Entries Tagged as 'Books'

Sneak peek: Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide

July 20, 2017

Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide

My book, Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide, is coming out on July 31! If you’re interested, here’s a preview of the book’s intro.

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I started my first diary when I was nine years old and in fourth grade. Onward through middle school, high school, college, and my early twenties, I wrote almost every single day, filling notebook after notebook with my thoughts and observations. (And my crushes. So many crushes.) I also used a physical plan­ner and wrote out my to-do list every single day, long after apps and websites made both unnecessary.

But in the second half of my twenties, my diary writing slowed down, then ground to a halt. Part of this happened because I was writing as my full-time job, plus keeping a blog. But I was also sharing my thoughts with my friends via texts, instant messages, and emails all day, and I didn’t feel like rewrit­ing everything in a notebook at night. And though I still wrote out to-do lists every day in a steno pad, it wasn’t a habit that I did with a sense of intention, or that gave me any real sense of joy.

So, this is where I was in my journaling ~journey~ when I came to dot journaling a couple years ago. I first read about something called a “Bullet Journal” on my friend Jessica’s blog in December 2015, and was intrigued. Initially, I assumed it was some sort of new diary or planner to buy—and I thought, Great, I love buying new things! But when I went to the official website run by its creator, Ryder Carroll, I just got confused. Not only was it not something to buy, I couldn’t understand what, exactly, it was. When I heard “journal,” I thought “diary,” but this seemed like it was a . . . to-do list? And also a . . . calen­dar? Or . . . something? There were bullet points involved, and also a lot of words and phrases that I didn’t recognize, along with photos of incredibly simple journal pages that seemed to have very little in common with the elaborate, creative, beau­tiful pages I was seeing on Instagram—pages that were also, somehow (apparently?), from Bullet Journals. It seemed like a lot of people were using dot-grid journals to do . . . whatever it was they were doing, but that type of paper didn’t appear to be a requirement. I couldn’t figure out what the rules were, or exactly what the point was, either. Eventually, I gave up.

But after asking around and discovering that my friends had also been hearing about this new type of journal and also couldn’t understand what it was, I became determined to fig­ure it out. Turns out, Bullet Journaling is an incredibly simple concept that is remarkably difficult to explain, in part because “you do you” is such a major aspect of it—meaning everyone does it a little differently, and there are no real rules. And, over time, the Internet has transformed the basic idea—using sim­ple symbols and dot-grid journals to record the things that matter most—into what I’ve come to think of as “dot journaling” . . . aka, a creative, colorful, robust, and—listen, take this with a large grain of salt—Pinteresty version of the original concept.

I started dot journaling on January 1, 2016, and I quickly fell in love. It was exactly what I hadn’t realized I needed: a single notebook that incorporated my to-do lists, helped me stay organized, served as a fun creative outlet, and led me back to my roots as a diarist—I was thrilled to discover that I had no problem writing in it every single day. And in this book, I’ll show you how to get started dot journaling, and how to make it a habit (or an addiction?) for you, too.

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You can enter to win a copy of the book, a blank dot-grid journal, and a bunch of other amazing journaling supplies here (the winner will be chosen on July 31), and pre-order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Books-a-Million, Workman, or Powell’s.

Learning in 2015

December 31, 2015

learning in 2015

Every year I choose a verb instead of a resolution; over the years, I’ve found that this really helps me prioritize and focus on my goals throughout the year. My verb for 2015 was learn. My main goal was pretty simple: I just wanted to read more books. Beyond that I wanted to journal more and learn some new skills. Here’s how I did:


I set a goal of reading 35 books, though I had no idea if that was reasonable or not. Thanks to a few spans when I just wasn’t as focused, I now have 26 books on my reading list for this year. I think I could have definitely done 35 if I’d pushed myself harder during those times, but I really don’t care about the number too much, so it’s whatever.

Mid-way through the year I realized that I hadn’t read any books by straight, white, cisgender men… or any books by men at all. I decided to keep it that way for the rest of the year, a choice I still feel good about.

Of the 26 books I read, some were definitely better than others. Here are my six favorites, in no particular order:

1. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbot. This was the first book I read in 2015 and it’s so good! It’s about four women who were spies during the Civil War and it’s just fascinating. Also: females are strong as hell.

2. In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar. This book was amazing and I can’t recommend it enough. Full review here.

3. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. This book is informative, intense, heartbreaking, and inspiring. It’s non-fiction but it flows like a novel (think Devil in White City), and I recommend to anyone who likes history or who cares about racial justice.

4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This is the last book I read in 2015 and it will haunt me for a long time. It’s beautiful and sad and lovely and magical and I want everyone to read it.

5. Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. I picked up this book because I loved the cover, but I ended up really loving the intense and dark story. Full review here.

6. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. This book genuinely changed the way I look at my home, and it gave me a name/explanation for a lot of the things I was already doing. I know it’s gotten a ton of hype so the backlash is inevitable, but I think it’s worth a read, even if you don’t KonMari your entire house or take every bit of her advice. (I actually haven’t done everything yet.) But my apartment is a really, really pleasant place now, and I can definitely credit this book for some of that! Summary/review here.


I did a lot more journaling in 2015, but mostly via the Day One app and not my actual paper journal (though I used that on occasion). I set the app to notify me every night at 9:30, and I’ve added entries pretty regularly, especially in the second half of this year. I also liked being able to add a photo from the day on nights I didn’t feel like writing much.


When I made this goal, I was thinking I’d take some writing classes… which I looked into, but the writing classes in NYC aren’t cheap, so I started looking at options that were more budget-friendly. I had been wanting to learn more about illustration and lettering, so this summer I started taking a bunch of online classes in that area. These classes were one of the biggest (and unexpected) highlights of my year and helped me develop a new hobby that I’m really excited about. Here are the ones I liked best/recommend:

1. Intro to Calligraphy Video + Kit from Laura Hooper Calligraphy (which, full disclosure, I got for free through work)

2. Intermediate Watercolor from CreativeBug

3. Hand-Lettering Basics from Brit.co

4. Amy-Style Calligraphy Worksheets from The Postman’s Knock

5. Free Brush Calligraphy Worksheets from The Postman’s Knock

6. Calligraphy 201 from Brit.co

Reading on my Kindle (or reading physical books) was really great for unwinding and unplugging at night, but there were some nights when I just didn’t have the mental energy for, say, reading about systemic racism, or simply wasn’t in the mood for the book I was currently reading. Practicing calligraphy was a great alternative because it got me away from a glowing screen and got me making something with my hands, but I learned it can also be a very mindless activity — I could just zone out while doing it when I wanted to. It also forced me to be more patient; the first couple of weeks, I was frustrated working with the nib pen/link, but I ultimately realized that I had to go slowly if I wanted it to work. (That turned out to be the case with brush calligraphy too. Even though most people say it’s easier, I find that it’s still rather fussy.) Laura Hooper suggests three 45-minute practice sessions a week, which sounded like a lot, but didn’t turn out to be all that hard to do. It was often hard to get myself to put down whatever article I was reading on my phone and get started, but the time always flew by; I usually ended up working for 90 minutes or so without even realizing it. A lot of times, I practiced while listening to podcasts, which allowed me to learn new things/be entertained without staring at my phone or laptop. Other times, I’d forget to put on music or a podcast and would just work in silence.

I cannot overstate how incredibly relaxing calligraphy is. Making rows and rows of lowercase “l”s and “e”s was so soothing. Less pressure on the upstroke, heavier pressure on the downstroke, over and over again. Things like the sound the nib makes as it moved across the paper or hitting the turn of an “l” or a “v” just right were so satisfying. 2015 was the year that I left a really comfortable home and lifestyle and had to find my place and my people in a city that is very much Not Texas; calligraphy (and watercolors too) helped me deal with the with the anxiety, uncertainty, and loneliness that were very present this year. Both reading and calligraphy turned out to be very good habits/hobbies to focus on in 2015, and I know both will remain a part of my routine in 2016.

Reading: Hausfrau

July 27, 2015

Like I’m guessing many people who read Hausfrau did, I first picked the book up because of its ridiculously beautiful cover.


While I didn’t think I would like Jill Alexander Essbaum’s novel all that much, I actually really liked it. It was dark and intense and you sort of read it with a sense of dread…but I somehow still found it very enjoyable. Here’s the book’s description from the inside cover:

“Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno—a banker—and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zurich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her.

But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds that it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.”

So, from that description and the blurbs on the back cover (and all over the Internet) that compare the book to Anna Karenina, I read Hausfrau with a “welp, this is going to end badly” mindset. That’s not a spoiler, more of a way of setting the tone for the book; that tone is, I think, part of why I enjoyed it. I didn’t expect a story of redemption, but a story of desperation and despair. When I read some reviews on Goodreads after I finished it, it seemed like the people who didn’t like it expected it to be the former. They were frustrated with Anna for continuing to make shitty choices and found her unlikable. And she is unlikable, but because Hausfrau is written in third-person, I never felt like I was being asked to like her. There was no defense of her choices or her continued fuckups; they were presented very matter-of-factly. Though some readers found her sympathetic, I’m not one of them. But I really liked the book anyway.

What makes the 320-page novel so good os the prose and the storytelling, which is elegant and tight and raw and dark. Hausfrau cuts between different moments in the past and Anna’s therapy sessions, and while that many flashbacks can be excruciating in some books or in TV shows, the therapy moments are only about a paragraph long so the book still moved quickly. About three-fourths of the way through, it begins to drag a bit, but not for long. The last few pages were so vivid and intense, and the last line of the book kind of took my breath away.

Hausfrau is not a light read, but it’s still very readable, if that makes sense; I got through it in a few days and I’ll probably read it again at some point. Definitely recommend it.

Reading: The Vacationers

June 11, 2015


Image: Freutcake

Last year, a publicist friend sent me a big box of books she thought I’d like; included among them was The Interestings (which I’d already read and loved), Boy, Snow, Bird (would recommend), The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (meh), and The Vacationers…which I totally dismissed. Yes, I am guilty of judging a book by its cover; I didn’t give it much thought because light fiction (which I thought this was) hasn’t really appealed to me in years.

But then a couple weeks ago, I read an essay in Real Simple written by the author, Emma Straub. And I remembered my coworker/friend Jess saying she was friendly with Straub and really liked her work. I needed something new to read, so I decided The Vacationers‘ day had come.

I ended up finishing the book in two days because I loved it so much. This is how I want all light fiction to be; it’s smart and funny and the characters are just real enough. I could easily see it as a really likable movie in the vein of The Devil Wears Prada or Julie and Julia. (Possibly because I cast Stanley Tucci as Lawrence when I was reading, and then decided Meryl Streep should be Franny because those two should always be in every movie together.)

Bottom line: The Vacationers is truly the perfect beach read (and it just came out in paperback); I definitely recommend it!

My goal for 2015 is to read more; see my reading list and get more book reviews here.

Reading: In the Country

June 2, 2015

Mia Alvar’s In the Country: Stories is, without question, one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It’s the BuzzFeed book club book for this month and from the first story, I was hooked.

In the Country

In the Country is a collection of short stories; each features a different protagonist from the Filipino diaspora. The characters span different social classes, ages, countries, and even time periods, and each felt so incredibly real. I could have happily read an entire book about each of them. The two stories I liked least (one because it was written in the second person and the other because it only ever referred to the protagonist as “Old Girl”) were still good stories; I just wasn’t crazy about the exact way they were told. And the good stories were amazing; the last story (which shares a title with the book) was so intense and moving, I realized had my hand on my chest and was holding my breath when I finished it. It’s been a week since I finished the book and I’m still thinking about it. 

Bottom line: Good for your book club and should be on high schoolers’ summer reading lists. Absolutely worth buying.

My goal for 2015 is to read more; see my reading list and get more book reviews here.

Reading: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better

May 28, 2015

A couple weeks ago, I read a review copy of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better: A Woman’s Guide to Coping With Life by Monica Heisey.

I Can't Believe It's Not Better

Heisey is really funny and her more surreal/weird essays (like when she envisions a super-dark focus group for Activia yogurt where “we rise for yoga at gunpoint” and “instructors drill us on euphemisms for ‘laxative,’ ‘constipated,’ and ‘distinctly lacking in flavor and texture,'” and “we lost three girls in trials for the Intensely Creamy lines”) are my favorite parts of the book. And her poem “The Sleepover” is one of the funniest things I’ve read this year. (While I actually really didn’t like this essay of hers, it gives you an idea of her writing style.)

That said, there were some essays I definitely could have done without. The ones where she is giving advice fell a little flat for me because the advice wasn’t that strong. I also got really tired of her talking about how much she loves pizza. Look, I love pizza too — who in this world doesn’t?! — but there came a point when it just got too “PIZZA AMIRITE???” And some of the essays definitely felt much better suited to the Internet and not a book. (And that’s not an insult…I truly wished I could share the URL with my friends!)

Bottom line: Put it on hold at the library. The book has some major gems and is a good beach/subway/plane read.

Since my goal for 2015 is to read more books, I started a running list of all of them. See it here

The week in review

May 10, 2015

This ended up being a pretty full week!

Credit: Cassandra Monroe

On Wednesday, Eric and I worked on our goal of finding a regular neighborhood bar and we had a blast (and lots of drinks). On Thursday, I was photographed for an interview that’s going up this week. On Saturday, Eric and I had brunch with my friend from college, Carly, and her husband David. It was a blast; we ended up spending nearly four hours at Dekalb Restaurant. The rest of the day was super lazy. I went through my Feedly, pinned the shit out of so many things, and then watched three episodes of Outlander. It was wonderful. Today we took the dogs to a dog park, walked to Blick for some art supplies, and then took a long-ass walk through Brooklyn and checked out some new-to-us neighborhoods.

Other highlights from the week…


24 Amazing Mothers-In-Law Who Defy Stereotypes


Secret message pills!

Floral temporary tattoos. I’ve been thinking of getting a floral tattoo for a while… I need to do a trial run!

The “milk” version of my mint green flats, which are quickly becoming my favorite shoes. I’ve been wanting something similar in a more neutral color so I was excited to see that these exist.


This week I read two books and am about halfway done with another. None of them are very good.

I received a review copy of The Memory Painter and it sounded like it was right in my wheelhouse—The Time-Traveler’s Wife is one of my all-time favorite books and I loved Inception—so I had high hopes. And…I was super disappointed by it. Everything about it was way too convenient and hard to believe, even in the context of sci-fi. (Oh, Bryan is just going to dip into a past life where he spoke the exact language he needs to know to solve this problem? Linz is a rich, world-class brain surgeon? ‘Kay.) The book really didn’t build suspense because each problem that arose was worked out like…within that chapter. There was no big reveal and the ending was super rushed/kind of petered out. I think they are positioning it as a really splashy summer novel but…ugh, hard pass.

Next I read I Take You. I requested the review copy because it had a wedding angle and the blurb compared it to Bridesmaids. But holy shit, it was so bad. First, this book clearly wants to be a movie and not a book, and I can totally see it being a (really bad) movie… like The Sweetest Thing kind of garbage. Anyway, the lead character is totally unlikable and obnoxious, her big-reveal back story was ludicrous and didn’t make her any more sympathetic, and the courtroom scenes were beyond irritating. Despite a few pointed feminist passages and graphic sex scenes (two things I welcome in my lit-rich-ure!) most of it is just ridiculous, unbelievable, and not at all compelling. I kept hoping it would get better or there would be some big payoff at the end but…nope.

Now I’m currently about halfway done with Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter and it’s so meh. I like the idea of this book and I like the way the author weaves in the history of certain tools but overall I’m finding it really boring. There’s no plot; it’s like an essay that’s gone on for way too long. I’m debating whether or not I should even finish it.

Beyond that, here are the articles I read this week:

The Price of Nice Nails and The New York Times and Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers. Brutal, but must-reads. Read the interview with the reporter too.

Test Lab: The Best Way to Keep Flowers Fresh, Apartment Therapy. So useful!

Anna Jarvis Was Sorry She Ever Invented Mother’s Day, BuzzFeed. Whomp whomp.

The Great Tot Crawl: A Map For Finding Tater Tots In New York City, Huffington Post. Challenge accepted!

The Little Tramp, The New Yorker. I’ve been loving Amy Schumer lately.

How Women Undermine Themselves With Words, Goop. (Yes, Goop.)

Rosemary + Ranunculus Place Setting, A Fabulous Fete. So pretty!

My edible classroom gives deprived New York kids a reason to attend school, The Guardian. Really cool.

Here’s What Happens When You Report Sexual Misconduct on the Subway, Jezebel. Spoiler alert: NOTHING fucking happens because the world is terrible. Speaking of things that are issues for us A/C folks, there’s this.

If BuzzFeed Comments Were Motivational Posters, BuzzFeed. Loved this and the comments.

Whine About It, BuzzFeed. Dying.

The week ahead…

Prepping for a BuzzFeed shoot the week of the 18th, finding a dress to wear to my sister-in-law’s wedding (happening Memorial Day weekend), and experimenting with my (gifted from a friend who got it free and didn’t want it so YAY, MY GAIN) Silhouette Portrait!

Thoughts on ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’

April 7, 2015

After reading a bunch of articles about the KonMari method, I decided to read Marie Kondo’s bestselling book for myself and it really resonated with me!

the life changing magic of tidying up

Photo: @lyrebirdkate

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing presents a new way of purging/de-cluttering/sorting your shit. (People call this method “KonMari” for short.) Here’s how it works: Following a very specific order, you go through your items by category, taking everything out. (So ALL your clothes out of your closets/drawers, for example, or ALL your books off ALL your bookshelves.) Once you’ve collected everything in the category in one place, you go through each item one at a time, picking it up and asking yourself if it brings you joy. Only items that truly spark joy get to stay. (And to answer the sort of obvious question, Kondo says that functional but not particularly exciting necessities spark joy in their own way, because having them there when we need them is joyful. Though if you’ve ever hated your annoying piece of shit garbage can for three years, you know that the right everyday objects can bring a certain level of joy.) Kondo says a shift takes place when you start asking yourself what you want to keep instead of asking yourself what you need to get rid of and that tidying becomes much easier in this context. She says her method is truly life-changing, and that once you sort your entire home this way, you’ll be changed for life.

I’ve actually been doing a lot of the things she recommends for the past few months, though sort of unintentionally. When I came to Brooklyn with just a couple suitcases back in December, I could only bring the essentials so I chose things I knew I’d really need, but also the seemingly silly things I knew I’d want. (I also experienced this when I moved from Michigan to Texas in 2010 and could only bring what we could fit in my Blazer.) While I found myself missing a lot of my things before we did the big move, I also got a sense of what possessions I really care about and how much stuff I really need/want to have around me. I found myself missing things that really do make me happy, and very clear on the things that I was hanging onto out of guilt or obligation.

Another one of Kondo’s main principles is that everything should have a place, which was remarkably easy to do when I had about 20 percent of my stuff and a sizable, mostly basically apartment to house it all. I found myself being way tidier than I had ever been before, and it came very naturally; it just felt right and good to put things away each evening. I don’t think of myself as a super tidy person (I’m not a slob but I’m also not anal about stuff) so this kind of surprised me. But as I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a lot of what I’d been experiencing clicked, and I was motivated to be more intentional about pursuing that feeling.

Eric and I are still in need of a dresser, which is causing a huge number of organizational/clutter hurdles in our apartment right now. (I really had no idea how much stuff we actually put in our dresser! Probably because I couldn’t SEE it all, but we’ll get to that in a second.) Until we get one, there’s really no point in doing the entire KonMari method because we don’t have a place for everything. (Though I suspect that once Eric KonMaris his clothes, we could get by without a dresser. We’ll see.) Anyway, I can’t speak to how putting all her tips into practice at once works—though I definitely will after we go all-in!—but I wanted to share some of the best tips I took away from the book.

1. You don’t need a million storage units. “Storage units do not solve the problem of how to get rid of clutter,” she writes. “Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem as been solved. But sooner or later, all the storage units are full, the room once again overflows with things, and some new and ‘easy’ storage method becomes necessary, creating a negative spiral.” She also won’t give you permission to go buckwild at The Container Store. (Sigh.) Kondo says if you do need storage, you should just use shoe boxes or other cardboard boxes because they work well and there’s no magic storage container that will solve your problems.

2. Organizing your shit can and should be simple. “Effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things. Of the two, discarding must come first. This principle does not change.”

3. Every item in our lives serves a specific role. Kondo says you to keep this in mind when struggling to part with an item that’s still in good condition or that hasn’t been used much. “Every object has a different role to play. Not all clothes have come to you to be worn threadbare. It is the same with people. Not every person you meet in life will be a close friend or lover. Some you will find hard to get along with or impossible to like. But these people, too, teach you the important lesson of who you do like, so you will appreciate those people even more… You’ll be surprised at how many things in your life have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order.”

4. Consider how much “noise” branded products add to your space. This was a major takeaway for me, in part because I also recently read this New York Times piece about the sheer number of ads and branding we’re subjected to—without our consent—every day. Labels force information upon us and can make a place feel cluttered even when it’s very neat. Even when it’s hidden away in cupboards (like in a medicine chest), we’re still affected by all that information. “The neater the home, and the more sparse its furnishings, the louder this information feels… Tear the printed film off packages that you don’t want to see, such as deodorizers and detergents. Spaces that are out of sight are still part of your house. By eliminating excess visual information that doesn’t spark joy, you can make your space much more peaceful and comfortable.” This is one of the things I’m most looking forward to doing.

5. Clutter happens when items don’t have designated spots. “The existence of an item without a home increases the chances that your home will become cluttered again. Let’s say, for example, that you have a shelf with nothing on it. What happens if someone leaves an object that has no designated spot on the shelf? That one item will be your downfall. Within no time that space, which had maintained a sense of order, will be covered in objects, as if somebody had yelled, ‘Gather round, everybody!’ You only need to designate a spot for an item once.” She says doing this will cut back on buying more items than you actually need.

6. Store things where you will put them away. “A common mistake is to decide where to store things on the basis of where it’s easiest to take them out. This approach is a fatal trap. Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore storage should reduce the effort to put things away, not the effort to get them out. When we use something, we have a clear purpose for getting it out. Clutter has two possible causes: too much effort is required to put things away or it is unclear where things belong.”

7. Being able to see and touch the things you own is crucial. “Most people realize that clutter is caused by too much stuff. Why do we have too much stuff? Usually it is because we do not accurately grasp how much we own. And we fail to grasp how much we own because our storage methods are too complex.” I also like this point because it (like many of the tips in the book) is also really important if you’re trying not to spend all your money.

8. “Store everything similar in the same place or in close proximity.” Seems obvious but it’s crazy how often we don’t do this.

9. Don’t create piles; opt for vertical storage instead. “If you stack things, you end up with what seems like inexhaustible storage space. Things can get stacked forever and endlessly on top, which makes it harder to notice the increasing volume.”

10. Don’t let your family see you tidying. And don’t send all your extra stuff to your parents’ home (or accept their offer to house it all) because you can’t bring yourself to get rid of it. “It’s extremely stressful for parents to see what their children discard. The sheer volume of the pile can make parents anxious about whether their children can survive on what’s left… When they see what you have chosen to discard, they may feel guilty at such blatant waste, but the items they retrieve from your pile just create unnecessary burden in their homes. And we should feel ashamed of forcing them to carry this burden.”

11. Decorate your closet with secret delights. If you have a collection of things that are purely for your own enjoyment (like memorabilia, charms, and other kinda weird items that you love) but don’t want everyone to see, display them in your closet. “Transform your closet into your own private space, one that gives you a thrill of pleasure.”

12. Don’t save clothes that don’t really spark joy with the plan to just wear around the house. “The real waste is not discarding clothes you don’t like but wearing them even though you are trying to create the ideal space for your ideal lifestyle. Precisely because no one is there to see you, it makes far more sense to reinforce a positive self-image by wearing clothes you love.”

13. Tidying using the KonMari method builds your self-esteem because you get more confident in your own tastes and interests. “Tidying means taking each item in your hand, asking yourself whether it sparks joy, and deciding on this basis whether or not to keep it. By repeating this process hundreds and thousands of times, we naturally hone our decision-making skills. People who lack confidence in their judgment lack confidence in themselves.” She also writes about how this process has played out in her own life: “When it comes to the things I own, the clothes I wear, the house I live in, and the people in my life, when it comes to my environment as a whole, although it may not seem particularly special to anyone else, I am confident and extremely grateful to be surrounded by what I love, by things and people that are, each and every one, special, precious, and extremely dear to me. The things and people that bring me joy support me. They give me the confidence that I will be all right. I want to help others who feel the way I once did, who lack self-confidence and find it hard to open their hearts to others, to see how much support they receive from the space around them and the things that surround them.”

14. Our things are important. “It is important to understand your ownership pattern because it is an expression of the values that guide your life. The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.” I think it’s easy to dismiss her notion that things bring joy as shallow, but as someone whose love language is gifts, this makes perfect sense to me.

15. Tidying in this way can actually be extremely uncomfortable. “The process of facing and selecting our possessions can be quite painful. It forces us to confront our imperfections and inadequacies and the foolish choices we made in the past… The things we own are real. They exist here and now as a result of choices made in the past by no one other than ourselves.” She also says that once our homes are tidy, we have less distraction and have to think about the things that are really bothering us.

16. The way she tells you to fold socks is goddamn mesmerizing. Watch!

While the idea of being told to get rid of SO MUCH STUFF or having strict rules about the way you do it can seem intimidating or stressful, I actually found the book very warm and friendly. It’s not tough love so much as a kind friend asking you why on earth you own things you don’t like. She has a lot of love for all the things you don’t need; she basically says they deserve better than to be in a home where they are tossed aside because they aren’t useful.

She also doesn’t preach a minimalist lifestyle, which I really appreciate. I find minimalism in design so intimidating and cold, and I don’t want my home to be devoid of things. I love things! KonMari is all about figuring out what amount of things you should own, and that number is based on how many things truly make you happy.

Eric and I are currently listening to the audiobook version of the book—I wanted us to be on the same page if we’re going to KonMari our lives. And for now, I’m working on emptying my bag every evening, getting rid of more non-joy-sparking stuff as I come across it, and trying to find the right dresser for our apartment ASAP.

Further reading…

Read an excerpt from the book

Will Tidying Guru Marie Kondo’s Cleaning Advice Really Change Your Life?

Marie Kondo Will Change Your Life

What Happened When I Tried KonMari On My Toddler

Marie Kondo’s Reddit AMA

Kissing Your Socks Goodbye

The Neapolitan novels

December 20, 2014

Over the past two weeks, I read the first three novels in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan book series: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. I cannot stop thinking about these books.

(Warning: do not judge a brilliant book by its 1990s-Lifetime-Movie-esque cover.)

The books were recommended by my friend Jessica; she told me that they were about a female friendship that began in Naples in the 1950s and spanned several decades, and that when the books begin, we know that one of the friends, now in her 60s, has gone missing. Since I didn’t know anything else about it and I’m not usually drawn to fiction, I wasn’t really sure where My Brilliant Friend was going at and I was a bit slow to get into it. But about midway through it, things started to click for me. I really got into the story during Book 2, and by Book 3, I couldn’t read it fast enough. I thought there were only three books, so I was both excited that there is a fourth, but also disappointed that Book 4 won’t be translated into English until September 2015.

The books are about the highs and lows of a female friendship, yes, but they are also about family, class, identity, marriage, work, sex, success, motherhood (and the lack of desire to be a mother), and womanhood. The writing is beautiful and extremely honest; the characters are often frustrating (and at times extremely unlikable) and just…real. And the books are relatable, often in ways that surprised me. (I also think that a lot of the protagonist’s experiences would hit home for African-American readers.)

I didn’t know that feminist principles would be so central to the book, and they actually sort of snuck up on me. And I’m not sure why, exactly, because the way women are treated is apparent—at times brutally so—in the early parts of the book, when the main characters are young girls. But I think because the early parts are told through the eyes of a young girl, it’s less keenly felt. But as the characters enter their teenage years, you begin to get a real sense of women’s lack of choices and their lack of mobility, and by adulthood in Book 3, it’s just like HOT DAMN, THIS IS SOME REAL TALK. But it’s not preachy at all; I think what makes the books so good is how plainly the narrator talks about these things.

If you liked Middlesex and/or The Interestings, you should read these books. If you did not like those books…read these anyway.

These would make for a great book club selection, though I do think you’d need to read all three books to have a real discussion on them. It’s also the kind of “women’s literature” that can and should be read/enjoyed by both sexes. I don’t think you can talk about the treatment of women in this book without examining masculinity and the expectations placed on men. Also, fuck, it’s high time we all read more female authors writing about women’s lives.

As the books went on, I found myself highlighting a ton. Here are some of the quotes that really stood out to me…but don’t read them until you’ve read the books so they can unfold for you in context!

“But staying near her meant staying in her world, becoming completely like her. And if I became like her, who would be right for me if not Antonio?”

“Because I’ve had it; it’s always the same story: inside something small there’s something even smaller that wants to leap out, and outside something large there’s always something larger that wants to keep it a prisoner. I’m going to cook.”

“There are people who leave and people who know how to be left.”

“I said to myself every day: I am what I am and I have to accept myself; I was born like this, in this city, with this dialect, without money; I will give what I can give, I will take what I can take, I will endure what has to be endured.”

“How easy it is to tell the story of myself without Lila: time quiets down and the important facts slide along the thread of the years like suitcases on a conveyor belt at an airport: you pick them up, put them on the page, and it’s done.”

“I knew very well at that that time, too, there had been shame. And uneasiness, and humiliation, and disgust: accept, submit, force yourself. Is it possible that even happy moments of pleasure never stand up to rigorous examination? Possible.”

“The more of a slut you are, the better off you are.”

“A male, apart from the mad moments when you love him and he enters you, always remains outside.”

“[The men] preferred to pretend that what happened at the hands of the boss miraculously didn’t happen to the women important to them.”

“He’s marrying me to have a faithful servant, that’s the reason all men get married.”

“Men, dazed by pleasure, absentmindedly sow their seed. Overcome by their orgasm, they fertilize us. They show up inside us and withdraw, leaving, concealed in our flesh, their ghost, like a lost object.”

“I was his wife, an educated wife, and he expected me to pay close attention when he spoke to me about politics, about his studies, about the new book he was working on, filled with anxiety, wearing himself out, but the attention had to be affectionate; he didn’t want opinions, especially if they caused doubts…even though I had had an education he did not want me to be capable of independent thought, he demeaned me by demeaning what I read, what interested me, what I said, and he appeared to love me only provided that I continually demonstrated my nothingness.”

“Maybe, I thought, I’ve given too much weight to the cultivated use of reason, to good reading, to well controlled language, to political affiliation; maybe, in the face of abandonment, we are all the same; maybe not even a very orderly mind can endure the discovery of not being loved.”

“But although we were all women, we struggled to understand what a woman was. Our every move or thought or conversation or dream, once analyzed in depth, seemed not to belong to us.”

Jessica had mentioned to me that the author of the books is quite mysterious—Elena Ferrante is a pen name, there are no photos of her, she’s never done a live interview. After reading the books and then a bunch of articles about her last night, I really appreciate that. The lack of an author with a strong persona allows you to get lost in the book and read it like an autobiography (which it likely is to some degree), but means there isn’t a clear ending in your head based on what you already know about the author’s own life. (I was surprised to read that a lot of people think the author is actually male; after reading the books, I genuinely have no idea why one would think that.) I haven’t decided yet if I’ll read her other books while I wait for Book 4; I’ve heard The Days of Abandonment is really good, but I’m a little afraid to mess with the perfection of this story in my head by introducing other characters and situations that are similar, but different. I…may just re-read these books again next week.

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