Thoughts on a New School Year

Alright, let’s get this straight. I am not happy to go back to school. It’s something I dread, then simply resign myself to, every August. I like to think that the sooner I go back to school, the sooner I’ll be done. I brace for it, it happens, and soon enough summer is nothing but a distant memory. Yesterday was my school’s open house, and while I didn’t go into it expecting much- meeting my teachers, seeing who I had classes with, collecting supplies lists- I came away from the experience with a different perspective on the new school year.

I find myself less ambivalent and possibly looking forward to this year. Yes, I still wish summer break was about five weeks longer, but considering that I have no say in the matter, I find that I have a more positive outlook on what this school year might bring. For the first time, I got to choose every single class I’m taking. I met all of my teachers and I like them all; they seem really cool and passionate about what they teach. An absurdity I noticed as I ran through my schedule is that all my teachers are male. I’ve never even had a majority of male teachers, so this alone makes for a new experience.

I realize that when school actually begins, a lot of work (and stress) comes with it. But hearing about the subjects I’m going to study, I feel excited just to be learning. For now, I am able to ignore the fact that the curriculums are designed to meet standards and prepare me for exams, and that good grades require hard work. For now, I am simply looking forward to absorbing new information and becoming a more knowledgeable person. Will this feeling wear off once the reality of school sets in and I become overwhelmed with coursework and grades?

I hope not. I am going to try to maintain an optimistic view of life this year, and that starts with school. I will work hard and do my best, but also try not to get bogged down with the insane amount of work that is high school. I am going to try. 

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The Invention of Wings

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I’ll admit, I was largely skeptical when I picked this copy of The Invention of Wings off the shelf at my local Barnes & Noble in early June. Summer reading assignments had just been posted online, and Sue Monk Kidd’s newest novel was the book chosen for the English class I am taking in the fall. Inwardly, I groaned. Not having been a fan of The Secret Life of Bees, which I was required to read this past school year, I dreaded the last few days of summer break when I knew I’d have to sit down and read another of Kidd’s historical fiction novels set in the South. Though I did have a sliver of hope that I’d enjoy The Invention of Wings more than Kidd’s previous novel (the premise of this one was more appealing to me), I disliked The Secret Life of Bees so much that I put off reading it as long as possible.

You can imagine I was shocked to find myself hooked from the very first page.

This novel takes place over the course of 35 years. The story is told from dual perspectives: chapters alternate between the voice of Sarah, who comes from an aristocratic Charleston family, and the voice of Handful, a slave bestowed upon Sarah for her eleventh birthday. The novel is set in the 19th century before the Civil War. Most of the novel takes place in Charleston, though later parts of the novel document Sarah’s life in the North.

Both main characters were extremely realistic, and their individual- yet somehow always connected- plights made my heart ache. I loved Sarah’s brazen younger sister, Nina, who’s part in the story became bigger as the novel went on. There was a rawness to all of the characters; they were unfiltered, unidealized, making the story feel so real that half the time I thought I was reading a real diary and the other half I thought I was a character, too. Even the strongest, cruelest, and roughest characters, like Missus Grimké, Charlotte, and Denmark Vesey, had amazing moments of vulnerability. Reading this novel, I had the same feeling I think I would have if I found an incredibly old diary and read it. I was gripped from beginning to end, and when the book ended, I was strangely disappointed in a way I never expected to be. I wanted more.

The internal conflicts in this novel, especially within Sarah, set it apart. Also, seeing how much influence societal norms, rules, and expectations held over people in this time period really rattled me. Genuinely good people would turn away a friend, a family member, a person in desperate need, if they felt that helping them would hurt their social standing or reputation. It makes me so thankful that I don’t live in a strict, unforgiving society like the United States seemed to be in the 1800s.

The main two themes of conflict in The Invention of Wings are slavery and the subjugation of women. Both slaves and women were treated as property and servants. Both acted as homemakers, albeit in different ways. However, the forms of bondage used to hold both these groups differed tremendously. Slaves were bound by law to their owners, and people of the South used the Bible to justify slavery. Women were bound by society to predetermined fates, and were treated as pariah if they strayed from their traditional roles. The Bible was used to support the inferiority of women, too. As Handful once told Sarah, “My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you, it’s the other way round.” Both groups suffered from the oppression they faced.

I really and truly learned a lot from this novel. I am thankful that it was required to read for school, because otherwise I would never have considered reading it. I think it’s a book that everyone should read, though I know not everyone will. I fully recommend it. And who knows, maybe I’ll even pick up Sue Monk Kidd’s next novel.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd | Goodreads

New Agenda

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Kate Spade 17-month ‘large’ agenda in “bookshelf”

One of my favorite parts of going back to school is getting a new agenda. I always feel the need to be on top of everything that needs to be done, and I organize my entire life with my planner. Over summer, I tend to forgo my agenda and make daily lists on post-it notes of what I need to do or remember. By August, I am yearning for my organized book of schedules, to-do lists, and random little notes and ideas. Every year, I try out a different type of agenda, and this year I decided to go with Kate Spade (last year was Lilly Pulitzer, the previous year was Bloom Daily Planner, and the year before that was an agenda I picked up at Office Depot). Each year, the planner I choose works even better than the last one, and I almost bought another Lilly planner this year. I loved the functionality and colorfulness of my Lilly planner, and I knew it would perfectly suit my needs for the upcoming school year. However, I felt the desire once again to try something new, mainly because Lilly Pulitzer and the preppiness the brand stands for is not at all my style.

Obviously, I needed an agenda that ran on an academic calendar (August-July), and I wanted one that resembled my Lilly agenda’s setup. I had admired the 2014 Kate Spade agendas and decided to look at the 2015 collection. I was immediately drawn to the bookshelf print: it’s colorful, quirky, and covered in books! The spirals are protected by a spine, it runs from August 2014 to December 2015, and the only main difference from my Lilly planner is there isn’t a separate extra section of monthly views at the front. This, I thought, I can work with.

This Kate Spade agenda is beautifully made and a pleasure to look at. I think I’ll be able to organize it similarly to last year’s agenda. The Kate Spade agendas feel durable, though I do have a few minor concerns. My most prominent worry is that if the inner gold foil lining comes undone from the cardboard exterior, the entire agenda will be rendered essentially useless. But hopefully, I will be able to justify the hefty price tag ($36) with an agenda that lasts all year, no issues. I’m crossing my fingers that I made the right choice.

Need an agenda?

Kate Spade here and here
Lilly Pulitzer here and here
Bloom Daily Planners here and here
May Designs here (I haven’t tried this brand before, but they make beautiful personalized notebooks and agendas for reasonable prices. Too small for my current needs, but maybe one day.)

An Introduction

Hello world.

I have had several blogs before, none long-lasting, and I never wrote a post introducing myself on any of them. Seeing as this blog represents a fresh start- in blogging, in attitude, and in life- I thought it would be fitting to write my first post about, well, me.

To start off, my name is Martha, which means “lady”. I’ve never much cared for my name, and I’ve spent the past year narrowing down and trying out in my head potential new names. Which brings me to the name of this blog, Gemrene (pronounced gem-reen). Though I still have a ways to go until I can legally change my name, Gemma Renée is an absolutely beautiful name that I’ve fallen in love with. To me, this name represents new beginnings (the name Renée actually means “reborn”) and happiness. Since that’s what I want this blog to be all about, the combination and abbreviation of these two names seemed like the perfect name for it.

I am a teenaged-something girl who has a lot of different, scattered interests. From fashion to books, hockey and traveling, languages and reality TV, music and home decor, I have a very multifaceted range of hobbies and interests. Perhaps that’s why I’ve failed at blogging before- I have so many different passions that it was extremely difficult to blog consistently about just one. (I have previously written a fashion/personal style blog, a writing/book blog, and I created a vegetarian lifestyle blog that I gave up on before I even began.) So I finally had to face the cold, hard truth: I can’t have a specialized blog. It won’t work for me. My interests ebb and flow; sometimes I read all the time and wear gym clothes everywhere because I don’t want to shop or dress nicely, sometimes I don’t read at all and wear a different outfit everyday. The point is, I’m doing what every blogger says not to do: I’m starting a blog without a single focus, and I’m going to fill it with miscellaneous posts about everything I like. Deal with it, blogosphere.

I want to travel all across the world and see as many places and cultures as I can. Though I’ve never traveled outside North America, I am obsessed with Europe, especially France. I am a huge Francophile. I’m not sure when or how it started, but ever since I can remember, I’ve been absolutely fascinated with France and all things French. Which brings me to another interest: languages. I’ve studied Spanish throughout my educational experience and plan to continue studying it at least through the end of high school. I definitely want to begin taking French in college, and I want to study abroad in France and hopefully England.

Hockey is the only sport I follow religiously. It’s the only sport I follow at all, actually. Though I am a competitive swimmer, my youngest brother (I have three siblings) plays travel hockey. My family has season tickets to our local NHL team and I couldn’t be more excited for the upcoming season. Not only do I go to games, but I also I watch them on TV, even games my home team is not playing in. That, my friends, is true dedication to a sport. For me, this is extremely impressive.

A career in fashion has been my dream for several years. I really want to go to college in a big city, out of state. I don’t know exactly what I want to do in the fashion industry, but I know that ultimately, I’d like to have a job that allows for travel and hopefully a career in styling. Photo shoots, ad campaigns, red carpet events, movie and TV casts- I know that styling is a job I would never get tired of. Two of my biggest fashion idols are Rachel Zoe and Olivia Palermo because of what they’ve made for themselves in the industry. Also, because their personal style is amazing.

I love to read. Reading is a huge escape for me, and it brings me much joy. I would say that I read a lot compared to most people my age. Most of my friends don’t read at all other than the required books for school, and even those they struggle to get through on time. However, I know there are a lot of book lovers in the book blogging and booktube communities that read way more than I do. I read around 70 books each year. When I start a book, I have a very hard time putting it down. This leads to all-nighters, cramming for tests, and stressing about things I put on hold while I finished the dang book. So I find myself going through cycles of reading every spare minute I have (and don’t have) for a few weeks and then not reading at all for roughly the same amount of time. I wish I could read more consistently and become better at setting a book down when I have other things that need to be done.

Reality TV is my guilty pleasure. Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Dance Moms, The Real Housewives, and Ladies of London are watched by me every single week. I also enjoy Million Dollar Listing, the Bachelor/Bachelorette/Bachelor Pad and Flipping Out. I have more difficulty keeping up with plot-based shows. I used to watch crime shows like NCIS, Law & Order, and CSI regularly, but gave up on keeping up with them. I still watch Pretty Little Liars, and I like the show Reign a lot, though I’ve fallen severely behind. Something about reality television, though, de-stresses me when nothing else can.

I have several other interests as well. For one, I am a vegetarian, so I am always researching ways to be a healthier veggie girl. I want to lead a healthy lifestyle, and health and fitness are important to me. I also love decor and interior design, and I fantasize about redoing my room. (Not gonna happen.) I am most certainly an amateur photographer at best, but I’d like to learn more and become more skilled and creative with my photos.

Last but not least, I’ll share some of the quirks of my personality. I am a Type A perfectionist who is more than a little bit obsessive-compulsive. I consider myself to be rather selfish and stingy, and I definitely need to work on generosity and patience. I’m a good friend who remembers small details and asks the questions no one else my age seems to bother asking: “How is your grandma recovering from heart surgery?”, “How are you doing with your eating and body image now?”, etc. I go all out for Christmas and am willing to spend my entire bank account on gifts for people I love and appreciate. Gifts are my love language. I confront issues directly and despise passive-aggressiveness. I don’t gossip for the most part, but sometimes a girl just needs to vent. That does not mean the listener should go around repeating what was said! I consider myself hardworking, goal-oriented, and I always look at the big picture. School, and being successful in it, is extremely important to me, though sometimes I wish it weren’t so. I have an ambivalent-meets-love/hate view of competitive swimming. I am a pessimist and an idealist. I am a dreamer, and I easily get so caught up in plans for the future that I forget to live fully in the present. I get stressed out really easily, and if there’s nothing to stress over I’ll create a source of stress because I don’t know how to live without it. I get anxiety about the future, and quite honestly, I often live in fear. Regret, severe disappointment, and inadequacy are the three feelings I fear most. I work hard to not feel these things, and other consequences result.

What I’ve come to realize is that there needs to be a balance in my life. A balance between things I have to do and things I want to do. I’ve been mostly work and hardly play for the past… well, long time. In my last years before leaving home and starting a life separate from the one I’ve had for over a decade and a half, I need to learn how to have fun, genuine fun, again. I need to learn balance. I need to teach myself that it’s okay to work my butt off as long as I do things for my own pure enjoyment too. Both working hard and having fun will pay off, albeit in different ways. Most of all, I need to learn how to be happy, and not only that, but to find and create happiness for myself, no matter what is going on in my life. I can’t put happiness on hold until graduation, until college, until my career, until anything. It needs to start now, otherwise the happiness I think I’ll feel when I reach those milestones will be temporary and artificial. Because stress doesn’t go away. Because life is never perfect. Because we as human beings must be happy with the people we are before we can be the people we will become. And I have to be happy with myself to be happy with my life and all that I am blessed to have.

I only have this one life. And I need to start living it.