Grace for Growing

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It’s time we talked about failure. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been a bit sporadic with my posts lately, falling into a trap of excuses that, if I were more put together, I wouldn’t have. I’d have scheduled blog posts, prewritten content, woken up early, worked for every hour of the day. But I am not that person, and while perhaps I dream about one day being her, I have to accept who I am here and now. I must allow myself the grace to fail, to admit defeat, and begin again.

Let’s look at the last round of goals. September’s 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

So, I didn’t do terribly. Last Wednesday I actually finished Couch to 5K, and I’ve now started on 5k to 10k. I’ve blogged pretty consistently (up until the last few weeks), and I’ve done well at maintaining a clean apartment, and I’ve been reading pretty much nonstop (everyone should read Cinder!). After a few set backs I’ve been fighting an uphill battle on the job front (jobs I’m qualified for are flooded with applications, and jobs I’m under-qualified for write me off quickly), but I’m attempting to turn that around and follow leads, get some temping in. Plus, I’m well into 14,000 words for NaNoWriMo (today’s word count goal is 10,000), so I’m definitely doing something with my days. Surprisingly, I haven’t been watching that much TV. Having daily goals (that can’t be procrastinated–no one wants to write 3,334 words in one day) has really helped me to prioritize. All in all, despite still being unemployed, I’m going to call this round a success. While I didn’t achieve all of my goals, I’m some big leaps past who I was a few months ago. I’m learning about myself, my limits, my abilities, my talents. We’re calling it a win.

Now for November’s action list:

-Win NaNoWriMo (and complete novel even if it runs past the the 30th)

-Continue 5k to 10k training

-Complete at least one adult task (appointments, etc) a week

-Wake up on first alarm

-At least one long lost phone call a week

-Short story submission out

-Get a source of income (temping, freelance)

-Get outside every day

Limit:

-Don’t throw away any produce

I always buy so much produce (vegetarian), and almost every week I throw a decent portion of it out. Even if I don’t feel like eating it, time to get over it! No more throwing away food.

How have your goals been going? Are you getting any closer to your Future Self?

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NaNoWriMo Recap – Three Days 9,000 Word?

Novel-Cover

It’s that lovely season—the terribly ridiculous time of the year when most of your writer friends buckle down, ignore your texts, and begin writing novels in rapid succession. It’s NaNoWriMo, the only time of year where you’ll find other people up at 4AM, chowing on Nilla Wafers, screaming about word count. This year has already consisted of dozens of sprints (I don’t think I’ve written more than 100 words that wasn’t built in a sprint—10-15 minute sessions of straight writing), lots of junk food, and many late nights. I’ve done NaNoWriMo for eight years now, winning just three of them. And every year it is a different beast. My first few years were disasters—never even making the first day’s word count. By the time I got to college, I used my fanfiction skills (yes, I do put that on my resume, thanks for asking) to create a totally indulgent fantasy novel. I made everyone “stare daggers,” and used far too many adverbs. Sure, I’ll never touch that piece of ridiculousness again, but it taught me a valuable lesson—I can write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Over the past eight years, I’ve attempted lots of novels I never expected. I wrote about a serial killer’s mother (that was a rough month), the exploits of a group of teenagers without chaperones in Alaska (that was a weird month), and the downfall of television, the rise of the internet, and the postmodern drivel that resembled what I believed to be the Next Great American Novel (that was a fun month). NaNoWriMo is always a different beast, and I’ve definitely struggled with each piece in new ways.

This year, I’ve decided to no longer care. I’ve never been able to take my NaNo novel to workshop—it just feels like a mountain of trash by the end of the month, and while I enjoy the craziness of the journey, I’ve never felt particularly rewarded by it. I’m eternally grateful for the feeling of achievement—of being able to say “hey, I can actually write a novel.” As a serial novel starter (I’ve got dozens of manuscripts no longer than ten pages), NaNo taught me a lot about just how much I can accomplish. But I still haven’t learned as much as I’d like.

So this year, I’ve decided to write a romance novel. And as it forms, I’m realizing more and more that it is a reactionary feminist romance novel, which I’m really enjoying. I’m not caring about style, poetry, or plot. I honestly am just talking, letting the characters do whatever they’d like, and it is wonderful. 9,000 words in the first three days wonderful.

Enough talking about the work. Here’s some of the ridiculousness:

I’m beginning to regret turning on the 80s Pandora station, but the wine is telling me that something like destiny is forcing this moment.

I open a new tab, and hit “COMPOSE” to create a new email. I stare at the cursor for a good two minutes, before I return to his Instagram feed.

I’m hyper aware of my fingers, sliding through the edited photos, careful to keep the tiny devil arrow off anything that would prove that I’ve been here. Oh, don’t let me hit the like button. For goodness sake, don’t let me hit the like button.

He has a dog—a hideous Chihuahua with almost no fur, cross-eyed, tongue unable to stay in its mouth. Is he a saint, or a weirdo?

“Delilah is a rescue dog,” he told me once as we chatted during his break. He showed me a picture, and it took more composure than I’m willing to admit to continue smiling. “Isn’t she so adorable?”

I mean, could I date a man with a Chihuahua? Delilah looks back at me, her stupid pink tongue a conceited, victory mock. I’m a tiny dog who poops in a diaper, but somehow I am a better person than you.

Yep. This is already a disaster.

How’s your novel going? I’m sure it’s better than you think it is. Let’s talk about! Show off your favorite lines!

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.”

What Is “Self?”

Before sitting down the write this post, I questioned my authority on finding self, and if I have the right, as an unemployed, confused 25-year-old to shed light on something so profound and deep as self. Before we go any further I should confess something—I’m not sure I’ve actually found myself yet.381920_10150404579831314_644870192_n

I come from a long line of selves built in chaos, in quicksand. My family is no stranger to tragedy—my mother suffered through two funerals (her sister’s and her father’s) during her pregnancy with me—we take emotional blows like seasoned boxers. We roll back our shoulders, and stand up for more hits. My own parents are both deceased…

I had the great pleasure of guest blogging for Moving Peaces‘ series on Finding Self. The post, about finding self in the midst of tragedy and chaos, went up on Saturday, and you can read the rest here.

Be Brave

Shanna Murray, 2012

One of the terrifying things about life is the rhythm. How it seems to fall into moments of stasis, of paralysis.

For me the stasis has never really meant contentedness, or calm. It’s felt like dreaming of running, and knowing your legs won’t move. Of waking up flailing, only to realize no progress has been made. It is a paralysis built on fear of complacency, of settling. It is a fear built on not making something of my life.

For a long time I built my life on cause and effect. Tragedy and heartbreak were stepping stones, path marks on the trail to a person exponentially better than I was, am. When my father died, I built a world of purpose, of consequence, of destiny. My thirteen-year-old self argued, to make sense of the chaos, that this all happened for a reason. I struggled through this disaster because something better was coming. And the scales had to be set right again. I had to lose in order to gain.

Ten years later, I wrote in my mother’s eulogy,

I am not one who thinks that everything happens for a reason. I simply cannot… It is my belief, however, that we make the reason. We give meaning to disaster, we create ourselves in hardships, we decide what comes from death.

I have spent the last three years of my life attempting to make sense of tragedy. Of creating something out of chaos, of turning pain into something beautiful. I am a writer, I argue, because of my hardships. I cannot let disaster and heartache be meaningless, I have to prescribe it meaning. I cannot put it away, let the dust pile on it, let it be forgotten. I must make something of it. I must do it justice, put the cause and effect into the narrative, fill in the backstory of my main character, grow her into something you deem real.

I am still in stasis. I am terrified of standing on the cavern of the world and looking down to my dirty feet and seeing the nothingness below them. I worry that I will never tear through the cellophane emotions, never find the effect in the rhythm, never feel the release of the constant inhale. I wonder if the prescribed meaning is too literal, too neatly packaged. I look again at the accidental structures built after the collapses and wonder if they are just as detrimental, just as false.

I pray for the exhale. I pray for the day when paralysis breaks, like ice melting, and I shake off the past selves like spring shakes off winter. I pray for the release, the meaning, the clarity.

Until then, I continue through the chaos. And I am brave.

In Defense of the Dance Party

Some days just suck. It’s unavoidable. You miss your alarm, you’re out of milk, your car gets parked in, you spill coffee all down your front, you leave work at the worst of rush hour. Somedays the suck just stacks, threatening to drown you in the misery of the day that you can’t seem to escape.

In case you’re wondering, my day sucked. I got turned down for yet another job I interviewed for, got blisters on my feet from walking in flip flops, woke up later than I wanted to. I’m sitting down to write this blog post at ten o’clock at night, and all I’ve done today is make apple crisp. I don’t know if we can call this day a success in the big book.

I’d rather not wallow in the misery today. I’ve done that, and while it’s all well-and-good, I’ve finally put a veto on listening to Keaton Henson and staring at the ceiling. To combat the blues, I’ve decided to make a fool of myself. And have my own personal dance party.

1. Left Hand Free – Alt-J

2. The Way You Make Me Feel – Michael Jackson

3. Shuffle – Bombay Bicycle Club

4. Everyone Knows Everyone – The Helio Sequence

5. Holding Out for a Hero – Bonnie Tyler

6. Cold War – Janelle Monáe

7. I’ll Be Alright – Passion Pit

8. Happy with Me – HOLYCHILD

9. Golden Years – David Bowie

10. How You Like Me Now – The Heavy

11. 100$ Bill – Jay-Z

12. Maneater – Nelly Furtado

13. Right Here, Right Now – Fatboy Slim

14. The Queen and I – Gym Class Heroes

15. Jungle – X Ambassadors, Jamie N Commons

16. Easy (Switch Screens) – Son Lux ft. Lorde

17. Le Disko – Shiny Toy Guns

As always, this playlist is available on Youtube and Spotify.

What are your dance-it-out jams? Talk to me in the comments!

And, just for good measure, let’s bring back this piece of “art.” The Rhys and Miles Virtual Dance Party:

I’m Taking It

A few weeks ago I complained about titles, and tried to decide if I could call myself a runner. Shortly after posting the article, my cousin sent me this:

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I think that quite succinctly put my fear to rest. So I’m taking it. I’m going to call myself a runner.

Last week I ran all five weekdays (I know, right?!), totaling close to 14 miles for the week. With the help of Zombie’s, Run! and the strange motivation of actually enjoying running (I hear you, I also have NO IDEA WHO I AM RIGHT NOW), I wanted to run every day. I wanted to test myself, find my limits and use running as an escape. I have always wanted to be the person who goes for a run because they need to clear their head (a romantic notion), and while I’m nowhere close to drowning out the chorus of “we are your lungs, and you are trying to kill us,” I’m close to something resembling calm when I’m on a run. I’ve fleshed out plot lines for my book, dealt with stress of job hunting, and acted out verses of a few Britney Spears hits. I’m getting to a point where putting on my running shoes, stretching, jumping down the stairs and letting my feet hit the pavement is freeing. I love the feeling of running past people, I smile at strangers, I do a few extra dance moves for kicks. I want to cheer on fellow runners as though we’re all in our first marathon. I love feeling ready to quit and thinking “just to that tree, now that rock, now that mailbox, now that trash can, now the end of the block.”

I am ready to call myself a runner. I don’t have the proper shoes, my $13 sports bras are from Target, and I don’t know the first thing about compression socks. I haven’t finished a race, I’m by no means seasoned, and my form is far from perfect. But I’m taking the title.

I am a runner.

Embarrassing Episodes: Hello Stranger

Since quitting my job I tend to spend a lot of time inside. I don’t interact with people very often, so the threat level of embarrassing myself remains pretty low. If I do embarrass myself, it is most likely in front of my cats, who just sort of tilt their heads, and go back to cleaning themselves.

But when I go out into the real world anything can happen.

On Friday I found myself at the St. Paul Art Crawl, a giant community-oriented art show. My friend and I focused on the Schmidt Artist Lofts, nestled into the old Schmidt Brewing Company building. Artists participating in the show open their apartment doors, put out snacks, wine, and other drinks (“I can make a screwdriver, if anyone wants one,” one artist offered when I wandered into her loft), and make awkward small talk about their pieces. Despite the initial strangeness of it, it actually is pretty fun, if cramped.

Isn't it amazing?

There I met many wonderful artists, shared a glass of wine with a man with phenomenal eye contact, and visited with my writing friend. All-in-all, the night was great and confidence boosting (thanks eye contact dude).

My friend and I decided to continue the evening (which ended around 10) by grabbing drinks close to her apartment. In the chilly fall weather we walked across the bridge and wandered into the bar. As soon as we entered, I saw someone I knew. We’ve only met each other a handful of times, but we’ve hung out occasionally. I noticed him in passing, too distracted/embarrassed/self-conscious to say anything. I don’t usually say hi to people I only know casually, too worried that they’ve forgotten me, found me ridiculous, or are too distracted to pay attention. When I sat down I whispered the news to my friend.

“Do you remember Natalie’s friend, Jonathan?” she nodded slowly after I elaborated. “That’s him, down at the end.”

“You should say hi.”

“I will,” I decided. “When we leave.”

I texted Natalie, who agreed that I should say hi. In all caps.

I enjoyed fried jalapeno cheese curds and a black IPA with perhaps too high of an alcohol content, on perhaps too empty of a stomach. I kept looking at my friend Jonathan, distantly hoping that he would wave so I would feel less awkward.

He didn’t.

When it came time to leave, I’d made my decision. Natalie is a touchy-feely person (please note: I am not), and she often grabs people on the shoulder to say hello to them. I thought this would be a great way to get Jonathan’s attention as we left the bar.

With his back to me, I grabbed his shoulder, intent on a bit of small talk, or a quick hello.

Jonathan turned around. Only, it wasn’t Jonathan.

“Heyyyyyy,” we all sort of shouted at each other. Me, terrified that I had just grabbed a random stranger in a mostly empty bar, him confused by why an awkward woman was holding his shoulder still. Thankfully, my legs kept moving, carrying me away from the face of the man I didn’t know. I made it to the atrium of the bar before I bent over in hysterical laughter.

“Want to here a secret?”

“What?” asked my friend.

“That wasn’t Jonathan.”

The hysteria lasted for the rest of the evening, but a wonderful lesson remained. I am mostly terrified of this mistake, of saying hi to someone I don’t know, of waving at the person waving at the person behind me, of answering a question not directed at me. And I accidentally did it. I grabbed a random stranger in a bar, and I couldn’t be happier for the ludicrous story that came out of it. And hopefully the same goes for not-Jonathan too.

“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.)

Thursday Three: Outlooks

These last few weeks have been filled with lots of high and lows. I’ve had interviews and rejections, leads and false starts. It’s not easy realizing you’re pretty unqualified for most jobs, especially when you know you could pull them off. It’s been a tough sprint, but I’m trying to remain optimistic.

1. Homemade brunch with friends is wonderful. Yesterday I had the pleasure of entertaining my old college roommate, Erica, for brunch. We made chocolate chip pancakes and scrambled eggs, mimosas, and coffee, and tea from Ricky’s gaiwan. And we talked. I love spending time with Ricky, because we’ve grown into socially aware individuals on pretty separate paths. But when we sit down to chat we fill the silence with stories and shared passions. We discuss the nuances of growing in our communities and our families. It is always a blessing to be in her company.

2. Rejections come in bundles. Today I got turned down for a job that I interviewed for (that makes four rejections this week alone). But I also had a freelance blog post accepted, and was invited to interview for another job I applied to ages ago. I’ve thought a lot about perspective today, and wondered if the negative at all clouds the positive. After a 3.7 mile run today, I’m going to say that the perspective is in my control. Failures don’t negate achievements. (Now ask me again when my rent check is due…)

3. Having something to look forward too will save you. Lots of things are coming up this season, and most of them come faster than you expect (I’m looking at you, Christmas). With the impending terror of the holidays, it is good to have something else to look forward to. For me, it’s NaNoWriMo. I’ve decided to have a launch party, celebrate the craziness of the month. I’ve also got lots of plans with friends in the next month, and I’m hoping these things will help me stay balanced. That, and the kitten snuggles I get to have every day I spend at home. That’s lovely too.

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