My new commute and my need to read

Last week, I mentioned here that I’ve started a new job. Prior to this, I had worked from home and so I basically went to bed whenever I wanted, woke up with just enough time to start a shift, and had zero commute, obviously! But this new job is over an hour away and so my schedule has changed drastically.

I’m such a night person, but now I wake up at 6 and I don’t usually get home before 7:30, and sometimes even around 9 o’clock. Since I really like the job, I don’t mind the hours, but it’s the fact that I don’t have time for much else that bothered me in the beginning. I’m used to my hobbies: reading, writing, obviously writing this blog, and doing creative things. So in an effort to multitask on my hour-and-a-half long drive, I’ve started listening to audiobooks.

And it’s awesome! I’ve never been an audio “reader,” and I never thought it would be easy to concentrate while driving, but it turns out that listening to a book is not only a great use of my three hours/day commute, but it’s also much more calming than listening to music is. I’ve made it my mission to stay as focused as possible on my hobbies despite the long hours of the job, and I feel like listening to books rather than reading them is a great compromise, and as an added bonus, there were so many resources I found online that offer free audiobooks.

Right now, I’m listening to Great Expectations, a book I have had on my TBR for years. I “read” about 200 pages (according to a corresponding physical copy I already owned) during my commute this past week, and I’m going to make it my mission to “read” the big classics like this.

It’s twofold: listening to books sort of takes away the effort of getting into a difficult novel. It’s more passive than reading since it’s being read to you and so it’s sort of mindless—in a good way. After Great Expectations, I’m going to read Charlotte Bronte’s Villette and then maybe War and Peace, both books I’ve been meaning to read forever but never had the time to devote to getting into it. Audiobooks and my commute turned out to be a perfect combination.

Here are some free resources if you want to listen to the classics on your downtime, and finally get around to reading those books you always meant to: Librophile.com, LoyalBooks.com (where I found Great Expectations), LibriVox, and Audiobooks.net. I considered an Audible account at first but the $14.95/month price tag put me off. Trying to be economical here!

Note: none of this is sponsored; I just like to read books. 🙂

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Inspiration by Paulo Coelho

I’m not one for motivational quotes. Sometimes, I think they’re simplistic and cheesy, but every once in a while, I’ll come across a quote that makes me stop and think and that gives me some hope, strength, or motivation. Usually, these quotes come from books.

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Charles Dickens’ ‘Christmas Festivities’

For me, Charles Dickens perfectly sums up the Christmas spirit: hope, love, good cheer, optimism, and charity.

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This year, I’m reading all of Charles Dickens’ Christmas stories in addition to A Christmas Carol, which is my annual tradition. I’d like to share a passage here of the first paragraphs of the first story in that clothbound Penguin edition, “Christmas Festivities,” because it speaks volumes about the way Christmas should be appreciated and celebrated:

“Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused—in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened—by the recurrence of Christmas. There are people who will tell you that Christmas is not to them what it used to be—that each succeeding Christmas has found some cherished hope or happy prospect of the year before, dimmed or passed away—and that the present only serves to remind them of reduced circumstances and straitened incomes—of the feasts they once bestowed on hollow friends, and of the cold looks that meet them now, in adversity and misfortune. Never heed such dismal reminiscences. There are few men who have lived long enough in the world who cannot call up such thoughts any day in the year. Then do not select the merriest of the three hundred and sixty-five for your doleful recollections, but draw your chair nearer the fire—fill the glass, and send round the song—and, if your room be smaller than it was a dozen years ago, or if your glass is filled with reeking punch instead of sparkling wine, put a good face on the matter, and empty it off-hand, and fill another, and troll off the old ditty you used to sing, and thank God it’s no worse.”

I love this quote, because it reminds me that Christmas isn’t about stuff, but about family and love. It’s one time of year we can all choose to be happy, cheerful, kind, and loving. And I hope that wherever you are, and whatever holiday you’re celebrating this season, that it’s happy and cheerful and full of love.

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‘Modern Love,’ a poem by John Keats

Happy Sunday, everyone! Here’s a poem I love.

An English major in college, I had the chance to read and analyze a lot of Romantic poetry, which was the kind of literature I took the most classes in—it’s my favorite. And because I probably would never have gotten around the reading Romantic literature/poetry in my actual, everyday life, I was happy that I got to do it in college, when I was forced to! It introduced me to some of my favorite poems, this one included.

By John Keats, this poem is called “Modern Love,” and it is cynical as hell. I am so not a cynic, but I love this poem because it’s as if Keats is knocking love because he wants to understand it. And if you know much about Keats, he eventually falls desperately in love with a woman named Fanny Brawne. And then he dies. -___-

Modern Lovekeats

AND what is love? It is a doll dress’d up
For idleness to cosset, nurse, and dandle;
A thing of soft misnomers, so divine
That silly youth doth think to make itself
Divine by loving, and so goes on
Yawning and doting a whole summer long,
Till Miss’s comb is made a pearl tiara,
And common Wellingtons turn Romeo boots;
Then Cleopatra lives at number seven,
And Antony resides in Brunswick Square.
Fools! if some passions high have warm’d the world,
If Queens and Soldiers have play’d deep for hearts,
It is no reason why such agonies
Should be more common than the growth of weeds.
Fools! make me whole again that weighty pearl
The Queen of Egypt melted, and I’ll say
That ye may love in spite of beaver hats.

I think there’s some truth in this poem: that a lot of people think they’re in love because they like the idea of it. They think they’re like Romeo and Juliet, or Antony and Cleopatra. But it makes them fools, because they don’t understand real love, just the appearance of it. I think that’s still relevant today, making the title even more striking. What Keats thought in the 1800s still makes sense in our world.

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My 2nd NaNoWriMo: Goals and Expectations

Last year, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time. Instead of putting pressure on myself to finish a 50,000-word novel, I used NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to write as much of a long-running project as I could. I achieved my basic goal last year, even though I didn’t have anywhere close to the word count. Unfortunately, that steam died off in the new year, so this year, I have the same basic goal: write as much as I possibly can.

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Unlike last year, when I started blind on a wing and a prayer, this year I did NaNo Prep Month, aka October. I’ve done as much research as I could squeeze into 31 days that I would normally spend climbing apple trees and being absurd, and so for the month of November, I’m going to do my own version of NaNo, and get myself one step closer to finishing this little novel child of mine.

I expect to write every day, have a well-planned outline, and maybe even finish a novel! Hooray!

Day after Halloween, hungover and with smudged eyeliner, I begin. If you want to be my NaNo friend and cry with me at 3 a.m., my username is laplusheureuse. 

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The Most Happy’s 2nd Birthday!

Yesterday, this blog turned two! Here’s what it used to look like:

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I’m so thankful for this blog and for all the opportunities it’s given me, the most important of which is the ability to express everything I love and share it with the world. I’m also thankful for all of you who like, comment, follow, and share what you write with me! signoff

Helen of Troy, as told by Margaret Atwood: a poem

Today I wanted to share one of my favorite poems ever. This is “Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing” by Margaret Atwood. I’ve been thinking a lot about this poem recently, because I’m reading this book about Helen of Troy through the ages, Beauty, Myth, Devastation by Ruby Blondell.

I first read this poem in college and since Helen of Troy is a source of constant fascination to me, I wanted to share this fantastic, amazing poem and my thoughts. My last essay I ever wrote as an undergrad dealt with Helen and this poem, and it’s been dear to me ever since.

Here it is:

Helen_of_TroyThe world is full of women
who’d tell me I should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
Get some self-respect
and a day job.
Right. And minimum wage,
and varicose veins, just standing
in one place for eight hours
behind a glass counter
bundled up to the neck, instead of
naked as a meat sandwich.
Selling gloves, or something.
Instead of what I do sell.
You have to have talent
to peddle a thing so nebulous
and without material form.
Exploited, they’d say. Yes, any way
you cut it, but I’ve a choice
of how, and I’ll take the money.

I do give value.
Like preachers, I sell vision,
like perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile. Like jokes
or war, it’s all in the timing.
I sell men back their worse suspicions:
that everything’s for sale,
and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see
a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
are still connected.
Such hatred leaps in them,
my beery worshippers! That, or a bleary
hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads
and upturned eyes, imploring
but ready to snap at my ankles,
I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
to step on ants. I keep the beat,
and dance for them because
they can’t. The music smells like foxes,
crisp as heated metal
searing the nostrils
or humid as August, hazy and languorous
as a looted city the day after,
when all the rape’s been done
already, and the killing,
and the survivors wander around
looking for garbage
to eat, and there’s only a bleak exhaustion.
Speaking of which, it’s the smiling
tires me out the most.
This, and the pretence
that I can’t hear them.
And I can’t, because I’m after all
a foreigner to them.
The speech here is all warty gutturals,
obvious as a slab of ham,
but I come from the province of the gods
where meanings are lilting and oblique.
I don’t let on to everyone,
but lean close, and I’ll whisper:
My mother was raped by a holy swan.
You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
That’s what we tell all the husbands.
There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.

Not that anyone here
but you would understand.
The rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing. Reduce me to components
as in a clock factory or abattoir.
Crush out the mystery.
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
They’d like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.
Look—my feet don’t hit the marble!
Like breath or a balloon, I’m rising,
I hover six inches in the air
in my blazing swan-egg of light.
You think I’m not a goddess?
Try me.
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you’ll burn.

I love this poem because it’s somewhat an updated interpretation of Helen of Troy’s persona for the 20th century, and also because it makes clear that Helen is still relevant today. We still struggle with gender inequality, and as a society, women are still objectified and reduced to something less than human for expressing sexuality, and are demonized for practicing agency.

Gender norms and sex politics are all there in the story of Helen of Troy, and Margaret Atwood’s take just makes that so much clearer in this poem, rich and striking and beautiful and uncomfortable.

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I want to be a tourist in my own city

Recently I wrote this article about how fun it is to be a silly tourist, and that got me thinking about all the things I haven’t done in New York. But it also makes me think about all the stuff I have done, and how worthwhile it is to tour your own city as if you are a newcomer, seeing it all for the first time.

When my cousin visited from Italy, we took her to the observation deck at Rockefeller Center, and that was one of the best moments I’ve ever had, able to see all the nooks and crannies of the city from way up high. I also did a couple touristy things recently that I absolutely adored: going to the observation deck at One World Trade Center, and going on a boat on the Hudson River (which I actually did last year, too!).

Here are some pictures of my escapades as a New York “tourist”:

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This boat is a replica of a 18th century schooner, and onboard is a beer tasting! This is literally one of my favorite things in the world. I went with my sister and brother-in-law, and we had a great time.

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The views were amazing.

After the boat, we walked from Battery Park to the Bowery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and we walked by the New York Stock Exchange, Trinity Church, and other landmarks that tourists usually visit, but that I’ve never taken the time to explore.

So I want to make time to tour New York, to visit those places a tourist would, but that as a local, they sort of go over your head. I especially love Lower Manhattan, because it’s visibly so much older than the rest of the city, and knowing how much I know about the history of New York, I want to be there more to soak up that amazing feeling that studying history and being a part of history always gives me: like I’m just one part of something so much bigger than myself, and that will go on after me. Being a tourist in my city makes me feel like I’m tied to its history, that I’m a part of it, and that it’s a part of me.

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Sunday Inspiration | A poem by John Milton

20140723_143530Today’s post is a poem by John Milton. Milton is one of my favorite poets because of Paradise Lost, one of my favorite works of literature ever. I took a class in my senior year of college based entirely on Milton (shoutout to my amazing professor at Fordham University) and in the first week or so of class, she assigned Sonnet VII to us, written by Milton when he was 23 years old:

SONNET VII.

ON HIS BEING ARRIVED AT THE AGE OF 23.

HOW soon hath time, the subtle thief of youth,
     Stolen on his wing my three and twentieth year!
     My hasting days fly on with full career,
     But my late spring no bud or blossom sheweth.
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth,
     That I to manhood am arrived so near,
     And inward ripeness doth much less appear
     That some more timely happy spirits indueth.
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
     It shall be still in strictest measure even
     To that same lot however mean or high,
Toward which time leads me and the will of heaven.
     All is, if I have grace to use it so,
     As ever in my great taskmaster’s eye.

In case you’re like, “ugh poetry,” this poem is basically about the fear and anxiety Milton feels at having accomplished little by this age, and it’s also about the future that he knows is his: a literary career. “Toward which time leads me and the will of heaven” is basically like, “I know I haven’t done much to further my career right now, but I know that I will soon be working toward my destiny, because God wills it.”

At this time, Milton was 23 and all his friends were publishing while Milton was at home just reading and studying. His friends were like, “Bro. What are you doing with your life?” And he was defending himself against their criticism, expressing anxiety, but also asserting his opinion that he wasn’t wasting his time studying, learning, and reading: he knew that his future held something good, and he was okay taking his time to get there, as long as he was quietly (and slowly) working. Also, he was like, “Dudes, get off my back. You have no idea what I’m capable of.”

I picked this poem to share today because I’m 23, and I feel such anxiety sometimes about the future — I think all of us do. I think it’s sort of inspiring and comforting to know that one of the most successful English poets ever felt totally lost at 23, too. I keep remembering this poem even though I first read it over two years ago, and it’s a nice reminder that as long as I keep working, it’s okay if I don’t have everything figured out all at once. Yaknow?

Happy Sunday and have a great week!signoff

Photo Challenge || Things I See Every Day

I read the blog Skunkboy written by the beautiful Katie, and she recently posted a photo challenge in the form of 15 prompts. I decided to participate and see what I could make of these prompts! And since I don’t often have a lot of time to go out and practice my photography skills, I stayed in my own home and let myself see things differently. I used to do that in my college photo class—just stay within my home and photograph the things I saw every day, and try to see them differently. Here’s what I shot:

movementIMG_3884

a shadowIMG_3850

something goldIMG_3855

wavesIMG_3892

the inside of somethingIMG_3872

a relaxing placeIMG_3875

lightIMG_3851

something redIMG_3864

happinessIMG_3869

the letter “r”IMG_3866

windIMG_3876

interesting view of the skyIMG_3874

symmetryIMG_3859

reflection in an unexpected placeIMG_3873

an animalIMG_3880Wanna try this challenge? Let me know if you do! signoff