Letter to my 21-year-old self

Dear Harriet,

You just turned 21 and are struggling through some of the most difficult months of your life. You are being beaten and raped by your husband on an almost daily basis and, of course, he blames you for his behavior, you see your hurts and your position as your own fault. You are almost completely numb and wondering what on earth there is to live for; you don’t see an out. For the last few months your only place of refuge–the only place you truly feel safe–is the bathtub, but you are no longer safe from yourself there. I know you have been scraping your skin off–your legs and stomach look like gazpacho and your pumice stones are stained with blood.

Stay with me, honey, don’t turn out the lights; it’s almost over. By March you will somehow find the internal strength to make a decision, and by the beginning of the summer you will be living in your own little apartment. That bastard will go back to the Midwest and you will only see him twice more in your lifetime. He will continue to deteriorate, but you will flourish.

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Melanie recently posted about what she would tell her 22-year-old self, I have been thinking about it for a couple of weeks. The first few years of my 20′s were volatile and looking back I still don’t know how I happened to come out on the other side in one piece. Truth be told, I wasn’t in one piece, I was a mess, held together with bandages and a few long-buried hopes and dreams. It took me a long time to feel like a whole person again, and I often look back to that girl and whisper to her to just keep going, it will get better, she will be okay. Sometimes I actually believe that these quiet encouragements can transcend time and all the laws of psychics, I wonder if  the bloodied, broken girl in the bathtub can somehow hear my whispers, that she recognizes my voice and is calmed, puts down the stone, and is still.

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Your career in advertising will take off, you will win awards, the youngest in your company to ever do so. You will keep the people you work with now in your heart for years. You will go back to school–and you will finish your degree. It is wise not to switch to majoring in marketing–the economy will tank in 2008 and marketing and advertising budgets will disappear. An economics degree, however, will provide indispensable.

Facebook will be kind of cool, a little awesome, and a lot of awkward. Learn privacy functions immediately, block without abandon.

I’m sorry to tell you that you will not be a world traveler by the time you are 30; you will explore many new places from coast to coast, and small pockets of Canada and Mexico, but you will not rack up passport stamps. Please don’t stop dreaming about it.

Don’t ever stop dreaming, you will find ways to make your dreams come true, but you have got to keep those dreams alive. They will ebb and flow, change and re-emerge as something new, but do not lose your dreaming soul–it will sustain you during the darkest times.

I know you don’t believe me right now–but you will become the kind of voyeuristic person who shares pages and pages of thoughts and feelings and experiences with thousands dozens of strangers around the world. But the process of opening yourself up will be healing. You don’t have to carry all your hurts in silence.

You will date some wonderful men, your relationships with them will help you heal, help you grow, and teach you an enormous amount about the good parts of human nature. You will learn–slowly–that not all men are as sadistic as he was, many are kind, good, caring men worthy of your trust. You will love them, and be loved, but you won’t marry until late in your twenties. And that’s okay. He’s worth the wait. I’m also sorry to tell you that you will also date one or two duds and a total psycho, a master of manipulation and mind games. And–ultimately–that will be okay too. The duds will help you realize you want more, and the psycho will give you the metaphorical push you need to become a raging feminist and an independent woman who refuses to let anyone put her on a pedestal, who demands to be seen as she is and loved as she is–or not–but loved for herself and not some lofty fantasy she can never sustain.

Your sweetheart will be nothing like you expect at first glance; in fact, had you dated him at anytime before he actually asked you out you may have only remembered him for his small-town charm and great smile. But, after the good boyfriends, the psycho, and the duds, you will learn to see and value people differently and you will see much more than that sweet cowboy.

In your mid-to-late twenties you will find a fall in love with a group of friends who–I hope–you’ll keep the rest of your life. These friends, mostly women (I know, you’ll change your opinions on that), will be a lifeline. They are–in part–what will make your future struggles seem easier. They will mourn with you, cry with you, laugh and cheer with you, they will hold you up when you feel you are unable to stand.

Right now so much seems hopeless, hang in there, young Harriet. You will find hope, you will be thrown into chaos, just breathe, you will be okay. You will make it through this, you will thrive, and you will find your happiness.


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Writing for you, but really, writing for me

A few weeks ago I saw this writing meme on SoMi Speaks and Kristin’s blog and while it has taken me longer to get this completed than is fashionable when responding to a meme, I liked it enough to persevere anyway.

1. What am I writing or working on?

A few weeks ago I finished an enormous manual for my 8-5 job, it was full of technical information, timelines, sample communications, images, and media releases. I’ve had some good feedback and some constructive critique and am ready to tackle the 2.0 version, to be released in the fall.

On a personal level, recent events in my world and the world at large have prompted me to think about some very difficult questions and have demanded some answers. I don’t know if there has been another time in my life where I so desperately needed clarity. Beginning with the kidnapped young women in Nigeria, the subsequent #yesallwomen explosion and aftermath, and –most recently–a threat of excommunication of a Mormon feminist for her public work to advance equality within the LDS faith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). My heart both hurts and is simultaneously seething with anger. I know that women are not the only underrepresented group, but for a world with a population that is probably more than half female, we surely have a lot of unnecessary obstacles and difficulties and not a proportionate amount of heartache and lack of control.

I am trying to organize my thoughts on these events, and also on feminism in general. It’s not hard for me to write about, I find every topic I explore launches me into 3 or 4 more topics to address. I’ve opened Pandora’s box and the memories and hurts and issues escaping from it demand my attention. I am both energized and overwhelmed. ANd–more than ever–I am grateful for this space where, when they are fermented enough, I can share my thoughts and opinions without the fear that used to loom over every post. I have written nearly 100 pages on my “coming out” as a feminist and the experiences that catalyzed that realization. So, when I have something a little more formed and formatted, you can expect a series on Why I Am A Feminist.

2. How does my work differ from others of it’s genre?

I don’t really know how (or if) my writing differs from others “in it’s genre.” Honestly, I don’t know if I could put myself into any categorical genre. I suppose I write more non-fiction than fiction or creative writing; more edited than not (and only sometimes with spelling or grammar mistakes); I am more word-focused than image-focused (except when I post image-heavy photologues…ahem); more opinions and rantyness than DIY or crafts; more original content than reviews of products. I am not a Mommy blogger, not really a lifestyle blogger, not a fashion blogger, not a food blogger (at least, not here), and I don’t really travel enough to be considered a travel blogger. I’m just a girl with a notebook and a lot of opinions…is that a genre?

3. Why do I write?

Why? I write because I need to get words and thoughts and ideas out of my head and onto a page. I write because it helps me process and is the winding path from a jumbled mess of thoughts to something cohesive–from chaos to concrete opinion. I write because when I don’t my thoughts stop tumbling, begin to crust, and stagnate into a murky pool, suffocating themselves into oblivion. I write because it somehow makes me feel more alive.

4. How does my writing process work?

Part of me wishes I was some kind of uber-sophisticate with a tiny, shiny tablet-laptop that generated silent keystrokes who could sit on the train or in a hip coffee shop with bluesy music in my tiny earbuds, generating blog posts, paragraph after paragraph of perfectly edited prose.

Um, I’m not that person.

I write–in pen–furiously in a college-ruled 1-subject notebook because anything else seems overwhelming. I fill pages with thoughts and scribbles–crossing out entire paragraphs and writing new ones in teeny letters in the margins. I used to be able to open a new blog post and fill it with 1,000 words of…well, to be honest, mostly drivel. I am finding I like the ache in my hand from writing–I like being able to express some of my emotion in my handwriting: neat, well-formed letters for something I am almost certain of; larger ones when I’m forming the thoughts as I write; super slanty jagged ones when I’m angry, abbreviated words and a lot of them missing the last few letters when I am trying to write fast enough to keep up with my brain.

I don’t worry about “messing up” a page, or about anyone else reading what I write, and I no longer worry about composing the perfect blog post that could maybe go viral and make me famous/in-famous for a minute. I just write. Anything I want to publish here I transfer from my notebook to a blog post. I don’t know if that is a “process”…but that’s how it works for me.

What about you? How do you write? Where? Are you a genre-compliant writer? Or are you all over the map?



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Nerdiness, reading, and lists: a small study

Buckle your seatbelts, folks, I’m about to get my nerd on.

I have know for a very long time that I am a bit nerdier than one would assume at first glance; I think to some extent, we all are. I have also known for quite some time that my favorite books are not usually the same books of my peers. I mean, I am in a book club (okay, four book clubs) and we have excellent discussions and, in general, a large percentage of attendees have positive views of their experience with the selected title, however my To Read list(s) very rarely match up in genre or author with the books selected for these discussions. Which is totally fine, by the way. There are books that would not suit for a book club discussion, and there are issues with page count and topic and such that would rule others out. However, recently I was doing a massive overhaul of my bookshelves (reorganizing), and my To Read piles (re-prioritizing) and trying to get a handle on how I was keeping track of the books I’ve read, how I rank them, and any additional thoughts (currently, GoodReads; ideally, a new blog-posting system), and I started making a list of the general topics and subjects of my favorites…and a pattern of delightful nerdiness appeared.

Of the 28 books listed below 23 are non-fiction with only five fiction; this is actually a pretty accurate ratio of my general reading preferences. Here is the breakdown by favorite topic, idea, author, or individual with the number of books I’ve read in that category, the number I have waiting to read (physically in my possession, not on my Amazon or library wish list), and the best books I’ve read in each category so far; I’ve linked to my own Goodreads reviews where they existed. You’re welcome.

Art, Art History, Artists, and Architects (other than Frank Lloyd Wright and Georgia O’Keeffe, see below): 24 read, 3 in queue; The Lost Painting, by Jonathan Harr, and My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok

Charles Darwin and evolution: 7 read, 2 in queue; Charles Darwin: Voyaging, by Janet Browne

China (history, myth, travel, politics, war, poetry): 18 read, 5 in queue; The Rape of Nanking, by Iris Chang, and Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Sijie Dai

Economic thought and theory: 23 read, 4 in queue; A Beautiful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar

Exploration (specifically of South America and Antarctica during the 19th and early 20th centuries): 11 read, 2 in queue; Exploration Fawcett, by Percy Harrison Fawcett, and South: The Endurance Expedition, by Ernest Shackleton

Feminism (early feminists, feminist theory, feminist economics, etc): 24 read, 7 in queue; Half the Sky, by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan

Food industry (not cook books): 6 read, 2 in queue; Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, and Salt, Sugar, Fat, by Michael Moss

Frank Lloyd Wright (his life and designs): 14 read, 4 in queue; Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan and Joyce Bean

Georgia O’Keeffe: 8 read, 5 in queue; Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, by Laurie Lisle

How the mind and brain work (development, memory, thought processes, chemical/hormone changes due to outside stimuli, anomalies, learning, intelligence): 17 read, 6 in queue; The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine; Quiet, by Susan Cain; Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer

Jazz Age (literature, history, culture, biographies, inventions): 9 read, 7 in queue; The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (is this cliche?); One Summer: America 1927, by Bill Bryson

Joan of Arc: 3 read, 2 in queue; Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by Mark Twain

John Steinbeck: 9 read and re-read, 4 in queue; East of Eden

Middle Eastern history, politics, and the Iranian Revolution: 12 read, 10 in queue; Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi

Native American relocation and slaughter in the USA: 4 read, 2 in queue; Trail of Tears: Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation, by John Ehle

Race horses: 4 read, 2 in queue; Seabiscuit, by Laura Hildenbrand (I cried, several times)

Shakespeare: 31 plays read and re-read, 6 in queue, 4 biographies read, 2 in queue; Henry V, and Henry VI, Part 3

Travel books (not “Lonely Planet” or guide books, but narratives): 43 read, 8 in queue; The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner

Volcanoes (non-fiction): 3 read, 1 in queue; Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, by Simon Winchester

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I am not quite as adapt at Excel as, say, RA, but I would like to point out a few things: I have over 100 books waiting to be read JUST on these topics; these nerdy subjects make up a small library in my apartment; I own 99% of the books listed here (plus, you know, another 1,800, give or take a hundred); I’m sure I’m missing certain topics, I don’t see a representation of my fascination with WWII non-fiction, or the strategy of the Civil War, or the Ottoman Empire, or fairy tales and folk tales from around the world, or King Tut, or religion, or experiences of the  peoples of Southeast Asia, or apartheid, or Norse mythology and Viking lore, or the long-term affects of colonialism… I mean, that is a whole ‘nother pile of nerdy awesomeness that I haven’t even touched on here! But, what I have touched on is kind of….well….intense. I mean, there are 275 books read already in that list above, plus the ones in my queue. My nerdiness knows no bounds, I guess. Not true, the bounds of Star Wars, Star Trek, video games, and cosplay are pretty well in place and I see no reason to venture beyond them. MOVING ON.

Most widely read topics:

Art, Art History, Artists, and Architecture (including Frank Lloyd Wright and Georgia O’Keeffe): 46 books read
Economic Theory: 23 books read
Feminism: 24 books read
Shakespeare: 35 books/plays read
Travel: 43 books read

These are categories I have really sunk my teeth in to. I took college courses on art history, architecture, and feminism; I majored in Economics. I have coached a competitive high school Shakespeare Team for the last 9 years in addition to working (backstage) on a handful of full-length Shakespeare plays.

Other topics:

China: 18 read
Exploration: 11 read
How the brain and mind work: 17 read
Middle East: 12 read

I minored in Mandarin Chinese in college (although I did not include any of my language books in this tally…strangely) and took a number of Asian history classes, but more than that, I have become fascinated with a number of aspects of Chinese society, politics, culture, and their move from isolationists to quasi-communist-capitalists. I have devoured books about explorers and about the damage done to the indigenous populations after European conquerors swept through with their guns and germs and horses. I can’t seem to get enough of the science behind the brain, how it relates with psychology and manifests in sociology and human interaction. I am also fascinated with politics and history of the Middle East, in particular of Iran pre- and post-revolution.

Niche topics:

Charles Darwin, evolution: 7 books read
Food industry: 6 books read
Joan of Arc: 3 books read
Race horses: 4 books read
Volcanoes: 3 books read

This, I feel, is where my true geekiness shows, although I feel it’s somehow trendy or hip to be well-read on the food industry, the other topics here are just….well…kind of random. I guess there is just not much apparent connection between a brilliant scientist and Industrial Revolution thinker, a teenage army commander-turned-Catholic saint, the blood lines and race results of thoroughbred horses, and volcanoes. I just…I am both proud and a little embarrassed about this list–more proud than embarrassed, I think. Yes, I can spout off facts about volcanoes and how they work and historical dates and facts. I can tell you how Charles Darwin studied out his theories on evolution. I can wax poetic and philosophical–maybe getting a little bit misty-eyed–about the great American race horses of the early 20th century. And I can give you a lengthy history of a young French girl, her heroic acts for the French and her capture and trial at the hands of the English and how ultimately she was burned at the stake because she wore pants. Yes, really.

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What kind of pet (nerdy) topics do you read up on? Do you have a pile of research (or, you know, less nerdy volumes) on something specific? Do you watch hours and hours of a certain type of show on Netflix? (Erica and Kayla have a thing for Korean Dramas, for example.) Come on, people, tell me your secrets!!!

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