2018 Goals, Intentions, Etc.

I set myself a lot of intentions/goals for 2018. They’re almost laughably optimistic, if you use every other year of my life as a benchmark for what I can achieve in a single year.

Most of the things on the list are things I typically talk about doing, but bail on last second, or give up after a few tries. Something happens in life and I go down a spiral to drinking too often, staying out too late, eating too much fast food and watching too much Netflix.

I really thought moving to this cabin, out in the woods of Miccosukee, would help me cure those parts of myself that are weak and quick to admit defeat. But, as I’m sure no one is shocked to hear, it didn’t do that.

Do I feel better? Yes.
Am I working more? Yes.
Am I going out less and drinking less? Yes, most weeks.

I’ve learned to cook for myself, without the entire stock of groceries going rotten in the fridge before I can bring myself to finish the leftovers or attempt a recipe. (The secret? Only cook one recipe at a time and stop trying to convince myself that I like kale.)’

My 8 years in Tallahassee and my 6 months in this beautiful little house have helped me a lot, but I realized last month that the only thing that’s going to really get me where I want to be is focusing as much effort as possible on doing the things I want to do.

Some of these are big things, like getting more stories published outside of my regular gig at INweekly. Some of them are small things, like washing my face every night before bed.

But the one thing I want the most is the freedom to seriously take action this year.

Not just talk about trying, not just reading blog articles about what I’d like to try, not just biting my nails over how it seems like it’s SO EASY for everyone else that tries these things.

I had to recognize that this new phase isn’t going to be as luxuriously self-indulgent as most of my time in Tallahassee has been. I’m going to be getting serious about my finances, my business, my bad habits. A lot of it won’t look very cool on the internet and it’s not going to be the same type of creative space I’ve got right now.

But I’m willing to give all of that up so I can get this foundation of who I really am externalized into my day to day life once and for all.

In case you’re curious, here’s a list of things I’m going to accomplish this year:

  • Read 36 books.
  • Have 10 pieces of writing published. (Not including my work for INweekly.)
  • Post 24 essays on my blog.
  • Exercise 3 days a week.
  • Travel 6 times.
  • Journal daily. (I already do this but need to keep going no matter what.)
  • Complete “financial rehab.” (I’ve redacted all of my specific financial goals for the time being, but I’m going to tell you more about this soon.)
  • Move to a new city. (After Pensacola.)
  • Don’t get a pixie cut. (Yes, this needs its own line item.)
  • Buy no fast fashion. (Meaning no Forever 21, H&M, Old Navy, etc etc.)
  • Complete 100 rejection letters. (A course from Tiffany Han.)
  • Memorize my tarot deck.
  • Implement a daily skincare regimen.
  • Contact my representatives 3 times a month.
  • No phone an hour before bed and after waking up.
  • Drink 100 ounces of water a day.
  • Take December 8 – January 6 off from client work.
  • Knit myself a wearable sweater.
  • Attend one cultural event a month.
  • One community/volunteer event a month.
  • Subscribe to an independent publication.
  • Donate once a month to a patreon/indiegogo.
  • Read 1 long form essay or article each week.
  • Watch 2 documentaries each month.

Some of these things I do sporadically already or have been working on, but the key with this list is that I want to hold myself accountable for the big picture of the person I strive to be in the world.

I know if Sarah Von Bargen saw this list she’d throw something at me because the wisdom is “one habit at a time” (it’s good advice) and that’s my plan, but some of these things are what falls through the cracks during bad weeks or bad months.

I’ll get distracted or discouraged if I don’t beat myself over the head with what I want to do and why I want to do it.

The question of why I want to do it is pretty simple. I know what makes me happy, I know what makes me feel proud of myself and I know what leaves me fulfilled and satisfied with a day/week/month.

Things like “go thrifting” and “spend time with my family” aren’t on there because I don’t have to remind myself to do the easy stuff.

Maybe that seems silly to point out, but I know my year has plenty of room for every I already enjoy doing.

This list is the stuff that I had to dig up. The things that aren’t constantly being said to me by strangers on the internet. The things that I tell myself I’ll do but always chicken out of at the last second.

I thought of who I want to be and how I want to be living next year, in five years, in 10 years, in 50 years. I worked backwards from that.

What does that woman do every day, every week, every month? What are the non-negotiables in her life? What are her routines like? What does she talk about? What is she known for?

Feels a little weird to put most of my list up for a bunch of people to see, but this list will shape a lot of what I talk about this year.

I’ll check in here once a month to tell you how things are going and what my plan is for the next month. How’s that sound?

I’m also going to be sharing my list of new things I want to try (inspired as always by Sarah Von Bargen) because that one is just fun.

Normally this is where I would tell you to share with me about your new habits or intentions or plans to take over the world this year, but I’ve had to disable comments because of spam while I work on transferring this blog to a Squarespace site, so holler at me on Instagram if you want to talk about whether I’m totally insane for this list or tell me about your list!

Love y’all, talk soon.

 

Freedom, Stereotypes and Why I’m Moving Back Home

If you haven’t heard, I’m moving again. But this time, I’m temporarily moving back to my hometown of Pensacola after living in Tallahassee for 8 years.

I want to talk about freedom.

My teacher/long-distance mentor by way of her Inner Circle group, Tiffany Han, has been preaching about flow and letting go of what isn’t serving our creative work for over a year now and I’m finally at a crossroads in my life where I have to embrace that.

A lot of things in my life have stopped working. Or they don’t work as well as they could. Or I know I could have better, if I just made a decision to change.

When she asked us “What feels like freedom?” recently, it scared the shit out of me when my subconscious bubbled up MONEY. MONEY FEELS LIKE FREEDOM.

The biggest confession that I have not wanted to tell people is that my relationship with money is terrible. I’ve got hang ups about earning it, I’ve got bad habits around spending it, there is all sorts of emotional baggage bursting at the seams with money problems.

I know I’ve written about being bad with money before and I’ll write more about my personal money rehab plan later, but let me simplify:

Every time I’ve come close to being financially solvent or decently stabilized in the financial area of my life, I move. For some reason or another, renting has always managed to suck my measly savings dryer than a creek bed in August.

It’s not pretty, but I also know that’s a choice I continued to make. Over and over again.

For me, living on my own has been the benchmark of “making it.” And not just living on my own, but in a nice place that I feel comfortable in–budget be damned.

That’s been fine and well until the end of my current lease started staring me in the face.

For many reasons, the idea of renewing my current lease or signing another made me panic.

The biggest reason for the panic was the money. I didn’t want to sink it all back in to another lease, just to repeat the cycle again in 6 months, a year?

I wanted a fucking break.

That’s what felt like freedom.

No deposit, no application fee, no first and last month rent due on signing, no electricity deposit, no utility bill, no Comcast bill.

Also, no getting ousted from a property on the whim of a landlord. (It’s happened a few times.) No year-long commitment to a city or a neighborhood or a zip code.

So, I’m going to be staying at with my mom for a while.

When I type that I feel a little queasy because I know the stereotype. I don’t want to be seen as a failure, or a flake, or a loser.

Because I’m not. I’m lucky to have a hometown that I love, brimming with support and possibilities and opportunities that will welcome me back with open arms while I take a few months to explore what I want to do next.

The truth is: I didn’t want to just land in the next house in Tallahassee. I don’t want to just do stuff for appearance’s sake. I don’t want to keep defaulting to this version of my life.

But you know what I also realized?

The trappings of living on my own are distracting me from the personal and professional and creative work I want to focus on. I’ve been trying for years now to succeed professionally, grow personally, improve creatively–all while trying to take care of house and bills all on my own.

Hi, I’m Stephanie and I’d like to tell you it’s not working for me anymore.

Trying to do it all at once. It’s not working. It’s not serving me.

So I’m giving up the one thing I’ve been clinging to as my mantle of BADASS, INDEPENDENT CREATIVE WOMAN MAKING SHIT HAPPEN. To, I dunno, actually be a badass, independent creative woman who makes shit happen.

How did I get to this point? It doesn’t feel like a rock bottom. It feels like when you’re digging in the sand at the beach and you’ve stopped paying attention to the tide and suddenly there’s water filling up your pit and you’re a few minutes away from the whole afternoon’s effort being washed back into the flat, soft shoreline. Nothing to see here.

What was the purpose of the digging? The striving? The work and the grit? For what?

I really thought if I just kept going, if I could keep my head above water, then that was success.

If I just didn’t stop, no one could point at me and say that I failed.

But they also couldn’t point at me and say I was a success.

When I look back at the past few years, they look totally fine on paper. They really do.

But I look at these years and know I could have done more. I see where I could have raised my white flag, surrendered to the pleading of my heart to just rest and refocus. Just for a second, just to reload and restrategize.

I’m not going to be ashamed about this new choice I’m making. I want to normalize the idea of just taking a fucking break from whatever it is that’s wearing you down.

Making Space by Having Less

Ok, finally going to get to the point here.

While I’m still a put-down-roots type of girl, I’m taking a page out of the travel-the-world crew’s book and editing my life to the type of situation that might end up looking real nice on Instagram. Even if it doesn’t, it’ll fit in a budget-friendly storage unit and the back of my Prius.

I’ve been enamored with the minimalist lifestyle for a while and, more recently, “zero waste” living. Most of my favorite “bloggers” (I consider them writers and indirect mentors, but you get my drift) are big proponents of the less is more lifestyle.

Here’s the draft version of my “wayward and willful” plan:

  • Read Cait Flander’s book, The Year of Less, and complete her 30 day challenge.
  • Downsize my belongings by about 50%.
  • Capsule wardrobe. To support not buying fast fashion, refining my personal style and taking good care of the clothes I do have. Also, for easy transport when traveling.
  • At least a 90 day moratorium on signing a new lease. I have a feeling that will stretch quite a bit longer, but there are still many things up in the air.
  • Going on an earning spree. Which means working my ass off, but for real this time. Not the fun stuff, like updating my website. I’m talking pitching a lot, writing a lot, learning how to network and grow professionally.
  • Addressing my relationship with alcohol and food. I’ve always spent money at bars and restaurants like it’s no big thing, but the reality is that I spend about a third of my income in bars and restaurants and that’s absolutely fucking RIDICULOUS good lord alMIGHTY.
  • Figuring out what the hell really makes me happy and how I’m going to afford it, long term. No fucking around this time.

All of those choices and actions are there to make space for the lengthy lists of personal and professional intentions I have for the year.

The combination of making space and adding those intentions has the ultimate goal of giving me the clarity, confidence and resources I need to take the next step in my life–whatever that ends up being.

I’m not going to let myself feel ashamed or even sheepish about telling y’all the reality of what I hope to accomplish through moving back home. I’m genuinely excited. I’m also genuinely terrified, because I’ve never made this kind of “big” responsible decision before. But it’s pretty long overdue and I’m going for it.

Minimalism, or Getting Comfy with Less

Tomorrow I start a “minimalist” wardrobe challenge (chose from 10 pieces of clothing/shoes for 10 days), receive Cait Flanders’ book The Year of Less and start packing for my move to Pensacola.

I’m not exactly converted to the minimalist aesthetic or even the lifestyle (we’ll save the discussion of the inherent privilege in the concept for another day), but the idea of shedding some of the physical baggage and clutter from my life seems absolutely crucial to the bigger challenge of reigning in and refocusing my life on what actually matters to me as a 26 year old woman.

When I moved out of my last house, I got rid of a lot of clothes. We’re talking about 50% of what I owned, like at least 6 trash bags full of stuff.

I already talked about my clothing hang-ups (get it? Hang ups, closets? Heh.) this when I talked about opting out of fashion and make-up, but this combination of the wardrobe challenge, Cait’s book and packing feels significant to the point of being spiritual.

Let me go ahead and say that I’ve not read Cait’s book yet and, like I do with movies, tried to keep my sneak peeks to a minimum so I can fully enjoy them without too much pressure built up on the experience.

I have, however, been a fan and follower of Cait’s for a few years now and her journey has always been very reassuring to me while I struggle with my own financial issues and examine the things in my life that are working against my actual goals and dreams.

Just the idea of trying a “year of less” for myself would have set my eyes to rolling a few month ago. The idea of giving up my brunches, my craft beer, my well-curated vintage shops, my eyeliner–any of it–to be more nimble and thrifty seemed like a punishment I did not deserve.

I’ve worked hard for my lifestyle! I want to support local small businesses! What will I post on Instagram!

I’d really convinced myself that the house, the outfits, the habitual dining and drinking habits were my reward for ever sitting down to my desk to work. It was retribution for the 2+ years I spent crying in an office, doing a job I never really liked.

Even moving to this cabin, the idyllic writer’s retreat in the woods, was supposed to be the dream.

It was all evidence that I, Stephanie Sharp, am a successful, independent woman.

Only, as it turns out, none of that stuff actually matters much to me anymore. At least, not as much as it used to.

Less makes room for more

The concept seems simple and I’ve seen enough versions of it on the internet to choke myself on, but the reality is that until you figure out what you actually want more of–it’s really tough to give up what you do have.

For me, the less time I spend doing laundry, picking out clothes in the morning, doing my make up is more time I can spend working and writing and maybe taking a wild stab at exercise or art again.

The less I try to squeeze my 26 year old body into clothes purchased for my 21 year old body, the more I confident I can feel in the clothes that fit me.

The less bills I pay, the less chores I have to do, the less I have to worry about making ends meet, means more freedom. More security. More stability.

As much as it might sting to admit it, the less time I spend hanging out in bars in Tallahassee means I will get more peace and distance from my past.

It’s all gotta go.

Accepting the “more”

It’s easy to cling to the places we’ve gotten stuck in and the goals we’ve been working towards, but haven’t quite reached yet.

If you’ve put years into a relationship, a business, a lifestyle, a career, walking away from all of that work can feel like a failure. You worry that people will feel abandoned, that they’ll judge you, think you’re weak or selfish.

It’s really hard to externalize and articulate when something that’s been a part of your life for a long time, or even your entire current lifestyle, is causing you more pain or suffering than it’s worth to you anymore.

We get to decide that it’s time for something different and wanting it is all the reason you need for making a change.

And because time is a flat circle, there’s a good chance that you’ll end up on the other side of this door years down the line, wanting to swap the less for the more or vice versa. It’s all a cycle. That’s okay.

The biggest surprise in accepting that I was ready for a change, ready for “less,” has been that it’s the only way I can get along with being more of the woman I want to be in this world.

Tomorrow I’m going to a share bit more about my decision to downsize and move back to Pensacola for the spring, hopefully with the goal of demystifying the entrepreneurial stereotypes–both negative and positive–that could easily be stamped on this transition.

Thoughts on “Me Too”

Content warning: Discussion of sexual assault, sexual harassment.

This post in response to the “me too” movement to post the phrase online to show how many people are victims of sexual harassment and assault, in hopes of raising awareness to the problem and (I guess) inspiring change at the personal level.

To all others with “me too” experiences: I love you. I see you. I’m sorry.

There is help out there if you need it: 800.656.HOPE (4673)

 

#metoo (Hi-res linked in profile for anybody who wishes to repost)

A post shared by Victoria Siemer (@witchoria) on

I didn’t want to do a “me too” post because I don’t think it’s going to change anything. It’s solidarity at best. I’m not optimistic to believe that sharing this will spurn any conversations or wake anyone up.

I can’t write about all of my experiences yet. None of them feel legitimate enough, I’ve been told that it could have been much worse or there’s nothing that can be done. But there are a couple that are a perfect example, as far as what I’ve experienced myself, in how this problem is normalized.

These are only my personal experiences and I will not attempt to co-opt or comment on the experiences of other women that I know and love. Those are not my stories to tell.

I’ve also deleted a few stories that would be too easy to identify the offenders. I don’t know if those people would even know that they have caused me any damage and I’m not sure they would care.

One.

I’m 21 years old. I’m working at a restaurant.

We close for the night, I change into a “party dress” as I’m going from work to a birthday party.

I’m informed weeks later, by a romantic partner who also is a coworker, that my shift manager pulled him into the manager’s office to watch security tapes of me walking through the restaurant in my dress.

My partner thought it was funny or at least flattering.

I was mortified. I still worked there and had for months, with the same manager.

When I told him that it was upsetting, he said I should take it as a compliment.

I felt unsafe and disrespected.

But in the end I dropped the subject, because I was too immature and insecure to press my partner on why he didn’t tell the manager to stop or tell him why I didn’t have to take it as a compliment.

The sad part of this experience was that at least then I knew that I couldn’t trust that manager and that I was being recorded at work.

 

Two.

I’m 22 years old. I’m working at a different restaurant.

A regular patron asks me a sexually explicit question in front of a table of 8 people that I have been serving brunch to for a couple of hours.

They are drunk. I am working.

The others at the table all laugh nervously at his question, even the two girls who try to shush him and tell him to leave me alone.

I go to the back of the house and have a panic attack.

My (sweet, amazing, wonderful) manager kicks him and his friends out. They get banned from the restaurant.

That is my one experience with prompt and equitable justice for sexual harassment.

 

Three.

I’m 24 years old. I’m living in Tallahassee.

I find out, through a friend, that there is an anonymous online forum where men are trying to barter for sexually explicit pictures of Tallahassee women they know and want to see naked.

There are explicit comments about my appearance and why people want these photos of me.

I have a panic attack.

I still don’t know who these men are. I could know them. They could be reading this. They think we don’t know about it. We do.

I asked all the men I had dated in Tallahassee that I still had contact with if they had been approached by anyone asking for explicit pictures of me or my friends, or if they knew about this forum. I sent screenshots for proof.

They all said no, claimed to know nothing.

A couple of them offered to do some research on shutting the forum down. Eventually, it just disappeared or went quiet. Nothing happened to these men and I don’t know if any of them were ever identified.

I still don’t know who I can trust about that. I still want to ask people point blank about why this happened. Why this happens. Didn’t anyone see how wrong that was?

 

There is the question floating around of why don’t the people (in my experiences, all have been straight men and one bisexual female) who cross these boundaries and perpetuate this abusive culture out themselves as part of the problem instead of the onus being on the victims to out themselves?

That makes me feel more guilt and shame because I’ve never told any of these people how much they have damaged me. In the cases of abuse, many of these men have considered it my fault that I made them angry, broke up with them or dared to have a physical form they considered attractive.

In other cases, like the online forum or the security videos, they don’t think we know. They don’t think that anyone is going to rat them out. They sure as hell don’t think they are going to get in trouble for any of it.

I want to say fuck being polite, fuck being respectful of these men’s current relationships, I want to say so many things. But I’m still scared and I don’t want to have to deal with it.

I’m tired.

I’m tired and I’m hurting, we are tired and we are hurting and god damn it. That’s just so much.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t want to have to fix this. I don’t want to have to teach someone how they scarred me.

Just leave us alone.

We are so tired.

On 31 Days of Writing: Big Questions

Day 11 of this challenge and I can already tell you that it’s been absolutely liberating, humbling and exhausting. I’m not even half way through yet.

The kindness and support I’ve gotten from everyone reading is truly amazing and I’m so grateful to all of you.

But I have to tell you, I still feel stifled.

I touched on this is my post introducing this challenge, that I need to work through some stuff to be able to get to the meat of what I want to say, but the discipline and the small steps make me feel crazy.

My head is constantly swimming with things I want to say or create. Sometimes it’s more like screaming, like the way anxiety sounds but this time the screaming is words and not just, well, noise.

As much as I’m lusting after these bigger truths, as much as I’m aching to get these heavy pieces out of my head, I’m also feeling more and more fear.

Even as my sweet friends tell me how much they are relating to what I’m writing, that they’re glad I’m doing this, I’m afraid to go further.

The way that we are all used to consuming content is pretty comfortable. We’re used to swallowing stuff that confirms our biases and makes us feel “normal.”

Some of that is really useful for important work like breaking down stigmas or educating people about topics that we would otherwise remain in the dark about.

My concern, as a writer in this day and age, is how far is too far? How do we wake ourselves up to more? Where do we all go from here?

For me, the pull is to go deeper. To go further. To double down.

Every time I write a piece for this blog, I think of five more things I want to say, each one more taboo than the next.

But I know that the way to get there is through the surface first. I have to break into these truths in phases. I understand that’s where I am in the process.

However, my fear comes back when I think about publishing. When I think about sharing this work. When I think about the line between self-publishing and pitching pieces to publications I respect.

 

Black Sheep

I’ll admit, I’m not particularly thrilled with the status quo of blogging and online content. It’s very rare that I find people online that seem to approach this work the way I do.

I see writing as a craft.

Content? Now, content is a trade. I’m happy to say I have a very intimate understanding of that trade and feel lucky to be working with people who want to create high quality work in that sphere.

But this, what I’m doing here and what I am desperately searching for more of, is writing as a craft. Call it blogging, if you want. Whatever. I just don’t see much work like mine out there.

This is where the questions come up again.

Why do I care if not many people are doing work the way I’m doing it?

Do I really need a peer group online to legitimize the personal work I’m doing?

Even if I am completely out of my lane and damn near out of my mind, what are the chances that anyone outside of my nearest and dearest are going to read or notice?

I know there must be some more people out there doing this kind of work than I have been able to find so far.

But with so few other voices in this type of work, utilizing this kind of platform in this way, it’s a constant question of how far is too far? Have I paid my dues? Who would I even pay my dues to?

 

An Invitation

I want more people to have the audacity to try this. I want my friends to abandon this idea of how to blog correctly, how to start a creative business, how to have good manners online.

I want you to just get started.

Because as we can figure this out together. I know we can.

There is a precedent of writers helping writers, artists helping artists, the creative circling of the wagons. It’s been happening for generations and generations before we all got domain names and Instagram handles.

(Here comes one of those risky truths.)

The odds of any of us making six figures from our personal blog is seriously fucking slim.

And really, no one who has a “six figure blog” really makes that just off of their blog posts alone. At least, not a single one that I have found. (If you know of a unicorn, please feel free to email me or comment.)

So why don’t we, instead, focus on doing the work and figuring out how to support each other in that work?

I’m so tired of the myths I’ve built up in my head that because I didn’t finish my degree or go to grad school that the writing life is not really mine to go after. Or that because I don’t write fiction or poetry, that my work isn’t meaningful or creative.

Frankly, I’m just sick and fucking tired of all the unspoken rules and I’m ready to break them.

I want to write the scary shit, I want to support other writers, I want us to legitimize the process and progress and product of our creative work.

How do we create a lucrative environment for us sustain ourselves? What does the next generation of writers look like? Where are going?

As you can probably guess, I have no answers for any of these big, hulking questions.

But I’m going to keep showing up and doing the work. I’m going to keep searching for connections and nurturing the ones I have.

I want to be here for you when you decide to start writing or doing your work.

You are welcome to join me and ask your questions and work your process. I’ll be around.

Permission to Opt-Out: Fashion and Make Up

Let me give you a visual of my current look:

I’m wearing a floral wrap dress that I’ve worn at least once a week since I bought it. I’m also wearing my black Aldo booties I bought 2 years ago when I realized I needed some “grown up” professional shoes for my office job.

My hair has finally grown out enough to force it into a tiny bun, which has lovingly been compared to a brussel sprout in size and shape. My bangs are in desperate need of a trim.

My makeup routine consists of the same brand of foundation I’ve used for 4 years now, with a drugstore eyebrow gel and mascara.

This is the most effort I’ve put into my appearance for over a week, at least since I attempted to take a quintessential fall selfie on the first of October, like everyone else on the internet.

I hate all of those photos I took of myself that day, even though I had on my favorite hat and dress, plus I threw on my heretofore unchristened vintage leather jacket.

Frankly, my lack of selfies in the past few months has me feeling panicky.

I know that probably sounds silly to some people, but I have gone through phases in my life where I felt so good about how I looked, so confident and hot, that I wanted to show off regularly.

Lately, that’s not been the case. But it’s not that I think I’m ugly, not really. I don’t think I’ve let myself go or anything.

I feel detached from the majority of my makeup and fashion habits in a way that’s really baffled me into avoiding selfies, getting “dressed up” and attending any kind of even that might require me to get dolled up.

Below the Surface

I have been shedding layers of what was my personal style faster than ever over the summer.

As I looked at my shoestring freelancer-between-invoices budget and sorted through my clothes after an unexpected move, I started to wonder what the point of all of this stuff was.

I had multiple types of liquid eyeliner in my makeup case, I had piles of vintage clothes and dresses that I had only worn once, I was following multiple lingerie companies on Instagram.

Am I really this susceptible to consumerism? Have I internalized a bunch of stories about my body type and face shape that I regularly augment my natural state with “flattering” clothes and makeup?

Well, yes, but I also have had to admit to myself that it goes a lot deeper than just social media and the fashion industry.

Wardrobes of Past Lives

As I was moving, I ended up with piles and piles of business casual clothes I bought when I was working at my corporate PR job.

I’m not naive enough to think we can all break free of the status quo of business casual in a traditional sense, but the particular office culture of where I worked was in total contrast with my natural inclinations.

Bold colors, structured skirts and dresses, heels, full makeup, “statement” jewelry.

All of these things were supposed to make us unique in our field and create a positive impact on clients and media contacts. It was an extension of the agency’s branding.

But that brand wasn’t me. I never fully bought into it and I knew that dressing according to someone else’s ideal of a powerful woman was not helping me succeed in my role.

Towards the end of my time there, I began to default to “unflattering” shift dresses that I could hide away in, wearing my hair in buns and clips, skipping makeup altogether. The look was more harried church mouse than PR rockstar.

Meanwhile, the other half of my discarded wardrobe consisted of worn out Goodwill finds and eccentric pieces that fluctuated from fairy princess to wannabe punk rocker.

Lots of those pieces were too small, worn with too much eyeliner and eternally smelled like a bar at closing time.

These were the things I would wear to bars and dates and house shows. They represented many variations of my Tallahassee social life that allowed me to blend in with the crowds or appeal to whatever man I was chasing after that season.

I would adjust and course correct based on the reactions of my friends and dates, but nothing I ever wore or no makeup trick I tried made much of a difference in my love or social life.

Then there were a few aspirational vintage pieces I bought, with great zeal, from female vintage shop owners.

Inspired by both an obsession with pinup girls and burlesque culture plus an earnest desire to support women in my community, I–quite literally–racked up a sizable collection of vintage pieces that I would wear once, maybe and then allow to languish in my closet.

This stuff was supposed to be “the look” for a girl like me. Hourglass shape, pale, dark hair–that’s the easiest shortcut to a pin-up look you can be born with.

But I never got the hang of curling my hair, I never figured out how to use concealer or lip liner and I certainly never was going to learn how to wear heels on the regular.

Simplifying (but not because minimalism is trendy)

I recently did a journaling exercise from Gala Darling that got me thinking more about what my Best Self™ actually looks like.

Here are some character notes I made:

  • Sunscreen, always
  • Healthy skin (like the kind you get by drinking tea and stay hydrated and using a modest night cream)
  • Cruelty-free brow gel, mascara, foundation. (I’m tired of crying over mismatched cat eye angles.)
  • Ethically, sustainably made OR vintage/secondhand everything
  • Linen, denim, leather, suede
  • Blacks, neutrals, jewel tones and floral prints
  • Boots. Always boots. Chacos, when needed. (No heels, I just really don’t care for them.)

This sounds like the beginning of a minimalism sermon, I know. I promise not to preach about a capsule wardrobe (at least not yet.)

I want to pivot my approach to style and personal adornment to something that supports and amplifies my personality and creative work, instead of trying to express myself through it directly.

Because when I try to project something through my style, I end up feeling disguised or costumed.

If I want to actually be something, I want to work to actual embody that in my life through actions and work.

Powerful, respectable, graceful, tough, elegant, sensual.

I don’t need a pencil skirt or red lipstick or high heels to convey any of that. I am not personally getting anything out of time spent in front of the mirror or my closet.

This is, of course, not to say that anyone who enjoys these things is somehow not actually being what their style is portraying. I’m actually wildly impressed by and in awe of other people’s creativity and dedication when it comes to style and fashion.

This is simply a note to self that I am allowed to opt out of prioritizing makeup and clothes, without letting myself go completely.

If I whittle my wardrobe down to a handful of truly beloved pieces and have no daytime/nighttime/special occasion shifts for my makeup and hair routines, it really won’t do affect anything but my time and decision fatigue.

I know I will eventually dig deeper into the phases of my style and how working in a place with such a rigorous “dress code” affected me, but for now I wanted to articulate this shift.

Has this happened to anyone else? Have you ever looked in your mirror or closet and suddenly realized you only like about 10% of what you own?

Social Media Reality Check

Fair warning that I this is started as a totally off the cuff reaction piece, spurned by an unnecessarily rude ultimatum by an unnamed influencer to go hop into the comments section of a problematic @betches instagram post instead of discussing the topic amongst ourselves. *insert eye roll emoji here*

I get nothing from fighting with people on social media.

I gain nothing, learn nothing from the comment threads full of ignorance and hatred.

Retweets and call-out posts add absolutely nothing to our dialogue and I have not learned anything or taught anyone by participating in this kind of social media activity.

What I do learn from is following really smart writers on Twitter who temper their trolls with insightful commentary and conversations.

I also learn from following feminist sex educators and zero waste nonprofits and sustainable farms on Instagram.

Following artists and curators of niche interests (like tarot, old houses, southern kitsch) makes me happy and entertains me.

I’m not saying that it’s all bad. It’s not.

But the militant prescriptivism on how to post, what to post, how to and when to engage with trolls or people who think differently that you? It’s not serving me. (It’s probably not serving you either.)

Yet, I’m on social media for hours every day. Last time I was tracking my screen time on my phone, I was spending between 3-4 hours on my phone every day. That doesn’t even include any time I spent on the computer.

I want that time back. I want that mental space and that sense of calm boredom back.

The Social Struggle

I honestly, truly, don’t want to give up social media altogether. I don’t think it’s the root of all success or all evil. I also know it’s not feasible when I’m trying to run my own business.

But lately, my frustration outweighs my enjoyment.

More than anything, I wish we could all get a blank slate. If there was a way to just go back to the beginning, without the algorithms and the updates to everything, I’d be happy to continue sharing and enjoying the content I want to see.

Of course, that’s not really something that’s feasible. Even if we all started fresh accounts, we’d get bombarded with suggested posts and the algorithm would learn about us quickly.

For those who still bemoan the advertising takeover of our beloved internet hidey holes (RIP tumblr, specifically), I hate to break it to y’all but–at the end of the day–these are companies. Users are only worth what advertisers will pay for our attention.

I(’m not going to get into the business side of this debate on this blog, but I have thoughts on that too.)

At this point, I know it’s up to me to game the system for myself. Despite the fact that social media is designed to be hypnotic and a veritable rabbit hole of endless distractions, I’ve gotta snap myself out of it.

 

Fight Bad Habits with Good Habits

That’s my plan. Here’s the list I’ve got so far:

Tracking screen time.

I’ve downloaded Moment on my phone. They estimate that the average user spends three hours, forty two minutes on their phone every day. Yikes.

Not all of my phone time is spent on social media. I have many people I love that I text constantly (or send memes to on Instagram, which is the modern sixth love language), most of which don’t live in Tallahassee and therefore can’t be subbed out with IRL quality time.

But if I’m honest, most of that time is spent scrolling through the explore tab on Instagram, or watching stories of people that I really just don’t care about or don’t need to keep up with.

Last time I used this app, I cut my phone time down by over an hour each day. I’ll probably spring for the Premium version soon too, so that I can have more options for managing my screen time.

Unfollow without fear.

I’ve been starting to unfollow people when I notice I’m blocking or hiding or scrolling past their posts. A lot of fitness people, many brands and shops, some of those “who even are you?” personal accounts that are just utterly baffling.

Here’s the thing: my need for more mental space and less digital clutter is not less important than someone’s Instagram engagement stats.

Even though I forget all the time (especially with my over-active people pleasing tendencies), we do not owe a single person a follow, like, share, comment, view. Whatever. We truly do not.

I would hope that people aren’t following me that are bored or annoyed with the things that I post.

If you think about it like a social gathering, do you really want to show up to a party when you don’t like anyone who’s attending? Do you want to go to a gym or an art gallery opening if either of those things makes your cringe just thinking about it?

Then get those people out of your digital circles and move on with your life.

Carve out distraction free times.

This is specific to my needs as an entrepreneur working from home, but I have to block out work hours and keep my phone off and away to get anything meaningful done.

I also use the Self Control app for my Mac to block tempting websites. Usually set the time for anywhere from 4 to 8 hours.

This is a pretty serious no brainer for most people, but when there is no one to watch over your shoulder or spy on your internet history, it can be all too easy to just zone out on Twitter for a couple of hours every day.

Do literally anything else.

I feel like this one should not be the hardest one to conquer, but it really is.

When I’m laying in bed or waiting in line or anything that would otherwise be a white space, if it weren’t for social media, I’ve got my phone up and in my face.

This is particularly an issue when going to bed and waking up for me.

I will mindlessly scroll for an hour before falling asleep and as soon as I wake up, knowing that nothing I’m seeing is really adding to my life and especially not to those otherwise precious moments before or after sleep.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with sketching and coloring in bed while I watch shows.

As much as I want to lay down and read at night, I’m much more inclined to give myself something totally mindless and relaxing before cracking open a book I want to pay attention to.

That being said, reading instead of being on my phone at the bar or restaurants when I’m alone is something I genuinely love and am happy to practice on the regular now.

All and all, the point I’m trying to make for myself here is that I have the power to make myself less miserable when it comes to social media. I can opt out of the constant outrage, consumerism and comparison. But I have to do it myself, because it is all designed for the opposite purpose.

Do you have any tips for minimizing your screen time or tackling some of the social media ennui I assume we are all feeling? Lemme know, I could serious use the advice.

Drawing My Own Lifeline

I spent the entirety of Sunday afternoon going through the last 10 years of my life and mapping out data points for the following categories:

  • Significant romantic entanglements/relationships
  • Where I lived
  • School Year
  • Family events/milestones
  • Jobs
  • Personal events/milestones

I drew them out on newsprint, pulled out my ruler and my crayon/marker stash. Everything was color coded.

When I finished drawing each category out, I entered the information for each year into a spreadsheet.

If this seems like a very peculiar way to spend a Sunday, that’s probably because it is.

But I was catching up on my horoscopes for the month and apparently there’s some kind of commotion happening this week for my sign.

Jupiter is moving into Scorpio (my sun sign) and from what I can tell, it’s like a cosmic lotto win. Having your ship come in. Everything finally coming up roses.

(If you don’t care about astrology or think it’s fake, that’s fine. This post is not for you and it’s not about astrology.)

There are plenty of reasons that I’ve been trying to clean house, mentally and emotionally, that I won’t go into here. But this news about Jupiter and the planetary brouhaha to follow gave me a deadline on something I’ve been thinking about for ages.

This is not a sob story.

I’ll be the first one to admit I’ve lived a relatively charmed and privileged life, all told. What sadness and struggles I faced growing up were mitigated by the amazing family and support systems I had. I will never deny that.

I’m also not trying to say that my life was perfect or that I don’t have my fair share of foggy, confusing childhood baggage to deal with.

What I do know, is that since about 2010, life really started picking up the pace for my “traumatic” life events and monumental changes. I’m not sure why, but it feels like a whole lifetime of shit has been packed into the past 7 years.

For a long time, I figured this was just how life goes for people. You move out on your own, suddenly “real life” begins and everything is just harder, worse in every way. C’est la vie.

After I said this to a handful of therapists and friends over the years, it became clear to me (from their horrified reactions after I went over the shortlist) that this is not actually the case.

I’ve only recently come to realize that being a bit more self actualized and doing some internal work with myself has been way overdue.

But in what I can only guess is a side effect of the way my life has gone for the past few years, my understanding of how my life has progressed from year to year and even the passage of time in relation to life events has totally escaped me.

I’ll think something lasted much longer than it did, or that one bit of trauma was an isolated incident, only to realize it was actually happening at the same time as many other terrible things.

I’ve been telling myself I should map out my life for about a year or two now. Just to line up relationships with jobs, moves with funerals and weddings. Just so it all logically progressed from season to season. Just so I could know, see it represented as facts all lined up neatly in rows.

So that’s what I did.

Your own personal history project.

After making this grand timeline, here is where I see this sort of exercise being beneficial:

Clarity around heartbreaks

This is the biggest realization for me. When I lined up my relationships with the other life events (death, divorce, disease), I realized that many of the big, gut wrenching break ups that had otherwise shattered me were actually a form of escapism or indirect processing of bigger, scarier realities.

(As anyone who’s been reading along regularly knows, I’m not an expert and I can only speak for myself about any of this.)

I’m not sure if this is some type of codependency or just emotional immaturity wreaking havoc, but the consistency with which my most toxic romantic relationships aligned with other tragedies or upsets was the most alarming discovery I made in this process.

Obviously, I didn’t untangle what this discovery means yet and I’m not calling up my exes to get their perspectives anytime soon (for those exes reading this, hi please don’t panic!), but just seeing the alignment was enough to teach me that I have channeled a lot of stress into relationships and attempted to process things that way.

Yikes.

Compassion towards my younger self

I can be really unkind to the younger versions of myself. I blame her for a lot of things, like staying with an emotional abusive partner or never starting a savings account.

But when I laid everything out, year by year, I realized that the times I was the most irresponsible or the most reckless, I was reacting to in the only ways I knew how to at the time.

For example, went my transmission on my car died, I spent my puny savings on a scooter to get myself to work and class. When that scooter was stolen and totaled, I dropped out of school and quit one of my two jobs because I didn’t have a reliable option for getting around town.

I kick myself for buying that damn scooter all the time and even more often for not taking the summer off like a normal student. But seeing everything else going on in my life plotted out, it all makes more sense that I would have just made the easiest and least painful choices at the time.

It’s really easy to be bitter about the choices you did or didn’t make when you were younger, but if you’re honest (or have it all laid out in front of you like I had) your older and wiser self sees simple solutions or more responsible decisions clear as day. Your younger, stupider self probably wouldn’t have see those same options, even if they were right in front of their face the whole time.

Power over my own narrative

This is where we come back to the astrology bit from earlier. I won’t go in depth about my attitudes towards astrology here, but at the most basic level, I find comfort in the parallels between planetary movements and the cycles of human life.

If nothing else, astrology is a tool (like tarot or meditation) that unlocks different perspectives and allows me to zoom out for a fuller picture of my life and experiences.

Laying out the past in this exercise and journaling consistently in the present makes me feel like I am truly steering the ship of my future, which is a pretty auspicious attitude to have as Jupiter enters Scorpio.

Keeping tabs on myself through creative work is going to be a big part of this new cycle I’m entering. Not only do I enjoy it and find it beneficial in the present, I’d really rather avoid having to plot out the next 10 years of my life in a spreadsheet.

The other major piece of this is autonomy over my patterns and behaviors.

Now that I can see the fault lines running through my life, I can address them and work towards healing those issues.

Again, I promise I’ll get to therapy eventually. Now I’ll have a handy guide for whatever therapists I encounter! Hah.

So, tell me, am I the only one who has felt like this? Has anybody else made a ridiculous retrospective timeline of their life? Anybody have good therapist recommendations for Tallahassee? Ok love y’all thanks for reading!

 

Thoughts on Needs and Boundaries

Based on a writing prompt from Laurie Wagner. Also, features a brief NSFW analogy.

If you really knew me, you know I’m terrible at asking for help.

I’m even worse at telling people no or standing up for my own needs and boundaries.

I assume I can love everyone hard enough that they won’t hurt me.

This has literally never worked, in my entire life.

Of course there are plenty of people in my life that I love who have never hurt me, but they would have never hurt me in the first place. At least, never intentionally.

The thing I have learned, after trying too hard and giving too much for too many years, is this: you can’t love someone into loving you the way you need to be loved.

This goes for friendships and romantic relationships.

You can only give so much. Eventually, you bump right up against the cliche. Can’t pour from an empty cup.

And really, that kind of loving and giving is its own form of shitty, manipulative immaturity that doesn’t serve anyone. Not your friends, not your lovers.

Speaking of lovers, a good example for this concept is faking an orgasm.

It is often easier to just fake it, give the performance, than it is to have a conversation with your partner about your needs and desires.

It’s even more difficult to have that conversation once you’ve been faking your orgasms for a while. Because you’re lying, even if it’s not a lie meant to hurt them.

Emotional needs can become the same kind of taboo and trap. Once you’ve taken it on the chin (so to speak) for long enough, having to tap out is going to seem like an impossible feat.

I say all of that only because I do both of those things pretty regularly and have suffered for it.

A post shared by Mari Andrew (@bymariandrew) on

 

This is one of those things conversations that I don’t have any kind of solution for, because I’m still actively working on it myself.

When I say I’ve suffered, I mean I’ve stayed in relationships and friendships that were toxic for me longer than was healthy. I’ve hurt people and broken trust. I’ve disappointed people and been disappointed myself.

But since 2017 started, I’ve been actively taking inventory of what I actually need and want in life, which is a very “behind the scenes” kind of process.

By the time I realized that I want certain things and don’t want other things, I’m usually living in some form of opposition to those needs.

You don’t know until you know, I guess.

At this point, I’m working towards being proactive about my needs and boundaries. I’ve been spending a lot more time alone, in my house, which seems to feel like the safest way to do this work.

Eventually I’ll get a therapist or something, I promise. But for now I’m going to keep writing and relistening to the same few albums and journaling and wearing the same outfits and eating really boring food.

That’s not entirely helpful for anyone else, I realize. But here’s what I’m thinking now.

I don’t know if there really is a point at which we can say that we have our needs and boundaries figured out, but I do think that we can get better at expressing them.

We owe it to the people in our lives to be honest and forthcoming with what we need from them. Otherwise, we set all parties up to fail and disappoint eventually.

I’ll just gently encourage you to pay attention to your needs and boundaries. Start to notice when you surrender more of yourself than you really have to give.

If you’re one of those people who are really good at boundaries and communicating your needs, please feel free to share your tips with the class. Lord knows I could use them.

On 31 Days of Writing

I decided to do a writer’s version of “inktober”. It’s my own personal exercise, before the world gets swept up in NaNoWriMo next month.

I let my writing stagnate over the past month and a half. The move, the hurricane, work. There were plenty of reasons not to write.

On top of that, I let my summer ideas slip away. The sweet little things I was going to capture, the ideas and lists I wanted to share. Those didn’t happen.

But I went to see one of my favorite writers and former professors speak last week and ran into my writing workshop instructor (guide? teacher?) while I was there. Read more, talked about writing more.

Realized that I have one way to make this writing thing work, which is to write every day. And not just write, but publish it. 

We can only be held accountable for so much in private.

Sure I can journal, I could sit at my computer and bang out a few hundred words every day and let them languish in my Google Drive forever. No one would ever know if I followed through or not.

But I’m committing to writing every day and publishing everything that I write so that I can move through a serious volume of ideas. For better or for worse.

My most recent kick in the ass was from this article: Writing usually means writing badly.

That was a good reminder because I know I have to keep working to get better. That’s the only way that writing works. I listen to this quote from Ira Glass regularly to calm my fears of just being a tasteless, worthless buffoon with a laptop.

I decided to emulate Inktober because, as far as I can tell, it’s about showing your process and your messy edges and I think that is so much more aligned with my process than the grind of NaNoWriMo. (I also have no desire to write a novel at this point in my life.)

My questions when it comes to the process of writing and the reality of being a writer are becoming an obsessive part of my daily life.

Instead of asking for permission and trying to replicate the process or product of people I admire, I’ve realized that the only way out is through. Through the shitty first drafts and through the half-baked ideas and the immature topics and the clunky prose.

There are some things I need to get through. I need to broach the taboo, talk about some shit that slinks around in the darkness and tends to only come up when people write their memoirs or when they get that one gut-wrenching essay spot in the big, beautiful publication of their dreams.

I don’t think I can get to those places unless I start chipping away at this stuff now. So, here I go.

Some of that stuff is going to be ugly or upsetting to some people. I would apologize proactively, but I really am not sorry at all. Hopefully you all understand.

I just can no longer afford to be precious with the things in my mind. If I’m going to see any emotional progress, any progress with my craft, it’s got to come through work.

So, that’s what this is. If you show up here every day and read, thank you. If you show up every once in awhile, thank you. If you get fed up and never come back, thank you.

Thank you for reading.

(PS for rule followers: I did write yesterday, but it was analogue and will be typed up later.)