I am so excited to have received an ARC of The Sound of Violet by Allen Wolf. This book is going to be a movie in 2022, so you'll want to check it out now. It's great for anyone who loves young adult reads and romance. Check out more info below, including the first chapter!
About the Book:
Desperate to find a soulmate, Shawn goes on one awkward date after another until he encounters the alluring Violet. He starts dating her, but his autism keeps him from realizing that she’s actually a prostitute.
Shawn thinks he’s found a potential wife while Violet thinks she’s found her ticket to a brand new life. This hilarious and dramatic award-winning story takes all kinds of twists and turns and has been adapted into a major motion picture.
What Reviewers Are Saying:
“Entertaining, well-paced, and highly visual.”
“Wolf, an award-winning filmmaker, has adapted this first novel from his own original screenplay, and its cinematic potential clearly shows. The high-concept narrative is entertaining, well-paced, and highly visual. It’s a charming, humorous, and hopeful tale. A quirky, touching love story that offers insights into autism, religion, and personal tragedy.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“A wonderfully well-written, funny, romantic love story.”
“Unique and inspirational. The Sound of Violet is not your average romance. Rarely do I find myself so captivated by a book that I cannot put it down for nearly two hours. Pick up this book and get lost in the beauty of their relationship. My only complaint would be that the story had an ending, as all stories do, and I did so want to keep reading on. Most highly recommended. The Sound of Violet is simply remarkable.”
– Readers’ Favorite
Read Chapter One Below...
Shawn didn't feel like an adult because adults were married, and he struggled to get through a date. He was twenty-four years old and looked like a man, with his powder-blue eyes, a trim physique, and a handsome face on a well-shaped head crowned with light brown hair. But he had never quite gotten used to his long arms and legs. When he walked, it looked like Shawn was carefully stepping between raindrops, especially when he started noticing all the colors around him.
The bashful sun peeked out from behind a gray curtain of clouds, kissing the Manhattan skyscrapers. Perfect dating weather. Shawn accompanied his latest date along a path through the High Line, a park that snaked above 11th Avenue, formerly abandoned railroad tracks that were transformed into a popular park years ago.
Emily looked pleasant but unremarkable as she trudged along, towering over him. She glanced his way, but Shawn couldn’t peer into her eyes or anyone’s eyes for that matter. When he did, it felt like he was staring into the sun. He’d force himself to do it, though, since people got uneasy when he darted his eyes away. But Shawn couldn’t keep looking for long. The connection felt too electric, like he had jammed his finger into a wall socket.
The trees around them swayed in the wind; their branches collided against each other, clanging like wind chimes on a blustery day. The melodic tones transfixed Shawn.
Emily cocked her head to the side. “Are you even listening?” she asked.
She knocked on an invisible wall between them. “Hello?”
Shawn broke out of his trance. “Sorry. I get distracted sometimes. By all the colors.” He looked up at her height. “You must be good at basketball.”
Her eyes narrowed. This wasn’t Shawn’s first awkward comment of the night. “And you must be great at miniature golf.”
Shawn kicked the ground. “Not really.”
“You’re gonna ask me how the weather is up here? I’ll save you the trouble.” She popped the cap off her bottle and splashed water on his face. “Stormy!”
Shawn stood there, water dripping off his face, his mouth hanging open. His stomach ached as Emily stomped off, shaking her head. What did I do this time? Maybe she doesn’t like basketball. She disappeared into the crowd of people surging around him.
Shawn sat on a park bench and logged into his online dating profile. Time to set up his next date. This was definitely a numbers game.
Later that week, he met Anna at the High Line. She was in her thirties, lean and frail-looking. Friendly, but needy. Pictures of cats covered her rainbow suspenders. Her profile emphasized her love for all things feline, and Shawn hoped there would be more to her. He was getting less picky. Shawn led her down the path.
“Whenever I look at a cat, I try not to think about how lazy it is,” Shawn said.
Anna raised her eyebrows. “They aren’t lazy. They like to sleep.”
“For seventy percent of their lives. Male lions sleep twenty hours a day, so you can tell they’re related.” Shawn had many more cat facts up his sleeve, but this one didn’t land the way he thought it would. He hoped she’d find the rest of them captivating, so all the preparation he did for this date wouldn’t be a waste of time.
“Cats are more intelligent than most people I date,” Anna said.
“Then, you’re dating the wrong people.” Shawn peered at her face. “You know, you look different from your profile picture.”
She slipped her hands into her pockets. “Confession time. That’s actually my sister. I get a lot more interest when I use her pic. We’re pretty similar, though. She’s just more photogenic.”
“No, she’s a lot prettier than you.”
Anna shrank back. “Are you for real?”
“Very,” Shawn said. “She’s the one who got the looks in your family.”
Shawn’s thoughts often raced out of his mouth, unedited. He knew people had to get used to that, or they wouldn’t stick around for long. Anna blinked a few times as if she didn’t know what to say. She scoffed, shrugged her shoulders, then hurried down one of the stairways that led to the street below.
Shawn knew better than to run after her. That had never worked on his previous dates. He peered at the red petals of the snapdragons circling the tree trunk next to him. The petals shivered and hummed, sounding like sustained chords of a violin.
On the following Saturday afternoon, he met Lindsay at the High Line. She looked identical to her picture, and he was relieved. She was in her twenties, with delicate features and dark hair pulled back from the planes of her face.
Their conversation began with how their days were going (fine) and about the state of the world (worrisome). They progressed to how expensive it was to reside in New York City (shockingly so, though technically Shawn didn’t pay anything to live here). Then, the conversation detoured to how people perceive colors. This was Shawn’s opportunity to shine. He fought to keep his thoughts on track as he strolled down the path with her.
“The light receptors in our eyes transmit messages to our brains about what we’re seeing. Newton first observed that the surface of what we see reflects some colors and absorbs the rest. So our eyes only perceive the reflected colors.” He forced himself to stop, a skill that usually led people to talk with him longer.
Lindsay leaned into him. “You’re a walking Wikipedia.”
Shawn beamed. The sunlight sparkled off the brook next to them as it bubbled down the path. He lost himself for a moment in the melodic stream of the water. Lindsay nudged him.
“You there?” she asked.
“Oh. Sorry about that.” He searched for a new topic. “The other day, I read an article about how this place would’ve still been an abandoned railroad track if someone didn’t have the imagination to make it this beautiful.”
Lindsay flicked her hair back. “So true.”
“When it opened, people called it a secret, magic garden in the sky.”
He started walking with a spring in his step. Lindsey reached over and held his hand. Startled, he shook her off. She stepped back with widened eyes. Shawn looked down; his arms hung to his sides.
“I’m sorry.” He paused. “Sometimes touching can be too intense for me.”
Lindsay poked her tongue against her cheek. “Oh.”
“You look like you swallowed a lemon.”
“And your profile didn’t say, ‘don’t touch me.’”
“It used to, but I didn’t get a lot of replies.”
Lindsay bit her upper lip. “Are you on the spectrum?”
Shawn hesitated, then nodded. Whenever he told someone about his autism, their reactions were a mysterious mixed bag. Mysterious because Shawn couldn’t understand what they were thinking. Sometimes those dates didn’t last long after he brought this information to light, even after he explained he was high functioning. His brother, Colin, thought Shawn should keep his autism a secret for as long as possible. Or at least until the second date. But whenever Shawn kept those details in the dark, his dates seemed confused by how he would react to the world around him.
Shawn looked past her at a tall woman with black curly hair and olive skin dressed in a flowing wedding dress, holding a bouquet of purple and pink roses. The bride intertwined her hands with her smiling groom, who kissed the top of her head as a photographer snapped pictures of them holding each other. Shawn took in the moment. This was special.
Lindsay checked her watch. “So…”
“We should grab some coffee,” Shawn said.
“Not a coffee drinker, I’m afraid.”
“I didn’t notice that on your profile.” Shawn swallowed.
“You know what? I should get going. Need to meet someone. Don’t know how I let that slip my mind. Sorry to cut this short.”
“They look like they won the lottery,” Shawn said, pointing to the couple behind her.
“It was so nice meeting you.”
“Should we go out again? I like how you smell like laundry detergent.” He realized he shouldn’t have mentioned her scent. His brother always reminded him to keep olfactory observations to himself.
“I’ll call you, okay?” she said, stepping back from him while keeping up the mask of her smile.
“I’ll wait for your call,” Shawn said, confident that day was just around the corner.
Her plastered grin continued as she made her way down the path. As Shawn watched her leave, the colors around him roared back to life. Tree branches clanged. The water tinkled. Petals hummed. The evening sun dazzled brightly. Shawn shielded his eyes and hurried his way back home.
Shawn shared a large condo with his grandmother on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where the kitchen, dining room, and living room all enjoyed inspiring views of Central Park. Black and white oil paintings of scenes from the city—wet seals basking in the sun at the Central Park Zoo, the triangular Flatiron building dominating its street corner, a couple caught in intimate conversation in front of a boxy florist shop in SoHo—hung on the silver-gray walls. All these were proud creations of Shawn’s grandmother, Ruth, whose spotless home could be easily confused with a museum if the furniture went missing.
A golden birdcage hung in the corner of the room near the window. Inside, the yellow and green lovebirds, Sunny and Cloudy, nestled against each other. Shawn dropped a large spoonful of cooked lentils into their feeding trough. His grandmother liked to stick her fingers into the cage to caress their feathers., But Shawn only dared to feed them. Nothing more.
Shawn kicked his feet up onto the walnut coffee table and tried to sink into the red velvet couch, but it never let him. It was too much like his grandmother, stiff and proper. He turned on the TV and flipped through the channels until he settled on a black and white movie, where a woman gritted her teeth while a seamstress worked on zipping up the back of her wedding dress. The woman turned toward a mirror, and her face lit up. The seamstress dabbed a tear from her cheek.
Ruth’s voice echoed from her bedroom down to the hall. “Shawn, I can hear your feet on the table.”
Shawn quickly moved his legs off the table. “You can’t hear feet.”
Ruth glided into the room in a vintage robe. She was in her seventies with curly auburn hair and a slim body, a gift from her years of swimming. Her stateliness masked her artistic side. She never traveled without putting her face on, as she called it.
“Bore me with the details,” she said.
Shawn looked away from her inquisitive eyes at the darkening clouds outside. It felt like the sun was forever setting on his dating life.
Ruth tapped her foot. “I’m waiting.”
“Same as always…”
Ruth frowned. “You didn’t look into her eyes, did you?”
Shawn looked at the floor. “No one’s going to marry me.”
“Marry? We need to get you a second date.” She straightened one of the paintings on the wall.
“If I don’t get married, I won’t have anyone after you die.”
“I’m still ticking. And when I’m not, you’ll have your brother, whatever that’s worth.”
“Sometimes, to keep myself going, I picture you lying in a casket.”
Ruth gasped. “How dare you say that. You know I want to be cremated. So no one can screw up my makeup.”
“Maybe I should start picturing you as an urn.”
Ruth shrugged. “Whatever works.”
Shawn glanced out the window. A breeze rustled through the trees in Central Park. A drizzle fell in sheets from the sky. “I miss Grandpa.”
“Yeah? Me too.” Ruth filled a silver teapot with water from the sink and set it on the stove. “He’d love to ask me about my day and then turn off his hearing aid.” Ruth snickered. “Once, he told me the best part of growing up was getting less and less peer pressure since all his peers were dying.”
“He died so suddenly. I don’t want that to happen to you.”
“That’s sweet, Shawn,” she said, walking toward him. She took an unsteady step and grabbed a nearby chair to get her balance.
“Who’ll buy my cereal? Or help me pay bills? Or…”
“Glad I’ll be missed,” she said with a wry smile. “Just promise me you’ll keep the urn polished.”
Shawn returned his attention to the TV. The woman was dolled up for her wedding day, gliding down a sweeping staircase. The groom’s smile stretched from one ear to the other. Shawn imagined himself in that white suit, waiting for the love of his life.
“Tell me about your wedding day again, Grandma.”
Ruth didn’t answer.
Shawn looked over and saw her slumped in her rocking chair, looking like a marionette without its strings. “Grandma?” His mouth went dry. He rushed over and shook her, but she only flopped around in his hands.
How to Live Your Best Life Ever
Live the life you want.
Don’t worry about what others think.
Live your best life every single day.
We’ve all seen the myriad articles, posters, quotes, and social media posts encouraging us to do just that. Hell, I’m even guilty of writing a few inspirational posts about how we all need to strive to chase our passions and just live the life we want. But here’s the thing I’ve been thinking about lately: Living your best life is freaking exhausting, scary, and sometimes, quite frankly, feels impossible.
None of us want to live a life of misery and fake feelings or a life that is superficial. We all want the inner peace that comes from living a life that is true to who you are. We all want that monk-like serenity and a confidence in our belief systems that comes with it. And I think I speak for most of us when I say we do our best to try to find all of that.
We read books and take online courses. We binge-watch motivational speakers who tell us how to live our life without caring what others think. We turn to meditation, yoga, nature walks, journaling, or whatever else we can get our hands on in order to find some centering and live the life that speaks to us. Still, so many of us seem to be struggling. So many of us seem to be unhappy and unsure of the life we’re living. However, few of us talk about that. We want to think that if we just put in the work or sift through our emotions, we can be smiling lakeside and taking deep breaths of air in a fresh, perfect life we’ve uncovered within. If we just keep smiling, all will be perfect eventually.
But the thing is: Many of us ARE struggling to find this best life. Many of us feel like we’re failing, which can create its own set of stresses. When you feel like not only are you failing at living your best life but you’re also missing the mark in even trying to find it, it’s easy to discount everything you’ve done. I think that’s perfectly understandable, and I think it makes sense why so many of us are having a hard time figuring out our best selves.
Foremost, there’s something hardwired in our society, especially as women, that creates deep-rooted conflict when we try to chase our best life. A major tenant of this aspiration is that in order to live the life you want, sometimes you have to ignore what everyone else thinks. Here arises conflict one: Most of us have been indoctrinated with the belief that to think of yourself and not others is morally wrong. Women especially are taught from a young age to put others first, to be charitable and considerate of everyone’s feelings. We are taught how to be gracious hosts, how to be sweet, how kindness matters above all else, and how to care for our families. We are taught to avoid conflict like the plague and to turn the other cheek. Often, this leads to all sorts of inner turmoil when we do the unthinkable and examine our own wants, needs, and feelings instead. Even when we know it’s happening, it can be really hard to nullify those worries, even at a subconscious level. Thus, even when we try to examine what we want, we almost always look at it through a lens of what others want from us as well. This means our views of what truly will bring us peace are always contorted by social mores.
In addition, self-doubt is a roadblock in our quest for the best version of our lives. Many of us are guided by fear and reality. When we think about what we really want in life, it can be a complete outlier to the life we are supposed to want. Society has a very defined view of what “living your best life” looks like, and if what you want doesn’t fit that mold, it can be easy to talk yourself out of it. Moreover, many of us let critical self-talk override our dreams. We’re afraid we’re not smart enough, brave enough, worthy enough to pursue whatever life it is we want.
And finally, I think the reason living your best life is so much harder than reading a few self-help books or meditating a few minutes a day is that if we’re honest, so few of us actually really know exactly what we want. Even if we can assuage those deep-seated teachings about selfishness and can overcome the self-doubt monster, many of us are left feeling lost in a forest of different paths when we really get down to it. We dig deep inside of ourselves and wade through the darkness only to find when we get to the center that there’s a big blank space. What the hell do I want? It’s a question I’ve tried to answer over and over and over again in my thirties. Oftentimes, I come up blank.
I don’t know if many of us can be 100% certain about what our best life looks like. If we did, we wouldn’t really need to struggle and to evolve in order to figure things out. We’d all come with an instructions manual and just follow the steps to achieve maximum self-actualization. Life isn’t made that way, though. So much of it, as cheesy as it sounds, really is about the journey.
So, what’s the answer, then, to this mucky ball of confusion surrounding self-fulfillment?
I think it’s that we keep trying to find that elusive pile of gold that is happiness. We try new things to see what sparks joy in us--I’m looking at you, Mari Kondo. We take time to self-reflect. We use the quotes and speakers and meditation and whatever else helps us stay grounded, but we also realize that these aren’t magic fixes. We assess our feelings. We change directions. We change directions again because we understand that our version of our best life might change as we grow, too.
We might get our “best life” wrong at first. We might think we know what it is only to get there and realize that wasn’t what we wanted at all. Sometimes, we might feel within an arm’s reach of our best life. Other times, it might feel like we have to trek through the Grand Canyon to get there and we’re all out of energy.
I hope, though, that no matter where you are in your journey to happiness, you remember this.
You are worthy of happiness, even if it takes a lifetime for you to really sort it out.
It isn’t easy for anyone, no matter what the cheesy posters and inspiring posts tell you.
And most of all, I hope you know that whatever life you’re living, whether it’s your best or not, there are beautiful things about you and your present. Don’t let the gorgeous mountain views pass you by because you’re so focused on reaching the top.
Whether you're newly married, just bought a house of your own, are in college, or are in the middle of your career, many of us struggle so much with our finances. In normal times, figuring out a budget and how to make your money work for you can be tough. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many found themselves in new, challenging situations; the long-term effects of the pandemic on finances are quite frightening as well. Thus, for many of us, 2021 is a time to reflect on our financial situation and plan for the future.
When my husband lost his job in 2019, we were sent into a scary financial whirlwind. Then the pandemic hit, and things got worse before they got better. We quickly realized that in our eight years of marriage, we really had never made a financial plan or budget to stick to. Thus, out of the wreckage of those hard years came some benefits--we learned how to create a financial plan and stick to it.
Here are three top tips if you're new to budgeting or if you just need a refresher.
1. Know where you are starting
The first key to a successful budgeting plan is to know exactly what position you are in. This means you need to get real about how much you are spending and where. You need to take a hard look at your debts and what money is going out. Some key questions to ask and to communicate with your partner about:
Facing your actual financial position can be scary. So many of us prefer to stick our heads in the sand and just go with the flow. However, this can lead to issues down the road, especially when the unexpected happens (like a loss of hours at work or a layoff). Know your position and what your goals are.
2. Use Cash
Many budgeting experts, including Dave Ramsey, note that using cash can help you stick to a budget. I implemented an envelope system for our family and have seen great results. Having the physical cash in hand allows you to better assess how you are doing with your targets each month and gives you a visual for what the impact of each purchase will be. I am much less apt to hand over cash on a wasteful purchase knowing how little I will have left in my spending envelope for the month.
Create envelopes for the categories that make sense for you. I have one for spending, one for vet bills, one for entertainment and dates, and one for my hair expenses (which is my splurge). I also have a cash reserve for emergencies.
3. Reflect and Reassess Often
The most important thing to do in order to adhere to your budget is to constantly reflect on how you are doing. Each month, I assess how well I stuck to budget categories and how unexpected expenses tripped me up. My husband and I now have frequent conversations about our money and our future goals so we are on the same page.
A big part of financial planning is simply being honest and realistic about how you are doing. It's easy to ignore budget categories and just swipe the card. However, I have found that the peace of mind that comes from financial peace of mind is worth the extra effort.
Has there ever been a moment, no matter how brief, where you fantasize about disappearing from your own life?
I’m not talking about suicide or kidnapping. I’m not talking about living a life on the run. I’m talking about getting lost in the fantasy of getting in the car and just driving away. Maybe it’s just for a day where no one can text you, the dog can’t ask to go out fifty times, and the dishes aren’t piled up in the sink staring at you. Or maybe it’s longer. Maybe in your fantasy, you drive until you hit a secluded beach town. You trade your corporate office for a job shaking drinks at a Tiki Bar and singing karaoke at night.
From what I’ve gathered, I think so many women have moments (or even many moments) where they fantasize about leaving their life, where they dream that they live a different life entirely. And I think a lot of women are afraid to admit that because it makes us sound ungrateful, selfish, and like bad mothers, partners, and workers.
But here’s the thing, ladies. I think it’s completely understandable why so many of us sometimes get caught up in wishing life was different, simpler, quieter. I think it’s completely reasonable that in modern times, women crave the freedom of being who they want and shedding some of the responsibilities. Because for the modern woman, life is exhausting.
That’s not to say men don’t have their struggles, too. To be human is to struggle. To be human is to be frustrated, to take on too many responsibilities sometimes, and to wonder if you’re doing it right. Today, though, we’re talking about the plight of modern women mostly because, to be honest, that’s what I’m familiar with. As a 33-year-old woman, I feel that’s what I can speak the most accurately to.
We are living in beautiful times as women in so many ways. This is not to say life is perfect or that equality is 100%. I know we still have our inequities, injustices, and major hurdles to overcome. Still, living in 2021 as a woman, I feel like I really do have endless possibilities. Want to be a doctor? Go do it. Want to go to the moon? Sure thing. Want to be a stay-at-home mom? Yes, yes, yes. You really do get to choose what you want to do in your career path, and although we could talk about equal pay controversies, let’s just agree that we do have more freedom of choice than our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. That’s a beautiful thing.
However, with choice and freedom comes responsibility. Because even though we are living in an era where women can chase careers and be who they want to be, there still is so much social pressure on us to carry our traditional roles. No matter how awesome your partner is, so many women I know carry the weight of running the household, dinner, laundry, carting the kids around, and all of the traditional domestic roles our grandmothers carried--except now, many of us are working full-time jobs or chasing careers. Or, even if you are a stay-at-home mother, there’s still so much more on our plates than those who went before us. Times have changed. Schedules are hectic. Gone are the days of quiet dinners at home and peaceful nights by the radio. We live our lives at 100 miles an hour plus, and it can be exhausting keeping up.
Add to that financial stresses, career stresses, social stresses of being a friend worthy of a romcom movie, and no wonder so many of us are walking around feeling like zombies. The to-do lists are never ending at work--and then we come home to a never-ending domestic to-do list. And even with the most helpful husband who carries half the weight, it just still feels like housekeeping and decorating and hosting seems to belong to the female side of the relationship. If my house were cruddy for a family get-together, I know--or at least I’ve been trained to believe--that everyone would be looking at me with disdain, not my husband. The “boys will be boys” attitude seems to carry over into adulthood and into domestic life.
There’s also the fact that for so many women I know, a sense of deep-rooted responsibility causes us to want to do all the things. From the time we are little girls, most of us are taught the worst thing you can be in the world is selfish. Our definitions of selfish morph and twist as we observe social mores, community beliefs, and standards. To be a “good” woman--and, henceforth, daughter, wife, mother, etc--one must be selflessly giving and nice. We must seek to make others smile. We must ask what they need and try to give it to them. We must do all the things for those around us so we can be cherished as a successful female.
Many of us grow up to realize that “selflessness” often treads into the dangerous doormat territory. At some point, most women realize that to give to all means to be empty. We recognize we must say “no,” sometimes and we must put our needs first if we are ever to survive. Still, I would argue that this deep-rooted notion of being selfless is so ingrained in most of us, we still abide by it even when we aren’t trying to.
It’s why we say sure to running all the errands while our husbands take some time to relax.
It’s why we push through and go to the game or the social event even when we feel like we have the flu.
It’s why we take on that extra committee at work even though it will mean we don’t have any time to ourselves during the week.
It’s why we do the dishes at midnight and wash that extra load of laundry and change the sheets on Sunday morning instead of sipping coffee.
It’s why we feel the need to be the best at work and at home. It’s why we feel like we need to do all the things--and with a smile worthy of a magazine, to boot.
It’s why so many women are running around bleary-eyed, passionless, and empty.
We put pressure on ourselves to be perfect at our careers, at our passions, as moms, as pet owners, as wives, as girlfriends, as friends, as mothers, as sisters, as daughters, and every other role we take on. We feel guilty for taking a break or saying “no.” Certainly we can do just one more thing or be just one more thing for someone. If we just do that one last thing, maybe we will be worthy.
But my question is: Worthy of what? Why are we feeling the need to do all the things all the time?
That brings me back to my point. Yes, we are blessed to have more choices than our ancestors did. Yes, the women who have gone before us fought for our right to have freedoms they could only dream of. Yes, I am grateful I can be a teacher or a doctor or a singer or a psychiatrist or whatever I want to be.
But here’s the thing, ladies. Just because you CAN be everything doesn’t mean you have to.
I think sometimes we get so caught up in being all the things that we forget to ask what we really want. What really matters? What fills us up with passion and excitement?
I think that’s where the fantasy of disappearing comes from. It is such a foreign concept for so many of us to get out of bed and be who we want to be and do what we want to do that we fantasize about it. We fantasize about just living for ourselves, about not having to wear a million different hats. I think that’s why so many of us wake up in our 30s or 40s and feel trapped, passionless, and used up.
And I think that’s a shame.
Now listen, I know we can’t all just throw down the laundry baskets and corporate reports and head to the tropics to start a commune where we have no chores. I know we can’t just live a life guided by our whims and our joys. Adult life is a downer in that way. There are some necessary evils of growing up. We can’t all pull a Chris McCandless and disappear from our lives, even if living in the quiet solitude on a bus in Alaska sounds joyous--although it didn’t end well for him.
We can, however, learn from people like Chris McCandless. I think we can realize that to live well is to live peacefully and to chase your dreams. That means you will have to say no to some aspects of your life sometimes. This means you will have to make some changes and that we, as women, must make some promises to each other.
Let’s stop fantasizing about escaping and find escapism in our own lives.
Let’s have those tough conversations with our partners about how burnt-out we are and how we need help.
Let’s stop cleaning baseboards and climbing on chairs to clean a speck of dust off fans when we’re hosting. Let’s be realistic about how busy women are and how we can’t be held to ridiculous domestic standards--nor should we be.
Let’s say “no” at work if taking on a new responsibility isn’t something we want right now. Let’s be honest about the fact that just because we can do it all doesn’t mean we have to.
Let’s stop worrying so much about dishes in the sink or baskets of laundry that need folded. Let’s say screw it sometimes and take the morning off to sip coffee.
Let’s team up with other moms to set up carpool systems so we can get some time to ourselves.
Let’s not feel like every single moment of our lives has to be scheduled or planned. Let’s aim for quality over quantity when it comes to activities. Boredom breeds creativity sometimes.
Most of all, let’s be honest in our struggles. Let’s stop wearing the damn fake perfect white teeth smiles of magazines. Let’s stop stressing about our hair and our weight and our outfits. Let’s be real that sometimes, sweatpants and a frizzy ponytail is the best we can do. Let’s put on that looser shirt when we gain a few pounds instead of starving ourselves to the point of passing out just so we have a flatter stomach.
Let’s stop pretending we are superwomen who can do it all with a smile on our face and high heels. Let’s stop thinking that asking for help is defeat. Let’s stop celebrating fakeness online where celebrity women accomplish millions of things on their own (newsflash: many of them have teams that help them).
Let’s stop idolizing exhaustion and start celebrating mindful rest. Let’s stop writing articles only about superwomen who achieve gargantuan lists of successes. Let’s start celebrating all women because every life is hard, and surviving a regular day is an achievement in itself.
I think if we can start working on these truths and being real about where we are as women, then maybe the fantasies will become more reality-like. And who knows, maybe we’ll find that when we pause and reflect, when we take a breath, that Tiki Bar by the beach is actually what we wanted all along. Or maybe we’ll find that we just needed a minute to make our own Tiki Bar retreat in our space in the world--and some honest reflection to go with it.
Lindsay Detwiler is a high school English teacher and the USA Today Bestselling author of numerous novels including The Widow Next Door and Inked Hearts. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, their six rescue cats, and Great Dane, Edmund. To learn more, follow her on Instagram.
By: Savannah Cordova
5 Delightful Romance Books to Look Forward to in 2021
Most of us could always use a little bit of romantic escapism — and especially lately, given the additional burdens of the pandemic. Even when we’re starved of everything from physical touch to the romantic frisson that comes from brushing past someone in a bar, books are still there as our steadfast companions to entertain us and give our imagination some fodder to run wild.
Indeed, the magic of creative writing is that it operates outside the realms of reality, where our wildest dreams can be realized! If you’re looking for your reality-suspending romance fix, check out my most anticipated 2021 releases below.
1. Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
Why not kick things off with a New York Times bestseller? You might already be familiar with Talia Hibbert’s Brown Sisters series, of which Act Your Age, Eve Brown is the third (and latest) installment. After an unfortunate set of events at a wedding, Hibbert’s purple-haired protagonist Eve, with her signature bashful chaos, is given an ultimatum by her parents — grow up and find herself, even if she’s not entirely sure how.
Cue the entrance of Jacob Wayne, an ambitious (and somewhat flighty) bed-and-breakfast owner on a mission to make waves in the hospitality industry. When Eve interviews for a chef role at Jacob’s B&B, the pair take an instant dislike to each other. But after Jacob is struck down in a car accident, he has no choice but to enlist Eve to hold down the fort…
If you’re a fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope, or just in the mood for a delightful, pacy romp, then run, don’t walk to your local bookshop! (And speaking of sexy romance series, you better check out Lindsay’s Lines in the Sand series — it’s perfect for the beach.)
2. Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
I couldn’t resist adding one of my favorite authors to this list — and I know I’m not alone in my fangirling! Rooney’s highly anticipated third book is due in September of this year, and if it’s anything like her smash hit Normal People or her exhilarating debut Conversations With Friends, it’s sure to be a zinger.
I’m slightly bending the rules by including this book, as it isn’t strictly a romance, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it. This book follows four characters (Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon) navigating hookups, romantic entanglements, relationships, and everything in between, as well as all the learning experiences that come with your young years and new environments.
Much to my chagrin, I’ve not been able to get my hands on a copy of the gorgeous proofs that have been doing the rounds on social media — but if the comments from others are anything to go by, it’s sure to be an emotive and poignant read.
3. Reputation by Lex Croucher
Attention, Bridgerton fans! Croucher’s debut novel Reputation blends comedy, period drama, and romance to produce this funny and sweet tale about doe-eyed debutante, Georgiana, as she moves to a new town to live with her less-than-stimulating aunt and uncle.
Luckily, an invitation to a party allows for a run-in with the mysterious and enigmatic Frances Campbell — who also happens to be fabulously wealthy and one of the best-connected people in town. Without spoiling too much, Reputation is all about exploring first loves, sex, and consent when reputation means everything and a woman’s lot was much different than what it is now. It's full of glitzy parties, handsome men on horseback, and a very Austenian sense of humor, and I personally can’t wait to read it.
4. Love in Color by Bolu Babalola
Love in Color is a bit different to the rest of this list. Rather than being one epic love-infused saga akin to The Notebook, it’s a collection of short stories that draw heavily on the magical folklore of West Africa, ancient tales from the Middle East, and classic Greek mythology.
The stories traverse continents and eras, telling stories of prestigious Nigerian goddesses longing for partners that truly see them, to businesswomen trying to replicate their boardroom confidence in their love lives. The organizing themes of the collection are Babalola’s vivid writing and the potency of true love. If my words aren’t enough, take it from the queen of romance herself, Meg Cabot, who described it as “beautifully written and full of joy.”
5. The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren
Jess Davis has all but retired from the dating scene. As a single mom and a data scientist, she’s juggling lots of responsibilities — and having been deserted by the father of her child, she’s not sure she can hack another heartbreak.
However, everything changes when she hears about GeneticAlly, a brand-new DNA-based matchmaking tool. Unlike the tumult and unpredictability of falling in love, the logic of numbers is something Jess can get behind. That is, until she’s paired with the company’s founder, the aloof and brooding Dr. Pena, who she’s already met on the industry circuit — and written off. But once she’s convinced to try dating him, for his branding (and so she can earn some money), she realizes there’s more to Dr. Pena than what meets the eye…
If this has taken your fancy, you’re in luck — it was released in May, so you don’t have to spend months waiting for your pre-order in the post!
It’s definitely a great year for romance, so have fun getting lost in these absorbing reads. If you're looking for even more escapism, I can guarantee that children's books are another source of great solace (in addition to romance). Happy reading!
Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and romance of all subgenres, as well as writing short stories.
You're Wasting Your Time Trying to Look Good
Scrolling through social media today, I saw post after post after post from women about one topic: their looks.
Posts about weight and weight loss and feeling pudgy. Posts about how they are ugly or apologizing for not having makeup or for messy hair. As I scrolled on and looked at all the negative body talk, it hit me.
We waste so much of our lives worrying about how we look when we are worth so, so, so much more than that.
I know that’s not a novel thought. I know there have been millions of articles published about body positivity and self-worth. Still, how effective are these messages in combatting the equally if not more prominent message in the media--that we must look a certain way to be worthy?
Minutes before noticing all of the negative body talk, I, too, had been engaging in the daily war with my body and looks. I had been studying my stomach in the mirror trying to assess how much bigger it is than a few years ago. I was making a mental checklist of all of the beauty routines I needed to do today--a face mask to help with those wrinkles, a hair mask to add more shine and take away frizz. I needed to put on the fake eyelashes because mine were too weak and fill in my eyebrows which are remnants from the early 2000s overplucking trend. The list kept growing, as it always does, and I felt exhausted and behind before the day even really started.
There is nothing wrong with taking pride in your looks. There is nothing wrong with makeup and beauty products if they make you feel good (God knows I have quite a collection of products in my bathroom because I love them). But at what point does having fun with trying to improve your looks overtake your self-worth or detract from your priorities? At what point can we say enough is enough, I am beautiful as I am? Because in my experience, it’s never enough. You will never, in your mind, live up to the impossible beauty standards we are bombarded with daily. You will never see yourself for the beautiful person you are--your eyes are trained to focus on the “problems.” If you lose those ten pounds or get rid of those wrinkles or perfect your eyeliner, there will always be something else your eyes focus on. If we aren’t careful, the beauty industry convinces us that we are nothing but a walking set of appearance problems that need fixed. If we let it, the industry will convince us we aren’t beautiful or skinny enough or worthy of the life we want.
A few weeks ago, I spent an hour curling my hair, putting on eyelashes, shaving my legs, plucking my eyebrows, slapping on fake nails, and perfecting my lipstick. I missed out on an hour of sunshine, an hour with my dog, an hour sipping coffee to cover myself in products. A few hours into the day, my nails were snagging on things, the eyelashes were driving me nuts, and the lipstick was all over my favorite coffee cup. And, after finally being fed up and ripping off the nails, eyelashes, and wiping off the makeup, I felt freer. It was like emerging from a suffocating coffin. It was like breathing for the first time because I realized that all of the annoying procedures and steps I had taken weren’t really necessary. I didn’t need eyelashes to see the gorgeous sunset or my husband’s smile. I didn’t need perfect eyebrows for him to be proud of what I’ve accomplished or for my dreams to come true. I didn’t need fake nails to pet my dog or to grab the life I want.
Did I look like a magazine cover? Hell no. I didn’t when all of the makeup items were perfectly placed to begin with. But in those moments, I realized how much of my time was wasted trying to look good instead of trying to live a good life, a life that fulfilled me. I realized how much “extra” we do in order to meet standards we made up in our heads.
When I looked at those social media posts today, I didn’t see too much belly fat or fine lines or the frizzy hair they claimed to have. I just saw beauty. Unique, one-of-a-kind beauty. I saw strength in their eyes and vulnerability in their hearts. I saw dream chasers, inspirations, and women who have so much on their plate but keep showing up. I saw so many things--but not the things they were agonizing over.
We all have finite time here. This past week, I can’t stop thinking about the families in Surfside waiting for news. My heart aches when I think of those people whose lives were cut short in an instant. Tragedies like the Surfside Building Collapse remind us that nothing is guaranteed. Everything can change in a moment’s notice. Confidence is a beautiful thing. Expressing yourself and your style through makeup and fashion is a good thing. But when we become so obsessed with our outer appearance that we forget our worth, we are in danger of missing out on the most beautiful parts of life.
So the next time you find yourself at war with your looks, just stop. Put the nails and eyelashes and pencils and glosses down. Stop squishing your stomach or eyeing up the cellulite. Stop worrying about the numbers on the scale or the size of your bra. Instead, look into the eyes staring at you in the mirror and remember that you are strong, wise, capable, and most of all, you are worthy.
So damn worthy.
You do your best to show kindness and give everyone the benefit of the doubt--just like you're supposed to, if they are to believed. You show grace and smile even when you don't feel like it. You shove down your dark, difficult feelings because you don't want to be selfish.
And yet, for every inch you give them, they run you into the ground. They stomp all over your character and shred your perfect dress. They toss aside the gifts, the smiles, the kind words like they are trash.
They don't see you. But I see you.
You never brag about your accomplishments. You don't tell them how you've seen the stars from the precipice of the mountain. You don't sing the song you've mastered. You bury it down inside in the world where women just have hobbies and nice girls don't boast. You stay so small, you crumple into yourself. You let the other girls parade around and hang banners for themselves. You cower in the shadow hoping someone will throw a little confetti your way.
They don't see you. But I see you.
They use you for what you can offer, which you give willingly. And when they've gotten all they need, they walk on by. Not a smile, not a wave, not a conspiratorial wink. They parade on into the sunset while you stand in the settling dust.
Sometimes, you wonder why you try at all.
Sometimes, it feels like nice girls don't actually win.
Most times, though, you just feel invisible, used, and like something discarded by the world. The spotlight never shines on you like it does the others. They never have a parade in your honor. You quietly march on, day after day, wondering if maybe you are just invisible after all. Maybe that's who you are meant to be.
But to the nice girls who feel like they are always getting burned... I see you.
I see you for the quiet strength you possess. I see the strong character in you to keep doing what is right and fair even when no one else celebrates it. I see you for the beautiful warrior you are. I see how brave you are to keep being giving in a world that just takes. I see the courage in you to try again even when it feels like you shouldn't.
Don't let their ignorance, their lack of character, their flashy attitudes detract from the fact that you are you...and you are beautiful for who you are.
It was twelfth-grade literature class when I first realized what a gift the element of surprise is.
We were reading Their Eyes Were Watching God and discussing the symbolism of the pear tree. Now, for some, the pear tree in the book represents Janie's sexuality, but there was also another interpretation--the flowers on the tree represented her dreams, her opportunities, her possibilities. Because youth was on her side, Janie's pear tree was blossoming with so many flowers to be picked. Really, to me at least, it was a symbol of how when you are young, there are so many possibilities flowering. Life is just waiting for you to pluck it, for you to decide which paths you will go down and what surprises you will find along the way. Life in your late teens, even if you don't realize it at the time, feels hopeful in a way it never will again.
I was thinking about this pear tree the other day in the shower and came to a deeply sad conclusion: at 33, I couldn't help but feel like my pear tree is now a crumpled heap of sticks, broken into tiny twigs. In short, I realized with sadness that although at one point, my tree had many flowers on it like Janie's, mine now was plucked and barren (the dream symbol...not the sexuality one. That's a different post altogether).
I'm settled into a life now that I know I am blessed to have, yet I also know lacks a lot of the vivacity that my earlier years of adulthood did. I've settled into a routine where many of the days look the same, where the element of surprise is as unexpected as a freak snowstorm in spring. I've figured out the laundry schedule and my nighttime routine. I've settled into a career, a mortgage, a life of predictability. I've settled into a life where I no longer can see all of the forks in the path, where it feels like I'm endlessly plodding down the exact same one. It's not a bad path--it's just lacking possibility. Choices. Chances.
That lack of choice, of chance, of possibility is perhaps why I found myself staring at the shower wall as the water poured over me and I considered an old metaphor from a book I read long ago.
Before we go any farther, I know I am privileged to say that. I realize boredom is a blessing to many and sought after by those living difficult lives I cannot even imagine. I know I am lucky to be living the life I am. Still, as I let the suds rain down over my body and stared at the blank shower wall, I couldn't help but wonder what my younger self would think of this somewhat passionless existence.
Because that's the thing I think no one tells you about adulthood--that at some point, the magic sort of fades. That at some point, you trade magic for predictability and surprise for security. That you will spend so many years chasing after the elusive "right" path, trying to make choices that will set you up for success that society wants you to find. You will pluck flower after flower off your pear tree, not realizing that someday, all the flowers will be gone and you'll be left with a somewhat depressing, mundane set of branches in their place.
No one prepares you for the day that you realize the element of surprise regarding who you will become will be gone, and in its wake, you'll just be left with this shell of a person who goes through the motions sometimes.
For a while, I thought perhaps I was alone in this feeling. I thought perhaps I was just in a funk where the passion, the magic had died. Where I felt like I was just sort of surviving instead of excited to see what was next. But I've had many conversations with other women especially. I've seen the dulled sparkle in the eyes of those around me. I've seen the translucent moroseness that settles in once someone comes to the conclusion that so many of us eventually come to: This is it. This is what I am, who I will be.
I know that age is just a number. I know that it's never too late to change who we are, to reinvigorate that joy in our hearts and that passion. I know we can find ways to supercharge that spark again. Still, I can't help but let the realist speak up here that the older we get, that the more set in our routines we become, the harder it is to see those flowers again.
It is difficult to imagine a life where you again have choice and chance, where you're fighting to find that dream you once had. I think it's why if you talk to women in their thirties and forties, so many of them have this hidden little dream of waking up and being someone else--or waking up and having a different life altogether.
It's not that there's something broken or wrong with women who feel this. I think it's just no one prepared us for the fact that even if you pick the "right" path, there's a spark that's lost when you settle into a choice. When you let the other flowers fall away and are left with just one, suddenly, there is an emptiness that settles in. A dullness. A "something is missing" kind of feeling.
This is not an article to tell you how to find the spark again. This is not an article to tell you that your best days are over, that your flowers are all dead on your pear tree. This is simply an article to say this--adulthood isn't all the wonderful things we perhaps thought it would be. Adulthood is much harder, much duller, much more complex than they ever told us. And for many of us, women especially, it can be a bitter pill to swallow that the tree we once admired in front of us is slowly withering.
I don't have the answers. I don't have the reasoning. But I do have this--the promise that you are not alone if you are struggling with what this whole thing means and with the reality that hanging onto the wonder, the surprise, the possibility isn't as easy as it once seemed.
So no matter where you are in the pear tree metaphor, I hope you know that you are not alone and that there is nothing wrong with you. Call it faded magic or a mid-life crisis or whatever other fancy term you want, but just know that it's okay to wake up and realize adulthood isn't everything you ever wanted. Know that it's okay to feel a little lost, even if you have the path all figured out and set.
There is no rule book to this thing, no book on pear trees that can give us all the answers. I suppose that is part of the wonder that will always be left--the question of whether or not we're doing this thing right at all.
Recently, I shared a blog post about what my husband and I have been through since 2019 when he lost his career of nine years. It has been a long, winding road of anxiety, fear, and financial frustrations. Still, along the way, we have both grown and learned from the experience.
I wouldn't wish the loss of a job on anyone--especially during a pandemic. However, the statistics show that we were not alone in our struggles. According to PEW Research, "The rise in the number of unemployed workers due to COVID-19 is substantially greater than the increase due to the Great Recession." The site notes that the unemployment rate in May of 2020 was at 13%, while during the height of the Great Recession in 2010, the unemployment rate was only 10.6%. Thus, I've come to learn that so many struggled with what my husband and I went through--and so many are still struggling.
Every battle in life, though, is a learning experience. We've come out the other side stronger, smarter, and more budget conscious. We've also learned quite a few tips that assure me that if we ever went through this again, we would handle it much better.
Below, I'm listing out some of the practical advice I have if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. These are real, actionable steps you can do now to regain some control in your life, even when it feels like all your plans are unraveling.
1. Get that resume and cover letter in order.
That was how long my husband and I had been out of the resume, cover letter, interview world. Suddenly, though, we were thrust back into all overnight when my husband's company furloughed him.
Immediately, I dusted off his resume and cover letter and got to work.
If it's been a while since you're in the job market or even if you recently got your job, it's always a good idea to do some updating. Ask yourself:
Some other tips I have learned from helping my husband:
2. Get your budget in order.
This is not the time to stick your head in the sand about your finances. This is a time to know exactly what your expenses are and where your money is going.
It is going to take some work to adjust your budget to fit your new situation. My husband and I sat down and actually created a budget for the first time when he lost his job. Up until then, we really just spent whatever and didn't worry about what was coming in, going out, and going to savings. As long as there was money in our account, we didn't worry about it.
After he was furloughed, though, money was much, much tighter. Unemployment rarely replaces the whole income. Thus, we sat down and actually looked at our fixed expenses, sought to cut variable expenses, and tried to figure out how to spend as little as possible. We loved this online budget planner calculator to help us set targets and figure out exactly what to spend on different categories. It is also a great place to check in if you already have a budget and want to see if you are staying on track. We also found we could use this when he was considering jobs and we were seeing if we could make the salary work financially.
3. Sign-Up for a Job Board Online
Immediately after losing his job, my husband signed up for Indeed.com to keep his eye on prospects. This program emailed him any time a relevant job came open and allowed us to get his application in early and sometimes even first. It also helped us keep track of jobs we applied for and what qualifications employers were looking for.
They have a resume builder tool, too, if you are still struggling with step one. Definitely use all the features here to give yourself the best possible options.
4. Have patience.
When you or a spouse loses a job, you want to fix the problem as soon as possible. The anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the situation is so uncomfortable. Still, you need to have patience. This is not a situation that will resolve itself overnight. It has taken my husband over a year to get to a job he is passionate about and we know will be his forever job. In the meantime, he spent time working various jobs to help us get by and keep the budget going.
Don't be afraid to think outside the box in order to survive. There are several ways you can (legally!) make money and keep the household floating until you find the right opportunity. Keep throwing your hat in the ring, keep making smart choices, and keep looking for opportunities. But until then, be patient and know eventually, a door will open that will lead you to exactly where you belong--as long as you are prepared and have followed these steps.
Hang in there. I know it is so tough--but I promise it will get better. And as always, reach out if you need help!
Staying Hopeful When You Lose a Job
There is light ahead even if you can't see it because of all of the darkness.
I put that first because even if you can't read the rest, I wanted you to take that with you today, this week, this month, this year. Because sometimes, darkness and hard times last a long time. Sometimes, it feels like you'll be forever lost on a winding road in a horrific forest of grief or fear or anxiety or struggle.
But there IS light ahead even if you can't see it.
As I've talked about before, my husband lost his job in November of 2019. We were terrified, anxious, stressed. Suddenly, our carefree spending habits were put on a very tight budget. Suddenly, my husband, who had an identity wrapped up in his career of nine years, was lost and didn't know where he was going. Suddenly, everything that seemed certain sort of fell apart.
Back then, we naively thought the struggle would last a month or two. We kept assuring ourselves things would be better in a month, two months, by summer. And then COVID hit and the world fell apart completely. The struggle bus was here to stay.
It took nineteen months for us to really see the light, for things to get better, and for Chad to find his way. Last week, we finally took a breath of much welcomed, hopeful air. He has found where he belongs, and we are excited for the journey ahead.
Looking back on the past years, things weren't always pretty. Losing a job is scary. Losing a career path is scary. Losing a sense of financial security in the middle of a pandemic is scary.
Still, when I think about all of the struggles, I also can't believe how much we've grown in the past couple of years. We've learned, truly learned, what it means to need something versus to want something. We've learned, like "The Minimalists" talk about, that you really need to value people and moments, not things. We've learned that $100 moisturizers and fancy gadgets do not make a home--love, laughter, support, as cheesy as it sounds, are the foundations of true, fulfilling joy.
We've learned that it doesn't take a million dollars to make memories. Some of our all-time favorite moments and dates came from this past year--and barely cost anything. We've laughed and pulled together. We've found out that our marriage is even more solid than we thought. And even when things got stressful, we found that together, we could stand strong and come out the other side even stronger.
We've learned that the true value of life is not what's in your bank account--it's time. The time you spend laughing. The time you spend feeling true joy. The time you spend chasing your passions. That's the true measure of how well you are living.
We've learned that true friends, that supportive family, is a lifesaver. We've learned that people are truly kind and thoughtful. We've been so thankful for everyone who helped us along the way, by listening to our fears, by helping us navigate the job world, by offering help in all sorts of ways.
We were luckier than many who get thrown into our position. We are thankful that we came out the other side pretty much unscathed. I know there are many who losing a job for is even harder.
But I wanted to write this in case someone out there is dealing with this--because I know how scary it is. Truly. I want you to know that on the days when the foliage in the forest is so thick, it seems like there will never be a sunny day again...there will. It might not be in a week or a month. It might not be in a year. But if you can keep your eyes on the path and keep putting one foot in front of the other, eventually you'll come out the other side. You will.
There is light ahead even if you can't see it because of all of the darkness.
And there are lessons to be learned and growing to do even in the hardest moments of life.
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