A Novel Debut

A Remedy in Writing

Originally Published by InterviewHer.com on November 1, 2010

Author and Media Expert Daisy Whitney

“Talking about things is what helps us heal and recover from challenging times in life,” explains Daisy Whitney, host of New Media Minute and author of The Mockingbirds. Yet, many women feel silenced about sexual abuse – especially teens who have been date raped. Daisy Whitney just might change that with her new book. She knows a thing or two about overcoming obstacles and finding the strength to speak out.

Daisy Whitney is a talented writer and media expert with a thriving personal business and family. She’s also releasing her debut novel, The Mockingbirds, on November 2, 2010, which has already received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Yet, her journey to success and “masterfully” written novel began with a hardship — one that changed her life and inspired her to write about date rape, vigilantism and academic politics.

Daisy Whitney was date raped when she was 19-years-old and she understands firsthand what it means to find her voice and the strength to press charges against her attacker. “I was a freshman in college at the time and am definitely a big believer in the power of speaking up.”

With the support of her friends Whitney pressed charges in her school’s justice system at Brown University. “In the early nineties we were starting to understand date rape,” said Whitney in an interview. “Institutions now have disciplinary systems that recognize sexual assault as a violation of the

code.”

Thankfully, her school handled Whitney’s case and she healed from the incident by being able to talk about it and find closure for herself. After receiving her degree, Whitney started her career in journalism as a reporter and later founded her own business as a reporter and media expert.

The Mockingbirds is the first in a series about a secret society in a private high school called Themis Academy. The protagonist,Alex, is sexually assaulted after a night of drinking. She struggles to remember what happened that night as she copes with her fear of the classmate who raped her. Her friends provide guidance when she realizes that she has been violated and abused. In her quest to heal, she encounters the Mockingbirds, a student-run justice system and she decides to press charges against her attacker.

The Mockingbirds, by Daisy Whitney

In this exciting and evocative book, Whitney captures the complexity of date rape with her narrative about Alex, an exceptional concert pianist who wants to pursue music at Juilliard. Whitney creates a powerful scenario, filled with realistic characters that show teens the trials of coping and the importance of finding empowerment after assault.

The novel comes at a crucial time. One in six women will become victims of sexual assault during their lifetime, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). Many of them are girls, ages 16-19. The California Coalition Against Sexual Assault estimates nearly half of reported cases of sexual assault and attempted rape are teens. “According to a study conducted by The Northern Westchester Shelter, with Pace Women’s Justice Center, about 83% of 10th graders said they would sooner turn to a friend for help with dating abuse than a teacher, counselor, parent or other caring adult,” said Whitney in an email.

For Daisy Whitney, speaking up and increasing awareness are not only key elements of her novel, they are also part of her business plan, turning her tragedy to triumph, while helping teens on the way.

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Vacation: The Work-Free Me

I finally took a real vacation this year. I waited for cheap flights and a really good excuse to take some time off. Last week it was my friends’ wedding and a whole lot of family time. And, there’s nothing like a vacation to get some perspective.

Two Saturdays ago my husband and I set off to Southern California for five days where we spent time with family, ate some really good Mexican food (since it doesn’t exist in NY) and went through some old clutter in his parents’ new house. I also found some time to blog and catch up on my reading.

It’s funny how easy it is to do exactly what you want when you have free time. I’m not really sure why I don’t make more of an effort in the midst of my normal work week routine. My excuse is that I’m always tired, but really, if I just made an effort to prioritize things, they would be better. Working full-time shouldn’t consume my entire life — at least that’s what I’ve been thinking since my vacation.

So, after visiting the in-laws, we headed up North for five more days and visited my friends and family and went to our friends’ wedding in Berkeley. By this time I’d actually stopped stressing over the work I wasn’t doing and it was refreshing.

That’s the funny thing about vacation — I stress over the fact that I’m not doing anything. And, I think that’s the point in taking more than a four-day weekend, because then you eventually relax.

Anyway, my souvenir from my vacation was a new quest to improve my time management — I’m great at work, but when it comes to making the best of my work-free time — I’m ready to make a change. Below are my renewed goals post-vacation:

1. Don’t stay up too late. What’s the point? You need sleep, stick to the hours you need, you’ll accomplish more if you’re rested.

2. Make an effort to be at work on time, so you can leave on time. While showing up at 9:30 is fine in my office, getting in at 9 a.m. is better because then I won’t stay until 6:30 or 7 p.m. Leave at 6 p.m. and there’s more time in the evening.

3. Take time to do vacation tasks when you’re not on vacation. Read a ridiculous book all evening. Go for a walk. Paint your nails. Go for a long run. Whatever.

4. Stop thinking about work. Set a time after which you will not think or talk about work. Stressing over work in off hours is not healthy, it begets more anxiety.

5. Have fun. I know some people don’t need this reminder, but I totally do. I get so focused and absorbed I even schedule fun. Fun can be spontaneous too!

Alright those are my words of wisdom from my trip to California, let’s hope they stick!

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Lackluster Libido Language

If there’s anything my fourth grade teacher taught me — aside from the importance of memorizing my multiplication tables — it’s the relevance of vocabulary. In school, words were my favorite. I adored spelling tests, reveled in playing dictionary roulette and now have a soft spot for the click-for-definition feature on the NewYorkTimes.com. However, there are a few words that irk me to no end. Like vagina.

Have you noticed how many words are gendered? Or, how many words regarding women are terribly sexist?

I mean, one of the most important parts of the female body is a pretty sexist term if you think about it. It’s the ultimate downer and it’s for our genitals — vagina — it sounds like an incurable infection. Eve Ensler had it right. No matter how many times you say it, “vagina” sounds so clinical and unappealing. Men get the simplicity and succinctness of “penis,” along with strong, powerful slang like “dick,” “cock” and “johnson.” The thing practically sounds like a law firm, or at least a Harvard educated lawyer.

And that’s precisely the point –everything about women and their bodies is referred to in diminutive, weak terms. “Pussy,” “snatch,” twat,” and “coochie” all sound like pet names — or worse, a waspy Connecticut wife who can’t even say the word “cunt” because she’s been taught to hate it so much.  But maybe that’s precisely the problem, if we were given nicer names for out “naughty” bits, we wouldn’t feel the need to punish them with these stupid nicknames. Don’t even get me started on cat and cougar references.

Obviously, there’s nothing we can do about “vagina,” but the slang words are ridiculous! And, what’s worse, even pharmaceutical companies are contributing to the sexism of gendered language.

Even sexual enhancement drugs are getting the shaft (and not in a good way!). The FDA is currently reviewing what some are calling “Viagra for women.” Well, truth be told, it’s REAL name is Flibanserin. Flibanserin? Really? So, let me get this straight, not only am I a pussy with a bad case of vagina, Flibanserin is my only treatment option? Meanwhile, men get a Harvard legacy in their pants and Viagra, to boot.

VIAGRA: by definition, the most potent and virile drug name ever. Men get a drug that sounds like a superhero or spaceship to rocket them to pleasure island, but we’re supposed to swoon over a pill to make us feel like superheroes with an STD.

(Woman enters bedroom.) “Honey, I got Flibanserin.”

(Lover looks up, worried.) “Is it contagious?”

Who needs a bad name to confuse sexy time? I’m sorry, it may be a sign of equality that researcher even developed a sexual enhancement drug for women, but if it’s called Flibanserin, will anyone buy it? Hopefully, if the drug proves to be safe and (O-so) effective, marketing people can have their way with Flibanserin and conceive something better.

Do Men Feel Pressure to be Fit?

Last weekend I spent some much needed friend time with two women who are about my age, height and weight. We all wear around the same size clothing and have similar interests in fitness to slightly varying degrees. Yet, when it comes to diet and body image, I was stunned that we all had complaints.

“I should be eating this…”

“My new work out includes…”

“I’m on this diet…”

Image By GoodLife.com, Bola Browne

“I just want to tone my…”

Each one of us, though we are all healthy, felt like we had something to improve about our bodies. I couldn’t help but wonder why so many women who are aware of body image issues and the pressure to be pretty and thin in American culture, are unhappy with the way we look — when most of the men I know, do NOT.

You rarely hear men in their twenties and thirties discussing their need to eat right and work out, or feeling dissatisfied with their looks. And, as this article on magazine marketing points out, you don’t see diet articles geared to men nearly as much as women on the news stand.

So, I ask, what gives? Do men feel pressure to be fit and eat right? Do they obsess over their appearance? Are there things men would like to change about their bodies, but they don’t say it?

Or, is men’s fitness out of style unless you’re an athlete or gay? I know that skinny, hipster chic is popular among some men, but they aren’t talking about trying to be thin, or changing there diet. Are they?

In my opinion, it seems like there’s no pressure for men to be fit because it doesn’t affect their sex appeal. A man can be funny and smart and he’s a catch, even if he’s not conventionally good-looking, but if a woman has the same qualities, she “needs a makeover” so people will be attracted to her “personality.”

I think it’s the “Homer Simpson Effect,” he’s this lazy guy who never works out or eats veggies, but is endearing, so Marge loves him anyway. Meanwhile, Marge is always fit and fussing over her appearance. (I mean, think how long it would take to make your hair look like that!)

Homer is not the only guy who doesn’t care about his looks. In fact, most male characters on TV and in films, don’t talk about their appearance. Except in Eclipse, of course. We all remember Jacob Black‘s famous line to Edward, “I’m hotter than you.”

Image By Men's Health
Image By Men's Health

So,  now we have two men who look completely different– thin, pale and tall, versus muscular, tan and rugged — but both are “fit.” Which one do men want to emulate? Will they follow Taylor Lautner’s work out regimen, or will they look to more athletic types to model like Omar Epps?

And, since there’s been so much publicity over women careening over Team Edward and Team Jacob’s appearance, with Taylor Lautner running around without a shirt, or Robert Pattinson sparkling like diamonds on screen, do men feel the need to hit the treadmill and lay off the burgers?

What do YOU think? Are men pressured by society to be fit too? Or does the Homer Simpson effect just part of America’s obesity problem?

Eight Ways To Cope Without Internet

Over the past week and half I haven’t had internet in my apartment. One morning, we woke up without a signal and Time Warner Cable didn’t have any open appointments until this morning. The time during our outage really affected me. I never realized how much I use the web until I couldn’t check my email, blog, update Facebook, or even look up directions to restaurants and museums.

What’s funny, I consider myself an organized person, but without my internet connection, I felt lost and disoriented — like part of my brain was disconnected. Once I understood why I felt so weird, I was horrified!

Am I really that dependent on websites and my email? Turns out the answer is “yes.” However, if I’m going to learn anything from this experience, it’s how to feel connected without my high-speed wi-fi. So, I came up with a few things to remember for next time…

Brooklyn Museum
Image via Wikipedia

Last weekend I wanted to look up how long it would take to get to the Brooklyn Museum from my house so I could meet up with a friend for the free events on Target First Saturdays. Without a web connection, or even a Smartphone, which I ditched in the recession panic of 2009, I had to guess how long it would take to get there since I’d never been there before.

The result? I showed up to the museum about thirty minutes early and sat outside enjoying the sunshine. No biggie! In fact, it was quite nice and I got a little Vitamin D.

This little anecdote brings me to my first tip for coping without internet:

1. Be free with your time by arriving early for an appointment and enjoy a moment in the real world.

Often, I get caught up — filling my days to the brim, being efficient with my time and always rushing to the next thing. When you’re without internet, or simply taking a break from technology, give yourself time to find your way about town with real maps or ask someone for directions. Make your day an adventure, rather than a to-do list to check off. Sometimes it’s nice to only have a few things planned in a day and then going where the day takes you.

2. Read a good book, magazine, or the newspaper!

I’m sure we all read a good ol’ paper back when we get the chance, on our subway ride to work and on vacation. And without internet, I found I had so much more time on my hands. No 20 minutes on email here, or hour on Facebook there — that’s a lot of time to walk to the library to finish those items on your to-read list, or catch up with your favorite glossies from a local newsstand.

3. Chat with friends and family.

Though it’d be better to do this one in person if you can, talking on the phone is good too. I bet the number of texts and minutes on my phone will surely increase this month. Instead of sending emails and posting on Facebook at night and on the weekend, I was texting, leaving voicemails and even having lengthy conversations (I’m not usually one for liking the phone).

4. Save a copy of important dates, phone numbers, maps and addresses on your computer.

There were a few times I wished I had some information which I have stored in my Gmail account. Lesson learned, save stuff to my desktop.

5. Use free time to cook a delicious meal from memory or use a real cook book.

Many nights I’ll quickly type ingredients into the Google search bar and find a recipe lickety-split. Well, this week I went solo and cooked a few meals from memory, by taste or referred to an actual cook book. It was fun!

6. Take a lunch break.

There are times that I admit, I do not take a lunch break at work. Well, when your internet is out, take a lunch break and follow up on personal stuff for a few minutes, then step away from the computer! This is good practice even if you aren’t experiencing a connection outage at home.

7. Use snail mail.

Everyone appreciates getting real mail. Write a handwritten note to someone you care about. I know my pen pal will be happy I haven’t had internet. Must remember to mail her letter tomorrow…will I set an alert on my Gmail? Nah, I’ll remember…

8. Get over the fact that the online world will continue moving without you in it.

I know, we all like to stay on top of the latest YouTube videos, witty blogs, our friends’ silly status updates, movie reviews, etc. but without internet, you’re not going to see them, so don’t worry, they’ll be there and there will always be more…

Alright, that’s my advice. Hope your future internet free moments are liberating, rather than stressful.

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New Season, New Changes

There comes a time of year when you need a change. For me, that change is now. From my blog’s new design, to small improvements in my schedule and in my apartment, my spring cleaning is all about being positive and creating new habits.

With slightly longer daylight hours, I’m attempting to start my days earlier. After reading several articles about how rising early will increase one’s productivity and overall mental health, I realized the quality of my day would improve if I got up and went to bed, one hour earlier.

Also, I think more time needs to be spent laughing. I’m not sure how I’m going to do that, but I think the first step is finding fun things to do with friends as frequently as possible.

The next change I’m going to make is: take time to relax. And, I’m not talking about adding more TV watching to my schedule. Reading, going for walks, hanging out at the park, playing guitar and writing, will be my new relaxation methods.

My other plan is to stress less. When it comes to work, writing and my personal relationships, my new mantra is “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” If I can simply let annoying experiences that have no meaning go, then it will decrease my stress. (I hope!)

Finally, I’d like to start going to the gym more frequently. When I work out, I feel happier. I’ve always wanted to hit the gym before work, it could work well with my new efforts to wake up earlier. Going to the gym only three days a week is good in terms of health benefits, but even if I go for 30 minutes a few more times a week, I just might find that my stress level is down and I might have more energy to find those fun laughing moments.

To find your own practical ways to improve your life, I recommend exploring this list: 42 Practical Ways to Improve Your Life. Best of luck to you and your spring cleaning!

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The Misconceptionist: Bristol Palin

May is National Teen Pregnancy Month and the Candie’s Foundation has several public service announcements and campaigns “educating” youth about teen pregnancy. As the child of teen parents, I feel very strongly about sex education and teen pregnancy awareness, but I completely disagree with the approach the foundation — and many American schools — have taken recently.

The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate in developed nations, despite today’s 50th anniversary of the birth control pill. “In 2006, 750,000 women younger than 20 became pregnant,” reports the Guttmacher Institute. With all the access to birth control methods and freedom of speech we have, it’s absurd that we do not provide better sex ed resources to tweens and teens.

To top it off, young celebrity moms like Jamie Lynne Spears and Bristol Palin glamorize the problem. Bristol Palin is not a valid spokesperson… for anything. She needs to focus on taking care of her child and getting an education, not doing public service announcements for the Candie’s Foundation (then going clubbing after the premiere).  She shouldn’t be exploiting her son Tripp on People covers repeatedly, while talking about abstinence and then making appearances on the Today Show and The View as a role model for young women.

As you may have seen, she tells teens to “Pause before you play,” in the Candie’s PSA. “Play” what? Play house in a condo paid for by parents, like you? Play sex games? Foreplay? What exactly is she talking about? She never even says, “sex.”

My other problem with the PSA (please see below) — aside from its vague message — is the organization’s choice of Bristol Palin as the face of their advocacy. She makes it look fun and easy to be a teen mother, yet she has more help than the average mom — at any age — let alone teens in poverty who need education about sex, STDs and pregnancy.

Candie’s plays off the fact that she DOES have things easier and it sounds like she’s bragging about being better off than other young moms. She might as well said: “Hi, I’m Bristol Palin and if you aren’t rich and famous like me, being a teen mom would really suck. Thankfully, it doesn’t for me, but it could for you.”

Plus, there are behind the scenes videos that make Palin look like a movie star at a photo shoot as she smiles happily for the camera and her cute baby coos.

In my experience, people, especially young adults, do not like being treated like they are less than anyone else, or like they are stupid. Bristol Palin is as far from the average teen as they could imagine in the first place. The white T-shirt and pared down room at the end of the PSA aren’t believable.

Plus, what’s the message? They don’t even say the word “sex,” let alone useful terms for preventing pregnancy like “condoms,” or “birth control pills.” You know what’s really scary? STDs. Or giving birth. Or a crying baby that won’t stop screaming because he or she is hungry, tired or cranky. That’s a real message.

Also, Palin advocates abstinence — she’s the biggest hyprocrite. Especially since studies have shown (Palin included) abstinence is not an effective method of preventing teen pregnancy. You know what does work? Condoms!

When I was in school celebrities proudly talked about safe sex, displayed condoms in music videos and increased awareness about HIV/AIDS. In fact, the topic of intercourse wasn’t taboo and in school — we learned about reproduction, STDs and all the methods of birth control. Putting a condom on a banana was a rite of passage for freshman!

Sex makes a baby, Bristol! We know you know that — so why can’t you just be honest to teens and make an educated statement your situation, instead of exploiting it for media attention.

Here’s what Candie’s should be saying:

“If you’re going to have sex, wear a condom because you could get pregnant, or contract a highly contagious or incurable STD. Go to the Candie’s Foundation website, or your local clinic to get some free condoms or to receive a birth control pill consultation. Please see our list of resources on sex education. Think before you have sex and be responsible.”

That’s a public service announcement.

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