The Wedding Planner (I’m J. Lo)

I love songs about the wonders of the universe – the big, mysterious treasures of our world – that include a sweetheart. I love Jens Lekman’s “How We Met, the Long Version” that begins at the big bang and ends with a first kiss. I love Kacey Musgrave’s discussion of photosynthesis, neon fish, “and then there is you.” I love it when Brian Wilson sings that you’ll never need to doubt his love, “as long as there are stars above you.”

So I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise when I tell you that I’m a romantic. When I met Sam, I was completely burnt out on online dating, on hopes up and hopes in the trash, and on opening myself up to the possibility of a real partnership. Our relationship was a slow burn (Kacey Musgraves again), but once he pried my heart open with a crowbar (which included homemade steak dinners, feats of courage, and open-minded listening), I’ve been hooked ever since.

In addition to being a romantic, I love a project. I’ve painted series such as heroines, online cats, and myself; I’ve done cooking projects like learning to cook all my favorite soups from Soupbox; and I’ve made something every day of a whole year. I love a list to color-code and cross-reference. I love to X things off and add bullet points.

I am not, however, someone who grew up with elaborate daydreams about my wedding. I did ask my mom if I could wear a green pantsuit (yes) and if I could marry my favorite person (her – and no), but that was the extent of it. As a dedicated daydreamer, romantic, and project planner, my enthusiasm about my own wedding came along with our (mutually agreed upon) engagement. Suddenly, a big ole party to plan with all my favorite people and my most favorite person of all. No cats allowed, unfortunately.

Wedding planning has become a way to deal with my anxiety and burnout from daily life (the grind, the news, the World Cup, etc.). It also causes a little of the anxiety, but then it again soothes the anxiety, like a snake eating its own tail. Wedding planning has become part of my expression of creativity and my self-care, and much of what I’ve learned can carry over to any big, explosive life situation – be it good or bad:

  1. Choose a menial task that brings you joy when things stop being fun

For me that’s been making pom poms. Lord, do I love a pom pom. The pom pom making came about from my anxiety about living flowers. That’s right, baby – I can conjure anxiety from just about anything, first of all, nature. In an effort to limit the amount of blooms we’ll be paying for and arranging feverishly right before the big day, I wanted a long-term DIY project that could be a little more representative of our style and values. I’ve made about 100 so far, and found myself wrapping colored yarn around the pom pom contraption after my (second – not my fault) car accident in as many months. Something fun can come from my negative energy, and the fun can help dissipate the bad mojo.

  1. Give your money to people who seem cool

When we started our venue hunt, there was one place that seemed like the clear winner. It was psychedelic, beautiful, quirky, strange, and large. It was the weirdest place I could imagine getting married in Austin, and I had to have it. The man who showed us around was delightful, but extremely hands off. He didn’t care to know about us as people or our vision, and he certainly wouldn’t be there on that day. Sam encouraged me to be open to other places, so we trudged down a gravel driveway toward Tiny T’s ranch house to meet Spike.

Spike told us incredible stories of fun and love that had taken place on the ranch. She showed us wedding albums and showed us her home. She introduced us to her horses and asked about us. She told us the incredible story of the tiny chapel that sits in the pasture. She is a writer (like us!) and a lover of love (like us!). She was open and accommodating. We shut the door to the ranch house, looked at each other, and said, “That’s the one.”

Meeting with Spike helped cement the philosophy of my wedding planning that had been floating around in my conversations with Sam. Not only are the vows, playlist, centerpieces, food, and wedding party a reflection of our life together – so are the people we give our money to. These are the people who aren’t family or friends, but are so intimately connected to us that it should absolutely be someone who wants to get to know us and who is excited about what we want to do. People who take your spark of excitement and light their own are so important to your projects. We used this rubric to pick a wedding coordinator, photographer, and party. So far, so good!

P.S.

For me, this means hiring a lot of women who are vouched for by other women. Incorporating women into your wedding is one feminist wedding tip from our amazing photographer Diana Ascarrunz.

  1. Ask for help

This is a hard one for me. I’m not a control freak (I’m a control friend) but I do often feel like, if I need to get something done, the most reliable person I know is my damn self. I’ve asked for Sam’s help with all manner of things, and he’s always game, as my partner in planning. The harder part for me is asking for favors, discounts, and money (surprise: a state of Texas employee cannot pay for the wedding of the frickin’ century on her astronomical, Elon Musk salary).

So far, I’ve learned that my instinct to ask for lower prices is a good one. People understand all too well that weddings are expensive and they do what they can to help, especially if you’re planning far ahead.

I have an army of creative friends I can’t wait to ask for help as I take on more and more idiotic DIYs while living in a one bedroom!

  1. Give it a day

Lord, I am bad at this one. When I want something, I want it. Right. Now. But that’s why I have a Sam. He has a rule of threes – we have to pursue three options before deciding on anything big ticket. This has made all the difference. This is a double lesson: listen to your collaborators and hold your horses.

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Woo! That’s me getting over my big fear of oversharing about wedding planning. I’m so open to all of your tips about wedding planning, big projects, collaborating, hiring helpers, ETC. and on and on forever. Please give them to me!

Let’s Get Out of This Country

Yesterday, one of my all-time favorite albums, Let’s Get Out of This Country by Camera Obscura, turned 12. In 2006, I was a fresh college student. I had spent the last couple of years in my hometown not hiding the fact that I was too cool for the suburbs (my Myspace profile song was “Get Me Away from Here, I’m Dying” by Belle & Sebastian, subtly). For all my complaining, I had the hardest time fitting in in college, missed my home friends dearly, and figured out maybe it wasn’t a place I was trying to get away from – it was me.

Camera Obscura hit me like a ton of bricks with Let’s Get Out of This Country. Sweeping strings and cheerful melodies and lyrics about trying your damndest to be happy – what more could an 18-year-old need?

I’ve tried to excerpt the title track’s lyrics in some meaningful way, but honestly, listen to it. If it doesn’t remind you of the ache of being a teenager, driving past cornfields, and wanting someone’s affection and validation so badly it hurts, I’ll give you your money back. Tracyanne Campbell, the most perfect twee frontperson since Stuart Murdoch, sings, “Let’s get out of this country / I’ll admit, I’m bored with me.”

I told myself this summer, I’m going to celebrate where I am. I’m going to love my home, my body, my partner, my city, my pool, and my work. I’m going to read my story as something new and fresh, a soon-to-be bestseller, a beach read instead of a murder mystery or an atmospheric modernist novella. I’m going to use the ingredients I have to make something great. Like Pam on The Office, I get 3 additional vacation days plunked into my account on June 1st – and I always want to keep my pretties safe, for a trip to Bermuda or a long weekend in the Hill Country, ya know? However, just like Pam, I made it exactly -4 days before deciding to take my vacation days and get the hell out of Dodge. When the anniversary of my favorite album came around right as I booked our tickets, I felt 18 again. “Let’s get out of this country / I have been so unhappy / Smell the jasmine, my head will turn.” It’s time for travel to turn my head right around.

Sam and I are headed back to Chicago, my first time showing him around in the sweet spot of July, when it’s perpetually a little hot, a little drunk, and little late to be walking home at night. Instead of plowing headfirst into the Malört, I want to be able to bring back something fresh from the garden of Chicago to add to the metaphorical spice kitchen of my Austin life. I want to find a cathedral. I want to be dislodged like I was when I was 18.

I have made countless aspirational lists, small goals and big goals, to-dos and to-don’ts. So instead, I’ve decided to pursue feelings. If I’m going to get out of this country (because Texas is a country, right?), I’m going to get something out of it that can last me through the fall.

Freedom

By all accounts, I have a lot of freedom. I can tweak my work schedule to come home at 4.30 pm to sit by the pool. I have lax painting deadlines and seemingly endless free time. Why don’t I feel free? A lot of this is the pressure I put on myself, and some of it is my good pal mental illness. I always feel like I should be doing something – a pathology that a therapist pointed out to me years ago. “You do know that you don’t have to do everything, right?” Reader, I didn’t. I didn’t know. Being an adult meant getting my chores done, having a fulfilling social life, working my butt off at my art, and having big goals and aspirations. So, this summer, something new: no daily quotas. If I get nothing done, well, so be it. If I paint the last supper in one go, so be it. Both things have equal weight. The days I do nothing give me the fuel for the days I do something. I’m going to pursue that summer feeling.

Fun

One of my least favorite phrases in the “English” language is “the Summertime Chi.” Please god, why? However, the concept has a name for a reason. Summer in Chicago cannot be paralleled.

Street festival after music festival after late night patio after beach afternoon after boat ride after free day at the museum – and then it’s over. Austin doesn’t always feel this way. I feel like I’m dragging people out of their A/C. I feel like I’m searching out the next thing to do, instead of it plopping into my lap. I am hoping my trip to Chicago gives me that boost to chase fun, by any means necessary: to say “screw it” to my problems when it means a hot sauce festival, or a comedy show, or a swimming hole.

Peace

I’ve been hiding out. I’ve been radio silent on the blog. Why? I’m afraid to bore everyone around me with the one thing that really sparks enthusiasm from me this year: our wedding. I’ve always loved weddings, but many of my friends aren’t shy about their negative opinions of weddings, marriage, and the wedding industrial complex. Fam, the wedding industrial complex is only as strong as you want it to be. So while my IRL vocal vomit of excitement over Save the Dates and dresses and DIY projects has been a leaky tap, I’ve been shy about writing about it here.

I hope to find peace with my passion over this event and this union and to share something that has me creatively inspired. I hope to not be my own worst critic. I hope to fight the strongest bit of the wedding industrial complex for me, which is the backlash that makes me ashamed. I love color-coded spreadsheets and shoe shopping. When Campbell sang, “Find a cathedral so you can convince me I am pretty,” I felt that. Convince me I’m worthy. But, well, fuck it. I’m worthy, full stop. I want to find peace in knowing that who I am and what I do is only as important and valid as I decide it is! I’ve decided it is.

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The holy trilogy of summer feelings: Freedom, fun, and peace. Sometimes, what I have isn’t quite enough. What I need is a new set of priorities, and I hope I find them in the Summertime Chi – or maybe in a 12-year-old summer soundtrack.

 

The Copy Clerk

Last month, I asked friends to reframe their lives in terms of a new story. I gave no direction other than that it had to be a way of thinking about your life in a novel way – a way of seeing yourself in a different light. Silvia de la Peña did not disappoint. Without further ado, Silvia’s story, inspired by her love of Chekhov.

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It was evening. The sun was setting, casting a golden hue over every long aisle of tables and chairs in the office. Silvianna Alexandrovna Ivanovna sat hunched over at her small table, quill in hand, working on the very last assignment for the day. ‘Another word for grand … Must think of another word for grand …’

Clack. Clack. Clack. The sound of black boots walking across the cement floor grew closer, a long black skirt swishing with every step. The chief supervisor of the copy house, Lizotchka Kudrinsky, stopped at the side of Silvianna’s desk.

“Katerina …” the supervisor began.

“She left an hour ago,” Silvianna replied.

“Who did?”

“Katerina.”

The supervisor lowered her round spectacles and peered down at Silvianna from above the tops of the frames. “As I was saying …” she continued. “Katerina, we really need this copy within the next thirty minutes, we simply must have it by then. The governor’s ice skating gala depends upon it. If they don’t have invitations, who will know if they’ve been invited?”

Swish. Clack. Swish. Clack. Lizotchka Kudrinsky walked down the aisle back to her desk at the front of the room.

‘You’re invited to the grand ice skating gala,’ Silvianna thought. ‘You’re invited to one especially grand ice skating gala … the grandest of all ice skating galas … where all your dreams can come true.’ As she thought of more ways to say “grand,” she swiped the quill against her forehead. Silvianna marveled at the amount of oil that appeared on the feather. ‘My powder said matte and the mister promised hours of a shine-free face, yet here I am again at five o’clock with an oily forehead.’ She wiped her forehead with her finger this time and looked at it for some time. ‘I shall gather and press my excess facial oil into a rose scented serum and sell it to ladies with dry skin. Then they will apply it to their faces in the morning, hoping to stay glowing all day. I could make millions of rubles! It would be … grand.’

From the front of the room, the chief supervisor cleared her throat and glanced up at her worker. She was eating from a small bowl of halved red potatoes. She stabbed one potato with her fork and pointed at the clock on the wall with it. “Katerina,” she said, “time is ticking.”

“Yes, Madame,” Silvianna replied. She stared down at the paper. Was it really to be a grand ice skating gala? Would there be roasted chestnuts and tea served by the frozen lake, like last time? Would they offer tours of the governor’s palace, like last time?

Silvianna gazed out the window along the side of the large room. The golden hour was nearly over, the trees and the sky outside had turned dark. She thought of her mother at home – had she locked all the doors so that no one could get in? Was she safe on the sofa, knitting a blanket? She thought of her father – would he like the sanitarium? Would he be lonely? Would he mind the staff, would he listen to instructions and not bother anyone with his episodes at night? Did he miss his mother? Silvianna thought of her last conversation with her grandmother before she passed several months before.

Her grandmother had been lying on the cot, holding her hand out and pointing toward her bedroom. “Silviannka,” she said. “Take my lamp. It’s in my bedroom. The one with the flowers. I want you to have it.” She put her hand down and closed her eyes.

Silvianna went into the bedroom and spotted the lamp. It was set upon a tall dresser, surrounded by trinkets and tiny pieces of dust. She returned to her grandmother’s bedside. “Thank you, Grandmother. I will take it later,” she said.

Her grandmother, with her eyes closed still, nodded. “Okay,” she said, and went off to sleep.

Silvianna thought of the lamp now. Should she have taken it? Did she have room in her small apartment for another table lamp? She wished she could have one more conversation with her grandmother.

“Five thirty!” cried the supervisor from the front of the room.

Clack clack. Swish swish. She appeared at Silvianna’s side again. “Katerina, do you have the invitation ready?”

Silvianna dipped her pen in the ink well and scribbled quickly onto the paper. She slid it across the desk to the supervisor.

“Ah ha …” said Lizotchka Kudrinsky as she read. “You’re invited to a capital ice skating gala held by the governor … Capital fare will be served, and all will have a capital time.” She lowered her spectacles again and peered down at Silvianna. “You may go,” she said.

Silvianna buttoned her coat in a hurry and stepped out onto the street. Suddenly she was in the mood for tea and roasted chestnuts.

The Flamingo Queen: This Is 30

I’m a straggler – so many of my friends are already in their dirty, flirty, nerdy 30s and loving it, even those who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into their own 30th birthday parties. This is (mercifully!) the last month of my 20s, with only 17 days to go. As I hurtle head-on into that milestone, I’ve been taking stock of my life. There’s a lot of talk in those horrible “Why aren’t millennials buying Ferraris?” articles about people of my generation not being where we thought we’d be, mostly based on our parents’ lives, at this age. I’m not a homeowner (thank GOURD – if I ever have to do a lawn care task, it will be too soon), I’m not married (on my way there), I’m not making enough money to support a family, and I haven’t made a name for myself in my career, in my artistic life, in my popstar aspirations (Emma XCX), etc. On this blog I spend a lot of time musing on what I’ve learned, but today I want to imagine the person I hope to be in my 30s, the things I hope to learn, and the cocktails I hope to drink.

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  1. Try an aperol spritz: what are they? People in New York drink them. I want one.
  2. Wear jumpsuits: you’re really cool if you wear a jumpsuit, it’s science. I must find one that works for my decidedly short corporeal form.
  3. Speaking of the tragedy of corporeality, stop self-body shaming. Part of this is knowing who I am and demanding people give me respect and adoration where I am in the present.
  4. Enjoy the silence. My therapist always asks me why I’m afraid of being boring, and I get all in a huff. I’m not afraid of being boring – no chance – I’m afraid of being bored. But why? One goal is to let there be empty parts of my life and to stop filling every nook and cranny with the junk food of life: people and things that make me feel bad in the end.
  5. Paint more. Yesterday, I was so tired from work and post-work weight training that I could barely stand to paint. But I did it. I painted three strokes and collapsed into couch potato life. Forcing myself to do a tiny bit is better than adding another day to the creative trash heap. Keep going.
  6. Challenge myself physically.
  7. Go to Big Bend. When I was 13, I went to Santa Fe with my mom to see Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O’Keeffe lived and worked for so many years. I still look back at those drives through the desert with boundless fondness. The desert: a land without allergies. An endless landscape of reds and purples. I want to feed that part of me that is a baby Georgia O’Keeffe. I know this is possible without (gulp) camping, and I’m ready to make it happen.
  8. Ride my god dang bicycle, which has sat lonely in the below-the-stairs bike rack since LAST MAY.
  9. Walk, walk, walk.
  10. Be proactive about my health. This means finding a doctor I don’t actively loathe, continue collecting sensible footwear, and skipping the third glass of wine.
  11. Plan the most Sam and Emma wedding possible – and don’t cave to the pressure to do it any other way. That’s right! I’m buying the pink flamingos that are on my wedding Amazon wish list. Wedding spoilers abound!
  12. Cultivate a community where we live. This is the first home I’ve ever had as an adult where this feels feasible. Our neighbors look out for each other, bring by treats, finish bottles of wine with us, take in our stranded packages, and share their dogs. I want to work on being a neighbor I would enjoy and appreciate.
  13. Wash my face every night, even on nights when I could fall asleep sitting up in my clothes.
  14. Volunteer my time.
  15. Learn a new craft. I think I might be ready to take the plunge into fiber art, after months of channeling my wedding anxiety into pom poms.
  16. Practice for skeeball. I’m pretty good, but I could be very good, right? 
  17. Send care packages. This used to be one of my favorite activities. I love assembling prayer candles and candies and shipping them to the people I miss so much.
  18. Defend myself when I’m feeling attacked. Boy, is this a big one this week. After a crappy interaction with a doctor and a friend, I smiled and nodded and, in so doing, internalized some of their piss poor attitudes about me. I bounced back, but why didn’t I speak up? That’s not me. Defending oneself is often about being vulnerable, almost crying, and trying to control one’s temper and timbre. Why don’t I trust myself to do that? I am powerful.
  19. Listen to a new band every week.
  20. See live music two times per month. A new study finds that seeing live music twice a month can help you live happier and longer. Let’s live forever, baby!
  21. Seek adventures, big and small. Take the long way home. Say yes.
  22. Wake up early. Early mornings, my old friend, make me feel more like myself and are the engine of my creative life.
  23. Keep in touch with people I miss and love.
  24. Pay compliments.
  25. Go to therapy regularly, even though it’s expensive and sometimes I don’t have much to say. Keep pushing.
  26. Hustle. Promote my business and make art that changes people’s moods.
  27. Save money. Hello, wedding joint savings account, my first real foray into saving (that’s right, mom).
  28. Support my friends’ art. They’re incredibly talented and deserve my attention and money.
  29. Push myself at work. Put in the time.
  30. Be the Flamingo Queen. A couple of weeks ago, I wore this dress. I was nervous to attend a formal event in something so Emma and so loud, but all night, people (timidly and bombastically) came up to me to pay compliments to the blessed dress. Getting in the elevator after the wedding, a little girl said to me, “I like your dress.” Then, quietly, she turned to her mom and said, “She looks like the Flamingo Queen.” The happiness and wisdom I gained in that moment is unparalleled in my 20s. People respond to positivity, to me being myself, to statements, and to playfulness. I had felt unsure if I was still young enough to make that statement and to be the Flamingo Queen, but b*tch, where’s my crown? Watch the throne: 30-year-old Emma is coming.

Block party

When I started this blog in September 2016, I was a bit of a mess. I felt really isolated, really bad about my current state of affairs, and really ready to make a structured change. Some things about the blog have improved my life significantly – writing about weight gain and how to be honest with myself come to mind. Some things have not stuck the same way – I’m thinking of pieces about getting back to old habits and de-cluttering my dresser (oh lord, if you saw my dresser now, dear reader). Writing has always been a way to narrativize my existence, a way to create a vision of progress when the predominant feeling is stagnation. There’s a whole field (that I don’t understand!) called narrative medicine that studies patients telling stories rather than just describing symptoms, and how it helps physicians understand the individual and their affliction more fully. This field has always given me a sense of validation for my writing and my storytelling – if a doctor thinks stories save lives, well then, my GOD…

Sometimes, just sometimes, the chaos and mess in my life resist the pull of narrative like a cat resists taking a pill. I worship stories about the magic of the ordinary, certainly (please see my masters thesis) but if you’re not Virginia Woolf (I’m not), telling a story of how you went home, idled on the couch until the sun went down, and went to bed – well, let’s just say that you might not be all that compelling.

My problem isn’t writer’s block exactly – it’s something more existential. Liver’s block (that sounds like what happens to you after the infinity ciders of SXSW)? Framer’s block? Experiencer’s block? Unable to tell the story of my progress to myself, I am unable to make art from it. I don’t feel like I’m learning to live and care for myself better, and as such, I’ve written a big, fat, critically-scrutinized THE END.

Once a year, SXSW comes around and reminds me about the best parts of my life and my city, and this year, it has kicked my experiencer’s block right in the tush. The fun and activity of new experiences has me shook. Now’s not the time for major revisions to the narrative of my life – it’s time for a new story entirely. I used to start new stories with great frequency earlier in my twenties. I wrote an academic story, then I wrote a lapsed academic story.  I wrote a bad boyfriend story or two that were published to fan acclaim. I wrote a new state story that was warm and inviting. I wrote a serious story, I wrote a funny story, I wrote a drunken sea shanty. You get the picture. It isn’t the characters or the setting that need retooling. No, it’s the life inside the narrative itself that needs to be willed into existence. I need to strike the right tone, to make the big choices, to discover hidden truths in the same old structures that I still call home.

I’ve decided to start with short stories – with little somethings about how I spend a day. I’ll post the greatest hits here. Other creative people, I’d love it if you could submit your own one-day-stories that I can share with my people. How are you understanding your own progress in the context of your ordinary life? What’s the driving force, who’s the antagonist, and what’s the style? Together, let’s see if we can start a new story.

If I shine

I have always been good at friends (braggy, I know). I don’t mean to say that I’ve always had a ton of friends, or felt extremely close to the people around me; I mean that the people I choose to share myself with are special. I don’t suffer fools, and I make a special effort to connect with people who are creative and dedicated to their own happiness in an authentic way. I have had my share of bad feelings about being locked out of groups of people (even lately! I’m almost 30!) but usually, upon reflection, it’s the people who (like me!) want to cultivate a totally welcoming, collaborative lifestyle that make me tick.

Most of this skill I’ve developed is selfish. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow coined the term Shine Theory™ to talk about women reflecting success onto each other – if I shine, you shine. I find this to be an incredibly helpful attitude when approaching my friendships. I like to be around people who bring out my best qualities, and I like being around people who I’m happy to pour my positive attitude into. I also take particular joy in someone telling me, “You have the best friends.” I do – and they’re yours for the sharing.

I write about friendship today because I’ve been in a creative rut. After a month of super intense painting in December, I took a month off and found my writing practice fall off too. The only creative pursuit I could really engage with was making pom poms – something I’m doing with my wedding planning energy for decor. Wedding planning has been a fun way to channel the tepid stream of my creative energies into something real – but let’s be real: my wedding is more than a year away, it’s one day of my life, and I have things to write and paint somewhere inside of me in the meantime. Since December, I’ve painted two things and written one post. How’s a girl to blow away the cobwebs?

Sometimes, I have to dig into my friendships to find the positive energy I can’t find within myself. Last month, a long distance bestie came to visit and reinvigorated my appetite for fun. Spinning around the dance floor at the White Horse, blurry-eyed and fancy-free, I remembered that I have a sense of adventure. Walking through Pease Park, I remembered I had a sense of reflection. He had given me back two of the key ingredients of my creative self.

Another good friend has asked me to support her – and to have her support me – in maintaining creative goals. We’re two writers – check her out at www.rosetruesdale.com – her in a state of transition in Berlin, me in a state of (reluctantly and enthusiastically) settling down in North Loop, Austin. My goal was small: to write once a week every week of March. When my alarm goes off, I think to myself, is today the day? Most days the answer is no. Today is the day to sleep my head off. But having some accountability meant that today, feeling rested, I cracked my knuckles over my 9-year-old laptop and here I am.

Sometimes, digging deep isn’t enough. I’ve learned to not get too freaked out by the ebb and flow of my creative tides, but I know that I feel better when I’m putting myself out there. That’s where you come in. What are some ways you motivate yourself to keep going? What are small goals and projects that bring you joy? Who are your creative engines – your motivators, who you know or don’t? If you shine, I shine – let’s hear it.

Super Us

Years ago, when I was feeling especially normal and non-super, I read Emily Gordon’s fantastically silly Super You, a self-help book about using your past and your weaknesses to become powerful. Gordon, who you may know as the writer of The Big Sick, says, “Change is mandatory, growth is optional, and greatness is inside all of us.”

I’ve changed, I’ve grown, and I’ve gotten slightly, steadily better at acknowledging my greatness – but lately I find that so much of my power is derived from the greatness in other people. I’m planning a wedding, and you can find me slack-jawed looking at a chateau wedding with thousand- dollar napkin budgets on wedding blogs, wondering just how we are going to do it. As I ride a rollercoaster that is so far very fun, with slight obstacles, I anticipate that there will be an upside down portion, a steep decline, and a stretch where we’re whizzing at 100 mph in the dark. However, I’ve grabbed ahold of my wedding motto, and it’s slowly becoming my life motto: people first.

What does people first mean? It means following these steps:

#1: Be super

This is the part I learned how to do from about 400 years in therapy, 4000 self-help books and podcasts, and 4 million really supportive friends. I try to focus on what I’m good at, both in life and in wedding planning. I’m an Information Professional, so I’m able to find information that your average bear might miss. This led me to some off-the-beaten-path wedding venues with a boatload of character. I’m crafty and I have an artistic vision, so you’ll find me on a Tuesday night tying myself up in yarn because I saw something on the Internet that inspired me and might look good hanging from a wedding guest chair. I’m a super planner, so I am patiently (okay, impatiently) explaining my five-hue color-coding system to my eternally understanding fiance (“No, the mauve means we definitely maybe need it – what about this aren’t you getting?!). Like with all of my big projects, I try to start from a place of strength.

#2: Be vulnerable

This is the least fun part. If Batman is any indication, part of being super is that you have to get really mad about your parents getting murdered… or something? I have to feel the feelings instead of ignoring them, and continue to be great. In the frame of wedding planning, this has meant having a glass of wine and sobbing to Sam, “I don’t want to be a normie barn wife” after seeing some very cute, very un-Emma-and-Sam barn venues. It has meant lying down on the couch with my head in my hands when the 3 wedding coordinators we met didn’t seem like they’d be my new best friend. It has meant getting really mad at Etsy wedding dress return policies. These moments of vulnerability when working on a project are the part in the superhero movie where things get creative and dramatic and I usually wake up from my movie-nap.

#3: Find your heroes

I don’t know what the Avengers are and I can’t give it a goog, but I imagine it’s something like a really cool gang of very super monsters and doctors or something. Lately, if I can’t do something alone, I am trying not to blame myself for not being good enough. Instead, I look for someone who can support me. Sometimes, I don’t have to look far. After the Normie Barn Wife episode of 2018, I stopped what I was doing. It wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t our fault. My mom always says, “Be still and listen.” This is a great way for my Avengers (or X-men or Fantastic Four or whatever of these comic book things is most applicable) to find ME. One of my super powers is that I’m a connector – I connect with people and then I bring them together. When I hit the obstacles of not wanting to be married in a barn and wanting our wedding helpers to be totally rad, I waited, and someone special appeared. This means, with a little effort, I’ve amassed a crew of a fun and dedicated maid-of-honor, a punk rock, ranch-owning Austin writer and wedding expert, and a wedding helper that doesn’t balk at the word “port-o-potty” in a world of candy-colored chateau weddings. It turns out acknowledging my own power has magnetized me with other powerful people.

★ ★ ★

Okay, so I said people first, but really I meant people third. Therapists and wedding bloggers have two things in common: they wear cute shoes and they always tell you to ask for help. But it’s a process. Without all of the demolition I’ve done on my hang-ups and have-nots, without those moments of persistent weakness, I wouldn’t be able to find the right help. This concludes my lengthy confession that I have never seen a superhero movie or opened a comic book.

Leave it in 2017

I feel confident walking in my suede gray booties, sitting down at a table and using the language I’ve learned in three years of graduate education, and tossing my (yes, I washed it, and yes, thank you, it is natural) hair – that is until I twist my heel going down stairs, fumble over an answer to an unexpected question, and get my hair caught in those damn little buttoned keyholes on the back of every dress right now. Confidence, you elusive beast, I am ever hunting for you, trapping you, losing you, and lamenting you. Because of this, I live for the unflagging confidence of Myleik Teele – she’s successful, self-made, and honest. Her podcast, My Taught You, is where I go when I need to hear something new in the genre of self-help. This past week, she posted a podcast on things to leave in 2017. She (confidently!) reframed the end-of-year list as What We Learned instead of What We Liked. Always a copycat, I decided to make my own list of what to leave in 2017.

The Instagrammable moment

I love to ‘gram. I love to ‘gram my voluminous feline, Florence, my archival finds, my baby pictures, my silly pals, my brother’s Emmy, sunsets, paintings, and Oprah. However, in some of my most precious moments this year, I sat with friends slumped over in rumpled post-work work clothes, or without make-up eating breakfast tacos, or with wet hair drinking a less-than-picturesque, but necessary, tequila soda. I cried happy tears into instant coffee, I put my feet up in neon pink, paint-covered Jesus sandals, and I felt grateful in my pajamas. My valuable life experience doesn’t always fit a square frame with a Clarendon filter, and as I’ve realized that, I’ve been trying to capture the aesthetic with the app, but gather the emotional someplace else (can I say in my heart? Oprah would). I’m still looking to communicate and crystalize special somethings in Instagram, but I am also trying to limit my ‘gram envy of people with robust Insta stories, clean latte art, and the perfect winged liner. May the rest of their messy lives be as charming as mine!

Self-blame

This one’s a doozy. I’ve learned so much about being my own best friend. Practicing positive self-talk like, “Okay Emma, you can do this, because you are so smart and also beautiful!” has been a great starting point. I give myself a lot of credit, which is easier because I have surrounded myself with people who openly support me. I know when I’ve succeeded at work, when I’ve painted an especially creative painting, and when I’ve been kind and helpful. Unfortunately, positive self-talk usually speaks at a reasonable, conversational volume, while self-blame is blasting its message, Mad Max style, from a wall of amplifiers. I blame myself for fading friendships, for small mistakes, for big mistakes (those happen too), for conversational missteps, and even for not being able to fix other people’s problems. This is something I want to shoot from a cannon back through the first 17 years of the 21st century, leaving me free and clear to live the next 83. But how? I’m going to grab a megaphone and talk back. Taking a moment to have an inner dialogue is not something I do frequently enough. Accepting that I’m not perfect, but that I’m working my ass off, and telling the Mad Max monsters to back off, is how I’d like to spend my 2018.

Living in the future

Okay, if that one was a doozy, this one is a hurricane. I’m a planner. I spent 2016 planning for a new apartment with my returning long-distance someone. I spent 2015 planning for a new job. I spent 2014 planning for a new career. I have spent the end of 2017 pining for a shiny future, if only to distract myself from the American hellstorm raging around me. I think of this as one of the best parts about me: I’m prepared, I’m hopeful, and I’m usually armed with the best party supplies, or housing spreadsheets, or updated résumés. But it also speaks to my tendency to steamroll present moments and to feel bored in the calm before the shiny future. So how best to stop the steamroll? My powers of observation. In this moment, I’m thankful for my mod orange couch and the drool-encrusted pillow where Florence has made her home. I see the painting of a dog’s pink tongue, cookbooks with new adventures for weekends, a cake dome I won in a raffle – all little treats that are alive in this present moment. Goodbye to a life lived in a time machine. 2018 is all about using my senses to enhance my present happiness.

Negativity spirals

I am great at seeing this in other people, but am I any good at stopping them in myself? I woke up an hour late, I forgot my eggs, and no one has fixed the thermostat in a week. I’m pissy to my gchat friends, I skip a key point in an email, and I forgot ibuprofen. The first two hours of my day could easily snowball into a cranky evening. Yesterday, I realized that stopping and putting a tiny bit of sugar in my mouth, or texting an emoji to a friend, or looking up a Leslie Knope gif, easily derails the Crap Train. Sometimes setting a timer and crying for five minutes is just the thing. Crap Train service discontinues December 31st, 2017.

Boredom

This has been a big one for me in the last couple of years. I have a ton of friends, a ton of hobbies, and yet I still find myself curling up on the couch after dinner, an unread book on the ottoman, scrolling my phone and sighing dramatically (I’m fun). A wise flagpole sitter once said, “If you’re bored, then you’re boring” and OUCH, maybe so. I’m compiling a list of things to try during the Boring Hours of 7.30 to 9.30 at night. These things include: baking projects, freewriting, bath time, podcast reviews, sending mail, making crafts, and inviting friends to do things more frequently. Boredom, I’ll see you in hell (after 2017).

★ ★ ★ ★

Farewell to 2017, I hardly knew you. May I look back on you as a period of resistance, persistence, endurance, occasional celebration (I see you, Doug Jones), knowing thyself, and, I guess, growth. In the eternal words of Danny Devito, 2017, retire b****. 2018, you’re up.

Matches struck unexpectedly in the dark

It’s day 13 of my favorite season – Thanksgiving Advent. It’s nearly a month of suggestions to make your day a little bit better, and then your month a little better, culminating in the best day of the year: a day to be thankful that you have food, traditions, family, friends, and most of all, you’ve met dogs before.

Thanksgiving Advent reminds me of a favorite Virginia Woolf passage from To the Lighthouse. She writes:

What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.

During Thanksgiving Advent, I try to fabricate these little moments, to take out all the flimsy matchbooks I’ve collected from restaurants and get sparking. Instead of waiting for these daily miracles, I push my friends and family to make them for themselves.

I thought it was time to check in with myself (and you) about this little tradition to talk about things I’ve learned this month. Here’s what we’ve done so far:

November 1st: Uninstall an app that isn’t contributing to your happiness.

November 2nd: Tidy up

November 3rd: List your finer qualities

November 4th: Send mail

November 5th: Order something new

November 6th: Get an audiobook

November 7th: Make a signature cocktail

November 8th: Compliment a stranger

November 9th: Confide in someone

November 10th: Make a meme of your pet

November 11th: Throw out three things

November 12th: Do something you’ve been putting off

November 13th: Vocalize the best in even the worst thing that happens to you today.

The big themes of Thanksgiving Advent are self-care, whimsy, responsibility, and variety, which are the major categories I’ve been working on for self-improvement (except the whimsy – I’m honestly the mayor of Whimsy Town. See Thanksgiving Advent as a concept as an example).

As for self-care, I’ve found Thanksgiving Advent to be a great reminder to believe in myself. I’ve hit some rough patches lately, some personal and some inspired by the onslaught of reminders about violence against women. Above all, I need to believe that I can, and have, and will, overcome what life throws at me. Somehow, writing down that I have good hair and adding a maraschino cherry to a whiskey ginger and pressing the tiny X on NextDoor put me in a place to stand, face against the wind, ready to bop the next whack-a-mole of life.

One new thing I’ve noticed about Thanksgiving Advent is that I relied more heavily on “responsibility” ideas. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m months away from 30, but I have a newfound appreciation for the joy of having done something that I dreaded but has improved my life. Things like tidying up, throwing things away, confronting something I’ve been putting off – these are the tasks that have a long-term resonance on my happiness. Yesterday, I put brush to canvas on a really intimidating, exciting painting commission, and looking at it right now, I feel like a Real Painter.

Today is my favorite Thanksgiving Advent, something I relentlessly strive for on a daily basis: Vocalize the best in even the worst thing that happens to you today. In other words, avoid flailing or wallowing in life’s tiny turmoils or big obstacles. Challenge yourself to feel lucky and to push through.

One more thing I’ve been feeling this TA season: the rush of connecting with other people who just need a reminder to be happy as the days get darker. Lots of you have reached out to say how a particular task helped you. Even more acquaintances or long-lost friends favorited TA Instagrams, or sent me a cat meme. Thanksgiving Advent has me doing some of my favorite things: sharing positive experiences with friends, old, new, and in-between; being the star of the show (being honest here – you probably already knew this about me by now); fostering creativity; letting fate take the wheel; and helping people get over the hump of a bad day. These are my little illuminations, these moments of connection as we share a daily miracle. By Thanksgiving, we’ve built a path lined with luminaries.

Baby steps

It’s 10 am. I’m about to take my break, a nice walk in the Texas sun to slay my coworkers in a pedometer challenge. I stand in the work room, arms out, and drop my torso down near my knees. 1, 2, 3, 55 times.

What’s up, lil pup? I’m addicted to quantifiable physical challenges – this time the 30-day Squat Challenge app. I’ve written about my past forays into running, an activity I’ve put on hold for the time being because of recurring foot injuries. Now I’m getting experimental with new activities. I’m 13 days into the squat challenge, doing 60 today. I’ve integrated hand weights back into the mix, huffing and puffing, thinking about Madonna’s Gollum arms.

These new physical challenges – the pedometer, the squats, the Michelle Obama quest – they’re part of a larger experiment for me. I’m embarking on new routines to seek new fulfillment. A friend recently asked me what my goals were for the next six months and I was blanker than a ‘90s kid’s check. Now that I’ve finished school, gotten a job, revamped my painting business, and set up a comfortable home, I am reframing my goals. They are no longer these big adult milestones – they are smaller, quieter, check marks on a to-do list, adding up to a marked up piece of paper crumpled in the recycling.

Here are my new micro-goals, quickly amassing check marks and contributing to a feeling of progress:

  1. Eat more vegetables – even if this means hiding spinach in my food, like I’d do for a child
  2. Practice my yeses and my nos: cancel when being alone will contribute to a balanced brain; take on new challenges that scare me.
  3. Do a little bit everyday. This is a holdover from my Make days. Even if I have to force myself to paint one stroke, it’s momentum that adds up.
  4. Get back on the horse. One piece of fried chicken doesn’t mean a spiral into a life of sin. One mistake at work doesn’t mean burying myself in tasks I know are easy.

The check might not be blank, but $5 a thousand times is, well, you know your times tables.

What are some of your smaller goals right now? What are the baby steps that are contributing to your mental or physical health? How have you found happiness through small changes?