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Links to heal your heart

It’s been a hard week after the events in Charlottesville, and I’ve been having a really hard time processing. And while I definitely believe it’s vital to pay attention and stay aware of what is happening surrounding the white supremacist movement and the removal of Confederate statues, I’ve been letting it consume me to the point that my mental health has been suffering.

If your heart is hurting as much as mine, here are some things I’ve been turning to recently that have made me feel a little better:

  • Watch Zootopia. It’s a big, beautiful metaphor that addresses the harmfulness of racism, and is painfully relevant to today. But it’s so clever and will restore the sliver of hope you still have in humanity.
  • Vanity Fair filmed a celeb interview parody video with Jennifer Lawrence and it’s incredible.
  • The New York Times built an interactive matrix where you can plot each Game of Thrones character’s goodness and beauty. I spent an ungodly amount of time filling it out.
  • Entertainment Weekly‘s “The United States of Movies” combines two of my favorite things – maps and movies – and also reminds me of a man I met in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, who immediately brought up Gone Girl when I told him I’m from Missouri.
  • My boyfriend says I can’t listen to Lorde’s new album Melodrama anymore because it makes me sad, but I can’t resist watching her music video for “Perfect Places” again and again.
  • Speaking of new music, Kesha’s new comeback album is her best yet – especially “Bastards” and “Learn to Let Go.” Blast it on your drive.
  • Liz Climo. I know I’ve posted about her cartoons before, but they can’t not make your heart smile.
  • Melissa Broder’s So Sad Today column at Vice. Hey fellow sad people, you aren’t alone!
  • The “Great American Eclipse” is this Monday and Columbia is in the line of totality. I was already super excited, but now I’m practically bursting because Bonnie Tyler is going to sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” during it.

How Stephen King taught me to write

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No writer has influenced me more than Stephen King. In seventh grade I read my first King novel, Pet Sematary, and chased it with Salem’s LotThe ShiningCarrie and Christine. King was my segue from children’s and young adult fiction into adult fiction and, more than even the J School, King taught me how to write.

Vox recently published a story on Stephen King’s extensive cultural influence – after all, without him we wouldn’t fear Pennywise the Dancing Clown living in our sewers or ironically name our shih tzus Cujo. Much of this article discusses King’s writing style – namely, his exceptional ability to make the reader empathize with characters.

As the article’s author Aja Romano writes, “every characterization, even a minor one, is rich with detail; even if you just met a new character, you can bet that by the time he or she meets a grisly ending a few pages later, you’ll have a deep understanding of who that character is.” King is a master of writing in rich detail, building worlds and understanding people – key elements I work to emulate in my own writing, both in fiction and in journalism.

I’m a features writer and have always tended to steer clear of hard news. I became a writer because I want to meet people and learn about them. My favorite stories to work on are ones where I’ve attempted to capture a person’s essence to make the reader understand them as I have come to.

Take, for example, a story I did in October 2015 about Mark Chambers, a Rocky Horror Picture Show super fan and emcee. I conducted multiple interviews and spent a lot of time texting, calling and just hanging out with Mark as he worked on his show. I had to understand the love this man had for this movie and make sure readers understood him as well.

With each story I work on, I try to exercise my ability to build scenes and create characters. It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to write a long form feature such as the one on Mark, but even with shorter articles I take every opportunity I can to make it more rich with detail, such as in a Q&A with a baker in Columbia, Missouri, and a Missouri music icon. My focus on detail comes from King, much to the chagrin of my former journalism professors who would cringe when I couldn’t name one long form journalist I admired, but raved about the horror author.

Though King is my favorite author and I’ve read many of his novels, I have barely put a dent in his expansive list of works. I’m ashamed to say some of his most famous stories, such as The Stand and Misery, are still resting, unread, on my bookshelf. But here are some characters who have stuck with me because of the great care King put into them.

The Losers’ Club in It

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It, my favorite King novel, lacks a central character in exchange for a core cast of six – The Losers. It begins with extensive delves into each character’s life as adults before returning to their childhoods, and jumps back and forth in time throughout the 1,100+ pages. As you see them in childhood and adulthood, cross-cut together, you develop a deep understanding of who they are and what motivates them, making It’s threat all the more terrifying.

Dolores Claiborne

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Stephen King is the reason I will be thinking of nothing but Kathy Bates and husbands pushed down wells during the Aug. 21 eclipse. Dolores Claiborne is interesting to me because the novel is told entirely through Dolores’ confession to the police about her involvement in a murder. On the surface, Dolores and Vera Donovan, an old woman Dolores is employed by, are cold, hard and in some cases cruel. But King masterfully peels back the layers of their complicated relationship through the conflict between Dolores and her abusive husband Joe. He writes Dolores in such a powerful way as she reclaims power and ends her years of living under domestic abuse, though through her own act of violence. King, to me, is Shakespearean in his understanding of women.

Big Jim in Under the Dome

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It might be strange to say that Big Jim is one of my favorite King villains. After all, he is just a used car salesman and King has written vampires, killer clowns and whatever the hell the Langoliers are. But Jim being human is what makes him so terrifying as he rises to power when Chester’s Mill is cut off from the outside world by an unseen force. One line that still sticks with me, four years after reading the novel, is from Big Jim himself: “Murder is like potato chips; you can’t stop with just one.”

Hi, hey there, hello, I worked 30 hours this week

I love to work. I love being productive. Being out of school for nearly two months with no job related to my degree is killing me, but I am forever thankful of my job in retail that keeps me busy (bet nobody has ever said that before, huh?).

Even so, 30 hours a week standing, lifting furniture and dealing with more-than-a-little-cranky customers takes its toll. Mostly in the form of necessary beer consumption, sore legs and taking three and a half hour naps between shifts. And when you throw in a freelance project I’ve been working on, this week has been exhausting.

Self-care is something I tend to neglect, especially in the face of a busy schedule. But after this week, I have found it necessary. Here are some easy ways I kept myself sane the last few days, sans-fancy candle-lit bath:

Yoga: Back in the day (aka junior year) I would wake up at 5:30 a.m. for sunrise yoga at the Mizzou Rec twice a week. Now that I’ve graduated and, sadly, can no longer enjoy the Rec’s classes, my mat has stayed rolled up in a box of clothes. Until yesterday, that is, when I finally practiced solo (with help from Youtube).

Going out for food: Getting brunch/lunch/dinner with someone is one of my favorite things to do. Maybe it’s because I’m just too lazy to cook, but hey, it always makes me feel better.

READ: Find a hammock, couch, coffee shop or just get in bed and spend hours with a book. Though I can’t exactly say my current read is particularly calming (Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry), it’s definitely a much-needed escape from my reality.

See a movie: Baby Driver is so much fun. Holy cow.

‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ and hello to what I’ve been waiting for my entire life

One of my earliest memories is from when I was two or three years old, sitting in front of my TV watching The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh surrounded by my kittens appropriately named Pooh Bear and Tigger. I have an E. H. Shepard illustration of Pooh tattooed on my right shoulder. Last week, I made my boyfriend watch Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin with me. I cried when I met Pooh at Disneyland. As I type this, I am sitting on my Winnie the Pooh pillow pet. You get the picture. I’m a Pooh person.

So you can imagine my excitement now that the first trailer for Goodbye Christopher Robin was finally released today (and my agony of knowing I won’t be able to see this film for four more months).

I am fully ready to see this movie every week it is in theaters and sob. My friends jokingly say that my catchphrase of sorts is *gentle gasps about Winnie the Pooh*, and today it’s *heaving sobs about Winnie the Pooh*. To quote the bear himself: “Today, I should say, is a good day for being Pooh [or, in this case, a Pooh fan].”

Though the books and Disney cartoons were made with children as the target audience, I have always advocated that the stories of Pooh and his pals can’t be fully appreciated and understood until you’ve grown up. The stories teach empathy, kindness, embracing your individuality, self-confidence and the importance of forming lasting friendships. As we grow older and leave parts of childhood behind us, we should never forget Pooh.

And now, after movies and TV shows and picture book adaptations of A. A. Milne’s novels, there is finally a Pooh story coming that’s made for adults.

Starring my love Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie and Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag glory, Goodbye Christopher Robin is looking to follow in the footsteps of Finding Neverland and be a strong Oscar contender.

(Now the question is: do you think Disney’s upcoming live-action Winnie the Pooh will be any good? I’m concerned).

Summer reading standards

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Like most kids, I always looked forward to summer – going to the pool, sleeping in late and, above all, being able to read without the hindrance of homework.

I would spend the days of summer vacation sitting inside and devouring book after book. My mother would sometimes ground me from reading and urge me to “get off that couch and go play outside; you need the exercise and fresh air.” In the summer between third and fourth grade, I read 13,053 pages and placed first in my elementary school’s summer reading challenge.

As I’ve grown older and schoolwork has become more and more demanding during the year, my time spent reading for pleasure has dwindled to a sad trickle. But I’m working to, hopefully, change that this summer.

Granted, since I just graduated from college not even a month ago, I have time to catch up on my always-growing bookshelf for the foreseeable future (especially since I’m unemployed. Please, somebody, hire me). But to get back into the swing of things, I’m pushing myself to read as many books as I can before August. The list to conquer (so far):

  • The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
  • The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
  • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Bossy Pants by Tina Fey
  • Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
  • Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

The good of 2016

2016 was a rollercoaster of emotions. It was a year of overwhelming negativity for the world, but I managed to find solace in a few different outlets and support systems. For every moment I spent loathing school, there was someone to bitch about it with me. For every celebrity death, there was Disneyland. For every night spent feeling alone and worthless, there was a boy willing to make me a milkshake and watch The Bachelor with me. For every lost friendship, there were new relationships being formed over pizza, wine and Shrek.

It’s easy to remember the bad. The creeps in bars and the election and the social injustices and the not-so-good grades. But honestly, no matter how many bad things dominated 2016’s headlines, it was one of the greatest years of my personal life. Here are some of the memories that stand out, the material objects that kept me sane, and the people who held me upright.

Europe

The three months I spent abroad were the best months of my life. I had never been out of the country before, and flying an ocean away from all of my friends and family to live in London for a summer was terrifying. But I fell in love with England and Ireland and Scotland and France, and I now spend way too many nights looking through my hundreds of travel pictures, wine glass in hand, crying hysterically.

My London family

Europe wouldn’t have been nearly as amazing without these five girls I met and befriended. Together we explored the city’s streets and ventured out to Oxford, Bath, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Barcelona, Dublin, and the Scottish Highlands. It took traveling six timezones away to make friends for life who were around me all along. Here’s to the Southbank Squad.

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So Sad Today and other memoirs 

This year I began devouring memoirs and personal essays. My favorite book released this year was Melissa Broder‘s So Sad Todaywhich I now refer to as “the Sad Person Bible.” It’s unflinching and ballsy and makes me want to follow Broder’s example of not shying away from anything while writing. Along with So Sad Today, I also enjoyed Amy Schumer’s The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo, Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Womanand Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. All of these women inspired me greatly this year.

The YBAs

While in London, I took a class on British culture and learned about everything from the role the English class system plays in society to the mods and rockers of the 1960s. But my favorite thing we learned about was the Young British Artists movement of the ’90s. With the exception of Damien Hirst (I’m sorry I know he’s a big deal but I just can’t get on board), I was fascinated with their shock tactics and how they reinvigorated art for the 21st century. In particular, I loved the work of Tracey Emin. I bought her book of personal essays at the Tate Modern and it’s currently resting on my bookshelf, waiting for me to open. My favorite piece of hers that I was fortunate enough to see in person this summer (and literally cry over) is “My bed“, an installation of her personal bed where she spent days in a depressive state. I thought it was so powerful of her to take her mental illness, which has to be one of the most difficult aspects of her life, and display it to the public.

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Lady Gaga’s Joanne

Lady Gaga has been a huge role model of mine since middle school. Her latest album Joanne just reinforced my love and admiration. It’s so different from anything else she’s done and highlights just how much she has grown since her meat dress days. The songs have such range and her vocals are stellar. Also, every time I hear “Million Reasons” I weep uncontrollably. Whenever I was frustrated with the world (basically every day post-election), this album was a hug around my heart.

Disneyland Paris

After waiting my whole life, I finally went to a Disney park for the first time. I waited 45 minutes to meet Winnie the Pooh and I cried.

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Girls

Girls. Girls Girls Girls Girls Girls – I know I’m super late since season 6 is about to come out and I’m just now starting the series (though, I have watched four season within the last week), but I can’t stop bingeing. It’s been the biggest inspiration I’ve had to write since reading So Sad Today in Heathrow airport. The more the School of Journalism sucks the life out of me, the more I just want to work in a coffee shop/bookstore and write essays and novels.

My best friend

This year I found my best friend, who treats me with so much love, compassion and respect. He keeps me together when I’m feeling low, and half of the adventures I had this year wouldn’t have been possible without him. Here’s to many more.

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I’m a designer?

This semester I took a design class. I had a bit of Photoshop and InDesign knowledge, but I had never touched Illustrator before in my life and was the least qualified person to know what how a “good” design differed from a “bad” one, so I came in very hesitant of my capabilities. But as the semester went on, I discovered that I wasn’t as bad at design as I originally thought I would be, and that designing was ~fun~.

One of my favorite assignments of the semester was to create a feature spread of the San Antonio Express-News piece, “A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity.” The photographer, Lisa Krantz, spent years following Hector Garcia around and documenting his daily battle with his fluctuating weight. The photos were beautiful and I was so stoked to try to bring this beautiful piece to life.

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It’s definitely not perfect, but I’m really proud of how my amateur design skills pulled through.

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Check out a PDF here: hector-photo-design

Day one of Donald Trump’s impending presidency

Yesterday wasn’t what I thought it would be.

I, like everyone else, was so ready for this particularly grating election to be over and done with. I was tired. My friends were tired. My peers in the journalism school were tired. We wanted to rest. But, against all logic, Donald Trump won the presidency and our rest is far from over. For women, Latinx, blacks, Muslims, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities…it’s not over.

I couldn’t watch the results come in. By the time I was finished with work and finally got to turn on CNN, it wasn’t looking good. I felt sick. My knee was bouncing, my head was in my hands.

“What if he wins?” I kept asking my boyfriend.

“He’s not going to win,” he kept answering. “Calm down. Calm down.”

I retreated into my boyfriend’s room and turned on Netflix. I kept turning off my phone only to turn it back on and check the results on The New York Times website every couple of minutes until I eventually made myself fall asleep around midnight. When I woke up at 3 a.m., I checked my phone. Trump had won. After that, I couldn’t go back to sleep.

I was in a daze. I drove home, held my cat and watched a documentary about baby animals. Every time I checked social media my heart sank further and further as the reality set in – we have elected a man who thinks it’s acceptable to grab women by the pussy. That bragging about sexual assault is common “locker-room talk” that all men are expected to do. That people with disabilities, like my sister, are something to be openly mocked. That anyone who isn’t white is a rapist and a terrorist. That wants to ban an entire religious group from the country that was founded on religious freedom. That thinks that journalists should be hanged for holding him accountable and wants to shut down some of the most powerful publications in the world.

I don’t think it hit me until I was on campus. As I was walking through the journalism school on my way to class, Hillary Clinton was giving her concession speech. Dozens of students had stopped to watch it playing on one of RJI’s many TV screens. Everyone was silent. Some were crying. I couldn’t watch it. I still can’t watch it. Later in the day, I saw someone quote it on Facebook and that alone made me start crying.

I didn’t cry the first time until my Magazines Across Platforms class. One girl was already sitting in tears when I walked in. As more of us arrived, we all just looked at each other, at a loss for words and in complete disbelief, and collectively started crying. All eight students, the TA and the professor – all women – sat in a circle and cried together. We talked about how personal it is for journalists, but especially for women.

It feels like we have been personally attacked. Half of the country decided to elect a man who has been accused by 12 women of sexual assault. Twelve. Like this article from Bustle says, “I learned that more people want to believe that a group of women would coordinate to lie about a man assaulting or harassing them before they would believe that a man habitually touched women in ways that were inappropriate.” What does that say about the word of women? Yesterday was the day I learned just how much my country values women, and it’s despicable.

One of the women in my class said that she didn’t realize how much having a woman president meant to her until Clinton lost. I feel the same. I was excited about having a woman in office, of course, and I was especially stoked because this year was the first time I was able to vote for President of the United States (I had been two months shy of turning 18 during Obama’s reelection). But when I filled out my ballot on Tuesday, I couldn’t stop smiling when I bubbled in Hillary Rodham Clinton. I started laughing in my booth. Immediately afterward, I first saw the lifestream of Susan B. Anthony’s grave and I burst into tears. That’s when it sunk in for me just how proud I was. I was so proud of women and my country at that point. I was smiling and laughing and crying tears of empowerment. It baffles me how wrong I was about to be proven just a few hours later.

I’ve experienced sexism. My friends have experienced sexism. I’ve had friends and friends of friends who have been assaulted and raped. And yesterday it was made very apparent that our country is telling survivors, “you do not matter. Your words mean nothing.” I had never felt as low about my gender and my sex than I did yesterday. For the first time in my life, I was truly afraid of what it meant to be a woman. It felt like a handicap. And I feel guilty for feeling this way, because so many more people are going to be affected far greater by this. I am a woman, but I am white. I am middle class. I am heterosexual. I am an American citizen and my parents were born here. So many others are not.

I wish I could say that I feel positive about what’s to come. Yes, millennials overwhelmingly voted blue. Yes, I’ve received both mass and personal messages of unity and people saying that they’re there. But this country is so divided. During class yesterday, my professor asked us, “What can we do to reach rural America? How can we have a dialogue?” And I honestly believe we can’t. I don’t see how, when every time I’ve tried to point people in the direction of accurate information and not fake Facebook media they respond by lashing out in anger with personal attacks.

We have a long way to go, my friends.

Where is that Senioritis I was promised?

Senioritis. A time of laziness, taking easy electives and wearing pajama bottoms to school. Or at least that’s what I was promised.

I’m halfway through the first semester of senior year, and it is the antithesis of being a lazy nearly-done college student (granted, more often than not I’m in class braless and wearing clothes that I may or may not have slept in the night before).

I’ve been surviving senior year as a journalism student by following a very loose schedule:

  • Set seven alarms, but probably still sleep through my 8 a.m. followed by my 9:30 a.m.
  • Shower every couple of days. Not because I have the time or the energy, but because I am no longer in Europe and therefore must meet the American standards of personal hygiene to not be shunned from society.
  • Have a panic attack, convincing myself all my friends hate me and my boyfriend is going to break up with me and my cat doesn’t love me.
  • Spend money I don’t have on food that will only make me fat.
  • Have another panic attack, for reasons I can’t quite identify.
  • Put on the facade of being a functional human being.
  • Feed the cat so he doesn’t starve.
  • Have nightly panic attack around 11 p.m. about my future. Stay up until 1 a.m. frantically working on internship applications until my fingers hurt.

We’re all at that point in the semester where everything is piling on and we all want to die. I’ve been doing this for four years now. I’m used to that mid-semester feeling. But now it’s different. Between the projects, the group meetings, the papers, the pitches and the stories is this huge, grotesque, impending shadow of the unknowable future.

In two months, I begin my final semester of college. And for the first time in my life, I don’t know where I am going to be six months. Just six months. The thought is terrifying for anyone, but particularly those who struggle with crippling anxiety and an uncontrollable need to have every single thing planned out, such as myself. I get panicked if I don’t have a plan for the weekend. Not having a plan for post-graduation is sending me over the edge.

My boyfriend keeps telling me that I’m going to be fine. And I know, deep deep deeeeeep down, that I am in fact going to be fine. And you, fellow college student/senior reading this, are going to be fine, too.

If there’s one thing I learned this past summer while studying abroad, it’s how big and beautiful the world is. There is so much out there. I promise you and I promise myself, we are not going to wind up back in our hometown suburbias working at Pier 1 the rest of our lives (even though I love P1). Everything that is meant to work out will work out. It’s moments like now, when I’m sitting here typing and eating Poptarts at 1 in the morning instead of sleeping, that I need to remind myself this.

That blackboard discussion board that you forgot to post to this week (and, okay, last week too)? It’s only a couple of points. That exam you weren’t prepared for? It doesn’t mean you’re going to fail out of the class. Those internship applications you haven’t gotten around to? There are other places to apply.

Slow down. Take care of yourself first. You’ll be okay.

And no, everyone and your cat doesn’t hate you, so stop staying up all night worrying about it.

I’m baaack

Wanna hear a funny joke? “I’m going to start blogging more regularly.”

Ha. It’s not that I chose not to blog during my European summer, but after working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. three days a week, taking two classes, exploring London and traveling to other countries, I didn’t have much free time and the free time I did have was mostly spent napping.

It’s been almost two months since I returned to Missouri. I’m into the first round of exams of senior year and I’m working as a Digital Editor for Vox Magazine, which I am loving. I’m learning a lot about digital storytelling through social media and other digital tools. I’m only a month into the semester, but I’m already sad when I think about not being a Vox “webbie” next semester.

It’s strange being a senior. Strange, but also wonderful. It’s not that I don’t love school, I love learning, but balancing three or four journalism classes along with other coursework and a part-time job at Pier 1 is a lot. I haven’t been able to dedicate as much effort as I want toward Vox, and I’m just excited that in a few months (hopefully) I’ll be focused completely on journalism without having to do readings on queer theory or the technicalities of troop movements during World War I.

It’s absolutely terrifying being on the cusp of entering the big real adult world, but I still have eight months to figure out my life. Right now, I’m not looking that far into the future. You just have to take it one day at a time.