How to Live Victoriously, According to Shameless Maya

Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.

Jennifer Lee

I still remember the first video I ever watched by Maya, seven years ago, and how it made me feel. She was going to cut her lustrous curls to start over and learn to love herself without the mane, which was something I had just done for myself not long before. However, unlike Maya, I was feeling, well, terrible. It wasn’t just that I looked like a slightly more feminine version of my younger brother, nor that headbands just kept slipping off; rather, it was the fact that I felt like I had no idea what to do with my life. In many ways I transferred my emotional anxiety about forward movement and maturity onto my hair. I was feeling stuck, scared, and destructive. In my mind at the time, if I could change my hair then I would feel better about everything else. When I watched Maya go through the cutting process, even though I was already done with my own, I felt re-invigorated. I wanted to re-visit myself with kinder eyes and wade through the muck of my fears to arrive at a new appreciation for how beautiful the future can be if we allow ourselves to meet it shamelessly. I would cut my hair several more times (not a fast learner), but now I’m in a place where I don’t have to use my hair to force an emotional change.

Once again it feels like Maya has put out the content I needed before I even knew I needed it. Like Maya, I am on the cusp of a life change. And like Maya, I will have to work harder than ever before to see it through. While I’ve already planned with my husband how to make the changes, figured out where I hope to be – five year plans are underrated!- and gotten all the nuts and bolts arranged, I still find myself feeling unsure about the decision to go forth after my dreams. Thankfully, I’ve got an internet friend (in my head) who is skilled at giving permission. Below is Maya’s video on how to live victoriously. I hope it inspires you as much as it has me!

How to Take Care of Yourself After Finishing a Book or Any Major Project

When I started writing – like, seriously committing myself to getting the blasted thing done – I was armed with all the knowledge required to get from point A to point B. I spent hours researching the best times of day to work, how to craft a good hook for chapters, when to start each new draft, and how many words are deemed acceptable for each genre. In fact, I feel quite confident that I could write my own “how to” manifesto for first timers based on all of the tips and tricks I’ve acquired over the last year of my life. It was a wonderful experience, however time-intensive, and I’ve learned a great deal about not only the art of writing, but myself. I am in the debt of helpful authors who go out of their way to explain how lost souls like yours truly can arrive at the end of their manuscript with the hair on their heads intact.

However, the one thing no one thought to share with me was just how beaten up my body and mind would feel after completing the job. Most of the information I received went something like this:

“Write every day without rest, don’t over-think the first draft, and be sure to let someone you trust read through and give you notes before you dream of giving it to an editor. Oh, and once it’s done you’re going to feel wonderful! But don’t wait too long to start the next one.”

That’s a lot of information, right? But what’s missing is the piece that has got me bent out of shape, quite literally. You see, no one told me that after finishing my novel I would feel like someone took a baseball bat to my hips, or that I would feel as though a part of me was painfully exposed to the world. Those wonderfully helpful authors conveniently forget to inform me that I would be exhausted like never before – and I ran cross country! I suspect they knew I would back out of the endeavor if I knew what awaited me at the end. How many of us would do the thing if we knew said thing would make us cry? Luckily for you, I’m going to tell you what you need to know to bounce back from the writing, or any kind of major project, without going mad.

Stretch. Seriously!

We might have spent years at desks in school, but nothing can prepare you for sitting still for hours on end typing away with your eyes trained on a computer screen. Sure, I used to devote an unhealthy amount of time to chatting on AOL with my internet friends back in the day, but my post-20’s body isn’t as resilient as it used to be. My greatest physical complaints after finishing my book was how badly my back ached and the strain I felt in my wrists and fingers. I even had aches in my hip flexors and calves! It makes sense: your body is bent in one way for a long period of time that is unnatural for it. Your joints long for stretching and your muscles need a break. If I could do anything differently, it would be taking a rest every hour to two hours to stretch. I wouldn’t have needed to invest in massages and pain relief like I do now. Save yourself some money in the long run and go smell some flowers!

Isolation, like fear, is the mind killer.

Thanks to Henry David Thoreau, I thought it was mandatory for a writer, or serious artists (TM), to be cut-off from the world with only coffee and the agony of creation to keep one company. If I were to let people into my writing space surely I would be too distracted to complete my precious book. Well… that isn’t necessarily true. In fact, going to a writing workshop in Sacramento smack-dab  in the middle of finishing my final draft was exactly what I needed to keep me going and finish long before I would have on my own. Sometimes people suck, but sometimes people are what we need. By speaking with other writers I learned to put my process in perspective. A bonus: I learned how to take new chances with my writing.

You’re gonna need some TLC at the end.

I used to roll my eyes when people referred to their art as their children. I mean, there’s nothing like a living, breathing, crying, human coming out of you, right? Boy was I shocked when I was hit with a bout of depression that was unlike any previous episode I have hitherto experienced. Now, childbirth and writing are wildly different, but it made me rethink what people mean when they get defensive and protective of their creations. I went from joyous to fearful, then to resigned and grief-stricken. I felt like I had created a new piece of me only to put it into the hands of strangers with the power to destroy what I shared. I had several panic attacks as I inched closer to the final pages, even contemplating deleting the whole thing from my computer. It would be better, the shadow in my mind said, if no one ever got their hands on it. Thankfully, I didn’t listen.

You’re going to be all over the place once you’re done, so take care of your mind and body. Get in to see a therapist or counselor if you can afford it, speak with a beloved confidante, or write in your journal all those thoughts you dare not speak, because doing something of this magnitude is bound to have you discombobulated. You don’t have to fake joy when you might be feeling terror; this is a major step and major steps are difficult on the mind! Whatever you’re feeling, know that it will come in waves and eventually pass.

Embrace laziness!

Trust me, friend, you have earned a few extra hours of sleep and a blank mind. Our culture has a tendency to promote working ourselves to death like it’s an admirable quality, but your trusty aunt LaKase is here to put that misconception to rest. You have the right to put your mind to sleep. I’ve found that when I am immobile and without a pressing project the creativity naturally begins to spark. If you don’t give yourself space to just be a human without a plan you’re going to find yourself riddled with something worse than ulcers. Don’t believe me? Watch this video from the School of Life (my fave channel ever!) and see what you think.

That’s all from me this Monday, kids! Next week I will be back with more information about how to approach the creative process and media that is getting me excited about being a writer. Have a great week and don’t forget to take care of yourself!

Akira and the Evolution of Pain

Hi there my friends! Today I posted a new video to my YouTube channel exploring themes of pain, trauma, and healing in Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime masterpiece Akira. It’s no secret around these parts that my life has been forever changed and improved through the arts, and this is one film that came up for me just when I needed it most. Below is the video, and below that is a transcript of the video for you to read through. I hope you enjoy it!

Part I: Introduction

If you don’t know the story of Akira, let me break it down for you as quickly and succinctly as possible. On July 16 of 1988, Tokyo is destroyed by a superpowered psychic named Akira in a, for lack of a better word, big ass explosion. 31 years later in 2019, the city has been rebuilt into Neo-Tokyo, and it is a society of extremes: poverty, civil unrest, and glamorous, technicolor violence. A place where despite the constant battling they are going to host the 2020 summer Olympic Games. This is where we meet Tetsuo. He’s a member of a motorcycle gang comprised solely of angsty youths led by his best friend Kaneda.

 

Our introduction to the group is on a wild, and probably standard, night. They take off to start a battle with a rival motorcycle gang and get more than they bargained for. And while that is going on, we the viewers witness the city police murder a man as he is attempting to flee with a small child. That child continues to run from the city until he collides with Tetsuo, throwing young man from his motorcycle with psychokinetic power. Tetsuo and the child are apprehended by an appropriately shady government agency and whisked away to a facility to be poked and prodded. That’s where Tetsuo discovers he possesses terrifying powers.

 

Kaneda and the rest of the gang are apprehended when they witness Tetsuo being taken. At the police station Kaneda meets Kei, a young girl who is an activist and member of the resistance of Neo-Tokyo. From there, Kaneda begins to work with Kei to infiltrate the government facility in order to rescue Tetsuo and find out what kind of horrors are being enacted. 

Part II : The World Around Tetsuo and Kaneda

Katsuhiro Otomo,the writer and director of the film as well as the writer and artist of the manga, stated that he wanted to capture the feel and nature of Tokyo in vivid detail on screen in a way he couldn’t on the pages of a manga. He said:

“There were so many interesting people… Student demonstrations, bikers, political movements, gangsters, homeless youth… All part of the Tokyo scene that surrounded me. In Akira, I projected these elements into the future, as science-fiction.”

 

While Otomo expertly captured the grit and wonderment associated with our modern world, he also projected a depiction of pain and trauma that places Akira squarely at the forefront of cinema. Tetsuo and Kaneda exist in a world of contradictions: isolation but expansion, oppression but freedom, knowledge but ignorance. It’s a world on the cusp of two eternal transformations: destruction and rebirth. The film feels so prescient today, because we ourselves are struggling to make sense of very similar parameters. The film was at the forefront of exploring the insidiousness and truthfully vague nature of pain. In following Tetsuo and Kaneda we learn that trauma isn’t always clear-cut. It’s abandonment, cruel living conditions, verbal abuse, profiling, and poverty in addition to sexual and physical violence. Through Tetsuo we discover how the pain we carry in our minds can last long after the external wounds have healed.

 

Part III: The Evolution of Pain

 

When I talk about pain, it encompasses the physical way Tetsuo’s body bends and bloats to transform into a techno-flesh monstrosity, yes. But I also mean pain in the emotional, some would say abstract sense. It’s a feeling that changes with us, adapting, growing, and bursting forth when we least expect it. Pain changes while remaining the same. We humans may create technicolor dreamlands that have the power to descend into darkness, but we are never far removed from the curious apes we once were. Similarly, pain changes while remaining true to its nature. And each character is forced to adapt to the ever-evolving pain in our own way. Where Kaneda turns the pain into apathy – except were Kei and his friends are concerned – Tetsuo is a proxy for the rage associated with trauma and the pain that accompanies survival.

Earlier, I mentioned that Tetsuo was apprehended and imprisoned with a small boy. Well, that small boy is one of three beings with psychic abilities that Tetsuo meets while imprisoned. Known as The Espers, they are actually adults trapped in the bodies of the children they were 31 years ago. They were the contemporaries of Akira and witnessed first-hand what his power could do. And they know the weight of pain better than most.

Kiyoko, number 25 (girl) Takashi, number 26 (boy who was escaping) and Masaru, number 27 (floating wheelchair) represent the adult effects of pain and trauma. Literally stunted in growth as many of us are emotionally, they creak and whisper as though the act of living were a marathon. They are what Tetsuo will become in time if he remains trapped in his cycle of suffering.

But where the Espers were unable to escape the cycle of abuse, Tetsuo adopts a very modern approach: burning shit down. He seeks out Akira for help after being told by Kiyoko that he is still alive and hidden underground. Tetsuo becomes so consumed by the power – his rage – that he is destroyed then remade into the mass I referenced earlier. He is twisted until he crushes and murders those around him. When he finally succumbs to the suffering, Akira appears.

 

The boy Akira (or number 28) represents inherited, generational trauma. He is Tetsuo’s past, as well as his potential future. When we try to contain and bury the trauma, it explodes. In that regard Tetsuo is a natural progression. Tetsuo didn’t find relief from the agony until someone who understood the weight manifested to aid him : Akira himself. And that’s often what it takes to survive the ever-changing nature of pain and trauma – the empathy of others, especially those who have themselves seen it.

Part IV: Closing

Who are we when we find relief? Who can we become? Free. Things go differently in the manga, which I highly recommend, but the film itself ends with Tetsuo’s transcendence. He goes to another plane, another Universe, perhaps another dimension to begin again. Perfect or not, Akira helps him to escape.

 

I’ve stated again and again that pain is an ever-changing force, adapting to us as we attempt to outrun it. It is messy as hell, unfair, and eventually forces us to make an impossible choice. Do we fight back to go forward or do we remain wrapped in that warm embrace of sorrow? Who can we become when we find relief, and at what cost? That, it seems, is up to us.

 

 

Working From Home? I Got You, Boo.

I’ve been doing this whole writing thing for a minute, so I can safely say that working on your own time is a pain in the ass. Sure, it’s liberating and I have a different sense of fulfillment, but it is objectively difficult to keep myself in line! It’s easy to slack off when you only have to answer to yourself; no one is there to check over your shoulder, or shoot judgment your way for scrolling through Twitter for an hour.

Honestly? The whole thing can be a recipe for disaster.

However, after all this time, I’m finally getting the hang of it. So, today I want to share how I keep from freaking out while I work from home and maybe – just maybe – you won’t freak out either. Let’s get to it!

 

Get dressed

It’s oh-so-tempting to stay in those jammies, but trust me here: it’s a trap.

Image result for its a trap

First you stay in your pajamas, then you stay in bed, then you want five more minutes of sleep, THEN you start watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 until you’ve passed out in a puddle of slobber. The easiest way to avoid said trap is getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, and putting on clothes. It sets the mind in motion to get ish done.

Eat something and get some water

Next up is my favorite part. FOOD. You’re just coming out of a temporary coma and that body needs fuel. So, you can have the coffee- and I’ll support a doughnut – but you have to make sure to drink some water as well. Staying properly hydrated can curve headaches, body pains, and that feeling of lethargy that hits us all after a few minutes of performing personhood.

Turn off your phone 

I think this one is the most difficult, but it’s also the best way to make sure you stay on track. I totally get it if you have safety reasons to keep your phone on, but perhaps consider notifying folks that for a few hours per day you won’t be available? I like to put my phone on airplane mode for 2 hours at a time, then check it to make sure I haven’t worked through the apocalypse. It might not sound like much, but those 2 hour increments give me a goal to work toward in a positive way, instead of feeling like punishment. But, I also make sure that I do no more than 20-30 minutes with the phone before powering back down.

beck bennett snl GIF by Saturday Night Live

 

Be sure to stretch

This is a new one for me, but it’s already making a difference in how I’m able to work. I kept going to bed with aches that I couldn’t explain in joints I didn’t know existed, so my husband suggested trying different yoga stretches to alleviate the tension. After a few days of stepping away from my desk to do light stretching and steady breathing every few hours (usually after checking my phone), I noticed an immediate difference. I also dread the work day less now that my body is feeling better.

Doing anything is difficult when you’re in physical pain, so be good to those joints.

 

Make a playlist that you can (realistically) work to

I’d like to believe my empowering club bangers and dancehall beats can power me through the day, but I’ve discovered the music I love to cut loose to was actually just derailing me. I can’t work in total silence, but having a party at my desk was becoming so distracting that I was barely typing anything, because I was too busy dancing.

mary j blige dancing GIF

You don’t have to listen to chamber music, or moody wailing, but I suggest creating a distinction between party time and business time. Music is a great way to relax  – just make sure you’re not so relaxed that your work is a secondary thought.

Start and stop at the same time every day

Last but not least: time, baby, time. If you’re going all loosey-goosey with your time then chances are you’re going to put off starting to the last second. You know what that does? Keeps you at your desk too late, or you end up giving up, because you think the day is shot. Now, you don’t have to start at dawn, but I recommend thinking about your productivity schedule. What I mean by that is this: do you work best at 9 a.m? Are you more likely to hit your peak in the afternoon? Whatever works best for you, stick to it! Once you’ve decided your window of work time, don’t move it so that it becomes a routine.

 

hilarious kermit the frog GIF

And that’s it! These are just a few of the tips I’ve picked up along the way, however I think they’re totally the most useful. What about you? Do you work from home, and if so, how do you stay afloat?

Until next time, take care!

 

 

 

Self-Care 101: Sunshine

GIRL. (or guy)

Did you know seasonal depression is real, and definitely not something I made up to get out of going to a boring Christmas function? I could never quite put my finger on why it was so hard for me to leave bed from October to March (give or take a few weeks), yet it was easy as pie once the warmer weather rolled around. For a while I thought it was just due to my association of summer with freedom, but now I know it’s a legit thing.

James Curran GIF
Giphy

As we slide into colder weather, our bodies are directly affected by the seasonal change,  i.e. minimal exposure to the sun, our serotonin levels drop. This is important, because serotonin regulates our anxiety and overall mood, and decreased serotonin has been tied to depression. With less sunlight exposure comes decreased Vitamin D, increased likelihood of specific types of cancer, and skin conditions such as acne. Of course, you shouldn’t go outside sans sun protection like hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses, but being in the light more often than not is better for our bodies than staying in.  If you are physically, or mentally, unable to leave the house consider taking Vitamin D supplements and increasing your time with the windows and blinds open. I know better than most that sometimes just leaving the house is far too much to ask. Still, I get closer to being well by cracking open the window.

SpongeBob SquarePants GIF
Giphy

So, slather on some sunscreen, run around in your neighborhood, and soak up that good stuff! If you aren’t able to yet, then sit by the window and listen to the world as it wakes back up. Just remember that feeling better after a long winter takes time and create enough space in your mind to be filled up with some joy. Tough? Yep. Good? Definitely.