Enchantment Learning & Living Blog

Welcome to Enchantment Learning & Living, inspirational blog about the simple pleasures, radical self-care, and everyday magic that make life delicious.

Reading Romances: 10 Life Lessons I've Learned from Reading Trashy Novels

Confession:  I am addicted--and I mean ADDICTED--to trashy book covers.  Vintage pulp.  Over-the-top fantasy.  Macho westerns.  And of course, most especially, romance novels.  Those covers are a particular weakness with their half-naked heroes with rock-hard abs and the heroines with uncooperative dresses that practically fall from their bodies.  The lusty gazes.  The idyllic background.  It all promises, well...you know.  And if there's a lusty pirate on the cover, I'm done for (what can I say? I love a good story about swash-buckling social transgression!).

I've been collecting trashy book covers for as long as I can remember.  But it hasn't been until recently that I've started reading romance books in earnest, thanks to my new addiction, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, which has guided me through the delicious world of these novels.  Don't get me wrong, I've read plenty of paranormal stories, cozy mysteries, and fantasies with strong romantic elements, and studied courtship novels almost exclusively while earning my degree...but I'd never fully immersed myself in this genre.  

Sure I've read Nora Roberts here and there or thumbed through the books I'd bought for their covers, but I hadn't completely committed to the romance. One of the big reasons is that I found it so overwhelming!  There are so many books and so many authors, I didn't know where to start. And (she says shamefully), there was the whole romance novel stigma.  You know, the whole, "you read THAT?!"  Why yes, yes I do.

And love every minute of it.  I've become partial to historical romances.  They are, as Sara Wendell from Smart Bitches would say, my catnip.  One of the reasons I've fallen in love with the genre is that it is about hope and all the soft, gushy feelings our society doesn't value in the way it should. Naturally, I would turn to this genre during my year of radical self-care because it reminds me how powerful pleasure is.  

This is also a genre of reinvention (these stories have come so far from the early years of Fabio heroes foisting themselves upon virtuous maidens!).  It encourages us to sweep off the dust of experience, heal the scrapes inflicted by a hard world, and remember what it is like to feel hope and other giddy, luscious things.  And the heroines!   Let's just say each and every one of them is epic in her own way but they all teach you how to cultivate romance in your own life.  

When I say romance, sure, I mean chocolates and flowers and orgasms as that comes into your life; but I also mean remembering what it is like to see the world through rose-colored glasses.  To know yourself and what brings you joy.  To take pride in owning your capacity for pleasure in all things.  And to work hard for your happiness.  So without further ado, I offer you 10 life lessons I've learned from reading trashy novels.

1.  It's important to nourish--and value--your internal life.  We live in a world that values extroversion and concrete achievements, so much so that I often come home tired of this out-there energy and in desperate need of emotional sustenance, the kind that honors the rich nuances of the human spirit that goes beyond material accomplishments. What a treat it is then to crack open a book and read about the deep internal lives of fictional characters.  Romances are delicious character-driven stories.  They offer insight into how our thoughts and past experiences shape who we are now.  Most of all, they show us the often intangible, but no less important value of taking the time to process the world around us.  Sometimes the most profound changes and experiences are revelations that burst upon us when we create space to reflect.  

2. Happy endings are real.  Seriously, who doesn't need this reminder right now?  Not only are they real but you have the power to make them happen.  What you choose to give time and energy to can determine the quality of your life, so let go of toxic people and situations and thoughts.  So yeah, happy endings real, but it takes a lot of hard work to get there!  Which takes us to lesson number three...

3.  Happiness is hard work. The conflict resolution never falls into the heroine's lap and true love doesn't just happen to her--she works at it, to understand herself, to resolve her situation, and to open herself up to love (of life, of herself, of the hero(ione)).  Guess that whole stereotype of the hero fixing things for her is busted! In all the romance novels I've been gobbling up, never once do I see a fainting damsel in distress looking for a knight in shining armor to whisk her away from danger.  She always meets trouble head on and eventually enjoys the perks of a capable hero by her side (or under or on top of her...wink wink).  

4.  Hope can take you a long way.  Romances are about hope and letting go of a jaded worldview that limits your potential and capacity for happiness.  Hope is one of those soft, gushy feelings made out of rainbows and wishes.  Because it is light as a feather, it is often overlooked as unimportant or not as enlightening as darker emotions.  But these stories refresh and revive and inspire hope.  They remind us to dream and wonder and always, always look for the joy in the day.

5.  Pleasure is powerful.  Okay so I've been reading a lot about multiple orgasms and endless sweaty nights and more sexual positions than I can properly name, but...what's wrong with that? Again, just because it feels good doesn't mean we should dismiss it as not important or serious. In fact, pleasure in any form (not just the mattress-breaking kind) is one of the most profound ways we experience life and learn about the kind of life we want to cultivate. 

6. Leave plenty fo room for sexy times!  (See number 5.) Light beeswax candles.  Wear clothes that make you feel beautiful.  Cook a sumptuous dinner.  Kiss.  A lot.  Or enjoy some quality solo time (wink wink).  Watch the sun set.  Watch the sun rise.  Paint your nails.  Walk naked around the house (wait, you don't do that?).  Read a book.  Do anything and everything that makes you feel sexy and vibrant.  

7. A good heroine takes action. Every book I've read has a dynamic heroine who takes charge of her life.  Personal chef business failing?  Move to your hometown for the summer to figure out your next move.  Crushing on the rakish duke?  Seduce him at the masquerade.  Captured by pirates?  Join the crew!  Even if she starts out as a doormat, she grows into an empowered woman.  

8.  It's never too late to reinvent yourself.   This goes back to hope.  Sometimes we get stuck.  Sometimes we get a lot stuck. Sometimes we worry that we've gone so far down a road that we can't turn back, pull over, or blaze a new trail.  We become afraid. Our vision narrows.  We begin to resign ourselves to an unfulfilled life.  Trashy books tell us that is the exact moment when the universe needs to shake things up.  Get accidentally snowed in with an unrequited love (make sure there's plenty if mistletoe!) or win the lottery and finally live a life free from the social constraints of the marriage market. When the universe intervenes or you take matters into your own hand by quitting your terrible job to travel the world, these books remind us that we don't have to stay on the tracks we--or others--have laid out for us.  We can reinvent ourselves at any time.  

9. Emotions matter--trust your instincts.  Ahhhhh, the whole he-should-be-perfect-for-me-but-there's-no-spark plot.  Or the seems-like-a-good-guy-but-really-is-evil.  It's easy to succumb to social pressures or our own convoluted ideas about what might make us happy; but if we actually stop and listen to what will bring us joy, we will find it's often not in the generic socially acceptable picture-perfect version of our life we tell ourselves we want.  Real life is gritty (even in a romance novel); real life asks you to question the status quo; real life asks you to be true to yourself.  The only way to do that: be brutally honest about your feelings.  Not what logic tells you make sense.  Your feelings.  Those hard-to-quantify-oh-so-magical things that let you know when you're moving in the right direction (hint: it is towards the gentleman thief with a shadowy past and a mullet that would make any 80s rockstar envious...or whatever).

10.  Value yourself. This is another important lesson.  Either the heroine already understands the value of self-respect or she grows into it by the end of the story.  In either case, romance novels are powerful vehicles for showing that strong women--vulnerable, emotional, capable women--have to value themselves first and foremost.  Everything else comes out of this.

Bottom line: if reading romances is wrong, I don't want to be right!  (Cut to me sweeping out of the ballroom--bedroom?--in my disheveled fuschia regency gown and running after said pirate...book.) We could all use a little romance in our lives.  A little tenderness and hope.  And if my laptop background now features scantily-clad Victorian lovers mid-tryst or a Fabio-like hunk wrapped in pink satin sheets with a woman rocking 80s bed head, then so be it.

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational blog celebrating life’s simple pleasures, everyday mysticism, and delectable recipes that are guaranteed to stir the kitchen witch in you. If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is in the everyday, subscribe to my newsletter below for regular doses of enchantment. Want even more inspiration? Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Here’s to a magical life!

What Love Looks Like

You find it in the small hand, no bigger than a silver dollar, pressed against your forearm as your niece finds her balance.  Each finger, barely larger than a thick blade of grass, has left its mark on your skin though nobody could tell by looking at it.  You find it too, in the fuchsia baby blanket that cannot possibly hold all the tenderness you feel for this little creature that has made her way into your life; this blanket gets bigger and bigger with each passing day so that you can loop happiness and abundance into each shelled stitch.  You want her to remember that her palms were once wrapped around your thick thumbs as she learned to hold herself upright--you want her to know that she has always been strong, always been eager to experience this world.  She only has to look at this blanket, or wrap it around her slight shoulders, to feel the support of her auntie and know that she, like her mother, is a force to be reckoned with.

This four letter word people bend into two kissing curves that pucker into a point looks nothing like a real heart.  A real heart is messy, made up of pumping blood and so many veins and memories that keep it going.  And something else that you cannot fully name but know it is sweeter, more life-affirming than the oxygen that this organ provides.  It is that moment (years ago now, a recollection tattooed into your artery walls) when you said everything was fine, and your parents knew what you really meant was that you were slowly being swallowed by fog, and so sent you a care package full of sunlight, red chile pods, and pinon coffee.  Yes, that kept your blood pumping and chased away the darkness.  You were not alone.

It is on the journey home with your older sister and the promises you made each other to live as extraordinary beings (and the bottles of wine and long conversations that prompted those promises, now like so many matches lit and thrown into your enteral fires).  Then when she found her roots and wings, you found another brother.  Here is the solid earth-forged spirit that grounds, ready to remind you that you don't need to carry so much weight on you shoulders--shouldn't.  But there is more.  You find this ephemeral warmth in the taste of kimchi and oysters on the half-shell chased down with a dirty martini.  This is always somehow accompanied by images of your brother arranging all your boxes, most of them books, into your travel pod so you could bring your life home.  Or of him and wife walking through the park that was once your refuge on their wedding day. There was so much sunlight that afternoon.

And still, you find this thing--this beating, pumping thing--woven into each breath.  You can't even look at the inside of an orange peel without thinking of long full fingers scraping away pith one orange quarter at a time to transform this fruity carcass into leathery hugs, a reminder that your younger sister is always close though an ocean separates you.  Close enough that you can never simply tear a banana open with a quick tug of its gnarled stem but must carefully slice the skin apart from stem to nubby bottom so as to better preserve that yellowed husk; she would know somehow if you took a shortcut.  And you think of the man that loves her.  Here you know a kindred spirit, one who understands instinctively that the internal life is just as important than the external one--perhaps more so. There is much to be found on the page and the inward-turning gaze.

You don't have to be anything other than yourself with these people; you can be the quiet wildling with bare feet and kinky hair happy to get lost (found?) in a book or a garden--or a kitchen.  And when you can't always give yourself permission to be this elusive creature, they remind you that your soul was forged from ink and summers playing outside with your siblings and always, always from feeding the wonder and delight that makes each day worth getting up for.

That's the day-in-day-out of it: the barely contained smile from your sisters because they know you are all thinking the same thing...and probably shouldn't say it out loud.  We are surrounded by strangers, after all, and the thought is not fit for polite company.  Even the frantic lick of puppy tongues on your hands and pawing of your furry charges when you haven't seen them for some time tells you that your life is full. Or the smell of green chile stew and the pure pleasure of a tortilla fresh from the griddle in the kitchen you grew up in that reminds you at the end of the week that you are surrounded by love.

That's it.  That's the word.  Such a small one for an awful lot of feeling.

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational blog celebrating life’s simple pleasures, everyday mysticism, and delectable recipes that are guaranteed to stir the kitchen witch in you. If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is in the everyday, subscribe to my newsletter below for regular doses of enchantment. Want even more inspiration? Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Here’s to a magical life!

A Love Letter to Spring Break

Dear Spring Break,

I don't normally write these kinds of letters, but something about you makes me want to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and describe, in graphic detail, all the things that make you delectable. 

Let's start with the length you: ten whole days of freedom.  Ten whole nights of staying up late watching old movies.  240 whole consecutive hours in which I don't have to wear real clothes or even shoes for that matter.  14,400 minutes to take long naps and even longer bubble baths.  864,000 seconds to lose track of--afternoons to get lost in pulp novels, mornings to while away over a cup of coffee. 

But that's not all, Spring Break.  I've only just scratched the surface of your deliciousness.  I haven't even gotten to your luxuriousness, like a mink coat or velvet on bare skin.  Every inch of you begs to be saturated in pure, unadulterated enjoyment.  Yes, you say, to drinking wine on the porch!  Yes to locking away your teacher-self, as you do your teacher wardrobe, in your closet--no need to feel so downright responsible all the time.  Yes to indulging in your introversion! Yes to rejecting firm schedules! Yes!  Yes! You are E. M. Forster's Yes to the everlasting Why.

Spring Break, you are the biggest flirt that ever lived, egging me on with your promises of fun, your coy hints at bottomless pleasure.  Spring Break you seduce me with your no-nonsense approach to hedonism--nothing must be done that is not thoroughly, completely enjoyed. 

Life, you tell me, is a celebration.

Sincerely,

Maria

PS I like you.  Do you like me?  Please circle one: Yes    No     Maybe

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational blog celebrating life’s simple pleasures, everyday mysticism, and delectable recipes that are guaranteed to stir the kitchen witch in you. If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is in the everyday, subscribe to my newsletter below for regular doses of enchantment. Want even more inspiration? Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Here’s to a magical life!