Interview an Author: Julia Phillips

I remember the day I walked into Jabberwocky Books in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and laid my eyes on the novel Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips. I’m sure other bookworms agree: sometimes you just lay your eyes onto a new title, and instantly, you know what book is yours. 

Apparently, my instincts about the book were right- this unique mystery novel drove me in and kept me hostage to the pages until I’d devoured it. Unsurprisingly, Disappearing Earth is now a national bestseller and a National Book Award finalist. And, according to The New York Times, “A superb debut…a nearly flawless novel.”

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Today I had the honor of speaking with Julia Phillips, whose personality and answers to my questions were just as crisp and graceful as her writing. 

Analog Magazine: What is your background as a professional writer and when did you decide to pen your first novel?

Julia Phillips: I wanted to be a novelist from the time I was a little kid. It was always my dream. While drafting the manuscript that became Disappearing Earth, I worked as an editor at a small publishing house, then as a freelance corporate copywriter. The whole time, I fantasized about this project emerging in the world one day as my first book. It’s the dream of my life.

AM: Are there any authors, books, and writers who you feel have inspired your writing style or shaped you as a writer yourself?

JP: Oh, so, so, so many. Every book I’ve ever read has inspired and shaped me. While I worked on Disappearing Earth, I thought a lot about the writing of Louise Erdrich and Alice Munro, two master storytellers. Some of the particular works that informed this novel include Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich, So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman, and Dead Girls by Nancy Lee.

AM: Your debut novel, Disappearing Earth, takes place in the distant, remote area of Kamchatka, Russia. Why did you choose this setting and location to be the backbone of your story?

JP: Russian and fiction were my two main academic pursuits in college, but I struggled to find a way to combine the two. When I studied abroad in Moscow, I felt far from English-language storytelling. In my creative writing classes, I didn’t know how to capture what had excited me abroad. The best way forward seemed to be setting a book in Russia. Writing a novel in Kamchatka became my dream.

Kamchatka was a compelling setting for a few reasons. Though it’s one of the country’s most remote territories, the peninsula more clearly illustrates the effects of Russia’s shift from socialism to capitalism than larger and better-known cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg might. Before 1990, Kamchatka was classified as a closed military zone; no foreigners were permitted there and even Russians needed special dispensation to visit. It was an isolated area of an already insular state – an intensified version of mainstream Soviet culture’s self-reliant course.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, though, restrictions on Kamchatka were abandoned. The peninsula’s undeveloped land, rich natural resources, and distance from the government’s seat in Moscow made it attractive to everyone, from foreign investors to adventure tourists to poachers. Suddenly globalized, radically changed, Kamchatka remained a microcosm of its nation, which now had a different name.

There was no way for me to understand all of contemporary Russia, I thought, but perhaps I could get to know Kamchatka. The region is huge – the size of California – but self-contained. No roads connect it to the mainland. Most of its population lives in one city. Living in that isolated place for a while, I would be able to meet many people, hear their stories, collect the details that underpin convincing fiction. And beyond all of that reasoning, there was a romantic motivation: Kamchatka is very, very beautiful. Volcanoes and geysers. I wanted to go there because I loved what it looked like.

AM: Disappearing Earth breaks away from the ‘normal’ novel structure and instead tells the story through several smaller, unique anecdotes. What inspired you to array the novel in this way?

JP: This novel is the story of a group of people, a whole community affected by a single event, so I wanted to structure it in a way that drew out the connections between characters. Their shared experiences were just as crucial as their unique qualities in moving the plot forward. To me, the moral argument of the book is that we survive by coming together. In our most desperate moments, we save, and are saved by, each other. 

AM: What was the research process like for you to pen this story? Did you run into roadblocks along the way?

JP: I learned about Kamchatka from the US for two years, then spent a year living on the peninsula and gathering material for this book. After I returned to the US, I started writing the book; I went back to Kamchatka in 2015 with my first draft in hand in order to do more research and start filling in the things I’d missed. I kept revising the book with the help of peer writing workshops until 2017, when an agent, then an editor, took the manuscript on and edited it with me. There were certainly roadblocks along the way. The most substantial ones were always logistical: it costs a lot of money and time to get to Kamchatka from the US, so it took years for each trip to come together. In comparison to that geographic challenge, everything else felt relatively straightforward.

AM: Was there ever a point within writing the story that you considered scrapping your original idea and going in a completely different direction?

About - Julia Phillips
Photo: JuliaPhillipsWrites.com

JP: Hmm…I don’t think so. I worked on this project for ten years, so there were loads of times I felt discouraged, sad, and frustrated about it. But I don’t remember a moment where I felt so down on it that I seriously considered scrapping the whole thing. The project always compelled me even when I doubted my ability to pull it off.

AM: Several readers, including myself, have picked up on the tone of women’s issues and repression in your novel, particularly through the lens of sexism and homophobia. Why is it important to include these issues in your writing, and do you feel like the novel accurately depicts the scope of these issues in Russia?

JP: The theme of violence against women was essential to the project from the very start. This novel is structured polyphonically, with every chapter focused on a different woman’s point of view, because it is intended to explore the spectrum of harm in women’s lives—from the rare and highly publicized (an abduction by a stranger) to the mundane and hardly spoken about (a difficult doctor’s appointment, a social slight). I wrote Disappearing Earth to run the range of violence in contemporary womanhood, because I’m fascinated by how those hurts echo each other, overlap, and connect us. 

And that’s a great question about whether the novel accurately depicts women in Russia. I very much hope it is resonant with folks there, and I tried hard to make it reflect my perception of this particular place as much as possible, but everything in the book is coming through my American filter, and it is inevitably biased because of that. It’s an American work, an American point of view, created by someone American. It’s hard for me to gauge therefore whether it’s an accurate depiction of someone’s real-life Russianness.

AM: From your perspective, what is the importance of leaving the conclusion of Disappearing Earth purposefully vague? Have readers reached out to you and for more clarity in regards to what the ending means?

JP: I’ve been surprised and gratified to get to talk with lots of readers about their reactions to the book’s ending. It’s probably the most frequent topic that comes up in conversation with folks who have finished the book. That’s been a fantastic craft lesson for me, because I don’t see the novel’s conclusion as open-ended; to me, it is about a specific and concrete thing. So getting to learn from other people’s interpretations and reflect on my writing going forward has been a real gift.

AM: What was your reaction to the overwhelming success of Disappearing Earth?

JP: This is a really kind question. Really, every bit of the publication process for Disappearing Earth, from the book’s acquisition to its editing process to its release, blew my mind. The whole thing has been a dream come true.

AM: How would you feel if a studio approached you with interest in turning Disappearing Earth into a film? Could you see that potentially happening in the future?

JP: That’d be incredible! My fingers are crossed.

AM: What are your other hobbies and interests besides writing?

JP: Reading, for sure, and listening to loads of podcasts. Cooking, seeing friends, going for walks. Watching TV and movies, especially comedies. Reading DIY/decor blogs and fantasizing about restoring some gorgeous old house.


I wrote Disappearing Earth to run the range of violence in contemporary womanhood, because I’m fascinated by how those hurts echo each other, overlap, and connect us. “


AM: What is something you wish everybody/more people knew about you?

JP: Ha! To be honest, there isn’t anything I want everybody to know about me. I often get nervous about the bits of personal information that I’ve shared too casually in the past. 

AM: What are your general goals and aspirations for the future?

JP: I want to feel immersed in my writing, and challenged, stimulated, and pushed to grow by creative work. I want to support other writers and artists in sharing their works with the world. As I look forward, I hope to publish multiple books and tell stories that move their readers. And one day I’d love to have my own room to write in. With bookshelves on all the walls!

AM: Can we expect another novel from you in the future? And, if yes, will you stick with the mystery/thriller theme?

JP: Absolutely. I’m working on another novel now. I don’t know what themes will compel me far in the future, but for now, I love a mystery – I love a book that begins with a thrilling question and gives us some answer by the end.

AM: Lastly, what advice would you give to other young writers?

JP: I’d offer anyone interested in writing three pieces of advice: first, read as much as possible; second, write as much as possible; third, embed yourself in an artistic community. Through reading, you’ll learn so much about storytelling and craft. Books offer an education with no equivalent. And through regular writing, you’ll sharpen your skills, learning what works for you on the page and what doesn’t. The third piece of advice, community building, might be the most important. It’s so challenging and limiting to create art in a vacuum. Connect with the folks around you (whether in person or online), read and cheer on their work, participate in conversations around creativity, and get feedback from others on what you’re producing. In those ways, you’ll not only fuel your own growth but also help foster a world of stronger, better, more supported artists. ★

The World is Ours: A Conversation with Author Abby Elise

As a writer myself, I’ve always admired fellow authors and musers who incorporate real-life themes and struggles into their fictional stories. The World is Ours, the debut work by undergrad student Abby Elise, explores a young man’s journey to discovering and embracing his gay identity through heartbreak, mishap, and tons of self discovery along the way. Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing Abby, who had much to say about books, queer advocacy, and her own journey of self-discovery.

The World is Ours: Elise, Abby: 9780359867370: Amazon.com: Books

Analog Magazine: How long have you been a writer and when did you realize that it was something you wanted to pursue professionally?

Abby Elise: I have always been fascinated by fiction and storytelling since I was child. I was in the fifth grade when I attempted my first novel just to see if writing stories was something I could possibly consider a career path. I kept at writing, attempting different genres, and in high school, I discovered it was something I wanted to pursue. I was writing all the time, doing research, and learning more about what path I should go down to be successful. It wasn’t until halfway through my second year of my undergraduate program that I decided I wanted to get a degree in creative writing and English, which I think was the best decision I could have made for myself.

AM: Who were your favorite authors growing up and how did they influence your style as a writer?

AE: I think the most influential authors of my youth were the ones I read in middle school, which is one of the biggest periods of transformation and growth anyone goes through generally. I think Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower were two of the more influential books I read during this time. Both of these authors, specifically citing the works of their I mentioned, use real-world struggles and themes through a young adult lens. These were some of my first experiences with YA fiction, which really sparked my love of reading. Divergent taught me that there is always a fight to be fought and that I can use fiction to do that and The Perks of Being a Wallflower was my first experience with queer characters and queer struggles in fiction, which was extremely eye-opening to me as a young writer.

AM: What other passions and hobbies are you interested in?

AE: I used to take music lessons throughout middle and high school, but I have lost a bit of that spark since moving onto college. I am also extremely passionate about activism and I do what I can to use my platform to promote change and to amplify the voices that need to be heard.

AM: What inspired you to write your debut novel, The World is Ours?

AE: I have been writing for a long time now and it took me years to write something that felt right to me. I spent a long time convinced that fiction had to feel distanced from me. Then, I read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, which weren’t my stories, but they felt close to me. I went to see Love, Simon in theaters twice, and when I was walking back to my dorm after the second time, I couldn’t help but thinking that I wanted to try writing a story that felt close to my own experiences. I ended up taking three major events from my own life at the time, created a boy named Riley, and wrote a story that felt authentic to me. It was a search for personal authenticity that inspired The World is Ours, which I found while writing it.

AM: How does queerness and the LGBT+ community lend itself to The World is Ours?

AE: The main character, Riley, is a questioning/closeted gay boy. Over the course of the novel, Riley goes on a major journey of self-discovery, which I worked hard to make it authentic to a general queer experience as much as I could. Riley experiences compulsory heterosexuality, internalized homophobia, heteronormativity, questioning, dating, heartbreak, coming out, being outed, homophobia, and learning how to accept himself over the course of the novel.

AM: What was the ultimate writing process like for you? Did you go through periods of ‘writer’s block’ while penning the story?

AE: The first time writing this story was the easiest writing has ever been for me. I had the full first draft complete after three months of writing it. I did zero planning or outline. I just had an end goal in mind and wrote every day until I got there. It was the most fun I ever had. I did experience some writer’s block because I had no real plan for the novel so there were a few stops, but nothing big enough to cause me trouble.

AM: How would you describe the feeling of finishing an entire book and watching it go out into the world?

AE: Finishing it was relieving and gratifying. I was proud of myself. Watching it go out into the world was scary. While I was excited to have the first book that felt authentic to me available to whoever, there was a sense of vulnerability with this one. Because of how close to home this book is for me, I was scared of how people would take that or how people would view me afterward. I try not to be specific about what parts, themes, and topics of this book I’m referring to when I say this book is personal because I would like for this book to be viewed as separate from me despite how close it is.

AM: What types of books are you interested in reading? Do you have a favorite book?

AE: I am most interested in reading young adult and new adult fiction novels that feature queer characters and their struggles. I try not to limit genre and I like to read books about queer people who have experiences different from mine, like transgender and nonbinary characters by trans and nonbinary writers and/or queer characters of color writter by queer authors of color. I like learning about different experiences through the lenses of these characters because I think it is important to have somewhat of an understanding of what other people have to face so I can be a better person and ally moving forward.

My favorite novel currently is Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. This novel helped me find my love of romantic comedies and my love of new adult fiction. I think it is well-crafted, well-written, and well-thought-out. It was fully entertaining from beginning to end and I learned a lot from it that I didn’t know before. This is the first book I list when people ask me for recommendations always.

AM: Have your friends and family been supportive of you along this journey?

AE: Very much so! My friends and family always help me out by advocating for me, sharing my posts, and buying copies from me. My friends have been endlessly supportive of me. They are always willing to read what I write, give feedback, or give me support when I need it. My sister, Meaghan, was consistently reading this project, providing feedback, and doing a bunch of work to help this book succeed.

I do worry that while everyone has been supportive of me and my publishing journey, I do not think they have all been supportive of the story itself. I had one member of my family try to convince me to have Riley go through all his questioning but find out he is straight in the end because they did not want me writing a happy ending for a gay character. This happened years ago and has lived with me since. While sexuality is fluid and people do question their sexuality just to realize they are straight, that is not Riley’s story. I will never write a straight character. Straight people have plenty of books to choose from where they can see themselves, they just won’t find themselves leading my books. I took this as a very clear sign that people only support the concept of me writing my books, not the actual books themselves.


“Because of how close to home this book is for me, I was scared of how people would take that or how people would view me afterward.”


AM: What is something you wish everybody knew about you?

AE: I listen to girl in red.

AM: Do you feel like you’re living a meaningful life?

AE: I do. Lately, the concept of life has been troubling me, and I realized that it is not because I’m afraid of death or because I have a desire to live, but I want to be alive and feel alive. It’s hard to feel like I am living a meaningful life while staying at home and social distancing, but in the grand scheme of things, I am living a meaningful life. In a year from now, I will have my undergraduate degree completed and I will be on track to my next step whatever it might be. What makes life meaningful is different for everyone. For me, it is hard work and dedication, which I hope I will see pay off one day. Either way, I believe I’m living a meaningful life.

AM: What are your dreams and aspirations for the future?

AE: Right now, I’m uncertain. I do intend on going directly into a graduate program after I graduate next year. It is hard to know exactly what the world is going to look like in a year from now with all that is going on. I don’t know what will be available to me then, but I do intend to work hard to find a career somewhere in the publishing industry.

AM: Do you have another book to publish in mind?

AE: I am currently working on a project that I am thoroughly excited about. I’m having a lot of fun working on it. I don’t know when it will be published, but I do intend on one day publishing it. I’m planning on taking my time with this one. The main character is a lesbian, which has made this story so much fun to tell. I’m looking forward to sharing it with people one day.

AM: Lastly, what advice do you have for other young writers?

AE: Don’t be afraid to tell the story that feels true to you and don’t let anyone tell you how to tell your story. It can be scary to tell an authentic story, but it is so gratifying. ★

 

You can keep up with Abby by following her on Instagram @abbyelisewrites

Remember Us to Life: Album Analysis

One of my favorite things about Remember Us to Life is the political undertones Regina incorporated into most of the songs. Although she’s done several political pieces in the past, this album in particular really struck a powerful note in me – mainly between her analogies to power and the broken corporate beast that is America. She discusses themes of motherhood, aging, and the general concept of time passing. I’m fascinated by her unique writing style, and I genuinely love every song Regina has ever put out into the universe. 

Regina Spektor - Remember Us To Life - Amazon.com Music

Track 1: “Bleeding Heart”

“Bleeding Heart” is the leading single of Remember Us to Life, and it’s also one of the only songs which is also accompanied by a music video on the album. It’s a bit more fast-paced than some of her usual pieces, and subsequently, I often find the melody is stuck in my head. My interpretation of the lyrics is that Regina is reflecting on her childhood and adolescence, and the feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem that come with that period of time. She discusses feeling like an outcast, her outfits being a “crime,” and begins every chorus with “Nevermind your bleeding heart,” perhaps as a way of self-soothing. My favorite part of the song is the bridge, in which Regina recites the following:

How long must I wait till you learn that it’s not too late?

How long must I cry till you know that you really tried?

How long must I try till you learn that dreaming’s hard?

How long must I dream till you heal your bleeding heart?

Never mind your bleeding heart

To me, this is about Regina talking to her ‘younger self,’ and wishing she had the opportunity to go back and share some of her future wisdom. The themes do resonate with me enormously, especially since my own emergence into adolescence was vulnerable and painful. Additionally, the music video is filled with photographs and video clips of Regina when she was a young girl, and ends with an old clip of Regina playing her piano at a talent show/recital. It’s a bittersweet song, and a beautiful introduction into the rest of the album. 


Track 2: “Older and Taller” 

“Older and Taller” is another faster-paced, cheerful melody, but this song unfortunately does not have a music video like “Bleeding Heart.” The first few times I listened to the album, I specifically remember this track being my ultimate favorite. There’s something about the strings and the guitar that sounds reminiscent of her older work, and in that sense, the song struck me as so sweet and nostalgic. Similarly to “Bleeding Heart,” I believe that this song is an ode to youth and the yearning one feels for it as they grow up. In particular, there is one satirical part of the song that really speaks to me: 

‘Enjoy your youth’ sounds like a threat

But I will anyway

In a deeper sense, I believe that the song is also exploring the phenomenon that we think aging will be so glamorous and satisfying, but the reality is, it rarely pans out the way we imagine it will. It’s a beautiful song about finding peace in growing old, and even though I myself am small and youthful, the song means quite a lot to me. 

Regina Spektor Shares Childhood Photos In Endearing New Video : NPR


Track 3: “Grand Hotel” 

“Grand Hotel” is one of those classic storytelling pieces by Regina Spektor, (such as “Genius Next Door, for example,) and upon each listen, you discover a deeper meaning or a metaphor you hadn’t realized before. As with several of the other pieces, it has tones of nostalgia and reflects on older times using several dark, beautiful metaphors. One of my favorite things about Regina’s lyrics is how they read like poetry, and “Grand Hotel” is a beautiful example of this:

Under the floorboards there’s a deep well

That leads to a spring that sprung up in hell

That’s where old devils danced and kissed

And made their blood pacts in the ancient myths

And running through forest they screamed in chorus

While piercing fair maidens’ chests with their horns

And then they lay in the grass ’til the dawn came

Sleeping away ’til the dawn came

Lay in the grass where now stands the Grand Hotel

I chose this stanza to transfix on because I love the juxtaposition of the polished hotel description and the words she uses to describe the people of the past- “old devils.” It’s a mischievous exploration of the evil that may lay below the floorboards of the Grand Hotel, haunting the modern world with memories.


Track 4: “Small Bill$” 

“Small Bill$” is another track accompanied by a music video, and to date, it’s probably one of my all-time favorite Regina Spektor videos (behind “Ne Me Quitte Pas” and “Fidelity”.) It’s a bit more fast-paced and upbeat than some of the other tracks on the album, and the piano is not as prevalent as it is in her other songs. I consider Remember Us To Life to be a relatively politically charged album, and this song in particular really criticizes advertising and capitalism. She warns that our current economic climate could lead to fates such as poverty, hunger, and class consciousness, such as with the Russian Revolution. It’s always a learning lesson for us listeners when Regina spits out her Soviet-remnisent tracks, and the visuals of the music video really add to the entire aesthetic.

Regina Spektor - Small Bill$ [Official Music Video] - YouTube


Track 5: “Black and White”

“Black and White” is a beautiful, ballad-like track which once again uses juxtaposition to tell a story within the lyrics. Usually, when we hear someone say that something is “black and white,” it translates into something being crystal clear and easy to understand. However, Regina’s lyrics seem to suggest that things are left unfinished or complicated. The song discusses themes such as love and heartbreak, and how, just like a black and white photograph, love can feel antique and ‘out of time.’ Alternatively, her lyrics can be interpreted as a reflection on how little photographs are able to actually capture the full spectrum of emotion that is attached to memory. It’s slow and beautiful, and certainly sad, but I truly think it’s one of the most underrated songs on the album. 


Track 6: “The Light”

“The Light” holds a very special place in my heart, as it is nothing short as a tender, loving ode to her husband and her newborn baby. Throughout the song, which primarily relies on the piano, Regina sings about her memories of the past and the curiosities she has for the future, and particularly, how her past decisions have shaped her into the woman she is today. The song does feel a bit melancholy at times, particularly when she’s singing about the unfamiliar grounds of motherhood and the depression which comes with it, but there are also uplifting lines. In particular, this one is my favorite:

So many stories, I want to tell you

I wish that I could show you the many things I’ve seen

You and your daddy, you both look like poets

Your eyes are open wide while you are in a dream

For me, this stanza represents how motherhood has affected her view of herself, and even her view of her own music. It’s truly a gift to watch your little baby grow and develop into his or her own independent person, and begin to see the world through their own little eyes. And yes, Regina’s husband, Jack Dishel of Only Son, really does have that poet look to him.

Regina Spektor Welcomes 'Super Cute' Son - ABC News


Track 7: “The Trapper and The Furrier”

Now that we’ve had that brief sentimental interlude, it’s time to jump back into something politically motivated. After listening to the song a few times, I came to the conclusion that it is about the unfair social structures and injustices throughout the world, but particularly in the United States. Throughout the song, she tells three stories: the tale of the trapper and the furrier, the owner and the manager, and lastly, the lawyer and the pharmacist. Unlike the softer songs on the album, this track is accompanied by howling strings and intense vocals, which really add to the menacing overtones of the lyrics:

The lawyer and the pharmacist went walking through paradise

And all the sick were around them with fevers unbreaking

Crying and bleeding and coughing and shaking

And arms outstretched, prescription-collecting

The lawyer and the pharmacist went walking through paradise

Pressed suits in a courtroom, aroma of chloroform

And they smiled at the judge, disposition so sunny

Cause they didn’t have the cure but sure needed the money

I don’t think it’s a secret at all that this song is about the greediness of corporations and the lack of care which goes into patients who actually need support. I would have loved to have seen a music video for this track; I think intense visuals would have really complemented the hard-hitting nature of the song, similarly to how “Small Bill$” tells such a vibrant story of capitalism. 


Track 8: “Tornadoland”

I love so many of Regina’s instrumentals, but the instrumental for “Tornadoland” might be my favorite off the entire album. Actually, that’s a lie. “Obsolete” is my favorite instrumental, but “Tornadoland” is a close second. Unlike many of Regina’s metaphorical, abstract songs, I think Tornadoland is pretty straightforward and literal. To me, it sounds like she is singing from the perspective of being inside of a tornado, or even being a tornado, and the song comes and goes without even so much as an intro. She sings about wanting to be heard and wanting to be “louder than the storm,” and the tornado is a reminder that we, as individuals, are insignificant. My favorite thing about the song, however, is the melodic interlude of swirling sounds and flutes, as if a tornado is actually spiralling through the middle of the piece.


Track 9: “Obsolete” 

This is my absolute favorite song on the album, and maybe my favorite Spektor song of all time. If it’s not my #1 favorite, it’s at least in the top three. The song is quite long and slow in tempo, and she drags out the words in a way that sounds both hopeful and dismal. I believe the song, similarly to Tornadoland, is about feeling insignificant and perhaps even left behind by life as time passes you by. I think the other reason I love this song so much is because it analyzes the feeling of not being understood, which is a sensation I have grown up with and hold close to me:

Minds grow dark, so suddenly

I was lost on your street

Hey I’m talking to myself

I can hear you listening in

To my thoughts, to my dreams

What I want, can’t compete

Obsolete

The most beautiful portion of the song comes towards the end, when her voice unexpectedly rises like a wave and the ethereal backing vocals increase as well, adding to the overall feeling of desperation and pain. It gives me goosebumps every time, and I could probably listen to this song on repeat forever. As quoted by Regina, there can sometimes be beauty found within sadness:

“Sometimes when I feel happy, for whatever reason, it just feels very good to listen to sad songs. I feel very comforted by beauty, especially when it overwhelms you with all its colours and sounds.”


Track 10: “Sellers of Flowers” 

Every single Regina song contains beautiful imagery, but this piece in particular reads like sweet poetry for the ears and the mind. In short, I think this song is just about death. Winter represents the oncoming and inevitable ending of everything, here to claim the roses that die before the morning. The changing phases of the sun represent how even the happiest, brightest lives will come to the same tragic demise:

Cause winter is coming

Soon after summer

It runs faster, faster

Chasing off Autumn

We go from a warm sun to only a white sun

We go from a large sun to only a small one

It’s really a substantial, meaning-packed song, so I recommend giving it a few listens to really get a handle on the full scope of the song. That is, if you’re into exploring the beautiful but twisted mystery that is life and death. 


Track 11: “The Visit” 

The last official track on Remember Us To Life is “The Visit,” as the next three songs are actually bonus tracks from the deluxe version of the album. “The Visit” is an absolutely lovely and sweetly penned reflection on the dynamic of friendship, and how the passing of time can often weaken our relationships with others. The lyrics are upbeat but melancholy, and discuss Regina’s happiness upon reuniting with someone from her past. It reminds me a bit of one of the bonus tracks, “The One Who Stayed and the One Who Left,” and in fact, I actually mix them up sometimes. I appreciate the hopeful overtone of the song, and as usual, I enjoy following along with the story when I listen to this piece. 


Bonus Track: “New Year” 

For late 2016, I think this track was a pretty timely addition. Not only because the subject is reflecting on her life experiences and the years ahead, but because it comes at a time of turbulence and unrest in the United States after the presidential election of Donald Trump. Even though 2016 was a pretty terrible year for most of us, the song is a reminder to focus on the good this year brought, and that we should (and must) be hopeful for what the next years will bring us:

She sets her alarm five minutes to midnight

And wakes just in time to say her goodbyes

Thanking the old year for all it has brought her

No mention of the things it took away

It’s really a beautiful song and an ode to hope, and even though I’m sure Regina is playing a character in the piece, as usual, it does feel like she herself is wishing the audience a very happy new year. So thank you, Regina! 

Stream Regina Spektor - "You've Got Time (Chamber Version ...


Bonus Track: “The One Who Stayed and the One Who Left” 

As I said earlier, I sometimes get this track mixed up with “The Visit,” or, at the very least, I think of it as a continuation or alternative perspective. This song discusses the story of two old friends who meet again after being detached for a long while, and how, even though they did end up going in separate directions, they are satisfied with their decisions to do so. I think detaching and moving in new directions is sometimes coupled with a negative connotation, so I actually appreciate that this song offers a more positive, healthy perspective on the notion of moving on in life, even if it means leaving people behind along the way.


Bonus Track: “End of Thought” 

Last but certainly not least, the fourteen track on Remember Us To Life is a chillingly deep, yet comforting piece about the vastness of our existence and how our problems are essentially meaningless. Upon first listen, the melody is simplistic and maybe not even memorable to most listeners, but once you really notice the words, the song becomes quite powerful. Here’s a particularly beautiful stanza:

You cannot make a mistake

The universe is too big

This song has been particularly comforting to me lately, as I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the vastness and mystery of the universe, and how terrifying that is. However, it’s also such a beautiful thing, knowing that our actions are essentially meaningless in the long run, and we can’t really hurt people as badly as we think we do. If that makes sense.

Anyway, I hope you guys enjoyed reading my analysis. I know it was an absolute monster of a post, but I’m really trying to pour all of my true thoughts and feelings into these album reviews. Remember Us To Life is utterly gorgeous and powerful, and the work Regina put into this album truly shines through to me as a listener. Let me know what you guys thought of the album in the comments!

How I Care for my Curly Hair (2C Curls)

My hair and I have been on quite a journey together. When I was little, my hair was pin-straight, and it slowly just got curlier and curlier the older I got. I have gone through years of hating my hair, trying to straighten it as much as possible. I  even wore wigs. Now, I can happily say that I love my hair and my bouncy, soft curls. Though my hair has been through a lot of bleaching, I feel like it’s still in pretty decent condition, and my curls have held up well. Today I’m going to walk you through how I take care of it on a daily basis, what products I use, and what I don’t recommend if you want to protect your hair. I also want to point out that my hair type is 2C, which equals a loose, barrel-shaped curl. If you have a tighter curl or a different hair pattern/texture, you may need to do something completely different to take care of your curls, so just keep that in mind! Also, I am not a hair care expert or a stylist- this is just what works for me personally.

Easy Hairstyles for Girls with Curly Hair | BeBEAUTIFUL
Artist: Unknown

Like many curly girls, it took me years to figure out that you are NOT supposed to brush your curly hair! Doing so can make it extremely frizzy and ‘pyramid shaped’, as I call it. I always used to worry that if I didn’t brush my hair, it would get tangled and look dirty, but the reality is, my hair actually feels much cleaner and manageable now that I rarely brush it. In fact, the only section of my hair I really brush is my bangs. As long as I wash my hair regularly and use products that are designed to smooth-out my hair and keep it tangle-free, I never have to worry about frizz or knots. 

About twice a week, I will use my purple shampoo and a leave-in conditioner in the shower. The brand of purple shampoo I use is by eva-nyc. So far, I’ve been really impressed by this brand. I love that the shampoo is not only cruelty-free, but affordable and it also smells absolutely amazing. Most importantly, it makes my hair feel soft and manageable. The leave-in conditioner I use is by AG hair, and it is yet another high-quality, amazing-smelling product that I always look forward to using. My hair tends to lack moisture if I don’t take care of it adequately, so these two products together keep my hair feeling extremely hydrated and salon-smooth. 

I have never been a big fan of blow-drying my hair, which has been really beneficial for both my curl pattern and my overall hair health. I’m actually not sure why towel drying works so well, but from a personal standpoint, I absolutely believe my curls look so much prettier and fuller when I wrap my hair in a towel and let the heat soak up the moisture for a few minutes. After I towel off my hair, I just let it air dry for the rest of the day. The products I use on my hair help it to dry much quicker, so I’m going to be talking about those next. 

If I don’t use my leave-in conditioner that day, I will always ALWAYS use the Aveda damage repair treatment in my hair and the Drybar Prep Rally spray. I talk about these products a lot, because I think they’re high-quality and I genuinely think my hair has never looked better. I apply them back-to-back when my hair is still wet, and after that, my hair routine is essentially done! I let my hair air-dry with the products in, and after a couple of hours, my hair is almost completely dry and curly, and it feels so amazing and soft.

Anyway, that’s my very adamant hair care routine for protecting my loose barrel curls. Like I said, I’ve had a pretty rocky hair journey, but I’m really happy with the way it looks now and the quality that I have been able to uphold despite lots of bleaching. I know not everyone is going to be able to go out and buy a bunch of new products for their hair, so whatever your circumstances are, I would say just do the best you can with the resources you have! Remember, you are beautiful no matter what.

Trends on a Budget: Building Looks Through Thrifting

Spring is here, which means it’s time for warmer weather, nature walks (from a social distance, of course,) and pastel-toned, floral outfits. Even though I’m not spending any money on things like clothes right now, I still love scrolling through online shops and seeing what trends are on the rise. I especially love browsing ThredUp, which is the world’s largest online thrift store, in order to put together potential outfits and search for rare fashion finds. Secondhand shopping is both extremely beneficial for the environment and cost effective for your wallet. Additionally, with the current health circumstances, online shopping is the perfect way to add to your wardrobe! Today I’m going to walk you through five potential spring outfits I pieced together using ThredUp, explain why they work, and let you in on how much you can save on clothes by thrift shopping. I’d also like to disclaim by saying I am not sponsored or paid by ThredUp: this is genuinely just an app and a service I love. I’m so excited to share it with all of you. 

Side note: I didn’t include links to any of these items, because they are all thrifted goods (meaning there’s only one of everything) and most of these items will be sold within days. If you see something you really like on ThredUp, you better throw it in your cart ASAP before it gets sold!


Look 1: Country + Boho

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Of all the digital outfits I’ve put together on ThredUp, this is definitely one of my favorites. I absolutely adore floral prints, and this sweet v-neck dress is absolutely gorgeous and so vintage! One of my favorite things about spring is having the ability to layer up or layer down outfits, which is why I decided to pair this dress with a jacket. It’s not quite warm enough for flip flops and sandals, so I paired the outfit with some brown booties instead. This outfit because is modern and fresh, but also has an old-fashioned charm, particularly in the shape of the dress and the print. 

Dress: $60 $21.99

Ankle Boots: $189 $48.99

Denim Jacket: $119 $28.99

Shoulder Bag: $398 $91.99

Savings: $574


Look 2: Springy + Fresh

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This outfit could be ideal for a warmer spring day, as the hem is a little bit shorter and the sandals are open-toed. I absolutely love the mixing of prints, especially when there’s color involved, and that’s exactly what this dress celebrates to me. It’s very put-together and dressy, but also casual enough for everyday wear. In my opinion, these colors would also look great on every skin tone, particularly that mustard yellow jacket. If you check out the Pantone Spring/Summer 2020 NYFW colors, you’ll see that several of them appear in this outfit as well.

Dress: $60 $18.99

Jacket: $35 $16.99

Wedges: $89 $20.99

Wallet: $45 $17.99

Savings: $154


Look 3: Classy + Casual

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Okay, I know fedoras aren’t exactly the most celebrated fashion staple, but I think this one looks absolutely adorable when paired with a striped short and some classic corduroys. Horizontal stripes are a great way to make your figure appear slimmer, if that’s something you’re looking for in a garment, and the classic red flats offer a cute pop of color. This outfit is also extremely affordable- you can buy all four of these items for under $60. Just another reason to consider the benefits of thrifting and what it can do for your wallet!

Pullover Sweater: $36 $11.99

Cords: $70 $7.99

Flats: $48 $22.99

Fedora: $24 $13.99

Savings: $121


Look 4: Cute + Formal

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Hopefully, none of us are going out to any parties or events in the midst of a global pandemic, but nonetheless, this is generally just a gorgeous formal outfit that can be easily dressed up or down. First of all, I’m absolutely in love with those heels. I strongly feel that nude pumps or wedges can pair nicely with any outfit or color. The wide belt, similarly to horizontal stripes, can also mimic a slimming illusion in the waste area. I think the print is lovely, the outfit is cohesive, and the asymmetrical shape really adds a sense of interest and uniqueness. 

Dress: $24 $16.99

Wedges: $119 $43.99

Belt: $36 $10.99

Shoulder Bag: $60 $29.99

Savings: $137


Look 5: Punky + Funky

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Lastly but certainly not least, I wanted to put together something a bit edgier and youthful. I really like the way a graphic tee pairs with shorts, and this style of shorts is actually very on-trend right now. Bermuda shorts are also really trendy, so you could alternatively pair a graphic tee with a pair of those as well! Because the top and the leather shorts already have so much going on, I decided to keep the rest of the look simple and just pair it with a simple gold bracelet. It looks effortless and chic, while still giving off some edgy high-fashion energy. I would totally wear this outfit, hands down. 

T Shirt: $13 $10.99

Leather Shorts: $895 $106.99

Heels: $398 $68.99

Bracelet: $25 $11.99

Savings: $1,132


I hope you found this article interesting and informative! I’m not a professional stylist or a fashion guru of any sort, but like I said, I’m really interested in clothing and following trends throughout the year. If you’re looking for new, cheap, sustainable additions to your wardrobe, I highly recommend checking out ThredUp. I promise you won’t be disappointed! Stay safe, everybody.

Honor, Trust, and Selflessness: Supporting Someone with PTSD

Disclaimer: this article discusses and mentions topics such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and sexual assault, which may be triggering for some.  

art print by kikicastel
art print by kiki castel

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ way to love somebody, but there are common morals and responsibilities that we should bring into every friendship and relationship: trust, compassion, respect, and communication. When you love somebody who has been diagnosed with PTSD and gone through considerable trauma in his or her life (warfare, car accidents, assault, etc.), it can require even more patience and selflessness to establish a sense of safety and love between the two of you. More than anything else, it’s a reminder that it’s not all about you: it’s about keeping your partner safe and respecting their boundaries, their feelings, and of course, their trauma.

Another reminder I’d like to point out (and this applies to all types of relationships): is to remember that you are not your partner’s therapist, and they are not yours. Of course it is important (and frankly necessary) in any relationship to have a sense of open communication and unconditional support, but that does not mean you have to disregard your own emotional needs. Love is give and take!

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and with that in mind, I want to talk about why dedicating nurturing patience into these relationships is so important, and, from personal experience, what we can do to make our partners feel safe and protect their vulnerability.

When I refer to a survivor of sexual abuse as ‘vulnerable’, I do not mean it in a sense that they are weak or defenseless. What I do mean is this: PTSD entails a wide variety of devastating symptoms, including flashbacks, disturbing thoughts and feelings, mental distress, suicidal ideation, and increased fight-or-flight response. Survivors of repeated, prolonged abuse may exhibit ‘fawning’ symptoms, or a display of people-pleasing behavior to subside conflict. In a general sense, individuals with PTSD can feel an overwhelming desire to mirror the expectations and desires of other people, and neglect standing up for themselves. With all of that in mind, here are ways you can support your loved one with PTSD or a background in sexual trauma in a way that is encouraging, supportive, and gentle.

Perhaps one of the most important things to remember when approaching a friend or partner with trauma: respect their boundaries. While clear communication and honesty is extremely important in any friendship or relationship, that does not mean your partner is obligated to tell you every detail or answer every question you have about their trauma or incident. If he or she is visibly uncomfortable with the conversation and wishes not to speak about any subject, respect that and switch topics immediately. Additionally, if a conversation about trauma does come up, you should not be the one dictating that conversation – it is up to your friend or partner if they choose to start speaking about it. If your partner or friend struggles with anxiety or depression as a result of their PTSD, do not force or coax them into situations which may heighten these illnesses. Signs that someone may be uncomfortable with a situation or dealing with anxiety include sudden quietness, nervous ticks, or obvious discomfort from their body language. It is always important to establish your boundaries at the beginning of the relationship, and make sure your inner circle is aware of these boundaries as well to avoid uncomfortable situations. 

Arousal does not equal consent. Ask for clear, verbal consent before engaging in any sexual activities with your partner. If he or she expresses discomfort with any activity or expresses a need to stop, it is your responsibility and obligation to respect that. Your partner does not owe you an explanation for this! Their safety is more important than your satisfaction.

Offer emotional support, resources, and positive affirmations. Remind your partner that they are strong, valued, appreciated, and honored. Thank them for the little joys and favors they bring into your life. Text your partner or leave them notes reminding them how beautiful and important they are. It’s a small effort, but to someone who may be struggling with anxiety, depression, or negative body image, these small reminders can mean the world. Emphasize to your partner that there are resources available and countless people who love him/her, if he ever needs additional support.

Before making a decision together, double-check that your partner is okay with this choice and make sure their voice is heard. This ties back to the fawning behaviors and tendencies sometimes exhibited by individuals with PTSD. Your partner may be afraid to tell you how they really feel about a decision or admit that they don’t want to do something, because they are afraid of letting you down or not pleasing you enough. Remind your partner that his or her voice matters, and ensure as much as possible that they can say ‘no’ any time they feel uncomfortable with a decision or frankly just not up to it. 

Be wary of triggers. Like I said before, survivors of trauma may experience flashbacks or uncomfortable feelings when their memories or PTSD is triggered. If your partner has a negative body image, avoid talking about your weight or comparing your body to theirs. If your partner has attempted suicide, don’t make jokes that you’re ‘going to kill yourself’ when something goes wrong (For real, please don’t make jokes about that in general.) If you’re planning on seeing a movie or watching a show that may contain triggering content, make sure you and your partner are aware of this ahead of time, to the best of your ability. 

I hope this article is helpful and informative for all of you! I’m not an expert or a psychologist or anything like that, but like I said, I have been able to improve my relationships and maintain healthy communication with my loved ones through taking these actions. And like I said, most situations are not one-size-fits-all, so please be flexible and adaptable with your loved ones depending on their exact situation!

If you are a survivor of sexual assault or any debilitating trauma, please know that there are resources available for you! The national hotline for sexual assault (US) is 1-800-656-4673. Additionally, if you suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts, please do not go through this alone and reach out to an outlet or person you trust. The national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Stay safe, everyone, and love each other! 

 

Keepin’ Busy: Date Ideas for Self-Quarantined Couples

So, it’s pretty indisputable that things suck right now. Several of us are finding ourselves trapped indoors without hobbies, tasks, and most crucially: socialization. I consider myself lucky to be introverted and happily a homebody, yet it’s rough being away from my friends and extended loved ones.

Even though many of us are limited in the things we can do, that doesn’t mean you and your loved ones can’t keep things exciting and fresh (and let’s be realistic, there’s only so much sex you can have together in quarantine before you need some more activities.) These indoors date ideas are coming from my perspective of being in a relationship, but they would be perfect for friend-dates as well. Just remember to keep your social circle small, and don’t let weird people cough on you.


Pot some plants together.

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Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Potting plants is an inexpensive, interactive, and educational activity that you can do right from the comfort of your own home! Especially when you’re stuck at home in quarantine, having the responsibility of keeping a plant alive can be a great motivator to keep you going and give you something to look forward to. I recently just potted some basil, which I have grown before in the past, and I’m eagerly looking forward to watching it sprout and flourish every day. It’s easy, it’s wholesome, and it’s a great activity to do in the comfort of your house.


Take a nature walk.

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Photo by Efdal YILDIZ on Pexels.com

If you’re really starting to feel the cabin fever hit, consider going for a nature walk together to get some fresh air and get your feet moving. Obviously, stay away from areas that are populated or full of people, because the point is that we want to stay distanced, but a little nature walk outside is actually recommended by professionals to keep your spirits up during these hard times. I’m lucky to live in New England, where there are tons of woodsy places to visit without people around. Depending on where you live, figure out what works best for your circumstances and lockdown regulations. 


Take a bubble bath. Preferably, a bath full of hand sanitizer, but that’s probably not possible in these trying times.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Just kidding, please don’t waste hand sanitizer. But for real- bubble baths during these trying times is exactly what most of us need right now. Pour yourself a glass of wine, put on some music, chill out in the bath, and try to think about something besides coronavirus for awhile. If there was ever a time for pampering and self-love, it’s now. 


Read books in bed together.

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Photo by Dina Nasyrova on Pexels.com

As the poster child for introversion, reading books in bed is one of my favorite things to do, especially with someone next to me. It’s a sweet, tranquil way to bond and be near each other, but it doesn’t require any conversation (incredible, right?). Currently, I’m rotating between Memoirs of a Geisha, Slaughterhouse Five, and Disappearing Earth to pass the time. Napping together also falls into this category. 


Have a wine-tasting/cocktail-making shindig. 

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Photo by Татьяна Танатова on Pexels.com

No, you shouldn’t be going out to any liquor stores right now, but the good news is you can still buy booze online! Regardless of if you’re with your family, your partner, or even just by yourself, consider hosting your very own wine-tasting/cocktail-making party at home. Come up with some new alcoholic concoctions that you’d never thought about trying before. For bonus points, consider watching something cheesy like America’s Next Top Model or The Bachelor to complete the suburban mom aesthetic. 


Watch Jeopardy! and other feel-good shows. 

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Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

This weekend, I learned that my boyfriend is an actual certifiable Jeopardy! legend. Dear God, we probably watched about six hours of that show total over the course of 2 and a half days. That’s probably not everybody’s cup of tea, but for us, trivia shows actually proved to be a great way to pass the time and share some laughs. If Jeopardy! And Family Feud aren’t your thing, switch it up with a binge-worthy show you can both get behind. For fans of thrillers, I highly recommend watching The Keepers or Bates Motel for some thought-provoking discussions together. If you like baking shows, I cannot recommend Sugar Rush and Food Network enough.


Teach each other a new skill or hobby.

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. Lately, my very small circle and I have shared a lot of hobbies and skills amongst each other, including knitting, puzzles, and cooking. Most of us have endless time right now, so why not pick up a new skill or talent to keep yourselves occupied? If you want to spend 3-5 being fully immersed and frustrated in a new task, I highly suggest trying to learn how to knit. It’s the perfect combination of mental pain and fascination. Another idea is to sign up for an online class together, so that you can both learn a new skill at the same time!


Bake something together.

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Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

Keeping with the trend of being extremely wholesome, baking something with your loved one is always a great way to spend quality time together and create something awesome with your hands. I’ve been really into baking muffins right now, but I’m also interested in getting into baking bread. It sort of goes back to the learn-a-new-skill thing; if you’re not very good at baking or cooking, use this time to learn some new, wonderful dishes with your partner.


Last but not least, have a luxurious spa night at home. 

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Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

I guess this kind of relates to the bubble bath idea, but why not take it up a notch and have a full-out spa night? You can make face masks, give each other massages, listen to royalty-free spa music, paint your nails, etc, etc. I personally have about a thousand hair and skin products sitting in my bathroom at the moment, so I’m trying to take this self-quarantine time to catch up on self love and beauty. Also, take this opportunity to catch up on rest! Beauty sleep has never been more important. More than anything else, remember to take care of yourself and the vulnerable people around you. If we all practice adequate social distancing and self-quarantining, I think this will all be over sooner than we think. Even moreso, spending more time together indoors while still branching out could be a great bonding experience for you both, and bring you closer than ever.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: How the Coronavirus is Affecting Colleges

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Naturally, I felt inclined to write about the infamous COVID-19 virus this week. In the past two or so weeks, all of my email inboxes have been papered with warnings and information about this unforeseen catastrophe, and how I, a student at a small, private university, can keep myself safe.

Living on the outskirts of Boston and attending college here, I have been able to see firsthand the potentially disastrous implications COVID-19 has plastered onto the city. The public transit is almost empty, the streets are alarmingly quiet, and the general atmosphere of my environment is a mixture of edginess and excitement. As potentially scary as a pandemic is, it is a fascinating time to be alive, wondering what will happen next as you scroll through your email and eye the alerts.

As of writing this, my school has not announced or hinted at a decision to close its doors and move online. If I had to pick a plausible outcome, I would say my university will probably extend spring break by a week or so, but probably not more than that.

(3/16 Update: Our spring break is extended by an additional week and all of our classes are now online. Students are still allowed to stay in the resident halls if they wish.) 

The risk is still relatively low for my area, and no one on my campus has tested positive for the virus. Here are all the ways the school closing down would affect students such as myself:

-Although this does not apply to me particularly, international students would be effectively screwed if my university decided to shut its doors. I know of several international students who have no other options at this point in time, especially on such short notice. 

-Students who rely on public transit, such as myself, would have a difficult time getting to our internships in Boston if we were asked to leave campus and resume classes online. Because I do marketing and social media work, I would probably be able to manage my internship online, but not everyone has that opportunity. 

-My university is well-known for its applied arts and fashion program, which basically exclusively requires students to stay on campus to utilize the materials and sewing machines. How can fashion students resume their work and build their collections online?

-Would I be refunded for room and board? Meal plans? Senior week payments?

These are just a few of the thoughts going through my head right now. As you can probably infer from the title of this article, however, I’m trying not to worry too much about these potential changes. I’m looking forward to posting an update on this situation down the line, as I believe my college is going to make a final announcement about the new course of action over the next couple of days. As I said, I believe the most extreme choice my college would choose to make would be to extend spring break by another week or two, due to the disruptive nature and implications of basically canceling the semester.

Of course, if the pandemic did reach a point where staying on campus would be an overwhelming safety concern, of course, I would be receptive to taking online courses for the rest of the semester. It would be inconvenient, of course, and a pretty meager ending to my senior year of college, but there isn’t really much I can do to control the situation. 

For the time being, remember to wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, avoid large crowds, and cover your mouth when you cough! How is the coronavirus outbreak affecting your lifestyle? Let us know in the comments below.

Brain on Fire: Detaching from Trauma and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Over the last couple of years, I feel like I’ve gone through an enormous internal metamorphosis. Most days, I wake up brimming with positivity and gratitude, and sometimes even a sense of self-actualization. I truly do feel like I am the best version of myself that I can be, and even when I make mistakes, I try to be gentle and forgiving with myself.

I wasn’t always that way. Middle school and high school, the most formative years of my life, were turbulent and full of dark energy and negativity. I constantly found myself plagued with anger, confusion, self-doubt, self-deprecation, the sense that I was a bad/broken person, and a tendency to exhibit fawning behaviors (common with survivors of verbal and emotional abuse). I was extremely anxious and highly sensitive to loud noises, confrontation, and raised voices. If someone even criticized me a little bit, and particularly if they spoke loudly, my ears would begin to hum and vibrate. I shared several of my childhood memories with a therapist in high school, including the time I was dragged across the carpet and spanked as a child, screaming, and how similar memories tended to pop into my mind like uncomfortable flashbacks. I told her about my notable (but not alarming) social delays, my broken confidence, my damaged relationships, and my extreme discomfort with certain areas of my body. She swiftly summarized my case as C-PTSD, otherwise known as Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. C-PTSD is commonly diagnosed in individuals who grew up experiencing repetitive, prolonged abuse, usually as a child. One of the most common experiences for young adults with C-PTSD is growing up with a parent who exhibits narcissistic tendencies, which is what my family agrees probably happened to me from my father. As a result of disconnecting from him, I went through a very mournful period of traumatic grief. 

What may be normal and surmountable to some children could be extremely difficult for others. Many kids grew up with unhappy childhoods and ended up fine, but for me, growing up afraid in my own household and dealing with anxiety through the roof, panic, and fight-or-flight sensations permanently altered my brain chemistry. As the therapist described it, my brain was “on fire,” constantly lit up with a life-or-death panic and ravenous will to survive.

There are still foggy patches in my brain, and sometimes, I lay awake and think, What happened to me? Most of the time, however, I put those worries to rest and allow the unknown to be unknown. At 20 years old, I still have several unrecovered memories that I choose to leave unearthed.

After I was put on a standard dose of escitalopram (which I continue to take to this day), entered college, and became estranged from my biological father, something surprising happened to me: I have seemingly recovered from my initial C-PTSD diagnosis.

This raises two questions. 1) Is it possible to recover completely from C-PTSD? Also, 2), did I ever actually have it? Do I simply have a ‘mild’ case of it? Am I just exceptionally lucky?

Honestly, I have no idea, and I almost don’t care to know. I do know that my trauma still impacts my life in several ways, but it’s not unmanageable and detrimental like it was a few years ago. It’s almost as if I’ve learned to love that part of myself and nurture it back into a state of healing. Additionally, as I emerge into adulthood, I feel like I have become very comfortable with self-regulating my emotions, particularly since I have such a strong support network now. 

I am a highly sensitive person. I still catch myself exhibiting fawning behaviors from time to time; particularly recently when I was going through a difficult period of anger and conflict with a close friend of mine. Rather than being angry, however, I am learning to self-soothe and forgive myself for the things I cannot control. I can truly say that I love myself and I’m enormously proud of the progress I have made.

When I feel my weakest, I remind myself that I am actually made of strength and perseverance. 

When my heart begins to cloud with fear, as it was a couple of weeks ago with my friend, I had a sudden moment of clarity and peace that enabled me to write this article in the first place: I am not a broken woman, I am not a bad person, and I am NOT going to push myself into a state of grief over privations when I can use this situation instead to love, forgive, and grow.

As I said, I wake up every day full of gratitude and fullness for the beauty of my life. I wish it were easier to put this feeling into words, but truly, I feel such a sense of clarity and excitement about the beauty and complexity of the world. Having gone through difficult things, kindness and compassion are even more present in my life than they ever were before, and I think that juxtaposition is a beautiful thing. Please don’t ever destroy yourself over things that are out of your control; forgive yourself for the cracks in your soul and learn to nurture those patches, too.

Reviewing Trends in 2020

I’ve never been much of a trendsetter myself, but I do love social commentary and analyzing the culture around me. Especially since I’ve been engaging in several of these trends myself, I wanted to summarize my thoughts on them (and maybe even predict which ones I think will die out by summertime). Let’s get into it!


Snakeskin Nails

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Photo: ImogenFoxyLocks on Instagram

I feel like every season, a new nail art technique or pattern papers my entire Instagram feed. Right now, snakeskin nails are taking center stage, particularly in neutral or brown-toned shades. I do appreciate the creativity of this nail pattern, there are drawbacks. 1) I could never see myself doing this, and 2) I feel like this trend will die out by spring. The warmer months are usually all about pastels and bright-toned colors, these brown-toned nails are much better suited for fall and winter. 


Clean Skincare

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Photo: Business Insider

This is one of my favorite trends of the past six months, and that’s because I’ve jumped on the bandwagon myself. It’s a common trend among Millennials (and younger generations) to choose cruelty-free, vegan products over more traditional, “mature” brands, such as MAC and Clinique. Personally, I’m so proud to be a part of this clean, health-conscious, cruelty-free wave. In 2020, you’ll notice everyone – influencers, friends, and everyone in between – sporting their favorite clean makeup brands. Some of the most popular brands at the moment include Juice Beauty, Glossier, and one of my personal favorites, Burt’s Bees. 


CBD Everything

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Photo: Leafly.com

If you’ve noticed a sudden surge in CBD products amongst young people, you’re not alone. Obviously, CBD and THC have been around forever, but there has been an undeniable shift in popularity since US laws have begun to see these products in a more lax, forgiving light. Some of the most popular CBD products you’ll see on the market are tinctures, oils, lotions, and even tasty snacks, and they’re usually marketed to offer relaxation and tranquility. I’m personally a huge fan of CBD products, and several of my close friends are as well. Of course, always remember to make sure CBD is a safe, healthy alternative for you before diving into it!


E-Girl Blush

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Photo: Dazed.com

Personally, I am absolutely OBSESSED with the new E-Girl trends sweeping the world. I was first inspired by hip hop artist Doja Cat, and then, once my queen Jenna Marbles started wearing tons of pink blush, I decided to try it as well. Packing on tons of blush has quickly become a staple in Japanese fashion and E-Girl culture. I love the youthful flush it gives the face. Honestly, I hope this trend doesn’t fade out any time soon, because I think it’s adorable and it looks stunning on all different skin tones.


Warm Reds

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Photo: Good Housekeeping

Similarly to the rosy blush theme, warm-toned reds overall are very in right now (particularly for hair color). Warm-toned hair ranges from strawberry blonde to her dark, moodier sister, red velvet, and it’s been sweeping the red carpet thus far. I love warm-toned anything, and I think this trend in particular is absolutely gorgeous. Particularly on darker skin tones, reds and maroons are an absolutely gorgeous pairing. Warm hair combined with a warm blush? It’s a match made in heaven, folks. 


Blue Makeup

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Photo: stickybab.y on Instagram

On the opposite end of the spectrum, blue makeup has been popping up quite a bit on my social media as well. Blue can be a tricky color to wear, especially for folks who already have blue eyes. One of my personal favorite makeup icons at the moment is Havana (@stickybab.y), who draws her blue inspiration from the animated film Coraline. I personally think this trend is so fresh, so electric, and so perfect for spring. Needless to say, you may see me sporting some blue eyeliner in 2020. 


Tons of highlight

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Photo: Elle.com

Lastly (but certainly not least), packing on tons of highlight has been a huge makeup trend in 2019 and 2020. In general, I feel like shimmery, glittery makeup is really on-point right now. If you watch Vogue’s YouTube channel, you probably remember Grimes doing her makeup and literally packing loose glitter into her hairline (imagine trying to get that out in the shower!). Anyway, I think that the glowing highlighter trend is definitely here to stay, especially since so many brands are incorporating highlighter palettes into their 2020 collections. It’s a stunning pop of color, and it adds so much dimension to the face.

Source: https://www.whowhatwear.com/beauty-trends-2020/slide25