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On Starting Something New and Holden Caulfield as a Fictional Friend

I start my new job in just a few weeks, and I am so excited to go back to school (as a teacher this time!). I know not everyone is a freak like me when it comes to school, but I adore school. I love the smell of old textbooks and new notebooks. I love back-to-school clothes, sharpening a new pencil, and the feeling of anticipation that accompanies a new school year. I also know that so many people hate going back to school and that it brings up a lot of stress and anxiety. I know a lot of people feel very lonely when they go back to school because it's back to the cliques and the Will-They-Like-Me-Oh-Gee-I-Hope-They-Like-Me-Ness of being in a new context. This feeling is not exclusive to school, but rather seems to accompany any significant change. I was certainly not immune to it.

I've said it numerous times, and I'll say it again here: There is nothing in the world that a good book cannot fix. One of the major benefits of reading literature is that you can find someone just like you, and sometimes a writer will come along and write something that sounds like exactly what you've been thinking or feeling. Sometimes a writer will write something that feels like home, and that is the best feeling in the world.

When I went away to college, I spent a lot of time reading. More often than not, it was for class, but at a certain point, I began acquiring books at a concerning rate. My college bedrooms often had to be carefully navigated due to the precarious mountains of books stacked everywhere (until I bought a cheap bookshelf, which I filled in three months' time). Books have their own energy. Books feel like limitless potential. Books are that friend from childhood you can call up anytime, and nothing has changed. You can read a book 100 times and still find something you never noticed before.

The summer between eighth grade and freshman year of high school was particularly intimidating for me. I had made my high school's drumline and somehow managed to be in one of the more challenging and coveted sections of the drumline itself. I had had approximately 3 months of drum lessons and had only performed 1/3rd of the audition piece, yet miraculously I wound up where I did. I spent much of my summer in the company of people I didn't know and who were (or seemed at the time) much older than I was. I was ill-prepared, young, and terrified.

That summer, I read The Catcher in the Rye everywhere. I read it during downtime at sectionals, in my parents' backyard, at the pool, at the dentist; it was always with me. My dad would tell me that this was serial-killer behavior after the fact, but at the time, there didn't seem to be anything weird about it. I was moving between middle school and high school, and it felt like a very sudden shift. Middle school is a weird time of figuring out if you're still a kid or if you're going to choose to grow up early. I tended to err more on the side of still being a kid, but that truly is such an awkward space for everyone. Holden Caulfield seemed like a fair match for how I was feeling at the time; unsure of himself, but sure he wanted something genuine and pure. On the cusp of adulthood but unsure of how to handle it. Experimenting a lot with swear words.

I read that book nine times in one summer, and I think I'm a better person for having done so. Holden Caulfield taught me that young people's thoughts (my thoughts) are just as valid, vibrant, and complex as those of adults, and that each person has an inner life worthy of respect and acknowledgment. He taught me about coping with loss and occupying the awkward space of adolescence. He taught me to decide what to care about and to stick to my guns. He taught me to be compassionate and to think of other people, even when it was easy to get wrapped up in myself.

I know that anyone with an ounce of literary sense or coolness scoffs at the mention of Catcher in the Rye. I know it's an in-joke of The Society of Elite Book-Snobs and that rolling your eyes at the mention of the novel is the password to the speakeasy that is Being a Totally Cool Reader of Literature Who Only Reads Cool Obscure Experimental Literature. But Catcher in the Rye was an invaluable friend to me when I was in desperate need of one. Every adolescent faces the feeling of not being understood. Every adolescent feels as though they are in their own bubbles of unique discomfort and awkwardness and that everyone around them is judging them. I would like to offer a quotation by someone very smart on this point:

"You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do." - David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (another book that the literary elite will laugh at you for having read because this time, you're a pretentious hipster for doing so... you can't please everyone, is my point here)

This quotation, for some, is depressing. "Nobody thinks about me? That's awful!" I don't see it that way. We, as human beings, are designed to think of our world through ourselves and our experiences. We are naturally self-centered beings because we have no other natural point of reference. So, when you are feeling like everyone can see you and is making fun of you or laughing at you because you've done something mildly embarrassing, the chances are, someone else around you feels the same way because they're also doing something mildly embarrassing. That means that that person and most of the other people around you are too wrapped up in whether or not other people have noticed their mildly embarrassing tendencies to actually notice that you've done something mildly embarrassing. Do you see what I mean?

Circling back to my point about reading, books are one of the few things that can give you a point of reference outside of yourself through which to see the world. Books can teach you empathy. Books can emanate warmth and comfort and kindness and understanding while simultaneously teaching you how to put those things out into the world yourself. Books are tremendous tools not only for soothing loneliness, but for bringing people together. I would encourage anybody who is starting something new, be it the school year, a job, a relationship, anything at all, to find something that speaks to you and read it. Read with abandon. Read about people like you. Read about people totally different from you. Read far and wide and deep. Spend your time with good books and good people. Spend your time reading something totally ridiculous. Spend your time immersed in a new world. Just don't forget that you are not alone in feeling lonely, and that sincerity and a willingness to engage with the world around you is tough, but worth it.

I hope those of you who stuck through and read this post found something meaningful in it. I often write these little diatribes, but never know if people really care about them. I could've made a listicle of TEN BOOKS TO READ WHEN YOU ARE FEELING SOUL-CRUSHINGLY LONELY AND AS THOUGH YOU ARE THE ONLY HUMAN BEING WHO FEELS THE WAY THAT YOU FEEL RIGHT NOW so that it was easier to click on and more attention-grabby, but that feels trite and insincere.

Thanks for being here.
Yours Oddly,

Back Again!

Hello, my old friends! I'm finally back and ready to write after what has felt like a very long break. Thank you very much for being so patient with me and sticking around while I've been gone. I appreciate those of you who read this blog and who spend time checking in and checking out what I've got going on here. You are really what makes this space so special, and I'm grateful for each one of you. Let's talk about what's going to be different here from now on.

As you may have noticed, the design of the blog is a bit different. I like this cleaner, more open look for this space, and I like that you can type at the very top of the page and search for things you might like to find here. Besides the basic aesthetic change, the design is much the same as it was before. You can still click through the labels on the side if you'd like to see all the posts in one particular category, and all of the links to the social media associated with this blog are under the "Stay In Touch" header on the right hand side. This is a small change, but I think it makes a huge difference.

In terms of posts, two things I want to keep  are weekend wrap-ups and book reviews. Those are the most consistent things I was posting for a long time, and I'm glad to keep them here. However, the schedule for book reviews won't be quite as rigid as it used to be. I see no reason to only post a book review once every other week, and if I have more books to talk about one month than another, so be it. My hope for this blog is to write better stuff on here, not just more. In fact, I think there will probably be fewer posts on the blog from here on out, but they will be better because I'll be spending more time writing them.

I think for the ~20 months I've been writing this blog, I haven't known what I wanted it to be. I tried my hand at writing about beauty products and makeup because that was something I was really into for a while. I tried writing about my faith in different ways, but that never felt authentic or meaningful. I wrote book reviews, but they weren't particularly good or in-depth in terms of analysis of the text or thoughtful opinions on the books. My hope is that from here on out, I will write more meaningful and thoughtful posts on this blog. I write here because I love to write and I love to share the things I care about with other people. I write here because I want to document this time of my life and watch how I grow. I am so grateful for those of you who have stuck around and who think my thoughts are interesting. I hope you enjoy this blog moving forward and that you find something you like here. Thanks so much for being here!

Yours Oddly,

A New Direction

Hello, friends! So, I know this blog has been inconsistent and neglected lately, and I want to take a minute to talk about what this space will be moving forward. I know, I know: Ally, you've written a bunch of posts talking about this. Please just bear with me here.

I haven't really ever figured out what I want this space to be; I just know I want it to reflect the things I care about and for it to be a space in which I talk about my life, how it's changing, and the ideas and events that inspire me, make me think, and change my perspective.

I read lots of blogs, and I've been dabbling and experimenting with different kinds of stuff on here. I've written a few beauty posts. I've written some posts about faith. I've written about music, books, art, my life, the things I love, and the things I struggle with. I don't regret any of these things, but I do regret the way I went about writing lots of them.

I haven't been putting much time into writing what I've been writing on the blog for a little while now. My master's program was so intense, and I was so frazzled and frustrated most of the time that writing on the blog was not a priority, even though I enjoyed it. You can see this in the trajectory of my posts over the last year. When I had breaks, like I did in December of 2016, the quality of the writing was much better. When I was busy, the writing wasn't as solid or well thought out. I want to change that.

I'm going to take a break until the beginning of August. Regular posting here will resume on August 7, and will hopefully follow a regular schedule. I am also planning on enacting a new layout or theme to the blog that makes it a little more streamlined and less cluttered. All of the posts I've written up to this point will still be available and will not be filed away into some digital archive. I'll continue on with book reviews, but most of what will be on here from now on will be like short essays and musings on things that go on in my life and in the world around me. I'm happiest when I'm writing about things I care about, and I'm excited to push forward in this new direction.

Thank you for bearing with me here; I'm working out what I want this blog to look like and feel like, and I've finally come to realize that I needed a new direction and to create a space I care about and love to work with.

I'll see you in August!
Yours Oddly,

Bi-Weekly Book Review: In Defense of Food || Michael Pollan

I picked up In Defense of Food at a Barnes & Noble a few years ago and had never gotten around to reading it. I took it off the shelf again in mid-May in order to learn a little bit more about food ethics and nutrition, a topic I've recently become interested in since I've been trying to work out a better diet and want to know a bit more about ethical food consumption. I wish I had read this book as soon as I got it, because I would have made more changes sooner.

In Defense of Food is written by the journalist Michael Pollan, who has written numerous books on the topics of food, food ethics, nutrition, and food culture. His credentials are majorly impressive, so I'll link them to you here. Pollan writes intelligently without being condescending, and breaks each concept down so a reader with little to no background knowledge can follow along and understand very well. I learned a lot while reading this book, and found it very informative.

Pollan's main point in this book is that in modern America, we have strayed away from anything even remotely resembling a food culture, which he defines as the ways of eating that are handed down from generation to generation. In our current culture, we value convenience over connection and do not take the time to prepare real meals without shortcuts. Pollan delves into the benefits of cooking from scratch and eating like our families might have eaten 100 years ago before all the processed and packaged foods showed up at the market.

One of the parts of the book that totally floored me was the part where Michael Pollan discusses how much money and politics have affected the ways we eat in the United States. There are some incredibly unethical things happening behind the scenes that the average consumer isn't aware of, and I definitely want to become more informed on the intersections of politics, big business, and my everyday life. This entire book just made me want to be more informed about everything, honestly.

In Defense of Food is obviously biased in the direction of challenging the mainstream and ditching the current food culture (or lack thereof) of America. I'm here for it, but I definitely recognize that there is bias. In some sections of the book, Pollan discusses various dietary fads throughout history and how little research there is to back them up. However, in the same vein, there isn't always research to support the ways of eating that he holds up as superior. I think if you approach this book with a critical eye, you'll find out some information that will change the way that you look at food.

I definitely recommend reading this book for anyone who's interested in food ethics or food culture. I don't have any similar books to recommend, but I definitely want to pick up more books on