What Would Leslie Knope Do

It is after dinner on a Saturday night when I sit down to write what will become my first blog post in over three months. I can’t say I planned to take a break, but I can understand why it happened. I have a tendency to burn myself out. After a few weeks, the novelty of keeping up with one or two weekly posts had worn off, and I was back to where I started, unsure of how to love what I do. 

I wish I could trace my return to blogging back to a single moment. But inspiration is rarely as cinematic as we would like it to be. It was really a series of little moments that lead me back here. It was lots of staring at my desk and thinking, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” and lots of difficult tomorrows. It was a few tears sessions with my beloved therapist. It was an Instagram post from a friend where she talked about diving into things before we’re quite ready. And it was Leslie Knope.

My little sister is watching Parks and Rec for the first time, and I’m rewatching the whole show from top to bottom for the first time (I’ve rewatched certain episodes dozens of times, but never the whole show) along with her. Parks and Rec is one of those things that reminds me of why I miss breathing (if this sounds like gibberish to you, I’m referencing my first blog post). I first fell in love with the show when I was a very miserable high schooler, and I’ve clung to the joy it brings me for years.

When people ask me why I love Parks and Rec so much, the answer is always the same: because of Leslie. Leslie Knope is hardworking, passionate, and completely self-directed. She loves wholly and she pours herself singularly into her goals. I think my favorite thing about the show is how everyone in her life loves Leslie and would do anything for her because she has already proven that she would do the same for them. Leslie Knope is everything I aspire to be.

When I say that Leslie Knope is part of the reason I wanted to come back to Miss Breathing, it’s because I came to an odd and jarring little conclusion: I think Leslie would be disappointed in me. 

     A fellow Capricorn, Leslie is a true perfectionist. The major difference, however, is that she doesn’t allow her dreams of perfection to hold her back from trying. Meanwhile, I created a blog as a means to reacquaint myself with imperfection, and I quit it after a few weeks because I was afraid it wasn’t good enough. See the problem? 

     I’m not trying to invalidate myself and the fact that, some days, writing words is the most difficult thing on earth. I know Leslie is fictional and her problems are confined to the beautifully solvable three-act structure. It isn’t fair to compare my very real problems to Leslie Knope’s narrative ones. But still. I can’t help but think Leslie would put in at least a bit more effort than I have.

     Since starting my Parks and Rec rewatch, I find myself wondering what Leslie would do in my place. It’s hard to say what Leslie would do with clinical depression and a wounded ego, but the best I think she would definitely try. She would try to keep up with a blog, even if she failed. She would try to write the novel. She would try to keep up with the bookstagram account. She would try her best, regardless of all the ways she could fail. 

     But, because Leslie isn’t here and I am, I’ve had to reevaluate my goals and expectations for myself. Instead of expecting a flawless blog and perfect manuscript right off the bat, I’ve decided that my new goal is to write something every day. Some days it will be a blog post or a chunk of my WIP that I can be proud of. Other days it might be a book review for my bookstagram account. And some days it will be a single, hard-earned sentence that never sees the light of day. And I will do my best to be equally proud of them all.

     I don’t know why, but I feel like that’s what Leslie Knope would do in my shoes, with all my fears and insecurities and hopes and aspirations.

Yours hopefully, 

Miss Breathing

11 Scary Stories To Read This October

Spooky Season is finally upon us!

For this season’s edition of My Favorite Things, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite scary stories. This list is dedicated to short fiction–since I’m sure you can easily find dozens if not hundreds of scary novel recommendations out there. The titles on this list were handpicked by yours truly and whittled down to only the eeriest, scariest stories I know of. And, for your convenience, I’ve included a “spookiness rating” to separate the eerie from the scary and the scary from the down-right nightmarish.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Happy (and haunted) reading!

Yours always,

Miss Breathing

Harry by Rosemary Timperley
Rating: scary

There’s a reason I included two Timperley stories in this list: she’s that good. “Harry” is a beautifully written story about a mother’s growing weariness toward her young daughter’s imaginary friend Harry. Timpereley’s makes great use of literary language in this story. Intrigue is built and maintained so well that reaching the story’s climax feels at once dreadful and inevitable.

This one’s not for the faint of heart, though. I’d recommend you skip it if malevolent spirits and creepy kids aren’t your thing.

Control Negro by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
Rating: chilling, but not at all scary

Strictly speaking, this is not a horror story; but, it’s haunting nonetheless. This story is written in the form of a letter from father to son. As the story unravels, we learn that this letter is an apology. I don’t want to give too much away, but I urge you to read this one.

If you like your spooks in the vein of Jordan Peele, full of cerebral social commentary, this one is for you! There are no ghosts or demons anywhere in it, but this is one of those stories you won’t be able to shake.

In the Tube by E.F. Benson
Rating: very scary

Making use of a conversation between friends as a framing device, this story details a man’s ghostly encounters in the London Tube. The descriptions of the paranormal are superb–eerie and believable and at times downright terrifying. (I could write an entire essay on why the supernatural elements work so well here).

While certainly not a perfect story (Benson falls repeatedly into the “too much telling, not enough showing” trap), I highly recommend this one if you’re looking for something haunting and full of rich imagery. Just don’t blame me for your nightmares!

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Rating: bone-chilling and eerie as hell, but not scary

This is another one of those genre-defying stories that, although free of any supernatural elements, shocks and rattles readers to our cores. A haunting exploration of mob-mentality, this story takes place on the day of a small village’s annual lottery. Shirley Jackson remains unrivaled in her ability to so elegantly and seamlessly establish a tone of horror within descriptions of the mundane. This is the type of story one could read over and over.

Eight Bites by Carmen Maria Machado
Rating: chilling and just a little bit spooky

Like most of Machado’s works, this is social commentary at its core. Set in a futuristic but recognizable universe, the story focuses on a woman’s decision to undergo a surgery that will prohibit her from eating more than eight bites of any food. Machado’s poetic style of prose is one of a kind, albeit at times pretentious. This story is richly imagined and just the right amount of spooky.

Content Warning: This story could be triggering to anyone with a history of eating disorders.

The Sweeper by A.M. Burrage (Ex-Private X)
Rating: scary

In this story, the young new employee at a wealthy old woman’s estate becomes increasingly frightened by the mysterious sweeper who sweeps the yard late into the night. The writing in this one is a tad embellished, and the story runs a bit long, but it is oh-so-scary. This story has the single best (and spookiest) description of a ghost I have ever read. If you’re here for spooks, this one’s for you!

This is easily one of my favorite stories by one of my favorite writers, and I simply cannot recommend it enough. I promise you will never forget this one!

The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
Rating: spooky

I had to limit myself to only one Poe because otherwise, this would have just been a list of his stories. I can’t imagine there is anything I could say about this one that has not already been said, but I love it so. This story starts with a man luring another down into the catacombs under the pretext of showing him some wine. Unsurprisingly, things get very spooky.

This story is a testament to the darkness of Poe’s imagination and a brilliant exploration of evil. No ghosts or demons in this one either, just very evil men.

Christmas Meeting by Rosemary Timperley
Rating: spooky

This story details a curious encounter between two lonely souls on Christmas day. Approximately three pages long, it is the perfect length for a quick read that’ll haunt you for days. Timperley packs in a surprising amount of spooks and twists into this one, making it the perfect October read.

The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado
Rating: eerie but not scary

At an author reading at the Harvard Bookstore, Machado referred to this story as her “hit single.” This dark and twisty retelling of “The Green Ribbon” enamored critics with its feminist overtones. Machado carefully balances all the creepy elements of the original story with more modern spooks surrounding femininity and marriage and sex. While it runs a bit long, I promise you will never be able to shake that last, haunting image.

Content Warning: This story contains graphic depictions of sex and some gore.

The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
Rating: eerie and thrilling, but not spooky

If you’re looking for an atmospheric and twisty read, minus all the creepy crawlies that typically come attached, this one is for you! The Most Dangerous Mind is the story of a castaway who, following a shipwreck, finds himself alone in a wealthy and mysterious gentleman’s private island.

I first read this one back in middle school, and it stuck with me for years and years. Revisiting it in adulthood, I was pleased to find that the story holds up as one of the eeriest I’ve ever come across. Plus, the Zodiac Killer quoted this in his infamous letters to the police, so it doesn’t get any spookier than that.

The Hitch-Hiker by Lucille Fletcher
Rating: very spooky

This was technically written as a radio play, and it is, therefore, a bit more dialogue-heavy than your typical ghost story. Luckily, transcripts are easy to come by, and I highly recommend it for fans of classic ghost stories. It follows a man on a cross-country road trip as he tries to make sense of the unsettling hitchhiker he inexplicably keeps seeing throughout his trip. This story goes seamlessly from atmospheric to oppressive so that, by the last few lines, you are quite literally at the edge of your seat.

How Tarot Helps Me Out of Writer’s Block

To put it plainly, I’m stuck.

I’m in the middle of a creative rut that’s equal parts writer’s block and quarter-life-crisis. All the pressure I’ve been putting on myself to write the perfect story and to keep a quality blog has driven me to a place of inaction.

Recently, I started wondering about what I can do to drag myself out of that place. I used to think that the way out was forcing myself to work harder, but the only things that ever got me were sleepless nights and migraines. Now I realize that the best way through an impossibly huge task is by taking baby steps. (Credit where credit is due: this revelation is 100% my therapist’s doing. So thanks for the wisdom, Dr. R!).

I can’t expect myself to write a whole novel overnight. I can’t expect that all my blog posts will be perfect and garner hundreds of likes when I’ve only been at it for a month and a half. But I can start taking small steps towards those goals. So I began asking myself what exactly I could do to feel like I’m making progress. My therapist suggested I start by thinking about doing the challenging thing, but that isn’t what I need—think about writing all the time. Then I remembered what I used to do before I fell into this spell of inactivity.

In the past, whenever life became too confusing, I’d turn to the cards.

When I first started reading Tarot, I had a tendency to use the cards to dwell on or reevaluate situations and feelings already in the past. Over and over and over again. Shockingly, that did not yield any results. I was using the cards for rumination, instead of treating them as the useful tools that they are. Tarot cards, I now realize, aren’t meant to tell us how many children we’ll have or when we’re going to die (according to a “card reader’ who does readings in a dingy Boston apartment next to a Subway, I’ll have three kids with the dark-haired love of my life and die in my late 80s).

The most effective use for Tarot cards is in trying to gain clarity about a situation. The cards can reveal the universal forces at work around us. They can help us see obstacles we might be blind to. And, yes, they can hint at our future. We might not get our one true love’s initials from a reading, but we can gain a better understanding of what holds us back in love.

In writerly terms, a Tarot reading won’t hold all the answers. I’m sorry to report, Dear Reader, that I have not found the one true cure for writer’s block. But the cards do bring clarity. They help me understand the reasons for my lack of motivation. They help me see the forces at work around me that I couldn’t see before. In short, they are not a solution but a small step in the right direction.

So, Dear Reader, what do I want you to take away from this post? Part of me wants to tell everyone to get a Tarot card reading. (A reliable one, please. Don’t make my mistakes! The last thing you need if you’re suffering from writer’s block is a lady in a headscarf charging you 20$ to tell you how you’ll die.). Part of me wants to encourage you to learn your own cards (less risk of being ripped off). But, in truth, this isn’t about the cards. Not really. It’s about the slow and unsteady path to creating and about the small steps that get us there.

It doesn’t really matter whether our journey starts with just thinking about writing or a deck of cards or a moonlit ritual involving palm leaves and incantations (don’t ask). What matters is starting. What matters is that we find our way back after falling off the path—no matter how many times we have to do it.

Tonight, Dear Reader, I’m lighting a white candle, saying my prayers, and reading my cards. It’s not a novel, and it’s not an award-worthy blog post, but it is a start. I encourage you to take a small step today too.

Love,

Miss Breathing

Oh, F*ck! It’s a Period Piece…

You might remember from an earlier post, that I’m using a couple of guidebooks to aid in the process of writing my first novel. Well, a couple of weeks ago, I was reading The Everything Guide To Writing Your First Novel and breezing through the novel elements checklist on Chapter 3. That is, until I reached the Setting subsection. I had (and still have) a pretty good idea of where my story is set, but the problem wasn’t the where; it was the when. The more I thought about the story that I’m trying to tell and all the elements at play in the world I’ve created, the more obvious it became. There’s no way around it: Carrot Cake is a period piece. 

I use the term “period piece” somewhat fearfully, since it likely conjures images of medieval dungeons and petticoats and chainmail, and my story has none of these things. And yet it is a period piece because it takes place in the past, in a time before smartphones and WiFi. My story takes place, I now realize, at some point between the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.

You’re probably wondering if such a “small” change is even worth it. Dear Reader, I promise you I tried to avoid it. For a while, I tried to convince myself that the changes would be minuscule, and that twenty-some years would scarcely make a difference. But none of that is true. Our world has changed considerably over the last two decades, and Anne Marie’s story simply doesn’t fit in this modern world.

I toyed around briefly with the idea of adopting a timeless setting and never actually specifying the time period—something I have done in the past with some success (by “success” I mean that it went over well with the other students in my writing workshop). But I believe the reason it worked in the past is because the piece in question was a screenplay.

It’s easier to get away with an ambiguous time setting in film because film is a medium of omission. As we start to learn the rules of the world on-screen, we rather readily accept that what we don’t see on-screen does not exist in this world. For example, I was happy to hear among the workshop responses for the screenplay I mentioned above, that it “reads like a timeless story-of-our-childhood movie.” Besides being an awesome thing to hear about your writing, this validated my choice not to include any modern technology. I never specified a time, and I was careful about what to include, and, perhaps more importantly, about what to exclude.

Onscreen, it’s relatively easy to get away with ambiguity in the setting. Who knows when “Moonrise Kingdom” takes place? Or the popular show “Twin Peaks?” The idea is that they could be set at any time in recent history. This technique, however, doesn’t translate as well into prose. I know because I’ve tried to use it. Every time I take a story to workshop, at least a handful of the readers want to know how the story fits into current events. Last year, I wrote a story set in Puerto Rico, and my professor said I needed to reference Hurricane Maria, even though I hadn’t specified the time when the story took place.

In literature, if we are not explicitly told otherwise, we assume the story is set in the present. Therefore, if I were to write Carrot Cake in a way that is true to my vision, I expect it would prompt a lot of questions about the time. So, in summary, I’m screwed.

Because writing a period piece means doing a boatload of research.

Back in college, I read Syd Field’s book “Screenplay” for a screenwriting class. (I majored in Media Studies, in case you hadn’t yet caught the obnoxious film student vibe). Field says that “every creative decision must be made by choice, not necessity,” and that “the more you know, the more you can communicate.” Both quotes are meant to illustrate the importance of research, and both have stuck with me through the years.

In the past, I’ve always tried to steer clear of stories that might require a lot of research. It’s not that I’m bad at it; in fact, my attention to detail and my perfectionist spirit mean that I’m actually quite good at research. And, unlike those writers who would much rather zoom through the researching stage and get to the “real” writing, I do not dread research. I love it. That, I think, is the problem. 

I’m such a fan of rules and of doing things “right,” that I’m easily sucked down the research rabbit hole. I can already see myself determined to read every article and every book about the time period. In fact, I’m even wondering if I should start by researching how to research for a novel. Not that I don’t have research experience—let’s face it 70% of college is research—but, in the past, it’s been relatively easy to know when to stop researching and start writing. In college, I’d stop researching when I was nearing a deadline. At work, I’d stop when I got a new assignment. Yet I was always left with the feeling that there was more to uncover.

And that is where I’m at right now: not quite sure where to start researching and scared that, once I start, I won’t know when to stop. Which brings me back to my original sentiment—fuck, it’s a period piece!

Yours,

Miss Breathing

Note: Carrot Cake is the name of my current WIP, and Anne Marie is my protagonist’s name. If you want to know more about my novel progress, you can start with my previous post What If It’s A Novel?

My Favorite Things: Summer 2019

Shorts have given way to jeans, school buses are back to making morning traffic even more hellish, and supermarkets have started filling their aisles with big bags of candy. Although we’re still a ways away from the Autumnal Equinox, it’s safe to say summer 2019 is already over. As an autumn lover, I’m more than ready for my favorite season to properly begin, but, as I get ready to say goodbye to summer 2019, I feel I should highlight some of the things that brought me joy this summer. 

I’ve decided to start a new tradition here on Miss Breathing. Every month, I’ll try to draw up a short list of some of my favorite nerdy things. These aren’t necessarily new things, just things I’ve been enjoying lately. I want this to be like Oprah’s list, but way nerdier. A way to spread the geekish love. 

So, without further ado, here is my first ever list of favorite things. I hope you enjoy!

Books

Blogging For Writers by Robin Houghton: Books about the internet are a bit of an oxymoron, I’ll admit. They can easily become outdated, and this one is no exception. That being said, I found it extremely useful in the process of starting this blog. Basically, without this book, there would be no Miss Breathing. 

In one of my earlier posts, I spoke more in-depth about my love of rules. I love having guidelines and roadmaps, and I was lost when I decided to start Miss Breathing. Then I found this book while browsing at Barnes & Noble. It is specifically meant to help writers and authors create a space for themselves on the Internet. It touches on everything from the basic technical aspects of starting a blog to what type of content gets the most reads. It’s been a huge help, as evidenced by the millions of sticky notes and highlights on my copy, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to start a blog of their own. 

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire KannAlice is an asexual college student who, after a nasty breakup, decides to stop trying to find love. But then she meets Takumi, her kind and handsome new coworker, and she has to figure out what it means to be asexual and in love.

Asexuality is seldom discussed (like at all), so it was incredibly refreshing to read a book about a bi-romantic, asexual Black woman trying to figure out romance. This novel doesn’t just skirt around the topic of asexuality. Rather, it explicitly explores asexuality in the context of a crush, which in itself is remarkable because it goes against the erroneous idea that ace people inherently want nothing to do with love or romance. While asexuality is different to every individual ace-spec person, this book is a great introduction to the subject for those looking to know more.

So, while I found the prose a bit stilted and clichéd, I’d be remiss not to include it in my favorite things of the summer. I dog-eared and underlined so many passages. This book is important, and it made the slower moments and imperfect writing style worth it. I don’t just recommend this book—I urge you to read it. Whether or not we personally know an ace-spec person, we all have a lot of learning to do on the subject, and this novel is a great start. Bonus: it’s also a cute story with a happy ending! 

Red White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: The First Son of the United States and the Prince of England are sworn enemies, but all that changes when they are forced to spend time together and their true feelings begin to come to the surface.

Let’s get real: if this isn’t one of your favorite books of 2019, it’s probably because you haven’t read it yet. What can I say about this exquisite book that hasn’t already been said? It’s steamy, humorous, ambitious, and full of heart. 

I’ll admit I went into this with a good amount of skepticism. The premise seemed so ambitious to me that I wasn’t entirely convinced it could be pulled off. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. McQuiston not only excelled in creating lovable, rounded characters and an alternate reality you’ll want to live in forever. The writing is witty and full of literary insights that make it stand out from other books in the romcom genre. The romance was so touching and well developed and beautiful; I have never been more satisfied with a romantic plotline in my life. I cannot recommend this book enough! It was a delight through and through, and I know it will stay with me forever.

Television

Sex Education (Netflix): The sexually repressed teenage son of a sex therapist and his smart-but-misunderstood classmate start a sex therapy clinic at their high school. 

I can’t believe it took me so long to watch this show! (Except I can totally believe it because it has been a ROUGH year, and I haven’t even found the time to catch up on some of my favorite shows yet). From a writing perspective (fun fact about me: I actually majored in Writing For Film & TV), this show is excellent. The story is original, relatable, and expertly paced, and the character work is exquisite. I love a coming-of-age story that takes its subjects seriously the way “Sex Education” does. 

One thing I will say about it is that a lot of people have recommended this show to me because they think it has great asexual representation, but this is simply not the case. I don’t fault the show for this since it’s more of a mistake in interpretation than mishandling on the showrunner’s part. Regardless, I thought I would clarify where I stand on this. My disappointment that the protagonist is not asexual but sexually repressed due to emotional trauma is mostly because people already conflate asexuality with sexual trauma, and the two are not at all the same thing. But, as I said, I don’t believe the writers’ intention was ever to portray an ace character, so I do not fault the show with this. 

That being said, I think this show does a lot for other underrepresented groups. It handles socially taboo subjects such as masturbation, religion and sexuality, and abortion in an open and unique way. It’s inclusive and respectful of the marginalized groups it portrays. 

Between the wonderful performances and the superb writing, this show is sure to steal your heart, make you laugh, and maybe even inspire some tears. 

“La casa de papel” (“The Money Heist”), Season 3 (Netflix)A group of criminals comes together to pull off the biggest heist in Spain’s history.

This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019. My mom and I have always been big on Spanish dramas, even before they became popular on streaming platforms (this basically meant leaving my laptop logged into illegal websites overnight because it took twelve hours to download a forty-five-minute episode). I’m thrilled about the recent growth in interest for international programming (I could dork out over the globalization of media for hours), and “La casa de papel” is just one of the wonderful rewards we’re reaping from this. 

This show features some of Spain’s most talented actors playing one-of-a-kind characters in unique scenarios. All of the performances this season are to die for, but then they always are with this show. I was especially blown away by Alvaro Morte’s performance, but I’m biased because I’m completely in love with him and his character, The Professor.

This show is also brilliantly written–it’s smart and fast-paced and impossible to predict. The writers had a pretty big challenge ahead of them this season since the original heist had wrapped up neatly by the end of season two. Needless to say, they more than delivered with this new plotline. I don’t want to spoil the show for anyone, but I highly recommend you add it to your Netflix list. (Side note: watch it in Spanish if you can! Even if you can’t understand the language, I recommend subtitles over dubbing with this show).

Music 

Happiness Begins by The Jonas Brothers (Album): This should come as no surprise to anyone who follows my blog. I’ve been a faithful Jonas fan for over a decade now, and their comeback ranks among one of my favorite things of 2019. 

This album, the Jonas Brothers’s first since 2009, is an absolute triumph. There isn’t a bad track in Happiness Begins. The Jonas Brothers have managed to create an album that at once evokes nostalgia in old fans and expertly taps into current musical trends. The result is 45 minutes of sheer joy (except for Hesitate, which will make you cry in the most delicious way). Some of my personal favorite tracks are “Strangers,” “Trust,” and “Rollercoaster.” (Although, if you have not already done so, I recommend listening to the whole album top to bottom). 

Unplugged Rock (Playlist by Apple Music): As I get back into the groove (musical pun not intended) of writing, I like to listen to music to help me concentrate. Finding the perfect writing music is a never-ending quest and one that has become increasingly challenging now that I my phone company made the switch from free Spotify to free Apple Music. I’ll admit I’m not loving the service as a whole, but this playlist was a gem of a find. 

Featuring Tori Amos’s acoustic cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Alanis Morissette’s MTV Unplugged version of “You Oughta Know,” this playlist is great for both attentive listening and easy listening. I play it when I’m writing, when I’m doing mini photoshoots for my bookstagram, and sometimes even when I’m driving. It’s a short but versatile playlist, and I’ve been beating it to death this summer. 

Well, there you have it, folks! I hope you enjoyed this list. See anything you like? Let me know in the comments! Hopefully, this tradition sticks, because I’m excited to keep sharing my favorite things with you! 

Love,

Miss Breathing