Pause Pause Frugal

I’m a natural saver. So much so that my mom loving calls me [pause] [pause] frugal all the time. The pause pause part is important here.

I’ll tell her I would buy a new car but I’m trying to pay off my student loan first. I would move into a nicer part of town but I’m trying to build up my emergency savings. I would live a struggling writer’s life and eat ramen to get by but I’m trying to have a plentifully funded retirement account.

And every time we have one of these conversations she’ll say, “Jazmine, I love it you just so ___ ___ frugal and you always have been.” Not just frugal, but pause pause frugal. Part of the pauses are always her trying not to say a scrooge, or a grinch. Instead, because of my mom’s unfailing kindness, I turn into pause pause frugal.

I’m here to encourage you to save. But not just because it’s good for you but because I want you to spend. Yes, I want you to spend – but not on all the frivolous stuff that gets built into our lives. Spend on experiences.

It’s true – I’ve always been a bit frugal in my pursuit of saving. In fact, I used to say that I invented crowdfunding because I used to ask classmates for extra quarters if they had them and when I’d collected a couple dollars I would spend that on lunch rather than the money my parents gave me and I’d pocket the difference.

Although technically the inception of modern day crowdfunding began in 1997 through a platform called ArtistShare that allowed a British rock band to fund their reunion tour through online donations from fans, Irish loan funds in the 1700s were the original crowdfund.

Founded by author Jonathan Swift, Irish Loan Funds were basically microfinancing loans given to low-income families in rural Ireland. By the 1800s, more than 300 programs in Ireland gave out small sums of money for short-term loans. In fact, at its peak 1 in 5 Irish families used these crowdfunding programs.

Now Ireland and I have something else in common – other than inventing crowdfunding and loving a potato based diet that without it famine might ensue. A 2011 study found that Ireland, despite being hit hard by the recession, was No. 1 in personal savings. That’s despite having generally low household wealth and a country with a lot of its own debt. In fact, the study found that the percentage of savings most Irish citizens had: 19.3%.

Now I was crowdfunding in order to pocket the lunch money I got from my parents. Why? Well, my parents told me that if I saved up for half of a senior choir trip to California that they would pay for the other half.

And I savored every hot dog I ate on Venice Beach and every ride I went on in Disneyland because I not only got to travel with my friends, but I also earned that travel.

That’s what savings does.

It allows you to experience. Research shows that we can really like our material goods. I mean, I got a great deal on this outfit and I love this necklace. But our material goods remain separate from how we identify ourselves. Whereas experiences are integrated into who we are. Even a bad experience can turn into a good story, another fabric in the woven tapestry of our identity.

About two years ago, I decided on three things: 1) finish paying off my student loans sooner rather than later, 2) finally start that emergency fund and 3) travel more … like a lot more.

Now vacations and savings usually don’t go together. But I knew that I wanted to be frugal but only so I could live the life I truly wanted to – and paying down debt at the same time would just accelerate that process.

Plus, a little-known fact: student loan debt is the only kind of debt that can’t be forgiven during bankruptcy. So you will be paying it forever if you let it.

And, a recent CNBC study found that 66 million Americans have no emergency savings. That’s right, 1 in 5 Americans would have to tap a credit card or a family member or friend for an unexpected $500 expense.

So, do I still have my first car, a lovely Saturn SL2 who’s AC is definitely on its last legs? Sure. Am I still saving for a house rather than putting down a down payment? Absolutely.

But I’m in my mid-20s and guess what? I just put in my last student loan payment.

That emergency fund: I just got it up to five digits last month.

 

Oh, and as for experiences: I’ve had a few. I’ve hiked to a waterfall and mountain lake outside Seattle, eaten fish tacos on the beach in Mexico, walked 15 miles around Boston in one day, touched the Atlantic ocean for the first time, fallen in love with the mural mile in Philadelphia, found out Minneapolis is actually really cool and gone to both the nation’s capital and one of the fashion capitals of the world – twice.

I don’t think of savings as something that takes away from my quality of life now. I think of it as something that gives me a quality life forever.

So don’t save to save. Save to spend. And don’t worry – if you need to feel better about being pause pause frugal, just call my mom. She’ll make you feel a lot better about it, trust me.

 

I make things

I’ve been asked a lot lately how to describe myself and I keep coming back to one important center in my life: I make things.

Professionally, I write. Sometimes, I write lots of fun things. Sometimes, they even let me touch a video.

Or write a fun little quiz.

CheckYourCattitudeBut at home, I like making things too: poorly conceived recipes I have to rescue and then put in Tupperware to bring for lunch, small essays on the things I’ve yet to truly work through that stay logged in my Google Docs, even crochet scarves that I started as holiday gifts in 2014 and have yet to finish.

I love when I look at something that’s a void, a vacuum, a space to which no characteristics can be attributed and in the after it’s a thing that makes people laugh or share or think.

That spark of something you’ve made that does something good for the world, for a moment or a lifetime, is half the reason that I get up in the morning.

Well, that and mini Reese’s peanut butter cups.

Finding my voice through the words of another

I could talk about understanding how lucky I was to have a whole, intact, lovely family as a kid who let me tromp around as an artist as a child and continue to pursue creativity as an adult – and how long it took me to understand and grow more empathy for others who didn’t have that background. To understand that even as a multiple minority, I’m privileged in ways that I still am reckoning with.

Or, I could have said, “Don’t let [your privilege] blind you too often. Sometimes you will need to push it aside in order to see clearly.” (Thanks, Chimamanda.) (Oh, she probably would also add, on the choice to boldly choose your own path, that “we cannot always bend the world into the shapes we want but we can try, we can make a concerted and real and true effort. Always just try. Because you never know.”)

I could pontificate about how life makes you take your bold statements and value judgments and twist them up and spit them out into other versions of thought. That all the things you judged people on you’d be doing in a year, eating all of the humble pie your 22-year-old body could handle because of a chance meeting outside a sub shop. Another subject I’m still reckoning with, I could have said all of this.

Or, this: “Your standardized ideologies will not always fit your life. Because life is messy.” (Another Adichie masterpiece.)

I could lament the different ways being, well different, makes life more challenging. How many times I’ve been told that I have a bold or dominating personality because I tend to project a level of comfort with who I am that some people (including myself) don’t always feel.

But a wiser woman than I would say, “Our time on earth is short and each moment that we are not our truest selves, each moment we pretend to be what we are not, each moment we say what we do not mean because we imagine that is what somebody wants us to say, then we are wasting our time on earth.” (You wondering who said this? Yeah, it’s a Chimamanda. She also said: “Please do not twist yourself into shapes to please. Don’t do it. If someone likes that version of you, that version of you that is false and holds back, then they actually just like that twisted shape, and not you. And the world is such a gloriously multifaceted, diverse place that there are people in the world who will like you, the real you, as you are.”)

I could wonder about taking a different path in life, one that led me more directly in pursuit of what I thought I wanted in a career at 20. I could talk through dealing with the looks I’ve gotten based on the choices I’ve made, the rolling eyes and you-poor-dear stares from others when I moved through the world answering to the only person who has to live my life: me.

But an easier way would be to say: “Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get your hands dirty way.” (Don’t ask who said it. You know.)

I could talk about the plurality of achievement of success as a woman that I’ve grappled and continue to grapple with. What having it all means – and whether or not I want it. But I could leave discussions of womanhood in the modern age to a few more thoughts by a superhero of a person. (Say it with me now: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.)

“Feminism should be an inclusive party. Feminism should be a party full of different feminisms.”

“Never ever accept ‘because you are a woman’ as a reason for doing or not doing anything.”

“Girls are often raised to see love only as giving. Women are praised for their love when that love is an act of giving. But to love is to give and to take. Please love by giving and by taking. Give and be given. If you are only giving and not taking, you’ll know. You’ll know from that small and true voice inside you that we females are so often socialized to silence. Don’t silence that voice. Dare to take.”

Take a minute (or 20) of your life to watch this advice from an honorary big sister.

Misadventures of a (Former) Megacommuter

When I first moved back to Phoenix as an “adult” (and I put that in quotes because the other day I definitely ate Hot Cheetos for dinner without remorse), I moved to Mesa. Now I learned to love some things about Mesa. I lived next to the orange groves and seeing things that aren’t cacti growing out of the ground is a welcome respite. There’s an amazing Latin American restaurant that sells empanadas that are to die for.

But there was one thing that became the tipping point for Mesa: the commute.

I had originally moved to Mesa because I had a tech writing and communications gig in Chandler. It was less than 10 miles between my apartment and my job. No sweat. I resigned my lease in Mesa at the beginning of April 2014. I interviewed for the job I have now two weeks later.

And thus, the commute began.

On a good day, an hour and forty-five minutes, on a bad day (or a 100-year flood day), two and a half hours driving 75 miles roundtrip from Mesa to North Phoenix. This is not my idea of a good time. In fact, most of the time I’d rather walk or bike than drive.

That’s how I became one of the 8% of Americans that commute at least an hour each way a day. That percentage is more like 10 when you move into big metro areas like Phoenix, as reported by USA Today. I just counted myself lucky that it was only a couples days a month where I’d join 600,000 fellow megacommuters and spend 90 minutes one way in the car. There are only so many segments of NPR Morning Edition to learn from, only so many songs on the soft rock station you can get nostalgic about, and only so many audiobooks you can really afford (I mean come on Audible, really!) to fill up the time.

But when did people start to, as the Atlantic reported in 2013, waste an average of 38 hours and $818 of gas stuck in traffic each year?

Before you all go blaming Henry Ford first, the term commuting traces its roots back to the early days of traveling by rail, where suburban workers would travel by train and then pay a reduced or “commuted” fare to get into the city, according to a 2009 New Yorker article on commuting. Before the mid-1800s, people usually lived walking distance from jobs, but the advent of railways allowed for these “commuted” tickets, which functioned like a modern train or bus pass, allowing workers to repeat certain journeys over and over during their period of validity. Henry Ford’s revolutionary ideas that made cars accessible to the average family then fueled the suburban flames, flames which spread like wildfire with the expansion of the Federal Housing Administration’s insurance of mortgages in the 1930s and the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s.

So maybe you can blame Henry Ford for the scourge of the modern commuter.

But the interesting part of today is that the tides are turning on the impulse to hop in the car and drive an hour each way to work.

The Census found that American commutes, after a sharp uptick in the 1990s, aren’t getting any worse. Part of that is because people are flocking toward urban life in droves. (In fact, I moved into downtown Phoenix, where my 20-25 minute commute matches the national average of 25.4 minutes almost spot on.) Part of that is also because, like we do here, more people have the opportunity to telecommute into work, whether that be all the time or some of the time.

Now my waistline would love if I hopped on the latest trend in commuting with 800,000 other workers: biking. But until the distance to work is less 20 miles and more 2, I’ll stick with the car.

Because if I’m being honest, when I think of my commute time in the morning now, the name of my current audiobook favorite and my mood about the journey converge brilliantly: Yes, Please.

The Layover

One of the most dreaded parts of any last minute trip to me is getting through the unpleasantness of airport travel. Of taking off shoes and walking through detectors and standing in lines. But my least favorite part is the dreaded plane change.

Yes, I had a layover on this trip to Philadelphia on the way back. I made sure I knew the airport (Dallas-Fort Worth) and that I had two hours (enough time to account for a delay) in between flights. Things were going pretty well, I had time to eat dinner and we were even boarding the plane early when the line stops cold in its track.

The murmurs of people who are stuck in an airport at nearly 9 p.m. on a Sunday begin. “What’s happening?” “Why’d we stop boarding?” Then, over the intercom: “The crew on the plane has told us to hold the boarding. We should start again in about 10 minutes.” Then, without missing a beat, blue lights start flashing and an alarm like a middle school fire drill goes off. Bomp. Bomp. Bomp.

In my head I immediately thought, “This is why I plan ahead so I don’t have layovers.”

I’m a miraculously non-spontaneous person. Here’s an example. I took what I would call an incredibly last minute three day trip to Philadelphia earlier in April.

The point was to have a free, fun, relaxing vacation. That means I oooooonly: looked up the restaurants within walking distance, made sure there was a used bookstore nearby, packed in one small carry-on to make traveling through the airport easier, and researched the highest-ranking free four hour walking tour of the city.

There are all these sayings about the thrill of impulse, that spontaneity breeds authenticity and that organization just sets you up for disappointment. Sheryl Crow wants me to Soak Up The Sun. Tim McGraw wants me to Live Like I Was Dying. In the words of the philosopher Jon Bon Jovi, “it’s my life, it’s now or never, I ain’t gonna live forever, I just want to live while I’m alive.”

But as Oscar Wilde puts briefly “spontaneity is a meticulously prepared art” and as Malcolm Gladwell further explains, “Basketball is an intricate, high-speed game filled with split-second, spontaneous decisions. But that spontaneity is possible only when everyone first engages in hours of highly repetitive and structured practice–perfecting their shooting, dribbling, and passing and running plays over and over again … spontaneity isn’t random.”

That’s the feeling I subscribe to: that planning allows for impulse.

This is of course the rationale of a crazy person – me – but I do all this planning to avoid unpleasantness. And this is what I’m thinking during the Bomp. Bomp. Bomp. that tells us all we’re getting delayed. Now we eventually board another plane and take off for Phoenix but in that time we’re all refugees of that U.S. Airways Flight 468, talking about all the other times we’ve had disastrous layovers. And I realize that each story I’m telling is a slight bit of unplanned chaos before a transformative experience. I once had a delay that had me running through Dallas-Fort Worth with five minutes between the moment my plane landed and the next one took off. But that flight got me to a two-week fellowship in New Orleans that gave me some of my great friends, one of which I saw for the first time in four years on this trip to Philadelphia.

So, like the good word nerd I am, I looked up layover, and this definition will make me rethink my overplanning ways. A layover can be seen as an inconvenience, but really all it is, is a period of rest or waiting before a further stage in a journey.

Or at the very least, it’s a fun story to tell your friends.

What am I doing for others?

In life, I feel like there are moments that smack you in the face and give you the opportunity to be the person you actually want to be.

Ten years ago I had one of those moments.

In the summer of 2005, both my family and my cousin’s family both moved to Las Vegas.

For us, my father had taken a new job in the company and that meant moving to Las Vegas. I was of course against it. I had spent five years fooling a handful of people that I was worth being friends with. I had just tried out for a dance company. Instead of the life I thought I’d have, I was shoved headfirst into starting high school in a new state with zero friends. I was resentful, angry, didn’t understand why we had to go?

The same summer, 10 years ago, Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans on August 29. 140 mile per hour winds stretched across 400 miles. The storm was horrifically damaging – and then levees broke.  It was catastrophic, causing more than $100 billion in damage. That was the reason my cousins had to move to Las Vegas. It wasn’t just moving schools that they were worried about. It was everything they’d held dear ripped away in a second. That’s why they had to go.

When I thought about charity, I think about this duality. I think about how charity helped my cousins begin to make a new life and come out the other side. I also think about how easy it is to become ungrateful, involved in the things you need and want and can’t have and do have but they are already two gens out of date and you want a new one.

Do I want to be here to collect things for myself or to do things for others?

So when I think about what I do for others, or try to, I really think about the lucky happenstance that brought me to this job. How did I get here? It’s pretty simple – and luckily it begins with family.

  1. My father taught me the value of changing a pet’s life

The first time I met a beautiful black lab named Georgie, she didn’t have a name, and I didn’t have a clue. I was frightened, frankly. My family moved so much that we hadn’t gotten another pet since my father’s Doberman Friday died, so when Georgie stood up on her hind legs, she grew to match my diminutive seventh grade height easily.

I ran up the stairs, hearing her run behind. I figured under the bed would be the best place to hide. Then, I saw her eyes. I heard her panting. I felt her lick the side of my face and kiss me. I petted her and she nuzzled me, and I knew I was in love.

So when I saw the opportunity to work in animal welfare, I knew I identified with it.

  1. My sister taught me that work in nonprofits was attainable

My sister is about three and a half years older than me, and since I’m the baby of the family, I made it my life’s mission to annoy her. But it was mostly because I wanted to be cool like her so badly when I was a kid – and I can’t say that that want has changed as an adult.

She sold me on going to the University of Arizona with her own pursuit of a degree there and by working at the American Red Cross and the Girl Scouts, she showed me a path toward companies that do things for their communities.

My sister taught me that at any age, you can dedicate your time and efforts to helping, even if you are young and green and probably still need some help yourself.

  1. My mother taught me the rewards of helping others.

My mom has always been an incredible artist. She’s had some exhibitions in local Phoenix galleries, even in a couple bookstores, and was really making a name for herself in Arizona when we made the aforementioned move to Vegas.

But instead of letting it fall by the wayside, instead she began to volunteer, doing art therapy with the seniors at a care center down the street from our new home.

The center was so impressed by how these people with dementia and Alzheimer’s came to life when she was there that they begged her to work there full-time, a job she’s had for a decade and loves with all of her heart.

When I started volunteering and working beside her in high school, having people pull me aside to tell me how much my mother meant to them, well that let me know that doing something for others pays you back dividends, even if they aren’t monetary.

So when I ruminate on the topic of doing things for others: I think of my father, my sister, my mother; I think of my cousins coming to Las Vegas; I think of all the great stories I get to tell every day, and I think, what I am doing to help pets and the people who care for them is important.

But I also think, man, I’m so lucky that Ralph Waldo Emerson was right: “It is one of the beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

I’m lucky I get to do that every day.

Sister Citizen is changing my life

I am an unabashed Melissa Harris-Perry fan. I think she’s smart, unafraid to wear braids on television, and an objectively “cool” kind of public intellectual in the tradition of a long line of black feminism, but also just good writers pondering worthwhile topics to move public discourse forward.

(Side note: How does one get the job of public intellectual? It sounds so invigorating and also like even though I would assume it would be all chats with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Perry over espressos at indie coffee shops that it would be a lot more getting doctoral degrees and struggling in the ever-present pulling of yourself in many different directions of interest).

As an unabashed fan, I have watched her speeches, I have nodded along to her show, I have kicked myself for not somehow going to Tulane University. But while in Portland on a business trip, I stumbled across her book in Powell’s and decided to really solidify my fandom.

And boy am I not disappointed.

Sister Citizen makes the case that the inner life of a black woman and her struggles grappling with, succeeding in, and feeling undermined by her community is in and of itself a political act. That sociology, literature, cognitive psychology, and of course, political science, can all be blended into a master work of what it means to be someone like Perry or myself in modern America.

This is hinged on the idea of a crooked room, where although there are some people who independently can find their orientation, in the face of a room set crooked by 10, 20, or 30 degrees, people will tilt themselves to meet what their senses are perceiving as correct. She applies this cognitive research to the onslaught of messaging from literature, television, friends, colleagues, ill-advised New York Times pieces, etc., and how that can both change the perceptions of how others see you but also of how you see yourself and your truth. She legitimizes and strings along this point in one seminal exploration of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, the political implications of Hurricane Katrina, media coverage of the black bodies involved in his national tragedy often treated like refugees, and the cognitive crooked room research to posit that all of these disparate pieces come out to make a whole in which existence in a certain type of body is a struggle that has vast implications politically. It’s a fascinating deconstruction that happens to hit on so many different subject areas that I like to explore: minority literature, gender politics, anthropological and sociological overtones to current debates, media criticism, language choices and their implications on perception, and the list goes on.

What thrills me most of all about this, however, is that it opens up a dialogue for every single type of person to consider that maybe they aren’t crooked, but the room is – and muse on what they can do to change it.

A friend and I were talking about our exasperation with certain things in our chosen career fields and when I said, “What can you do about it though?” she thoughtfully replied, “Want for change and try to become it?”

I won’t end this too cliché-ly on a “Be the change you wish to see in the world” kind of note, but it does dovetail with a different quote that keeps popping up in my mind and really made me feel quite differently as soon as I heard it: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

You can notice the crooked room, analyze and lament it, and even try to change it, but never forget that everyone’s life is composed of struggle, and a great way to grapple with that is realizing that the only person you are in competition with is yourself. Be better than you yesterday and hope tomorrow you are better than you are today.

Zosia Mamet is an inspiration.

Girls came into my life when I needed and connected to it the most: right after I had graduated from college, with no job, dwindling savings, and a writing degree.

Although I never named myself the voice of a generation, I felt deeply connected to the struggle to figure everything out: your passion, your social life, your friend circle, your dating efforts, your budding career, your student loans. I applied far and wide and had nibbles from places in Richmond, Va., and Lake Tahoe, Calif., and Laughlin, Nev. But nothing felt right. So I stayed in Tucson, freelanced my way into a publishing company job, and hung out with friends in their senior years of college. It was a blast.

But part of me couldn’t shake the fact that it felt like arrested development. Why wasn’t I successful yet?

So I pulled up my big girl pants and moved for a host of adult reasons, some personal and others to achieve a greater level of success. But it took me on a path that was both leaning out of where I thought I was going and diversifying to try out new things. Cool, yes, but in some ways, not success in the way I envisioned it a couple years ago. But it wasn’t the “knock down the doors until you get what you need” and the “overcome the female confidence gap” training that pop culture has seen as en vogue.

Lean In. Thrive. The Confidence Gap. They all tell us to be aggressive in the pursuit of success.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been told that I should be “meaner” in order to be “successful” in a field, to move up the ranks. So these more aggressive tactics just didn’t seem like me. Am I confident in my skills? Of course. Am I the type to stab people in the back to sit at the top of the heap? Not so much. (Mostly because I’ve been the recipient of said stabbing by a person who would later be the mean person that job needed to be on top and it felt just awful.)

Then I started to question whether or not I made the right choice as far as what the job meant for my career and what my career should be in, whether or not I should go to grad school, what people would think about me if I shifted paths … and what “success” is supposed to be. This is where Zosia comes in.

In Mad Men, Zosia (gosh, I love her name) plays Joyce Ramsay, an assistant photo editor at Life magazine, who is in charge of app parts of her career, social, and personal life. She is a woman with an editor position at a major magazine in the ‘60s. The feat would be impressive now, but in the context of the times, it is even more so. She’s by every metric pretty successful. In Girls, Zosia plays Shoshanna Shapiro who at times during the series has been critical of her friend’s lack of motivation and achievement (read: lack of success), but then when she falters at the finish line of her degree and sees a future where her plans for success have been disrupted, she starts to try and put her life back together, starting with a last ditch effort to mend her broken relationship. By most metrics, not as successful. But both women are young and enjoying their life, making mistakes along the way. From an outside perspective, either one could hear the line “you’ve got your whole life ahead of you so make mistakes now” and yet still be lumped into today’s version of what we believe a young person is: a lazy, entitled millennial.

Either woman’s success, however different she maybe, is measured by the same rigid outside monetary, prestigious, and societal metrics.

Even in real life, Zosia the actress says she “ha[s] been incredibly blessed with success in my chosen career.” Success by someone else’s metrics.

But then she asks herself a line of questioning in a Glamour column recently that I’ve been circling around lately myself, a line that ends in this revelation: “We are so obsessed with ‘making it’ these days we’ve lost sight of what it means to be successful on our own terms. … You can’t just jog; you have to run a triathlon. Having a cup of coffee, reading the paper, and heading to work isn’t enough—that’s settling, that’s giving in, that’s letting them win. You have to wake up, have a cup of coffee, conquer France, bake a perfect cake, take a boxing class, and figure out how you are going to get that corner office or become district supervisor, while also looking damn sexy—but not too sexy, because cleavage is degrading—all before lunchtime.”

I say this is a revelation for a reason. I had a deep conversation with a bunch of smart women about work/life balance recently. We discussed how much of yourself you should be comfortable committing to a job, where to draw lines, how career affects a personal life, the ultimate goal of “Do I want a husband/wife and kids?” and what does that mean for my career, all of it. The conversation alone was exhausting. So trying to make these strategic choices seems daunting in so many different ways. Plus, with all the gendered discussion over the firing of Jill Abramson (who I have had the pleasure to meet, along with the new executive editor Dean Baquet because of my involvement with the New York Times Student Journalism Institute back in 2011) from The New York Times, leaning in seems like even a slightly dangerous proposition.

At the end of this vigorous discussion, though, we all had a different feeling about what balanced even was and what would make us happy in the pursuit of success. We all had different opinions about what “having it all” meant, too.

Zosia goes on to say, “The solution, I think, is to ask ourselves what we actually want—each of us personally—and stop putting so much pressure on one another. Success isn’t about winning everything; it’s about achieving your dream, be that teaching middle school or flying jets. And no matter what we as individual women want, no matter what our goals, we have to support one another.”

That seems much less daunting. Focusing not on what you lack, or what different person you should become to get what you want, but taking what you have and striving for what you want. Achieving a dream, whatever it is, in the best way you know how. To me, if that’s the goal, I’ll lean in and thrive for that all day long.

Carl Sagan is right: Books are astonishing.

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

I posted a while back about really starting to crack down and read more books and I won’t lie, it’s been amazing. I’m so inspired to write, to spend less time wasting time and more time learning and growing and experiencing the moment. (This might possibly be because of meditation rituals as well, but that addition is fodder for a whole other post.)

So I figured I’d post here a little synopsis of what I’ve read so far (these books are listed as close to chronological order as well as I can remember) and also ask for any recommendations on what to add to the queue (especially if those are non-fiction selections since I’ve been a fiction fiend). I’m taking a train from Flagstaff to Chicago and back around Memorial Day so I’ll have plenty of time to read (or listen to) books!

 

The 2014 Read As Many Books As Possible-A-Thon 

Completed:

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris

Song of Myself – Walt Whitman

Americanah – Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

This Is How You Lose Her – Junot Diaz

Consider The Lobster – David Foster Wallace

An Abundance of Katherines – John Green

Women – Charles Bukowski

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs – Chuck Klosterman

The Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

Sleepwalk With Me – Mike Birbiglia

Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut

The Stranger – Albert Camus

Feminism Is For Everybody – bell hooks

In Progress:

Human, All Too Human – Frederich Nietzche (20 pages in)

100 Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (read the first sentence, one of the best in the history of literature, and got self-conscious about my own writing, but also excited to read it)

The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde (really close to being done)

Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger (audiobook-ing it while working)

To Read (books that I have purchased and haven’t read yet):

On The Road – Jack Kerouac

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

The Invisible Man – Chuck Klosterman

Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy

American Pastoral – Philip Roth

Scar Tissue – Anthony Kiedis

The Upgrade – Paul Carr

Then Came You – Jennifer Weiner

The Harlem Renaissance Reader – Various

On Such a Full Sea – Chang Rae-Lee (on its way)

Stay Up With Me – Tom Barbash (on its way)

 

I have told those I love around me that on our inevitable next trip to Bookmans or Barnes and Noble, I have to have finished a book I have already purchased or started before I am allowed to buy another one. Seriously the stack is high and growing higher every time I leave the house. I’m turning into a book hoarder.

So please let me know if you have suggestions, or if you want to talk about my impressions of each book. I have lots of opinions, but I will offer them only if someone wants them to be shared!

As Abe Simpson says, one tiny change makes all the difference

After we had decided to see The Grand Budapest Hotel after dinner at Carrabba’s I was asked, “Why don’t you seem more excited?” I know, I know, Wes Anderson. Life Aquatic and all that. I said, “With that many people in a movie, doesn’t it seem like it doesn’t give most of them time to be any good?”

I was – mostly – right. Jeff Goldblum cannot be tamed and even missing fingers he was one of the most enjoyable parts of the movie. Voldemort also played a convincing Ralph Finnes playing a concierge.

Seeing this movie, however, stirred up quite a conversation, one that lasted past the walk to the movie theater lobby, past the drive home, and lasted about half an hour after that.

“It was pretty though. Some of the shots were truly brilliant.” I grew up in a family that actively discussed cinematography after emerging from a movie theater.

“Yeah, but who makes Edward Norton and Willem Dafoe seem …”

“Hollow?” I said.

“Yes, exactly!”

“I just would rather watch Four Rooms.” Granted, although I said this particular sentence, it was a group sentiment.

Now, this is no disrespect to Wes Anderson or Wes Anderson fans. And full disclosure: I truly enjoy Quentin Tarantino movies, and can tell that the cinematics in The Grand Budapest Hotel are exciting and visually stunning in a way that Four Rooms doesn’t necessarily achieve. But hey, it was ’95, so I give it a pass. (Tarantino had quite a hand in Four Rooms, just to add the connective tissue here.) But after this chat, and another discussion about it over tandoori chicken and chana masala the next day, a singular thought arose: one tiny change makes all the difference.

Take Four Rooms and The Grand Budapest Hotel: Interwoven stories surrounding the exploits of a concierge at a hotel that turned from very popular to less-than-popular over its time. Even the concierges both had purple suits. But the string that held the movies together, Tim Roth’s concierge versus Ralph Finnes concierge, were just slightly different, and the focus in Four Rooms stayed, well in Four Rooms, whereas The Grand Budapest Hotel spent only a third to a half of the movie inside the actual hotel. And this slight change made Four Rooms easier to follow and more fun to watch, and The Grand Budapest Hotel … full of beautiful visuals and Anderson-esque featurettes and Jeff Goldblum jokes (and by this I mean Jeff Goldblum being effervescently funny, not people making jokes about the amazing Jeff Goldblum … have I mentioned I like Jeff Goldblum?) But did it convert me into a Wes Anderson fan? Maybe not. (Good thing I like quirky books and craft beer, otherwise I’d lose all cred with the hipster-indie crowd with that last statement. Maybe I need to finish The Life Aquatic. Or watch Moonrise Kingdom. Or have a proper introduction to Anderson to … “get it.”)

A conversation expanded to two other movies: Identity and Shutter Island, which take the theory of amazingly terror-filled events trapped in the psychoses of a mind, and let you know the wool has been pulled over your eyes at two different times (about two-thirds through the movie versus right at the end respectively) and that made one much more effective than the other to a friend of mine. “You figure out this is all fake and then you think, ‘Why do I care about that bald guy? I don’t even care that much about John Cusack at that point. The suspense is gone.’” Valid point, even though I still like Identity, and took slight offense to his protestations as I recommended him the movie and said it was “totally awesome.” (Spoiler alert: He absolutely did not agree.)

But here again, one tiny change makes all the difference.

It’s like how they always say in time travel fiction to not mess with the past because killing a mosquito in the pre-historic age can change everything about the present. (My most vivid memory of this is some version of this sentiment said by Abe Simpson to Homer in Treehouse of Horror V (a great The Simpsons episode that really holds up if you haven’t watched it in a while.))

 

I expanded this thought to my own life, and about the tiny things and how they made all the difference.

I went to the University of Arizona rather than University of Southern California, which I really wanted to go to at 16, but would have been paying for until I was 46; I stayed in Tucson post-graduation and took a job I never thought I’d be in, which wasn’t what I thought I’d do even six months before that but taught me more than a different job or a year in a misguided grad program would have; I went to visit a friend in Phoenix in June of last year, after I applied for and didn’t get a gig in San Francisco, and one of the greatest things to happen to the last 10 months of my life happened because I didn’t get a job I thought would be perfect.

What if I went to USC for school? What if I had moved to Lake Tahoe, California, or Richmond, Virginia, or Laughlin, Nevada, for the jobs I “should” have taken? What if I had gone to Phoenix a different weekend, or had gotten Jimmy John’s delivered rather than walked into the shop on Saturday?

From the outside, some of these choices seem innocuous, or maybe even appear incongruous and hollow. But for me, they made all the difference.

So I guess what I am saying is, The Grand Budapest Hotel is my USC. It’s amazing and distant, something I want to like and seemed for me, but is also kind of OK if it’s not. It’s my tiny preference, my choice, my change, change, and it makes all the difference.