4 Reasons I’m Taking A Slow Living Sabbatical in 2020

2018 was a bad health year. In 2019, I was healthy and tried all kinds of new things. It was my Year Of Yes. At first, it was a lot of fun! Then I took on too many extroverted activities and started getting sick again.

For 2020, I’ve decided to take my health seriously. I’m retiring from substitute teaching, taking a break from most volunteer work, and will focus on slow living and writing for the year because…

1- I Want to Start a Sabbatical Trend

I’m incredibly lucky. Most people don’t have the choice to take a sabbatical year, even if they need it. Out of all the things I could do with my good fortune (travel, switching careers) this one appeals to me because I think the world would be a better place if everyone had the option to take sabbaticals.

We are a culture that values being busy. There’s a lot of stigma associated with taking breaks. Taking the year off to live slowly and write sounds pretentious and lazy.

Many people don’t retire until they’re almost 70, which means a lot of people work for almost 50 years. To make the most of five decades of working, you need to take a few breaks to recharge and reevaluate. I’m starting the trend because I can.

I want sabbatical years to be a trend that extends to everyone. When the iPhone was first released in 2007, the only people with smartphones were the affluent. Now almost everyone has a smartphone. I want to make taking sabbaticals as popular as having a smartphone. 

2- I’m Taking My Health & Energy Budget Seriously

Responsible spending means looking at how much money you have coming in, then creating a budget for yourself so you don’t spend more money than you have. Like money, everyone has their own energy budget.

I over-drafted on my energy budget for 2019, and probably for many more years before that. I am an introvert. It took me a long time to realize just how much of an introvert I am because I genuinely like being with people some of the time.

 I also used to blame myself if I did a job and was exhausted afterwards. I’d believe it was because I didn’t do it right. I used to think there was a way I could “work smarter, not harder”. Now I realize there is no “smart” way for me to be around a group of people for an extended amount of time and not come away feeling exhausted, especially with my health situation. That’s my reality and I’m accepting it in 2020.

Now I take the messages my body sends me seriously. Teaching is an extroverted job. The climate change presentations and workshops I did last year were extroverted activities. I believed in the work I did and liked all the people I worked with, so I thought I could squeeze them into my life without any problems.

What I learned is that being extroverted is costly for me. I started having thyroid problems again. I started getting intense hip pain. I tried ice packs and blood tests to figure what was going on. The blood tests came back normal-ish and the ice packs worked some of the time. But I felt awful most of the time. 

Then my last climate change workshop ended and I decided to take the next month off from all subbing, workshops, presentations, meetings, emails, etc. Within four weeks my hip stopped hurting. My thyroid was better. 

Turns out I need HUGE amounts of solitude.

After 30 years of over-drafting on my energy reserves, it was time to listen to my body.

3 – I’m Giving My Writing The Time and Space It Needs

I have always wanted to write but never gave myself permission to write anything beyond journal entries as a kid. As an adult, I expanded my permission to writing stories I thought were publishable. I wrote them ever so slowly, striving to be as perfect as I could. I never wrote stories just because I liked them. Some voice inside my head would attack me the minute I wrote for fun or stopped striving to be perfect.

Doing things for others was my priority. I was a special education teacher, a family daycare provider, a stay-at-home parent, and a substitute teacher. These were activities I got easy praise for. Even when I finally went to grad school to get my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults I continued to be a part-time substitute teacher, despite not needing the money, because it was too scary to just focus on writing.

After grad school I added blog intern, then volunteer climate change presenter to my plate. I always needed to do activities that were helping others so I had a distraction from my writing.

None of these jobs was for the money either, because my partner has a job that makes way more money than I could ever make. Yes, totally and completely lucky! (Though being the person who does all the unpaid labor in the relationship has some real costs that I could write an entire essay about).

I wish I were the kind of person who could do a bunch of activities, then come back home and write as a way of decompressing. That’s not the way I work. My writing is forged out of hours and hours of solitude. The worlds I want to write about are complicated and require a ton of research.

 For 2020, I’ve decided it doesn’t matter if my stories ever get published. What matters is that I give myself the time and space to write whatever I want.

This year, I’m writing some stories that are probably publishable and some that are just for me. I’m giving myself the time to research my complex ideas about the future, and create the worlds I wish to see.

Creating time and space to just enjoy my writing is my gift to myself for 2020.

4 – I’m Committing Myself to One Planet Living

I write stories that take place in the future. I love to imagine how the world might look post-patriarchy, post-capitalism. What would that look like for a kid? For a teen?  For adults? The future is my happy place.

In reality, we can only live in the present and our planet has some big problems right now. I got interested in environmental issues because of my stories about the future. I wanted to learn who had a plan to reverse global warming and Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown was the detailed pragmatic plan that answered my question. 

 I still want to be a part of reversing global warming, even if I’m not doing Project Drawdown presentations and workshops. But I need to help in a way that doesn’t zap my energy for writing. So I’ve decided to use my sabbatical year to live like we only have one precious planet.

I took a vow to stop flying. Now I take the train or bus when I travel. I rarely drive, and walk or take public transportation pretty much everywhere.

The beauty of taking a year off means I have the time to travel slowly.

I now write Monday through Friday. Saturday afternoons are for outings to museums, parks, or anything that feeds me. Sundays are for walking to my Unitarian Universalist church and for preparing for my upcoming week.

Living slowly means I have time to be a tourist in my own city. So far, I’ve been to the National Cathedral, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Art, and the Jane Goodall exhibit at the National Geographic Association. I fill my writer’s notebook with a few words about each place I visit.

Living slowly means I can have adventures in a sustainable way and support the arts community in my own backyard. I go to one live performance a month—dance performances, music concerts, plays, etc. So far I’ve seen the musical Newsies at Arena stage and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Kennedy Center. I go by myself and take everything in. It’s amazing how nourishing art can be for my health and happiness.

I’m also taking the time to shop local, compost, limit my plastic waste, and use more renewable energy. Taking a slow living sabbatical means I can have a full life while still maintaining our only planet.

The 2021 Planning I’m Not Doing

I don’t know what I’m doing in 2021. I don’t plan to substitute teach again. I could always be a tutor or a nanny or find another job, if I wanted. Finding a new career won’t be a part of my 2020 though. This sabbatical is all about writing, taking care of my health, creating a low footprint, and filling my spirit. It’s about being using my good fortunate in a way that makes me happy, because that’s what I wish for everyone to be able to do in the future.

My 5 Favorite 2019 NonFiction Reads, Part 2

Here are my top two favorite nonfiction reads from 2019. Last week I posted my fifth, fourth and third favorite nonfiction reads, which you can check out here.

2. Embrace Your Weird: Face Your Fears And Unleash Creativity
by Felicia Day

What It’s About:
This book of creative exercises is like the quirky, more whimsical cousin of The Artist’s Way. The goal of Embrace Your Weird is to help you become less critical of yourself so you can creative the projects you want— whether that be writing, painting, or making sculptures in toothpicks.

The exercises start out with the intent of proving to you why you should totally embrace your creativity, move on to building up your “hero self”, arm you with techniques to face your demons, then help you brainstorm allies for your journey.

Felicia Day is the writer/ producer of the Netflix series, The Guild, as well as the creator of many online endeavors. I reviewed and loved her memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), which tells the story her unique upbringing being homeschooled (for “hippy reasons”), going to college at sixteen, majoring in mathematics and violin at the University of Texas, then becoming an actor and writer in Los Angeles. She’s also known for playing quirky roles like Vi in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Codex in The Guild, Penny in Doctor Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, Charlie in Supernatural, and Poppy in The Magicians.

What I Liked:
There’s so much to like here. Felicia Day is whimsical and fun, yet also thorough and organized. It took me three months to do all the exercises, and at the end I felt more playful about my writing.

What I Learned:
I came away from this book with a better understanding the need for play and creativity in my life.

Audiobook Details:
I listened to the audiobook version and used the PDF for the exercises because I love Felicia Day’s quirky style of narrating.

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1. Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties
by Dianne Lake and Deborah Herman

What It’s About:
This is the story of the “Manson Family” from the point of view of Dianne Lake— who joined the Manson family when she was just fourteen years old. She was not present at any of the murders but was still able to testify against the family at the trials.

What I Liked About It:
I had always avoided books about Charles Manson because I am tired of focusing on supposed “genius” sociopathic men, so I was delighted to find this story told from the youngest woman in the family.

The first half of the book is about Dianne’s life growing up and the second half is about her time in the Manson family. While I chose the book for the second half, the first half where she explains how her family went from a white-bread middle class family in suburban Minnesota to counterculture hippies living on a commune in California was just as fascinating.

Dianne paints a vivid picture of her father’s growing dissatisfaction with the repression of the 1950s, and how his fascination with Jack Kerouac (and other Beat Generation writers) were the catalyst for her family’s slow absorption into the 1960s counterculture. Her description of 1960s counterculture shows both the advantages and disadvantages of their utopian beliefs. I felt like I had time traveled to the 1960s and was living right along with her.

What I Learned:
Lake describes Manson as someone who was a master at manipulating people. Despite being basically illiterate, he had used his prison time to educated himself. Manson took classes in prison on Dale Carenigie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People techniques, as well as getting an education from fellow inmates on how to be a highly successful pimp. He also used his time in prison to learn to move every muscle on his face independently so he had full control over his facial expressions and could change the sound of his voice and dialect, too, in order to mirror whoever he was talking with.

However, Dianne’s story makes clear that while Manson did have exceptional people skills— that he used for self-serving purposes— the main reason that he was able to gain the loyalty from the women in his self-made family was because of the misogynist elements of the 1960s that caused so many women to have no one else to count on. Manson’s family welcomed Dianne Lake with open arms, which was far more than her own family did. By the time the Manson family got darker— after Manson became more and more obsessed with his racist fantasies about the end of the world— Diane was trapped with no one else to turn to.

Audiobook Details:
The audio version is narrated by Dianne herself. Some Audible reviewers complained about Dianne’s narration but I thought it worked well. She comes across as an earnest, authentic teller of her own story.

My 5 Favorite 2019 NonFiction Reads, Part 1

I’m listing my favorite top five nonfiction reads in reverse order in two parts. This week I’ll write about books five, four and three. Next week I’ll write about my top two favorite 2019 nonfiction reads.

I almost always prefer the audio version of a book. I grew up in a household where the TV was on a lot, so I have better listening comprehension than print comprehension. It’s also easier to multitask while reading, which means it’s easier to find the time to read more.

5. The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge
by Beatrice Chestnut

What It’s About:
The Enneagram is a personality system like Myers-Briggs. While the Myers-Briggs system deals with a person’s cognitive processing preferences (how they take in and use information), the Enneagram deals with how you defend yourself from your childhood wounds.

The Enneagram system uses nine basics types, those types can further be broken into three subtypes per type, for a total of 27 different subtypes.

What I Learned:
Regardless of how ideal or traumatic your childhood was, you have emotional wounds that formed your own unique defenses for dealing with the world. The defense system you created in childhood forms the basis of how you interact with the world as an adult.

This is really good system for getting information about your blindspots in dealing with others, and using that information to grow in ways that help you better cope with life.

What I Liked About It:
The Enneagram is also a fantastic tool for writers because it provides a template for 27 different character wounds that you can then customize with individual details and variability to build your characters’ story arcs.

This is also a good tool for understanding your own parents since their Enneagram personality type influenced your personality, too.

Finding out my dad is a type seven helped me understand why most people think my viewpoint is so optimistic, when I tend to think of myself as the cynic of the family. Turns out my dad is the most optimistic of all 27 subtypes.

Audiobook Details:
This is one of those books where having the printed version might actually be more useful, because I found myself wanting to go back over the material again and again.

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4. Blowout

by Rachel Maddow

What It’s About:
The book focuses on three key stories: fracking in Oklahoma, the oil industry’s history and record of accidents and greed, and Russia’s gas and oil history and current situation.

The three issues tie together to make the three big points of Maddow’s thesis:
1) the oil and gas industry has a record of incompetence and has almost no plan to deal with their inevitable the accidents,

2) life gets worse for the majority of citizens of a state or country that discovers oil, while a tiny subset becomes enormously wealthy,

3) Russia’s extreme mafia-like corruption has strangled its business sectors, therefore oil and gas is its only economically viable sector.

What I Learned:
The Russia information is especially important for understanding the GOP-Ukrainian story and their conspiracy theories about Ukraine.

Oil and gas are Russian’s only functional industries. But because of their corruption and incompetence, they lack the equipment or technical know-how to drill in their oil-rich arctic regions. Since Putin got caught meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections, U.S. companies are blocked from working with Russia to provide equipment and technical knowledge. So Putin is pretty desperate to get those sanctions removed. Plus, Putin would love to have control over Ukraine’s gas companies.

What I liked About It:
Rachel starts the book much like she starts her show, laying out the history and cast of characters the listener needs to know before presenting the evidence needed to make her case. Like with her show, she uses story to draw the listener in, making you want to find out what this seemingly unrelated anecdote has to do with whatever explosive current event is going on. Because Rachel is a master storyteller, at the end all the pieces click in place and dozens of seemingly unrelated parts suddenly paint a much bigger coherent picture.

Audiobook Details:
If you are a Rachel Maddow fan you’ll love the audiobook because it’s like listening to an extended version of her show.

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3. Shrill
By Lindy West


What It’s About:
Lindy West is a Seattle based comedy writer, feminist, and fat woman (her words) who tells her life’s story in a series of think pieces. She talks about how fat shaming convinced her that being quiet and shy was the safest path as a kid, then follows her journey of finding her voice through her love of comedy, and finally how she learned to use her voice to advocate for body acceptance and feminist issues.

What I Liked:
Lindy has a unique voice that manages to be insightful, compassionate and funny all at once.

What I Learned:
I started reading Lindy West when she wrote for Jezebel, but had no idea that she used to write for Seattle’s The Stranger with Dan Savage as her boss. Or that she actually schooled Dan about why fat shaming doesn’t work.

I also learned she made a TV show about her life based on this book. It’s also called Shrill, has two seasons on Hulu, and is just as delightful as the book.

Audiobook Details:
I love listening to audiobook memoirs because it’s like having a cool, funny friend tell you their life story. Lindy’s compassion really comes through in the audio, too.

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Next Week: My top two 2019 non-fiction reads

8 Reasons For Blogging In 2020

by Rowena Eureka

I’m restarting my blog and committing to one post a week for all of 2020.

Here are eight reasons why:

__________

1. I Want Control

I don’t own my Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts. They’re free for me to use because those companies make money selling my ad views and data. I have little control over who actually gets see my posts or how those platforms will work in the future.

With WordPress, I pay to control my own content and choose if there are ads or not.

__________

2. My Thoughts Are Longer Than A Soundbite

Facebook and Instagram are best for photos, short announcements, or fun questions that connect me to my family and friends. Writing a blog allows me to write about complex topics like: big changes I’ve made in in my life over the past two years, my favorite non-fiction reads, how utopia is misunderstood, why I prefer short stories to novels, or what each of us can do to help reverse global warming.

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3. I Want To Contribute To The Tapas Menu of Memoir

When I was a stay-at-home parent struggling with chronic illness I escaped into blogs as a way of vicariously living other lives. I could sample the lives of so many people just by reading a few posts online because blogs are the tapas of memoir.

I read Tara Ariano’s blog about her life as one of the co-founders of the popular now defunct online forum Television Without Pity. I loved reading about the highs and lows of editing such a massive project, complete with her frequent all-night work sessions and weekly game nights with her spouse and friends in Toronto, Canada.

I also was a fan of Amanda Marcotte’s feminist blog Pandongon.net. Her clear, engaging discussions on what feminism is and isn’t, and how it helps daily life— for both men and women— made my life better in concrete ways. Marcotte also described her move from Austin, Texas to Brooklyn, New York. It was like was living in places I’d never actually been to at the time.

Both bloggers have moved on to other projects, and neither blog is available on the Internet anymore, but I’m a happier person because those two women wrote them. After sampling so many blogs, I want to write my own blog again.

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4. I Made Real Life Friends After Reading Strangers’ Blogs

Before I decided to apply to the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) to get my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I read Katia Rania’s blog about her experience of going through the program. Katia’s honest, hopeful entries allowed me to virtually try out the program from the comfort of my own living room.

I was in the middle of the MFA program myself when Katia moved to my hometown. I reached out to her on Facebook to tell her how much I liked her blog and we became friends in real life. She now writes about what it’s like to be a newly published author with the time-consuming job of teaching middle schoolers. I continue to enjoy her posts, even as we now get together in person.

Before I went to VCFA, I was also a regular reader of the annual music list on the blog Presenting Lenore. Lenore was a complete stranger, but I noted that we had similar music tastes, and got new music recommendations from her annual list.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Lenore I met at my first residency at VCFA was the same Lenore who had suggested all those new bands I sampled. We’ve been to a concert together in real life now, and she even made me a mixed CD.

My life is better because Katia and Lenore blogged.

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5. Thanks To Cynsations, I Know That Value Of Deadlines

I also read author Cynthia Leitich Smith’s fantastic children’s literature industry blog, Cynsations, years before I met her as a faculty member at VCFA. After graduating, I became a “Cyntern” on her blog for two years, interviewing writers and putting together the weekly Friday news roundups. I’m still a reporter for the blog, posting interviews occasionally.

When I first joined Cynsations I had never interviewed someone for a blog. Through working with my fellow Cynterns — Gayleen and Stephani–I learned how to meet deadlines. It was eye-opening to see how a deadline could force me to write a posts I didn’t think I was capable of. A lesson I received only because Cynthia took the time and energy to blog.

__________

6. It’s Time to Embrace My Voice

My very first post on Cynsations was an essay about my struggle to give myself permission to write. I still struggle with voice.

I’ve come to realize that as a kid I unconsciously believed the unfortunate rule that it’s better to be silent rather than to take the chance of offending someone. It’s not like I’m out to offend people, it’s just that when I express my opinions, I’m bound to offend somebody. I used to think I should avoid offending people at all costs.

For years I bent over backwards to not offend people. You know what? I still offended people. Being silent offends people; being sick offended a ton of people. Even being nice to everyone can offend. You might think you’re including everyone, but you always forget someone, and offend them anyway. There is no way not to offend.

What I’ve learned from reading thousands of blog posts is that it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to offend people. Taking an opinion clarifies your thinking.

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7. The Assignment That Taught Me Joan Didion Was Right

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” – Joan Didion

https://www.nytimes.com/1976/12/05/archives/why-i-write-why-i-write.html

At VCFA, I was obsessed with writing a story about a utopian future, but didn’t understand the basics of utopia and couldn’t explain to my advisors why such a story was not delusional, but aspirational.

In my third semester, I had to write a thirty page critical thesis on a writing craft topic. My topic was how to write a satisfying utopian YA novel.

It was the most difficult topic I ever tackled. At one point, I had pages of quotes and references spread out all over my carpet. I was sure I would never wrestle my thoughts into a coherent argument, but I did.

The clarity I gained from writing about utopia, then rethinking my analysis and putting together an even better and clearer lecture for fourth semester, taught me the value of writing.

Before I wrote about utopia, it was hard for me to clearly articulate its value. Now I’m able to easily give a short five minute elevator speech on how utopia is misunderstood, and what value it has for society. (Hint: you can’t get to a new better place if you don’t have a map.)

People tell me that I have changed the way they think about utopia. That ability to change people’s minds is all due to writing it down first.

I’m at a crossroads in my life. Our country and world is at a crossroads. It seems like a good time to figure out what I think and why.

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8. There Will Never Be A Better Time

My current circumstances for blogging are pretty utopian. I’m finally healthy! My kids are happy adults, and I’m taking a year long sabbatical from paid work to embrace slow living. Plus, I have my own writing space.

Either I take the chance on blogging now or I never will.

I’ve decided to take the leap and write one post a week for the rest of 2020.

Next Week: Favorite Non-Fiction Reads From 2019

Book Review for: Take Joy

Take Joy

Title: Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide To Loving The Craft
Author: Jane Yolen
Genre: Non-Fiction, Craft Book on Writing
Age Range: Adults and Teens
Rating: 5 stars (One of my new favorite writing books)
Versions Available: Paperback (New and Used)

 

Accomplished writer Jane Yolen applies the same magic she used to turn her classic picture book, Owl Moon, from a simple story about a child and her father going out to look for owls into a magical poetic journey. In Take Joy, Yolen creates a craft book that inspires the reader to see the charm and adventure of writing.

Yolen, a prolific writer of novels, picture books, and essays, sees writing as a joyful activity, rather than a struggle. While I do at times struggle with my writing, the more I read Yolen’s comforting, optimistic ideas, the more I got excited about my own work.

Yolen’s writing advice is not a Mary Sunshine take on writing. She is well aware that all is not rosy in the writing world, but she also delights in creating stories and worlds. The more I read about her approach to writing, the more I relished my own writing time.

Yolen combines her enchanting slant on writing with an organized, common sense structure. There is a chapter on each aspect of writing. I especially liked the chapters on gathering ideas, researching a topic, choosing a point of view, and dealing with rejection. She combines specific, concrete advice on each of these subjects with her own special blend of inspiration, and gave me lots of new ideas on how to approach my own projects.

There’s no eBook version of Take Joy— my favorite way to read books—so I had to order a paperback copy through Amazon.  This made me realize that I expect to receive a book instantly now that eBooks exist.  The added wait was well worth it though. Now I have a paper copy full of penciled underlines to pick up and read anytime I need writing inspiration.

Book Review for: Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition, by Charles Eisenstein

Sacred Economics

Title: Sacred Economics: Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition
Author: Charles Eisenstein
Genre: Non-Fiction
Age Range: Adults
Rating:  3.5 stars
Versions Available: eBook, paperback

How come doing the right thing for the environment is often not the smart economic choice? Why does it feel like most people are falling further and further behind economically, despite machines doing much of the hard labor these days? Is there another economic system that would allow people to live their values? Charles Eisenstein asks and attempts to answers these questions in his intriguing book, Sacred Economics.

Eisenstein assumes his reader knows nothing about economics and patiently explains the history of money and how exactly our current economic situation works—pointing out both the value of this system and the many problems and side effects it causes. He goes over what we’ve been taught are the “rules” of economics and neatly points out, one by one, how these “rules” aren’t real. They’re all made up and are only true because we as a society let them be true.

Eisenstein then focuses on the problem with interest-based loans and points out how this particular “rule” of always having to get bigger harms our society and has caused much of the inequality we have today. He explains in great detail how interest-based loans are the driving force behind climate change, lower worker wages, and the general hamster-wheel life most people feel trapped by.

Early on in the book Eisenstein makes a promise to the reader when he says, “Long ago I grew tired of reading books that criticized some aspect of our society without offering a positive alternative. Then I grew tired of books that offered a positive alternative that seemed impossible to reach: ‘We must reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent.’ Then I grew tired of books that offered a plausible means of reaching it but did not describe what I personally, could do it create it.”

Does Eisenstein make good on his promise? Yes and no. He does lay out a plan for realigning our economic system so it works better for most people. Much of his plan has to do with getting rid of interest, putting some kind of expiration date on money to deter hoarding, and tying the value of money to the health of the earth, rather than the gold standard. He goes through each point carefully, explaining how the current system works, and what kind of new system might take its place.

While the new ideas are intriguing and worth reading about, Eisenstein does not concretely describe how his most intriguing idea—tying the value of money to the health of the earth—would work in concrete terms. By the end of the book I did not feel like I knew exactly what my role was in changing things either. I did however have a much better understanding of how money works and why our current economic system works so poorly. I was also introduced to some very cool ideas about how we as a society might change things, which for me was worth the time it took to read the book.

Book Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet, Almost, by Felicia Day

FD pic

Title: You’re Never Weird on the Internet, Almost
Author: Felicia Day
Genre: Memoir
Age Range: Adults and Teens
Rating: 5 stars (I loved this book!)
Versions Available: Audiobook, eBook, Hardcover

 

I’ve been a fan of Felicia Day since 2008 when I watched her play Penny in Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. Then a friend told me Day’s own Internet show, The Guild, inspired Joss Whedon to make Dr. Horrible, so I watched all six seasons of this fun show on Netflix.

The Guild, written and produced by Felicia Day, is about a group of World of Warcraft-like gamers who end up meeting in person. The group represents the variety of computer gamers that exist—slacker teenagers, bored stay-at-home moms, penny-pinching middle aged men, socially challenged twenty-something guys, and sharp-tongued college  students. It’s available to watch instantly on Netflix.

I’m also a frequent watcher of Day’s Vaginal Fantasy Romance Book Club on YouTube—where she and four friends discuss speculative fiction and historical romance novels that have a feminist bent. Plus, though I stopped watching Supernatural regularly after season six, I always watched the two Supernatural episodes she appeared in each season, as quirky computer hacker Charlie, .

Day writes about her unusual childhood being homeschooled in the south– “for hippy, not Jesus reasons”, how she got a full scholarship to study violin and math at the University of Texas at sixteen, how she built her acting career after deciding she didn’t want to be a professional musician, and how she ended up finding a more fulfilling career on the Internet. Her book was utterly charming and inspiring for me as a writer.

Day is very honest about her struggles with perfectionism, procrastination, and her lack of confidence. Her homeschooling childhood is fascinating, but the best parts of the book, for me, were the details of how a writing class, and then a critique group, pressured her into giving up her Internet gaming addiction and take the plunge into writing. Her group then helped her produced her own TV pilot. The details of how The Guild became an Internet success are interesting, funny, messy and so real.

Day follows these exciting chapters with several soul-searching chapters on dealing with the pressures of success in an honest reassuring manner. Success is one of my biggest nightmares and so it was especially comforting to read about Day’s struggles and triumphs dealing with her own demons and health issues. Spoiler alert: She even had her own thyroid health problems!

The last chapter on Gamegate is a good summary of the nightmarish attack on Internet  women. Day is honest about how hesitant she was to speak out about these attacks and why. Her story of what happened when she did finally speak out is harrowing but inspiring. Like other women on the Internet, she’s come to terms with how thick-skinned women need be, and has found her own way to be honest and real with the public, while at the same time protecting herself. It’s reassuring, inspiring stuff!

Day reads the audiobook herself, which is like having your coolest friend tell you all about her Hollywood/ Internet adventures while you do the dishes or clean the house. I highly recommend this book for anyone who writes, likes gaming, enjoys popular culture, or just likes a good memoir.

 

Book Review for: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Image- Coldtown

Title: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Author: Holly Black

Targeted Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction/ Fantasy

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

 

Does the world need another young adult vampire novel? After reading, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, I’m happy to say, yes, we do, if Holly Black is going to write it.

When seventeen-year-old Tana wakes up at a sundown party, she realizes the terrible truth; she and her ex-boyfriend, Aiden, are the only ones to survive a vampire attack and they’ve both probably been scratched or bitten. Tana lives in a world where vampirism is caused by a virus and transmitted by scratches or bites. An infected human can get rid of the virus if the patient doesn’t drink human blood for 88 days, which means being locked up away from other humans. There are whole quarantined cities, called Coldtowns, throughout the country where the infected are sent to live.

Tana understands the danger of this disease and still bares the physical scars from it.  When she was six years old her father locked her mother in the basement, in a misguided attempt to treat his wife at home. Tana watched as her mother went from a caring parent to a manipulative user who would do anything to get a drink of blood.

Rather than risk harming others, Tana decides to take herself, Aiden, and the good-looking mysterious vampire boy chained to the bed, to Coldtown. No one leaves Coldtown but Tana’s pretty sure the vampire she’s going to turn in to to the Coldtown authorities is her key to getting out.

Holly Black takes the vampire mythology and manages to tell it from a fresh gritty angle with the quarantined Coldtowns— part MTV reality show, part cold war Berlin, and part prison. In addition to levelheaded Tana, Black populates the book with colorful characters, like Winter and Midnight, twin bloggers hitchhiking their way to Coldtown to chase their dream of becoming vampires, and Gavriel, the beautiful centuries-old vampire with a secret mission.

Book Review: Stranger and Hostage (Books 1 and 2 of The Change Series) , by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

Image- StrangerStranger (The Change, Book #1), by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

Targeted Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction/ Fantasy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Stranger is an enjoyable new young adult science-fiction novel that stands out among the many teen dystopian novels published since The Hunger Games made the New York Times bestseller list. Instead of predicting that humans can only respond to hardship with aggression and malice, Stranger imagines a world in which the best of human nature also comes out after disaster.

The story takes places generations after a catastrophic event rocked the world and wiped out most of its technology.  Leftover radiation changes some people, giving them unique powers.  The “change” tends to occur during times of strong hormonal upheaval—pregnancy, birth, adolescence, or menopause.

The City of Los Angeles has been reduced to a small frontier town now called, Las Anclas—full of diverse people— who work together, for the most part, to keep the town independent from despot King Voske’s nearby empire. In Voske’s empire, which looks a lot like the typical dystopian society, “the changed” are controlled by the king and used to keep the commoners in line.

While Las Anclas works to value all its citizens, there are those in the town who fear “the changed”. The town’s sovereignty depends on guarding the city walls against Voske’s army though. Volunteers, called Rangers, protect the city. The town needs every strong warrior and that means accepting any man or woman willing, including “the changed”.

Sheriff Elizabeth Crow rescues teen prospector, Ross Juarez, one of the stories main characters, during a shoot out with one of King Voske’s men. Now the people of Las Anclas must decide if they will protect Ross and let him stay—despite his change.

Brown and Smith fill their world with a diverse cast of fully developed characters, free of stereotypes, and full of progressive ideas about relationships. The story is told through five narrators: Ross, three teen girls, Mia, Jennie, and Felicité and another teen boy, Yuki— each with their own unique personality. Yuki is gay and his romance to another local boy is treated as if it’s any other romance.  In fact, there are a couple of non-straight romances in the book, between minor characters that are also treated as completely ordinary.

The multiple viewpoints made me very aware of the complexities of a town’s politics. As Ross, Yuki, Mia, and Jennie rush to defend their town’s unique hopeful nature, I felt like I was right in the center of a story of action and danger hoping for the best to happen right along with them.

 

Image- Hostage Hostage (The Change, Book # 2)

Target Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

I won’t say too much about this book except that it satisfyingly continues the story of Las Anlas and Voske’s Gold Point City, again using multiple points of view to tell the story from many sides.  I’m looking forward to the next 2 books in the series.

 

 

Book Review for: White Cat (The Curse Workers, Book 1), by Holly Black

Image- White CatHigh school student Cassel Sharpe lives in a world much like ours, except that the mafia is mostly made up of workers—people with the magical power of touch. Cassel makes up for being the only one in his family without a magical power by being the best con man he can be, another family specialty.

When Cassel dreams that a white cat has his tongue, and wakes up on the roof of his boarding school, he’s considered a health risk to his school and is sent home to his worker family.  Cassel has always felt uncomfortable around his family since they covered up for him when he murdered his childhood friend, Lila.  He can barely remember the details of the murder, has no idea why he murdered her, and wants to be back at school where he can forget all about it. Now Cassel must use all the con skills he’s learned to try to get himself back to school, but while he cons his way there, he stumbles upon secrets his family has been keeping from him.

I’m quickly becoming a fan of Holly Black’s writing style.  Cassel’s in-depth understanding of con jobs and lack of understanding about normal life makes him an especially fun narrator in this entertaining, tightly-plotted novel. I guessed one of the twists in the beginning but still enjoyed watching Cassel figure it out. The audiobook is excellent.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Age Range: Young Adult

Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Version: Listened on audiobook by through Audible