Reading List: Dumbledore’s Army Read-A-Thon

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I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions. I’m not sure if that philosophy is due to my previous failings or some deeply rooted cynicism, but every year is the same: while everyone toasts to the new year and announces their goals, I stay silent. If I say anything at all, it’s more of a hypothetical musing than an actual commitment…and if it’s been a particularly awful year, I look forward to better days.

But if there is one goal I have for 2017, it is to read more books. I fell short of my reading goal this year, and I’ve been re-evaluating what (and when) I choose to read. I have a horrible habit of buying books faster than I read them and adding more and more to my to-read list; even if I lose interest in the story, I become more determined than ever to finish the damn book. Because if I don’t finish it, I’ve just wasted my time! Right?

As you have probably guessed, that stubbornness only results in reading less. And there is so much to read and so much to learn.

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Words have power. That is a truth that I have never, ever disputed. Books entertain and comfort and educate, and it’s all part of an incredible magic that constantly amazes me.

To kick off 2017, I am participating in a read-a-thon that focuses on diverse books, appropriately titled Dumbeldore’s Army Read-A-Thon. If stories help us empathize with others, then diverse books are yet another a tool we can use to make our world a little kinder.

There are seven read-a-thon prompts, all based on spells from the Harry Potter world. Take a look at my reading list, and feel free to recommend some of your favorite diverse books in the comments!

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Expecto Patronum: Read a diverse book featuring an issue of personal significance to you or a loved one.

For the first prompt, I chose an old favorite: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. While this novel features various issues, the two that are closest to my heart are mental health and LGBTQ rights. Charlie has his own struggle with mental health, and one of his best friends is gay–and it is a story that is still all-too familiar and important.

Expelliarmus: Disarm your own prejudices. Read a diverse book featuring a marginalized group you don’t often read about.

I consider myself fairly well-educated in terms of LGBTQ rights, but I know I still have a lot of work to do. I’ve never read a book about someone who is trans or gender-nonconforming, and so I’ve chosen Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin. It’s about a gender fluid teen, and I’m looking forward to learning and reading more about gender fluidity than what I’ve seen on Tumblr.

Protego: Protect those narratives and keep them true. Read an #OwnVoices book for this prompt.

Diverse books are important, but we must also strive to read stories about marginalized groups written by marginalized groups. #OwnVoices is a movement that supports authors and their stories. For this prompt, I’ll also be diving into some fantasy with Serpentine by Cindy Pon.

Reducto: Smash that glass ceiling. Read a book that empowers women from all different walks of life.

ALL THE FEMINISM. There are so many options, but I decided to go with Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. I loved reading essays in my gender studies classes in college, and I can’t wait to read about the author’s thoughts on today’s feminist culture.

Impedimenta: Read a diverse book that’s been left unread on your TBR for far too long!

I picked up a copy of Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson ages ago, but it’s been sitting on my shelves gathering dust–so it’s the perfect book for this prompt! Woodson tells her childhood story through poetry, and I have a feeling it will become one of my favorites.

Stupefy: Read a diverse book that has stunned the Internet with all its well-deserved hype.

I haven’t been as involved with the book community on Tumblr or Instagram as I have in the past, so this one took a lot of Google searching…but I finally settled on When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore. This book has stellar Goodreads reviews and features characters with diverse, intersectional identies. And hey, more magic!

Lumos: Read a diverse book that was recommended by one of your fellow book bloggers.

I turned to Twitter and asked for  recommendations. The lovely ladies at Black Chick Lit suggested two titles, one of which was Another Brookyln by Jacqueline Woodson (yes, another one!). I probably would have never found this book if it weren’t for Black Chick Lit, and I am so grateful for their input.

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Only two days until the #DAReadathon begins! If you’re interested in joining, visit Read at Midnight‘s blog to sign up (and hit me up if you are a fellow Hufflepuff!). Oh, and Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s to an ink-stained 2017 that shines with love and compassion. ❤️

Endorphins Make You Happy

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Perhaps it is because I have always been relatively healthy, but fitness is usually low on my list of priorities–if not last.

Exercise and I didn’t always have such a bumpy relationship. Growing up, I was always involved in some kind of sport (whether or not I possessed the necessary talent is another matter entirely.). But the most demanding of my athletic endeavors was high school swimming. Three days a week, I woke up at 4:30AM to make 5am practice; afternoon practices were followed by weight training. I was, without a doubt, the healthiest I had ever been in my entire life.

During my senior year, I decided that I wasn’t passionate enough about swimming to continue.  I had more free time to pursue my true passions, and I took what I thought was a well-needed break from vigorous exercise.

Looking back, I realize that this is when I started to view exercise as a chore.

I’m now in my twenties, but not much has changed. I still struggle to roll out of bed, or get off of the couch, or pause an episode Friends in exchange for a yoga video.

know that my current habits will likely affect my overall health in the future–but it is not difficult to gain knowledge. Think about it: how many times have we all heard that exercise can reduce stress and increase energy?

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They just don’t. 

Turning that knowledge into action…well, that’s the real challenge.

But I know that it isn’t impossible. Drew lifts weights almost every day; when I asked him how he stays motivated, he simply shrugged and said that he always feels better after working out.

When I work out, I kind of hate myself and feel like throwing up.

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Shut up, Ross. 

Then, I found something incredible: Bad Witch Workout. Gala Darling and Garnett Strother have created a free seven-day fitness challenge for anyone beginning their fitness journey–and I loved it so much that I bought the Starter Pack. While I’m still struggling to do the workouts regularly, this program has worked wonders. The community is amazingly supportive, and I’ve even met a few friends along the way!

To supplement Bad Witch Workout, I plan on practicing yoga more often. Yoga With Adriene has been my go-to workout resource for years; unfortunately, I tend to go on a three-day streak and stop.

Through yoga, Bad Witch Workout, and a bit of soul-searching, I’ve realized that I need to find my own source of motivation. Some people just know they feel awesome after a good workout. That’s wonderful, and I admire anyone who knows that exercise is worth it–but I feel awesome when I eat junk food or hit the snooze button multiple times. So, I’ve settled on a new mantra:

When I exercise, I am taking care of myself; therefore, exercise is an act of self-love. When I honor my body, I am honoring God.  

I may never be a bonafide fitness junkie. However, I can always make my physical health a priority….even if it is just making sure I drink enough water and get enough sleep.

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What are some of your favorite workouts? How do you prioritize your health? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter

 

Words, Words, Words

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This year’s election has been one of the most divisive, tumultuous races in recent history. Many of us are still battling shock, fear, or a sinister combination of the two–but we are determined to keep fighting.

While petitions and protests have dominated my Facebook feed, I have also heard the rally cry of my fellow writers: we need books more than ever. 

We need to read diverse books, and we need to support marginalized authors. Reading has been proven to encourage compassion and improve social skills; by reading stories about and by people who are different than us, we are more easily able to empathize with others (check out this list of resources to find diverse authors).

Books clearly have the power to entertain, educate, and inspire, but words are also an inexhaustible form of comfort. As most of you know, I turn to writing when I need to process my feelings…and if that proves unsuccessful, I read.

“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

-Roald Dahl

Books often feel more like friends than bits of paper and ink. Books are also meant to be shared, and so I decided write about stories that I hold close to my heart. I also asked several friends via Facebook and Twitter what books have been comforting in times of grief or hardship, and I am happy to say this became a rather varied list. (Suggestions from others are quoted and credited with permission). 

If you are in need of some literary hugs (election-related or not), consider the following titles–and feel free to suggest your own in the comments!

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The Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling

The Boy Who Lived has done so much for this generation of readers. At the core of this series is an overwhelming message of love, something we all desperately need. Dumbledore’s Army and The Order of the Phoenix feels especially relevant this year in terms of activism.

A re-reading of this series is long overdue, but I have been listening to the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast (thanks, Samantha!). Casper and Vanessa do a remarkable job, and I am always inspired to apply the episode’s theme to my own life.

“Beauty, grace, and charm my foot. It’s a school for sadists with good tea-serving skills.”
― Libba Bray

The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray 

This series is set in Victorian England, but don’t be fooled: it is perfect for Nasty Women who need an extra dose of magic. Following her mother’s death, Gemma discovers she is a sorceress who can travel between the spirit realm and our own. Her story is an honest account of female friendship, grief, and finding her place in the world. I purchased the third installment (The Sweet Far Thing) on audiobook, and my morning commutes have been infinitely more enjoyable.

The Book of Lamentations 

Sometimes, I need God to tell me that everything will be okay. And sometimes, I need God to tell me that it’s okay to think everything totally sucks.

Enter Lamentations. The day after the election, I read Lamentations and highlighted every verse that described how I felt. It was incredibly therapeutic, and I was reminded that hope can exist amidst suffering.

The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer 

“These books found me at a very dark time in my life – a space before I was diagnosed with depression & anxiety, yet was experiencing the full extent of the symptoms & didn’t know how to reach out to friends & family to tell them I was suffering. It was so healing for me to escape into a world so very different from my own, someplace where I didn’t need to be part of this body & this mind that I so desperately despised. The books were lifelines for me. Even if my life was crumbling around me, they were always there to disappear into, to forget everything just for a few hours. While I didn’t realise it at the time, in the second book, New Moon, the main character exhibits symptoms of severe depression that I recognised so deeply in myself – & it was partially her family & friends’ horrified reaction to these symptoms that made me realise that what I was feeling wasn’t normal, & I needed to get help.”   –Topaz

“Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small, but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it would not give up.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

“The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder!! I read it every single winter around February when winter starts to feel unbearable. It puts my life into perspective. Also, I just love Laura.” -Samantha

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 

“With regard to the story, it is the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions. (With regard to voice, it is pure perfection). This novel inspires within me the noble concept of having the courage of one’s convictions — which does not stop with mere words. It is our actions in life, what we do and how we own the consequences of what we do, what we have, in fact, created. In a nutshell, one cannot “play god” and then walk away from what we have created.” -Marie

 

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho 

“The deceptive simplicity never fails to draw me in and the warm imagery and relationships and the journey are all very comforting to me, especially when I’m feeling lost and alone and so, so, so apathetic towards the world and those around me. This book helps me to rediscover the connection I so wish for, both with myself and those around me.” -Jessica
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Land of the Free

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My first real introduction to politics was the year 2000.

I was eight years old. Our teacher had just given a lesson about the two presidential candidates: George W. Bush and Al Gore. He then handed us a worksheet with a short, kid-friendly version of each candidate’s platform.

I didn’t know anything about those two men, but I was thrilled to learn. As I weighed my options, I decided that George W. Bush didn’t say anything bad…but I liked Al Gore much better. The reason was simple: he said he wanted to take care of animals and the environment. George W. Bush hadn’t said anything of the sort.

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Clearly, not much has changed, because I was super pumped to wear this ‘Vote Cats’ tee.

A few minutes later, I cast my “vote” for Al Gore and felt patriotic as hell (for an eight-year-old, anyway.).

I made my choice the way most children make decisions: quickly, passionately, and so confidently.

Needless to say, I was shocked to discover my parents weren’t all that fond of Mr. Gore.

“But he cares about animals!” I protested. My tiny treehugger heart was breaking. How could they not care?

My parents tried to explain that George W. Bush probably cared about animals, too. That they had personal, well-thought out reasons for voting the way they did, and you can’t always vote based on one issue alone.

It did not help. I was desperate to make someone understand. I kept telling my parents that animals were important. When relatives came to visit, I pestered them mercilessly about their vote. I was distraught: someone had to be wrong, and I didn’t want it to be me.

That was sixteen years ago–and yet, that passionate, confident version of myself is alive and well. I am a vegetarian. A feminist. A Christian. I voted for Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton, while my parents almost always voted Republican.

I have been disagreeing with people about politics for a long, long time. And in that way, this election feels incredibly familiar.

The fear and anger does not.

I am not angry because my candidate lost, or because people voted differently (however vehemently I disagree).

I am not afraid because I believe that Donald Trump holds infinite power.

I am angry because of the bigotry, ignorance, and hatred that is so clearly rampant in the country I call home.

I am afraid because people I love are afraid.

I know what it is like to be a woman in this world; I do not know what it is like to be LGBTQ, an immigrant, a refugee, a person of color, or a Muslim. The government may be against many aspects of my life, but I am living with a great deal of privilege.

My intent is not to shame anyone for voting for Trump. I do, however, want to bring attention to the systems of oppression that exist in the twenty-first century.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

-Desmond Tutu

Long before I cast my pretend vote for Al Gore, I admired people–especially women– who spoke their mind. I was shy, but I wanted to be like Disney’s Esmeralda. And then I wanted to be like Hermione, and Elphaba, and countless other women (fictional or otherwise).

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I want to be like those women, and I want to be like Jesus. He was sinless, yes, but he ruffled some feathers in his day, too.

I will not be silent. Not now. Not when so many fear their rights will be stripped away.

I am not perfect. I may be doing this justice thing totally wrong. I may have an especially bad day and say something I don’t mean. I am sure I already have, and for that, I am sorry.

If you feel marginalized, angry, or afraid, I am with you. I am here to listen to your stories and offer support. We cannot simply claim to be the land of the free; we have to live it. I am here to fight back, because there are no outcasts in God’s Kingdom. 

This week has been horrific in many ways–but in spite of it all, I have seen so much kindness. Pain is an odd thing: where there is hurt, there is also healing. And there is hope, and love, and all the things I was sure would vanish when I woke up Wednesday morning.

The truth is not that we are more divided than ever; it is that we are all in this together.

United.

Modern-Day Abolitionists

This post is written by Xan, who I am honored and blessed to call one of my very best friends. She is also one of the kindest souls you will ever meet. When I asked if she would be interested in writing a blog post, she decided to write about human trafficking, a global crisis that affects millions. Keep reading to learn about her experience with A21, and follow the links to get involved.

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October 15 dawned dreary, clouds and drizzles overwhelming the day’s forecast. Normally on such days, I try to wear bright colors and lighten the mood with an orange shirt or pink pants, but today was different. I donned all black – with a sweatshirt turned inside out so the print didn’t show – and drove to Lincoln Park in Chicago to spend the morning in the misty gloom.

Two hours later, I sprinted over to slap some black duct tape over my mouth and fell into line behind more than 200 people, all with mouths covered, all in black. We were quite the somber processional as we silently snaked single-file on our two-mile journey through the park. Many held signs reading, “Every 30 seconds someone becomes a slave,” or “The average age of a victim is 11-14 years old,” or “Over 27 million people are currently in bondage worldwide.” People watched with bated breath as we passed, quieted by our silent force and the weight of the dark truth we were proclaiming. Tears were trickling down my cheeks by the end.

Two weeks ago, I was a participant in the A21 Campaign’s annual Walk for Freedom and in the inaugural Chicago walk (watch a video of the walk here). A21 stands for “abolishing injustice in the 21st century,” and it is an organization geared toward prevention of human trafficking, protection of victims, and prosecution of violators. It also works to raise awareness of this often overlooked global issue of modern day slavery. Every year they do this in part by hosting a worldwide walk for freedom, which I so fortunately go to be involved in this year.

Human trafficking is an issue near and dear to my heart, not because I am survivor nor do I personally know anyone affected by it, but because it is an issue that flies completely under the radar for most people. It is shrouded in so much secrecy that it easily becomes out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Unlike other serious issues we encounter every day such as global warming (should I recycle this plastic?) or water conservation (turn off the faucet!), you will most likely never encounter or realize you are encountering human trafficking. And in the United States, most people have dissociated from the issue completely. When asked about human trafficking, most people will concede they know it exists, but assume it is a problem only in other countries, places underdeveloped and foreign to them.

Unfortunately, human trafficking is rampant in the United States. This year alone, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center has had 5748 cases of trafficking reported in the US. Of those cases, 4177 were reports of sex trafficking, 824 were labor trafficking, and the rest were unspecified; females were disproportionately involved, accounting for 4803 of the 5748 cases; California was the most involved state (1012 cases). And this data is just from January through September 2016.

It’s easy to think it couldn’t happen where you are, but it happens EVERYWHERE. I’m originally from Missouri, the very center of the country. These are the nicest, most Midwest-y people you’ll ever meet. There are no coastlines, no huge cities, not much international touring–it’s about as safe as it gets. And yet Missouri has already had 106 cases of human trafficking this year. Even in Kansas– where there is nothing but corn and nothing ever happens–40 cases of human trafficking this year have been reported.

Perhaps you are now thinking, “That sucks, but why should I care?” Or maybe you are sympathetic but thinking, “Well, what in the world can I do?

Both of these thoughts are fair. I know it can be difficult to care about a problem that doesn’t personally affect you. It also seems really overwhelming as I throw numbers at you, and rather hopeless given the hidden nature of the problem. But please remember those numbers represent people. People like you and me. People with hopes and goals and dreams. People who did nothing to deserve this suffering. And many of them are children with entire lives yet to live.

The most important thing we can do is educate. Learn more about this issue and the reality of our current global situation. It will be painful, it will be unpleasant, but only then can this problem that affects millions of people worldwide begin to affect you personally. Cultivate this compassion within your own heart then share it with everyone. Open the eyes of your friends and family to this injustice and help cultivate love in their hearts. Then let that love lead you to do what you can to end modern slavery. Whether it is donating money, publicly walking through a park, or maybe even helping unmask hidden trafficking rings, you can make a difference in this fight.

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”                    – Edmund Burke

Visit A21’s website to learn more, donate to their cause, or start a fundraiser in your city. 

History is Happening

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To say that this election year has been stressful is an understatement. On top of the campaign trails, 2016 has seen countless other horrors, from terrorist attacks to justification of rape culture. The more I watch the news or scroll through my Twitter feed, the more I wonder, How can this be happening in 2016? 

It’s absolutely heartbreaking. If you see me posting more on social media than usual, it’s because I feel completely helpless.

I don’t want to feel helpless; it’s just that the world can be so cruel and there are so many things I wish I could fix. If the only thing I can do at that moment is share a link on Facebook, then dammit, I’m doing it.

There are so many causes that are close to my heart, and so few tools at my disposal.

That’s why I’m starting here. 

“Those who stand for nothing will fall for anything.”

-Alexander Hamilton

More often than not, writing is my only refuge. I believe that words can change the world, and we are living in an era where millions of words can be shared with people all over the world.

Maybe the revolution doesn’t start–or end–with the polls. Maybe it starts with us.

Even though this blog serves as a sort of online scrapbook, I am planning to post more activism pieces. That being said, I am a white, cis, heterosexual American woman, and I only have so much perspective. I want to hear your story, too. I will be accepting guest posts from anyone, about anything–as long as your goal is to add more kindness to the world. 

Write about mental health. Write about art. Write about diversity. Write about homelessness. Write about trans rights. Write about your faith. Write about veterans. Write about whatever breaks your heart and makes it whole.

To kick off the series, Xan–who I am blessed to call one of my very best friends–will be writing about human trafficking. In fact, she’ll probably have several posts…so if you can’t decide between writing about feminism or animal rescue (i.e, if you are exactly like me), you can write about both!

If you are interested in submitting a guest post (or two, or three), email me at kegmw4@gmail.com or send me a message on Twitter. Please do not worry about your writing skills; your cause is all that matters. However, I know that is easier said than done– if you still feel stuck, I am happy to help.

 

Ready?

Let’s get the job done.

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Please note that the material posted is up to my discretion. I will NOT be accepting any posts related to the election. In the wise words of Jiminy Cricket, I will use my conscience as my guide; for instance, if you write an anti-vaccination piece, it will not be posted. If your submissions/comments are sexist, homophobic, racist, Islamophobic, etc., they will be rejected/deleted. 

A special thanks to anyone who understood (and appreciated) that this post is full of Hamilton references. 

A Poem/A Prayer

Due to my overactive imagination, there are some days when I have thousands of ideas for blog entries, article pitches, and stories. In the literary world, this is a blessing–but lately, it doesn’t feel that way. Call it procrastination or laziness if you must, but it doesn’t change the fact that I often feel frustrated and overwhelmed because I have no idea where to start.

When I do write, it’s even harder to tune out my inner editor or keep myself from cringing when I read past publications. As I am sure you can imagine, this strips writing of its joy–the very thing that made me want to write in the first place.

 

This week has been rough. I originally planned to write a post regarding the shootings… but when I sat down to write, I went to poetry instead. It has been so long since I have written a poem–I almost forgot how wonderful and comforting poems can be.

I decided that this is the best home for it. Consider it a prayer for all of us.

 

 

i am

a poet,

or maybe an artist.

      (it doesn’t matter.

       call me whatever you think

       sounds more romantic.)

i am

a dreamer

a starry-eyed wordsmith.

             (i think

              ‘starry-eyed wordsmith’

               sounds more romantic

               than ‘wannabe writer.’)

on a typical day,

i agonize over everything important

and potentially pretentious,

like oxford commas

or blog aesthetics.

             (is that witty enough for twitter?)

 but one extraordinary day,

 the smell of ink will

overpower that of gunpowder.

              (and maybe stories

             will save the world.)

my god,

what an anomaly that will be.

              (no one told me

              that it takes such courage

              to write.)

 

Have a lovely weekend, my friends. ❤ May you always create whatever brings you joy.