coffee session: on expectations.

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(for le blog aesthetic / not mine)

You know the drill.  Grab a cup of coffee, listen to some music, and let’s have a chat.  (My side of the conversation is below; feel free to share yours in the comments!)

*sips coffee*

Ohhhh, expectations.  Don’t you just love them?

It’s one thing to have expectations and standards for yourself… and another completely different thing to realize that others have expectations for you.  It doesn’t matter if they’re lower or even equal to yours – it’s still ridiculously daunting.

Because of Recent Events (which, for the time being, will be referred to as simply that), I’ve been feeling especially aware of these things.  We want to do the best we can, and holding ourselves to that – daily – is, more often than not, intimidating.

If anyone else read Do Hard Things religiously in their teens, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  We want to be more than mediocre.  We want to do things with our lives – which often unintentionally translates to “big” things.  (I once read an essay somebody wrote about this, and it’s definitely worth reading if you made the same assumption.) (Don’t feel bad if you did because I did, too, and sometimes doing hard things is working through the daily grind of school or work or unemployment {*waves*} with a cheerful, optimistic spirit.)

*sips coffee*  (Today I have some weird “roasted southern pecan” coffee my dad bought and it’s… interesting.)

Adulting doesn’t help with this.  You start out so excited and ready to conquer the world, and then Real Life hits and you’re left staggering under the pressure.  (This isn’t personally relatable at all.  *nervous laughter*)

So how do we avoid getting daunted by the expectations and standards?  What do we do when they feel too high?

In all honesty… I don’t know.  I’m still working through this myself.

I don’t like disappointing people.  I really don’t.  And all it takes is someone dropping a responsibility or opportunity on me for my confidence to crumble like a poorly-made gluten-free cookie.  (Seriously, if anyone has any gluten-free cookie recipes they can share… please.  I’m dying over here.)

The only answer I’ve come up with is to just… do your best.  (And let God do the rest.)

And that sounds stupidly cliché and I’m insanely sorry, but it’s all I have right now.

So… turning this conversation over to you guys… what have you found to be the best answer to this?  What do you do when you feel like you’ve been given too much and struggle with holding to everyone’s expectations of you?

confession: i don’t like my novel’s protagonist.

Disclaimer: This will be ranty and disjointed.  I can never think clearly when I’m editing.  Plus I’ve had too much coffee this morning.  (Disclaimer #2: A little clickbait never hurt anyone. *wink*)

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oh look it’s me

So I was editing my novel a few minutes ago (me??? editing??? what is this?!), and I realized that… I don’t really like my main character???

Now, granted, I’ve known that for a while, but it just now hit me.

Beta readers of this book (The Art of Letting Go, which you can learn about here because it’s been so long that I posted about it that my readers probably forgotten about it) understand this, because they know her.  (And, hey, if you’ve read it and you feel this way, let me know in the comments!)

But, just in case you don’t, here’s the gist: Daniella James is a very complicated young woman, made even more so by the fact that (spoiler) her boyfriend dies.  Killed right in front of her.  She’s already got Mommy & Daddy Issues, and those are complicated by the loss of her future and only security (which she’d wrapped up in her boyfriend).

Start out with an anxiety-ridden, pessimistic teenage girl, multiply it by a million, add a dash of cynicism, and you’ve got Danni.

I knew from the get-go that Danni would be different from my previous protag, Nikki, but I didn’t know how different.  Now, four drafts later, she’s basically Nikki’s polar opposite.  She’s rash and negative and cusses and doesn’t really believe in any kind of higher power and doesn’t think about the consequences of her actions and I honestly don’t know if we’d be friends in real life.

(Obviously she changes by the end into a more likable person, but for a good chunk of the book – the first third at least – she’s not the greatest person in the world.)

This got me thinking… why write characters that you, at best, disagree with?  Or even, at the very worst, don’t like?

The short answer is character change.

Good books thrive on conflict.  Boring books have no conflict.  Who wants to read about a static character?  Um, not me.

So if a book has to start out with a faulty character so that they’ll change for the better because of the circumstances they have to go through, bring me that character.

I’m fascinated with faulty characters.  Give me the bad boys and let me cheer for them as they’re put through trials that break their hardened shell and reveal the softer young man inside.  (I’m specifically thinking about Bender from The Breakfast Club or Jughead Jones from Riverdale.)

The other day, I watched a made-for-TV drama based on the life of Michael Glatze, a gay activist who slowly lets go of his gay identity after becoming a Christian, eventually renouncing it, taking on the identity of a heterosexual man, marrying a woman, and becoming a Christian pastor.  It. was. fascinating.  Although I thought the movie was poorly made (it tried too hard to be artistic and some of the actors couldn’t do their jobs very well because of the stilted script) and although I disagreed with some of it (both with some of the things the homosexual characters and even some of the heterosexual, Christian characters said), I’m still thinking about it.  It challenged me.  (Here’s the trailer.  Bear in mind that this movie is TV-MA for language and some sexual scenes, and I still don’t know how the director wanted to portray Michael, but you can do some Googling and read exactly what he’s said on the subject.)

All this to say, what are your thoughts on unreliable or unlikable protagonists?  Have you encountered any of these lately in movies or books?  Did they change or were they more likable by the end?  What changed?  Let’s talk!

on body image.

I was never a clothes shopper. It’s true – ask anyone who knows me.

(I was never a shopper, period, but I did buy books. A backbreaking amount of books, as I learned after moving them all to our new house. #noragrets)

Growing up, I usually just wore whatever my mom got me for Christmas or my birthday. I didn’t have many new clothes, and I couldn’t care less.

In this inability to care less, my appearance suffered. My go-to outfit in my teen years was a t-shirt and jeans, with a skirt if we were going to church. Before our Skirts Phase, that is. Aka The Dark Days. Then, it was t-shirts and skirts. Denim skirts.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to look put-together – I did. It also wasn’t that I didn’t have many clothes to wear – I did. It was just that… I didn’t care.

For a long time, I was uncomfortable in my skin. For most of my teen years, I had an undiagnosed medical issue that caused weight gain. I didn’t know why I didn’t look good in certain things anymore, and, more than anything else, I wanted to cover up. Plus, it’s not like I had anyone to impress. (Moving two states away right when I was supposed to start liking guys made sure of that.)

It was only recently that I started buying clothes that I wanted to wear, with money that I’d earned.

Looking back, the only discernible thing that had changed was my outlook. I stopped viewing my body as an enemy or something that I shouldn’t put too much pride in. God gave me this body, dang it, and I should be happy with it – proud of it, even!

I didn’t start losing weight until I realized this, and accepted my body for what it was – mine.

If you’re struggling with what you look like, please know that it’s okay. We’ve all been there. Some of us are still there, sometimes.

Today, I was there. I needed clothes for a temp job next month, and I felt all the lies I’d believed about myself come screaming back as I looked at myself in the mirror. But I didn’t let the thoughts take root. Instead, I just left. In another store, I put on a cute outfit and danced to Katy Perry and Ben Rector in the changing room. Needless to say, the thoughts were gone. (Totally because I knew I looked super cute.)

It’s okay to hate your body sometimes. Just please… don’t stay there.

It’s okay to love your body. It’s okay to put clothes on it that are inspired by a style that is uniquely yours. It’s okay to be proud of it. It’s okay to love it. And if you don’t, you’ll get there someday.

I’ve heard that the way to get over a crush is to focus on one of their flaws, until you can’t see why you liked them in the first place. Today, I challenge you to do the opposite. I challenge you to find something about your body that you love. Maybe it’s your nose or your legs or your elbows. It can be big or small – just something that either you love or something that others have complimented. Tomorrow or next week or next month, find something else. Keep doing this until your list reaches from the top of your pretty head to the bottom of your adorable heels (yeah, the same heels that are encircled in yucky dead skin sometimes). Whenever you look in the mirror, repeat these things over and over again. Soon, your perspective will change. If not, keep working at it. And hopefully, you’ll soon realize that you’re a beautiful, unforgettable, unique person made in God’s image, for His glory, because He delights in you.

when internet friends become real.

I’ve never believed that internet friends aren’t “real friends,” simply because I’ve loved all of the people I met on the internet (okay, maybe not all – but certainly most of them!), so much that I often wish I could meet them.

A week ago, it finally happened.

The Elf (Heather) has been following my blog ever since her sister, Jane, introduced it to her several years ago. Neither know exactly how long they’ve followed my blog (Heather says Jane’s been reading it for “ages”), but it’s been a while. Heather didn’t really start reading it until she found and resonated with my first Harry Potter post (our experiences with this franchise are ridiculously similar), and then, according to her, found out that I “wrote fantastic rants.”

Heather, for whatever reason, started reading my blog and commenting a lot, and I grew to really enjoy hearing from my elven friend, whoever she was (we didn’t exchange names until later). I soon found out that she was from Australia, so obviously we never thought we’d be able to meet, although we both wished we could. Fast forward to a few months ago, when she messaged me on Facebook and told me she and her sister would be in the States for a while, specifically about an hour away from where I live, and wondered if I’d like to get together. To which I said something along the lines of, “HECK YES!”

A week ago, we finally met. We hugged, then got in the car and took a picture to send to our relatives, assuring them that we were all real and not random middle-aged men!

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{heavily photoshopped bc the girls were in shadows and we were too focused on talking to get another one}


My sister and I drove them to a famous fast food restaurant and sat for at least two hours talking, eating, and laughing together. And it. was. a. BLAST. I’ve rarely met people whom I’ve connected with so closely and so quickly, and finally listening to Heather and Jane’s story after wanting to for so. dang. long. was amazing, to say the least!

In those short hours, we talked about homeschooling and our (uncannily similar) church experiences, conservatism and feminism, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, courtship vs dating, and marriage and relationships. I would’ve loved to pack up my bags and roam the US with them for the remainder of their stay (especially their next stop, which is one of my favorite spots in the entire country), talking with them more about all of these things, but we’ll have to limit it to all of the social media platforms we connected on within five minutes of leaving one another. (Provided the elders approve.) (We made so many inside jokes, guys, and I am here. for. it.)

In summary, my sister and I had an amazing time meeting Heather and Jane, and can’t wait to see where our friendship goes! Maybe a trip to Australia is in order? We’ll see!

{ps: hey reader. yes, you. hello there. if you’d like to meet me too (and aren’t a 65-year-old man), let me know and i’ll see what i can do. this meeting has gotten me addicted to meeting people i’ve connected with online and i want to do it again!}

the greatest oxymoron.

I used to go to a church where we had communion every Sunday.  I didn’t understand why at first.  Then I worried that it would become rote, with a weekly occurrence robbing it of its sacredness.  But after a few months, my family and I embraced it.  It brought us closer as a family because there were always recent events that we needed to apologize to one another – instead of trying to wrack our brains once a month for stuff to say sorry for.

The same can be said for the Easter story – all of the events surrounding the crucifixion, the burial, and the resurrection.

If you’ve grown up in the church, you’ve heard this story.  A lot.  You’ve been to multiple services on Easter weekend, all touching on some aspect of the story, and maybe you’ve even been to Passion City Church’s Good Friday service with Louis Giglio (which, if you haven’t, is a must because it’s unparalleled).

Easter, in a sense, can also become rote – obvious and dull for all of us who have grown up listening to this story over and over since it’s so essential to the Gospel.  In the midst of meals with extended family members, egg hunts with small children, and making sure your outfit is finished by Easter morning, it can even be forgotten.  This same struggle happens around Christmastime, when the true meaning for all of the celebrations is pushed aside by the chaos and distractions.

This is true for me.  In the past, I’ve had to repent for focusing more on traveling to see family members than on Jesus’s precious gift to me.

That’s one thing I never want to lose sight of.  It’s the greatest oxymoron I’ve ever known – that by His wounds, He gave me healing.  I’ll never get over that.

But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5

This Easter, spend time with your family members and enjoy the egg hunt (it’s perfectly fine to be scared of the Easter bunny, though it’s too big why I don’t understand), but take the time to get alone with God.  Sit in your room or take a walk in the woods or drive on a random road in the mountains – whatever it takes to get rid of all of the distractions and outside chaos.  Think about what He did for you, and thank Him for it.  I know I’ll be doing it, because I’ve been awestruck by His grace and love – the love that saved my soul.

the book tag.

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{for le blog aesthetic // not mine}

My lovely friend Eva over at Coffee, Classics, and Craziness tagged me in this wonderful book tag and I decided to do it!  (I rarely do tags, not because I don’t like them, but because I usually forget.  Keep tagging me, guys!  One of these days I’ll remember to do them.  XD)

Rules
You must be honest.
You must answer all the questions.
You must tag at least 4 people.

1. What book has been on your shelf the longest?
I’m gonna have to go with the trilogy of E.B. White books my godfather got for me when I was a baby, or Spy for the Confederacy, which I’m pretty sure is the very first book I ever bought myself.  It was on a shelf at a homeschooling convention, and little eight-year-old me, with such a massive love of both spies and the Civil War, decided to buy it.  I still love it.

2. What is your current read, your last read, and the book you’ll read next?
Current read: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter.  Oh my gosh, where has this book been all of my life?!  I would’ve liked it a lot when I was a little younger, but I’m super glad I found it now.  It’s about spies and forbidden teen love and it’s just so great.  10/10.
Last read: Always a Bridesmaid For Hire by Jen Glantz.  I enjoyed most of it, as it’s probably a good overview of what my life will look like for the next few years (minus the business part).  See my review here.
Next read: The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker.  The plot sounds great and I’m always looking for random books to try out.  Plus, that cover tho.  *heart eyes emoji*

3. What book did everyone like, but you hated?
I try not to hate books, but I really didn’t like The DUFF or Eleanor and Park (which, arguably, was only my second RR book, and I’m planning on rereading it again in the future to see if my opinion has changed).  I also greatly despise a lot of those conservative purity books that I got pulled into when I was younger – So Much More and Before You Meet Prince Charming, for instance.  (I’ll write a post about it in the future if y’all want to read my ranty opinion, but the short of it is that a girl isn’t a sub-helpmeet for her dad and should be free to decide, with guided wisdom from authorities, what to do with her life – and, yeah, that includes moving out, getting a job, and going to college if she feels like that’s God’s will for her life.  These books basically tell girls that their only biblical place is in the home, under her father’s authority, until she gets married.  I know young women aged 25-30 who still live with their parents, uneducated and jobless.  Do. Not. Like.)

4. What book do you keep telling yourself you’ll read, but you probably won’t?
My goal in life is to READ ALL THE BOOKS, but there are probably a few that I’ll never get around to – the other Mitch Rapp books (unless they’re made into more movies bc Dylan O’Brien tho), and various classics that I have no interest in.

5. What book are you saving for retirement?
What’s retirement???  I’ve got a few books that I’ve been stockpiling for when we move into our internet-less house, including Les MisTumble Fall, Everything Leads to You, The Unexpected Everything, Illuminae, and The Infinite Moment of Us – all of which I’ve gotten recently specifically for this move.  (Except for Illuminae, which a friend sent me.  Oh, and Les Mis, which has sat, in all it’s bricklike, unabridged glory on my shelf for about six years.  I’ll get to it.)

6. Last page: read it first, or wait ’til the end?
I AIN’T ABOUT THAT SPOILER LIFE, FAM.  If the wind flips pages forward and I see stuff that hasn’t happened yet, I get all annoyed and heartbroken and achy inside and question whether or not I want to even finish the book.  Last-page-readers are sub-human and will not survive the winter or the zombie apocalypse.

7. Acknowledgement: waste of paper and ink, or interesting aside?
I adore acknowledgments.  Probably because I’m a writer, but I just love seeing who has influenced the author.  It’s so much fun to also get a sneak peek into their life and the little inside jokes they have with people they thank.  Plus, it’s a great way to find agents to pester to represent my book.

8. Which book character would you switch places with?
Hermione Granger or someone from The Berinfell Prophecies, preferably whoever kisses Jimmy, whom I’ve had a crush on for the last eight years, with absolutely no sign of ceasing.  Or maybe Jo March, since I’m already basically her already.  (I’d say yes to Laurie in a heartbeat.  Screw whatever’s “supposed to happen,” to quote Eliza Schuyler-Hamilton, “THAT BOY IS MIIIIIINE!”)

9. Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life? (Place, time, person?)
Oh heck yes.  I can’t read Fangirl without thinking of the porch swing at my grandparents’ house where I inhaled it for the first time, or The Final Storm without remembering literally chucking it against a wall in my room while screaming “NO!” and sobbing, or The List without flashbacks to remembering the skiing trip where I was first introduced to Robert Whitlow (and remembering that a friend of mine gave me a signed copy of it because he met Robert), or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone without thinking of all the minds I’d blow by reading it, or The Scarlet Pimpernel without thinking, “This is a classic???  And I’m ENJOYING IT???”  Every single book holds memories for me, and sometimes I reread books just to revisit the memories surrounding them.  True story.

10. Name a book that you acquired in an interesting way.
Besides the previous story about a book personally signed to me by Robert Whitlow (*heart eyes emoji*), I think the next most interesting story is the story behind A Thief in the Theater: A Kit Mystery.  Yes, that Kit.  Ever since a good friend had gotten to go to the American Girl store in NYC back when I was like ten, I’d always dreamed of going.  So when my dad took me to NYC for my high school graduation, the American Girl store was one of the first things on our to-do list.  I walked out of that store with that book and two t-shirts (one for me and one for my doll, of course) with PRIDE.

11. Have you ever given a book away for a special reason to a special person?
All of my books are my precious babies, but I did buy three copies of If You Find This Letter to write in and give to people as Christmas presents.  Still one of the best gifts I’ve ever given someone.  That book is literally life-changing.  Read it.

12. Which book has been with you most places?
Probably Fangirl or The Martian.  When I was reading them (and then rereading both), I couldn’t put them down.  Even when I wasn’t reading them, they had to be by my side, in my “mommy purse.”  Other than that, I’m gonna have to go with Eva’s answer and say my Bible.  It’s been on almost all of my vacations, plus all over Charlotte when I did summer missions.

13. Any “required reading” you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad two years later?
I was never a classics person when I was younger, which I’m not ashamed of, especially since I’m able to come to them now, for the first time, with an adult mindset that I didn’t have when I was younger.  For instance, a friend and I were talking the other day about girls who got into Austen when they were teenagers and loved them purely for the romance – which is fine, but I’m so happy I’m able to see past the romance and enjoy Jane for her satire and wit, not to mention her feminism and the fact that she was so far ahead of her time.

14. Used or brand new?
Used that looks brand new.  I prefer cheap books, and if I can find a new copy of a book for $5, I’ll absolutely get it.  I like my books in pristine condition and will pay a few extra dollars to get a new book over a used one, but I’m blessed with knowing a few different places to get cheap, beautiful used books.  (*cough* 2nd and Charles, where I got 2 books, a movie, and the first season of Graceland for $14 the other day *cough*)

15. Have you ever read a Dan Brown book?
Nope!  I’m vaguely interested in The Da Vinci Code, though!

16. Have you ever seen a movie you liked more than the book?
Mockingjay.  I thought Part 2 did a great job of fixing the problems in the book.

17. Have you ever read a book that’s made you hungry, cookbooks included?
Are you kidding; every book makes me hungry.  There are a few books that make me especially hungry, though, including The Little Women Letters and Harry Potter.  (One word: BUTTERBEER).

18. Who is the person whose book advice you’ll always take?
Cait (Paper Fury).  I adore her.  Plus, she’s so incredibly sweet and friendly – it seriously feels like we’re friends whenever she replies to my comments on her reviews.  Read all of the posts on her website.  She’s hilarious, too, and I want to be just like her when I grow up.

19. Is there a book out of your comfort zone (e.g., outside your usual reading genre) that you ended up loving?
Classics are a recent pleasure, thanks to the Lit courses I took in college (how is that past tense already it feels like i just started college i can’t evennnnnn) that made me study quite a few classics.  (we’re talking 50+, 12 of which I read and wrote essays on in two months.  college is hard, y’all.)  I’ve also started really enjoying memoirs, thanks to Unbroken and If You Find This Letter.  People are fascinating.

Alrighty, I tag all of my followers who want to do it either in the comments or on their own blogs, especially Jessica and Katelyn.  ❤

i now have a college degree.

IMG_6465 (2).jpgWarning: Rambly angst ahead.

I have no words.  I submitted my final paper over a week ago and I’ve been waiting for my final grades before I posted anything.  Well, I got my final grade today, and I still don’t know what to say.

The main drive I had in the last four years of my life is gone.  The massive, stressful weight disappeared this past weekend as my grade slowly trickled in.  I felt it leave as I sunk to the floor and looked up at my friend from Virginia who showed up on my doorstep.  She told me to stop being irrational because of course I’d pass.  And she was right – I did.

And with that main focus leaving, I’m sitting here on my bed, lukewarm cup of coffee in hand, wondering, Well… now what?

I talked to my coach for the last time this past week and we talked about how much had changed over the last four years.  I’ve become a better version of my eighteen-year-old self – not different at all from that wide-eyed, still-trying-to-lose-her-baby-fat teenager.  I’ve got a better taste in music, I’m more confident, my people skills aren’t amazing but so much more apparent, and I’ve gotten a lot better at covering up the midnight-study-sessions-induced bags under my eyes due to my improved makeup skills.  And that’s just the non-academic stuff.

Anyway, I’ve gotten a good taste of my post-grad life this past week.  Instead of writing papers through sleepy eyes, I watched documentaries.  Instead of rushing home from doing errands to see how many distracted hours of school I could get done while simultaneously trying to nanny, I sat on the floor at the library and colored an apple tree with my charges.  Instead of cramming as much study time as I could in the quiet hours while Mom was gone with the littlest two at homeschool PE, I gave her a much-needed packing afternoon and took them myself.

While I’m pretty scared of the future and whether or not I’ll waste this newfound freedom, I’m also incredibly excited.  I hate change but I love new beginnings, and that’s what gets me through the ever-changing chapters of my life.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to enjoy my first rainy day with no school in sight.