Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Writing the Stress Away

For the past month and a half, I've felt more depressed than normal, with many of the symptoms you'd expect: lack of motivation, fatigue, tearfulness, et cetera. Functioning well is a challenge. One day, my crying was so hysterical that even my dog thought I was being too extra, so she left me in favor of a quieter spot elsewhere in the house.

One night, I was faring particularly badly, even though I'd watched a fun movie and taken special care to shower well, have a marginally proper meal, and clean my room a little. Uncertain of what I should do next, I finally decided to sit down and write a blog post about something I'd thought of earlier in the day.

And I felt so much better when I was writing.

This isn't always the case. But on that occasion, it worked. I'm not surprised; after all, writing has long been recognized for its therapeutic value, along with art (at this point, I must pause to give my alma mater, Lesley University, a shout-out for their excellent expressive therapies program). In fact, I seriously considered studying writing therapy myself, before other interests eclipsed that one--and after I decided I didn't want to take a statistics class, obviously.

My academic history aside, writing can prove to be a useful outlet for all sorts of people. In my case, it's not something I've ever pursued for that purpose; rather, it's an imperative, something I have to do. But I encourage anyone who might be looking for a way to blow off some steam to pick up a pen and see what happens. It might just be the prescription for which you've searched.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

MaWhitdonManNa, or Getting Your American On

Let's talk about Madonna and Walt Whitman for a minute.

Maybe it's an unorthodox pairing. But frankly, these two work well together: each taking in as much as they can, whipping it around in their personal brain-blenders, and then spitting something out and sharing it with the masses. Plus they're both uniquely American, albeit in different ways: Madonna the gregarious, outspoken, spotlight-seeking variety in the vein of Benjamin Franklin (don't fight me on this), Whitman the contemplative, wordsmithing, diplomatic type along the lines of Thomas Jefferson (I'm telling you: it's true).

The thing that really unites them, though, is their proclivity for tinkering. Madonna has been on 10 tours--9 of them worldwide--and many of her songs have been rejiggered along the way. "La Isla Bonita" seems to be one of her favorite tunes to reinvent, as she's introduced new versions of it on 5 separate tours, in addition to the album and radio cuts.

Does this sound like anyone we know? Perhaps--could it be--Uncle Walt? He of the multiple revised/expanded printings of his landmark work, Leaves of Grass? Why, yes it is.

And this is also a mark of their American nature: the constant need for improvement. Ours is not a nation that feels comfortable letting something stand if it needs to be fixed. We're at our best when we take what has been good about our past and bring it into the present. That way, we honor both history and progress; that's why the Constitution has had amendments added to it throughout the years.

So maybe let's look to the examples of Madonna and Whitman and try to forge ahead, better than we were yesterday.


Images via here and here.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Best Part of Being a Writer

As you may know, I'm an official Goodreads author, and one of the coolest functions of an author's profile, as far as I'm concerned, is the part where we get to answer questions. Recently, Goodreads sent a question to me that piqued my interest in such a way that I wanted to take an entire post--rather than a short paragraph--to discuss it: what is the best thing about being a writer?

This question is so wide open as to lend itself to debate, and indeed, I can think of several options that may be worth exploring. But for me, the best part is having the opportunity to move people.

For many years, I resisted poetry because I was taught by teachers who espoused some variation on that old saw: "This is the only valid way to interpret this poem." I wasn't about that life, and it put me off the idea of verse. When I was in college, however, new ways of approaching all types of literature, and especially poetry, were available to me. It was then that I decided something important about my own work: as long as the reader gets SOMETHING out of it, I have done my job as a writer.

This doesn't mean that I don't have my own ideas about what an individual poem or story says. Obviously, I know what I was trying to convey. What it DOES mean, however, is that I want to hear what others have to say about my work, and my biggest wish is that they will be able to make some meaningful connection with any given piece. 

Because if I'm putting my writing out into the world, there is no point whatsoever in producing it only for my own sake. There is (I assume/hope) a reader on the other end who may have an unexpected reaction to my words, and that's okay, and I want to hear about it, too! If you're having a bad day and feel relieved because one of my poems let you know that someone else was experiencing the same thing, great! If you're in love and one of my stories speaks to those feelings inside you, fantastic! Even if you're reviled by something I've written, I have still elicited a reaction, and I want to know about your disgust. 

Basically, I most enjoy having the chance to interface with others. As an introvert, it can be incredibly difficult for me to make new friends or even acquaintances, and readers help me as much as I aim to help them. Other writers may say they most love creating their own worlds, or the thrill of seeing their name on the cover of a book, and nothing is wrong with either of those motivations. I'm simply approaching it from a more humanistic perspective.

Read on, y'all. And tell me what you think about my words!


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

From Princess to General

Because I am perpetually behind the times, I have not yet seen Wonder Woman, the first big-screen adaptation of Diana Prince's story. However, the Internet has been awash with discussions of the film and its constituents, from forebears to alternate screenplays, and I've seen enough at this point that I want to highlight one recurring meme in particular:

This is honestly one of my favorite things I've ever seen online. Up top, you have Robin Wright, who first came to prominence as Princess Buttercup in the film adaptation of The Princess Bride and has most recently portrayed Diana's mother Hippolyta in Wonder Woman. Below, of course, we see the late Carrie Fisher, first as the young Princess Leia in A New Hope and then--almost 40 years later--as General Organa in The Force Awakens.

The reason I love it so much is because it encapsulates a mighty shift in our culture. Have we had badass women on screen in the past? Absolutely! From Buffy to Xena to Sydney Bristow to The Bride, and even Leia herself, there are plenty of worthy examples, and I'm happy to give credit where it's due. The difference, in this case, largely revolves around one word: princess.

Having grown up during the Disney Renaissance, and being the aunt of a little girl, I am perhaps alarmingly well-versed in the language of fictional princesses. Don't get me wrong: I was, and remain, a huge fan of Disney, but as an adult, I do recognize the indoctrination I endured. (As a side note, Disney now owns the Star Wars properties, which--in a very technical sense--means that Leia has joined the ranks of Ariel, Aurora, and Anna, as many others have pointed out in the past.)

The dilemma is that we females have spent large swaths of our lives being told that girls are "sugar, spice, and everything nice," that we should be "ladylike," that we need to find our lives searching for our own personal Prince Charming. It's pretty problematic when you consider it, because we live in a society that has ostensibly progressed but often seems to backslide badly.

So when I see images of Hippolyta in action and General Organa working hard to ensure the safety of those around her, I get a little giddy. As I said in a Facebook post just after Fisher's death last December: yes, I love the princess who sasses Darth Vader, keeps herself together even after watching her planet destroyed, infiltrates Jabba's palace, and all that. But I love General Organa more, because she is the end product of all those things followed by 30 more years of hard work and dedication. In other words, General Organa is what daring girls all over the world have the capacity to become if they persevere.

The problem is, our society tends to squash those sparks of personality and ambition, so it is extremely important that we continue to give girls (and boys) good, strong female role models in our media. It lets girls know that the line they're fed about having the capacity to be whatever they want when they grow up isn't just bullshit--even though it feels like that some days, given the typical images with which we are all bombarded on a daily basis.

And I hope, also, that the women out there who think they "don't need feminism" are waking up a little through this journey with two lovely princesses turned generals. It would be fantastic to know that children aren't the only ones affected by more positive portrayals of strong women whose power doesn't stem from their royalty but through the battles they wage to keep others safe and equal (equal being the operative word).


Images via here, here, here, and here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Another Thing About Anxiety Is That It Fucking Sucks

When I started this blog, my plan was to talk about books, writing, and popular culture. Believe me: I still intend to focus on those things. I've found, though, that it's important for me to share experiences in other areas of my life, as well, because it can be difficult to find people who are open about their mental health (or someone whose words make sense to you and affect you and validate you), and I'd like to help where I can. Being an introvert and a person who sometimes attempts to write, this is the way that makes the most sense to me. This is the second part in a two-part series. Part one was published on Monday.


Anxiety is one of those disorders that can have unintended professional or interpersonal consequences. For example, when I've suffered through anxiety attacks at work, I've had to leave a sales floor or hide behind a closed office door until the feeling passes. The most comical of these incidents happened when I was lurking around the quietest corner of a Hallmark store, hiding from a nun because I have a completely irrational, unfounded fear of them. (This strategy worked until we were short-handed at the cash wrap and I was forced to ring up the sister's purchase.)

The majority of my anxiety-related meltdowns, however, affect my relationships. On a good day, I struggle to explain what's happening inside my head, so imagine me trying to tell someone all of the things I'm feeling when I'm also in the middle of an anxiety attack. (Hint: you might reasonably call it a shitshow.) Even my dog ran away from me once when I was sobbing through some anxiety; that's how extra I become, but in her defense, she has a limited grasp of the finer points of humans' emotional anguish.

Once I manage to get on this path of explication, though, it's difficult for me to stop. Hence I dump all sorts of information on people in a short amount of time, attempting to make myself clear and searching for some sort of understanding on the part of the other person(s) involved. I also spend a significant amount of time apologizing, because even though I think my feelings are valid, I recognize how someone else might disagree, and even more so how they might find it off-putting that I'm sharing so many details of my inner life. As my mother once put it, I can be scary.

That is never, ever my intention, but I get it: my emotions are too intense for some people. And no matter my aim, no matter how much I mean what I'm saying--and I always do in instances like this--my confessions more often serve to get me in trouble. Perhaps I come across as unhinged, but I choose my words as carefully as possible and attempt to maintain some logical flow (this is why I usually have to write these things out rather than say them face-to-face).

But once I've gotten it out, I panic and scramble to write a second--or third, or fourth--note to clarify my previous statements, and the cycle of anxiety continues. The longer it takes someone to reply to me, the worse I feel, and the more likely I am to keep going.

Eventually, I will burn myself out, perhaps for a day or two, or maybe even a week. Then it begins afresh, and some other source of anxiety will take the place of the last incident. If I'm lucky, it's nothing serious and I can continue my routine. Other times, not so much. But I do what I can to fight it and advocate for myself, even though it can be difficult to do so when the real enemy is your own brain.

To those who have been on the other side of this, who have ever wondered why or how I get so wild-eyed or who have ever felt bombarded, I apologize. I know that it isn't easy for you, and I realize that I owe you a great deal. I can't offer much in the way of reparations, but I'm usually available to tell a bad joke, if you're into that sort of thing (or if you simply tolerate that sort of thing). 


Monday, June 19, 2017

Emotional Hypothermia

When I started this blog, my plan was to talk about books, writing, and popular culture. Believe me: I still intend to focus on those things. I've found, though, that it's important for me to share experiences in other areas of my life, as well, because it can be difficult to find people who are open about their mental health (or someone whose words make sense to you and affect you and validate you), and I'd like to help where I can. Being an introvert and a person who sometimes attempts to write, this is the way that makes the most sense to me. This is the first part in a two-part series. Part two will be published on Friday.


I have that cold feeling again.

For me, this is one way in which my anxiety disorder physically manifests itself. When I feel I've done something wrong--regardless of whether a transgression occurred or not--I start to feel icy. But this chill isn't superficial, like when an unexpected breeze catches you. No. This originates within and spreads under my skin.

It started during my childhood, but of course I didn't recognize it as anxiety back then. If I had a word for it at all, it was likely fear--the fear of being in trouble, usually with my mom. Back then, this was accompanied by a recurring need to pee, as if my body was trying to dehydrate itself and shrivel up into nothing to escape the situation at hand.

Right now, I'm lucky--if that's what we're calling it--because I know what's at the root of today's anxiety attack. But I'm also unlucky, because all I want to do is keep picking at the situation until I've resolved it. Think of it as a scab: I feel successful once it finally peels away, but the sting quickly sets in and the process starts anew, because I haven't fixed anything.

The drugs help. A little. But I've never been able to make the cold feeling disappear. I try to leave other people out of it; I've caused some damage this time, though, and of course that contributes to the problem on my end. I wish I had a mental straightjacket to keep my flailing from injuring myself and others, because no apology sufficiently undoes the past. And so I continue to live with the turmoil, like I'm on a roller coaster running an endless loop on a windy night.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Heat Rising

For many years, I gave away copies of my favorite book, Fahrenheit 451, very sparingly: only to my very best friends, people I love. Recently, though, I gifted 14 at once--the latest printing, with a plain red, cream, and black cover--because the time has come for people to take a stand.

The current American political situation is, in a word, terrifying. Fahrenheit remains timely and prescient, and I can't recommend it enough. My hope in sharing it en masse is that the recipients might follow Montag's lead and not only resist but revolt.

Of course, I realize that revolution is a strong word, but I fear we may have started down that path. The best way to arm ourselves may be through knowledge. At least, that's the way I've always seen it.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Coming Home. Again.

For the second time this decade, I find myself leaving the South and moving home to Michigan. Unlike the first time, however, the choice was mine.

There are the reasons I cite publicly, and there are the ones I mention privately. They overlap, of course: a Venn diagram of quitting. Some are reasonable, others less so. Like last time, I will lose things in the deal. The fact that I have more ownership of this departure softens the blow, but not as much as I'd like.

Here are good things: Mom and Dad, Niece and Nephew, Little Dog, BFF Kate and BFF Charlie. For my own sake, I won't talk about bad things.

But I will tell you the best thing: home.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Historical Preseveration

When I was in elementary school, our curriculum included educational role playing simulations, which is a fancy way of saying that we, unruly children that we were, pretended to be historical figures in the name of learning. One of these programs was about the American Revolution generally, and about the Continental Congress and other such important developments more specifically. The other was a slice of Michigan history featuring Pรจre Marquette, Antoine Cadillac, and others. 

While these activities primed me to appreciate the intricacies of nation-building and the great American experiment, they didn't prepare me for the reality.

For example, no one told me that a man who essentially lied his way into respectability and power--Cadillac--could become such an essential figure in the development of North America as we now know it, and today, I'm facing down the fact that a charlatan holds the highest office in the land. Nor did they delve into the reasons why there were so few female roles for the girls to play; we just had to accept that the men ran the show.

This is part of why I'm so adamant about reading books and exploring historical topics as an adult: it's important for me to find the facts that were left out of the lessons I learned as a child. Especially in this uncertain and tumultuous age, I can't possibly stress the importance of this enough. Go out. Read a book. Learn something. 

It just might save us.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Damn, Cate, Back At It Again with the Slacking?

I keep logging into my account with the intention of writing something. And the goal is real; I haven't forgotten about my blog at all. There doesn't seem to be much to say, though.

Even that isn't exactly true. I have a million things in my head that are screaming to get out.

Do you know the instinct that keeps you from saying something you might regret? I don't always have it. But I don't think that's even what's at play right now, anyway. Maybe it's more that my brain is jumbled. Too many words bubble to the surface, and I can't separate them out before another complaint or idea or wish turns up.

So this is my attempt to suss it all out, I suppose. Another shot at the blogging game. At sharing wisdom, or at least thoughts. Knowing me, I'll fail again soon. And then try again. The endless cycle.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Fight

Someone asked me recently if I regretted the events leading up to my being laid off in 2014. My immediate, gut reaction was to say, "No." But I was wrong. I do have one regret.

I wish I had fought harder. 

When I say this, I don't mean in the final moments. I mean every step of the way.

I hope never to see the things I saw again. But if I do, I will fight again. Harder. Always.



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Seminal Albums

When I was putting together last week's "New Year, New Playlist," I started thinking about not only the songs but also the albums that influence me the most. Some of them are, undoubtedly, unsurprising, but there are others that may make even those of you who know me best do a double-take. 

Although the list is much longer than what I'm presenting here, I've decided to choose the eleven that are most important to me (at this moment in time, at least)--you know, the ones I would take into exile with me. How did I end up with eleven instead of ten, you ask? Well, for one thing, these guys told me it's okay to turn it up to 11. For another, I started to panic and couldn't stand the thought of cutting one more from my list (although part of me suspects it would be Sheryl Crow, if I'm being honest).

Rather than do a write-up of each album, I'm simply going to list my favorite track and let you do your own exploring from there. These come to you in alphabetical order by artist, because any sort of ranking is impossible after the first three (No. 4, Confessions on a Dance Floor, and White Blood Cells). Enjoy!

- The Sign, Ace of Base (Favorite song: "Happy Nation")

- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, David Bowie (Favorite song: "Soul Love")

- C'mon C'mon, Sheryl Crow (Favorite song: "Diamond Road")

- The Ghost Who Walks, Karen Elson (Favorite song: "Pretty Babies," and be aware that the album cut is much better than what you'll hear in the video)

- Always Got Tonight, Chris Isaak (Favorite song: "One Day")

- Songs from the West Coast, Elton John (Favorite song: "Original Sin")

- The Fame Monster, Lady Gaga (Favorite song: "Dance in the Dark")

- Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna (Favorite song: "Push," but some days I think it might actually be "Let It Will Be")

- Haunted, POE (Favorite song: "5 1/2 Minute Hallway")

- No. 4, Stone Temple Pilots (Favorite song: "Sour Girl," forever and ever)

- White Blood Cells, White Stripes (Favorite song: "This Protector")


PS I am aware that this list consists of only white musicians, all of whom are Western. It's not that I don't want to be more diverse in my listening--and reading, and watching--habits; it's more that these are such strong touchstones for me that I feel they're important to include on this list. But, as always, suggestions for broader listening are more than welcome!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

New Year, New Playlist: 2017

I had a tradition on my first blog, What We Covet, of starting each new year off with a playlist of music I intend to take with me throughout the year. As with the previous lists, the songs were culled from my current collection. Most aren't recent, but they certainly sound good to me, and that's really the goal of any playlist I ever make. They come to you in no particular order. I hope you'll check them out, if you're not already familiar with them. Enjoy!
1)  "Mile on the Moon," Sarah Jarosz

Jarosz is one of those people I would hate if she wasn't awesome, because she's stupid talented and already successful at a young age--things I would love to be. Her new-Americana song is both comfortingly familiar and fresh, and her solid education, undertaken at the New England Conservatory of Music, guarantees that her musicianship is impeccable.

2) "Joanne," Lady Gaga

No, this isn't Gaga's best effort ever, but it's a heartfelt tribute to her aunt Joanne, who died very young. It gets me in the gut every time, because it reminds me of my own aunt, who was also gone too soon. 

3) "The Spoils," Massive Attack feat. Hope Sandoval
If the vocalist here sounds familiar, it's with good reason: she's Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, the group that brought us one of the most ubiquitous love songs ever, "Fade Into You." Sandoval brings her haunting voice to the table, and it perfectly pairs with Massive Attack's moody synth strings.

4) "Jimmy the Exploder," White Stripes

I am rarely not listening to the White Stripes in some capacity, but I was on a serious kick with them last summer, and this song, which opens their self-titled debut album, was a great, noisy part of the soundtrack of my life in August, as I expect it will be this year, as well.

5) "Long Goodbye," Dwight Yoakam and Michelle Branch

If you don't like Dwight Yoakam, you're wrong and we can't be friends. But also, I would very much like for Yoakam and Branch to do an album together. Is that so much to ask?

6) "The One," Elton John

I'm kind of mildly obsessed with mid-career Elton John right now--roughly his 1990s discography, starting with The One, from which this single came. This is the period when his voice really transformed and he started singing in a slightly lower, richer register than he did in the 1970s and most of the 1980s. That's the Elton John I turn to for comfort.

7) "Waiting," Green Day

I will never not have a crush on Mike Dirnt, and that's all I have to say about this song.

8) "If You Had My Love," Jennifer Lopez

Believe it or not, On the 6 was a good album, and I sometimes miss this side of J. Lo--before the super-fame and extreme contouring, but after she had proven herself with her excellent work in Selena, and while she still had some Latina flair.

9) "True Blue," Madonna

True Blue is a notoriously uneven album, which is undoubtedly due at least in part to the influence of Sean Penn, who was Madonna's husband at the time. And as overly sweet as "True Blue" the song tends to be, it's good, clean, cheesy fun. Plus, check out Debi Mazar as a backup dancer!

I invite you all to make your own playlist for the coming year, and share it with me if you're feeling confessional!