The Introspective Salon
I came across the book Pretty Fun by Kate Hudson while I was checking in books during work at the Library. My first reaction was ugh another stupid book by a celebrity. Another stupid book about how to make things look pretty so you can feel happy. Yuck. I see so many of these celebrity books come through and they all seem pretty much the same: cheap content manufactured for sales. My reaction to Kate’s book was so negative, though, that I decided to try responding to the book in a different way. Instead of just deciding I hated it, I decided to check it out. I mean, I was honestly a little curious.
Before I dive in, my pre-book thoughts are as follows:
1. The book is going to be about 75% fluff. By fluff, I mean that the pages are going to be filled with mostly pictures of Kate. The text and the margins are going to be big. There’s going to be a lot of graphic design to fill space. The book will operate under a “minimalism” aesthetic, but that will just be an excuse to cut corners and ditch substance.
2. There will be a lot of buzzwords.
3. I won’t learn much from this book, and what I do learn I’ll probably never apply to my own life. To be fair, though, this book is about throwing pretty parties and I really don’t care about throwing pretty parties. So keep that in mind, this critique is coming from a person who doesn’t have a space for this book in her life. I’m going to try to keep myself open to the possibilities though, and even put my party planner hat on.
On the fluff
This book was not 75% fluff as predicted. There were a lot of pictures of Kate, a lot of cute and oddly placed little icons, and a handful of two-page spreads that fluffed up the book, but the book was mostly content. The margins in this book are aesthetically pleasing, but they’re not gratuitously wide. I was surprised to find that Kate gives her readers plenty of ideas and ways to execute those ideas. She gives her readers recipes and she has a section called “Pretty Stocked Pantry,” which is really useful information, even for non-party people like me.
The design of this book was probably just as important during production as the content of this book, but, I didn’t come away thinking that the book had no substance like I thought I would. I also took a few things from it, like family dinner nights. I swooned over those pages (27-29) because Kate includes some ways to get kids involved in the preparation of dinner and conversation topics for the family. I thought that was one of the humblest and simplest ideas in the book. While it didn’t teach me anything new, it was a nice reminder to not only value family dinners, but to make them feel special.
One of the other things I took away from this book was to think about my alone time as a “Party for One.” It sounds really cheesy, but I like this idea because I think it will help me approach my moments alone as more precious and have more gratitude for them. I can get really caught up in thinking I’m alone way too much and that I must be doing something wrong in life because I’m not as social as I perceive everyone else to be, but I’m an introvert. Socializing exhausts me. Why I torture myself over this, I don’t know, but approaching my alone time as little parties for myself, I think that could be a useful strategy.
As far as my critique goes . . .
Something that really bugged me about this book was the mirage of simplicity. There was a two-page spread near the end of the book that featured an idyllic looking picnic and a Lord of the Rings Quote: “It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.” Now, to be fair, this quotation came right before the section on simple home parties and family dinners, but I have to say, this book is not about simplicity. This book is about extravagance and curated beauty. Yes, it is about the connection and the gathering, but one of Kate's party ideas was to go to Greece for an afternoon. Another suggestion was to hire a food truck for a “simple” Game Night. Alright, so she's reaching a broad audience. People in her circle can just go to Greece for an afternoon and hire entire food trucks to cater casual events, but life in that circle isn’t simple. I’m getting a little defensive over this, I’ll admit, because I consider myself to be a simple person and I feel a deep-rooted familiarity with Hobbits, but I don’t think it’s really disputable that flying to Greece for an afternoon or hiring a food truck for a few friends constitutes a lavish party.
Another part of the book that really grated on my nerves was the casual mention of "Ayurvedic Medicine." When I saw that, my mind immediately considered it a buzzword. It’s a sneaky marketing ploy. People love terms like this. It feels folksy. It feels trendy, yet it feels unique. After its appearance in the introduction, I expected never to see this term in the book again as this Eastern Indian practice has absolutely nothing to do with party planning, and I didn’t see the term come up until pages 211 and 213, but that was it. Those were the only references to Ayurvedic Medicine. That’s because Ayurvedic Medicine isn’t related to party planning. It doesn’t belong in this book. Including it was all about cashing in. Maybe Kate really does practice Ayurvedic Medicine. Maybe she knows a whole lot about it. I kind of doubt it, but I don't know, maybe it means a lot to her. Whatever. It doesn’t belong in this book.
Did I learn anything?
I mostly only found two big take-aways from Pretty Fun, which is no surprise because like I've already stated, I have little interest in parties. I enjoy spending time with the people who matter most to me. My husband. My parents. My in-laws. My sisters. My niece. Other extended family. My best friends. Ideally, one of those groups at a time. I struggle in groups of people and I find it exhausting. I say that to further clarify that I am not the intended audience for this book, so of course I wouldn’t find it super useful or see much value in the information, but I decided to check it out because I felt so much judgement toward it that it was verging on hate. I think it's good to explore and maybe challenge the things that provoke strong reactions in us, even if that thing doesn't seem particularly significant.
Overall, I do think the book is just another celebrity book. It’s not anything super special. I won't be buying it, but I can tell that Kate and her team did put effort into it and if I had bought this book, I wouldn’t feel super ripped off because it is thoughtfully put together and there are things that I gleaned from it. There are recipes and party ideas that could come in handy if I were a Party Thrower Goddess, but I’m not, so I don’t need those things in hard copy. If I’m going to throw a party, it’s going to be casual as hell. The focus will one hundred percent be on conversation and not on the decorations or the theme or the drinks. Kate made those points, too, that a party is about the people and the fun, she just likes the flair. And you know what? That’s okay. Just because I don’t like the flair doesn’t mean I have to be such an immediate critic.
Kate and I both agree that a party should just be fun, we just disagree on how to make it that way. She wants lots of people. I don’t. She wants lots of decorations and sweet touches. I don’t care. But, we both want connection and gathering. That’s pretty simple.
There are a lot of articles out there about how to calm nerves or anxiety, but most of them are like “10 Ways You Can Calm Down”and I find that prescriptive language REALLY annoying. The only way to figure out how to calm down and cope with anxiety is through trial and error. So, I’m going to share what works for me. These are techniques that I’ve collected through going to therapy and practicing how best to calm down and cope on my own.
1. Admit that I feel anxious – When I start to feel really anxious it’s tempting to try and shut down what I’m feeling, but this only makes everything absolutely 100% worse. Instead of saying to myself “damn it why am I so anxious I hate this” I can try saying “hey, I know I’m feeling anxious right now because my breathing is labored and my eyelids hurt.” Becoming aware of what the anxiety is doing to me physically almost instantly takes the power away.
As an example, I remember about a year ago I was going to meet up with some coworkers at a downtown bar. I have pretty bad social anxiety and I pretty much never go to bars. To make things worse, this bar was in an alleyway which made it really difficult to find. I was getting so anxious driving around trying to find the stupid place and thinking about socializing that I almost started crying. I noticed, too, that my leg was feeling slightly numb. At first I was like great, I’m anxious and I’m having some weird limb malfunction, but then I realized that the limb malfunction was a result of the anxiety. So, I talked to my leg. Yep. I was like “Hey leg, I know that you’re trying to tell me something. You’re letting me know that I feel uncomfortable right now and I hear you.”
And you know what? The numbness went away. It’s amazing what a difference simply calling out the anxiety rather than trying to squash it deep down can make. (Side note: isn't it great how that meme makes absolutely zero sense outside of this particular context?)
2. Focus on something other than myself – Anxiety can make me pretty selfish. I spend so much time in my own head because of my anxiety that sometimes I neglect others. This just feeds a cycle of depression and then it’s like anxiety and depression are spinning around in a mixer inside my body competing for my attention. I can stop this cycle pretty quickly by thinking about anything other than me and my big ‘ol anxiety suitcase. If I’m in a social situation I can practice listening intently to what others are saying and, if participating in the conversation doesn’t just feed more anxiety I can come up with some questions to ask people about their work or their life or their interests.
I can also use this tactic if I’m just sitting at home getting a great big wave of “where the hell did this come from?” anxiety. Aren’t those episodes fun? I can move my attention from the anxiety by doing something like going for a walk with the dog or tidying up a little. I can cook a meal or bake some cookies. Finding an action with results that can be shared is best because it completely removes the focus from myself. I’m walking the dog so he can get outside. I’m tidying up because my husband shares this space (ok, that one is really only for me, but it does make me feel better). I’m cooking a meal or baking because I can share the food with my husband or other family. I have found that some course of action is the best way to combat anxiety. Sitting around and stewing only ever escalates things for me.
3. Worry Windows – I’ve talked about his before, and probably will again because Worry Windows work so wonderfully for me. If I have a lot of things on my mind I have found that it’s incredibly helpful to write them down. I give myself 10-20 minutes to write down everything I’m worrying about and then I say “OK. That’s it. Now I’m going to take action.” Of course, I can’t take action against every worry, but I just mean that I’m not going to sit around worrying anymore. I’m going to get up and move on. I find this strategy SO helpful because as I write down my worries I contradict myself in my own mind. If I’m worried about money, for example, and I write that down I might say to myself, “we have enough to live comfortably.” If I’m worried about my future and I write that down I might say, “I can only do what I can do in the moment.” The sheer act of writing down my worries totally takes the pressure off about 99% of what I’m worrying about.
I recently tried recording myself babbling about worries for 20 minutes. I did it this way because I didn’t feel like writing, but I was feeling really anxious. It was helpful to talk through my worries, but I think writing is the more helpful approach because it gives me that space to contradict myself. When I’m speaking there’s not really any space for that. To counteract the problem I ended my Worry Window recording with some gratitude. (I also made a promise to myself that I won’t play it back until at least a decade has passed. I think that will be an interesting experience to hear how a decade changes my worries as well as what I'm grateful for (Of course, I can see these changes in my journals, too, but the recording has the added benefit of cringing at the sound of my own voice!)
4. Take a bath! – When my husband and I were renting an apartment we had a pretty nasty tub that I never bathed in. Now we own our place and we have a cleaner tub that’s spacious enough for a relaxing soak. When I notice that I’m experiencing a lot of tension I like to hop in a hot bath, submerge myself under the water and let it hold the weight of my body for a few minutes. I can’t float in my tub, it’s not that big, but I can simulate the feeling of it well enough. Besides feeling slightly weightless, there’s something about the sound of being underwater that allows my mind to let go of wandering thoughts. (I also got into essential oils recently and I like to drop in a little bit of lavender or peppermint to aid in relaxing and letting go).
In the process of approaching baths as a relaxation method, I’ve learned that I have to light candles and turn off all the lights so that I can’t fixate on any areas that might seem a little dirty or soap scummy. As soon as I light the candles, I turn the lights off and run the water. If I don’t do it this way, I get hung up on the state of the tub, or the whole bathroom for that matter, and then I end up losing the element of relaxation. There is a set time to clean the tub. Rest assured, I clean it thoroughly and often enough, but cleaning it before I hop in to bathe just gives me more tension and makes me more uncomfortable, so I have to set up the scene to avoid that situation.
5. Singing – A few months ago when I was getting ready to go to a workout class, I was starting to feel really nervous about going. I hadn’t been in awhile and the last time I went I’d gone with my husband so I was extra anxious about how the class would go without him to be my workout partner. I had been watching Amazon’s original show Transparent earlier that day and the characters had busted out in some songs from Jesus Christ Superstar.
I know that musical well because my mom used to watch it when she couldn’t sleep, and hearing the Pfefferman family belt out the classic tunes reminded me of the song “Everything’s Alright.” I could remember most of the lyrics off the top of my head, but I pulled it up on Youtube so I could sing along to the whole song. The familiarity of it, the harmony of it, the way singing along transported me to a different head space, it all took away my anxiety almost instantly. It was still there under the surface, but it calmed me down enough to get me into the car to drive to the gym, and once I get in a car I'm hard pressed to turn around for anything.
It’s funny to me how my mom used to watch Jesus Christ Superstar to help her get sleepy, and now I sing the songs to help calm my anxiety. Healthy or unhealthy, coping mechanisms run in the family. Thankfully, I don't see anything unhealthy in singing a little JCS!
There are so many options when it comes to coping with anxiety that the process of figuring out what’s going to work can be anxiety provoking in and of itself. It can get annoying and overwhelming to hear the same advice over and over again so it’s nice to know what works so I can say, I’ve tried that, but you know what these are the techniques that work for me.
For the past few months, I’ve been thinking of myself as this emotionally evolved person. I’ve overcome so many challenges with anxiety and depression. I have wrapped myself in compassion and forgiveness. I have learned to overcome jealousy.
I have forgotten, though, about the little lonely me. I don’t want to think about her because she makes me so very, very sad.
I was talking with a friend over coffee about how I feel like I’m boring and the things that I write are boring and no one is interested in hearing about me or my stories. She told me that while she thinks my writing is lovely, she doesn’t ever really see me in it and she wondered why.
I wondered why too.
I have forgotten about the little lonely me. I have neglected her.
This is important, that little lonely me, because I am writing a novel for children. I am writing a novel for a little lonely child.
I thought that the novel I am working on was about forgiveness, and it probably still is, but it’s also about a lonely boy. He is surrounded by the emptiness of an abandoned building. He is surrounded by the silence of his mother about the death of his father. He is desperately trying to fit in with his new friends, even though fitting in means becoming someone he fears.
I see parts of myself in the boy of my novel, Frances, especially in his loneliness, but I have been too afraid to explore that. I can understand how badly he wants to fit in with his friends, even if I never took quite the same path to becoming a part of a group. I did the opposite. I withdrew, but the feelings are still the same.
I have wanted to be liked too, desperately, and I know how scary it is to think that you’re becoming someone you don’t like in the process of trying to be noticed.
I see myself in these shards of this boy’s life, but I have not put that into my novel. I’ve been avoiding it, and I didn’t even realize it.
The demon of my loneliness is big. It is hiding and it is silence and it is fear. The demon of Frances’ loneliness is big. It is a messy house. It’s a trailer park and a bedroom and an assemblage of broken glass. It is an asphalt wasteland.
I gave a presentation recently about how important it is to confront our own truths as writers. It’s important to connect with ourselves and fully know ourselves so that we can write characters with more depth of emotion and capacity for change. I thought I was giving this presentation because I’ve done all that myself and I was passing on my wisdom, but really, I was giving the presentation because I still needed to hear all that, too.
Being a slow poke is on my mind. I just posted "In Defense of Being a Slow Poke" about a week ago, but I haven't really laid it to rest. I mean, I think I've come to terms with my natural slow rhythm, but I still find that I'm measuring myself against a fast-paced world. I wrote this idea down about the tortoise and the hare in my journal, and I thought I'd share it here since I've recently been on about a similar topic.
Also, consequently I learned how to spell Tortoise. Tor-toi-se. That's just so strange.
I remember hearing “The Tortoise and the Hare” a lot as a child. I would say it was a fundamental fable of my childhood.
I grew up learning that it was important to do tasks slow and well rather than fast and sloppy. I think most children probably still hear this fable and learn this idea, but I wonder how much they even get the chance to apply it.
I’m going to sound like an old person set in her ways here, but life just moves so much faster than it used to. I mean, any adult would probably say that regardless of how the times change because we have a different concept of time as kids, but I don’t just mean my perspective of time has gotten faster, I mean that as a culture, our approach to time has changed. I don’t think modernity allows for the tortoises to win the race. Slow and steady isn’t what teachers want. It’s not what employers want. Fast and average seems to be the new standard.
Fast and average definitely isn’t totally novel, but I think it’s become much more rampant with the content driven lives we all lead. (I just googled "More More More" looking for images and one of the results was the YouTube Logo. How fitting).
Whether we’re making content or consuming content, it just seems we all want more. I mean, it really sucks that Bob’s Burgers only airs EVERY OTHER WEEK! But, that show is, in my opinion anyway, quality. It’s not fast and average. So yea, it’s going to take more time. And, that show has done well enough to be on its 8th season, so there are some exceptions to the fast and average situation I’m complaining about. It’s not a totally infections fungus. Exceptions aside, how many hares are granted more opportunities because they can crank out the content
Hares are rewarded for sheer quantity and children are learning this early. I'm speaking from my own experience working in a public school here, but it seems to me that this is how school goes: keep up with a fast-paced curriculum or get left behind. And then tests, which are abundant, are timed and the expectation is for students to get a lot done in a little bit of time. Students who can do that are rewarded with higher scores and probably a little more attention from their teachers and very likely, at some point, money and opportunities. I think this is an antiquated system as most schools really haven’t changed their style much since the inception of free public education, but this production expectation is reinforced in the changing workplace and changing lifestyles where it seems that more of anything, of whatever the hell it is you produce or manufacture or read or watch or whatever, is definitely better.
As someone who works at a tortoise pace, I find the whole “fast and average” standard to be infuriating. Sure, there are some tasks that I need to get done quickly and the quality doesn’t really matter so I succumb to being quick and sloppy, but mostly, I work slowly and am extremely quality controlled, sometimes to my own detriment, but more often than not working slowly proves to be the best method for me. When I work quickly I become easily flustered. I drop shit left and right. I get grumpy. I lose sight of any purpose. And yea, I was never any good at timed tests in school.
It seems to me that “The Tortoise and the Hare” is no longer applicable. We might still tell the story, but I doubt anyone truly believes it anymore.
I’ve pretty much always set New Years’ Resolutions, but there is something about the word “resolution,” I think, that trips me up. Maybe the problem is I’ve never written down my resolution so I have never had any way to come back and review my progress. I mean, I don’t even remember what I set out to accomplish last year. Regardless of the reason why the word resolution is a roadblock though, this year, instead of setting a resolution, I’ve come up with an intention. I was inspired by the idea of choosing a word for the year, but I came up with two words so I’m calling it an intention. I’ve written it in my journal. I’m writing it here. I’ve defined what these words mean to me and broken them down, so I’m ready to go.
This year, my intention is to have more gratitude and to be more generous.
I want to focus on gratitude because I have a tendency to be negative. I’m not the type to “keep up with the Jones’” and I don’t always feel like I need more material things, but I am the type to compare myself to others in terms of career and experiences. Expressing gratitude for the blessings in my own life will help me to focus on my own career and experiences and be grateful for the opportunities that I have rather than always thinking that others have better careers or more interesting experiences than me.
I want to focus on generosity because money is something I can way too easily be selfish with. My tendency toward negative thinking often propels me to think that we don’t have enough and so we can’t share. I’m way too eager to let friends or family pay for my meals or coffees when we go out and I want to start giving back to them and to my greater community.
It’s not just money I want to be more generous with, though. I also want to be more generous with my time. I can be especially stingy with my time because I have a lot of anxiety wrapped up around the subject, but this year I want to challenge myself on this. I want to offer to help others more and I want to be more social. I want to express more interest in my husband’s hobbies and spend more time with him doing things he likes to do. I want to spend more time with my family.
Lastly, or maybe firstly, I want to be more generous with myself. I want to be kinder to myself and be more generous when I talk to and about myself. I want to be generous in how I treat my body and my mind.
My plan to maintain progress throughout the whole year is to keep coming back to the intention in my journal by:
This intention of gratitude and generosity is all about self-improvement and development, but a more professional goal I set for myself is to make a blog post every week in 2018. Writing every week will help me improve my writing skills and keep to a writing schedule. I'm excited to learn about myself through this experience and I'm ready for the challenge.
I think that there is a lot of value in setting goals of some kind, whether it be at the beginning of the year or when we find ourselves in slumps. Goals ensure we are always moving forward and I don’t know about you, but to me, a life spent stagnant doesn’t sound like much of a life at all.