Category Archives: Brainpower

Book Review: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures 
by Emma Straub

When Elsa Emerson, the youngest of three sisters, is cast in one of her father’s plays at their family’s Cherry County Playhouse in Wisconsin, she is given her first taste of the limelight. This sets into motion her life’s trajectory — shooting like a rocket out of Wisconsin and into the warm allure of Hollywood. Here, she begins her transformation from small-town blonde to a sultry brunette named Laura Lamont — an Academy award-winning movie star.

What I loved most about this book was how authentic it felt. Elsa/Laura was largely fictitious (based loosely on this actress), her story an invention of Straub’s mind and careful historical research. However, having recently read a few memoirs of Hollywood starlets from this same era (Katharine Hepburn’s “Me: Stories of My Life” a couple years ago and Esther Williams “Million Dollar Mermaid” a couple months ago), I felt as though Miss Lamont could have been shooting on a sound stage just down the hall from either of these real-life ladies!

An interesting similarity I found in reading about Hepburn and Williams was the loss of a beloved sibling early in their lives. Both women experienced the death of a brother and in turn felt a heightened sense of responsibility and drive. Esther Williams explains in her book how her brother was the one who was supposed to “make it” in life and in Hollywood. After his death, she felt as though she was two people in one body — her brother Stanton and herself. Hepburn threw herself into her studies after losing her brother and even celebrated her brother’s birthday as her own.

Similarly, the eponymous Lamont loses the sister she deems to be the most talented and beautiful of the Emerson brood. I think this is a fascinating look at the sacrifice and loss that sometimes sits lurking behind a person’s fame and success. How many of Hollywood’s elite might point to a dark cloud they used to buoy themselves? How many have a tragedy that compelled them to succeed in place of, because of, or in spite of this missing piece?

The book also delves into intergenerational mental illness and suicidality as multiple branches sprouting from Laura’s family tree find themselves facing loss and depression. It’s no secret that mental illness, addiction, and all sorts of family problems (divorce, death, MONEY) have gone hand in hand with Hollywood since film started rolling. But looking at these issues over the course of an entire life, and within multiple generations of a family, is a more fitting lens for exploring the effects of our favorite tabloid fodder.

Who should read this book – Anyone interested in The Golden Age of Hollywood, film making during the studio system era, and intergenerational mental illness.

Add to your list if you loved – Any memoirs of Hollywood stars; like Me: Stories of My Life  by Katharine Hepburn and Million Dollar Mermaid by Esther Williams.

Other books by Emma Straub – Modern Lovers and Vacationers !

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Book Review: The Binding Chair or, A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society by Kathryn Harrison

The Binding Chair or A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society
by Kathryn Harrison

In this historical fiction novel, we meet our main character May-Li at the turn of the last century in China. Early on in the book she experiences the trauma of foot binding at the hands of her grandmother. From here, the book charts May’s path from abusive marriage to her escape to Shanghai. Although she must turn to prostitution as a means of income, her astonishing beauty, bound feet, and quick study of languages allow for speedy upward mobility. Ultimately landing her a husband from Australia.

May becomes a fixture in her husband’s Jewish family and forges a special bond with his niece Alice. The expertly researched novel covers the pair’s journey from Shanghai to a boarding school in England and back to China. Along the way, readers are introduced to other women who have all, much like May, experienced some sort of physical or mental defacement. While at times I felt like the book was trying to cover too many characters, too many stories that didn’t help move the narrative along; this cast of women did serve as a relatable reflection of May’s bound feet to a Western audience perhaps unable to conceptualize the rituals effects.

Even so, The Binding Chair felt broad, both in setting and emotion, in a way that I thought unnecessary and left the narrative feeling incomplete. However, in reading some reviews and articles about the book, others have argued that the enormity of what Harrison takes on in this novel speaks to feelings of diaspora. In a story charting the path of a Chinese woman in a family of Jews this reading would make sense. Conceptually I applaud it but stylistically I found it challenging. 

At the end of the day, while the story was cluttered and the fetishistic scenes regarding foot binding felt a little gratuitous, Harrison does afford readers an amazing investigation into a different world.

Who should read this book – Anyone interested in Shanghai at the turn of the last century and the Chinese ritual of footbinding.

Add to your list if you loved – Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See or Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende.

Other books by Kathryn Harrison – The bestselling memoir The Kiss about her incestuous love affair with her father.

Book Review: Kitty Genovese by Kevin Cook

Kitty Genovese: The Murder, The Bystanders, The Crime That Changed America
by Kevin Cook

The story of the murder of Kitty Genovese is well-known by many. However, more urban legend than police blotter, the details of the story shift and change with each telling. Facts becoming murkier and then new research rising to the surface to make the waters of truth clear again.

Even folks for whom Kitty’s name was simply an answer on a Psych 101 exam can recount the basics of her demise: in the 60’s, a murderer stabbed a young woman in her 20’s over and over again as she walked home from a late night bar-shift. 38 bystanders watched from the windows of their Queens-New York apartments and did nothing to help her.

While Kevin Cook isn’t the first writer or scholar to sort through the details of Kitty’s case and posit that much of what we think we know, the story that exists within our public memory, is mostly contrived; Cook’s uncovering is so comprehensive that for me it completely changed what this murder meant in the context of life, and crime, in America.

Before reading this book I knew about the Kitty Genovese murder and the Bystander Effect. I didn’t expect it to unfold in the suspenseful manner I love when reading true-crime books. But Cook surprised me and managed to do just that. He peels back layer after layer of the crime we think we know, the assumptions we made about the urban human condition, and reveals new details at just the right moment.

The detail most often treated as fact in Genovese’s case is that 38 spectators were present while she died. Not acting, simply assuming that someone else would intervene. In fact, 38 came from the number of police interviews conducted at the scene of the crime. Not actual witnesses. Only a few folks heard Kitty’s screams and even less laid eyes on her in her final 20 minutes. The first-hand accounts of these few are revealed slowly within the book–the final encounter so heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure. (It makes the whole book worth it so I won’t ruin it by revealing any details here.)

A few days after the tragic incident occurred, Winston Moseley confessed to the crime. But Moseley and Genovese aren’t the only key players Cook explores. Metro Editor of The New York Times, A.M. Rosenthal had a big part to play. After a meeting with the NYC police commissioner, Rosenthal took the 38 witness story and ran with it. And other media outlets around the world followed suit. Suddenly the crime became a viral sensation, inspiring a host of psychological and sociological studies. However, the most meaningful implication to all the publicity, in my opinion? The arrival of a 911 call system. Something that didn’t exist the night Kitty cried out for help.

Whether he knew the story would or not, Rosenthal struck a chord with Americans who were scared. Scared about the changing landscape of urban living, scared by new politics and ideas and neighbors so close who looked so different, scared because the assassination of their president was still so fresh in their minds. But he got his facts wrong. And, as a result, we all did too.

This book showed me that Kitty’s story isn’t about indifference or inaction on the part of bystanders. Quite the opposite. This true-crime tale is about our vulnerability towards stories that speak to our own preconceived notions. What each reader of Cook’s book does with this new information, is up to them.

Who should read this book – Anyone interested in true-crime, sociology, urban psychology, or how news media outlets and public consciousness interact.

Add to your list if you loved – Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker (which I talked about HERE.)

Other books by Kevin Cook – Electric October, Driven, and Titanic Thompson.

Focus Your Mind For Improved Concentration

*This post may contain affiliate links.*

Do you find your attention span is faltering? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. In fact, some studies show that our minds have taken quite a hit thanks to the plugged-in, tech-focused society of today. We are so reliant on technology that we start to forget to tap into the hard-drive in our head. We lose focus, forever seeking out new stimuli on our screens.

Do you want to improve your focus and get your concentration back up to scratch? If this is something you want to work on, here are some great tips to help improve your memory and make mental tasks a whole let easier to handle…

Treat Your Mind Like A Muscle

When your workout is focused on a particular muscle, what do you do? You select a movement or lift a weight a certain number of reps, right? You use repetition. This is the same approach you can use with your mind–repetition. By repeating the same activity you will stimulate your synapses. Over time, you’ll act out these simulations quicker and more efficiently. So, for instance, if you want to try and improve your focus by carrying out sudoku puzzles, you need to do at least one a day. When you are quite capable of the easy ones, you can start doing ones that are medium-difficulty. Then move up to two a day, and so on.

You Need To Feed It Well

Your brain is part of your body, so it relies on the food that you eat on a daily basis. You are what you eat, and that means that your brain is what you eat as well! So, you need to make sure that your diet includes food your brain needs to function well. There are certain foods packed full of nutrients that can help your brain thrive and flourish. Blueberries, salmon, and avocados contain the vitamins and minerals that help to focus your brain and improve its function. You might also want to take daily supplements that can help as well. KetoMCT c8 oil helps focus the mind, and you can mix it right into your morning coffee. A daily supplement of omega 3 fatty acids, especially if you aren’t a fan of fish, can also give your brain a boost.

Work On It Gradually

You can’t start to work on your focus and expect things to click into place straight away. Remember that you need to treat your brain like a muscle, and the development of muscles can be slow and months may pass before things take effect. So, don’t get frustrated if you don’t notice any results after a couple of weeks. Remain proactive with your brain training. You should start to slowly feel an improvement in your focus, mental ability, and concentration after a couple of months. Keep working on it, and you will be able to improve your mind even further!

Try Out Mindfulness

If you find it quite difficult to manage negative emotions and feelings, you might find that these get in the way of focus and concentration. In these instances – try practicing mindfulness. This is a method of meditation that helps to put you back in control of your thoughts and feelings. As you continue to practice this thought technique, you will also discover that it can help improve your concentration. There are lots of apps  aimed at beginners, such as Headspace. All you need to do is pop your headphones in, turn on the app, close your eyes, and then follow the spoken instructions.

Keep It Interested

If your mind ever gets bored, you will find it can be very difficult to concentrate and focus on the tasks at hand. So, one of the easiest ways to give your mind’s focus a little boost is to do something interesting. It needs to be a compelling activity that interests you and will keep you engaged. If you enjoy reading, you might want to start reading more. If you are more artistic, than you could try writing stories or getting outside with a camera to capture some gorgeous photos

Focus On Physical Health

You should also remember to consider your physical health. A healthy body will help to keep your mind healthy. Have you ever noticed that when you’re feeling unfit or not as healthy as you’d like to be, you lack focus? So, if you think it’s time to get back to the gym or to start running longer distances, why not get started sooner rather than later? That way, you will find that you can get your mind back in shape, too! 

I want to hear from you! Do you have a specific way you keep your brain healthy? If you do – let’s hear it! Tell us in the comments so we can try it, too! 

Guest Post: Is Online Therapy for You?

I always seem to find out about the newest life-changing products and services through sponsored ads on podcasts. And my interest is inevitably piqued. (I guess they really know their demographics!) From clothing rental services to period panties to audio books, they’re always telling me about something I’ve gotta try. In my experience, they’re usually right! But lately, a new set of ads has been cropping up — for online therapy. Intrigued, I thought I’d ask Marie Miguel, a resource creator for Better Help, a few of my most pressing questions…

Is Online Therapy for You?

No matter who you are or what you do, chances are pretty good that you have experienced anxiety or depression at one time or another. Some of us more so than others. In fact, depression is the most common reason for disability in America and anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the United States. The worst part of this is that many people with a mental health disorder will not get treatment. In fact, almost 40% of people with mental health conditions do not reach out for help. That is most unfortunate because both depression and anxiety disorders are treatable with therapy and/or medication. One of the most common excuses is that they do not have time. Well, with online therapy you will have time because you can do it anytime. And that is only one of the benefits of online therapy. Here are some others:

Who Can Benefit from Online Therapy?

Anyone can benefit from online therapy. Whether you have some type of anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, a mood disorder, if you are having trouble with your relationship, or even if you just need some advice about a problem. There are thousands of online therapy sources on the internet such as BetterHelp.com, which has over 2,000 licensed professionals that can help you. However, if you are in need of immediate emergency care, need medication, or are having suicidal thoughts, you should call a hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Is Online Therapy Effective?

Studies have shown that online therapy is just as effective as face to face therapy. In fact, in some cases it is better than regular therapy because people who need it are more likely to use it because it is easier for them to get. Those with mental health disorders usually tend to put things off or set appointments and not show up. This may be due to the anxiety of going somewhere, embarrassment of being seen at a psychiatrist’s office, or just because some people with depression or anxiety do not want to get out of bed some days. Therefore, online therapy can be much more effective.

What Makes Online Therapy Better than Traditional Therapy?

Online therapy is more convenient because you do not have to set an appointment, get transportation, find a babysitter, or take time off work or school. It is also less expensive because the therapists have less overhead such as rent, transportation, and paying employees to work in the office. It is also more private and easy to just log into the website or chat room to talk to your therapist from wherever you are. Even if you are stuck in traffic and want to get something off your mind, you can use your smartphone to email, chat, or even text your therapist. (Not while driving of course! You’re the passenger in this scenario.) Online therapy can also be a big benefit to those who are embarrassed or have trouble talking about their feelings face to face. You are in control of the conversation at all times. You also do not need an appointment so you can contact your therapist any time, 24 hours per day, seven days a week. So, what are you waiting for?

What do you think? Would you try online therapy? Or recommend it to someone who, for whatever reason, finds traditional therapy difficult? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of online mental health resources with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

Five Great Poetry Books!

Are you a fan of poetry books? They are my very favorite when I need to mix things up between lengthy novels and dense nonfiction! I love how the language bounces around the page each in their own unique way and they’re so much fun to read out loud.

Here are 5 of my favorites…

Babel by Barbara Hamby

Hamby’s poems drift across histories and continents, from early writing and culture in Mesopotamia through the motion-picture heaven that seems so much like Paris, to odes on such thoroughly American subjects as hardware stores, bubblegum, barbecue, and sharp-tongued cocktail waitresses giving mandatory pre-date quizzes to lawyers and “orangutans in the guise of men.”

Favorite poems: Vex Me, The Tawdry Masks of Women, and Ode on My Mother’s Handwriting.

 

Skid by Dean Young

 In Skid, Young’s fifth book of poems, social outrage vies with comic excess. He embraces the autobiographical urge with fury and musically lush exclamations. Whether through the dark facts of mortality or the celebratory surprises of the imagination, these poems proclaim vitality and alertness, wasting nothing. Young’s poems reveal his faith in the genius of calamity and the redemptive power of fun.

Favorite poems: Sources of the Delaware, Whale Watch, and Troy, Indiana.

 

Jane: A Murder by Maggie Nelson

Jane tells the spectral story of the life and death of Maggie Nelson’s aunt Jane, who was murdered in 1969 while a first-year law student at the University of Michigan. Though officially unsolved, Jane’s murder was apparently the third in a series of seven brutal rape-murders in the area between 1967 and 1969. Nelson was born a few years after Jane’s death, and the narrative is suffused with the long shadow her murder cast over both the family and her psyche.

Favorite poems: Phil’s Photos, Serials, and The Burn.

 

Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney

The poems in Nikky Finney’s Head Off & Split sustain a sensitive and intense dialogue with emblematic figures and events in African American life: from civil rights matriarch Rosa Parks to former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, from a brazen girl strung out on lightning to a terrified woman abandoned on a rooftop during Hurricane Katrina. 

Favorite poems: Red Velvet, Thunderbolt of Jove, and Segregation, Forever.

 

New Collected Poems by Wendell Berry

In New Collected Poems, Berry reprints the nearly two hundred pieces in Collected Poems, along with the poems from his most recent collections―Entries, Given, and Leavings―to create an expanded collection, showcasing the work of a man heralded by The Baltimore Sun as “a sophisticated, philosophical poet in the line descending from Emerson and Thoreau . . . a major poet of our time.”

Favorite poems: Planting Trees, The Dance, A Poem of Thanks and The Country of Marriage.

P.S. Bonus: Found Footage by Maggie Woodward is a newly found fave written by a dear friend. You should check it out, too!

Book Recommendation: Relish by Lucy Knisley

“Cookies are all about comfort. Sometimes something simple can comfort the most.”
– Lucy Knisley

Lucy Knisley’s book Relish: My Life in the Kitchen is such a treasure. Especially if you love graphic or foodie memoirs!

Lucy looks back at her life and realizes, thanks to a foodie father and a hippie-turned-chef mom, food has always played an integral role. She shares her memories, along with her experimental and ever-evolving palette, throughout the pages of the book. Each evoke laughter or a “been there, girl!”-feeling but more importantly–come with a corresponding recipe.

Any foodie, whether you’re culinary school trained or simply take comfort in a good chocolate chip cookie, will find something to love about this sweet memoir.

And speaking of cookies…

Lucy Knisley’s recipe for THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

You’ll Need:

Flour – 2 cups
Baking soda – 1 tsp
Salt – 2 tsp
Butter (melted but not hot) – 1 cup
Chocolate chips – 12 oz
Sugar – 3/4 cup
Brown sugar – 3/4 cup (packed)
Eggs – 2
Vanilla – 1 Tbsp
Coconut flakes – 1 cup

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Mix brown sugar, butter, and sugar
  • Add vanilla and eggs, gradually while stirring
  • In a different bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt.
  • Gradually combine dry and wet
  • Mix in coconut and chocolate
  • Drop onto an ungreased baking pan
  • Secret weapon: add a tiny pinch of salt to the top of each cookie
  • Bake for about 10 min. until perfect
  • Eat with milk

What are you waiting for? Bake up a batch of cookies and grab a copy of Lucy’s book today! I promise you won’t regret EITHER. xoxo

P.S. Looking for more book recommendations? Here are some more graphic novels/memoirs I love and here’s a round-up of books I loved in 2016

A Planner Round-Up

I recently found my perfect planner. If you’re still on the hunt for yours, I have a few ideas…

Erin Condren Lifeplanner
$55

Classic never goes out of style. This bestseller is a coiled book and allows for a completely customizable look! Build your book just how you want it and find the style that fits your life. Choose between weekly planning layouts, embrace a color scheme, and customize your cover and the coil.

The Simple Elephant
$20

Use exclusive sections to craft positive affirmations, goals, and gratitude statements to renew your commitment, feel inspired, and live happier every calendar day, month, and year. Use the mindmap and vision board to drill in goals and fully engage with both sides of your mind.

Brit + Co Planner
$15

Use the Brit + Co Spiral Bound Planner to stay on schedule. It comes with monthly and weekly calendars, lined and grid paper, to-do lists, activity pages, and blank pages for doodling the day away.

Lemome Bullet Journal
$15

Timeless style and a simple versatile design make this a perfect choice for bullet journaling. The dotted grid pattern helps guide your writing, while staying out of the way of your drawings and doodles. The dots, spaced 5 mm apart, are light enough to blend in once the page is filled. 

$18
A hardcover notebook that’s small enough to go everywhere you go and big enough to work with all day long, whether at home, work, or in transit. The Confidant hardcover notebook comes in Light Gray & Charcoal. It’s available in 3 sizes: Pocket, Flagship, & Plus—AKA Small, Medium, & Large. But every version opens flat and features quality lasting paper.
 
$34
What’s on the agenda for 2018? This classic covered spiral planner, features gold foil and an elastic closure. The agenda holds 17-months of weekly and monthly calendar pages. There’s also a pocket folder with ruler, as well as sections for notes, celebrations, and contacts.
Which one suits your style best? Do you have a tried-and-true planner you love? Comment below and share! ❤ 

Current Podcast Subscription List

Last night, as I cleaned up the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher, I did what I always do during chores these days. Popped in my earbuds and played a podcast. Do you do this? Ever since starting this ritual, I find myself looking forward to doing the dishes. *gasp* It’s almost like the doldrums of domesticity masquerading as pleasant self-care. Highly recommend!

Anyways! Here’s my current line-up, in case you’re curious:

And I just started Britney’s Instagram and Embedded (after finishing Dirty John).

What’s on YOUR subscription list? There are so many good podcasts out right now, I might have to start doing more daily chores! 😉 

P.S. I asked 9 friends, “What’s your favorite podcast?” and here’s what they had to say.

Found: My Perfect Planner

I’ve finally found a planner that I’m totally obsessed with and can foresee using for months (maybe years!) to come. It’s the Bob’s Your Uncle 8 Days-A-Week Planner Journal.  Here’s what I love about it:

  • Features 52 week at-a-glance spreads.
  • Each week runs Monday-Sunday and includes a “Someday” column for other tasks you want to complete during the week that aren’t specific to a certain day.
  • Includes 30 minute interval time slots so you can map out your day super precisely.
  • Spiral-bounding allows it to lie flat and stay tucked in a drawer with the current day facing up.

This may sound a bit neurotic, but when I was contemplating the reasons why past planners just hadn’t cut it, it was the inability to create a detailed timeline for my day.

You see, my work schedule can be a bit of a puzzle. I do freelance work for a number of different clients, I work on this blog, and I side-hustle at a local wine store. The great thing about this set up is that I can create my own schedule by piecing together the three. The not so great thing? Doing so can be a little difficult to conceptualize. A traditional planner with a big empty box for each day almost felt over-whelming. Jotting down “work at 3pm” or “phone call w/ client at 10am” didn’t do my brain any favors when visualizing how I should schedule the rest of my To-do’s.

Then I had a *lightbulb* moment. What if I could find a planner that was more appointment book than daily calendar? I stumbled upon this 8 day-a-week version while searching on Amazon and the rest is history. It’s honestly one of the best things to happen to my productivity levels in YEARS.

 

Above you’ll see a little peek at my planner in action! Nothing too fancy. I throw in a few stickers here and there when I feel like it (like the devil emoji for a 7am meeting, LOL!) and use a few colors of highlighters to indicate different things. Sometimes I’ll mark off a certain time-frame for client work and then bullet point more specific to-do’s off to the side. And that’s about it. I love it!

What type of planner do YOU use? Tell me below!