The How-To Issue

We know how to do things.

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How to Get Into Fashion

By Caroline Holmes

1. Get rid of any previous notion of what fashion is.
Fashion is not scary. It will not point fingers at you and laugh if you do not know who Alexander McQueen is. People who you should avoid will do that, but not fashion. It will not affect your independence, or suggest that you are any less equal or intelligent as your peers and coworkers. It does not make you an airhead. It is not anorexia or throwing money away to look cool.

2. Accept that your thoughts about fashion are unique
This also stands for everyone else. You will meet people who make Walmart clothing look like a fashion editorial, you will meet people who spend thousands of dollars on Chanel everything. You will meet people who want to wear sweatpants to Starbucks, and people who love green dyed hair. None of their preferences are there for you to sneer at, and no one has the right to disagree with you. There may be a time and place to wear certain outfits (black tie events, nudist beaches, etc.), but for the most part, what you wear is your choice and yours only.

3. Find stores and blogs for you to follow
The best way to make fashion not seem like a scary cult is to, well, join a scary sub-cult. For whatever you like, I swear on my life there are hundreds, if not thousands, writing about it. You favorite store may have a blog, and from there they might link to other blogs, and others. Google things. Look around. Find people who inspire you and stores whose clothing describes your whole personality.

4. Keep track
Start your own blog. Create a Pinterest. Print out photos and post them on your wall. Do whatever you feel most comfortable with. No one can tell you how to run these things, do it for yourself. You can write about what you wear day to day. Write about new lines from designers you love. Just post pictures. However you want to keep track of the things you like. 

5. Remember you do not have to spend any money to enjoy fashion
Fashion is an art. You may like Van Gogh, but that does not mean you have to go try to buy the original Starry Night. I doubt you even could. The same goes for fashion. Not everything has to be the real thing. Knock-offs get a bad rep, but not everyone can own a closet straight out of New York Fashion Week. There may be times that you will want to splurge on a designer piece, and you should every once and a while, but even the top names in the fashion industry know number 6, which is:

6. A good wardrobe and outfit is a mix of high and low
Now what that means is that your wardrobe does not need to be all designer names, but nor should it be everything from the clearance rack — unless it is all designer pieces from the TJMaxx clearance rack in which case, you’re amazing and really do not really need to be reading this. A lot of the things you own will not be designer name. This is okay. Things that are unique and will not be worn often do not need to be top of the line quality. You should still aim to buy good quality in everything, but that patterned blazer will probably only be in style for 3 years max, so it does not need to last 10. Likewise, that  black dress that you will probably wear at every other formal event will occupy a place in your closet for a while, and spending more to have one that lasts longer is not a bad idea. 

And last but not least…

7. Remember: this is for you
Fashion is not something you should be interested in because you friends are. You should not just follow it because you are a girl and “That is just what girls do.” You should not not follow it because you are a guy and “Guys just don’t do that kind of thing.” What you want to wear and like is part of your personality just like your favorite movie and what you like to eat for breakfast. Anyone who tells who you cannot like something or that it is wrong for you to care, or not care if you wish, is the problem, not you. 

Filed under how-to fashion style

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How to Find College Scholarships

by Melisa Wells

I didn’t want to write a post that included advice on the college search without adding another one on college scholarships. Again, I’m no expert: I’m just a mom of two teenagers who does a lot of research and keeps her eyes open. That said, maybe you are looking for ways to make college less expensive and can use any help you can get. So there we are.

In no particular order, here are some tips on finding money for school:

Check your high school’s website.
Our high school has a really great website and part of it contains everything you would want to know about locally-based scholarships like those given by the Junior Women’s Club, the city’s police department, and other local entities. All of the prerequisites, entry dates, and other details for multiple scholarships being in one place is a huge time-saver.

Sign up for scholarship websites.
There are a few good websites out there that will find college scholarships FOR you once you register and fill out a lengthy profile which includes all kinds of things from your religion to whether there are veterans in the family to all kinds of other things. The more information you can provide, the more scholarship possibilities you can end up with. These sites will provide all of the information you need to decide if each scholarship is a fit for you, and you will be able to click the hot links to get to the scholarships’ sites directly from there. You can also keep track of which scholarships you’ve discarded and which you’ve applied for. Here are a couple of websites we’ve used, and FYI I have no affiliation with any of them: FastWeb, Big Future Scholarship Search by the College Board, and our FAVORITE due to its user-friendliness and fun design, Zinch.

Check the scholarships offered by colleges themselves.
Colleges do offer scholarships to prospective (and current, and transfer) students. Check with the financial aid office to get more information. As I mentioned in my last post, private colleges offer all kinds of scholarships that can bring the total cost of attending down to that of a public university. Look for merit scholarships, which are based on high school grades and ACT/SAT test scores as well as scholarships for students who excel that can be won by having a stellar school and extracurricular record and then interviewing with college staff. Other scholarships which can be found via a prospective college involve the kind that are won by auditioning (as in the case of music and art), trying out (sports) and testing (foreign languages and math). Beyond those, colleges sometimes also offer scholarships that are for local high school students, relatives of alumni, residents of that city, and a myriad of other categories.

Use Google.
I knew, once D was on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout, that there had to be a scholarship out there for Jewish Eagle Scouts. I Googled “Jewish Eagle Scout Scholarships” and found two! Google knows just about everything.

Take the PSAT to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship.

Hat tip to Mrs. 4444 on this one because I forgot all about it: by taking the PSAT NO LATER THAN JUNIOR YEAR, students can qualify for this scholarship program. Read more about it here. Missed the test junior year? You’re out of luck.

Check with your employer.
Sometimes large companies offer college scholarships to the children of employees. It’s worth checking!

Continue reading…

Filed under how-to college university scholarships research

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How To Not Not-Write


When I was twenty-two, I used to sit around a lot, not-writing. Or more accurately I used to lay around, because there were mornings that turned into afternoons when the weight of all the things I wanted to write about the way I saw the world got so heavy that it felt like a thousand-pound cat curled up on my chest, making it impossible to get out of bed. I did not have a job at the time, which made matters much worse, because when you have infinite free time you always think you’ll spend it doing all the things you never have time to do when you are busy (like: writing), but instead you spend your time thinking about the enormity of all of those things, inflating them like a cat-shaped parade float balloon that’s filled with cement instead of air, and before you know it it’s nighttime again, and you have not drawn the curtains today, and you have not written a thing.

At the time, a book I was reading was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned, which is a book that everybody should read when they are twenty-two or twenty-three, because its opening paragraph contains one of the truest sentences ever written about being that age: “[A]s you first see him he wonders frequently whether he is not without honor and slightly mad, a shameful and obscene thinness glistening on the surface of the word like oil on a clean pond, these occasions being varied, of course, with those in which he thinks himself rather an exceptional young man, thoroughly sophisticated, well adjusted to his environment, and somewhat more significant than any one else he knows.” There is something wonderful about the way he fits all of that information and contradiction within the bounds of one elegantly drooled sentence, like a bubble that should have popped but, miraculously, didn’t. I wrote it down on a piece of paper somewhere just to admire its shape.

There is a character in The Beautiful and Damned named Gloria, who keeps a “Line-A-Day diary.” She is not a writer, nor is she really one of those characters to aspire to be like; she is an early, somewhat shallow sketch of Zelda, and he’d write much better Zeldas in later books. But something about the concept of this “Line-A-Day diary” clicked with me. What if I just committed to writing one sentence a day? Would that cure the agony of not-writing? Would I feel better when I put my head on the pillow every night, knowing I’d at least written something? Would I wake up every morning and boing out of bed and draw the curtains and say, Let the fucking sunshine in? Yes to all of these things. The transformation, at least in my memory, was immediate. That week I bought a small, fat, red notebook, and sometimes feel like I owe my career to this pretty flat fictional character named Gloria because — fuck kale chips and an ill-fated Pilates phase and that week last winter when I was going to get really into vitamins, but didn’t — keeping a Line-A-Day diary is the healthiest thing I have done for myself in the past three years.

Every once in a while someone will ask me for advice about becoming a writer, and when this happens I always clam up. I am bad at giving advice, I usually say, because the path I took to get to what I am doing now feels haphazard and irregular and full of lucky accidents. But this is not true, or maybe more accurately that haphazardness is true for everybody. I am starting to think that the best advice — the only advice, maybe — you can give comes out of your own haphazard, irregular, lucky, accidental experience. As I mentioned yesterday, I am reading Tiny Beautiful Things, a compilation of Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar advice columns from The Rumpus. And it is a staggeringly powerful book. Each column dispenses this very personal, very usable advice that you can pocket and take with you, but each one is also like a prose poem, structured so brilliantly and artfully and purposefully. I can actually count on one hand the books that have made me cry in my life, but I finish pretty much every one of these pieces in that weird, startled trance-state where you’ve been crying but didn’t realize it until the tears are starting to liquefy your vision. My whole body feels rattled after finishing the really good ones, and I usually need to walk them off.

Probably the most famous Dear Sugar piece is Column #48, “Write Like A Motherfucker.” In it, Sugar gives advice to a then-twenty-six year-old writer named Elissa Bassist on how to get over her own blockage and anxieties. “I know it’s hard to write, darling,” she says to her at one point. “But it’s harder not to.”

If that sentence rattles something inside you, then my advice to you is to make like Gloria and keep a Line-A-Day diary. Write one sentence a day. It can be anything — a quote or an observation from your workday or a one-sentence-short story or a very plain summary of what you did that day. Play with the drooly elasticity of sentences; experiment with colons and semicolons and run-ons and grammatical inaccuracies. If you are going through something that makes it difficult to write even one sentence, just write the date, or a period with no words before it, or maybe just the word, “Nothing.” About halfway through my notebook something terrible happened and all I could write for two and a half weeks was, “Not yet.” “Not yet.” “Not yet.”, and looking back at that page now says more to me about what grief actually feels like than any sort of flowery description of how I was feeling during that time. Also, don’t show the notebook to anybody. Hide it somewhere more original than under the bed, because if someone’s looking for your Line-A-Day diary of course they’re going to start there. One of the worst effects the internet has on writers, I think anyway, is that it instills this belief that you need to share or post or tweet every single sentence that pops into your head. I cannot express how valuable it is to still hold yourself to writing things that you are not going to show anybody.

I am writing all of this on a cosmically important occasion: after today there will be no more blank lines in the red notebook, and I’ll have to buy another one. There is a yellowing sticker on the back that says it cost $6.99, but over the course of three years it has become one of the most valuable things I’ve got; it’s the sort of thing I’d risk burning my hand off to save in a fire. In it there’s so much I would have forgotten if I hadn’t written it down, so many sentences and feelings that are embarrassing to me now, so many banalities, so many people who’ve stayed or gone, so much stupid and wonderful life. But even more valuable is what’s between the lines. If you would have asked me on the first few pages what I did I would have said, “Nothing,” probably, and then flip a little farther and I’d say, “I work in a bakery,” farther still and, “Um, I write stuff at night and work in a bakery during the day,” and then, “I write stuff, sometimes,” and now I am finally at that point where, when people ask, I say, “I’m a writer.” But the truth is that I have been one for a while, since I realized that not-writing is harder than writing and the best way to cure not-writing is to write something every day.

Filed under how-to writing and not writing blockage it's harder not to writing

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How to Talk to a Writer

by Suzanne Roberts

1. Don’t tell me you want to write a book with me. Last week, I got a very excited phone message from an old friend. She said, “Since you have free time this summer, I was thinking we’d write a book together…here’s what it will be about….” This is not the first time I have heard this from friends, people I love and who love me. People who are not writers. But when they tell me that I have free time since I have 12 weeks to write (I teach community college full-time and thankfully do have a summer to write) and that their idea is the one I should pursue (with them because really, anyone can write a book if she has a good idea). I left a polite message explaining that really, I didn’t have any free time. I was squeezing a full-time writing life into a 12-week sliver and that I already had projects enough to pursue and that she should write the book herself. I said Good luck! And I tried not to sound ironic even though I felt ironic. Here’s why: imagine you are a rocket scientist and I called you up and left you this message: “Let’s build a rocket together this summer! I have a great idea for one, and I just know it would be successful. Oprah would probably even want to ride in it!” Now, you would think, how can you build a rocket when you have no training? Rocket science takes years of education, of training, of studying the way other rockets work, of trial and error. You have to build smaller machines before you build rockets. You have to fail many times before you build a rocket that will even leave the earth, much less fly to outer space. You have to dedicate your entire life to rockets. Now, replace rockets with writing. Exactly.

2. Don’t ask me to write or edit your resume, brochure, website, or dissertation for free. And unless your writer friend is a Yenta like me with a weird affinity for matchmaking, don’t ask her to write your profile. While it’s true that my profiles have fetched dates—two leading to marriages, one straight, one gay—I have retired from profile-making, so don’t ask. Would you ask your dentist friend for a free root canal? Your profile takes me more time than your root canal.

3. If I have met you at a dinner party, or anyplace else for that matter, don’t ask me what my real job is after I have told you that I am a writer. My real job, the one I have been educated and training for, is my real job. My real job is the one that I must do, the one that makes me feel like a complete human being, the one that gives something of value to the world. To do my real job I must be brave and I must be unapologetic. Do you have a real job?

4. Don’t follow up the question in #3 with the question, “But how do you make money?” You will be more likely to ask this if I have said “I am a poet,” which takes more courage even than “I am a writer.” I make money any way I can. I make money, but that is less important than the fact that I make poems and stories and essays and books. I make worlds. Buy a book and enter my worlds. Then you would not have to wonder why my real job doesn’t make me any money. You will also not have to wonder why you have never heard of me. Perhaps if you read more widely, you would have.

5. Don’t tell me how bad your grammar is or that you have always been terrible in English. I know you think it is a compliment, but really it makes me uncomfortable. It makes me feel like you are trying to give value to what I do because it isn’t really that valuable. People are expected to be able to say a sentence with correct grammar. Does that equate to being able to write a book? It does not. I can cut up a chicken, but I cannot operate on someone’s brain. When you tell me you are a brain surgeon, I do not say, “Hey, I am TERRIBLE at cutting into people’s brains!” You would assume that to be true. Cutting up a chicken is to brain surgery as saying a correct sentence is to writing a book. Both are a start.

Read more …

Filed under how-to writing writers communication

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How to Drink Good Beer

by Sam Howard

Craft Beer: How to learn about it, start drinking it, and create a group of craft beer loving people, or how to become a beer snob.

1. Get some books at the library. I recommend Tasting Beer for learning about general history and styles, Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide for classic, historically significant beers, and The Oxford Companion to Beer if you’re planning on getting really serious.  
     Well, you know what comes next! No, not drinking. Reading. Take note (seriously, write it down) of what styles sound most appealing to you and why. Learn the terminology of tasting, malt versus hop flavors, light-bodied versus heavy-bodied. Imagine yourself dazzling that hot bartender at that fancy beer bar with all of your knowledge. Go back and review some more.  

2. Wait until your next payday and go shopping! Find out your nearest specialty beer store and spend some time there. Bring a big bag. Ask questions of the staff, and tell them you’re having a big beer tasting with your friends. Get a little of everything on your list of things that piqued your interest and as well as some that you thought might not sound so good. It’s better to know why you don’t like sour beers instead of just assuming you don’t like them from the description. Also, for the love of Pete, get some snacks. Having a big tasting is fun, but you’ll start to forget the end of the night if you’re not having some cheese and crackers in the meantime, or make some pretzel necklaces, whatever knocks your socks off.

3. Get some knowledgeable and adventurous friends to come over for a tasting. It’s easiest to get into beer enjoyment when you’re starting out with someone who can show you the ropes, and explain that even though you don’t like stouts, you should still try that dark colored schwarzbier because it probably won’t have a heavy body.

4. Pour a sample size of each beer for each guest, which is about the size of a shot. Don’t go too nuts, or you know, you’ll get too nuts. Make everyone take notes on each beer they sample, and talk about them as a group. What’s the color like? Where do certain tastes hit your mouth? What different flavors do you taste? It’s okay if you’re the only one that tastes caramel malts! You can check your reviews against some professional reviews online or in one of your beer books from the library if you’re worried you’re missing out on some of the beer’s aspects.

5. Keep trying ‘em. Go out to beer bars and ask the bartenders what to get. They taste (and drink) often. They know things. Secret things. But they’ll share with you, all you have to do is ask. It’s best to tell them a certain style or a type of beer that you really like: “I really like Scotty Karate by Dark Horse Brewing Company. It’s a scotch ale. Do you have anything like that here that I can try?” If that doesn’t work, take a gamble and just ask them for a taste of what their current favorites are.

6. Round up your friends and go on brewery tours. Ask questions. Taste all of the free samples and go to the brew pub and get a growler of your favorite of the day.

7. Repeat steps 1-6 responsibly until you’re chatting up the bartenders at Blind Tiger about different yeast strains, centennial versus chinook hops, or how you just can’t wait for the next collaboration between Avery and Victory. And soon, you’ll know exactly what I mean by that.

Filed under how-to beer craft beer beer snobs

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How To Create/Write/Send a (Really Great) Postcard

by Brittany Shoot

Letter writing, and by extension, postcard writing, is becoming a bit of a lost art. Those of us who were lucky learned about the importance of nice stationary, quality ink pens, and thoughtful prose from our mothers or grandmothers.

Everyone has her own style, which is important to cultivate. How do your postcards and letters represent more than just your words? How do they reflect your inherent style, your values? One of my Grams, a lady named Charlotte now in her early eighties, still types folded paper notecards on her electric typewriter. She begins her letters to me, “Dear Little Brittany,” and types the phrase IN GOD WE TRUST (all caps) on the back of every envelope. By comparison, I write stream-of-consciousness postcards by hand and use a lot of exclamation points. I crowd the whole card with thoughts and sometimes forget to leave enough room for the address.

Some practical considerations if you’d like to get into the habit of sending (more/better) postcards.

1. Keep an arsenal of lovely stationary or quirky postcards. Buy arty cards in museum shops and stock up on kitschy ones when you’re traveling. If you’re artistically inclined, it’s also easy to make your own mail-ready cards from old photos, blank card stock, rubber stamps, and magazine clippings. Whatever you like, collect it. When the mood strikes, you won’t have to go looking for the perfect card because you’ll probably have a really good one on hand. I recommend covering a large shoebox in clear packing tape and using it to store your unused cards. (Fortified shoeboxes also work well for keeping cards you’ve received.)

2. Write small. This is about lettering, not subject matter. You can cram a lot onto a single postcard if your penmanship is tiny. One friend recently texted me, “Just got your postcard. You fit 19 sentences on it!” That didn’t strike me as a lot, but then, I write very, very small. Obviously, my friend thought it was worth mentioning. (And she wasn’t the first.)

Here are some other ways to make your postcards enjoyable missives for others to receive.

1. Avoid questions. Don’t ask, “How are you?” This is especially important if you don’t think the person will write back. (Many people won’t. If they do, it might be a long time from now.) Instead, share the reason you thought to write to the person and use it as an opportunity to express heartfelt appreciation, love, and devotion. “What have you been doing?” is a far less compelling sentiment to share than, “I thought of you today when I read a story about satisfaction at work. Do you think you might be suffering from email overload? I’m so thankful we are friends that can talk honestly about our career aspirations!” Questions are really only useful as a way to share information. “Did you know that Daniel got engaged?”

2. Tell a story, share an anecdote. Don’t just describe what you’ve been doing by saying, “I went on vacation last week. I really needed the time off.” Give proximities, dates, and explanations about what you’ve been doing. Any writing teacher will tell you to avoid telling and to describe instead. Sometimes my postcards are one long story, bookended by the person’s name at the beginning and a short signoff at the end.

Friend! This is the story of the skateboarding kid who nearly hit me today, then circled back and apologized and said deeply insightful things about public space. What an amazing city! Love, B.

3. Write like you speak. I often write to friends without much order or reason behind all of the ideas I cram onto one card. My stream of consciousness on paper is a bit like how I talk: jumping between ideas, suddenly struck by inspiration, veering back to a long-forgotten subject to add a detail. This also means that I have to be discerning about what I include. Nineteen sentences might seem like a lot, but if I have five ideas to explore, I’ve got to construct fairly tight sentences, packing in as much relevant info as possible.

Another example. One friend sent me a tacky postcard from his summer holiday last year that depicted an overly tan naked man on a beach and began the card by writing, “Hi guys. I look like this now!” It was especially funny because it’s easy to imagine that my friend would say such a thing. He’s a hilarious guy!

4. Don’t expect a reply. But do remember: To get a letter, write a letter.

Filed under how-to letter-writing postcards postcard-writing correspondence

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How to Laugh in the Face of Envy in Four Steps

by Michelle Prather

I’ve been dealing with withering ego syndrome for what feels like the past decade. I believed I was well on my way to the land of big dreams and notoriety when I landed a magazine job fresh out of college. Sure, it was a California-based business magazine—not some New York glossy or esteemed literary quarterly, but I imagined it was only the beginning. It was also leaps and bounds beyond what my circle of friends were doing at the time; and let’s face it, it feels pretty good to be ahead in the game of life, even if those feelings of glory rely upon the lesser fortune of those closest to you. Long story short: It all went downhill from there. I’m not a critically acclaimed journalist, but following a rather short string of long-term, unglamorous editorial jobs, I’m a sometimes-write and edit-from-home mother. I haven’t contributed to a 401K in eons; and all those people I felt superior to early in my career? They’re now professors, entrepreneurs, activists, and all-around wonderful people. Am I envious? Not really. I’ve made it my life’s work to avoid envy at all costs. Here’s my strategy:

1. Make a list of every high point and/or accomplishment and frame it. I say everything went downhill after the magazine job, but it didn’t. I’ve found my comfort zone in inching along the career trajectory laterally, but there have been instances of success, both personal and professional, that someone else may very well feel envious of. Remember that what you consider a trivial moment or fleeting triumph may be someone else’s goal, which means that perhaps you’re undervaluing what you’ve done. That said, whether or not an accomplishment is worthwhile shouldn’t hinge on the praise it receives or if it’s made someone else secretly jealous. Instead of basing your merit on the reception of others, challenge yourself to create a self-rating system based solely on your life, abilities, and expectations—not the world at large, and certainly not on your friends’ accomplishments. Analyzing your peers as a source of motivation is great, but doing the “Why them and not me?” thing doesn’t help anyone. It belittles the meaning of friendship, sours relationships, and misdirects your focus.

2. Catch others being envious. It often seems as though envy makes the world go round. It’s why pecuniary emulation (“Keeping up with the Joneses”) exists and why men and women alike over-exercise and starve themselves silly to fit a Photoshopped ideal. In effort to reduce your own envy, note the envy-laden comments you hear on a daily basis. You may have a friend with two houses, ins to all the happening things around town, and serious good looks, but his best friend is in a band, and because your friend isn’t his jealousy is palatable. Or maybe your sister out-careered you long ago, but you have one little accolade that she doesn’t have, and damn it, she’s not going to rest until she has that under her belt too. When you really observe it in action the caustic properties of envy come to light. Oftentimes, it’s more evident in the realm of the haves—people who just can’t get enough success or pats on the back—than the have nots. The line between envy and ambition is blurry, I suppose. But the character of an ambitious person fueled by envy and an ambitious person propelled by outdoing himself or herself is glaringly different.

3. Redirect and deflect envy. No matter how many times you call yourself on it, or meditate, or whatever you do to keep the green-eyed monster in check, envy is intent on sticking around. But even in mild, harmless cases, it’s worth trying to redirect feelings of not being good enough/not having enough into something more productive. The next time you feel like you’re stuck on the bench seat on the most marvelous carousel ride, take some spirit-boosting measures to shut down the bitterness. Go on a compliment rampage, where you literally or virtually high five anyone and everyone you know doing something cool. And do it with sincerity by actually studying whatever it is they’re up to and noting what’s special about it. It’s much harder to feel resentful when someone has truly put in a lot of effort, did something inspired, or is such a good person that he or she is completely deserving of success. The compliment rampage is useful for deflecting incoming envy too. If you sense someone close to you is directing a pistol full of bitterness your way, kill her with kindness and give your own humility barometer a check to be sure you aren’t inviting it. Next, devise a list of things you would be proud of yourself for achieving in your personal life and career, and get to work. It may take time, but the point is that you’re defining success and happiness on your own terms and you’re pursuing the goals for yourself (or for your family, if that’s the case).

4. Take to reading books like the Tao of Pooh or listen to a lot of George Harrison if it helps you realize what you actually have and what’s really important. In “Isn’t it a Pity,” Harrison wrote: “Some things take so long, but how do I explain? / Not too many people can see we’re all the same / And because of all the tears, their eyes can’t hope to see / the beauty that surrounds them…isn’t it a pity?” It’s one of his songs, much like “Beware of Darkness” and “I, Me, Mine” that make me go, “Shut up, you awful, awful brain and stop poisoning me with your insults about my worth as a human and your crazy notions about what it’ll take to make me happy.” Of course there’s a slew of books that offer a similar perspective. Enlightenment by (breathe deeply) self-help—or religious or philosophical—books isn’t for everyone, but if you keep tripping over the envy hurdle, and pep talks from friends don’t stick, maybe the situation calls for an immersion course in need vs. want, the evils of negative motivation, and gratitude. The ability to put a positive spin on things is useful in myriad ways, after all; and if you manage to avoid being an overly optimistic shiny happy person who annoys all your friends, then you’ll not only improve your own outlook, but you’ll be a valuable asset to those you hold dear.

If all else fails, just keep in mind that if you’ve got shelter, plenty of food and water, clean clothes and a pair of shoes—and people aren’t shooting at you or bombing your neighborhood—you’ll be just fine. If you’ve thus far been spared from disease and have all your faculties, you’re fabulous. If you’ve got someone to give you a hug when you need it, you’re golden.

Filed under how-to envy life

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How to Review a Heavy Metal Album

by Natalie Zed

Fans of heavy metal are some of most rabid, knowledgeable, dedicated music fans on the planet. They are the sort of people who collect ticket stubs, who own all their favourite bands’ records in multiple formats, who lust after obscure tapes and fight tooth and claw to get to the front of the stage at shows. Devoted metal heads aren’t just fans of a genre of music; they have embraces an entire lifestyle and community. For everyone already invested in heavy metal culture, this leads to an incredible sense of belonging and camaraderie. For new-comers just beginning to dip a toe in tis musical pool, the look, the sound, and the prospect of penetrating a tight-knit community can be daunting.Heavy Metal Ambassador is your entry point into this loud, dynamic, and powerful subculture. Every column will explore a different aspect of the heavy metal community in Toronto, from locals bands and record release shows, to fashion and graphic design. By demystifying and celebrating this rich and vibrant community, and showcasing some of the fantastic music being created right here in the city, Heavy Metal Ambassador hopes to encourage neophytes, casual listeners and other curious people to dive into the scene, while also in-depth coverage of events, records and products for life-long metalheads.

This piece has a twofold purpose. First, I thought it might be fun to expose my process a little bit, as the way I go about music reviews is something that I developed for myself rather than learned. Secondly, am writing this as my entry into the The How-To Issue, a project organized and curated by the fabulous Molly Templeton. As Templeton explains:

“This weekend, the New York Times Book Review ran its how-to issue, which is a rather nifty idea. The cover of the How-To issue lists eight pieces, two of which are by women. The cover reads, in part, “Judith Warner on How to Raise Your Kids” and “Kate Christensen on How to Cook a Clam.” That cover made me feel like I was in a time warp.”

In response, Templeton invited any woman who was interested to write a how-to guide on the topic of their choice, and submit it to be included in the project. This article also serves as my submission to her excellent issue.

I learned to write heavy metal album reviews (and live reviews, and conduct interviews, and write features etc.) entirely through trial and error. I have worked with several excellent editors in my two-and-a-half years of music writing who all gave me excellent feedback on the finished product and helped shape my skills, certainly, but the raw process was something I had to come up with entirely on my own. This is what I have come up with. I haven’t come across many step-by-step guides for writing album reviews in the past, so hopefully this get someone started if they’re interested in reviewing but aren’t sure how to begin.

I also want to stress that I consider this by no means the final word on the topic. You may have a completely different way of going about things, or you might find that this doesn’t work for you at all. Admittedly, my way is a bit labour-intensive. In the end, you need to follow the process that words best for you asa writer. Consider this merely a starting point, one way into the labyrinth.

Step One: Listening

I listen to an album at least three times before I really begin to write a review. Sometimes, I listen a lot more, but I have never felt like I have been fully comfortable putting a review together without three complete listens. Often, I’ll also go back over any album highlights or specific songs I intend to discuss int he review for multiple listens.

Also, I find it is beneficial to listen to every record under a number of different conditions and with different variables. The listening experience can change very dramatically depending on how you choose to listen to a record, especially metal, which is often very visceral and energy-driven. I recommend listening to a record under some combination of the following circumstances:

  • through headphones
  • on speakers in an open room
  • while sitting still and doing nothing but listening
  • while doing something physical, such was walking or jogging
  • in the background while you are distracted or working

On each of your 3+ listens through an album, take notes. They can be associative, even poetic at this stage. Just record your impressions.

Step Two: Research

I cannot advocate strongly enough how important it is to do research on any band you are writing about, even if the final piece is a short review. You can invaluable perspective on the album at hand and a deeper appreciation for the artist and the album as a whole. Be sure to visit all of the official pages associated with the band you’re reviewing, including their web page, social media pages, and record label website. Read any and all press releases, news stories and recent interviews that you can find about the album. Make sure you have an accurate and up-to-date bio, either online or that has been sent to you by the band or their PR representative, so that you know who is on the band’s current line-up and who performed what on the album. Explanations of the album’s concept and studio updates are particularly valuable as well.

I usually start to put my research together after listening to the album in question for the first time. I like my first listen to be as clean as possible (especially if I am unfamiliar with the band), with minimal preconceptions. After that, I let my research colour the listening experience.

The only research I would not recommend that you do is read reviews of the same album by other critics. It is important that you form your own, genuine opinion about an album and stand by it. You may end up loving a record almost everyone else hates or vice versa. That’s totally fine. Don’t be swayed by the opinions of others until you have formed your own.

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Filed under how-to writing music writing heavy metal criticism

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How to Have the Most Trying Summer of Your Young(ish) Life


1. Fall down on the filthy New York City sidewalks, twice in one month. The first time, land directly on your face. Get a tetanus shot, which actually hurts more than the injury that required it. Heal remarkably quickly, even though a faint rosy spot on the left side of your jaw remains. The second time, execute a swift half-barrel-roll, landing on the back of your left shoulder (much better than your face). Realize, several months later, that these incidents were cinematically-perfect foreshadowing.

2. Stop getting so drunk. Even though you were sober for the second fall. You need to have all your bearings just to stay upright, and alcohol can’t be helpful.

3. Be diagnosed with a mysterious medical condition. Feel confused, disbelieving, frightened, angry, unlucky. Offer up abundant quantities of your blood to make your doctor triple-check. Receive the final results and burst into tears at a coffee shop. 

4. Remind yourself that it could be worse. Hear your obnoxious inner monologue say, “Yeah, but it could also be better…”

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Filed under how-to personal new york life

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How to Graduate College in Four Years

by Marissa Maciel


  1. Get admitted to college in a large, not-too-picky major, like Psychology or Undeclared.

  2. Sign up for the most unfavorable housing option, one that doesn’t have a dining hall, making it very easy to get a room. Get paired up with a person who has decided that college is the time and place to buck every rational ounce of behavior from their system - henceforth getting on a first-name basis with your floor monitor.

  3. Spend first half of the year: realizing that college classes are not the same as high school classes (take notes in class, yo); using up highlighters like toilet paper; figuring out your teaching assistants only know your name in discussion section, not in public; understanding that books can not actually read themselves to you; knowing fire alarms pulled in jest at 4am during finals week are not funny, nor are toilets left clogged through the weekend.

  4. Second half of the year is spent determining that: you can’t, unlike some of your peers, read books while slogging on the elliptical machine at the gym; lots of people are experimenting with drugs and sex and telling stories that involve waking up in strange places, bleeding of unknown origin, and/or making poor decisions about taking a phone call from mom and dad; passing all of your classes even though you nearly flunked out, pre-midterms.
  5. Think that maybe you would like to try to major in film because that sounds like fun.


  1. Have discussion with parents about your housing options: Mom - “It costs too much to pay for on-campus housing, so you’re going to have to live at home.” You - “OK.”
  2. Try commuting from your mother’s house, which is 2 hours away from campus, and realize that your mid-1970s era car was not meant for commuting. End up stranded on the highway for a few minutes each morning while your carburetor gets its shit together. Wonder if the money you’re spending on gas is eating up any money saved from rent? You’re in college now, so you figure this one out in less than a minute.
  3. Move in with your dad who lives only 45 minutes from campus, and near mass-transit. Smack yourself in the head for not thinking of this earlier. Then realize what riding the train and the bus to campus means - waking up at 6am to get to your 8am class.
  4. Don’t actually change majors from Psychology to Film, but figure out a way to take lower-division requirements for the Film major that also count towards your general education requirements.
  5. Realize that your film class instructors only like opinions that revolve around sex (“I thought the hand on the street in Un Chien Andalou was about masturbation.” “Could The Third Man have been about a menage a trois?” “I thought Birth of a Nation should have had a sex scene in it!”); you decide to toss the film major idea, and think about theater arts instead.
  6. Buddy-up with a smart friend who is in your major, and take the same classes; realize that studying with groups actually helps. See your grades improve markedly (after midterms).
  7. Impress your friends by nodding off in class (see “waking up at 6am” above), then suddenly picking your head off your desk to ask an insightful question. Studying on the train is paying off!

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Filed under how-to college university graduating