12 Lifestyle Changes for the New School Year

School starts in a little over a week and I have had so many feelings about it, but at the very least I am planning on going into my senior year more prepared than I have ever been. This upcoming year will be very different for various reasons, the main one being that this is my first year living off-campus. I am a little nervous, but I am determined to make this year my most organized yet.

12

1) I am setting alarms for absolutely everything

I have had my fair share of run-ins with disastrous memory flaws– forgetting appointments, getting yelled at by my freshman year English professor for going to the wrong building for a conference… and every time a tiny chunk of my self-esteem fades away. It is so discouraging because I try to be reliable, but I just cannot adapt to changes in my regular routine; if I do not put something in my phone calendar or set an alarm, I will forget. So this year, I am trying to get into the habit of setting alarms as soon as I commit to something. I will no longer tell myself that I will remember, because I will not.

2) I started keeping a financial journal

I have been keeping a private journal since 2010, which has been nice for writing poetry and venting all my personal feelings. But now that I am becoming increasingly independent from my parents (although I do still receive military benefits, so I recognize my privilege), I am realizing that I need to keep track of where my money is going. How much of my paycheck is going towards groceries? Gas? How much am I spending on luxuries?

Each entry consists of a list of items I purchased that day and then a total of what I spent. Then, if I go over the budget, I have to justify those purchases in a paragraph. The idea of this is not to punish myself for going over– because with a weekly budget of $50 for gas and groceries, it happens– but rather to be mindful of what I am buying. Did I go over budget because I was buying a birthday gift for someone? That’s easy to justify. Did I go over because I was really in the mood for shawarma or bubble tea? Not as easy to justify, but I have to make a case for it anyway. By keeping track of this, I am teaching myself to prioritize.

3) I am doing research on the corporations I make purchases from

We all know that Chick-Fil-A is known for its anti-LGBT stance and sponsoring of the Trump campaign, but did you know that it is not the most conservative restaurant out there? Not by a long shot? Only about 81% of their senior employees donate to the Republican party. However, Buffalo Wild Wings, Wendy’s, Jimmy John’s, KFC, and Taco Bell all donate more.

Am I going to use this information to justify going there and buying a spicy chicken sandwich SLATHERED in Chick-Fil-A sauce, with fries dipped in Polynesian sauce, and a lemonade with no ice? I plea no contest.

My point is: know where your money is going. Now that I know that my money is going towards a cause that I am absolutely disgusted by, I am no longer tormented by late-night Taco Bell cravings or dreams of the 4-for-4. I am motivated to cook my own food.

4) I am supporting local businesses

Corporations, liberal or conservative, really can’t be trusted. Many of them don’t even pay their employees well or allow them to take bathroom breaks when they want to. I hate supporting this culture, so I’ve started to support my local small businesses.

This summer, my favorite places in Dayton that I visited were Taste of Jerusalem (Israeli-Palestinian cuisine), Wat da Pho (Vietnamese), and Pepe’s (Mexican). Every time I go to these restaurants, I feel like I am truly supporting the culture, and the staff members are always so kind to me. That is where I want my money to go.

Of course, small businesses tend to be more expensive. Therefore, I try to stretch my materials at home as far as I can before I go shopping or go out to eat, so that when I do finally go somewhere, it truly feels like a treat and I don’t have to cringe when the cashier swipes my card.

5) I cook food that I genuinely like

So many people waste their money eating out because they don’t know how to cook. Well, of course you’re going to be tempted to get McDonald’s again when all you know how to make is grilled cheese!

Buy yourself a college student cookbook and learn how to make meals that taste like they were made by your mom. Even grilled cheese slaps when you throw in some broccoli and spinach.

6) I don’t purchase raw meat

I will admit that my initial motivation was not financial at all– I just really hate the texture of raw meat. I just can’t touch it. To quote Bob Parr from the classic film The Incredibles (2004), “I can’t do it. I’m not… strong enough.”

But anyway, since adopting an almost-vegetarian lifestyle (I still order foods from restaurants that contain meat; I just don’t make it myself) I have saved some money, I guess. And my intestines love me.

7) I rarely drink soda and alcohol

In fact, I don’t even really like soda anymore. Now– and I know I’m about to sound real white– it’s almost too painful for me. Like worse than hot sauce. It’s like when you’re eating spicy food at a restaurant or friend’s house and the food is kinda spicy, but as a person of color you feel the need to prove that you have a high tolerance for spicy food when really you’re about to cry? So you sip on your water to hide that you wanna cough? That’s me drinking McDonald’s Sprite.

I also don’t really drink alcohol because it hurts my stomach and I just don’t really get much enjoyment out of it (mostly because of how expensive drinking can get). But make no mistake– I’ve been planning my twenty-first birthday weekend for months. And then, Mom, I promise: I’m never drinking again.

8) I have been preserving food like crazy

You know those women who reach their third trimester of pregnancy and start making freezer meals for everything? That’s me. Not the pregnant part (thank the Lord), but I have spent my entire summer stocking my fridge and freezer with pickled vegetables, frozen bananas, fruit jams, sauces, flavored butters, infused oils… the more I have ready, the less of a chore cooking feels like, and the more I can just relax or work on homework while my food cooks rather than chopping vegetables before it even goes into the pot.

9) I am learning to pack fun lunches

I started packing lunches for classes last semester because I had a very limited meal plan, and I wanted to stop getting Chili’s and/or bubble tea every day. But guess what I did anyway.

The lunches I packed were far too small for an adult, and often the meals were bland and uninteresting. Some were just plain weird. But now I have a better system in place, which includes a daily parfait with lavender petals sprinkled on top, a piece of bread with a different jam spread every day, vegetables with dipping sauce, baby food (… leave me alone), and tea with coconut gel.

Not only do my lunches taste good, but they are healthy, they are cute, and they are enough for a grown (growing?) girl. No more mid-day munchies.

10) I plan to study and practice during the day

This semester, despite taking 18 credit hours, will be one of my easiest. It’s only seven classes, and I have huge chunks in my day on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. During this time, I want to get most of my homework and practicing out of the way so that when I get home after work, I can allow my home environment to be one of relaxation and unwinding.

11) I have a prayer journal

Have you ever been asked to pray for someone, to which you replied, “of course!” and then days later realized that you forgot to pray?

Now, I keep a list (it’s actually in my finance journal entries tbh because I didn’t want to make another journal… I already keep three) of people to pray for that day. And so I can’t forget; every time I log my finances I see people who need prayer.

12) Embracing the power of ‘yes’ and accepting the necessity of ‘no’

This doesn’t need much explaining. I am working to allow myself to have fun but to know where to draw the line. Put simply, I will say ‘yes’ to what I don’t have a good reason to say ‘no’ to, but not at the expense of my physical or mental health.

What lifestyle changes are you making this year? I would love to learn about it in the comments!

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thoughts of a somewhat senior.

My senior year of college starts in… almost exactly two weeks? And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m… sad about it.

Reason #1: I feel like a bad citizen.

If I’m being honest, I’ve been sad all week, actually. With everything that has been going on lately, I have been feeling absolutely powerless. I have just been thinking about the situation that the U.S. is in leading up to 2020, and it’s weird, but…

I almost regret changing my major.

I am pretty sure this feeling will pass, because I hated almost every minute of being a Criminal Justice student, but I just wish I was doing more to help my country during this time. I mean, if I stuck with it, I would have already had my Bachelor’s degree (how impressive would it have been to start grad school at twenty?) , I could have been entering law school, I could have been working as a victim advocate, I could have been helping immigrants or something… but instead I’m just the average young adult Googling the Democratic candidates while simultaneously watching Bachelor in Paradise.

I don’t feel like I’m making a real impact and it angers me. I wasn’t even old enough to vote in 2016 and am living with a racist, misogynist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic administration that I had no say about. So I don’t know. Darn it, I miss Barack.

Reason #2: I feel like I’m behind. (not just graduation-wise)

Babies of the family will understand this: it’s 2003, you’re still on training wheels, and you’re bike-riding with your older siblings and their friends. None of them are on training wheels anymore and they want to ride around the block and then down a really steep hill (with cracks in the sidewalk and everything… I still have scars from that hill today HUBER HEIGHTS YOU NEED TO REPAIR YOUR SIDEWALKS. I KNOW YOU HAVE THE MONEY). But you are on training wheels and also you’re four, so you cannot ride as fast as them and you need to take more breaks. You’re also afraid of the hill. Your siblings try to be patient, but you can tell that they’re annoyed because you’re slowing them down. So, when they’re not looking, you ride your bike in a different direction and go to an elderly woman’s home and ask her for ice cream. She gives you ice cream and then your dad drives the van around the neighborhood trying to find you because he thinks you were kidnapped. But then you ride your little bike home with ice cream on your face and are waiting in the driveway when he returns, frantic and just about to call the police. But you’re happy because you escaped your mean sisters and got some ice cream in the process.

Or did that only happen to me? I don’t know. That Fit & Active ice cream bar was bangin’, tho. You know the one.

Anyway, I had a point and that point was this: that’s how I feel my life is going right now. I feel like I’m not pedaling through life fast enough. Let me elaborate.

Most of my friends from home either have their Bachelor and Master’s degrees or are on their last year. Many of my friends are either engaged or are in serious relationships that are very close to it. I have friends who are finally moving away for real this time– not just in a going-to-college way. Some of the kids I grew up with have lil’ babies!

I am genuinely happy for them. I love seeing them accomplish their dreams, and I know how hard they’ve worked for it. I also know that most of those things are in my future, and even if not, my life is still complete (per my post about singleness).

But when it all still feels so far away, it’s hard not to get frustrated. I feel just like I’m four again, waiting to be big enough to do the same things my sisters could. Only instead of referring to reading chapter books and solving long division problems, I’m waiting to graduate, intern, move to New England (…or Iowa), adopt a baby… things that are not as close to now as I want them to be.

So yeah. This first senior year is going to be full of coming to terms with… that.

Reason #3: FINANCES

Y’all, I bought my first car! And it’s a good one, too! I feel like a real adult every time I drive it. Only downside? Car payments. On top of my credit card payments. On top of rent. On top of utilities. On top of Spotify and Hulu (“but those are luxuries–” shut up). On top of chiropractic care. On top of tuition.

And I am more than halving my work hours because of my school schedule. Savings account, please pull through for me.

Reason #4: I don’t know what I’m doing lol

This pretty much speaks for itself. But yeah, that and then I’m getting a new voice teacher… as a senior… who still hasn’t completed her end-of-sophomore-year jury… my life is a whole mess rn lol

But I’m still excited!

I am looking forward to what this year may bring, so I am optimistic. Just needed to vent about some things because sitting around listening to Sarah McLachlan was getting old.

 

This post was a wild ride from start to finish, and I can’t guarantee that the other ones are better, but they’re supposed to be about traveling and music so you should check them out. If you liked this post, then please hit “Like,” feel free to follow me on here, and you can also follow my Pinterest (@hopeezell5), Instagram (@hopeezell) and Twitter (@TheAfroAlto).

Living Single!

I have eaten squirrel chili. I have met (and technically been coached by) an Olympic gold medalist. I was even scouted by a modeling agency when I was fourteen (don’t ask if my career went anywhere).

But I have never had a boyfriend.

That’s right, you read that correctly. I am twenty years old and have never been in a relationship. Not even a silly fourth-grade one. I’ve never been on a real date. Never kissed anyone, unless you count my sixth birthday party (he grew up to be a racist Confederate flag lover, so I really don’t want to talk about it). And, I’ll admit it– there is definitely something that olive oil and I have in common.

So, how does it feel to still be single?

Part of me wants to be dramatic and say that I feel an increasing weight on my chest every time another girl on my timeline gets engaged. I could say that I was asked to be a bridesmaid in another wedding and lamented the fact that I won’t have a plus-one.

But actually, I feel fine. It wasn’t always this way, but I really do feel okay about it. I won’t lie to you: I do wish that I had someone to cuddle with. I wish that I had someone I could sit by the lake in University Circle with and show them all of my favorite statues in Wade Oval. And it really would be nice to do life with someone and learn more about who they are and what lights up their world. Also, it would be cool to marry a rich guy. Hozier is only nine years older than me…

When I was in high school, this really bothered me, but now I realize that it wasn’t because I was truly ready to love anyone, but because I wasn’t comfortable with myself. Year after year, I noticed that my classmates were entering relationships, getting asked to school dances, and losing their virginity to each other. Some of them got married not too long after graduation. The entire time, I just kept wondering, am I really that ugly? Is there some outstanding flaw in my personality that everyone knows about but me?

It didn’t help my frustration that wherever I went, especially at church, I was basically told that I should aspire to have a husband. That I needed to be patient. That God was preparing someone for me. And the worst one of all: that I needed a stronger relationship with God– He would only send someone my way when I was spiritually strong enough.

Obviously, I did need to be patient. And I will always need to keep developing my relationship with God. However, none of these words of “affirmation” made me feel any better about my situation. If anything, it confused me more. Was a romantic relationship supposed to be some kind of reward redeemed after spending 100 consecutive Sundays in a pew? If so, when would God ever consider me worthy of leveling up? And then if I only deserved a boyfriend for being a good Christian, would I really pursue my faith for the correct reasons? If only the supreme Christians found happiness with a partner, then why are there atheists in happy marriages? If He was taking His precious time preparing someone for me, then why did no one else seem to be waiting as long as I had to? Why was I the only one who had to wait? None of it made sense.

The more my single years passed, the more bitter I became as I realized that I am not guaranteed anything in this life. It may not be God’s will for me to ever get married. As much as I wanted to hold onto the hope that there was someone just beyond my reach, I still knew countless people in my life who never married. Some never even had children. As much as I didn’t want my life to go in that direction, it could.

I didn’t expect to gradually find peace when I accepted that truth, though.

Yes, I am twenty and I have never been in a relationship. And yes, from another perspective, I am only twenty and still have decades ahead of me. But I can no longer live my life waiting for a man to show up. I have to live assuming that he won’t.

So, I went on a five-mile walk on my own to University Circle. I took pictures of my favorite statues and sent them to my mom who then called to yell at me about walking around East Cleveland by myself. I challenge myself to eat in the restaurant instead of taking my food to-go, enjoying the company of the people around me. I’m going to a wedding in a few weeks with no date, but some of my best college friends will be with me. I have begun to treasure the movie nights that I have with myself, usually watching The Prince of Egypt or The Road to El Dorado for the umpteenth time. I’ve picked up new hobbies and killed some plants along the way.

I am just me, and I like it that way. Perhaps it is better that I am single, at least during this time in my life. When I go to graduate school in New England (fingers crossed), I don’t have to worry about a long-distance relationship or marriage. I can just be me.

Someday, I may find “the one.” Better yet, he better be the one to find me because there’s no way I’m talking to him first. If I do, I can’t wait to show him who I am and I can’t wait to learn all of the tiny quirks about him. Does he sing in the shower? How does he organize his refrigerator? Does he pour his milk before the cereal?

If he’s out there, I am excited for what our future will hold. But even if he’s not, I’m still excited for what my future will hold.

That’s a Wrap on Year Three!

My junior year of college is over (and I start my senior year in a month!), and I had no idea that one year could bring so many positive changes to my life.

As many of you already know, I am a transfer student. And deciding to transfer was not an easy process at all. Not a day went by last summer that I didn’t think I was making a huge mistake. I kept trying to dip my toes into transferring rather than fully committing to it, so much so that even after arriving at Cleveland State a semester later than I was originally supposed to, I told myself, “I’ll give it a semester, and if I don’t like it, I’m going back to my old school.”

Not gonna lie: my first week in Cleveland was stressful. I didn’t know where anything was– I spent half of my semester dining dollars in Chili’s because I was too embarrassed to ask someone where the cafeteria was. Attempting to merge onto I-90 led to tears and lots of honking horns. I almost got hit by a bus on my first day on campus. I had to read all of the directional signs in the music building for… almost the entire semester, tbh.

Needless to say, living in Cleveland stressed me the frik out. Let me revise: living in Cleveland still stresses me out. But I am drawn to the chaos. I never want to go to sleep anymore, because I don’t want to miss a single moment.

And it’s crazy because I never realized I wasn’t happy at my old school until I came here. My freshman and sophomore years, I thought I loved college. I was doing well academically, I loved participating in choir (I almost didn’t leave because I didn’t want to quit Treble Choir), I had amazing professors (that opinion has not changed), and music theory challenged me in the best ways possible.

But that college experience that everyone else seemed to be getting? I just wasn’t feeling it. And as I have said in the past, I could have done more to have made things better. But I didn’t do anything but sit in the Conservatory all night, either practicing piano and audition repertoire, attending recitals for students I didn’t even know, doing music theory homework, or practicing again. Often until 1 or 2 a.m.

In other words: I was a nerd. A socially inept one at that.

But coming to CSU, everything changed. Even more so, I wanted things to change. Because even though I loved exploring the city, I was still scared that I would spend the rest of my college years alone.

But suddenly, I wasn’t lonely anymore. I remember sitting by myself in the dining hall, eating a banana and scrolling through my phone so that I would look busy. Then, a girl from my music therapy class walked up to my table and said, “You said that you were in Cru at your old school, and we’re about to have a Bible study meeting soon. You can join us if you want to!” I showed up to Bible study over ten minutes late that night. Honestly, the entire time I was walking over, I feared I was making a mistake. I’m overdressed people will think I’m weird I should have worn less makeup I should have worn more makeup maybe I should take the stairs instead of the elevator what if I get lost should I go back to my dorm to change who am I going to sit with how often should I look up should I make eye contact am I even Christian enough for this are they going to make me pray out loud did I even pack my Bible this year forget it I’m not going but what if I regret not going now I have to go because if I don’t go she’s gonna remember that I said I was gonna go and we have at least two classes together so I can’t avoid her so I have to go and–

That’s only a portion of my thought process. But I am so glad that I decided to go.

This year, I have found a family with those Bible study kids. I found a church home.

And I made one of my best friends ever in my music theory class. It all started with studying in the library together, and before we knew it, we were up until 3 and 4 a.m. hanging out with each other. She’s my little chicken little (although I can’t take credit for that nickname) and I love her.

And before we knew it, our little duo expanded as well. An oboist from Georgia, a kitten-loving clarinetist, a Juilliard-level vocalist (I’m not kidding… she really did get into Juilliard’s pre-college program) who also loves kittens, a puppy-loving soprano and only other black person in our music therapy class, and I hope that I didn’t forget anyone.

I found a great community at Cleveland State, and the good things don’t even end there.

THE HIGHLIGHTS (and lowlights) OF MY ACADEMIC YEAR BY MONTH

August: Moved in, explored Trinity Cathedral for the first time, joined Cru, started going to Cove City Church at Case Western Reserve University

September: Joined Cru worship team, started my third year working as a tutor at the Parma library and only fell asleep on the job three times, I got a speeding ticket for going “40” in a “25”

October: First Cru worship night of the school year, first choir concert

November: Attended a friend’s baptism, my birthday landed on Thanksgiving and I kissed my teenage years goodbye, I passed my competency exam on the first try

December: Winter Cru worship night, second choir concert, I survived my jury and finals, I ended the semester with a 3.93

January: I saw my friends again after a month apart, I started my first clinical rotation at a nursing home, it got to -20 degrees so school was cancelled for two days

February: It got to 60 degrees days after it was -20 and I got to explore some alleys in the Gateway district, I started my second clinical rotation at a high school, I got my wisdom teeth removed and was finally able to eat non-mashed foods again (y’all… my teeth were digging into my cheeks… it was rough)

March: CSU Chorale, Symphony Orchestra, and University Chorus performed the Mozart Requiem, one of my best friends from home came up to visit, Spring Break happened, I got extreme food poisoning from Papa John’s

April: I was hired for my first church singing gig at a local parish, started working a third job

May: I successfully auditioned for Chorale and was hired for my very first opera gig, singing and dancing as a chorus member and speaking the role of Annie in Porgy and Bess

This summer has brought even better opportunities, but honestly I just have been writing for too long and just want this post to end. Sorry that I haven’t been writing travel posts. I have had a pretty boring summer. Lots of good news has come my way, but I really didn’t go anywhere interesting. I went to Northern Kentucky to pick my sister up from the airport and that was about it. But I just wanted to provide a little life update! More posts about college and life in general to come. And then, when I (hopefully) go to Toronto and Niagara again for Labor Day, I will be able to post some more travel tips. I also intend to spend some time in New England when I (hopefully) perform at a summer festival in 2020 and visit some graduate schools in the area.

Until next time, T chau!

If you liked this post, then please hit “Like,” feel free to follow me on here, and you can also follow my Pinterest (@hopeezell5), Instagram (@hopeezell) and Twitter (@TheAfroAlto).

The Infinite Noise: Not Your Typical YA Novel

the infinite noise“His emotions are always a shade of blue. But not blue like the sky; blue like the ocean. And they’re warm and soft a lot of the time. Even when he’s sad, it’s warm and soft. Like sinking into a bath. And sometimes that’s nice and sometimes I get pulled under and nearly drown.”

With elegant, poetic sentences and believable fantasy elements, Audio Verse Award-winner and Forbes 30 Under 30 listee Lauren Shippen’s debut novel The Infinite Noise is one that is sure to entertain and enlighten you. Based off of the life of The Bright Sessions podcast character Caleb Michaels, the novel explores teenage relationships, same-sex relationships, high school drama, and one unique trait: Caleb’s ability to feel the emotions of others.

To quote the back of the book:

Caleb is a sixteen-year-old champion running back who develops the ability to experience the emotions of everyone around him. Caleb is an empath, and his therapist, Dr. Bright, is used to patients like him. Patients with enhanced abilities. Atypicals. She encourages him to explore his connection with a classmate Adam, whose emotions feel… right.

For starters, The Bright Sessions is a three-season-long audio drama about Atypicals– people who can read minds, control the actions of others, and many more things; if you can name it, chances are there is a character in the show that can do it. The show follows the characters’ lives through the recording of their therapy sessions with the series’ namesake, Dr. Bright; as they learn about the organization that oversees and monitors their very existence, and as they navigate their everyday life.

When I began listening to The Bright Sessions during my sophomore year of college, there were several things that led me to believe that the audio drama was well-written and produced to the highest standard possible. One of those things, in fact, was how relatable, in spite of their supernatural abilities, all of the characters were. I immediately developed a love for Caleb and Chloe (a mind-reader). Maybe this was because they are the characters to whom I am closest in age, maybe it is because of the energy their voice actors put into them– who knows. But one thing that made Caleb so unique from other young characters I’ve read about in science fiction is that he truly spoke and behaved like a true teenager. While in many stories teenagers are made to act like twenty-somethings, Caleb is still growing as a person, learning who he is, going to proms– all on top of trying to get his power under control.

And while his life is turned upside down by his new identity as an empath, he also develops a deep connection with his classmate, Adam, which forges a beautiful story line of discovering his sexuality and developing his friendship with Adam. The two boys seem very different from the start, but their lives blend together in beautifully unexpected ways. This is evident in the method the book was written in, with every other chapter being written from the perspective of each boy.

The novel offers incredible insight into both of their lives, often allowing the reader to read about one event through the eyes of both characters. This was often humorous at times, awkward at times, and truly reminded me of just how odd adolescence can be (not that it was all that long ago for me, but still).

Another thing that Lauren Shippen does especially well is the authentic manner in which she writes about Atypicals. The way that they and their abilities are introduced, you would think that it makes perfect sense that individuals like these would be around. It all just feels that real! The novel (and the audio drama) also does a great job of showing readers/listeners that although these people are a little advantaged in some ways, their lives are just as complicated (if not made more complicated) as anyone else’s.

Furthermore, it is clear that much research was done on mental health and counseling, which is so important.

Shippen also writes about young male relationships very well and nearly convincingly. I especially appreciated that when writing from Adam’s perspective, she did not rely on gay stereotypes. Adam is not written as the “token gay character.” Rather, Adam is a person who is gay. It does not define him, though it is clear that it is an important part of him.

Finally, I love how the plot points began to converge with events that occurred in the podcast. It kind of added that, “Ah ha! So that’s the full story there” element.

When I say that I enjoyed this novel, I mean it. It is so difficult to say much more without saying spoilers. I went through this book so quickly– eh, as quickly as I could while being a college student in nine classes (gotta love being a music major). It is definitely a great summer read, or, as it is set to release in September, a great back-to-school read.

This novel is definitely one of my favorites that I have read this year. So what is the verdict?

4.5 stars.

This book deserves an ‘A.’ The only things keeping me back from giving it a 100% are:

  • The book could easily have been 50 or even 100 pages shorter. The novel has many beautifully formed sentences, but not all of them are necessary.
  • My first point could probably be fixed if the novel included more dialogue and less narrative.
  • Some character interactions (especially with the character Tyler) seem too Hollywood-high school-ish. But then again I didn’t go to a normal high school, so I am unsure if this kind of stuff actually happens in high schools. All I know is it wasn’t really a thing in mine.
  • A few grammatical errors and typos that I am sure will be fixed soon anyway.

And now, to conclude, here are the absolute strongest points that I thought the book had:

  • The cover design? Adorable.
  • Thanks for the autograph, by the way.
  • Adam and Caleb’s thoughts were easy to want to read more of.
  • Adam’s parents are kind of a topic in the audio drama, so it was nice to “meet” them through witnessing their daily interactions with Adam.
  • Caleb’s interactions with his family were very sweet.
  • Dr. B, yo!
  • Chloe. Nothing else to say.
  • The series of short chapters toward the end of the book.
  • I love how the book ended in a way that there could definitely be another one, but it still tied up the story in a nice bow.

I really hope that Shippen (can I just say “Lauren?” Are we on that level yet?) makes another Bright Sessions novel because, um, I need more. I especially want to read about Chloe, or Sam, or maybe even Damien… ah, the possibilities. You’re doing amazing, sweetie.

And for those of you dying to read this novel for yourself, it’ll be out in September 2019! You can pre-order on Amazon and wherever else you get your books.

Recommended for fans of: Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda and Love, Simon; The Bright Sessions audio drama, Inhuman Condition web series

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I received The Infinite Noise directly from the author in exchange for a review posted against the release date. All opinions are my own.

 

 

Standing on Shifting Sand.

I know that 1) it has been forever since I have written on here, and 2) I don’t normally write personal posts that don’t relate to travel or music, but this has been weighing on me. A lot.

I am neck-deep in my junior year right now, and suddenly everything is weighing on me. Some days I feel grateful that I still have two years left, and other days I wish that I had just stuck with criminal justice and graduated this semester. Some days I am proud of my accomplishments, and then a voice in my head tells me that it all amounts to nothing. Some days I am genuinely excited about my career path, and others I can barely stand to listen to music.

This unpredictable weather that is my mind has made it difficult for me to truly live in the moment. I feel like I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, constantly worried that anything good is a trap. I can’t even sit still anymore; it’s like if I’m not studying, working, or otherwise investing in my future, I am wasting space.

This is not something that I particularly enjoy writing about, but I think that it is something that many people can relate to. At this stage of life, we’re living on our own (maybe even living out of the dorms now), we’re closer to being in grad school than we are to high school, our friends are getting married and having kids, and we are beginning to truly understand our beliefs. Hardly anything is certain, and when everything in life is so temporary, it’s difficult to allow ourselves to take a step back and relax.

For me, I think that most of my uncertainty and anxiety are coming from a deep fear of what’s next. The truth is, I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I know that I want to study sacred music and religion at Yale, but I also know that my performance resume–for a school like Yale, at least–is near empty. To make matters more complicated, I have been informed of various opportunities within my school and with the Cleveland Orchestra that could increase my chances of getting in, but I’m just too paralyzed with fear to even try those things.

Not to mention, I am finally in a place that I love with people that I love and doing what I love. But one day, everything will end. I will graduate. People will move away. Relatives will pass away. Friendships will end.

I feel like everything keeps slipping away.

But I am still holding on. I wish that I could end this post by saying that the problem has been completely solved, but it’s not. I will probably struggle with this feeling as long as I live.

But there is only one thing in my life that I can be certain is constant.

“In Christ alone, my hope is found… this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm.”

My God will always be there, and thankfully, His faithfulness is not dependent on my feelings. I am still scared of change, I am still afraid of death, and I am still terrified of failure. And I hate that I will never know what’s around the corner.

But even when I feel like I’m sinking, I have to trust that I will not be destroyed. And sometimes, I may need help from a therapist or mental health professional. But at the end of the day, I can be confident that my life is in His perfect hands. He cannot lose or forget me– I am His.

“From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny!

My Playlist for the New Year

We are at the end of the first day of 2019, so I thought that now would be a great time to share some of my favorite music for entering a new year. For all of the songs in one pin-able graphic, scroll to the bottom of this post!

1.) “Only Time” by Enya

Even though this song was a meme for a brief period of time, it still is one of the most timeless pieces of 21st century music (pun completely intended). Everything from the vocalizations to the beautiful Alto II lines to the modulation at 2:24 makes this song as stunning as ever.

“Who knows? Only time.”

2.) “Salvation” by Gabrielle Aplin

Gabrielle Aplin’s breathy vocals and incorporation of bold string and horn sections with the song’s piano-driven harmony is just the amount of beauty to capture the spirit of winter.

“You are the snowstorm; I’m purified… and let the band play out as I’m making my way home again. Glorious, we transcend into a psychedelic silhouette.”

3.) “Healer” by Kari Jobe

Whenever I’m going through it, this song always puts me in a calm(er) mindset. The lyrics are great ones to keep in mind if you are anxious at all about the coming year.

“You hold my every moment. You calm my raging seas. You walk with me through fire and heal all my disease. I trust in You. Lord, I trust in You… nothing is impossible for You. You hold my world in Your hands.”

4.) “Wasted” by Carrie Underwood

From Carrie Underwood’s very first album, this is a beautiful song about how short and precious life is.

“I don’t want to keep on wishing; missing the still of the morning, the color of the night.”

5.) “Hope is What We Crave” by For KING & COUNTRY

This is a remake of the duo’s song from their first album of same name, Crave. This one is a little bit more uplifting and changes some of the lyrics, making it perfect for the hopeful spirit of the new year.

“To live, to die, to lose, to get, to rise above, to love again.”

6.) “Shake it Out” by Florence + The Machine

“I am done with my graceless heart, so tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart.”

7.) “Light it Up” by For KING & COUNTRY

“Yes, it can be a beautiful morning.”

8.) “Gravel to Tempo” by Hayley Kiyoko

This song is about a teenage Hayley prior to coming out as lesbian. Although I am fairly straight, this is still a song that I find encouraging for anyone trying to understand themselves better in the coming year.

“I don’t feel adequate thinking I’m a monster in disguise. We’ve gone down every list, stuck but I have got to begin to resist. Caught up with the fact that life will be dark… I’ll do this my way… I gotta be on my own.”

9.) “On and On” by Chasen

“I’ve tried my way; it always ends up being a mistake, but You’re right when You say that You set the time for the plans You’ve made… so I’m here, I’m waiting, because I believe… I know that Your love is strong. It goes on and on and on and on.”

10.) “I’ll Be Your Breeze” by Andrew Belle

If you listen to this song and then one from one of his more current albums, you will be shocked that it is the same songwriter. All of his albums are good, but this old EP always has a special place in my heart.

“I know we all play our part in this thing. We’ve all got a song we were put here to sing.”

11.) “Growing Pains” by Deas Vail

Deas Vail is one of my favorite bands from the time I was a preteen, and this is at least in my top five of favorite songs of theirs. It has everything– a beautiful mirroring of piano and violin solos, pumped-up percussion, and thought-provoking lyrics.

“Pages turn and then unfold to show us where we’ve been as the signs along the road to lead us home again.”

12.) “Go Do” by Jonsi

“We can always know that we can do everything. Go do.”

13.) “Let ’em Say” by Lizzo and Caroline Smith

“Let ’em say what they’re gonna say. They’re gonna feel what they gonna feel.”

14.) “Dance in the Graveyards” by Delta Rae

This is not supposed to be ominous or anything; I promise that it’s an uplifting song.

“I don’t want to rest in peace; I want to dance in joy… and while I’m alive, I don’t wanna be alone.”

15.) “Dare You to Move” by Switchfoot

I would also like to suggest Jayesslee’s cover, which is what I usually listen to. It can be found on Spotify.

“Move like today never happened before.”

16.) “Love Out Loud” by Jaci Velasquez

“Take His love to the streets, show compassion to a soul in need… the touch is loving more than words; it’s reaching out for all to see the Light that shines through me.”

17.) “Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong Worship

While I am honestly mostly attracted to this song’s bassline, it still has such a powerful message. Also, fun fact, my friend knows this in sign language.

“Who the Son sets free… is free indeed. I’m a child of God, yes I am!”

18.) “God is Able” by Hillsong Worship

“Greater than all we seek, greater than all we ask. He has done great things.”

19.) “Easy” by the Commodores

This is, quite literally, an easy-going song about just letting go of others’ expectations and kind of just doing your own thing. It also has a beautiful (yet brief) modulation at 2:40. That eight-second interlude is actually my favorite part, although the guitar solo is obviously a close second.

I believe that this song carries an energy that all of us should carry into 2019 and the rest of our lives.

“I wanna be free, just me.”

CHristmas

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4 New Year’s Day Journal Activities (and tips for keeping your resolutions!)

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that 2018 treated you all well and that 2019 will be even better. For me, 2018 was a pretty average year– it wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t extremely awesome, either. However, I did follow through on ten of last year’s non-musical resolutions (out of eighteen… but I’m still proud of myself– some people only have one and they still don’t reach it) and experienced a lot of new things, so I’m going to count it as a good one.

In 2019, I’m hoping to follow through on at least twelve of the non-musical half of my resolutions (I will have 38 total), and I think that I may be on track. If you are someone who struggles to keep it up after January, then these prompts might just help you!

LIfe in g major

Journal Prompt #1: Gratitude

It is easy to get caught up in the false dichotomy of a year either being good or bad. I mean, just scroll through Twitter for five minutes and the amount of “I want to die” tweets will outnumber the “I made so much progress” ones.

If you are someone who had a bad year at face value, give yourself a few minutes to think about everything you have to be thankful for. It can be as big or little as you want, and remember to have fun with it! Just as you may be thankful for your family and friends, you can also be thankful for tacos.

Journal Prompt #2: Collage

You can make a collage out of anything you want– theatre programs, magazine papers, sheet music– you name it. Just use something that is meaningful to you, and there is no way that you can go wrong.

A creative idea that I tried this year was keeping the majority of my 2018 retail receipts and then collaging the ones from special occasions (e.g. a receipt from going out to dinner on my friend’s birthday) while providing a small sentence explaining the relevance of the receipt.

Journal Prompt #3: Year-in-Review

Isn’t that the thing that Spotify does at the end of every year? The thing that always lies about your top genre? And says that The Cheetah Girls is one of your top artists but you only listened to them like, five times this year?

Well, it can also just be a list of things that happened in the year. I typically focus on the good things, but you don’t have to. Anything that was relevant to your growth as an individual is worth putting on the list.

Journal Prompt #4: New Year’s Resolution(s)

Everyone and their mother has a resolution, but are you making one that is achievable?

First, look back or try to remember last year’s resolutions. Which ones did you succeed with and which ones did you not? If you succeeded (e.g. resolved to read ten books in the year and followed through), then challenge yourself to do it again, but this time upping the requirements (e.g. twelve books instead of ten). If you did not succeed, check to see if you gave yourself a clear way to measure (for example, “I want to maintain a 3.5 GPA” in lieu of “I want to maintain a good GPA”). If you didn’t, then do it this time around! If you did and still didn’t succeed, then lower your expectations slightly. For example, if you have never been able to get a 4.0 and it’s been your resolution every year, you may become discouraged. So, maybe lower your expectation to 3.8 and see if you can achieve that. If you do, raise your standards the next year and build your way up to that 4.

Do not make resolutions that are dependent on another person. Obviously there are some exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, try to make it so that the only person holding you back from achieving your goals is you. Don’t give yourself the “they didn’t pull their weight, so it’s not my fault I failed” excuse. Likewise, do not resolve things that you cannot control. Don’t resolve that you will no longer be single this year when there’s an entire other person involved who has to fall in love with you. While it could happen (and I am PRAYING it happens to me), there is no possible way to work toward it on your own.

Keep looking at your resolutions throughout the year to assess your progress. You may reach some of your goals without even thinking about it!

Don’t be too strict. For example, I am trying to be more punctual for social events; however, I know that simply writing “I will be on time” is going to get me nowhere. So, instead I wrote “[I will] arrive on time [or] within five minutes of start time.” This will help me to ease into it and stay encouraged as I focus on my progress.

BONUS Journal Prompt: Life Update

This prompt is just like any entry that you would normally write; just remember to include the date, your current age, year in school if applicable, a brief idea of what a typical day is like for you, relationship update, realizations, career update, current obsessions, and maybe even a little bit of your five-year plan.

 

Well, that’s all I have to say! Real images from my journal are below. Are you someone who usually achieves all of their resolutions? If so, tell me how you do it in the comments! If you liked this post, then please hit “Like,” feel free to follow me on here, and you can also follow my Pinterest (@hopeezell5), Instagram (@hopeezell) and Twitter (@TheAfroAlto).