2018 Thus Far


We’re about a month into a new year now, so I figured it was safe to write about it without being cliche. As you may have noticed, I haven’t posted a book blog in a minute, but I hope you’ll understand why.

I feel like I’m in a period of major self-improvement. The books I was reading and reviewing were part of that, and they’ve really started to have an impact on my mentality and even some of my habits (though I can’t quite kick the snooze button habit in the morning… I’m going to really buckle down on that one at some point). Here’s what I’ve been doing lately.

Volunteering

I got involved about 2 years ago with a program in Cleveland called Seeds of Literacy, which is an adult literacy program helping people get their GED. In the Cleveland area, the functional illiteracy rate is 66%, meaning math, reading, and/or language skills are below a 4th-grade level. When I first heard this statistic, I was dumbfounded, and I wanted to do something. So one or two evenings a week, I go to their east side location, I sit down with adult learners, and I help them help themselves to a better life. It’s truly inspiring watching people gain skills that will open up the world to them. I had to stop going for a bit due to job changes and scheduling conflicts, but back in September, I decided it was time to get back in it. I’m so glad that I did. I invite everyone to check them out, whether as a volunteer or donor or to point someone who could use their services in the right direction.

Learning

Along with the books I’ve blogged about here, and future ones which will be up soon (I hope), I’ve been taking classes at Cuyahoga Community College. It’s been a slow process, as I have to find the time and money to be able to further my own education, but I think this is going to be a great semester. I’m looking forward to finishing up an associates degree with a focus on business by the end of the year (but don’t quote me on the time frame… life happens). This will hopefully put me on the path to some of my larger goals, which I’ll talk more about at a later date.

I’ve also been listening to podcasts, which I never thought would interest me; I hate talk radio and talk shows and all that kind of stuff. But I now have about 5 on rotation, two of which I listen to almost daily if I can.  I started with a podcast called Lore, which explores the origins of urban legends and creature tales. I find it fascinating, and the author/narrator Aaron Mahnke does a wonderful job of telling the story without judging the origins. In fact, he lays it out in such a way that it’s completely understandable how some of these outlandish ideas came to life. I’ve listened to similar podcasts since where the narrator was much more condescending to the originating cultures and peoples, so this was a wonderful first find.

The other one I’ve been listening to is Happier with Gretchen Rubin. This one may be a little more on the popular radar, as she is a bestselling author and quite a prominent figure on LinkedIn and the like. She and her sister dole out tips and exercises for living a happier, more fulfilling life, and avoiding negativity and bad habits. I’ve been trying to incorporate more of these kinds of activities into my own routines, and I’ve noticed a significant difference. If I could just work on the snooze button which Ms. Rubin protests vehemently almost every episode, I think I could achieve that much more.

Being Healthy

This one was somewhat prompted by the Biggest Loser competition we’re having at work, but it’s definitely an improvement over where I was. When I started this job, I was faced with an issue I’ve never really had: a sedentary work environment. All of my other jobs have had me on my feet– bowling alleys, food service, and of course, running around Cedar Point. Property management has me sitting in front of a computer all day every day, and it was really taking a toll on my physique. So in recent weeks, I’ve taken to focusing more on my eating habits, incorporating healthier food choices and also eating smaller portions. I’ve also been combining this with more gym time (though I’ve slowed down a bit the past week or two… 4 times a week was a little much after no gym time in weeks). My boss has also offered the opportunity to try out some really cool classes through Fitworks, such as kickboxing and a yoga/pilates combo. I never realized how out of shape I was until I started going to these classes with her. But it’s been such an amazing transformation. Combined with a new fitness tracker, I’ve been on a roll to a healthier me. I want to be able to keep this up more than anything.

Networking

I’ve been on a professional development kick as of late as well, brought on by both the realization of what I’d like to do with my professional life and a promotion. I’ve been spending a lot of time on LinkedIn reading all kinds of articles about business trends, company habits and tips for employee and customer engagement, etc. I’ve been requesting to connect with people in my intended industry to hopefully pick their brains about how to do what they do, and I’ve also been connecting with other professionals through an app called Shapr. You swipe through a few profiles of professionals every day, and if they want to connect too, then you can make plans to meet up or just message about your goals and how you can help each other. I will say that I’ve met a number of people in the network marketing industry, which I’m not so sure about just yet. But I’ve also connected with CEOs and traditional entrepreneurs with great ideas and insight. I recommend giving it a shot if you’re looking to expand your network.

So this is where I’ve been in my absence from the WordPress universe. If you have any recommendations on things I should try next or any questions on the things mentioned in this post, just let me know in the comments. And keep an eye out for another book blog in the coming weeks. Cheers to a dynamic 2018!

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Books I’ve Read: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg


I feel like I’m going through a quarter-life crisis at the moment. Confused about my goals and purpose in life, flying by the seat of my pants into most things, juggling work and relationships and school and hoping to somehow throw gym time and cooking time and the ever elusive good night’s sleep into the mix. It’s fun.

I’m thinking more and more that this is why I’ve suddenly changed direction with my reading habits. Where I used to get lost in Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, I’m not getting lost in The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. I’m looking for something, and I’m not quite sure what.

The Power of HabitMost recently, I picked up The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and found that to be rather intriguing. I found it fascinating how well it meshed with my last read, Uncommon Service by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, with a number of similar themes though they were often applied to different spheres. However, the concepts in each could certainly be used to better oneself, career, or business. The Power of Habit is especially well suited to this, going a little deeper into why strategies that were also presented in Uncommon Service can be so effective.

I liked the anecdotal quality of Habit, with plenty of real-world examples of how cues, routines, and rewards drive anything and everything, from personal bad habits up to toxic corporate culture. I like that it demonstrates how those habits can be changed. It definitely helped that there’s was a decent amount of scientific research to support these ideas as well. The development of Febreze, the renewed success of two football teams under Tony Dungee, and a complete overhaul of an international company’s culture all came down to small habits, minute changes in routines and rewards that are triggered by a cue. These are just a few of the more impressive and recognizable stories about the power that habit has over our lives.

Would I recommend it? I think this is a great read, especially if you’re looking to change something in your life– getting healthy, eliminating vices, improving productivity, etc. It’s easy to get through and has some neat tips on identifying and adjusting habits. Definitely a good read.

 

 

Books I’ve Read: Brave New World Revisited


I first read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley as a junior in high school. I was the only person in my class who absolutely loved it. I thought everything about it was fascinating. This was a world where everything we had ever learned to be taboo was completely acceptable and even encouraged– sex, drugs, designer babies, and mass discrimination, all under governmental control. I was floored. And I was extremely disappointed when we had to write a paper on Lord of the Flies instead. Yes, yes, the conch is a symbol of innocence and when it breaks, it signifies that their innocence has been lost. Groundbreaking.

I did enjoy reading the latter novel, but something about Huxley’s dystopia has stuck with me all these years. Occasionally, I’ll read an article about a scientific breakthrough or global leadership and see a scene from Brave New World in my mind. Talk about doing your job well.

But this isn’t about the original story, it’s about the author’s reflections decades later on if and how any parts of his creation are coming true. I saw it in a bookstore, Brave New World Revisited, and just had to buy it. After sitting on my shelf for a couple years, I’ve finally gotten through it. And once again, I am floored.

In Revisited, Huxley talks a great deal about dictatorships, propaganda, and controlling the population, themes that were laid on heavy in his novel. With these reflections, he has now seen the Great Depression, the rise and fall of Hitler and Mussolini as well as other dictators, and two World Wars; a second “police action” in full swing and civil unrest over Vietnam; and culture changing drastically with the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of “hippie culture” (in this case meaning drugs), and tremendous technological and medical advances– including birth control. Many parts of this landscape are the same factors that lead to the disturbing society of Brave New World.

This short but very heavy read is frighteningly relevant even today. More than anything, his analysis of how dictators (though really anyone in power or who would like to be) utilize media and language to gain, inspire, and mobilize followers against a perceived enemy makes me look at the current socio-political climate of the United States and shudder. Something written five decades ago with Adolf Hitler as the poster child for population manipulation should not be a reflection of current events, but as it stands in my eyes, this is the case.

I enjoyed reading how the author perceived his vision to be right or wrong, and the ways he worked in various philosophical and scientific ideas to support his analyses. More than anything, I was intrigued and a little scared at how science fiction of the past is slowly morphing into our present and future. There are definitely times where I wish we would consider the fiction of yesterday a warning against tomorrow. But alas, we do not seem to make the connection.

Would I recommend this book? On its own, likely not. But if you start with the novel, the essay is brilliant.

 

An Ode To My First


We always remember firsts. And my dear, you were wonderful.

The late night drives. The road trips. The moves. The karaoke sessions. You were fantastic through them all. We traveled so well together. You got along so well with my friends. You pulled me through some tricky situations. I didn’t always treat you the best; there were things I could have done so much differently. I know this now, and you have taught me how to do better as I go forward.

Many told me you weren’t worth it, I was putting too much time and money into you. But to me, you were everything. “You can do so much better,” they said, not knowing that in that moment you were what I needed, you gave me the ability and confidence to do so much, and I loved you. I couldn’t do better then because I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to give you up, and I wasn’t prepared for better. I kept you until the time was right, and then we parted ways.

There were tears. It was hard. I still wasn’t ready emotionally; I wanted to keep you forever. But I was at the point that I needed to let you go. I had gotten all I could out of you, and though I know we could have stayed together longer if I had taken better care of what we had, it was time. We both needed to move on, you to someone else who you could help, who might treat you better, and me to something new, something practical instead of emotional, something else I needed to learn.

This new fling may offer more, may be less used and abused by the world, may be better suited for who I am now and last longer, but you were perfect for who I was then, and you will always hold a place in my heart as my first.

I will always love you, my beloved 2002 Hyundai Santa Fe. I miss you already. Thank you for all you helped me accomplish as my first car.

Times Like These


It’s one of those nights when emotion runs high. I read words, hear music, see images, and a string is pulled inside me. Hairs stand on end. Tears fall to attention in my eyes. Breath leaps from my lips. Everything fills me with awe and wonder, and suddenly I find so much beauty in a world that not so long ago was so ugly I couldn’t stand to look.

It’s nights like these when I’ll lie awake, conversing with the dark, asking questions of the stars twinkling beyond the ceiling above my bed. How do they do it? I’ll wonder. How do their minds find these paths that lead them to such treasures? Then the mirror at the foot of my bed joins the conversation, and in the dark, the me staring back is not as pretty as in daylight. You’re not that good. You don’t try hard enough. You’ll never be on that level. It makes me wonder if the mirror isn’t right. Do I have enough skill? Is my vocabulary sufficient? Are my heart and my soul either tortured or beautiful enough to create something that sends a chill and a prickle through the system? Am I even a writer?

It’s days like these I wish I wanted to be something different.writing-utensils.jpg

Do Better


I think the calendar skipped a few months. I swear it was August just yesterday. Where did the time go? Why is there snow on the ground? Why are radio stations playing Christmas music? I need that time back.

I’m feeling restless again. Restless to be doing something different than what I’m doing. A better job, a different job, more writing, less hating British Literature, a little more travel, a little less driving the same stretch of freeway twice a day. My to-do list consists of papers and tests, but what I’d like to do is worry about my writing and job preparation. I want to really get working on life instead of sitting in the isolated cubicle of college. And the missing months between August and today did nothing for that, except maybe inspire me a little.

I know it’s going to go by quickly. I’ll be writing another post with the same question, “Where has all the time gone?” in the future I’m sure. I guess maybe restless isn’t the right word. Maybe… off track, took a wrong turn, missed my exit is a better description. I always seem to come back to this feeling, too. I need a better routine. I need to increase my productivity. I need to achieve a goal and feel like I’m getting somewhere. I need to do better.

Any suggestions on how to do better?


So… Hi everyone. I’m back. For a second at least, though I hope it’s more. I’ve been away for a while, and I apologize to you, and to myself. I let other things get in the way, and I probably shouldn’t have. But here I am, so we’ll just forget the past, or at least forgive it, and move on with the blog.

Life has been driving along some interesting roads lately, somewhat literally and tremendously figuratively. Literally, I finally got a car back in April, so driving strange roads is somewhat of an everyday thing now. I also spent a lot of time driving back and forth between Cleveland and Sandusky, where I lived for the summer as an employee of Cedar Point. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s only the Best Amusement Park in the World. Seriously, it’s been voted so sixteen times in a row by some council. It was a pretty cool job, and I’ll definitely tell you all about it, but I’m going to save that for another blog. Also literally, I’ve become a commuter instead of a resident at BW. So lots of driving everyday. Surprisingly, I’m still as excited to drive as the day I got my license. Hopefully I can keep that going.

Speaking of BW, which will move us into the figuratively category, I’m currently a junior, still an English major, still a Communications minor. And I’ve still got my heart set on being a writer, even more so after taking a fiction workshop with the fabulous Michael Garriga. Some things have changed though. First, I made the decision to drop the Honors program. It was a lot of extra work for no good reason. The program was primarily built around music and science majors, and there would have been a lot of jumping through hoops to get the courses and credits I needed. So after talking to both my advisers, we came to the conclusion that I needed to turn my focus elsewhere– namely to my writing dreams. So that’s what I’m doing. Also, I’m working on the semester abroad I’ve always dreamed of, hopefully for Fall 2014. I have some details to work out there, but I’m determined to make it happen.

I’m also intent on securing an internship over the summer, perhaps something in editing or publishing. I realized with the fiction workshop that I love helping other people make their writing better. It’s kind of fulfilling as a reader to actually help an author improve. For this, I know I have to start working with the school newspaper, which will hopefully go better this time. And getting involved with Wordsmiths is an excellent way to work on critical reading– it’s a lot like the fiction workshop. If possible, I’d like to work as an editor of our fine arts publication, The Mill. Since applications were already due for this year, I’ll have to be sure to work on that for next year.

Something else I’ve been thinking about is what to do after graduation. At this point, I have no set profession in mind. I’d love to be a writer, but that’s going to take some time, and I need something that can pay my bills right out of the gate. Maybe the internship or study abroad or some other unforeseen event will change that and put me on the path to a lucrative career I can dive into. But as of right now, my best option seems to be exploring. And I’ve found an excellent way to do that. My aunt and uncle told me about a job opportunity with Xanterra, Inc., a company that staffs tourist services in national parks. What better way to explore and travel, as well as make money? It would just be seasonal employment, but it would at least be something, and it would allow me to keep paying my bills while I look for something more stable. It would also no doubt provide some inspiration, considering the parks are in the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, the wilds of Alaska, the deserts of the Southwest. Opportunities abound, even while working such mundane jobs as retail or rentals.

For right now, I’m working through another semester while biding my time working the snack bar at a bowling alley near school. It’s keeping my bills paid, and that’s really what I need. That, and the encouragement of my closest friends and family and my brilliant and wacky professors, as well as my lovely advisor. And I have to be more open to change. Because as my closest companion keeps telling me, I can’t keep trying to recreate the past, when I was comfortable and happy and everything seemed to be going right (at least upon reflection). So I’m going to try some new roads, and hopefully, they’ll end at the destination I have in mind. At the very least, it’s going to be quite an adventure.

On the Road Again