5 Uplifting Ways to Celebrate International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day 2016. A day to center the power of women, as well as to take action against inequality. In conjunction with action, we can also celebrate women and femme folk in vital ways. Here are five things you can do to uplift yourself and others this March 8th.


 

1. Buy a fabulous vintage-inspired frock from ethical & empowering She Loves Dresses. Read designer Jenny Baquing’s story here.

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2. Listen to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists.”

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3. Listen to Michelle Obama‘s #DayOfTheGirl Feminist Playlist on Spotify. Cos who run the world? GIRLS.

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4. Read some poems. Start with Maya Angelou’s glorious “Phenomenal Woman.” And then peruse this great list from the Academy of American Poets.

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5. Reach out to the women in your life and tell them how they’ve inspired you. Our mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters, friends, significant others, teachers, neighbors, mentors, heroines, advocates. Appreciate them. Thank them. Uplift them.

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The Inkwell: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Inkwell is a series of book reviews, or just rambling thoughts on specific books. For more, amble here


Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Official Synopsis:

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”


In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.


“But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

I want to quote every single line in Coates’s book. I can’t say anything as well as he does.

Coates write this book as a letter to his fifteen-year-old son—and that audience is absolutely vital to the power of his words. This book was not written for the “general” “public.” This book was not written for me, a non-Black person. And so it is unfiltered, direct, and honest. It is full of the ache of conscious citizens of the world.

Between the World and Me weaves together history, politics, and memoir into an anvil of an essay. Coates spins such gorgeous prose about such horrifying violence that every word feels like a gut punch. A gasp. An alarm. A wake up call.

I cannot understate the importance of this book to our time. Pertinent is an understatement. Eloquent is an understatement. Necessary is an understatement. It will inevitably become a classic.

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my cup of tea: looseleaf edition 2

my cup of tea: Lists of things I adore & want to signal boost. Some have structure/theme, some don’t. Looseleaf Editions are the ones that don’t. For more in the my cup of tea series, amble here


Passion Planner

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This list-loving, paper-addicted, focus-seeking girl desperately wants a Passion Planner. Despite the mess of my real-life workspace, I’m an avid scheduler and to-do list scribbler. My heart soars in stationary shops. And nothing beats the feeling of buying a new yearly planner & opening the pages of another chapter of possibilities and goals. I’ve kept a planner since elementary school, and I’m constantly creating action plans for my projects. The Passion Planner is the ultimate tool for such a lifestyle.

This is another thing I desperately want but can’t afford to pay the shipping price for. Alas. My future work-desk fantasy also includes a Classic Stay GOALden Passion Planner on top of my stacks of books and notes. These are so popular that they’ve sold out and are on backorder. Next year, I’ll be prepared to nab one!

 

Neko Atsume

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Neko Atsume, or the cat collector game, is a Japanese app in which you can collect cats. That’s pretty much it. A few months ago, my brother messaged me telling me to download the Neko app asap. There were no explanations or detailed instructions to go with this demand. I did it and I never looked back.

This was before the English update. I started the game when it was entirely in Japanese, a language I don’t know at all. That’s how addicting it is. It transcends all language barriers. I won’t explain toooooo much. Just get it.

It’s free. It doesn’t need wifi. It doesn’t actually take up much of your time. And it’s a burst of adorable hilarity whenever you need it. (I needed it.)

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The Inkwell: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

The Inkwell is a series of book reviews, or just rambling thoughts on specific books. For more, amble here


Review: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

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Official Synopsis:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.


“Do you think there’s a difference? Between belonging with and belonging to?”
― from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is charming and full of character in the same way that a vintage dress is. This book is a drop of sunshine. This book is a chunky knit oversize sweater. This book is a grilled cheese sandwich. It made me feel so warm and comfy—but also gave me butterflies.

It’s lighthearted and adorable, but also unexpected. I thought the focus would be more on the mystery of the love letters, but it wasn’t that pivotal to the story. At the core of the novel is not Lara Jean’s love life, but her family life. And it’s a great strength of the book. The relationship between Lara Jean and her sisters—older, serious Margot and younger, feisty Kitty—is central to the story.

Too many contemporary YA books rely on the trope of families-who-just-don’t-get-it, and many more simply have “throwaway” families (when parents/siblings are just plot devices or ghostly background figures). The family dynamics are incredibly fun, but also encompass the real bittersweetness that happens when children grow up, siblings move away, and change happens.

The narrative voice is so bright and delightful. I adored Lara Jean even though I’m definitely a Margot. This book is chock-full of witty banter and too-real sibling snipping. 

I read this book in between some serious tomes (Suki Kim’s Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite & Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me), so it was like a lemontart treat between heavy fare.

I was reminded of the beauty of books. Yes, books are meant to make us think deeper and wider. But sometimes, they’re also meant to make us feel happy when we need it. This book came into my life right when I needed it the most. For a little bit, it melted away my stress and anxiety and trauma. If you need a sweet burst, read To All The Boys I’ve loved Before!

Also, the aesthetic of the cover is to die for! It perfectly captures the whimsy and cuteness of the book. And I’m seriously so happy they didn’t whitewash the cover model.

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The Inkwell: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton

The Inkwell is a series of book reviews, or just rambling thoughts on specific books. For more, amble here


 

Review: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton

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Official Synopsis:

Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel featuring diverse characters who will do anything to be the prima at their elite ballet school.

Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette’s desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.


“The moment you think you’re on top is the moment you’ve lost your passion.”
― from Tiny Pretty Things

I only picked up Tiny Pretty Things because I’ve been following the two authors professionally through #WeNeedDiverseBooks and their book boutique development company, Cake Literary. The reviews I’d read were positive, but focused on things I don’t have much interest in. I’m not into ballet or dance in the slightest bit, and I usually can’t stand soapy drama. The synopsis compares it to Black Swan and Pretty Little Liars, both of which I don’t like. However. HOWEVER.

This book was wonderful. And I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel in Summer 2016!

So, quick detour… Remember that storm of controversy around the patronizing dismissal of Young Adult books by a certain blustering author? It ignited the ironic conversation around #MorallyComplicatedYA. Unambiguously, I love YA. Not just because my career is in youth development and I think youth are the crux of every society, but also because people love shaming youth for youth-things (see: language trends, selfies, social media) and I will ALWAYS fight for the vitality of these things. A millionfold more if we’re talking about young girl things.

And Tiny Pretty Things is all about the moral complexities of teenage girlhood. It’s about secrets, and why we keep them. It’s about how our deep wounds cause us to relate to one another. It’s about a beautiful arena broken with racism, sexism, and other systematic forms of oppression (which, alas, could describe ballet or literature or any number of things). It’s about ambition and passion.

It galls me, but I know that the moral complexities of June and Bette will cause many “ugh-I-don’t-like-her” reviews, because that’s how people react to morally complex teenage girls. (Men get to be interesting; girls have to be “unlikable.”) For me, their likability was not an important factor. Maybe it says something about me, but I read about their thoughts and actions—the envy, the cruelty, the yearning—and thought it to be uncomfortably human. I squirmed in my seat. On the other hand, Gigi is an extraordinarily likable character who is still imbued with complexities. (Confession: I wanted so badly to shout at June “DEAR GOD JUST BE FRIENDS WITH GIGI OKAY” several times.)

What else? The dance descriptions are exquisite. The romance is pretty cute, though I admit I wasn’t fully invested. And significantly, the book’s treatment of serious issues like eating disorders and bullying is commendable.

I don’t think that the storyline of June’s mystery (though not that big of a mystery) father had enough resolution, but I didn’t mind because there’s a second book coming out! I really hope that the forthcoming book, Shiny Broken Things, will tie up many of the open threads.

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The Inkwell: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

The Inkwell is a series of book reviews, or just rambling thoughts on specific books. For more, amble here


Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

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Official Synopsis:

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.


 

“Just because you can’t experience everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experience anything.”
Nicola Yoon, Everything, Everything

Snuggled on a couch with a fuzzy cozy blanket, I devoured Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything in one sitting. There were other people in the room beckoning me to join in the social gathering. I tried to put the book down several times and kept failing.

Diagnosed with SCID, the famous “bubble baby disease,” Madeline Whittier is essentially trapped inside her house. Until a burgeoning friendship—and more—with the cute boy next door changes everything.

I wasn’t very drawn by the premise—I’m not usually into contemporary romance-centered YA. Especially when they involve “boys that change everything.” Still, I thought I would like the book because it has elements I root for: diverse characters and a unique format (vignettes, messages, emails, post-its, etc). But I had no idea that I would fall into it and not emerge until I reached the last page, when I dazedly looked up and wondered where the last few hours had gone.

There were heartbreaking parts and heartsoaring parts. All written deftly and lyrically. The author is so talented that the meh-premise (in my opinion) becomes extraordinary and unique. The adorableness was compounded by the extra adorable fact that the author’s husband did the illustrations.

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The author, Nicola Yoon, and her husband David. (via NicolaYoon.com)

When the “twist” at the end happens, I was caught off guard. And at first, I thought it might be a cop-out deux ex machina move. But with the resolution, I revised that thought.

Read this book if you want simple things spun into complex metaphors and emotions. Read this book if you want complex depths written about in a simple, unadorned way. Read this book if you want to feel. It’s been a couple of weeks since I flipped to the last page of Everything, Everything. And I’m still simmering in post-book blues.

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The Inkwell: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

The Inkwell is a series of book reviews, or just rambling thoughts on specific books. For more, amble here


 

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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Official Synopsis: 

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.


 

“We’re meant to go. We’re not meant to stay forever.”
Naomi Novik, Uprooted

Novik’s novel drew me in like a spider pulling in a fly—spinning thread, weaving words. I was utterly enchanted. But this was not an enchantment of sparkles and shimmer. Uprooted is made of a darker magic. Deep lore, creeping vines, widening gyre.

Rooted in Slavic folklore, it contains many fairytale elements. Perhaps because of this, the book is imbued with a strange familiarity. Everything is twisted, yet it feels bedtime-story nostalgic. Gleaming towers, kidnapped maidens, square-jawed princes, epic quests, lost queens, royal courts, roaring dragons. All present and accounted for. But nothing is like the fairytales you know. No, not even like the darker original Grimm tales.

Before I began the book, only knowing the synopsis, I thought that Agnieszka might be a Belle-type. Plucky and book-smart and good-hearted. An archetype who is so easy for girls like me to relate to that it seems almost like a literary cheat. But I was wrong in the best way. Agnieszka’s journey is a genuinely human one, despite the un-human twists of her life. Her consciousness sets in slow and searing. Her unrooting comes through her development as a wizard’s apprentice, and then as a powerful conjurer of her own right. And the Dragon himself… my god! As with the “Beauty,” I was prepared for the Dragon to be an archetypal “Beast”—a brooding prince with a secret soft spot. What I wasn’t prepared for, even halfway through the book, was the aching humanness of him. His crankiness is more hilarious than Brooding Romantic Hero, and all for the better. And in a way (I add cheekily), his horror when Agnieszka organizes his books by color (BY COLOR!) is way sexier than any romantic-hero-gazing-moodily-over-the-moors.

The Wood is not only a gorgeously woven metaphor, but an incredible antagonist. The friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia is allowed room for flowering and wilting and and regrowth. And the other characters, particularly Alosha the Sword, are wonderful counterparts as well. You might not understand what this means until you’ve read Uprooted, but let me tell you that this book is a masterpiece because every character, EVERY CHARACTER, is allowed a journey and a humanity.

I devoured this book feverishly. I took in every page with a half-swallow in my throat. From the beginning, the pace is lush and harrowing. This book is terrifying. And shockingly funny. And absolutely gorgeous.

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