Books I’ve Read: How Starbucks Saved My Life

I worked at a Starget ( a Starbucks inside a Target) for a little under a year. It was stressful. We ran out of coffee, and quite frequently. Our espresso machine was down for a whole week once. And there was often only one person scheduled for Saturdays from open until early afternoon– the time frame when EVERYONE decides to do their shopping. This was all after changing management and definitely influenced my decision to go back to Cedar Point for my second year. But it wasn’t all bad. A lot of the people, especially those early in my employment, were really wonderful. And this was what I thought about while reading How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill.

This is the story of a very well-to-do older gentleman who falls from the graces of high society. Mr. Gill was a big shot in advertising until he had too many years on him, and was fired from a high-ranking, high-paying advertising job which he got right after graduating from an ivy league school that he didn’t have to worry about paying for because his father was a big time newspaper executive. He was part of the 1%, and suddenly he wasn’t. As you can imagine, he lost everything: his job, then his money, then his family. And then he found true happiness when he was offered a job at Starbucks by complete chance– by a person he would never have thought would be his savior, namely a young black woman (the narrator is an old white man). And he gained friends and experiences that made him happier at 64 than he had ever been in his previous lifestyle.

How Starbucks Saved My Life is kind of sappy, though I appreciate the coming-up story. I enjoyed following the thoughts and actions of a son of privilege as he navigates life outside of his bubble, from his spiral into poverty to his extramarital affair and child, from his failed attempts at holding on to his spot in the upper echelon to his embarrassment at his family and former friends seeing him struggling. It may seem like I was laughing at him, but I was fascinated by his observations and the connections he made from is old life into his new. The fears he experienced were relatable for those who grew up with struggle, too. Fear of not being good enough, people not liking him, important peers and relatives being disappointed, being too old to do a job, and so on and so forth. His insecurities were universal, which made this easier to read.

My biggest complaint about this book is that the lows weren’t low enough– rather, they weren’t portrayed that way. This man, Michael Gates Gills, is almost too positive throughout his whole self-redefinition. He almost brushes over the whole divorce with his wife, he focuses on how bad his previous employment at a ginormous advertising firm is rather that how perfect it was which makes his firing less heartbreaking, and he uses such weak words to describe the discomfort of his children seeing him at Starbucks or his former friends watching him take trash out in his apron and hat. He’s so positive that it’s hard to feel bad for him. It just keeps going up.

It’s not a bad book overall. I think it’s interesting, and a good look into privilege and how it can frame the world, and also the hardships that come along with it (of course it’s not all rainbows and butterflies). I also find Starbucks to be a wonderful company, even if they are kind of expensive and there are ways they could do better, especially about their waste *cough cough*.

Would I recommend this book? For a light read, it is a good one to pick up.


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.


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

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

Miles away from 50,000

600x750mm sign intended to match the specifica...

After a month of “writing”… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So… NaNoWriMo didn’t go so well… For me anyway. Maybe three months of planning wasn’t enough. Maybe I thought I could write a novel while also writing three papers at a time for school (can I include those in my word count?). Maybe I’m just awful at time management. Yeah, I think it’s more that last one.

I had a great idea for a novel. So great that I changed it twice now and am working on a third beginning. Yep, great idea alright.

Because I consider myself a writer, and because that’s what I want to do with my life, this awful (albeit better than last year) attempt at penning a 50,000-word piece of art is despicable. And that brings out my other problem: I can’t get rid of my inner critic. I talked to people who wrote several thousand words at a time, but confessed that it was complete and utter rubbish and they would be spending so much time revising it wasn’t even funny. I can’t do that. I need a strong manuscript with nominal revisions. I don’t want to go reworking my entire novel, in essence writing a whole new story. The more sold I can get it the first time around, the better I’ll feel at the end.

During the writing process is a different story.

Writer’s block is common practice– I can’t get past that awful section I just wrote, I have no clue how to connect two ideas, I can’t think of a suitable word or name for a character… All things that have given me pause in my writing. I often just give up at that point, thinking a break will help me clear my thoughts and find what I need to keep writing. It never works.

This year, there was one more downer than just not finishing my novel. I introduced my boyfriend to NaNoWriMo, and he decided to give it a try as well. And he made it into the winners’ circle. Talk about a slap in the face… While I don’t hold it against him, and I’m not mad at him for being as awesome as he is, it still makes me feel about a centimeter tall. He’s written something that, while not without need for revision, is a great starting point. And he’s talking about publishing down the road. He’s got the finish line in sight, and I’m still spinning my wheels at the starting line. So much for me being the writer in the pair.

But I can’t let all this stop me. God, I’d hate myself if I did that… I guess I just have to hop back on the writing roller coaster and get over it. But now the critical question: should I just start right now working on the novel and finish it in my own time, or plan the hell out of it so there is no failing when it November comes back around? Decisions, decisions….

Writing, Writing…. Some More Writing…

National Novel Writing Month Web Badge

National Novel Writing Month Web Badge (Photo credit: ajsundby)

So things are a bit crazy– Middle of the semester for school, Franken-storm, and most exciting of all… NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH!! I hope everyone else who’s planning on getting involved is as hyped as I am. I’ve been planning my novel for about three months now, and I’m so excited to finally be writing. The antici-….

-pation was killing me.

After failing miserably last year, I’m ready to get back in the game and get at least a few thousand words written this time, as opposed to several disconnected paragraphs that went nowhere. I’ve got my plot down, I’m finishing up character sketches, and I can see the settings quite clearly in my imagination. The only thing to do now is let the words flow onto the page (even if those words happen to be, “Alright, now I’m stuck…”).

In psyching myself up for the event, I’ve been searching for the perfect play list on an application called Songza (look it up, it’s fantastic and free!). I’ve settled on Epic Film Scores, which includes a wide variety of scores from composers such as Hans Zimmer and the legendary John Williams, spanning movies from Braveheart to Lord of the Rings to Avatar to Star Wars. Not only do these songs please my inner musician, but they also provide a non-invasive soundtrack for some intense and inspired noveling. Not interested in listening to the Batman soundtrack over and over again? There are plenty of other ways to choose music that suits you, from genre to mood to the activity for which you need background music. Unfortunately, noveling isn’t actually an activity, but beng creative, working, and studying are. Shout out to my friend Joey for suggesting this wonderful little app.

Tea and coffee have also been a staple. I started writing last night around 12:30, and since then I’ve had three cups of tea and two cups of coffee. It’s going to be necessary to keep this steady influx of caffeine going, I think, if I want to finish and entire first draft of a novel in 30 days…

I’ve also got a great support group this year, both in Wordsmiths and in friends who are joining the insanity with me and cheering me along. My amazing boyfriend decided to fit writing a novel into his already over-packed schedule. He even bought me a cute little NaNoWriMo flash drive bracelet for Sweetest Day so I can save my budding novel and carry it with me always. He’s a wonderful guy. Several friends at BW are getting involved as well, and hopefully one of them, a regular customer at the Smoothie Bar, will give me some inspiring words when she comes by, as I’ll try to do for her. Hopefully this support will keep me heading toward 50,000 words.

I’m super hyped to really dive in to my novel. Even if I don’t make it to 50,000 words by the end of November, I’ve already gotten more done than last year. I’m even going to really go crazy and try to get more blog posts up this month. November is going to be a month of total writing immersion. Anyone wanna join me?

If you’re interested in trying your hand at NaNoWriMo, head on over to and sign up! 

And Cue Alice Cooper…

I can’t believe my first year of college is over already. It went so fast. Finals seemed to come out of nowhere, and they ravaged my brain and body for the past couple weeks (hence the missed blog posts; I do hope you, my wonderful readers, can forgive me). Summer’s here, which means more work, and as oxymoronic as it seems after that last phrase, more play. More hours at the bowling alley will (theoretically)  be balanced out with more time spent outside, more time reading for entertainment as opposed to academics, and more time writing.

The writing is especially crucial, as I managed to land a position as a student blogger for a student travel deals site called Student Universe. A little bit of extra money will be nice, as will another resume booster. Who wouldn’t like those? I just have to work on being more punctual. I’ll have to crank out 1-5 posts a week about college, travel, and other student concerns. Wish me luck.

As for the reading… I have an ever-lengthening list of books that I would like to read. Several books by Ben Mezrich (who follows me on twitter!), A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, among others, are on the first-time list. I also have a few that I would like to reread, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I just have to make sure I stay out of bookstores so I can finish what I already have.

Of course, these first few days of vacation have been lazy, lazy, lazy. I love it. My little sister’s jealous. Being in high schools, she’s stuck getting up early and sitting in class for six hours a day until June. I love college.

The problem now is just getting myself motivated to do something other than sleeping till noon, sitting around in my pajamas all day, and doing nothing but scrolling my Facebook page and watching T.V. Any suggestions?