Reading Diary: Summer 2020

Catching Up on May, June, and July

Did I post about time flying by and feeling untethered last time?

That has only gotten worse, of course, with continued physical distancing requirements and recommendations to stay home as much as possible . . . and then my unexpected positive test result for the COVID-19 virus itself in late July. (I’m doing OK, just more tired than usual and now extra diligent about my mask-wearing and hand-sanitizing efforts.)

Anxiety and fatigue have made for a roller coaster of emotions, not to mention the effect they have on keeping track of time. Which is why my monthly reading blog post went unwritten in May . . . and in June . . . and in July. You don’t mind too much, do you?

Keep safe and stay healthy, friends!

Reading summary for May, June, and July 2020. 
Number of books read: 23.
Number of pages read: 6,072.
Longest book: The Stranger Beside Me.
Shortest book: The Quilts of Gee's Bend.
Favorite book: The Writing Life.

Here I Am: Using Jewish Spiritual Wisdom to Become More Present, Centered, and Available for Life by Leonard Felder

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“Present, Centered, and Available for Life” seems like an excellent aspiration, particularly this year. I very much appreciated Felder’s stress-management practices, which are rooted in both spirituality and psychology.

Arcade Game Typography by Toshi Omagari

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I’ve never really been drawn to video games, but this was a fun and fascinating look at the typography used by popular and niche games alike (and how limited it was by the pixels available in early game design).

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

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Irby’s essays have delighted me before and this collection was no different. Awkward, relatable, and hilarious. I read this one in paperback, but her audiobooks (narrated by the author herself) are a great choice too.

Nancy: A Comic Collection by Olivia Jaimes

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My husband gave this to me as an anniversary gift and I quickly read it cover to cover! The strips are irreverent and witty, and there’s also an adorable children’s book (Nancy’s Genius Plan)by the same writer/illustrator that we gifted to our nieces and nephew.

The Illustrated Herbiary: Guidance and Rituals from 36 Bewitching Botanicals by Maia Toll

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I was introduced to Toll’s work at a (virtual) conference in the spring and I am smitten with her beautiful books on paying attention to the natural world around us—and how certain herbs, fruits, and flowers can help us access our intuition. Also includes oracle cards!

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

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I distinctly remember a copy of this book floating around our childhood home—and that it was one of my sister’s very favorites. I don’t think I ever read it myself and was glad to check out this Cinderella tale.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

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I was excited to be back in the universe of Panem with this brand-new prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy, even if I wasn’t quite sold on Coriolanus Snow’s origin story.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

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This book was described as “Steel Magnolias meets Dracula” and that seems apt. A strange and gory and sometimes quite funny story of, well, a Southern book club and the slaying of vampires.

The Illustrated Bestiary: Guidance and Rituals from 36 Inspiring Animals by Maia Toll

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I loved this one just as much as the Herbiary. Toll profiles 36 powerful animals and shares rituals, readings, and reflections to access their special energies. I cannot wait for her third installation, The Illustrated Crystallary,to come out next month!

Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chödrön

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Have I mentioned that my anxiety has been through the roof for much of this pandemic episode? I’ve found great relief in books like this one, which offer important reminders of starting where you are.

They Did Bad Things by Lauren A. Forry

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I joined the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club (out of Jenny Lawson’s Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio) a couple months back and this has been one of my favorites. It’s sort of a Gen X retelling of And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie’s classic mystery.

$9 Therapy: Semi-Capitalist Solutions to Your Emotional Problems by Megan Reid

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A quick little guide to offering yourself some love and care, even if you don’t have an abundant expendable income. “Take self-care seriously without taking yourself too seriously.”

The Quilts of Gee’s Bend by Susan Goldman Rubin

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Before the pandemic lockdown, I’d read another book—that I’ve since forgotten—that mentioned these incredible quilts and I quickly requested it from my library. Once the libraries opened back up, this one became available and it was a great little surprise to read.

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

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Historic fiction relaying the saga of getting Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago manuscript out of Russia. An intriguing story—and one that encouraged me to start Zhivago itself for some light reading.

Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice by Belden C. Lane

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I was surprised to find that Lane is actually from St. Louis, not far from my own home in Kansas City, and shares many of his backpacking experiences in the Ozark and Mark Twain National Forest wilderness.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

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A clever novel styled as a catalog for an Ikea-like furniture store, Horrorstör tells the story of three employees working a special night shift to investigate strange goings-on before management finds out.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

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I borrowed this book from the library but immediately put in an order to my local bookstore after I finished it. A sweet, funny, and wholly relatable collection of essays about the writing life.

How to Houseplant: A Beginner’s Guide to Making and Keeping Plant Friends by Heather Rodino

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One of my new hobbies is trying to keep some plants alive. (I confess that I’ve managed to kill several basil plants and more than one aloe plant.) This was a great place to start and gave me the confidence to actually go to a local nursery and pick out a few new friends!

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

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Our book club pick for July was this true crime classic about serial killer Ted Bundy. Surprising, horrifying, and fascinating.

The House on Mulberry Hill by Will Buntin

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A classic horror story of a reputed haunted house in the British countryside. It’s a quick and well-written script that I flew through in a single sitting!

How to Be Successful without Hurting Men’s Feelings: Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women by Sarah Cooper

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I wish that these helpful tips and useful illustrations didn’t feel so spot on, but they do—and the effect is a laughter-through-tears kind of read. Quick, pointed, and funny.

The Ones We’ve Been Waiting for: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America by Charlotte Alter

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Watching any facet of American politics today feels terribly, terribly depressing. This look at Millennials in political office certainly doesn’t portray a Utopian future, but it does make me feel a little more hopeful about the years ahead.

We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia

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The sequel to We Set the Dark on Fire, a YA novel about friendship and love and resistance and power. I admit I liked the first one better, but I enjoyed the story’s finale.


What summer reads have you loved? What are you looking forward to this fall? Drop me a line!

What on Earth, 2020?

Living during a pandemic

To say that this year has been tough is not new or unique, but it sure is true.

I know I’m not alone in struggling with the fear of the pandemic, with the heartbreak of racism, with the weight of work, with the deterioration of mental health. The last time I posted something here, it was tips on maintaining productivity and a little sanity while working from home. It felt like an upbeat cheer for finding success in the midst of a strange time.

But, Reader, that already seems like a very long time ago. Today, I’m just trying to take it day by day without losing my ever-loving mind.

One day at a time

During a recent Zoom call with a business mastermind group, I confessed that I’m still learning—two years after leaving corporate life—to let routines go when they’re no longer serving me. There are days when a checklist from “make coffee” all the way through to “evening gratitude journal” is what I need to feel grounded and productive. But there are also days that seem to require both a long morning hike and an afternoon nap to keep me feeling like a competent human being.

I’m realizing they can both be right. Today can be whatever I need it to be.

With unending uncertainty about the future and so many of my pre-pandemic self-care tricks (impromptu lunch with my sister, book club in a friend’s living room, dinner and drinks with my parents, a weeknight movie) off the table . . . It’s okay to take each day as it comes, doing what I need to feel like the best possible version of myself before I see another headline that makes me want to punch a wall or find another canceled vacation that’s still showing up on my calendar.

Protecting what’s most valuable

That means some days I log nine or ten hours at my desk, and some days I only check my email to make sure I haven’t missed anything urgent and then take myself for a long walk.

And—maybe most importantly—I’m learning to count both those days as wins. I’m trying not to worry about the things I’ve left undone while I’m on a trail or enjoying a novel. My mental health is just as valuable as any item on my to-do list, and not just because it’s a means to staying productive the rest of the time.

What good is it to make it through 2020 if I end the year feeling completely burned out or hollowed out?

I’d love to hear from you! How are you holding up? What is helping you survive (or thrive!) during this strange and difficult year?

READING DIARY: APRIL 2020

Taking It a Little Slow

While I’m still on track with my goal of reading 120 books in 2020, I read about half as much in April as I did in March. With a full month of staying at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my anxiety levels were high and my attention span was short.

That said, I finished some great books and started some great books, so you won’t hear me complaining (or at least not in this post).

Hope you’re staying well and I can’t wait to hear what books you’ve been enjoying!

Reading summary for April 2020. 
Number of books read: 6
Number of pages read: 1,381
Longest book: The Vagina Bible
Shortest book: Write. Publish. Market.
Favorite book: Buy Yourself the Fucking Lilies

Write. Publish. Market. by Jodi Brandon

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Publishing a book is such a daunting task, and this little volume is chock full of tips, tricks, and advice from someone who knows what she’s talking about. I bought this book at a conference last year and have referred to it several times, and this month I read it cover to cover.

Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life, from Someone Who’s Been There by Tara Schuster

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I have a “heart reading” practice each morning in which I read about a chapter or so of a book in the self-help/personal growth/mindset development genre, and I thoroughly enjoyed working my way through this one. Funny, sweet, and full of self-love.

How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind by Pema Chödrön

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My meditation practice has been on again/off again for a number of years, and I always appreciate a chance to come back to it with words of wisdom from someone like Pema Chödrön. This is a beautiful and practical guide.

The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina: Separating the Myth from the Medicine by Jen Gunter

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This was my book club’s pick for April and it did not disappoint. It is always shocking to learn the neglect that womxn’s health has suffered in medical research, in healthcare teaching and training, and in education. A very handy resource for all manner of questions and concerns.

The Art of Mindful Singing: Notes on Finding Your Voice by Jeremy Dion

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I admit that I bought this one for its cover, sometime shortly before we were no longer allowed to roam bookstores. A look at why we tend to lose the art of singing, why it’s a valuable tool for mindfulness, and how to get it back.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

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This gorgeous, heartbreaking, and critical read was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry in 2014 and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it. Highly recommended reading, especially for anyone living in America right now.


What did you read—and love—in April? What are you looking forward to reading next? I’d love to hear from you!

Tools for Getting by While Working from Home

Life During a Pandemic

I’ve been working from home full-time for very nearly two years, but this past month has been the most difficult by far. Introvert or not, I’ve gotten pretty stir-crazy without the ability to work for an hour at my favorite coffee shop, attend a lunch-and-learn at Central Exchange, or meet up for an end-of-day drink with my sister.

Fortunately, I’ve collected a few tools that had made it easier me to find success as a solopreneur—and that are frankly saving my sanity during this pandemic.

To-dos

I read several years ago that the average person uses something like 17 different methods to keep track of their time. Notebooks, calendars, sticky notes, countless apps? I can relate. I still use each of these for various purposes, but Trello has become my hub for tracking client projects, administrative tasks, personal reminders, and more. With the ability to create template checklists, set due dates, and to separate tasks by card, list, or board, it has been tremendously helpful.

Tracking time

Because I don’t keep very consistent hours and work on a wide variety of projects, keeping track of where I’m spending my time can become very hairy very quickly. I’ve been using Timely for about a year and it has made life so much easier! It tracks what files and applications I’m spending time in so that I can see exactly how long I was working on any given project (and, inevitably, how much I’m squandered on The New York Times spelling bee).

Email

With even fewer events on my calendar and all the days blurring together in quarantine, my schedule has slowly skewed later and later. I often find myself working late at night, and appreciate Boomerang’s help in keeping me looking a little less like a night owl (until I rat myself out on my own blog). With this extension’s help, I can set my Gmail account to only fetch new messages at certain times of the day (rather than seeing a constant influx of new mail) and to schedule sent mail for a more reasonable hour. Lifesaver.

Sounds

Have I mentioned that I miss being able to leave the house? A Soft Murmur offers enough ambient background noise to break up long stretches of silence (not conducive to my own sense of peak productivity), but not so much distraction as my current Spotify playlist (also not great for productivity). “Coffee shop” sounds are not as good as the real thing, but I’ll take it.

What tools are helping you maintain some sense of productivity (or some sense of sanity) during this period of isolation? I’d love to hear about them!

READING DIARY: MARCH 2020

Books During a Crisis

Well, when the month started, I was ready to relax into some books. I had a week of house sitting ahead of me, my work had hit a slight lull, and the idea of social distancing was surfacing. It seemed like the perfect time to hibernate with some reading.

But once COVID-19 reached official pandemic status (and there were outright orders to stay at home) my anxiety became a force to be reckoned with. I found myself rereading the same page over and over, and I just couldn’t make much progress. Still, I managed to stay on track by knocking out some shorter books from my TBR pile—and I’m hoping to do the same in April.

Stay safe out there, friends! And don’t feel guilty if you’re not “taking advantage” of the extra time you might have. Just surviving is enough!

March 2020 reading summary: number of books read (13), number of pages read (3,087), longest book (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder), shortest book (SCUM Manifesto), favorite book (Spiritual Rebel)

How to Be a Mindful Drinker: Cut Down, Stop for a Bit, or Quit by The Club Soda Community (Laura Willoughby, Jussi Tolvi, Dru Jaeger)

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been on the sober-curious bandwagon for a little while, which is what led me to this title. It was another great look at our culture of mindless drinking and a window into a community of nondrinkers (Club Soda).

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The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson

This was our March book club pick and I think we will be returning to the true crime genre! This was a very detailed look at the 1892 murder of Andrew and Abby Borden, Lizzie’s father and stepmother, and the ensuing trial.

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A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

A title that’s both YA and a crime story? Yes, please. Loved this fictional after-the-fact investigation of a small-town murder. It’s got friendship, betrayal, and plenty of plot twists!

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The Art of Flaneuring: How to Wander with Intention and Discover a Better Life by Erika Owen

Perhaps more relevant now than ever, a quick guide to taking the path a little less traveled and to exploring a new place (or your own neighborhood) through aimless wandering and a little mindfulness.

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Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There by Sylvia Boorstein

I’ve been considering a mindfulness/meditation/silent retreat for at least a couple of years, but of course there are always plenty of reasons not to commit. Which is why I was extra grateful to discover this little book: a DIY mindfulness retreat you can even set up at home.

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This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life by Annie Grace

Another in the category of sober living! If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m still drinking—but I still appreciate the chance to reexamine the habit and be more mindful of my imbibing. (Especially that we’re all self-isolating now!)

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Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee

I read this over several weeks: It’s a pretty dense read and is a fascinating look at the things that, well, spark joy. From circles to rainbows to surprise, why do some things make everyone feel giddy no matter their age, ethnicity, or gender? Warning: This book will make you want to redecorate.

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Storied & Scandalous Kansas City: A History of Corruption, Mischief and a Whole Lot of Booze by Karla Deel

I always enjoy reading books about Kansas City, my hometown, and this one was no different. Not only known as the Paris of the Plains but also home to the Wettest Block in the World, KC was (is?) one hell of a party town.

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Spiritual Rebel: A Positively Addictive Guide to Finding Deeper Perspective and Higher Purpose by Sarah Bowen

With three weeks of daily readings, Spiritual Rebel considers ancient wisdom, modern religion, and pop culture to explore what helps us connect with our spiritual side and our life purpose.

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Unfuck Your Brain: Using Science to Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-Outs, and Triggers by Faith G. Harper

I picked this one up because a local bookstore was planning an event with the author. That was, of course, canceled along with the rest of April. But I still enjoyed reading this little book on why your brain works the way it does and how to be okay anyway.

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Cures for Love by Stendhal

Did I buy this in college and only just now read it? Yes, I did. Will I read this collection of 150-year-old maxims about love again? Unlikely.

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Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

A clever and delightful novel about a protagonist who only sees himself as “Generic Asian Man”—and his quest to become “Kung Fu Guy”—in the black-and-white world of Hollywood.

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SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas

I think I will let Michelle Tea’s foreword sum up the brilliance of this 1967 critique/satire/call to action:

“To see the SCUM Manifesto’s humor, to let it crack you up page after page, is not to read it as a joke. It’s not. … The truth of the world as seen through Valerie’s eyes is patently absurd, a cosmic joke. The hilarity in the Manifesto strikes me as fighting fire with fire.”

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What did you read—and love—in March? What are you looking forward to in April? I’d love to hear from you!

Reading Diary: February 2020

Right on Track

I read nine books in February (or, more accurately, I finished nine books; Little Women took me awhile). And this month I was very fortunate to read several titles I wanted to review with five stars!

I’m exactly on track to hit my 2020 goal of 120 books, though somehow my to-be-read pile only seems to be growing instead of shrinking.

I Miss You When I Blink: Essays by Mary Laura Philpott

I love reading essays about life—and all the messy, complicated feelings it involves. This book genuinely made me both laugh and cry; I read a copy from the library but expect it’ll join my permanent library as soon as it’s in paperback.

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Thoroughly enjoyed this middle grade novel about a girl who can pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead. I was so glad to discover when I got to the end that the next installment was already available!

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

This is a beautiful novel and a moving depiction of the lives of several, sometimes interconnected, women. Sometimes award winners can disappoint, but it’s deserving of the hype.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.”

Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol by Holly Whitaker

I’ve been in a “sober curious” place for a little while, feeling like drinking has become a habit that might not be where I want to spend my time/money/energy/health. This was a great examination of drinking culture and recovery programming—and specifically the impact it has on women.

Tunnel of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

The follow-up to City of Ghosts, I read this in a single sitting. The third installment comes out later this year and, in the meantime, I plan to check out another of her series, Shades of Magic.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The story of the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library, which destroyed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 volumes. Also part examination of libraries and part history of the LAPL, it was a fascinating read.

What Now? Meditation for Your Twenties and Beyond by Yael Shy

Meditation is becoming an increasingly important part of my regular routine, and I really enjoyed this quick little read about its value—especially for young adults.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This was actually my book club’s November pick, so I’m really behind in finishing it. But I’m so glad I didn’t abandon it because, of course, it is a complete delight. Certainly a classic for a reason!

What five-star books have you read recently?

Home Office: Creating the Perfect Work Space

Since I began building my business in earnest about two years ago (and made the leap to full-time solopreneurship almost two years ago), my home office has undergone approximately 67 iterations.

As a serial furniture rearranger and someone with packrat tendencies, I know it will never be a static environment, but I’ve finally settled into something that’s working—and a desk space that I love.

Tech

Last summer I finally invested in a computer that I can rely on without worrying about sudden restarts or having to wait forever just for a new Word doc to open. I stuck with a laptop so I can stay mobile—for those days that I’d rather spend in a coffee shop or the library—but added a dock so I can use extra screens. And then I bought two 27-inch monitors that allow me to easily write, edit, and proofread without straining my eyes (see, Ali, I hear you!).

And because my work is nearly exclusively performed on a computer, I try to prioritize ergonomics: a split keyboard, an ergonomic mouse, and a clamp to keep my monitors at eyelevel will (hopefully) help keep discomfort and problems like carpal tunnel at bay.

And for focus, I’ve found that wearing headphones can help, even if I’m only listening to white noise or not actually listening to anything at all, and these noise-cancelling wireless cans are perfect for the job.

Furniture

It seems like I slogged through about a million pages of desks and tables before I found a cheap white table that’s large enough to accommodate all three screens (and the miscellaneous stuff that inevitably accumulates wherever I’m sitting for hours at a time) while still leaving some room for a notebook or a microwaved quesadilla. Plus, I just got this sweet chair that lets me sit cross-legged without risking weird leg cramps.

I of course need plenty of space to store books, whether they’re my most reliable resources or my novel-of-the-moment or reflection journals. Ali and I have several large bookshelves that hold the majority of our library, but I also use some floating shelves above my desk, a rolling metal cart, and a TV tray to keep certain titles close by.

Stuff

My favorite analog office supplies are the narrow spiral-at-the-top reporter’s notebooks, tiny Post-it Notes, and Pilot P-700 pens. I usually have at least two of each nearby! I often write things down first—notes from calls, random thoughts, to-do lists and reminders, even first drafts—and then transfer them to my digital calendars and tools. (Not efficient, I guess, but that’s the system.)

Winter would be much harder to get through without a “happy light,” one of those ultra-bright desk lamps designed to help you through the perils of seasonal affective disorder with light therapy. Light has generally become an important element of my office; I often have small lamps, string lights, or candles to keep the space filled with warm light. Not missing the fluorescent office lights here!

What favorite tools do you always keep at your desk?

Reading Diary: January 2020

11 books down, 109 to go

I’ve been extremely lucky the last couple of years to increase my reading. (It helps to not have a regular job . . . and to have a husband who is often happy to make dinner.)

After crushing my 100-books-in-2019 challenge, I’ve bumped up my goal to read 120 books in 2020. And that, of course, starts with January. Here’s what I read last month.

January 2020 reading stats: Number of Books Read: 11 Number of Pages Read: 3,379 Longest Book: The Starless Sea (512 pages) Shortest Book: On Tyranny (126 pages) Highest Rated: Unfollow (5 stars) Lowest Rated: Emma (2 stars)

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This was one of those books that I kept seeing on best-of and must-read lists, but actually knew very little about when I started. It turned out to be a very engaging read and a clever story.

Twenty-one Truths about Love by Matthew Dicks

As a lifelong list-maker myself, a novel written in lists was immediately intriguing. And it didn’t disappoint! This was a sweet and funny book about love, among other things.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern is magical and so is her writing. This one seemed to wander a little too far afield at times, but I appreciated the chance to get lost in another of her beautiful worlds.

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

An exploration of the silencing and the doubting of women, many of her anecdotes felt very familiar and it made me sad to think about how often this is still happening in our world.

Indistractable: How to Control Your Awareness and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal

I appreciate any opportunity to read more thoughts on the attention economy . . . and how to ensure that we are mindful, both when we’re consuming and when we’re producing.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

History does seem to repeat itself, and this was a fascinating and horrifying reminder of the past—and the dangers of authoritarianism.

American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan

I’ve been going through (another) true crime phase, mostly spurred by a slew of Netflix docuseries and my recent discovery of the My Favorite Murder podcast. I’d never heard of Israel Keyes before, but I won’t forget that name now.

Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church by Megan Phelps-Roper

Westboro is only about 60 miles from where I live, so I have long been familiar with their picketing and hate speech—and with the tweeting of Megan Phelps-Roper. I found her memoir both beautiful and heartbreaking, a captivating look into the WBC and the necessity of questioning our own beliefs.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

This graphic novel has been on my to-be-read list for years, and I’m so glad to have finally gotten to it. A memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, it made me both laugh and cry—and it made me want to read more.

The Conference of the Birds: The Fifth Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I have loved this entire series, but admit that I haven’t found this second trilogy quite as engaging as the first. Still, I’m looking forward to the conclusion in the sixth book about Miss P and peculiardom!

Emma by Jane Austen

This was my book club’s pick for January and while I appreciate the brilliance of Jane Austen and the character of Emma, this was not my favorite book to read. If it weren’t for peer pressure, I likely would’ve marked it as did-not-finish and moved on.

109 books to go! What have you read recently that you loved?

Happiness Is… Asking for Help

I’m really bad at asking for help.

Several years ago, my sister and I were wandering around Target—I don’t remember what we were looking for, but we couldn’t find it. At some point, a store employee walked by and asked if they could help us find anything. We both immediately responded, “No, we’re fine,” before realizing that yes, actually, we could use some help.

Yes, actually

I feel so used to saying, “Thank you, but I can do this on my own,” that it’s become a knee-jerk reaction even when I would love a helping hand.

That same response sometimes caused problems at my last 9-to-5 job. The team had a rule of thumb we were supposed to follow: if you’ve spent 15 minutes trying to figure something out on your own, it’s time to ask someone for help. So many of us felt determined to make it work by ourselves, embarrassed to need assistance, or just too stubborn to call for reinforcements.

I notice that when I’m struggling with the terrors of formatting in Microsoft Word or trying to find a display setting that I just know is buried somewhere in my WordPress dashboard. It’s sometimes alarming how much time I waste when the answer is a quick web search or text to a friend away.

Phone a friend

But I’m taking a cue from how good it feels when I do ask for help and get to move on from a minor problem without (metaphorically) pulling my hair out. And also from the joy I feel when I get to help someone else when I’m the one they reach out to.

Last weekend an old friend called just to chat about the apostrophe in “let’s” vs. “lets” and I was delighted to be his phone-a-friend resource.

That’s why I’ve started creating a few resources for just those kinds of situations—check out my new LinkedIn checklist, word count tracker, and basic copy checklist! And in the spirit of all of us asking for more help, I’d love to know what other checklists or templates or guides I can support you with.

Tell me in the comments or send me a message!

Top 3 Things I’ve Learned in My First Year of Business

Today is my first anniversary of life as a solopreneur and it’s been a crazy and wonderful twelve months of self-employment.

Keep up with your bookkeeping

When I was in college, my mom bought me a shirt that said “English Major: You Do the Math.” While I won’t say that I’m totally inept when it comes to numbers, my strong suit is definitely words.

It’s been a big mindset shift to not just be a writer and an editor, but to also be the chief executive officer, chief marketing officer, and chief financial officer. And because it’s easy to put off categorizing all my revenue and expenses “until I have more time,” suddenly I’m faced with reconciling the last four months of financial data.

Fortunately, I’ve only had a couple of days that I’ve ended up having to dedicate to digging myself out of a financial reporting hole. And I’m glad that’s a lesson I learned early!

Take advantage of networking

Every personality test or analysis I’ve ever taken has confirmed what I’ve known since a young age: I’m an introvert. And not just an introvert but a shy introvert, which can make large groups of people and social situations a little uncomfortable.

But the truth is that networking is awesome. Local events, industry events, and freelancer events have all been an enormous support for finding a community, getting writing and editorial help, being my own boss, and finding great clients to work with.

Even when I feel butterflies about putting on a nametag and taking a deep breath before chatting with strangers about who I am and what I do, I almost always feel like it was time and energy well spent.

Turn off your computer

One of the joys of being self-employed is that you can truly work whenever you want. But one of the pitfalls is that you can truly work whenever.

Whether trying to meet an upcoming deadline, working to get ahead of schedule, or just tackling the never-ending to-do list of administrative work, it can be easy to start working as soon as I’m awake—and to keep working until it’s time to go to bed.

Being okay with shutting things down (even when there’s more to do), turning off excessive notifications on my phone, and setting boundaries to prevent me from becoming an actual workaholic are all essential to taking advantage of the fact that I can set my own schedule.

Are you a seasoned solopreneur? What have your most important lessons been?