pep talk

Better Late Than Never

Hi.

It’s been a while.

As is tradition right before the new year, I abandoned all self-made promises, and made tons of excuses as to why. “I’m taking a break from writing–I mean, I wrote a novel.” “It’s so cold outside, and I was sick, so of course I couldn’t run.” “I haven’t blogged in forever, I can’t just sit down and start again, I need to explain why.” “I have so much work to do!”

All lies, for the record. Or, perhaps excuses is a better umbrella to put them under. I come from the school of thought (and the place of privilege) that you make time for the things you love, things you’re passionate about. And I haven’t made time. I have procrastinated (I just watched through the entire Lizzie Bennet Diaries again) and pushed everything I ought to do to the perpetual “tomorrow morning.” I have argued circumstance and life situation (sickness and NaNoWriMo shouldn’t get in the way), and everything a serial procrastinator has up their sleeve. I can run circles around things I need to do—it’s a gift.

But no more. It’s a new year, and while I’m kind of against sweeping life statements (despite the fact that I make them quite often), I might as well get into the spirit of self-improvement. No goals this month, just… hopes. As you might know from previous entries, I’m a pretty big fan of forgiveness, especially when it comes to yourself. And while the new year is a great time for becoming the better you, it’s also important to remember that you are only human. Trying to become the super human version of yourself will only bring you disappointment. So rather than steadfast resolutions, let’s talk about hopes for the new year. Let’s talk about all the ways we can find happiness.

Yesterday morning, over toast and scrambled eggs, my best friend read last year’s hopes aloud. Rather than writing down all the ways she should improve or change, she’d decided to list all the things she could do for a fuller life—a happier existence.

So let that be your challenge. Even if it is the second of January—no one says you can’t begin something new any time you want. Write out a list of things you can do this year to improve your overall happiness. And check them off as you fulfill them. Whether it is greater forgiveness, walks in the park, drinking more tea, visiting friends, road trips, readings, finding religion. Improve your life, but don’t forget to take time to enjoy it along the way.

And welcome back to Staving Off Disaster. I’ll be here all year.

Get Angry

“All passion is founded on pain, grown through risk, and marked by the decisions we make in the face of tragedy. Tragedy introduces us to ourselves, to our deepest passions, to what it is that receives either our yes or our no.”

-Dan Allender, To Be Told

So I currently have a friend studying for her MA in counseling at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. And since we love discussing everything from Lost theories to philosophical and biblical debates, I’m pretty much getting a free, second-hand education every time we talk on the phone. It’s really quite wonderful. One of my friend’s teachers is the (rather profound) Dan Allender—a renowned Christian therapist and author of The Wounded Heart. Allender’s focus is on sexual abuse and trauma recovery. I’ve watched several of his interviews and keynotes, at the prompting of my friend, and I’ve certainly not been disappointed. Start here and here if you’re interested. What this man has to say is not only thought-provoking, but comforting.

Recently, my friend and I have discussed the question of anger, and its purpose in our lives. I, like many people, have struggled with anger—seeing it as a negative emotion to be squashed as soon as possible. Anger is something toxic and dangerous, an emotion we should avoid. We do exercises to quell it, count to ten, practice yoga, breathe and breathe and breathe. But what if there is more to anger? What if there is a guide, a map, within the fury? What if your anger is telling you something?

Do an experiment with me. Think about the world we live in. Think about your daily commute, the news you watch, the places you’ve been, the heartache you’ve witnessed and experienced. What upsets you? What makes you stand up, a scream building in your gut, a rage so intense it feels like being stranded in a storm?

For some it could be pretty literal. After doing this experiment, I found my rage building over issues like transphobia, racism, and sexism. I start screaming about privilege, about the pain others experience, of not being able to know the heart of someone else’s struggles. I get riled up about injustice.

You, for example, might find something less literal. Does it infuriate you when someone is dishonest? When people take advantage of you or others? When people manipulate? Does it break your heart to see cancer, rape, violence, the devastation of drugs?

“For each of us, there is a problem in this world that is meant to first bring us to tears and intensify our anger and then bring joy to our soul when it is even temporarily subdued.”

What makes you angry? What is calling you, from deep within, to right the wrongs? What is your narrative? What pain and heartache have brought you to this moment, this person, this self? Use your anger, let it guide you to your passion, your suffering. Let yourself be led by your rage.

You won’t be disappointed.

“Our deepest dreams are always about righting wrong and growing good. It’s that simple. What wrong are you meant to stop? What good are you uniquely designed to grow? We are not meant to be happy when we reach a personal goal unless that dream is attached to the greater good of others.”

“Life Isn’t Just a Sequence of Waiting for Things to Be Done”

I could probably watch Ze Frank videos for every hour of the rest of my life.

For those who don’t know, Ze Frank is considered the father of vlogging (video blogging), beginning his own show (aptly named The Show) back in 2006, before the rise of YouTube. Ze Frank is responsible for many popular internet sensations, among them Young Me, Now Me (wherein people recreate their childhood photos), and Sad Cat Diary. But the joy of Ze’s internet presence is more than just his silliness—it is his sheer honesty and vulnerability.

Into the depths of Ze’s catalogue one can find mountains of encouragement and love. Take, for example, The Chill Out song—a response to one of his viewer’s stressed and overwhelmed emails. Ze has also done several TED talks, expressing his acute awareness of his connection to humanity and the pain we all feel in living our complicated, separate lives. Ze’s ZeFrankenFriends channel is an outlet for confusion and questions, filled with honest and open videos that begin a discussion, and admit faults many of us attempt to ignore. Ze’s charming personality makes his vulnerability that much more poignant. He is an artist who is not afraid to showcase as much of himself as he can.

One of my favorite videos from Ze is his “Invocation for Beginnings,” which launched the beginning of Ze’s second show (A Show). I won’t be able to do this brilliant speech any justice by paraphrasing it, so I won’t. But I will say this: if you are struggling, if you are feeling static and motionless, unable to decide or do or fight past yourself, watch this video. “An Invocation for Beginnings” is the push you need to shake you from the stasis.

(A quick warning, Ze doesn’t shy away from swearing. So if you’re at work, put in some headphones.)

Pep Talk

A while ago, my brother sent my family a text message with a link to a video. I don’t quite remember if he told us to save it, but I did. After watching the video, I added the video link under the contact “Pep Talk.” Occasionally, I’ll stumble upon it, but being in the grocery store, on the bus, out with friends, I will put off watching it. I’ve seen the video, so I know what it’s about. Anyway, I don’t feel like I need a pep talk.

The truth is, sometimes you don’t know you need a pep talk until you’re getting one.

With the general changes that come with fall (the start of school, the cooling weather, the impending holidays), it’s sometimes hard to see just how easy it is to get down. We roll our eyes in crowded parking lots, frown up at the grey clouds threatening rain, grumble as we pull the coats from storage. When the sun is shining, it’s easy to smile. When the mist hangs like dust, it’s hard to escape the deep chill.

Today I offer you a pep talk—something to watch and save and watch again. Think about it when you shuffle through the long bank line, when you are stopped at every red light, when you trip up the stairs. Because there is no harm in a pep talk. And if it keeps away the grey thoughts and nasty tones, then you should always have it in your arsenal. Even when you don’t think you need it, it’s good to know it’s there.

When You Run Out of Synonyms for Messing Up

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit in terms of posting. My “on the road” blogging skills appear to be somewhat lacking. Half-vacations are rarely valuable, but I needed to get out the Twin Cities, and my bank account couldn’t take two weeks off. And while I applied to a few jobs, I didn’t exactly stick to my daily routine. Which means it’s time to check in on last month’s goals.

August action list:

-Wake/get out of bed on first alarm

-Complete couch to 5K program

-Do at least one responsible/adult task each weekday (this does not include job applications)

-At least two job applications/inquiries out each weekday

-Blog every weekday

-Write/research at least 1 full hour each weekday

-Say yes to every safe offer to hang out/meet people

Limit:

-NO TV

I would like to say that I attempted all of these tasks, but the three seasons of Suits I have under my belt argue against that. For a good while I did quit TV. But the sad truth is that rationing isn’t my forte (that and my two-month wait for Game of Thrones from the library finally came through).

For the most part, I did succeed at my goals for the month. I’ve definitely fallen off at the end, but for much of August I blogged every weekday, I have worked through the Couch to 5K program (today I ran for 25 minutes, and felt like vomiting! YAY PROGRESS!), I’ve applied to over 40 jobs, I’ve worked on my writing pretty consistently (owing much to my wonderful alpha readers), I’ve said yes to quite a few new things. I don’t know if we can call August a rousing success, but, well, I’m not counting it as a loss.

The key, for me, to achieving my goals is to accept my pitfalls. I am far from perfect (last night it took me almost ten minutes to change the lightbulb in my bedroom), but seeing my imperfections as failures is detrimental to my success. Just because I skip a day writing, doesn’t mean I abandon the novel. We make mistakes, this is inevitable. What we control is the grace we give ourselves after the fact. I am not yet the woman I want to be, but that doesn’t mean who I am now isn’t wonderful too.

September action list:

-Wake/get out of bed on first alarm

-Keep apartment relatively clean; do dishes immediately, pick up after myself, scoop litter boxes

-Continue Couch to 5K program

-Do at least three adult tasks (appointments, phone calls, emails) a week

-Write/research for 2 hours every weekday

-Continue blogging every weekday

-At least three job applications out every weekday

-At least one long-lost phone call a week

-Five hours of reading a week

-At least one short story/poetry submission out this month

-Say yes

Limits:

-Two spoken/written complaints a week

Here’s to having a more positive outlook, and a more successful day. If we fall off the wagon, if we screw up royally, if we watch 17 episodes of House of Cards in one sitting, we are not failures. We have made mistakes. And we are not defined by our mistakes, but rather, how we overcome them.

Saying Yes

I am a textbook introvert. My ideal Friday evening involves staying in my apartment, watching a few hours of Netflix by myself with some good dinner and a great beer or wine. Sometimes I’ll let my cats snuggle up against me as I write later, but for the most part my bedroom door stays closed.

I don’t think being an introvert is a bad thing. I don’t think there is anything wrong in finding energy in solitude, in spending quality time alone. But I do think, personally, that there is a fine line between being alone because I’m an introvert and being alone because I’m depressed. I realized this fact recently when after watching several seasons of Teen Wolf in quick succession I found it strange that more hadn’t happened in my life. The emotional, fictional adventure I’d gone on with the characters was just that–emotional, but fictional–entirely hollow.

The TED Radio Hour recently did a podcast on happiness, “Simply Happy.” One of their speakers, Graham Hill, became a millionaire at a young age after selling a start-up company in the late 90s. After a few years of too much money, Hill realizes just how much stuff he has accrued, and begins to edit his life. This quote comes from the podcast:

“As a way of editing your own life, let’s just remember that what really matters in life is memorable experiences, connections and relationships. Space and stuff should support that.”

I probably have too much stuff, but that’s, strangely, not the lesson I took away. That Hill makes a point of saying that life is about memorable experiences really stuck with me. It’s like one of those truths I’ve always known, but have never really had to face. Obviously, life is connecting and interacting with people, but when faced with the decision to make real, relational connections with people or to stay in and live the hollow fictional life, I’ve found I need to focus on the real connections to find joy. Which, as an introvert, is often a very hard decision to make. Fictional lives are easy and neat, conflicts resolve quickly, everybody gets to say their piece, every decision feels essential to the plot, everybody matters. Real relationships are much more complicated, they’re messy, riddled with double meanings, often directionless, confusing. But it is ludicrous to live only in the fictional world, to spend much of your life as an escapist.

Which is why I’m making a point of saying “yes” more often. I hope to challenge myself, to be outside my comfort zone, to build to new relationships and connections.

I can easily waste away my entire life. But by saying yes, by meeting new people, experiencing new things, making new connections and memories, I will combat that wasting away.

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Here’s to saying yes more often. To accepting the offer to vacation with new friends, to making new connections. Let’s get ourselves going.

The Worst of Me

For the last few weeks I’ve been attempting to write a novel. If you’ve met me, you know I’m pretty much always trying to write a novel, but I’ve recently buckled down on a series I’ve been working on since the 10th grade. When you quit your job you tend to find lots of things to fill your time (WHEN will Chandler and Monica FINALLY get together??), and plowing through this book is one of the ways I’ve decided to fill the dead air.

I found myself a group of Alpha readers, people I trust to not only motivate me, but to treat me like a princess along the way. I haven’t met a writer without an ego, and while mine is occasionally highly inflated it’s easily punctured. If you’ve found a sentence that could be better, don’t worry, I have too, and I’ve berated myself over it again and again and again. If you think a post could be a little stronger, I’ve considered scraping the entire blog, wiping my hard drive, selling my laptop, and accepting my fate in data entry for the rest of my life.

This part of me, the highly volatile part that begs me to eat cookies at midnight and screams that “AT LEAST STEPHANIE MEYER IS PUBLISHED,” is one of the hardest things to combat every time I sit down to write. She’s the reason that instead of opening the document, I open a new tab and look up Creative Writing MFA programs, because just a little more training and we’ll be ready. She reads the first few lines and groans at the lack of imagery, the weak characters, the tropes, the half-finished thoughts. Last night, after seeing far too many stupid, stupid parts, she managed to convince me that the entire project was a bust–that as a white, 25-year-old from the ‘burbs I couldn’t write for anything, couldn’t dream of successfully pulling off a mixed-race main character, would be laughed out of any agents office. She scoffed as I pushed through a sentence, finding every characterization a mistake, worse a stereotype. Not only was I terrible writer, but apparently I was racist too.

It’s hard not to listen to her. She’d pretty damn loud some days, and other days she really does have a point. She will always have something to say, and sometimes she really will be right to say them. But listening to her, letting her win, is the easy way out.

She is the lazy, worst parts of me. In her ideal world I’d write half of an entirely white-cast Harry Potter fanfiction and then go out for ice cream. She likes writing, sure, but she wants it to be easy. She looks at the mountain and wonders where the road around it is.

This entire endeavor is terrifying. I am confident I will make mistakes, and somedays, with that knowledge bumping around in my head, every sentence is difficult. You will fail, better quit now.

Ignore her. Stand up from your desk and stomp on her.

And when your roommate knocks to ask if everything is ok, sit back down and power through. Don’t let the worst of you win. She’s an old hag who’s never published anything anyway.