“Every Version of You is on Your Side”: Words of Wisdom from Ashley C. Ford

Happy Sunday, my sweet summer sparklers,

Instagram is my social media platform of choice. Of course it has its flaws, but I love seeing snapshots of the lives of people I know (or would like to know, or once knew). And maybe this is strange for a photo-heavy app, but I love the words I come across. Every once in a while I’ll scroll onto a colorful background with a few lines of text, read them, and think, Whew, I needed to hear that. So on this cloudy July day (perfect for cozy reflection), I wanted to share one of my recent finds with you:

Ashley C. Ford is a writer who recently published her first book, Somebody’s Daughter, to rave reviews. The memoir is “A story of reckoning with your past to take hold of your future—of finding love for those you have yet to forgive.” Specifically, it delves into Ashley’s experience growing up in Indiana while her father was incarcerated. This quote is from an episode of the podcast Hear to Slay, hosted by Roxane Gay and Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, in which Ashley discussed the challenges involved with writing about (and making peace with) her past.

No matter what kind or size of challenges you have faced, I think the idea of letting your past selves exist as who they were, without trying to change them or hide them, is so powerful. One thing I’ve been working on in the past year or so has been learning to not be so hard on myself. I know beating myself up doesn’t make me a better person; if anything, it makes it harder to stay in the present where I’m needed. Sometimes I get stuck in a loop of reevaluating past choices. Or, not reevaluating, but just looking back with a deep groan like, Ugh, why did I do that? Reflecting on Ashley’s words, I thought, what if I let every younger version of me just exist, as is? Not only as a character in a different chapter, but one in a whole different story. Someone who was wholly imperfect, but perfectly suited for the journey she was on at the time. I don’t need to go back and stretch 13-year-old me, or 18-year-old me, or 23-year-old me into my 30-year-old frame of how things should be. It’s unfair to all of us.

If you ever get stuck in the past, I hope this quote gives you a little lift out like it did for me. Links to the podcast episode and Ashley’s work will be listed below. I highly encourage you to check out her writing; her spirit shines a light of grace that I think we could all use more of.

xoxo

Marie

“Let’s Just Be Honest” – Hear to Slay

Ashley C. Ford’s website

Ashley C. Ford on Twitter

Ashley C. Ford on Instagram

Somebody’s Daughter on Amazon

Somebody’s Daughter on IndieBound

My Dream Library: The Pretty One by Keah Brown

The Pretty One is a collection for the people who give a damn, for the girl who saw her differences as dangerous and ugly, who lived most of her life trying desperately to wish herself into another body, for the person who just wants to experience joy through a little sadness and laughter along the way.” – Keah Brown, The Pretty One (page 9)

Hey bookish babes,

The first book recommendation in My Dream Library series is a book I’ve listened to twice and thought about often. Like many people, I first become familiar with (and a big fan of) Keah Brown and her writing via the viral hashtag she created, #DisabledAndCute. After listening to her debut essay collection, The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me . . . let’s just say, I know we aren’t friends, but her vulnerable, honest, funny, and passionate work makes me love her as if we were.

The best way I can describe this book—which traverses across topics and throughout Keah’s life—is that it is like a stained-glass window. Each essay illuminates a different piece of her heart. In “Love You, Mean It,” we see Keah as a sister, grappling with the jealousy she felt towards her twin, who does not have cerebral palsy. In “The Human iPod,” she takes a deep-dive into the music that has been the soundtrack of her life thus far, from Toni Braxton to Demi Lovato. And in “I Like Me Now, Too,” Keah shares her journey to self-love, which is an incredibly personal one, but also a path that has brought light to so many others.

Taken individually, each essay is colorful, glowing piece to enjoy. Put all together, we get to see the kaleidoscopic beauty of what it is to really know someone, when they’ve shown us all the corners of their heart (from being a fan of cheesecake and The Sims to dealing with depression). I think it is incredibly masterful that Keah was able to capture such a thing on the page. It’s a gift, and I’m so glad she was willing to share it.

Links to Keah’s work and social accounts will be linked below. If there’s a book that’s really lit you up as of late, let me know in the comments!

xoxo

Marie

Keah Brown’s website

Keah Brown on Twitter

Keah Brown on Instagram

The Pretty One on Amazon

The Pretty One on IndieBound

May Recommendations: MuchelleB & Perspective-Shifting

Hello my good luck charms,

This month’s post is a quick recommendation on two things: a YouTube channel and an exercise in perspective-shifting. I love YouTube, and MuchelleB’s channel is one of my favorites. She makes videos on goal-setting, planning, self-care . . . my favorite things, basically. I appreciate her thoughtful (and well-researched!) advice. When I was thinking about what I wanted to share with you today, I thought of one of the many things I’ve learned from her. In a couple recent videos, she’s talked about questions you can ask yourself when you need to reframe a challenging situation. See the segment starting at 1:26 in the video below!

I love how she throws out all kinds of possibilities. I remember when I was young, my mom suggested I think about if something I was worrying about would likely still be bothering me—or even remembered!—a year from now. I still use that strategy sometimes. I have often recommended giving yourself the advice you’d give to a friend. Sometimes, if I’m not able or ready to seek a second opinion on a problem or worry, I envision talking to someone I trust about it. I love all of MuchelleB’s creative suggestions —in this other video, at 3:20, she suggests looking for the humor in a situation, or imagining what your favorite TV character might say!

My life this week has been a master class in perspective-shifting. My partner and I had planned an engagement trip that did not stay on course, to put it mildly. The ring was delayed, and then delivered to the wrong place, and then not delivered at all (after a day’s worth of waiting for it). We tried to salvage the rest of our weekend, and did . . . only to get stuck an extra night due to a blown-out tire. And somehow, our bad luck seemed to carry throughout the rest of the week, to an almost sitcom-level of comedy!

And you know what? It is funny. I’m not saying it felt that way in each moment. But if I were to tell my younger self the same story, she would laugh . . . and also, be so incredibly grateful to know that I would eventually find my perfect match. I can also imagine myself years down the road, having enjoyed telling our wild story many times, but also having the perspective of years to see how small any bump in the road really is, in these big lives we are so lucky to live.

Joking about my bad luck this week has been a coping strategy. It’s helped me to see the humor in everything. But the truth is, when I stop to think about it, I feel overwhelmed by the good luck and fortune of my life at this moment in time. That’s the only perspective I can really see.

xoxo

Marie

Introducing a New Series: My Dream Library

Hello my dream angels,

For any endurance-testing endeavor, you gotta know your why. A few years ago, I wrote a mission statement for my (eventual) first book and posted it on my virtual bulletin board, to keep my purpose in sight. It went like this: “My mission is to write the book I wish I had when I was between 12 and 16 years old. My aim is for the book to be engaging, informative, and most importantly, empowering. I hope it serves as a model for girls to think about the different pieces of their life in new ways.”

Pretty good, right? Really, I think that statement captures the essence of what I’d like my whole career to be about. But in regard to this particular project, I’d change just one word. I don’t want to write the book I wish I had, I’d like to write a book I wish I had. If I got the chance to go back and guardian-angel my younger self, do I really think I would bring her just one book? Heck, no! I’d build her a whole dang library! One filled with books by the vast group of authors I’ve come to love, with a variety of perspectives on the topics I was so hungry to learn more about.

So, I thought, why not build that here?

I’m going to continue to fill this blog with reflections and celebrations on life, pop culture, and fabulous people (female and otherwise). One piece of that will be this new series of book recommendations called, of course, My Dream Library. If I can’t enthusiastically share my faves with my younger self, I’d love to do so with you, dear reader.

I’ve already got my first pick lined up, and I can’t wait to share it. In the meantime, check out some of my previous recommendations below. And let me know in the comments what’s well-worn and well-loved on your shelf!

xoxo

Marie

BuzzFeed: 5 Books to Guide You on Your Body Image Journey

BuzzFeed: 6 Teen Nonfiction Books for Girls of All Ages

Girl Presence: How to Be a Bawse by Lilly Singh

Girl Presence: Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen

HuffPost: 4 Books for Young Women Going Through a Quarter-Life Crisis

HuffPost: 5 YA Makeover Novels Where Inner Beauty Prevails

Happiness vs. Joy

Hello my spring blossoms,

I sometimes wonder how often or thoroughly other people remember their teen years. If you haven’t committed to writing a book for young people based on your own experiences, do you still remember the first time you heard a song by your soon-to-be favorite artist, on a mixed CD in your first car? Do you still think about your first massive crush from time to time, or do you leave any thought of them behind, along with the so-earnest-it-hurts journal entries you wrote back then? Maybe it’s just me, or maybe some experiences are universally sticky in our minds.

The reason I decided to write for teens—when I was still a teen myself—was that I wanted to help other girls avoid the pitfalls I fell into. I spent way too much of my teen life being unhappy, and my faulty formula for changing that was based on changing myself.

I still want maximum happiness for all of us, but I’ve adjusted my perspective slightly. I’m taking an amazing course led by the incomparable Jess Weiner, called “WTF is Success?!?” We are working to redefine success and what it means to have a good life on our own terms. One of the recent exercises was to choose 3 non-negotiable values for your life. Doing so helped crystallize some things I’ve been reflecting on as of late. The first guidepost value I chose for myself was “joy.” I’ve decided that I’d rather focus on creating joy than chasing happiness. I get that those terms could be synonyms, but hear me out. The difference, as I’ve defined it for myself, matters.

One thing I’ve come to accept is that emotions can be fickle and, honestly, sometimes incongruous. If you’re someone who has struggled with your mental health, you probably know what I mean. As a teenager, I coulda/shoulda been happy, but often I wasn’t. That was true at times in my twenties as well. When you start tilting towards anxiety or depression, being happy feels like one more thing you’re bad at. And of course, being hard on yourself about it hardly helps.

I can’t necessarily control my emotions or what life throws at me. I may get a frustrating email at work, or a burst of anxiety out of seemingly nowhere. Already this year, I’ve felt both the bittersweet sadness of loss and the ecstatic joy of celebrating a new life. All of these experiences, all of these feelings, are worthy parts of being alive. I can’t promise myself that I will always feel happy. But I can make a commitment to create joy in my life, and sprinkle it throughout my days.

Even if I have a long day ahead, I can pause to make a good cup of coffee. I can sing off-key to Taylor Swift (still my favorite, years away from that mixed CD) while loading the dishwasher. I can ask my partner to sit on the back patio during sunset with me, even if it isn’t quite warm enough yet for that to make sense.

Looking back, my younger self may not have had a great handle on happiness, but she did know joy. Back then, it was a stack of magazines in my bedroom, episodes of “Hannah Montana,” and a perfectly chilled Diet Coke. If I could go back, I’d give her more of all that. Still, seeing my life now through her eyes—from my pink office and stuffed bookshelf to my wonderfully strange and cute cats—I can’t help but think, Man, she would really enjoy this. And so I will.

xoxo

Marie

Gold Coins & Phone Calls: Life’s Little Anchors

Photo by Ilse Orsel on Unsplash

Hello my little mermaids,

Has anyone else been feeling a little seasick lately? Since 2021 began, I’ve had so many weeks start out smooth sailing, only to be tossed over by unforeseen waves partway through. Near record-breaking snowfall (and cold). COVID-related disruptions. And more. I’ve found joy wherever possible. Snow is fun, and so are unexpected snow days! But I’ve also never looked forward to a so-called “normal” week more. “Boring” sounds good right now!

I recently read Didn’t See That Coming: Putting Your Life Together When Your World Falls Apart by Rachel Hollis. In the chapter on developing good habits, she wrote: “Your great habits and positive rituals are the anchor you need in the storm, not just because they’re good for you but because your brain isn’t wired to handle intense discomfort and keep making good decisions. Meaning, if you haven’t already built your muscle memory for making consistent good choices, you’ll find it nearly impossible to do so once life gets hard.”

She makes a great point, and I don’t know that I’d ever really thought about it that way. Stability in the good times can help you navigate the rocky seas with a little more ease. What has impacted me from that chapter the most, though, is the word “anchor” as she used it in that passage. It has been floating in my brain ever since I finished the book. You could think of a metaphorical anchor as a bad thing. Who wants to be tied down, stuck in place? Not me! But I do sometimes want to be held steady, which is what Rachel was describing.

The more I’ve thought about anchors, the more I see them everywhere. I’m a meditation novice, but the most helpful thing I’ve learned from my recent attempts is the technique of using your breath as an anchor. When your thoughts try to carry you away, you come back by focusing on your breathing. But anchors can be more personally specific, too. My daily phone call with my dad is an anchor that has steadied me for years. Sometimes when I’m anticipating a challenging day, I put a small object in my pocket. I use it as part good luck charm, part fidget object. Sometimes it’s a mini teddy bear, smaller than my palm, from when I was younger. Lately it’s been one of my grandpa’s gold coins. Tiny, sweet anchors.

Of course, there are times to get carried away. During the past couple months, I’ve listened to Taylor Swift’s evermore over and over again and got lost in the lyrics. One of my best friends had her first baby, and I’ve been swimming in joy, excitement, and love for her family. When she asked me to be her son’s godmother . . . let’s just say I will ride that wave of excitement forever!

All this to say, I hope this next month brings you waves of joy, and a perfectly suited anchor if you need one.

xoxo

Marie

A Few Rays of Sunshine in January

Hello my dear snow angels,

I was going to write something for you today. I had a bit of an epiphany recently, and I was so excited to share it. Unfortunately, that idea doesn’t seem to be done cooking, so I will have to save it for another time (perhaps next month).

While I enjoy winter, I know it’s not everyone’s favorite. If you could use a pick-me-up, here are a few things that have added color to my days as of late.

A song: “Delight” by Avenue Beat

Like many folks, I was introduced to this girl group via their anti-ode to 2020. But I’ve gone back and listened to, well, everything else they’ve released. I really enjoy their sense of humor and lyrics, and this song is a *delight* to sing along to in the car.

A podcast episode: “Auld Lang Syne: A History and Remembrance” from The Anthropocene Reviewed

New Year’s is one of my favorite days of the year, and its unofficial anthem holds a special place in my heart. This tender deep-dive into the tune is slightly somber but full of hope. Which, actually, is how I’ve always heard the song.

A quote by Frida Kahlo

I came across the below quote, oddly enough, while shopping for a new notebook. It has rolled around in my mind since. I like the way she puts it that, even when we feel strange or flawed, we’re never alone.

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me, too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”Frida Kahlo

A movement: The Good Life by Jess Weiner

One of my favorite creators is starting a new chapter in her career, helping people develop their own Good Life. Her first (free!) workshop called “What Do I Really Want?” is available to watch through 2/2, but you can sign up for her newsletter or follow her on Instagram for more resources + updates.

What has been brightening your days as of late? I would love to hear in the comments below!

xoxo

Marie

“Getting What You Deserve” . . . 12 ½ Years Later

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Hello New Year’s babes,

The other day on my drive to work, I had another time-travel moment. This time, a happy one. I remembered the first time I had a piece of my writing published. It was a guest blog for the website of Jess Weiner, one of my favorite creators and biggest inspirations. I was brace-faced and 17, and the post went up one week before my high school graduation. It’s no longer online anywhere I can find, but thankfully my dad had the foresight to screenshot it years ago:

I love reading things my Younger Self wrote; I always find a gem or two of wisdom from her to me. This time, it was the line “It seems to me that the root of all unkindness is a lack of respect, and the most basic kind is the kind we have for ourselves.”

The reason I was thinking about the blog post, though, is that I was thinking about the concept of deserving. I realized that when my brain is scanning in the background for mistakes I’ve made, what it’s doing is looking for reasons I don’t deserve to feel happy. Since you did X, you should feel Y. Decision Z could have caused A, B, C, D, etc. If so-and-so knew about E, what would they think? And on through the alphabet and back again. Logically, I know that the worst-case interpretations presented by my mind are literally never accurate. But emotionally, sometimes they feel terribly real.

When I was 17, being kind to myself meant believing I deserved everything I dreamed of and acting accordingly. Ultimately, that’s what I would want for anyone I love . . . and everyone I don’t know, too. But I think for me, right now, the idea of “deserving” feels a bit loaded. The math of life rarely adds up in a way that makes sense to me, anyway. I’ve been both blessed beyond measure and experienced pain I didn’t “earn.” I don’t have to look far beyond myself to see plenty of examples of things not working out for people as they “should.” Besides, one of the most important things I’ve learned this year is that mental self-punishment does not make me a better person. It doesn’t solve the past or give anything to those around me. In fact, it often makes me so internally focused that I miss what’s going on for people I care about.

So while I believe that we all deserve the absolute best in every way, heading into this new year, I’ve decided to stop thinking about what I deserve (which lately has devolved into negative, past-focused thoughts) and think more about the life I want to create. I don’t have to understand the past or future or fairness or even the oddities of my own mind to make today a reasonably good day, headed in the direction I’d like to go. I’ve already found, in recent weeks, that being just a smidge more intentional with my days—finding small opportunities to connect with others or make progress on my goals—matters. The flicker of hope is there.

Life has these beautiful moments of synchronicity now and then. Jess Weiner, who so graciously shared my words about creating your dream life many years ago, is starting an endeavor to help others build The Good Life, on their own terms. (You better believe I already signed up for the first workshop!) Heading into the new year, I wish you the space, support, and resources you need to build your own Good Life. One day at a time.

xoxo

Marie

The Time Traveler’s Life: Finding Gratitude in the Now

Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

Hello cyber friends,

Guess what? I’m a time traveler. No, really. It’s actually quite impressive. I just go about my day—working on a project, making dinner—and all of a sudden, I’m transported back to a moment I had completely forgotten about.

Sometimes, I end up in a memory from a few months ago. Sometimes it’s years back. I don’t actually run the time machine myself, so I have no control over where I end up. It can be any one of the Greatest Hits of my so-called “mistakes” (or simply things I could have done differently). No matter where I’m sent, the trip is so quick I don’t even notice it. I’m just there. Reliving the moment. Rewinding it and playing it back. Sometimes playing it forward to imagine all potential (negative) outcomes. It’s really fun, really great.

Okay, not so much. But such is life in my mind some days.

The other day I had the thought, why can’t my brain randomly send me good memories? Why can’t I suddenly be sent back to walking the canals in Amsterdam? Or have my senses overwhelmed at the thought of a really good meal I’ve had? If I have to obsess, why can’t I play through all the potential positive outcomes of every good choice I’ve made?

Of course, I understand why. We’re all a little bit caveman on the inside. Our ancestors survived by successfully monitoring for, assessing, and responding to threats. So we’re wired to do the same. Unfortunately for some of us, those threat detection systems can be a bit overzealous.

I cannot change my default settings, unfortunately. (Although I have learned that basic self-care tasks, like sleep and exercise, really do help.) That being said, if my brain is a machine, I have a choice in how to use it. Sure, maybe it doesn’t automatically focus on what I want. But I can redirect it. At least some of the time.

With the holidays upon us, I have been thinking a lot about gratitude. I realized that I think of myself as a grateful person, but maybe it’s better to think of gratitude as an action rather than a state of being. Before Thursday’s dinner, my dad said that his friend had shared the following via text: Remember that Thanksgiving is a verb. Put another way, in this quote by Larissa Gomez: “Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence, we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training of the heart.” We can practice and get better at it. We can hijack the machine, and time travel to our favorite memories.

Or stay present. I have gotten into the habit lately of periodically wiggling my toes. Doing so has been a helpful reminder that I am physically here, right now. Not in unknown goods or bads of the past or future. Now when I do, I try to also notice the moment. I see through the window to my left that it’s sunny outside today. I like to think a lot of my neighbors are putting up their Christmas lights. To my right, I see one of my cats snoozing on the couch. He is covered in Christmas tree sheddings, which makes me think he was laying under the tree again this morning. He looks so peaceful right now. He is here. I am here. We are okay. We are more than okay.

This year has been brutal. I know the holidays can bring mixed feelings as well, especially in 2020. But we are here. My primary goal, as we wrap up the calendar, is to continue practicing gratitude (and by extension, joy). So many things are out of my control. I cannot rewrite the past, no matter how many times I live through it. The future is great and all, but I can’t live there, either. Besides, it’s all ultimately made up of an infinite string of Nows. And I no longer wish to miss any of them.

xoxo  

Marie

Hannah Montana was Right: Learning to Challenge My Perfectionist Thoughts

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.” – Brené Brown

Photo by Jonathan Hoxmark on Unsplash

Hello my digital angels,

I came across the above quote while working on my book. (Mark my words, it will be done before my next birthday!) I decided to add a preface, and I was reading through the first pages of books I admire for inspiration. On page 2 of Daring Greatly, that line jumped out at me. Like something I needed to hear. And that surprised me.

You see, I think of myself as a recovered perfectionist; I wrote about it for Gurl.com (see below!). My sophomore year of high school was the peak of my perfectionism. I took AP classes for the first time and was diligent with my homework. (I remember reading my World History textbook on Friday evenings.) I was active outside of classes, participating in cheerleading, theatre, Key Club, and concert band.

Gurl.com no longer exists on the web, but it does in my heart (and this screenshot). ❤️

And I monitored every bite of food I ate, in search of the “perfect” body.

By junior year, I learned to be more realistic about my schoolwork. On the first day of AP U.S. History, when the syllabus was passed out, I realized I couldn’t complete the work to my satisfaction and stay sane. So I switched to the regular version of the class. By the end of the year, I acknowledged that being a cheerleader was more about what I wanted to be (popular) than what made me happy, and I quit. As for eating, it took me a number of years of ups and downs to unlearn the desire to control my body, but I did it. One night recently, I was standing at the kitchen counter at 10 PM eating cold Chinese food. I stopped and marveled at the fact that I can do that. Silly as it sounds, back then I never would have dreamed it. I listen to my body and enjoy food without constraints, and that’s a miracle to me.

I worked my way out of all those modes of perfectionism. I know, and not just because Hannah Montana told me, that nobody’s perfect. So why did that quote hit me?

Then I realized, even though consciously I know I am not expected to be perfect, I sometimes react in a way that suggests the opposite.

One of my greatest fears—and anxiety triggers—is hurting others. This year, my mind has been a little harder to manage than usual, for understandable reasons. Lately, when I feel I’ve made a mistake (or remember one from months past), I go into a downward spiral. I think, over and over again, about what I did wrong and how it could have negatively impacted someone else. Anxiety takes over my body, and I can’t slow down my thoughts or heart rate until I talk to someone else or “fix” the perceived problem.

Of course, it’s normal to feel a sting when you think about how you could have done something better. I care so much about doing things well, and I don’t expect that to change. But when I go into full-on meltdown mode over things that do not warrant that, what I’m telling myself is that it’s not okay to ever make a less-than-100%-perfect decision. And that’s not okay.

Recognizing this problematic pattern of thinking has already been liberating. Not that I’ve “fixed” it—you can’t be perfect at not being perfect—but I realize the path I’ve been walking, perhaps longer than I realized, is not one I want to continue down. I want to be kinder to myself. I want to give myself the love and grace I think everyone deserves in moments of struggle. I want to live a life of self-compassion.

I have so many more thoughts, and a few resources, to share with you, but this seems like a good place to stop for now. What I ask of you is this: if you find yourself being your own worst critic, stop and examine the standards to which you’re holding yourself. And if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. Your compassion belongs to you, too.

xoxo

Marie