Book of the Month: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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When we went to Florida in March, I took Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park with me. I devoured it on the plane, finishing it beside the pool in Orlando. I could not wait for my other Rainbow Rowell hold, Fangirl, to come into the library, and the moment I got my hands on it, I stopped reading everything else and dove in.

Rainbow Rowell is one of my new favorite authors. She has a gift for pulling into being these compelling, complicated characters that feel like they are breathing right next to you on your couch.

Fangirl is about a girl, Cath, who is obsessed with a book series, Simon Snow. Her and her twin sister, Wren, have always been in it together, and have been writing fanfiction for years. They are off to college now, though, and Wren is pulling away, distancing herself from the fangirls that they used to be, and Cath is left to figure things out more and more on her own. In the process, she learns a lot about herself, manages to make some new friends, and find a boyfriend, too.

I don’t know exactly what it was about Fangirl that spoke to me. Perhaps it is that I, too, am a fangirl about a lot of things. I even used to dabble in writing fanfiction (though none of it was ever any good). Perhaps it is that I identified very strongly with her first-year-of-college experience, and that I am so attached to my own experience of it, revisiting it in my mind more often than is probably healthy. Perhaps it is that Cath is a bit strange, and I have been working harder lately to embrace my own strangeness, to let my freak flag fly, you might say.

There are a lot of things to love about this book. There were a few times when the romance thing got a little bit off the rails with the gooeyness, but at the same time, I remember those feelings. I remember what it felt like when Bryan and I first got together, and it was a lot like that. So I can’t fault the book for that, since that is just an accurate depiction of how young love feels.

Anyway, if you are looking for a great book with great characters and a fun plot, this is my pick! Go check it (and Eleanor & Park, though a slightly less “fun” read) out of your local library today.

Book of the Month: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Making Friends Isn’t Child’s Play

Making friends as an adult is hard. As a child, it seemed like the easiest thing in the world to suddenly become best friends with the kid playing next to you in the sandbox. But then puberty happened in all its awkward glory and everything got complicated, and even then, it was still much easier than it is now, as an adult, to make friends.

It has been 8 months (holy balls) since we moved to Calgary. For most of that time, I have been basically friendless. One of my best friends lives in Calgary, but she is newly married and lives on the complete opposite side of town, and we make solid efforts to see each other, but we are busy people, and it doesn’t always work out. A friend from middle school lives in Calgary, as well, and we sometimes get together to watch Supernatural and eat Indian food. But I was feeling sort of lonely, and missing my sorority days when it was super easy to hang out with people: walk into the house at any time of day and you were going to find at least one sister hanging around. Easy as pie.

I was hoping to make friends when I started my new job, but let’s just say that we had different world views and they didn’t clashed in a hardcore kind of way. When I started working at my new job, I knew that I had found people who valued the same things as me, and we had a lot more in common. Friendships began to blossom. Sort of. They were like the fetuses of friendship, blobby and not quite yet recognizable for what they might become.

But still, I feel quite separate from people. I haven’t quite opened myself up to them. I haven’t quite shown them who exactly I really am. I’m quieter, shyer, less opinionated around them. I desperately want to fit in and have them like me. And I find myself acting like a freak a lot of the time.

It’s frustrating. It shouldn’t be this hard to connect with people! Do I just make it harder than it actually is by wanting it so badly? Am I doing this to myself and I simply need to relax? I don’t know. But last week I took the plunge and asked one of the girls that I feel the most connected to to go for coffee. It was terrifying. I was an anxious mess for the whole hour before I managed to ask. And I made it even more awkward by being all flustered and saying things like, “I want to ask you something, but I’m really nervous, and I feel like a freak.” Now I know how boys must feel when all of the pressure is on them to ask girls out on dates.

I am hoping that when we go on our coffee date, that I can relax a little bit more. That I can let a bit more of my real personality shine through, and stop hiding behind my insecurities. I’d really like for us to be friends. But you can’t be friends with someone if you don’t really know who they are. So I’m going to have to let go of the fear a little bit. Embrace the vulnerability. I hope I’m alive on the other side.

Wish me luck?

Making Friends Isn’t Child’s Play

Current Obsessions: April 25, 2014

A weekly series? A bi-weekly series? I’m not sure yet, we’ll see how it plays out. 

Watch.

I’m rewatching The OC. The magic never fades. It’s still as funny, poignant, and melodramatic as it ever was. With the very best soundtrack.

And Frozen. We rewatched it over the Easter long weekend with Bryan’s mom, and I was charmed all over again.

Read.

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. I love young adult books. I particularly love supernatural young adult books, and this is a book that has sucked me right into the center of it and won’t let go.

Calgary.

Clive Burger on 17th Ave. Oh. My. God. a) All of their packaging is compostable. Environmentalism is sexy. b) Their custard milkshakes are the most delicious milkshakes I’ve ever tasted. c) Their large fries are $4 and SO HUGE that Bryan and I couldn’t even finish them between the two of us. Incredible. The next time you are craving a burger, fries, or a milkshake, take your ass down to this great place.

Current Obsessions: April 25, 2014

Who Am I?

Standing in the kitchen the other morning, unloading the dishwasher, I started to cry. Unexpected. And. Uncomplicated. I cried with the overwhelming knowledge that I love my life, that I have never fully appreciated it, and that I have never felt so happy and at home and complete, ever before in my life, the way that I do these days. I am used to struggling against the edges of my existence, desperately stretching to scratch an itch I can’t quite reach, rubbing up against anything and everything in an attempt to alleviate the aggravation.

But here, in Calgary, in this apartment with the killer view of downtown, where I wake up next to the love my life at the ungodly hour of 5:45 AM every day to go to a job that I love with a fierce joy, I have discovered a home and a belonging that I didn’t know I was capable of.

It’s not perfect. Nothing ever is. But it fits me like a glove.

*

Who. Am. I.

What makes up “me”? What do I believe in? What do I value?

I believe in helping those in need, in the best way that I know how: I know that I am lucky, and I believe with my whole heart that it is my responsibility to share that with others. Volunteering is critically important, and one relationship, one person, can change someone’s life forever. I want to be a force for good.

I often feel like a victim, though, like life and other people are messing me around on purpose, like I’m being buffeted by a cruel power that just likes to watch me suffer. How often have I found myself under the covers in bed, drowning in a depressive episode, moaning that it’s not fair, why do I have to be this way? How often do I get annoyed with people when I am not heard, though I do not try again? How often do I swear at people on the road, when I could just let it go?

I need to embrace my personal power more. Look what happens when I do: I end up crying in my kitchen out of pure joy. Two months ago, that was unthinkable. Two months ago, I was crying every day out of pure misery. I changed it. I made it different. We always have the power to choose. I can choose to take things into my own hands, or I can choose to languish. I can choose to get angry or I can choose to let it go. I don’t believe that gratitude is enough in and of itself to change a bad situation into a good one, but it sure as hell sets us on the right path. How are you supposed to embrace new opportunities when you’re entirely focused on how stuck you are?

I worry often that I am simply restless, that I have a restless soul and will forever be trying to find something else. Something other. But when I sit with myself in the quiet and listen to the thrum of my heartbeat, I understand a few things. I know that that restlessness does not come from the core of me, but from looking around at what others have and feeling envious, of thinking that I need to live up to other people’s expectations, that I need to live like someone else that I admire and look up to. I know that what I have is more than enough. That it doesn’t matter if I never see the world or achieve cult writer status. As long as I have love, as long as I have some reason to wake up in the morning, I will always be just fine.

I am ruled often by fear. We are not friends, but master and slave. Like most, I fight a constant battle for my freedom with fear. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose. But I truly believe that one of the most important things I can do to live a full life is to constantly push up against the boundaries of what I can do, to test myself, to push back against the fear and see what happens.

I am afraid of being a writer, so many days I avoid my desk completely.

I am afraid of rejection, so I hold myself back from people, protect my vulnerability, nurse my envy instead of my love. I don’t reach out to them if they don’t reach out to me.

I am afraid of being wrong, of not being the smartest person in the room, and so I get angry very quickly, I cut people down and treat them with disdain instead of meeting them with open, reasoned discussion. I act as though anyone who doesn’t agree with me is an idiot.

I want to be more open, more kind, more full of wonder. I want to be less angry and afraid.

I value love, friendship, vulnerability, creativity, compassion, and adventure. I will cultivate these things in my every day life more, pulling away from the negative things that are holding me back.

I will ask the girl at work to go on a coffee date.

I will work on listening more to others’ opinions with an open heart.

I will learn to let things go and be kinder, in thought, word, and deed.

I will lean into my fears. I will not let them control me.

I will do things that I’ve never done. I will take a new way home. I will bring little bits of adventure into my day to day life: a new workout, a new spice, a new, homemade shampoo.

I will lean into who I am, and what I value, and I will be better for it.

Now. Who are you?

Who Am I?

Travel Priorities

When we first started Creative Dwelling a couple of years ago, I did a post about my travel priorities: those things that were the most important to me in terms of seeing the world, so that I’d have something to go of off and work towards.

Well, I made a new one last night, and they’re practically identical. Not quite, but very nearly.

Let’s compare the two, shall we?

Cliffs of Moher © 2013 Jessica McGale
Cliffs of Moher © 2013 Jessica McGale

From June 12, 2012:

  1. Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
  2. Bike around Ireland.
  3. Surf in Hawaii and California.
  4. Visit all 50 states.
  5. Adventure trip to New Zealand.
  6. Scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef.
  7. Hike Machu Picchu.
  8. Go somewhere I never would have considered before.
  9. Live abroad for 3 months or more.
  10. Oktoberfest.

 

From April 1, 2014:

  1. Surf in California.
  2. Live in Melbourne, Australia.
  3. Do a bike tour of Vietnam.
  4. Go to a Christmas market in Prague, or Belgium.
  5. Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
  6. Experience autumn in New York City.
  7. WWOOF in Hawaii.
  8. Island hop in Greece.
  9. Float in the Dead Sea.
  10. Zipline in Costa Rica.

 

What strikes me about these two lists is that the spirit stays the same across both. The places are similar, and the reasons I want to go there are similar, but my thinking about them and my ideas about how to experience them have evolved. Which is pretty cool to see.

What are your travel priorities?

Travel Priorities

Nothing is Ever Perfect

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I have often struggled with what I want to do with my life. I feel like I have to have it all figured out, that I will be a failure if I ever change course. This fear has played a huge part in keeping me hostage in administrative jobs that were of zero interest to me for the past two years. I felt like I could not start off in any direction without being absolutely certain that that was the direction that I wanted to go. Instead, I stayed put, more and more miserable with every less-than-ideal job I took.

When Christmas and the new year rolled around last year, I felt burnt out, stressed, frustrated, and completely miserable. I felt stuck in a job that I disliked with a surprising ferocity, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Bryan and I had just gotten engaged, I was taking a class in the winter semester that my job was going to pay for, and I knew that there were people who would be disappointed in me if I quit. On top of that, the pay was good, the benefits even better.

It took me a while to realize that those were not the things that mattered. These were the important things: three days out of the week, I cried in the shower because I didn’t want to go to work; I came home mentally depleted and incapable of finding the energy to do anything I valued; Bryan and I fought all of the time because I brought all of my work misery home with me. These were warning bells, the sign posts that were telling me that I was on the wrong path, turn back now! And so I made a pact with myself that this was the year that I was going to pursue a job that actually meant something to me, even if it wasn’t going to be my forever career. I was going to stop drifting and take a risk on my own happiness.

And I did. I quit that dissatisfying job without another one lined up, and threw myself into finding a replacement that would actually fire me up, make me excited to go to work every day. Within two weeks of my last day, I had landed that job.

I’ll admit it: I thought that having a job that I loved would fix everything. That everything would be sunshine and roses. I can see many of you shaking your heads at me, smirking at my naivete. I thought that I would never be too exhausted to do the things that I love, that I would never want to up and quit, that I would always love every minute of it.

That’s not the case at all. I work with kids, and though it is wildly fulfilling and more satisfying than anything I have ever done, it is also more challenging than anything I have ever done. There are days when I feel entirely inadequate, like I have no right to be doing what I am doing, when I want to go home and pull the covers over my head and never face my job again, when I spend the day taking deep breaths and trying not to burst into tears.

But I get up every day, excited to go to work, throwing myself into it with more vigor and passion than before, unwilling to give up on it, and here’s why: I have something to fight for now. I care about what I am doing and who I am doing it with more than I ever thought it was possible to care about a mere job. I have a purpose in what I am doing: I love the kids I work with, and I want to do right by them, always, and I want to be a positive influence in their lives. That’s an important cause for me, and I am more than happy to get up at 5:45 every day, and feel unprepared and out of step every minute of the day to do it. There are moments that are just as hard as any at my previous jobs, but I never had the wherewithal and desire to overcome them before.

This job challenges me, stretches me, fulfills me. It’s important. It’s imperfect.

And I couldn’t possibly ask for more.

Nothing is Ever Perfect

California Dreamin’

It has long been a dream of mine to go to California.

I think it started in high school, when I was a devoted fan of the TV show The OC. (I still am. I actually just started a full series rewatch a few days ago.) I was always captivated by the opening credits: the sun jumping off the crystalline blue waves, the exuberant sunset sky, the crisp shape of a sailboat cutting across the horizon. Every single cell yearned towards California.

I talked about it. And I thought about it. I looked up flights and things to do. But I never made real plans. I never did anything to make my dream a reality.

One of my favorite travel bloggers, Kate, had an interesting perspective in a post from January of this year. She basically said that the best way to make it to that destination you’ve always dreamed of was to make a commitment to going there this year. Not just a resolution, but a real commitment. Instantly, I knew that I wanted California to be where we went on our honeymoon. We flirted with a few other destinations (New York City, New Orleans) but I kept coming back to California. So we agreed that we would celebrate our marriage in the place that I have dreamed about the longest.

Originally, we were planning on San Diego (SoCal is, after all, where all the movies, etc, take place). But there were other adventures in store for us. We looked at flights to San Diego during our timeframe, and they were all strange times, or had way too many stops, or weren’t available from our location. On a whim, I plugged in San Francisco instead, and boom, we immediately found flights that were well within our budget, convenient times, and the flight there was even direct! We talked about it for about 15 minutes, and then booked ’em.

Which is how I got on the path of making my California dreamin’ a reality. There are benefits to being flexible in how your dream comes to fruition.

We head to SF in September, and I could not be more excited. I’m already planning things to do, places to eat, where we’ll stay. It’s hard to believe that something that has been in the back of my mind for so long is going to be a reality.

I can’t wait to share all of our Cali adventures here on the blog!

Have you been to California? Where did you go? If SF was on your itinerary, what was the best place you went/saw/ate?

California Dreamin’

The Wedding Conundrum

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Getting married is incredibly complicated.

Wait. Scratch that.

Getting married is pretty straightforward: two people, a legally-recognized officiant, some I dos, and boom, you’re done.

Weddings, on the other hand, are pretty damn complicated.

Bryan and I got engaged back in December, and ever since then, I have been walking this mental tightrope, trying to come up with a wedding that will please everybody.

Mistake numero uno.

Here is the hard truth: You cannot please everybody. So you basically have to please yourself. (Wait…)

Bryan and I (okay, I) went back and forth a lot about what we wanted. Something casual including both our rather large families? Something tiny including our immediate families only? A straight-up elopement? Over the past three months, we have seriously considered each of these options. We settled on option one, even setting a date (and writing about it on our other blog, like it was a done deal, oh, silly Jessica), before I had a mental breakdown and wailed to him that all I wanted was a small wedding, all I wanted to do was elope. And we were on the verge of doing just that. Of telling everyone that we had changed our minds.

But then, an epiphany.

I struggled, with what we should do. I am very close to my immediate family, and the idea of not having them there when we got married was abhorrent to me. I cringed away from it. I thought of how excited my sisters are to be bridesmaids, and how crushed they would be if that didn’t happen. How it would crush me if they were crushed.

So elopement was definitely off of the table.

And then I started thinking about my extended family. It turns out that I’m pretty close to all of them, too. Always have been. How could we have a wedding that excluded the people who have played the biggest roles in my life? How could we have a wedding without the aunt who basically acted as my second mother for my whole life? How could my sweet and wonderful grandmother not be there?

So then a small wedding with immediate family only became a no go as well.

Leaving us…with what we were originally going to do in the first place.

Cue facepalm.

But the thing is, I’m glad that I had a bit of a detour into Crazyland, because it really helped me put into perspective exactly what I wanted from our wedding, and which values were the most important. Clearly, family was a biggie. If I had really wanted to elope, and that was truly the best thing for us as a couple, those things wouldn’t have stood in the way. But they did. They barred the paths for us, until there was only one solution.

So what did I learn? If you start from a place of “everyone must be happy” then no one ends up happy, least of all yourself. Compromise is king.

Now I can stop thinking about it and start planning the damn thing.

The Wedding Conundrum

5 Books to Light a Fire Under Your Ass

I take ages to make a choice. Ages. I ponder and ruminate, make pros and cons lists, ask everybody I know for their opinion. Then I ponder and ruminate some more. Once, in high school, I went out for lunch with my mom and the waiter had to come back 4 times before I could tell him what I wanted. FOR LUNCH.

It takes a long time for me to come to a decision. Especially when it’s the big stuff. I often turn to books, my stalwart, wonderful friends, to help me.

Here are 5 books that lit a fire under my ass, gave me some inspiration, and made me take a step forward, towards the life that I have always wanted. Even just a baby step.

Start. by Jon Acuff – This book is full of funny anecdotes, great theory, and, most importantly, actionable initiatives. While I had been reading blogs and books that were starting to push me in the right direction, Start was the first one that actually made me do something.

The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Gillebeau – This book changed the way that I think about work and careers, as well as education. It was an important shift that has had a huge impact on how I am living my life today.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed – A book that broke my heart and mended it over and over again, and made me think differently about my life, that pushed me to be better and write better and think better. An important, gorgeous book that should be required reading.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown – On how the courage to be vulnerable is central to our success as human beings. Not our career success or our success as parents or our success as friends, but our success at being human. 

Delaying the Real World by Colleen Kinder – Travel has always been the dearest desire of my heart, and yet I have not always made it the priority that it should be because I have been cowed by the boundaries that I must overcome in order to do that. This is a great book that got me to think about all of the creative ways that travel can be part of my life, and also encouraged the divergent thinking of “there is no one right way to live life.”

Honestly, these books changed my life. They made it possible for me to bring myself closer to the life that I want to be leading, and they have helped bring me to a place of bravery, risk, and peace that I didn’t know was possible. I’m so excited to continue on that path.

What are the most inspirational books that you have read?

5 Books to Light a Fire Under Your Ass