The Bone Season: a novel’s best intentions fall flat

The Bone Season

**Warning: some mild spoilers may be contained below. Please read at your own risk.**

Like most fiction these days, Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season is an interesting idea that’s poorly executed.

Released in 2012, Shannon’s first in what will be a series showed some promise—mainly in the rich, detailed world she envisioned for her characters. But the story’s poor structure and lack of emotional development leaves readers scratching their heads.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that Shannon was only 21 at the time the novel emerged. Many of the story’s faults could be attributed to lack of experience. As a young writer, she is undoubtedly still honing her craft—an exercise that may bear fruit in the series’s second installment, The Mime Order, due out in October of 2014. But be that as it may, the last page of The Bone Season left me wanting.

The novel’s weakest point is also one of the cornerstones of good fiction: structure, and, subsequently emotional development.

The novel features Paige Mahoney, a nineteen year old young woman living a double life in Scion London. Unlike the so-called amaurotics, read: Joe Blow like you and me, Paige is a clairvoyant. She is possessed of a set of supernatural skills and a unique one at that, allowing her make contact with other people’s dreamscapes—essentially the locus of their most interior thoughts, emotions, and dreams. Unfortunately for Paige, her very existence is a criminal offense; clairvoyance is illegal and results in either imprisonment/death or indentured servitude that eventually results in state-mandated execution.

Shannon has clearly done her legwork when it comes to the creation of her universe. The novel includes a chart of the hierarchy of clairvoyance, as well as maps of London and Oxford. Yet while these details help set the scene, they often get in the way of the story. Paige often spends so much time explaining to us why some clairvoyants are more important than others that we never have access to her emotions or her thought processes—and when we do, it’s in the most perfunctory way, with Paige telling us what she is feeling rather than us experiencing it along with her. By the time she’s running for her life across the rooftops of London, I have little invested in her survival. In fact, the only thing that kept me reading was a moderate interest in seeing this particular dystopia played out.

Basically, Paige fails the clown test. This handy little trick was described to me by a friend in graduate school, and it goes like this: when you’re thinking about a character and how they would behave, have them walk into a room wearing a clown wig. When you or the reader picture them in all their rainbow-curled glory, what does that make you feel? If imagining your character in this way yields no response—no “oh, no way, that’s completely out of character” or “yeah, that’s totally what she would do,” then you and your reader haven’t really connected with the character. It’s a great way of testing how a character’s actions feel or, in Shannon’s case, don’t feel.

The problem is that Paige is angry. All the time. She’s angry when she’s in Scion London, and she’s angry when she’s transported to Oxford. She’s angry with her Keeper, and she’s angry with her fellow clairvoyants. Along the way there are small moments of tenderness, but overall there is a constant, steady rage. And in light of some of the story’s events, we can forgive some of her anger or at least understand its source, but there are so many missed opportunities for development that I want to bang my head against the wall.

Without giving too much away, there are several scene cuts that ruin any chance of maturation in Paige. The most egregious of these is the transition from the decision to engage in battle and the preparation for said battle. By the end of one chapter, the decision to fight has been made, then in the next chapter it’s time to go to war. This is a real missed opportunity and one where I just wanted to smack my hand to my head in exasperation. In omitting the scenes of preparation and the subsequent tension and character interaction, Shannon fails to develop what will presumably be a significant relationship between Paige and another character in the coming sequel. After several hundred pages of Paige’s insistence that she hates this character, her sudden change of emotion later falls flat amidst groans and eye rolls.

I’ll spare you any further details in an effort not to spoil the book for any other potential readers, but let it suffice that even in the face of imprisonment, torture, death, and, oddly, romance, I could not connect with this character or this novel. At times lazy, at others maddeningly tedious, it’s mediocre at best.

For more information about Shannon and her series, visit her website: http://www.boneseasonbooks.com 

Image credit: http://www.boneseasonbooks.com/retailers

In a Pinch

Last night Casa de Croskey featured a popular conversation among co-habitors:

     Co-habitor A: What do you want to do about dinner? 

     Co-habitor R: Not sure. Eat out? Pizza? (thinking: I’d really love to tell YOU to come up with something, but potato chips really don’t make a suitable dinner.) 

But the more I thought about pizza, the more I thought about how eating it would undo all of the hard work we’d done tonight at the gym. Between the calories and the expense, eating out just didn’t seem appealing, but neither did the thought of cooking. So that left….cereal? 

Honey Nut Cheerios really just didn’t get my fire going, and the more I thought about it, the more I came back to pizza. With it’s delicious, carbohydrate-filled crusts and gooey puddles of cheese, the fat kid in me was having a field day. The intelligent, health conscious part of me decided to compromise with a quick pizza-like substitute. 

Okay, so big deal. Why should we care, Rebecca? 

To which I respond with: because I have somehow stumbled upon one of the easiest and most delicious fly by the seat of your pants sort of meals I’ve come up with in a long time. 

Knowing that we had a jar of marinara at the house, as well as the usual veggies and some good mozzarella cheese, I swung by the grocery store and grabbed a loaf of ciabatta bread. Slice that puppy down the middle and voila! Instant pizza. 

Okay, so I’m not the first person to have ever thought of this, but it was damned delicious–more so because it was easy and didn’t delay my evening too significantly. So if you’re looking for a few dinner ideas, here’s what we worked up: 

Andrew’s Pizza: 

  • Half of a ciabatta loaf
  • Bacon
  • Red onion
  • Fresh basil
  • Olives
  • Garlic
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Drizzle of pepper-infused olive oil

Yield: 3 servings or 2 Andrew-sized servings

Rebecca’s Pizza (WW 8pp):

Ingredients

  • thinly sliced red onion
  • applewood smoked bacon, torn to small pieces (so that the total weight comes to just a few grams when sprinkled on the pizza)
  • basil-infued olive oil
  • good balsamic vinegar (I used Lucini, Dark-Cherry infused) 
  • olives, finely chopped
  • garlic, finely chopped
  • fresh basil, minced or sliced in ribbons

Yield: 3 servings

Cook in the oven on broil until the cheese has reached your desired level of gooeyness. 

Confessions of a Former Fattie

Today we finally topped 90 degrees on the thermometer and that means just one thing: Spring is clawing desperately at the edge of the cliff while Summer stomps mercilessly on every finger.

It also means that it’s time to start busting out all of those frothy sundresses and thinly strapped shirts, to start baring shoulders and browning skin.

Yeah, Rebecca, we know. So what?

So today I pulled out a very favorite dress of mine. Six dollars on clearance, and just the right level of monochrome for me to pull off my favorite fashion style: the pop of color. It looks a little something like this:

Little Black Dress

Despite my love of this little number, today was only the second time I’ve worn it since I bought it more than two years ago. And of the two times that I’ve worn it, today was the only time I’ve looked in the mirror and felt moderately at peace with what I saw.

Let me back up a minute.

About four years ago my life couldn’t have been more different. I was just finishing my Bachelor’s degree, heading out into the big blue world, counting down the minutes to graduate school, to meeting new people–and men, especially men (my first school was a women’s college. Sort of puts the whammy on dating for some of us)–to having all of those life experiences that I kept hearing about.

So in the midst of planning how amazing this next phase of my life was going to be, I made sure to stop by my doctor’s office to get a check up before I made the big move out to Kansas. Routine stuff, you know. And there was that moment that so many of us dread, when the nurse calls your name and you disappear into the bowels of the office, following her left, then right, then left again until you are standing in front of that stupid, ridiculous, terrifying lump of plastic: the scale.

Shedding whatever excess weight I could–shoes, sweater, purse, I would have shaved my head if  I thought it would have made a difference–I stepped up to the plate. 239. No amount of closing my eyes and opening them again would make that number go away. I had hit 239 pounds.

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For a while I put the number out of my mind, determined not to dwell on it. You see, for most of my life I had assumed that this was my fate, my destiny: I would always be fat. I would grow fatter and fatter every year until I died prematurely of a heart attack or cholesterol-choked artery, and that would be that. In the realm of my macabre, imaginary life, this fatness and eventual death was part and parcel with a few other key points. Namely that the hideousness of my body would so repulse others that I would never be loved by anyone, that I would die alone without ever having felt beautiful, having kissed someone who wanted to kiss me back, and it was okay because that’s how it was supposed to be.

I realize how melodramatic and overblown this sounds, but I promise you that I’m not kidding. This is legitimately what my brain had conceived for me. Some kids dream of being astronauts, I dreamed of becoming large enough for other, smaller people to go into geo-synchronous orbit around me.

And then my brain, perhaps tired of all that self-pity, put on a pair of steel-toed boots, kicked me in the butt, and said Get the hell over it. After twenty-two years I finally realized that if I wanted things to change, then I had to be the one to change them. I had to stop gorging on brownies and cookie dough and things so fried into oblivion that they surely must have achieved a state of  negative nutritional value and actually take the steps to alter the course of my fate.

First step: I joined Weight Watchers*. After that it was baby steps. Weaning myself down from whole milk (which, I’ll be honest, I utterly adored) to non-fat, replacing my beloved cherry cola with diet versions, purchasing a food scale so that I knew exactly what a serving of things looked like.

Then it was time to start exercising. When I first started–I kid you not–I would get on the elliptical machine for 10 minutes at a time. That was all I could handle, so that’s where I started. Most of the time, I was making this face on the inside:

Oh the pain and burning in my muscles!!

Oh the pain and burning in my muscles!!

Eventually I knew that I needed to do more, so I joined my local YMCA–a decision I’ve never regretted. With my new membership, I was given a few complimentary sessions with a trainer as part of a program designed to help health seekers create a plan to achieve their goals. That’s when I met Shannan, who has not only been my trainer ever since, but who has also become a very good friend and strong source of support as I continue working toward my health and fitness goals.

Since that moment three years ago, a lot about me has changed. I’m proud to say that I’ve accomplished what was once unthinkable and lost 50 pounds. I’m equally proud to say that two weeks ago I ran in my first half marathon and am resting up so that I can tackle another one come the Fall. I’ve been hiking and skiing and become a volunteer at my gym (anytime you need someone to cheer you on during a triathlon, I’m your woman).

So when I say that today I had a moment–one of the very few in my twenty-six years of life–where I actually looked at myself in the mirror and felt okay with what I saw, it’s a pretty big deal. Maybe it’s selfish, prideful, supremely arrogant–maybe it’s all of those things and more, but it felt like a moment worth sharing.

*Disclaimer: No compensation has been made to me for referencing the Weight Watchers corporation, though if they wanted to throw in a year’s free subscription to the eTools, I sure wouldn’t say no! In all serious, legal mumblings, though, I’m mentioning them here only because they are a legitimate part of the above story. 

Oz the (Not So) Great and (Nowhere Near) Powerful

oz-the-great-and-powerful-banner-poster

This weekend Andrew and I indulged ourselves in a rare treat: a trip to the movies. Though we’re both movie lovers, the outrageous ticket prices and lackluster blockbuster offerings have had us abstaining more often than not. Typically we wait until a few weeks after a film has been released–reading reviews online and talking with friends–before we pony up. And shows like Wreck It Ralph and the first installation of The Hobbit were pleasant surprises that far exceeded their hype, so you can imagine our disappointment when, after months of waiting for another good title, Oz the Great and Powerful was about as satisfying as trying to take a nap with a wet blanket.

Let me back up for a second. Andrew and I live in Kansas. Though neither of us is originally from the Sunflower state, it’s where we currently hail from, and there are certain expectations when it comes to anything related to the land of Oz. Most people here–at least the ones we’ve met–have a love-hate relationship with all things Wizard. Despite being one of our country’s largest suppliers of wheat and being, therefore, intrinsic to the success of the food industry and people’s ability to eat anything with grains in it, the only thing that most people seem to know about Kansas is that you can fly over it on your way to somewhere else and that it’s where Dorothy and her little dog got caught up in a twister that tossed them into a technicolor dreamland. So as we settled ourselves into our theatre’s plush red seats, I was looking forward to hearing what my friends and colleagues would have to say about the film.

But by the end of the movie, I was ready to fall asleep.

To be fair, Oz had a lot riding on its shoulders. Like or not, most viewers have certain expectations of how the movie should play out. That kind of stuff is just inescapable when you’re messing with something so iconic in American culture. And there are certainly some lovely visuals that do a lot for establishing the whimsical world of Oz. We paid to see a 3-D version of the film, and it was one of the first movies I’ve seen where the 3-D actually enhanced the experience. Beyond that, though, there was little else that I found appealing, and I think it really boils down to one thing: bad writing. There are a dozen things that I can rattle off about the film’s less than stellar debut–poor pacing, characters that are hard to relate to, a nonexistent narrative arc, a binary representation of good and evil, not to mention the awful representation of women–but what it really and truly comes down to is a weak screenplay. *Warning: spoilers below. If you don’t want to know what happens, stop reading now.*

Think about it. There are a number of films where James Franco, Rachel Weisz, and Mila Kunis have given good, solid performances and created characters with whom we could connect on an emotional level. But those connections are nowhere to be found in Oz. Franco’s Oz and Kunis’s Theodora are utterly unlikable, though for different reasons. Oz is, quite frankly, a total dick, while Theodora’s transformation from simpering, wide-eyed naive girl to cackly, emotionless, hate-driven witch is unbelievable. None of the characters experience a transformative event or moment that substantiates their personality shift. Mostly things just seem to happen to them or around them. Even Glinda seems to just be waiting around for someone to come along and fix things (despite, we later learn, her inherent power and her ability to destroy the source of Evanora’s power). And this waiting is evidentiary of one of the most distasteful elements of the film: the representation of female characters.

oz-the-great-and-powerful-evanora Theodora Glinda

In the movie, women fall into one of three categories: good witch, bad witch, or child. Or, more accurately, Madonna, Whore, Infant. Significantly, the women who have power in the movie are the evil characters. That is, Evanora seized power from the former king, and she and Theodora take control of the kingdom. In light of the King’s death, one would assume that power would fall–by default–to Glinda, the King’s daughter. Instead, the people of Oz are waiting for a Great and Powerful Wizard to come and deliver them from the evil clutches of the wicked witches. In the meantime, it’s apparently Glinda’s responsibility to look sparkly, shiny, and virginal in her white robes and generally mother and protect the people until the real man arrives to take care of things. The cherry on this giant, anti-feminist sundae is Glinda’s reward when the battle is done–namely a kiss from (and it can be assumed) marriage to the Wizard. Please excuse me while I go throw up a little in my mouth.

China Girl

And when women aren’t behaving as virgins or whores, they’re children. The China Girl (who was, by the way, the only likable character other than Zach Braff’s Finnley) is the only other prominent female character who plays a role in the film. Surprisingly, she’s the only character who demonstrates any sense of agency and is the only female character who shows strength. When Glinda loses her wand, the China Girl retrieves it and sneaks into the Emerald City’s palace to return it to the good witch, eluding both the city’s guards and the witches themselves. In addition, though she begins the story as a broken, seemingly fragile creature, by the end of the movie she’s not only making demands and getting her way, but also helping rescue the other characters and, ultimately, thwarting the forces of evil. Curious, though, that this type of behavior could only be presented in the form of a child, who will, presumably, one day grow up and out of that sort of willful behavior.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite gender being one of my primary areas of research interest, I don’t go into every movie looking to analyze gender roles. I honestly went into this looking to have a nice like romp in fantasy-land, but the gender dynamics were so blatant–and so awful–that it sort of overshadowed everything else. And what’s equally problematic about these female characters is the way in which they place an equal amount of pressure on men to be valiant, handsome, and the savior of human- (or munchkin-)-kind. I’m pretty sure that guys are just as tired of that narrative as women are of being told that they need to remain virginal until their wedding night but somehow, with no prior experience, know how to be the sexiest thing between two sheets. All in all, it’s just freaking exhausting. So whether we attribute it to bad writing or just out and out bad movie-making, Oz was certainly one of the year’s biggest disappointments.

What about you? Did you see the movie? What are your thoughts on the film?

Image credits:
Movie Poster: http://www.nerdist.com/2013/03/review-oz-the-great-and-powerful-a-whirlwind-adventure/
Evanora: http://latino-review.com/2013/01/25/posters-oz-great-powerful/oz-the-great-and-powerful-evanora/
Theodora: http://www.heroesandhellions.com/daily-debriefing/new-character-posters-for-oz-the-great-and-powerful/attachment/oz-the-great-and-powerful-mila-kunis-as-theodora/
Glinda: http://www.sugarscape.com/main-topics/fashion-beauty/821199/michelle-williams-glinda-good-oz-great-powerful-get-makeup-look
China Girl: http://movies.yahoo.com/blogs/the-reel-breakdown/oz-great-powerful-first-look-203157013.html

365 DoT Weeks 2 & 3

It’s been a while since my last post. Life got busy, as it’s wont to do, but despite that, my 365 Days of Thanks project has certainly been on my mind. Even when I haven’t specifically written things down, I’ve been thinking about the project, looking for ways to include moments of thanks into my daily routine. So far, it’s been enjoyable, and aside from a few moments of frustration it hasn’t been too hard to stick the plan. I do have a new goal, though, of making the time to physically write down each moment so that I can collect my daily thoughts. They say that writing down goals or important ideas is key to being successful, and I think I could really increase the positive impact of the project by writing everything out each night instead of just thinking about things daily.

We’ll see how that goes. 🙂

In the mean time, here’s my laundry list from the past two weeks. Some days my moments of thanks were simple and direct, and on others they were more complex.

365 DoT Week #2

1/24/13 – Today I was thankful for my gym membership–more specifically that it’s something that I can afford to incorporate into my budget. Not only is it a huge help to have that sense of community, but it’s also nice to have a place where I can run inside when it’s cold or raining, where I can work to better myself, and where I can meet new people.

1/25/13 – I am so, so, so thankful that I am done with school. At least for now. Some days I do toy with the idea of pursuing my doctorate, but for now I’m okay with having my Master’s done and in the bag. I think what really drives this point home for me is that when I leave work, I can spend my days doing things that I like or enjoy. Sure, some days I get bored in a way that I never did while I had hoemwork or work to finish for the classes that I was teaching, but there are other days where I relish my ability to lay on the couch with Andrew while he plays video games or stay out late with friends and not have to worry about that 20 page paper that was due Monday. When you’re in school, there’s always something hanging over your head, always something else that you “should” be doing. Now it’s starting to feel like my life is really and truly my own. I can learn according to my own schedule and interests rather than following the arbitrary scheduling of 16 week deadlines and lists of assignments created by someone else. I can pursue new hobbies and explore a great deal more than I ever could before. It’s pretty awesome.

1/26/13 – Beer. Some days it really just hits the spot.

1/27/13 – Lazy afternoons. The sun is starting to come out more, and it’s been nice to take Jeep for walks and play with him in the backyard. We’ve been working on his commands, and he’s doing such a fantastic job with them!

1/28/13 – Strange as it may sound, I’m pretty thankful for Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, whose work shapes so much of our daily lives. Their research and inventions help me manage the distance between my family/friends and myself, making all those miles seem just a little shorter.

1/29/13 – Soft serve, vanilla frozen yogurt. Froyo is the bomb dot com, and on a shaky day, it’s my favorite treat.

1/30/13 – My community. Granted, I still don’t think of Kansas as home. Mostly it just feels like a place where I live, but nowadays, as Andrew and I have more time to spend together and more time to spend exploring new friendships, I’m finally coming to feel a small sense of belonging. When I visit the gym or walk across campus at work, I find myself stopping to wave at people or chat with them about their pets or spouses or children. After having spent the last three years feeling more or less invisible, it’s a good feeling to have that sense of place.

365 DoT Week #3

1/31/13 – Good conversations really do make the world go round. Work has been a bit slow these past few weeks, and it’s given me a lot of time to talk with my colleagues and get to know them better. It’s fun to see where we all have come ground and where we all differ on things.

2/01/13 – TGIF. And it’s payday!

2/02/13 – I’m so incredibly fortunate to have such good friends. Today we held our Christmas Gone Awry party (since we were traveling over the holidays, we weren’t able to celebrate with our friends), and the night was a smash. Great conversations, great food, great people. Pretty fantastic.

2/02/13 – Sort of in the same vein as yesterday’s moment of thanks, but I’m incredibly thankful for my friends Ben and Charlene Giles. They are two of the warmest, kindest, most beautiful people I’ve had the great fortune of meeting, and I’m so thankful to have had them come into my life.

2/03/13 – My boss, Barbara, is a pretty astonishing person. She’s the kind of woman who leads others without them ever knowing they needed a guide. Compassionate and considerate and incredibly smart, she creates a strong sense of community and love that enriches our office.

2/04/13 – It was a rough day. This morning (around 2:00 am), I woke up with this intense pain in my left arm. It was strong enough to wake me up, but not unbearable, so I shifted positions and tried to go back to sleep. Over the next hour and a half, though, the pain intensified, and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Worried, I did a mental check of the other parts of my body and then googled the symptom. I knew that left arm pain was often associated with heart attacks and strokes, and even though I knew that neither of those were strong contenders for what was going on (I’m only 25 and in good health), I was still worried. My arm hurt so badly that just brushing my fingertips along the surface of my skin hurt. I couldn’t hold anything in my left hand or even lay my arm down on the bed. It just freaking hurt. Finally I woke Andrew up and, after talking, we decided to go to the ER. At this point it was 4:00am. Normally I’d have avoided this at all costs because a.) it’s expensive and b.) I know that most things seen at the ER are for non-emergent care and that they can usually wait until business hours. But I’d never experienced pain like this before, and in the long run, we though we ought to be safe rather than sorry. After a two and a half hour wait, we spent about four minutes with a doctor who was polite but clinical and seemed to think that I was a complete idiot (although at this point it was 6:30am, and I’d been up since two dealing with the pain, so I may have been more than a little biased). His prognosis? “You probably slept on it wrong and strained a nerve.” Twenty minutes later they were collecting my money and we were headed home. At the time, I was irritated. If there’s a problem, I like to know what it is and how to fix it, but this was something that couldn’t been named or addressed and I was more than a little miffed by the doctor’s bedside manner. I tried to go in to work, but they sent me home, knowing that what I really wanted was to go home and go back to sleep. Later, when I’d had time to take a nap and play with Jeep, I was able to feel thankful that nothing had been wrong. I’m sure that I’ll get a bill for more money than I want to pay, but at the end of the day, I was still healthy and happy and with a man who didn’t hesitate to get out of bed in the middle of the night and hold my hand and tell me that the most important thing was that I was okay. If that isn’t humbling (especially since he then went to work and put in a ten hour day), then I don’t know what is.

What are you thankful for this week?

365 DoT – Week 1

365 DoT 1 . Collage

So it’s been about 8 days since I kicked off my New Year’s resolution to spend 365 days being consistently thankful. With no significant changes to report, I can say that it wasn’t too terribly hard to stick to my plan. What’s been nice so far is that I start my day with a focus on trying to be thankful, finding something that I can focus on as a sort of touchstone for the day. Sometimes I don’t find it right away; the day has to yawn and stretch and unfurl itself before I have that one single moment where I think to myself: I cannot imagine what my day would have been like without X. But that’s okay. I didn’t start this with any real sense of a strategy or approach. I just wanted to try to live my life a little more mindfully, to focus on the positive that can so often be drowned out by the little irritations of each day.

Here’s how my week looked:

Day #1: Tuesday –  As I mentioned in my initial post, I am constantly thankful for my fiance, Andrew, who fills my life with so much love.

Day #2: Wednesday – Today was Bob day. Bob is a co-worker of mine. Despite our different backgrounds (he grew up in Brooklyn and I grew up in South Carolina), Bob is one of my new favorite people.  Not only does he demonstrate kindness and compassion in all of his actions, but he’s also ready with a joke to make someone laugh or words of support to make sure that every single person he meets feels appreciated. It’s pretty inspiring.

Day #3: Friday – Friday evening I got a call that my brand new running shoes had come in and that I would be able to pick them up the next day. I was so excited! One of my personal fitness goals this year is to complete my first half marathon. I start a training program in February, and I’m planning to run the Prairie Fire Half Marathon in early May. These new shoes were a huge boost in my mood. Running in them over the weekend felt like running on clouds.

Day #4: Saturday – The weather was just gorgeous on Saturday and Sunday. Andrew and I took our run outside (and learned that we are slow as molasses when we’re not on the track) and also took our favorite pupper dog for a walk in the park near our house. He was thrilled and so were we!

Day #5: Sunday – Today I was thankful for vegetables. That’s right, I actually gave considerable thanks for broccoli, peppers, and onions. In an effort to eat healthier, I’ve been trying to plan our meals a week in advance, so tonight I prepped all of the vegetables we’d need for the week (and a whole bowl of chicken for a double recipe of curry). Having them on hand and ready to go is a huge help in making sure that we cook real food rather than relying on lean cuisines.

Day #7: Monday – It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day! Not only can I be thankful for the sacrifices this man made to help bring equality to all of the people in our country, but I was also able to spend my day at home taking care of my family. I spent the day cleaning, organizing, and making sure the house would be nice for Andrew when he came home. Usually we split the household chores 50/50, but he’s been working a lot of overtime lately, and I wanted him to be able to come home and relax. Plus, I bought myself a new label maker. Check out the progress on those pantry cabinets!

Day #8: Tuesday – Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for me to have a day where I just was not in the mood to be thankful. This morning Jeep vomited twice within the space of five minutes (never pleasant) and, what was worse, had blood mixed in with his vomit. Panicked and insane with anxiety, we called Dr. Kelly as soon as the clinic opened. She not only eased my concerns, but she also had us bring Jeep to the clinic. She watched him all day while we were at work, monitoring him for any signs of illness, taking extra special care of him–on top of all of her daily responsibilities. Stomach in knots, I drove to work and found a lobby full of students with myriad enrollment and academic issues. The day was a constant stream of people in and out my door, with my mind focused all the while on my little Jeepers Creepers and wondering how he was doing. Turns out he’s okay for now. No signs of problems, but man was I just not in the mood to deal with anything. I took him home, gave him some love, then hit the track to burn off some stress. And, of course, it was busy, full of people who were either running far to fast for the limited indoor space and almost knocking me over or people who seemed to think that stopping in the middle of the walkway was the best idea they had EVER had and why didn’t they do it for TEN MINUTES?! But. But. I needed to remember to be thankful. I need to find the positive moment in the day. So I thought about Dr. Kelly, who has been kind, gracious, and incredibly supportive as we continue to battle Jeep’s mystery medical issues. I thought about how she cares for Jeep as much as we do. How, when I cried in her office, overwhelmed with all of Jeep’s nine months of unsolvable medical mysteries, she gave me tissues and told me to go home and drink some wine, that even though this was hard, we were doing a good thing for our dog–that we’d essentially saved his life. Because of the undiagnosable and expensive nature of his illnesses, he would likely have been put to sleep. At two years old, he is the sweetest, kindest, most lovable pup on the planet and the thought of him being put down tears me up inside. Yes caring for him his hard and stressful, but we’re able to make it work. Dr. Kelly reminded me of that. I don’t think I will ever be able to thank her enough for all that she has done to help us and to help Jeep.

Day #9: Wednesday – I’m thankful for my legs. You can see them in the picture up above–how they’re flabby, full of cellulite, and generally unattractive. But they are my legs, and they work incredibly hard for me. They’ve carried me through almost 26 years of life, they’ve stuck with me through day after day of lunges at the gym and mile after mile of running on the track. They provide me with support, stability, and the ability to keep myself grounded. Everyday I work to improve them. Laps, horseshoes, squats, and lunges–they’ve carried me through everything, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have them.

How about you? How did your week turn out?

365 Days of Thanks

It’s that time of year. You know the one–the time where gym memberships spike, cigarette sales drop, and volunteer numbers surge. In short: it’s time for New Year’s resolutions.

I’m as game as the next person when it comes to picking up the resolution baton. It’s nice to take some time to really focus on ways to improve myself, my relationships, my community–whatever place in my life that I feel could be bettered. Like most Americans, weight loss features a spot in the top of my list (this year I’m hoping to finally hit my goal weight and enter into maintenance), as does exercise (this spring I’m training for my first half marathon!), but the one thing that I always try to explore is ways that I can improve my self. What can I do each year to try to be a better person?

So over the last few months of 2012, I wracked my brain and tried to figure out the place that I could use the most improvement. One day, as I was chopping vegetables, I started to think about how beautiful our meal was going to be. I can’t remember what I was cooking at the time, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it was my favorite light curry dish. Flavorful and delicious, it’s truly a treat, and what’s more is that it’s just as beautiful to look at as it is to eat. Slices of ruby bell peppers simmering alongside purple onion and the earthy orange of carrots, all of it speckled with minced cilantro and floating in a creamy coconut base… Sumptuous. And I started to think about what was in this pot: fresh vegetables, chunks of antibiotic-free chicken, long, thin grains of pearly jasmine rice. How fortunate I am, I thought to myself, that I can not only cook this meal for my family, but also that doing so is not a hardship.

Then came a list of things, both good and difficult. How last year I finished graduate school (thank God!)–a trial for sure but also a moment of triumph–, how I transitioned from a job that wasn’t always a good fit and started a wonderful new job that I love, how I adopted a lovable puppy who brings me so much joy but who has been battling a mysterious and expensive illness for the last nine months, how I got engaged to a wonderful man who comes into the kitchen or the bedroom or wherever I am and just stops, looks at me, smiles, says You’re so wonderful, and I love you. Sometimes these small moments of peace and joy and beauty are lost to me. With the rancid breath and gnashing jaws of Stress or Bad Days clouding my vision, it can be so hard to stop and remind myself of how truly fortunate I am.

What does this have to do with New Year’s resolutions you may ask? Plenty! This year, my resolution is to spend 365 days being thankful. Specifically, it’s my goal to find at least one thing to be thankful for each and every day. My ultimate goal is to post these things here, on Time to Blink, on a weekly if not a daily basis. Right now, in the midst of January, when I feel fresh and new, this plan sounds so easy. It sounds like a grand idea that’s going to Change My Life! Hopefully, those things will be true, but I know that, sooner or later, there’s going to be that bad day–the day when a student grows upset in my office or Andrew and have a tiff or one of the million other sundry little irritations finally gets to me. I know then that it will be hard to sit down, to say For this, I am thankful. But that’s what I’m hoping to change. That’s the part of myself that I’m hoping will grow and develop and learn to move forward, to leave anger or frustration in the past and to focus, at least for the most part, on the things that are good and true.

So here’s my first start:

Andrew and Rebecca

Moment of Thanks #1: Today I am thankful for my fiance, Andrew, who rescued me from loneliness and showed me that I was worth something to the world. Before we met, I was struggling with depression and anxiety and falling deeper and deeper into what seemed like a bottomless hole of anger and hurt. He’s helped me learn that my life has worth and value and that I can help do some good for the world.

How about you? What are you thankful for today?