On New Year’s Resolutions and Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift, rocking some dazzling (and enviable) self-confidence in the Blank Space video.

Let’s get two things out of the way up front: 1.) I haven’t made a New Year’s resolution in years; and 2.) I am a big Taylor Swift fan. I’ve liked her music from the get-go and like it even more now that my kiddo is a huge fan. And her latest album, 1989, did not disappoint.

So what does this have to do with resolutions? Well, I’m not really a big proponent of them. I know they help some people to start the year off fresh, but in my experience they’re easily made and easily broken. Maybe this means I’m the weak-minded type who’d be easy prey for Jedi mind tricks. Or maybe it just means I’m realistic about my own flaws.

I’d love to drop a few pounds, run my first marathon, write every day for hours on end, and be more organized on the household front. Will I really do all of these things? I’m going to go with no. Though I always aim for good health, I haven’t been able to run in months (a frustrating health development) and I can’t possibly write every single day—I work and have a kid. As for household organization, I think I can safely admit that I err on the side of what (I hope) is friendly chaos.

So what would a resolution in honor of 2015 really get me? Other than a sense of frustration with myself—something I already excel at having—when I don’t live up to the resolution, not much, I’m afraid.

Which brings me back to Taylor Swift (no, I didn’t forget about her). The new album contains some glorious statements of self-acceptance and empowerment, from the letter to her fans about change and learning from your mistakes to the songs contained therein. And I love it as such, from start to finish.

I’ve danced gleefully to “Shake it Off” with my kiddo up and down the aisles of a grocery store, not caring a whit if neighbors, or even complete strangers, think I’m crazy. I’ve watched the video for “Blank Space” more times than I can count, talking along the way with my kiddo about how Taylor Swift’s not serious when she sings things like “Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.” She’s doing something remarkable, in fact: reclaiming her reputation and her sense of self.

It’s a gift to be able to accept yourself, grow as a result of your mistakes, and laugh a little as you’re doing it. And it’s important to realize, at least for me, that every day—not just New Year’s Day—is one in which you can be true to yourself. You can work for and toward something you love, whether it’s your friends, your family, your work, or a passion that you pursue despite your work. You can look forward, as Anne of Green Gables always did, to tomorrow being fresh with no mistakes in it. And then you can make mistakes and it will be okay.

So, on this first day of 2015, I wish you all the ability to accept and love yourself for who you are, to laugh at the small annoyances thrown your way, and realize that even if “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,” you can choose to not let them get you down. It’s not an easy choice—haters come in all shapes and forms, external and internal—but it’s one we can all strive to make.

Because it’s time to shake off the old year, and celebrate the new one. And if you need a little inspiration, you can always watch this. Pretty. Awesome.

Literary Hunger

The Telegraph’s imagining of what Alice’s tea party might have looked like.

After seeing a link in PW Daily to this wonderful slideshow of the ten best literary meals on The Telegraph, I started thinking of literary grub myself. It’s not that I disagree with The Telegraph’s choices. (Okay, maybe I do. Thin gruel? Really?). It’s just that I’ve been known to cook, and eat, based solely on the literary merit of a particular food or drink. Heck, I’ve been known to take entire vacations on literary merit alone.

So here’s a small sampling of some of the foods and drinks that books have inspired me to try.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneButterbeer: I tried this for the first time ever a couple of weeks ago, thanks to a good friend and fellow Harry Potter enthusiast, and admit that it was kind of a thrill. Very, very sweet. But still kind of a thrill. Now, would I also want to try Chocolate Frogs? Why yes, I would. Every Flavor Beans, however…not so much. I like to think I’m an adventurous eater, but yet still am not eager to sample anything that claims it tastes like earwax.

 

Anne of Green GablesRaspberry cordial and/or red currant wine: When Anne Shirley inadvertently gets her bosom friend Diana Barry drunk on red currant wine (all the while innocently thinking it’s raspberry cordial), I admit that my interest was piqued. I wanted to try both. And many years ago, on a pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island, I tried raspberry cordial. Only very recently, I had some red currant wine. The verdict? Like Diana, I’ll go with the wine, thanks.

 

The Secret Garden

Porridge: On our honeymoon in Scotland, I determined that if porridge is good enough for Mary Lennox, it was good enough for me. I’ll never want a bowl of regular old oatmeal. Hearty enough to support one in traversing across moors with boys who talk to animals—or at least my husband, who only talks to our guinea pig—it’s tasty as all get-out as well.

 

The Tale of Peter RabbitChamomile tea: Inspired by Peter Rabbit’s post-McGregor stomach ache, I sought out this soothing herbal tea. Turns out that drinking a hot beverage made from steeping tiny flowers is not the wisest idea for someone with allergy issues. As soon as my throat began to swell shut, I knew that relying of naughty rabbits for inspiration as to what to eat or drink was a terrible, terrible mistake.

 

The waters at Bath: Here’s a tip that no one in Jane Austen’s Persuasion ever tells you: if it smells like sulfur it will, in fact, taste like sulfur. And while I don’t regret trying taking the waters (in Bath and in Cheltenham—I am a sucker for 19th century spa towns), I can’t say I felt anything but mildly ill after having done so. But when you’re in the Pump Room pretending to be Anne Elliot, who really cares?

 

Despite the occasional miss (or, you know, inability to breathe), I’m always up for trying something new. Got some literary food obsessions? Do share!

Coming to the Dark Side, Where (Sadly) There Are No Cookies

It’s been a bumpy week of writing. I’m so far along in the first draft of the young adult story I’ve been working on that I can practically taste the ending that’s in sight.

But I still have to get there. And the road to the ending isn’t a pretty one.

For the entire seeming ages on which I’ve been writing this story, I’ve known how it was going to end and what was going to happen to get the characters there. I’ve known that there was going to have to be real unhappiness—even ugliness—at this point in the story. Now I have to write it. And, honestly, I’m just not someone who naturally tends toward the dark side of things.

Even if you did tend that way, though, I can’t imagine it’s easy to write about difficult things.

To say that you’ve grown attached to your characters is basically to say that you write. It’s impossible to spend this much time with anyone—even someone fictional—and not be completely invested in their lives. For someone who forms attachments rather too easily, it’s a real problem.

Because when it comes right down to it, I know what the story needs and what has to happen to my characters…but I don’t want have to be the one to do it to them.

How do you write Harry Potter’s walk to face Voldemort in what he’s been assured will be certain death? How do you make the soaring spirit of Anne Shirley deal with the crushing blow of losing her first child? How do you leave Hazel without Augustus?

The answer is: I don’t know.

So I procrastinate. I tackle my reading list. I dabble with other story ideas. I write a blog post.

What I really need to do, though, is put my nose back to the grindstone and face up to writing on the dark side. If anyone’s willing to provide cookies, just let me know.

A Valentine’s Celebration of the Good Boys of YA Lit

There are girls (and women) who have a serious soft spots for the bad boys of life and of literature—many of my dearest friends among them. For some reason, I have never, ever been one of them. Sure, Heathcliff is fun to read about, but would you really want to hang out with him? Even when I was much younger, I tended to lean toward funny, smart, charming guys.

Thankfully in the world of YA literature, there are still plenty of these “good” boys to have crushes on to offset the depressed, darkly brooding romantic heroes that still plague the pages of books everywhere. And, to celebrate Valentine’s Day, here are a few of my favorites.

Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables

Gilbert Blythe, from L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series

Anne thought she wanted brooding, but it turned out she wanted Gilbert. Sure, he started off his relationship with her by pulling her braids and calling her “carrots.” But soon thereafter, his roguish good looks and playful spirit won all of our hearts. Though it looked like he’d never gain Anne’s affections, his love stayed true, and he persisted in dreaming of his life with her. Generations of girls have swooned.

Po from Kristin Cashore's Graceling

Po, from Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and Bitterblue

Po may have looked like something of a bad boy—piercings, tattoos—but was good to his very core. His romance with (arguably a bad girl) Katsa is one of the most believable love stories in YA literature. Their internal conversations once she realizes what his grace truly is are almost thrilling in their understatement. And those silver and gold eyes…sigh.

 

Will Pary in His Dark Materials trilogy

Will Parry, from Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy

Brave, noble, loyal and utterly trustworthy, Will fights to protect his mother, and ultimately gives up his true love in order to save the rest of the universe(s). He’s definitely cut from a more serious cloth than the previous two romantic heroes, but he’s the type you’d always want in your corner.

 

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games

Peeta Mellark, from Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy

The whole Gale thing never really held any water for me. It was Peeta all the way, from the moment he threw the bread to a young and starving Katniss in the first book. My heart broke for him when the Capitol managed to make him lose himself—the one thing he most feared—and then cheered when he ultimately came back to himself and Katniss. He’s a golden dandelion of hope.

Augustus Waters, The Fault in Our Stars

 

Augustus Waters, from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars

The thinking girl’s romantic hero, his thoughts were stars he could not fathom into constellations. I literally laughed and wept when reading this book, and felt—along with Hazel—thankful to have known Augustus. To write more would be to get emotional about the book all over again. And I’m just not going there on Valentine’s Day.

 

Michael Moscovitz, The Princess Diaries

Michael Moscovitz, from Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series

He writes songs, he’s a computer nerd, and he’s the older brother of Mia’s best friend. But who, really, didn’t could resist a boy who writes songs about you being a tall drink of water? Mia couldn’t.

 

 

And, the ultimate proof that I love and cherish good boys? I married one. Smart, funny, charming, incredibly caring—he’s the love of my life. So, Happy Valentine’s Day to him and to you…and to whoever your romantic hero is!