Tiny Bahamas

I used to do this relaxation exercise where I’d imagine I was in an elevator that could look however I wanted it to look. I’d usually decorate it like a drawing room in a European palace – lots of luxe fabrics, gold ropes, purple pillows, and plush ottomans. As the elevator went up, I added items that relaxed me: my cat, a scented candle, a framed, signed photograph of Peter Jennings – you know, spa stuff. The elevator would get to the top floor and I’d get out and step into my ultimate place of bliss and calm. I always imagined this place as the sandy beaches of Saugatuck, Michigan. The most underrated state in the union (in my extremely correct opinion), Michigan has clean, tan sand beaches and warm August waves. I’d float there on my back until all of that pesky reality stuff slipped away for a few minutes.

Two weeks ago, I got to really go to that place, not just in my imaginary elevator. It was my first time back in five years, and this time I got to show my boyfriend around. My parents organized a lovely vacation for me, my brothers, our partners, and their pals. After a cleansing week of ciders and roses in Portland, I got to extend my relaxation time in Michigan, where our tiny private beach had flooded, and the waves were lapping against the 94-step staircase down the bluff. I am back to work now, refreshed and renewed, but because my next vacation is in December, I want to take this magic feeling with me as long as I can. Here are some of my ideas for incorporating vacation into my daily life:

  1. I went to bed early and woke up early on vacation, so early that my fellow vacationers, who slept to normal hours, weren’t up until I had long bottomed out my Twitter feed (mainly populated by New Zealanders who were on my schedule). I started reading to pass the time, and wouldn’t you know, I felt fulfilled and less antsy. I’m not saying I’ll be up reading War and Peace on a Monday morning, but it’s something I am going to incorporate into my Saturday and Sunday mornings.
  2. I didn’t feel pressure to do anything at all unless I really wanted to. This meant smiling and saying no to riding someone else’s bike, ducking out of dune buggy rides when the line was too long, and walking on the beach only when I wanted to. This gave me time to really savor and enjoy what I did end up doing, which included a good deal of reading and napping and swimming. I am bad at this at home. I often say yes to things that don’t satisfy me, as a way to fill up my time. In fact, the empty space in my life, unoccupied by obligations, is what makes me happiest.
  3. I wandered a lot, down beaches and streets, more than I ever would in my ordinary life. In Portland and Michigan, I didn’t drive, and this was a huge change of pace. It reminded me that I can walk in Austin too – I can drive to fun neighborhoods, then walk around and check out the street cats. I can walk along the golf course. Heaven help me during this heat, I will enjoy a stroll in the early morning now and again.
  4. I ate lots of seasonal produce, including my favorite fruit in the world, sweet cherries. As I try my darndest to eat healthfully, I found this great guide for what’s in season, which can also double as meal inspiration.

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I feel very cliche and privileged to say that vacation has been a godsend for my mental health, but here we are. I want to reframe everyday events as vacations – my day trip to see Zelda in San Antonio, my bi-weekly work massage, and my time sipping Topo Chico in the sun can all be experienced as tiny vacations. Fellow non-millionaires, we can put on the Banana Boat, eat some pineapple, and feel maybe a fraction of the refreshment of a vacation to the Bahamas, but hey, it’s something!

Myself being myself

When I read The Waves in during my BA in English, it was utter gibberish to me. I had devoured To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s writer’s diary, and her letters, but The Waves eluded me. It was like reading French as a non-French speaker, mon frere. I would listen to my very favorite professor, a tidy British woman with endless quiet enthusiasm, talk about this book and want so badly to understand it.

Years later, I returned to The Waves and found myself transfixed by its poetic rhythms and powerful character-building. I was incredibly surprised that maybe I had gotten smarter, or at least more equipped to understand this complicated text, when I felt like I had mostly been drinking Malort and riding my bike. Sometimes during times of anxiety, I turn to a random passage and get carried by the motion of the waves. Today I returned to this:

How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.

In my last post, I wrote about slowing down enough to make things manageable; to make manageable the things that make me anxious about having fun. I’ve written about my failed attempts at meditation, about the “capacity for delight” in small things, but this passage is a different frame.

Last night, I had a dream that someone in my life rejected me after telling me to be myself, and being turned off the moment I took this advice. To be myself is something I think about a lot – something I struggle with. Parts of myself are cobbled together, the pieces taken from other people and works of art and memories and pop culture. Sometimes I hope to reject these pieces that seem foreign to me: the moments when I fly into a rage like so-and-so; the endless worries like you-know-who; the desire to walk out of a restaurant with that glass of wine like Rihanna.

There are parts of me that feel quintessentially myself: my penchant for listening to Beach House and lighting candles while I drink coffee on Sunday mornings; my kindness; maybe also that Rihanna desire to steal glasses of wine.

On a recent episode of the podcast Invisibilia, a guest posited, “You have a vocabulary of the self – a range of people who you become.” This struck a chord with me: it seemed a statement of profound possibility.

As an exercise, I decided to make two lists: one of moments and activities that give me that Virginia Woolf feeling – that myself is as tangible as the coffee cup. Next, I decided to make a list of people I’d like to be, that I could contain within myself. Here’s an excerpt:

Myself being myself

  1. Taking notes from a podcast
  2. Floating in the pool or the lake
  3. Talking to my cat
  4. Doing a gesture of friendship
  5. Getting to the airport 12 days early

Myself being Rihanna with the wine glass

  1. Virgie Tovar: Virgie, in addition to having a dope name, is an activist who writes about accepting and celebrating women’s bodies, particularly fat women, who are so often marginalized for their bodies. I first heard her on Call Your Girlfriend and I was taken by the idea that fat women often dress in dark colors or neutrals as not to call attention to their bodies, and Virgie’s fight against this! As someone who struggles with body acceptance, I love the idea of celebrating myself in bright colors and textures and being unapologetically myself in my body. Virgie is someone I aspire to be more like in my pursuit of loving myself just the way I am, even as I aspire to grow and change.
  2. Lorde: Lorde is my favorite barely-not-a-teen-anymore except Tavi of course. Lorde has an #aesthetic for sure – she’s the good witch of New Zealand. She isn’t afraid to sing about things that feel youthful and frivolous, while still maintaining a strong identity. At the ripe age of 29, I hope to move past the fear of judgment when I write about things that feel silly or less serious than some of my other subjects. I also want to dress more like a Stevie Nicks in sneakers.
  3. Jane Claire Hervey: Speaking of looking up to women who are younger than me, I have to recognize Jane Claire Hervey for transforming my life in Austin. Jane founded #bossbabesATX, an organization that puts on meet-ups, talks, festivals, political events, you name it. #bossbabes gave me the courage to promote this here blog and has given me some of my favorite people. Jane puts it all out there. She dreams it, she does it. I know I have this within me: I’m thinking specifically of former projects like Thanksgiving Advent and Side Dish Literary Mag (RIP). The power of Jane compels me.

I love the idea that I can both be myself and contain multitudes, to have selves I haven’t yet discovered – and to have role models that motivate me to explore these selves. 

Take it easy

When I moved to Austin, I was struck by the slow pace of life. The summers make every activity languid or halted – crowds of people stand and sit drowsily in fancy complex pools, linger over their melting frozen drinks, and skip afternoon runs in exchange for naps in front of fans.

Lately, I find myself frustrated with the slowness in my life. I’m ever-so-slowly modifying my activity and diet habits. It takes me approximately 10 years to write a blog post or read a book. Most of all, I’m frustrated with the halting start-stop of self-care progress: one giant step forward, two baby steps (ice cream cones) back.

Don’t get me wrong, my heart still races. There’s this feeling I get when two major parts of my personality crash into each other: anxiousness and playfulness. I get it when I’m power walking from the bus stop to work at 6.45 am to make sure I can leave early for an event. I get it when I’m waiting for a friend I haven’t seen in years at arrivals in Austin-Bergstrom. I get it, non-stop, during the music portion of SXSW. And lately, I get it at 5 pm, when I arrive home and I see that beautiful beacon, my tiny oval shaped pool, staring back at me, and I know there are dishes in the sink, plants to be watered, and poop to be scooped. My relaxed Austin attitude is replaced by a heart-pounding feeling of FOMO and immediacy. 

Leave it to me to be anxious about fun.

I’ve been pondering a piece of self-care advice about slowing down that I got from the inimitable Zelda. She says:

When I really don’t feel like cleaning/doing tasks that will make my tomorrow better, I do the thing(s) and count to 100 aloud. Sometimes when I hit 100 I go okay cool fuck this and sometimes I have momentum and can do more.

Yesterday, I got home in the beautiful, temperate (for Austin in July) 95 degree heat and all I could do was picture me on my mac-n-cheese-colored float, sipping a seltzer. I debated if I’d wear my tropical swimsuit or my other tropical swimsuit as I turned the key in the lock. I opened the door and saw litter on the floor, dishes on the counter, a full dishwasher, and shoes everywhere. Shopping bags obscured my beautiful mac-n-cheese float. That SXSW flutter in my heart that tells me (Aerosmith voice) “I don’t wanna miss a thing” began to rise up in me.

I remembered two things in this moment: Zelda’s advice for slowing down and Caroline’s note that it usually only takes one song to unload a dishwasher. I imagined myself putting off the tasks until after the pool, and then after the pool wanting to take another drive in the relaxi taxi, putting it all off to tomorrow. So I decided to be an adult.

I counted to 30 (I do not have the attention span of Zelda) and felt my momentum rise. In the span of 15, count em, 15 minutes, I watered Nicole’s plants, my succulents, made sure all the dishes were where dishes live, made the floors look like humans are in charge of cats and not  vice versa, and put the shoes in a new pile, this time in my closet. It wasn’t so bad.

The moral of the story is, I conquered that panicky fun-anticipating feeling and was actually able to have unadulterated fun because I slowed down – what a concept. I slow cook, I slow walk, I slow shower, so why wouldn’t I slow fun down a little bit?

Anvils, Oprah, and the capacity for delight

Ever the wannabe Oprah, I cannot count the number of times I have told a heartbroken or struggling friend, “It’s okay to feel your feelings.” I mean, it’s not okay: it’s horrible and hard, and sometimes you’d rather feel someone else’s good feelings, god dammit.

I am neither heartbroken nor struggling, but lately, I’ve had trouble following my own advice. I’d rather have a cocktail or put on the television than be alone with my thoughts. Circumstances have changed. My lifestyle of long solitary walks, which allowed me to really digest my feelings about my situation, has lately been interrupted by chronic foot problems. It’s become more acceptable to throw back a wine spritzer every night of the week now that my companion is home. My writing and painting time has been interrupted by happy hour after happy hour, pool cocktail after pool cocktail, nightcap after nightcap: time to dry out!

But the problem isn’t truly that social drinking is clouding my connection with myself. The problem is that I’ve been using socializing, drinking, and TV to disconnect. What am I missing? What is it that I’m trying to avoid?

In an effort to use some creative energy to understand why it is that I’m so uncomfortable sitting with my thoughts, I’ve been rereading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The book is prescriptive and self-helpy, with instructions about how to live creatively, unencumbered by the weight of other people and life situations. It’s a great read for anyone seeking a new way of framing their lives. I was struck by Julia’s insight about ways to cultivate happiness. She writes, “The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight.”

That may seem rather opaque or rather vague, depending on your point of view, but it totally blind-sided me. I had a moment of revelation where I felt the rug of my preconceptions of happiness pulled out from me. I was Wile E. Coyote meeting the unexpected cliff. What does Julia mean by the “capacity for delight”? She goes on to explain that the power of observation, the opportunity and willingness to be enchanted by the small things going on around us, can overwhelm the negative or creativity-squashing circumstances in our lives.

I vocally and steadfastly reject the notion that one can choose to be happy and for it to just be so. As a person who has known mental illness intimately, I know that happiness isn’t always a choice. However, the “capacity for delight” seems more doable, more possible, even in the throes of depression. Can you find one good thing in your field of vision? One good memory about the day? It’s a welcome new practice for me, someone who has been glossing over the small delights in an effort to disconnect from it all. By being more observant, more open to little sparks of joy, I hope to make my way back to my feelings, which aren’t so scary after all.

Some delights for me this morning: the cat is craning her neck to nuzzle my face; the man whose car alarm goes off every time he turns the ignition is leaving early for work today; I woke up on the first, not the third, alarm; the new coffee maker works like a charm. A night without a social engagement and the wine that comes with it has left me feeling my eyes open a little wider, my mind a little fresher.

Not everything will be a delight, of course. There are uncomfortable feelings there too, the ones I so often ignore lately, such as feelings of self-doubt and creative constipation; feelings of anxiety; and feelings of exhaustion. But today, it all feels more doable when I smile about the car alarm instead of glower. Contentment with my surroundings, even small pieces of it, is my gateway drug into the harder stuff. Not heroin, but the fiddly bits of my brain that are making noise.

Luckily for me, my Wile E. Coyote cliff has landed me in a placid pool full of cute ducks and palm trees (do these two things exist together? Whatever, it’s my imagination, I can do whatever I want!) along with the anvils and the puffs of smoke.

Art tells us who we are

Sandy and I met at a Jens Lekman concert. I saw her, petite and singularly fashionable, giving her ID to the bouncer at Lincoln Hall, and I was nervous to say anything. She was an internet friend of a friend and I was not yet numb to the awkwardness of meeting people on the internet – thanks Twitter. Eventually, we connected at the show and that was it. We’ve been through Big Star margaritas, music festivals, bad boyfriends, bad jobs, grad school stresses, life revelations, and vintage shops together.

Sandy works at the Hirshhorn Museum in DC and, fittingly, the advice I snagged from her comes from her work with artist Ai Weiwei. I just about died when she posted the following Instagram:

sandy

Ai Weiwei infiltrated my consciousness because his sculpture Forever Bicycles made its way to Austin. I know next to nothing about the artist, but I’ll leave that to the curators and art historians out there. What I do know is: that’s some damn inspiring advice. Let’s break it down:

1. Learn a new skill

This week, I made a lasagna. That might seem like no big deal, but it’s one of the few holdouts of my mom’s recipes that I just have been too intimidated to make. I looked at the recipe, realized it might take around three hours, and balked. But that Saturday afternoon, it was raining, Sam was with Buddy the dog, and I had three hours. I did it – and it felt amazing. This was a new task, not a new skill, but it made me feel good as hell. Using muscles that hadn’t been discovered yet made my whole self feel strong and ready for whatever comes my way.

2. Travel places your parents never went

My spin on this is a little different, since my parents travel more than I do and never invite me to Hawaii. I try to live the lives that they didn’t have, to make them proud of the opportunities I take advantage of. To be clear, my parents have lived lives I can barely dream of (insert joke about millennial home ownership), but there are still worlds to conquer for the Martins. For me, this means living in three major cities, going to grad school, and moving cross country at the drop of a hat (okay, like three months of the hat dropping). These are opportunities that they have helped me meet, and I hope to continue to have experiences that they can ooo and ahhh over for years to come. I also hope to continue giving them heart attacks over my whimsical tattoos (Mom, it’s just the one).

3. Find things to tell stories about

This is really my passion: telling a story through non-fiction writing, through painting, and through archiving. My dreams tell me stories. My friends give me stories to tell. This is one of the great surprises of life – the stories that unfold and that just get better when repeated. I wonder about new ways to tell stories, about how to gather the stories of other. I’m always looking for your help with this, for your stories, for help telling my own.

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When I asked Sandy if I could share Ai Weiwei’s advice, she added a bit of additional wisdom. The artist said, “Art tells us who we are.” The art we make reflects not only who we are at the core, but it reflects the art we’ve taken in and devoured – the nourishment that life and art has given to us. What others create can be just as much (or more!) about ourselves than about those who made it.

Stay hungry, my friends!

Doughnut Day

Every week, I wait on pins and needles for Jeni’s pictures of Doughnut Day – the day her daughter gets to eat, you guessed it, powdered sugar doughnuts. Jeni is great at celebrating something small every week, and those pictures of little Leah grinning, covered in sugar, make my day.

It’s no surprise that someone who brings a little light in a dark world would have a great self-care tip. Hers is simple: “Come up with a list of stuff you like about yourself, without any ‘buts’.”

I’ve written about a couple of lists before. For Thanksgiving Advent, I made a list of things I am grateful for. I made a list of things I like about my best friend. I made a Big Bad Things List. Before job interviews, I often take the time to list my strengths – but I’ve never done so for myself. To kick off our Mondays, why not give it a shot?

Here are a few of mine:

  • Good hair life
  • Funny
  • Kind
  • Good chicken noodle soup
  • Good long-distance friend
  • Great list-maker
  • Creative

Don’t be shy! I’d love to hear one of yours. Oh ya – and happy Doughnut Day, to those who observe it!

Reader’s Choice

Cultivating natural, routine self-care is not something that comes from within, it’s a matter of harvesting the best ideas and making them work for us. If left to my own devices, self-care would be a bag of Ruffles, two pedicures a month, a bottle of champagne to myself, and a new wardrobe. Other voices help me to find effective self-care methods rather than just doing what feels good in the moment. For instance, the best self-care tip I ever got was to talk to myself like I’m someone I love – and eventually, I’ll become the person I love the most. I could never have come up with that crap on my own! In a previous post, I wrote about Russell’s tip for doing stuff we liked as kids. Here are a few of the other tips I’ve gathered.

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Sarah says to wink at yourself in the mirror. “It started as a little joke to myself but as I continued doing it I realized that it gave me a little boost.” Sarah is so wise. She goes on, “Self-care often feels like something bigger than it really is. A simple wink can give me some encouragement when there is no time or energy to do something bigger.”

A wink is Sarah’s small way of reminding herself that she’s funny, she’s cool, and she’s her biggest fan. I never thought of the small things I do for myself as self-care, but her advice has me reframing. When I sing to my cat in a Louis Armstrong voice, I’m cracking myself up – I’m forgetting about “performing” for other people and instead showing myself my best assets.

Sam knows that I also give myself a boost with a mantra I learned from a past therapist. “You can do it, little Emma.” From the stairwell of the Catacombs in Paris, to the bathroom before my performance appraisal, to the dressing room when I’m swimsuit shopping, talking to the most vulnerable part of myself sets off a spark. If that isn’t self-care, I don’t know what is!

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This next one is HARD for some of us, myself included. Lexie, who has a great blog called Copper Oranges, writes about that gross, creeping monster, guilt.

“I’m not great at practicing guilt-free self-care. When I relax I tend to make a list in my head of all the things I *should* be doing right now. The best thing I have tried to practice is to allow myself to relax without guilt.”

Being self-aware about guilt is half the battle for me. It’s taken me years, but I’ve transformed myself, for better or worse, from a busy body to a proud lounger. My therapist pointed out to me that I often get down on myself even when I’ve done several hard tasks in a day, but take a break. Giving yourself permission to let go of that guilt could be a huge relief.

Similarly, I find myself taking on other people’s anxiety. A lingering symptom of middle child syndrome, I often “cluck” over the needs of other people. Is she having a good time? Do they feel comfortable in my home? Is this what he wants to be doing? Lately, I identify those worries and blow them away like dandelion puffs. Identifying these bad mental habits make them less and less of a habit, and more like a hiccup.

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Finally, some really great concrete advice from Libby: Take early and late bike rides; swim for free at Barton Springs from 9 to 10 pm; play board games; do yoga; flock to commercial A/C.

After and before work, I can be a lazy potato, but like a cute one. In Texas, those are the most precious hours! I’m going to set a goal for myself to get out of the house before work twice a week, and once a week to get a little dusk exercise!

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Keep those tips coming! I can’t do this alone. I literally made a red wine spritzer last night. I need all the hand-holding I can get. A free tip from me to you: do not make a red wine spritzer!

Sunkissed

In summer, my self-care comes in the form of a vintagey swimsuit, the smell of sunscreen and chlorine, and a tequila, lemonade, and soda in a big orange tumbler. Never happier than when air-drying after a quick dip, my new home is not inside the apartment I share with Sam, but on the ratty old lounge chair at the side of our teeny tiny pool. Yesterday, we listened to Pet Sounds and took little forays into the pool as necessitated by the 100 degree heat. Life is good.

But of course, there’s always tweaks to be made and nuances to be learned in every self-care regime. Here’s what I’m up to.

Skin

Y’all gave me some pretty extensive and, in some cases, expensive skincare tips and I followed a few to try to get rid of my dull and sometimes acne-riddled skin. The most important thing I learned is that no one agrees about skincare, and you need to do what’s right for you. My skin clears up in the summertime, and I’ve finally found a system that works for me.

In the morning, I’m washing with Cerave foaming cleanser, recommended to me by skincare genius Megan. I sometimes use a facial brush, maybe once a week. I’ve noticed that this is a great way to lightly exfoliate without causing me to breakout or dry out. I got mine for $20 on Amazon. When I’m done washing, I moisturize my face, neck, and chest with St. Ives Collagen Elastin moisturizer, recommended to me by Lisa and Stefanie. I love this stuff. It’s cheap and I’ve never had a moisturizer that makes me feel soft and hydrated without making me feel greasy. I use Neutrogena Clear Face sunscreen in SPF 55 under my make-up. I top off with Pure BB Cream from Maybelline, which I love because it doesn’t clog my pores and it lightly covers my array of acne scars and lingering, cool, definitely not embarrassing adult acne. It also doesn’t cover what we can all agree are my very adorable freckles.

In the evening, I use a generic Walgreens sensitive skin makeup removing wipe (I only use this when I’m wearing eye make-up, which is just about never these days) and finish off with Simple Micellar Water. I love not having to suds up and throw water at my face at night when I’m winding down, and this stuff is fast, easy, and gets rid of my make-up. I started using a Neutrogena retinol cream at night, but I really hated it. I worry about wrinkles, sure, but not enough to keep using something that felt greasy and heavy when I want to go to bed fresh-faced. I hope one day I’ll get old and pruned up like Georgia O’Keeffe, and I will think fondly of the time I threw a tube of retinol into the bathroom trash. Unpopular decision: I stopped moisturizing at night. This has been a total game-changer for me. I am about 50% less greasy during the day, and this is a dream come true.

Tunes

Carly Rae Jepsen “Cut to the Feeling” and Lorde’s Melodrama – end of list.

Shoes

I finally learned that wearing DSW $40 flats is ruining my dang life. After a third bout of immense foot pain left me unable to walk normally for almost 3 months, my doctor and a shoe salesman brought me into the light. The man said I had “some arches” (sorry to be braggy) and thus a person who spends more than $100 on safe, stable shoes was born. Vionic, I live for you. The only non-supportive pair of shoes I wear are my Target sandals between my bedroom and my office (the pool).

Miscellaneous

The things that are keeping me happy so far this summer (summer starts in March here): my bluetooth speaker to keep the tunes cranking all summer; L’Oreal Kids swim shampoo so I don’t become a bleach-blonde scarecrow; nighttime AND morningtime showers; night swims; nightcaps on the balcony; ceiling fans; rosé spritzers; spin class; bike shorts; swing dresses; big Topo Chicos; Mexican Coca-Cola; and, finally, dogs.

Just kids

I recently asked my Facebook friends for help: what are their tips, tricks, and routines for self-care? I need advice – big league. The past month has been a stressful one and I’ve been knocked off my self-care game. This post is the first in a series of self-care tips from my friends.

Russell writes,

The self-care tip I’ve been investing some time into this year and that has really helped me is to kind of delve back into things that made me happy as a child and/or teen. This has taken the form of re-reading books, re-watching old animated TV/movies (which I probably never would’ve let myself because of the nagging voice in my head telling me I’m an adult now), and tapping back into a time when the only thing I had to worry about in a day was what I wanted to do to pass the time. It’s a small shift that’s really helped me a lot.

When I think back to my childhood, I remember really loving to dig holes and really hating to get in trouble. These interests were at odds, since it seems that adults don’t love you ruining their beautiful landscaping with a big old hole. Because of my limited memory of my childhood interests (hole digging – not such a great hobby to bring back into my daily life), I enlisted the help of my mom. Here what she remembers me liking to do:

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This is a blog mainly about how much I like soup. Thanks for reading!

But seriously, folks: my mom’s iMessage contains my new tenants of Summer ‘17:

  1. Be creative: this means being proactive about painting and (gulp) maybe getting into some Pinterest crafts. The fun part about this is that I have a new home rife with opportunities for me to hot glue somethin’ weird to somethin’ else.
  2. Get my hair wet: The aforementioned new home has a POOL, y’all. My new goal will be to get in that pool at least 3 times a week and to investigate exercises I can do in it (water aerobics here I come!).
  3. Use that table leaf: I love spending hours laughing with friends (I love to laugh – can you relate?), but my love of patio drinking and investigating new bars is getting a little pricey. I’m going to balance my expensive hobby with an inexpensive one: hosting meals at my house. We just acquired a small dining table that transforms into a large dining table. I will try to host friends at least once a week. Nothing like that 105 degree weather to get your soup appetite going!
  4. Read a book: Start with The Artist’s Way – Sue also mentioned how I loved to write. Seriously, Emma, just do it. Turn some pages. Scribble something down.

As for the media I consumed as a kid, I might find myself in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood or hiring the Baby-Sitters Club. I might also read a Shel Silverstein book or learn more about Georgia O’Keeffe. I might return to my teen years and watch Amelie and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. One thing is for sure: I’m going to be listening to a whole hell of a lot of Bright Eyes.

Please, please help me on my quest to try out my friends’ self-care regimes. How do you stay sane-ish? What’s the one simple trick that keeps you looking glowy and feeling brand new?

Going the distance

For about nine months, I drove a tiny bit over the speed limit to get home in time to skype Sam before he went to bed in Laon, France. I was always sad to say goodnight to him, but was especially sad on the days I struggled to take care of myself properly – days when I didn’t write or paint or run or drink water or moisturize. Those were the days I would audibly say “Harrumph!” as I closed the video chat window.

That being said, I did produce a lot of things during those months: several new, exciting friendships; almost a dozen paintings; this blog. We all go through lonely times, be they because of a lack of partner or being in a new environment or running short on good friendships. Here are some things that got me through:

1. Massages

This sounds – and also is –  bougie as all get out, but I credit a good portion of my mental health during the last months of my life to regular massage. I am a cat animorphed into a human, so a big part of my happiness comes from touch – hugging friends, snuggling Florence, holding hands. A great way to feel connected with my body and to get the human connection of touch was through massage. I am very lucky in that my employer subsidizes an in-house massage therapist every other week (and I work for the state, not even some open-concept, keg-laden start-up!). Scheduling table massages helped me feel taken care of. It also helped me feel like a luxurious princess, which I am. I highly recommend taking advantage of your local massage school, which have rates far below a high-end spa.

2. Scheduled socialization

Some of you might know that I’m America’s next top skeeballer. In Chicago, I used to take unsuspecting friends to play at Tuman’s in Ukrainian Village, where I would skeeball shark them into buying me pints of Angry Orchard. In Austin, I’ve been playing weekly in a league with some of my favorite people. Mondays were something to look forward to when the Sam-less weekends seemed to drag on forever. I also held a semi-regular dinner get-together at my house, where a few friends helped supplement whatever recipe I cobbled together for a main dish. Having those recurring Google Cal events kept my head above water when I started socializing with my cat more than actual human beings.

3. The World Wide Web

(Imagine the buzz of dial-up here) Millennials! All we do is look at screens all day, making the Snapchats and the emojis. I’ve always made friends and nurtured long-distance friends online, but it was especially important this last year. Long emails, Gchats, Twitter DMs, iMessage, whatever – during times of loneliness, cat crisis, and work woes, some of my best friends stayed in close touch even when they couldn’t physically make it to a happy hour. Thank you for being an (internet) friend.

4. Dark Horse Rosé

Self-explanatory. I’ve been experimenting with wine spritzers and can I just say – moms know what they’re doing.

5. Baseball

Having a passive activity to do by myself was key. I started watching baseball regularly two seasons ago – just in the nick of time to become familiar with our World Champion Cubs. When I whined (another activity I love!) about wanting more to do, folks loved to suggest that I do MORE painting. I put on my beret and looked down my nose at them as I explained that there’s only so much creative work one can do before they get diminishing returns. Whereas painting is my more enriching weekly ritual, baseball kept me stimulated, out of the house, and perhaps most importantly, gave me something to chat with my dad and brothers about. I got really good at feeling powerful when telling the sports bar waiters, no, I just needed one menu. Okay, two, in case Kris Bryant finally shows up to take me on a date.

∙ ∙ ∙

I see the last nine months as tough but formative. I cried a lot, but I learned about myself and the people around me. I wouldn’t recommend shipping your partner overseas to live in a middle school dorm, but practicing how to do stuff by yourself is a great way to build those big, strong self-care muscles, so you can be your own emotional Kris Bryant.