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?

One Year: Body Talk

I’m unreasonably obsessed with TimeHop. For those unfamiliar, it’s an app that aggregates your social media posts and photos from years past on that date. It helps me celebrate, and celebrating is one of my greatest skills. I’ve celebrated the anniversaries of concerts, of meeting friends, of other people’s weddings, and today, I’m celebrating the first birthday of Yoga Farts.

Yoga Farts was a project to motivate me to write, reflect, take care of myself, and connect with others – and wow, it has not disappointed. The blog transformed from a Tumblr to an honest-to-goodness website. Since then, I’ve written about exercise, skincare, eating, mental health, and so on, ad infinitum. One of the greatest self-care skills the blog has provided me with is the power of reflection. So much of life is mindless – the snack you have at 3 pm, the scrolling you do before bed, the “lol” texts you send in response to a well-timed gif – but Yoga Farts has given me a space to say, here’s what I’m going to do, and here’s why.

That said, in a series of posts, I want to return to some of my favorite pieces from the past year and explore how I’ve been doing.

First and foremost: food.

In January 2017, I wrote a post called Weighing In. This has been my post popular post on Yoga Farts to date, and I have some theories as to why. First, weight is a huge struggle for so many people, and we’re often curious about other people’s journeys. Second, the subject can be so taboo – this post was insanely difficult to write, as I struggled to love myself as numbers piled up on the scale. I wondered how many had noticed as I put on pounds, but more than that, I wondered how many people had experienced similar struggles. So I wrote.

In a follow-up post about how I felt about my weight gain since 2010, I wrote, in painstaking detail, about what I was doing about it. This was maybe the third hardest thing I’ve ever written. Dieting is so incredibly personal. Since I wrote that post, I have fallen on and off the food tracking wagon. I have suffered from debilitating injuries. I have had too much wine. I’ve eaten cakes. I’ve celebrated with margaritas – hell, I’ve just celebrated margaritas. But I’ve held fast to the principle that food can be my power instead of my downfall. I’ve gained weight since those January posts – I’ve cried about my body, I’ve lamented salads, I’ve sat in support groups. Most recently, while listening to an episode of the Call Your Girlfriend podcast I usually love so much, I felt a simmering rage at a “body positive” take-down of diet culture. Just as I cannot stand, I cannot support, the crippling societal message to women that their value is their thinness, I found myself feeling the same strong emotions about these women telling OPRAH that she has been tricked by diet culture and that she’s perpetuating the oppression of the cult of undereating. I still struggle with throwing off the yoke of thin-centric body image – but have found the body positive movement telling me how I should feel about my body equally demanding and demeaning.

Woo! That one was a doozy. Takeaways: I’m still striving to love my body. It’s a process. I’m learning not to listen to anything Society capital S has to say about who I am. The inimitable Zelda Barrett put it thusly: “Your body is yours and yours alone and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel at home again.”

As the inimitable Emma Marie Martin put it, “Society can call me when it decides if it wants me to be thin or fat. I’m just gonna be over here doing me.”

Side A

I’ve been on a tear. I’ve been tearing through creative pursuits, work projects, new albums, favorite recipes, and self-help innovations. I’m riding the wave with the ducks I have in a row for the first time of my twenties (and it’s about damn time): a balanced brain, a happy relationship, a decorated home, a great job, at least $100 in my bank account right now maybe (unclear). The thing about waves is that they crash, and for me this happens when I’m required to sit still. The other night, after exhausting all the creative work I could do, I cried because I was bored, because I was hungry, because it was Sunday, because life is expensive, 🎶 because because BECAUSE – because of the wonderful things I’d done 🎶and had left me listless.

There’s no one self-care experiment I’m trying right now, so here’s a post as mixed up and energetic as I am. Lately I’ve been up to some:

Listening

I got the idea early (can’t sleep past 5 am club!) yesterday morning to create a playlist of songs about loving yourself. Obviously it’s mostly Lizzo and Beyonce, but also some Santigold, Amber Coffman, and Avey Tare. I’m opening up this playlist to everyone! Please share with me your power songs.

Reading

I lose the term “reading” loosely here – perhaps scrolling would be more apt and honest. Out of the thousands of memes, I plucked an amazing thread on free/cheap self-help that I found really helpful and I want to keep as a lifeline during harder times.

Experiencing

We all know I love #bossbabesATX, especially their fantastic meets where you can mingle and share projects. Lately they’ve been crowdsourcing answers to discussion questions and posting some of the answers on their blog. I found the conversation about self-care right up my alley, and laughed out loud at some of these cute and honest answers.

Striving

I find myself working through health and fitness goals and being so discouraged by my setbacks, which spawn new and harder setbacks. After some soul-searching, I’ve found a coach who can help me through some of these tougher hurdles (the frequency and consistency of my exercise; drinking; mindless eating). She’s something of a life coach, a dietician, a motivational speaker, and a personal trainer (easy on this aspect). So far, one of the greatest things is telling her some small victory for me and having it be celebrated and claimed, like a mountain climbed. I’ve learned that asking for a little extra help can do wonders. I’m sure some of her wisdom will spur future posts.

Showing up for myself

In an effort to harness some of my creative energy for good, I created an Instagram just for my paintings. This puts all of my (admittedly poorly documented) work in a single place I can point to when people ask what I create. The results have been astounding to me. People have been loving my work and dreaming up custom painting orders. I do my paintings for little profit – I spend a good deal on monthly supply orders and charge about $35-$60 a painting – but I decided that some of my extra cash would be used to help my neighbors in Houston, through the Houston Food Bank. Painting orders are open now – just shoot me an email at martin.emmamarie at gmail dot com!

• • •

That’s my self-care mixtape for right now. It didn’t require too much rewinding or hitting record at the exact time a song came on the radio. It wasn’t given to me by a high school boy in the 1990s. There are no Promise Ring songs about it. Nevertheless, I’ll hope you’ll submit your own tips for me to explore and songs for me to sing along to in the shower. Don’t leave out Hüsker Dü.