Why I’m No Longer Buying Books …

… for now.

This spring, during an intensive clean out session that cut my wardrobe in half, I began counting my books. Specifically counting the number of books I own but haven’t read. At the time of this piece’s publication (how fancy does that sound!), I’m at 93 unread books which I assume is shocking to anyone else. But for me this actually a drastically lower number than I started with this year so at least I’m under triple digits right?

I have always been a avid book reader but also, a pretty big book buyer. Growing up, I would hit the loan limit every time I visited the public library. Balancing ten books against my 4’8 frame, I’d juggle Nancy Drew and “The Cat Who…” and “Princess Diaries” as I made my way to counter where suddenly I’d have an entire library of new books to devour over the next two weeks. But as I got older and life got a little crazier, I found myself more frequently crossing over Valencia Boulevard from the public library to the Barnes and Noble. By buying my books, I suddenly didn’t have a reading time limit and suddenly, I was stocking up on everything: Classics, mysteries, newly released fiction, comics. In high school, I would spend hours pouring through Barnes and Noble, avoiding the SAT book that I’d brought to study in the tiny Starbucks cafe, and instead reading the first few pages of books that caught my eye in the fiction section or the travel section or the teen lit section or the biography section.

When I look back, I feel especially grateful for the inherent literary curiosity that has always captivated me. And also for having parents who were big readers themselves. There was never a restriction on what I read and so I took in everything. So books were beyond my understanding if I read them when I was too young, but I often revisited them in high school or college and it was like seeing an old friend in a new light.

Through every life change, reading has been a constant and become my own form of meditation, a way of leaving the anxiety of an uncontrollable situation. But over the years, my appetite for literature has exceeded the speed at which I can read. With so many amazing books coming out every week, I constantly find myself drooling at bookstore windows or taking notes from my favorite BookTuber’s haul videos on which book I want to read next.

(In case you’re looking for some BookTubers to follow, a great place to start is Jen Campbell, Lauren From the Books, and Leena Norms.)

This spring I fell down a rabbit hole of productivity videos on YouTube and before I knew it, everything was coming out of the closet and off my shelves. The book section of this clear out started after my last trip with friends to Greenlight Bookstore. On this outing, like every time I walk into a bookstore, I wanted to read everything. So many of the new releases had caught my eye in magazine reviews or New York Times articles. The graphic novel section was full of titles I’d wanted to read over the past couple years. It was a situation in which I could have easily bought ten books I really really wanted to read. But for the first time, I found myself a little blue at the thought of buying a few new books, bringing them home and having them collect dust until I picked them up again at the end of my 93 book TBR list.

This year I’ve been trying to work what I consider to be two of my biggest personal challenges: One is wanting to do everything at once. I’m someone who loves a lot of things and wants to try a lot of things — which is great! Well it’s great until it’s a bit paralyzing. Before I even start I psych myself out about if I’m choosing the right thing, what if I miss an opportunity with another thing, and when it’s okay for me to let go. There is only so much time and doing everything at once often means I’m not doing anything to the absolute best of my ability. So I’m working on it. The second thing is adhering to deadlines — especially self-imposed deadlines for longterm projects or ideas. This is just a hard one in general but something I would like to be better at.

As I began thinking about how to approach these two personal challenges, I began my descent into the productivity rabbit hole. Implementing new habits can be incredibly hard, especially if they’re large scale life changes, so to take the first step I’m starting with my bookshelves. I am not buying any new books until I finish the ones I currently have. I have made three exceptions:

  • I am allowed to pick up books left on stoops around New York. I’ve found so many books I’ve wanted to read this way and once I’ve read them, I leave them out for someone else to take home.
  • I can rent new books from the library.
  • I can buy a used copy of a book for a book club — which I will go to someday.

So far my Amazon wishlist is taking the biggest brunt of this challenge as I’ve been using it to store all the names of the books-of-interest I’ve come across these last couple months. I’m still debating if I can ask for books for Christmas or birthdays but I figure I’ll decide closer to. My deal with myself is I will start buying new books again when I’m down to seven TBR books on my shelves. I’m currently loving “Middlesex” which I believe I bought over seven years ago? Yep, that’s embarrassing.

Wish me luck because I’m going to need it.

 

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NYC Diary #1: Saturdays in the Park

It seems like every time some asks me about my favorite things to do in New York I instantly forget everything I’ve ever seen/ate/touched/visited over the last three years. My friend asked me in July about what was new in New York and I absolutely blanked. I had just seen “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” and I blanked, how is that possible?!

Before you worry I do have a pretty good memory for things like … dog breeds or my personal review of every book I’ve ever read. Spelling, not so much. What my mum is doing on any given day of the week, even when we talk about it in-depth the day before, somehow NEVER sticks. She’s a patient woman my mum.

So in an effort to keep my memory fresh, and have a curated place to pull inspiration from when people ask the all mighty New York recommendation question, I’ve decided to start a new series on this little blog titled “NYC Diary” — a one stop shop for all the things I love to do around NYC and Brooklyn.

This series will be a mix of reviews (I am already working on “Best Bakeries in the City” and “Best Bookstores in my Neighborhood”)and day in the life posts of how I like to spend my days off — should you too be a bibliophilic nature lover with a constant hankering for an ice tea and a lemon bar. Some of this might speak right to your heart, some of it might not, but I hope at least it shows you the many ways — big and small — one can flanuese around the city.

On a recent Saturday (or Satur-date as I like to call it — yes, somehow people pay me to write despite puns like this), I decided to take my camera on a solo adventure into the city. Like many Canon camera owners, I have a beautiful camera that I rarely take out with me. But this particular Saturday I was feeling a little extra nostalgic for how fast summer seemed to be passing and wanted to document the last few days of sunshine that was somehow bringing out the best in everyone it touched. It was the perfect Carly day, complete with long walks and plenty of people watching. Should this sound up your alley, here’s my Saturday breakdown complete with a guide on public park bathrooms with the shortest lines.

10:18am 

Leave my apartment with a book, a camera, and my journal crammed into my backpack. Suddenly remember why I don’t carry my camera. It’s heavier than an iPhone and is causing me to sweat just that extra bit. I have no where to be other than a French sandwich shop on the Upper Eastside so I take off in the direction of the water with my camera swinging by my hip. I’m sure everyone is tired of me saying this but … love walking. It’s the best way to learn about any neighborhood in New York. My apartment is right on the boundary of Carroll Gardens so numerous times a week I find myself crossing the bridge on Union Street, walking past Pig Beach (great outdoor BBQ joint and beer garden) and continuing into Cobble Hill. I discover a public pool on Douglas and Nevins which I make a mental note to check it next summer.

12:15pm

After waving hello to the New York skyline from the Brooklyn Promenade I’m off to the R train and then the 4/5 train to the Upper East Side. My mission is to find my sandwich of dreams and take it on a romantic picnic in Central Park. I’d previously had this sandwich two months ago during a trip to the Museum of Moving Image and I’ve been salivating for it ever since. The R train as per usual has other ideas and suddenly my 30 minute “subway reading time” turns into 50 minutes of me trying to figure out what the conductor is saying over the speaker. There are many days in New York when even I can’t put a positive spin on the subway commute. But at my best moments I like to think of it as a dirty, slow chauffeur that lets me read for up to two hours everyday day.

1:15pm

By this point I’ve started teetering on hangry territory. When at first I don’t see the red and blue colors of Le Petit Parisien’s awing I nearly dissolve into a puddle of hungry-angry-sadness. Thankfully I quickly realize I’ve mixed up the address and just like that, my greatest Yelp find, it just across the street with people bustling in and out. If you’re near the park and looking for a delicious sandwich, this place is HEAVEN! I order the baguette with cured ham, blue cheese, and honey, plus an ice tea to go. This sandwich might rip my veneers out one day but it might actually be worth it.

(Just kidding, I’m knocking on wood now for fear my teeth will fall out. I was kidding dentist gods, I need all the enamel I can get!)

Something I love doing in new neighborhoods is Yelping coffee shops or bakeries to see what the favorite local spots are. Just another way to get to know a new part of the city.

2:00pm 

Right before entering the park I notice a sign warning not to feed the raccoons as they have distemper. “What’s the chance I’ll run into a raccoon,” I think despite suddenly feeling the need to hold my sandwich a little closer. On the path approaching the boat pond, a little boy slowly sits down in the middle of the sidewalk and opens his bag of goldfish and chows down. His parents quizzically ask, “Is that the best place to eat your snack?” It appears that it is and while not the most convenient place for food traffic, this kid is taking a stand to remind the rest of us to slow down and be present. Or perhaps he’s trying to stay away from the raccoon who is wading through the park and has risen to the status of minor celebrity. I guess that sign wasn’t completely unnecessary.

2:31pm

After gracefully finishing my entire baguette sandwich — just kidding, is there even a possible way to gracefully eat a baguette? — I rearrange on my bench between a man reading and a woman doodling to start my friend’s book “Videocracy.” Kids race by on scooters, the park’s caretakers whiz past warning people about the raccoon. Outside of the boat pond, the people watching is excellent, a mix of tourists and Upper East Side residents all dodging the bubble man and horse drawn carriages.

3pm

On a quest to find the public bathroom I find that there is a professional croquet court in the middle of the park?! What is this! I notice that everyone is in full white outfits which seems deeply impractical. They clearly didn’t have to ride the subway here, those rich bastards. I take a wild guess that they don’t play croquet with a “poison” ball like my family and refrain from blowing their minds with my modern knowledge. For a park so incredibly large it can be incredibly frustrating trying to find a bathroom that doesn’t have a line snaking around the building. My tip: Go to the bathroom in the stairway leading to the boathouse and iconic fountain. Watch out for the stagnant puddle that forms at the bottom of the bathroom stairs. Perhaps due to the low doors and lack of locks, it’s not as popular a bathroom choice but hey, no line! Take what you can get!

4:01pm 

After chatting with my mum while walking through Sheep’s Meadow, I realize it’s time for an ice tea and to start making my way home. My camera has given me a new perspective and allowed me to capture both my afternoon in the park and those around me — from the group playing volleyball on a closed off street to the woman painting huge canvases under a tree. There is so much life happening at once and yet in these moments, there is also such peace.

4:34pm

Finally find my way out of the park and head for a Starbucks on Broadway, making my way slowly back downtown. After ordering my drink I notice I’m the only woman in Starbucks who hasn’t had visible plastic surgery done. It’s time for me to head back to Brooklyn but first, a cookie from Schmarkey’s or a scone from Alice’s Tea Shop? If you should ever find yourself on the Upper West Side, you’re in for some sweet desserts. Schmarkey’s is known for its iced cookies — my favorite being birthday cake — while Alice’s Tea Shop is a nice place to sit down for a sandwich or afternoon tea. It’s normally crowded so grabbing a scone to go is always a perfect option. This time around the scone wins out.

5:01pm

Since I’m up here I figure I should stop by the Lincoln Center to say hello before finding the Q train home. I pass the posh sunglass shop that caught my eye last weekend and make a mental note to return to the MET Costume Gallery. I feel like so much of my life is making lists of things to remember that I worry sometimes I’m not taking enough time to actually cross those things off. But a big summer bucket list item this year was to picnic in Central Park and look at that, it’s crossed off! Wave at the posters for the American Ballet Theater before grabbing the train.

5:31pm

Hop off the train in Cobble Hill once again and walk an extra mile home to enjoy the neighborhood at twilight. So much of New York happens on the sidewalks. It’s kids’ playgrounds and couples’ fighting grounds. It’s the place for tears and drunken karaoke and breakups and makeups. It holds forgotten books and furniture looking for new homes. It is the heartbeat of every neighborhood and at twilight, when the golden hour peaks through the oak-lined streets, it comes alive with an indescribable magic. 30 minutes later I walk in the front door to find two kittens demanding dinner happen sooner rather than later. My feet feel worn into the ground and yet, I feel so energized like I’m radiating sunshine from the inside out.

***

Now, this day might not look like your perfect Saturday, but for me, it was a personal reminder that not all fulfilling days have to be huge, highly planned affairs. Sometimes the best moments happen when we shift our lens on our everyday world to look at it afresh. So whether you’re a first-time visitor or a long-time resident, when it comes to New York, the best adventures are those directed by our own curiosity and of course, a good pair of walking shoes.

Autumn Bucket List

After months of being diminished to a puddle of sweat every time I walked outside, I am overjoyed to yell, IT’S FALL! I first noticed it last week when I was walking home from work. The leaves had yet to change but the air felt different, smelt different, as if summer had Irish good-byed the party and fall had begun the year’s third act.

Fall has always been my favorite season, even before I lived in a place that had seasons. In Valencia, fall was more of an idea brought to life by my mum’s unconditional love of changing leaves and trips to the pumpkin patch. So now to live in a place where fall is not just a state of mind but an actual experience brings me happiness every single day. I love the sweaters, I love the crunch of leaves under your boots, I love leaving the windows open and letting the breeze blow through at night. I love the smell of hot cider replacing summer’s ever-present scent of hot garbage. I love the stews and the stouts and the pumpkin breads. I love how graceful and exciting and nostalgic and wistful the season feels as if she’s simultaneously telling you to slow down and hurry up-before-the-year-ends.

August was a month of stilted creativity for me. For the few things I wrote, I had 10 other posts waiting in the wings as unfinished drafts. In some ways I am hoping the entry of fall will help provide me a bit more gumption to take the ideas gathering dust on my mental post it notes and turn them into tangible projects. But this is also the perfect time for yoga pants and long nights spent reading in my arm chair so we’ll just have to wait and see which creative agenda wins out in the Lanning household.

This evening while eating dinner, I watched my new favorite book reviewer, Lauren and the Books, share her fall bucket list. Normally when I make bucket lists they’re all filled with  grandiose tasks to accomplish. But in listening to Lauren talk about simple pleasures, such as welcoming in fall by reading a gothic novel, I realized how important it is to acknowledge and look forward to the little things. I am so quick to overlook the simple pleasures in favor of the bigger picture, but inspired by Lauren and the return of my favorite pumpkin-obsessed season, here are my top bucket list items for autumn.

  • Take an afternoon to grab tea at Grounded in the West Village and just sit and read. Do you also find that certain authors call to you during certain seasons? When it turns into fall I find myself more drawn to rich narratives or nonfiction and often grab Ian McEwan or Audrey Niffenegger to take on the subway. I’ve made a promise to myself that I won’t buy any more books until I finish all the unread novels in my house … which should be in about two years.
  • Visit Storm King with friends or take a hike upstate (followed by a beer, obviously).
  • Bake a loaf of my mum’s cranberry orange bread. If successful, take one to work with a note for coworker’s to try on a Monday morning.
  • Spend an afternoon writing in the New York Public Library and then grab pie at the Little Pie Company and listen to the seniors gossip.
  • Visit the Photography Museum in the city for creative inspiration.
  • Rock some deep red nail polish. Well step one, stop biting my nails and THEN, step two, rock that nail polish!
  • Treat myself to a pair of red corduroy pants.
  • Cook and eat a lovely potato-filed stew.
  • Watch “Clue” with an enormous bowl of popcorn.
  •  Finish my first draft of “Ruby and the Elephants Upstairs.”
  • Put away summer clothes and pull out fall wardrobe.
  • Find and consume: Piece of apple pie, a pumpkin ale, and a pumpkin muffin.
  • Order a new blanket for the couch in preparation for winter movie nights. Also, unrelated, order a full length mirror.
  • Walk through Central Park before crossing over and continuing along the Hudson through the Upper Westside. If time, get scone at Alice’s Tea Shop. Who am I kidding, there is always time for this!
  • Watch Head Over Heels on Broadway so I can finally see singer Bonnie Mulligan in person!

A Guide to Perfecting the Art of Procrastination

As a person whose professional title is Trends Specialist, I spend a whole lot of time scavenging the interwebs. It’s a land where procrastination runs wild and can grow from one “quick 7 minute David Tenant fan video” into hours of watching “Dr. Who” conspiracy theories. Suddenly you look up and your cats have already dibs the best pillows because it’s midnight and they have better sleep habits than you.

This is really how all my writing projects start. I begin with the perfect setup: A mug of ice tea, notes written out in my Harry Potter notebook and the greatest intention to dive right into my work. “I’ll just watch one cover of Broadway stars singing Demi Lovato covers and then tuck right into work,” I declare with a kind of conviction that would make all those productivity articles I’ve been reading very proud. 

But alas, this time is no different than the thousands of writing nights before, and one performance of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” turns into an evening concert with Jeremy Jordan’s most-viewed YouTube videos. Procrastination, what a real pain in the ass.

But as much as I want to condemn it entirely as the extinguisher of my writing productivity, I have to credit my procrastination for sending me down some very enjoyable, and very  random rabbit holes. Yes, procrastination can be a time suck that left untreated can lead to heart burn, nausea, dry mouth, hives, fatigue, and in extreme cases, death. But when approached with a little creativity, your procrastination can fuel your curiosity and in most cases, lead to some very fun facts you can then share with coworkers the next day.

Example: Taylor Trensch and Ben Levi Ross are currently playing the role of Evan Hansen on Broadway and in the national “Dear Evan Hansen” tour. Fun fact, they’re the first romantic couple to play the same role at the same time — something I wouldn’t have figured out except for the hour I spent pouring through their Instagrams. So go, spread the good word!

If you’re looking to drum up your productivity, this ain’t the post for you. But if you’re here to take your procrastination rituals from three to a solid seven, here are my top procrastination habits that spice up an evening of writing and turn it into an evening of doing everything but.

Ways to Procrastinate Like a Professional

1.Sure, you’re already a great procrastinator because you’re a normal human being. But are you the best procrastinator you can possibly be? I have spent hours, HOURS, watching famous Broadway stars sing pop songs in New York. It’s my bread and butter especially when on deadline. Because I use YouTube so often, my algorithm is now perfectly formulated to spit out golden video after golden video that sucks my productivity out with the tide. Should you need any yourself, may I recommend: Bo Burnham’s comedy specials, “The Greatest Showman’s” “This is Me” first performance (sobs), my favorite Jabbawockeez performance, documentaries on how pointe shoes are made. I made an entire playlist of my favorite videos to watch when I just need to take a minute avoiding responsibility, enjoy!

2. Attempt to figure out a couple’s relationship status through social media. Celebrities, YouTube creators, friends of friends — the world of love is your oyster! But once you figure out they’re in a long-term relationship take a moment to lament the fact that you’ll never date Harry Shum Jr. or Darren Criss or that tuba player in the Huntertones. What could have been! Then realize, this is crazy and you need to start writing again.

3. Google how to fight moths in your apartment. Then realize your apartment is too old to eradicate all the moths from your closet, give up, accidentally click on an article about bed bugs and spiral into sheer terror.

4. Learn all the words to “Baby Got Back” to sing at the next company Christmas party.

5. Organize your closet in sleeve length/color order.Attempt to ignore the seven little kids running around upstairs. Grow angry and throw popcorn at the ceiling until you see them in the stairwell and they’re adorable. Turn mixed-emotions into children’s book idea and begin writing.
6. Make a list of people who have wronged you and place a tiny curse on them so throughout the next week annoying things — like getting hit in the face by leaves — will keep happening to them.

7. Attempt to memorize EE Cumming’s poem “i carry your heart, I carry it in my heart.”

8. Marie Kondo your house before realizing you’ve never read the book and therefore don’t quite know the difference between “This doesn’t bring me joy” and “this is just a boring life necessity.” Put everything back in your closet and consider buying the book. Decide to order “The Life Changing Magical of Not Giving a F*ck” instead because it seems like a better future investment.

9. Think of the guy you once had a crush on sophomore year of college school. Debate looking him up before going full detective to see what he’s been doing for the past six years. Contemplate if you’d still date him, realize that’s crazy and quickly clear your search history to hide the evidence. Repeat as necessary with every crush you’ve ever had depending on how much you want to avoid this impending deadline.

10. Put your glasses down while you wash your face. Proceed to forget where you put your glasses and spent 30 minutes patting down the surfaces of your house attempting to find them.

11. Try to take selfies with your cats who are never game for such nonsense. Instead you end up taking photos like this to prove to your cats enjoy hanging out with you.

 

Now go forth and grow into your best procrastinating self you can be! In the wise words of Abraham Lincoln, “Life is fleeting but cat selfies are forever.”

Public Pools, 13 Mile Hikes, and Mental Health Reports

^^ First public pool visit was a super success. It’s the best way to beat the heat. ^^

There are times when summer in New York City reminds me so deeply of summers in SoCal. Those moments when the sun hits the leaves just right in Prospect Park or when the neighborhood kids whiz by on their scooters. The tank tops, the forever hint of sunscreen in the air, the restless need to be outside no matter how much work is piled up on my desk. And then there are things so drastically different from California that I often lament that I’ll never get used to them. The humidity, the beach crowds, the hour queues to get into the public pools, the fact that an ice tea is still 4 dollars!

It’s a tea bag and water, what is the other $3.50 paying for?

A few weekends ago, I pulled my swimsuit out of storage, packed up my tote bag and navigated the L train to McCarren Park’s public pool to see if this could be the heaven on earth I needed to escape the heat wave. Like any great adventure, it started with being stuck on the train and arriving an hour late to my sweet friend Bree reading by a tree outside. Now, my friend Bree is a planner — she’s a logistically queen, as a matter of fact — so really, McCarren pool was Bree’s dream and I was just happily along for the ride. Undeterred by the endless queue, we made it into the pool after an hour in line and dare I say, it was entirely worth it.

It was even worth the rule that you could only where white shirts and hats into the pool area!

I had forgotten how much I loved to swim. It reminded me of the long summer days when my cousins and I would spend hours diving for rings and seeing if we could hold our breath the length of the community pool. It was the exactly the same in New York, that communal feeling of enjoyment. You can get drunk on that feeling mixed with the intoxicating sent of sunscreen and sunshine. Suddenly even an overcrowded pool is a cause for celebration.

^^ One of the many incredible views from the office. Sometimes when my brain gets a little too full and begins to clog and spit out emails that start with, “Apologies for my sleep dehydration,” I like to come out here and take a few breaths. ^^

That day at the pool feels especially sweet because the two weeks following were a blur of long nights writing one of the largest research reports I’ve ever worked. I would wake up, research, write, come home, have dinner, and keep writing until I was started talking with my cats about the impacts of trichotillomania at 1am. While the photo above was the view that kept me calm at the office, below was my home view that kept me calm every night:

I know I’m a little biased but … my cats are actually the cutest animals on the planet. I mean look at that! But seriously, I was so grateful to have the cats around while I worked because they seemed to provide extra cuddles even before I had properly realized I needed them.

When I get stressed I have a habit of putting on my blinders and ignoring just about anything that isn’t work related. Yes, this is great when I need to write up a 20 page report on mental health on YouTube, but once this is done, I have a hard time reigning myself in and putting time into things that have no other purpose than bringing me happiness. For instance, planning a hike on Saturday.

This was mid-crazy mental health report writing and while I knew going on a long hike was number one on my summer bucket list, it wasn’t until I was two miles into the hike that I stopped feeling guilty for taking the day off.

While originally my friends and I were going to hike Breakneck Ridge — a trail accessible for city dwellers on the Metro North just above the Cold Springs stop — the loudspeaker was out on the train and we missed our stop. Instead of being deterred, we pooled our plethora of snacks and decided to hike out of Beacon. The hike evolved into a 13 mile scramble up and down five mountains and a water tower. Six hours later, we popped out in Cold Springs where we drank out of a hose faucet and dragged our sun-kissed-and-slightly-dehydrated bodies to Whistling Willies for celebratory burgers. My friends were such troopers and I’m pretty proud that we rolled with all the unexpected changes like the graceful mountain goats we are.

^^ View from a very high watchtower with a very nice view. If you look closely you’ll see a small arrow on the rock, that’s the trail marker that essentially points down a rock scramble. ^^

Being from the desert, it still boggles my mind there can be so much green in one place. I love hiking. That moment when you’re finally far enough away from civilization that you no longer hear cars and that feeling when your muscles start pulling in unison as you ascend a mountain — it’s all bliss. The next day, recharged from my time in nature with friends, I attacked my project with new energy (which I needed for a 16 hour work day) and proudly turned it in on Monday.

So the next time I don’t want to put energy into planning something new or I let work take up 99% of my brain space, I hope I remember the sheer joy these two adventures brought me and then pick up the phone and plan another day trekking off the beaten path.

Because it’s always worth it. Always.