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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Mental Health Day

The concept of mental health days needs to change. Right now, "Mental Health Day" is a tongue-in-cheek way to say that you're playing hooky, or goofing off instead of working. But that perpetuates the stigma around mental health that it's not something to be taken seriously. (This is a conversation that can have so many contexts: feminism, the new economy, entrepreneurship, wellness. Suddenly: I have a series of posts to write.)

More and more, I learn about friends, family members, and of course, blog editors, who deal with some type of mental health issue, at various levels of severity. Sometimes it's seasonal, sometimes situational, sometimes it's chronic. Each time I make the discovery that someone else is dealing with mental health problems, I'm struck again by how important it is for me to find a career or lifestyle that allows me to appropriately care for my mental health, while also giving myself breaks when I need them. 60 hour work week? You are not for me.

The last important point I'll make about mental health, for now, is that it's really really difficult to explain what it feels like or what the symptoms are. For example, if you look up the official symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, you could paraphrase them by saying you feel sad in the winter. Which is really not how it feels at all. It's like trying to explain what a period feels like to a man. No matter how well you explain and no matter how well he listens, there is still a major gap in understanding. Mental health conditions are not things you can "snap out of." But it's very hard to explain why that is.

So, in closing, this is all just another reminder to "be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tone

This past week I have been working feverishly on a cover letter for a dream job- which, of course, is an unpaid position. The dream job is a business internship with my favorite blog, A Practical Wedding.

Writing this cover letter has been daunting and frustrating and . . .well, enlightening. If you peruse my archives, you can see just how much I hate writing cover letters. I didn't particularly enjoy writing this one, but the challenges I faced this time were a bit different than those presented by cover letters of yore. Striking the proper balance in tone has been incredibly difficult. Formal vs. informal, forward vs. respectful, enthusiastic vs. desperate, etc.

First off, this is a non-traditional, creative professional career. So cover letters should be more creative to start. The only real help I ever got for my cover letters was from people in very traditional industries, using very formal tone. Their advice was always spot-on. . .for entirely different purposes than I have now. I need to convey a LOT more personality in this letter. After all, it's my undying charm that will get me the job, right? Right?!

Secondly, I really want an interview. I am far more confident in interviews than in cover letters, and can better explain myself off-the-cuff than I can when I overthink my words. I also want to present myself confidently and ask for what I want. On the other hand, I don't actually know the editors, however much it feels like I do. Which means I need to be careful about treading the line between forward and obnoxious. But I really want an interview.

And finally, as you may have ascertained, I'm incredibly hopeful about this opportunity. I want it bad. And I feel like a great candidate for the position. I may not have tons of graphic design or web experience, but if the only specific qualification they ask for is a desire to learn, no one can beat my desire. However, as a huge fan of their work, I'm keen to avoid fawning over the blog and the job. I don't want this job just so I can say I worked at APW. I want this job because I have the utmost respect for this team of editors, and if I wish to follow in their footsteps, well by gosh I should learn straight from them!

Creating a more personal cover letter, on the whole, has allowed- well, forced- me to think more carefully about where I am and where I want to go. Anyone can pick up technical skills, but why am I in particular the best fit for this position? Also, not only is this a job where they might look at my online profiles, they actually ASK for my Twitter handle and blog address. So APW editors, if you're reading this, welcome. Take a stroll through the archives, and feel free to contact me at any time with further questions. Or an offer to interview.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Out of It

I like to consider myself a young, hip person. In fact, Young and Hip even became my nickname at my last job. So when I find out through casual internet browsing that I'm so far Out of It as to never be mistaken for hip, and certainly betray my particular age (please don't be upset, my dearest readers who are older than I. I'm not trying to call myself old), it's unsettling.

As I breeze through Pinterest in the interest of procrastinating, or scan Twitter in hopes of cracking the secret of that infernal platform, I keep happening upon blogs and websites I feel I should have known about. Blogs that are about or directed toward exactly the target audience I hope to reach.

Far from betraying my age by my degree of technological and pop culture unfamiliarity, I'm only betraying my sad work ethic that finds a dream and maybe, kinda, sorta inches towards it. My role models usually have a great work ethic- they are the people so passionate that they work themselves to the bone for a dream, only to collapse in exhaustion months or years later to look back at all they've accomplished and then dive right back in.

While I, as I've stated before, will sacrifice any measure of future security for the sake of a pleasant day. And in pursuit of benign, unchallenging pleasure, I find myself completely Out of It.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Double Trouble

The difficulty in straddling the roles of not-quite-adult and definitely-not-a-kid is most apparent in the contrast between my two part-time jobs. I imagine there are many twenty- and thirty- somethings in the same place. (Though certainly there's no age restriction on this struggle.) I am an outreach specialist in the Mayor's Office for a grant program which assists homeowners in upgrading the energy efficiency of their homes, and I also work at the front desk of my local Y. Costume change aside, bouncing between the jobs makes my head spin sometimes. It's not the hours or the logistics so much as the identity swap that causes me to strive ever toward that Eden we call balance.

When I'm at the Y, in my lovely uniform of bright blue polo and khaki pants, replete with magnetic nametag, I suffer the constant woes of any customer service position: dismissive customers, rude customers, angry customers, patronizing cutomers, you get the picture. Understandably, in a customer service position located less than two blocks from a major university, most Y members assume I am a student. After all, many of my counterparts behind the desk are. What does it matter what these semi-strangers think? Does it really affect my life? Well, yeah. Part of this whole transition to adulthood is being recognized and treated as an adult. I mean, isn't it? Or is this the part of the story where I'm reminded that it only matters how I see myself? I fight the assumption because it's too easy to sink into the brainlessness of simple tasks with little responsibility. It's a short, slippery slope from being considered a young careless student to becoming an unambitious adult.

Then I step into my office for my "real" job, and an almost opposite feeling settles in. After all, I'm completing tasks I've never done before, answering questions and shouldering responsibility just like a Real Live Adult. As I communicate with community partners and coordinate events with established businesses, I sometimes think, "Don't they know I'm making this all up? Don't they know I haven't done this before?" Fortunately, I get a lot of positive feedback from my colleagues and other professional contacts. Still, it will probably take more time until I feel truly successful at the position- and truly "grown up."

I would love to be done with mindless service positions that only net me a measly paycheck and nothing else. However, I work for a grant program that is ending in seven months, meaning I'm out of a job (AGAIN), and the Y gives me fall-back cash while I figure out more long-term plans. The Y offers the opportunity to make more cash if I sub for other people's shifts. Supposedly I could get fitness instructor training as well (though that's failed to materialize so far). All the same, I hate spending precious hours in a job that doesn't feed my life or fit in my vision. After a good weekend, though, perhaps I can rain in my bad attitude and start acting like an Adult.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What's the Big Idea?

It's odd that the bigger the idea I have, the more difficult it is to put into black and white. Well, considering the relative complexity of Big Ideas, maybe it's not so odd. It's difficult for me to share my deepest passions- what if other people think I'm silly? What if they just don't get it? What if I'm the only one who feels this way?

Speaking of being the odd one out, my latest passion- indeed, one of my new Big Ideas- could be something I simply missed out on. Perhaps I missed the memo, but I feel the cultural conversation surrounding the transition to adulthood is severely lacking in the Hard Stuff. Did everyone else get the message that major landmarks of adulthood (school, career, house, relationship) are not only optional, but also completely unassociated with any particular age? Where is the message that just because you graduate college doesn't mean you automatically get a full time job in the same field? Where is the message that changing your mind about the rest of your life- even several times- is ok?

Maybe I missed all this. But this is definitely a theme I'm going to continue examining. In my cross-country move and head-first dive into an adult relationship, financial independence (mostly), finding a job, searching for a career, and establishing my own life, I've been continuously struggling with the trappings of adulthood while still feeling like an adolescent. I haven't yet pinpointed what will make me feel like an adult. I do my best to look and act like one- being mistaken for a student is frustrating. I find myself often returning to financial security as the hallmark of adulthood, but I also think that's pretty messed up. Does a number, a bank account, or a type of bank account really define my maturity? It shouldn't. If someone else suggested that to me, I'd definitely counter the argument. But when my own head suggests it, arguing with myself just feels, well, crazy.

And so the process begins. What the hell is adulthood and how the hell do we talk about it together? Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Beginning, Again

Oh hey there, delightful audience. So nice of you to stick around. For a summer project, this blog certainly didn't go far over the summer. Thank two cross-country trips and a month of working three jobs for my absence.

As August melts away, my skin tingles in anticipation of crisp, September air. Autumn lacks January's notoriety for resolutions and spring's ancient association with beginnings, but fall always makes me long for something new. You can attribute it to sixteen years of following a school calendar, but I prefer more poetic causes: fresh, bright air, changing leaves, the fleeting-ness of the season. I love trying to capture and absorb as much autumn as I can- it never seems to last long. I envelope myself in the air, feeling the earth getting ready to settle in for winter. Sure, spring has its tiny beginning blossoms and that first hint of green all around. But late spring and summer have heady scents that catch new endeavors, spinning them out of control, getting them drunk on all that sun. Fall has the right combination of furtive  preparation and flagrant presentation.

So I'm beginning again, doing my best to shake free of dead weight and capture more color. I'm ready for big things, impatient with the day-to-day, the slow placement of each puzzle piece. If I keep making changes through the fall, perhaps by winter they'll be ready to snowball.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Time Out

I'm amidst a busy week of prepping for travel, as we leave on Friday to drive back to PA for a week- hence, the missing Monday post. Bear with me.


Once again, I'm applying for jobs, which I hate to do. (See archives for cover letter rant.) As I wade through full-time job postings and keep my ears perked for part-time openings, I'm stuck in a quandary: where is the boundary between wasting time and "putting your time in"?

I hate wasting my time (In a cosmic, life sense. In an everyday sense, facebook and pinterest can attest to my time-wasting skills). When I look for jobs, I want a job that will help me in some tangible way. For the most part, I don't need the "well, at least now you know you don't like it" jobs. I know what I don't like. While it's difficult to judge a position from its posting, I will be frustrated and annoyed if, come August, I'm stuck once again accepting the first offer I get out of desperation. I don't want to simply fill my time for the sake of a paycheck. I want a job with direction.

On the other hand, I know that to an extent I need to "put my time in" doing the drudge work. I don't believe in this principle one hundred percent, because I'm pretty sure creative and hard-working people can make opportunities happen for themselves without spending unfulfilled years making copies. I know that in many career fields, it's important to work your way up from entry level. It both garners respect and allows you to learn more aspects of your industry and your organization. I'm perfectly willing to learn and grow through experience this way.

So where's the line? How do I tell the difference between wasting my time and putting my time in? I'm an impatient person, and I'd like to figure this out NOW.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Street Walker

Today I walked into town instead of biking, and upon arrival at one of my favorite coffee shops, I reflected bitterly whether that was the correct choice. I chose to walk because I wore a skirt today and I didn't feel like changing before I left home. On the 18-block trek between home and the Haymarket, at least three different men yelled or honked at me. To say their comments were unwelcome is an understatement.

I hate being yelled at on the street because of what I'm wearing. I hate that some men feel their first and only interaction with me can be some kind of advance. It's just plain rude to speak to any human that way, and I am enraged that this happens to women, to me, very commonly. About every other time I choose to walk into town, actually. If you want my attention, try "Hello, how are you?" Is this phrase too difficult? Have these men forgotten how to politely address a stranger?

Is it my fault for wearing a short skirt? Was I "asking for it"? I had on tall boots and a modest tank top. I do not think this outfit makes me a hussy. Am I supposed to wear a longer skirt or pants to avoid rude catcalls? Am I supposed to be flattered by men commenting on my looks as I walk by? I do not dress to attract the attention of men. I dress to satisfy my personal aesthetic, to feel confident, and, in this instance, to stay cool in the summer heat.

Men, I ask you: refrain from yelling out to women from on the street about their looks. Do not comment, honk, or whistle. Even more important: tell your friends to do the same. Tell every man you know that this is unacceptable treatment of women, of people. Don't laugh it off or claim that it's a joke or "not a big deal." It IS a big deal. It's offensive. And don't feed me the line that "boys will be boys." By excusing male behavior this way, you not only marginalize the dignity of women, but degrade yourselves. Aren't you intelligent, reasonable people who can conduct themselves according to social standards? By claiming that "boys will be boys," you imply that males are immature and irresponsible, unable to control or prevent any kind of bawdy behavior. I believe you are better than that. Help me on this one.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Duh.

I had one of those "uh, duh" moments today. I got myself out of the house and attended two classes at the Y back to back. The first was an intense cardio and strength interval class, and the second was yoga.

Within the first ten minutes of my first class, it hit me. I am competitive. I am social. I enjoy physical challenges. Why haven't I been taking these classes all along?! No wonder I can't motivate myself to go strength-train by myself. I need competition to push me forward. When I'm there by myself, I'm far too conscious of my actions- not self-conscious, just thinking of the silliness of picking up heavy things in different ways over and over again.

It seems lately, I'm doing better at shedding whatever protective skin that has been hiding me from myself. The realizations I have about myself are not new, they are simply rediscoveries of my childhood traits. Instead of trying to grow out of them, I need to revel in them. Have you ever peeled away a layer of yourself to be reminded of something you always knew? I plan to embrace my rediscovery. I will not try to hide behind indifference just because I don't feel skilled enough. I will bust my ass to win. Should I fall short, no one can fault me- after all, I busted my ass.

Probably, I won't be able to avoid having another "duh" moment in my life, but I would like to. I want to avoid them by reconnecting with my core qualities, reminding myself of the joys that I've always found in life, and continuing to try new things and awaken new loves.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Thing 1

I need a thing. This is not the post I intended to write today, but it's something that presses on my mind. The writers that I admire- hell, the people I admire- all have a thing. A passion, a calling, a vocation, a hobby, whatever you call it. It's a thing.

Perhaps I've given up my thing. My thing used to be dancing. I still love it. I still feel moved toward it and by it. Through my own circumstances and the mental blockades I've erected, I haven't felt that movement in some months, a couple years even. When I get back on the dancefloor with a partner, it's so effortless to just feel the flow move through me. Why did I ever allow anything, even myself, to keep me from that?

Sometimes I feel the pressure to have the right thing. Community development and sustainable living are my "trade,"at least by educational standards. I feel like those should be my "things." I do stay involved in them, engaging in volunteer work or adopting new practices at home. Achieving the flow in this field is harder to come by, though. I don't feel confident or competent enough to let it go and trust my own groove, like I do on the dancefloor. I can only hope these things come in time.

And now, I have writing, which I am trying to make into a thing. Can we have so many things? So many passions, so many callings? I'm wondering if by pursuing more than one, I strengthen them all (like cross-training), or I detract from them by scattering my focus. Who knows. I'm going with the first option because I like it better. It's more positive.

This summer, I'm retrieving my things.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sanctuary

My apartment does not provide me sanctuary. It's not uncommon for me to start feeling cagey, even amongst my own creature comforts, and start pacing through the three main rooms. Part of the claustrophobic feeling is that I only have three rooms to pace. No matter where I am, I cannot have my own space to breathe.

Despite this need to be alone and gain some mental distance, sanctuary to me does not mean a quiet, isolated space. I need hustle and bustle. Like so many opposites in the world, my ideal sanctuary is a spot separate from, but next to, busy-ness and people. What good is quiet space in a sea of quiet? I prefer to achieve quiet while others continue to scurry about. As a kid, this came when I shut myself in my room with a book for hours, while hearing the rest of the household continue on its business. These days, it's finding a coffee shop where I can sit undisturbed and anonymous while watching the come and go of customers and passers-by.

I can't find sanctuary in my apartment. Even if I go in the bedroom and shut the door, the bed is the only place to relax- and sitting in bed makes me feel sluggish, no matter the time of day- and instead of the muffled hum of the household, I hear the barely dampened sounds from Patrick's computer through the thin walls.

Hopefully someday, in a house of our own (or even a larger apartment!), I'll be able to find that separate-but-close-by space that affords me mental peace. In the meantime, I'll just have to keep buying coffee.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Jazzed

I experienced two events this week that made me so pleased to be American. In this era of controversy and constant contention, it made my heart happy to remember the great and wonderful things about this country.

First, an outdoor jazz concert. How wonderful to see hundreds of people gathered to enjoy music that grew and evolved here in America. Experiencing live music with crowds of others enriches the sound. Everyone hears the same thing and interprets a little differently. The quintessential community moment.

Secondly, this morning while helping harvest lettuce as part of my work-share for our CSA, I worked next to two immigrant farmers-in-training. Boushia (that is NOT how her name is spelled) is Chinese and Maria is Hispanic. English is a second language for both women, but they communicated without (outward) frustration, using the words they knew. Then Maria taught Boushia the Spanish words for lettuce and radishes. THIS is the America that I'm proud to live in. These two immigrants from incredibly different countries are both learning skills to increase their economic vitality and do so within the American system. The farmers-in-training at Sunset Farm represent a large diversity of ethnicities. They express their culture at times by growing crops from their country of origin, but all are learning how to grow in the Nebraska climate. In doing so, they join a community of farmers in Nebraska, a community of vendors at the farmers' market, and a community of immigrants that really is a melting pot.

I'm so glad to have these experiences to draw from. When I feel politics and mainstream culture are getting out of hand in a uniquely American way, I will remember that these moments exist as well. Then I can say with a full heart that I'm proud to be an American.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Monologue

I'm an attention-hog. I love the spotlight. I take any chance I get to be in front of an audience. I think this is part of why I write.

It's not so much that I expect applause for my writing. Rather, by putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, I get to monologue for however long I want. This is one reason I journal. Aside from the therapeutic qualities, I love that I can simply tell my story- whatever it may be- with no interruptions, no distracted looks, no listening to responses. Emails are the same way. I could have a conversation with a friend, but I always have to remind myself to ask about the friend. (Yes, I have to remind myself of this. Yes, I am still a good friend.) When I email the friend, I get to just say everything right away. I'm equally excited to read their reply, and perhaps I can be so excited because I've gotten my piece said already.

I don't anticipate shaking my desire for attention or my self-centered (self-full!) thoughts. However, I do hope that I continue reminding myself to use writing to start conversations, too. My favorite blog, A Practical Wedding, is a great example of this. The founder, Meg, uses the blog as a way to cultivate a community; often the comments are just as intelligent and original as the blog posts themselves. She has accomplished this masterfully, and I hope that I, too, can use my words to address social and cultural narratives.

And so, dear captive audience, tell me: what conversations do you enjoy having?

P.S. If you haven't added A Practical Wedding to your daily reading list, do it now!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

2D

How easily would you be able to distill the breadth of your experiences to one piece of paper? Single sided. 11pt font. If it's easy for you, then I need your services.

I despise cover letters and resumes like no other task I've had to complete. It does not get easier with gloves on (like gross cleaning tasks). I cannot hire someone else to do it for me (review it, yes; know my life well enough to create content, no). I have no problem talking about myself or tooting my own horn. My problem is doing these things authentically while conforming to arbitrary formatting and language structures.

My understanding is that a resume and cover letter form the first step in determining if an applicant is qualified for a position and how well they will fit that position. But I'll counter that you can have the most capable person in the world fill the position and spend the next however many years hating that person's guts because he or she is a huge jerk. Think about the people you work with. You can train them on the skills they need to complete their job. You cannot de-jerk-ify them. So isn't it more important to find someone to fit with the climate of the office? And how can personality be determined by such structured writing?

This is why I struggle to find jobs. I must first overcome my revulsion for this application structure, then complete said application materials, then hope they find redeeming qualities within them, THEN I get to charm them in person. I would much prefer to just charm people outright and have them offer me a job because they have met me, have seen me perform tasks, and know that I'm not a nitwit.

Just one more reason writing makes sense to me as a career choice. If I'm trying to get hired somewhere, or even just get one piece published, I am judged on my work or my body of work. I don't have to write some silly letter that falls over itself trying to compliment the employer AND show I am a worthy human being, all while using every single loaded buzz word I can remember.

Forget representing myself in the two-dimensional. As a woman, as a writer, as a human being, I am far more complex than that.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

This Might Be Worth Something Someday

I feel like the first post on this new blog should be of epic content. It should sum up my purposes for writing and my philosophy on life. But the real purpose of writing this blog is to figure those things out, and chronicle (thanks for the vocab, AP Lit) the figuring.

So here's what I have to say to start: I think maybe I should write. It's this one thought that has given me more peace of mind than I've had since last summer. When this simple sentence floated nonchalantly across my brain, I sat straight up in bed. I have something to reach for and I'm excited to see what I end up grabbing ahold of.

(Plus, snippets is just a hilarious word.)