Better Late Than Never: 2015 Resolutions Update

I intended to have two updates posted by now, but the best laid plans and all that jazz…

OK, so let’s get this part started. In previous resolutions posts, I noticed that I tended to be down on myself when I didn’t do well on a goal (which was often!). So now, I’m taking a cue from Sunflower Paperie and posting both my successes and areas of improvement.

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1. Cook a healthy meal once per week

Successes: Shoprite from Home has helped tremendously in this area! Each week (or nearly), I sit down with the hubs, and we decide what we need for the coming days. We still buy cookies and such, but we buy a bunch more fruit and healthy snacks since we don’t have to putz around the produce aisle anymore. This has also helped us save money in the long run since we have a fairly steady supply of good food options, so we don’t eat out as often. One of my favorite meals we’ve made this year is roasted pork loin with roasted red potatoes. YUM!

 Areas of improvement: I need to plan meals better. While my snack options have improved, meals have not overall. I was using a meal planner at the beginning of the year. I think it’s time to bust it out again!
Not as healthy, but totally yummy!

Not as healthy, but totally yummy!

 

2. Meditate once per day

Successes: This has taken different shapes throughout the past eight months. I downloaded the Headspace app, which helped a lot. I also got a devotional that I like and have been (fairly) consistent with reading it. I’ve also noticed that I meditate better at night. I’m trying to meditate first thing in the morning, but perhaps my rhythm is better later in the day.

Areas of improvement: I fell out of rhythm with the app and am trying to get back on track. I need to make it a priority. Overall, this is probably the habit I need to make a priority the most. My iPhone tends to get in the way. Perhaps instead of opening up Twitter first thing in the AM, I should open up Headspace. If only there was an app for that….

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3. Work on art once per week

Successes: I have tried more types of art so far this year than any other in recent memory, so that’s a huge win! I’ve taken part in a few art challenges and have gotten to know quite a few great people through Instagram and Twitter. Given that my word for the year is “gather,” this area has been a big success in that I’ve “gathered” a lot of practical art tips, art friends, and prompts.
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Areas of improvement: I tend to work in bursts. I’m super prolific for a few days, but then I may not create anything for a few weeks. In the long run, this may just be how I work, but I do want to create the habit of a steady creative practice.

4. Read 60 books

Successes: I’m a little over halfway on my goal! So far, I’ve read 33 books and am 55% done with my goal. I’m pretty happy with where I am. I’ve read fairly broadly. Some titles that stick out to me include The Night Circus, The Fire Next Time, and Raising My Rainbow.

reading

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Areas of improvement: Goodreads says I’m three books behind, so I suppose I should catch up. I also haven’t read any books I own nor have I finished any ARCS I’ve received. I think I’ll make more of an effort to read at least one book in each of the aforementioned categories in the next 4.5 months.

5. Keep a steady writing practice

Successes: One of the bullet points I listed in this area was to celebrate the publication of my chapbook, which I did to the fullest! I did a bunch of readings all over New Jersey from April through June. The crowds were fabulous, and I saw so many familiar faces. I loved talking about my process and sharing my work with others. I also recently signed up for Sarah Selecky’s daily writing prompts, which arrive every day to my inbox. They’ve provided great inspiration, and I wrote a poem with one of the prompts that I’m pretty sure is a keeper!

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Areas of improvement: Other than celebrating my chapbook, I haven’t done much writing (other than that keeper poem). I have tons of ideas, but I’m not making time to write them down. Much like the meditation habit, I need to be more conscious of making my writing (and art) practice a regular habit. I’m just not quite sure how to do that, but I’ll brainstorm some strategies 🙂

How about you? What is one goal you are working on this year/month/week? What have been your successes and areas of improvement?

The Resolution Game: 2015 Edition

Image courtesy of becuo.com

Image courtesy of becuo.com

We’re almost two weeks into the new year. I figured it was time to not only wrap up my previous year’s resolutions but to also share my goals for 2015.

2014:
I’ll admit it: I didn’t do as well with these goals as I had hoped. It may have been due to the fact that I had so many goals. It may have just been apathy. It may have been because I planned a wedding in 2014. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I finished what I did, and I’m looking ahead…right after this recap.

1. Read 5 classic books
I read The Hobbit. The problem I found with this goal is that I read one or two more classic books in 2014 but couldn’t count them because they weren’t on my list. The particular list I made was pretty limiting, unfortunately.

2. Read 5 books I already own
Yeah, didn’t do to hot on this one either. There must be a phenomenon among readers where we need to have the shiniest books, but once we own them, they get lost in the shuffle and we go on to shinier books.

3. Read 10 books on my Goodreads “To Read” list
OK, I rocked this one and finished out the year having read 20! Really proud of this.

4. Read and review the ARCs (both digital and hard copy) that I’ve received in the past two years
Aaaand right back into resolutions I didn’t do well with. I’m almost done with one ARC, but didn’t quite finish in time for the new year. I’m hoping to keep my Netgalley review average to about 70-80 percent this year. (It’s currently hovering around 1 percent. Dismal, I know.)

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

5. Read the four Gospels
I started this one. I got up to chapter 11 in Matthew, chapter 9 in Luke and John, and didn’t start Mark. This is getting depressing….

6. Send chapbook out to at least five different contests
Yay, a pick-me-up resolution! Not only did I submit to more than five contests, my chapbook, Field Guide to Fire, was picked up for publication by Finishing Line Press. Booyah!

You can pre-order your copy here.

7. Spruce up my full-length poetry manuscript to send out to at least two fall book contests
This didn’t happen. I kept meaning to and wanted to send out to one or two November contests. I forgot how much time putting together a full-length manuscript takes.

8. Acquire a full-time teaching gig
No dice, unfortunately, though I did apply to a few positions. Also, this is largely out of my control because I can only apply, not hire myself (though that would be awesome if I could!).

9. Work on a piece of art every other week
This one went fairly well. I broadened my idea of what “art” is and took off the pressure of having to work on a piece I wanted to sell. I let myself play and got some fun doodles in the process.

10. Blog at least twice a week
*Sigh* This did not happen either…at least not consistently. Many life events derailed me. BUT I made a shiny editorial spreadsheet at the end of 2014. Hopefully it will guide me to a more consistent blogging schedule in 2015.

11. Pay off one of my two major credit cards
Ending on a high note, woot! This one’s done and done.

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2015:
Mmmmkay, I want to keep this year simple. As I worked through last year’s resolutions, many people made the good-natured comment, “I get overwhelmed just looking at your list!” I realized I did too, but tried to plow through anyway. The result was much frustration and a lack of focus.

With that in mind, I picked a word for 2015 (“gather), and I’m focusing more on creating habits in areas that are super important to me. Here is my (more manageable) list of resolutions:

1. Cook a healthy meal once a week
Toward the end of 2014, I got super sick. During that time, my husband and I ate a lot of

Picture courtesy of sexyeatz.com

Picture courtesy of sexyeatz.com

takeout food. I don’t feel great about that decision, though I realize there were circumstances in the way of cooking healthy meals. I want to be more conscious of what I consume in 2015.

I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself because I still love chocolate. I want this to be fun. The goal isn’t to lose weight; it’s to take care of my body. I plan on being around for a while! Plus, I love cooking and want to indulge in this practice more.

If you have any recipes you’d like to pass along, feel free to e-mail them to me at michelle.e.greco [at] gmail [dot] com.

2. Meditate once per day
Taking care of one’s spirit is just as important as taking care of one’s body, in my opinion (or IMHO, as the kids are saying these days). My goal here is to be mindful of God each day, whether it be through prayer, yoga, reading the Bible, talking a hike, doodling, etc. I’m of the opinion that you don’t have to sit in silence to be close to God. Sometimes I like to sit still, but sometimes I’m too antsy for that. Keeping the way I meditate open will, I think, help me with succeeding with this goal.

3. Work on art once per week
I’m upping the ante a bit here. I want to work on art once per week, which hopefully won’t be too hard since I’m OK doodling once per week all year.

However, I’d love to work up to arting three times per week and focusing more on selling my art. My vision goes something like this:
Start out: Once per week (work on doodles and sketchbook ideas, visit craft fairs to get ideas, and make artist contacts)
Continue to: Twice per week (work on both sketchbook ideas and starting art I’m willing to display to build body of work)
End the year at: Three times per week (sketchbook ideas, have several finished art pieces in whatever medium or in a theme, begin forming a plan to sell more art seriously/exhibit more of my work)

Photo courtesy of clipartpanda.com

Photo courtesy of clipartpanda.com

I’ve also given myself a hashtag: #arteveryweek2015. If you want to join in with making art every week, tag your work on Instagram!

The goal with the hashtag (and this goal in general) is to have fun and, hopefully, build a bit of a web presence. I just want people to talk to me about art. I’m not fishing for compliments; I’m just looking for an online community.


4. Read 60 books
 I would love for this number to be broken down as such:
20 books on my “To Be Read” list on Goodreads
20 books I already own
20 ARCs I’ve received

Ideal? Yes. Realistic? I’m not sure. I’m going to shoot for it, but as long as I have read at least 60 books in 2015, I’ll count it as a win.

5. Keep a steady writing practice
This one has steps too. Sort of. There are many things I would like to do this year as far as writing. Here are a few items I’ll keep in mind when I think of this resolution:

  • Celebrate my chapbook!
  • Revamp my full-length collection and send it to two fall contests
  • Aim to have one new draft of a poem to read at each reading I go to (which may translate to writing a new draft per month
  • Work on a piece of fiction or nonfiction (gotta spread the wings a bit sometimes)

Your turn to share: What are your goals for the new year?

Quotables: Junot Diaz

I read a lot. Those who know me (and those who follow me on this blog) know that. This means I often come across quotes that I find intriguing or puzzling, quotes that I want to talk about. So, I will! Every so often, as the mood strikes me, I’ll feature a quote here and say what I think about it. I’d love to hear your responses. It’s what I love most of all about teaching and blogging—discussion!

Enjoy this first “Quotable” feature with a quote by Junot Diaz!

Photo courtesy of npr.com

Photo courtesy of npr.com

“Books are surviving in this intense, fragmented, hyper-accelerated present, and my sense and hope is that things will slow down again and people will want more time for a contemplative life. There is no way people can keep up this pace. No one is happy. Two or three hours to read should not be an unattainable thing, although I hope we get to that stage without needing a corporate sponsored app to hold our hand. The utopian in me has my fingers crossed that we haven’t quite figured out the digital future just yet. After all, the one thing we know about people: they always surprise.” – Junot Diaz

This particular interview from which the quote is taken first appeared in The Guardian. I saw this right before I taught my first college course in 2012 and thought it would be a great way to open the class. The first time I ever asked students to take out a piece of paper and write was to talk about this quote. So, as you can tell, these words have weight to me.

More than the memory, though, is the ideas this quote presents. Granted, I don’t agree with all of them, but that’s kind of the point isn’t it? The words that often speak to us the most make us wrestle in some way.

I cheer when Junot says that, as a whole, people should make more time for a contemplative life. I love the idea of sitting by a lake and then getting up and walking into my cabin to sit next to a wood-stove fire and writing. But I know that’s not for everyone. While this quote speaks to me, I’m aware that Diaz is leaving out a certain portion of the population that likes frenzy, that thrives on social media. Whether or not that’s healthy is a whole other blog post. But I don’t think people can “keep up this pace.” Our bodies aren’t machines. They need rest. America is a country of excess, yet we desperately lack down time. (America, the ironic)

“No one is happy” is a really broad statement, and I don’t agree with the broad stroke with which it paints humanity. Though I do hope there’s some discontent with the disconnecting tendencies of social media.

I have to say, I love that last line. People do indeed surprise, for better or worse. (Ah, the beauty of free will!). Many times, it seems as if people don’t react unless something catastrophic happens. I hope that’s not the case with making time for face-to-face interaction. I don’t think so. I sincerely hope not. Technology has huge advantages. I get to talk to people all over the world, people I would not have otherwise had access to. The struggle, I think, this quote is getting at is balance. At least that’s what I take from it. This balance probably won’t be two to three hours per day to read (at least not in my case), but I do hope it’s at least an hour a day (maybe not consecutively) to disconnect from media and reconnect with each other. </hokeyending>

Now it’s your turn! What do you think about this quote and/or my reading of it? What sticks out to you? Do you agree, disagree, or find yourself somewhere in the middle?

An Update, Some Great News, and a Poem for Your Monday

Hey gang,

As I shared in my resolutions update, I’ve been wondering how to restructure my blog so as to better facilitate posting more regularly. One of those ways involved making a three-sheet spreadsheet. Another includes making some tweaks to featured posts.

On this note: I’m trying a new format for Poetry Monday. Rather than posting a video of me reading the poem, I’m going to still share a poem, but in typed format, then give a few sentences as to why I like it. If this goes well, I’ll keep doing it. If not, I’ll go back to videos in a few months.

The great news: I got word on Friday that my chapbook,”Field Guide to Fire,” will be published by Finishing Line Press! No word on a publication date yet, but I’ll be sure to post when I know! Now that I’ll be on the author side of things, I’ve got a kick in the pants to support other authors and catch up on reviews I’ve been dragging on.

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Why raptors? Why the heck not?! Thanks to Beth Colletti for helping me with this image.

Speaking of reviews, I know I don’t usually post star ratings, but I’ve come up with a system. I’ll give books “Raptor Ratings.” The highest rating is five raptors. Why raptors? Why the heck not?!

Now for the poem. I’ve posted quite a few poems by Kim Addonizio on my blog, but given my recent publication news, she’s the first that comes to mind. I’m over the moon with this news, so I want to share a poem that makes me feel unstoppable!

“What Do Women Want?” by Kim Addonizio (from Tell Me)

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Photo courtesy of goodreads.com

Kim Addonizio - How badass is she? So badass. Photo courtesy of pirenesfountain.com

Kim Addonizio – How badass is she? So badass.
Photo courtesy of pirenesfountain.com

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what’s underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty’s and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I’m the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garment
from its hanger like I’m choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I’ll wear it like bones, like skin,
it’ll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.


Why I like it
: My word, the sass! I love the no-holds-barred brashness of the language. “I want it to confirm/your worst fears about me.” I mean, damn! Addonizio dives head first in the face of what is expected of women and says, “Screw you!” I love those last lines. They’re so affirming, as if to say, “This is who I am, and I’ll be this ’til I die.” I read this poem and I have insta-confidence. And, of course, I just love red dresses.

2014 Resolutions Update

Now that we’re a little more than a quarter of the way through the year, I figured it was time for an update on my 2014 resolutions. I’m kicking butt in some areas and lagging in others, but I suppose that’s to be expected. I’m not being as hard on myself as I was last year, which certainly helps. I mean, I’ve got a year…it’s natural for my focus on certain things to ebb and flow.

Anyhoo, here’s the update:

1. Read 5 classic books
Have not started this one yet. I have read Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” this year, but I didn’t put it on my classic book list. Le sigh…

2. Read 5 books I already own
Haven’t started this one either….

3. Read 10 books on my Goodreads “To Read” list
140213_001…because I’m focusing on my Goodreads list! Two down, eight more to go! (In case you are curious, my Goodreads book reading goal this year is 50 books total. As of the time of this post, I’m eight behind but am determined to catch up!)

  1. Damn You, Autocorrect! – Jillian Madison (January 2014)
  2. Cinder – Marissa Meyer (January 2014)

4. Read and review the ARCs (both digital and hard copy) that I’ve received in the past two years
Haven’t started on this one either (wow, I’m really not doing to well with my reading goals. Now I know what to focus on in the next three months).

5. Read the four Gospels
Is it awful I forgot I made this resolution? (Sorry, God!). Once again, another resolution to really focus on in the next few months.

6. Send chapbook out to at least five different contests
I’ve actually been pretty good with this one. I’ve sent my chapbook out to two contests so far. Last weekend, I went to a chapbook workshop to get feedback on my book from professionals. They gave me some really good advice. My hope is to tweak my chapbook in the next week or two and send it to a few more contests. I’ve got a list of about five or six more to send to, so that’s my creative project for the rest of the month.

7. Spruce up my full-length poetry manuscript to send out to at least two fall book contests
Even when I wrote this one down, I knew I wouldn’t get to it until the summer. By the time of my next update (late June/early July), I’m hoping to have at least started the sprucing up process.

8. Acquire a full-time teaching gig
I think this one is turning into the “publish a chapbook” goal from least year. By this I mean that I can’t possibly control whether I get a full-time teaching position or not. I can only apply and interview. I’m OK with this. I have been doing my part. I’ve applied to a few positions and have had one interview so far. I count that as a win.

My attempt at sketching a mug. I'm hoping to sketch a little bit every day.

My attempt at sketching a mug. I’m hoping to sketch a little bit every day for the rest of the year.

9. Work on a piece of art every other week
I’m also happy to say that I’ve been doing really well with this one also. Last year, I felt like I had to paint something on canvas, but I’ve broadened my idea of what “a piece of art” is. I’ve worked on videos, sketches, and poetry as well (I’ve even done some MS Paint drawing). I think broadening my definition of art has really helped me be consistent with this goal because I’m not limited to using one medium.

10. Blog at least twice a week
I’ve tried, I really have. Lately it’s been tough for me to post something that isn’t part of a series on my blog. The semester is almost at an end, so I’m going to try to get better with writing posts that are not parts of a series as well as scheduling posts. (I’m a little ahead of the game on this one. As of the time of this post, I’ve got three posts scheduled. Woot woot!)

11. Pay off one of my two major credit cards
I’ve technically accomplished this. By technically, I mean I took out a low-interest personal loan to pay off my two major credit cards. So, both of my accounts say nothing is owed, but I still owe the money. So…partial win? On the upside, I won’t owe nearly as much interest on the loan, so baying back this debt will be much easier and faster (hopefully!).

If you’d like to keep up with my goal progress apart from my quarterly blog updates, check this page out. I update it when I’m making progress with my goals (particularly the reading ones).

What resolutions are you working on? Which ones are you doing great with and which need a little more attention?

Poetry Monday – Jon Woodward

Thanks for joining me for Poetry Monday! Today’s poem is from Jon Woodward’s book “Mister Goodbye Easter Island.” The poem I am reading is called “Cello.” Enjoy!

One Second Every Day – January

Photo courtesy of 1secondeveryday.com

Photo courtesy of 1secondeveryday.com

When watching a documentary or reading a snippet about the life of someone famous or someone who’s done something noteworthy, I often wonder what happened in the life of that person during the silences. By silences, I mean when the announcer says, “This person got a job, and then six years later, they had their big break.” I always wonder what happened in those six years, months, days, minutes. What was their routine? What did they read? Who was their best friend? Who did they talk to when they cried?

The answers to the above questions are pieces of life that history doesn’t see fit to record. They are moments that history often forgets, and history shouldn’t. We shouldn’t because it is routine that is the lifeblood of, well, life, even if it’s not as exciting as our biggest victories or lowest valleys. Most of what happens to us is mundane, but in those routines, we have small variations that surprise us and, whether or not we like to admit it, we are delighted.

In that vein, I’ve embarked on this ironically app-inspired journey that I hope to continue throughout the year and beyond. I’m doing the 1 Second Every Day project (I found out about it via the Storyline blog). It entails recording a second of every single day with the intention of splicing those second together to make a sort of movie narrative.

I want to do this so that I have a record of how I spend my spare time and have a memory for each day that I live, no matter how small. Of course these days and months will be punctuated by excitement, but more than that, the reason I’m doing this is because I want to remember. I don’t want certain things to get old, like my finace kissing my hand, like my roommate doing something zazzy (a word of his own making). I don’t want to forget my drives to school or the work that I do (yes, that includes grading). I want to remember what I put my time towards. I think that’s important. I don’t know that I can articulate why, but I think it is.

I found out about this project a few days into January, so this month’s video is a bit abridged. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you’ll consider embarking on a similar journey of recording your seemingly mundane days. I think you’ll find there is always something noteworthy to record 🙂

(The song in the video is “Pictures of You” by The Last Goodnight.)

Musing on Three Years of Waiting

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Image courtesy of AK Press

In December of 2010, my poem “Smooth as Scales” was accepted to an anthology titled “Dear Sister.” At the time, I knew that the manuscript didn’t have a publisher. So began the wait.

But let me back up a bit—
I should mention that the subtitle of the anthology is “Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence.” Before I submitted to this anthology, I’d gone through an event that qualified me to submit. I tried to convince myself that nothing had happened, but my nightmares and panic attacks told a different story. Looking back on that part of my life, I’m reminded of Jennifer Percy’s quote: “…The imagination of the event is so often more terrifying than the reality.” I know this is not true for everyone, but it was for me. I kept replaying the event constantly in my mind. In some ways, I think that rumination on the negative made me sick and my nightmares worse.

I thought about this event so much that I felt I had to write it out; otherwise, it threatened to poison my body. “Smooth as Scales” came to me. I read it to a dear friend of mine, and she later encouraged me to submit to “Dear Sister.” When my poem was accepted, it was like being told, “What you went through matters no matter what anyone else says.” It was a validation not only of my poetry, but (perhaps more importantly for me at the time) it was also a validation of the pain I had endured.

Spring forward to Winter 2012: Myself and the rest of the anthology’s contributors got an e-mail saying that the anthology was going to be published! Following that e-mail and swell of happiness were proofs and bios and media kits. It was all worth it. The anthology was published by AK Press on January 15, 2014.

Dear Sister Box of Books

In these past few years, the less-than-pleasant part of my story that appears in “Dear Sister” has simply become part of my life’s tapestry. I’m in a very different place now than I was when I wrote the poem. Seeing it in print, I think, has helped me close a chapter. I’m healed…now it’s time to pass that healing on to others.

Since the contributors of this anthology are far-flung across the nation, we were all encouraged to set up our own events. I held a poetry reading at Bernardsville Public Library this past Sunday with some lovely readers from Adanna. We all read works that revolved around the theme of healing and grief. Below are the lovely ladies I read with.

Adanna Dear Sister Reading

Stepping behind the podium to welcome everyone to the reading was an incredible feeling. Everyone read beautifully, and I loved speaking with each person at the small gathering. It reminds me of a quote from the last section of the anthology: “Forgiveness is a possibility that happens in conversation.”

If you’d like a copy of “Dear Sister,” e-mail me at roaringout@gmail.com. I still have some copies. Each copy is $10. I’d be happy to mail one out to you!

Poetry Monday – Kim Addonizio

Thanks so much for joining me today!  This week’s poem comes from Kim Addonizio’s book “Lucifer at the Starlite.” The poem I am reading is “Feeling Sexy.” Enjoy!

Beautiful Sadness: A Review of “The Middlesteins” by Jami Attenberg

Photo courtesy of Goodreads.com

Photo courtesy of Goodreads.com

In Goodreads, I have a category called “This might depress you, but it’s worth it” because  I tend to read depressing books. Maybe I’m crazy, but I find depth in sadness.  I feel like joy is only fully realized when darkness has precluded it.  And not necessarily right before, but at least I’ve found that when times are really good, I appreciate it all the more because I know what it’s like to not be so happy.  

“The Middlesteins” by Jami Attenberg fits nicely into this Goodreads category.  The book details the journey of a family that includes Edie, a wife, mother, and grandmother who is diabetic and overweight. Despite her conditions, she continues to gorge and not watch her eating habits or blood sugar.  Her family wants to help her, but every attempt fails.

This book asks an important question: What do you do when someone you love is in trouble, but he/she does not want help?  There are attempts to get Edie to eat healthier and to remind her that she should be healthy so she can enjoy her life. But these attempts and pleas go unconsidered. Edie continues to go to her favorite Chinese food joint.

Perhaps other reviews may focus on the obsession with food depicted in this story as a commentary on American culture. That aspect is certainly present, however, along with asking that important question, what stuck out to me the most was the very realistic portrayal of the family members’ reactions. Whether you hate or love a character in this book, you must give them room to react in their own way since everyone deals with grief, even pre-grief, differently. One is militant in her resolve to get Edie on a strict food and exercise regimen. One is somewhat indifferent. Edie’s grandchildren are a bit too young to fully understand, yet Attenberg captures their naivete and subsequent realization of the gravity of the situation so deftly.  Her ability to weave in humor, and even the mundane tasks of real life, in such a way that makes them seem important is truly stunning. It takes hard work to make everyday life resonate.

In addition, I found the book totally quotable. I kept writing in my journal as I read.  One quote that I still think about today (perhaps because diabetes runs in my family) occurred when one of the grandchildren muses on her grandmother’s illness. The family is Jewish, and Biblical imagery is sprinkled throughout the text.  The granddaughter thinks about the plagues and how that kind of widespread destruction is the definition of biblical to her since it is so grand. After seeing the negative effects Edie’s uncontrolled diabetes has wreaked on her family, the girl thinks, “Diabetes felt biblical.” This, to me, is wonderful writing: nuanced and grounded in the characters’ world.

Attenberg’s writing style is very reminiscent of William Faulkner. The book is arranged in sections, each chapter written to follow a different member of the family.  I appreciated the different perspectives because it mirrored the situation so well: Dealing with an ailing family member (and one who’s in denial of her illness) is such a multifaceted situation, and the author captured this effectively through the novel’s structure. Additionally, the writing style of “The Middlesteins” is probably among the best I’ve encountered in a while. It’s accessible, funny (sometimes darkly humorous), and always rings true to life.  I’m excited to read more from her.

I highly recommend this book to all readers looking for some well-thought out characters with emotional depth, all of which wrestle with some tough life choices. Also, it’s a good read if you’re willing to delve into some depressing, yet important, subject matter.

Poetry Monday – Kim Addonizio

Thanks so much for joining me today!  This week’s poem comes from Kim Addonizio’s book “Lucifer at the Starlite.” The poem I am reading is “Happiness After Grief.” Enjoy!

The Real Fabric of Reality: A Review of “Crewel” by Gennifer Albin

I haven’t posted a book review since January. I have been reading quite a bit since then but haven’t written down my thoughts. I’d like to change that.

My goal is to catch up on my book reviews, both of Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) and other books I think are worthy of note (sometimes I just like to read without thinking that I later have to write a review for all to see), by the end of the year.  Right now, I have about 10 reviews (8 books, 2 albums) with 3 more coming down the pike as soon as I finish the books. With about 6 and a half weeks left in the year and my goal of posting at least twice a week on the blog, this is totally doable. So here goes!

Photo courtesy of rainydaybooks.com

Photo courtesy of rainydaybooks.com

I’m kicking off this end-of-the-year goal with a review of “Crewel” by Gennifer Albin, which I received an ARC of. While I read this about a year ago, I actually think of the premise quite often as it is one of the more intriguing concepts I’ve encountered in a while (And it’s dysopian. I love dystopian).

In this novel, the world is made of “time” fabric that only a certain few can see (This book is very appropriately titled since “crewel” is a type of embroidery). These few are typically girls, and they are recruited. If you can see the fabric, you can weave it. These recruited few are whisked away to live a life of luxury with pretty dresses and banquets. Or so it seems.

The book focuses on one girl in particular: Adelice. She is one of the very few (I’m talking one in every few decades) that has exceptional vision for the this “time fabric” and can weave it with stunning ease and dexterity if she chooses to.  And yet, she doesn’t want to. She wants to live a normal life, not one away from her family, no matter how glamourous it may seem.  She knows there is something off about weaving the literal fabric of time. Deciding what to do with others people’s lives, and even ending them, or erasing society’s memory of a particularly heinous event is not what she’s into. But because of her exceptional ability, she is recruited anyhow.  To add to the cast of characters, Adelice meets Jost and Erik while assimilating to her new life as a weaver.  Thus begins Adelice’s adventure…and the downward spiral into romance.

While this book was very promising, the development of the idea fell short for me.  I love the concept of the world’s events and lives and everyday occurrences being literally wrapped in a fabric that can be shaped, cut, and added to. I thought it was a very nice metaphor for life in that we all collectively form a tapestry, a work of art (that a select few want to keep control of because they are power hungry. A good villain is always needed). However, I felt as if the book focused more on the typical teenage romance than the (very dangerous) circumstances surrounding wanting to rebel against a tightly-woven (pun definitely intended) society with veiled yet impenetrable security.

As mentioned in my review of “Divergent,” I’m very picky when it comes to romance. I’m ok with it as long as it seems necessary. For me, the love triangle in “Crewel” wasn’t necessary and fell more in line with “this is what needs to happen in a YA novel, so here it is.”  I wanted to see more action, by which I mean more explosions and fighting and sneaking around, but I got kissing instead. This made Adelice, while not a weak character, appear wimpy and, at times, one-dimensional.  This is not to say that literary women in relationships are weak, I just prefer female characters that spend most of their time kicking ass rather than making out.

The ending also seemed a bit rushed, though I think it was more intended as a cliffhanger. Although there were some flaws with this book, the writing was solid, and I’m interested enough in the world to see what happens next.  I just found out that the sequel (“Altered”) is now out, and I’ll be picking that up soon.  Sometimes book series can have a slow start with the first installment since it is the introduction to the world. It’s certainly possible (and I’m hopeful) that Gennifer Albin picks up the pace with “Altered.” Here’s hoping for more explosions!

Progress Report on My 2013 Goals

So I’ve been meaning to write an update on my goals for a while now, and seeing as we’re a month and change out from the new year, I figured I should post my progress:

1. Work out at least once a week
This first goal is going really well. I was totally failing for the first half of the year, but since July, I’ve been kickboxing once a week.  Here’s hoping I can finish the year out strong!

2. Read 20 books I own that I have not read yet
This goal hasn’t gone quite as well. I’ve read a total of one book from this list: “Elegy with a Glass of Whiskey” by Crystal Bacon.  I’ve gotten distracted with other books I don’t own, which is always the case.  Hmm, looks like I have quite a bit of reading ahead of me in the coming month and a half…

3. Read 10 of the books on my Goodreads list.
I’ve read 8 out of my goal of 10 books so far.  I’ve started two others from this list, so I’m hoping to get this goal finished up shortly.

4. Publish a poetry chapbook with a press
I finished putting together my chapbook in February. I have since sent it out to four contests, all of which said no.  I’m looking for more chapbook contests with deadlines before the end of the year, but so far, this hasn’t been a fruitful search. I may have to wait until next year.

5. Create more art (which is to say, work on a piece at least once a week)
I started the year off strong with this one (and even joined a Facebook group dedicated to posting a new piece of art each week), but have since fallen off the wagon. I am going to try to revive this for the remainder of the year, even if it’s working on a piece every other week.

6. Practice guitar at least once every other week
One thing I’ve noticed is that as the year progresses, what is really important becomes abundantly clear. I absolutely love the guitar, but I like writing and creating art more right now. I would rather have those practices take precedence at the moment, so I have tabled this goal for now. Perhaps next year I’ll pick up the strings again.

7. Watch every Jason Statham movie
This one’s done!  I watched all 20 movies I had yet to experience…and wow, Jason Statham has made a lot of generic action movies. But he’s made some keepers too. I really dug “The Italian Job,” (really well done, good plot, and great cast) “Death Race,” (for its sheer over-the-top ridiculousness) and “Gnomeo and Juliet” (surprisingly adorable and admirable…mostly because Jason Statham’s gnome races lawn mowers). There were some odd ones, like “Revolver” and “Turn It Up,” but I enjoyed this venture into all of “Handsome Rob’s” movies.

8. Try to post something brand new on Etsy at least once a month
As with the guitar goal, I realize that sometimes the pace we set out for ourselves just won’t work out. After some deliberation, I put my two Etsy shops on vacation. I realized I stopped creating for fun and started thinking about the “marketability” of my art. I didn’t like this road, so I want to take some time off from my shops and create freely for a while.

9. Post on this blog twice a week
Welp, that hasn’t gone as expected. But as with the creating more art goal, I’m hoping to revive this and finish the year strong.

10. Pay off one of my two credit cards
Umm, let’s not talk about this one. Ok, it’s not that bad, but this goal more than likely will not happen until next year. But at least the end is in sight!

I shall post my final progress at the end of December. In the meantime: If you’d like to keep up with how I’m doing for the next month or so, check out my “Goal” 2013 Resolutions” page periodically, as I’ll update it as I read/accomplish things.

Poetry Monday – Laurie Ann Guerrero

Thanks for joining me for Poetry Monday!  Today’s poem comes from Laurie Ann Guerrero’s new book “A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying.”  The poem is called “Esperanza Tells Her Friends the Story of La Llorona.”  Enjoy!

Something Like Hope: Thoughts on Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco reads his poem at the 57th Pres...

Richard Blanco reads his poem at the 57th Presidential Inauguration, January 21, 2013 (Photo credit: Photo Phiend)

I have never been glued to the coverage of a presidential inauguration before, but yesterday, as poet Richard Blanco read his poem “One Today,” I was entranced by my computer screen (my mouth may have been hanging open slightly).  And after reading the poem and watching the footage again, I am just as enrapt.

You know how many people have this one moment that inspired them to pursue a certain life path or someone they really look up to?  Typically, this happens as a child.  I really think that moment took place yesterday for me.

As can be seen in some of my past posts, I have quite a few ambitions.  But something felt different in me as I watched Richard Blanco read.  As the first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet, his reading was ground-breaking.  What better person to form a poem when the nation needs unity more than ever?

On a personal level, as a Latina myself, I think the reason his reading struck me was because it was the first time I really felt as if there are no limits to what I can accomplish.  I can be published, go to the moon, teach, travel, read in front of a national audience, and, most importantly, have my art taken seriously.

Blanco’s poem was expansive and inspiring.  It had nods to national tragedy and national scenery, yet it also got very specific with it’s mention of “pencil-yellow school buses” and fruit “arrayed like rainbows/begging our praise.”  I especially liked the ending:

“…all of us —
facing the stars
hope — a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it — together”

What I love about these lines, and the poem in general, is that it focuses on the unity of this country despite our differences or, perhaps, because of them.  And isn’t that the point, not just of inauguration day, but also of this nation?

Maybe I’m being dewey-eyed and cheesy, but the inaugural poem felt a lot like truth in its remembrance of where this nation came from.  It felt a lot like hope.