Reading List, Part One

Well folks, 2017 is here. Which means New Year, new me…right? To be honest, I’ve come to resent that adage ever so slightly. With the beginning of each year comes a certain pressure to reinvent one’s self, or at least pretend to really try for the first day or week or month: to go to the gym, to eat well, to get up earlier, and so on and do forth.

The fact that I was coming into the New Year after having moved cross-country to a brand new city and thus a little down about spending my first holiday away from my family, along with not being thrilled with how a new job was starting out (both topics for another post) left me a little less than enthused about the prospect of reinventing myself for January 1st.

Therefore I decided to approach my ‘resolutions’ a little differently this year. Instead of (another) dramatic lifestyle change, I decided to try and nourish smaller passions that had been put on hold for one reason or another. This is my way of attempting—instead of diving headfirst into a drastic change of sorts—to nurture my mental and emotion health first through the little things: creative outlets like drawing and doodling, writing about things that I’m passionate about, and a return to the mental stimulation of diving into a good book.

So here are the first few books I’ve made it through since the start of the year. Each has been very different, but I’ve honestly loved them all—2 out of 3 came recommended by my book-club attending, reader Bee of a mother who set me up for success. Enjoy!

 

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 All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I started this book on a bit of a whim, and I owe much of my renewed appreciation for escaping into a good story to this. There’s something so highly satisfying about a well-done blend of history and fiction. This book depicts the life of sightless young Marie-Laure, whose father is the master of the locks at the Museum of Natural History in Paris; and Werner, an orphan from a small German mining town who has a penchant for the mechanics of radios; both growing up at the start of World War II.

The lives of these two children are wrenched apart and uprooted in very different ways as their countries deal with all the transition that war brought with it. The parallels, innermost thoughts and aspirations of Marie-Laure and Werner are charmingly and heartbreakingly similar. Marie-Laure spends her days studying the miniature models of her Parisian arrondissement and subsequent walled town of Saint-Malo that her father crafts for her so she can self-sufficiently find her way around outside. Werner’s secret aspirations of higher learning and his expert knowledge of building and fixing radios that make him an invaluable asset for tracking German resistance. Two very different perspectives of the war from children caught on opposite sides, their stories finally converge in the stronghold of Saint-Malo in a heartbreaking account of youthful innocence coupled with a tragically mature wisdom that only growing up in the midst of war could bring.

**Tess takeaway: If you like seeing history from a truly unique perspective and quotably beautiful writing.

 

me-before-you-book-cover-jan-12-p122Me Before You by Jojo Moyes 

I somehow never managed to see this film when it came out—a surprising fact considering my love of heartbreakingly predictable Nicholas Sparks-esque romances—which thankfully allowed me to create my own perception of the characters without the constraints of (the equally gorgeous) Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin.

This story kept me guessing to the last page. I can’t emphasize the importance of maintaining ignorance as to the ending—if you’ve somehow managed to keep an unsullied perspective of this story like I did, avoid any “spoiler alerts” or friends who may have read/ seen this like the plague. It’s one of those stories that relies heavily on an element of surprise in order to play with your emotions (in the best of ways) to the very last.

Twenty-something Louisa Clarke lives a narrow life with her working-class family in a small English town. Louisa’s relatively unambitious career trajectory is thrown on its head when the local café she has worked at for years closes up shop. She is hopelessly unqualified and fails miserably at several random employment opportunities in her small town. At her wits end, she accepts a position as a caretaker of a quadriplegic man—the once successful, exceedingly wealthy and (of course) handsome Will Traynor. Her primary job is to bring light into his now narrowly confined world. After a tumultuous start, Louisa slowly becomes acquainted with Will’s contempt and bitter resentment of his newly confined lifestyle. She begins to understand the internal battle of a man who once lived a life so large her limited experiences pale dramatically in comparison.

It is both dark and uplifting, and will encourage a life lived to the fullest. Tears were definitely shed. You will turn the last page and need to take a few minutes to dejectedly stare out the window before getting up with the sudden urgency to do something meaningful with your life. Don’t worry, this will wear off shortly thereafter and you’ll be left with an unconventional love story that reminds you that a situation could always be worse, and to not take anything for granted.

**Tess takeaway: If you like a slow-unfolding British romance and the thought of living in a tiny town near a castle.

 

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Bloom: Navigating Life and Style by Estée Lalonde
This strays from the fictional theme of the first two books, but it has been an equally exceptional, if not even more inspiring read. I fairly recently became acquainted with Estée’s YouTube channel (both her main lifestyle/ beauty channel as well as the vlog-oriented Everyday Estée), and I have to say, she’s quickly become one of my favorites. I am enthralled by the online world in which you can watch a person cultivating their passions for an audience of a million  viewers, yet still feel that they are talking to you personally as if you are close friends. I stumbled upon Estée’s channel at a time when I had just moved far away from any friends or family, and quickly related to her experience of moving from Canada to London without knowing a soul apart from her boyfriend.

Bloom details different aspects of Estée’s life in eight organized sections: Life, People, Work, Beauty, Fashion, Home, Travel and Food. Not only does she offer her perspective along with personal anecdotes on these topics, but she also gives advice without seeming preachy or showy in any way. I feel like it could be easy for a book like this to turn “read about how great my life is and look at how beautiful I am and see my gorgeous home and dog and boyfriend, etc.” But the thing about someone whose life is so open to the public eye is that it’s fairly easy to suss out their true personality by merely watching a video or two. From the start, Estée has seemed so down to earth that I couldn’t help but be impressed by the openness and directness with which she communicates her opinions and passions. I don’t agree with her on everything, but I have great respect for her motivations and what she does, which is what drew me to her book.

Bloom has definitely lent another welcome perspective on Estée’s lifestyle and personality, and has inspired me to focus on areas of my life that I might not have honed in on myself. Would I love to work from home and have a beautiful house filled with plants and bespoke furniture? Of course. (Although still not sold on her love of crystals.) But this book has been more about finding ways to adapt my own version of her many philosophies into my life. To name a few: wholeheartedly embracing new experiences no matter how anxiety-inducing, incorporating unique and meaningful décor (and plants) into my living space, and treating beauty and fashion as an ever changing process of self-discovery.

**Tess takeaway: If you like real life and (so many) awesomely relatable and unashamed throw-back pictures.

 

Well there you have it, the first three books on my New Year’s reading list. I saw someone post about a goal of reading 52 books in 52 weeks last year and that concept has definitely inspired me to always have a new book lined up and ready to go. Especially now that I have twice-daily subway rides to look forward to on my way to and from work: prime time for getting in a quick chapter or two each day if nothing else!

Please let me know your thoughts on the above, and of course suggestions are welcome as to what should be next on my list!

 

Not an Easy Subject

At the funeral, a friend of the family asked me if I had ever known someone with cancer. I shook my head no, I had never closely witnessed anyone go through something like this in my life. She went on to say that she had seen the signs early on, and had pointed it out to another neighborhood friend who hadn’t been so astute. Or whatever her point was in telling me this. I had definitely not seen the signs early on.

I still haven’t figured out how to talk about this, as I’m attempting to put it to words on paper now I feel the onset of emotion: throat closing up, tears welling in the back of my eyes. I wish I could say I’ve gotten better at holding it back, but I haven’t. I’m still sad. It’s not a debilitating sadness, I simply don’t let myself go there anymore. But sometimes, certain triggers pop into my head and I can’t help it.

Which is part of the reason that I feel like I need to write about it. Like an albatross around my blogging neck, I feel like this is something I have to share before I can write about my next vacation or Sunday by the pool. If, at the very least, to let a little bit of the pain flow from me onto the metaphorical paper that is this blog.

My boyfriend’s dad passed away in February after a very quick battle with liver cancer. When you hear liver cancer, you might immediately think alcoholic. In most cases you’d be correct, but not this one. This was one of the rarest forms: bile duct liver cancer. One that isn’t caused by the abuse of alcohol,  doesn’t have obvious symptoms, and one that most often isn’t discovered or diagnosed until it’s too late.

Here’s the timeline from my perspective:

  • In late October, when he came to visit California, his dad wasn’t feeling very well. He had some kind of bug, but for the most part still seemed like his usual jovial self.
  • I went home with Nathan to Texas for Thanksgiving. While again, his dad wasn’t feeling 100%, he still partook in the all the traditions they had involving football, turkeys, neighbors and family.
  • When Nathan when back home for the holidays in December, he called me on Christmas Eve and told me that they found lump on his Dad’s liver, so he was going to stay home a few extra weeks.
  • In February, Nathan and I had planned a vacation to go to Canada for Valentine’s weekend. The night before we were going to leave, his Dad was hospitalized. We flew to Dallas instead.
  • I came back to California on a Tuesday to go back to work. Nathan’s dad passed away the following Friday.

A lot of the time, I feel guilty for crying. For feeling this loss as deeply as I do. I find myself justifying my relationship with Nathan’s family: I have known Nathan since college, and we’ve dated for almost 3 years. Is this necessary?

Here’s the thing. Nathan’s dad was someone who I always assumed I would grow to know more of and better as the years went on. Someone who would be at our wedding, who would be in our lives and the lives of our future children for a long time. Having this person suddenly gone from not only the present but also the future is something that I have not come to terms with yet.

Throughout the countless articles I read, it’s taken a while for me to realize that it’s okay to feel this way. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Sadness does not have to be justified, and feeling emotion does not make me weak. It makes me human.

Life Changes

Do you ever feel like your life is moving forward but it’s leaving you behind? Sitting here on this quiet Sunday, I’m reflecting on the changes that have taken place recently…

Last May, I graduated college without a clue as to what I wanted to do. I then moved from Texas back to my home state of California. Shortly after that, my best friend moved as well, joining me at my Mom’s house, where we lived for 3 months. In October, we moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles. We were living in Brentwood, she had a job in Venice, and I was burning through what little money I had saved like no body’s business. For those 3 months, I was more lost than I have ever been.

Then, the week before Christmas, I had my third interview with an entertainment advertising agency that was located—wait for it—two blocks from where my roommate worked in Venice (and it was only another two blocks from the agency to the ocean I might add). The day after my third interview, I received an offer letter with a salary expressed annually and some crazy things called benefits (still not entirely sure what those are).

In the month of January, I started a full-time, big kid job, signed a year’s lease, and moved into a town house in Culver City with my friend, just three miles from where we both worked.

I thought moving away from home and going out of state to college was hard. I thought my parents’ divorce was hard. But the raw new-ness of my life these days is almost indescribable.

My first week at my new job was the most overwhelming thing I’ve ever experienced. Unlike my previous internships or part-time jobs, where there was always a general end in sight, this new commitment is indefinite. There is a serious learning curve, too: figuring out the system by which things are done, getting to know the personalities of the clients, not to mention the names and personalities of the people I now work with on a daily basis. But the part that terrified me the most about that first week was the foreboding feeling that I had just signed my life away and committed myself for an indefinite amount of time. I think deep down I am still unsure whether LA is the right place for me. Yet here I am working full time, signing a year’s lease, and learning the ins and outs of a job that is completely foreign to me. I don’t know if everyone experiences these fears to some degree, but I worry that my lack of a grand life plan will cause me to lose myself in the momentum of work and money and the ultimate objective of success.

There are so many things I want to do, yet can I concretely picture myself doing them? Being swept up in this whirlwind journey is not a bad thing if it’s leading me to where I ultimately want to go. But where exactly is that? How do I turn my vague dreams into actual plans for the future?

For the time being, the majority of these questions will just have to be left unanswered. But for today, I can make a budget, and start putting some of my newfound income toward future adventures, whatever they may be.

Randomness

Here are a few random nuggets if information that I’ve learned in the last week or so that I thought I’d share. Lots of randomness, but that’s my life these days.

There’s a whole circuit of unemployed youths who volunteer at all the film festivals that take place in the city of Los Angeles. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to spend my recent multitudes of free time in this productive manner, but my eyes have recently been opened. A whole new world…
Come find me at LA Femme Film Festival this weekend.

I have hidden talents when it comes to following instructions and communicating with tech/ customer support people. Last Friday, I managed to talk to 5 different Time Warner Cable personnel and finally set us up for an internet and cable package. Said package turned out to be a huge pain in my butt, because unbeknownst to me, I was signed up for “such a great deal”*** that included not only internet and cable, but phone as well. After a lot of back and forth both over the phone and in person, a few tears of frustration, and a few years off my life, I managed to get the cable box working, as well as our internet modem. The only thing left was the router. Let me just say right here: DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE PURCHASE AN E2500 LINKSYS ROUTER. The software (or was it the firmware?) isn’t compatible with computer technology from this century, so you’ll end up having to live chat with tech support for an hour and—using two computers—you’ll eventually end up reconfiguring the router through a secret backdoor portal that only the guy from the Twilight Zone should know about. Moral of the story: we now have cable and wifi!!! And I will never again take for granted an internet connection.
***After the fourth person told me what a great deal I was getting, I stopped believing them and started believing that all Time Warner Cable people are brainwashed to repeat the phrase “such a good deal”, while also giving different information than the last (generally incompetent) customer service rep.

Paper companies are my people. Upon not making any progress with various coffee shops I applied to, I started trying to think of other places in the area at which I might actually enjoy working in my spare time. It turns out I have an obsession with pretty papers and calligraphy for a reason. I was randomly looking at my newly discovered—and now favorite—paper company’s website, I found their “Meet Our Team” page. Not only were their pictures all adorable, but their bios just about killed me. Let’s just say I could have crafted my own bio from bits and pieces of the six girls’ profiles on that page: Right off the bat, ice cream was mentioned. One of them doesn’t like ginger (major bleh). One of them is a “DOG LOVER EXTRAORDINAIRE”. Ice cream was mentioned again, this time in conjunction with the words “balsamic strawberry and salted caramel”. Ribbons. Hikes in LA. Bookworm. If I had a list of buzzwords that made me happy, this page was the pinnacle of Tess’ Happy Place. Logically, I’m way too similar to all of them to actually get a job there, but that sure as heck isn’t going to stop me from trying.

Honestly, these first few weeks living in the big city have been a little rough. But I keep telling myself that good things are right around the corner. Light at the end of the tunnel. Rainbow at the end of a storm? You get the picture. Chin up buttercup.

A New Kind of Different

My friends and I spend way more time than I’d like to admit dreaming about the future. We constantly fanaticize about our lives in terms of careers, boys, families, etc. It always seems like there are more exciting things right around the corner. The real challenge is appreciating where we are now, and looking back on truly how amazing the last few years have been: going to college, moving away from home, travelling, falling in love, graduating. I’ve come to realize that no life stage is better than any of the others. They all bring different amounts of excitement and hardships, uncertainty and surprises.

Last week, my best friend and I packed our bags and moved out of my Mom’s house in Orange County. After collectively sending about 60 emails, we finally stumbled upon a steal of a one-bedroom apartment. Once we found it, all the details seemed to fall into place: the location, the timing, everything. And all of a sudden, we were moving out.

I’m sad to be leaving my mom’s house. Not the same kind of sad I was when I moved away to college, because I knew I would still have place to come home to. But now, that home is no longer my permanent address. This new part of my life has a Los Angeles zip code, and that’s both extremely terrifying and terribly exciting to me.

I am 22-year-old college graduate looking for work in Los Angeles. I live with my best friend, and my boyfriend lives across town. I don’t know what I want to do with my life yet, but I’m working on it.

In reality, what’s more exciting than that?

Life Update: Best Friend Edition

So my best friend got a job today, and I couldn’t be happier for her.

The way it came about was a little unconventional—let’s just say reality television might have been involved. The actual interview process was as grueling as anything, if not more so, since literally every step of the way she had to deal with a camera crew following her every move. She took the long and emotional days in stride with more poise and positivity than I could have ever mustered, that’s for sure.

Her and I have been best friends for three years now, ever since we randomly roomed together in our sorority house. She is the sister I never had, and after graduation she came to California to live with my mom and me so she could better pursue her dream of working in the fashion industry. We had about a month of blissful bonding time, during which we explored Orange County (where I live) and Los Angeles (where we both aspired to move after we got jobs there). The plan was always for us to do our best to make the move together, after all finding a two-bedroom place anywhere in LA on a starting salary is more reasonable than finding an affordable studio apartment. We were both aware that this goal might be unrealistic: what were the odds that we would both get jobs close enough together to allow a smooth transition? The truth is, slim to none.

At this point, she is so beyond excited about being employed that there’s no room for realistic talk of logistics, but that’s all I can think about at the moment. As if I didn’t already feel completely behind not having a job upon graduation, now both my boyfriend and my best friend—both of whom are from Texas—are successfully employed in California.

And of course I am absolutely over-the-moon thrilled to have two of the most important people in my life now living out their dreams so close by. I just can’t help but feel massively disappointed in myself at the same time. And the killer part is that both of them, along with my parents, are actively invested in offering advice/support/help in my job search. But every time they do, no matter how good their intentions, all I feel is discouraged for not living up to the their expectations, and even more so, my own.

As an only child, there is no one else around to make my parents proud or exceed their expectations. It kills me every day that I wake up not knowing what I’m going to do with my life. It’s ridiculously hard to have such conflicting emotions: I’m obviously so ecstatically proud of my best friend for taking this huge leap toward living out her dreams, but at the same time I’m throwing a massive internal pity party. I feel like it’s necessary to add that there’s totally still a chance that I could wind up finding a job in the next couple weeks (I’m definitely not sitting around at home twiddling my thumbs), it just seems a tad unrealistic at this point.

Tomorrow she flies back out here from her hometown, and I am going to be the most supportive friend in the whole world. But for today, I’m thinking about myself, and about the two-bedroom apartment that may never happen.

A Sappy Post

In high school, two of my best friends were in serious relationships (one of which lasted 4ish years and the other is still going strong). It was strange having friends who were always with their significant others, and I really couldn’t understand liking someone that much, simply because I never had. This mindset pretty much stayed with me through my junior year of college. I was never a long-term-relationship kind of girl—my romantic flings usually made it to the three-month mark before I became disinterested and proceeded to awkwardly distance myself from the respective assortment of (mostly) nice boys that just weren’t quite right.

Somewhere at the beginning of sophomore year, my roommate introduced me to a new friend of hers. He was cute—tall and blonde, with light green eyes that were to die for. He was also outgoing, charismatic, and crazy smart. Naturally he had tons of friends, with a seemingly constant posse of pretty girls vying for his attention. It’s safe to say I was definitely not the only one with a crush on the kid.

Throughout sophomore year and into junior year, we became close friends. My feelings for him continued to grow as I learned what a truly genuine and driven person he was, not to mention the fact we shared many similar interests and aspirations. Just before summer break that year, I finally caved and told him I liked him as more than a friend (as if it wasn’t obvious to him and everyone else at this point). His response was frustratingly rational: he valued my friendship too much to risk messing things up, and besides, I was heading off for a month-long summer study abroad program in London, not to mention that I was from California and he was from Texas. He had a fair point, one that I might have been able to accept had we not talked to each other every single day that summer, in one form or another: even when we went from a 2 hour time difference to an 8 hour one, even when we could only talk when I had wifi in my London dorm, and even when my phone got stolen in Dublin. Every. Single. Day.

Let me stop here and say that I did genuinely make an effort to stop liking this boy, on multiple occasions in fact. I’m a Taurus—we’re notoriously stubborn—so when I make my mind up to do something it typically comes to fruition. However, in this case my efforts were to no avail, so I took it as a sign. You know that scene in Sleepless in Seattle, when Meg Ryan is trying on her mom’s wedding dress? She had just finished saying that she doesn’t believe in signs, when the dress serendipitously rips, after which she exclaims, “It’s a sign!”. Well that’s how I feel looking back on the way our relationship started. Like there was some cosmic reason that I couldn’t get over this boy even though he had made it clear that he did not want to date me. Until one day he did.

Our friendship had once again blurred the line between flirty and romantic over the course of that summer, so when we got back to school, I again (this time tearfully) confronted him and told him that I couldn’t continue to be friends with him while being fair to myself. It hurt too much knowing that he didn’t reciprocate my feelings, so for my own sake I needed to take a step back. This was not an easy conversation to have. In fact, it absolutely sucked knowing that chances were high that I would end up loosing one of my best friends. I had already shed more tears over him than any other boy I had ever dated, and we weren’t even in a relationship.

As it turns out, something about my charmingly mumbled sentences or the alluring way snot was running down my face must have struck a chord that night, because after taking some time to think it over, he decided to give the more-than-friends thing a try. That was a year ago today.

It hasn’t all been fun or easy or pretty like relationships are often romanticized to be. It’s been hard and messy at times, and the tears still flow on occasion. But there really is something to be said for starting a relationship on the solid foundation of friendship. Because this boy, who started out as my best friend, became my love as well, and I am in constant awe of that fact. And whether this relationship lasts a year and a day or the rest of my life, I will always be thankful that I just couldn’t get over my crush on the cute boy with the green eyes. He has already shown me so much of what love really means: to be adventurers and partners, playmates and friends. He is my first love, and I will be damn lucky if he ends up being my last.