How to Be More Like Nellie Bly

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Dear P,

This morning I was doing my usual perusal of my favorite blog, Brainpickings. Maria Popova wrote a post today about the 13 best biographies, memoirs, and histories of this year. In it is the book Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World. I had never heard of Nellie Bly, so this discovery prompted some quick research. P, I discovered that Nellie Bly was one of the coolest women in history. I think you will like her too, so this post is a brainstorm about how we can be more like Nellie Bly.

The Quests we did when this blog started were a good start. As you will recall, when we still lived in our hometown, bored out of our minds, we embarked in a series of quests that involved camping out in a library, making flower crowns, and creating beautiful forts:

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Nellie Bly had simliar types of quests, though hers were more oriented towards social activism than our teenage antics were. In 1887, Bly wanted to find out what insane asylums were like from the inside, so she convinced a team of doctors and psychologists that she was insane. She spent ten days as a patient inside the Woman’s Lunatic Asylum and found the conditions deplorable. She brought lots of attention to the poor conditions of asylum patients through her journalism, which was compiled into a popular book called “Ten Days in a Mad-House”.

Another of her self-assigned quests involved traveling around the world in eighty days like Jules Verne’s character Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days. She resolved, in fact, to beat Fogg, and travel around the world in less than eighty days. 1888, the year she set off, was still many decades before Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 flight across the Atlantic, and all her travel was by ship, railways, and, of course, foot. Along the way, she met Jules Verne, visited a leper colony in China, and bought a monkey in Singapore. The book mentioned in the first paragraph is about her journey.  She ended up reaching her goal and traveling around the world in seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds.

Nellie Bly was an excellent journalist because she had the ability to both stand out and blend in. Many biographers of Nellie Bly comment on her average looks. Matthew Goodman, author of Eighty Days, describes her as “neither tall nor short, dark nor fair, not quite pretty enough to turn a head: the sort of woman who could, if necessary, lose herself in a crowd.” Many women would take being called “average-looking” as an insult, but I disagree entirely. When you need to fly under the radar, it can be an effective method of camouflage. In the book You Can’t Lie to Me, which I read this summer and highly recommend, the author Janine Driver discusses a friend of hers who is a middle-aged, sweet Southern woman who also happens to be a private investigator. This woman’s looks and status in society allow her to work her magic almost completely undetected. People will carry on private conversations or continue duplicitous activities in her presence. I know we are young and fairly good-looking, P, and you’re especially tall, but sometimes it’s fun to skip the makeup and dress down to fly under cover. Today I did and it allowed me to avoid a certain anxiety-inducing boss (you know who I’m talking about). Thanks, Nellie Bly!

Nellie Bly wasn’t afraid to stay flexible. After she retired from her journalism career, she became the president of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., which made steel containers. She was one of the leading female industrialist in the U. S. and published several patents. When her company was foiled because of employee embezzlement, she fell back on her journalism career and covered the Suffragette Parade of 1913. She accomplished all these adventures before dying at only 57. Throughout her last days, she worked hard for the betterment of orphanages and children’s living conditions.

Here is a lovely rendering of Nellie Bly by “The Reconstructionalists“.

Stay adventurous, flexible, resourceful and generous,

E

Defining Success

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Dear P,

Ideally, I would have a perfect idea of what success meant to me. It would be concise, beautiful, and definite, so I would know exactly when I had reached it. When I broke through this shimmering golden finish line, the crowds would cheer. People who have wronged me would shed tears of regret at my lost favor. Those I love would have gifts and adulation showered upon them (I include myself in “Those I Love”, of course).

This is an impossible idea, unfortunately. Success is tenuous and constantly questionable according to which ideal you are trying to live up to. I just attended a talk by Jerry of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. He said his company had two bottom lines: profitability and community benefit. He emphasized how the problem with social change is that it is much harder to measure than profitability, which is why many companies find it easier to act so obviously against the good of society.

Jerry took his definition of success for his company and evolved it into something not only unconventional, but revolutionary. Ben & Jerry’s donates the most pre-taxed profit of any company in the United States and sets the model for company good everywhere. Like Jerry, I’ve been thinking about my own personal definition of success a lot lately so that I make such an impact with my own life. I keep coming back to my middle school English and Creative Writing teacher, Mrs. Farley (above). Middle school was a rough, but formative, time for me, as it is for pretty much everyone. I spent my lunches and recesses in the library up until the seventh grade, but in middle school they make you stay in the cafeteria, which meant I had to learn to speak to people. Mrs. Farley offered unconditional love and support during this time, introducing me and my classmates to a number of young adult books that encouraged us to answer to no man and start figuring out what we believed in, including “Stargirl” by Jerry Spinelli, “Freak the Mighty”by Rodman Philbrick, “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “The Giver” by Louis Lowry. Well into her seventies, Mrs. Farley was beautiful, lived a rich and interesting life, talked every day about how much she loved her husband and ran six miles every morning. Last I heard, she was teaching English to little girls in China.

When I turned twenty, I reflected a lot on my life thus far, and whether or not I was on a trajectory to fulfill my own definition for success. This is a tough thing to reflect on because, again, I still haven’t quite decided on my defintion for success. However, I came to the conclusion that if I was a person that my thirteen-year-old self AND Mrs. Farley could be proud of, I can be happy with that.

Yours,
E

Making Mondays Sunny

Quote of the Week:

“Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.”

Golda Meir

Dear P,

It has been a been a beautiful week filled with great food and better companions. The “Things I’m Grateful For” list this week might as well be “Best Food in Austin”.

Things I’m Grateful For:

My mama’s visit, getting this article into Thought Catalog, learning that I was accepted to my study abroad to Australia next spring, eating at Zocalo CafeKerby Lane, and Clay Pit in the last twenty-four hours, feeling better after being droopy at the beginning of the week, journal night with I, dinner at Hula Hut with S, hot chocolate from Walton’s, a visit inside our breathtaking Texas capital, samples from Whole Foods, finishing Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography on the Librivox podcast (it was free), getting your mom’s friend request acceptance on Facebook, my stellar run last Monday, visiting the Half-Priced Books in Austin for the first time, my on-point outfit last Tuesday, and missing our very sad UT football game yesterday.

Hungry yet, P?

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Things to Make Next Week Sunnier:

Continue following the daily practice, study hard for neurobiology, trying to start doing yoga and meditating again and avoid comparing my life to the lives of others.

I’m missing you loads and I hope everything is stellar in Boston.

Love,

E

How to Be The Perfect Wing Woman

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Dear P,

The other day, I listened to an episode of “Relations: the Podcast” about how to be a good wing-woman or man. I agree with most of the points Elijah Young and Sarah Storer make, but I think they gloss over some of the more important issues and are wrong about some things, so I am going to do my own version here. I have no qualifications other than being the self-appointed matchmaker of the year. If I were as good at having my own game as I am helping other people have game, I would be the most popular girl at UT.

The point of being a wing-woman is making the other person look cool. In its best form, it is a selfless act of love. I would go so far as to call it a spiritual act. You are completely focused on the person you are with. You laugh enthusiastically at their jokes and tell cool stories in which they play the protagonist. You get them more drinks before they run out. Basically, you act enamored of them, and then, following your example, everyone else will be. Your goal is to set an example.

To initiate a conversation, Storer had a good tip. Pretend you are having an argument over something with your friend and you need an objective opinion. Extra points if the argument is over something sexual, because that sets the tone.

In this role, you are not allowed to be weird. Why would anyone follow the social example of a weird person? You must be perfectly charming and neutral. If the person you are targeting ends up sticking around, they will figure out you are weird eventually anyway. Do not talk too much. If the person you are wing-womaning for makes a slightly off-joke or extends their story a little too far, find a way to redirect subtly while continuing to act like they are the most interesting person in the room. Remember, this is an art. You do this for the joy of the art, not for your own attention. Your ego is not important. What is important is that your friend gets laid.

When it comes down to closing time, go away for a couple of minutes, then come back. If your wing-womaning worked and your friend has a new make-out buddy, they will probably disappear. If either party is not feeling it you can diffuse the situation and take your friend home for ice cream. You probably want your wing-womaning skills to work, but remember, your friend is the most important party here, and she needs to feel comfortable at all times.

This formula works for more than women. Men can use it, too. Also, it can be used beyond the contexts of romantic situations, though you should probably adjust the amount of sexual tension in your conversation accordingly. If you have a particularly shy friend at a social gathering, wing-woman until they have a large group of shimmering new friends around them.

Why you should indulge in the act of generosity? To hone your socializing skills, to make your friends happy, because it is more fun to focus on others than you own self-conciousness and because the universe will eventually return the favor. Trust me on that one.

This is My Decade

“This is about a new phase in history where art, science, business, and spirit will join together, both externally and internally, in the pursuit of true wealth. It’s a phase where ideas are more important than people and everyone will have to choose themselves for happiness, just like I did. They will have to build the foundation internally for that choice to manifest. And from that internal health the rest will come, whether it’s a business, art, health, success.”

-J. Altucher

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Dear P,

I’ve often heard our friends say things like, “Ugh, I wish I had been born in the twenties,” or “The sixties were where it was at.” This sentiment is echoed in Woody Allen’s recent masterpiece, “Midnight in Paris.” I agree that being a flapper girl would have had a splash of glamour to it, though the whole prejudice thing would have been an issue. It would have been cool to be alive when the Beatles were in their heyday, or to don red lipstick and poodle skirts (cough, cough, T).

However, I believe we came of age at the most magical possible time. It has my pleasure to grow up with the internet, to watch it evolve and change society. The crash in 2008 made “job security” a thing of the past. Technology has made the repetitive jobs of our parents and grandparents obsolete. Flexibility and resourcefulness are replacing specialization and rote work. This is the decade of the artist-entrepreneur, who can start a business and create great work from anywhere. Old, bloated establishments, like the publishing and music industry, are going under, leaving room for the new and exciting. Alex Day, a British youtube sensation, beat Justin Timberlake for the number two spot on iTunes at the beginning of this year. Alex lacked Timberlake’s media empire, but managed to broadcast himself and his music with sheer talent and business acumen.

I’ve heard you worry before about the Big Question: “What am I going to be when I grow up?” This question is irrelevant. We need to pursue our interests with abandon and find ways to expand upon them. That is all. Adults will still try to fit us into boxes: “pre-med”, “pre-law”, “loser”, etc. These adults are deluded and we should not confine ourselves by the boxes they impose on us. You may go to medical school, but that does not mean that you can’t start a business, do research or find a way to use new research to develop better ways to teach kids math. To be successful, we must combine, recombine, develop and peel away.

I am lucky because my parents understand this. They have never advised me in terms of, “Secure one, steady job you can bore yourself to death with for your entire life.” They have always focused on developing marketable skills so that I am able to seize as many opportunities as possible, and even develop my own.

I am especially excited to live at this time because I feel that I am in such good company. I am only a tweet away from my heroes: Oliver Sacks, who is the grandfather of the popular science book, Maria PopovaJames Altucher (who I stole the Alex Day story from), Penelope Trunk (who I found recently and am obsessed with), Steven PinkerCheryl Strayed of Dear SugarGala DarlingJeff CorwinBrene Brown, and my former TA Joe Hanson of the youtube series It’s Okay to Be Smart. These people invariably make their living conveying interesting information in a compelling way. P, I want to do that. Being a contemporary of these people is better than being a contemporary of Fitzgerald, Roosevelt, Einstein or Picasso.

It’s a beautiful world, P, and for smart, creative ladies like us and our compatriots, the future is wide open.

Hugs and kisses,

E

A Beautiful Day for a Thrift-Shopping Lesson

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Dear P,

Sometimes, even thrift-shopping queens like us and Macklemore need a refresher. I don’t know if you’ve seen this TED talk, but it is adorable. Even if you don’t love all of Jessi Arrington’s outfits, you have to admit that her attitude is infectious. I’ve been missing our pound store back home: the thrift stores in Austin are more picked over. Here is a beautiful article on Rookie about Halloween thrift shopping with the band “Au Revoir Simone”. If you’re more into practicalities than aesthetics, there is also this article about how to thrift your holiday gifts. Here‘s an excellent article by one of my favorite bloggers, Elsie of “A Beautiful Mess”. Her tips are solid. My rules of thrift shopping are contradicting:

1. Keep an open mind

2. You don’t have to buy everything

Stay away from items that are awesome but slightly too big or otherwise not flattering. It’s easy to buy too much when everything is so cheap. On the other hand, you can find a lot of great vintage slightly out of the way. Keep your eyes and mind wide open.

The cover of this post is John Cusack in “Say Anything”, which I watched last night. It was a great eighties movie with an uplifting ending. I highly recommend it. I think they set a good standard to thrift shop to.

I hope you’re having a lazy Sunday,

E

The Scent of Individuality

Dear E,

As you know I’m kind of a collector of perfumes. My bathroom at home is artfully arranged with different perfumes and my desk at school has it’s own little corner just for my oddly shaped magical little bottles. I love new scents and all the feelings and memories they evoke. Did you know the human brain can identify over 50,000 scents? Out of these though only 20% are pleasant smells. Some days I feel musky and deep and other days I feel light and flowery. Sometimes I’m sweet and sometimes I’m cool and fresh–my scent is forever changing and evolving, just like my style and my mind and my body. I found this really cool ad for an old perfume on the blog seaofshoes.com. I wish all ads were still as cool as this. I don’t agree with all of the things on this, but I wanted to show it to you anyway.

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Miss you loads E! Thanks for drawing me as a Disney princess. I absolutely love it. And it’s my background right now. Also talking to you on the phone cheered me up a ton. The week has already gotten a little brighter. Have a lovely weekend.

xoxo,

P

Modern Day Disney Princesses

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Update: P drawn by E

Dear E,

You might have seen the posts about real women being made into Disney princesses, but if you haven’t you should definitely read about it in these three links:

http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/flatten-heroine-artist-puts-disney-princess-filter-10-real-life-female-role-models/

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/11/why-shouldnt-gloria-steinem-be-a-disney-princess/281108/

http://www.thefrisky.com/2013-11-05/artist-turns-real-life-female-role-models-into-disney-princesses/

I think this is awesome. I kinda wanna try to draw myself as a princess except I’m not quite sure what kind of princess I would be yet slash I can’t draw, lol.

Miss your pretty face and sending sunshine and sparkles your way!

Love,

P

Making Mondays Sunny

Hello my dearest E!

I miss you loads! I haven’t done a MMS in a very long time. I’ve been hella busy. My g cal looks like someone threw up all over it. I took my intro to neuroscience test today, so I have a few moments to spare before I start studying for my next few exams.

My favorite quote this week:

“You think I’m not a goddess?

Try me.

This is a torch song.

Touch me and you’ll burn.”

-Margaret Atwood, except from the poem Helen of Troy does Countertop Dancing

 

Things I’m Thankful For: S’s mom coming in from Finland and me getting to hang out with her, me hanging out with all of my best friends’ parents at red dress gala, getting all pretty for red dress gala, Starbucks and pumpkin spice lattes, Halloween, costumes, dressing up, having a blast even if it’s while studying for 10 hours straight, my little who is very adorable and cute, my big and my big big who I’ve gotten exponentially closer to this semester, playing doubles in volleyball and the feeling of smashing a ball, S doing Harvard stadiums with me, S sharing chocolate with me, K for always dealing with me, cuddling with M, crisp fall weather, getting to wear boots and cute sweaters, frozen mangoes, eating cookie dough raw, watching Friends with all of my friends, an amazing night out with friends, having random skype talks with E, and all the amazing people I have for me here and back home.

Things to make this week sunnier:

I really want to try to slow things down because I don’t know where this semester has gone and I feel like I’m so busy ALL the time so I’m going to:

Try to work out more

Try to study ahead as much as possible

Try not to skip a single class

Do some journaling or read a few pages of a book

Take time to be present

Here are some pics from the last few weeks–mostly from red dress gala and Halloween (I was a minion):

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Me and S

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Left to right: me, M, Jaff, F, and S

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me and my big!

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me, M and S doing Charlie’s angels

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Me and S (S was a leopard, original right?)

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Me and Sherry!

Love you and miss you tons—have a lovely week and a sunny Monday E!

-P