Day 7: Writing Retreat Wrapup

This afternoon I head back to Chicago. If there’s one thing I’ll take away from this week’s trip, it’s that I need to start making writing a part of my everyday life more consistently. Even when I haven’t had much to say, it’s been therapeutic to force the process. I sat for awhile this morning trying to debate what I should work on and decided to contribute to a new project I started yesterday, thanks to a friend.

So, was this writing retreat a success? I think so. I wish I had done more actual writing for my novel. However, I did complete two weeks worth of planning in just one week. So that’s something. I also got to spend time exploring a new city, taking in the culture, and listening to the locals on advice for where to eat, drink and people watch. It was inspiring and rewarding.

I also learned a bit about myself. Aside from work, I’ve never traveled alone. Not like this. I was a little anxious at the start of the trip. But, it turns out, traveling alone is pretty great. Don’t get me wrong, I love exploring places with friends and family, but a solo trip is something very different. You’re on your own schedule. If a shop looks cute, you can just walk in. If you’re ready for bed at 7 p.m., you go to bed. You can wake up 5:30 a.m., turn all of the lights on and start writing, without worrying you’ll wake someone up. I think I gained a bit of independence and confidence in myself this week, and I’m pretty proud of that.

Today, I spent time writing the first post for Chicago Beer Club, my new project. Head over to ChiBeerClub to check it out!

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Day 6: Writing Retreat — Binge Culture Part 2

Almost immediately after publishing my last post, I realized I hadn’t answered my first question on this topic: Why do we binge?

What I really want to know is what the science behind it is. Why are we drawn to addictive behavior? Let’s find out…

Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s difficult to find research on binge behavior that isn’t dedicated to binge eating or drinking specifically. But there are parallels between these, including an addictive and compulsive personality.

Addiction is complicated. It is one of the most pervasive and least understood of maladies. It’s not that we don’t understand addiction per se, but our understanding is controversial. Is it biological? Is it inherited? Is it a disease process? Is it psychological, or psycho-social, or cultural? Is it a characterological disorder or just pervasive poor judgment?

The Continuum of Addiction and Addictive Personality

Personality traits of someone who is inclined to participate in binge behavior can include:

  • Obsessive compulsive
  • Stressed, lonely
  • Passive aggressive
  • Socially isolated
  • Deceptive
  • Anxious
  • Depressed
  • Ashamed

However, these characteristics are generally used to define an alcohol or drug addict, rather than someone who has an obsessive personality that results in compulsive behavior. So, is there even a link between different types of binge behavior? Is it even something worth exploring?

According to Greatest, yes. Binge behavior is the result of coping with negative feelings that are caused by either psychological, chemical and sociocultural factors. And you can binge on just about anything — food, exercise, shopping, sex and so on.

So, how do you cope with this addictive personality if it starts to become a problem? You should first solicit the help of a professional, who can let you know if it’s the result of a mental health issues. But if you’re using binging to cope with your stress and anxiety, you may be able to self treat. From meditation to writing to acknowledging, there are plenty of was to ensure you’re leading a healthy lifestyle.

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Day 6: Writing Retreat — Binge Culture

From excessive drinking to “Netflix and chill,” binge culture is consuming a generation. But, what are the risks in a binge lifestyle? The term “binge” is negative, traditionally referenced to discuss those with binge eating or drinking disorders. However, with the introduction of platforms like Netflix, Amazon Video and HBO GO (the list goes on), binging has just become a normal pass time. Honestly, it might have actually started with DVD boxsets of our favorite television series: The Sopranos, Sex and the City. And, recently, even NPR got in on the fad with the release of their podcast S-Town, a seven-part series that was made available in full earlier this spring. (If you haven’t listened to S-Town, I highly recommend it. The great story telling from Brian Reed pushes the line between art and exploitation.)

So, what are the risks related to this binge culture we’ve created? From anxiety to depression, the introduction of smartphones have brought with them a plethora of health concerns, providing users binge access to anything, any time. And our binge-focused entertainment industry has it’s own set of health-related issues:

  • The lack of movement can increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity
  • Addiction: It gets in the way of our plans, much like people’s addiction to smartphones, drugs and alcohol
  • People who partake in binge watching are often isolated and more more likely to suffer from depression and loneliness; they are also likely to lack self-control

Our binge viewing is even changing television programming. Many consumers are now opting for “à la carte” television over traditional cable and scheduled air times. And Americans aren’t the only ones making this shift, people around the globe are embracing the binge culture. While it doesn’t look like binging is going anywhere, research does indicate better storytelling will be another result of this lifestyle shift.

Are you a binge consumer? Probably — 70 percent of us are. Netflix defines binge watching as consuming two to six episodes of a show in one sitting — generally this amounts to two or more hours. Smart TVs and streaming devices are making it easier than ever to binge, whether on your commute, at the gym or from your couch. And, Netflix has found that different types of shows are binged at different rates:Netflix Binge Scale

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of binge entertainment — from podcasts to TV series. But, as someone who experiences anxiety when I can’t access information immediately (via my smartphone), I think it’s valuable to acknowledge and recognize the risks related to our binge culture. Are you putting off errands? Are you staying up all night when you have an early morning meeting? If so, it might be time to reconsider your habits. Or, at the very least, take a break and don’t remain sedentary during you next marathon viewing (that’s why I like Hulu, the commercials provide an easy opportunity to get up and move!).

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Day 5: Writing Retreat Thoughts

Today, I literally have nothing to say. I spent the morning working on writing exercises that challenged my creativity and frustrated me. Character building is hard. In the afternoon, I read short stories and a book on the practice of writing. I read about the struggle of forcing oneself to write when the moment isn’t right; and now I’m feeling that pain. So, unfortunately, today I have nothing to say. Tomorrow, I’ll dedicate two hours to putting words on the page, regardless of a block, to see what comes out. Tomorrow, I’ll have something to say.

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Day 3: Writing Retreat Research

I spent today doing research for my book. This mostly started from working on some of the tasks in “Ready. Set. Novel!” but I’ve since realized it is a necessity for me. My favorite part of writing is digging in and getting the details. It’s not enough for me to have a character respond in a certain way, I want to be able to define why he or she reacted that way.

Here are some of the things I came up with in my research of families across the globe:

  • The “Universal Family” looks different everywhere around the world
    • Think “Modern Family” exemplified
  • Teaching independence is the number one goal of parenting, no matter where you’re from
  • Americans are more likely to have less positive relationships with their families
    • This has a lot to do with the fact that we’re a melting pot of cultures, and the way each culture addresses family is different – thus leading to differences of opinion and difficulties
  • American parents are more concerned with their children’s success and intelligence than parents across the globe
    • We equate money with smarts
  • Culture plays a significant role in dictating what family relationships look like
  • Adult children from countries without federally-funded elder care are more likely to feel responsible for their aging parents well-being
    • This often leads to tension on the relationships between adult children and their parents

Some of this may not be surprising, but I find it informative to our day-to-day interactions. I can definitely see how these different points not only dictate my interactions with my family, but also my future plans of starting a family of my own.

Tomorrow, I look forward to learning more about how we decide which friends are acceptable to introduce into our family, and why sometimes those ending relationships hurt more than anything else.

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Day 2 [Late]: Writing Retreat Tweet

While my Sunday was was derailed by baseball, sunshine and house hunting, I did still write (a little). See below for my NPR poetry submission:

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Day 1: Writing Retreat

I came to San Diego this week for a writing retreat. One of my goals while I’m here is to write something every day. Ultimately, I’d like to (at least) get started on a novel. Today, this will have to suffice for my writing – lame, I know. But it’s closing in on 1 a.m. Chicago time (11 p.m. local) and I’ve got a busy day planned for tomorrow!

I’ll be soliciting the assistance of a number of resources on my quest, including:

  • Content and exercises from “The Writer” magazine
  • Poetry and fiction writing packet from a college course with Professor Peter Ramos
  • “The Paris Review” – a dive into the art of the short story
  • “The Ode Less Travelled” by Stephen Fry – a sort of how to to “unlocking” your inner poet
  • “Thunder and Lightning” by Natalie Goldberg – a guide to turning inspiration into a product
  • “Ready. Set. Novel!” – a writer’s workbook

There are a number of online resources I have on a list to investigate, but those might just have to wait until next time. Like I read in an article on the flight today, you don’t know the direction of your story until you finish the first draft. So, there will be plenty of time to improve.

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When was the last time you did something for the first time?

It has been a long time since I read a book I enjoyed as much as “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed. For the last year or so, I’ve been on a non-fiction kick, reading about economics, exploring the science of food and diving into the senses of a dog. But even before that, I really don’t recall the last time I connected to a novel as much as I did “Wild”—maybe in high school when I read Megan McCafferty’s series following my sweet Jessica Darling through her teenage trials and triumphs.

wild

Not only is “Wild” well written, but I found many points of connection with Cheryl (the novel’s author and main character). That’s not to say we’ve shared all the same experiences:

  • She struggled with drug addiction
  • She lost her mother at the young age of 23
  • She divorced her sweetheart and best friend
  • She hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, solo no less

But, then there are the similarities:

  • We’re both writers
  • We both grew up without a fathers
  • We were both raised by a magnificent mother
  • We’ve both accomplished things we’d never thought ourselves possible of

But beyond the obvious, easy-to-point-out aspects of our lives that make us similar, there’s just something about Cheryl that makes me feel a connection to her. Maybe that’s what makes her such a talented writer, being able to invoke such an overwhelming emotional connection as I absorb the pages of her writing.

There’s no doubt that Cheryl’s and my life are far from parallel. Our struggles that led us to similar places differ greatly: Physical versus emotional. However, I think we’ve both fought with the other’s struggle. But I’ve found that pain, no matter how inflicted, tends to evoke similar responses in people. There’s the fight or flight response, both on impact and after the pain has struck, once it’s time to actually deal with it.

So, let me get to the point of all this. The reason why I’m bothering to draw all of these comparisons. For the last two-and-a-half years, I’ve been embarking on physical feats I never thought possible of myself. And along the way, I’ve had many people ask me why. A lot of friends and family have given me quizzical looks when I explained to them what my next obstacle to overcome would be. And I’ve come to the realization that most don’t understand. Well, there’s one section in “Wild” that, for me, perfectly explained what I’d been wanting to say:

This—the hardest thing I’d ever done.

I stopped in my tracks when that thought came into my mind, that hiking the PCT was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Immediately, I amended the thought. Watching my mother die and having to live without her, that was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Leaving Paul and destroying our marriage and life as I knew it for the simple and inexplicable reason that I felt I had to—that had been hard as well. But hiking the PCT was hard in a different way. In a way that made the other hardest things the tiniest bit less hard. It was strange but true. And perhaps I’d known it in some way from the very beginning. Perhaps the impulse to purchase the PCT guidebook months before had been a primal grab for a cure, for the thread of my life that had been severed.

I could feel it unspooling behind me—the old thread I’d lost, the new one I was spinning—while I hiked that morning, the snowy peaks of the High Sierras coming into occasional view.

 

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Why I Love ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ And You Should Too

If you’ve started watching Season 2 of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” on Netflix too there’s a good chance you can’t get that catchy-as-hell theme song out of your head. But do you know where this viral little ditty came from?

Unbreakable!

They alive, dammit!

It’s a miracle.

Unbreakable!

They alive, dammit!

Females are strong as Hell.

As a word nerd, I had to find out what it was he was saying. So today, I Googled it and dove further into my obsession with the show.

Simply finding the lyrics proved tougher than I expected, as I stumbled across multiple pieces discussing the origins of the song. Turns out, not surprisingly, the theme song is the product of a monologue written by producers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, according to Vanity Fair. See a clip of character Walter Bankston’s full monologue below, from Netflix’s YouTube page:

While I found it surprising that some viewers thought the above was a legit newscast, there was another point in the article that stood out to me. Vanity Fair refers to Ellie Kemper’s character as being not “just a survivor of a horrific experience, but a very famous one[.]” That got me dwelling on how the silly and sometimes dumb Kimmy Schmidt was so much more than just another unrealistic comedic character to watch.

Turns out, Fey and Carlock were asked by NBC if they’d want to write a show for Kemper. As the two (mainly Fey) go on to explain to E! in an interview, they recognized that Kemper has “this kind of sunniness, but also this strength.” And it was with these two traits and the crazy-horrific backstory that Kimmy’s character was born to create a twist on the standard starting over story.

For me, I think that’s what makes this goofy girl and sitcom so lovable – it is relatable and inspiring. Unlike most of us, Kimmy is able to keep a sunny disposition despite tragically losing out on her childhood. So we get to follow her around NYC as she makes her way, and laugh about it with her. Because there seems to be one thing that Kimmy did learn while living inside that bunker: Bad things happen.

And, as Kemper points out in an interview with E!, Kimmy has the ability to overcome her bad things and not let those experiences define her. Which is what makes this comedy so worth watching. Let yourself be inspired by the pure optimism and strength of a character who may just seem simple at first glance.

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Dear [Baby],

I originally wrote this post about six months ago, but decided to hold off on posting it at this time.


You are precious. Your life has just begun and you have a lifetime of moments ahead of you. And my wish for you is that you get to experience every single one of those seconds. The joyous, the painful, the thrilling, the terrifying, the precious, the bittersweet – all of the good and all of the bad. Take in and savor each and every emotion. Hold on to those memories. Because the adventure ahead is just beginning and you’ll need all that you know, all that you’ve learned to make your journey your own.

When you’re young, the years fly past. Summers seem endless until the snow falls, and before you know it you forget to remember the last browned leave hanging from a tree. And they say that as you get older time seems to move faster with each passing year, but I disagree. I think we stop savoring the moments and truly living each experience that passes us by.

No longer do we whiff the scent of a fresh cut blade of grass as the spring’s rains subside. The first flakes of winter loose their glittery charm. Instead, we’re always ready and waiting for the next big thing – even if it’s happening, right then.

So do grow up, do grow old. But while you do: Live. Experience life.

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