Work Hard; Play Hard

I’m sorry I’ve been so spotty with my posting lately. I was trying to escape the Pope last week, which meant I had to get away, which meant (thank goodness) I had little to no Internet, which (unfortunately) meant I could not blog, but which meant I could relax.

And so, with the absence of my beloved blog, I definitely felt like I was missing something. Telling a writer that she doesn’t have to write is like telling a fish not to swim. It’s a part of you, and it helps you to keep going. But at the same time, I had some free moments to figure some things out.

Like the fact that I need to relax more.

Recently, I’ve been pretty stressed. A type of stressed that bothers you in the day (in the the form of heart palpitations and anxiety attacks) and at night (actually organizing matters in your dreams.) So, I was excited to have a weekend where I could get away and not think about anything. I saw new things, I laughed a lot, and I kept busy in a fun way. I certainly had to step down my stress level by level (like waking up in the middle of a stress dream and yelling at myself to dream about something different), but by the end of it, I felt calmer for once. And I realized something huge: you don’t have to fight fire with fire. You just have to douse it with water.

See, I was incredibly stressed out. So, I relaxed really hard. Because everything needs balance. It’s an equal give and take. When you have reached your limit, you need to refuel. It’s what the doctor ordered in a way, as an antidote uses a different version of the poison that infects you. Administer an equally potent dose of recreation, and you can begin to counteract stress’s effects. Because if you’ve worked hard enough, you deserve to play hard enough.

The problem comes when people try to cheat the system. They work really hard and only relax a little. Or they max out their vacation hours and don’t put any real work in. It’s not healthy or fun to do either of these full time. Believe it or not, both scenarios seem to drain you in one way or another.

So, if you’re going to work really hard, expect to reward yourself. Hard. It will create a positive correlation in your mind about work and perhaps keep you from procrastinating so long the next time that big project looms.

After all, it’s always important to give credit where credit is due. Especially when it’s due to you.

Do You Have Any Experience?

Experience. Everybody has a little. Some people have a lot. And everyone can claim that they can separate their experiences into good and bad, or a mix of both. Your first date. Your favorite book. A death. A new baby. Or anything that will help you land a job. All of this is called “experience.”

But have you ever had just an experience? And I don’t mean some totally freaky interaction with a psychic or an awkward encounter playing 7 minutes in Heaven. I mean, an experience.

Or at least, have you ever tried to perceive your life that way?

Why do I ask?

Because I heard this totally awesome statement the other day. This person simply said, “I just love experiences.” Note the wording. She didn’t say, “I love it when things happen like I expect them to happen.” And she definitely didn’t say, “I love when I have bad experiences because I can learn from them.” She just said, “I just love experiences.”

And that sort of hit me like a lightning bolt. I mean, here I am. Worrying or otherwise freaking out about just about anything that crosses my path. Making a phone call. Ordering coffee. Asking for help. Even worrying about worrying.

When what I should be doing is just…having an experience. Going out into the world and dealing with whatever comes my way, and writing it all off as just an “experience.” Not good or bad. Just there. It completely takes the pressure off of…life.

Because what you are actually saying to yourself when you see life this way is that “I am going to go out and live.” Instead of “I am going to go out and live in a very particular way, and when that doesn’t happen, I’m going to get upset.” No resistance to what is there, just being.

In the end, that’s living your life. Not just hoping for it all to go right or being mad when it doesn’t. Just chalking it all up, every single thing, to experience.

Baby Bird Syndrome

Ah, the wonders of nature. A little baby bird emerges from an egg, it is fed and nurtured by its parents, and then one day, it grows its feathers all over and becomes too big for the nest. So, what happens? Does it watch its parents closely so it can learn how to fly? Does it hop along on a branch before finally taking wing? No! Mom and Dad shove their little son or daughter right over the side. How’s that for encouragement?

And most of the time, the little baby bird either flutters a little and finds the wind under its wings, or it plummets to the ground and chirps for days, until it finally figures out how to get itself out of this mess.

Now, you might think, Wow, rude, Mom and Dad! You wouldn’t even allow it to pack its stuff? Or you might think, It was time. Everybody has to grow up, and nothing helps you to grow up like the fear of falling out of the nest.

But what happens when that scenario hits a little closer to home and that little baby bird is actually a full-grown adult college graduate?

This is a situation that we are seeing more and more with our tanking economy. Students return to their home base before making their way out into the world because it’s all they can do to stay afloat with collegiate debt. And in nationwide polls, most parents have said that they don’t mind that their child has come home to roost. I mean, if your parents are anything like mine, they usually don’t mind the company. They like the extra help and someone to schlepp around with.

But the weight of it all for that little baby bird or human well…it weighs on you. You feel like a loafer. You feel like a mooch. And worst of all, you feel like a fat baby bird who refuses to fly and would rather sit in the nest watching Jerry Springer! at all hours of the day. There’s this awful guilt that you aren’t living up to your full potential because you’re grounded, in a way.

Which is why bird parents and human parents sometimes push their children out of the nest at some point. It absolutely forces them to make a decision, and the baby is able to start his or her life on his or her terms.

But there are also parents who would rather see their baby’s feathers fully grown in before they’re  encouraged to fly. Which is okay, too.

The point is that it’s fine to do either. It’s okay to strike out on your own and it’s okay to just strike out. As long as everyone is happy with the situation, then you need to feel like it is acceptable too, guilt or not.

Just remember that if you’re feeling a bit like you’re taking up too much space in the nest, think about what it will feel like to you and your parents when it’s empty. Enjoy the time you have together.

Yes to Death

Here’s how I make a new friend:

First, locate a person who is as shy or more shy than I am (difficult).

Second, run through a list of compliments I can give so I can start talking (medium).

Third, agree with everything they say (easy).

For whatever reason, that third step is really important. I don’t know where I got the idea, but I’ve always thought that people would only like me if I was incredibly agreeable. If I said yes to everything they said.

I hear myself saying, I can’t believe I found the only other accordion player in the United States! or What a coincidence! I love Nickelback! (I’m just kidding. Everyone would know that I was lying if I said that.)

Now, you have to understand that my intentions are mostly good. People bond quickly when they have something they like (or hate) in common. Which is why I like to be front and center when a person divulges their interests. And really, I’m not trying to deceive them. I’m just trying to establish a friendship. Most of the time, I really do like what they like.

But there are times that I don’t. I don’t know if it’s a fear of confrontation (which I have) or just a fear of being left out (which I also have), but I refuse to let anyone down when they talk about their preferences in that way.

And it’s taken me an entire lifetime to figure out that you don’t have to like everything someone else likes to be their friend.

In fact, discussions and conversations take more interesting turns when there is a difference in opinion. Not that you want to invite conflict necessarily. You should want to offer another perspective. Your perspective.

Because remember, your ideas and experiences are unique. The fact that a person travelled to the same country as you does not mean you’ll have a similar experience. The fact that a person grew up in the same town as you does not mean you’ll have a similar experience. Heck, a person (your sibling, parents, etc.) could have lived in the same house with you, and they still may not have had a similar experience. That’s why you should always be willing to share yours instead of simply agreeing with how someone else sees the world. There’s room enough for everyone to share their stories.

So, I’m still trying not to “yes to death” anyone anymore. But that’s not just an expression–you can really kill a friendship if you don’t have anything else to contribute than a nod and a smile. Push past the “yes.” You may find yourself in surprisingly more agreeable territory.

Seems Fake

Have you ever seen a person when you are out and about and they just have it all going on? Their hair is slicked back, their style is on point, and they just have that swagger? Do you know that person I’m talking about?

Well, do you want to know a secret? That person is faking it. All of it.

And I don’t mean that his or her suit is fake or that his or her hair is fake. As in inauthentic. I’m saying that his or her persona is fake. As in an impersonation.

No, really. Here’s something you should always keep in mind: The entire world is engaged in one big, long poker tournament. The people who are really successful believe that they have great cards and (make others believe it too), even when they don’t. As for the rest of us? We think our cards are okay. And in both cases, we’re right.

And when you’re faking it, the only person you have to “fool” is yourself. I mean, think about it. The people on the street don’t know you. They people in the grocery store have never seen you (but they are making judgments about you when they see your grocery cart.) Even your co-workers don’t really know the real “you,” living day to day in close cubicle quarters like you are. To them, you’re just you, whatever that means. And do you know what that actually means? You can believe that you are anyone at all, and people will have to believe you. They have no reason to think you are faking being as smart, talented, or funny as you seem to be.

I mean, really, does anyone know how to be an “adult”? Do you think that you just get a briefcase and a pinstripe suit on your thirtieth birthday, and your vocabulary expands to include words like “ROI” and “401K”? No! We’re all just children playing dress up to impress people we don’t even like. And we’re succeeding at it because we’re faking it.

So, don’t even give it a second thought. Don’t worry that people may be able to see that you are faking it. Because what you’ll really find is that the more you fake it, the more you are acting exactly like the person you are and the person you’ve been all along.

I Don’t Know Why

Some days, things are hard. And some days? Things are so much harder.

I don’t know why that is. I don’t know why it seems to feel like the universe has it out for us some days, but on others, it wants to sabotage us and then trip us and then kick us when we’re down.

I don’t know why some days you can drop a cup of coffee on yourself and accidentally give yourself third degree burns. And I don’t know why life has to give you the third degree.

I don’t know why the words flow so quickly on some days. And I don’t know why it’s hard to go with the flow on others.

I don’t know why I get so stressed out sometimes. And I don’t know why my brain would allow me to do that to itself.

I don’t know why I can’t focus somedays. And I don’t know why there is nothing to focus on, on others.

I don’t know why I make everything so hard. And I don’t know why it’s so easy when I let it be.

I don’t know why I can’t learn to be still. And I don’t know why I can’t learn to keep going.

I don’t know why happiness is the hardest thing to attain. And I don’t know why it’s the first to leave.

I don’t even know why you’re reading this. And I certainly don’t know whether this is helping you.

But do you know what I do know? We all make it through. We all get along on our way. I may not know why, but I know how:

by breathing and carrying on.

A Screw Loose

Tonight, I’d like to give you a little taste of my nightly routine.

After I’m showered and calmed for the day, I crawl into bed, tuck the sheets under my chin, and start reading. Ever since I was a kid, someone would read to me until I fell asleep…until I could read by myself. Thankfully, I now don’t have to position a flashlight over my head so that I can read in the late hours or beg my parents to read just one more chapter. I have a set-up. There’s a little electric candle that sits on my windowsill, secured by a single nail, that lights the pages by night, way past everyone else’s bedtime. The light doesn’t shine in my eyes, and I don’t have to get up to turn it off. It’s perfect.


It blinks out. I have to position the wire so that it stays on continuously, but sometimes it still winks out like morse code. I’ve often wondered if the neighbors think that I’m trying to communicate with them (and if they are wondering if there’s actual intelligent life in my room.) And most nights, it’s slightly annoying. Because all I have to do is rest my head on the pillow, and the light goes off, but if I wiggle slightly to the left it will come back on…for a second.

The kicker? I know what’s wrong. The little box that holds the control has a screw loose, so there must be some misfiring going on. I figure that all I have to do is give it a couple quarter turns to make it work normally.

The problem with the problem? It’s that I’ve gotten used to my malfunctioning fake candle and the trouble it causes me. I actually look forward to figuring out how to sit just so in order for it to keep shining. It’s like this little lighthouse with a serious attitude problem that guides me home each night. It has character and spunk, even though it doesn’t have much reliability.

And so, I wonder what other little quirks do we have in our life that we feel need fixing but really add such character to our lives?

Like the leaky faucet, for instance?? Yeah, it’s an environmental cost, but how many times has the drip drop lulled you to sleep? Or what about that squeaky step on the staircase? Maybe it got you into trouble when you snuck in late, but it can definitely alert you to robbers if they ever try to creep up the stairs.

Really, at the end of the day, I think we have a lot to learn from the imperfect. I think it has an important place in all of our daily lives. And maybe, just maybe, we all need to take more time to appreciate things (and people) who have a screw loose.

Love Makes You See Things Differently

Love is weird.

As you may know, I have been dating my boyfriend for 10 years.

I’ll wait for that to sink in. (Everyone needs time with that one.) And I have to say, we’re quite different. And not even in a girl/boy sort of way. More like a tomato/tomatoe sort of way. He likes all things concrete and science. I love all things abstract and literature. So, we tend to see the world very differently.

For example? Cars.

My boyfriend loves cars. (I don’t know what the deal is with men and machines. Kindred spirit? Fueled by gas? Anyway…) He likes the way they sound, he likes the way they’re made, and he knows the difference between the two.

Me? I like…the way they look. Some of them. And how some cars have faces. And how some look really angry or really dumb. And that’s about as far as my engine will go. (I know, I know. The “I’m a girl, don’t ask me to change a tire” flag is flying high tonight).

Well. That was before we started dating.

Now? After a decade? I can tell cars apart. The worst part? I have a preference. Before we were dating, I just wanted one that went forward when I asked it to. Now that we’re dating, I’d prefer a Lamborghini Aventador. Poor guy. He doesn’t know he’s dating a Libra with incredibly expensive taste. (As if there were any other kind!)

So now when I drive down the highway, my head turns a little too long when I see a nice Volvo. I find myself drooling a bit when I see a Dodge Challenger in black. And of course, when I see someone driving like an idiot up ahead, I am always right when I guess it’s an Acura, a Lexus, or a BMW.

I never paid much attention to what I was driving, let alone the cars that were driving next to me before. But now I’m excited to identify the car (and to get it right). Just because I love a guy who loves cars.

Now, if only I can get him to acknowledge Hemingway over a Hemi, Poe over a Porsche, and Nabokov over a Nascar race, I’d say my work here is done.

But I’ll take mileage over matter any day.

Permission to be Unpretty

Let’s get something straight tonight, okay everyone?

You should feel pretty. No one should make you feel unpretty. In whatever form that takes. Take the selfie (or don’t). Put on the make-up (or don’t). Do your hair (or don’t). Wear nice clothes (or don’t). Whatever makes you feel most comfortable in your own skin (sometimes quite literally) you should do. Your life is too short to worry about how many likes/marriage proposals your photos get on Facebook (or not).

Okay. That’s a nice reminder, but that’s not what I wanted to get straight: I need everyone to remember that it is more than okay to be unpretty.

That is, you don’t actually have to be or feel beautiful all of the time. I mean, there is absolutely something about everyone that is beautiful. But you don’t have to acknowledge it every time you feel like you need to acknowledge your worth. (Well, I have nice legs, so that means I’m a decent human being, right?)

Really, why isn’t it enough to be smart, or generous, or organized? (Oh, that’s right. Because you can’t easily convey that through an Instagram picture.)

And don’t get me wrong, it’s totally fine if you take pride in your looks. But the fallout is ridiculous. I pull up my hood and hiss at people when I’m out in public without any make-up on so they don’t look at me too closely. I try to stand up straight and look sufficiently bored but pretty when waiting in line at Starbucks. I treat every sidewalk like a runway. Just because I’ve been taught that I need to be attractive to other people at all times. Just because the media has told me that men and women are supposed to be desirable, always.

But do you know what I would really like to do? I would like to just look like myself. And not worry about the way the light is hitting me, or if my make-up is smudged, or if I have resting b**** face. I would like the permission to be unpretty (or at least not worry if I’m beautiful or not).

And so, since I believe that you too would like the permission to be unpretty, I’m giving it to you. You don’t have to be perfectly put together all of the time (but go you when you do get it together some of the time.) You don’t have to be camera ready, you should just be ready for anything. And of course, you don’t always have to be or feel beautiful. You should just be and feel.

You’re alive and that’s enough.

No Reason

Do you think everything happens for a reason? Maybe you do.

But more importantly, do you think anything can happen without a reason? That is, if a person takes a day off of work, do you think they ever do it for no reason? Do you think people can do anything without explaining to themselves why they are doing something? (Basically, if someone makes a decision in a forest, does it make a sound, and do they still argue about the pros and cons with someone when they get back to their camp?)

Well, the more I see of the world, the more I don’t think we’re capable of doing anything without a reason. We are completely motivated by a logical (or sometimes illogical) argument. We hardly ever act without first weighing the consequences. We’re all like, I don’t think I need to help my fellow man until his or her house is floating away after the worst hurricane ever. Then, and only then, will I contribute anything to help someone. Or even, I can’t buy this ______ for myself because it isn’t my birthday and we’re months away from any holiday. I guess I’ll just wait until it goes on sale and I have five coupons.

The problem is that when you wait for a reason to do something, you’ll be waiting for most of your life.

I mean, how many times have you put away some money for a “rainy day?” And how many times have you dipped into it at a later date? (Now, I’m not saying to splurge every day, but I think it’s time to stop kidding yourself.) And what about asking someone out on a date? If you’re waiting to see whether he or she is interested in you, then you’ll have missed the opportunity to simply find out by asking them out in the first place.

Really, I think it’s time to stop creating fake reasons for yourself to simply live the life you want to live. We’re creatures of impulse and instinct, after all. I think it’s time that we all bought ourselves a pumpkin spiced latte simply because we’re alive, not because we’re looking to reward ourselves for something. “Treat yo’self” doesn’t even begin to cover it. More like “enjoy yo’self” a little everyday.

The point is that you are going to miss a lot of things in life if you stay on the same path. When you only do things that you have reasons for. Rather, it’s important to do some things for absolutely no reason. To talk to people who you have no reason to talk to. To take roads you have no reason to take. To make decisions that you have no reason to make. Then, and only then, can you see what possibilities your life may have to offer. Then, and only then, can you find your true potential.