Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Review: Orange is the New Black

I grabbed this book off an airport shelf as an antidote to desperate boredom during one of my many wanderings and flight delays over the holidays, paid way too much for it (as airports require)....and then bought some overpriced chocolate as well, because, when in airport purgatory....

I really liked this book because it made me passionate about a new topic (the U.S. prison system), and also pleasantly surprised me many times with the goodness of humans. 

I had a hard time focusing on it for the first bit (we could blame the airport) I thought I might only mildly enjoy it, at best. But then it sucked me in, and I was ultimately really sad for it to end.

Basic idea (and this is an autobiography of a true story): A woman (Piper Kerman), spends a year in a Connecticut prison because of a 10-yr-old drug smuggling charge that came back to bite her. When she heads into prison, she's a young, white, professional woman from Manhattan with a supportive fiance, family and network of friends who visit her and send her packages and promise her cushy office jobs upon her release. So, maybe not your typical prisoner.

You may have heard of this book because of the ol' Netflix series of the same name that's been so popular as of late. I've been planning to watch the show now that I've finished the book, and was surprised the other day while chatting with a friend to find out how different the show sounds from the book.

From what I hear, the show is infused with extra doses of drama/nudity/so on and so on. I'm not opposed to nudity if it feels productive to the storyline, so I'll see how I feel about the show. I'm less concerned about that than I am with feeling like the storyline might be dramatized or the people made out to be crazier or more dangerous than the book ever indicated.

Because what I loved best about the book is that it was surprisingly....not dramatic.

It made it clear that prison was not a cake walk by any means, but it was incredibly HUMAN. I went into it picturing more "prison break" and instead found a beautiful story about relationships, kindness, survival and compassion. I loved the stories of the women that Piper met in prison, who took her under their wing -- and the stories further into the book, when she became a mentor to other newbies as well. I love the idea of goodness still thriving in the midst of unfortunate circumstances. I also really like that, even though Piper's background was perhaps different than a lot of the women around her, she really seemed to learn to thrive (as best you can, in prison) and make friends and find her place without feeling like she was better than anyone -- she makes it pretty clear in the book that she knew she was there serving her time for a reason, just like everyone else.

It also ignited a passion in me about the dire state of the U.S. prison system.

As much as I was pleasantly surprised by Piper's experience with her fellow inmates, I was increasingly frustrated and appalled by some of the circumstances and the way basic human rights were held up or denied by paperwork, lengthy processes, laziness and neglect (on the part of the employees and systems). One of the biggest takeaways from the book, for me, is something Piper specifically wrote about: that prison teaches its residents how to survive in prison, but not how to survive in the real world. The stats and facts about our prison system, when compared to other countries but also just inherently in regard to human decency, are dismal. We can do better. We should do better. In all arenas: who we put in prison, how we treat them while in prison, how we prepare them to succeed post-release, etc. Locking people up for the sake of locking them up does nothing to reform anyone or fix any problems, ultimately.

I'm glad this book made me think about a topic I hadn't really spent much mental breath on before. Definitely recommended!

Have you read it? Have you watched the show? Talk to me!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

On Taking Control, & Letting It Go

For the first time in what feels like weeks, I have found myself at a moment where my work queue is not a frenzy, and my brain is not too sick of computer screens to even think about here I am!

I have wanted to blog sooOOoo many times over the last couple of weeks, on sooOOoo many thoughts on my job outlook this year (clock is ticking on my current contract with increasing speed), adventures I've been having, random observations on life and society, SkyMall magazine, that Christmas tree I never yet blogged about (oh but I will.....timeline be damned), my new workout focus/routine that is going better than maybe any prior efforts I've made in that realm, books I've been reading, my upcoming Italy trip (so soon!!!!).....and on and on.

It will all come with time.

Right now, I want to talk about control.

As in, how much control we have over our lives.....and how much we don't.

I was spilling some thoughts to my sister this morning, about my career and my dating life and so on, and I kind of verbally stumbled across this common thread that's woven through all of these situations: the idea of control.

Fact: In every situation, there are things we can control, and things we can't. I think a lot of our emotional/mental conflict in life is caused by failing to recognize that and not living harmoniously with it.

I feel like a real hippie for using the word "harmoniously." Moving on....

FOR EXAMPLE.... With exercise, I can control how often I work out and how diligently I stick to a plan and how carefully I avoid junk food (see: not as carefully as I usually should, haha). With my career, I can work as hard as possible and network and give it my all. With dating.....well I don't know, I'm always doing something or other to further my cause. haha. In all of these situations, there are things I *can* control....

....and then there are things that I can't. On the exercise front, I can't control my body type or the speed at which I see visible results or if I get sick or injured or so on and so on. In job world, there's things like headcount and timing and other candidates and etc. that I have zero control over in regard to my own hiring processes and longevity. With dating, half the game is always in the hands of another human, and there really is no controlling that at all (nor should we want to -- who wants to talk someone into being with them? negative, ghost rider).

These are the facts. Things you can control, and things you can't.

I think where we run into problems (or I do, at least) is when I mess up the balance too far in either direction.

Sometimes I think there's nothing at all that I can control, and I feel helpless. I start to feel like a victim, and like nothing is going my way, and that everything is out of my hands and my efforts don't matter at all.

And then sometimes I think I can control everything if I really just try hard enough, which is inevitably futile and frustrating as I fail at fitting people and situations into the boxes and decisions that I want them to fit into. It's a losing game.

Good news: there is a balance. It's somewhere in there. It looks something like a circle, I think, with one half saying "things I can control" and the other half saying "things I can't." And between those two halves, there's a big fat line that says BOUNDARIES. And I think a large part of my happiness and peace of mind revolves around learning to respect that boundary and choosing to live peacefully with it.

Look, I drew the visual for you guys on a napkin. I'm so giving and artistic:

(why did I not draw it as a yin yang? hashtag regret)

I feel most in balance when I can clearly recognize this reality, and choose to live with it instead of constantly fighting against it.

In any given situation, I try and recognize the things I have control over, and then I do them as best I can (while carefully avoiding guilt if my reality doesn't meet my expectations). And then I also recognize the things I can't control......and learn to let them go. And that is a process, it really is. But in the moments when I can do that, I feel really good. I feel light, and free, and confident, and secure, and empowered. And it's kind of a priceless feeling to be able to feel empowered, regardless of what is or isn't out of your hands, in the end.

Just a few quick thoughts. And now back into the fray! (Not like the band.) (Maybe like the band.)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

I Bedazzled My Head (i.e. Piercing!)

Sometimes I get ideas and then I just do them.

That is my most eloquent statement of the century. Carve it in stone somewhere, mmmk? I had a conversation with a friend last week in which we discussed our decision-making styles. I quickly stated, "I'm impulsive and decisive." ....which makes it funny that I said it so quickly and confidently. Ha. Truthfully, I do think things through pretty thoroughly -- I just do it quickly. And, I rarely look back and wish I hadn't done this or that. It just is what it is. I guess I know what I want when I see it, and it's like an "OH YES THERE YOU ARE MMMHMM" moment followed by total commitment to making it happen, getting that thing, achieving that goal, etc etc etc. (e.g. moving to California, for one example)

This is about what happened with the new little jewel in my ear....aka the bedazzlement l-o-v-e of my life. In actuality, what I've wanted for a looooong time is a tattoo. But I'm always deterred by the permanence of it, and the lifetime commitment to one design/placement/etc. So I always daydream about it, and then I never do it.

But about a week ago....

...I thought to myself, "Wait, why not a piercing?" Problem: I don't like most piercings for myself. Lip? No. Tongue? No way. Nose? Nope. Belly button? No thank you sir. Second lobe holes? Too predictable. These all work just fine for other people but just didn't fit right for me. So I poked around online and discovered....the forward helix. Unique, subtle, simple.....PERFECT. One of those aforementioned "oh yes there you are I'll have that please right now" moments. I proceeded to become mentally obsessed with it. The great advantage of a piercing, over a tattoo, is that I have the freedom to change my mind about it down the road. If I'm over it in a few years, I can just remove it and go on my way. No harm, no foul. It just made immediate sense to me....and also made me so excited that I was too tickled to go to sleep at a decent hour for a couple nights because I was too busy looking at pictures and reading up on the procedure, cost, after-care, pain, etc. Basically stuffing my head full of information to make sure I knew what I was getting into, as is my way.

The bad news is that almost everything I read (including things from people who have had multiple piercings) said this particular placement hurt like the dickens and swells a ton. Of course, I get my heart set on the most painful one. But the seed had been planted, and like I said......I can be pretty decisive when I set my mind to something :)

And so 6 days later....

On the table in a piercing shop I very carefully selected on Yelp....
(which is hilarious, considering that I got my lobes pierced at age 10 by who-knows-who at a Claire's in the mall, and that turned out totally fine)

Navigating the placement discussion with my serious-face on....

Go time....

Done deal!

Suffice it to say, I am in about 23 levels of true-fairytale-magic-love with it. It's perfect, and just what I wanted. And you want to know the best part?? It didn't hurt at all! And a day later, still not one bit of swelling! (Even the woman who pierced it warned me that it might swell a ton. Nope.) The actual piercing felt like a small pinch (after the needle went through I actually said, "Is that all? It doesn't hurt.") and I kept waiting for the pain to kick in later, thinking the adrenaline would wear off (because yes, my hands were totally shaking when I sat down on that piercing table), but....nada! Just a little sore when I clean it or accidentally bump it. 

So, I guess this is also the story of the time I found out I have magical plastic robot ears with no feeling in them. Shrug?? No complaints over here. Just a happy face with a new little sparkle to the side.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Very Vegas New Year (+ Utah)

You know what they say, sometimes you just gotta get yer hindparts on a plane to Las Vegas.

...I don't think anyone actually says that. But I just did. And, I'm actually not that crazy about Vegas. It's kind of a bizarre Back to the Future II experience for me to be, what is this glittery, surreal place with painted faces and cigarette smoke and lights and sounds and so on and so on. Idk, not my jam really. BUT. When you've got a really great group of people going and a really posh/free place to stay because one of said great people bought a stay at a resort for cheeaaaps at a charity auction.....then yes, Vegas is my jam. And since I was in Vegas, I hitched a ride on up to Utah afterward to see some of my most favorite people.

I don't know, let's just take this day by day...

Day 1
Arrive at airport. Friend says, "I'm picking you up. We're going clubbing." Change clothing from leggings/T-shirt to something-remotely-sassy-but-not-really-because-you've-never-gone-clubbing in nasty airport bathroom. Freeze on airport curb because WHY IS VEGAS 20 DEGREES. (Not joking. It was 20-something degrees.) Head to dinner with friends at....wait for it....a bikini bull-riding bar. Whhhha?? I mean, when in Vegas...but seriously, it also had a restaurant portion that was suitable for not-bikinis and mmmmmcowboy food! Offer brisket to this Texas-born girl and I'll be happy as a clam. After filling bellies, head to a club (because who doesn't want to dance with a belly full of brisket??), where a friend-of-a-friend has gotten your names on a special list that gets you in a special entrance and you obbbbviously look out of place (because everyone else looks like a Kardashian and you look like you live in the hippie/hipster capitol of California)......ok, whatever present-tense third-person deal I'm writing in is starting to twist my brain. Real talk: The Kardashians themselves were actually at this club. Or at least one of them was. And R. Kelly. I mean, what is my life? Truth: Clubs are a very strange, strange place. It's so crowded you can't even dance! I just wanted to groove. But I'll still chalk it up to a life experience! And, we ended the night with milkshakes. Everyone wins.

Day 2
So far just us 4 girls at the resort -- our two guy friends were on track to arrive that afternoon. In the meantime......SPA! The resort had a hot tub/sauna/magical-waterfall-shower area, so we most def probs totes hit that up all morning. I soaked in the hot tub, read a book, girl-chatted about various delicate and feminine topics (see: body hair removal) and, most importantly, WORE A ROBE. There's something about hotel robes, you know?? Our two other friends arrived that afternoon, at which point we all headed off into the traffic melee to get to The Strip. (Is that capitalized? It's a proper noun? I don't know?) We then proceeded to feast for like...3 P.F. Chang's, which was a delight because we somehow scored this exclusive-ish private booth in the corner of the upstairs. Also, all the tables were open so I don't know why we waited 30 min for our table. In any case, we feasted. And then we played the slots. My first slot machines! I invested a dollar (OK first I borrowed a dollar, then I invested it) and, via a team effort, managed to get it up to $7.50....then back down to 34 cents. You win some, you lose some. AND THEN, THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT....we went and saw the Britney Spears show! For $15! That happened! You guys, if any part of you, even deep down inside, likes B. Spears.....go see this show. I felt like I was 13 years old again. I don't know her newer stuff as well, but she played enough of her old hits that I sang and danced my little heart out. Man alive, go see that show. And then, because we're old and hate traffic, we left The Strip....the strip....uhhhmm ThE like 11pm and battled the traffic to get back to our shmancy lodging. We pulled into the parking lot just as midnight struck, at which point we glamorously watched tiny fireworks in the distance from inside the car because......still freezing as hell outside. (Yes, I'm convinced hell is frozen, not hot. Don't try and tell me otherwise.) The night ended with a brief dip in the hot tub.....until 5am. Errrrm. Only really good choices, you guys. Only really good choices.

Day 3
This post is getting excessive. Luckily, Day 3 had minimal events: a fantastic lunch and conversation at Smashburger, followed by a 6-hr drive to Salt Lake City. It actually was a lovely drive, but I won't write a huge paragraph about it. To save us all time/sanity. You know. "Everything I do, I do it for you." -Bryan Adams (sexiest voice alive -- you can quote me on that)

Day 4
Utaaahhhhhh! At this point in the trip, I was starting to come down with a slight illness, along with half the people I'd been in Vegas with. Plagues travel fast in close quarters, is the thing. And also it would probably help if I went to bed before all....on this entire trip. ANYWAY. In Utah I stayed with my dear Katie friend (I have lots of Katie friends.....this one is blonde, that narrows it down) and it was SO SO SO SO good to be with her. I wish we lived in the same place ALWAYS. Anyway, we spent this day brunching and shopping and movie-watching and eating take-out thai food and all things that a vacation should be.

Day 5
Don't worry, we're nearing the end. Kudos to you if you're still reading. THIS IS FOR POSTERITY. On this day, I met up with another Katie-friend (I know, it's excessive) who I wish lived in the same place as me always too, and we went ice skating with our friend Limher. Ice skating is magical until it makes your ankles hurt. But mostly magical. I did some great Britney-inspired dance moves without even falling over. I capped the day off with two visits to Old Navy (essentially doubling the number of times I've been to Old Navy in like the last 2 years) (but what a sale on workout clothes!!) and dinner and White House Down and life-memory-chatting with Larsy and Beef, (aka Lauralee and Kelsey), my college roommates and other half....s. Halves. Thirds. Samsonite. Larsy is about to pop any day with her BABY, so we poked her belly a few times and chanted some tribal chants for good luck. But seriously, this day was filled with such favorite people. I thought my heart migh 'shplode.

Day 6
Swollen throat. Cafe Rio. Two Twilight films (because if you've never seen them, why not watch them??). Downton Abbey (I'm only 4 seasons behind, why not jump in?). Then sleeeep.

Day 7
This day involved some blogging, loafing around and, eventually, flying back to CA. I wanted to kiss the ground when I returned to my beautiful coastal weather and sunshine, but I was sad for my trip to end. Can all the amazing people in my life just live in one place pleeeease??? The flight home was actually oddly eventful, which you know if you followed my live-tweet session of my layover in LAX on the Twitters. Shenanigans, left and right. There was also this dog sitting near me on the plane, and you KNOW that was just the icing on the cake that my vacation needed.

Aaand that's the end of my stories. 20 points to Gryffindor if you're still reading. It was the most perfect vacation, and maybe the best new year's eve I've ever had.....I mean, the bar wasn't high -- New Year's Eve is always some kind of weird hyped up evening that turns into a medium-rare letdown, amiright? In any case, it was the best. THE BEST. And now, after a week back at work, and still some germs to fight off, I'm ready to launch myself into the weekend and goooooooooodNIGHT.

Monday, January 5, 2015

For Auld Lang Syne, My Dear

Helloooo, 2015!

I've spent the last week on the most delicious vacation that first involved Vegas and rounded off with a visit to several of my people in Utah. Other than both of these places being inappropriately freezing, it has been a magical adventure and I'm just at the point where I'm ready to wrap it up and head back to CA tonight and start working again tomorrow. But, more details on the trip in my next post. (I also owe y'all a post about my Christmas tree. Don't think I don't remember.)

For now, let's talk about 2014! WHAT A YEAR.

I remember at the end of 2013, after a year of chaos and job-quitting and spontaneous move-to-California-ing and scrappy employment measures just to pay rent, etc etc etc, that I just knew that 2014 would have to be calmer and smoother. "SHE HAD TO BE." (Name that movie.) To some degree, it was calmer and smoother. I spent the first four months wrapping up my contract with Ralph Lauren, the next 5 months in my first Google contract role, and the rest of it in my current Google role. So, it's been a tad more stable (and better than finding odd jobs on Craigslist, as intriguing as that life phase was), but still full of a lot of nail-biting moments when contracts were coming down to the wire and I wasn't quite sure what was going to happen next. Truthfully, that could happen to me again this year come September, but at least I've got a solid 9 months between now and then, and a track record of knowing I can get through it.

Last night I was trying to come up with one word or phrase to describe 2014, and the first couple that came to mind were "pivotal" and "grit" and "doing things I didn't think I could or ever would do." That last one is probably most accurate about my biggest/favorite moments of this year.

If you would have asked me last January, I would have said finding a job at Google was impossible (because after a couple failed interview attempts, I was a tad bit sour on the idea)....but then I did it, twice. If you would have asked me last January, I would have said my plans to travel the world someday would know, SOMEDAY...but then there I was on Valentine's Day, gifting myself with a passport and then I was off to Iceland in June, with plans to hit Italy mere weeks from now (!!!!). And buying a new car? Well that's a grown-up thing I was vaguely sure I'd do eventually....and "eventually" ended up being April, and it ended up being my dream car that fell into my lap like a magical unicorn gift from the universe at an impossibly affordable price. And speaking of said June Cooper car, if you had asked me last January, would I ever learn to drive stick? Probably not, considering that I avoid doing things that I'm not good at the first time I try them, and right up until the day I signed June Cooper's papers, I was adamant that I would NOT complicate my life by buying a car I couldn't drive. But, there I was and here I am and here we are and look at me go! Turns out deal breakers aren't so much deal breakers when your little heart is twitterpated by just the right set of wheels.

Big accomplishments aside, this year was also a whole lot of FUN.

I went to so many concerts I can't even count them, including a summer chock full of gettin' down at country concerts with some of my favorite pals (seriously we went to like ten country concerts).....and did I mention Iceland??? OK I know I did. But I'm still not over it. I refuse to ever be over it. STOP LOOKING AT ME I NEED A MINUTE

Then there were all the weekend getaways, to beaches and cabins and yurts and tents and southern California and northern California and Tahoe and Yosemite and Arizona and Utah and my bestie getting married and so on and so on and so makes me all just so happy I could 'shplode.

Maybe my favorite thing about this year, just like every year, has been my people. Always, my people. I was only 6 months fresh to California as of last January, so I was at least slightly still in that awkward new-kid phase where you do know people and do get invited to parties but you're not quite sure who to call when you're alone on a Friday night and you want to see a movie or eat food or watch Netflix or what-have-you. You know? You know. But now my life, both California and otherwise, are brimming with incredible people and I can't talk about it in too much detail or my eyes will leak all over my computer. I am a lucky, lucky, lucky, times infinity, girl. Because every single thing I listed above, from the trips to the country concerts to Iceland to Google to buying a car to learning to drive stick.....every single one of those things happened because of my PEOPLE.

This year was incredible and, yes, pivotal, but every bit of it hinged on all the hearts beating around my little heart and all the hands holding my little hand through all of it.

And now I wanted to wrap up with some inspirational lyrics from "Auld Lang Syne," but turns out that song includes paragraphs like "We twa hae run about the braes, An pou'd the gowans fine" (?????) so we'll just stick with the translation of the title itself, which is something like "times gone by" and also that one line about taking "a cup of kindness yet." (I mean, if twa and braes and gowans do it for you, I'm not here to stop you.)

SO. For Auld Lang Syne, my dear. And here's to many more!