing concert cancellation. Susan and I went on another walking tour entitled, “Law and Order E.C.” Our group was actually the first to preview this particular tour. Sometimes it’s not so bad being a guinea pig ๐Ÿ™‚ Our guide, David Charnick, took us around the city and shared interesting moments in London’s crime and law enforcement history. He regaled us with tales of debtors prisons, terrorist acts both successful and un, John Tawell the “Quaker” poisoner (who’d been kicked out of the Quaker organization but spent his life trying to reenter in order to take advantage of their reputation as hard-working, trustworthy people and further his business dealings), and the origins of Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court. My favorite, though, was the account of Kitty Byron, mistress of Reginald Baker and convicted murderer, who avoided execution for stabbing ole Reggie to death (outside the post office, in full view of anyone who happened by) in 1902 by citing “provocation” in defense of her crime.

Whereas men were initially allowed to claim they had been provoked as their explanation for being violent towards the women in their lives, the tide changed as cases of domestic violence against women increased — and women started retaliating. By the time Kitty Byron decided to stab Reginald, the odds were definitely in her favor. (It also helped that Reggie-boy was known to have violently assaulted Kitty in the past.) The most interesting part of her story, however, came after the murder. She was sentenced to serve ten years in lieu of execution. After the first six years of her prison sentence, Kitty was moved to a rehab facility for female alcoholics and spent the remaining four years there. When her sentence was at an end, Kitty applied to stay on at Lady Henry Somerset’s Colony for Women Inebriates because she’d fallen in love with one of the nurses. According to our guide, she offered poison to the nurse with the idea that they could both take it and be together forever…in death. O.O The nurse, who was understandably freaked out by this, reported Kitty, whose request to stay was subsequently denied. Kitty then went to live with a female relative and afterwards, fell off the grid. Yowza, amirite?

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What remains of the original General Post Office.

What remains of the original General Post Office.

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This tour more than made up for the last one. If you’re in London and looking to learn some interesting facts about the city, I heartily recommend giving one of David’s tours a go. He’s highly knowledgeable and clearly passionate about his subject. After the walking tour, Susan and I took refuge from the cold inside the nearest pub where I had my first experience with potted meat.

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In this case, crab. I’d heard of potted meat before, but knew nothing of it. Apparently, before freezers, meats were preserved in jars beneath a solid layer of fat. My potted crab was shielded by a hard layer of butter that tasted a bit citrusy. Wish I’d gotten more bread with it (I was forced to slather the remaining crab on a sandwich I’d bought from Pret earlier). Susan had some tasty looking chicken wings and the best looking chips I’ve ever seen in my life (they tasted pretty good, too).

Blurry chicken is still good chicken.

Blurry chicken is still good chicken.

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After saying goodbye, I headed to Islington for Daley’s rescheduled concert. (YAYAYAYAYAY)

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His show was So. Good. His voice is even prettier live, plus he covered some R&B/neo soul favorites of mine. Between his performance and his pre-show DJ’s playlist, I basically flipped through memories of my entire life up to this point. I also got to stand right in front of the stage during the show, which has never happened to me before. It was wonderful. Then, this happened:

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…which I’m pretty stoked about.

My next bit of excitement will be flat-hunting (!!!) next Monday. My estate agent says she can find me a place to move into by January 31st (which is when I need to be out of my dorm), and she’s been pretty good about intuiting my needs thus far, so I trust her. Still…it’s a bit of a nail-biter, isn’t it?

Wish me luck!

Writer’s Block.

Writing can be extremely cathartic. The moment after I’ve been in the zone for a while and finish the section I’ve been working on, and my brain is still humming — not knowing whether to write more or rest with the images still swishing around in my mind — is one of the best sensations I’ve ever felt. Writing can also be harsh. The holidays were fantastic for having fun with new and old friends, but I still had pages due on Saturday. It wasn’t that I had no idea what to write; I knew what came next, just not how to get there. Those are the moments when it feels like I’m taking a running leap into a brick wall. I bounce back, fall on my ass, and look up at this insurmountable hulk of a thing. I can see the footholds chipped away, the places to put my feet and fingers to make the climb. But each time I start pulling myself up, I slip and tumble back to the ground, scraping my nails all the way down. I wanted to bash my head against a wall this weekend. I didn’t quite reach my wordcount in the end, though I didn’t miss it by a horrendous amount. I sent the work off feeling equal parts excited, stunned, and worn out.

Writer’s block, for me, has almost nothing to do with writing. It happens when I have a million other things (or one huge thing) on my mind. Those other thoughts jam together and stop me moving forward on anything, not just my writing. Tension, looming worries, feeling isolated — all of these things and more take me down completely unproductive paths. What I’m talking about happens to everyone, whether you write or not. “Writer’s block” is just another term for stuckness. During my stop-and-start weekend of work, I tried pretty much everything that tends to help when I’m in a rut. So for all you folks out there trying to get unstuck, here are some methods you can try:

1) Music.

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Whether you love singing along (or harmonizing, like me), or you just like to get lost in the sounds you’re hearing, listening to music can work wonders in the unlocking-your-brain department. Close your eyes and picture yourself elsewhere. Play some solitaire with your playlist blaring in your ears. Dance around in footie pajamas with a shampoo bottle microphone! Set your life to music for a while and see how you feel.

2) Record your thoughts.

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Sometimes the most helpful thing to do is to put your worries into words. Writing down the challenges weighing on your mind and seeing them there in front of you gives you a measure of control when you feel like you’re just a helpless speck of nothing in the giant universe. I don’t know about you, but simply proving to myself that I’m aware of what’s troubling me gives me a small sense of triumph because it’s the first step to making things better.

3) Write a poem (or draw a picture).

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The way you feel isn’t always expressible in complete sentences. If you’re bogged down inside but can’t or don’t want to put your feelings into concrete terms, the abstract environment of a poem (or drawing) could be just right for you. Try writing down your feelings as they are, then substituting each factual phrase for a metaphor. It’s a nice way of turning what you know about yourself into a bit of a riddle. **Bonus Round**: give the finished product to someone who knows you well and see how they interpret it. Interesting times ahead for sure…

4) Watch something you know by heart.

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So this is one of my FAVORITE things to do. When I want to do nothing but escape and laugh, I go for Friends or Futurama. I know nearly every word of Every. Single. Episode. When I’m tired of trying to figure out what comes next in my writing (or my life) it’s insanely comforting to watch something where I know exactly what’s going to happen and when, and let my brain run on autopilot.

5) Get up and get out!

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I am looooong overdue for a hike, a journey down a river, a spelunking adventure, someย kind of outdoor escapade. After sitting in front of a computer screen for hours, my brain is in a constant state of deep-fry. I tend to favor walks, but you can do anything! Kayak around a lake; do cartwheels in your living room; start a random mosh pit with strangers while you’re waiting for the bus. Anything. Just do something that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a screen until your eyeballs melt.

6) Read.

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This one is particularly helpful for me when I don’t want to stop thinking about the writing I need to do. It’s good to see how other people handle certain writing challenges (and if the book is good, it’s just plain fun to read). Honestly, reading is a good idea for anyone who enjoys it. It can be nice to take a break from your own life and follow someone else’s.

7) Give yourself a break.

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Aren’t all of these about giving yourself a break? Nah, dude. When I say give yourself a break I mean don’t be so hard on yourself. I am the absolute worst when it comes to this (see what I mean?). It is SO easy, once you’ve fallen into a rut, to compound that difficulty by berating yourself for getting stuck in the first place. But don’t worry — it happens to everyone. You’ll make it through. And in the meantime, be proud of yourself for making it this far ๐Ÿ™‚

What’s your favorite way to get unstuck?